A Treat for the Holiday
“So what do you want to do today, Kid?” Heyes inquired, leaning back in his chair at the breakfast table, and surveying Kid Curry across the empty plates. “It’s a beautiful day, want to see some of the sights of Denver?”
Kid didn’t answer, just went on staring out the restaurant’s large glass window at the broad thoroughfare and the passers-by, as he had been doing all through breakfast. Heyes sighed, and picked up his newspaper again. He rattled it loudly, and said “Hmm, gold prices are up again. There’s gonna be a depression one of these days if they’re not careful.”
“Mm,” said Kid, idly stirring the dregs of his coffee. Heyes glanced at him over the top of the paper, then went back to the news. “Ah, here it says there was a terrible fire in Leadville,” he remarked. Silence. “And a stagecoach robbery, six people killed,” Heyes went on. “Oh, and they’re building a ten-story building right here in Denver. Don’t know what the world’s coming to.”
“Um,” said Kid, still staring out the window. Heyes put down the paper and glanced around at the big hotel dining room, almost deserted now, as the breakfast rush was winding down. Although not as lavish as some of Denver’s establishments, the hotel seemed almost sinfully comfortable after the last place they’d stayed, a louse-ridden Mexican boarding house, and they’d decided to give themselves a treat for the holidays: clean forks, unchipped plates, and no bed-bugs.
“This sure is a bang-up hotel,” Heyes remarked, eyeing the well-dressed waiter who moved silently from table to table, collecting silverware and china. “Hasn’t got horsemeat on the menu.” Kid nodded absently. “Bet they’ll have a good quilting bee going on here after the poker game,” Heyes added, draining his coffee cup. “What do you say, Kid, want to do some quilting tonight?”
“Sure,” said Kid. Heyes slammed the cup down on the table, making his partner jump. “Jesus Christ, what the hell is wrong with you?” Heyes demanded. “You haven’t heard a word I’ve said for the last two days. Ever since you got back from Laramie you’ve been like a clam.”
“Sorry,” said Kid. “What was that? Something about a poker game?”
“You’ve been staring out the window for two days, mooning around like you’re looking for a lost lover or something,” said Heyes. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothing, nothing,” said Kid irritably. “Let’s go sight-seeing.”
“Come on, Kid,” Heyes said quietly, still leaning back in his comfortable chair. “Tell me. What is it?”
“Nothing, I said!” Kid snapped. He glanced out the window again, and stiffened. Heyes saw his face go white. Mystified, Heyes followed his gaze, but saw nothing outside the window but the apparently endless stream of holiday shoppers on the city street: top-hatted businessmen, ladies with wide skirts, cowboys in denim and leather. All the faces were those of strangers, seen and forgotten in an instant, in the way of passers-by in a strange city.
Heyes turned back to Kid, and demanded in a low tone, “What? Who’d you see? A sheriff?” His partner made no reply, and Heyes stared again out the window. “I don’t recognize anyone...” he began, but Kid shoved his chair back and stood up, making the table sway and the china coffee-cups rattle in the saucers. “Forget it!” Kid growled. “It’s nothing, let’s go.”
“Well, hang on a minute, I have to pay,” Heyes said mildly, and strolled over to the mahogany counter in the back of the restaurant, wondering what on earth was going on. Kid sank down in his chair, propping his chin on his fist morosely, and Heyes sighed as he observed that Kid was once more staring out the window.
Heyes paid the breakfast tab, and was just counting his change when he heard a sudden crash. He spun around, and watched open-mouthed as Kid leaped over the chair he had knocked to the floor, and raced out the hotel door. Heyes stood rooted to the ground, watching Kid sprint past the big window, shoving people aside and drawing his gun.
The sight of the weapon galvanized Heyes into activity. He grabbed his hat off the table and flew out the door in Kid’s wake. Kid was already half a block away, elbowing his way through the crowd, leaving a trail of irate and protesting citizens. Heyes groaned, knowing this was just the sort of thing an officious sheriff would be coming over to check on in a minute. He hastened down the street, wondering how his partner could possibly have gotten this drunk before breakfast.
Heyes rounded a corner, trying not to shove more people than he had to, and then skidded to a halt, eyes wide. Kid had collared a stocky man with a black beard, and as Heyes watched he shoved the man up against a wall, and thrust the gun under his nose. An angry crowd was gathering round, and the muttering was already starting to rise in volume.
Heyes put a hand on Kid’s shoulder. “Thaddeus, what the hell are you doing?” he hissed. Kid shrugged him off without a word, and glared at the man with an expression of rage such as Heyes had rarely seen. Heyes held his breath, seeing Kid’s finger tense on the trigger.
Kid studied the man’s face for a long moment, then his shoulders sagged. He slowly relaxed his grip, and lowered the gun. The man, white as a sheet, began to shout in fury.
Heyes decided not to wait for explanations to the sheriff who would surely be arriving soon. “Come on, Thaddeus,” he said between his teeth, then turned to the man, who was beginning to lose his pallor and turn purple with rage. Heyes tried a friendly smile. “Sorry about that,” he said cheerfully. “My friend thought you were someone else, very understandable mistake, our apologies.Glad you’ve got such a good sense of humor...”
He ignored all replies, and dragged Kid off into the crowd. People got out of their way, some eyeing them fearfully, others staring at them with avid curiosity. Heyes could feel their eyes on his back all the way down the street.
He ducked into the first alley they came to, hauling Kid after him. He could feel that Kid was shaking with fury; he tried to pull free of Heyes’ grasp, but Heyes spun him around angrily. “What the hell are you doing, you idiot?” Heyes snarled. “Are you trying to get us killed?”
“Leave me alone, will ya?” Kid muttered, yanking his sleeve out of Heyes’ grasp.
“Shut up, they’ll hear us,” Heyes said, filled with anger at Kid’s stubbornness. He grabbed Kid’s arm again. “We’ve got to...”
“Get away from me!” Kid shoved Heyes off violently. Heyes slammed into the brick wall of the alleyway, hard. He staggered and almost fell, then caught his balance and shook his head painfully.
Kid reached out a hand quickly, but Heyes shrugged him off, and they faced each other in the sudden quiet. “You fool,” Heyes said, eyes narrowed. “You want to get a sheriff over here to break up the fight?” He was smiling, but not pleasantly, a cold-eyed smile he had never directed at Kid before.
“Sorry, I ...” Kid stammered. Heyes turned his back, strode off down the street and was soon swallowed up in the crowd.
It was long past dinnertime when Heyes got back to the hotel. The big dining room had its usual well-bred hush, with a soothing hum of conversation from a few late diners, and the clink of silverware on china. Heyes scanned the cheerfully lit room till he saw Kid, sitting with his head in his hands, a half-full bottle of whiskey beside him. He paused in the doorway, then walked quietly across the carpeted floor. He stood behind Kid for a moment, then tapped him on the shoulder.
Kid leaped to his feet and whirled around, the gun sliding from his holster. He stared at Heyes with gun leveled, and then the first smile Heyes had seen him give in three days broke across his face. “Heyes!” he exclaimed. “Hey, Joshua, I mean,” he added, glancing around at the diners at a nearby table, who were staring at the two of them with forks halfway to their mouths.
“Shut up,” said Heyes in a low voice. “We’ve attracted enough attention already.”
“Sorry,” Kid muttered, and shoved the gun back in the holster. “I thought you’d...your horse wasn’t in the livery stable, I thought...”
