The Separation

The Separation
(A prequel to The Reunion series)

By Maz McCoy

“One day you’re gonna get your partner killed!”

“I know why you’re so quiet!” nineteen-year-old Kid Curry announced, as he urged his horse up a steep incline and between two large boulders. “You’re thinking it was all my fault.”

There was no reply from his friend, who was riding behind him.

“Well maybe it was! McKenzie accused me of cheatin’ and you know I wasn’t!”

Still there was no comment from Hannibal Heyes, just the steady plod of a horse. Heyes’ silence was getting to Kid more than any rebuke would. The young blond man gritted his teeth. Well if that’s the way he wanted it, so be it! They’d been at each other’s throats quite a bit these last few weeks. Maybe Heyes was right. Maybe they should split up for a while, go their separate ways and see if that worked. There was nothing written that said they had to stay together.

“You do think it’s my fault don’t you? What the heck was I supposed to do when he challenged me? Huh? Well?” he called over his shoulder. Still nothing. “DAMN IT HEYES, WILL YOU ANSWER ME!”

He turned in his saddle to glare at his friend. Heyes leaned over the horse’s neck as the animal moved up the incline.

“Heyes?”

“Do you think you could shut up for a while?” the dark-haired young man asked, quietly. “I don’t feel so good.” He looked up and Kid’s mouth dropped open in shock. Heyes had his right hand clamped to his left shoulder; blood ran through his fingers.

“Oh no! Heyes, why didn’t you say something?”

“Couldn’t get a word in edgeways,” Heyes stated, as Kid jumped from his horse and ran to his friend’s side.

“Let’s get you down.”

“I can ride.”

“Just get down, Heyes!” Two brown eyes met Kid’s. “Come on.”

Heyes fell more than climbed from the saddle, landing in a heap in the dirt with a loud groan.

“You shoulda said something.” Kid leaned his friend against a rock and gently opened the front of his shirt, to examine the wound.

“No point. We had to get away.” Heyes’ face was covered in sweat.

“Yeah, because of me.”

“No.”

“Heyes you know…” Heyes gave a sudden cry as Kid moved him forward. “Sorry. There’s no exit wound.”

“I guessed.”

“We hafta get you to a doctor.”

“None around here and we can’t go back.”

“Yes, we can.”

“No. McKenzie’s men would kill us both.”

“It’s me they wanted.”

“Yeah, and me they shot.”

Kid didn’t say anything as he pulled off his bandana and folded it.

“I don’t blame you, Kid.”

“Well I do.” He placed the bandana over the wound, pressing down. Heyes flinched. “Sorry. Press down on it.”

***

Previously

Lone Peak had seemed like a nice quiet town and the perfect place for two trail-worn young men, fresh from a cattle drive, to rest up for a few days. The beds in the hotel had clean sheets, the saloon served palatable whiskey, the working girls were pleasant company and the poker players were bad. Yep, it was a real nice place.

Kid Curry descended the stairs of the saloon with his arm around, a young blonde saloon girl. He smiled and whispered something in her ear, before sending her on her way and heading towards the poker table, where Heyes was already involved in a game.

“Mind if I join you gentlemen?”

No one did and he pulled out a chair and sat down.

The cards were dealt, drinks consumed and coins tossed into the pot. A reasonable amount of money ended up in front of Heyes, a little less before Kid. One of the players was a broad shouldered man named McKenzie. He was a rancher and a couple of his hands were also in the game. McKenzie might have been a successful rancher but he was a poor poker player. He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a watch on a chain.

“Is there somewhere you should be, Mr. McKenzie?” Kid asked, conversationally.

“I don’t think that’s any business of yours.”

“Just making conversation.”

Heyes eyes moved between his partner and McKenzie.

“Well don’t. Just shut up and play!”

Some of the other players tensed. Kid’s eyes met Heyes’. The dark-haired young man shook his head. Leave it.

“You don’t want me to talk at all?” Kid asked.

“I’d prefer it if you kept your mouth shut, that’s right.” McKenzie stared at Kid. The young blond man held his gaze.

Heyes had been watching McKenzie. He appeared to be waiting for someone to arrive and was obviously annoyed that they either weren’t going to turn up or were late. Certainly Kid’s remark was not enough to have sparked such anger in the man. Kid looked at Heyes and then turned to McKenzie.

“I didn’t realise I offended you.”

“Well you have with that drivel that’s been coming out of your mouth all night and my luck changed from the moment you sat down. Makes me wonder what you’ve been doing.”

“What I’ve been doing?”

Heyes grimaced and the look he sent his friend told him in no uncertain terms to drop it, NOW! Kid turned to McKenzie.

“I’ve not been doing anything Mr. McKenzie.”

“Well you’ve been doing all right for yourself.”

“So have several others here.” Kid gave a wave of his hand at the winnings lying before other players.

“And most of that money’s mine.”

“So do you think we’ve all been doing something?” Kid received a glare from Heyes for that remark, but chose to ignore it. “We can’t help it if you’re a bad player.”

McKenzie pushed back his chair.

“You’d better back that up son.”

Heyes closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh.

“Mr. McKenzie, I don’t believe my friend meant anything by that. I’m sure he’s sorry for that remark.” He looked at Kid. Sort this out now!

“Like I said before. I didn’t mean to offend you,” Kid told the rancher.

“You might not have meant it boy, but you sure did. I’m calling you out.”

“Over a remark?”

“Over a remark,” McKenzie assured him.

The other players pushed back their chairs, moving out of the line of fire. Heyes looked at Kid, registering his disapproval.

“I’m sure my friend would like to apologise…” Heyes began.

“It’s too late for that.” McKenzie stood up. “Get up boy!”

Kid cast a quick glance at Heyes, then got to his feet. Heyes shook his head.

“What’s going on boys?” a man asked from behind Heyes. Sheriff Oscar Tulloch stepped forward.

“Just a little disagreement Sheriff,” Heyes explained.

“Is that so? Well I think this game’s over for the night, don’t you boys?”

The other players were happy to agree but Mckenzie was still angry.

“I lost a lot of money, Oscar.”

“You always do, Mac. That’s why your wife tells you not to play. Go on, this young fella’s not worth the bother. Go home.”

Mckenzie shot a look at Kid.

“This isn’t over. You can count on that.”

“That’s enough Mac!” the sheriff warned. Mckenzie headed to the door, stopping to talk to his two ranch hands on the way. The sheriff turned his attention to Kid and Heyes. “What time are you leaving tomorrow boys?”

“We weren’t leaving…” Heyes caught the look in the sheriff’s eye. “Will after breakfast do?”

“Sounds a good time to me,” the lawman agreed. Heyes stood up. The sheriff could tell the young blond man wasn’t happy. “You got a problem with that son?”

“I don’t see why we hafta leave town. I wasn’t cheating.”

