When the Governor Asked.
By Maz McCoy
At first Hannibal Heyes and Lom Trevors could not understand why they had been unaffected by the stomach bug that had laid Kid Curry low for the past two days. Then, it emerged that several other people in Porterville were suffering the same debilitating symptoms. Lom didn’t have to question too many of them before discovering that all those affected had eaten one of Harry Logan’s pies at the Founder’s Day Festival. Perhaps justly, Harry turned out to be one of his own victims. The fact that he shared his misfortune with others, including the man responsible, did nothing to improve Kid’s disposition or help ease his discomfort. In truth, he had not felt this ill for a long time. He had been shot and struggled to recover, but this was different.
His head ached.
He felt sick.
His stomach hurt.
His gut felt as if someone was twisting it from the inside.
He had thrown up so many times his throat burned.
His sides ached from the constant retching.
At one point, between bouts of nausea, Kid had felt so bad he asked Heyes to shoot him.
“D’you want me to use my gun or yours?” Heyes asked, as Kid held his stomach and moaned, melodramatically.
“I don’t care,” Kid groaned, pathetically. “Just make it a clean shot.” Heyes rolled his eyes and helped his friend back to bed.
Slowly, Kid was regaining his strength, but it wasn’t fast enough for the impatient young gunslinger. Even the simplest things seemed to tire him.
This particular evening, the partners sat on the porch in front of Lom’s house. Kid still looked pale and had dark circles under his eyes. Much as Heyes had been amused at times by his friend’s complaining, the bug had been a serious one. One small boy had been so ill the pastor had spent the night at his house, in case he did not survive until morning. Fortunately, the boy was now on the mend, but there had been many other similar scares for families in Porterville. The town had paid a high price for Harry Logan’s lack of hygiene.
Kid was now managing to keep down a little water and had finally eaten a small bowl of Lom’s homemade soup. He hated to admit it but he was sapped of strength. Kid slept in a chair on the porch, Heyes sat beside him reading. At the sound of an approaching horse, Heyes’ head snapped up, his hand dropping to the gun tied to his leg. He relaxed when he saw it was Sheriff Trevors.
Lom had invited the boys to stay on a day or so after they’d finished a job for a friend of his. Harry’s pie had unavoidably extended their stay. However, Heyes had enjoyed catching up with their old friend, who, like him, was an avid reader.
“Howdy Lom,” the dark-haired young man said, putting down his book and getting to his feet. Kid began to stir.
“Heyes,” Lom said, as he pulled his horse to a halt. Easing himself from the saddle, he tied the reins to the hitching post and climbed the steps onto the porch. Two blue eyes opened and looked confused at his two friends. “Kid,” Lom added.
“What’s going on?” Kid asked.
“Nothing,” Heyes told him with a smile. “Lom’s just back from town. Must be dinner time, if you’re awake.”
“Huh?” was all Kid could manage in reply and then considered what Heyes had said. “Oh, you know I can’t eat anything.”
“I have something to ask you,” the sheriff told them, turning serious, as he joined them on the porch. Lom took a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and opened it. After studying the contents of the telegram he looked up at the partners. “There’s been a train robbery.”
The two ex-outlaws exchanged a look and then turned back to face the sheriff.
“It wasn’t us,” Kid said, defensively and Lom laughed.
“I think I knew that,” he told Kid and Heyes smiled at his partner.
“Go on,” Heyes prompted and the sheriff leaned back against the rail.
“The train to Culver City was held up yesterday by the Red Canyon Gang.”
“Who?” Kid asked, still groggy.
“Jimmy Dove and his friends,” Heyes reminded him.
“Oh yeah.” Kid sat back in the chair.
“They got away with twenty thousand dollars,” Lom told them. “Jewellery too and some documents.”
“Documents?” Heyes asked, noting the sheriff’s emphasis.
“What is it Lom?” Heyes saw Kid watching the sheriff.
“They robbed the passengers. A man named Grayson Billings was on the train. They took one of his bags and it contained some personal family documents. He wants them back. He doesn’t care about the money they took, just wants his family possessions returned.”
“What are you asking?” Heyes wanted to know, although he had an uneasy feeling he already knew the answer.
“I need someone to get in touch with the gang,” Lom told them.
“Is Billings important?” Heyes wanted to know.
“He’s a friend of the Governor.”
Realisation hit the other men.
“The Governor?” Heyes mused, having a good idea what Lom was about to tell him.
“Yes. He asked if I could contact you two. He wants you to find the gang and see if you can get the documents back for his friend.”
“You must have spent all morning at the telegraph office Lom,” Heyes observed, with just a hint of sarcasm.
“Almost,” the sheriff replied, flatly.
“Lom those papers are probably scattered over half of Wyoming by now,” Kid told him. “If they’re worthless to the gang, they won’t keep them.”
“Yes, but maybe they’d be willing to tell you where they dropped them? Or maybe there’s a chance they still have them? They were in the same bag as some jewellery. Billings is offering $1000 for their safe return.”
“The Governor wants us to do this?” Heyes asked.
“Yes. Like I said, he asked for you two specifically.”
“And will this make him look favourably on our amnesty?”
“I imagine so,” the sheriff told him, looking down at his boots.
“But, he didn’t say that?”
“No,” Lom admitted.
Heyes looked at Kid and made up his mind.
“Alright Lom, I’ll go,” Heyes told him.
“Hey, now wait a minute!” Kid protested, struggling to stand up. “You’re not going after them without me.”
“You’re not fit enough to travel Kid,” Heyes stated. “You couldn’t sit a horse right now.” He looked down at his friend.
He got a ‘look’ back.
“Alright, maybe you could,” Heyes relented. “If the horse was feelin’ real charitable and didn’t move.”
“You can’t go on your own,” Kid said. “Just give me another day.”
“I don’t think we have that, do we?” Heyes turned to Lom and the sheriff shook his head. “The longer we leave it the less chance there is they’ll still have the documents. I’ll get my things.” Heyes headed for the door.
“Heyes wait!” Kid said, getting quickly to his feet and Heyes stopped. Kid felt the world start to spin and he swayed, grabbing hold of the rail to support himself. It was all the convincing his friend needed.
“I hate to say I told you so,” Heyes said, helping his friend back into the chair. “But…” he raised his eyebrows at his friend.
“Lom don’t let him do this,” Kid pleaded.
The sheriff could not look him in the eye.
“I’ll be back in two days, maybe three if they invite me to stay to dinner,” Heyes told Kid lightly, as he looked down at him from the saddle. The light was beginning to fade. A tired pair of worried, blue eyes looked back at him from a pale, drawn face.
“At least wait until morning?” Kid suggested, well aware that Heyes wouldn’t.
“I want to get there as fast as possible,” his partner replied and Kid knew he had lost the fight.
“Be careful,” he said. The fact that he couldn’t go was gnawing at him.
“I will,” Heyes assured him.
“You know who’s been keeping you alive all these years,” Kid stated.
“Yeah, and I want him to rest up and get his strength back, so he can keep on doing it.”
“Jimmy might have new men in the gang now,” Kid reminded him. “And he was never very stable or predictable.”
“I know and I’ll watch my back,” Heyes assured his friend.
“Make sure you do.”
“Look after yourself,” Heyes ordered.
Heyes turned his horse away.
Kid stood watching until his friend was no more than a dot on the horizon.
“Damn it!” he said and finally turned towards the house. Lom was standing in the doorway. “I don’t like this Lom,” Kid told the Sheriff. “If something happens to him…” He left the rest unsaid.
If it wasn’t for the fact that he was riding into the hideout of a notorious outlaw gang, Heyes would have enjoyed the scenery leading into Red Canyon, the following morning. The exposed earth lining the canyon walls was red due to the mineral deposits in the rocks. On another occasion Heyes would have admired the beauty of the light through the trees and commented, to his no doubt awe struck partner, had he been there, on how the sun was kissing the distant mountain tops. However, on this occasion Heyes was on full alert. He’d had only a couple of hours sleep. Without Kid’s eyes and ears to help him, he was watching for any movement amongst the trees; listening for the sound of a rifle being cocked or the click of a six-gun hammer. He didn’t have long to wait.
“That’s far enough, mister!” a voice called. Heyes pulled his horse to a halt. “Raise your hands above your head.”
Heyes complied with the request, which had come from up in the rocks behind him.
“Who are you?” the voice wanted to know.
“I’m Hannibal Heyes,” Heyes called back. “I’ve come to see Jimmy Dove, if he’s still in charge of the gang?”
“He is,” the voice said, drawing closer. “And how do we know you’re Hannibal Heyes?”
We, Heyes thought, so there was more than one man.
“Jimmy knows me,” Heyes called back, turning in the saddle, hoping to get a glance at the man. His eyes scanned the trees and rocks but he saw no one. And then there was the sound of horses hooves on rock and two men on horseback emerged from behind an enormous boulder. One, a skinny young kid, of no more than twenty, rode in front of Heyes’ horse. The other, a stocky man in his thirties, pulled up alongside and relieved Heyes of his gun.
“Howdy,” Heyes said, smiling cheerfully, but the men ignored him.
“I got his gun, Doug,” the stocky man stated.
“Well that’s good George,” Doug said. “Now let’s take him to Jimmy.”
George nodded and waved his gun at Heyes.
“Alright, get moving,” he ordered and Heyes urged his horse forward.
“Why are you so worried about him?” Lom asked when he found Kid, the following morning, leaning against the porch rail, gazing off at the distant hills. “Heyes knows Jimmy Dove; he knows how to handle him.”
“Once that silver tongue gets to work Jimmy won’t know what’s hit him,” Lom added with a smile.
“Yeah, but who’s gonna watch Heyes’ back, while he’s talkin’?” Kid asked, meeting the sheriff’s gaze.
“D’you really think he’ll need it?”.
“Jimmy was always unpredictable. He can be as nice as pie one minute then shoot a man dead for laughing at something the next. We don’t know who Jimmy has riding with him,” Kid explained. “If there’s someone there Heyes can’t talk round…” Lom understood. “And I’m stuck here like some useless invalid.” Kid thumped the rail.
“I know you wish you were with him,” Lom said, sympathetically.
“It’s what I do for him,” Kid explained, unnecessarily. “It’s the one thing I can do for him.”
“Well you’re not well enough this time Kid,” the sheriff reminded him. He placed a hand on the blond man’s shoulder. “Heyes told you that himself. He doesn’t want to have to worry about you too.”
Kid looked at the lawman, then shook his head and went back into the house.
The Red Canyon hideout was, unsurprisingly, at the end of Red Canyon. It was reached by a narrow trail between two high walls of rock, just wide enough to fit a wagon. This made it easy to defend from anyone riding in but if you were ever trapped there, there was no way out. Why a posse hadn’t blocked off the entrance and waited it out Heyes didn’t know. Maybe the gang were just not high profile or wanted enough or the reward great enough to make the wait worthwhile.
The camp itself consisted of a single storey cabin that served as the bunkhouse, a corral with a covered area for the horses to be tethered in bad weather. Beside the corral stood an old wagon. Next to the bunkhouse was a small storage shed and around the camp, at the base of the rocks were several large trees. In the centre of the campsite a fire burned and an old coffee pot nestled in the embers. Heyes didn’t know if they had a stove in the cabin, but he assumed they must. He urged his horse past the fire.
“Heyes!” Jimmy Dove cried, from the cabin door. “Whatta you doin’ here?” A broad grin broke out on the young man’s face.
Jimmy was a couple of years younger than Heyes, tall and lanky, with a mass of unruly black hair. He had a boyish grin and many people mistook this for weakness. Heyes knew differently, having seen Jimmy face down men bigger and stronger than himself and come out the victor. He’d first met Jimmy when he rode with the Devil’s Hole Gang for a while. However the young man didn’t like to follow other people’s instructions and eventually Heyes had asked him to leave, in such a way that Jimmy thought it was his own idea. Heyes and Kid had met Jimmy a couple of times since then and they were relieved to find that there were no hard feelings between them. It was one reason why Heyes had no real worries about riding into the camp that morning.
