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 Loose Ends Chapter seven

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Keays



Posts : 33
Join date : 2013-09-26

20131222
PostLoose Ends Chapter seven

Loose Ends
 
 
 Jed sat quietly in the cafe, drinking coffee while he casually browsed through the local paper.  He'd helped himself to a full course breakfast and was just letting things settle until he meandered back to the hotel to see if his companions had decided to wake up yet.
 
  He'd been at the saloon playing small stakes poker until about 1:00 a.m. and then having won his fair share of the pots over the evening had decided to call it a night and get to bed himself.  Once upon a time he would have looked forward to spending the rest of the night with some local feminine company but marriage had kind of put a stop to that.  Not that he was complaining, mind you.  He still enjoyed the view but he was too happy with what he had at home to risk it all with tom-catting around while he was away.
 
  By 8:00 a. m. he was awake again and hungry.  He got up, got dressed and quietly opened the partitioning door between their rooms and was met with a cacophony of snoring that would have awakened the dead if they'd been in the same room.  With a soft smirk and a shake of the head, he closed the door, gave himself a quick shave and then headed down to the cafe for breakfast.
 
  He was actually surprised when he got there to find the place full to capacity with others waiting in line for a table.  This was odd.  Must be a really good place to come for breakfast if this was the kind of crowd it drew on a weekday morning.  Then as he looked around he began to notice familiar faces with some of them smiling and nodding a greeting his way upon making eye contact.  He realized then that these were passengers from the train who had not been injured, or at least not seriously and everyone was ready for breakfast.
 
  Fortunately he had timed it well and a number of tables opened up shortly after his arrival.  He had to share, but that was alright.  He sat down with a young couple and their son and though they all recognized each other, formal introductions were made all around.
 
  “Yes, have a seat and join us,”  the husband motioned to Jed.  “I'm Ralph and this is my wife Joan and our son Rudolph.”
 
  “Howdy folks, ma'am.”  Jed took his hat off and sat down beside the ten year old boy.  “I'm Jed.  I see you all survived the night alright.”
 
  “That was really neat!”  Rudolph exclaimed with eyes sparkling.  “I can't wait to get home and tell Billy and Caleb all about it.  A real train wreck!  And I was right there!”
 
  “We're just lucky we weren't in the car that derailed,”  Joan reminded her son.  “You might be singing a different tune if any of us had been injured.”
 
  “Yes momma,”  the boy accepted the reprimand and then smiled sneakily over at the stranger sitting beside him.
 
  Jed smiled back at him, but carried on the conversation with the parents.  “How long did you folks have to wait for help to arrive?”
 
  “Oh, I suppose it was about four hours,”  Ralph told him.   “but if it hadn't been for you and your friends riding into town, we'd probably still be out there.  Sure were lucky you fellas had your horses with you.”
 
  “Yeah,”  Curry agreed but couldn't help think that it wasn't so lucky for Heyes and Joe.  “glad to be of service.  So I take it everyone got into town alright?”
 
  “I think so,”  Joan answered as coffee and breakfast arrived.  “Of course the more seriously injured were brought in first, but there were enough wagons for everyone.  From what I understand the U.P. police will be investigating the wreck today and then try to get the engine and the cars back onto the tracks.”
 
  “That would be neat to see!”  Rudolph exclaimed over a mouthful of pancake.  “Can we go back and watch them, can we!?”
 
  “I don't think so, son,”  the father told him.  “best we stay out of the way.”
 
  “Awww....”
 
  “Besides,”  the mother continued.  “they'll be sending another train from Greeley to pick us up and take us there.  Wouldn't want to miss that, would you?”
 
  The heavy sigh from beside Jed strongly suggested that someone was getting tired of train travel and would much rather spend the day watching the goings on out at the wreck site.
 
  “Kind of a traumatic day for you folks, huh?”  Jed made conversation.
 
  Joan rolled her eyes.  “Bad enough for us that we lost most of our money but it must have been much worse for those poor people who were in the car that derailed.  I can't imagine what that must have been like.  Terrifying!”
 
  “Yes ma'am,”  Jed agreed.  “it was a rough ride for sure, but at least no one was too badly injured.”
 
  Joan gasped and put a hand to her breast.  “You mean you were in that car?  Oh, I just can't imagine!”
 
  “Wow!  Neat!”  Rudolph repeated.  “I wish I could have been in that car!”
 
