The cell was a narrow, low-roofed cage, filled with shadows. They approached it slowly, followed by the heavy footsteps of the men at their heels. As they walked down the dim, narrow corridor, Kid could tell that Heyes, just behind him, was as tense as a drawn fiddlestring.
The fat sheriff behind them was flanked by a squad of deputies weighed down with gunbelts, rifles and extra ammunition; they couldn’t have been more heavily armed if they were hunting grizzlies. Kid walked as slowly as he dared down the airless passageway, racking his brain for a way to escape. The procession halted in front of the cell.
The sheriff pulled a rattling bunch of keys from his belt, and set about opening the first lock. Kid heard Heyes draw in his breath, and glanced over at his partner. Kid knew that Heyes hated small, tight places; every one of the lamentably frequent times they had landed in jail, he was as nervous as a cat, pacing and prowling. Heyes glanced at him quickly, and then looked around as if seeking a way, any way out. In the dimness they could hear the clank of the keys as the sheriff swung open the door.
Heyes’ glance came to rest on the gun that hung on the hip of a young, scrawny deputy who stood beside him, gnawing on a fingernail. Heyes gave Kid another look, eyebrows raised, but Kid frowned and shook his head slightly. Too long a shot to try anything here--narrow corridor--four armed men, his frown said clearly. He was sure Heyes realized that there’d be better opportunities later.
The sheriff finished unlocking the last lock. “Get in there,” he ordered, holding the door ajar. Heyes gave a sharp nod, and suddenly grabbed the gun out of the boy's holster, shoving the youngster aside.
Kid had a certain feeling of disaster, but there was nothing for it but to back Heyes up. He made a try for the sheriff’s gun, but immediately felt himself grabbed from behind, two deputies yanking him backwards in the dark, narrow space. He struggled, hearing the sound of scuffling as Heyes grappled with the sheriff. A shot exploded, deafening in the cramped quarters. He heard Heyes give a cry of pain that was cut off short, and then there was a thud as a body hit the floor.
Kid wrenched his arm free and landed one of the deputies a blow that sent him reeling, but the others grabbed him and flung him bodily into one of the cells. He crashed into the bars, lost his balance, and sprawled on the floor, hearing the double clang of two cell doors swinging shut. Then silence. He could hear the deputies panting and puffing; the one he’d hit lay on the floor, groaning and clutching his nose.
Kid lay panting. He raised himself on an elbow and glanced through the bars at the next cell, where Heyes sprawled on the floor. “Heyes?” said Kid, between gasps. “You okay?” Heyes lay unmoving, a dark shape in the darkness.
“Heyes?” Kid said again, feeling fear rise in his chest. The deputies were picking themselves up off the ground, and dusting each others’ jackets. “Hey, he’s hurt,” said Kid as he pulled himself to his feet. “Take a look at him.”
“Seen all of him I want to,” said the sheriff, nursing a bruise over his eye. “Come on , boys, I could use a drink.”
"Wait," said Kid, his voice rising a notch. "You can't just leave him lying there."
"Watch me," said the sheriff, bending over with his hands on his knees and wheezing. "Damn, I'm getting too old for this kind of thing." He straightened up and limped down the corridor.
"No, wait a second," said the young deputy. "Shouldn't we at least take a look at him?"
"Don't tell me you fell for that old chestnut," sneered the sheriff, and the other two snickered. "That's the oldest trick in the book."
"What do you mean?" asked the boy.
"Oh, it's as old as the hills. One of them pretends to be hurt and the other one says 'Oh, come on, help us out,' and then when you go in the cell he hits you over the head with a bucket or something."
"No, it's not like that," Kid protested.
"Sure, pal," said the sheriff.
"But there's no bucket in the cell," the boy pointed out.
The sheriff snorted. "I tell you, kid, they're tricky, no telling what they've got up their sleeves. These aren't just two-bit outlaws, this is Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry."
"Well, he couldn't have a bucket up his sleeve," the youngster objected.
One of the other deputies, a bald man with long side whiskers, whacked the boy on the back of the head. "Shut up, kid, what do you know." The three deputies followed the sheriff down the corridor, the boy glancing back over his shoulder.