“He really Hannibal Heyes?” Doug asked, pulling along side the dark-haired man.
“He sure is,” Jimmy told him. “C’mon get down,” he said and Heyes climbed from the saddle.
Heyes smiled as Jimmy approached. Suddenly the young man threw his arms around the dark-haired ex-outlaw leader and hugged him.
“It’s good to see ya!” Jimmy cried, exuberantly. Heyes looked embarrassed at this display of affection. He smiled pleasantly.
“It’s good to see you too,” he lied.
“So why are you here? Are you on the run? Did you do a job? I haven’t heard about you in a while. We just robbed a train near Culver City.” Jimmy asked, in a rush. “Hey where’s Kid?” He looked behind Heyes.
“I’m on my own,” Heyes stated.
“So why you here? D’you need to hide out for a while?”
“No, Jimmy. It’s about the robbery you just did,” Heyes began and behind him the cabin door opened and a man stepped out into the sunlight.
“Let’s get some coffee and we can talk,” Dove suggested and wrapped an arm around his friend’s shoulders. “I wanna know whatcha been up to since I saw you last. I ain’t heard a lot about you or Kid. I thought maybe you’d gone to South America after all.” They turned around and Heyes froze. His eyes met the brown ones of the man staring back at him; the man who had just walked out of the cabin.
“Well, well, well. If it ain’t Hannibal Heyes,” the man said.
“Brady,” Heyes replied with distaste and surprise. “I thought you were in jail.”
“So do a lot of people and all thanks to you and your partner,” Ned Brady replied, stepping closer. He was a tall man with sandy-brown hair, which had grown considerably longer since Heyes had last seen him. Brady looked around. “So where is he?”
“He’s not with me,” Heyes told him, flatly.
“That’s a pity. I have a score to settle with Curry.”
“I’ll tell him you said hello,” Heyes told Brady, his face emotionless.
“I take it you two know each other,” Jimmy said, looking from one man to the other. “Brady, Heyes is a friend of mine.”
“Well he ain’t one of mine,” Brady stated and drawing his gun, he pointed it at Heyes.
“Brady, what are you doing? I told you, Heyes is a friend,” Jimmy said, angrily.
“Not to me he ain’t. He and his partner helped turn me in,” Brady told the younger man. “You shouldn’t trust him.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Jimmy snapped.
“I told you he helped turn me in!” Brady had no intention of lowering his gun.
“Heyes is that true?” Jimmy asked, turning to the man beside him.
“He’s lying Jimmy,” Heyes said, still keeping his eyes on Brady. “He has a grudge against Kid.”
“He’s the liar, Jimmy. Believe me he ain’t here to help ya and he did help turn me in,” Brady snarled. “Ask him about his friend, the Bannerman Detective!”
Jimmy turned back to Heyes, clearly thinking.
“Heyes why are you here?” Jimmy asked.
“I told you, it’s about the robbery, but maybe we can talk in private?” Heyes suggested, helpfully.
“I got no secrets from the gang,” Jimmy told him, suddenly suspicious.
“It’s about something you took,” Heyes began.
“I bet he’s working for the law,” Brady sneered. “He really has changed sides.”
“No way!” Jimmy Dove said. “Hannibal Heyes ain’t no turncoat. Heyes tell him.”
Heyes looked at Jimmy.
“I’m working for one of the men you robbed,” the dark-haired man explained. “You took some documents, papers, in a bag with jewellery. He wants the papers back.”
“What did I tell ya? He’s working for the law,” Brady announced, stepping closer.
“Heyes we don’t have no documents.” Jimmy looked confused. He thought for a moment. “I don’t know about no documents.”
“He’s lying to ya,” Brady told him, not taking his eyes off Heyes. “I bet he’s leading the law here right now. There may even be a posse outside the canyon waiting for us.”
Not saying a word, Heyes held Brady’s gaze.
“Heyes? Who told you about these papers?” Jimmy asked and Heyes found himself wondering, momentarily, if he had been set up. If there were no documents, why would the Governor want him to contact the Red Canyon Gang?
“Jimmy, the man is offering $1000 for his documents back. They’re something to do with his family, but if you tell me you don’t have them, then that’s what I’ll tell him,” Heyes said, giving the man his most charming smile. “I’ll just ride back and let him know.” Heyes turned towards his horse.
Jimmy wasn’t convinced. Heyes heard the click of a hammer being drawn back and turned slowly to face the younger man and the Colt he now held on him.
“Jimmy…” Heyes began.
“Getcha hands up,” Jimmy ordered. Heyes didn’t move. “DO IT!” Heyes raised his hands. “Who sent you here?” he asked, turning angry.
“A man named Billings. The man whose documents were taken,” Heyes told him, trying desperately to think of a way out of the situation he now found himself in.
“Doug. George. D’you find any papers with the jewellery?” Jimmy asked, not taking his eyes from Heyes.
“No,” the men chorused.
“I guess he was wrong,” Heyes said and he could see Jimmy thinking.
“Tie him up,” Brady ordered George. The stocky man looked at Jimmy, wondering what to do.
“Brady…” Jimmy cautioned.
“DO IT!” Brady snapped. George looked at Jimmy once more.
“Sorry Heyes, but I just don’t trust you any more,” Jimmy said. He nodded to George who picked up a rope and approached the ex-outlaw leader.
“Jimmy think!” Heyes pleaded. “D’you really believe I’d ride in here and try to fool you? Do you think Kid and I are working for the law?”
“I haven’t seen you a long time Heyes. I don’t know what you’d do now,” the younger man reminded him. “Did you lead someone here?”
“No! Jimmy…” Heyes searched the man’s eyes for any sign he was wavering. George pulled Heyes’ hands behind his back and began to tie them. “I was hired to find out about some documents, that’s all. I’m not here to spy on you or lead anyone to you. Now if you tell me there were no documents, well then I’ve been sent here on a false errand and I’ll certainly have words with my employer when I get back. I can tell you I don’t expect he’ll pay me the $200 he was offering, now.”
“You ain’t going back,” Brady told him. “I want Kid Curry and when he knows we have you, he’ll come lookin’.”
“What d’you want Kid for?” Jimmy asked.
“Heyes is right. I have a score to settle with him. I’ll be waiting when he comes here for you.” He smiled, sinisterly, at Heyes. “And this time I really will kill him.”
“Jimmy, you and Kid always got on well. Don’t let Brady lead him into a trap. He’ll kill him in cold blood,” Heyes pleaded. “Don’t let him do that.”
“Gag him,” Brady ordered and George pulled off Heyes’ bandana.
“Jimmy, Kid doesn’t deserve this. Don’t let him…” but the gag was in place before Heyes could finish and George pulled it tight.
Jimmy looked at Brady, then back to Heyes, the disappointment he felt in his friend was obvious.
“Lock him up George,” the young man said and Heyes was shoved towards the storage shed.
“Hank!” Brady yelled. The cabin door opened.
“Yeah Brady?” a dark-haired man in his early forties called back from the doorway.
“Go pick yourself a fast horse; I got a job for you in Porterville.”
At the sound of breaking glass Kid Curry’s gun leapt into his hand, as he hit the kitchen floor about the same time Lom did. The men exchanged a glance and the sheriff crept into the hallway. Following the direction of the breaking glass, he moved cautiously towards the front parlour. The first thing Lom saw was the curtain billowing in a breeze that should not be there. A rock lay in the middle of a rug with something tied around it. The light, from a lamp, glinted on shards of broken window glass.
Gun in hand, Kid headed for the front door and, opening it cautiously, looked outside, surveying the surroundings for any sign of movement. The moon appeared from behind the clouds. Kid watched and waited. Nothing moved. Kid closed the door and headed for the parlour.
“There’s no one out there,” he announced, as he entered the room. Kid saw the broken glass on the floor. The sheriff stood in the middle of the room, a rock in one hand and the paper, he had found wrapped around it, in the other.
“You should have a word with your delivery boy, Lom. Most folks just leave things on the porch,” Kid told him, holstering his gun.
The sheriff didn’t reply, as he studied what was written on the paper. Kid noted the concerned expression on his friend’s face.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Kid asked.
Lom handed the note to the blond man and Kid read it aloud.
“Come get him. Brady.” A vice like grip clamped around Kid’s heart and he took a moment to get his breathing under control. Lom heard Kid’s sharp intake of breath and watched as Kid’s fist closed around the note, screwing it into a tight ball. He saw the gunslinger’s jaw tense and his knuckles turn white.
“Who’s Brady?” Lom asked, but Kid didn’t reply. “Kid?”
“I hafta go,” the blond man stated and headed for the door.
“Go where?” Lom asked, catching hold of Kid’s arm. “You’re not fit enough to…” Kid turned and two angry blue eyes fixed on the sheriff, telling the lawman in no uncertain terms that he was to back off and not to bother trying to stop him.
“Who’s Brady?” Lom asked, not releasing his grip.
“Someone who has Heyes. Someone who may kill him,” Kid stated, looking down at the hand on his arm. “Let me go Lom.”
“Not yet,” the sheriff told him and Kid had to admire his friend’s courage, because at that moment he was ready to shoot anyone who tried to stop him. “I want to know what’s going on. Who this Brady is.”
“There’s no time,” Kid protested.
“Then we can talk as we pack,” Lom told him.
“I’m not letting you ride off on your own,” Lom told him, as he headed for the stairs.
“LOM!” Kid yelled, as he followed the sheriff. “I’m going alone!”
“NO YOU’RE NOT!” came the equally determined reply from the lawman. Kid fixed him with a look. “Don’t try to outstare me,” Lom warned. “You need my help and you know it.”
Kid knew his friend was right and if he was honest, he was grateful for the offer.
“Don’t give me that look, I’m not challenging you to a gun fight. I’m riding with you to save Heyes. You don’t have the monopoly on wanting to help your friends you know,” Lom told Kid, angrily, as he tied his saddlebags onto his horse. It was dark now, the moon having retreated behind a mass of clouds.
“You finished?” Kid asked, tying on his own bags.
“Yes,” the Sheriff conceded.
“You don’t have to come with me,” Kid told him. “I don’t need you to keep an eye on me.”
“Is that what you think I’m doing?” Lom asked and Kid gave him a look.
“Well isn’t it?”
“If you kill a man in cold blood, it’s murder and your amnesty is finished,” Lom warned him. Kid said nothing. “I just don’t want you doing anything you’ll regret.”
Kid sighed. He didn’t feel well. He’d found some inner strength to pack his saddlebags and was ready to go in just a few minutes. Now the exertion seemed to be catching up with him.
“I appreciate your concern Lom, but I know what I’m doing and what good’s an amnesty if Heyes ain’t alive to get his?” Kid leaned against his horse.
“D’you really think Brady will kill him?”
“Yes, I do,” Kid told him, honestly. He took a deep breath. “You’d better mount up.”
Lom pulled himself into the saddle.
“Let’s just ride Lom,” Kid said cutting off any more arguments from his friend. “I’m too tired to argue.”
On the dirt floor of the storage shed, Hannibal Heyes lay bound and unconscious. Blood had dried on a cut above his left eye and about a bruised and bloodied mouth; the result of Brady’s need to exact his revenge on one of the men responsible for his incarceration. Heyes had no idea that his friends were on their way.
“You know it’s been a long time since you and I rode together,” Lom said, as they walked their horses along a wooded trail in the early light of morning. It had been difficult travelling at night, but Kid had at first refused to stop and the moon had made enough appearances to allow them to see their way. Eventually Lom persuaded him that the horses needed to rest for a couple of hours. Kid had reluctantly agreed. He sat leaning against a rock while Lom tended to his horse. When the sheriff looked up he found Kid fast asleep. Lom settled down, hoping to catch a few minutes sleep himself.