  “Oh you do not!”  his mother scolded him.  “Stop being so silly.”
 
  Rudolph scowled and focused on his breakfast; a boy just can't have any fun when his mother was around.
 
  “You folks lost everything?”  Jed asked with a knot of guilt by association settling in his stomach.  “Did you have valuables on you?”
 
  “I think we were more fortunate than most,”  Ralph told him.  “since we wired most of our money on ahead.  But I lost my father's pocket watch and Joan lost her wedding band.”
 
  He reached over and patted his wife's hand as she smiled sadly.
 
  “Yes well, it could have been a lot worse,”  she consoled her husband.  “the older lady beside us was in tears because those thieves took the pearl necklace that had been in her family for generations.  She said it'd been brought over from the 'old country' when her grandmother had been a young, newly married lady.  Can you imagine losing something so precious to those terrible people?”  She looked Jed straight in the eye.  “How can they do that?”  she continued with an air of self-righteousness.  “How can they point guns at people—at women and children—and just take things that are so precious?”
 
  Jed couldn't answer right away.  He felt as though she knew exactly who and what he had been and that she was staring straight into his soul and asking him; why?
 
  “I'm sure I don't know ma'am,”  he was finally able to force out.  “they just don't care, I suppose.”
 
  “Well maybe somebody should take something precious from them and see how they like it!”  came the indignant retort.  “Even if the railroad will be compensating us for our losses, it doesn't cover the sentimental value!  I hear it was the Devil's Hole Gang—again.  Big surprise that!  What did they expect was going to happen, letting Hannibal Heyes out of prison?  Of course he's going to go and join up with his old friends again....”
 
  “Oh now dear, we don't know that for sure,”  Ralph tried to placated his high-strung wife. 
 
  “Yeah,”  Jed tried to calm the waters.  “Last I heard, it was a whole new bunch a' fellas up in Devil's Hole now and that Heyes and Curry won't have nothin' to do with 'em.  They're turnin' their lives around and makin' honest livings now.  Why, I heard tell that they were both married, and got youngen's and everything....”
 
  Joan gave a most un-ladylike snort and put her nose in the air.  “I can't imagine any decent woman condescending to marry either one of those scoundrels.  Their families must be so ashamed...”
 
  Jed felt his jaw tighten in irritation.  It was one thing for this ditty to be insulting him and his cousin, but to be insulting Beth when they didn't even know her that was almost too much. 
 
  “Sometimes all folks need is a second chance,”  Jed mumbled.
 
  “Hmph,”  Joan wasn't convinced.  “Second chance!  What about my wedding band?  What about that poor woman's pearl necklace?  Second chance indeed!”
 
  Jed smiled and turned his attention to his breakfast.  He knew she had every right to feel violated but he also knew that he was going to lose his temper pretty quick if this topic carried on.  Hopefully by not responding, the subject would get changed.
 
  “Now dear,”  Ralph continued to placate his wife.  “once we get reimbursed by the railroad I'll buy you a nicer wedding band.  I didn't have much money when I bought you that one so perhaps this time I can get you one with a diamond in it.”
 
  Joan smiled, her eyes lighting up.  “Really?  An actual diamond!?”
 
  “Yes.  Would that make you happy?”
 
  “Oh yes!”  It apparently made her so happy that she was rubbing her hands together and practically jumping up and down in her chair.  “perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing being held up after all!”
 
  Jed and Rudolph seemed to share the same sigh.
 
 
  Forty minutes later was when Jed found himself sitting contentedly alone and reading the paper.  The young family had finished up their breakfast and headed back to the boarding house to prepare for the continuation of their journey.  The cafe itself had quieted down immensely as the final wave of patrons had finished up their morning meal and had gone off to carry on with the business of their own day.
 
  Jed was just taking the last swig of coffee and was about to fold up the paper when the chair across from him scraped along the floor and a body sat down at the table.  Jed glanced up, expecting it to be Heyes or Joe but it wasn't.
 
  “Oh, Officer....?”
 
  “Wesley Harden, Mr. Curry,”  the young officer filled him in.  “I've been sent in search of you to let you know that you and your partner are clear to leave town if you wish...actually even if you don't wish, it would be preferable if you did.”
 
  Jed nodded knowingly.  “Ah,”  he smiled.  “Well, my companions aren't quite awake yet.  As you know they were both injured while coming here to get aide for the train passengers.  As soon as the Doc gives them permission to leave—and they've had a chance to get something to eat, then we will consider leaving this lovely little town.”
 
