Heyes hefted the ax thoughtfully. It felt good to do a lick of work occasionally—to get your hands dirty, doing something useful. He brought the ax down on a chunk of pine with a satisfying thunk and the log split cleanly in two halves. The piney smell was sharp and strong in the autumn air. Yes, sir, feels good, he thought, an honest day’s work.
Half an hour later, his hands were blistered, the ax seemed to have gotten a lot heavier, and his enthusiasm was wearing thin. A large stack of split pine logs seemed like more than enough for the present. He put down the ax, carried an armful of logs into the cabin, and dumped them in a heap near the stove.
On his way back to the woodpile he glanced around the clearing in front of the cabin. Not a thing to see but trees. Tall pines circled the cabin in every direction, their needles dull green no matter what the season. Nothing grew in the shade under them, no flowers, ferns or grass. Heyes felt a tiny thread of unease as he looked at the wall of pines. Closed in, he thought. Too closed in. Kansas prairies or Arizona desert, they were blazing hot in summer, and bitter when the winter winds blew, but at least you could see around you. The dense pines blocking the horizon made Heyes feel edgy.
Kid wanted to winter over here, spend the winter in the mountains with the cabin as home base, but Heyes didn’t like the notion. It wasn’t just the fact that it was so quiet here; a little peace and quiet would be nice for a change. He just wanted to be in a place where he could see what was coming.
He looked over his shoulder suddenly, for no reason. Nothing was there. It was getting on for evening, Kid should be back soon. He’d gone off to try his luck hunting, since they were both getting tired of beans and biscuits. Heyes picked up another armload of firewood. A fire would feel good tonight, it was getting colder by the minute, and the wind was picking up, too. His shirt was sweaty and he was starting to feel chilled. He decided to go in and start the stove, anticipating the luxury of sleeping warm under a well-caulked roof.
The cabin wasn’t something they’d planned on. He and Kid had just stumbled on it two days ago, as they were riding aimlessly in the mountains and idly panning for gold in the mountain streams. They hadn’t been up this far north in a long time. It was a roomy, comfortable miner’s cabin, with a bed, a chair, and a wood stove that must have broken the back of a mule to get up here. There were even a few supplies, but no sign that it had been inhabited for a long time. Just another broke miner who died or moved on, they supposed.
Suddenly he looked over his shoulder again. He couldn’t have told what made him so sure there was something behind him, but he wasn’t surprised to see figures under the pines-- three men on horseback at the edge of the trees, watching him. The wind and the damp, pine-needled ground had muffled the horses’ hoofbeats. Heyes didn’t recognize the faces shadowed in the gathering dusk, but he knew something was wrong. He glanced back at the cabin, where his rifle and gun belt were hanging on the wall inside.
One of the men moved forward, and the other two followed. Heyes felt an unpleasant chill down his back as he recognized the tall figure and grim, lined face of John Cutter. He’d thought that they had successfully left Cutter behind a long time ago. The other two were his sons, Mike and Bill.
Heyes had to order his feet not to run. He took a deep breath and firmly placed a relaxed and affable smile on his face as the tall figures on horseback surrounded him. None of the three returned his smile.
“Hi, fellows, long time no see,” said Heyes.
“Well, that’s not our fault,” returned John Cutter, looking down at him with an unpleasant gleam in his pale eyes. “We’ve been tracking you boys for quite a while now. Got on your trail in Denver, but you’re hard to catch up with.”
“That a fact,” said Heyes, smiling pleasantly and thinking wildly, desperately, what on earth to do. Stall for time? That was no good. Kid would come riding right into them--he might be here any minute. He could see from their grim expressions that they were out for blood. Get rid of them--the only chance, but how to do it? He wasn’t going to outfight them, that was sure.
“So where’s your partner?” asked Cutter, getting right to the point. The other two listened in menacing silence.
“Curry?” said Heyes lightly. “Oh, we split up a few weeks ago. He was going to try his luck in New Mexico, and I had a fancy to come on up north here.”
“Oh, really? Well, that’s funny, because his twin brother was seen with you in Saratoga three days ago.” Cutter watched Heyes unblinkingly.
“Oh, that guy,” returned Heyes. “I know who you mean. Wears a brown hat. He looks a lot like the Kid, but that’s not him.”
“Just a funny coincidence,” said Cutter.
“That’s right,” said Heyes, realizing that he was getting nowhere.
