The Way Our Luck’s Been Runnin’
Heyes and Kid strolled down the boarded sidewalk of the quiet town of Langsford, glancing around at the stores, the hotel, and the few passersby with little interest. The town was like a hundred others, hot, dry—just a dusty main street lined with dusty buildings. Behind them they heard the hoot of the train whistle as the train they had just gotten off pulled out of the station.
Heyes took off his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “Another scorcher today,” he said, glancing up at the red sun that was baking the town. The morning light sent long shadows across the road.
“Yeah, it’s only mid-morning and I’m starting to melt already,” agreed Kid. “Come on, let’s get over to the shady side of the street.”
“No, stay on this side,” said Heyes, picking up his pace.
“Why?” asked Kid, following him. “I’m broiling out here in the sun.”
“Sheriff’s office up ahead,” Heyes told him. “Just don’t want to walk right in front of it, that’s all.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” said Kid. “What do you think, it’s bad luck?”
“It’s tempting fate,” Heyes said. “Like walking under a ladder, or letting a black cat cross your path.”
Kid rolled his eyes as they continued down the sweltering street. “There!” said Kid as they passed the sheriff’s office. “Is the jinx off now? Can we cross the street without getting struck by lightning?”
“Oh, shut up,” said Heyes. “You can’t be too...” He stopped abruptly as a man pushed past them, ran across the street, and threw open the door of the sheriff’s office.
“Hey, sheriff,” he shouted. “The stage coach is here, just pulled in. Sheriff Doppelganger! Come on!”
“Yeah, I’m coming, Reuben, hold your horses,” said a deep voice, just inside the door. Heyes and Kid stared at each other, then hastily turned their backs to the street and simulated a deep interest in the ladies’ hats displayed in the window of the dry goods store. They stood stiffly, shoulders hunched, as the sheriffs’ boots clumped right behind them.
“It can’t be,” whispered Kid. “I didn’t hear him right.”
“There’s no mistaking a handle like Doppelganger,” said Heyes, glancing over his shoulder. All he could see was the sheriff’s back as the tall man strode off down the street.
“It can’t be,” Kid groaned. “We can’t have any more bad luck, after all the things that’ve been going wrong the past few months. It just ain’t fair.”
They slouched around the corner, hats pulled low. “The way our luck’s been running, we’ll bump right into him,” Heyes said. “This town’s too small to hide in.”
“Maybe he won't remember us,” Kid suggested without much hope.
“Oh, good idea, let's wait till he comes back and ask him.” Heyes leaned wearily against the wall. “All right, think. What’s the fastest way to get outta town?”
“We just got into town,” Kid sighed. “Well, there’s no more trains till tomorrow—just our luck. Let’s scout around and see if we can buy a couple of horses.”
“Too conspicuous,” said Heyes. “There’s no livery stable here. Asking around about horses in a small town makes people notice you. I’d rather just hop on a stage coach and get out of here fast. Doppelganger would be every bit as happy to turn us in dead as alive, I don’t want to waste any time in his town.”
“Hell,” muttered Kid. “Here he comes again.” They pulled their hats lower and returned to their study of the millinery in the window. The heavy booted stride of the sheriff approached, slowed, then continued past them.
“All right, let’s check out the stagecoach,” said Kid, releasing the breath he had been holding as the sheriff’s footsteps died away. “I’ll take a manure wagon if it’ll get us out of here.”
The stagecoach was standing in front of a hotel, and two men were busy hitching up fresh horses. Heyes and Kid eyed the four steaming, lathered horses that had just been unharnessed. “Looks like this stage really makes time,” observed Kid to an old man who was holding a horse’s bridle.
“Yep, it’s on a tight schedule. Carries the mail and the mine payroll, too, sometimes, and it ain’t never been late once,” said the man with pride, patting the horse’s sweaty neck. “Only stops here to change the team, then they’re off in a hurry.”
“Sounds like the very vehicle for us,” observed Heyes. “Take passengers?”
“Yeah, it carries passengers sometimes. There’s the driver, young Martin over there.” He pointed to a young man, coming down the steps of the hotel holding a beer mug. “Hey, Martin, you taking passengers this trip?”