“No, but the longer you’re here the more chance there is of trouble, so I think it’s best for everyone, if you ride on.” He held Kid’s gaze.

“He’s right.” Heyes placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s go back to the hotel.”

Reluctantly Kid allowed Heyes to lead the way towards the batwing doors.

“I’m gonna take a walk,” Kid stated when they were outside on the boardwalk.

“Kid…”

“It’s all right, Heyes. I’m not looking for any trouble. I just…Look I’m just gonna take a walk okay?”

“Want me to come with you?”

“No. Go on, I can take care of myself.”

Heyes smiled.

“I’m not too sure about that.”

“I’ve calmed down. I won’t cause any trouble.”

“All right. I’ll see you later.”

Kid watched as his friend headed across the muddy street to the hotel. He looked up at the sky, angry clouds drifted across the moon. There would be more rain before the night was out.

***

Hannibal Heyes sat in the armchair in his hotel room reading the newspaper. When he had exhausted all the interesting articles he started on the advertisements, amazed at how expensive feed for horses had become and marvelling at the new fashions ladies were wearing this spring. Putting down the newspaper he stood up and looked out the window. No sign of Kid. He hoped he hadn’t gone back to the saloon; hoped he hadn’t gone looking for McKenzie.

Heyes yawned and sat down on the bed and pulled off his left boot. He grabbed hold of the right boot by the ankle and was just about to give a tug when he heard the door open. He looked up. Just as he expected it was Kid. He was about to ask him where he’d been when he saw the bruises on his friend’s face, his cut and swollen lip and the mud on his clothes.

“What the heck happened to you?” he asked getting quickly to his feet.

“Don’t Heyes, please.” Kid headed for his own bed at a slow and painful pace.

“Don’t what?” Heyes asked as he came to stand in front of his friend. “I thought you said you weren’t looking for trouble.”

“I wasn’t.” Kid lowered himself onto the edge of the bed, holding his ribs as he did so. Heyes glared at him.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“What happened?”

“Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters! The sheriff wants us out of town. He warned us off. Didn’t you get any of that?”

“I heard him.”

“But you went looking for trouble anyway, is that it?”

“NO!”

“So you did this to yourself?”

Kid looked at his friend, and then gave a heavy sigh.

“I got jumped.” He could see Heyes was waiting to hear more. “I was on my way back to the hotel. McKenzie’s ranch hands dragged me into an alley. They told me it was payback for their boss.” Kid eased himself back on the bed and groaned.

“How bad you hurt?” Heyes’ tone softened.

“I don’t think anything’s broken.”

Heyes shook his head and went to the chest of drawers. He poured some water from the jug into the bowel, dampened a towel and returned to his friend.

“Hold still,” he commanded as he wiped the blood from Kid’s mouth. Kid flinched and tried to pull away. “Keep still!”

Heyes held the cloth to Kid’s left cheek.

“You just can’t stay out of trouble can you?”

“I didn’t ask to get beaten up.”

“Didn’t you?”

Kid looked up but said nothing.

“Let me take a look at your ribs,” Heyes instructed.

“Heyes you don’t hafta…”

“No, I don’t, you’re right about that, but who else is gonna take care of you? You sure as heck don’t!”

Two ice blue eyes met his gaze and then slowly Kid began to pull his shirt from his pants. When he could do so, he raised his shirt and Henley.

“Aww Kid!” Heyes looked at the bruises on the blond man’s side. “We should have the doctor take a look at you.”

“I don’t need the doctor.”

“You could have broken ribs.”

“They’re not broken!”

“Well, I must have missed you going to medical school.”

“I’d know if they were broken.”

“Oh yeah. How?” Heyes pressed on Kid’s ribs and the young man cried out. “That feel broken to you?”

Kid glared at him.

“Well?”

“I don’t know,” Kid admitted. Heyes sighed, taking pity on his friend. He stood back, watching as Kid tried to bend down to pull off his boots.

“I’ll do that.”

“I can manage.”

“No you can’t.” Kid relented and lay back on the bed. Heyes pulled off his boots and dropped them on the floor. Kid unbuckled his gun belt and Heyes took it from him, hanging it over the bed post. Kid closed his eyes. “We’ll talk in the morning.”

“Sure, Heyes. Whatever you say.”

The dark-haired man sat on his own bed and pulled off his right boot. He looked at his friend; eyes closed, trying not to show how much just breathing was hurting him. Heyes shook his head. Trouble just seemed to find Kid.

***

They had ridden out of town after breakfast. Despite Heyes’ protestations, Kid had refused to see a doctor, claiming that he was fine, his ribs were fine and he was fit to ride. Heyes knew it wasn’t true but he decided to let his friend win the battle. As soon as they reached the hill on the North side of town, five men on horseback rode out from behind the livery stables. The men rode up to the hill and then took the same trail as the partners down a slope and along a riverbank. Heyes and Kid changed course, crossing the river at a shallow point, but the men stuck with them. There was no question they were being followed and their pursuers were in no rush to catch up.

“What do you think?” Heyes asked as they watched the men approach from the vantage point of a rocky outcrop.

“McKenzie’s men,” Kid stated, recognising one of them from the poker game the night before. He removed his gun from its holster and checked the chamber. “They want me.”

“You’re not going to shoot them?”

“It just pays to be ready.” Realising the sense in Kid’s words, Heyes checked his own gun. “Come on.” Kid grimaced as he got to his feet and led the way back to their horses. They swung themselves into the saddle and cast a glance back at the approaching riders.

“Fight or run?” Kid asked.

“There’s five of them.”

“I can count, Heyes.”

The dark-haired man smiled.

“We don’t know they’re after you.” Kid gave him a look. “All right we do.”

“So?”

“The sheriff’s not going to be too pleased if we get into trouble again.”

“Run it is then. I can’t see them following us for long anyway, just making sure we’re not coming back.”

“You sure you’re up to a hard ride?”

“If I’m being chased I am.” He nodded to his friend and kicked his horse on.

McKenzie’s men spotted them riding hard across open country. Contrary to their expectations they did not give up the chase but urged their own horses into a gallop. When the men started shooting at them it became a race for their lives.

“You should have let me shoot ‘em!” Kid called over his shoulder.

“Just shut up and ride!”

***

The Present

“Here.” Kid held out a canteen and Heyes took a long drink of water.

“Thanks.” Sweat covered his face and he was trying his best not to show how much pain he was in. The bandana he held to his shoulder was already soaked in blood.

“Let me take you back,” Kid pleaded.

“No. There’s a little town a couple of hours ride from here. Spring something or other. On the other side of the river. I bet they have a doctor.”

“And if they don’t?” Two worried blue eyes met Heyes’.

“Then we’ll go back to Lone Peak.”

Kid wasn’t going to spend time arguing with his partner.

