Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode down the main street of a typical western town. A weather-worn wooden sign stuck in the ground and leaning precariously to one side, proclaimed it to be Hardwood. The townsfolk went about their business apparently oblivious of the two famous ex-outlaws riding by. Two women chatted on the boardwalk. Three men loaded a wagon with sacks and crates. Two scruffy dogs scurried across the street. As they rode, Heyes and Curry scanned the signs on the buildings and the faces in the crowd.
“See anyone you recognise?” Curry asked.
“Nope,” Heyes replied.
“I don’t see the sheriff’s office.”
“Just be glad you don’t see the sheriff,” Heyes remarked.
Curry’s brow furrowed. “Why? Do we know him?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Then why’d you say that?”
“Because we’re always glad when we don’t see the sheriff.”
Spotting the hotel, Heyes pointed and they turned their horses towards the two storey structure. A white balustrade ran along a balcony that extended across the front. Reaching the Hardwood Hotel they pulled their mounts to a halt and eased themselves from the saddle. The Kid looked around as he untied his saddlebags and bedroll before throwing the bags over his shoulder and following his friend up the stairs to the boardwalk. As they reached the top step a tall man stepped in front of them blocking the way.
The partners stopped in their tracks.
“Mornin’ gentlemen,” the man said pleasantly. He was in his late twenties with sandy brown hair and had a brown cowboy hat perched on the back of his head.
“Something we can help you with?” Heyes enquired.
“Are you fellas planning on staying in Hardwood?” the man asked, casually.
“I’m not sure that’s any of your business.” The Kid fixed his blue-eyed gaze on the man.
The man smiled and carefully eased the left side of his vest to one side revealing a badge on which was written the word Deputy.
“Ah,” Heyes said.
“I need you to head over to the sheriff’s office once you’ve checked in. We register all newcomers in town,” the lawman explained. “Helps keep the peace.”
“Well, we’re peaceable men so we’ll make sure we do that, Deputy,” Heyes assured him.
The deputy kept his eyes on Curry. “Make sure you do.” He touched a finger to the brim of his hat. “Gentlemen.” Then he walked away.
Curry and Heyes watched him go and then placing a hand in his partner’s shoulder, the Kid followed Heyes into the hotel.
“We’ve never had to register anywhere else,” the Kid complained later as they walked across the dusty street.
“Well, we have to here, so that’s what we’ll do.” Heyes stopped when they reached the jail. He turned to face his friend and tapped the Kid’s shirt as he spoke. “If we want that job Lom mentioned.” Tap. “We’ll register.” Tap. “Not make a scene.” Tap. “And stay outta trouble.” Tap. “Right?” Tap.
The Kid sighed. “Right. And could you tap a little softer, I bruise easily.”
Heyes smiled, turned and looked at the name on the plaque beside the door.
It read, Sheriff Wilton Foster.
“Do we know him?” Curry asked.
“I don’t,” Heyes stated with a shake of his head. “You?”
Curry shook his head. “Nope.”
“Then what do we have to worry about?” Heyes asked with a confident smile and opened the door.
Sheriff Wilton Foster was in his early fifties, stocky of build with a short grey beard. He was enjoying a slice of pumpkin pie when the door to his office opened and two strangers walked in. Wiping his mouth with a napkin he pushed back his chair and stood up.
“Can I help you fellas?”
“Your deputy told us we had to register as we’re new in town,” Heyes informed him.
“That’s right, you do.” He picked up two pieces of paper off a pile on his desk and held them out. “Fill in these forms.”
“Forms?” Heyes queried.
“Yep, everyone new in town fills one in.”
Heyes took them and the sheriff handed two pens to Curry.
“You can sit over there.” The lawman pointed to two chairs next to the empty jail cells. “Just need your names, where you’re stayin’, purpose of your visit; that sorta thing. It’s all on the forms.”
Taking the forms they sat down and studied the questions. Heyes began to write but the Kid’s brow furrowed. “What’s ‘domicile during your stay’, mean?” he asked.
Heyes opened his mouth to speak but the sheriff beat him to it. “Means, where you’re stayin’. My guess is the Harwood Hotel, right?”
The Kid nodded and scribbled that down.
As Heyes continued to complete the questions the Kid took a moment to look around the jail. A shotgun and two rifles were in a gun rack behind the sheriff. A coffee pot sat on an unlit stove and there were the usual notices and wanted posters pinned to a board beside the door. Two posters in particular caught his attention. They were newly printed. The one for Kid Curry looked the same as it always did but the Kid’s eyes opened wider when he saw the one bearing his partner’s name. He slid his foot swiftly sideways giving Heyes a kick.
Heyes looked up. “What?”
With a nod of his head Curry indicated the noticeboard. Heyes gave it a quick look then glanced back at the Kid.
“What?” he repeated.
The Kid’s eyes opened wider and he tilted his chin at the board.
With a sigh Heyes obliged his friend and took a longer look. Curry watched and waited. Heyes’ scanned the notices and poster and… His eyes opened wider. He shot his partner a look.
The Kid nodded.
Heyes frowned and looked back at the board, then back at Curry, confused.
The Kid shrugged.
Heyes stood up.
“Joshua!” Curry hissed but his friend ignored him and strode towards the noticeboard.