Cutter dismounted and so did the others, keeping their hands on their guns. The brothers, big, heavy-bodied men, moved around behind Heyes. He could feel rather than see them standing at his back. Cutter moved a step closer, never taking his eyes off Heyes’ face.
“Come on, Cutter,” Heyes tried. “Kid didn’t have anything to do with Frank getting killed, why won’t you believe that? We told you back then, it was the sheriff that shot Frank. Kid wasn’t exactly fond of Frank, but he wouldn’t shoot him in the back.”
“I’ve been waiting to get on your trail for long time, Heyes,” Cutter said quietly. “Now I know Curry’s around here somewhere. You want to tell me the truth, or do you want me to beat it out of you?”
“He went into town for supplies,” said Heyes desperately, making it up as he went along, aware that he couldn’t stop to think even for a moment if the tale was going to sound convincing. “We needed beans, coffee, all sorts of stuff. Check the cabin, you can see we’re out of everything, and we’re planning to winter here. He went into town, he’ll be gone a couple of days.”
Cutter motioned to the cabin with his head and one of the brothers jogged over and disappeared inside. Heyes heard a crash of cans and jars hitting the floor. In a few moments the man was back. “Not much in there,” he said, shrugging huge shoulders. “Two saddle rolls and blankets. Only one rifle. Not much food.”
“See, he went to town. Won’t be back till tomorrow,” repeated Heyes. “You boys want to leave a message?”
Cutter swung his arm and caught Heyes in the face with the back of his fist. “You stop shootin’ off your mouth and give me a straight answer,” he said. “Where’s he gone, which town? There’s two towns, Racine and Saratoga, one on either side of the mountain.”
Heyes wiped blood off a cut lip with the back of his hand. He felt as if the dull-green pines were closing in on him more closely than ever. He backed up a step and bumped into the Cutter boys standing behind him. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to run. He shrugged. “I didn’t ask and he didn’t say.”
Cutter hit him again, harder. The shock of the blow made Heyes feel a cold stab of terror. They could kill him, shoot him, beat him to death, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. He shook his head to clear it, and saw Cutter’s fist raised to hit him again. Instinct took over and without even pausing for thought, he ducked, shoved an elbow in the stomach of the brother who was looming behind him, and ran for the trees.
He hadn’t gone five strides before something hit him like a boulder. It was the full weight of Bill Cutter, who knocked him over and landed on top of him with a crash that drove all the breath out of his lungs. Heyes lay on the ground, panting, head spinning, and heard the other two approach.
His mind raced, trying to calculate what would happen if he told them the truth, that Kid was just off hunting and would be back at any moment. What then? They’d hide in the cabin, wait in the dark, guns ready, and as Kid rode into the clearing they’d open fire. Heyes was dragged to his feet, and stood swaying, looking at Cutter’s wrinkled face.
“You got anything to tell us?” asked Cutter. “Which way did he go?”
”He headed east,” said Heyes hopefully. “Might be he’s headed for Racine, that’s a bit closer.”
“Might be,” agreed Cutter. “Then it might be that he’s coming back tonight, since he left his blanket roll here. Got anything to say to that?”
Heyes rubbed a hand across his eyes. His head ached. For once his silver tongue had deserted him, and he couldn’t think of a single lie to tell, an escape plan, an alibi, nothing.
“Well?” said Cutter harshly. “Got anything to say?”
Heyes took a shaky breath. “No,” he said.
It was getting darker-- almost too dark to see. Snow began to fall noiselessly, just a few gentle flakes drifting down. The three men stood over Heyes in the darkness, John Cutter swearing under his breath in frustration. Heyes lay on the ground, only vaguely aware of voices overhead.
“It ain’t no good, Pa, he ain’t gonna tell you nothing,” said Mike Cutter. “Leave him alone, Heyes never did nothin’ to Frank. Curry was the one that killed him.”
“Shut up!” said Cutter savagely, turning away and striding over to where the horses were tethered. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“Out of here?” repeated Mike, glancing at Bill and hurrying after his father. “What do you mean? Curry’ll be back here sooner or later. All we got to do is wait.”
“I’m not going to wait around for Curry to see our horses and bushwack us when we’re asleep. We know he’s around here somewhere. We’ll ride down the track towards Racine, and then if we don’t see him we’ll double back. Come on!” John Cutter yanked his horse around and headed off towards the path that led from the clearing. The two others looked at each other, then across the yard to where Heyes lay where they had dropped him. Bill shrugged, and they mounted and followed their father off into the darkness under the trees. The snow still fell lightly, but there was a steady wind. Heyes lay still, and the snow began to drift over him.