He was woken a couple of hours later by Kid’s distraught cries. Lom’s eyes shot open to see Kid lost in a vivid dream. Suddenly the young man sat bolt upright, his eyes opening wide with fear. As Kid realised where he was and regained his composure Lom watched him open and close his right hand, staring at it as he did so.
“You okay?” the Sheriff asked, gently.
“Yeah, just a dream,” Kid assured him and Lom thought it wise not to comment further. When Kid realised how long he’d slept, he was annoyed. “Why’d you let me sleep Lom?” Kid complained, as he stomped about saddling his horse. The dream was still fresh in his mind, increasing the urgency he felt to get to Heyes.
“Well you’ll be no use to Heyes if you couldn’t keep your eyes open,” Lom had told him. As much as Kid knew that was true, he’d been in no mood to agree with his friend. He didn’t say much else until they broke camp.
They rode side by side between the trees. Now the sun was beginning to rise they could see the leaves were showing the first signs of autumn in hues of red and orange.
“I mean just you and me, riding together. It’s been a long time,” Lom said. He looked across as Kid nodded absently and the Sheriff continued. “I sometimes think back to my outlaw days. I must admit I miss the companionship of the Gang. It’s a lonely life being a Sheriff. It’s hard to get close to people when they think you’re checking up on them all the time. You have to keep your deputies in line and give orders to people who are your friends. Sometimes tell them things they’d rather not hear or lay down the law. Of course I don’t miss being chased by a posse, bullets flying in all directions; or fighting some gang member for your fair share of the money. And Kid, you know there comes a time when a man’s just too old for all that.” Lom finally paused for breath, but failed to see Kid shoot him a sideways glance and roll his eyes.
“I’ve spent too many hours in the saddle running from someone not to appreciate the pleasures of sitting behind a desk now. Of course I still face my share of danger. I mean only a few weeks ago I was called out to a…”
“Sheesh Lom!” Kid said when he could take it no longer. “I thought Heyes was gabby! How ‘bout we give silence a try for a while huh?” he appealed to his friend. The Sheriff look surprised.
“I’m sorry Kid. Was I babbling on a bit?”
“Just a bit,” Kid told him, exasperated.
“Well it’s like I said. It’s been a while since we rode together and…”
“Don’t go round again Lom, please!” Kid pleaded and the Sheriff nodded, embarrassed.
“Sure Kid, sorry.”
Hannibal Heyes groaned as he regained consciousness. Everything hurt. Turning onto his side he opened his eyes, the room was dark and he tried to focus on something close to him. His left eye was badly swollen. His jaw ached, where Brady had hit him and his ribs were crying out so much he wouldn’t be surprised if the man hadn’t broken a couple. There had been no reason for Brady to lay into him the way he did. At least Heyes hadn’t given him any new reasons. He’d gone quietly into the shack the gang used as a storage shed, but Brady had punched him repeatedly. It was payback for Heyes helping to send him to jail. Once the man started to let fly with his fists, he didn’t seem to want to stop. With his hands bound behind him, Heyes could do nothing to defend himself. On the first blow he had fallen backwards into some wooden crates. He tried to get to his feet but Brady came at him again. Another fist caught him in the stomach and he doubled over. Brady grabbed a handful of hair and pulled Heyes upright. Then he hit him again. Brady just kept coming, as he demanded to know where Kid was. Eventually Jimmy had to pull the big man off.
“Brady, stop it you’ll kill him!” Jimmy yelled. Brady staggered backwards into the doorway.
“Get him to tell me where Curry is,” Brady demanded.
“He won’t tell you that,” Jimmy scoffed as he crouched beside Heyes. “You all right?” he asked, which was a ridiculous question because Heyes was clearly anything but. Jimmy removed the gag, now soaked in the spit and blood streaming from Heyes’ mouth.
“Heyes?” he said, gently, dabbing a bleeding cut above the dark-haired man’s left eye, with the bandana. He wiped the blood away from Heyes’ nose.
“Can you untie me…please?” Heyes gasped, through bloody lips. Jimmy shot a look at Brady and reached around behind Heyes.
“DON’T!” Brady commanded. Jimmy stopped and considered what to do.
“Sorry Heyes,” the young man said, getting to his feet.
“I didn’t know…the Gang had…a new leader,” Heyes managed to say, looking at Jimmy through swollen eyes.
Jimmy said nothing, as he followed Brady outside. The door closed and Heyes heard a key turn in the lock and then Jimmy said, “The sheriff in Porterville once rode with the Devil’s Hole Gang. Heyes and Kid knew him well, I think. Hank don’t need to send no telegram. I reckon Lom Trevors will know how to find Kid for you. He might even be Heyes’ contact with this Billings. We only robbed the train a couple of days ago. I reckon Heyes was in Porterville then or how else did he get here that quick?”
“Then Curry’s probably there too,” Brady said and Heyes’ heart dropped.
That had been last night or maybe a few hours ago. In truth he had no idea how long he had been lying on the floor. He passed out after they left him and now, he felt groggy. A sliver of light shone under the door, telling him it was daylight and Heyes realised he’d probably been on the floor all night.
Heyes spat the dirt from his mouth and tried to sit up. It was a painful and hopeless pursuit. He took a deep breath. Oh that hurt! He let the breath out slowly, feeling the pain in his ribs as he did so. He tried to loosen the ropes around his wrists but that were too tight. He wriggled his fingers trying to get the blood circulating.
Heyes’ mind turned to his partner. What about Kid? Somehow Brady was going to get him to the hideout, maybe tell him he had his partner captive. Would Kid ride in, guns blazing? Would he end up killing the man or be killed himself? He’d come close to killing Brady once before. Heyes hoped Kid took time to think, except they had an agreement about that. Heyes smiled at the thought and his mouth hurt. Maybe Lom would be able to talk some sense into him?
“Ah Kid, please don’t do anything stupid,” he muttered.
At that moment Kid Curry and Sheriff Lom Trevors rode out of the wood and saw the hills and Red Canyon ahead of them. Lom cast a glance at his young friend. Kid looked exhausted. His eyes were heavy, his face pale. Sweat ran down his face from under his floppy, brown hat.
Kid clung to the saddle horn as a wave of nausea passed over him. He felt so tired, so weak, but he had to ride on. He had made a real effort not to show Lom just how bad he felt. He was angry at his body, at his own physical weakness.
“You all right?” the sheriff asked.
“Don’t worry about me Lom,” Kid told him, dismissively.
“Well I think I might, just for a bit, if that’s okay by you?” the sheriff replied “It’s what I do for my friends.”
Kid pulled his horse to a halt and looked at the sheriff.
“Sorry Lom, thanks,” he said, gratefully. “Maybe we should rest the horses for a bit?”
“Sure. I reckon the horses could do with it,” Lom said, playing along. “Might as well have something to eat ourselves, while the horses rest up.”
“Okay, you made your point.”
The sheriff smiled and then groaned as he eased himself from the saddle. “Oh it’s been a long time since I rode like that.”
“Getting’ old Lom?” Kid asked with a smile. He got a look in reply. Kid climbed from his horse and stood leaning against it, looking anything but fit.
“I’ll rustle us up some food,” Lom said.
“I’m not hungry.”
Lom looked across at him.
“I can’t keep anything down,” Kid explained. “You know that.”
“You need to get your strength back,” Lom stated. “Especially if you’re going to face Brady. That canyon isn’t too far away now.” He jerked a thumb at the distant hills.
“Lom…” Kid didn’t need mothering by the sheriff.
“Well that is what you’ve got in mind isn’t it? Facing the man?”
“If he has Heyes, he’ll have hurt him,” Kid stated. “He threatened to chop off my hand the last time we met; almost did it too. I don’t know what he’ll have done to Heyes.” His eyes could not hide the anger and fear he felt. The two men were silent for a moment. Lom placed a hand on the blond man’s shoulder.
“In that case you’re gonna have to eat something and my cooking really isn’t that bad.”
“Well not as bad as Heyes’ coffee.”
“He still making that stuff?” Lom asked, with a smile.
“Yeah and I keep drinkin’ it,” Kid said, hoping he’d get the chance to do so again.
A sound at the door woke Heyes from a light sleep. He squinted against the bright light, as the door opened. Brady stood silhouetted in the doorway.
“Get up Heyes!” he snarled.
“I may need a hand,” Heyes said, from where he lay on his side on the floor.
“Doug, get in here!” Brady yelled and the young man scurried into view. Doug helped Heyes to his feet, ignoring the man’s cries of pain as he did so. Heyes’ legs were none too steady and the room swam around him, as the blood rushed to his head. Doug faded in and out of focus and for a moment Heyes thought he might be sick. Fortunately the wave of nausea passed.
“Get him outside,” Brady ordered and Heyes was dragged from the shed into the sunlight. “I want Curry to see him when he rides in. Tie him to that tree,” Brady commanded pointing across the campsite. Heyes was pulled towards the tree.
Heyes’ back pressed against the rough bark, his arms were pulled behind him, around the tree trunk. Ropes were tied around his waist and arms, then tightened around the tree, holding him securely in place. Heyes’ arms ached, but then so did his ribs, his jaw, his head and well, if he was honest, most of him ached. All he could think of was Kid, what he would do when he got there? He was praying that he would think first for once in his life because Heyes sure couldn’t think clearly for himself.
He watched Brady walk back to the cabin, and remembered their last meeting. He remembered watching the man swing an axe above his head and bring it down with a terrifying THUD onto a log that Kid’s arm was tied to. That moment was imprinted in Heyes’ mind and would remain there for the rest of his life. The fear he had felt for his friend, the terrifying possibility that Kid had just had his hand cut off, had been almost too much to bear. Heyes couldn’t remember praying so hard before; not even as a child. He had waited to hear Kid cry out in agony and when he heard nothing he was convinced, for just a fragment of a second, that Brady had killed his friend. That feeling, that fear, came back to him now. The relief that had swept over Heyes when Brady stepped back and he saw Kid was still alive, and intact, had been overwhelming. It was then that he knew what a truly dangerous man, Ned Brady was.
It was that same man walking away from him now; the man leading his partner into a trap.
Red Canyon stood before them in all its magnificent geological glory but the rock layers, the mineral deposits and the work of physical and mechanical forces over millennia, were all wasted on the two men, focussed only on rescuing their friend. They pulled their horses to a halt.
“We have to leave the horses, go on foot from here,” Kid said, as he dismounted and Lom looked at him. “What?”
Lom said nothing, just climbed from his horse but he kept an eye on the blond man. Finally Kid understood.
“I know, I know, but we have to do it. I’ll be all right.”
“I didn’t say a word,” Lom said, defensively.
“You didn’t need to,” Kid scoffed. “We’ll leave my horse over there.” He pointed to a tree with a large patch of shade beneath it. “We’ll hide yours. Then if anyone sees it they’ll think it’s only me that’s come after them. We can keep you as a nice surprise.” Kid gave Lom a smile, as he removed his rifle from its scabbard. The sheriff decided not to comment and pulled out his own rifle.
As they moved into the canyon, they began to climb. Kid didn’t want to risk being ambushed on the canyon floor. They were soon following the well trodden path the gang’s lookouts used; one worn long ago by the native people who had first inhabited the canyon.
Kid suddenly stopped and sank to his knees, breathing heavily.
“Kid?” Lom said, with concern, coming up beside his friend.
“It’s all right Lom, I’m just catching my breath.”
“We can rest here for a while if you want.”
“No. We need to keep moving,” Kid said, sweat running down his face. He gave his friend a reassuring smile. “Can’t blame the horses this time. C’mon Sheriff, let’s go.” Kid pulled himself to his feet and set off once more.
