Alias Smith and Jones Stories

Fanfiction for classic television series Alias Smith and Jones

 

Better Luck Next Time

  

            “What did I tell you?” Heyes demanded under his breath. “Perfect, huh?” Kid kept his poker face, but Heyes could tell there was a grin underneath.

             This time the robbery really was proceeding flawlessly, thought Hannibal Heyes, glancing around the bank. He couldn't avoid a smug smile of satisfaction. Instead of trying to sneak in, he and Kid Curry had utilized the simple strategy of just strolling through the wide double doors of the bank, and surprisingly, it had worked. No one had blinked an eye.

             Heyes was actually a little surprised; he had expected the bank to be heavily guarded, because the entire payroll for the Widdecombe mines went through here each week. But there were only two employees in the quiet building, a bewhiskered teller and an elderly man behind a desk. Couldn’t be better.

            There was one person in line at the counter, a plump man with dusty jeans and a battered wide-brimmed hat, standing with his back to them as he chatted with the teller. Heyes checked carefully to be sure that none of the men was wearing a holster, and quietly swung the doors shut behind him.

             He glanced at Kid, then took a deep breath and bellowed, "All right! This is a robbery, hands up everyone!"

             The plump man spun around with surprising speed, and Heyes 's eyes widened as he saw that the man had a star on his vest and an enormous handgun stuck in the front waistband of his trousers. The sheriff's hand was already swinging towards the handle of the gun.

             Heyes opened his mouth to shout a warning, but Kid had seen the movement. Never losing the calm look on his face, he drew his gun as smoothly as a stone slipping over ice, and had the sheriff covered before he could even begin to pull his gun free. Heyes blinked in amazement at the speed and sureness of the movement. The sheriff stared at them whitefaced, but Kid gave him a friendly smile, and gently slid the gun out of his grasp.

             While Kid carefully locked the front doors, Heyes grabbed the teller, a nervous young man with bushy side whiskers and a neat waistcoat. "All right, you, open the safe or you're dead," Heyes growled, hoping he sounded fierce.

             "Be damned to you , you dirty outlaw," the teller squeaked, with unexpected spirit.

             Heyes shoved the gun under the man's nose and tried to think of a truly terrifying threat, but before he could get the words out, there came a sudden, shocking sound. Someone was knocking at the bank door.

             Silence. All eyes turned to the big double doors. Heyes swept the bank employees with a warning look, and Kid kept his gun trained on the sheriff. The hammering echoed again.

             From outside, someone rattled the doorknob. "Open up, it's after nine! What the heck are you doing, getting your beauty sleep?"      

            Heyes and Kid looked at each other, wide-eyed. The silence filled the room, then was shattered again by a heavy pounding. "Come on, I’m late, open up!" 

            Kid gave Heyes an urgent shove. "You can't come in," Heyes shouted. "We're... painting. The, uh, floor--we're painting the floor, and the paint's still wet, come back in an hour." 

            More hammering. "An hour? Open up, the stage is leaving in five minutes, I need the package. Come on, Edwin, I got to get a move on." 

            The silence in the bank was intense. Heyes looked around. "Who's Edwin?" he demanded.   

                 The elderly man behind a desk, a fat, balding little fellow in a suit and tie, raised a trembling hand. "That's me," he said. "I'm the manager of the bank." 

            "What's he want?" Heyes asked. "What package?"  

            "John's the stagecoach driver," the man replied obediently. "He comes here every Saturday morning to pick up a package that goes on the stage." 

            Heyes glanced around. "Where is it?"

             The man pointed a trembling finger at a large canvas satchel, strapped and padlocked, lying on the counter. "It's right there, all ready to go." 

             "All right," said Heyes. He made his voice low and dangerous. "Here's what you're gonna do. You're gonna pick up that package, open the door, hand it to John with a smile, and not say a word about us. You got that?"

             Edwin nodded, white-faced. Heyes took a menacing step closer. "Because if you say a word, wink an eye, let on by any means that we're here, you'll be a dead man. Got it?" He strode across the room, grabbed the heavy satchel, and shoved it into the manager's arms. "Go ahead," Heyes said evenly.