“I couldn’t help noticing these posters,” Heyes commented.
The Kid’s shoulders sagged.
The sheriff looked up from the remainder of his pie. “Which one?” he asked, his mouth still full.
Heyes tapped his own wanted poster several times. “This one here for Hannibal Heyes.”
“What about it?”
Clearly agitated, Heyes could barely contain himself. “So I see.” The poster received another, harder, tap. “I thought the reward for Heyes was the same as for Curry. $10,000 apiece.”
“It used to be,” the sheriff agreed.
“Since when has Heyes’ reward been only…” The next words stuck in Heyes’ throat. His voice was a little higher than usual when he said, “$500?”
In his seat the Kid looked at the floor to hide his grin and muffle a snirt. “Don’t forget to finish your form, Joshua,” he prompted.
Heyes dismissed him. “It’ll keep.”
“If I remember right it had something to do with that newspaper article,” the sheriff informed them, thinking hard. “If you look closer you’ll see they changed the description too.”
“They did?” Curry got to his feet, clearly interested, and walked over to look for himself. Standing next to Heyes he read the description. “Seems Heyes got shorter.” The Kid smiled.
His friend shot a look at the poster. “Five foot two?”
“Seems he also put on a pound or…thirty.” The Kid suppressed a smile. “Must be eatin’ too many pies.” The sheriff looked up. “Oh, no offence, sheriff.”
Heyes shot Curry a glare then turned to Sheriff Foster. “What newspaper article?”
The lawman’s eyes narrowed, furrowing his brow. “You seem awfully interested in Heyes and Curry. Wanna tell me why?”
“We’re bounty hunters,” Heyes explained. “Been on the trail of those two for a while now. We’ve worked a lot with Sheriff Lom Trevors in Porterville. We picked up their trail north of here. Hadn’t heard anything about a change in their descriptions or a reduction in their reward.”
“Heyes’ reward,” the Kid corrected, helpfully, and his partner shot him another look.
Apparently satisfied with the reply the sheriff rummaged through the papers on his desk. “I think I got it here somewhere. Saved it in case I needed it before the new posters came through. You never know, one day Curry and Heyes could just ride into my town.”
“Yeah, they could,” the Kid agreed amiably as the lawman continued his search.
“Here it is.” Sheriff Foster pulled out a newspaper and turned over a few pages before pointing out an article. “There.”
Heyes picked up the paper and read. His expression darkened further. “Do you mind if I keep this a while?”
“Keep it as long as you like. I don’t need it now that I have the posters.”
“Thank you.” Without another word Heyes returned to his seat, quickly finished his form, handed it to the sheriff and headed to the door, turning as an afterthought towards Curry. “C’mon Thaddeus.”
Perplexed, the Kid scribbled quickly on his own form, gave it to the lawman and followed his friend outside.
“So what did the article say?” the Kid asked when they were back in their hotel room.
Heyes sat down on the edge of the bed, and spread the newspaper out on top of the patchwork quilt. Curry leaned back against the chest of drawers and folded his arms characteristically across his chest, waiting. Heyes turned the pages until he located the article once more.
“The article’s written by a reporter from the Pine River Herald. It says an ‘informed source’ gave them an interview about the Devil’s Hole Gang.”
“An ‘informed source’?” the Kid queried.
“It say who?”
“No.” Heyes returned his attention to the newspaper. “Apparently Hannibal Heyes was just a figurehead for the Devil’s Hole Gang.”
“He was?” the Kid’s eyes opened wider in amusement.
“Apparently,” Heyes acknowledged, through gritted teeth as his shoulders stiffened. “According to the article the real brains behind the Gang’s plans was…”
“Kid Curry?” the Kid offered hopefully and received the look.
“No!” Heyes got to his feet. “The brains behind the Devil’s Hole Gang’s brilliant plans was Wheat Carlson.”
“Wheat?” the Kid exclaimed.
“Evidently, so. Aided and abetted by his right hand man, Kyle Murtry.”
Curry’s eyes narrowed. “You think Wheat’s this ‘informed source’?”
“Looks like it to me.” Heyes began to pace back and forth on the carpet.
“Wheat always wanted to be the leader. He couldn’t stand that I was more intelligent than he was; that my plans were better than his. Heck, he couldn’t stand that my plans actually worked! Now he’s getting his own back.” The pacing continued. “That has to be it.”
The Kid shook his head. “I don’t know, Heyes. It don’t seem like Wheat. He’s not the type to give an interview to a newspaper man.”
The pacing stopped. “Woman.”
“Woman?” the Kid’s interest was piqued.
“The article was written by a woman.” Heyes looked down at the page. “Stella Pettigrew.” The pacing resumed.
“You know, this is probably a good thing.”
Heyes stopped. “A good thing?” He was clearly confused. “How? Everyone thinks Wheat’s the brains behind the Gang! How is that a good thing?”
“Because they’re not gonna be lookin’ for you anymore.”
Heyes considered this. “But they think Wheat’s the leader. I was the leader!”
“But you’re not anymore.”
“So he should get all the credit for my ideas?”
“No, but we’re going straight, Heyes, it doesn’t mat…”
“It’s the principle of the thing!” Heyes stated.
“But no bounty hunters are gonna be lookin’ for you if you’re only worth $500. And with the change in your description they’re lookin’ for a shorter, fatter man. That’s a good thing, Heyes!”
