A Short Stay in Pleasantville
The money was piled in crisp stacks of hundred dollar bills; more money than Gilling had ever seen in one place, even in his long and respectable career as a banker. He threw an involuntary glance over his shoulder, but of course no one was behind him, the office was quiet and dim in the afternoon light.
He closed the lid of the suitcase softly, and snapped the latch, but he still seemed to see the lovely stacks of green dancing before his eyes. He tried to calm his pounding heart by taking a few deep breaths. Smoothing his hand over his white hair, he straightened his bow tie: it was necessary to keep looking the part of the respectable banker, right up to the end.
He swung the heavy suitcase off the desk, and tried to think what to do next. He’d been afraid for some time that the Denver office was getting suspicious, and he was anxious to talk the matter over with Lennox, his partner, as soon as possible. Lennox had been in on it with him, right from the start, and had always advised caution.
Maybe they should leave town soon, thought Gilling, hefting the suitcase uneasily. Surely they had enough money in this last batch. It couldn't be long before a couple of federal marshals were sent over from Denver to check things out. He’d been having nightmares, every night, about tall figures silently grasping his shoulder, grim-faced men dragging him off to jail.
He left his private office and went through the bank, which was empty, since it was after hours; dust motes floated in the bars of sunlight from the tall windows. He locked the big door behind him, and started down the marble steps to the street. Then he stopped abruptly, his heart pounding louder than ever.
A pair of strangers were riding down the main street of town. They looked weary and dust-covered, and plainly had ridden far. As they slowed their horses to a walk, the two men glanced from side to side with a peculiar wariness. No ordinary cowhands out for a night on the town: their guns were tied down on their legs, sure sign of professionals. He stared at them, feeling his lips grow cold and his stomach churn.
His worst nightmare had come true.
Heyes noticed the white-haired, well-dressed man standing on the marble steps, staring fixedly at them. He hastily looked away, feeling a familiar churning in his stomach, then glanced over at Kid, and knew from his partner’s carefully blank expression that he had noticed the guy, too. Heyes could feel the man’s gaze boring into his back as they rode past.
He caught Kid's eye, and raised his brows in an unspoken question. This had happened so many times in the last few months, this threat of being recognized, that they almost didn't need to say anything at all. “Think so?” Heyes muttered.
“Hell, I don’t know,” growled Kid. “We’re starting to jump at our own shadows.” He glanced back over his shoulder. “He’s just standing there. What do you think?”
Heyes looked back and read the sign on the building. “Pleasantville Bank and Trust Company,” he muttered to Kid. “We didn’t ever rob that, did we?”
Kid shrugged. “I don’t know, I lose track,” he said. “Don’t think so.”
“Damn it, there isn't another town for fifty miles in any direction,” Heyes said wearily, taking off his hat and beating it on his knee to shake the dust off. “Let’s at least stay the night, there’s a hotel right over there."
“All right,” said Kid. “I guess so. We gotta let the horses rest a bit, anyway.” They rode slowly down the street, looking warily at the saloon, the feed store, and the undertaking parlor. When they came abreast of the sheriff’s office they both peered into the window. Heyes caught a glimpse of a tall, hawk-nosed man sitting at a desk. “Recognize him?” Kid inquired anxiously.
“Nope,” Heyes said with relief. “Never seen him before.”
“There's his name on the sign,” Kid observed. “Sheriff Frank Lennox. Never heard of him.”
“Nope, never heard of him,” Heyes agreed happily. “See, we’re okay.”
As the two strangers dismounted in front of the livery stable and led their horses inside, Gilling scuttled across the street to the sheriff’s office. Lennox had told him they must avoid being seen together, but this was an emergency. He banged the door open, and burst into the office, panting. Lennox jumped to his feet, a hand flying to his holster.
"God damn it!" said Lennox in a low tone when he realized who it was, then strode to the door and slammed it shut. "I told you not to do anything that draws attention to us! Why don't you just wear a sign that says ‘Look, I’m a bank robber?’”
"I'm sorry," said Gilling, trying to slow his breathing. Lennox always made him nervous. "But those two men, the ones who just rode into town--didn't you see them?"
"I noticed them going by," said Lennox slowly, sitting down at his broad, paper-covered desk. "What about them?"
