A holiday tale...
Kid looked across the crowded saloon, over the heads of the rowdy merry-makers, and stared at the doorway for what seemed like the thousandth time in the last seven days. The saloon was packed with holiday revelers, gamblers in black suits and cowboys in chaps betting heavily at all the tables, girls in scandalously short dresses with plunging necklines laughing and leaning over their shoulders. The piano jingled out one Christmas carol after another. The bartender was run off his feet filling glasses for holiday toasts. Kid drained his glass gloomily, and waited for the bartender to come and pour him another.
He felt a tap on his shoulder. “What’s wrong, cowboy?” inquired a female voice. “You look lonely.” He turned and smiled at the girl with a red dress and bright blonde hair who leaned on the bar next to him. She wasn’t as young as some of the other girls, but she’d struck up a conversation with him more than once in the interminable week he’d spent in this town.
“Oh, nothing,” he said, careful to appear relaxed and casual. “Just thinking, that’s all.”
“You’ve been hanging around for a week now and you keep looking at the door,” she observed. “What’s the matter, honey, you trying to avoid someone?”
“Oh, no,” he said hastily. “Nothing like that.”
“Not in trouble or anything, are you?” she asked, nodding wisely. “I’ve seen a lot of guys, jumpy like you, always keeping an eye on the door.”
“Nope, nope, just like to keep an eye on things is all.” Kid tried to think of a way to change the subject, and was relieved when the bartender held up a tray of drinks and bellowed “Alice! Bring these to the black jack table!”
“All right, I’m coming,” she shouted back. “Come on, cheer up,” she said, eyeing Kid with a smile. “Maybe Santa’ll bring you a present, if you’re good.”
“Oh, I’m good,” he said with a grin. She giggled and went off.
He looked over at the doorway again, his smile fading quickly. He watched the swinging doors carefully, in surreptitious glances as the evening wore on, but saw only strangers’ faces.
He joined a poker game, but couldn’t concentrate, and lost a few dollars before tossing in a hand that had a pair of kings. He wandered over to the black jack table, trying not to glance at the door every five minutes, but black jack wasn’t any more entertaining, so he went back to the bar for another drink. “Want some dinner?” the bartender shouted over the noise. “We got some nice steaks.”
“No, thanks.” Kid shook his head. “Not hungry.” He glanced at the door again, and his eyes widened. He stood up and peered across the room. A tangle of three girls draped over a huge cowboy in woolly chaps got in his way, but he craned to look past them, wondering if he was imagining things. It was real enough, though. It was Heyes who stood in the doorway, scanning the merry-makers.
Kid shoved through the crowd, and grabbed his arm. “Hey–Hey, Joshua!” he shouted. “Jesus, where the hell have you been?”
Heyes turned and blinked at him. “Hey, Kid,” he said with a broad smile, not troubling to lower his voice. “How ya doing?”
Kid looked him over with a quick frown. “You look awful,” he said.
The usually neat Heyes was filthy, unshaven, his eyes ringed with black shadows, but he grinned. “Well, thanks,” he said. “You look worse than usual, too.”
“What happened?” asked Kid. “I’d about given you up for dead.”
Heyes rubbed a hand over his face. “What didn’t happen?” he said. “I’ve ridden on my last cattle drive, I’ll tell you, I don’t care how big the bonus is. Damn cows stampeded and we lost a hundred, had to stay up all night for three nights rounding up the strays. Chuckwagon hit a rock and broke the axle, so we were just out of luck for food, it was hardtack and beef jerky most of the way...honestly, safecracking is a lot easier...”
“Shut up,” said Kid, glancing around, but the revelers were too occupied in their own concerns to hear them. “Come on, let’s have a drink.” He pulled Heyes over to a small empty table in the corner, and Heyes sank into a chair. “Stay there,” Kid ordered.
He went over to the bar, got the bartender’s attention by slamming his fist on the counter, and finally pushed his way back to the table carrying a well-filled plate, a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. Heyes was slumped in the chair, fast asleep.
Kid put a hand on his shoulder, but he didn’t stir. Kid shook him and finally Heyes opened his eyes and blinked up at him. “Hey, Kid,” he said cheerfully.
“Will you shut up?” Kid hissed.
“What? Oh, right, sorry,” said Heyes, rubbing his eyes. He looked at the plate Kid put in front of him and smiled sleepily. “Damn, steak and fried potatoes again? They haven’t got any beef jerky?”
“Fresh out,” said Kid, grinning. He leaned back and sipped his drink while Heyes ate ravenously. “So did you at least get paid?” he inquired.
“I did that,” said Heyes. “A hundred dollars, for only three week’s work, not too bad.”
“It was supposed to be two weeks,” Kid growled. “I’ve been kicking my heels here for a week.”
“How’d your job go?” asked Heyes with his mouth full.
“Easy as pie, delivering legal documents sure beats punching cows,” said Kid. “I have to say it’s nice to win a coin toss for a change.”
Heyes nodded. “I’ll have to get me a new coin, I can see that.” He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes.
“Come on, you can’t sleep here, I’ll show you where the room is,” said Kid, getting to his feet. Heyes followed him through the crowd.
“Big night,” Heyes remarked, as they climbed the stairs to the dim hallway. “Is it Saturday? I’ve lost track.”
“Christmas Eve,” Kid said over his shoulder.
“Oh, yeah?” said Heyes, yawning. “Sorry I’m not more festive company.”
They went into the bare, cold hotel room, and Kid struck a match and lit the kerosene lamp. Heyes flopped down on the bed. “Pretty lousy mattress,” said Kid. “This place sure ain’t the Ritz.”
“Mattress, what’s that?” Heyes mumbled. He rolled over and was asleep instantly.
Kid pulled off Heyes’s boots and unbuckled his gunbelt, yanking it off and hanging it on the brass bedpost. Heyes didn’t stir. Kid threw a quilt over him, then blew out the light and went downstairs.
Alice tapped him on the shoulder when he walked up to the bar. “Double!” he called to the bartender, and when it came he raised his glass to her in a toast before he drank.
“Well, you look a lot happier,” she said. “Santa bring you what you wanted for Christmas?”
“Yeah,” said Kid. “Sure did.”
Here's a story about the earliest days of Heyes and Curry....
Find a Way or Make One
Kansas was a hot place, Heyes thought--hottest place he'd ever been in.
Kansas was pretty, for sure. Nothing like upstate New York, though—no broad rivers, no sugar maple trees. But the wide hills of the prairie were golden with sunflowers, and a meadowlark sang in the stillness. Heyes leaned back on the wagon seat, his blue eyes narrowing in satisfaction as he surveyed the empty land. Shaking the reins to encourage the tired horse, he began to whistle. He was almost home.
A sudden loud crack interrupted his whistling. “What the hell?” he demanded, and yanked back on the reins, thinking that an axle had broken. Another crack, and a burst of splinters flew off the side of the wagon seat.
He stared at the round hole beside him. Then he looked around wildly, trying to locate where the shots were coming from. The road wound through a narrow valley, and he could glimpse figures on the rocky hilltop. He shook the reins frantically, shouting at the panicked horse.Another shot, and the floppy-brimmed brown hat was blown clean off his head.
As Heyes struggled with the reins, men with rifles started down the slope towards him. "No!" he shouted at them crazily. "You can't have it!" Another shot whizzed past his ear. No choice.
Heyes jumped off the wagon, and ran in the opposite direction, keeping low. At the top of the hill, he dived behind a boulder, as bullets whined off the stones.