“All right. Let’s get you back on your horse.” He held out a hand and pulled Heyes to his feet. His friend cried out in pain and almost collapsed with the effort of standing. When he’d composed himself, he allowed Kid to help him into the saddle.

***

“Will you stop watching me,” Heyes complained, as they rode, side by side.

“I’m keeping an eye on you. Making sure you don’t fall off.”

“Kid, you worry about staying on your horse and I’ll worry about staying on mine.”

“We should have gone back.”

“No, we shouldn’t.”

Kid pulled his horse to a halt, ready to argue the point.

“Kid, can we talk about it later, please?” Heyes asked weakly and then he began to slide from the saddle.

“Heyes?” Kid grabbed the front of his friend’s shirt to stop him falling. “HEYES!” There was no reply.

***

People in the small community of Springwood looked up in surprise when the men rode into town. They watched as the young man, on a large black horse, rode slowly down the main street. A dark-haired man was slumped in the saddle in front of him. The blond man was doing his best not to let his friend fall. Another horse trailed behind, the reins tied around the saddle horn of the lead animal.

“Is there a doctor in town?” Kid called to the first man he saw.

“Sure son. Last house on the right. Dr. Cole.” The man pointed into the distance, as he looked at the blood on the unconscious man’s shirt.

Kid thanked him and rode slowly to the doctor’s house. He noted the small general store, saloon, boarding house and the lack of a sheriff’s office. If there was any trouble in Springwood, he assumed they sent to Lone Peak for the law. The newly constructed buildings on the edge of town signified that this was a growing community.

The doctor’s house, stood alone, surrounded by a small garden. Kid eased himself from the saddle and then helped Heyes down. Heyes was fading in and out of consciousness. Kid sat his friend on the ground and leaned him against a fence post, then walked up to the house. He knocked and waited, anxiously, for someone to answer.

A shadow moved inside the house and then the door was opened by a tall man in his mid forties. His eyes fell on the young man, with bruises on his face and blood stains on his shirt.

“Are you the doctor?” Kid asked.

“Yes, son, I am. You’d better come in.”

“Not me. It’s my friend.” Kid pointed to where Heyes sat slumped sideways. “He’s been shot.”

The doctor went quickly to the injured man. Heyes’ eyes opened as the man crouched in front of him and pulled back the bandana at his shoulder.

“I’m a doctor; Reuben Cole. What’s your name, son?”

“Heyes,” the dark-haired young man said weakly. He closed his eyes again and the doctor looked up at Kid.

“Let’s get him inside.”

Kid nodded.

“ABIGAIL!” the doctor called as they carried the semi-conscious man through to a bedroom.

“PA?” came a distant reply.

“I need your help.”

There was the sound of footsteps descending the stairs and then a young woman of no more than sixteen appeared in the doorway. Her eyes fell on Kid, took in his bloody shirt, and then went to the man lying on the bed.

“What’s happened?” she asked, moving to the patient’s side.

“Gun shot wound. Abigail, I’m going to need…” Her father reeled off a list of the things he required and his daughter left the room. Kid stood at the foot of the bed, anxiously watching his friend. Abigail returned a few moments later with the instruments the doctor had asked for. Father and daughter were clearly used to working as a team. They carefully removed Heyes’ bloodstained shirt and Henley, ignoring his mumbled protestations with clinical care.

“I’m Reuben Cole and this is my daughter, Abigail.”

“How do you do?” Abigail said politely as she collected together Heyes’ discarded clothes.

“I’m Jed Curry.” Kid nodded to his friend, lying stripped to the waist on the bed, the hole torn in his shoulder by the bullet was bloody and raw. Kid couldn’t hide his concern. “He’s Heyes. Hannibal Heyes. He prefers it if you call him, Heyes.”

“Doesn’t like the name Hannibal?” Dr. Cole asked, as he wiped clean the flesh around the wound.

“No, he just doesn’t want anyone to forget his family.”

“Why would they do that?” The doctor examined the bloody wound. Heyes writhed beneath the man’s touch.

“Because they’re all dead.”

The doctor looked up, noting for the first time just how young the blond man was.

“Mine too,” Kid added. “Killed. In the war.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It was a long time ago, Doc.”

That may have been true, but it was obvious to Reuben Cole that time had not completely healed that particular wound. He returned his attention to the more recent one.

***

“Well that’s as much as I can do for now,” he told the unconscious Heyes, as he stood back and stretched his shoulders.

“Will he be all right?” Kid asked. He’d watched as they had searched the wound for the bullet; watched Heyes writhe in pain; seen his knuckles turn white as he gripped the doctor’s hand; knowing all the time that it has been his fault his friend was hurt.

Doctor Cole cast a glance at Kid, noting the anxiety on his face. The young man winced as he pushed off the wall.

“We’ll let him sleep and see how things are in the morning.”

“Thank you, Doc,” Kid said, unable to put into words the full extent of his gratitude.

“I hope I’ve done enough.” Doctor Cole washed his hands in a basin and dried them on the towel Abigail held out to him. He smiled at her, and then turned towards Kid. “Will you join me in my surgery?”

Kid nodded and followed the doctor into the room that doubled as an office and surgery. Books lined one wall and Kid smiled, knowing Heyes would be in his element if he was allowed to see them; he’d never known a man who read as much as Heyes did. Kid’s eyes fell on a microscope standing on the table. Now that he’d like to look at.

“Please, sit down.” Doctor Cole indicated a chair and Kid sat, unaware that his every movement was under the doctor’s scrutiny. “How bad do your ribs hurt?”

Kid’s head shot up and he feigned ignorance.

“What?”

“Your ribs. How bad do they hurt?”

“I’m fine, Doc.”

“Young man, you’ve got fresh bruises on your face and you wince practically every time you move. So I’ll ask you again; how bad do they hurt?”

Kid looked at the floor, thinking.

“They’re not broken.”

“May I be the judge of that?” Kid met the man’s gaze. “May I examine you?”

“Doc, really I’m fine.”

“Let me have a look and I’ll be happy to confirm that for you.” Kid thought for a minute and the doctor made the decision for him. “Take your shirt off.”

Kid gave a heavy sigh, stood up and pulled his shirt and Henley from his pants. Try as he might he couldn’t stop groaning as he pulled them over his head. He dropped them on the chair and looked sheepishly at the doctor.

“They do hurt a little,” he admitted.

Doctor Cole smiled but his expression turned serious when he saw the purple bruises across Kid’s body.

“Yell, if this hurts,” he warned and then he pressed Kid’s side. The young man flinched and took a step backwards.

Kid met the doctor’s gaze and the medic continued to apply pressure to his side. Kid did his best not to complain but…sheesh that sure hurt!

“Pa, I’m going to the store, do you..?” Abigail’s words were cut short when she caught sight of Kid, stripped to the waist. “I’m sorry,” she turned quickly. The doctor smiled when he saw, the young man blush and turn away too.