“I went for a ride,” said Heyes unsmilingly. “Trying to cool off.”
Kid nodded somberly. “I’m sorry, Heyes, I never meant...”
“Oh, shut up,” said Heyes again. He pulled out a chair and sat down at the table, and the neighboring diners went back to their meal, shaking their heads. Kid looked down at him dubiously while Heyes reached for Kid’s glass and poured a shot of whiskey, then took a slow sip. “Not bad,” he said, savoring the taste. “Better than the cheap stuff you usually drink. Well, we said we’d splurge a little for the holiday.”
Kid sat down slowly. “I’m gonna sit here and finish this bottle,” Heyes continued. “I’m not gonna budge till you tell me what the hell’s going on.” He raised the glass and took another sip. Kid gazed at him blankly. “Take your time,” said Heyes, giving him a level stare. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Kid looked away, and glanced once again out the window. Heyes waited.
Finally Kid jumped to his feet, and went over to the table where they had had breakfast. He reached under a chair and fished out a crumpled newspaper, scanned the front page, then handed it to Heyes, indicating an article with a large bold headline.
“Six Killed in Stagecoach Hold-Up,” Heyes read aloud, putting down his glass. “Perpetrators Still at Large.” He looked at Kid, mystified. “So?” His eyes widened. “You’re not telling me you held up a stage and killed six people while you were away, are you? Can’t I leave you alone for a minute?”
“Jesus, shut up, that’s not funny,”snapped Kid.
“Well, you’ve been acting crazy enough for anything,” said Heyes apologetically. He glanced over the rest of the article, murmuring over the paragraphs. “All passengers found dead...two miles outside Denver...no witnesses...shocking brutality...driver killed, two men, a woman and two children ages five and eight...” His voice trailed off, and he looked at Kid, who was leaning his elbows on the table, head bent.
“I was on that stage,” said Kid. Heyes watched him, frowning.
“It didn’t seem too bad, at first,” Kid went on quietly. “Just an ordinary robbery, we’ve done that sort of thing, hands up and nobody gets hurt. But then they saw the woman, and the little girls...They tied up the driver, and the other guy. Then they were going to tie me up, too, but I made a jump for the guy’s gun–almost had it, too, but he jumped back just in time–and...then, I don’t know. One of them must have cracked me on the head, I don’t remember anything else. I woke up, and it was almost dark, and I saw...well. They were all dead.”
Heyes refilled the whiskey glass and shoved it over towards Kid, who looked up and met his eyes. “Getting drunk won’t make me forget it,” he said. “I’ve tried.”
“Go on,” Heyes said softly. “What happened then?”
“Nothing,” said Kid. “They were all dead. Stiff and cold, all of’em. Even the little...well, there was nothing I could do. I just...I don’t know...sat there for a while. Then I saw in the distance torches coming, must have been a posse sent out from Denver to look for the stage. I didn’t want to wait around for a sheriff to start asking me questions.” Heyes nodded.
“I heard one of’em say they were heading to Denver with the loot,” Kid went on. “Said they were gonna live it up in town over Christmas. Treat themselves. And I’m gonna find them, I tell you. Gonna find them...” Heyes put a hand on his arm, and Kid stopped and took a deep breath.
“Sure, we’ll find them,” said Heyes soothingly. “We’ll find them someday.”
Kid shook his head, and sat quietly. “No, we won’t,” he said finally. “I’ll never find them. It’s a needle in a haystack. I’ll never find them.” He rubbed a hand over his eyes. “But I’ll never be able to stop looking.” He leaned back in his chair and sighed, looking around the warm-lit room, wreathed with holiday decorations. “Don’t worry, I’m not crazy,” he added, giving Heyes a wan smile.
“No crazier than usual, anyway,” said Heyes, hoping for a laugh, but Kid looked away. They sipped the whiskey in silence. “How about some dinner?” Heyes said after a while.
“Sure,” Kid said.
Heyes glanced at the big picture window in the restaurant, that showed the smiling crowds laden with holiday packages. “Let’s try the steakhouse down the street,” Heyes suggested.
They went out onto the crowded pavement, lit by the cold gleam of gaslights that stood on tall poles at each street-corner. As they walked, Kid looked intently into each stranger’s face that passed by. Heyes put a hand on his shoulder, and they vanished into the crowd.
Author's Note: I started this story to see if I could write a fist-fight scene between Heyes and Kid. I couldn't do it--just couldn't do it! This is as mean as they ever get to each other, I think.
A sudden gust of wind blew twigs and dried leaves up from the ground in a little scurry of dust. Heyes pulled his hat lower over his eyes, and reined in his horse to look back over his shoulder. “Getting darker already,” he said uneasily.
“It’s at least two hours before sundown,” remarked Kid. “That’s a storm blowing in, feel that cold wind?” They both paused on the crest of a low hill, looking to the west, where a dark rim of clouds drowned the light of the setting sun.
As they rode on, Heyes kept looking back at the black clouds rising higher over the bare sandstone hills behind them. “We’ll never get to Henleyville before the storm breaks, it’s another ten miles at least,” he called, noticing that he had to raise his voice to be heard over the rising wind.
“I know, it’s gonna come down in torrents any minute,” Kid called back. A low rumble of thunder sounded, and Kid’s horse jolted sharply sideways, almost throwing him. He managed to hang on, and pulled back on the reins gently. “Hey, hey, take it easy,” he said soothingly.
“This storm’s gonna be a humdinger,” said Heyes. “We better get under cover somewhere.”
“Nothing but bare rock and scrub-brush,” said Kid, looking around at the low red hills.
Heyes pointed to a dark opening in one of the hillsides, a black square cut out of the rock. “Look, that’s gotta be an old mine. All kinds of abandoned tin workings around here.”
“It’ll do, I guess,” said Kid. “Any port in a storm.” A few heavy drops of rain began to spatter down on the dry ground. They rode hastily over to the mouth of the mine. Sagging wooden beams propped lined the entry. Kid’s horse shied nervously again as they approached the dark opening. They dismounted and peered in cautiously, feeling a cool draft of air flowing into their faces. “Black as your hat in there,” said Kid doubtfully.
“Well, we’re not going to live here, I just want to get out of the rain,” said Heyes.
“You’re like a cat who hates to get its paws wet,” said Kid. “A little rain won’t melt you.”
“Fine, you wait out here, and tell me when it lets up,” said Heyes, and led his horse through the doorway.
Kid looked up at the black sky. A sudden rattle of hail made his horse snort nervously and toss its head. “Oh, well, why not,” Kid said, shrugging. “A little dark never hurt anyone.”
He followed Heyes down the tunnel, far enough to get out of the wind’s reach. The air grew still, and their footsteps echoed off the rock walls on either side. The dark grew. “This’ll do,” said Heyes. His voice coming out of the gloom made Kid jump.
The horses stood patiently, heads down. “Now what?” asked Kid. “It isn’t very cozy.”
“Let’s explore a little further in,” said Heyes. “If there’s any old posts or wood lying around, maybe we can get a fire going. There’s no moon tonight, it’ll be too dark to travel soon. We might as well spend the night.” They walked deeper into the tunnel, but it wasn’t long till they came to a dead end. A sheer wall of rock blocked their way.
“Looks like it peters out here,” Kid said, glancing around the dark walls. “Somebody sure went bust working this mine.”