“What about integrity?”
“What about it? We’re thieves!”
“What about the truth? Justice?”
“What about twenty years in prison?”
Heyes sat down again. “I know, but Kid, this is wrong. Something’s wrong. You’re right; Wheat wouldn’t give the newspapers an interview, so how did they get this description? What if someone’s out to trap the gang? What if they’re trying to lure them out of Devil’s Hole or something? We owe it to them to warn them.”
“Warn them about what?”
“I don’t know. I just know something’s not right.”
Curry considered this. “I don’t suppose it’d hurt to go and see them. Find out if anyone’s been out to Devil’s Hole askin’ questions?”
Heyes sighed and looked up at his partner. “What about the job Lom mentioned?”
“I guess we hafta hope he’ll understand.”
“I guess we do.”
“Should I start calling you Shorty?”
The partners sat at a small dining table covered with a red check cloth in the town’s cafeteria. The Kid used his spoon to clean his plate as Heyes sat back in his chair, a coffee cup in his hand. He was clearly lost in thought. As he chewed, the Kid looked up and caught the look on his friend’s face. Curry stopped chewing.
“What?” he asked.
The Kid put down his spoon, cleaned something from his back teeth with this tongue and wiped his mouth on a napkin. “Now what?”
“I’m trying to think who could be behind this.”
Curry looked around the room checking no one else could hear them. The three other occupants of the cafeteria showed no interest in their conversation.
“Does it matter? Right now no one is lookin’ for you. You’re too tall, too skinny and, for only $500, really not worth the bother.”
Heyes shot him a look. “Well, maybe I wanna be worth the bother!”
“Why?” The Kid placed his napkin on the table.
“It’s the principle of the thing.”
“So you said, but are you sure it’s justice and the principle of the thing you’re worried about or the fact they think that Wheat’s the brains of the outfit? Hurts your ego don’t it?”
“It’s got nothing to do with my ego!” his friend assured him.
“You do have kind of a big one, Heyes.”
Dark eyes narrowed and Curry gave his friend an innocent smile.
“How would you feel, if one day you read that Kyle was now the fastest gun in the West?”
“I’d laugh ‘cos I know it ain’t true.”
“What if they posted it all over the state?”
“I’d still know it wasn’t true and I could prove it if I had to. It would be a lot safer too. Less folk are likely to call me out.”
Heyes studied the Kid’s face for a moment. Then his expression grew irritated. “You’re impossible to live with sometimes, d’you know that?”
The Kid smiled. “Why? ‘Cos of my naturally cheery demeanour?”
“Where’d you learn a word like demeanour?”
“Must’ve read it in a book.”
“Ha!” Holding up his cup, Heyes beckoned to the waitress and she brought over the coffee pot. They refrained from speaking until their cups had been refilled and she had left them alone.
“So what do you wanna do?” the Kid asked.
“I think we should go and see Wheat and the boys, first.”
“Yeah. Then I think we should head down to Pine River.”
The Kid considered this. “Okay. When do you wanna leave?”
“Fine.” Pushing back his chair the Kid got to his feet.
“Where you going?” Heyes asked.
“Figured I’d send Lom a telegram. Let him know we’re movin’ on.”
“Okay. I’ll meet you back at the hotel later.”
Curry pointed a finger at an array of pies and cakes on a nearby side table. “Don’t go eatin’ any of those. Don’t want you lookin’ like that new description.”
He grinned as he walked away. Heyes scowled at his partner’s back.
A lone figure holding a rifle stood on an outcrop at the entrance to Devil’s Hole. His face was hidden by his old cowboy hat allowing stock footage to be used once more.
Far below, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode into view. The Kid held up one hand and waved to the man on the ridge.
In response the lookout waved back and fired two shots into the air, warning the rest of the gang that someone was riding in.
Members of the Devil’s Hole Gang walked out of the main bunkhouse and into the sunshine as Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes rode into their camp. Kyle Murtry smiled when he saw the boys riding in and scurried towards the leader’s cabin. He shoved open the door and disappeared inside. Moments later he reappeared followed by Wheat Carlson.
Carlson frowned when he saw who was riding in. He muttered something under his breath before adjusting his hat and pulling himself up to his full height as he strode out to meet them.
“Hi Kid, Heyes,” Kyle said with a grin as their ex-colleagues pulled their horses to a halt.
“Kyle,” Curry replied, nodding to his friend. He looked towards the bunkhouse, recognising a few familiar faces. “Fellas,” he nodded a greeting. They nodded back, some touching a finger to the brim of their hats, others raising only their chin in response.
“What brings you fellas back here?” Carlson asked, hitching up his pants as he stopped in front of them.
“You back to lead us, Heyes?” Kyle asked, hopefully.
Wheat thumped him on the shoulder. “No, he ain’t!” He turned to the two ex-leaders and glared at Heyes. “You ain’t, are you?”
Heyes shook his head. “No, Wheat, I’m not.”
“Good.” He looked from Curry to Heyes and visibly relaxed. “So why are you here? You fellas need a place to stay? Need to lie low for a few days?”
“No, Wheat, we don’t,” the Kid assured him.
“We need to talk,” Heyes stated then climbed from the saddle as Kyle and Wheat exchanged confused glances.