Aware of someone standing nearby, Heyes opened his eyes. A young boy of about thirteen stood in front of him. A mop of scruffy, blond hair fringed two blue eyes and topped his thin face. For a moment, Heyes thought he was dreaming, but this was the wrong blond kid.
“You really Hannibal Heyes?” the boy asked, unable to hide his sense of awe.
“Yep,” Heyes stated, through a bloodied mouth, eyeing the kid. Where had he come from?
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” the boy told him, as he looked intently at the man tied to the tree.
“That right?” Heyes asked, with little interest. In truth he was just hoping to be left alone to wallow in his misery and pain. The boy, whoever he was, appeared to have other ideas.
“My uncle says you’re the smartest man he’s ever met.”
Heyes’ interest was suddenly roused, by the boy’s obviously intelligent relative. He took a closer look at the scrawny lad.
“Yeah. He said he ain’t never met a man can think out a plan the way Hannibal Heyes can.”
“He did, huh?” Heyes asked, proudly. He was beginning to like this lad.
“Yeah, and he said if anyone can open a safe without using dynamite, it’s you. And Uncle Kyle sure knows how to use dynamite.”
“Uncle Kyle?” Heyes asked, looking at the boy more closely, searching for a family resemblance. “What’s your name?”
“Bo. Bo Murtry. My uncle’s Kyle. Kyle Murtry. He said he rode with you.”
“He did. Kyle’s a good friend,” Heyes said with a smile, before breaking into a painful cough.
“D’you want some water?” the boy asked, as he saw the pain etched on the man’s face.
The boy went off, returning moments later with a metal cup. Water sloshed over the edge. He held it up so Heyes could take a few refreshing swallows.
“Thank you,” the dark-haired man said, as the cool liquid trickled down his throat. He turned bruised eyes on the boy once more.
“They’re saying Kid Curry will come here and rescue you. That true?” Bo asked.
“I hope not,” Heyes told him, honestly.
“Don’t you want to be rescued?” the boy asked, incredulously. “I thought you and Kid Curry were partners.”
“I don’t want my friend to get killed.”
The boy considered this.
“Is he as fast with a gun as they say?”
“Faster,” Heyes stated with pride. Then he looked up at the boy. “What are you doing here Bo?” he asked.
“I’m an outlaw!”
“You’re too young to …”
”I’m almost fourteen!” the boy interrupted.
“And you’ve got your whole life ahead of you, don’t ruin it at the start,” Heyes advised him.
“You did okay,” Bo pointed out.
“Does this look okay?” asked the man, beaten and tied to a tree.
“But you’re one of the most successful outlaws in the whole history of…well of outlawin’.”
“Was,” Heyes corrected. “I’m not feeling very successful at the moment.” He could see Bo was disappointed and he liked the boy and needed his help. “So your Kyle’s nephew huh?” Heyes asked, giving the boy smile.
“Well he ain’t really my uncle. More like a second cousin or somethin’. It gets kinda complicated in our family.”
Heyes thought it probably did.
“So why aren’t you with Kyle? At Devil’s Hole? If you’re dead set on becoming an outlaw?”
“He wouldn’t let me join the gang. Tied me to my horse last time I went up there and took me home. Told my Ma she was to lock me up if I tried to get there again.”
Heyes could imagine that and also liked the idea of Kyle playing a concerned uncle.
“He was right, Bo. It’s no life to choose.”
“But I want to be like you and Kid Curry.”
“No you don’t,” Heyes told him, firmly. “But you can help us. I know Kyle wouldn’t want Kid hurt anymore than I do. Will you help me stop Brady from killing Kid? Help your uncle’s friend?”
Bo considered the request.
“What do you want me to do Mr Heyes?”
Kid led the way across the rocks and along the narrow track. It was a precarious route and if either man slipped there was nothing between them and the canyon fifty feet below. Kid sank to his knees, for the third time in the last half hour. He needed to rest more often now and it was driving him crazy. He was angry at his body’s weakness but knew that he was lucky to be able to walk as far as he had. Lom could hear Kid breathing rapidly and stood back, watching his friend.
“I’m all right,” Kid said, feeling the sheriff’s eyes on his back.
“I didn’t say a word,” the sheriff protested again.
“You never have to,” Kid told him, as he pulled himself to his feet once more. He turned and looked at his friend. The sheriff wondered what would happen when they finally met up with Brady. Kid certainly didn’t look up to facing the man in a gunfight. He didn’t look up to walking another step, but he knew he would. Kid smiled. “C’mon,” he said and the two men set off again.
“Hey Bo, get away from him!” Brady shouted from the cabin door when he saw the boy talking to Heyes. Bo headed quickly back to the cabin passing Brady on the way.
“Why ain’t you cleaning up the cabin like you were told?” Brady demanded.
“It’s all done. You blind?” Bo said, sarcastically and Brady backhanded him across the face. Bo fell backwards, the blow sending him sprawling into the dirt, stunned. He looked up at Brady, anger and hate in his eyes, as blood ran from his split lip. He balled his fists.
“Try it boy!” Brady goaded. “I’d eat a shrimp like you for breakfast.”
Heyes pulled against the ropes but there was nothing he could do to help the boy.
“You stay away from things that don’t concern you,” Brady told him. Bo got to his feet and glared at the big man. “Don’t challenge me,” Brady warned and Bo shot a look at Heyes.
“He ain’t gonna help ya.” Then the tall man had a sudden thought. “Or are you planning on helping him? Is that it kid?”
Bo shifted uncomfortably under Brady’s scrutiny.
“Doug!” Brady called. Doug looked up from the porch step where he sat whittling something out of a long piece of wood. “Tie this kid to the porch post.”
“Why Brady?” Doug asked, confused. “What’s he done?”
“Nothing yet, but I don’t trust him.”
“Brady, the boy ain’t gonna do anything,” Doug said, putting down the wood and getting to his feet.
“Tie him up!” Brady ordered and Doug shrugged and started towards the blond lad.
“C’mon Bo,” the thin man said, beckoning Bo towards him. Bo stood his ground until Doug caught hold of his arm and pulled him towards the cabin. Heyes watched as Bo’s hands were tied around the post.
“Picking on children now, Brady?” Heyes chided, as the man reached him.
“Sticking your nose in where it’s not wanted yet again Heyes? I always thought you were the smart one; not the dumb gunslinger.”
Heyes said nothing.
“Not going to defend your partner?”
“He doesn’t need me to fight his battles,” Heyes stated.
“Well we’ll see of that’s true soon enough. The trap is set and you’re the bait.” A sudden thought came to him. “Maybe I should get you some cheese.” Brady laughed at his own joke.
Heyes eyes filled with anger.
“Oooh, maybe you do want to fight for him after all,” Brady chuckled and grabbed Heyes’ jaw, forcing his head back against the tree trunk. “We’d better put on a good show for Curry, make it worth his while.” He let go of Heyes’ and, turning, walked away.
Brady was halfway across the campsite when Jimmy Dove came out from the cabin, rubbed his eyes having just woken from a nap. He stretched and looked at Bo tied to the post.
“What’s going on?” he demanded.
“Brady wanted him tied up,” Doug explained.
“Hey Brady!” Jimmy called. “What d’you tie Bo up for, he’s a good kid, he’s one of us. What’s going on?”
“You tellin’ me what to do?” Brady asked with a challenging glare.
“Yeah, I am. I’m the leader of this gang, not you,” Jimmy said, confidently.
“Maybe I’m taking over,” Brady said.
“Over my dead body,” Jimmy told him, turning deadly serious.
“I could arrange that,” Brady replied, his hand dropping to the gun at his side.
The two men stood facing each other. Doug watched, not sure at first if they were serious and then not willing to intervene or stop the gunfight that was clearly about to take place. He knew Jimmy was fast, he’d seen him draw many times before. Brady’s speed with a gun was unknown.
“Well? You stepping down?” Brady asked.
“Not for you. Not for anybody,” Jimmy told him, his hand at his side. Heyes watched the two men, waiting. He knew his own fate was tied up with the outcome of the stand off. He also knew his arms ached and his mouth hurt, but he tried not to think about that. Heyes returned his attention to the men. If they did draw, he preferred Jimmy to come out the victor. You could cut the tension in the air with a proverbial knife. The men looked at each other, eyes focussed on his opponent, hands at their sides, waiting for the other man to back down. It was obvious neither man would.
It was over quickly. Each man went for his gun. Two shots rang out, echoing off the canyon walls.
Heyes let out a long breath as he looked at Jimmy, lying dead in front of the cabin. Brady’s draw had been faster after all. Faster than before, Heyes thought. It looked like he’d been practicing; practicing hard. It seemed the hand Kid had shot, had healed well. If the recent illness had made Kid slower…Heyes didn’t like to think what might happen if Kid had to face Brady now. He watched as the man turned to face Doug.
“You got any complaints about me being leader?”
Doug looked from Jimmy’s body to Brady.
“No Brady,” Doug assured him.
“Good.” Brady dropped his gun back in its holster. He smiled menacingly at Bo, sitting on the porch step, cowering behind the post. “What about you boy? Got nothin’ to say now?” Bo kept quiet and Brady looked round as George ran back into the camp, his gun drawn. He looked around expecting trouble.
“I heard shots what…?” His eyes took in Jimmy lying dead in the dirt. He turned to Brady, who stood waiting, expectantly, for his reaction.
“I’m the gang’s new leader,” Brady announced, his expression daring the other man to challenge him. George considered this. “You got something you want to say?”
“Yeah,” George stated and Brady stiffened. “He’s here. Curry’s here.”
Heyes looked up at the canyon walls, almost expecting to see a familiar hat appear over the top of a rock. Was Kid up there now? Was he watching them? His eyes searched desperately but he couldn’t see anyone.
“George, go fetch that chair Hank fell off the other night,” Brady said, thoughtfully. George looked perplexed but headed into the cabin, returning a few moments later with an old wooden chair. “Put it over by the tree,” Brady told him and George did as he was asked, still unsure why. Surely Brady wasn’t going to sit down and wait for Curry to come to him. If he was you’d think he’d pick a better chair.
“Untie him!” Brady yelled, pointing at Heyes. George walked over to the tree and began to loosen the ropes that bound their prisoner. “Heyes, I hope you said goodbye to your friend before you came here, because when he shows up to get you free, I’m gonna blow a hole in him, so big…” he left the rest unsaid, as Heyes was cut loose. Heyes sank to his knees and Brady stood over him.
Heyes looked up as he rubbed the blood back into his arms and didn’t like the way Brady was gloating at him.
“Tie his hands behind his back,” Brady ordered and George pulled Heyes’ hands roughly backwards. “Throw the rope over the branch of the tree,” Brady said, vaguely as he looked up at the canyon walls. There was not a movement but he didn’t doubt that Curry was watching.
“Make a noose,” the big man instructed. George looked at his new boss, hesitating. “Do it!” Brady snapped. Heyes eyes fixed on Brady.
George began to fashion a loop out of one end of the rope that now hung over the strongest branch.
“You ever been to a lynching?” Brady asked Heyes, almost conversationally. The ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang didn’t reply, angering his captor. “I asked you a question!”
“He’s gonna kill you all, you know that?” Heyes said, loudly, ignoring Brady and George looked up, clearly concerned.
“Shut up!” Brady ordered.
“Don’t you want them to know? He’s even faster than they say. Faster than you’ve read about,” Heyes said over his shoulder to George. “Killed more men than they tell ya too.”
“I told you to shut up!” Brady yanked Heyes to his feet, shoving him hard, face first, into the tree.
“You worried Brady?” Heyes taunted, as his cheek pressed into the rough bark and he bit back the pain.
“No. You ready to watch your friend die?”
“He’s got you worried ain’t he?” Heyes said, forcing a confident smile.