"Wait !" Kid shouted to them. "Help! Somebody come over here, help him! Come on! Damn you, somebody help him!" The door slammed with a hollow echo, and darkness filled the passage.
Kid flung himself against the bars, trying to shake them loose, but the iron was embedded in solid cement and didn't move a fraction of an inch. Finally he stopped and leaned his head against the bars. He tried to see if Heyes was breathing, but his partner was lying face down a few feet away, and it was impossible to see if his chest was moving or not. He could just see a glimpse of Heyes’ face, dead white, eyes closed. Kid watched him for a long time, then finally sank down to sit on the floor. He stretched out an arm through the bars, but the cells were two feet apart, and he couldn't do more than touch the bars of Heyes' cell with the tips of his fingertips, brushing the hard cold metal.
It seemed like hours before a door opened and a shaft of light shot through. The sheriff came in, carrying a lantern, followed by the young deputy balancing a tray of bowls and mugs.
"Come on, kid, move it," the sheriff growled. "Try not to spill everything like you usually do."
"Sheriff, my partner's hurt bad..." Kid began.
"I don't care if he drops dead," snapped the sheriff. "You guys are famous for the tricks you pull, I'm not falling for that one..."
"Jesus Christ, please, believe me," Kid interrupted. The boy shuffled uneasily, and almost dropped the tray.
"Ignore him, kid," the sheriff ordered. "I gotta get over to the courthouse. You give'em the food and then get outta here, and don’t listen to a word they say." He left without a backward glance.
The young deputy put the tray down on a bench, and picked up a mug and a bowl. He bent to slide it under the cell door, looking up nervously at Kid, who stood clutching the bars.
Kid was shaking with fury, but compelled himself to keep his voice friendly. "They call you kid, too, huh?" he remarked quietly.
"Yeah," the boy said, stepping back. "Everyone does," he added bitterly.
"Well, it's not so bad," said Kid, careful to keep his tone light.
"Yeah, well, it’s different for you."
"Yeah? What d'you mean?" Kid moved away from the bars and sat on the hard bunk.
"Well, Kid Curry, that's ...that means something. When they call me kid, it's just...you know, like a little kid."
"Mm," Kid said, nodding sympathetically. "Well, it started like that with me, too."
"Yeah?" The boy gave him an admiring glance, eyes shining.
"What's your name?" Kid asked with a friendly smile, as the boy slid another mug and bowl under the floor of Heyes' cell.
“Henry,” said Kid, nodding. “You pretty good with that gun, Henry?”
“Oh, no, sir,” the boy replied sadly, glancing down at the big gun that hung at his hip. “Can’t hit the broad side of a barn.”
“Well, I couldn’t either, when I first started,” Kid said with a reminiscent smile. “Just takes a little practice, that’s all. You’ve got a good eye, I can tell. What’s your last name?”
“Borthwick,” said Kid, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Kid Borthwick. Sounds pretty good. Has a ring to it.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “We could use a young guy like you, you know. You ever think about joining a gang?”
“Oh, no, the sheriff would kill me,” said Henry, backing up.
“Lot of fun to work for, is he?” inquired Kid.
The boy smiled ruefully. “Lots of fun,” he agreed bitterly.
“Mm,” said Kid, nodding judiciously. “Seems like a real friendly fella. Guess it’s an exciting job being deputy, though, huh?”
The boy snorted. “That’ll be the day. You fellas are the only excitement we’ve had here in years.”
“Yeah, we live an exciting life, all right," Kid said, hoping Henry couldn’t hear the bitterness in his tone.
“It does sound kind of ...well, exciting,” Henry said wistfully.
“Ah, it’s a great life,” said Kid, hating himself. “Money...gals…fun...you know, you ought to think about it. Smart kid like you, with a good eye, you could have a future.”
“Yeah?” said Henry, his eyes going wide and dreamy. Kid recognized the look; he’d seen it on the faces of a dozen young whippersnappers, right before they challenged him to a fast draw. He always felt sorry for the young dreamers; usually he left them standing, when he could. But right now was no time to show mercy. Heyes still hadn’t moved from the icy cement floor.
Kid leaned forward, interrupting Henry’s reverie. "Henry, can you do me a favor?"