“Excuse me,” he said to Kid and followed his daughter out of the room. Kid could hear a mumbled conversation. The doctor returned a moment later, to find Kid about to pull on his Henley. “I’m sorry about that. Now where were we?”

“I’m fine doc, if you have other things to do…” Kid put his arm in a sleeve.

“Stay right where you are!” Kid stood still. “Put that shirt down. I’m not finished with you yet, young man.” Kid was too tired to argue and allowed Doctor Cole to finish his examination. When he was finally allowed to get dressed, Kid looked at the doctor, waiting to hear the prognosis.

“Well you’re right, no ribs are broken, but you were lucky.”

“I don’t feel too lucky.”

“You took quite a beating.”

Kid pulled on his shirt.

“Will you tell me what happened?”

“I got jumped.”

“Was it anything to do with who shot your friend?”

“Yeah.” Kid shifted uncomfortably. “It was. Is it okay if I get some fresh air?”

“Of course.” He watched as Kid left the room, wondering when, if ever, he would get the full story of what happened to the two young men. Young men who wore their guns tied down and carried the scars of previous bullet wounds on their bodies.

***

Kid was sitting on the porch steps when Abigail returned from the general store. She carried a brown paper bag and stopped when she saw him sitting there. Abigail didn’t know why she had been embarrassed when she found her father examining him. After all she had just helped undress his friend and she had helped her father on many occasions with his patients. She wasn’t a stranger to the human body it was just that he wasn’t that much older than her and…

Kid eased himself to his feet as she approached. He touched the brim of his hat.

“Miss,” he said, politely. She smiled.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

“I didn’t mean to burst in on you like that.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Kid looked awkward.

“I…I saw the bruises.”

“It’s nothin’.”

“It didn’t look like nothing. It looked painful.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“Who did that to you?”

“Just some men who…took a dislike to me.”

“Did they shoot your friend?”

Kid nodded.

“One of them did.”

She moved past him towards the house and Kid eased himself back down.

“Will they come after you?”

“I don’t think so.”

She considered this.

“I’m going to make coffee. Would you like a cup?”

“Yes, Miss. Thank you.”

Abigail went into the house. Kid leaned back against the porch post.

***

The front door opened and Doctor Cole stepped out onto the porch.

“Here.” He held out a steaming mug of coffee to the blond man, still sitting on the porch step. Kid took it, thanking him, as he did so. “I like to sit here in the evening and watch the town. It’s nice to grab a few quiet moments to myself.”

“I could go inside if you want to be alone.” Kid made a move to stand up.

“No, it’s fine. Stay where you are.” He leaned against the opposite porch post. “Do you have anywhere to stay tonight?”

“Not yet. I was going to see if I could get a room at the hotel.”

“You’re welcome to stay here. The couch is fairly comfortable.”

“Thanks, Doc. I would like to stay with Heyes. You sure you don’t mind?” Kid looked hopeful.

“I don’t mind, I wouldn’t have offered if I did, and, if he wakes in the night, I think your friend would appreciate you being there too.”

Kid was beginning to doubt that.

The doctor lowered himself onto the step and they sat in companionable silence for a while, as the doctor observed Kid out of the corner of his eye. He watched his hands tear up a blade of grass. “It must have been quite a shock for you, seeing your friend shot.”

“Yeah it was. The bullet was meant for me.”

“I see.” The doctor looked into the distance, watching white clouds slid over the mountain tops. “He’s been shot before.”

Kid looked at him, surprised.

“He has a scar.”

“Yeah. That was my fault too.”

“You shot him?”

“No! But he got shot because of me. I guess it’s kinda dangerous knowing me.”

“Do you really believe that?”

“I’m beginning to.”

“And what does Heyes say?”

“He’d say it wasn’t true but the truth is Doc, he’s been shot twice and I was the cause of both.” Kid stood up and looked down at the older man. “I’m gonna take a walk.”

The doctor watched Kid walk away. There was a lot of anger inside that young man and most of it was directed at himself.

***

Abigail adjusted the sheet across Heyes’ chest. The bandage at his shoulder would need changing soon. She studied his face. He was a handsome man; broad shoulders, strong arms. There was an air of adventure about him. He had been shot escaping from trouble. All the young men she had been introduced to, in her time back East with her Aunt Agatha, had been so dull. She had been sent there by her father to be taught more lady-like ways. She couldn’t wait to get back to the West. However, Springwood was a small town and there were only two eligible men, neither of whom she took any interest in. And then Jed and Heyes had arrived in her home. Jed was good looking but too boyish and anyway, she preferred dark-haired men. Heyes groaned, flinching as he moved. She touched his arm. He wasn’t much older than she was. He wore a gun and was in trouble. No doubt her father would think him totally unsuitable, but she didn’t.

***

Kid laid his bedroll out on the floor beside Heyes’ bed.

“I’m used to sleeping on the ground, Doc. Floorboards are a luxury.” He smiled as he unrolled his blanket.

“Somehow I can’t believe that but, if you’re sure? The couch is much softer.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“In that case, Jed, I’ll see you in the morning. If those ribs give you any more pain, give me a shout. Good night.”

“Good night, Doc and thanks.”
When the door closed, Kid turned to look at his friend. Heyes was still unconscious. A few beads of sweat had formed on his forehead and there was a small bloodstain on the dressing at his shoulder.

“I sure hope you’re working on getting better.” There was no response from the sleeping figure. “Good night, Heyes.”

Kid turned his back, but paused before lying down. He looked back at his friend.

“I’m sorry.”

***

The smell of cooking bacon drifted into the bedroom and woke Kid the following morning. He took a moment to get his bearings, and then peered up at the bed. There was no movement from the shape beneath the blankets. Getting slowly to his feet, Kid winced and looked at Heyes. He moved to the bedside. Reaching out a hand his touched his friend’s forehead. It was hot and damp. However, there was no more fresh blood on the bandage, which was a good sign. Kid scratched his chin, feeling the stubble. He needed a wash and shave.

Having found his razor, he poured some water into a large basin that stood on the chest of drawers and angled the mirror to catch the light. He stripped to the waist and stood barefoot, in his long johns as he prepared the soap. He examined his bruised face in the mirror. He would have to be careful with the razor. Standing back he could see his torso. The bruises on his ribs were shades of purple and brown. They still hurt too. He looked at his face in the mirror once more and applied a generous amount of soap. He slid the razor down his jaw.

The bedroom door suddenly opened and Abigail walked in.

“Oh!” She gave a startled gasp. “I thought…”

“What the heck!” Kid exclaimed, turning swiftly away so as not to face her in just his under clothes. He cut himself with the razor as he did so. “OW!”

“I’m sorry. I thought…My father said you were going to sleep on the couch.”

“Well obviously I’m not!”