“String him up!” Brady snarled, dragging Heyes to the chair. George handed him the noose he’d made and Brady slipped it over Heyes’ head, tightening it around his neck. Heyes flinched as the noose tightened but he didn’t take his eyes from Brady’s, showing not a sign of the fear he was feeling. Sheesh the man was going to hang him!!
“Get on the chair.” Heyes didn’t move. “Do it!” Brady ordered again, drawing his gun.
“You gonna shoot me or hang me?” Heyes asked. “Can’t you make up your mind?” He smiled and watched Brady struggle to control his anger.
Between them, George and Brady heaved Heyes onto the chair and the rope was pulled tight over the branch, forcing Heyes to hold his neck up to prevent his oxygen from being cut off. He had to balance on his toes. His feet shifted, precariously, on the wobbly chair. Brady pulled the rope tighter, and then handed it to George to secure around the trunk.
“Not got anything to say now?” Brady asked with a sneer. In truth, at that moment, Heyes was more concerned with not falling off the chair and thereby hanging himself, than passing comment on the situation.
He closed his eyes desperately trying to think of something, anything he could do to get himself out of this predicament and help Kid. He heard the chair creaking beneath his feet and one wooden leg gave a sudden jolt as it slipped to one side. Heyes dropped an inch and held his breath, waiting for the chair to collapse and cause the fatal plunge. Despite some ominous creaking the chair held. He looked up at the canyon walls wondering where his partner was and if he could see what was happening. Aww, Kid please don’t do anything stupid, but, get me out of this if you can.
Brady pointed to Jimmy’s body. “Get that out of the way,” he snarled, then looked around the canyon walls. “CURRY? YOU OUT THERE?” he called.
There was no reply.
“CAN YOU SEE YOU’RE PARTNER? YOU WATCHIN’?”
Still no reply.
“YOU WANT HIM CURRY? YOU’D BETTER COME GET HIM! BEFORE HE STARTS TO SWING!”
Lom and Kid crouched low on the rocks above the campsite. The sound of gunshots had echoed long around the canyon as they made their way to their current position. Shielded from view, Kid spotted his partner, perched on a wobbly looking chair, beneath a tree, a rope tight around his neck. He had listened to Brady’s taunts. Kid’s hand tightened around the butt of his gun. His controlled his anger. Now was not the time. If he had been a better shot with a rifle maybe he could have shot the rope from where he lay. If… He tried to assess how badly hurt his friend was, but he was too far away to tell. Heyes hands were behind his back, no doubt tightly bound. That chair looked dangerously unstable. There was no telling how much longer it would hold. Kid sighed and rested his forehead on the ground momentarily at a loss as to what he could do. Kid looked up and shook his head at the seemingly hopelessness of the situation.
“Lost your hat again huh?” Kid said quietly, looking at his friend. He knew what he had to do.
They had watched long enough to know there were only three others in the camp besides Brady and a boy, who was tied to the porch post for some reason. The blond kid had, helpfully, asked when the rest of the gang would be back from town. Jimmy’s body had been dragged around the back of the cabin, presumably to keep it out of sight. Kid felt sorry for the man he had once ridden with. He suspected his death was down to Brady. He couldn’t see him taking orders from anyone. So it was the two of them against three, four if the boy turned out to be on Brady’s side; not that he could do anything in his present condition.
Lom repressed the need to comment on Heyes’ predicament.
“What do you want to do?” the lawman asked in a whisper.
“I knew this was too easy,” Kid stated. “There should have been someone on guard; a sentry.”
“If he wanted to kill us he could have just picked us off as we rode in.”
“He doesn’t want to kill us, yet.” The two men exchanged a look.
“So how d’you want to play this?” the sheriff asked, watching the campsite as Doug slipped behind the trees and George went back into the cabin.
“Give me your gun Lom.”
“I may need it. You keep the rifles.”
Lom considered the request then removed his gun from his holster and slowly handed it to his friend. Kid tucked it into his waistband behind his back.
“I think I’ll give him what he wants,” Kid said, backing away from the edge.
“Kid!” Lom hissed, as he followed him. “Kid wait!”
Heyes felt useless and, as much as he hated to admit it, frightened. This wasn’t how he’d imagined his end to be. He expected to die in a shoot out at the hands of a posse or a bounty hunter. Or maybe, with the promise of amnesty before them, in his old age, sitting on the front porch of a house he’d shared with his wife for many years. He certainly hadn’t expected to be strung up by a mad man bent on revenge.
Kid was apparently nearby, maybe watching, at that very moment, but what could Kid do? Was there anything he could do to help him in return? Maybe distract Brady at a crucial moment, give Kid time to do whatever he had to? Bound as he was, there was little more he could do, without risking his own life. However, Heyes knew that if it came to it, he’d do whatever was necessary to save Kid, at whatever the cost to himself.
“I hope your friend turns up soon,” Brady told Heyes, as he rested his foot casually on the chair. Heyes felt it wobble and his feet shifted. “I don’t know how long I can stop my foot from slipping and pushing this chair away.” Brady rocked it again. Heyes’ feet did a desperate dance to save him from falling. The rope dug into the skin beneath his larynx.
“Brady!” a voice called. Heyes saw the outline of a familiar figure, walking slowly into the campsite on the other side of the fire. The man held a gun in each hand, his hat was tilted to shade his eyes, as he strode towards them. It was overly dramatic but Heyes had to admit Kid looked damn scary.
“Well now Kid, it’s about time you showed up,” Brady said with a sneer, rocking the chair with his foot once more. Heyes fought to keep his balance.
Kid watched but did not reveal his emotions.
A movement beside the cabin caught Bo’s attention and George peered around the side, his gun aimed at the blond man’s back; the man Bo had been watching with awe. This was Kid Curry, just like in the dime novels.
“Kid, look out!” Bo cried and Kid spun around to see a stout man, step into view. Kid’s gun was trained on the man before he had the chance to aim.
“Just give me a reason,” Kid told him; his eyes narrowed, dark and angry. George considered his chances. Against other men, he’d probably have risked it, but against Kid Curry, and in a foul mood at that? Kid’s gun didn’t waiver. George lowered his gun. “Toss it aside,” Kid ordered and George threw it some distance away. Kid lowered his gun and headed towards Brady and Heyes. What he didn’t know was George had another gun tucked in his waistband.
Kid kept walking. His footfalls the only sound Heyes heard above the pounding of his own heart. Kid stopped, boots planted firmly apart, a few feet away from Brady and Heyes.
“Let my partner go,” Kid said, as his eyes flicked over Heyes’ bruised and bloodied face and the rope around his neck.
“I told ya, you want him? Come get him,” Brady taunted. “But be careful Kid, my foot’s awful twitchy on this chair.” The chair rocked again. Heyes flinched but could do nothing to get away; his feet desperately sought a firm foothold on the chair and found none. His neck stretched, the rope tight against his chin, as eyes fell on his partner. Kid knew his friend was scared even if no one else did.
“Step away from him,” Kid said. His eyes still dark with anger.
Brady laughed malevolently.
“Even you ain’t fast enough to shoot me before he hangs,” Brady stated, confidently. “After you shot my hand I had to work real hard to get it working again. You want to know how fast I am now, ask Jimmy. ‘Cept he’s too dead to tell ya. I guess you have a choice to make Kid. I’m gonna go for my gun and then I’m gonna shoot ya. As I do, I’ll give this chair one last kick. I reckon you could shoot through the rope and save him, but by then my bullet will have hit you. So it’s gonna be your fault if your partner hangs,” Brady laughed. “Even you can’t shoot two things at once.” He smiled as he watched Kid digest the information.
“I guess we’re about to find out,” Kid stated, making no attempt to holster his guns. Heyes almost smiled at the confidence in Kid’s voice. They were in a no win situation and both men knew it.
“Kid, don’t…” he managed to rasp out but the blond man ignored him, focussing intently on Brady now.
“You’re willing to bet your friend’s life?” Brady asked, incredulously.
“Don’t look like he’ll make it anyway,” Kid observed, unemotionally and Heyes gave him a wide-eyed look of disbelief. “So you gonna draw on me or you gonna talk all day?” Kid asked.
“I spent a lot of time in jail, plannin’ my revenge against you two, although I’ll admit this isn’t quite what I had in mind,” he said. “It cost me a lot of money to get out of there. I shoulda cut off your hand when I had the chance.”
“Well here I am.” Kid’s jaw clenched tight and he heard the sound of a rifle being cocked behind him. Brady smiled.
“If you do decide to sacrifice your partner and shoot me, he’ll shoot you,” Brady said, giving Kid a broad smile, as Doug appeared from behind the trees.
“And I’ll shoot him,” Lom called from somewhere up in the rocks. Doug scoured the walls with his eyes but, saw no one.
“I brought reinforcements too,” Kid stated, when he saw the look on Brady’s face.
“You’re still outnumbered,” Brady reminded him with added confidence.
“I hope for your sake they’re fast, because you’ll be dead before they can squeeze the trigger,” Kid stated. His eyes never left Brady’s. Brady shifted uneasily.
“I like your confidence Kid, but don’t forget they’ll shoot your partner too, if he don’t hang,” Brady added hoping that would get a reaction. It was then Brady noticed the beads of sweat running down the blond man’s face and he looked even more pleased with himself. “You don’t look well Kid,” Brady said with a grin and Heyes peered down at his friend. It was true. Now that he looked closely, Kid looked tired and there was sweat running down his face. Now he was really afraid for his friend and for the first time, doubted his partner’s ability to beat a man with his speed.
“You look a little sick, Kid,” Brady, observed.
“You gonna talk all day?” Kid asked.
“Makes me wonder just how sick you are. Maybe your aim’s off? Maybe you’re slower too? D’you think about that Kid? Whatever’s wrong with you, coulda slowed you down. So whatever decision you make…you ain’t gonna hit what you aim at.”
“You keep talkin’ and we’ll never find out,” Kid told the man.
“Oh I’m ready Curry. Anytime you are,” Brady told him, confidently. The two men stared at each other. Above them hidden by the rocks Lom moved his finger on the trigger and kept Doug in his sights. Heyes didn’t say a word. He knew this had gone too far to stop. Besides, his mouth hurt too much to form the words he needed and the rope was tight around his throat. He found himself saying a silent prayer once more. It would end, one way or the other, any moment now.
Nothing stirred. Even the air seemed to stop moving. Brady licked his lips, his fingers twitched as his hand hung by his gun, one foot still on the chair. Kid didn’t move, didn’t take his eyes from Brady. Heyes watched and waited. Kid knew he could shoot the rope; knew it would sever and he could do it fast enough to save his friend, but Brady was equally intent on shooting him. He had a decision to make. Shoot the rope before Heyes hung or shoot Brady before he shot him? His life or Heyes’? There was no time to waiver.
Brady went for his gun.
Gunshots filled the air along with the crack of a rifle. Was that three shots in quick succession, followed by a fourth? Heyes couldn’t tell, all he knew was that the chair fell away from under his feet and he felt himself drop. Heyes waited for the jerk of the rope at his neck, but it never came. Instead his feet hit the ground and he crumpled into a heap beneath the tree. He immediately knew what Kid had done; knew the choice he had made. And then the silence returned.
Lying on his side, Heyes looked up. Brady lay on his back unmoving, a bloody bullet hole in his chest. Heyes shifted around.
Kid lay on the ground just a few feet away, the guns at his side, his hat lying in the dirt beyond. He didn’t move. Fear gripped Heyes.
“Kid?” he called weakly, his voice little more than a rasp. He tried to focus on Kid’s chest, looking for the tell tale rise and fall of a sign of life. He saw none. He focussed on a single button on his partner’s blue shirt, willing it to move. “Kid?” Heyes tried to sit up and shuffle closer to the blond man.
Heyes heard running footsteps and Lom appeared in his field of vision, carrying a rifle.