Suddenly a crack of thunder echoed in the tunnel, shockingly loud. They both jumped, and whirled around to see Kid’s horse toss its head and snort, backing and sidling in fear. Kid started down the tunnel towards the animals, but another bang of thunder made both horses plunge and rear in fright. One horse skidded and fell, in a jumble of flailing legs and eerily human screams. Plunging in panic, the horse crashed into the wooden post that supported the roof.
“Look out!” Heyes yelled. He heard a deeper rumbling mix with the crash of the thunder, and flung himself backward as stones from the roof fell, first small ones, then big chunks of rock smashing to the floor. Then a cascade of dirt flowed from the roof like a waterfall. The light vanished, and a deafening roar shook the ground.
When the noise finally subsided, Heyes found himself lying face down on the cold, dusty rock of the mine floor. He coughed, dust filling his lungs and clogging his mouth and nose. He spat out gritty dirt, and coughed and spat again, and finally sat up, panting. He scrubbed the dust out of his eyes with his sleeve, and looked around. It was dark, utterly, completely dark.
“Kid?” he said, and was relieved to hear a scuffling sound nearby, and Kid’s voice grunt, “Yeah, right here. You okay?”
“I guess,” said Heyes, moving his arms and legs experimentally. Everything seemed to be in one piece. “You?”
“Yeah. God, it’s dark in here.” This was an understatement, Heyes thought. He stretched his eyes as wide as they would go, but could see not the smallest trace of light. He put his hand in front of his face, and moved the fingers an inch from his nose. He couldn’t see his fingers, or Kid, or the walls, or anything, anything at all.
He stood, swaying. It was hard to keep his balance in the utter dark. He put his hands in front of him and felt at the empty air like a blind man. “Where’s the wall?” he said, longing to feel something solid, some point of reference in the emptiness.
“I don’t know,” Kid muttered. “I can’t see a thing.” They shuffled around, groping, till Heyes heard a thunk. “Ow!” said Kid’s voice, off to his left. “Here it is.”
Heyes went towards the sound till his outstretched fingers hit the solid rock. They both felt at the cold, dusty surface. “Well, it’s a wall, all right,” said Kid. “Which way’s the way out, that’s the question.”
“This is solid rock, it’s the mine wall,” said Heyes. “Feel around till we hit the pile of dirt, that’s the way out.”
They promptly bumped into each other. “Get out of the way,” growled Kid.
“Go to the right,” said Heyes, and he went left, scrabbling and feeling at the wall. It was only a few steps till he came to a corner, and he could feel the piled-up dirt and stones as high as he could reach. “Over here,” he said. “This is where it caved in, I can feel the loose dirt.”
“I’ll go all the way around,” said Kid. Heyes could hear shuffling footsteps; they were the only sound in the heavy silence besides his own breathing. In a minute or two the footsteps were beside him again. “That’s it,” Kid said. “Just about the size of a cheap hotel room. We were damned lucky the rest of the roof didn’t fall in on our heads.”
“That’s so,” Heyes agreed. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I don’t care if it’s raining cats and dogs outside, I’ve explored all I want to in this mine.” They began to scratch at the invisible pile in front of them, heaving the big rocks loose, and scooping handfuls of dirt out from between the close-packed stones. It was hard work, and they began to pant.
“Man, I could eat a horse,” Kid said. “I could eat two horses. I was planning on a turkey dinner when we got to town...”
“Stop talking about food,” Heyes snapped, throwing a rock over his shoulder. “It just makes it worse.”
“Turkey with gravy and cornbread stuffing...” said Kid dreamily.
“No talking about food, that’s the rule,” said Heyes firmly.
“Oh, yeah, since when do you make the rules?” Kid inquired.
“It’s just common sense, that’s all,” Heyes explained. “Talking about food makes you hungrier. As soon as we dig out of here, you can talk about all the turkey you want.” They worked away at the pile of rock, expecting any minute to see daylight. But they dug and scratched for a long time, and still there was rock, and dirt, and more rock piled up in front of them.
“Break time,” said Heyes, and they sat down on the floor, backs against the rough cold stone. Heyes stretched his tired arms, and tried to brush the dirt off his hands and face. He could hear Kid’s quiet breathing next to him in the dark.
“How long you figure it’ll take to dig out?” asked Kid.
“A while,” Heyes said reluctantly. “Lot of rock came down, that’s for sure.” He lay back
against the wall, trying to think about anything but the back-breaking work ahead of them.
“Kid?” he said at last.
“What do you want to do, I mean, after we get out of here.”
“Eat,” replied Kid.
Heyes smiled. “I mean later, after we’ve been out of here for a while.”
“So do I.”
Heyes resisted the impulse to heave a rock in the direction of Kid’s voice. “No, really...I mean, later, next year, after we get the amnesty and all. What you want to do then?”
There was such a long silence that he wondered if Kid had fallen asleep. Finally Kid said, “Oh, I don’t know...settle down in some little town maybe...have a few kids...get married...”
“I think you’ve got the order a bit mixed up,” Heyes told him.
“Not necessarily,” Kid retorted, and Heyes could imagine his grin. “I don’t know, never really thought too much about what to do,” Kid went on. “Nothing much. Just something...quiet, I guess. Not having to look over our shoulders all the time, not having to watch everybody, you know?”
“I know,” said Heyes.
“But I never really think about it, seems like it’s bad luck to plan too far ahead. Like counting your chickens before they hatch.”
“Don’t talk about food,” said Heyes, and heard Kid give a snort of laughter. There was a pause.
“What do you want to do?” asked Kid.
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do,” said Kid promptly. “You always say ‘oh I don’t know’ in that casual tone when you’ve got it all figured out and you know I’m not gonna like it.” Heyes gave a rueful smile in the darkness.
“Well?” demanded Kid.
“Well, I was thinking... just sort of toying with the notion, you know...”
“Yes?” Kid prodded.
“Of being a Bannerman man.”
“You heard me,” said Heyes with irritation.
“I must be going deaf. You want to be Harry Briscoe when you grow up?”
“Not a Bannerman man like him. But think about it, Kid, who’d be better at catching criminals than us? We’d be great at it, we know all the tricks of the trade. And it’s got to pay pretty good...” He heard Kid chuckling quietly in the dark. “What’s so funny?” he demanded.
“I don’t know,” said Kid. “It might not be bad at that. Come on, before you can be a Bannerman man, and I can have dinner, we got a lot of digging to do.”
Heyes nodded, then remembered Kid couldn’t see him, and got heavily to his feet. He could hear from Kid’s slow movements that he was just as tired. Heyes wondered how much longer they’d have to dig before they saw daylight. His eyes seemed to be aching for a sight of the sun.
They worked at the rock and dirt that were heaped between them and the way out, scratching like animals with their bare hands. “I wish I had a pick,” Heyes grunted.
“If wishes were horses,” said Kid. “Why don’t you just wish for a doorway outta here, and be done with it.”
“I’d settle for a pick,” Heyes said. “I’d pay ten dollars for a pick.”
“Before this is over you might be willing to pay more than that,” Kid said, and there was a grim note to his voice that made Heyes shiver a bit.
He began to consider the possibility that they might be facing more than just the annoying chore of having to dig through some rock and dirt. Who could tell how much of the ceiling had collapsed? He had been assuming it was just a small section, but what if the mine roof had caved in all along its length? A cold shudder flowed down his back, as he tried to remember exactly how far they had walked. He began to scrape at the wall again, using a piece of rock to pry loose the tight-packed dirt and stones.
