The Wagon

The Wagon

By Maz McCoy

Hannibal Heyes stood on the front porch outside Lom Trevor’s home, one hand on the post as he looked up at the sky and the darkening clouds. A breeze blew the tops of the trees, heralding the arrival of the weather front; there would be rain before nightfall. If Kid didn’t get back soon he was going to be caught in a thunderstorm. Heyes smiled. A wet and bedraggled Kid Curry was likely to be a grumpy one too.

***

Kid Curry flicked the reins and urged the mules on. Riding for hours looking at the rear end of two particularly stubborn animals had done nothing to aid his demeanour. He was tired, hot and if the clouds on the horizon were anything to go by, about to get very wet. With any luck he’d make it to town before sunset.

He’d lost the coin toss again. He must be just naturally optimistic to assume that, when any job Heyes didn’t want came up, his partner would lose the toss. They had even used one of Kid’s own coins; checked thoroughly beforehand to ensure it had two different sides. Heyes had smiled, spun it in the air and Kid had taken Hal Winburn’s wagon to Cedar Falls to collect supplies for the general store. Now, as he headed back fully loaded, all he could think of was a beer and a comfortable bed.

Something tipped over in the back of the wagon and Kid pulled the mules to a halt. Applying the brake, he climbed into the wagon bed and began to shift boxes about. One crate was labelled ‘fragile’ and contained very expensive and very delicate china Winburn’s wife had shipped out from New York. Kid had been repeatedly reminded to be very careful with this particular crate. He moved it gently to one side. The wagon moved.

“Hey! Woah!” he called as the mules pulled impatiently on the harness. “Hey, cut it out!” The animals had waged a minor war with their human companion from the time they set out from Porterville. One proved to be a particularly flatulent animal, the other could have been the model for the term as stubborn as a mule. Between them, they had made the journey there and back as difficult as possible. He felt the wagon move again.

“Stop it will ya?” This time they obeyed. When he was happy that the dinner service was safe, Kid climbed back onto the seat, picked up the reins and loosened the brake. He flicked the reins and the mules started the long plod up an incline, then stopped.

“Aww come on! Please! I just want to get back to Porterville. Don’t you want to get back to your nice cosy stable? Think of all that fresh hay fellas.” He flicked the reins; the mules took a step forward and stopped once more. There was an ominous metallic creak. “What?” Kid looked down at the harness. There was another groan as gravity worked its wonders on the mighty wagon. The mules moved off. “Hey guys stop! Woah! Wait!” But they continued to pull up the hill.

Kid pulled back on the reins and applied the brake, which squealed against the wheel. There was a loud snap as the metal harness broke. Kid was thrown backwards, into the bed of the wagon. He landed on the boxes as the mules shot off towards the top of the hill, the harness dragging on the ground behind them. Kid struggled to raise himself as he heard squealing. The brake! No, this was not happening. Wood groaned. Kid shoved a sack out of the way and scrambled forward. He reached the front of the wagon just as the brake finally gave out. Kid made a valiant grab for it but the momentum was already there, the wagon was free and rolling down the incline, sending Kid tumbling backwards once more.

“I don’t believe this!” he cried as he fended off boxes and sacks as the wagon bumped down the hillside. He grabbed the dinner service crate, but then abandoned it as he saw their impending fate. The left rear wheel went off the trail and the wagon hurtled down the slope.

***

Steam rose from Hannibal Heyes’ coffee as he stood on the porch once more and watched the sun set. Fortunately, the rain had not reached town and the dark clouds disappeared over the horizon, but still Kid had not returned. He hoped his friend hadn’t run into any trouble. Heyes smiled. Kid Curry not running into any trouble would be a novelty in itself, so he’d settle for not running into any serious trouble. Right now he’d be pleased to see a wet and bedraggled blond man in a brown hat scowling at him as he urged two wilful mules towards Winburn’s store. Then his partner could tell him what a martyr he’d been over a glass of beer in the saloon.

***

Kid Curry groaned and opened his eyes. Squinting, he shielded his eyes from the glare with his hand. He touched the back of his head.

“OW!”

He felt dried blood matted in his hair. He lay on his back, his right leg beneath the upturned wagon, which was balanced on two small boulders, the cargo scattered beneath it. If it wasn’t for the rocks, Kid’s leg would have been crushed.