             The manager looked around at the other two captives, his brows raised, as if asking them what he should do. The sheriff shrugged, and nodded, with a small smile. The teller's eyes were round as marbles, his teeth chattering. He took a deep breath, then nodded, too.

             Edwin smiled grimly, then walked slowly to the door and put his hand on the knob. Heyes raised his gun and drew back the hammer. The click was loud in the silent room.

             The bank manager swung the door open, and offered the bag. "'Bout time!" came a cheery voice from the other side of the door. "What the hell's going on in there?"

             "We're redecorating," Edwin stammered. "New coat of paint for the whole place."

             "Oh, yeah? What color? Let's see," said John. Heyes tensed, his hand tightening on the gun.

             Edwin shoved the door almost closed. "No time for sightseeing now, John, you're late," he said firmly. "Get along now, we've got work to do."

             "Well, if I'm late, whose fault is that?" John grumbled. Edwin slammed the door shut altogether, and John's boots could be heard as he rattled off down the steps.

             There was a faint sigh as five people simultaneously released the breath they had been holding. Kid grinned widely at Heyes, and reholstered his gun.

             "Watch the other two," Heyes warned him. He strode over to the teller, and once again grabbed him by the collar. "Open the safe or you're dead," he began.

             "All right, I'll be glad to," the teller replied amiably.

             "Don't give me any of your lip," Heyes snarled. "You open the safe or ...what?"

             "No problem, sir, right this way," said the man. He pulled loose from Heyes's grip, and Heyes, caught off guard, let him go. The teller walked over to the safe and began to spin the dial. Heyes looked at Kid, who shrugged.

             The teller swung open the safe door and stepped back. Heyes's face lit up as he saw tall piles of greenbacks. He met Kid's eyes again, this time with a look of triumph, and grabbed a canvas sack to put the loot in. But as he knelt in front of the safe, his triumphant smiled faded.

             "Hey," he said, looking over the bills in his hand. "These are all ones." He thrust both hands in, and pulled out handful after handful. "Hey, they're all ones. There's only about a hundred dollars here. Where's the payroll?" The teller stepped back, blinking nervously.

             "Where's the payroll, I said," Heyes repeated, in a quiet voice that was as dangerous as a coiled snake. He raised his gun, and Kid reached again for his holster. 

             The plump manager stepped forward. "It's on it's way to Phoenix," he said in a voice as quiet as Heyes's. "We ship it out on the stagecoach every Saturday morning, promptly at nine."

             Heyes and Kid both stared at him, dazed. The manager was as white as a sheet, but he faced their guns firmly. "We're running a little late this morning, though," he added. "Almost missed the stage. On account of the redecorating."

 

 

 

Gisborne

 

 

Heyes lay flat on the ridge in the baking noontime sun, and looked out from behind a pile of rocks at the barren plain below. It was deserted; only a twisted cedar or two broke the monotony of the red sandstone. He rubbed a hand over his face, and looked again, squinting against the glare. His eyes were shadowed and red-rimmed from sleeping in half-hour snatches, and his face was full of strain. His lank black hair fell over his forehead, and he brushed it aside. “See anything?” he whispered to Kid, who lay on the ground next to him, peering out at the horizon as well.

 

“For Christ’s sake, you don’t have to whisper,” growled Kid. “They’re not that close.” His eyes narrowed as he caught sight of a small cloud of dust far in the distance. “Damn,” he said. He rolled over on his back and blew out his cheeks wearily. “Damn, I wish that posse’d go away. Haven’t they got anything better to do?” Kid was tall and lean, good-looking enough that his blue eyes and curly, sandy hair usually made the saloon girls sit up and take notice, but after three days of almost constant riding, his face was streaked with sweat and dust, and his eyes were weary.

 

“These guys are the best damned trackers I’ve ever seen,” Heyes said tiredly, pulling the black hat down over his eyes. “I don’t think we’re ever gonna lose them.”

 

Kid glanced at him. “Not with both of us leaving a trail a mile wide,” he said slowly.