"Didn't you see how they were peering around, checking everything out? I told you Denver’d be sending federal marshals, or a couple of Bannermen men, to investigate, if we got too greedy.” Gilling put the suitcase down, and ran trembling fingers over his hair and mustache. “They're marshals, I'm sure of it. Denver's been suspicious for a while now. I've been expecting something like this."
"You're crazy," said Lennox, but without conviction, and he gazed uneasily out the window into the sunny street.
"I don't think so," said Gilling, pacing about. "They were mighty interested in looking in your window, and reading your name on the shingle. They wear their guns tied down--"
"How would they know about me?" demanded Lennox, shifting his gaze to Gilling's face ominously. "If Denver's seen through some of your finagling, how would they connect that with me? You've been talking, you little weasel--"
"No, no, no, not at all," protested Gilling. "No, indeed! No! I'm just a little worried, that's all."
Lennox walked to the window, lifted the curtain, and peered out. "There they go," he said. The two strangers had left the livery stable and were crossing the street.
Gilling peeked out the window under Lennox's arm. "They're going into the hotel," he pointed out. "See, they're not just in town for a poker game, they're going to stay. Why don't you go on over and check them out? Ask them what they're in town for? If they're marshals they'll be glad to work with local law enforcement."
"Hmm," said Lennox, watching the strangers walk up the hotel steps and pause to survey the street behind them before they entered. "Maybe I will. I'll see if they know anything."
"What if they do?" asked Gilling, chewing on his small mustache nervously. "If they do, what? Maybe we should get out of town."
"I'm not going anywhere," said Lennox. He pulled the gun out of his holster and checked it carefully, then replaced it. "I'll just go pay them a visit."
Heyes sank down on the soft mattress with a sigh. "Ah," he said. "A feather bed. I could sleep for a week." The hotel room was not only carpeted, but had a brass bedstead and three sunny windows. “Wish we could stay here longer,” he added, thumping the downy pillows.
Kid strolled to the window and surveyed the street below. "Anything?" asked Heyes anxiously.
"Nah," said Kid, letting the curtain fall. "We've got to stop being so jumpy." He sat down in the cushioned chair and pulled his boots off with a sigh of contentment. "This is one nice hotel, bet they've got a good restaurant. I could use a steak."
"Steak and fried potatoes," Heyes agreed. "And a few beers." He got up and went over to the window, and peered out.
"Will you stop?" said Kid. "You're worse than I am."
"I know," said Heyes. He unbuckled his gunbelt and kicked his boots off, then flopped back down on the bed. "I'm gonna take a nap before dinner.”
"Good idea," said Kid. He stretched out on the soft mattress, and lay there for a few minutes, staring at the ceiling with open eyes. Then he got up and looked out the window. "Damnation,” he growled.
Heyes was beside him in an instant. "Oh, no," he said softly. The door of the sheriff's office was open, and the little man was standing on the threshold, wringing his hands nervously. A tall man was striding purposefully across the street, heading directly towards the hotel. The star on his chest gleamed in the afternoon sunlight.
"Nap time's over," said Heyes. "Let's get out of here."
"How?" asked Kid grimly. "He'll be inside in a minute, and there's only one flight of stairs. We're cornered." They looked at each other, then at the door. Heavy footsteps pounded on the stairs, and then a loud knocking made the thin door shake on its hinges.
Lennox banged on the door again, shouting, "Open up, this is the sheriff!" The hotel proprietor, a plump man, panted up the stairs and stood in the dim corridor watching him, eyes wide. "Anything wrong, sir?" he quavered.
"Maybe," said Lennox shortly. "I've knocked twice and no one answers, but I know they're in there. You got a key to this door?"
"Yes, sir, but..."
"Open up, then," snapped Lennox. "Quick about it."
"Yes, sir," said the man, and pulled a jingling ring of keys from his belt. He unlocked the door and then stepped aside hastily and scurried back down the stairs.
Lennox swung the door open, and waited, a hand on his gun. Nothing happened. He took a step into the room, saying, "What's going on here?" then stopped, looking around. The bedclothes were rumpled, and a pair of saddlebags were hung over a chair, but the room was empty.
"Damn, I had a brand new shirt in those saddlebags," Kid complained in a whisper, as Heyes silently slid the window shut behind them. They crept across the porch roof, carrying their boots, and looked over the edge. It wasn't a bad jump.
"I had two pairs of clean socks in mine," Heyes told him regretfully. "Into each life some rain must fall, come on." They jumped into the alley from the low porch roof, landing softly in their stocking feet. "Hurry up," said Heyes, hopping on one foot as he pulled a boot on. "He'll figure that one out pretty quick. Let's get the horses and get out of here."