  Officer Harden sat back in his chair, knowing that he was being insulted but not being able to find fault in the actual words spoken.
 
  “Fine,”  Harden agreed.  “Just move on as soon as you're able.”
 
  “Yessir, Officer Harden,”  Jed nodded and smiled at him even more.  “You can count on that.”
 
  The young officer got up and took his leave and Jed settled back to consider another cup of coffee and more news reading.  Then he became aware of more company settling in at his table and thinking it might be the officer returning, he glanced up with a bit of a glare. He instantly dropped it though upon seeing his new companion and forced a quick smile to cover up.  “Oh, Dr. Murphy,”  Jed greeted him, then frowned.  “Geesh you look like you haven't been to bed all night.”
 
  The doctor ran a hand through his hair and sighed.  “I haven't,”  he confirmed.  “What a night.”
 
  “Want some breakfast, Doc?”  asked the waitress as she poured him a cup of coffee.  She was looking a little frazzled herself.
 
  “Yes please Kelly,”   came the emphatic confirmation.  “whatever you've got back there, just bring it.”
 
  “After the morning we've had here, there's not much left,”  Kelly warned him with the tired smile.  “But I'll get something put together for ya'.  How about you, more coffee?”
 
  “Ah, no thanks,”  Jed declined.  “I'm good.”
 
  “Where are your two friends?”  the Doc asked as he nursed his coffee.  “I told them to come and see me again, first thing this morning.”
 
  “Yeah well it ain't quite first thing for them yet,”  Jed informed him.  “Last I checked they were both still asleep.”
 
  “Still?”  Murphy asked.  “It's been what—fourteen hours?”
 
  “Yeah, somethin' like that,”  Jed agreed.
 
  “They were still breathing, weren't they?”
 
  Jed smiled.  “Yeah, and bein' awful loud about it too.”
 
  “Well, okay,”  the Doc accepted that.  “Sleep's actually the best thing for them, so just leave 'em be.  But I don't want them leaving town without checking in with me first, you understand?”
 
  “Yeah Doc, for sure,”  Jed nodded.  “We're gonna be stuck in town for most of today anyways.”
 
  “Why?”  Doc asked him.  “Didn't you fellas give your statements yesterday?”
 
  “Oh yeah,”  Jed assured him that they did.  “but, we still have some loose ends to tie up here in town, you know how it is.  We'll be outta here this afternoon some time.”
 
  Fortunately for Jed, the doctor's breakfast arrived at that point and the learned man was so tired and so hungry that his mind was instantly focused on food.
 
  “Ah, I'll just leave ya' to it Doc,”  the Kid took the opportunity to vacate.  “but don't you worry, I'll make sure they come by ta' see ya' before breakfast even.  That way ya' don't havta wait up for them for very long.”
 
  The doctor nodded and waved a fork as Jed stood up and took his leave.  He hadn't realized what a dangerous place the local cafe could be.
 
 
Heyes groaned as he slowly came up into consciousness.  He knew he wasn't in the prison this time, but his chest sure felt like he'd suffered some form of punishment.  He noticed that someone was whistling and he assumed it was the Kid.  He took note of feeling irritated that his partner could be in such a good mood when Heyes himself was feeling so decrepit. 
 
  “Will you shut up,”  he finally mumbled as he rolled over and tried to stretch.
 
  “Oh, sorry,”  came Joe's voice.  “Didn't you sleep well?”
 
  Heyes opened his eyes and looked in the direction of the voice.  Joe was standing by the table and attempting to shave himself with one hand.  He was actually managing fairly well considering the limitations and he smiled over at his companion obviously in good spirits.
 
  Heyes groaned again as he sat up and rubbed his chest.  “No. I slept like the dead,”  he admitted.  “I barely remember hitting the pillow.  But everything aches.  How come you're so chipper?”
 
  “I donno,”  Joe shrugged.  “I'm actually feeling pretty good.  I mean, my arm's a little sore but I don't have a headache or anything.  How's your head?”
 
  Heyes focused inwards for a moment.  “Just....foggy.  Nothing that a strong cup of coffee won't clear.  What time is it anyways?”
 
  Joe shrugged again as he wiped his face.  “I donno.”
 
  A knock sounded on the partitioning door and Jed's voice filtered through.  “You fellas finally awake?”
 
  Joe moved over to the door and opened it, giving Jed access.
 