It was snowing hard by the time Kid rode into the clearing. He was glad to be back. Hunting had taken longer than he’d planned, and by the time he’d gotten a deer the shadows were long. The uphill ride to the cabin had seemed to take forever, and then the path that he was following had petered out, leaving him in a maze of trees that all looked alike. The snow had started to sift down as he searched for the right path in the deepening dusk and cold, and he had begun to have unpleasant thoughts of trying to weather a blizzard holed up under a pine tree. Finally the moon had risen, giving a pale light even through the clouds, and he had found the path to the cabin with a sigh of relief.
He was mildly surprised to see that the cabin was dark, and wondered if Heyes had gone out to look for him. He shouted, but no answer came from the dark doorway. Kid felt uneasy, and looked around. His tired horse plodded across the yard towards a pile of firewood already drifted with a covering of snow. Near the woodpile was a dark shape that Kid thought might be old clothes. Maybe Heyes had left his jacket outside? That seemed strange. He peered down through the snow.
Suddenly Kid flung himself off his horse. He bent over the huddled shape, and yanked at Heyes’ arm to roll him over. “My God,” he heard himself saying. “Heyes, what happened? Where’re you hurt?” Heyes didn’t move. “Heyes!” Kid shouted, sure that Heyes would answer “I’m okay, relax, will ya?’ like he always did. But Heyes still lay motionless. Kid bent over him to listen for a heartbeat, but couldn’t hear anything but his own ragged breathing. Heyes’ eyes were closed and his face was white in the dusk.
In sudden panic, Kid shook him roughly, but Heyes lay limp and still. Kid looked around with a wild unreasoning hope that help would come, that a doctor would appear out of nowhere, but all he saw was the dark, shadowed pines. Abruptly he realized that whoever had hurt Heyes was out there still, and that he himself was an easy target.
He drew his gun and crouched by Heyes’ side. He peered into the darkness, his eyes hunting for any movement or outline, straining to hear any sound of approaching footsteps, but the wind in the pines covered all other sounds. No place to hide. He spun around, his hand clutching the gun so tightly it shook. No sight or sound of anyone. He’d been shot at often, but always by someone he could see, could shoot back at. This unseen enemy filled him with fear.
After a few moments he lowered his gun. He was tempted to yell, “Come out and stop hiding, dammit!” But the years-long habit of secrecy, of lying low, made him stay quiet. He waited tensely, expecting any second the sound of a gun, a bullet that would smash into him. Nothing happened.
He looked down at Heyes again, who still hadn’t moved. Kid stared at him, looking for some sign of movement, anything, forgetting the possibility of an unseen gunman sneaking up on him. In the darkness, he couldn’t see if Heyes was breathing at all. He took off his glove, putting his bare hand in front of Heyes’ mouth. He felt a slight breath, and a vast relief flooded over him, in an almost painful wave, from the back of his neck right down to his heels.
He stood up, holstering his gun. He wasn’t scared anymore. He felt detached from the mysterious enemy lurking in the shadows. There didn’t seem to be anything he could do about it, so he might as well forget it. Besides, Kid thought, I guess if someone was going to shoot me they could have done it a few dozen times by now.
Kid felt an icy blast of wind on his back, and realized he should get under cover. He lifted Heyes in his arms and carried him to the dark cabin, kicked the door open, and dumped him on the bed, then slammed the door shut and groped for the lamp and the matches. As the tiny light from the oil lamp grew and strengthened, he set it on the table by the bed. He swore viciously as he saw Heyes’ face, cut and battered, with dried blood smeared from mouth and nose. Even in the weak light from the lantern Heyes looked blue with cold. Kid swore again, piled both blankets over Heyes, added his own sheepskin jacket, and began to throw firewood in the stove.
The dry pine logs blazed up quickly, and when the stove was roaring, he put the coffeepot on top. As soon as the water warmed he poured a cupful, and added a large dollop of whiskey. Heyes coughed and choked over it, but Kid made him drink the whole thing. A little color came back to Heyes’ face, and he opened his eyes. He stared at Kid frowning, as if trying to remember who he was.
“How you doin’, Heyes?” said Kid, starting to wipe the blood gently off his face.
“Kid?” said Heyes, blinking at him dubiously.
“Yeah,” said Kid. “Hold still.”