There was no way to gauge time in the total absence of light. Heyes kept wondering what time it was, and feeling at the watch in his shirt pocket, but it was as useless as if he were a blind man. It had been well after noon when the cave-in had occurred, so he supposed it must be dusk now. He thought longingly of being outside, with the rain pouring on his face, drinking the raindrops from the sky.
It felt like they had been digging for hours when he heard Kid stop and slump down on the floor with a sigh. Heyes stopped, too, and sat down beside him. The air was warm and sticky against his face, and smelled stale.
Finally Kid spoke into the blackness. “Maybe this is our punishment.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, my ma always said those that live by the sword will die by the sword.” Heyes opened his mouth, and Kid snapped, “And don’t make any smart remarks about me using a gun instead of a sword!” and he shut it again.
“I mean, we’ve done a lot of bad things, you and me,” Kid went on after a pause. “Remember that old man we robbed that time? And all the money we’ve stolen.”
“Yeah, but we’ve never really hurt anybody. Not bad, I mean,” Heyes protested.
“I’ve killed a few men,” Kid said.
“Well, no one that didn’t deserve killing.”
“Maybe,” Kid said, and Heyes could hear his sigh.
“What was she like, your ma?” Heyes asked.
“I can’t hardly remember, she’s been dead so long,” Kid said. “Can you remember your ma?”
“Nah,” said Heyes, and sat with his eyes wide open in the utter darkness, remembering. There was a long silence. “So what other things did your ma say?” he asked, to fill the silence and get his mind on another subject.
“Well, she used to say everyone had their end already determined when they were born,” Kid said slowly. “Everyone, every little baby, even, had a fate that was planned, and they couldn’t avoid it.”
“That’s crazy,” said Heyes. “I’ve heard some of those Bible-thumping preachers say that, too. They’re just trying to scare people.”
“She really believed it,” said Kid. “She used to say, “Every night and every morn, some to misery are born, every morn and every night, some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night.”
“Oh, that’s cheerful,” said Heyes. They sat for a while. “I don’t think it works like that, Kid,” he added. “I think the chips just fall where they may. Look at all the rich bastards out there, and the poor, good folks who die young. There’s plenty of folk done a lot worse than us, who die peacefully in bed.”
“Maybe,” said Kid. There was a long pause. The darkness seemed to press down on their heads like a living thing.
“Maybe I was wrong,” said Kid slowly.
“About what?” asked Heyes.
“Maybe I was wrong when I said we were lucky the roof didn’t fall on our heads.”
Heyes had been having the same thought for the last hour or so. “Shut up,” he said roughly. “Come on, let’s get back to it.”
They dug wearily at the endless wall in front of them. Heyes scratched at the dirt, his fingers sore and aching, and heard the steady trickle and clatter of stones and pebbles falling on the ground. Kid’s words kept running uncomfortably around in his head. Endless night...endless night. It was getting harder to tell if it was minutes or hours that were passing.
He came to a large rock embedded in the dirt, about as high as his head. He felt around it, scratching the dirt from underneath, but couldn’t get a good hold to work it free. He yanked at the stone, trying to get a grip on the rough surface, shaking the edges in attempt to get it loose. He worried at it more and more desperately, clawing at the stone, and began to curse under his breath. Finally he pounded his fists against the dark stone. He felt Kid’s hand on his shoulder, and flung it off, pounding at the rock and calling it every dirty name he could think of.
He felt a firm grip on both shoulders, and was hauled a few steps backwards. “Hey, hey, hey,” Kid said, in the quiet voice Heyes had heard him use to calm the spooked horse. “Take it easy, partner. Take it easy.”
Heyes stood shaking, fists clenched, then slowly drew a deep breath. “Sorry,” he muttered. He felt Kid lightly ruffle his hair, and they went back to digging in silence.
Heyes woke up slowly, from an oppressive nightmare about being in jail. He opened his eyes, and the blackness reminded him that they were in a place that was worse than jail. Endless night, he thought tiredly, wishing he could get the phrase out of his head.
He rolled over, his back aching from the rock floor beneath him, and glanced around. He could see Kid a few feet away, curled in a miserable huddle on the ground, just a dark blur in the dense shadows. Heyes put his head down on his arms, and closed his eyes, trying to go back to sleep. Even the worst nightmare was preferable to the grim reality of the trap they were in.
He supposed they should start again at the hopeless task of digging. He had a vision of the two of them, twenty years from now, dry bones lying on the floor in the pitch darkness, their dead hands still scratching at the wall. He shook his head to get rid of the idea, and coughed. The air was stuffy and foul, and his throat was bone-dry.
As he lay with his head on his arms, a flicker of a thought came to him. It gleamed in his mind like the tiny glow of a firefly, and he considered it. Then he raised his head and looked again at Kid, the dark shape huddled against the darker wall, and leaped up with a yell that brought Kid wide awake and staring.
“What’s the matter, have you gone loco?” Kid demanded blearily, sitting up with his gun in his hand. “You’re lucky I didn’t shoot your fool head off.”
“I can see you!” shouted Heyes. “I can see you!"
“Well, so what?” Kid shrugged, shoving the gun back in the holster. “Our eyes are just getting used to the dark.”
“No! No! There’s no light at all in a cave like this, there’s got to be light coming from a crack somewhere!”
He looked around frantically, and Kid scrambled to his feet and stood staring, too. Sure enough, the mine, although they would have described it as pitch black a day ago, had a slight illumination, so that he could see Kid as a dim, moving shadow.
“Over there, it’s brighter in this corner,” Heyes cried, and darted over to the area that seemed least dark. There, between two slabs of rock, a pinprick of light shone with the blazing fierceness of a diamond.
They clawed at the speck of light, tearing the dirt and rocks away from it. “Why didn’t we see it before?” shouted Kid over the noise of the flying dirt and pebbles.
“It was dark and stormy when the roof fell in, and it was a moonless night,” said Heyes, panting. “But the night’s over, now, Kid, the night’s over!” They scrabbled at the tiny opening, and the dirt fell on their upturned faces. The glare stabbed their eyes with pain, and they both stopped for a second, covering their faces, blindly slapping each other on the back and jigging up and down with wild laughter. Then they threw themselves at the crack, feeling it widen with every minute.
Their celebratory dinner in the hotel that night was long, hilarious, and accompanied by at least twelve mugs of beer apiece. The other diners in the hotel looked at them wonderingly, as they roared with laughter and toasted each other again and again. Finally Heyes began to fear they were a little too conspicuous, and they decided to head upstairs to bed. They were still surprisingly sober, Heyes thought, although they weaved up the stairs, clinging to the bannisters.
He lit the kerosene lamp, and looked around at the dingy little room, two narrow iron bedsteads, peeling wallpaper, and a washstand with a large pitcher of water.
He caught Kid’s eye. “Beautiful place, ain’t it?” he said, grinning.
“Buckingham Palace,” said Kid with a happy sigh. “Heaven on earth.”
Heyes glanced out the window as he unbuckled his gunbelt. It was a moonless, starless night, heavily overcast with storm clouds. He shivered, thinking of the mine. Endless night. He unbuttoned his shirt, and reached to turn off the kerosene light.