“Are you alright?” he asked Heyes, dropping to his knees beside him and loosening the rope around Heyes’ neck before pulling it over his head.
“Kid? Kid?” was all Heyes could say. The sheriff moved swiftly to their friend’s side. With his hands still tied behind him, Heyes could only watch and wait. “Lom? Lom?” Heyes pleaded. He watched as Lom tugged at his own bandana. Removing it, the sheriff placed it against a bloody bullet wound on the left side of Kid’s head.
“Lom?” Heyes pleaded again.
“He’s alive,” Lom announced and heard a gasp of relief from the dark-haired man. He removed Kid’s bandana and used it to secure his own to the wound. There was little more he could do for him at the moment so he returned to untie Heyes.
“He saved my life first,” Heyes said his eyes still on his friend. “He shot the rope first.”
“I know,” Lom told him, casting a glance at Kid. “He even shot Brady and that fella by the cabin. I managed to pick off the other one. I’ll be honest; I didn’t think he could do it. I didn’t think he was well enough; I didn’t think he’d be that fast.” He looked to where a man lay dead beneath the trees, a rifle on the floor at his side. George lay on the ground near the cabin, groaning in pain and holding his left shoulder. A young blond boy, still tied to the porch post, stood watching them, his eyes wide with awe and fear.
Once his hands were untied, Heyes made his way to Kid’s side. Blood ran from beneath the bandanas. Heyes reached out and touched Kid’s head, laying a hand on the blond curls.
“Kid?” he said, but Kid did not stir. “Why? Why d’you…?” The words caught in his throat.
Lom walked over to Doug and picked up the rifle. He did the same with Brady, removing the Colt he’d fired while checking the man was dead. The Sheriff made his way to the cabin, where George was still moaning. Lom stooped down and picked up George’s gun, tucking it into his waistband.
“My shoulder,” George groaned. “I think I’m bleeding to death.”
“I doubt it,” Lom told him, flatly, but took a look at the man’s injury all the same. He pulled off George’s bandana and stuffed it, none too gently, under his shirt and over the bullet wound. “You’ll live if you keep the pressure on.” George put his hand on the bandana and did as the other man had suggested.
Standing up Lom went to untie Bo.
“What’s your name son?” the sheriff asked. Bo’s eyes fixed on the star pinned to Lom’s chest.
“Bo Murtry, sir,” the blond boy stated.
“Murtry?” Lom asked, not missing the familiar surname.
“Yes sir.” Bo looked across at Kid. “Is Kid Curry dead, Sheriff?”
“He hurt bad?”
“Looks that way,” Lom stated, controlling his emotions. “Son, I’m going to need your help.”
“Yes sir,” Bo replied, ready to do what he could.
Bo hitched the horses to the old wagon and, between them, they lifted Kid into it. He lay in the back, his head resting on Lom’s jacket. Heyes climbed up beside his friend, trying not to cry out as pain screamed through his own body. He put a protective hand to his ribs as he lowered himself.
“Here,” Bo said and Heyes looked up to see the young boy holding out two cowboy hats, his black one and Kid’s brown one.
“Thanks Bo,” Heyes said, taking them from him. The boy smiled, glad to have been a help.
George was helped into the back of the wagon. He’d stopped complaining and was grateful they hadn’t killed him, which, he knew Brady would have done. Lom took the reins and, with Bo sitting beside him, they headed away from the campsite and along the canyon.
Heyes was exhausted. He’d had little sleep over the past couple of days and the beating hadn’t helped. Sitting beside his friend he tried to figure out who had actually shot Kid, tried to replay the gun shots he’d heard, but the events of the past few hours caught up with him It didn’t take long for the rocking motion of the wagon to lull him to sleep.
When the wagon hit a bump and jolted, Heyes’ eyes shot open. He found himself looking into two familiar blue ones.
“Kid?” he said, anxiously. The blue eyes blinked and tried to focus on the face the voice belonged to.
“What happened?” he asked.
Heyes smiled with relief, then turned serious, “You got shot in the head.”
Hearing the partners talking, Lom pulled the wagon to a halt and turned in his seat.
“He alright?” he asked concerned.
“Looks like it Lom,” Heyes said, relieved.
“You didn’t…hang then?” Kid said his voice weak and distant.
“No,” Heyes assured him with a smile.
“Are you all…right?” Kid asked, looking at his friend’s bruised and beaten face.
“What kind of question is that?” Heyes scoffed. “Look at me. Do I look all right?”
“How bad you hurt?” Kid asked, his eyes only half open and Heyes shook his head. Trust his friend to be more worried about others than himself.
“Feels like he broke some ribs,” Heyes told him. “My jaw hurts too.”
“We might get some …peace for a while,” Kid joked weakly and received a glare in reply.
“You’re lucky to be alive, d’you know that?” Heyes scolded.
“It had occurred to me,” Kid admitted, groggily.
“What did you think you were doing, waltzing in there like that?” Kid didn’t reply. “Brady could have shot you the minute he saw you. You were outnumbered and look at you, you’re still sick. You coulda been slower you know that?”
“I thought you said…your mouth hurt,” Kid reminded him.
“It does,” Heyes snapped back. “But I’m too angry atcha to worry about it.”
“Could you be angry…quieter?” Kid asked, as his eyelids grew heavy. “My head…hurts.”
Heyes cast a concerned look at his friend.
“You care Heyes,” Kid told him. “S’nice. I’m glad you’re not…dead.” Kid smiled, but it was a thin, lopsided one and Heyes watched as his partner’s eyes closed. Lom looked at Heyes, who nodded. The Sheriff turned and urged the horses on once more.
Lom drove the horses on, stopping only briefly to rest them. After riding beside the boy for a while, he decided he trusted Bo enough to send him on ahead, on his own horse, to get help ready. When they reached Lom’s house the doctor, Henry Larson and one of Lom’s deputies, Kevin Wheeler, were already there. Bo stood on the porch, keeping out of the way. Kevin was a good man and he stood no nonsense from George, despite the man’s injury. He helped get Heyes and Kid into the house before driving the wagon into town and taking George to jail. Doctor Larson, a broad shouldered man in his late forties, promised to look in on the prisoner once he’d seen to Mr Smith and Mr Jones.
They took Kid up to the bedroom he’d occupied since falling foul of Harry’s pie. The sheriff ushered Heyes into the next room, which happened to be his own, with instructions for his friend to ‘get to bed’. The doctor assured the dark-haired man he would be in to examine him and heaven help him if he found him out of bed.
Lom suppressed a smile when Heyes finally agreed to do as he was told, once the doctor had agreed to tell him how Kid was. In truth the doctor could tell very little until the young blond man regained consciousness. He gave his wound a rudimentary examination, applied a fresh clean bandage and left Lom with instructions on his care. Heyes was waiting patiently in Lom’s room, and fighting the sleep that was trying hard to claim him, when the doctor arrived.
“Get that shirt off Mr Smith, I need to examine you,” Doctor Larson instructed, not expecting to be disobeyed. He watched as the young man struggled painfully out of his clothes. The purple bruises were all too evident across Heyes’ torso, as were the rope burns around his wrists. Larson cast an experienced eye on the rope mark at Heyes’ neck but did not comment. After his examination he was pleased to inform Mr Smith that he had bruised, but not broken, ribs and that a period of rest should soon see him fit again.
“I don’t know what you and your friend got yourself into, but you are both more than lucky to be alive,” the medical man stated, as he headed for the door. He nearly bumped into Lom. “Sheriff, see that this man stays in bed. He needs to rest just as much as Mr Jones. I’ll be back tomorrow to check on them.” With that, Doctor Larson bid them good-day and was gone.
“How’s Kid?” Heyes asked, easing himself back on the bed.
“Still unconscious,” Lom informed him.
“Thanks for going with him Lom.”
“Well it’s like I told Kid; it’s what I do for my friends.” The Sheriff smiled. “Now I have a young Murtry to speak to. Is he really Kyle’s nephew?” he asked, heading towards the door.
“Something like that. Go easy on him. Kyle’s tried to talk him out of the outlaw life,” Heyes said. “He would have helped me if he could.”
“Well, he wasn’t part of the recent robbery, so he’s not wanted as far as I know. I’ll give him a bit of a scare, see what that does,” Lom said opening the door. He paused in the doorway. “Do what the doctor told you Heyes. Rest. Kid’s safe now and so are you.”
When Heyes awoke the next morning he saw a tall, brown-haired woman, about to leave the room with his clothes.
“Hey!” he called, sitting bolt upright. He let out a cry of pain and held his ribs. The woman turned to look at him. “Ow! Er…ma’am?”
“Oh, Mr Smith, you’re awake. That’s marvellous. I’ll tell Lom,” the woman said, giving Heyes a jolly smile. She was in her forties with a kind face and soft blue eyes.
“Who are you?” Heyes asked, as he pulled the covers up, covering his bare chest in an attempt to preserve his modesty.
The woman suppressed a knowing smile. Having helped the Sheriff with the man’s care while he was in a deep sleep, she’d already seen all that was under the covers.
“I’m Margaret Wetherby. I’m helping Lom,” she told Heyes and, without further explanation, she headed for the door.
“Wait! Where are you going with my clothes?”
“They’re filthy Mr Smith. They need cleaning. Don’t worry I’ll bring them back,” she promised. Heyes took a quick look under the covers. He blushed when he saw Margaret watching him.
“I’ll go find Lom,” she said and this time he let her go.
The door opened a crack and a blond head peered round the door. Bo smiled when he saw Heyes was awake.
“Howdy,” he said. “Can I come in and see ya?” the boy asked, looking at the man in bed.
“Sure Bo,” Heyes said, pulling himself up on the pillow. He grimaced as he did so, his ribs hurt. He held them as he moved. The bruises on Heyes’ face were various shades of purple but his left eye was less swollen.
“You in pain?” Bo asked.
“Yeah,” Heyes admitted.
“Should I get someone?”
“Nothin’ they can do,” Heyes told him.
“You ain’t…?” Bo asked, leaving the rest unsaid, fear on his face.
“No!” Heyes told him, realising what they boy thought. “They just can’t do much about the pain, that’s all.” Bo visibly relaxed. He looked awkward standing there, so Heyes indicated the end of the bed. “Sit down,” he suggested. Bo sat on the edge of the bed, leaning back against the bed frame.
“Kid ain’t awake yet,” Bo said.
“D’you want anything?” the boy asked. “The Sheriff said you read a lot. I could get ya a book. He sure has got a lot of books. I ain’t never seen so many in one place, ‘cept in a library. I went in one once, when I went to school for a while, but that was a long time ago. And the Sheriff, he ain’t got no dime novels. I thought he might have one about you and Kid, but he said he don’t read them. Said somethin’ about them not being like the real thing. How come you know a sheriff and he don’t arrest ya? I mean Uncle Kyle told me…”
“Whoa!” Heyes held up his hands and Bo stopped speaking. “How ‘bout you pause for breath Bo?”
The boy blushed.
“Sorry. My ma says I sometimes run on like a wild river. Don’t know when to shut up,” he said and Heyes smiled.
“That’s okay. Seems like you’ve got a lot to say and you don’t learn if you don’t ask questions.”
“You don’t mind me asking? About the Sheriff I mean? He just said you were his friends but that still don’t explain why he…”
“Bo,” Heyes said and the blond boy took a breath. Two blue eyes looked up at him expectantly and Heyes was reminded of another young boy who used to do the same. “Bo, why don’t you see if you can find a pack of cards,” Heyes suggested.
“D’you want a game of poker?”
“Do you play?” Heyes asked, hiding his amusement.
“I sure do, but I gotta warn ya, I’m pretty good,” the boy boasted. Heyes suppressed a grin.
“Well go find those cards then,” Heyes told him and Bo scooted off the bed and out of the room. Heyes smiled and closed his eyes.