Heyes reached up and grabbed Kid’s sleeve. “Are you okay?” said Heyes, staring at him.
“Me?” asked Kid in surprise. “You’re the one who’s half dead. What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know where he is,” said Heyes, closing his eyes.
Kid shook him by the shoulder. “Who? What’re you talking about?”
“I didn’t ask and he didn’t say,” Heyes murmured.
“Who did this? Who beat you up? Heyes!”
But Heyes seemed to be asleep. Kid picked up Heyes’ right hand and looked at it in the light of the lantern. It was unmarked, the knuckles unbroken. He shook his head in frustration, longing to beat the tar out of someone. Nobody being to hand, he kicked the stove ferociously and went on gently sponging off Heyes’ face with the warm water. Heyes muttered and stirred, but didn’t wake. Kid thought for a moment, then put his coat on and opened the cabin door.
The wind hit him like a hammer, ripping the door out of his hand and slamming it against the wall. Kid hauled it shut behind him and went out into the pelting snow. He’d meant to look around for signs of the mysterious assailants, but it wasn’t hard to figure out that whoever had been here wouldn’t be lurking under the trees in this gale.
He went to the stable, leaning into the wind. His horse, the deer still tied across its back, had found the way inside and was standing next to Heyes’ horse. Kid could hear them placidly munching hay. Kid unsaddled by touch in the dark, and dumped the deer carcass in a corner. It would freeze and stay fresh until he was ready to hack some meat off it. He fought the stable door shut against the wind and struggled back to the cabin, wading through the knee-deep snow.
The cabin seemed quiet and warm after the howl of the wind. Heyes was still asleep. Kid threw some more wood in the stove and sat down to await developments.
Heyes tossed and turned, seemed burning hot one minute and icy cold the next. Kid gave him sips of hot water mixed with whiskey, tried to keep him quiet, and wished he knew more about doctoring. The nearest town was a day’s ride, in good weather. He listened to the wind raging outside the windows as the hours dragged by.
Finally, after what seemed like a week, Heyes stopped tossing and fell into a heavy sleep. Kid watched him anxiously for a while, but he seemed to be all right. Kid got up from the edge of the bed, stretched, and poured himself a cup of hot water laced with whiskey. He threw another log on the fire and watched the pine wood spark and flare. He could hear the sizzle of the pine sap burning, and realized that the storm noises had abated; in fact, the cabin was eerily quiet.
He peered out the window, but all he could see was a sort of gray fog. Cautiously, he opened the door to check on the weather conditions, glanced outside, then shut the door quickly.
Grinning, he sat down on the chair by the stove. He tilted back against the wall, and heaved a tired sigh. The stove sent out a relaxing warmth, and he was asleep before he realized he had closed his eyes.
Heyes woke up with an aching head, and lay wondering what on earth he’d drunk the night before. He tried to stretch, and discovered his whole body was sore. Staring at the cobwebbed rafters overhead, he tried to figure out where he was. And where was the Kid? There was something vaguely disturbing in this thought, and he frowned, trying to remember what was wrong.
He turned his head, wincing, and looked around the cabin. Kid was in a chair tilted precariously against the wall, fast asleep. Heyes smiled, then in a rush he recalled what had happened, and lunged forward, trying to sit up. He couldn’t help a groan as he pushed himself up, and Kid woke up. “Hey, hey, take it easy!” he said, shoving Heyes back down on the pillow. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Kid!” said Heyes, blinking in confusion. “We got to get out of here, now. They’ll be back...what time is it?”
“Hell, I don’t know,” said Kid, stretching. He filled the coffeepot with water from the pitcher and put it on the stove. “Why do you always want to know what time it is?”
“They must have missed you, but they’ll be back,” said Heyes urgently. “They might have gone down as far as Racine, but they’ll be back sooner or later. You didn’t run into them?”
“Didn’t see anyone,” said Kid with a frown. “Who you talking about? Who beat you up?”
“John Cutter, “said Heyes, sitting up with difficulty. Kid’s eyes widened.
“Cutter,” he said slowly. “So that explains it. He was looking for me...is that why they beat you up? To find out where I was?”
Heyes ignored this. “Come on, we’ve got to be going,” he insisted. “He’s got his two boys with him, and they mean business.” He started to climb out of bed, but Kid pushed him back again.
“Relax, Heyes, they ain’t coming back. Not today. Not ever.”
He sounded so sure that Heyes sat back. “What do you mean? You killed them?”