 

Heyes returned the glance. “Split up, you think?”

 

“Got to,” said Kid, with a nod. “There’s only three of them, they won’t split. One of us’ll get away clear, and the other one’ll leave a lot less of a trail.”

 

“I suppose you’re right,” said Heyes. They rose heavily, their movements slow and weary, and skidded down the steep ridge to where they’d left the horses. Heyes climbed into the saddle, every muscle aching. His horse was equally unenthusiastic, and stood with head down and sides heaving. Kid looked up at him, pushing his floppy-brimmed brown hat back on his head. “My horse is doing a lot better than yours,” he said. “You go west, and I’ll circle around to the ridge going north.”

 

“That’s gonna be tricky,” said Heyes frowning. “There’s a lot of open ground that way.”

 

“I’ll figure it out,” said Kid. “Go on, get going, we don’t have a lot of time.” Heyes looked at him for a long minute, a frown in his dark eyes, then nodded.

 

            “All right,” he said reluctantly. “Watch yourself.”

 

“You, too,” said Kid, with a tired grin. “Meet at Silky’s?”

 

“In a week, say,” Heyes agreed. He kicked his unwilling horse to a trot and rode off. Kid looked after him for a few moments, and then mounted his horse, and headed in the opposite direction.

 

 

 

Kid spurred his tired horse relentlessly, with many a nervous glance over his shoulder. To the east the land was wooded, but the northern ridge was hard, bare rock--tough to track across, but equally tough to hide in. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with his shirtsleeve, and debated between a slow swing around to the right, to take advantage of the cover of a line of cottonwoods that bordered a stream, or a quick dash across the open rock, hoping to lose his trackers in the rocky ridges and small canyons that lay on the other side of the bare stretch.

 

He decided on the quick dash. The cautious Heyes, he knew, would have recommended the slower, safer route, and he imagined the dialogue that would have taken place had Heyes been there. It’s slower, but it’s sure–be patient, don’t take any chances. Can’t be too careful, that’s what I always say... he could almost hear Heyes’ exasperated voice. But he was impatient to get as far away as possible from the posse, after the three long days of evasive maneuvers that never seemed to work. He spurred the horse again, and cantered off across the plain.

 

It was less than half an hour before he began to realize that the path across the rocks was a good deal longer than he’d thought. He glanced behind him for the thousandth time, and felt a small dark feeling of disaster; a plume of red dust was lifting over the crest of a low hill. Looking ahead at the safety of the ridge, more than a mile away, he realized that Heyes, as usual, had been right.

 

 

 

 

Kid rode just in front of the three men who made up the posse. Hands tied behind his back, he concentrated on staying in the saddle as the horse jolted its way up the steep ridge. A bounty hunter named Snider, a heavy-bodied, big man with stringy gray hair, rode right behind him. Kid couldn’t see him, but he was well aware that Snider had a gun trained on the middle of his back.

 

When it was almost too dark to see the trail, Snider drew rein, in a clearing just below a jagged ridge of red rock. “All right, we’ll make camp here,” he said. “This must be Deadman’s Rock, Gisborne and the others are supposed to meet us here.”


 

The three dismounted, and all of them immediately aimed their guns at Kid, as though he was a mountain lion that might spring. “Get off, you,” said Snider brusquely, and when Kid didn’t obey fast enough, Snider grabbed his arm and yanked him sideways out of the saddle. Kid fell hard, his face in the dirt. He lay for a second, spitting out dust, and Snider gave him a kick. “Get up, Curry, and do it fast,” he snarled.  Kid rolled over and struggled to his knees. The other two men grabbed him and dragged him stumbling over to a large tree with low-spreading branches, and began to tie him to the wide trunk.

 

“Wait a minute,” said Snider, striding over. He cut the thongs that bound Kid’s hands behind his back, and Kid couldn’t help giving a gasp of relief; he rubbed his raw wrists and stretched his arms, feeling the ache as blood flowed back into his numb hands.