For two days, Kid faded in and out of consciousness. Once Heyes had his clothes back there was little Lom could do to stop him getting out of bed. When he returned to the house that evening, Lom found the dark-haired man asleep in a chair beside Kid’s bed. George was in jail, under Deputy Harker’s watchful gaze, awaiting the arrival of the circuit judge. Kevin Wheeler had set out with a few men to bring in the bodies of those at Red Canyon, all too aware that the rest of the gang could return anytime soon. Bo was asleep in the parlour downstairs. Lom was waiting for a reply to the telegram he’d sent to the boy’s mother.
Heyes opened his eyes as Lom placed a cup of coffee on the table next to him.
“Hey, Lom,” Heyes said, pulling himself up in the chair and running a hand over his eyes. An open book rested on his lap.
“You should be in bed,” the Sheriff told him.
“You a doctor now?” Heyes asked, dryly.
“Are you?” Lom retorted and Heyes smiled.
“Thanks for the coffee.” He put down the book, pushed his hair back from his face and picked up the cup, taking a sip.
“Margaret sent over a stew,” the Sheriff announced. “She says you need to build up your strength and doesn’t trust my cooking to do it. She said you were a bit on the skinny side.” Lom grinned at his friend.
“Tell her thank you for me,” Heyes said, with a smile.
“I will.” Lom’s expression turned serious when he looked at Kid. “How is he?”
“The same.” Both men knew all they could do was wait.
“How is he?” a voice asked and Heyes looked up to see Bo standing in the doorway. It was late but the boy couldn’t sleep despite the comfortable bed Lom had made for him downstairs.
“He’s still unconscious,” Heyes told him. Bo stepped closer.
“He really was as fast as you said.” Bo couldn’t hide the awe he felt. His eyes fell momentarily on Kid’s gun belt hanging on the bed post.
“Yes, he was,” Heyes agreed.
“I wish I was that fast. No one would mess with me if I could shoot like that.” Heyes didn’t reply. “D’you think he’ll be okay?”
“I don’t know,” Heyes told the boy truthfully and Bo heard a catch in the dark-haired man’s voice.
“Yes Bo, I am.”
“Human,” Heyes reminded him. “Flesh and blood Bo, not someone in a dime novel. Bullets hurt. Wounds bleed. People die.”
The boy didn’t know what to say.
“Are you still set on being an outlaw?” Heyes asked him.
“I reckon,” the boy said, defiantly.
“Well if Kid Curry can come this close to death, how long d’you think you’d last?” Heyes asked and Bo shifted uneasily under his gaze.
“Where’s Bo?” Heyes asked the next morning when Lom entered the room. Heyes had not seen the boy since the previous night and he was worried he’d been too hard on him. He just didn’t want Bo wasting his life or worse, getting himself killed before he’d had the chance to live.
“He’s running some errands for me. Margaret suggested he could stay with her until we hear from his Ma. She has a spare room while her son’s in Denver. That way he won’t have to sleep on the floor anymore. It seems Bo’s thinking about going home.”
“That’s good,” Heyes said with a smile.
“I hear you two had a talk last night.”
“I just told him the truth about being an outlaw. I’m not sure it was what he wanted to hear.”
“I’m sure he’ll appreciate it one day.”
Heyes hoped so too. Lom looked at Kid, still unconscious.
“I can sit with him a while if you want to get some fresh air,” the sheriff offered.
“It’s okay,” Heyes replied and Lom understood. A sudden twinkle appeared in Heyes’ eyes. “I haven’t seen Margaret here before, Lom.”
“No,” was all the sheriff said.
“She seems like a nice lady.”
“Yes, she is,” Lom agreed, absently.
“Does she help out here a lot?” Heyes pried. Lom looked up, meeting Heyes’ gaze.
“Now and then.”
“Is she married?”
Lom stared at his friend.
“Widowed,” he said, bluntly, waiting to hear what Heyes would say next.
“You and she…?” Heyes left the rest unsaid.
“NO!” Lom told him, firmly.
“She’s a nice lady, you said so yourself. I reckon it’s about time you had some company Lom.”
“Drop it! There is nothing going on between Margaret and me!”
Heyes smiled as the sheriff walked out in a huff. It seemed he had hit a nerve.
The room came slowly into focus. Kid knew where he was, at Lom’s house, in the bed he’d been in since he ate that pie. Feeling a pain in his temple he reached up and felt a bandage around his head. Why did his head hurt? The pie had affected his stomach. He’d been at the Founder’s Day…Brady. The name sprang into his mind and then…Heyes? Turning his head he saw a man sitting in a chair by the window, cleaning a gun. He thought he must still be dreaming.
“What are you…doing?” Kid asked, as his head cleared. Heyes looked up.
“Welcome back,” he said with a smile.
“What are you doing?” Kid asked again.
“Cleaning my gun,” his friend stated as he put down the Schofield on a nearby table. “I do it too, sometimes, you know?” He placed a hand across his abdomen as he got to his feet.
“Not often enough,” Kid told him.
“Well I don’t shoot it as much as you do,” his partner reminded him, keeping a hand on his ribs as he walked towards the bed. Kid’s eyes flicked over Heyes’ face, taking in the bruises and the swelling around his eyes, then dropping to the rope marks on his neck.
“You all right?” he asked.
“The Doc says I’m gonna be fine,” Heyes told him. “No broken ribs, just a lot of pain and bruises.”
“S’good,” Kid stated, weakly. “About the ribs,” he clarified.
“Yeah.” Heyes studied his friend’s eyes, still struggling to focus properly.
“Did I get shot in the head?” the blond man asked.
“Yep,” his partner told him, as he lowered himself onto the edge of the bed.
“How long have I been out?”
“A couple of days.”
“Well you faded in and out a few times.”
“I don’t remember,” Kid told him. “Is Brady dead?”
“Yeah.” Kid considered this. It was over. A sense of relief swept over him. “You shot the rope first,” Heyes stated.
“The rope around my neck. You shot it first didn’t you?” Kid didn’t reply. “Kid? Didn’t you?”
“Yes. Don’t make a big thing of it.”
“Don’t make a big thing of it?” Heyes asked, incredulously. “You saved my life.”
“You’re not gonna make me wish I hadn’t, are you?” Kid asked, his head still aching.
“Not now Heyes, please. My head hurts too much to think.”
Heyes looked at his friend, glad to see him awake at last.
“Just for once will you let it go?” Kid pleaded.
“Yeah, for once.”
“All right,” Heyes relented, just pleased that his friend was alive. “For once.”
The two men were silent for a time.
Two blue eyes looked up at Hannibal Heyes, telling him the topic was closed. He found his friend holding up one finger in front of his face.
“How many fingers do you see?” Heyes asked.
“Aw Heyes, not that again!”
“He’s awake,” Heyes announced as he entered the kitchen. “And hungry,” he added with a smile. Lom was sitting at the table but did not respond. Heyes face clouded over when he saw the glum expression on the lawman’s face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. The sheriff opened his hand and a screwed up piece of paper fell from it onto the table.
“I got a telegram. Harker had it in his pocket. Apparently it arrived just after Kid and I left, but he forgot about it,” Lom told him and Heyes felt a sense of foreboding sweep over him.
Heyes pulled out a chair and sat down.
“In a way,” Lom stated, cryptically. He gestured for Heyes to look at the paper. Taking it, the dark-haired man unfolded it and read aloud.
“Documents found. Wrong bag.” He looked up at Lom, who nodded. Heyes read on. “No need to contact mutual friends.” He sat back. Anger began to boil up inside him, as he considered the message.
“THE WRONG BAG? Three men killed. Kid shot in the head. FOR NOTHING?” Heyes snapped.
“I know,” Lom said, with a heavy sigh. “I’ll tell him what you did. What it cost you.” Heyes pushed his chair back and stood up.
“Oh he has no idea what it cost us.”
All Heyes’ fear and anger for his partner, anger at Brady for what he had done to them both, welled up, as he grabbed the telegram and screwed it up once more.
“Yeah, you tell him Lom,” Heyes said, as he got to his feet. “Tell him it was for nothin’!” He threw the paper at the window and stormed out of the room.
“I’m sorry,” Heyes apologised, when Lom joined him on the front porch moments later.
“Don’t worry about it. I was angry too.”
Heyes turned to face his friend, leaning back on the railing.
“We could both be dead now and for nothing.”
“I’ll tell him,” Lom assured him. “I’ll write to the Governor.”
“Don’t bother Lom, I’m not sure I care anymore.”
Lom didn’t like the look in his young friend’s eyes, he hadn’t seen Heyes look so dejected before.
“Is it all for nothing?” Heyes asked, after a moment. Lom heard the despair in his friend’s voice.
“No! No, I don’t believe so,” he assured him. “I think the Governor wants to give you amnesty. He knows how hard you’ve been trying, but it’s just not the right time.”
“Yes, for him.”
“Will it ever be the right time?”
“I hope so,” Lom told him, honestly. ”I really hope so.”
Bo crept quietly into the room. The blond man lay motionless in bed, sleeping or unconscious, Bo couldn’t tell. Kid’s gun was still in the gun belt hanging on the post at the foot of the bed. Reaching forward, Bo slowly drew the weapon from the holster, admiring it as he did so. He felt its weight in his hands and rested his finger on the trigger.
“What are you doing?” a voice demanded and Bo almost dropped the gun. He stepped back, nervously, staring at the man in the bed. Two intense blue eyes fixed on Bo’s.
“I was only looking at it,” Bo explained, as he quickly replaced the weapon.
“Make sure that’s all you do,” Kid told him, firmly.
“Yes sir, Mr. Curry,” Bo replied. He was suddenly scared of the man, despite his obvious injury. He’d seen what Kid could do with a gun.
“Who are you?” Kid asked his voice little more than a whisper.
“Bo. Bo Murtry,” the boy told him.
The surnamed registered with Kid.
“Kyle’s my uncle,” Bo told him and Kid smiled.
“Figures,” he said, vaguely.
“Does your head hurt?” Bo asked, summoning the courage to step closer.
“Like someone beating on me with a hammer,” Kid told him. A memory came back to him. “Thanks…for the warning, back there.”
“It was nothin’.” Bo looked embarrassed, but pleased to have Kid Curry’s gratitude.
“You may have saved my life.”
“Nah, I didn’t. You’re Kid Curry.” The awe Bo felt was clear in his voice.
“I’m nothin’ special. I bleed just like you,” Kid said, his eyes beginning to grow heavy. “Heyes okay?”
“Yes sir. He’s with Sheriff Trevors right now. Should I..?” Bo stopped. Kid’s eyes were closed, his breathing a steady rhythm. “Mr. Curry? Kid?” There was no reply. The blond-man was asleep once more. Bo left the room, closing the door quietly as he stepped into the hallway.
The boy jumped, startled by Heyes voice.
“I didn’t wake him,” the blond boy said, defensively, to the man walking up the stairs.
“I didn’t say you did,” Heyes told him. “Is he all right?”
“He said his head hurts and he asked if you were okay.” Heyes smiled and nodded, understanding. “He’s asleep again, now.”
“Then let’s leave him that way,” Heyes suggested. “Margaret brought over some cookies. D’you think you could find room for a couple before Lom eats them all?”
“Yes sir!” Bo assured him and they descended the stairs, heading for the kitchen.
Lom and Bo sat at the kitchen table stuffing themselves with cookies, while the Sheriff regaled the boy with tales of his time with the Devil’s Hole Gang. Heyes didn’t think it was the best way to put the boy off a life as an outlaw but the lawman gave Heyes a wink, so he assumed Lom had something in mind. Heyes decided to check on his partner after all. He glanced back at the blond boy, sitting with the sheriff, cookie crumbs around his mouth. It seemed a healthy appetite was another thing the blond kid had in common with his partner.