But as he stretched his hand towards the lamp Kid burst out, “No!” and grabbed his arm, yanking him back with a painfully tight grip. Heyes looked at him in surprise.
“Leave it on,” Kid said a little shamefacedly.
Heyes looked at the black window and nodded slowly. “Right,” he said.
He climbed into bed. Across the room he could hear Kid tossing and turning. Heyes stared at the lamp flame for a while, then turned over and watched the light glowing warmly on the wall, orange and gold shadows flickering. Finally they both slept, with the lamp still burning.
Author’s Note: I got the idea for this story from an old children’s book about Ancient Egypt that I read when I was a kid, called Mara, Daughter of the Nile or something like that. One of the characters got lost in a tomb, and spent all night in utter blackness. After he finally got out, he could never again endure a darkened room.
The young man was slumped over the saloon table, a half-empty bottle of whiskey in front of him. He lifted his head and ran his hand through his curly light hair. “Hey, Joe,” he called to the bartender, who was polishing glasses behind the counter. “I need another one over here.”
The saloon was almost deserted, but a few tables had casual drinkers. The bartender, a fat man in a neat bow tie, sighed and shook his head. “The big game’s gonna start in a little while, kid. If you stayed sober you might not lose all of your money this time.”
“Oh, shut up, you’re worse than my father,” said the boy angrily. “Just gimme another, I’ve got enough money for that.”
The bartender sighed again. “All right, Roy, but it’s the road to perdition.” He took a bottle off the shelf.
“Yeah, I know,” said the young man. “I been there.”
Kid Curry withdrew his attention from a dull newspaper article on grain prices, and glanced out the window of the hotel room. There wasn’t a clock in the bare room, just an armchair and a bed, but by the fading light outside he guessed in must be close to sunset. He tossed the paper on the floor and stretched restlessly.
“Come on, Heyes,” he said, yawning. “I’m falling asleep here, let’s get going. We came all the way over from Moriahville for this high stakes game they told us about, let’s be sure we get in on it.” He glanced over at Heyes, who was stretched out on the bed. The only answer was a gentle snore.
Heyes was fast asleep, his half of the newspaper draped over his chest. Kid got up and buckled on his gunbelt. “Come on,” he said, whacking Heyes with a pillow to get him moving. Heyes just groaned and rolled over, pulling the newspaper over his head.
Kid grabbed the pillow and whacked him again. “Let’s go, up and at’em,” he said.
“Drop dead,” Heyes mumbled. “I’m tired.”
“Come on, you can sleep after we make some money,” said Kid. “That hundred bucks from the cattle drive ought to be burning a hole in your pocket right now, let’s go.”
“Okay, okay, you go ahead, I’ll be down in a minute,” said Heyes, rolling over on his back. Kid nodded and went downstairs.
He got a seat in the poker game with no trouble. This early in the evening, the real high rollers weren’t out yet. The only other players were a sleek man in a natty suit and a Panama hat, a small man with a large mustache who looked like a tradesman, and a young man of about twenty-one, who walked over to the poker table with a stagger in his step that revealed he’d had a few drinks. He carried a half-empty bottle and drank his way steadily through it as the evening progressed.
It wasn’t long before Kid began to get the feeling that something was amiss. He wasn’t as good as spotting a cardsharp as Heyes was, but he’d absorbed enough of Heyes’s sixth sense to know when things weren’t on the level. He kept looking over at the stairs that led to the hotel rooms, wishing Heyes would show up.
It took Kid several hands to figure out that the man in the suit was doing something shifty, but he couldn’t tell what. He casually glanced down at the man’s gunbelt, which he wore tied down for a fast draw. The holster was cut low, as was Kid’s own, for a smoother draw, and looked well used. Kid sighed. He decided to keep staying out of trouble his priority, and figured it might be best to drop out of the game till Heyes came downstairs.
Another hand was dealt, and Kid folded for the third time in a row. He pushed back his chair, and went to the bar for some refreshment. He was surveying the game, trying to spot any warning signs, when suddenly the young man who had been drinking jumped to his feet.
“Cheater!” he shouted at the man with the panama hat. The boy was a bit unsteady on his feet, but his speech was perfectly clear.
“You’re drunk,” replied the man with casual contempt. “Go find somewhere to sober up, and leave us in peace.”
Kid recognized the stubborn, tight look on the boy’s face. He’d felt that way himself so many times, when he was young, just learning the fast draw--trying to stare down an older man, more scared of not being taken seriously than of getting hurt. He sighed. It seemed like a long time ago.
He could see that the youngster was getting himself in over his head. Seemed like this kid hadn’t yet learned to stop and think, check out an opponent’s gun belt, look the other guy over carefully before getting in too deep. The kid’s stiff holster wasn’t tied down to give a smooth draw. He’d never get his gun out before the other man did.
The argument was proceeding along fairly predictable lines. “I want my money back…shut up and get out of here, kid…no way, mister… you want to back that up, pal?” It all sounded depressingly familiar to Kid. He sighed again. Years of experience, and hanging around with the ever-cautious Heyes, had taught Kid restraint, but this young guy seemed bent on killing himself.
The man in the panama hat rose slowly, fingertips twitching near his holster. The bystanders who’d been trying to intervene fell silent, and moved out of the line of fire.
Kid pushed himself off the bar where he was leaning, and sauntered back over to the poker table, a carefully practiced casual look on his face. “Excuse me, sir,” he said politely.
All heads swiveled to stare at him, and he felt uncomfortably conspicuous. “Excuse me, but I’m forced to agree with the young man here,” he said to the cardsharp. I also had a strong feeling that all was not well with that game. Why don’t you find yourself another game, and then there won’t be any trouble?” He smiled pleasantly, but knew it wouldn’t work.
“You better be ready to back that up, mister,” snapped the man.
“Now there’s no need to get all…”
The man went for his gun just as Kid had known he would. The man’s hand was still closing on the handle as Kid’s gun was leveled at his chest.
“…to get all hot and bothered,” Kid finished, ignoring the crowd’s murmur of astonishment. “Like I said, you find another game, and we can all just relax.”
The man blustered a bit, but finally turned away. Kid decided not to press his luck by reclaiming any of the money he’d lost, and let the man shove his way out of the swinging doors. Kid turned to the young man, and smiled, but the boy brushed past him without a word, and headed for the bar.
As the muttering in the saloon died down, Kid caught sight of Heyes standing at the foot of the stairs. He gave Heyes an apologetic grin and a shrug. But for once Heyes returned no answering grin. He stalked over to the bar, shaking his head.
Kid lounged on the bar beside him, waving a finger to get the bartender’s attention. “Sorry,” he said in a low voice. “Know I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Damn right,” snapped Heyes. “What’d you do a stupid thing like that for?”
Kid frowned. “I said I was sorry.” The bartender sauntered over and they each ordered a whiskey. They stood in silence till the bartender had poured their drinks and wandered away, then Heyes threw Kid an angry glance.
“Sorry, huh? Tell it to the sheriff, he ought to be stopping by soon. There was a deputy in here and he watched the whole thing with great interest.” Heyes rubbed his eyes with one hand, and downed his drink at a gulp. “When are you gonna learn, it does no good to go around helping total strangers out of whatever hole they’ve dug themselves into. It just comes right back and hits you from behind when you’re not looking.” He put his glass back down on the bar with an angry snap.