 

“What’re you doing, Snider?” demanded one of the men, a tall, lean man with straw hair and narrow blue eyes. “That’s Kid Curry, you know! Don’t turn him loose, he’s trickier than a rattler.”

 

“D’you think I’m stupid, Tofter?” growled Snider. “If his hands are tied together behind his back where we can’t see them, it’s too easy to wriggle loose.” He shoved Kid up against the tree. “Go get your lariat, Felten,” Snider ordered, and a youngster with big hands and feet ran over to get the rope. Kid stood in silence as they wound the tough lariat around his body to fasten him to the trunk, and tied his hands with rawhide thongs on either side.

 

Snider stood back and admired their handiwork, rubbing his gray-bristled chin. “There,” he said. “Let’s see the famous Kid Curry shoot his way out of that.”

 

They set up camp and soon Kid could smell coffee and bacon. He hadn’t eaten since a hasty chunk of bread for breakfast, and realized he was starving. He smiled faintly, remembering Heyes always said with exasperation that Kid would be hungry even on his way to the gallows. “Say, boys, how about a bite to eat?” he called. They ignored him. “How about a drink, then?” he inquired, trying to make his voice casual. “I’m not fussy, water’ll do.”

 

Snider strolled over to him from the campfire a few yards away, carrying a canteen. He stood in front of Kid and drank deeply. Then he laughed, smacked Kid in the face with the back of his hand and said, “Shut up, boy. We don’t want to hear no more out of you.” Kid shook his aching head, feeling warm blood trickle down the side of his mouth. He watched Snider with narrowed eyes as the man walked back to the campfire. The men chatted around the fire for a long time, then two of them finally rolled themselves up in blankets, leaving one on watch.

 

The cold, endless night passed somehow. Kid dozed for a few minutes at a time, limp in the ropes that held him upright, but woke as the ropes cut into him. The waning moon rose just before dawn, giving a weak greenish light that slowly gave way to a gray sunrise. 


 

Finally the bounty hunters awoke and made breakfast.  Kid resisted the temptation to ask again for a drink, and stood silent each time one of them checked the ropes. He strained his ears to listen to their conversation, trying to figure out what their plans were, but he couldn’t learn much. They didn’t seem to be in any hurry, and from the way Snider or one of the others occasionally scanned the horizon to the south, he gathered they were expecting someone. 

 

He wondered where Heyes was, realizing with a mixture of envy and relief that he must be far away by now, and safe. The long day passed, and the men loafed about the fire, napping, eating and telling stories. As the slow hours crept by, Kid felt hope sinking further and further away.

 

Finally Snider sauntered over to the tree. He checked the bindings again, yanking them painfully to be sure they were still tight. “Suppose you’re wondering what we’re hanging around here for,” he drawled.  Kid made no reply. “Not curious?” said Snider, showing brown teeth in a grin. “Well, we’re waiting around for your pal Heyes. Thought you were pretty clever, splitting up, didn’t you? Thought there was just three of us, didn’t you?”

 

Kid maintained an impassive face, but he felt a small trickle of fear. “Bannerman arranged this little trap, Henry Bannerman himself,” Snider went on. “We’ve haven’t been chasing you guys, we’ve been driving you, right up to Deadman’s Ridge here. And you know who was waiting on the other side of the woods over there? Guy Gisborne, that’s who.” Kid felt a chill as he heard the famous name. Snider read his face and his eyes lit in triumph. “I see you’ve heard of him. Part Indian, black hair, always wears rattlesnake-skin boots. They say he knows all sorts of redskin tricks, ways to make people talk, things like that. Never met him myself, but the plan went just like he and Bannerman figured it out. Gisborne was waiting on the other side of those woods for whichever one of you chose to go that way. Oh, we’re smarter than you think we are.”

 

“Well, that’s not saying much,” said Kid with scorn. Snider turned purple, and pulled his gun out, but Kid was past caring. “You stupid fool,” he said in a low voice that shook with rage as well as fear. “You think you’ll catch Hannibal Heyes? You haven’t got the brains to catch fleas off a dog.”