“I didn’t know that!” She addressed his back.

Kid grabbed a towel, dabbed his chin and looked at the blood on it.

“Will you just get outta here!” Kid snapped. Abigail left the room. When the door closed, Kid turned back to the mirror and looked at the streak of blood trickling down his chin. “Damn it!” He pressed the towel on the wound and looked in the mirror at the reflection of his sleeping friend. “Every time she walks in one me I’ve got less clothes on. If you don’t wake up soon, Heyes, I don’t know what she’s gonna see next.”

Once again, there was no reply.

***

Abigail looked at the cut on Kid’s chin as she placed the breakfast plate in front of him.

“Thanks,” he mumbled and tentatively touched his chin. “I could have got breakfast at the cafeteria.”

“Nonsense,” her father told him. “It’s nice to have some male company and cooking for three is as easy as cooking for two, isn’t that right Abigail?”

“Yes, Pa.” Abigail placed her own plate on the table and sat opposite Kid.

“That’s quite a nick you took out of your chin this morning, Jed,” the doctor observed. Kid felt Abigail’s eyes on him.

“Yeah. I guess I wasn’t really awake when I was shaving.” Without looking at her he forked a piece of bacon.

“It doesn’t look as if it needs stitches.”

“It’s fine, really.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t press you this time, but I will keep an eye on it.” The doctor smiled and noted Abigail’s determination not to look at the young man. Clearly something had taken place between them that he wasn’t to be privy to. “I’ll take a look at Heyes’ wound after breakfast. Make sure it’s healing right.”

Kid looked up.

“How much do we owe you Doc?”

“We can talk about that later. I never discuss money when I’m eating. It’s not good for the digestion.”

“I just want to make sure I have enough.”

“We’ll discuss it later.”

“Okay. Thank you.” Kid forked another piece of bacon.

***

“Thank you for not saying anything about this morning.” Abigail sat on the bed beside Heyes.

“There was nothing to say.” Kid leaned against the wall, watching as she wiped Heyes’ forehead with a cool cloth. Abigail rinsed the cloth in a basin, rung out the water and then wiped it down his arms. Heyes muttered something but did not wake.

“He’s very handsome.” She ran a hand over his chest, forgetting that Kid would see.

“Some women seem to think so.” Kid eased himself into the armchair, watching how she looked at his friend.

“Is he married?”

“Heyes?” Kid sounded incredulous.

“Yes.”

Kid laughed.

“No, Miss, he’s not married.” He saw her smile.

“Does he have a special girl?”

“Not that I know of.”

“What about you?” She looked at him. “Are you married?”

“No. And no special girl either.”

“My Pa said you move around a lot. Why is that?”

“We haven’t found anywhere we want to settle, I guess.”

“Where were you raised?”

“Kansas.”

“Would you go back there?”

“No.”

It was said quickly and with determination.

“Not ever?” She watched his face as he stared at the floor.

“Not ever.”

“Because your family were killed there?”

Kid stared at his hands, thinking.

“Yeah.”

Abigail rinsed the cloth again, then wiped Heyes’ chest.

“You both wear guns. Tied down too. Are you gunmen?”

“NO!”

“But you wear them like you’re expecting trouble.”

“We know how to protect ourselves, that’s all.”

“But you couldn’t this time.”

“No, we couldn’t.”

***

Kid sat with his friend for the rest of the day. Abigail relieved him from time to time. Heyes bandage was changed, the wound examined by the Doctor and pronounced to be ‘healing nicely’. Heyes temperature rose but Dr. Cole was not unduly worried. As his friend mumbled in his sleep, Kid dozed in the armchair.

After breakfast the next morning, Abigail arrived to check on Heyes.

“How is he?” she asked, as she approached the bed.

“The same.” Kid winced as he pushed himself up from the chair.

“Do you want my Pa to take another look at you?”

“I’m fine.”

“No you’re not, but you are stubborn and pig headed.”

“Hey!”

“Well you are. Why do men always have to pretend there’s nothing wrong, when clearly there is?”

Before Kid could reply, Heyes gasped for breath. His eyes slowly opened. Kid watched anxiously as he tried to focus.

“Hello, Mister Heyes.” Two brown eyes met Abigail’s. Heyes took a moment to study her face and then he smiled. Two dimples appeared in his cheeks and Abigail smiled back.

“You must be an angel.”

Kid shook his head. Sheesh.

“No. I’m Abigail.”

“You look like an angel to me.” Another dimpled smile.

“I don’t think you can focus yet.”

“I got shot.”

“I know.”

Kid stepped into view.

“Hey partner, how you doin’?”

“I feel like a mule kicked me in the shoulder.”

“I’ll get my Pa.” Abigail gave Heyes another smile and stood up. She picked up the basin and cloth and left the room.

“Her Pa’s the doctor,” Kid explained.

“Where are we?”

“Springwood. The doctor’s house.”

“How long have I been out?”

“A couple of days.”

Heyes considered this.

“Any sign of McKenzie?”

“No.”

The door opened and Reuben Cole hurried into the room. He smiled at his patient.

“Mr. Heyes, you’re back with us at last!”

***

As Heyes slept, Abigail sat in the armchair, darning a stocking. Heyes muttered something and she looked up.

“Kid…shoot…” The rest was unintelligible. She put down her sewing and went to his side.

“Shh,” she soothed, brushing a strand of hair from his forehead. She ran the back of her fingers down his cheek. “It’s all right. You’re safe. I’ll look after you.” When he was calm Abigail returned to the chair, picking up the needle and thread. She kept her eyes on him until she was sure he had settled.

***

Kid picked up the axe and swung it at the lump of wood on the chopping block. He winced as the axe made contact with it, and the vibration reverberated through his body.

“What are you doing?” a voice asked behind him. Kid turned to see Reuben Cole standing at the back door.

“I thought I could help out. Cut some wood for the stove.”

“And do more damage to your ribs in the process?”

“I didn’t think about that.”

“So I see.” Dr. Cole stepped towards him. “Give me the axe.”

Kid did so.

“Go sit with your friend, Jed. He’s awake again and I’m sure he’d like to see you.” Kid looked doubtful. “I think you’re the only one blaming you for this.”

***

Kid’s hand hovered over the door handle. He’d never avoided his friend before, but he was feeling guilty about the reason Heyes was shot. It didn’t matter what the doctor said, the truth was, he’d been the cause of the trouble.

Turning the handle he pushed open the door. Abigail was sitting in the chair beside the bed. Heyes smiled when Kid entered the room. Abigail didn’t look so pleased.

“Hey,” Heyes said. He was struck once more by how young Kid still looked.

“Hey yourself.”

The bruises on Kid’s face were fading but Heyes could tell by the way he carried himself that he was still hurting.

“You okay?”

“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

“I know how I am. You I’m not so sure about.”