Silence fell. The prairie wind whispered through the grass. He peered over the rock, as the bandits tore into the supplies in the wagon. He clenched his fists in fury, but there was nothing he could do to stop them. He counted fourteen men.
A tall, broad-shouldered man seemed to be the leader. Heyes could hear him shouting orders. Some of the outlaws turned away, apparently grumbling, and a dark-haired boy shouted back at the big man. The leader strode over and smacked him across the face, sending him sprawling in the dirt.
Heyes watched their every move, hoping that they would decide to make off with some of the smaller items and leave the wagon and its most precious cargo behind.He risked standing up to take a look down the road to see if any help was in sight, then stiffened as he saw a lone rider rounding the hills to the east.
The man was approaching at a leisurely pace. He wore a black hat and a sheepskin jacket, and had a six-gun belted around his waist. Heyes realized with dread that as soon as the man rounded the curve in the road he would ride right into the outlaws.
There was indecision in Heyes's blue eyes as he drummed his fingers on the rock ledge and considered what to do. If he kept quiet, maybe the outlaws would chase after the newcomer, and leave him an opportunity to get away with the wagon. The rider pushed the hat back on his head, and Heyes could see that he was a young man, with a pleasant face; the evening sun glinted on his dark gold hair.
The stranger approached the curve, and one of the outlaws lifted his head warily, and gave a sharp order. Others looked up, and raised their rifles. Heyes spent no more time pondering. He stuck his head up over the rocks and bellowed "Hey, kid, look out!"
The man reined in his horse, and whipped his gun out of the holster so fast that Heyes blinked. All of the outlaws had noticed him now, and Heyes saw more of them swing their rifles to their shoulders. He shouted again, waving his arms. "Over here! There's cover here!"
The man in the sheepskin jacket fired, and one of the robbers staggered back, clutching his shoulder. The others shot back, and the man's horse gave a scream and fell thrashing to the ground. Heyes could hardly bear to watch, certain the rider would be shot down, but the young man scrambled to his feet and raced for the rocks, firing as he went with such rapidity that the outlaws scurried for cover. The man pounded up the slope and dived over the top of Heyes's boulder. Both of them crashed to the ground.
The firing ceased, and they lay frozen for a minute in the sudden silence. Then Heyes scrambled to his feet and peered over the rock. "They're going back to the wagon," he said, keeping his head low. "Maybe they'll leave us alone."
The other man lay on the ground, panting. "You okay?" Heyes asked over his shoulder.
"Yeah," the man said. "Thanks for the warning," he added, and gave Heyes a broad grin, his brown eyes lighting. "Appreciate it."
"Don't mention it," said Heyes, with an answering grin. "Couldn't just let them shoot you down. You're mighty good with that gun, stranger."
"I try," said the man, getting to his feet. "Say, where's your gun, mister? Not wearin' a holster, I see. They got the rifle away from you, huh?"
"I don't carry a gun these days," said Heyes quietly.
"Don't carry a gun!" the man said, staring at him. "What, out here in Kansas? With all the raiders and the border fighting going on? You must be crazy, friend."
Heyes shook his head with a smile and held out a hand. "A pleasure to meet you, young man," he said. “Name's Heyes. Joshua Heyes."
The other man shook his hand. "Thaddeus Curry," he said. "Proud to meet you."
They peered over the dusty rocks, lying side by side. The outlaws had gone back to the wagon and were passing around a bottle, some of them lounging in the wagon bed, others gathered around on the road.
"Had a bottle of wine in there," said Heyes bitterly. "Bringing it home to share with my wife."
"You live around here?" asked Curry.
"Not far," said Heyes. "Built a little place, just got the roof on. Homesteading with my wife and baby boy. You looking to homestead out here?"
"Nope," said Curry. "Just passing through. Never seen a place yet that'd make me want to settle down."
Heyes rolled over on his back and stared up at the darkening sky. "What am I going to do?" he asked, not expecting an answer. "They can have the wine, but I just can't lose the stuff in the wagon."
"What's in the..." Curry began to ask, but he was interrupted by shouting, and the rattling of wheels. They both looked over the ledge and saw the wagon being driven off by one of the outlaws, with half a dozen men in the back and the rest trotting along on horseback.
"Damnation," Heyes said under his breath, and pounded his fist on the rock. "I've got to find a way to get it back."
Curry stood up and began to reload his revolver. "We'll find a way," he said confidently.
Heyes looked up at him, his brows raised. "You're going to help?" he asked.
"Yeah, I owe you one," Curry replied. He finished reloading and nodded, deftly spinning the gun into his low-cut holster. "We'll find a way, or we'll make one. Anywhere around here we could get you a gun? Borrow one from a neighbor, maybe?"
"I told you, I don't hold with guns," said Heyes. "Too much temptation to do something you'll regret, when you've got a gun handy on your hip," he added in a low voice. "I've found that out the hard way."
"Well, at least you might live to regret it," Curry pointed out.
Heyes shook his head. "There's other possibilities," he said. "We shall find a way or we shall make one."
"That's what I said."
"That's what Hannibal said."
"Who?" Curry asked.
"Hannibal. One of the greatest generals of all time."
"In the war with Mexico, you mean?" Curry asked, looking puzzled. "Can't say I ever heard of him."
"No, no," said Heyes. "He lived a long time ago. He fought the Romans."
"Latin," said Curry, losing interest. "I never paid much attention in school when they got to the Romans."
"Well, Hannibal was a Carthaginian, he was their leader in the second Punic War..." Heyes began.
"You used to pay attention in school, huh?" Curry said.
"Why, young man, I used to teach school, back home," said Heyes. "Now the Punic Wars were..."
"Come on, let's get a move on," Curry interrupted, shading his eyes to peer after the outlaws as they disappeared around a bend in the road. "We don't want to lose'em."
"That's so," said Heyes and clambered to his feet. He looked up and down the quiet valley, considering. "I heard in town that they're new around here, those guys," he said. "The word is that they've been hiding out in West Valley, by the river. Let's head that way, I know a short cut."
The fire blazed high, sending clusters of sparks up into the night sky. Every now and then one of the men would get up and toss another log on the red coals. The gang had long since finished off the bottle of wine, and were now making merry with the contents of a small barrel of cider that had been in the wagon. They had also pried open another barrel that contained salt pork, and the savory smell floated over to where Heyes and Curry were watching from the shadows, crouched side by side behind a bush.
"Damn, that smell makes me hungry," said Curry. "I haven't had anything but jerky in three days."
"When this is over, I'll invite you home for dinner," Heyes promised. "My wife makes the best pie in the world."
"Don’t talk about pie," Curry groaned. "I could eat a horse right now." He rolled over on his back and put his hands behind his head. "Looks like we're going to be here for a while," he observed. "They don't show any signs of going to sleep. So what's the plan?"
Heyes rubbed his chin. "Well, if they all go to sleep we'll sneak up and drive off in the wagon," he said.
"That's the plan?" Curry demanded. "My, how brilliant! How long did it take you to think that up?"
Heyes ignored this. "If they leave a guard, we'll have to find another way," he said, and Curry smiled and patted the gun in its holster.
They lay side by side, watching the moon slowly thrust a silver edge over the hills in the east. "So what did this Hannibal guy do that made him so famous?" Curry asked idly.
"Well, the Punic Wars were between Carthage and Rome, in the third century B.C.," Heyes began, in a tone of schoolroom lecture. "Hannibal's troops were hopelessly outnumbered..."
"Fourteen to two?" Curry inquired.
"Something like that," said Heyes with a grin. "So he decided to steal a march on the Romans, and attack from the least likely direction. He led his men across the Alps."