 

Snider put the gun to Kid’s face, and smiled ominously. He pulled back the hammer on the gun and Kid heard it click, sounding immensely loud in the stillness. He closed his eyes. This is it, he thought with dread. This is it...this is it; he couldn’t seem to stop repeating the phrase in his head. He wished Snider would hurry up.

 

A shot sounded, but not the loud explosion in his ear he was expecting. It seemed to come from far away. Kid opened his eyes. All heads were turned to the ridge just behind the camp. Silhouetted against the sinking sun, a man on horseback was pointing a gun in the air. As Kid watched, he fired again.

 

“Who the hell’s that?” said Snider impatiently, taking aim at the figure, but Tofter knocked his arm up. “Wait a minute,” he said. “Look, a white horse.”

 

“That’s right, and look at the boots,” added Felton. “They’re snakeskin, all right. It must be Gisborne himself.” They crowded over to the man as he rode into camp. Kid’s knees gave way and he sagged, only the ropes holding him up. He heard a confused babble of voices, but paid no attention till he heard one of the posse give a wild Rebel yell: “Yeee haaah! Hannibal Heyes dead, you say?” 


 

The newcomer nodded slowly, and Kid felt as though someone had punched him in the stomach. “Dead or alive, that’s another ten thousand!” yelled Felton. “We’re gonna be rich, boys! Where’s the body?” The man in the snakeskin boots pointed to the west and two of the men flung themselves on their horses and rode off in that direction, one of them leading a pack horse. Kid stared at the setting sun, and cold numbness seemed to fill his mind. This is it, he thought again.

 

Finally he saw the three horses coming back. One horse had a body slung across the saddle, the head and arms dangling limply. Kid watched as the men unloaded the body from the horse and dumped it in a heap on the far side of the campfire. The men seemed to be moving with the slowness and unreality of a nightmare. He saw Heyes’ body lying motionless, face in the dirt, plainly dead. He could see the blood streaking the blue shirt, and the familiar jaunty black hat. Kid bowed his head, went limp in his bonds, and gave in to the deepest hopelessness he’d ever felt. This was it, all right, the bloody end that he’d always known must be the finish to all their adventures.

 

The man in the snakeskin boots was the center of an admiring group, who were slapping him on the back and pumping his hand. “Well, come on over and see our catch,” said Snider. “If you got one, we got the other. We’ve got him tied up good.” Kid heard footsteps coming toward him, and then the footsteps ceased. He opened his eyes and stared down with hate at the shiny snakeskin boots that stood in front of him.

 

“We’ve been watching him like a hawk,” said Tofter. “He’s pretty tricky, I’ve heard.”

 

“That’s right,” said a new voice. “Don’t take any chances. Can’t be too careful, that’s what I always say.” In the depths of his misery, Kid heard the voice as if from far away, and a faint shock went through him. He raised his head slowly and looked up into the face of Hannibal Heyes.

 

 

 

 

Heyes stared down at Kid, and his eyes widened. Kid’s white face was streaked with blood and sweat, there was a deep gash over one eye and bruises all over his face; he looked half dead. Heyes concentrated on maintaining an unconcerned sneer. He had been a little afraid of this moment, afraid Kid would say something to give the game away, but he had underestimated the Curry poker face. Kid gazed back at him, and no one but Heyes could have noticed anything but dull exhaustion in his expression.

 

“He’s pretty tricky, no doubt about that,” Heyes said. “I see you’ve got him tied up good.” He looked at the thongs that had cut into Kid’s wrists, crusted with dried blood.

 

“Not only that, we haven’t been giving him food or water,” said Snider. “If he does get loose he won’t go very far.”

 

“No food or water for two days,” said Heyes, nodding as if in approval. “Good thinking, men.”


 

“So are we going to kill him now?” asked Tofter eagerly. “Snider was just about to when we heard you coming. Especially if you did in Heyes, Curry’ll be more dangerous than ever, now.”

 

“No, that’s why I fired, to stop you,” said Heyes. “We’ve got to keep him alive. It’s crucial.”