Wheat stood beside the stove in the main cabin reading the newspaper article. Heyes sat at the large round table resting his chin on his hand, studying Carlson’s reaction. Curry stood leaning against a bunk bed, arms folded across his chest, eyes scanning the room. Wheat laughed then looked up at them smiling. Curry and Heyes exchanged a glance. Heyes frowned and shook his head and the Kid smiled.
Carlson walked towards them, strutting a little taller as he did so. “Glad to see they finally realised who came up with most of the plans,” he said. He passed the newspaper to Kyle who had been hovering nearby, anxious to see what the fuss was about. Kyle took it to one side, a frown on his face as he concentrated hard on reading the article.
“So what’s the problem?” Wheat asked.
“The problem is someone’s taking an interest in us and the gang. We want to know who.” The men around him exchanged glances. Heyes looked Wheat in the eye. “D’you know anything about that report?”
“No.” Wheat met Heyes glare. “I ain’t been talkin’ to no newspaper reporter if that’s what you think.”
“Well, somebody has,” Heyes stated and looked at Curry. His partner shrugged.
Behind Wheat, Kyle showed the article to Lobo who read it, then shook his head in disbelief. Hannibal Heyes decided to address the room.
“Any of you boys know anything about this, newspaper report? Anyone been asking you questions when you’ve been in town? Anyone you don’t know been a little too friendly? Wanting to know something about the gang? Maybe offering money for information?” The men shook their heads and Kyle began to tear out the article from the newspaper.
“Have you ever been to Pine River, Wheat?” Curry asked, pushing off the bunk as he did so.
“Not that I know of.” Wheat crossed his arms defensively.
Heyes got to his feet, shaking his head as he did so. “It doesn’t make sense. If no one’s been talking to you, or the fellas here, then who’s the ‘informed source’ they wrote about?”
The Kid looked at his friend and sighed. “D’you still want to head over to Pine River?”
“You’re not gonna let this go are you, Heyes?”
“I have to know what’s going on. I don’t like this.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing you got me and not Kyle watchin’ your back.” He smiled and Heyes smiled too.
“For that I am very grateful.” He looked around the room in time to see Kyle pin the newspaper article to the wall. Kyle tapped the man next to him on the shoulder and when the man looked up Kyle pointed to his name in the article and gave the other outlaw a tobacco stained grin.
Heyes strode towards them and ripped the article off the wall. He gave Kyle a glare and the smaller man smiled sheepishly back.
The Pine River meandered gently between stands of cottonwoods before opening out onto a grassy plain. Two trail-weary cowboys followed it as the river narrowed and passed under a recently constructed wooden bridge. A preacher drove a buggy over the bridge as the riders approached it. The minister nodded his head in greeting and both men touched the brims of their hats in reply before guiding their horses across the bridge as the preacher went on his way.
Heyes looked nervously around as they rode down the main street.
Beside him Kid Curry watched his friend and shook his head. “What are you so nervous about?”
“What do you think?” Heyes retorted.
“I think you should relax.”
“Relax?” Heyes hissed. “I may never relax again. Someone in this town is showing an unhealthy interest in us and I don’t like it.”
“Someone in this town thinks you’re a little fat guy. I’m the one who should be worryin’.”
As they rode by the sheriff’s office the door opened. The partners exchanged a glance as a man stepped out onto the boardwalk.
“D’you see any name above the door?” the Kid asked out of the side of his mouth, making a concerted effort not to look at the man.
They looked across at the man to find him leaning, thumbs hooked in his belt, against the porch post watching them. The shiny star pinned to his chest instantly identified him as the sheriff. He was a little under six feet tall, clean shaven, about thirty years of age and slim built. His brown cowboy hat was tilted to shade his eyes and he wore his gun tied down.
Heyes smiled cheerfully. “Howdy, sheriff.” He gave the man a wave.
Curry smiled too.
The sheriff nodded, said nothing, and continued to watch them as they made their way towards the saloon.
“Just keep calm and act fat,” the Kid said quietly as they rode on.
“Will you come away from the window- you’re startin’ to make me nervous,” the Kid pleaded.
Heyes stopped watching the street, dropped the net curtain and turned back into the hotel room where the Kid sat at the table cleaning his gun. Oil, cloths and various parts of a well-cared for Colt lay in front of him.
“How can you just sit there?” Heyes asked, exasperated as he walked over to the bed and sank down hard on the mattress.
“Gotta clean my gun sometime,” Curry informed him logically.
Heyes swung his legs up onto the bed, leaned back against the headboard and crossed his socked feet at the ankles. He sighed, heavily. When the Kid made no response, he sighed again, heavier.
“If you want to say something, Heyes, just say it,” his friend said without looking up from the rag he was using on the Colt’s cylinder.
“There is someone out there,” Heyes pointed in the direction of the street, “who…who…”
The Kid looked up. “Who what?”
“That’s just the thing. I don’t know what they’re up to and it’s…”
“…Drivin’ you crazy?”
“Frustrating. It’s frustrating that’s what it is,” Heyes finished.
“That’s why tomorrow mornin’ we’re goin’ over to the newspaper office to ask some questions.”
“We sure are.”
The Kid looked at his partner. “D’you know what questions we’re gonna ask?”