“Why not?” the young man said. “Ain’t had a passenger for weeks.” His dust-covered face was flushed, and he weaved from side to side as he trotted down the steps.
The old man scratched his chin, frowning. “How many beers you had just now, son?”
“Hey, it’s hot and thirsty work driving that stage, old timer,” said Martin, finishing off his mug. “Man’s got to wet his whistle. You boys gonna be joining us?”
“When are you leaving?” asked Heyes.
“Oh, about two beers from now, just got to hitch up. We’re on a tight schedule, gotta make tracks.” He trotted back up the steps, carrying the empty mug.
“Oh, we won’t keep you waiting,” Heyes called after him. “Can we pay our fare in the hotel?” he asked the old man.
“Sure, right at the front desk,” he replied, looking them over with raised eyebrows. “You folks in a powerful hurry to get to Douglaston, eh?”
“Well, I’ll say we are!” said Heyes. “If we leave right now we ought to make it in time for the funeral. Come on, let’s see about those tickets,” he added to Kid and they beat a hasty retreat. They paid their fare, and went back out to the street where the fresh horses were prancing and sidling, eager to go. Kid tossed their saddlebags up onto the roof where the stagecoach guard, seated on the driver’s box, fastened them with the other baggage.
They were just climbing into the coach when they heard the guard shout, “Howdy, Sheriff! Come to wave goodbye?”
“Oh, my God, he’s back,” groaned Kid.
“Just our luck,” muttered Heyes. He yanked the door shut behind him, and they slouched down in their seats, hats low over their noses.
“Someone’s got to make sure you keep up to time,” said a deep voice. “You lay off that beer, Martin, you got some fast driving to do. You’re ten minutes behind already.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” said Martin. The stage swayed slightly as he clambered up into his seat. Heyes stole a glance under the brim of his hat. He could see the booted feet of the sheriff just outside.
“Come on, Martin, get going!” called the sheriff. “And keep a sharp lookout. This is the biggest payroll we’ve ever shipped. Wire me the minute you get into Douglaston.”
“Oh, stop clucking, sheriff, you’re like an old mother hen,” said Martin.
“You let me know as soon as you get there! If you don’t, I’ll come looking for you, boy. And I’ll have a posse in tow, too.” The sheriff put his hand on the window of the coach, inches from Kid’s arm. “Don’t forget!”
“Stand clear!” Martin shouted. “Let’em go, boys!”
The men holding the horses stood back, and the driver cracked his whip. The stagecoach lurched forward with a jolt that flung Heyes and Kid against the seat back. Dust rose as the horses broke into a canter, and the stagecoach swerved around a corner on two wheels.
Heyes grinned at Kid. “Fastest way out of town, all right!”
Two hours later, Heyes’ enthusiasm was wearing thin. The stagecoach bounced with bone-rattling jolts as the horses alternately trotted and galloped. “This is awful,” he groaned, clinging to the strap. “I’ve had more fun falling downstairs.”
“Well, we wanted to make time,” said Kid, shouting over the clatter. “That kid’s got the horses going full out again, I hope he knows what he’s doing.”
The stagecoach tilted suddenly to one side, and Kid was thrown against Heyes, smashing him into the side of the vehicle. “I see why there wasn’t a long line of passengers,” said Heyes, shoving Kid off. “I don’t know if I can stand this for another three hours. Maybe we should get out and walk.”
Kid peered out the window. “He’s gonna kill those horses. He isn’t letting them rest enough between spurts.”
The road swung into a sharp curve, and the stage tilted once more, flinging them to the other side. But this time the stagecoach didn’t right itself. They heard shouts from the driver’s box, and the coach shook worse than ever. Heyes glanced out the window, and had time to feel a brief instant of surprise that the ground was coming up to meet him. He felt himself sliding sideways. Then the world blew up in his face like a keg of dynamite, and there was nothing after that.
Heyes slowly became aware that he ached all over, and tried to remember whether he had gotten drunk, or been in a fight. He didn’t seem to be in bed, but he couldn’t imagine where he was.