 

“Why, what the hell difference does it make?” inquired Snider. “The reward’s good dead or alive. It’s not a hot climate, he’ll keep.”

 

“Well, what are you, crazy?” responded Heyes, not missing a beat.  “On account of the, um, the Vanderbilt murder, of course.”

 

“The Vander--what?” said Snider.

 

Heyes stared at him as if astonished. “You haven’t heard? Heyes and Curry just killed Cornelius J. Vanderbilt, one of the richest millionaires in the country. The newspapers are screaming for an arrest, you boys are going to be heroes. But there was a whole gang of them, now that Heyes is dead we need Curry to, uh, to tell us the names of the others. Then we’ll kill him.”

 

“So what’d you kill Heyes for, then, if it’s so important?” asked Toften.

 

Heyes blinked. “Well, I...I didn’t mean to,” he said in a low voice, and Kid knew at once that Heyes was addressing him. “He got behind me, got the drop on me, but I managed to get the gun...it was him or me.” He shook his head as if to drive away the memory, and glanced at Kid. “There wasn’t any other way.”

 

“Well, don’t pretend you’re sorry about it,” said Snider. “It doesn’t matter, we’ve still got this one.” He gave Kid a shove with his gun. “How we gonna make him talk?” he inquired. “I hear you’re an expert at that.” There was an unpleasant note in his voice that made Heyes shudder.

 

“Jesus, give me a break,” he said, laughing easily. “I’ve been riding all day to catch up with you guys. You got any coffee on?”

 

“Sure over here,” said Felten, and the group moved away to the fire. Kid watched them go, a faint gleam of hope rising in his heart.

 

The night settled in and the fire glowed brightly. The bounty hunters laughed and chattered about their adventures, and how they would spend the reward. After finishing a plate of beans, Heyes got to his feet, casually slinging a canteen over his shoulder. “I’m going to have a few words with the prisoner,” he said. “Give him a little something to think about,” he added with a wink. “You guys stay here.”

 

He sauntered over to where Kid hung in his bonds, head down. He seemed to be unconscious, but when Heyes touched his shoulder gently he raised his head, blinking. Heyes put the canteen to his lips and he drank desperately.

 

“Not so fast,” cautioned Heyes in a low voice, pulling the canteen away. “Easy does it.”

 

“I think I’m dreaming,” said Kid in a hoarse whisper. “Is that really you? Who’s that over there in your clothes? Gisborne?” 

 

Heyes nodded. “Who’dya think? Here, take a little more.” Kid drank deeply. Nothing had ever tasted so good.  He looked up at Heyes, who, Kid knew well, had never killed a man in his life, and couldn’t resist the question. “You killed him?”

 

“Who’dya think?” said Heyes curtly. “Here, one more drink, then I gotta go back.”

 

Kid took another deep draught. “Heyes,” he whispered. “You better get outta this. Even if you could cut me loose, I ain’t going nowhere, like they said. You can’t keep up this bluff forever, when they find out who you are...”

 

“Hey, Gisborne, what’s the plan here?” Snider called. 

 

“Don’t worry, Kid,” Heyes said softly. “We got a few cards left.” He strolled back to the fire. Snider eyed him narrowly, picked up the empty canteen and shook it. “What’d you give him a drink for?” he asked suspiciously.

 

“His mouth was so dry he couldn’t talk,” explained Heyes. “I tell you, we’ve got to get the names of the others out of him. He’s no good to us if he dies.”

 

“Sure he is,” said Tofter. “Ten thousand...”

 

“That’s peanuts,” Heyes interrupted briskly. “If we can round up the one who pulled the trigger on Vanderbilt, it’s worth ten times that. But we’ve got to be sure.” 

 

“Well, what are we waiting for?” asked Snider. “We’ve got a good fire going here. Let’s heat up a knife or something, and do ourselves a little branding. He’ll talk soon enough.”

 

“Snider, you’re an amateur,” said Heyes contemptuously. “There’s got to be a finesse to these things. Now I just went over there and put the fear of God into him. Give him a few hours to think about it. The morning’s plenty of time, then we can see what we’re doing.” He wished they’d shut up, and give him time to think; he knew he wouldn’t be able to stall too much longer.