"Oh, no, sir, sheriff told me to get right out of here," said Henry, backing further down the corridor.
"Wait," said Kid. "Please." The boy stopped, but didn’t look up. Kid went on, trying to keep his voice even. "Just take a look at my partner, will you, Henry? A look, that's all. Please. He's hurt, he hasn't moved for a couple of hours...I don't even know if he's dead. Please, can't you just..."
"No, no," mumbled Henry. "I don't want to get in trouble. Sorry, Mr. Curry, I'd like to help you. It's just that..." Kid watched in stony silence as the boy retreated.
"Henry," he said as the boy swung open the heavy door that led to the sheriff’s office.
"You know how to make them stop calling you kid? There’s one way, one sure way. Never fails."
“Yeah?” Henry said, with an eager look on his thin face. “What is it?”
"Break the law." Kid held his breath as Henry hesitated, but the boy turned away and went out, slamming the door.
Kid sank down to his knees and crouched quietly in the darkness. He watched the still figure on the floor as the shadows slowly flowed outward from the corners, filling the cell like dark water. Kid waited as the slow time passed, trying to beat back the feeling that he would lose Heyes forever once the rising tide of blackness washed him away.
It was impossible to tell how many hours had gone by, as afternoon turned to evening and then to night. The square of window slowly lost its blankness and turned black, then began to glow silver as the moon rose unseen.
Kid raised his head as he heard a creak; there was the noise of a bolt being drawn back, then the door swung open and a blinding shaft of light shone down the passage, bouncing off the walls and the iron bars. Kid blinked painfully. He could see a figure silhouetted against the light; the awkward posture and long thin limbs showed it was Henry.
Kid watched wordlessly as the boy walked to Heyes' cell, unlocked the heavy locks and swung open the door. Henry eyed the silent figure as if expecting it to jump up and attack him. Kid held his breath, afraid the boy would turn tail at the last minute, but Henry took a tentative step into the cell. Emboldened by the stillness, he took another step, then knelt down, holding the lantern high so that its warm pool of light lit Heyes' face.
Kid caught his breath as he saw the dried blood crusted on his partner's forehead, and streaked down over his eyes. The boy grasped Heyes' jacket and pulled him over on his back, and Heyes stirred and gave a low groan. Kid let out the breath he had been holding, and bowed his head to hide his face.
"It's okay, he's alive," the boy explained.
"Yeah," Kid said after a pause. "I see." He looked up. "Can you tell how bad he's hurt?"
The boy held the lantern over Heyes, moving the light up and down his body. "Looks like he got hit on the head," he said unnecessarily. "I can't see anything else. Don't seem to be shot or nothing." Heyes groaned again and moved a hand. "I gotta get out of here, what if he jumps me?" said the boy, leaping to his feet.
Kid grinned. "Hey, Kid Borthwick, thanks. I'm obliged to you." The boy’s chest swelled with pride, then he cast a hasty look over his shoulder, and his thin frame deflated. "Don't mention it," he said, scuttling out of the cell. "Please don't mention it." He scurried down the corridor and out the door. Once the lantern was gone the shadows seemed heavier than ever, but in the darkness Kid could hear Heyes breathing.
Kid waited patiently, like a coyote watching a rabbit hole. He finally heard Heyes give a sigh, and then a rustle as he stirred. "Heyes, can you hear me? It's okay," he said, and went on talking quietly, till he finally heard a reply.
"Kid?" Heyes murmured. "Where are you?"
"Here," said Kid. "Just over here." He could dimly see Heyes struggling to raise himself on an elbow, and involuntarily put out a hand to help him.
"What happened?" said Heyes thickly.
"You got hit on the head," Kid told him.
Heyes clutched his head with both hands. "I'm not exactly at my best, but I did manage to figure that much out," he said. He turned his head, wincing, and peered up at Kid. "You okay?"
"Yeah," said Kid. "I'm fine."
"What happened?" Heyes asked again, sitting up slowly. "Where are we?" He glanced around the tiny cell and Kid heard his breath hiss.
"In jail, that's all," said Kid. "Take it easy."