He opened his eyes and squinted up at a hot white sky, the sun stabbing his eyes. He threw an arm over his face, and lay still as the ache all over his body gradually resolved itself into a pain in his left knee, and a pounding in his head. He tried to figure out why he was apparently lying on the ground. Finally, having no success, he rolled over on his side to look around.
He swore aloud as pain shot through his leg. Pushing up on his elbow, he saw the shattered remains of the stagecoach and slowly realized what must have happened.
“Kid?” he called, looking around. No answer. He studied the wreckage, and drew in his breath sharply as he noticed an arm protruding from under the remains of the driver’s box. He tried to scramble to his feet, but fell over, swearing, as his knee refused to take any weight. He crawled over to the wreckage, dragging his bad leg.
Closer inspection showed that the arm belonged to a dark-haired man, wearing a blue jacket. He was huddled under a pile of debris, his head crushed, plainly dead. Heyes tried to remember if it was the guard or the driver. “Kid?” he called again, louder.
He heard a groan behind him and spun around awkwardly on hands and knees. Kid was lying half hidden under a jumble of splintered boards that had been the door of the stagecoach. Heyes heaved a sigh of relief and painfully crawled over to where Kid was surfacing from under the pile of wood.
“You okay?” Heyes asked, panting.
Kid looked at him, blinking and brushing wood splinters off his chest. His face was cut and scratched. “I don’t know,” he said dazedly. “What the hell...?” He sat up unsteadily, and looked around, digesting the scene. “You hurt?”
“I’m okay,” said Heyes, sitting down beside him. “My knee hurts, though. The driver’s dead, at least I think it’s the driver. I can’t see his face.”
“What about the other guy?” asked Kid, looking around.
“I don’t know,” said Heyes, trying to find a comfortable position for his leg. “No sign.”
Kid leaned forward and pushed broken pieces of wood off his leg, grimacing with pain. His right leg was bloody, the trousers torn and stained just above the boot. Heyes took out his knife and ripped up the trouser leg, frowning as he saw the deep gash. He took off his bandanna and made an awkward bandage, pulling it tight to stop the bleeding. Kid watched in silence, gritting his teeth as Heyes yanked the bandanna tighter.
Heyes leaned back against a broken piece of the stagecoach door and rubbed his sore knee, which was swelling fast. He closed his eyes against the glare of the sun and tried to think, wishing his head would stop pounding. They sat in the hot sun for a while without speaking.
Flies began to crawl over the bloodstained bandage on Kid’s leg, and he swatted at them with his hat. More flies were buzzing and circling over where the man lay beneath the wreckage, and Heyes tried not to look in that direction.
“Well, what now?” asked Kid conversationally. “Got any suggestions?”
Heyes rubbed his aching head. “Not at the moment,” he said. “In fact, I can’t think of a thing. I guess we just sit here. We’re not going anywhere, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, we’re a good pair,” said Kid glumly. “Two good legs between us. Any sign of the horses?”
Heyes shook his head. “I don’t see any sign of’em, but I haven’t been out looking. They broke loose from the traces in the crash, I guess. Just our luck.”
“So we sit here till someone comes looking for us,”said Kid. “We must be about halfway between Douglaston and Langsford.” He glanced up at the sun. “About noon now–-we were due in at three, right? How long you think till they come looking for us?”
“Oh, they won’t be in a hurry to find you and me, but they’ll come looking for that payroll right quick,” said Heyes. “The question is not so much when as who’s gonna come looking.”
“What do you--oh, no…”
“Doppelganger told the driver he’d come after him if the stage was overdue,” said Heyes. “When we don’t show up in Douglaston, they’ll wire to Langsford. Then I suppose they’ll send out a posse from one town or the other.” He gave a deep sigh. “The question is, which one?”
They pondered this in silence for a while. Kid flapped at the flies with his hat, wincing as his leg moved. Heyes looked up and down the empty road that lay hot and shadowless in the midday sun. “Langsford north, Douglaston south,” he murmured.
Kid caught the murmur and involuntarily looked up and down the road as well. The land was flat and dry, a sea of red dust with a few sparse clumps of dark green sagebrush to break the monotony. The winding road stretched from horizon to horizon, north to south.