"A feather bed with no bedbugs," said Kid, looking up at the window of their room mournfully. "We paid for it and everything, too, three dollars and fifty cents."
"It's the price we pay for being stupid, come on," Heyes said, and Kid yanked on his boots and followed Heyes down narrow alleyways to the livery stable.
Gilling stood on the walk outside Lennox's office, gnawing on his mustache, and waited for what seemed a year. No one emerged from the hotel, not Lennox, not the strangers. Suddenly, he couldn't take the suspense anymore. He'd had enough.
No family tied him down, he had no reason to stay in Pleasantville; unlike Lennox, who had a prestigious job as sheriff, Gilling had always planned on leaving town when things got tough. It looked like now was the time.
He glanced down the street to the comfortable house he lived in alone. There was nothing there he was sentimentally attached to, that he couldn't buy fresh with what was in the suitcase. And if he left now, he wouldn't have to give Lennox half. There was more than enough cash in the brown leather suitcase for him to live like a king anywhere in the world. He walked hastily towards the livery stable.
He slipped inside the big barn door. Hank, the proprietor, usually took a dinner break at the hotel at this hour, and was nowhere to be seen. Gilling hastened to the stalls and led out a quiet mare that he sometimes rented. He was unaccustomed to saddling up for himself, but he managed to heave a heavy saddle across her back, then hurried over to the big closet where Hank kept the bridles and harnesses.
Suddenly he stopped and listened intently. He heard a door close, quietly--too quietly for Hank, who always slammed and stamped around. Gilling froze, listening harder, and sure enough, he heard stealthy footsteps and whispers. He slunk into the closet and pulled the door almost shut, then peeked out across the stable. Sure enough, it was the two strangers, as he'd feared. Hot on his trail.
Kid led their horses out of the stalls while Heyes lugged the saddles over. The stable was quiet in the afternoon sunshine, and they talked in whispers as they worked. Kid swung his saddle onto his horse's back, and began to pull the girth straps tight. "Hate to do this to you, pal," he said, patting the horse’s rump.
"At least they got some dinner," Heyes grumbled as he trotted over to the closet where the harnesses were kept. He swung the door open, and then Kid heard him give a startled squawk of "Jesus!" Kid looked up and saw the small man who had recognized them, standing in the closet doorway. A small derringer was in his hand, held an inch from the center of Heyes's chest.
"Hands up," said the little man in an unsteady voice, and both of them raised their arms obediently. The man looked from one to the other, plainly uncertain what to do next. The hand that clutched the derringer was shaking badly. Kid knew well that guns are most dangerous in the hands of frightened people, and from the look on his partner's white face, he could see that Heyes knew it too.
"Take it easy, mister," said Kid soothingly. "Watch that gun, now, you got us, we're not going anywhere."
The man glanced at him, but the gun stayed pointed squarely at Heyes. "I'm sorry about this," the stranger quavered. "But it's just ...there's so much money at stake, you see...I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill you." His finger tightened on the trigger, and the hammer rose slowly.
"Wait a minute," said Kid, his voice rising a notch. "You don't want to do that, now. You ever shoot a man as close up as that? It'd be a terrible mess." Heyes gave him a glance, but said nothing. "You don't have to shoot us, no need of that," went on Kid, trying to sound calm. "Just tie us up, easy as pie."
"Well..." said the man uncertainly. "I suppose I could..."
"Sure," said Heyes, and made a tight smile. "We'll lie down on the floor, you tie us up good, and you're all set. How 'bout it?"
"Well, all right," said the man, biting at his mustache. "I never shot anyone before, but...I suppose if I tie you up I can be miles away before you get untied..."
Heyes and Kid exchanged puzzled glances. "Miles away?" Kid repeated.
"You bet," said the man. "You'll never catch up with me. Here, lie down on the floor, like you said, both of you," he went on, his voice growing firmer. "Right now."
"Okay, okay," said Kid, bending down.
"What are you gonna use, that leather thong there?" Heyes inquired in a casual tone, nodding at the harnesses hung on the wall beside the stranger.
As soon as the man's eyes moved, Heyes threw himself to one side, knocking the man's arm up. The gun cracked loudly in his ear, and he heard the bullet whiz past him. Kid sprang across the room and grabbed the little man by the collar, wrenching the derringer out of his trembling hand.