 

“Well, okay,” said Snider reluctantly. “We’ll have more help in the morning anyway, Franklin and Carl’ll be here by then for sure.”

 

“Franklin and Carl, right,” said Heyes, nodding wisely. “You think they’ll get here before morning?”

 

“Well, you ought to know,” said Snider, raising his brows. “You three started out together, at least that’s what Bannerman’s telegram said.”

 

“Well, of course,” snapped Heyes. “But we got separated in the storm.”

 

“What storm?” asked Tofter in bewilderment, looking up at the clear sky.

 

“You didn’t get hit by that dust storm?” asked Heyes. “I told Franklin it was just a wind squall, but he and Carl wanted to keep going, so we got separated in the, um...dust. But they’ll be here soon enough, and we better wait for’em, they wouldn’t want to miss the fun.”

 

“That’s for sure,” said Tofter eagerly. “I was with Franklin one time when he was trying to get a guy to tell him where the loot from a bank job was, he beat that guy bloody, and then he got out his Bowie knife...” He went off into a gory tale, reminiscing happily, and Heyes nodded and laughed with the others, but his mind was racing. No hope of waiting a few days, then, for a favorable opportunity to escape. If they were going to get away, it would have to be tonight. He glanced into the darkness. The moonless night was black, and if they could get among the trees, or up into the maze of canyons above the ridge, they’d be all right, even if Kid couldn’t move too fast.

 

“I tied up a guy once,” Heyes began as soon as Tofter finished his tale, and told a story of a fictional prisoner who’d tried to escape, making up the bloodiest details for the prisoner’s demise he could think of.  He could not complain of the audience-- they listened with bated breath and roared with laughter when he slaughtered the imaginary captive.

 

“Actually, that reminds me,” he said casually, getting to his feet. “I guess I’ll check those ropes, Curry’s as tricky as they come. Then we better turn in, we got a lot to do tomorrow.”

 

“Good idea,” said Snider affably, rubbing his chin. “He’s tricky, all right.”

 

The others busied themselves getting blanket rolls spread out and heaping up the fire as Heyes strolled over to Kid. “You hear all that?” he muttered. 

 

Kid nodded. “I tell you, Heyes, get out of here while you can. The minute those boys show up, the game’s over.”

 

“Now, Kid, you know I never quit a game if I’ve got any cards at all left to play,” Heyes murmured. “Get ready, this is gonna hurt.” He pulled out a small knife from his coat pocket, and, making a show of checking the ropes, slipped it through the thongs that bound Kid’s wrists. Kid gritted his teeth to keep quiet as the bloody thongs tore free. Groping in the darkness, Heyes hastily knotted the cut ends into two loose loops that he slipped over Kid’s wrists so he would still appear to be tied.

 

“So what’s the plan here?” Kid muttered.

 

“Oh, you want to know the plan, huh?” said Heyes. “Well, you stay right here, and as soon as I think of one, you’ll be the first to know.”

 

“Jesus,” groaned Kid. “Haven’t you got any ideas?”


 

“Not a one,” said Heyes. “Things keep moving too fast. I’ll be on watch sometime during the night, that’ll be our best...” He broke off as heard the faint crunch of a footstep, but before he could turn he felt a gun jammed into his ribs.

 

“Hands up, high, Gisborne,” said Snider’s voice. “I’ve had it with being strung along by you.” Heyes hesitated, and Snider cracked him on the side of the head with the hand that held the gun. “Get‘em up!” 

 

Heyes staggered, but kept his feet and raised his hands obediently.  He met Kid’s eyes, his mind racing to think of the next step, but Snider gave him no time to ponder. “All right, Gisborne,” Snider said quietly, as the hammer of the gun clicked back. “No more fooling around. I don’t know what you’re up to, but I don’t see why we have to split any reward with you. You’re dead.” Heyes felt a cold shudder go down his spine as he heard the other two laugh, and he tensed for a last-ditch grab at the gun.