“So what happens?” Heyes went on, thinking aloud. “If the posse’s sent out from Douglaston, we’re just two miscellaneous hard-luck drifters. Hopefully, they’ll patch us up and send us on our way. But if the posse comes from Langsford...”
“It’ll have Doppelganger at the head of it,” finished Kid. “So what do we do then?”
“I have no idea,” said Heyes. He moved restlessly, trying to ignore the pain in his leg.
“Well, we have to do something,” said Kid.
“Okay,” said Heyes irritably. “Go right ahead.”
Kid didn’t answer. He leaned back on his elbow and stared out at the low line of red mesas far away on the horizon to the north.
Heyes couldn’t stop running through possible outcomes in his head. “It’s twenty miles either way to Douglaston or Langsford. It’ll take’em an hour to realize that we’re overdue, another hour to round up a posse, maybe less, and it’ll take ‘em about two hours to get here. We were due in at three, so...I’d say about sundown they ought to be here.”
The sun was still high overhead, and Kid pulled his hat low to shut out the glare. Heyes looked around for his hat, and saw it lying a few yards away. He considered crawling over to get it, but when he sat up, his knee hurt so much that he sank back down again and put an arm over his face to shade his eyes.
“I saw a convict once with a ball and chain on his leg,” he remarked. “On a work gang in Kansas. Now I know how he felt.”
“At least he wasn’t in a cell,” said Kid. “My God. You’re always saying you have imagination, Heyes. Imagine being in a cell for twenty years.”
“I can’t,” said Heyes. He looked to the south, down the empty road. “Maybe we’ll get lucky,” he said. “We’re about due for a change in our luck.”
Heyes thought that the sun must be glued to the sky. It was too bright to stare at, but he glanced up every few minutes, and the sun seemed to be in exactly the same position each time he looked. He could hear flies buzzing around the dead men under the wreckage. The heat was fierce, but there was no shade to crawl into. The only shade was in tiny patches under the sage brush, not big enough to shade a rabbit. He tried to keep his mind on possible escape plans, and forget about how thirsty he was.
Kid suddenly lurched forward and started pushing himself up on his hands and knees.
“Where you going?” asked Heyes.
“I’m looking around for a piece of wood to use as a cane or something,” said Kid. Heyes watched without comment as Kid picked up piece after piece of broken and splintered wood.
“There’s nothing big enough to use as a toothpick, except the big chunks over there, and they’re too big,” Heyes said finally.
“I don’t care,” said Kid, picking up a splintered board. “I’ve gotta do something. There’s nothing I’m worse at than sitting around doing nothing.”
He pushed himself to his feet, and took a step. The makeshift crutch crumpled under his weight, and he fell heavily. He clutched his leg and swore under his breath for some time. Heyes said nothing, just slid himself over and looked at Kid’s leg, shaking his head as he saw blood welling up between Kid’s fingers. He pulled a bandanna out of his pocket, and tried to re-bandage the wound, but blood continued to seep.
Kid watched grimly. “Okay,” he said defiantly. “If I can’t hop, I can crawl. We’ve got to get out of here, we can’t just sit here.”
“If that leg opens up again, you’ll bleed to death,” said Heyes, frowning. “And what good’s it gonna do us? We’re twenty miles from water, food and a doctor, that’s a long crawl.”
“We could hide,” Kid began.
“Where?” asked Heyes, looking around at the landscape, flat as a pancake.
“So you just want to sit here like two flies on flypaper?” asked Kid.
“I sure don’t want to,” said Heyes. “You got any other suggestions, I’m listening.” He looked to the northern horizon again, the road vanishing into the hazy purple distance. “I’ll keep thinking, but...” His voice trailed off.
“Heyes,” said Kid quietly. Heyes, lying on his back on the hard ground, didn’t have to open his eyes. He knew immediately from the note in the Kid’s voice what he would see when he looked down the road.
He felt surprised that it should really have happened, that their luck had actually, finally, run out. After so many narrow escapes, he had come to believe that the ultimate disaster would never strike. Twenty years in jail was truly beyond the scope of imagination.