“I’m working on that,” Heyes assured him.
Curry smiled and looked down the barrel of the gun. “Glad to hear it. Why don’t you work on ‘em quietly while I finish this?”
Heyes looked aggrieved. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you wanted me to shut up.”
“Well, Heyes, you don’t know better.”
The dark-haired ex-outlaw looked at his partner’s back, pondering that reply.
The hotel waiters were still clearing away the breakfast plates when Heyes and Curry walked by the dining room on their way to the main door. Opening it, Heyes stepped out onto the boardwalk, followed by Curry. The sun was shining and a dog could be heard barking in the distance. A young couple walked by them on the boardwalk and Curry smiled pleasantly at the young woman. She hid her smile from her male acquaintance.
“You sure the newspaper office will be open at this time of the mornin’?” the Kid asked as Heyes set off along the boardwalk.
“It should be, the news doesn’t know what time of day it is.”
Curry swung into step beside his friend. They descended three steps, crossed an alley between the buildings then set off across the street to the offices of the Pine River Herald. Once outside, Heyes looked through the window and then headed towards the door. He gripped the door handle, turned it and went inside. Curry followed.
The newspaper office was empty when they stepped inside. A huge hand-press stood in the middle of the room. Bottles of ink, ink rollers, stacks of blank newspaper and pens lined shelves or were piled in the corners of the room or stacked on tables. Pages from past editions of the Herald were pinned to the wall and their eyes glanced at the headlines.
“Greased pig slips the noose.”
“It was a stitch up, says disqualified quilter.”
“Mayor’s daughter announces engagement.”
Heyes nudged his partner and pointed out the last one. “Looks like someone beat you to it.”
Curry rolled his eyes in response.
A sound from the back room caught their attention.
“Hello?” Heyes called.
There was a bang, like the sound of a book hitting the floor, someone said, “@%#!” and then it fell silent.
Curry and Heyes exchanged an amused look and then they heard footsteps approaching rapidly. A woman, in her mid-twenties appeared through the doorway carrying a pile of books. She wore a white apron and sleeve protectors on both arms over her dark blue dress. Her hair was piled on top of her head but several strands had sprung free and cascaded over her face. She stopped walking when she saw the two strangers in her office.
“Oh, I’m sorry I….” Flustered, she looked around desperate for somewhere to put her books. “I hope you didn’t hear…?” She pointed towards the back of the office with her chin.
“Hear what?” Heyes asked.
“What I erm…”
“Didn’t hear a thing,” he lied and she visibly relaxed.
The Kid stepped forward and held out his hands. “Allow me.”
She smiled, said, “Thank you.” Then dumped the books in his arms.
“Miss Pettigrew?” Heyes asked.
She turned to face him. “Yes.”
Heyes removed his hat. “I’m Joshua Smith and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.” Heyes looked at the Kid’s hat, expecting him to remove it, but there was nothing he could do while holding the books. Curry searched around, found a space on the edge of the desk and placed them there before swiftly removing his hat.
“Stella, please call me Stella, everyone does.” She held out her hand and Heyes shook it. When offered her hand Curry did the same. “How can I help you gentlemen?” Then she continued before either had a chance to speak. “If you want to place an ad in the classified section I’m afraid you’ve missed the boat. I’ve already printed that page for next week. Of course if you…”
She stopped when Heyes held up a hand. “We’re here about an article you wrote on the outlaws Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.”
Stella looked confused. “I don’t remember writing an article about them.”
“It was in your newspaper.”
She was clearly puzzled. “When was this?”
“I have the article here.” Heyes reached into his vest pocket, removed the folded piece of newspaper and held it out to her.
Stella took it from him and studying it, read. She looked confused. “I didn’t write this,” she said as she looked from Heyes to Curry.
“It’s in your newspaper,” the Kid reminded her.
“It is.” She nodded.
“So who did write it?” Heyes asked.
“I don’t know.” Her brow furrowed.
The Kid scoffed. “You must know who writes for your paper.”
She looked at him. “I write everything. I print it. I am the newspaper.”
“So, if you didn’t write it…” Heyes prompted.
“Then someone’s been adding things after I’ve set up the press.” She leaned back against the desk. “And I…I had no idea. And if they wrote this article then what else have they added? How have they added it? And when?” She put a hand to her forehead before looking back at the article. “This is in my newspaper. But this was not written by me.” She looked at the two men. “What has been going on?”
The Kid looked around the office. “Does anyone else work here?”
“No…well Grady but…”
“Who’s Grady?” Heyes asked.
“He’s an old friend,” she said dismissively. “He helps out, runs errands for me when I’m trying to reach the deadline and even cleans the rollers. For which I am exceedingly grateful. If you have ever tried to…I’m digressing.” She looked at Heyes. “Grady wouldn’t…”
“Someone has,” Heyes stated. “And that someone has to know how the printing press works.”
She met his gaze. “He wouldn’t.” Stella looked from Heyes to Curry. Neither man appeared convinced. “He wouldn’t,” she assured them. Their expressions did not change. “You don’t know Grady!”
She turned on her heels and walked to the back of the office. They waited patiently as she struggled with her inner thoughts. Stella turned back to face them. “I’ll ask him. There’s probably a perfectly good explanation for this.”