  “Good morning,”  the young deputy greeted him.
 
  “Yeah, just barely,”  Jed answered with a look over to his cousin who was slowly getting dressed.
 
  “Why, what's wrong with it?”  Joe asked
 
  “Nothin's wrong with it,”  Jed explained.  “It just ain't gonna be mornin' for much longer.  You musta slept for sixteen hours.”
 
  Joe and Heyes exchanged a look.
 
  “It's lunch time?”  Heyes asked.
 
  “Just about,”  Jed informed him.  “Ya' hungry?  I had breakfast earlier, but I could eat again.”
 
  “Yeah,”  Heyes agreed.  “Maybe I'll feel better after something to eat.”
 
  “I’ll go get a table while you two get presentable,” offered Jed. “Why don't you stop by the Doc's place as well, get that over with.  I have a feeling it won't take long.”
 
 
 
  Thirty minutes later Heyes and Joe headed to the hotel restaurant to get a late breakfast.  There were a few other diners who’d also come in on the last train but most of the hotel’s patrons had already eaten.
 
  The two men hesitated at the entrance but quickly spotted the Kid settled into a window table and helping himself to a pot of coffee.  He waved to them and began looking over the menu as his friends joined him and poured cups of coffee for themselves.
 
  “What looks good?”  Heyes asked as he sipped his drink.
 
  “Everything.  Look at this menu.  They must have one of them gourmet cooks!” said Jed.
 
  Heyes chuckled.  “It looks pretty fancy, but I'm sure they'll have plain old steak and eggs if you ask for it.  How about you Joe, what do you want?”
 
  “Hmm, I think I'll have the scrambled eggs and bacon,” he answered as he browsed over the menu.  “I'm still finding it hard to cut into a steak.”
 
The waitress came over to their table then and gave them all a tired smile.
 
  “Sorry fellas,”  she told them,“about the only thing we got left now is the steak and eggs.  The kitchen is getting ready to shut down until dinner time.”
 
  All three men smiled up at her.
 
  “Well then I guess I’ll be having steak and eggs,”  Jed announced.
 
  She smiled apologetically.  “Sorry, it's been a real busy morning.”
 
  “That's all right,”  Heyes assured her.  “It's what we were going to order anyways.”
 
  “You can hold the steak on mine,”  Joe said as he indicated his injured left appendages.  “I don't think I could handle anything that required dexterity at this point.”
 
  “Oh dear,” she sympathized as though she hadn't noticed the sling before,  “did you get injured in the train wreck?”
 
  “No,” Joe admitted, “the fingers were before and the arm was after.”
 
  “Ah, I got injured in the train wreck,” Heyes told her as he pointed to his bruised forehead, “and when we rode to get help for the passengers, those dastardly outlaws ambushed us and I got shot in the chest.  The only thing that saved my life was a metal case I carry in my shirt pocket, otherwise I would surely be dead.”
 
  “Oh my!”  the waitress as all motherly now.  “That's awful.  How brave of you!”
 
  “Well that's how I got shot in the arm,”  Joe pointed out.  “I tried to run down that outlaw and he started shooting at me!  I'm lucky it's just my arm that took a bullet.”
 
  “Oh, you brave men!  Both of you!”  she gushed over them.  “Let me see if I can find something extra special for you fellas in the kitchen.  I'm sure we have some cherry pies left—for all three of you, on the house.”
 
  “Why, thank you ma'am,”  Heyes grinned, sending her a sparkle.  “That's very generous of you.”
 
  She smiled pointedly at Joe.  “And I’ll still bring you that steak,”  she assured him,  “I’ll make sure it’s all cut up for you so you can enjoy it.”
 
  “Oh!”  Joe smiled appreciatively.  “Thank you ma’am.”
 
  The waitress flitted away to fill their orders and Heyes and Joe smiled smugly at each other.  Jed just sat back and grinned as he watched his partner preening himself.
 
  “What?”  Heyes asked him with some indignation.
 
  “Nothin',”  Jed answered him but his grin deepened.
 
  Everyone tucked into the scrambled eggs and steak and Joe had to admit that though it was a tad bit embarrassing to have a young lady cut up his steak for him, the meal itself made the small degradation acceptable.  A second pot of coffee was added to the breakfast and that along with the cherry pie turned the meal into quite a success.
 