Kid had pushed himself up on one elbow and was staring at a dirt cloud far away down the road to the north. The sun was low over the horizon, giving a red light to the dust cloud, which soon resolved itself into a large group of horsemen, a dozen or more, riding fast.
Kid automatically pulled out his gun, but Heyes put a hand on his arm. Their eyes met, and they looked at each other for a long moment.
“Fourteen to two,” said Heyes. “I wouldn’t back a horse with those odds. Let’s wait and try to talk our way out of this.”
Kid watched the riders approaching, his fingers tapping on the gun handle. Finally he glanced at Heyes, and put the gun back in his holster.
The riders drew up in a cloud of dust. Heyes sat up painfully and watched as they dismounted, looking around in surprise at the debris of the stagecoach. The man in the lead spotted them and hurried over. There was a star on his chest. “Here it comes,” muttered Kid.
But the man who knelt down next to them had only concern on his face. “You fellows all right? What the hell happened here?” He put a friendly hand on Kid’s shoulder. “That’s a nasty cut you got there, pal. Was it Apaches? You get held up?”
Heyes and Kid stared at him in silence. He was a complete stranger.
“No, no, sheriff, just an accident,” Heyes managed at last. “The horses got out of hand and the coach just went over.”
“God Almighty, Doppelganger, get over here,” called one of the men. “Martin’s dead and so’s Henry!”
“Good God!” said the sheriff, and ran over to join the rest of the posse. He and the other men heaved aside pieces of the wreckage, and were finally able to extricate the two corpses. They laid the bodies side by side in the dust, and stood over them for a few minutes with bared heads. Then the sheriff gave a string of orders to his deputies, and two of the men ran for their horses and pounded off, back the way they had come. The sheriff walked over to Heyes and Kid.
“I’ve sent two of my deputies back for the doctor and a wagon,” he said. “We’ll have the doc take a look at you both, and then head back to town. Can you hold out for a few more hours?” He handed his canteen to Kid, who took a deep drink, then passed it to Heyes.
“Oh, we’ll be fine, Sheriff, thanks a lot, we’ll be just perfectly fine till the doc gets here.” Heyes felt like he was babbling in his relief.
“Good. I’ll have the boys start a campfire nearby, so you won’t have to move, and we’ll get some grub going.” He stood up.
“Um, Sheriff,” said Heyes, “Just out of curiosity–-do you by any chance have, say, a relative or something who’s also a sheriff?”
“Oh, do you know Jake? He’s sheriff up in Abilene. He’s my older brother. I’m going to be writing him a letter soon, shall I tell him you were asking for him?”
“Oh, don’t bother,” said Heyes hastily. “We’re just casual acquaintances, he probably wouldn’t remember us.”
The sheriff nodded absently. Looking over to where the bodies lay motionless in the dusk, he shook his head. “I’ll have to write a letter to Martin’s mother, and break the news to Henry’s wife,” he said, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “That’s not going to be fun.”
“No, I guess not,” said Kid somberly.
“Terrible thing, both of them killed like that. Must have been a hell of a crash. And you boys both got off with sore legs.”
One of the deputies came over with an armload of sagebrush. He dumped it on the ground and began to build a small fire. The sun had set, and the desert was the color of ashes under the gray sky.
“You boys feeling all right?” asked the deputy.
“Sure,” said Heyes.
“Yeah, they’ll be okay till the doc gets here,” said the sheriff. “Cut up a bit, that’s all.”
“My God, you guys are lucky,” said the deputy. “Henry and Martin were...well, their own mothers wouldn’t recognize them. Terrible.” He shook his head. “Must have been a hell of a crash.
“Lucky?” said the sheriff. “I guess so! You must be the two luckiest guys in the world.”
Heyes and Kid glanced at each other, surprised. Heyes rubbed his sore knee, and looked over at Kid again, considering things from this new viewpoint.
“Lucky, huh? You know what?” he said in a low voice. “He’s right.”
This one might be a bit controversial, I fear...