“Oh, the hell with you,” said Kid. “Nobody recognized me, and no one got hurt. Nothing happened. The sheriff must have a few better things to do. We’ll leave tomorrow morning and that’ll be that.”
“Famous last words,” muttered Heyes, and stalked off to the poker table where the game was reassembling
Kid finished his drink while thinking up crushing retorts. He thought of several quite good ones, and had simmered down by the time he finished a second whiskey. Feeling better, he went back to the game.
Things continued to go poorly, however. Several newcomers had joined in, and they were good, and on the level as far as he could tell. He lost a few hands, but Heyes, as usual, won steadily.
On about the seventh or eighth hand, Kid sighed over a pair of twos. He glanced casually at Heyes, and was immediately aware that something was up. No one else could have told anything from Heyes’s relaxed manner, but Kid was aware that he had a very big hand. He wasn’t surprised when Heyes shoved a large pile of cash into the center of the table. Kid had seen this scene many times before, too.
But this time things didn’t go as usual. Heyes raised the stakes again, and soon there were several hundred dollars in the pot. But when the fat man across the table called, Heyes put down three queens. The other man smiled and put down three aces.
Kid blinked in astonishment as the man raked in the money Heyes had bet—all of their earnings from a full month’s cattle drive. Kid cast a surreptitious look at Heyes, hoping this was just part of a carefully thought-out scheme, but one look at Heyes’s face told him it wasn’t. Heyes gave a cheerful smile. “Well, guess I miscalculated on that one, gentlemen. That about cleans me out, I’m afraid, so you’ll excuse me.” He got up.
“Sorry to see you go, friend,” said the fat man, stacking the bills in neat piles.
“I can imagine,” said Heyes, and tipped his hat as he walked over to the bar.
Kid tossed in his hand, and joined him. He leaned against the bar next to Heyes, and tried to absorb the idea that they’d just lost a month’s wages. He thought of the long month of dusty rides, back-breaking work, and rancid chuckwagon food. It was on the tip of his tongue to say “What’d you do a stupid thing like that for?” But he glanced over at Heyes, who was leaning on the bar with his face buried in his hands, and frowned, deciding against it. Heyes seemed to be taking it hard, and that was unusual. He was leaning against the bar heavily, his drink untouched.
Finally Kid gave him a shove with his elbow. “Hey, don’t worry about it, Joshua,” he said. “Easy come, easy go.”
Heyes started and looked over at him blankly. Kid got an uneasy sense that something wasn’t right. “What’s that?” Heyes said vaguely.
“You gonna give it another shot?” asked Kid, indicating the poker game with his head. Heyes looked over at the poker table and Kid had the feeling he’d forgotten it was there.
“No, I guess not, not right now,” Heyes said. “I’m just gonna drown my sorrows here for a while.” He took a small sip of his drink.
“Well, I’ll give it a try,” said Kid. “But I ain’t optimistic, those guys are pretty good.”
Heyes nodded. “Sorry about that,” he mumbled, looking down into his glass. “Just lost track of that ace somehow.” He looked up into Kid’s face. “Sorry, Kid.”
Kid frowned. “Are you okay, Hey...Joshua?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Heyes impatiently, finishing his drink. “I’m a little tired, that’s all. I think I’ll go on up to bed soon.” He waved to the bartender to order another.
Kid made his way back to the poker table. He played a few hands without much success, and couldn’t keep from shooting occasional glances at Heyes, who was still leaning against the bar. He was there for quite a while, time enough to have several drinks, Kid judged. Finally he left the saloon, and Kid watched him head up the steep stairs to the room they’d rented. Heyes staggered a bit on the stairs and grasped the railing. Drunk, thought Kid, mildly surprised. This was unusual, too. Heyes rarely got falling-down drunk, and then only when they were celebrating a particularly successful score.
Kid played a few more rounds, but couldn’t concentrate. After losing six dollars he decided he’d better quit before they didn’t have enough money left to pay for breakfast. Heyes had lost everything but the change in his pockets on that last hand. It was gonna be shoveling manure at the livery stable or washing dishes at the café if their luck didn’t turn tomorrow.
Kid got a duplicate room key from the desk clerk. He knew he’d need it because Heyes always locked the door, especially if he’d had a few drinks. Heyes hated to let his guard down. But when Kid got upstairs, he was astonished to find the door unlocked. He stepped into the room and lit the kerosene lamp.
Heyes was sprawled on the bed, fully dressed even to his gunbelt and boots. This was really unusual. Kid had seen Heyes this drunk only once or twice before, and then he’d been in a similar state himself, so his memory of it was rather hazy.
He grabbed Heyes’s jacket and rolled him over. Heyes blinked up at him. “I’m sorry, Kid,” he muttered. “Didn’t mean to...” His voice trailed off and his eyes closed. Kid looked at him, mystified. Then a sudden thought came to him. He touched Heyes’s forehead, and drew in his breath sharply. It was burning hot with fever.
This explained the mystery. Kid swore at himself for not seeing it before. He pulled off Heyes’s boots and unbuckled his gunbelt and slid it off, then threw a quilt over him. He sat on the chair opposite the bed and wondered what to do. Probably it was just a touch of summer fever. Maybe Heyes would sleep it off, and be fine in the morning. He seemed to be asleep, and Kid relaxed, leaning back in the comfortable chair.
It was well after midnight, and he was tired. He closed his eyes, deciding that he’d turn in soon. Then his mind wandered back to the poker game, and he was asleep before he knew it.
He was awakened by a voice shouting “Kid! Look out!” Sitting up with a jolt, he looked around, blinking. The room was filled with the first light of morning, the lamp still burning faintly. Heyes had raised himself on one elbow, and was staring at him. “Kid, they’re coming!” he panted. Look out!”
Kid looked around the quiet room with bewilderment. Frowning, he got to his feet, and pushed Heyes back down onto the pillow. “It’s okay, Heyes.”
Heyes frowned up at him, staring as if he was a stranger. Kid felt his forehead again. It was hotter than before.
“The posse!” said Heyes urgently. “They’re getting closer.”
“Okay,” said Kid. “We’ll lie low here.” He gave Heyes a drink of water. Heyes drank a little, then turned his head impatiently. “Let’s go!” he said. “We’ve got to get moving!”
“Okay,” Kid said again. “Just wait minute, take it easy...” He finally got Heyes to relax back on the pillows, muttering something about blowing the safe. Soon his eyes closed.
Kid rubbed his face hard with both hands, trying to think. A town this size surely had a doctor. But how could he risk calling in a doctor, with Heyes babbling about posses and bank robberies? Especially in view of the fast draw last night in front of so many people. He cursed himself for his carelessness. Heyes was right. There was no advantage in helping out strangers, it just came back and hit you from behind when you needed it least.
Heyes lay limp, breathing fast and shallow. His hands moved restlessly from time to time. After a while his eyes opened, and he glanced around the room.
“Hey, Kid,” he said with a weak smile. “What time is it?”
“I don’t know,” said Kid, sighing with relief. “Early. How you feeling?”
“Awful,” said Heyes. “I hurt all over. My side mostly.”
“Take it easy, you’ll feel better soon,” said Kid hopefully.
“I don’t know,” said Heyes. “Think you can get the bullet out? We got to get riding, the posse‘ll be here soon.” He tossed restlessly.
“Heyes, you gotta lie still,” said Kid. “You’re wearing yourself out.”
“I’ll try,” said Heyes. “Can you get the bullet out?”