She patted the printing press comfortingly and a thought came to her. Her eyes narrowed. “Why are you so interested in the article anyway?”
“We’re bounty hunters,” Heyes explained. “We’ve been on the trail of Curry and Heyes for months now and we have a pretty good description of them both. So we’d like to know who came up with the new one for Heyes and who told your…” He searched for the most appropriate word. “…Reporter, about Wheat Carlson.”
“We’d like to talk to Grady,” the Kid informed her.
“So would I.”
“Where can we find him?” Heyes asked.
The sound of piano music greeted Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry as they strode along the boardwalk towards the saloon. Stella Pettigrew, no longer wearing her sleeve protectors, was three paces behind them and hurrying to catch up to them.
“Will you two slow down?” she pleaded and when they reached the saloon’s bat-wing doors they finally did as she asked.
She moved to pass them but they blocked her way. “I’m going in there,” she insisted.
“Just point out Grady to us,” Heyes suggested. “And we’ll talk to him.”
The partners exchanged a look.
“We’re not gonna hurt him,” the Kid informed her and from the look of horror on her face he could tell that thought had not occurred to her, until now.
“I should hope not!” she exclaimed. “Willis is a kind and gentle man. You have no reason to…”
Her words were cut short again when Heyes held up a hand, interrupting her. “It’s all right ma’am. My friend just wanted to assure you that no harm will come to Mister Grady. We just have a few questions for him and…”
“As do I!” she stated and pushed past them and through the doors into the saloon.
Once more the two ex-outlaws exchanged a look.
“Kinda stubborn, ain’t she?” the Kid said with a grin. “I think I like her.”
Heyes rolled his eyes and they followed her into the saloon.
Inside the saloon there were four men seated at a table playing poker, a pile of coins and bank notes comprising the sizeable pot. A glass of beer sat on the table in front of each man. Another two men, cowhands by their appearance, stood at the bar drinking whiskey. One of the men was about to poor another glassful but stopped mid-pour. They turned to face the three newcomers as the bat-wing doors swung shut behind them. The bartender, a tall, moustached man, wearing an apron tied at his waist, looked up. His expression clouded over when he saw Miss Pettigrew.
“Stella, I thought I told you last time you can’t come in here questioning my customers. It ain’t right and it ain’t seemly.”
“What makes you think I’m going to be questioning anyone?” she asked, somewhat affronted by his assumption.
He strode along the bar towards her. “Because you’re always askin’ questions.”
She met his stare and a smile slowly formed on her face. “Well then, Sam, can I at least talk to Grady?”
At the mention of the man’s name Heyes and Curry scanned the room for a likely suspect.
“You can,” the bartender agreed. “But only if he’s willin’ to talk to you. He comes in here to get away from you, you know, that right?”
Stella gave Sam a sweet smile. “Thank you, Sam.”
The big man huffed and went back to tending to his bar.
The Kid and Heyes waited to see who Stella would walk towards. In the end she headed for the poker table.
“Grady?” She stopped behind a grey-haired man in a dark jacket.
“What can I do for you, Stella?” he asked without turning round. He remained focused on the cards he held.
“I need to talk to you. When you’ve finished that hand can we…”
She didn’t finish her sentence because at that moment Grady threw in his cards.
“It’s finished,” he stated and pushed back his chair to stand up. He turned to face her. “Now, what’s so important you hafta come into a saloon to talk to me about?”
“Can we…?” Stella pointed to an empty table and Grady followed her.
When they reached it he became aware of two men walking towards them and turned to face the Kid and Heyes. His brow furrowed in recognition when he saw them.
The Kid dropped his hand beside his Colt as he turned to face Heyes. His partner had a similar expression on his face to Grady. His brow was creased. His eyes narrowed. He was studying the man intently. Both men clearly recognised the other. The question was, from where?
“Don’t I know you two from somewhere?” Grady asked.
“I have to admit you do look familiar,” Heyes agreed, tentatively.
Willis Grady was a little less than six feet tall and stout of build. His blond hair was turning grey along with his moustache. His eyes narrowed as he fixed them with an intense gaze clearly searching his memory. “I’m not sure but did we meet on a train?”
The Kid shifted uneasily, “Um, Joshua?”
Heyes smiled nervously and shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“No,” the Kid agreed. “Not a train.”
Grady bit his lip as he concentrated. “I’m sure it was a train. And maybe something about a hold up?”
“A hold up?” Stella’s voice rose as she absorbed this fact. “What hold up? When?” Her eyes opened wider with excitement. She fumbled in the pocket of her dress searching for her notebook.
“I don’t remember any hold up,” Heyes assured him.
“Nope, me either,” the Kid concurred. He shook his head to emphasise that there had definitely not been any hold up.
“It was a train.” Grady nodded certain of the fact. He looked Heyes in the eye. “And it was something to do with a hold up.”
“I doubt it.”
“No, definitely not a…” Heyes tried to assure him.
“That was it.” Grady nodded convinced. He pointed at Kid Curry. “The Devil’s Hole Gang!”
Heyes did not move.
The Kid did not move.
“The Devil’s Hole Gang?” Stella echoed. She looked from Heyes to the Kid. “But that’s what this is all about.”
Grady looked at her. “It is?”
“Yes. These men…”
“Heyes and Curry!” Grady suddenly exclaimed. He pointed now at Heyes and nobody moved.