Hannibal Heyes was packing to leave town, folding clothes carefully into his saddlebag, and he didn't look up as Kid came into the small, dim hotel room. Kid slammed the door, flopped into a chair, and eyed him silently. Heyes folded a shirt with meticulous care, matching up the corners of the sleeves, trying to hide the fact that his hands were still shaking.
"So I'll be heading out, Kid," said Heyes, not looking up. "Like I said, it's the only way. I figure my best chance is to try to get down to Mexico." Kid made no answer, and Heyes put a determinedly cheerful look on his face. "Maybe I'll finally get a chance to learn Spanish," he added with a half-hearted smile, looking over at Kid. The smile dropped off his face the instant he laid eyes on his partner. "What?" he demanded.
Kid gave him a blank stare. "You can unpack, Heyes," he said. "Seems the sheriff won't be looking for you after all."
Heyes dropped the saddlebag, and sank down on the edge of the bed. He held on to the bedpost, feeling sick. "What have you done?" he whispered.
Kid got up and went over to the washstand. He bent and splashed water on his face. "Nothing," he mumbled.
Heyes leaped up and crossed the room in three steps. "Kid," he said, standing behind his partner. "Where's Tom?"
"He had an accident," Kid replied, looking down at the water dripping off his hands into the basin. "He's dead."
Heyes grabbed Kid's shoulder and spun him around. "Accident, hell," he said in a shaking voice. "You killed him?" Kid turned away, and Heyes yanked him back by the arm. "You actually killed a man?" he demanded, white-faced. The two boys stood quivering like dogs about to spring at each others' throats.
"You always said you were practicing the fast draw just to be on the safe side," Heyes said furiously. "You always said you'd never really use it, we'd never really hurt anyone. And you kill a man and call it an accident--"
Kid shoved him halfway across the room. "Tom had an accident," he shouted. "When he saw you shoot that guy, that was the accident."
Heyes sat down on a chair and rubbed his face with his hands. Hot tears stung his eyes, and he scrubbed his sleeve across his face so Kid wouldn't see. A man of seventeen should never cry.
"I never meant to, Kid," he said pleadingly. "You know that. I never meant to pull the trigger, let alone kill him. I was just trying to get him to stop the train...Kyle crashed into me when the train jolted, the clumsy bastard, and the gun went off...it was an accident..." His voice faded at Kid's bitter expression.
"Tom never would have kept his mouth shut," Kid said. "He wanted to be the leader of the gang, you know that, and he needed you out of the way. If he'd gotten to the sheriff, there'd be a poster on you being printed up right now, pal, with a full description, right down to your socks." Heyes looked at him, wondering how Kid could be so unfeeling and business-like. "Wanted for murder, the poster would say," Kid went on, his narrowed eyes and grim expression making him look much older than his fifteen years. "And a huge reward. Dead or alive."
Heyes opened his mouth, but Kid interrupted relentlessly. "Catching murderers pays good, you know. Every bounty hunter in the territory 'd be all over you like flies. Here or Mexico, it makes no difference. And if by some chance the bounty hunters didn't kill you, then you'd hang. Like the judge in the courtroom says: hang by the neck until you are dead."
Silence filled the room. "He had an accident. That's all there is to it," Kid finished. He turned on his heel and headed for the door.
"Kid," said Heyes in a low voice. "Wait a minute." Kid stopped with his hand on the doorknob, then turned and looked at him. Heyes saw with surprise that his own fear and misery were mirrored in his partner's eyes.
He went over to put both hands on Kid's shoulders, and shook him roughly. "Never again, all right?" Heyes said passionately. "Never! We'll never do it again. No matter how many trains or banks we rob, we'll never shoot anyone."
Kid shrugged, his face poker blank again. "Can't promise," he said. Their eyes met.
"We'll try, though," Kid said softly. "We'll try, God knows. But we can't make no promises."
Author’s Note: I know some readers prefer Heyes and Kid never to have killed anyone (well, except Danny Bilson). But I got to wondering what the reality of train and bank-robbing might be like for a couple of well-meaning young kids--hardly more than children. It seems to me that their commitment to non-violence in "all the banks and trains they robbed," might come from bitter experience.