Heyes took a deep breath. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, okay." He rubbed his forehead. "How'd we get here? I remember we were in a saloon...in a poker game...?"
"Yeah, that's right," said Kid with a sigh. "Some citizen must have recognized us. Nice peaceful poker game, and suddenly there's half-a-dozen guns pointing at us, and it's off to jail. Then just as they were about to lock us up, you made a grab for a deputy's gun."
"I did?" said Heyes vaguely, rubbing his eyes. "That was pretty stupid."
"I thought so," Kid agreed. Heyes pushed himself to his feet and stood swaying. "Better sit down," Kid advised him.
Heyes took an unsteady step and sank down on the bunk. "I can't believe you grabbed a gun out of a sheriff's holster," he said.
"No, you did that," Kid reminded him.
"Well, I can't believe you didn't stop me," Heyes complained.
Kid smiled in the darkness. "I will next time," he promised.
The bunk was just a slab of wood covered by a moth-eaten blanket. It didn’t matter if he lay on his back, his side, or his stomach, Kid couldn’t find a comfortable position. Usually he could sleep anywhere, but some glimmer in the back of his mind, some feeling that something was about to happen, kept him awake. In the next cell he could hear Heyes pacing, a familiar sound; Heyes had covered many miles endlessly criss-crossing jail cells. Kid watched the square of window fading imperceptibly from black to gray. There was a hint of blue showing in the grayness when the door once again creaked open.
Kid sat bolt upright on the bunk, but he heard the scuff and tromp of heavy boots, not the quiet tiptoeing that he had half expected. He sighed, unreasonably disappointed.
“What’s up?” Heyes said quietly, eyeing him, but Kid shook his head and shrugged.
“It’s the whole gang again,” he said. “Seems like a lot of folks to be bringing breakfast, though, wonder what they’ve got in mind.” They both stood as the sheriff approached with his entourage of three deputies. Heyes was still white-faced, dried blood streaked down the side of his face from the gash in his forehead.
“All right, you two, stand back from the doors,” the sheriff ordered, surveying them with narrowed eyes. Heyes moved backwards, but Kid took a sideways step, away from the door as instructed, but still keeping himself near the bars that bordered the corridor. He looked over at Henry, but the boy had his head down, and refused to meet his eyes.
“What’s up, sheriff?” asked Heyes. “Any chance we’re going to clear up this unfortunate case of mistaken identity?”
“Boy, you never quit, do you?” said the sheriff admiringly. “Playing possum don’t work, you try something different. We’re taking you two over to the courthouse to make the arrangements for extradition, so you can save the sweet talk for the judge.” He pulled out his keys as Henry took a small step across the corridor, nearer to Kid’s cell. Then he took another tiny step, and another. Kid glanced down. Henry had his back to the bars, and the handle of the six-gun in his holster was just within Kid’s reach.
Kid threw a look at Heyes, who lifted an interrogative eyebrow. Kid looked back towards Henry’s gunbelt, trying to keep his face casual. Heyes followed his glance and his eyes widened; he gave Kid a withering look, and a slight headshake.
Henry moved back towards the cell another speck. Just a tiny movement, but it caught the sheriff’s eye. “You idiot, get away from those bars...” he began, but Kid decided that life didn’t present you with too many gift horses, and he wasn’t going to look this one in the mouth any longer. His hand shot out and grabbed Henry’s gun, nice and loose in the holster. It slid out like butter. Kid pointed it right between the sheriff’s eyes.
“Are you crazy?” Heyes demanded, over the shouts and sputters of the deputies.
“What, you want me to put it back?” Kid inquired with a grin. With a gun in his hand, he felt confident, at ease. And sure enough, the rest of it was easy. The deputies, aware of Kid’s reputation with a gun, were taking no chances. The sheriff didn’t argue when instructed to unlock the cells, and soon the guards and the prisoners had exchanged places and Heyes was cheerfully turning the key on the grumbling officers of the law. Henry stood in the cell silently as the others heaped abuse on his head for being so careless.