As he headed up the stairs a sudden pain shot through his side and he gasped, grabbing the wall for support. He held his ribs until the pain passed. Heyes touched the marks on his neck. It had been a close call.
“Heyes?” Lom asked, from behind him. Heyes looked back to where Lom stood at the foot of the stairs.
“I’m okay Lom,” Heyes told him.
“Of course you are. That’s why you’re holding onto the wall,” Lom stated, as he walked up the stairs. Heyes shot him a look. “Don’t glare at me,” the sheriff said, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “C’mon, you need to rest.” Somehow the sheriff persuaded Heyes to return to bed for a while. That in itself told Lom that Heyes was hurting.
Leaving Heyes asleep, the Sheriff closed the bedroom door, and stood for a moment in the hallway. He found himself growing angry. His two friends were both lying injured and for what? They were still no closer to that amnesty. As promised, he’d sent his telegram to the Governor and it had been abrupt and to the point. He was angry at the Governor for toying with his friends’ freedom and their lives and for his own political purpose. He was angry at Brady for what he had done to Heyes and Kid. And he was angry at himself for…well he was just plain angry.
Kid opened his eyes and saw Lom standing in the doorway. The sun shone through the window and a bird sang in a nearby tree. Kid wished it would sing quieter.
“How are you?” the Sheriff asked, as he entered the room.
“Not so bad,” Kid told him.
“How’s the head?” Lom asked, stepping closer. “Does it still hurt?”
“A little,” Kid admitted. He was still struggling to stay awake for any length of time. The doctor had been to see him a couple of times and was pleased with his progress. However Kid had spent too many hours in bed over the past few weeks to be anything but impatient to get up.
“You up to talking?” Lom asked.
“Sure Lom,” Kid said and he pulled himself up on the pillow.
“Good, good,” the Sheriff mumbled, thoughtfully. He saw Kid was waiting, expectantly. Suddenly Lom looked Kid in the eye. “Just what the heck did you think you were doing?” he asked angrily. Kid looked stunned by his friend’s outburst.
“We had an agreement. You were to work your way around the campsite. Get close enough to shoot the rope. That’s what you said.”
“Well I did,” Kid reminded him defensively.
“DON’T GET SMART NOW!” Lom snapped. “You were supposed to stay out of sight, not march in there like…like…like a…!”
“Lom, could you keep it down a little?” Kid pleaded, grimacing.
“Why? Does it hurt?” Lom asked.
“GOOD!” Kid looked confused. “I oughta crack that thick head of yours open, except Brady almost did that. Try and knock some sense into it,” the Sheriff continued. “Do you know you coulda been killed? He coulda shot you the minute he saw you! I had three men to keep my eye on after that. Are you always so damn reckless? You nearly gave me heart failure!”
Finally Lom paused for breath.
“Lom…” Kid began, hoping to explain, when the door burst open and Heyes entered the room. He looked around, confused when he saw only Lom in the room with his partner.
“What’s wrong? I heard shouting?” Heyes asked, as his eyes moved between the two men. Lom looked angry; his face red; his shoulders back. “Lom?”
“He was just telling me how stupid I was,” Kid explained.
Lom was beginning to calm down. He looked embarrassed by his outburst.
“Uh huh,” Kid said.
“Well you were,” Heyes told him.
“You coulda been killed,” Lom said again; his voice back to its normal volume. “You could have both been killed.” He sat down in the armchair.
Heyes exchanged a look with his partner. Kid shrugged.
“We had a plan. He didn’t stick to it. How was I supposed to know what to do to help him, if he doesn’t stick to the plan?” Lom’s anger and frustration had gone, revealing the underlying fear the Sheriff had felt and bottled up over the past couple of days.
“You waited all this time to tell him?” Heyes asked.
“Well he wasn’t well enough to shout at before!” Lom told him. He pointed an accusing finger at a bewildered Kid. “He didn’t stick to the plan!”
“He does that sometimes, Lom. Starts thinking for himself, it sure can be annoying,” Heyes said, placing one hand on the wall and leaning against it. “I’ve tried to talk him out of it but every now and then…” he shrugged. “A thought just finds its way in there. Of course it’s usually pretty lonely.” Heyes looked up to find both men staring at him; Kid with a look that told him not to push it and Lom with a developing smile.
“I’m sorry I shouted,” Lom told Kid. “But you scared the life out of me.”
“Sorry Lom,” Kid apologised.
Heyes pushed off the wall and put a reassuring hand on the Sheriff’s shoulder.
“How ‘bout some coffee Lom?” he asked.
“Not if it’s yours,” Lom grumbled, getting to his feet. “Kid’s right about that. You do make awful coffee.”
Kid and Heyes exchanged a smile. Lom turned to the blond man. Kid prepared himself for another telling off.
“You took a big risk,” the sheriff said.
“I know, but I didn’t see any other way,” Kid told him.
“Well I’m glad I don’t ride with you two anymore,” the lawman said as he headed to the door. “I don’t think my health could take it.”
Over the next few days the partners continued to heal well. Margaret’s delicious food, delivered everyday by the lady herself, did much to speed the process.
“If Lom don’t marry that woman I think I will,” Kid commented, when he took a mouthful of her almond and blueberry cake. Heyes had already passed on his suspicions about the sheriff and their nurse. Much to Lom’s embarrassment he now had both men watching him every time Margaret stopped by.
Kid was up and about sooner than the doctor would have liked but there had been no stopping him. Heyes kept a protective eye on his friend, watching him move slowly about the house, until Kid had finally snapped.
“Will you please stop hovering around me Heyes, you’re making me nervous!”
Heyes looked sheepish but backed off with a smile. A snappy Kid was a man on the mend.
They were sitting now on Lom’s front porch, just as they had been the day Lom had returned with the Governor’s telegram, sending Heyes to Red Canyon. At the sound of footsteps both men looked up. Bo Murtry came running up to the house. Lom had received a reply from the boy’s mother.
“Howdy,” Bo said, out of breath. He wore new clothes, his hair had been washed and cut and he looked almost angelic as the sun fell on his blond head. Margaret had worked miracles with the scruffy urchin she had taken under her wing.
“Well don’t you scrub up well Bo!” Heyes said, with a smile. Bo grinned.
“You’re gonna have all the girls chasin’ you now,” Kid told him.
“Nah,” Bo said, dismissively, blushing all the same and secretly liking to idea. “I came to tell ya I’m leaving,” he told them, sadly.
“Are you going home?” Heyes asked.
“Soon,” Bo told him. “My Uncle Kyle’s coming for me.”
“Kyle’s coming here?” Kid asked.
“Yes sir; he’s arriving today.”
“You’re not going to Devil’s Hole with him?” Heyes frowned.
“No! He’s taking me home. I reckon my Ma could use the help and I’m sure I can get work in town, if we need extra money.”
“I’m glad Bo. So no more thoughts about being an outlaw?” Heyes asked.
“Well, with all ‘do’ respects to yourselves…I don’t reckon outlawin’s so special after all,” the boy told them.
“I think I agree with you,” Heyes told him and Bo smiled. He looked across at Kid.
“Mr Curry, it sure was somethin’ to see you draw. I’m sorry you got hurt.”
“I think you should call me Kid, don’t you?” Bo beamed at the thought. “You take care of yourself Bo, and say hello to Kyle for us, next time you see him.”
“I sure will.”
As if on cue the sound of horses caught their attention and two riders came into view. Lom rode slightly ahead of a small scruffy little man. Uncle Kyle had arrived.
“Howdy boys!” he called cheerily, spotting his friends on the porch, as he pulled his horse to a halt in front of the house. “Hey Bo,” Kyle added, sending a gloop of tobacco juice into some distant bushes.
“Howdy Uncle Kyle,” the boy said taking the reins from his relative. He looked anxious, as if expecting to be told off.
Lom dismounted and gave the partners a nod as a greeting. He was uneasy about riding with a member of the Devil’s Hole Gang but, for Bo’s sake he was willing to turn a blind eye, for now. After all he did have Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry sitting on his front porch.
Kyle dropped from the saddle and looked at his ‘Nephew’.
“Just what the heck did ya think you was doing?” he demanded. “Didn’t I tell ya to stay home?”
“I know Uncle Kyle but…” Bo began.
“Didn’t ya Ma tell ya to stay home?”
“Well sure but…”
“But ya didn’t stay home?”
“Well no ‘cos…”
“There ain’t no ‘cos Bo,” Kyle told him. “Now we done told ya to keep outta trouble. I told ya, ya wasn’t gonna be no outlaw.”
“I know but…” Bo said, trying to get a word in edgeways.
“But ya went and joined Jimmy Dove’s Gang!”
“Well you wouldn’t take me!” Bo protested.
“‘Cos ya ain’t gonna be an outlaw!” Kyle told him, firmly.
“Whoa! Boys!” Heyes interrupted and ‘Uncle’ and ‘Nephew’ looked up at the dark-haired man. “Kyle, Bo’s helped us both and we’re mighty grateful to him. And I think he’s already decided he doesn’t want to be an outlaw anymore.”
Kyle looked at the blond boy. “That true?” he asked.
“Yes sir,” Bo assured him.
“Ya don’t wanna be an outlaw no more?”
Kyle considered this. He hitched up his pants.
“Well that’s settled then,” he said confidently. “You gonna let me take ya home?”
“Yes sir, Uncle Kyle,” Bo replied.
“Guess I don’t gotta shout at ya no more then,” Kyle added with a grin and another gloop of tobacco went flying into the shrubs beside the porch. He turned to Lom. “Didn’t ya say something about coffee and some grub Lom?”
Heyes and Kid looked at the sheriff, expectantly.
“That’s right Kyle,” Lom admitted. “Come on in and I’ll see what I can rustle up.” Kyle gave a grin.
“He’s real nice for a sheriff,” he said, following Lom into the house. “C’mon Bo!” he called and the boy ran after them.
“D’you think he’ll keep out of trouble?” Kid asked, when they were alone once more.
“Kyle or Bo?” Heyes asked.
“I hope so,” Heyes said. He wondered how different things might have been for another blond boy if they’d met someone like themselves and Margaret Wetherby when they were Bo’s age.
The partners lowered themselves back into the porch chairs. Heyes pulled a cigar from his top pocket and lit it. He took a long draw and blew out the smoke with a deep sigh.
“I think I forgot to say thanks,” he said a few moments later.
“For what?” Kid asked, looking at his friend.
“For coming after me.”
“You knew I would.”
“Yeah, but thanks anyway.”
“Well you’d have done the same for me,” he said. Heyes did not reply. “Heyes?”
The dark-haired man smiled and took another draw on the cigar.
“I said, you’d have done the same for me,” Kid reminded him.
“I heard you.” Heyes blew out the smoke.
“Well what?” Heyes teased.
“Well you would, wouldn’t you?”
“Risked my life? Against a man who could be faster on the draw?”
“YES!” Kid snapped, waiting.
“I’m not sure I like the odds Kid.”
“The odds? You’d worry about the odds?”
“It was 3-1 and I’m not gonna rush into something without giving it a reasonable amount of thought, am I?”
“Heyes I could be dying. I could be hung at any moment…”
“Hypothetically,” Heyes reminded him.
“I could be,” Kid said through gritted teeth.
“Yeah, but you wouldn’t want me blundering in? I mean what fool just blunders in?”
“Blunders in? Is that what you think I did?” Kid looked aghast at his friend.
“Well walkin’ into the camp like that…I know that wasn’t a carefully thought out plan but…” Heyes scoffed.
“Alright, I blundered in!” Kid gave Heyes his fiercest glare. Heyes smiled at his friend.
“I know Kid and I told you, I’m grateful and you did get shot.”
“But would you do it for me?” Kid asked.
“Well like I said…” the dark-haired man mused, taking another long draw on the cigar.