From the position of the sun, he’d been unconscious all night and a good part of the morning. Raising himself on his elbows he tried to pull his leg free. It wouldn’t budge. The cargo inside the upturned wagon trapped him. He could wriggle his foot but he couldn’t get his ankle free. He twisted his ankle and…

“S#*$!” Something sharp stuck into his calf. He placed his left foot flat against the side of the wagon and pushed. He couldn’t free his ankle and whatever was sticking in his calf wasn’t going to shift either.

“Terrific. Just terrific!” He lay his head on the ground.

***

Hannibal Heyes scratched at the stubble on his chin, and then ran his hands through his hair in an attempt to straighten it. He sat at the table in tan pants and Henley, his feet clad in only his socks. He accepted the cup of coffee Lom placed in front of him with a muted, “Thanks.”

“All right,” Lom decided, as he sat opposite his friend at the kitchen table. “When I get to the office I’ll send a message to the sheriff in Cedar Falls and see when Kid left.”

Heyes looked up, his gratitude obvious.

“Thanks, Lom. He should have been back yesterday.”

“Drink your coffee,” Lom told him. “You worry too much. Kid can take care of himself.”

Eyebrows raised, brown ex-outlaw eyes met Lom’s, questioning that.

“Just drink your coffee,” Lom told him. “Or you’ll get me worrying about him too.”

***

“HELLO! CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME? HELLO!” Kid called at the top of his voice. There was nothing but a faint echo of his own cries. He drew his gun and fired a shot into the air. Again there was nothing but an echo. Kid sighed.

Sweat covered his brow and his lips were dry. His hat lay tantalisingly close. He reached out a hand to it but it was just too far away. As he stretched whatever was sticking into his calf dug deeper.

“Son of a #*$.*!”

***

“Well?” Heyes asked when he entered the sheriff’s office.

“Afternoon, Heyes,” Lom said, maintaining the niceties Heyes seemed to have forgotten.

“Oh, sorry. Howdy, Lom,” Heyes relented. “Any news?”

Lom looked up.

“Kid started back three days ago.”

“Three days?”

“Uh huh.”

“So he should have been here by now.”

“Unless he ran into a problem.”

“Trouble, Lom. With Kid it’s always trouble.”

“Not necessarily. Give him time. A mule could have thrown a shoe. He’ll be here. You worry too much, you know that? I’m surprised you don’t have more faith in your partner.”

Heyes considered this. Maybe Lom was right. Kid could take care of himself. This was the fastest gun in the west he was worrying about.

“You need something to occupy your mind; you’ve got too much time to think,” Lom told him. He looked down at his papers and added, casually, “I heard Ms. Porter is back at the bank.”

Heyes looked up, his eyes opened wide.

“She is?”

***

His mouth was parched. His head throbbed from the wound and he couldn’t think clearly.

“HELP!” Kid called but no one answered; no one came running. He fired another shot into the air. The report bounced back. He could do nothing but wait and hope.

***

Miss. Porter looked up when the door to the bank opened and a man walked in. He looked familiar. She smiled when she recognised him, patting down her hair and smoothing her skirt as she walked from behind the counter.

“Mr. Smith!”

Heyes smiled and removed his hat as she reached out her hand.

“Miss. Porter.” He shook the hand she offered. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“It is so nice to see you too.” She looked behind him, searching for someone. “Is Mr. Jones with you?”

“He should be joining me any day now.”

“Then we must all have tea together.”

Before Heyes could reply a tall, dapper man in a smart grey suit stepped towards them.

“Oh Willis, this is Mr. Joshua Smith. He and his partner saved the bank from a vicious band of outlaws. They fought them off single handed.”

“Indeed? Both of them?” Willis raised an eyebrow.

“Oh Mr. Smith, this is Willis Carrington, my fiancé.”

Carrington held out his hand to Heyes, clearly none too pleased to meet a possible rival for his lady’s attentions.

“Your fiancé?” Heyes looked at Miss. Porter as he shook Carrington’s hand.

“Yes. We met in Denver. Willis is a senior partner in the bank of Fort Worth,” Miss. Porter beamed.

Heyes smiled.

“The bank of Fort Worth? Imagine that.”

***

The moon cast shadows across the sleeping man, his face burned by the sun, lips cracked from dehydration. The animals of the night scurried in the undergrowth, eager to examine this new creature and the contents of the upturned wagon. Their sensitive noses picked out the smell of coffee and grain! They scuttled under the wagon and over the crates in search of the sacks. One small rodent started to gnaw a hole in the corner of the sacking.