"What's the Alps?" Curry asked, yawning.
"A range of mountains, in Italy," Heyes answered severely. "Didn't you learn anything in school?"
"The Romans were so boring I left before they got to geography," said Curry, unrepentant. "So go on."
"Well, Hannibal crossed the mountains in the middle of winter, taking elephants with him–to use in the battle, you see."
"He was crazy," said Curry, shaking his head.
"Well, that’s what everyone said, they told him it was impossible, and he said 'We shall find a way or we shall make one.' He was a great man, a fascinating historical character. Why, I even named my son after him."
"That was a mean trick," said Curry indignantly. "Saddle a boy with a name like Hannibal. Kids won't leave him alone when he gets to school. I know what that's like, I've had to put up with the name Thaddeus for twenty-one years."
"Quiet," said Heyes. "The noise is dying down a bit."
They peered through the darkness, and saw that the blaze had sunk to a glowing heap of embers. The rising moon lit the little valley with a silver haze, and they could make out the shape of the wagon, not far from the fire. The horse was tied to a tree, cropping grass nearby. Most of the outlaws were rolling themselves up in their blankets, and the sound of snoring began to rise. Soon only three men remained chatting drowsily around the fire. Heyes fidgeted and drummed his fingers, while Curry crouched beside him as still as a stalking panther. "Maybe they'll all go to sleep soon," Heyes said hopefully.
"You could tell them about the Punic wars, that might speed things up some," Curry suggested.
Finally two of the men stretched out on their bedrolls, and began to snore. One man, however, remained sitting up, clearly planning to remain on guard. He sat hunched over the remains of the fire, facing the wagon, with his rifle between his knees.
"Well, so much for that plan," Curry murmured.
Heyes sighed. "I was hoping they wouldn't bother with a guard, way out here."
Curry didn't answer, just pulled the gun from the holster. "Well, let's get to it," he said.
"Hold on a minute, what are you planning to do with that thing?" Heyes asked, frowning.
"Get the drop on'em," Curry replied. "Keep'em quiet while you hitch up the wagon."
"And what if they don't keep quiet?" Heyes demanded. "You expect to shoot fourteen outlaws with one six-gun?"
Curry shrugged. "Well, I might have to stop and reload a few times," he admitted. "You got a better idea?"
"Put that gun back in your holster, young fellow," said Heyes. "I've got a plan."
The guard sat staring drowsily into the fire, listening to the drone of crickets in the tall grass. His eyelids grew heavier, and finally his head nodded. Before he could shake himself awake, he felt a powerful grasp on the back of his neck. A gag was stuffed into his mouth, and strong hands dragged him off the rock he was sitting on. None of the outlaw gang stirred from their comfortable bedrolls, and he was hauled into the bushes before he could make a sound.
He was briskly propelled down a slope for a hundred yards or so, then his feet crunched on gravel. He could see the shadowy forms of cottonwoods that lined the riverbed, and he felt himself shoved against a trunk, his hands were yanked behind him, and in no time he was bound securely to the tree. The gag was choking him, and he shook his head frantically, trying to draw breath. A hand reached out and pulled the cloth from his mouth.
As his eyes got used to the darkness, he could make out the shapes of two men in the shadows. They stepped up and stood in front of him, and the moon shone full on their faces. One was slender and wiry, with a touch of gray in his dark hair; the other was a younger man, tall and sandy-haired. They looked him over, side by side.
"What do you want of me, senores?" he gasped, trying to keep a bold face.
"You Mexican?" asked the younger man, raising his brows. "You're a long way from home."
"I am Lope de Vargas," said the boy proudly, raising his chin. "What do you want, gringo?"
"Revenge," said the dark-haired man promptly, with a stern frown. "We want revenge."
"For what?" the captive asked, bewildered.
"You're trespassing on our territory, don't you know that?"
"Your territory?" repeated Lope. "Who are you?"
"Who are we?" replied the man. "Why, I'm Joshua Heyes and he's Thaddeus Curry, and we're the two most successful outlaws in the history of the west. We're the leaders of the...um, the Heyes and Curry gang. Haven't you heard of us?"
"No," said Lope.
"Well, we've been raiding around these parts for years, and this is our territory. And we take revenge on trespassers like you. We're going to make you wish you'd never been born."
"But I am not the leader of the gang..." Lope began. “McGuire is the leader."
"Well, that's all right, we'll start with you and work our way up," said Heyes.
"But I tell you, I have nothing to do with where or who we rob,” Lope insisted. "I only joined these men last week. That McGuire, he does not ask our opinion. He just tells us what to do, and takes whatever he wants. He doesn't care if we get shot, or starve."
Heyes ignored these protests, and turned to his partner. "So, Curry, what do you think will be the best revenge?" he asked. "Shall we give him the same treatment we gave all those others?"
"Eh?" said Curry, sounding startled. Heyes frowned at him. "What shall we do for revenge, do you think?" he repeated, treading heavily on Curry's foot.
"Ow!" said Curry. "Oh, right...uh, well, we could pull out a few fingernails," he suggested.
"No, that's too merciful," said Heyes. "Let's cut out his tongue. After all, we don't want him to make any noise. If he made any noise, the rest of the gang would come running."
The Mexican boy stared at them in horror, then swallowed and lifted his chin again. "I will never make a sound under torture," he said. "I am a de Vargas, and I would scorn to beg for mercy." Heyes and Curry looked at each other. Their prisoner set his teeth and closed his eyes, prepared for the worst.
Nothing happened. He opened his eyes again, and saw that the two men were gazing at him with dismayed expressions. "You couldn't make just a little noise?" Heyes asked.
"Never!" said Lope.
"Great, we had to get a hero," Curry complained. "I told you this would never work."
"Hang on a minute," said Heyes, and turned to Lope with a winning smile. "Listen, friend, I wonder if you couldn't help us out a little," he said. "We'd take it as a favor."
"What?" said Lope, blinking at them in confusion.
"We just need you to do us a little favor, that's all," said Heyes. "And speaking of revenge, you'd be getting a little of your own back on McGuire, at the same time," he added, eyeing the dark bruise on the boy's cheek.
The boy shook his head. "I am Lope de Vargas, I would scorn to make a sound..." he began.
"Yes, yes, we understand,” Heyes said patiently, as Curry rolled his eyes. "Very commendable, I'm sure. But we need you to make just a little noise, you see."
Heyes and Curry once more crouched behind the bush and gazed down at the outlaw camp, where the fire had died to an orange glow amid the ashes. The outlaws were still snoring in their bedrolls, but the sky in the east was beginning to fade to gray. Heyes took a gold watch out of his shirt pocket and peered at it.
"How much longer?" asked Curry in a whisper. "Gonna be harder to get clear in daylight."
"Just about now," said Heyes.
Suddenly a bloodcurdling scream echoed through the darkness. "Help! Help!" cried a voice. "Ayudame! They will kill me! Help!"
The outlaws began to stir and roll over, and some leaped to their feet and gazed around in bewilderment. "It's Lope!" said one. "Where the hell is he?"
"The voice is coming from down there by the river–someone's got hold of him," said a man, rubbing his eyes. "Maybe it's redskins."
The anguished yells continued. "Sounds like they’re scalping him, all right," said a tall, burly man. "Maybe we should get out of here. It's only a Mexican kid."
"We've got to go see what's going on, McGuire," said another, a small, thin man with long sidewhiskers. "We can't just leave him. Come on, boys, there's enough of us to scare a few redskins." Most of the men nodded agreement and picked up their rifles. "Come on, bring a light," the man said. Someone lit a lantern, and they all headed off down the slope to the riverbed, shoving each other and crowding together warily.