"You okay?" Kid demanded, turning to look at Heyes without letting go of the stranger. Heyes nodded, panting, and picked himself up off the floor. His hands were shaking, and he leaned against the wall for a minute, limp with relief, as Kid turned back to the stranger with fury in his eyes.
"All right, what's going on here?" Kid shouted, shaking the man like a rat. "What the hell are you after anyway?"
"I...I..." spluttered the little man, pale as a sheet.
"Talk!" commanded Kid, pulling his gun and jamming it under the man's nose. "Talk! Tell us what's going on or by God I'll..."
A gunshot crashed in their ears, and the man threw up his arms with a horrid scream, then sprawled on the floor. An enormous red hole marked the middle of his forehead.
Heyes stood rooted to the ground. He thought for a horrified second that Kid had murdered the man, but looking at his partner he saw that Kid was as shocked as he was; he stood staring openmouthed at the corpse and wiping his face where the dead man's blood had spattered it. They both whirled around to see the tall sheriff standing in the doorway, a smoking revolver in his hand.
The partners looked blankly at each other, then Kid dropped his gun, and they both raised their hands. The sheriff gave them a friendly smile, and nodded. "You two fellas all right?" he inquired politely. "He didn't hurt you, did he?"
He holstered his gun, and walked towards them. They both backed up, till the wall stopped them, and stood at bay. "Frank Lennox, happy to be of service," said the tall man, holding out his hand. Heyes took it mechanically, and the sheriff pumped his arm up and down with enthusiasm. "Glad I got here in the nick of time," he said, shaking hands with Kid as well.
Lennox looked down and prodded the body with the toe of his boot. "Narrow escape you boys had. He's a dangerous lunatic, I've had my eye on him for some time. Was afraid he'd snap and do something like this."
Heyes resisted the temptation to catch Kid's eye. "Really?" he managed to say. "That's remarkable."
"It is," agreed the sheriff. "Doesn't look it, does he? Very dangerous man." He looked over at the half-saddled horses. "But you were saddling up, fellas? Leaving town?"
"Um, well..." Heyes stammered.
"Don't let me keep you," said Lennox cordially. "Here, can I give you a hand?"
"Ah, thanks, no, I guess we're all set," Heyes said. He racked his brain for a convincing explanation of why they had to leave so hurriedly, but Lennox seemed to be the least curious sheriff in the nation.
"Excellent!" said Lennox, beaming at them. "Well, I'll just head off and, ah, get the doctor, that’s it, I’ll go get the doc and see if he can do anything for Gilling here."
"Seems unlikely," said Kid, looking at the bloody wound between Gilling's staring eyes.
"Ah, well, you never know," Lennox said airily. "He's a very good doctor. You boys run along, and I'll take care of things here." He hastened off with a cheery wave, leaving the two of them staring after him.
Finally Heyes shook himself out of his amazement, and smacked Kid on the shoulder. "You heard him, let's go," said Heyes, throwing the saddle across his horse's back. “He don’t have to tell me twice. I’ve spent all the time I want to in this town.”
"What, and callously leave this wounded man before the doc gets here?" said Kid, looking down at the small corpse. "Something's going on here, Heyes."
"That's right, we're going, as fast as we can," said Heyes, yanking on the girth strap. "That guy's crazy as a bedbug, let's get out of here before he comes back and starts shooting again.”
Kid hesitated for a minute, then grabbed a bridle, and they finished saddling up with lightning speed. "Wait a second," said Kid, as Heyes pulled himself into the saddle. "What's this?" He kicked a brown leather suitcase that lay on the ground near the dead man.
"Who the hell cares, let's go," said Heyes. But Kid knelt and snapped open the latch, then caught his breath as he swung the lid open. Heyes glanced down impatiently, and his jaw dropped.
The money was piled in crisp stacks of hundred dollar bills; more money than Kid had ever seen in one place, even in his long career as an outlaw. He looked up at Heyes. The two of them debated wordlessly for a long minute; Kid saw greed and temptation in his partner’s eyes, and knew they were mirrored in his own.
Then Kid closed the lid of the suitcase softly, and snapped the latch. He mounted his horse, though he still seemed to see the lovely stacks of green dancing before his eyes. They rode away, leaving the suitcase lying near its owner on the blood-spattered hay.