“I’m fine Heyes.”

“Hmm. Can we argue about this later? We both know I’m right but I don’t think I’d win the argument right now.”

Kid smiled.

“Okay.”

Abigail stood up.

“I’m going to make a start on dinner.” She left the room.

Kid lowered himself into the armchair.

“The Doctor seems nice,” Heyes observed.

“Yeah, he is.”

“Nice daughter too.”

“Hmmph.”

“You don’t like her?”

“She’s prickly.”

“You mean she didn’t fall at your feet the minute you turned those blue eyes on her?”

“I think she prefers you.”

Heyes looked interested.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I need nursing. It’s bringing out her maternal side.”

“Weren’t nothing maternal about the way she was washing you.”

“She washed me?”

“Well it sure wasn’t me.”

Heyes considered this.

“She likes me huh?”

“Yeah, Heyes she likes you.”

He smiled at his partner.

“She’s young.”

“Old enough to marry.”

“I guess she is.”

“You planning on settling down Heyes?”

“You know I’m not.”

“Better make sure Abigail knows it too.”

“Huh?”

“I think she has her eyes on you.”

“That’s understandable.”

Kid gave him a look but decided not to comment. Heyes closed his eyes. Kid searched inside his saddlebags. Heyes’ breathing slowed and deepened. While Heyes slept, Kid cleaned his gun, raising his head now and again whenever Heyes moaned or muttered something.

“How is he?” a voice asked sometime later.

Kid looked up to see Abigail standing in the doorway.

“Sleepin’ again.”

She moved to Heyes’ side. Kid watched her.

“I can sit with him, if you’d like to stretch your legs.”

“Thanks.” Kid stood up, stretching his back as he did so. When he left the room, Abigail pulled the chair closer to the bed.

“I’m back,” she whispered and touched his arm.

Heyes eyes opened. He saw her and smiled.

***

“Hi Sweetie.” The saloon girl ran her hand across Kid’s back as she moved behind him, where he sat at a table nursing a drink. “Want some company?”

Kid looked up at her and she was startled by the sad expression in his blue eyes.

“Sheesh, Honey, you look like you just lost your best friend.” She sat in the chair beside him and placed her hand on his arm. His eyes met hers. “Did you lose someone?”

“Reckon I’m gonna.”

She thought for a moment.

“Is your friend the one at the Doc’s?” Kid nodded. “He’s not gonna make it?”

“He’ll make it.”

“Then why you so sad? That’s good news ain’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s good.” Kid looked vacantly back at his drink; clearly there was something more on his mind. “It’s real good.”

***

Kid stumbled as he climbed the steps to the front porch. He wasn’t drunk, just tired. After all he’d only had…what was it three…or maybe four? No wait he’d bought a drink for…? What was her name? Sally…that was it. He smiled. She’d been real nice.

The front door opened and Doctor Cole stood before him. He wore his robe and carried a lamp. Kid stood upright.

“Evening, Jed.”

“Doc.” Kid placed a hand on the doorframe to steady himself.

“Looks like you had a good evening.”

“Yessir.” Kid gave him a smile which was more of a silly grin.

“Abigail is in bed and I’m heading for my own. I’d appreciate it if you would be quiet when you enter the house. Try not to wake Heyes too.”

“Yessir. I’ll be real quiet, you have my solemn promise.” He hiccupped. “Sorry.” He smiled again.

Reuben Cole wasn’t sure the young man would actually manage to be quiet but, he stood to one side and watched as Jed Curry made his way, with the aid of the walls, towards the back bedroom. The doctor smiled as he closed the door. That young man was going to have a headache in the morning. The doctor headed up the stairs to his bed.

***

Kid paused at the bedroom door. He could hear voices. Placing one hand flat on the door he pushed it open slightly. Abigail sat on the bed beside Heyes. Kid’s mouth dropped open. He couldn’t be hallucinating, the beer wasn’t that strong. If his eyes weren’t fooling him Abigail and Heyes were…They were kissing. Heyes ran a hand through her dark hair, clearly enjoying himself. Abigail placed a hand on his friend’s bare chest and then slowly moved it beneath the blanket. Kid turned away, leaning his back against the wall. The doctor had gone upstairs, believing his daughter to be asleep in her own room; he wouldn’t take too kindly to finding her with Heyes. Kid went into the front parlour and sat down heavily on the couch. If the doctor found out…well he’d want them to leave for sure. Kid put his head in his hands. Why did everything have to be so complicated?

“Aww Heyes.”

***

“Good morning.” Kid opened his eyes and turned over on his bed roll. He found Abigail standing over him. She held out a glass. The liquid inside was cloudy. “My father said you might be needing this.”

“What is it?” Kid rubbed his eyes and sat up. His neck was stiff and he rotated his shoulders trying to loosen the muscles.

“It’s a hangover cure. Apparently you were drunk last night.” She didn’t bother to hide her disapproval as she placed the glass on a nearby table. “And from the smell of the cheap perfume, you weren’t alone.”

She headed for the door.

“I wasn’t the only one keeping company was I?”

She stopped. He saw her back stiffen.

“I’m making breakfast. I’ll add extra fat for you.”

Kid looked at the door as it closed. What was he going to do about her?

***

“Why don’t you young people sit outside?” Doctor Cole suggested after breakfast. “It’s a lovely morning and I don’t need your help for a while, Abigail. Get some fresh air. Looks like you could do with it, Jed.”

“I have the dishes to do,” Abigail protested.

“Nonsense, I can do them. Letting me do some housework for once won’t bring civilisation to a halt. Go on. You young people can talk. It’s not often you get to talk to anyone your age, Abigail.”

“Pa!”

“Go.”

Unable to think of another reason to say no, Kid and Abigail did as he suggested. Abigail sat at one end of the porch on a chair; Kid sat on the steps. They couldn’t be further apart if they tried.

“I’m only sitting out here because my father suggested it,” She told him.

“Me too.”

“Don’t get your hopes up; you’re of no interest to me.”

“But Heyes is.”

Abigail was stunned. He couldn’t have seen anything, she had been so careful, but then she remembered his comment earlier this morning. She composed herself.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes, you do.” He turned to face her. “I saw you.”

“Saw what?” she bristled.

“I don’t think your father would like you kissing his patients. Or being in a man’s room at night.”

“I’ll deny anything you tell him.”

“I’d expect you to.”

They were silent for a while. Kid looked along the street, wondering whether it was appropriate to visit the saloon again, that night. He could sure use a drink right now.

“I like him and he likes me.” Abigail stated, breaking the silence. Kid didn’t reply. “Are you jealous?”

Kid laughed.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Abigail; you’re not my type either.”

“But saloon girls are?”

“They’re less complicated than you.”

She looked at his back.

“I like him a lot. Heyes is bright, intelligent and he can talk about all sorts of things.”