Heyes and Curry waited till the last man had disappeared into the underbrush, then they both jumped up and raced noiselessly down the hill. Heyes grabbed the horse's rein and dragged him over to the wagon, and began to hitch up as fast as he could, groping for the straps in the darkness. Curry stood watching the shadows for any sign of movement.
The shouting died away, and Curry looked around at Heyes. "They found him," he said. "They'll be back any minute." He pulled the gun out of his holster.
"Put that away, I said," Heyes grunted, straining at a harness buckle.
"You're not the schoolmaster any more," Curry retorted, checking the chamber of the gun. He stood peering tensely into the darkness, the gun held ready, as the noise of footsteps and angry shouts began to draw closer. "Our best chance is to shoot a few of them. There's nothing wrong with shooting someone who's shooting at you!"
"Come on, we'll debate the issue later," Heyes shouted. "Let's go!" He jumped onto the wagon seat. Curry hesitated a moment, then swung himself up beside Heyes. Some of the outlaws ran into the clearing, and shots began to crack. A bullet whined between the two of them, and others smacked into the back of the wagon.
Heyes shook the reins, shouting, and the horse took off, the wagon jolting so that they were nearly thrown off the seat. Curry jammed the gun back in his holster, and used both hands to hold on as the wagon bounced and lurched up the hill. When they reached the road, Heyes turned onto the flat surface, and the horse bolted down the track at full speed. The noise of the pursuit faded behind them.
Finally the horse slowed its frantic pace, and Heyes pulled back on the reins to halt the wagon and let the horse breathe. Dawn was breaking, the gray light freshening to gold, and they could see the green hills around them and the road ahead, edged with nodding sunflowers. They sat side by side on the wagon seat, panting.
After a few moments, Curry looked over his shoulder into the wagon bed, and his eyes widened. "Oh, no," he groaned. "Heyes, the wagon's empty!"
"What do you mean?" Heyes swung around to take a look.
"The wagon's empty, there's nothing but these old sacks."
Heyes smiled, and slapped him on the back. "Oh, that's exactly what I was after. They're all I need."
Curry stared at him. "Three old sacks? What's in them?"
Heyes didn't reply, just hopped into the wagon bed and hauled one of the heavy sacks up, then cut open a corner with his knife. A stream of gold poured into his hand. He lifted his palm for Curry to see what he held.
"Seeds?" Curry said blankly. "Nothing but seeds?"
"Seed wheat," said Heyes, nodding proudly. "Enough to seed the whole acreage. Spent every nickel I had on it. Oh, it's more than just seeds. It's the future." He tied the sack up carefully, then climbed back on the wagon seat, and gazed out over the brightening prairie.
"I'm going to plant these seeds, come spring," he said. "And with the money I get from the crop, my wife and I will buy more seed, and livestock, cows and chickens. We'll build a barn. I'm going to sink my roots deep in this land." He clenched his fist around the handful of golden seeds. "A man can have a good life here. This will make up for all the mistakes of the past; it's a new start, a second chance." He looked at Curry, his blue eyes wide. "A man's entitled to a second chance, don't you think? A chance to wipe the slate clean?"
Curry shrugged, then nodded. "Could be," he said. "Could well be."
"It'll be a good life," Heyes went on, as though talking to himself. "And Hannibal--my son--will farm this land, and his sons after him. We'll build a town, with a church and a school--maybe he'll be the schoolmaster, like me. Why, we'll ..." he broke off with a laugh. "Well, anyway," he said. "Got to get the seeds planted first."
He glanced again at Curry, sitting beside him on the wagon seat. "I could use a hand, you know. You sure you won't change your mind about settling down?”
Curry shrugged again, with a little less certainty. "Tell you what," said Heyes. "Come on home with me for dinner, anyway. Stay a little while. Say, I'll introduce you to my wife's sister."
"Oh, yeah?" said Curry, raising his brows. "Is she pretty?"
"Well, not as pretty as my wife, in my opinion. I like brown eyes and dimples myself. But most folks say my wife's sister is the prettiest one."
"What's she look like?" Curry asked. Heyes flapped the reins on the horse's neck, and the horse started up with a weary shake of the head.
"Well, she's got hair like cornsilk," said Heyes. "And the bluest eyes you ever saw."
Good news! The amnesty is coming through...?
They sat side by side on the dusty rock ledge, trying not to pant. Both of them strained their ears for the sound of hoofbeats, although they knew he couldn't be that close yet. Kid leaned over the rock’s edge and peered down into the canyon to see if the all-too-familiar figure with the big rifle was in sight, and heaved a sigh of relief when he saw no one yet. But he was coming, they both knew that. He wasn’t far away.
“I had another dream last night,” Heyes said suddenly, breaking the silence.
“Oh, this is the perfect time to tell me about it,” Kid snapped. “Go on, I’m sure the bounty hunter won’t mind waiting. Don’t leave anything out.”
Heyes gave a tired grin. “Well, we got to let the horses rest,” he pointed out.
Their horses stood on the trail just below, with heaving sides and foam showing at the corners of their mouths. “I hope they last till we get to Porterville,” Kid said. “Damn, that guy’s good, he can track over anything.”
Heyes leaned beside him, and they looked over the misty valley as the evening shadows deepened. “It was like this in the dream,” he said in a low voice. Kid rolled his eyes, but Heyes couldn’t help going on. “Well, it was dark and kind of foggy, and I was someplace like...well, remember that old cabin, up in the hills? We met Lom there a few times. With the big pine tree.”
“Uh huh…” Kid nodded absently, studying the trail below the ledge.
“Well, it was kind of like that, a wrecked-up old place, anyway, and you were there and maybe Lom...or was it Wheat...and I was there, too, but someone was following me...” He tried to convey the menace he had felt in the dream, the nightmarish sense of being lost in a fog with someone always just behind him. But like all dreams, this one flew away when he tried to put it into words, and he could tell when Kid stopped listening. He sighed and fell silent.
“Well, you know what my ma always said about dreams,” Kid said, scanning the horizon.
“No, what?” said Heyes curiously. Kid rarely mentioned his mother.
“Dreamers often lie.”
Heyes smiled. "Well, she got that right," he admitted reluctantly. “Any sign of him?” he added, peering out again.
“Nope. Maybe we finally lost him.” Kid glanced at the sky, judging the time. “We could probably give it a while here—it’s your turn to sleep, I'll wake you in half an hour.”
“Make it twenty minutes,” said Heyes, and rolled over on his back, closing his eyes. He was just starting to sink back into the shadowy fog of the familiar dream landscape, when he jerked awake, heart pounding, and realized Kid was shaking him. “What?” he said dazedly, but knew the answer as soon as he saw Kid’s face. They lay on their stomachs, heads low, and watched the dark figure below the ridge riding nearer.
"Gray hat, great big elephant gun, that’s him all right. We've got to do something," Kid said through clenched teeth. "He’s not close enough, though."
"Not close enough!" Heyes said. "He’s plenty close for me, thanks."
"No, we want him to get closer. A rifle is ten times as accurate as a forty-five, at a distance. Once he gets in close, he loses the advantage." Kid quietly drew his gun, and aimed carefully, left hand bracing his right wrist, looking along the top of the barrel with narrowed eyes. "All I need is one clear shot…"
"No!" Heyes said sharply. "Put that gun in your holster. We've got to lose him, that's all."
"Oh, good, well, I'm glad that's all," Kid snapped, but he lowered the gun. "How do you propose we do that? Nothing's worked so far."