Author's Note: I've long been convinced that there isn't a person alive who doesn't have a secret--so that if someone came up behind us and whispered "I know what you're hiding," we'd all jump guiltily.
The train drew into town, the telegraph poles flicking past the window more and more slowly. The town looked just like a million others, Kid thought, looking out the dusty train window at the dustier town-- nothing but a sun-baked, rutted main street lined with the usual assortment of buildings—hotel, saloon, sheriff’s office, undertaker.
He stood up, glad to stretch his legs after the long trip. The train was crawling into the station, lurching erratically. He hauled his saddlebags down from the luggage rack, and hopped off the train as it creaked and hissed its way to a stop.
Nothing unusual about this town, for sure, just a stop between jobs. He and Heyes had been here before, a few times—they’d sometimes used the quiet town as a meeting place after splitting up to take different escape routes from a posse, or, more recently, different honest but low-paying jobs. An old friend from bank-robbing days, Soapy Wilcox, had taken up residence here when the Devil’s Hole gang broke up, and had really settled in, become a solid citizen. Soapy was always glad to see them, and always good for a bed and a hot meal before they moved on.
Kid strolled down the main street, idly wondering if he should stop at the saloon for breakfast or head straight for Soapy’s place. He noticed a small figure, neatly dressed in a suit and bowler hat, hurrying down the street towards the station, and was mildly surprised when he recognized Soapy. No reason why Soapy should be meeting him at the train station.
Soapy waved, and came panting up to Kid, who smiled at the little man in the natty suit. Soapy really did look like a solid citizen, Kid thought. Unlike all the outlaws or ex-outlaws Kid had ever known, Soapy didn’t carry a gun. Never had, even in the old days.
“Hi, Soapy,” said Kid, slapping him on the back. “You’re looking sharp these days. Been a while, how you been?”
“Oh, nothing to brag about,” said Soapy. “Hard times, you know.” That was pretty usual, thought Kid. Soapy was never happy. Always thought something was wrong, somebody was picking on him.
“I know about hard times,” said Kid. “I been bustin’ my hump on a cattle drive for a month now, gettin’ fifty cents a day. How’s the store doing?”
“Oh, so-so, been better,” answered Soapy. “Come on over to the house, I’ll get you a drink.” They walked down the main street.
“It’s a little early in the day, don’t you think?” asked Kid, smiling. “I’d just as soon have a cup of coffee.”
“All right, coffee and ham and eggs,” said Soapy. “Whatever you want.”
“Ham and eggs sounds good,” said Kid. “So did Heyes get here yet?”
“Yes,” Soapy said, nodding. “Yes, he did. Came in to town yesterday.”
“Oh, good,” said Kid, shifting the heavy saddlebag to his other shoulder. “He was on a drive that went down to Abilene, I thought he’d get done sooner. So where’s he at? Sleeping in, I suppose. Is he staying with you, or at the hotel?”
“Well, no,” said Soapy.
Kid laughed. “Which is it? Is he at your place?”
“So, where is he?”
Soapy didn’t reply. They were passing a brick building with narrow windows, and Soapy glanced at it, then quickly looked away. Kid caught the glance, and looked up at the sign that hung over the door. Sheriff’s Office, he read.
A small thread of unease crept into his stomach–just a slight cold feeling. “What’s the matter, Soapy, why’re you so quiet?” Soapy glanced back at the sheriff’s office again as they passed it, a strange expression on his face–of excitement? Kid frowned.
“Heyes isn’t in jail, is he?” asked Kid. “Did he get arrested, recognized?”
“No, no,” said Soapy, turning down the side street that led to his house and small dry goods store.
Kid followed close at his heels. “But something’s the matter,” Kid insisted. “What’s up?”
Soapy looked away and walked faster. Kid grabbed his shoulder and forced him to stop. Soapy wouldn’t meet his eyes. “He’s hurt, is that it?” Kid asked slowly.
No answer. Kid felt a cold ripple go from his scalp down his spine.
“Hurt bad, that’s it? That’s it, right?” Soapy shook his head, staring at the ground.
Kid stared at him and took a step backwards. The narrow alley seemed airless, the walls pressed in on him. Soapy continued to stare at the ground. Kid was aware of a dreadful thought slowly approaching, menacing, like a dark stranger standing outside a door. He told himself it wasn’t real. People didn’t just die like that, one day smiling and waving a careless so long, and then just not there anymore.