“No, although I’d be more than happy to,” Kid said grimly. “I didn’t know they were within a hundred miles of here till you told me just now. And they’re probably only a few miles from here right now, but we haven’t got to worry about them any more.”
“But…” Heyes began, then stopped as Kid walked over to the cabin door, and flung it open. A solid wall of luminous white filled the entire doorway.
“Had a little snow last night, you see,” Kid explained. “Started up at dusk, and you were about half buried when I found you last night, about an hour after sundown. By dawn it was up to the chimney.”
“Good God,” said Heyes blankly, staring at the snow.
“When did they leave yesterday?” Kid asked, closing the door.
“They got here about dusk–surprised me out chopping wood, with my gun in the cabin,” said Heyes ruefully. “I don’t know what time they left.”
Kid nodded. “If they were here at dusk, there’s no way they could have gotten to shelter. There’s nothing around here for miles, and it was a howling gale long before midnight. No, they ain’t coming back. Want some coffee?”
Heyes sank back on the bed and rubbed his face with both hands. “I guess so. Might as well. Looks like we’re gonna be here for a while.”
“Looks like,” said Kid, getting out the coffee jar. “Like maybe till spring.”
“Well, that suits me, I guess,” said Heyes, and took a deep breath. “I could do with a little peace and quiet.”
In daylight, Devil’s Hole was a ring of yellow, jagged cliffs surrounding a small valley, with a few cottonwoods and a tiny stream. At night, the rock walls melted into the darkness and were invisible until the moon rose behind them. But at dusk, the cliffs caught the red light of the sunset and glowed with a deep, honey-colored light.
Heyes had started a small campfire as soon as the sun went down, not only because the air suddenly seemed much colder, but also to have something to do with his hands. He was so nervous he couldn’t sit still, and even after the fire was burning brightly he kept getting up to add sticks to it. He heard a faint sound of voices behind him in the dusk, and glanced over his shoulder. A group of men was riding up to the outlaw hideout, and he knew it was a gang of bank robbers. He had joined them just the day before.
There was Danforth, the leader, and Henry and Cal--and a new man, one Heyes hadn’t seen before. Danforth must have just recruited him. Heyes looked up curiously at the newest member of the gang.
The stranger wore a sheepskin jacket against the chill of the desert night. A young man, about his own age, with curly, light-brown hair and blue eyes; he looked friendly and easy-going, like a farmer on market day who’s done well selling calves or sheep. Heyes couldn’t quite see him robbing a bank. Then he glanced down at the gun holster the new guy was wearing. It was faded and scuffed with use, and was tied securely around his thigh with a leather thong, to give a quicker, smoother action on a fast draw.
Heyes looked up and saw the newcomer watching him. They eyed each other for a minute, the smile on the new man’s face fading slowly. Heyes nodded without smiling. “I’m Heyes,” he said curtly. He was anxious to appear a seasoned veteran of the gang, a professional bank robber to whom this was just another job.
“Kid Curry,” said the other.
Heyes nodded again. “Pull up a chair,” he said, and kicked a log forward for Curry to sit on.
“Thanks,” said the young man, and sat down, opening his heavy jacket and spreading his hands to the warmth.
“All right, shut up,” said Danforth, the gang’s official leader, entering the ring of light provided by the fire. He was a heavy-bodied man, with a bristling black mustache and a thick, square face that thrust forward when he talked. Two younger men, whom Heyes had met earlier in the day, followed him. Cal, a tall, thin boy with awkward hands and feet, sat down close to the fire. Henry, older and surly-faced, stood behind him.
Danforth kicked the fire with his boot and turned to glare at his audience. “Here’s the plan,” he said impressively. “We go in at dawn, and tie our horses in the alley behind the bank. Then we wait till the teller unlocks the door, and just walk right in the front. There’s never any customers there for the first fifteen minutes or so. We get the drop on the tellers, open the safe, and ride on out of there. Simple.”
Cal and Henry, who’d worked with Danforth before, nodded with enthusiasm. Kid didn’t say anything, but gave Danforth a straight, impassive stare. Heyes shifted uneasily on his log seat. He’d never done any bank robbing before, but Danforth’s plan sounded a little too simple.
“Wait a minute,” he said hesitantly. “We open the safe?”
“Well, we have to if we want the money,” said Danforth with heavy sarcasm. Cal and Henry sniggered. Kid Curry still wore the blank look of a poker player.
“Yes, but how do we open the safe?” asked Heyes.