A larger animal approached the sleeping figure, drawn by the smell of dried blood and the promise of a meal it didn’t have to kill itself. Its soft paws made hardly a sound in the dust as it drew nearer. It sniffed the air, nose close to the man’s open hand where it lay on the ground. The man groaned. The coyote froze, waiting. Two blue eyes opened and came face to face with large brown eyes and a black nose.

“Huh?” The animal took a step back and realisation hit Kid. “GET OUTTA HERE! SCRAM!” The coyote didn’t need to be yelled at twice. It headed for the bushes as Kid drew his gun and fired over its head.

***

When Kid was still not back the following morning, Lom Trevors began to feel uneasy. One or two days delay was possible if a mule went lame or a wagon wheel broke. He’d hoped Kid would arrive tired, dusty and complaining but in one piece. This morning he had met Heyes’ glance over the breakfast table and suggested they wait until midday, and then if he still wasn’t back they’d head out. Reluctantly, Heyes had agreed to wait a few more hours.

As he waded through a mound of paperwork, Lom wondered if they should have ridden out earlier. At the sound of a commotion outside, Sheriff Trevors looked up from the pile of papers on his desk. He could hear Hal Winburn’s raised voice. Then two pairs of mules’ ears went by the window. He smiled with relief. Kid was back. Heyes could stop worrying. He could stop worrying. He returned his attention to the papers.

***

The sun rose higher. Kid was desperate for a drink. He turned his head and looked at his hat, lying so tantalisingly close. He had tried several times to retrieve it but… He stretched out an arm again and reached, fingertips at full stretch. If he could just…get…a…finger…to it. He sighed. He spotted a broken branch lying not too far away and a few scattered twigs.

He stretched his hand out and caught hold of a twig with the tips of his fingers. Carefully, he dragged it towards him, inch by precarious inch. Finally he was able to get his hand to it. Picking it up, he reached out again and touched the brim of his hat with the stick. He tapped the brim. His hat wobbled. Kid smiled. Maybe this time he’d get it. He stretched his arm further. He applied downward pressure and then pulled the stick towards him. His hat moved. Kid grinned; his breathing rapid. He focussed on the stick. Sweat ran down his face and stained his shirt. He gritted his teeth in concentration and pulled the stick closer. His hat moved once more. SNAP! The twig broke in two.

“NO!” Kid cried in despair. He lay back, exhausted .

***

Hannibal Heyes had spent the morning, helpfully, rearranging Lom’s books. They were now categorised, alphabetically, by author. He had a small pile on a nearby table that he wanted to look at and, if Lom was willing maybe he could take a couple with him when he and Kid rode out. Kid. Why the heck wasn’t he back?

He had attempted to pass the time as Kid did by cleaning his gun but somehow it proved to be a monotonous task and it didn’t stop him thinking about his friend so much as a glance through the works of Shakespeare. Tea with Miss. Porter was out of the question now that Willis was on the scene. Selecting the top book on the pile, Heyes seated himself in Lom’s favourite armchair and opened the volume to the first crisp page.

He had read only the first paragraph when the front door opened. Heyes looked up as Lom entered the house.

“What is it?” Heyes asked, as soon as he saw the expression on the sheriff’s face.

“Winburn’s mules just arrived back in town. Their harness had broken. There’s no sign of the wagon.”

Heyes got to his feet.

“I’ll get my horse.”

***

Kid faded in and out of consciousness. If he could only have a drink of water. It was all he could think about. Images of cool trickling mountain streams and deep clear lakes tormented him. His tongue was swollen. The sun beat down, burning his skin. If he could just have a glass of water. His right arm lay across his eyes offering what protection it could from the glare.

Kid gave a weak push at the wagon with the sole of his boot. He wriggled his leg in a half-hearted attempt to free it. He had failed too many times to hope that this time it would work.

“Help!” he whispered. He couldn’t even produce enough saliva to muster a loud cry.

***

They followed the route Kid would have taken back to Porterville, their eyes scanning the trail for any sign of a wagon or its driver. So far there had been nothing but the occasional drag marks in the undergrowth, caused by the harness trailing after the mules.

“He could be anywhere between here and Cedar Falls,” Lom stated unnecessarily.

“I know, Lom, but we have to keep looking.”

“I’m not giving up I’m just…” Their eyes met.

“I know Lom.” Heyes gave his friend a reassuring smile but as he turned away his frown deepened. If anything had happened to Kid, he would never forgive himself for waiting. He urged his horse on.

When they reached the top of a rise Heyes saw wagon tracks in the dirt. Relief washed over him but was soon replaced with concern as he saw them leading off the road. He jumped from his horse and peered down the steep incline. A wagon lay upside down someway below. Heyes started down the embankment. Lom followed him.