"Well, maybe we should...well, I don't know, try talking to him or something?" Heyes rubbed a hand over his face, trying to wake up. "I don't know," he admitted. "I'm fresh out of ideas." The figure below disappeared in a clump of cottonwoods at the canyon’s edge.
"He's not interested in conversation, he's been shooting to kill," Kid said grimly. "We’re gonna have to split up. He's such a good tracker, he just can't miss a double trail." Heyes drummed his fingers on the rock, and considered. There wasn't a lot of time to debate strategy. "All right," he agreed. "What about Lom, though? His message said it was urgent."
"Well, I'd call not getting killed fairly urgent, too," said Kid. "We'll get to Porterville when we can." Suddenly there was a sharp crack, and splinters flew out of the rock wall above them as a bullet ricocheted overhead.
"End of discussion," Kid shouted, jumping to his feet. They ran for the horses, keeping low.
"I'll swing up north towards Porterville, and you go south, how's that?" Heyes called, as he swung himself into the saddle. "Meet at Clearspring Canyon--say, three days."
"Okay," said Kid, reining up beside Heyes. "How about a back-up, we shouldn't sit around in one place too long. Bill's?"
"That's good, not too far--he'd be delighted to see us." Another shot cracked off a boulder, closer.
"All right," said Kid. "Get going, no time to chat. Unless you'd like to bore me with another dream."
Heyes grinned. "I will next time I see you," he promised. He spurred his horse, and it took off with a jump. "Watch yourself! And keep that gun in your holster!" Heyes called over his shoulder.
"Yes, Ma," Kid shouted back, and Heyes laughed as they galloped off in opposite directions.
As soon as he unlocked the front door of his house and stepped inside, Lom Trevors had a feeling that someone was watching him. He could see almost the whole place at a glance; just one room that was kitchen and bedroom combined, and a tiny closet, not much else. Evening light slanted in through the windows, and the corners were darkening, but everything seemed normal enough. Still, something wasn't right.
He searched the house thoroughly, gun drawn, but found nothing: the closet held no lurking stranger, there was no one hiding behind the curtains. He shook his head at his fancies, and lit the lamp to drive away the shadows.
He put on a pot of coffee, and heated a can of beans over the stove, glancing over his shoulder from time to time. The ticking of the clock was the only sound. He sat down at the small table to eat dinner, but he couldn't shake the uneasy feeling. He brought a forkful of beans to his mouth, then spun around in his seat, glaring behind him. No one was there.
Finally, the feeling grew so strong that he got up and searched the room again. He peered into the closet, inside the tiny cupboard, and finally crouched on hands and knees to look far under the bed.
"Lom, what the heck are you doing down there?" an amused voice said. He jumped, banging his head on the bed slats. He twisted around and looked up to see Hannibal Heyes standing behind him, leaning casually on the bedpost. "Lose something?" Heyes inquired.
Lom scrambled to his feet, red-faced. "Just had a crazy notion there was someone under the bed," he muttered.
"Well, there was, actually," Heyes admitted, brushing a cobweb off his shoulder. "Really ought to sweep under there, Lom. You need a wife, that's what you need."
"Gosh, you're funny," Lom growled. "Sure wish I was funny like you boys." He glanced around the room. "Where's the Kid, up the chimney?"
Heyes laughed. "No, we ran into a little trouble, had to split up. I'm meeting him tomorrow, down south of here."
"Ran into trouble, eh?" said Lom, taking in Heyes’ tired face and dusty clothes. "Want some coffee?"
"I'd kill for some coffee," said Heyes, rubbing a hand over his eyes. "Sorry, maybe I should rephrase that," he added, sitting down in Lom's chair. "Not hungry?" He helped himself to Lom's beans.
"You'd definitely better rephrase that," Lom said sternly as he poured coffee into two mugs. "The Governor'll take back the amnesty if he hears you talk like that."
Heyes looked up sharply, and Lom grinned. "Yep, it looks like it's gonna come through, Heyes. You boys just might do it."
Heyes felt numb. He dropped the fork and stood up so abruptly that he knocked the chair over. "Don't kid around, Lom. We've waited too long for this. Don't joke if you don't really mean..."
"I'm not kidding," Lom said. "The Governor wants to see you right away, and a guy I know tells me he just might sign it, providing you boys get up to Cheyenne by the end of the month. The political climate looks good right now, but next month the legislature'll be back in session..."
"We'll be there--end of the month--that's next week," Heyes said excitedly.
"Yeah, and it's a fair ride from here, you'd better get going. You've got to get there by the thirty-first, no later, the Governor won't take kindly to being kept waiting. He's not a patient man."
"All right, I'm on my way, won't even stick around for that coffee," said Heyes. "Just got to go get the Kid, and we're off." He picked up his hat and headed for the door.
"Heyes," said Lom, and Heyes looked around at the change in his tone. "You ever think--it might be easier without--I mean the Kid's so well-known as a dangerous gunman--" Lom caught Heyes' look and stopped. "All right, just a friendly word of advice. Where are you meeting him, anyway?"
Heyes looked at him with a blank face. "Not far," he said.
Lom sighed. "You don't trust anyone, do you, Heyes?"
"Sure I do, Lom," Heyes replied affably.
"Anyone besides the Kid, I mean. Someday that's going to cost you, friend." Lom looked at Heyes's stubborn face, and sighed again. "Anyway, Cheyenne’s pretty far, so you guys better get a move on. I'll meet you up there, Brown's Hotel."
Heyes nodded. "Okay, okay." He put his hand on the doorknob, then turned. "Hey, thanks a lot, Lom. Don't think we don't appreciate it. This is...I've been dreaming of this for a long time." He grinned. "Tell the Governor we're on our way!"
Heyes lay flat on his stomach and peered over the edge of the rimrock, into Clearspring Canyon. The thought crossed his mind that he and the Kid had been doing an awful lot of this lately, cowering behind rocks, looking out in dread for an enemy who was eager to blow their heads off and claim the reward. He closed his eyes for a moment, dreaming of what it would be like to walk free in the sunlight, with no price on his head, no fear.
He opened his eyes to gaze down into the valley again, and sighed. He’d hoped it was a mirage, or a bad dream, but the soldiers were still there, scattered on the valley floor below like blue ants. “Looks like half the U.S. army,” he muttered. A sea of blue uniforms spread around the tiny waterhole; already the spring of clear water looked filthy. From the way the soldiers were unrolling blankets and driving tent pegs into the ground, they were planning to stay for a while.
He rolled over on his back to stare at the hot sky, and consider the problem. Small dust-colored birds twittered among themselves as though discussing the invasion of their watering place. He raised an arm to rub a hand over his red-rimmed eyes, and the birds flickered away though the underbrush.
Kid should have gotten here by now. Heyes took a small sip from his almost empty canteen. He couldn’t wait here long, but if he could catch his partner here then he wouldn't have to waste time going twenty miles further south to Bill's place. He lay flat, feeling the sun bake down on his dusty clothes.
The sun crawled across the sky, and his eyes ached from staring across the valley in the glare. Then he blinked, and got to his feet, staring across the canyon--yes, he was sure now–there was a flash of red, a glimpse of a red shirt-sleeve. He stood up cautiously, keeping behind a boulder so that he’d be invisible to the soldiers below, and waved. Kid waved back.
They were so far apart that only the broadest gestures could be seen. Heyes made a sweep with his arm and then pointed to himself, indicating that he would go towards the west and circle around. Kid waved again, and Heyes could see him nodding. He heaved a sigh of relief that Kid had caught on so quickly, and raced back to where he’d left his horse to graze. He jumped into the saddle, and spurred off, heading towards the setting sun, in a wide circle that would bring him around the soldiers to where Kid would be waiting.