He looked back down the shaded alley to the main street of the town, lit with morning sun. Only a few steps away. Only a few steps away was the real world where he and Soapy were chatting, on the way to meet Heyes playing poker in the saloon. He heard a voice say very calmly, “He’s dead, isn’t he?” and had no idea where the voice came from. But it must have been his own, because Soapy bowed his head and put a hand over his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” said Soapy quietly. “I’m so sorry about this.”
Kid backed up till he hit the wall, and stood there, breathing fast. He couldn’t decide where to look, where to go, what to think, not yet. He just knew he had to keep the door in his mind closed, barred tight against that stranger.
They stood side by side at the foot of the new-made grave. Kid could smell the dankness of the freshly spaded earth. A rough wooden cross stood at the head of the grave. Heyes’ hat hung jauntily on top of the cross. Kid stared at the familiar hat for a long time.
Soapy shifted back and forth from foot to foot. “Don’t you want to know who did it? Shot him in the back, no warning. Heyes never had a chance.”
Kid opened his mouth to say something, and closed it again.
“So senseless,” Soapy went on. “An argument over a poker game. Blam, just like that, and Heyes was dead before he knew what hit him. I was there, I saw it all, I can tell you the man who did it.”
Kid just looked at him. Soapy raised his voice angrily. “What’s the matter with you, Kid? I thought you and Heyes were pals, you’ve been partners for years. Never see one of you without the other, hardly. Don’t you want to get even? It was the sheriff, Jasper Transom, the dirty...” Soapy came out with a string of vile words, and Kid felt a flicker of surprise. Soapy was always such a mild-mannered little chap, never even carried a gun. Always said he was afraid of weapons. But then, Soapy had liked Heyes, thought Kid, that was why he was so upset.
Soapy was still going on. “Transom’s a no-account cur, thinks he’s God Almighty. I know him. I been courting his daughter, but Mr. High-an’-mighty Transom says she’s too good for me, I’m just trash. I’m not good enough for his daughter, eh? Well, I’ll show him...”
Soapy’s words burbled past like the noise of a stream in the background. So it was the sheriff who had killed Heyes. Kid repeated it to himself, trying to whip up some enthusiasm for vengeance. He was surprised at how calm he felt. As though it was just a story he was reading about in the newspaper.
For some reason Kid thought of the time he’d been shot in the leg, years ago on a bank job gone wrong--a nasty wound with the leg lain open to the bone. He remembered looking down at his own leg, seeing the blood and bone but not feeling a thing. He’d actually scrambled out the bank window and jumped on his horse and ridden almost a mile before he felt anything. Strange. But the doctor who’d patched him up had explained that it wasn’t unusual. The body knew what had to be done to survive, the body could shut off feeling for a while, till you had done what had to be done. “Don’t worry,” the doctor had said, finishing up the bandage. “It’ll hurt enough later on.”
They sat silent in Soapy’s small kitchen, one on each side of the table. Kid leaned back and took the gun out of his holster. He checked to be sure it was loaded, then spun it with a swift movement back into the holster. Soapy took a bottle of whiskey off the kitchen shelf, poured a large mug full, and shoved it across the table to Kid, who ignored it. He wanted to keep his mind on revenge. If he kept thinking about revenge, he wouldn’t have to think about anything else. Later on he’d get rip-roaring drunk. That would also prevent thinking. It was sobering up that he didn’t want to imagine. He took his gun out and checked to be sure it was loaded.
He was aware of Soapy’s voice meandering on: “...and every night Transom rides home to that fancy spread of his, there’s a good lonely stretch with lots of scrub to hide behind—I’ll show you where–plenty of room for you to get a clear shot at him, he’ll never see you...”
Soapy finally ran out of words. He shook his head and stood up. He walked over to where Kid sat, and stood in front of him awkwardly. “I’m sorry about this, Kid. I like you and Heyes, like you both. You been good to me...”
“Want to get some sleep now?” asked Soapy. “You been on the train all night. I’ll let you get some sleep, then we’ll get ready for tonight.”
Kid stood up. He checked his gun to be sure it was loaded, then spun it back into the holster. “Thanks for everything, Soapy,” he said.
“Where are you going?” asked Soapy uneasily.
“Where do you think?” Kid answered, annoyed. It seemed like a stupid question.