“I’ll try,” said Kid.
“You okay?” asked Heyes, frowning up at him. “You didn’t get hit, too, did you?”
“No,” said Kid. “No, they missed me.”
Heyes nodded with a faint smile, and his eyes closed. “That’s good,” he murmured.
Kid waited till he seemed to be asleep again, then got up and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. A town this size surely had a doctor.
Downstairs the saloon was deserted except for a solitary figure slumped over the table, a half empty bottle in front of him. Kid recognized the fellow he had helped out last night. He went over and shook him by the shoulder. “Hey, friend, sorry to wake up a man with a hangover, but do you know where the doctor’s office is?”
The man stared at him glassily. Kid repeated the question and the man knocked his hand away with sudden anger. “Very funny!” he said with bitterness, and got up and lurched unsteadily away.
Kid decided the guy was just crazy, and looked around for someone else. He finally located a sleepy boy starting the stove in the kitchen. Kid gave him a quarter and sent him scurrying for the doctor.
Kid leaned against the wall of the bedroom and watched the doctor impatiently, tapping a restless foot. The doctor ignored him and opened his little black leather bag, taking out a stethoscope and unfolding it with meticulous care.
“Well, Doc?” Kid said, drumming his fingers on the bedpost. Heyes lay white-faced and limp on the narrow bed. Occasionally his lips moved and he muttered a few unintelligible words, or his hands moved suddenly and restlessly. Other than that he might have been dead. Kid brushed the thought away. “Well, Doc?” he said again.
But the doctor refused to be hurried. He examined Heyes painstakingly, feeling his pulse, peering into his eyes, and listening closely to his breathing. Finally the doctor folded his stethoscope into thirds, placed it in a canvas bag, and put the bag in his satchel. Kid watched all this, forcing himself not to tap his foot. The doctor rose from the chair and turned towards the door, but Kid got in his way.
The doctor looked up at him for a minute. “Are you a relative?” he said finally.
Somehow the innocuous question made Kid feel cold all over. “No, I’m not,” he answered. ”Why?”
“Just a friend, then?” said the doctor. Kid nodded.
“Known him long?” continued the doctor conversationally.
“Yes,” said Kid shortly. He searched the doctor’s face for a clue to his meaning. “Come on, Doctor, what do you think? He’s going to be all right, isn’t he?”
The doctor sighed. “I don’t know, son. It’s hard to say.” He looked at Kid narrowly, and then smiled a tight smile. “Probably. We’ll just have to wait a bit.”
“Wait a bit,” Kid repeated. “What’s a bit? I’m not too good at waiting around.”
“I can see that,” said the doctor.
“So when will he get better, do you think?”
“In a bit,” said the doctor. “Hard to say.”
He took a bottle out of his bag and scribbled instructions on the label. Heyes stirred restlessly on the bed. “Kid,” he said in a low voice. “I tell you we’ve gotta get going, the posse’ll be here any minute.”
Kid shot a look at the doctor, who appeared not to have heard. “Take it easy, Joshua,” he said, “I’m right here.”
The doctor handed him the medicine bottle. “Kid?” he said inquiringly, eyebrows raised.
“I’m, um, his kid brother,” said Kid. There was a pause. “Two years younger,” he added.
“I thought you said you weren’t related,” said the doctor.
Kid blinked. “I’m adopted,” he said.
“Ah, I see,” replied the doctor, putting on his hat. “That must be why you don’t resemble each other much.”
“That’s it,” said Kid uneasily.
“Be sure he gets that dose every two hours.” The doctor smiled pleasantly. “I’ll look in again after lunch.”
He stepped around Kid, and went out of the room, shutting the door carefully behind him. The quiet click of the closing door made Kid want to shoot out a window. He went back over to the bed.
“Heyes?” he said, forgetting the danger of being overheard. The still figure on the bed didn’t respond. “Heyes?” said Kid more loudly. “It’s me. Can you hear me?” No answer. Kid went and stared out of the window for a long time.
He was woken out of a doze in the armchair by a knock on the door. Heyes was still asleep. Kid opened the door, expecting to see the doctor’s short figure, and found himself looking at a star pinned on a broad chest. He took a step backwards and felt his heart sink as he looked up at a six and a half-foot-tall sheriff.
“Um, hello, sheriff, can I help you with something?” Kid asked, concentrating on maintaining an innocent expression on his face.
“Well, maybe, mister. I’d like you to come on down to my office for a chat,” said the sheriff, unsmilingly.
“Oh,” said Kid with a sinking feeling. As usual, Heyes was right; the sheriff was dropping by to check him out because of the gunfight. He saw the sheriff’s eye go to his gunbelt, noting the low cut and the thongs around his thigh that tied it down for a smooth draw.
“Well, sheriff, I’d be proud to stop by and chat, but my, um, brother’s not feeling well. In fact, he’s pretty sick.”
“Well, I’d really like to talk with you, mister. We’ll get the landlady or someone to sit with your...brother,” said the sheriff with narrowed eyes. Kid was searching for a reply when he heard the creak of the staircase, and saw Dr. Briggs climbing the stairs.
“Hello, John,” the doctor remarked to the sheriff, taking off his hat. “Haven’t seen you for a few days. Ah, Thaddeus, how’s Joshua doing?”
“The same, I’m afraid,” said Kid, a little bewildered by the doctor’s friendly tone, and use of their first names.
“Oh, dear,” said the doctor calmly. “Well, I sent the telegram to your mother, she should be here soon. She’ll be beside herself with worry, I’m afraid.” He opened his bag and took out the stethoscope.
“You know these fellows, Roy?” asked the sheriff, surprised.
“Why, yes, of course, they’re my nephews,” returned the doctor, listening to Heyes’s chest. “Didn’t you know that?”
“No, I didn’t” said the sheriff with a suspicious look at Kid’s poker face. “Your nephews?”
“Yes, my sister Edwina’s boys,” answered the doctor.
“They sure don’t resemble each other,” said the sheriff, looking from one to the other.
“Well, Thaddeus here was adopted, you see,” said the doctor, giving the medicine bottle a vigorous shake.
“I see,” said the sheriff. “Well, in that case...”
“I’m sure you’ll excuse us, John, but the boy needs quiet,” said the doctor.
“Oh, of course,” whispered the sheriff, and turned to go. He turned back with his hand on the knob. “Then that explains why he helped out...”
“Yes,” the doctor broke in sharply. “That explains it.”
The sheriff nodded and approached Kid, who backed up a step, wondering if it was all a trick and the sheriff was going to whip out handcuffs. But the sheriff just held out a hand. “Nice to meet you, Thaddeus,” he said. “I’ll look forward to meeting your mother. Hope you’ll have good news for her.”
“I hope so,” Kid stammered.
“It would be a terrible thing to lose a son,” said the sheriff warmly.
“Yes,” said the doctor shortly.
“Thanks, sheriff,” Kid managed, and watched in awe as the sheriff smiled and tiptoed out.
When the door had closed, Kid turned to the doctor with raised eyebrows, expecting questions, accusations, explanations…something. But the doctor placidly latched up his bag and put on his hat. “Nothing more to do now, but he’s breathing easier. I’ll look in after dinner.”
“You want to tell me what’s going on, Uncle Roy?” asked Kid grimly.
“No, son,” replied the doctor with a pleasant smile. “Get some sleep, you look tired.” He left, leaving Kid to stare at the door in utter astonishment.