Kid had seen the soldiers, too, and like Heyes had laid low, looking for his partner on the opposite canyon wall. When Heyes pointed, he nodded, waving back that he understood.
There was no need to hurry, but he was pleased that Heyes had caught on so quickly, and strolled back to where he’d left his horse to graze. He headed away from the setting sun, in a wide circle that would bring him around the soldiers to where Heyes would be waiting.
Heyes stood gazing north across the valley. He looked down at the hoofprints in the dust, heading east, and cursed, realizing what had happened. He considered retracing his steps, but Kid might do the same, and it would take hours to circle the canyon-- they could be dancing around here all night. Heyes pursed his lips, and gazed over the valley floor that was lit by the last glow of the sunset, debating the options.
Suddenly he saw a familiar figure riding down the slope, and groaned out loud. A man in a gray hat, carrying a large rifle. He rode up to a group of the soldiers, and they talked briefly, with much pointing and waving of arms. A gold-braided officer came out of a tent, and joined the discussion.
Heyes didn’t wait around to speculate on the topic of conversation. He climbed wearily back in the saddle and set off for the next meeting place. Old Bill would be delighted to see them. But they wouldn’t have any time to linger and enjoy his warm hospitality. Time was ticking by.
Bill Peterson opened the door of the cabin a crack, and peered out with eyes narrowed to slits. As soon as he saw who was knocking, he tried to slam it shut, but Heyes got his boot in the doorway in time. “Bad pennies,” Bill groaned. “They keep turning up. Got to get a lock for this door.”
“Oh, good, Kid’s here?” Heyes said with relief.
“Yeah, he’s here. Hope you don’t plan to stay.” Bill scowled, his tobacco-stained beard bristling.
“Nice to see you, too, Billy, how ya been?” said Heyes with a broad grin. He edged the door open a bit wider, and his nose wrinkled at the old man’s strong smell. “Now, Bill, I’m surprised at you. You haven’t taken your spring bath yet, and here it is the end of August. Are the Kid and I gonna have to give you a hand with that again?”
“Don’t even think about it,” Bill snarled. “You guys keep usin’ my place as a meeting spot, I'm gonna move. Go meet each other, why don't ya, and get outta my hair."
“Be glad to, where is he?”
“He got in this morning, went off to get somethin' to eat. I gave him a drink, but I told him I wasn't feeding him, too.”
“You’re all heart, Bill," Heyes said. "Any idea where he went? I’ve got to find him fast. Got something important to tell him.”
“Yeah?” Bill said, his watery eyes regarding Heyes with curiosity. “What would that be?”
Heyes opened his mouth, then closed it again. They’d known Bill a long time, but the amnesty was too important to risk in even the smallest way. “Nothing,” he said. “Where’d he go, any idea?”
“I’m not his keeper,” said Bill, losing interest. “Somewhere in town, place ain't that big.”
“Thanks, Bill,” said Heyes. “We probably won’t be back this way, so I’ll say goodbye now. Try not to cry too hard.”
Bill started to swing the door shut, then stopped while it was still ajar. “Watch yourself in town, Heyes,” he said. “We got kind of a trigger-happy sheriff these days. Kind of a nervous type. Killed a fella last month.”
“Okay,” said Heyes. “Thanks.”
He heard the door of Bill’s cabin slam as soon as he turned his back. Pulling himself back up on his weary horse, he decided that Kid had the right idea about having a meal before they got back on the road. A meal, and a drink, and a rest for the horses. They still had a few days left. There should be just enough time to get up to Cheyenne, if they didn’t dawdle too much.
He rode down the lane which led from Bill’s ramshackle place to the little town by the slow-moving river. Riverside looked like a pretty quiet place, he thought. Sort of place where nothing ever happened, just the same old boring routine, day after day. He sighed. Boredom sounded like heaven. He longed for the dull sameness of life in a quiet town. He looked around wistfully as he rode down Riverside's tidy main street: a church, and a schoolhouse, and not more than three saloons. A nice place to settle down.
He had never let himself think much about what would happen if they got the amnesty. Every time his mind wandered on to the topic, he hastily jerked his thoughts away, fearing to jinx good fortune by counting on it. But now he relaxed in the saddle as the horse plodded on, and allowed himself to dream a little. Settle down. Buy a house, perhaps? Find a girl? He smiled as he pictured Kid living in the house next door, married to a good cook with at least six kids.
He checked the first two saloons and saw no sign of his partner. But as soon as he rounded the corner and saw the third eating establishment, his heart sank into his boots, and he realized that he'd been wrong about Riverside being a dull place where nothing ever happened. Time for a little excitement now, he thought bitterly. Things always get exciting when Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry come to town.
There was a crowd gathered around the saloon, peering in the windows, lined up three deep at the door. He dismounted and tied his horse to the hitching post in front of the building, and tapped the nearest shoulder. "What's going on, friend?" he inquired casually of a bowler-hatted man in suit and tie.
"Don't know, heard there's a gunfighter in town--better look out, could be dangerous," said the man, elbowing his neighbors to get a closer look.
Heyes didn't want to look in the window. He knew what he would see, but he looked anyway, and sure enough, there was Kid Curry standing in the far corner of the big room, facing an eager young man whose hand was quivering inches from his low-slung holster. Kid stood relaxed, his face blank, both hands on his belt.
Heyes turned away from the window, and went quietly through the crowd, towards the double doors of the saloon. He stopped in the doorway, afraid to do anything that might distract his partner. Kid had noticed him come in, though, and his eyes met Heyes' for an instant. Then he turned his gaze back to the young would-be gunslinger, and Heyes held his breath. He couldn't help closing his eyes at the last second, when the youngster finally decided to show off his fast draw and Kid's hand flew to his holster.
Heyes heard the crowd's murmur of awe, and opened his eyes to see the familiar scene: Kid standing with drawn gun facing his cringing opponent, and the faces of the crowd turning to each other with amazement and speculation. A wave of anger replaced the relief he felt. Always the same story, he fumed, always the same thing, why can't you keep that gun in your holster? Everyone in town saw that for sure. He glanced around, and had to stop himself from cursing out loud. Down the middle of the street came the sheriff, gun drawn. With a feeling of being caught in a nightmare Heyes saw that the sheriff was followed by a man in a gray hat, carrying a large rifle over his shoulder.
Heyes stood rooted with horror. His mind raced. He could easily jump on his horse and be off, but Kid was in the far corner of the saloon, with at least twenty people between him and the door; he hadn't a hope of getting clear. He looked around, racking his brains for an idea, praying wildly that a mad dog would appear or a volcano erupt, but no blessed distraction occurred. The sheriff broke into a run towards the saloon.
Heyes hastily untied his horse and mounted. He drew his own gun, took a deep breath, and fired into the air three times. "Hey!" he shouted, feeling like a boy taunting the other boys in a game of hide'n seek. Hey, over here, can't catch me! He waited a moment to be sure he'd been seen, then as the two men swung their weapons towards him he spurred his horse and sped down the street, leaving the quiet town seething behind him like a kicked anthill. As he tore past the saloon he had a swift glance of Kid staring at him through the window, open-mouthed. Then his horse flew around the corner and Heyes lost sight of his partner, as once again they headed in opposite directions.
Heyes woke up with a sudden jerk, and blinked, wondering for a few bleary moments why he was lying under a bush. Then he remembered the bounty hunter, the relentless chase; he sat up hastily, looking around the grove of pines. No one was in sight, and he tried to relax, brushing pine needles off his clothes and longing for a cup of coffee. He’d been awakened by sunlight striking his face; the sun was well above the horizon, and he realized he’d slept longer than he’d planned to.