“Don’t you give me any lip, kid,” snapped Danforth, thrusting his face toward the youngster.
Heyes persevered. “I mean it’s locked, right? You have to know the combination...”
Danforth exploded. “You shut up and keep your nose out of my business! You’re a hired gun, that’s all you’re good for. Shut up or be wishing you had!” He put a hand on the handle of his gun, and glared at Heyes. Out of the corner of his eye, Heyes saw Kid Curry make a quiet movement and ease his gun out of the holster. Danforth didn’t notice; he spun around and stomped angrily out of the firelight, leaving the others sitting open-mouthed. No one said anything. After a minute Curry quietly reholstered his gun.
Cal and Henry followed Danforth off to the small hut that was their headquarters when they were at Devil’s Hole. Heyes and Curry sat and stared at the fire for a long time in silence, and then rolled themselves up in blankets to lie awake and wait for dawn.
So far, Heyes had to admit, it was going according to plan. They’d tied their horses in the back, and when the bank opened, had strolled in like ordinary customers. When the gang had pulled out their guns, the four tellers and the two bank guards had obediently laid down on the ground as ordered. Heyes waited with interest to see how the rest of the plan would unfold.
Danforth grabbed one of the tellers by the collar, and dragged him to his feet. The teller, an elderly man, waved his arms wildly, begging “Please don’t hurt me! Please!” Danforth hauled him past the counter and over to the large black safe that squatted behind several rows of shelves. Kid, as arranged, followed him, moving backwards easily, eying the bank employees, the doors, and the windows with nervous watchfulness. Heyes, curious as to how Danforth was going to manage getting the safe open, followed as well.
Danforth dragged the teller around the shelves, out of sight of the other employees still cowering flat on the floor. He slammed the old man into the safe, and drew his gun. Holding the barrel an inch from the teller’s nose, Danforth shouted into the man’s ear, “Open the safe, now!”
“I...I...don’t...I...can’t...” stammered the man, gasping for breath.
“Hey, Danforth, take it easy,” said Curry, frowning. “Can’t you see he’s scared to death?”
“Shut up, kid,” snarled Danforth without looking around. “Now!” he screamed at the teller. “Open it now or you’re dead.” He drew back the hammer on the gun with a loud click. The teller stared at the gun with blank eyes; his lips moved, but no sound came out. Heyes opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again.
“Open it!” Danforth howled in frustration. “I’m gonna count to three and that’s it.” The teller seemed frozen, and gave no sign that he had heard the threat. “One,” said Danforth, suddenly quiet.
“Hey,” said Kid over his shoulder. “You can’t do that.”
“Two,” said Danforth.
“Hey, wait a minute,” said Heyes.
“Three,” said Danforth. Kid spun around, and, without pausing to think or aim, fired at the gun that Danforth held. Danforth screamed as the shock stung his hand and the gun crashed to the floor. His scream was echoed by the three tellers lying on the ground with hands over their ears. The old man was unhurt, but so shocked by the explosion that he fell in a heap to the ground and lay limp, his hands over his head.
“You idiot!” Danforth yelled angrily. “What the hell’d you do that for?”
Kid didn’t reply. He couldn’t think of a good answer, indeed, as he put the question to himself. A movement caught his eye and he swung the gun and his glance around together. Heyes was staring at him in amazement. Kid noticed that he was literally open-mouthed.
“You got anything to say?”asked Kid belligerently, levelling the gun at Heyes.
“Nope,” Heyes said. They stared at each other for a moment like two wary cats.
“Well, I got something to say, you jackass!” Danforth burst out. “Don’t you dare…”
He went on, shouting, but Kid stopped hearing the words. He looked back at Heyes for some reason, and their eyes met. Kid couldn’t imagine what to do next. The shot must have alarmed the town, the citizenry on the floor were growing restless, and the rest of the gang were shouting impatient questions and curses.
Heyes glanced down at the old man, who still lay on the floor. Then he ran over to where Cal and Henry were guarding the trembling bank clerks. “Heyes, what’s going on?” whined Cal. Anybody heard that shot, we’ll have company in a minute.”
“Hold your horses, Cal, we’re gettin’ to it,” said Heyes, hauling another teller to his feet. This one, a young man with spectacles and neat side whiskers, struggled and protested, but Heyes pulled him over to the safe. The young man stared in horror at the elderly teller lying motionless on the ground.
“Now we’ve had to kill one of you already,” Heyes growled, brandishing his gun. “You want to join him, or are you gonna open the safe?”