 

Suddenly he was pushed violently aside. As he crashed into the dirt, he heard three shots in rapid succession. Snider screamed and threw up his arms, falling heavily to the ground. The other two spun and fell, hitting the ground limply. Heyes looked around to see Kid, still bound to the tree, but with one hand torn free of the loosened thongs, holding the gun he had ripped out of Heyes’ holster. 

 

“Good thing you cut my hands loose,” Kid said, grinning. Heyes stared at him, his aching head spinning, then at the three bounty hunters lying groaning in the dirt, each one with a neat wound in the shoulder.

 

Heyes got to his feet, hastily pulling out his knife, and sawed at the tough lariat. Kid fell against him limply as the rope parted, and Heyes caught him and lowered him gently to the ground.  "Bastards," he muttered as he rubbed Kid’s legs, trying to get the circulation going. "The bastards. You should have killed them all."

 

Kid raised his head. In his filthy, exhausted face, his blue eyes gleamed with a smile. "Heyes, I don't know," he said. "You're getting awful bloodthirsty these days." 

 

 

 

 

The small clearing in the trees was starting to fill with the grey light of dawn. Heyes was sitting next to a tiny campfire, sipping a tin mug of coffee. He finished it, poured another from the battered tin coffeepot, and walked over to where Kid lay asleep, huddled on the ground in a pile of blankets. He stirred Kid with his foot, but the still figure didn’t move. Heyes poked him again, and finally put down the cup and used both hands to shake him. He had to shake for a long time before Kid suddenly started up, his eyes wide, blindly grabbing at his empty holster.

 

“Hey, hey,” said Heyes soothingly. “Take it easy, it’s just me.” 

 

“What’s the matter?” asked Kid, blinking.

 

“Nothing, but we ought to get a move on,” said Heyes. “The sun’s almost up.” He handed Kid the mug.

 

“I thought we were going to rest here for a few minutes,” Kid complained, rubbing a hand over his face. Heyes smiled. “What’s so funny?” inquired Kid suspiciously.

 

“You’ve been asleep for six hours,” Heyes told him.

 

“Oh,” Kid said, with a grin, and sipped the scalding coffee. “Where are we?”he asked, glancing around. He had a confused memory of last night’s ride, following Heyes in the pitch dark through shadowy trees, concentrating on staying in the saddle. He couldn’t remember stopping, the ride just seemed to fade into an endless night.

 

“I don’t know where we are, except generally north,”said Heyes, sitting down cross-legged on the ground beside him. “We put about five miles between us and the camp last night, but I’ll be happier when it’s fifty.”

 

“Me, too,” said Kid. “Well, let’s go.” He looked at Heyes’ tired face. “You get any sleep?”

 

“A little,” said Heyes. “But I’ll sleep better when we get away from here.”

 

“Far away,” agreed Kid, draining the mug and clambering to his feet. Heyes put out a hand to help him up, then turned to go saddle the horses, but Kid grabbed his arm. He looked at Heyes, his lips parted as if to say something.

 

 “What?” said Heyes finally, eyebrows raised.

 

“Thanks,” Kid said.

 

“Oh, stop,” said Heyes, pulling his arm free. “I hope you don’t think I’m going to say thank you every time you pull my ass out of the fire.”

 

“Well, I know,” said Kid. “Thanks anyway.”

 

 

 

 

Author’s note: Some readers may recognize this plot (and also that of my story “The Lesson”) as being lifted straight from the old English ballads of Robin Hood. After all, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry are described as “latter-day Robin Hoods.” Sometimes I just totally run out of plot ideas, and then I turn to my old friends Robin and Little John–although it’s a bit of a challenge to update swords and cloaks to six-guns and cowboy hats.

 

Guy of Gisborne is one of the creepier bad guys in the Robin Hood stories, and is the only one Robin Hood actually kills, as far as I know. The story of how Robin disguises himself in Guy of Gisborne’s clothes to save Little John, who is tied to a tree and about to be killed by the Sheriff of Nottingham, is a tale many centuries old.

 

 N.C. Wyeth Robin Hood illustration