The Kid’s jaw tightened. Heyes stared long and hard at Grady.
“Brimstone!” Grady waggled a finger between the Kid and Heyes. “You fellas were on the train to Brimstone.” He smiled.
Curry looked at Heyes, who did not take his eyes off Grady. There was a long awkward silence and then…finally…Heyes smiled too.
“Yes. We were on the train to Brimstone, with Harry Briscoe,” Heyes announced.
The Kid gave an inaudible sigh of relief. “Harry Briscoe.”
“Good ol’ Harry Briscoe,” Heyes said.
“What train?” Stella asked. “What hold up? Grady? What are you talking about? And who’s this Harry Briscoe?”
Grady looked at the Kid. “Jones! That’s who you are. I never forget a face or a name.” He smiled and then looked back at Heyes. “And…Mister Smith!”
“What train?” Stella repeated and finally Grady turned towards her.
“I used to work for the Bannerman detective agency, Stella.”
“You? You did?” she asked incredulous.
“Don’t look so shocked. I was a darn good detective.” He caught hold of her elbow. “I think we have quite a story to tell you.”
They were seated in the front parlour of Stella’s home. Heyes and Curry sat at either end of a three person couch. The Kid had a cup of coffee in his hand and took the occasional sip as he watched the proceedings play out before him. Grady sat in a large high-backed armchair on one side of the fireplace. Stella sat in another chair on the other side of the fireplace. She was perched on the edge of the seat as she frantically scribbled on a notepad. When she reached the end of her sentence she stopped writing, flipped over the page and looked up.
“Go on,” she urged Grady.
“That’s about it,” he assured her. “The men were not Heyes and Curry and the woman…”
“Sarah Blaine?” Stella confirmed.
“Yes, Sarah Blaine,” Grady continued. “She was proved to be a fraud. However, thanks to the help of Mister Smith and Mister Jones, here.” He smiled at them and they both nodded duly accepting the congratulations. “We stopped the second gang…”
“The Daley-Blaine Gang?” Stella checked once more.
“Yes. We stopped them from stealing the gold.”
Stella tapped the paper hard when she reached the final full stop. She looked up at Grady. “Why didn’t you tell me all of this before? This is an amazing story!”
“It’s not a story, Stella.”
“Amazing news, then.”
He shrugged. “It was old news.”
“But it’s a fascinating news story.” She looked from Heyes to Curry. “And now you two are on the trail of Curry and Heyes again. It’s come full circle.”
Grady looked at them in surprise. “You are? You boys are going after them?”
“Yes, we are,” Heyes stated.
Stella turned to her friend. “That’s why they’re here. There was a story printed in the Herald about the Devil’s Hole Gang and someone has changed the description of Hannibal Heyes on his Wanted posters.”
Grady remained silent.
“I didn’t write the story but, whoever did, knew how to use the printing press.” Stella watched Grady, searching for any sign of admission that it was him. “And they printed it without my consent.”
Heyes was more direct. “Was it you?” he asked Grady.
The older man did not respond for a moment. Instead he fixed his gaze on the carpet, apparently fascinated by the intricate patterns woven into it.
“Willis?” Stella prompted and finally he faced her.
“Yes, Stella, it was me,” he admitted shamefaced.
“Why?” she asked and then overcome by indignation leapt to her feet. “You had no right to put anything in the Herald without my permission. It’s my newspaper! I have editorial responsibility for everything that’s in it! People believe that what I write is the truth. They trust my reports! Now what are they going to think?”
“Stella, I know and I am sorry.”
“These men tell me that what you printed was lies. What’s going on Willis?” she implored.
Grady looked at Heyes and Curry still impassively seated on the couch. He let out a heavy sigh.
“We know the new description of Heyes isn’t true,” the Kid informed him.
Grady nodded. “I know. Harry Briscoe told me you two spent time at Devil’s Hole.”
Stella looked at them in surprise. “You did?”
The Kid nodded. “We did.”
“I’ll need to hear more of that story later,” she informed him. “If you have time, that is.”
“I’ll have time for you, Stella.” He smiled.
Heyes rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the other man. “Why did you write the story?” he asked as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Beside him, the Kid fixed Grady with an intense blue-eyed gaze.
“I wanted to catch Heyes and Curry.”
The Kid’s eyes shifted to his partner but Heyes remained focused on Willis Grady.
“Go on,” Heyes prompted.
“Harry Briscoe took all the credit for solving the Daley-Blaine Gang fiasco. The rest of us got nothing. It didn’t matter that he’d been fooled by Daley into bringing whiskey on board the train or that Sarah Blaine was proved to be a liar. Oh no, good ol’ Harry was the one George Bannerman rewarded.”
Heyes exchanged a quick glance with the Kid.
“I worked hard for the Bannerman Detective Agency for many years but Mister Bannerman didn’t listen to me when I tried to tell him what really happened. He didn’t want to know that Briscoe had almost allowed the Daley-Blaine Gang to attack a train full of drunken Bannerman men. It was all about Briscoe’s success. I’d had enough. So I left the agency.” He shook his head as he remembered. “But I wanted to prove I was just as good a Bannerman man as Harry Briscoe.” He chuckled. “Actually I wanted to prove that I was a better Bannerman man than Briscoe.”