The teller, staring horrified at the limp body on the ground, quavered, “I’ll do whatever you want.” He flung himself on the safe and after a few false starts managed to twirl the lock back and forth in the correct pattern and turn the handle. There was a quiet metallic “snick,” and the thick door swung open.
All three outlaws crowded to look into the safe. “My God,” said Heyes softly. They stared open-mouthed at the stacks of hundred dollar bills.
After a frozen minute Heyes shook himself. “Well, don’t stop to admire it, let’s go, let’s go!” They all started towards the safe at once. Henry and Cal rushed over, too.
“Damn it, watch those guys on the floor!" yelled Kid. He and Heyes moved past the row of shelves to keep the tellers and guards under surveillance while the others grabbed up heavy canvas bags and began stuffing them full of bills.
Faint shouts sounded outside the bank window. Kid opened the window shade a crack, and peered out. In the street, people were shouting and gesticulating towards the bank. Then Kid saw a tall man wearing a star on his vest come striding down the main street. Several men ran up to him, pointing at the bank.
Kid glanced at Heyes. “Looks like I kinda drew their attention,” Kid said ruefully.
Heyes grinned. “Guess we’d better get a move on. Come on, that’s enough,” he called to the others. “The citizens here aren’t deaf. Let’s call it a day.” Danforth stuffed one last handful of hundred dollar bills into his sack, then ran for the door, followed by the rest.
They burst out the back door, Danforth in the lead, Kid last, backing out and keeping an eye on the guards till the last minute. He slammed the door and ran for his horse; Danforth was already spurring down the alley. They wheeled their horses into the main road that led out of town. The shouting behind them was soon drowned by the noise of their horses’ hoofs pounding at a gallop. Kid glanced back, and saw nothing but empty road behind.
They raced on for what seemed like hours, and Kid realized the horses couldn’t keep up this pace. As they slowed for a sharp bend in the road the horses sank into a trot. Danforth reined up, and the others stopped too.
“What are you stopping here for?” shouted Heyes. “You can’t see if they’re behind us or not. We’ve got to get to some high ground.”
“No one’s behind us,” growled Danforth. “We’re clear.” Without warning he pulled his gun from the holster and leveled it at Kid.
“What the hell?” said Heyes. Kid stared at Danforth, feeling an icy chill go down his back.
“You young punk, you don’t take a shot at me,” said Danforth in a quiet voice. “You don’t tell me what to do. You don’t screw up my plans...”
“You stupid idiot!” Heyes interrupted. “If he hadn’t stopped you, they’d be after us for murder, right now, and if they caught us we’d all hang.”
“You keep out of this,” Danforth screamed. “I’m the leader here, and I’m going to teach this kid a lesson.” He cocked the gun, aiming it squarely at Kid’s chest.
Kid felt his face and hands grow cold. His brain seemed to be frozen. Heyes swung his hand down towards his gun, but Danforth’s finger was already tightening on the trigger. Cal and Henry watched open-mouthed.
Suddenly a barrage of shots sounded, seeming to burst like fireworks around their ears. All of them swung around in unison to look behind them, and saw a dozen men roaring towards them around the corner. Dust rose in clouds from the racing hoofs.
Danforth jerked his horse around and spurred it frantically. He fired a shot in Kid’s direction as he did so, but it went wild. Cal and Henry followed him, and Heyes and Kid were left alone, staring at each other.
“Jesus, what a day!” said Heyes. Both yanked on their horses’ reins, turning them sharply around. Heyes whacked his horse’s sides with his heels and yelled “Go! Let’s go!” and the horse abruptly broke into a canter.
Heyes bent low over the horse’s neck as they picked up speed. The rhythmic beat of the hoofs drummed faster and faster, the trees on either side of the road became a green blur. Heyes felt scared to death at the prospect of being caught--but he also felt like laughing out loud, a mixture of excitement and terror he’d never felt before. He could see nothing but his horse’s head, ears bobbing back and forth, and the dust from the road rising on either side. He tried to turn around to see if they were being pursued, but almost lost his balance, and grabbed at the saddlehorn. Beside him Kid was pounding along, holding onto his hat with one hand. Heyes’ hat blew off his head in the wind of their speed. Together they flew down the dusty road, and the posse was left behind.