Kid caught the boy’s eye as Heyes was fastening the last lock on the sheriff’s cell; he nodded a silent thanks, and Henry’s eyes lit up with that dreamy glow again. Kid turned away, feeling an unaccustomed leaden weight on his chest. The feeling was so unfamiliar that it took him a moment to identify it as guilt, an emotion he had never felt over stopping a train or blowing a safe. He knew that what he had just done had been a worse crime than robbing any bank.
Heyes finished securing the locks, and tipped his hat to the sheriff, then slapped Kid on the back, and started down the corridor. He cracked the door open and peered out. “All clear,” he said, grinning. “Come on, Kid, what’re you waiting for?”
Kid looked over his shoulder at the boy behind the cell bars who was watching him with thrilled admiration, and opened his mouth to tell him a thing or two. “God, don’t be stupid, you young fool,” he wanted to shout. “You want to live on the run all your life, looking over your shoulder? You know how you said the Sheriff would kill you if you joined a gang? Well, that might be more than a figure of speech, son...”
He wanted to say all this and more, explaining the truth of the outlaw life in no uncertain terms, but looking at the youngster’s glowing face, Kid knew it was useless; he understood that what he had done could never be undone. Henry wouldn’t hear a word.
Conversation in a Hotel Room
"That you, Joshua?” Kid called, when he heard the knock on the door of his hotel room. He swished his razor in the bowl and finished scraping the last of the lather off his face.
“Yeah, open up,” he heard Heyes’ voice through the door, and the doorknob gave an impatient rattle. “Hang on, it's locked,” Kid called, wiping his hands with a towel. The knock sounded again, louder.
“Hang on, hang on,” said Kid, approaching the door unhurriedly. “You’ve been keeping me waiting for two days, I thought you were getting into town Wednesday. You get lost or something?” He swung the door open, and the smile left his face as he saw Heyes, white-faced and drawn, leaning heavily against the door frame for support. “Jesus, what happened?” Kid demanded, then as Heyes swayed he grabbed his arm and helped him over to the nearest chair. Heyes sank down on the soft armchair with a sigh of relief.
Kid went back to the door and threw a suspicious glance down the hall, then slammed the door shut and locked it. “How bad you hurt?” he asked, looking over Heyes' mud-stained, rumpled clothing for signs of blood.
“I’m okay,” said Heyes, leaning back in the chair wearily. “Bumped my head, that's all. I'm fine.”
“Yeah, you look fine,” said Kid, bending over him. He turned Heyes’ head to one side to show a purple gash, crusted with dried blood, on the side of his forehead. Heyes jerked his head away and leaned it against the tall chairback. “It’s nothing,” he said impatiently.
Kid stared down at him, frowning, then crossed the room to the shaving stand and came back with a bowl of warm water and a towel. He sat down on a stool in front of Heyes and reached up towards the wound, but Heyes put up a hand to shove him away. “Leave me alone,” he said with surprising anger. “I told you, it's nothing.”
Kid made no reply, but his eyes widened as he stared at Heyes’ arm; the wrist was darkly bruised and streaked with blood. Kid shoved back the other sleeve, and saw that the wrist was also mottled red and purple. He looked up and met Heyes’ glance, but his partner looked away.
“So, what happened?” Kid said slowly. “You’re gonna have a hard time convincing me it was nothing."
He began to wash the cuts, as Heyes closed his eyes tiredly. “It was a bounty hunter,” he said finally. “He must have seen me somewhere, recognized me. I thought, all yesterday on the road from Lewisburg, that someone was following me, but he was good, I never could get a glimpse of him. Then he circled around in front, and before I knew it, he got the drop on me." He shook his head in disgust. “Rode right into it, don’t know how I could be so stupid.”
“Takes practice," Kid said solemnly. Heyes snorted. "Who was it, ever see him before?” asked Kid, beginning on the other wrist.
“No,” said Heyes. “Skinny guy, red hair, tall. Young guy. But he was good.” He winced as Kid rubbed at his wrist, the blood from the freshly opened cuts turning the water in the bowl to red.
“He tied you up pretty good,” Kid commented. “How long it take you to get loose?”
“Long time,” said Heyes. He sat with closed eyes as Kid finished with his arm. The right wrist was cut worse than the left, and Kid got up to look for a bandanna, and made a soft bandage.