He had plenty of chance to wonder about the doctor’s strange behavior over the course of the next few days. Heyes was often delirious, and on one of the doctor’s visits he confided his entire plan for robbing the Fort Worth bank to the doctor, calling him “Wheat.” The doctor listened politely and made no comment whatever.
Kid couldn’t figure Doctor Briggs out. He came like clockwork, three times a day, checked Heyes over carefully, left a variety of medicines-- and never mentioned money. Kid couldn’t imagine what all this was going to cost. He had exactly four dollars, and Heyes had about seventy-five cents in his pockets.
But never once did the doctor mention a fee. He arranged for Mrs. Hudson, the landlady, to carry up meals on a tray, and cool water, clean linen, and broth. She brought the things with cheerful sympathy, and also never mentioned the subject of payment. Kid was too exhausted by lack of sleep to worry much about it. Time started to blur, and he lost track of whether it was night or morning, or what day it was.
One night the doctor came back after his usual suppertime visit, around ten o’clock. He looked Heyes over for a long time; Kid thought he’d never get done fussing with the stethoscope. Finally he put it away and drew up the armchair. “Think I’ll stick around for a bit,” he said casually, sitting down. Kid felt sick.
“He’s pretty bad off, isn’t he?” he asked unsteadily.
“Well, we’ll see,” said the doctor. “I’ll just stay here for a bit.”
Kid paced restlessly up and down. Finally the doctor looked up from the notebook he was scribbling in, and studied Kid over his glasses. “Why don’t you go take a walk, son?” he suggested. “There’s nothing you can do here, and you’re making me nervous.”
Kid decided this was a good idea. He went downstairs to the crowded saloon, and ordered a double. As he sipped it, he saw the young man from the poker game at the end of the bar, the usual bottle in front of him. Kid reflected that he seemed to have no other home; every time he’d come downstairs the guy seemed to be there having another drink. Kid left his whiskey unfinished, and went out into the street.
The town was quiet, the windows dark in all the shops and houses. He walked up the main street, and back down. Then he did it again. And again and again. Finally he noticed Sheriff Harper, leaning against the wall of his office and eyeing him, and decided it was time to go back.
When he opened the door the room was dim and quiet. Heyes lay with closed eyes, for once not tossing around and muttering. The doctor sat reading by the light of the kerosene lamp, and as he looked up from the book Kid saw that he was reading the Bible.
The doctor looked up, and laughed out loud, reading Kid’s face. “No, no, son, don’t look like that. I’m not fixing to bury him yet. I’m just passing the time. Actually, I’m going to go home to bed,” he added, getting up and closing the book. “I suggest you get some sleep too, son.” He glanced at the quiet figure on the bed, and patted Kid on the shoulder. “I think he’ll be fine,” he said, and went out in his usual quiet way.
Kid woke up with a start from yet another doze in the armchair. The yellow light of morning was seeping through the shutters, and he realized it was after sunrise. For the past three days, Heyes had been very restless at dawn, the fever rising, but today the room was quiet. With a sudden chill, Kid looked over to the bed. Heyes lay still.
Kid felt an unpleasant shiver down his back. Rising swiftly, he went over to the bed. He touched Heyes’s forehead, and then his hands. They were warm, without the burning dryness of the fever.
Heyes sighed and opened his eyes. He blinked and smiled up at Kid sleepily. “What time is it?” he murmured.
“I don’t know,” answered Kid, looking him over. “Why do you always want to know what time it is?”
“I just like to know, that’s all,” said Heyes, turning his head to look out the window. “Is it morning? I’m hungry.”
Kid sat down on the edge of the bed and smiled slowly. “Well, we’ll see what the doc says about breakfast. Gotta take another dose of this stuff first.” He picked up the blue medicine bottle.
Heyes surveyed it with distaste. “Doctor...” he said vaguely. “I do remember someone else being here...”
“Well, I would think so, you been treating him like an old pal,” said Kid, grinning. “Told him about your entire plan for Fort Worth. You know, Heyes, it’s a shame we never tried that one, it sounds like a winner.”
“What!” said Heyes, aghast. “Are you joking?”
“Nope,” said Kid. “You kept telling him to look out for the posse, too. And offering to share the loot with him.”
Heyes stared at him. Finally he said, ”Well, what’d he say? What’d he do? He must know we’re wanted now...” He started to push himself up.
Kid shoved him back against the pillows. “Now don’t start that again. He said nothing.” He rubbed both hands over his face. “Seriously, I can’t figure the guy out, Heyes. He’s either deaf or he’s crazy, and I don’t think he’s deaf.”
A familiar knock on the door interrupted him. He rose and let Dr. Briggs into the room. The doctor smiled as soon as he saw that Heyes was awake.
“Ah, Mr. Smith,” he said, with a little bow. “You had me a bit worried there for a while, but I thought things were looking up last night.” He got out the stethoscope again, then held the medicine bottle up to the light. “About three more doses left--that should do it. I’ll stop by tomorrow, but I think you’re out of the woods now. In fact,” he went on as he strapped up his bag, “there’s a three p.m. stage tomorrow that you might want to consider taking. Sheriff Harper keeps asking me when Edwina’s getting here.”
“Who?” asked Heyes.
“Never mind,” said Kid. “Doc, look, there’s something I’ve got to...”
“No, no,” interrupted the doctor sharply, heading for the door. “I don’t want to know any of your secrets, young man.”
“No, no, nothing like that,” said Kid hastily. “It’s just that...Doc, we haven’t got too much money right now, in fact we haven’t got any money, and I’m afraid we’ll have to owe you for a while...”
“Don’t worry about the money, son,” the doctor interrupted. There’s no charge.”
“What do you mean, no charge?” asked Kid.
“I mean you don’t owe me any money,” the doctor explained. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Smith, don’t get up till then.”
“Don’t owe you any money?” repeated Kid. “Are you joking?”
“No,” said the doctor, his hand on the doorknob.
“But...but you’ve been here three times a day, stayed up all night, medicine and I don’t know what all–-plus the hotel bill...”
“That’s taken care of, no charge.” The doctor’s voice was final.
Kid was speechless. Heyes said, frowning, ”Why? Why in the world would you do something like that for two strangers?”
The doctor considered him for a moment. “Ever hear the story of the Good Samaritan, Mr. Smith? Who turned aside, out of his way, to help a stranger?”
"Sure, but it’s just a story. That kind of thing doesn’t happen,” said Heyes suspiciously.
“That’s what I thought, too,” said the doctor. “Take all three of those doses, now.” He left, closing the door quietly behind him. Heyes and Kid looked at each other, baffled.
“He’s crazy,” said Heyes finally.
“Must be,” said Kid, shaking his head. He sat back down on the edge of the bed and smiled at Heyes. “Want some breakfast?”
The doctor slowly made his way downstairs. The young man was seated at his usual table, a half-empty bottle in front of him. The doctor hesitated, then went over and sat down at the table. The young man glanced at him. “When are you gonna leave me alone?” he said.
“Why don’t you come on home and have some breakfast?” said the doctor quietly. “Your mother and I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Not hungry,” said the boy, pouring himself another drink. “Just thirsty. Leave me alone, I tell you.”
“All right, son,” said the doctor. “Your mother and I will be waiting.” He left the saloon and walked heavily down the stairs and across the street to his office.