“Yeah, he sure likes to talk.”

“I can take care of him. He can stay here.”

Kid looked at her.

“Maybe you should talk to your Pa about him.” He was calling her bluff and she knew it.

“He won’t get shot because of me!” she snapped and could see she had hit a nerve. “One day you’re gonna get your partner killed.”

Kid got to his feet and Abigail stood too. They faced each other.

“He’s been shot twice and you were the cause of both. How long before it happens again? Before you get him killed?” Kid glared at her. “Let him stay here, with us.”

“With you, you mean.”

“Yes. I’ll look after him. I’ll love him. He’ll be safe here. You know it’s true.”

“Have you asked Heyes what he thinks? It’s some fantasy you’re building for yourself, Abigail.”

“Let him stay.”

Kid’s blue eyes met hers, trying to control the mixture of hurt and anger he felt.

“I think I’ve had enough fresh air for one day.” Without another word, he went back into the house.

***

Kid sat beside the bed as Heyes slept. Abigail’s words resounded in his brain.

“One day you’re gonna get your partner killed.”

He looked at Heyes, sleeping peacefully, the bandage at his shoulder clean at last. He thought about him kissing Abigail. Did he want to stay? What did he feel about her? Sheesh, it couldn’t be serious he hadn’t been awake that long! She might not be the one for him, but there was sure to be a girl out there for Heyes, a girl he could settle down with. Was he stopping his friend from having that? Would he get Heyes killed?

There was a movement in the doorway. Kid looked up. Abigail stood watching him. Without a word, she closed the door.

***

Over the next few days, Heyes grew stronger. Kid avoided Abigail as much as he could. He helped the doctor when he would let him, saw to their horses and sat with Heyes. Whenever Abigail came in the room, Kid would find some excuse to leave. At meal times he was politeness itself. Reuben Cole was no fool. He noted the chill in the air whenever the two young people were in the room. He assumed one or the other had been rebuffed.

“Everything all right, Abigail?” he asked as she cleared away the dinner plates.

“Fine, Pa.”

“Are you getting along with Jed and Heyes all right?”

“What do you mean?” She kept her back to him, feigning ignorance.

“The air seems a little cool when Jed is in the room. He hasn’t done or said anything I should know about has he?”

Abigail suppressed a sigh of relief and turned to face her father. She smiled.

“No. We just don’t have much in common. He’s a drifter. I don’t have much to say to him or him to me.”

“You’re sure he hasn’t…?”

She walked towards him and kissed him on the top of his head.

“You worry too much. I can assure you nothing has happened between Jed and I. Aunt Agatha taught me well.”

Satisfied, Dr. Cole got to his feet.

“I’m glad. I don’t think I’d beat that young man in a fast draw over your honour.” He smiled and left the room. Abigail let out a deep breath.

***

“D’you think you should be doing this, so soon?” Kid asked, watching Heyes struggle to put on his vest.

“Well we can’t sit around here forever.” Heyes moved slowly towards the door.

“I know Heyes, but if you’re not ….”

“I’m fine Kid, really.” Two brown eyes met Kid’s. The young blond man was not convinced. “Besides, we need to make some money and pay back the Doc. So how ‘bout we head to the saloon and see if there’s a nice profitable poker game going on?”

“D’you think you’re up to the walk?”

“I guess we’re about to find out.” He smiled, confidently.

“Have you asked the Doc if you should…?”

“I don’t need to ask him. I know how I feel. Come on.” He threw Kid his hat. Still not convinced this was a good idea, Kid followed his friend from the room.

***

“Mr. Heyes what do you think you are doing?” The doctor demanded as the two young men reached the front door.

“I’m going for a walk.” He gave Reuben Cole an innocent smile.

“To anywhere in particular?”

“I have to admit I’d like to take a look at your saloon.”

“Hmm. Well I can’t stop you and the walk will be a test of your stamina, but I advise against too much alcohol.” His gaze turned to Kid. “For either of you.”

Kid looked sheepish.

“I’ll keep an eye on him Doc.”

“Just be sure you do. I didn’t get the bullet out so you could kill yourself with drink.”

“I will be moderation itself,” Heyes assured him with a dimpled smile.

***

“So what was that all about?” Heyes asked as they walked, slowly, along the boardwalk.

“What?”

“The remark about the alcohol. He included you.”

“Did he?”

“You know he did.”

Kid tried to ignore him. Heyes’ eyes narrowed as he studied his friend.

“Did you get drunk?”

“NO!” Heyes continued to look at him. “I had a few drinks one night, that’s all.”

“So you did get drunk?”

“No I was just…” Kid couldn’t find the right word. Heyes had his answer.

“Sheesh, Kid. You’re staying in the doctor’s house. Couldn’t you behave yourself?”

Aghast, Kid turned to face his friend. He was about to say something but thought better of it.

“D’you want a drink or not?” he asked, instead.

***

“Why do you have to leave?” Abigail asked as Heyes finished packing his saddlebags, two days later.

“We can’t stay here forever.”

“Why not?”

He turned to face her, noting the sadness in her eyes.

“I’m very grateful for all your help. I wouldn’t have got better without you. You’re a wonderful nurse, Abigail.” He caught hold of her hands, rubbing his fingers across the backs.

“But…there’s going to be a ‘but’ isn’t there?”

He smiled and nodded.

“Yes there is. Jed and I have to earn money to live and we won’t do that here.”

“Why not? This is a growing town; there will be all sorts of jobs here. The lumber mill is bound to need men. I could ask around and…”

Heyes held up his hand.

“Abigail.”

She saw the look in his eyes.

“Or, if you don’t like hard work, you could play poker.” Heyes looked sheepish. Abigail looked him in the eye. “You won a lot the other night. I overheard you talking. You’ve already paid back my Pa.”

“I did, but that won’t happen all the time.” He let go of her hands and returned his attention to his packing.

“I guess the town’s not growing fast enough for you.”

He saw the hurt in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Abigail, but we have to leave.”

“No you don’t; you just want to.” Heyes didn’t say anything. “What about us?”

“There is no us.”

“I thought you liked me. You know I like you.”

“I do like you.” Heyes’ tone softened. He smiled. “You’re a beautiful young woman. You’re intelligent and one day you’ll meet a man who deserves you.”

“I don’t want you to get hurt again.”

“Well we agree about that.” He smiled but she didn’t return it.

“Jed won’t look after you the way I do.”

“He does just fine.”

“He got you shot.”

“No, he didn’t,” he told her firmly. She was about to argue but thought better of it, picking on his friend wasn’t going to get him to stay.

“Will you come back?”

“Maybe, one day.” He tightened the buckles on the bags.

“I’ll be outside when you leave.” She turned quickly on her heels and left the room.