“So how’d you get this?” he inquired, starting to wash off the gash on Heyes’ forehead.
“Just stupid,” Heyes replied, and sighed deeply. “Damn, that young guy was quick, though. He put down his gun to tie me up, and I made a jump, and that’s all I remember. I suppose he grabbed the gun and hit me.”
Kid nodded. “Not much I can do here," he said, inspecting the wound. “It’ll close up on its own, I guess. Bet you got a good headache. So then what happened?”
There was a long silence and Kid waited patiently. “Well, I woke up, and he wasn’t there,” Heyes finally continued. “He’d left me in a little hollow by some rocks, tied up like a chicken, but he wasn’t around, and his horse was gone too. I don’t know where he went, maybe into town to check the wanted posters, see what the reward was...anyway, he was gone, so I worked on getting loose. Took forever, but finally I managed it.” He fell silent. Kid waited for more details, but the silence lengthened.
“Well,” Kid said finally. “Any chance he followed you, you think?”
“No,” said Heyes shortly.
“You sure?” Kid asked. “If he’s as good as you say, he might track you here. We should probably head out.”
“No,” said Heyes again.
Kid eyed him, aware that something was up. “Yeah, but if he...”
“I shot him,” said Heyes flatly. “He’s dead.”
Kid stared at him, thinking he hadn't heard right. “What did you say?”
“You heard me,” said Heyes irritably. “He got back from wherever he’d been, and saw I’d gotten loose. He grabbed me...he could have taken a shot, but he ran after me and caught my jacket...I took a swing at him, and we each tried to get the gun, and... anyway. He’s dead.”
Kid scratched his head, not knowing quite what to say next. “You sure he’s dead?”
“Well, I dug a hole and buried him, so I’m pretty sure,” Heyes snapped. “If he was faking he was doing a damn good job.”
“Okay, okay,” said Kid quietly. “Take it easy.” He put a hand on Heyes’ arm, but Heyes flung him off.
“Take it easy,” Heyes said bitterly. “No big deal, right? That’s easy for you to say.”
Kid frowned. “That’s right,” he flared. “I’ve lost count of how many guys I’ve mowed down, let me check the notches on my gun.” He got up and carried the bowl of water back to the bureau, spilling a little.
“Sorry,” Heyes said. "I didn't mean...sorry."
Kid stood with his back turned for a minute. Then he sighed and came back to sit down in front of his partner. “Listen, Heyes, he’s dead. You buried him. Let him stay buried. It’s the only way.”
“He only tied me up,” said Heyes raggedly. “He could have shot me. He was just a young guy.”
“He was a bounty hunter,” said Kid in a hard voice. “He was out looking for trouble. Maybe he didn’t shoot you because he wasn’t sure if the reward’s good dead or alive.”
“Maybe,” said Heyes. “Maybe he didn’t shoot me because he thought it’s wrong to kill people. Maybe...”
“Maybe you better get some sleep,” said Kid.
“No,” said Heyes quickly.
“Come on,” said Kid. He stood and hauled Heyes up out of the chair.
Heyes pulled his arm away, not hard. “I guess you’re right,” he said. He took a few unsteady steps across the room and sank down on the bed, grabbing the bedpost to keep from falling over. He unbuckled his gunbelt and slung it on the floor. “How do you get any sleep on this bed, the way it keeps spinning around?” he murmured. Kid smiled, and knelt to pull off Heyes’ boots. “Thanks,” Heyes said, and lay down.
Kid bent to pick up the discarded gunbelt, and pulled out the gun. He sat down and began to clean the barrel, as the acrid smell of cordite filled the air. Heyes lay with his eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. Kid carefully scraped the barrel, and re-oiled the chambers, glancing over at the bed from time to time. “Most people sleep with their eyes closed,” he observed after a while.
“Not me,” said Heyes. “Can’t nobody sneak up on you if you sleep with one eye open.”
“Go to sleep,” said Kid firmly.
“Yes, Ma,” said Heyes, and obediently closed his eyes. He lay still, and silence filled the room. Kid began to hope he was asleep.
“He had red hair.” Heyes broke the quiet suddenly. “Freckles. He was just a young guy.”
“Yeah,” Kid said. “I know.”