Soapy’s eyes widened, and he rubbed his hands together nervously. “But, not now, wait, it’s broad daylight, the middle of the day! Transom’s probably eating lunch in the saloon, there’ll be a million witnesses...you can’t shoot him now! I tell you, I got it all figured out, tonight, it’s the perfect place, no one will see you...”
Kid walked out of the house. He felt too tired to argue with Soapy. After a month on a cattle drive, and then all night on the train, it did make you tired, Soapy was right about that. Kid walked toward the center of town, Soapy following him, still protesting. Kid wasn’t aware when Soapy finally stopped pulling on his sleeve and darted away.
Kid stopped on the wooden sidewalk that lined the main street, and looked up and down the dirt road, baking hot in the noonday sun. He wasn’t sure where to look first for this Transom guy. Then he saw a tall man with a big grey mustache come out of the sheriff’s office and start across the street to the saloon. He had a star on his chest. That’s gotta be him, thought Kid. Perfect. An empty street, clear view, lots of room.
He drew breath and began to shout. “Hey, sheriff! Transom! Is that your na—?” Suddenly something hit him like a boulder, knocking him off balance. It was a man–not Soapy, someone bigger, but Kid didn’t care who it was. He flung the guy off, slamming him against the wall of a store, and began to run towards the sheriff, who was staring at the altercation.
But the guy grabbed him from behind. Kid heard a voice shout, “Don’t, you idiot, stop!”
Kid pushed the interfering busybody up against the wall. He felt a wave of fury, and drew back a fist, delighted to have someone to hit. Then he looked into the face of the man struggling with him, and he felt as though a bucket of cold water had been dumped over his head. He stared, unable to say a word, and sagged against the wall, dropping his fist. Then he shouted out loud. “Heyes!”
“Shut up, you fool,” Heyes snarled. The sheriff was fast approaching, hand on his gun. Heyes shoved Kid off and waved to the sheriff. “Sorry, sheriff, didn’t mean to bother anyone. My brother’s had a little too much to drink. I’ll get him out of here, no problem. Kinda early in the day, wouldn’t you think?” The sheriff slowed, watching them suspiciously.
“Come on, let’s go,” Heyes said loudly to the Kid. “Let’s go home, you’ll break Ma’s heart, drinkin’ like this. Sorry, Sheriff.” The sheriff watched them go, Kid staggering a bit as Heyes pulled him around the corner. Damn drunks, he thought, and continued on into the saloon for lunch.
Kid strode down the narrow street toward Soapy’s house, Heyes following. They both had their guns drawn as they approached the rickety little building. Kid slammed the door open with his foot, and they stormed inside, but the house was empty. They checked the whole place, the dry goods store in the front of the house, the attic, even the outhouse in the back. In the bedroom, drawers pulled open and clothes strewn on the floor showed signs of hasty packing.
“Looks like the bird’s flown,” said Heyes, shrugging, as they stood in the deserted kitchen.
Kid sank down on one of the chairs. Heyes noticed the chipped mug on the table, still full of whiskey, and pushed it toward Kid, who downed half of it. Heyes took the other chair, put his feet up on the table, and finished the mug.
“The little bastard,” Heyes said conversationally. “At least he gave me a good dinner last night before he cracked me over the head—must have used the frying pan or something. He never did carry a gun. He tied me up pretty good–took me half the night and all this morning to get loose.”
Kid glanced at Heyes’ bloodstained shirt cuffs and bruised wrists. “He better hope I never catch him,” he growled.
“You probably never will,” said Heyes. “He’s a slick one, that little guy. He wanted to get even with this sheriff, and he was afraid to use a gun, so he had to find some other kind of weapon.” He looked over at Kid. “You really thought I was dead?”
“Oh, yes,” said Kid softly. “He was very convincing, the little...he better get himself a gun now, because if I ever catch him...” He ran out of words.
Heyes stood up and put a hand on Kid’s shoulder. “Let’s get out of here.”
They caught the 12:45 train out of town. No use hanging around, with a curious sheriff eyeing them. First, though, Heyes insisted on a hasty detour to the cemetery behind the church, where he collected the hat Soapy had arranged so artistically on the most recent grave he could find. They just managed to catch the train, hopping on board as it lurched to a start, and the telegraph poles began to flick past the windows.
Kid sank down on the train seat, put his feet up, and closed his eyes. He felt tired, tired to the bone, but good. Light-hearted, even. Heyes wasn’t dead after all. Everything was all right. That door in his mind was closed tight, all was well. The dark stranger had gone away.