He climbed into the saddle, and started off, but he couldn’t stop glancing around, looking over his shoulder. The trees seemed to crowd in around him; he couldn’t see far, in this dense forest, and he felt a shiver of cold, in spite of the warm sun that filtered through the branches. He’d feel better when he got up higher in the hills, and could see behind him. There hadn't been a trace of the bounty hunter since he left Riverside, but he knew without a doubt that he was being followed.
Heyes spent the next two hours doing everything he could think of to obscure his trail: riding along streams, cutting across rocky flats, brushing away hoofprints. He stopped and looked back over a stretch of dirt he had carefully swept clear of tracks with a leafy branch, and shook his head doubtfully; he knew that to a tracker with Indian blood, an overturned pebble or a bent stem of grass was as good as a road map. He patted the tired horse’s neck, and sighed. “Can’t you walk backwards for a while, fella?” he said. “That might fool him.”
All the while, as he weaved through the trees and crossed streams, he was racking his brains as to where to meet up with Kid. Where would Kid go, now that the two meeting spots had fallen through? Lom’s? Maybe, but Porterville, where so many people knew them by sight, was always dangerous, and since Kid knew of no reason to be in any special hurry, he was unlikely to take risks. Back to Clearspring? The army encampment had looked like they were settling in for the winter. And Bill would be sorry to hear that they’d made Riverside too hot to hold them for a decade or so. He shook his head, trying to think the way his partner would. Where, where might Kid go? Heyes knew that he had to guess right this time. Time was almost up.
He came to a little clearing by a stream, and stopped to let the horse drink, and to take a drink himself. Then he lay down on a patch of soft moss to think, but made himself sit up again when he found his eyelids sinking shut and the mist starting to swirl in his head. No time to sleep now, he had to think. Think like Kid might. Suddenly he saw a picture in his mind of the abandoned, ruined cabin of his dream, cloaked in fog. He remembered the real place, not too far from Porterville, that they’d used as a meeting spot with Lom from time to time: they’d been discussing it right before they split up.
He jumped up abruptly, convinced he’d guessed right. Just as he did so, a rifle shot shattered the quiet, and a bullet winged off the spot where his head had been a moment before. He stared, frozen, then whirled around to see a gray hat disappearing behind a rock ledge only a few yards away. He dived into some thin shrubs, then rolled behind a fallen log, and lay flat, panting. His horse had wandered a few yards away, into the shade of some trees, but around the log there was nothing but ferns and moss, nowhere to hide. If he ran for it, he’d be a duck in a shooting gallery.
“Hey, friend, can’t we talk about this?” he called hopefully. Maybe the old silver tongue would buy him a little time. “Maybe we could make a deal or...” The rifle cracked again, and splinters flew off the log and cut his face. He ducked lower, wiping at the blood with a shaking hand. Kid had been right; the bounty hunter plainly wasn’t interested in conversation. He was shooting to kill.
Heyes tried to burrow as far under the log as he could. Pressing his face into the soft grass, he tried to think calmly, but his mind would only race in circles, and he realized with mounting terror that there was no hope of talking his way out of this one. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. He was the fast talker, the silver tongue, the poker player. Kid was the shooting expert, who could use his deadly skill when all else had failed and they were in the last ditch; he should be here, to take out the enemy with one well-placed shot.
He closed his eyes as another shot sang by so low the bullet grazed his hat. He tried again to think like his partner, and remembered the beginning of this chase so many days ago. Suddenly he seemed to hear Kid’s steady voice. He’s not close enough.
Not close enough! he heard himself protesting. He’s plenty close for me, thanks.
No, we want him to get closer. A rifle is ten times as accurate as a forty-five, at a distance. Once he gets in close, he loses the advantage. He remembered Kid aiming carefully, left hand bracing his right wrist, looking along the top of the barrel with narrowed eyes. All I need is one clear shot.
Heyes rolled on his back and checked his gun carefully, as Kid had taught him. He made sure the barrel was clear and all the chambers were loaded. Then he inched along on his belly, keeping low behind the log, to a position where he could glimpse the enemy’s head, just visible above the rock ledge. Heyes made his face blank and emptied his mind of everything but the gun. He steadied his hands, left hand bracing his right wrist, and looked along the top of the barrel with narrowed eyes, aiming just under the gray hatbrim, right between the eyes. He took a long breath and let it halfway out. Then he squeezed the trigger gently, and fired.
There was a scream of pain, and a string of curses, and Heyes grinned. He popped his head up and caught a glimpse of the bounty hunter clutching the side of his head, blood pouring between his fingers. Heyes didn’t try for another shot; Kid would have wanted to make sure, but Heyes knew that poker players should quit while they were ahead. He jumped up and scrambled aboard the startled horse, and galloped away, grinning with glorious relief as the shouts and curses faded behind him. Bending low in the saddle, he headed north, hoping that Kid was finally, finally heading in the same direction.
Heyes peered down the slope between the trees, trying to see if Kid was anywhere in sight. The little valley was shadowed by tall pines, and was still dark, although a red sun was edging above the horizon, bringing promise of another hot day. Tendrils of mist curled about the abandoned cabin under the trees, and Heyes shivered, remembering the dream that he seemed to fall into every time he closed his eyes.
He edged closer, and peered out from behind a rock, scanning the area. All looked quiet. He was beginning to feel like a damned jackrabbit, he thought, always peeking out from behind rocks. A twig snapped behind him, and he jumped and turned around, but there was no one there.
The ruined cabin was a blur in the dimness, and the shadows hid the huge pine tree that stood gnarled and bent above it. Heyes hadn't been here in a year or so, but he remembered the place well. He squinted through the shadows, holding his breath. If Kid wasn't here, it was all over. This was the very last chance. If they left right now, this morning, and rode hard all though the day, there was a bare possibility that they might get to Cheyenne before time ran out.
Finally he made out a huddled figure, lying next to a smoldering campfire. Sure enough, there he was. Sound asleep, Heyes thought disgustedly, shaking his head at Kid's carelessness. Fast asleep, out in the open where anyone could sneak up on him.
He left his horse in the trees and went silently down the slope, walking right up to where Kid was snuggled in his bedroll, the blanket pulled up over his head. Kid didn't stir, and Heyes shook his head again in disbelief. He swung back his foot and delivered a swift kick to the posterior of the huddled figure, then cursed aloud as pain shot through his toe.
There was a shout of laughter. Spinning around, he saw Kid standing just behind him, roaring with laughter. Heyes hopped on one foot, nursing his aching toe, while Kid bent over double, slapping his knees with mirth.
"Don't hurt yourself," Heyes snarled.
"Oh, my gosh," Kid gasped. "Heyes, that's the oldest trick in the book, a pile of rocks under the blanket! I was hoping to fool that bounty hunter if he came by, but I can't believe you fell for it..." He sank down on a nearby boulder, holding his sides and shaking with laughter.
"Oh, you're clever," Heyes said sourly, still rubbing his foot. "Clever as all get-out."
"Cleverer than you, anyway," Kid retorted, grinning widely. "I know better than to go around kicking rocks."
"Well, it's dark," Heyes pointed out in self-defense.
"Sorry," Kid said, wiping his eyes. "When life hands you a moment like that, you've just got to savor it. Oh, my, I can't believe you actually..." He began to snicker again.
"All right, don't start," Heyes interrupted hastily. "Listen, will ya? I've got to tell you something, it's important."