“KID! KID!” Heyes called but there was no reply. He slid and stumbled, picking up momentum as he neared the wagon, before crashing into its side. Lom followed him; though with more caution as befit an older man.

“KID!” Heyes called again, searching under the wagon, looking at the broken crates and boxes, desperate for a sign of his friend. He spun around, frantically searching the undergrowth.

“Heyes!” The dark-haired man’s head snapped up at Lom’s call. “Over here!”

Heyes clambered over the rocks around to the other side. Kid lay on his back, one leg trapped. Heyes looked down at his friend, taking in his sunburnt face and dry, cracked lips. Kid’s eyes were closed.

Heyes dropped to his knees beside him.

“Kid?” Gently, Heyes touched the hair at the back of his partner’s head, examining the wound. “Kid?”

Kid Curry groaned, turning his head away as he did so. His eyes opened and he came face to face with Lom Trevors.

“It’s me, Kid.” Lom reached out and touched his shoulder. “You’re gonna be okay.”

Kid looked confused.

“Heyes is here too.” He pointed to the man at Kid’s side. Kid turned his head slowly, painfully. Two familiar brown eyes met his.

“Hey..” Kid’s voice was little more than a rasping croak.

“Hey partner. I see you got yourself in trouble again.”

Kid coughed, his throat was so dry.

“I’ll go get some water.” Lom headed back up the slope to fetch the canteen from his saddle.

“Take it easy,” Heyes advised.

“Leg’s…stuck.” Kid coughed again.

Heyes looked at Kid’s leg, held fast beneath the wagon.

“You in pain?”

“No.” Kid gasped and Heyes realised he was having trouble staying conscious.

“We’ll get you out of here in no time.” The question was how? The boulders were supporting much of the wagon’s weight. Without them, Kid would have been crushed for sure. The majority of cargo appeared to be still inside, or rather under, the upturned wagon.

The sound of tumbling stones was following by a grunt and Lom appeared beside the wagon. He held out a canteen.

“Here.” Kid’s eyes opened and Heyes supported his head as he carefully placed the canteen to his friend’s lips. Kid took great gulps of water.

“Easy, take it easy,” Heyes admonished. Kid began to cough, then lay his head back on the ground, exhausted.

“Let’s see if we can get him out,” Lom said as he stood up. “We might be able to lift it.”

“It looks pretty heavy to me,” Heyes stated as he took hold of the wagon on the opposite side of Kid to the sheriff. On a nodded signal they both tried to lift the wagon. Faces grimaced, muscles strained but not unexpected, it didn’t budge.

“Plan B?” Lom suggested.

“Maybe if we levered it with something?” Heyes looked around for ‘something’, anything long enough and strong enough to provide leverage. He saw nothing that fit the bill.

“We’ll have to move the boxes inside.” Lom looked at Heyes. “You’re smaller than me.”

“So?”

“So you’ll get under there easier.”

“Is that plan C?”

Lom smiled. Heyes didn’t look too pleased, even if it was to save his friend. After all this was usually the sort of thing he’d get a member of the Devil’s Hole Gang to do; usually Kyle. Where were their old friends when you needed them? Heyes looked down at Kid.

“I’m going to crawl under the wagon and see if I can get your leg free. Don’t go anywhere okay?” Heyes smiled.

“Okay,” was all Kid said; too confused to see the humour in his friend’s words.

***

Heyes and Lom scrambled around to the other side of the wagon. Heyes examined a gap where the wagon rested between several large boulders.

“Be careful, you don’t know how stable the stuff is,” Lom mused.

“Well that’s real encouraging! You sure you don’t want to go in there?”

The sheriff decided to ignore the remark.

“When you give the word, I’ll pull Kid free.”

“Okay.” Heyes removed his gun belt to stop it interfering with his progress. He placed his hat on a rock and took off his vest. Satisfied he was ready, Heyes lay down on his belly and crawled into the dark space. Boxes and crates lay scattered on the ground. The air was filled with the smell of spilt coffee. There was just enough space for him to manoeuvre his way towards the other side of the wagon. He moved the cargo out of his way as he progressed, dragging a sack to one side and sliding a box out of the way. Squeezing into a space and over another sack, Heyes struggled to reach his friend. Suddenly a box shifted and he heard Kid cry out.

“Heyes, what did you do?” Lom called.

“Nothing! A box fell.”

“Well move it, Kid’s in agony!”

Heyes scrambled about in the dark and, finally, was able to lift the box he had seen move. There was the sound of broken crockery.