“He’s a hard act to follow,” Heyes stated.
“You’re right about that, Joshua,” the Kid concurred.
Grady looked at Stella. “I’m sorry I used the newspaper. I know how much it means to you, but I thought if I could capture Heyes and Curry, Mister Bannerman would realise what a good detective I am.”
“But why change the Wanted poster? And how did you get the governor to agree to that?” she asked.
“I didn’t. I just printed some new ones and sent them out to all the towns within a certain distance from Pine River.” He looked at Heyes and the Kid. “I guess you just happened to be in the right area.”
“It still doesn’t explain why you wrote what you did, or changed the description,” Heyes reminded him.
Grady nodded. “From what I’ve heard or read about Hannibal Heyes over the years, he’s a proud man. He’s proud of his achievements as far as opening a safe is concerned. He’s proud of being the mastermind behind the gang’s success. He’s the planner. The brains of the outfit.”
The Kid shot Heyes a look and supressed a smile. Heyes tried his best not to bristle.
“So,” Grady continued, “I thought, what would irritate Heyes more than to have his accomplishments called into question?”
“He wouldn’t like that,” Curry agreed.
“Exactly; that’s what I thought,” Grady told him. “So, I printed a story making Wheat Carlson the brains and not Heyes. I thought that might hurt his ego enough to flush him out.”
“I reckon that would work,” the Kid agreed with a knowing smile and received a look from his friend. “I reckon he might just fall for that.”
“And in case that wasn’t enough I changed the description on the Wanted poster. Made it less flattering.”
“Fatter,” the Kid stated, helpfully. “And shorter too.”
“Thank you, Thaddeus,” Heyes said with a glare. “I’m sure Mister Grady remembers what he wrote.”
“Just tryin’ to be helpful, Joshua,” the Kid replied with a grin.
“What did you think Heyes would do?” Stella asked.
Grady sat back in the chair. “I thought he’d come here, to Pine River. I thought he’d want to know who dared to question his ability to plan a robbery.”
“I reckon you thought right,” the Kid agreed. “That’s the sort of thing a man like Heyes would do.”
“And then what?” Heyes asked.
“Then I’d arrest him, take him into custody and prove that I was a good Bannerman man, after all.” He sighed. “But I doubt that’s really going to happen.” He looked at Stella and his expression changed to one of embarrassment. “And now that I think about it, I realise that I may have done your newspaper harm in the process. And trying to lure Hannibal Heyes here may have put you in danger. I hope you can forgive me, Stella.”
She looked away. “Right now I don’t know what I think.”
“Well, I can reassure you about one thing,” Heyes said. “Neither Heyes nor Curry ever hurt anyone during a robbery so I doubt he’d hurt Stella. And we’ve been following their trial up north; it was only by chance we stumbled upon the new Wanted posters. So, I doubt Heyes or Curry have seen the new ones or read the Pine River Herald.”
“You mean I failed?” Grady asked, resigned to the fact.
“In some ways, yes,” Heyes agreed.
“Maybe Briscoe is the better Bannerman detective after all.” Grady looked to the ceiling in despair.
“So what happens now?” Curry asked and all three looked at him. “Well, you don’t think Heyes is coming here and we know they were up north so…What are you going to do now?”
Stella stood up determinedly. “We are going to print a story telling the truth.”
“Stella…” Grady began but she waved him silent.
“I won’t have lies printed in the Herald, not if I can help it. We’ll say a new source has come forward disputing what was told to us. We will print a retraction of sorts and we will reprint the Wanted posters and send them out. We can’t have the law in this territory looking for the wrong man.” She looked from Heyes to the Kid. “I’m grateful that you brought this to my attention, gentlemen.”
“It was our moral duty,” Heyes informed her.
It was the Kid’s turn to roll his eyes.
“What’s it feel like to be so predictable, Heyes?” the Kid asked as they rode side-by-side along a trail. The path cut through a mix of cottonwood and oak trees and the sun through the leaves cast dappled shade over the men and their horses.
Heyes remained silent.
Still there was no reply.
The Kid chuckled. “I mean Grady sure had you figured out. All that wounded ego.”
“All right!” Heyes snapped and shot the Kid a glare. “All right! I know I could have just led us into a trap. D’you think that makes me feel good? Well, it don’t!”
“D’you think I haven’t been kicking myself for falling for that? Well, I have! Satisfied?”
The Kid pulled his horse to a halt and Heyes had no choice but to do the same. When Curry didn’t say anything Heyes looked over at his partner. Slowly a smile formed on the Kid’s face. The smile turned into a wide grin and then the Kid began to laugh.
“Boy, you sure are easy to rile.”
Heyes tried his best not to smile. “Well, I feel kinda stupid.”
“Aw, Heyes, it wasn’t your fault.”
“But there might have been several Bannerman men waiting for us. It could have turned out worse, Kid. It could have been fatal.”
“That’s true, but Grady was wrong about one thing.”
“You’re not as bright as you think you are.” Heyes looked affronted. “If you were you’d have let them leave the Wanted poster the way it was. Then no one would have been looking for a skinny fella like you.” Before his friend could reply, the Kid kicked his horse and moved off fast.
Heyes shook his head as he smiled, then spurred his horse. “Yah!”
Cue end music and credits.