"Okay, okay," said Kid, subsiding with a final chuckle. "It's just that I haven't laughed that hard in a long time."
"Me neither," said a voice behind them, and they both jumped a foot, and spun around. Behind them a grimly familiar figure was standing in the mist, holding the big rifle, which was even bigger than it had seemed from far away.
He was a tall man, heavy-shouldered, with stringy black hair and black eyes like coals, the coldest eyes Heyes had ever seen. Dried blood was crusted all down his right cheek, where the ear had been blasted away by Heyes' bullet. "Haven't had much to laugh about lately," the man went on, as they stood frozen and speechless in front of him. "Get your hands up."
"Now look, mister..." Heyes began, as he obediently raised his hands. "Can't we talk about this for a minute? Make a deal of some sort?"
"Nothing to talk about," said the bounty hunter, in a matter-of-fact tone, and raised the rifle. "Looks like I get the last laugh. You're dead."
"Now hang on a minute, there," said Heyes, in a casual, authoritative tone that Kid knew well; it was the voice his partner used to place his bets when he was bluffing desperately, hadn't a card worth playing, and all the chips were down. "You haven't quite thought this through, you know."
"What do you mean?" demanded the bounty hunter. "Talk fast."
Heyes nodded and went on pleasantly. "Well, we're a hundred miles from a town, and you know it's hot as hell. Two dead bodies on pack horses--they'll decompose before you get halfway.” Kid couldn’t quite hide a shudder, but Heyes went on in a steady voice. "A body has to be recognizable to claim the reward on it," he said. "You'll end up with a pile of rotting meat for all your trouble." One look at the bounty hunter's narrowed eyes was enough to tell Heyes that the bluff was going nowhere.
"Shut up," the man said with contempt. "You'll keep, it's not that far. Or I could just slow you down a bit, and then kill you later." He raised the rifle, nodding. "Bullet or two'll slow you down. I'll start with you, big mouth," he added, with a smile. "I got a score to settle with you." His black eyes stared at Heyes with hate as his finger tightened on the trigger, and Heyes felt a sick chill in the pit of his stomach as the big gun swung squarely towards him.
"Hey, wait one more minute," Kid said, and stepped in front of Heyes. "Don't do anything hasty, friend," Kid said in a reasonable tone, as though he was opening a discussion, but Heyes saw that Kid's right hand was held a trifle lower than his left, and was sinking imperceptibly as he spoke. He realized that Kid was about to go for his gun, and was opening his mouth to shout something--he had no idea what--when Kid's hand sped down towards his holster, and the bounty hunter jerked the rifle up. Two shots exploded, and fireworks seemed to go off in Heyes' head, in a gold and scarlet blinding burst that faded into blackness.
Heyes slowly became aware that someone was saying his name, over and over. "What?" he snapped irritably. His head pounded with pain, and he opened his eyes to see who was calling him, then closed them as an orange glow stabbed into his skull.
"Thank God," he heard the voice again, and knew who it was. "You had me scared for a while there, Heyes, I thought you were never gonna wake up." He opened an eye cautiously, and saw Kid sitting in the shadows by a campfire, watching him. He closed his eyes again to keep the painful light out, and lay still as the ache in his head subsided a little.
He tried to disentangle the thoughts that seemed to be snarled in his head. There was something important he had to remember, something he had to do, and he chased the thread of this thought for a long time. Finally he grasped it, and his eyes flew open. "What time is it?" he demanded.
Kid laughed out loud. "I knew you were gonna say that before long," he said. "You always want to know what time it is." He shrugged. "I don't know. Moon's setting, must be way after midnight. Told you, I was beginning to think you'd never wake up."
"Midnight," said Heyes, and covered his face with his hands.
"Head pretty bad?" asked Kid sympathetically. "The bullet just creased along your forehead there, but it could have been a lot worse. You were lucky."
"Yeah," Heyes said in a muffled voice, and lay still for a while, glad that it was dark and Kid couldn't see his face too well. Kid sat in silence, idly whittling at a stick of firewood with his pocketknife.
Finally Heyes heaved a sigh, and struggled to sit up. His head spun, and he felt sick and dizzy. Kid gave him a hand, and dragged a saddle over for him to lean against. "There was a bounty hunter, he was after us..." Heyes tried to collect his scattered thoughts. “Where’d the guy go?” he asked, rubbing his aching forehead.
Kid snorted. “Oh, he remembered he had a previous engagement, he had to get going,” he said with bitterness in his voice. “Asked me to give you his best.” Kid cut angrily at the stick. “Where do you think he went?” he demanded, and nodded over to a cluster of tumbled rocks at the far side of the clearing. “He’s right over there.” Heyes glanced over at the low mound of dirt, and nodded wordlessly.
He sat quietly, leaning back against the saddle, watching his partner. Kid went on savagely digging at the stick with the knife, and then burst out, “Damn gun. It's my curse, I think. Can’t seem to keep it in the holster. Always, always, it’s just one more guy...one more guy I have to shoot, one more guy who wants to see if I'm faster...” He broke off and looked over at Heyes. “Hey, I’m sorry about what happened back in Riverside, in the saloon,” he said in a low voice. “Almost got you killed. That guy just wouldn’t take no for an answer, I tried to get out of it, but he...” His voice trailed off as he met Heyes’ stare. Heyes remembered the fury he had felt at Kid before, and bit his lip, but managed to hold his tongue.
Kid, however, read his expression effortlessly. “Well, I know,” Kid said angrily. “I should just walk away...I don’t know, Heyes, you’ll never get that amnesty if you hang around with me. Maybe you should get yourself another partner or something.”
“A new partner,” Heyes said grimly. “Maybe I should.”
Kid kept his face blank, and pretended to be absorbed in his whittling. “Suit yourself,” he said carelessly.
“A new partner,” Heyes repeated thoughtfully. “You know that’s an idea, I just might do that. Might do better with another partner.” He shook his head. “Thing is, I might have trouble finding one crazy enough to step in between me and a loaded gun.” Kid took an angry swipe at the stick, then looked up and blinked as the words registered. Heyes shrugged, his face solemn. “While I'm looking around, I guess I’ll have to stick with you,” he said.
“Shut up,” Kid growled, trying to keep his face stern.
“You’re the one who should shut up,” Heyes told him, and smiled. “Got any coffee?”
“No, but I can make some,” Kid said. He whacked Heyes on the shoulder, gently, and got to his feet. "Hang on a minute."
As Kid poked the fire and set the pot on to boil, Heyes looked up at the stars. The light of the fire still hurt his eyes, but the moon had set, and the starlight was gentle. He was staring vacantly at the sky when Kid came over with a steaming cup. “Here you go,” Kid said, and Heyes started. “What? Oh, thanks.”
Kid eyed him anxiously. “You okay? Your head hurt?”
“Yeah, but it’s better. I’m fine.” He took a sip.
“What is it, Heyes?” Kid said softly. “You look way down in the dumps.”
“Nothing, I’m fine,” Heyes said impatiently. Kid nodded. “Okay.”
They drank coffee in silence for a while, till Kid remembered something. “Oh, that’s right,” he said. “I meant to ask you, you said you had something to tell me." He waited, but Heyes made no reply. "So what was it?”
Heyes tried to find the words, but his head was spinning, and his silver tongue for once deserted him. He couldn't bear to go through it all right now. "I'm beat," he said, reaching for his hat and pulling it low over his eyes. "I'll tell you in the morning."
"Okay," Kid said. "Get some sleep. Wasn't anything important, then?"
Heyes sighed. “No,” he said at last. “It was only a dream I had.”