***

Abigail found Kid at the front of the house. He was attending to their horses. Having saddled Heyes’ he was adjusting the cinch on his own saddle. He looked up when she stepped onto the porch, but didn’t say anything. She watched him for a while; saw the care he took with the animals.

“He’d stay if you told him to.” Kid looked up when she broke the silence.

“No, he wouldn’t.”

“You could ask him.”

“I’m not going to do that.”

“He’d be safer here.”

“We’re leaving, Abigail. You’d better get used to it.”

“He’ll get hurt again.”

“You don’t know that.” She scowled and Kid softened. “He wants to leave. He doesn’t want to settle down yet, with anyone. If you really believed he’d stay why haven’t you spoken to your Pa?”

She could see the sense in his words but was in no mood to agree with them.

“I told you, you’ll get him killed!” She snapped, then turned on her heels and headed back into the house. Kid patted his horse’s neck.

“Sometimes I think I understand horses more than women.”

***

Having thanked the Doctor for all he had done for them, Heyes and Kid pulled themselves into the saddle. Heyes had said goodbye to Abigail privately. Now, she stood beside her father on the front porch.

“Take care of yourselves,” Reuben Cole advised. The young men nodded and smiled.

Kid cast a look in Abigail’s direction. The look she gave him told him all he needed to know about her feeling for him.

“One day you’re gonna get your partner killed.”

He hoped she wasn’t right. They touched the brim of their hats and, with a wave, headed out of town.

***

Three weeks later

“Just what is eating you?” Heyes demanded, as he turned from the campfire to face Kid. His friend said nothing, just shot Heyes a look and then continued stuffing clothes into his saddlebags. “Well?” Heyes was persistent.

“Nothin’.”

Kid stood up and walked towards his horse. He threw the saddlebags over the animal’s back. Heyes followed him.

“You’ve been like a bear with a sore head these past few days…no make that past few weeks; ever since we left the Doc’s house.” It was true. Ever since they had ridden out of Springwood, Kid had been quieter, more contemplative and at times downright moody. They had disagreed over the smallest things. Kid went to bed grumpy and woke up just the same. They had almost come to blows one night when Kid had lost the toss of the coin over who would get a meal and who would settle for a beer. If he didn’t know better he’d have said Kid was…A sudden thought struck Heyes. “Say you’re not missing Abigail are you? You weren’t secretly sweet on her?”

“NO!”

“Well then what the heck is it?”

Kid faced him; teeth gritted.

“I told you. It’s nothin’. But it sure will be if you keep on about it. Now are you gonna saddle up or what?” Kid turned back to his horse and pulled himself into the saddle. Heyes gave a heavy sigh and picked up his own saddlebags. Sometimes there was no getting through to Kid.

***

The next day

“That’s it! I have had enough!” Heyes exclaimed, throwing down his blanket as they began to make camp for the night.

Kid stood with his back to his friend. He closed his eyes. This was it. He knew it. It was going to happen tonight. Slowly, he turned to face Heyes.

“What?”

“I have put up with your silences, your scowling face, your angry glares, your moaning and complaining, but it stops now!” Kid said nothing. “I’ve heard about this guy named Plummer. He runs gang north of here, and I hear he’s looking for men. I think we should do it; join him. There’s safety in numbers and we need to make some money soon.”

“Steal it you mean.”

“Well it’s not as if we haven’t done that before.”

“Yeah, but that was to survive, to buy food.”

“In case you haven’t noticed we don’t have any food!”

“So what do you want to do? Rob banks? Get shot at? Haven’t you had enough bullets in you already?”

“Well maybe we’d be more successful if you weren’t holding us back!”

“Holding us back?”

“Yes!”

“From what?”

“Being successful. Having enough money to feed ourselves.”

“Oh, you want to be successful? At stealing? Is that it?”

“No, I’d like to do something to make our families proud, but we don’t have that choice!”

“Like your Pa didn’t? He was so successful he didn’t move out when he should have. And my Pa was dumb enough to listen to him and that got them all killed!”

The punch caught Kid square on the jaw and he landed on his butt.

“GET UP!” Heyes yelled at his friend. Kid looked up at him, blood running from his mouth. Two sad blue eyes met his partner’s angry brown ones. Slowly Kid got to his feet. Heyes balled his fist and knocked Kid to the ground again.

“Fight back!” Heyes snapped, but Kid did not move.

“No,” he said. “I’m not gonna hit you Heyes.” Kid got to his feet and walked away from his friend.

“What are you doin’?” Heyes demanded. “Oh that’s right, walk away. That’s always your answer isn’t it?”

Kid turned fast and glared at his friend.

“What you gonna do draw on me?” Heyes asked, sarcasm dripping from every word. Kid glowered at his friend.

“Don’t push it, Heyes.”

“Then fight back!”

“I’m not gonna fight ya.”

Heyes was suddenly unsure of himself, worried by what he saw in his friend’s eyes. Kid headed towards his horse and, in a single move, pulled himself into the saddle.

“I’m leaving,” he stated.

“Where you goin’?”

“I don’t know,” Kid told his friend, unemotionally. “Just away from you.”

“You comin’ back?” Heyes asked, just a hint of fear in his voice.

Kid didn’t answer him.

“Kid?”

“Take care of yourself Heyes.” Kid wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. “Now you can go do exactly what you want without me holding you back.”

“I didn’t mean…” Heyes began, but Kid wasn’t listening.

“Just be careful because I won’t be there to watch your back anymore.” Kid turned his horse away.

“Kid? Kid? I’m sorry alright! You don’t hafta hit me. Can’t we talk about this?” Heyes called, as he watched Kid ride off. Kid did not turn around. Heyes couldn’t believe his friend was actually leaving. They’d both threatened to do it over the past month, as their nerves were frayed, but he never expected Kid to… “I’m sorry.” Heyes’ voice was little more than a whisper, as he watched his friend disappear into the distance. This couldn’t be happening.

***

When he reached the top of the rise, Kid pulled his horse to a halt. He knew that any comment about their families would get to Heyes. He’d said it deliberately to get a reaction from him. It had worked, only too well. He touched his jaw. Heyes sure did have a punch. He didn’t feel good about what he’d said; didn’t believe it but… Kid looked back at the valley below, and the glow of the campfire. He wiped a hand over his eyes, brushing away the moisture he refused to acknowledge as tears. He was too old to cry. He wasn’t crying! Sheesh! It was just a reaction to the blows he’d taken, nothing more. The words that had tormented him since their time in Springwood came back to him.

“One day you’re gonna get your partner killed.”

Well maybe not. Now Heyes was on his own, hopefully he had more of a chance. Maybe he’d join up with Plummer or maybe he’d be able to find an honest job. Kid focused on the campfire, hoping to see his friend’s silhouette once last time.

“Take care of yourself, Heyes. You’ll be better off without me.”

Kid turned his horse and rode away.

THE END …until The Reunion

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