Kid hit the ground with a crash that knocked his breath out and bewildered him for a few seconds. He heard the scream of the wounded horse, and rolled to get out of the way of the flailing hooves. Getting up on his hands and knees, he shook his head and looked around. He had drawn a little ahead of the others during the long chase, but now the rest of the gang were speeding by on their horses, bent low in the saddle to avoid bullets.
Cal and Henry galloped past and never even looked down; Danforth was already far ahead under the shelter of the trees. Kid saw Heyes glance down at him as he rode by, then a fusillade from the pursuers made Kid duck behind the still heaving body of the horse. He looked around, fear starting to rise in his chest. There was no possibility of making a run for the trees. The posse were only a hundred yards off and firing as they came closer. Kid pulled out his gun and crouched low, waiting till the pursuers came in range.
He heard a pounding behind him, and a shout, but he ignored it at first. Then he heard someone yelling his name, and wheeled round to see Heyes galloping towards him. He watched in disbelief as Heyes yanked on the reins, pulling the horse back on its haunches, and held out a hand.
“Well, come on,” Heyes yelled. “Or are you gonna stay and have a chat with them?”
Kid stared at him for a long second, then holstered the gun and ran. Heyes was trying to get the sidling, prancing horse to stand still. Kid managed to get a foot in the stirrup, grasped Heyes’ hand, and heaved himself up on the back of the horse, behind the saddle. Heyes drove his spurs into the horse’s ribs, and the horse took off, with a spring that nearly left Kid behind.
They raced for the shelter of the woods, veering away from the rest of the gang. Kid was acutely aware of the popping noise of guns being fired behind them. He tried not to imagine a bullet hitting him in the back, and held on tight as Heyes steered the horse between the trees and up a rocky rise. They rode clinging to the saddle and jouncing up and down as the horse scrambled up the ridge.
Finally they reached the top, and Heyes reined in the wheezing horse. “We better stop and let the horse blow a minute or he’s gonna have a heart attack,” said Heyes, kicking one leg over the horse’s head and sliding to the ground.
“He’s gonna have to get in line behind me,” said Kid, pushing back his hat and rubbing his forehead. He tried to slow his breathing down.
Heyes laughed out loud, then looked up at Kid and smiled. “You hurt?” he asked.
“Only my dignity,” said Kid, getting off the horse gingerly. His knee ached, and his face and arm were scraped and cut from the fall. “You okay?” He wanted to say something more, but couldn’t quite think of how to put it.
“Yeah,” said Heyes. “Come on, let’s see where they’re at.”
Crouching low, they scrambled up to the lip of the rise. Flat on the ground, they cautiously peered over the edge, and were just in time to see the posse disappearing over the gentle hills in the distance.
Heyes blew a sigh of relief, and rolled over on his back. Kid put his head down on his arms. Now it was over, he found his hands were shaking. They lay under the hot sun for a long while.
“You ever do this before, Curry?” asked Heyes finally.
“Do what, get shot at, or fall off my horse?” asked Kid, looking up.
“Rob a bank, I mean,” said Heyes. “Rob anything.”
“Nope. You ever rob anything before?”
“I ain’t robbed anything yet,” said Heyes ruefully. “I haven’t got a cent, have you? Danforth and the others have all the money bags.”
“You’re right,” said Kid, startled. He rubbed his aching knee. “All that for nothing.”
“No, it wasn’t for nothing,” said Heyes slowly. “Call it experience.”
Kid snorted and got to his feet, sliding back down the ridge towards the horse. Heyes followed, deep in thought.
“Let’s think about this for a minute, Curry,” he called after Kid. “You know what we need?”
“More experience,” said Kid, untying the horse.
Heyes grinned. “No,” he said. “We need our own gang.”
“Our own gang?” repeated Kid.
“Sure, why not?” said Heyes, warming to the idea. His brown eyes lit up. “We could do it. Instead of following some idiot into all sorts of trouble, we’ll start our own gang. Do it right. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. What do you say?”
Kid pushed back his hat and scratched his head. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “Maybe.”
“Okay!” Heyes said with enthusiasm. “Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the two most successful outlaws in the history of the West. And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone.”
Kid laughed, and held out his hand. “Okay,” he said. “It’s a deal.”
“It’s a deal,” said Heyes, and they shook hands. Then they stared at each other, suddenly awkward. “I don’t know what we’re getting into, though,” added Heyes, shrugging.
Kid looked back down the ridge, the way they had come. He could see his horse, small in the distance, lying motionless, and imagined himself lying dead beside it. He looked back at Heyes. “Well, I know,” said Kid. “I know.”