“That better?” he called.

“Yeah!”

“I don’t think Mrs. Winburn’s dinner service made it.”

Heyes crawled further into the gloom. He pulled a sack free and saw Kid’s boot.

“I’m there!” Kid’s leg was trapped between two crates; a box lying across them prevented him from moving the crates beneath. The box was a heavier than Heyes expected. In the cramped space he couldn’t get enough purchase on it to lift it, nor enough room to push it. He turned his attention to the crates. One had split and a large splinter of wood stuck into Kid’s right calf. Heyes reached forward, moving his hand between the boxes, to try to push the wooden shard out of the way. His fingers touched the crate. He pulled the broken piece towards him and Kid cried out.

“Sorry!” Heyes called.

“What did you do?”

“There’s a splinter of wood digging into his leg. I tried to move it.” Heyes reconsidered the options. “I’m going to try to shift one of the crates pinning his leg,” he called through the side of the wagon.

“Let me know when you think he’s free.”

“Okay.”

Heyes braced his feet against other boxes and pushed against the crate with his shoulder. It moved an inch, then another, and with a mammoth effort on Heyes’ part, another inch more. Slowly, Heyes made the space wider. He kept his eye on the box on top, knowing that a wrong move could send it crashing down on Kid’s leg. He looked at the gap.

“Try now!”

He watched as Kid’s boot moved, then smiled as finally Kid’s leg was dragged free.

“I’ve got him!” Lom called triumphantly. “He’s out!”

Relieved, Heyes made his way carefully back to the hole he had climbed through, pulling himself out into the daylight. He quickly picked up his things, shoved his hat on his head and climbed around the wagon. Kid was leaning against a boulder when Heyes reappeared. Lom had cut open Kid’s pants with his knife and was checking Kid’s leg for any breaks or injury.

“How is it?” Heyes asked, with concern.

“Just a cut when the splinter went in.” Lom pulled off his bandana and wrapped it around Kid’s calf as a makeshift bandage. Heyes stooped to pick up Kid’s hat.

“You all right?” Heyes crouched beside Kid; his friend nodded weakly. Heyes placed the brown hat gently on Kid’s head.

“Thanks.”

“We need to get you back. Think you can make it up the slope?”

“Do I have any choice?” Kid croaked.

“Not really.”

“Then I guess I’ll make it.”

“We’ll help you.”

“The mules ran off. I couldn’t stop it…” Kid struggled to find the words he needed.

“You can tell us later.” Heyes looked up at Lom, who also appeared concerned.

“Come on Kid,” the sheriff held out a hand.

“We can ride double,” Heyes told his friend as they pulled him to his feet.

“Just not in a wagon, okay?” Two tired blue eyes looked up. Lom and Heyes smiled.

“Not in a wagon,” Heyes assured him and they started up the slope.

***

Kid Curry sat on the porch; legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. His hat was tilted over his face, shielding his eyes, as he slept.

Seeing his friend asleep, Hannibal Heyes crept quietly towards Lom’s house. He placed one foot tentatively on the first step up to the porch. It didn’t creak. He stepped onto the next one and it groaned slightly.

“If you’re trying to be quiet, forget it. I heard you coming a mile away.” Kid pushed his hat back and smiled.

Heyes relaxed and pulling up a chair, sat next to his friend. Kid’s face was still sunburnt, his lips cracked and his head ached, but he was going to be okay. He just had to take it easy for a couple of days, a none too arduous task at which Kid seemed to be excelling.

“Did you see Winburn?” Kid asked.

“Yeah.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he’ll borrow a wagon and try to reclaim as much of his supplies as he can. I told him I’d help him.”

“Kind of you.”

“The least I could do.”

“Does he blame me?”

“No. Grover took a look at the harness. He said it was metal fatigue. It could have snapped anytime.”

“But I still won’t get paid right?”

“Mr. Winburn offered to pay you half, as you only completed half the job. Then when he saw the look on Mrs. Winburn’s face he changed his mind and said that your half he’d take as compensation for the damaged goods.”

“Can he do that?”

“Even if he couldn’t, you’re in no position to fight him in court, if that’s what you mean? Besides from the look on Mrs. Winburn’s face you’re lucky she doesn’t ask Lom to charge you with crockerycide.”

“Crockerycide?”

“The murder of fine china, Kid.” Heyes smiled and sat back in the chair. They were silent for a moment and then Kid turned to his friend.

“You made that up, right?”

Heyes grinned.

THE END

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