By the time they’d finished breakfast, Heyes was feeling a little bit better but his mood was still subdued.  He was worried about his mare and the fact that he was not able to go galloping off to her rescue was gnawing away at his gut and making conversation with him difficult at best.  Even the fact that both the doctor and the police had given them the go ahead to leave town didn't help him to relax all that much and he continued to fret.
 
Jed noticed his distraction.  “Heyes, we can’t just run off after Karma.  We’d get ourselves killed.  We need more than the three of us to ride in there.”
 
Joe put down his mug.  “I agree.  You and me are wounded to boot so Jed would be pretty much on his own.  If it goes bad, what good would it do Karma?  She’d be stuck with Duncan forever.” 
 
“I know that!  I was planning on wiring Lom to see if he could round up some extra hands and help.”  Heyes knew his partner and Joe were right.  They needed help, but how long was that going to take to get it?   The trains were down and it was a long ride to Porterville.  “I was just thinking that maybe we can ride on ahead ourselves and scope out the area.  Lom could always join up with us later before we make any kind of move.”
 
  Jed didn't really like that idea but knew that subtlety worked better with his partner rather than outright disagreement.
 
“Might make sense for us to ride into Greeley; railroad will be diverting trains around Carr.  We ought to be able to catch a northbound there,” Jed suggested.  “We ain’t very far from Loveland neither; why don’t we ride there on our way to Greeley and see if we can find Mr. Joshua Smith.  You two ought to be healed up enough by the time we reach Greeley.”
 
Heyes considered Jed’s words for a while and then sighed.  “Makes sense, I guess."
 
Joe quietly sipped his coffee throughout this conversation.  During this trip, it had become very apparent to Joe that Heyes relied heavily on the wisdom of his partner.  Together, they were so much more than they were separately.  He recalled Jed's comment that he didn't live in Heyes' shadow and he could now see for himself that his friend was right. 
 
  For those on the outside, it would appear that it was Heyes who kept his partner in line, but Joe had been allowed into the inner circle and he could now see that often it was the other way around.  He was no longer intimidated by Heyes.  He still found the man engrossing to watch and listen to but now he was seeing things on a different level.  He was finding himself fascinated as a friend and as a lawman by the glimpses of the criminals they had once been. 
 
  “So that’s the plan for today?”  Joe finally asked over a mouthful.  “We’re going on to Loveland?”
 
  “We’ll see,”  Jed told him.  “The telegraph office was closed when I went by there last night after I dropped the horses at the livery.  I'm hoping that Beth will have had some luck with the brand and has sent us something we can move on.  We still gotta get you another horse, too, Heyes.  I did a quick look at what was at the livery but he was in a hurry to close up for the night, so....”  he shrugged.
 
  Heyes nodded, a shadow passing over his eyes.  “Yeah,”  he agreed.  “I suppose I need to find something.  I mean, temporary, you know.”
 
  “Yeah, I know Heyes,”  Jed assured him.  “We'll get Karma back.  But we gotta do it right, you know.  Plan it.  We just go bludgeon in there all we'll succeed at doin' is getting ourselves all shot up.”
 
  “Yeah, I know,”  Heyes quietly agreed.  But then his expression became melancholy and a wisp of worry floated across his face.  “It’s not just Karma I need to get back,”  he admitted.  “Randi had that saddle made specifically to fit both me and Karma—had the saddle maker measure her and everything.  I didn’t even know you could get a saddle made like that, I thought you just did what we always did; throw a saddle on a horse’s back and hope it fits.  But apparently there’s a lot more science involved with it than just that and Randi knew it.”  He shook his head in apparent disbelief.  “She got Karma all measured and fitted without me even noticing a thing and she got that saddle made for my birthday, she even had our names inscribed on the underside of the stirrup leather.  It’s a beautiful saddle and really comfortable too.  I don’t know how she knew what type of saddle I like, but she did and that’s what makes it so special.”
 
  Jed felt a knot of guilt hit his gut as he recalled his earlier conversation with the family from the train and the wife’s indignation over sentimental items that were taken from them.  He could understand her sentiments even at the time, but now it hit home even harder.
 
  “You never told me that,”  Jed commented quietly.  “I saw you had a new saddle, but I just thought you’d bought it for yourself.”
 
  Heyes shrugged.  “Yeah, I know.  It was special.  I suppose I just wanted to keep it between me and Randa.  Sorry.”
 
  “No that’s alright Heyes,”  Jed assured him.  “A husband and wife are supposed to have special things between them.  Do you think I tell you everything me and Beth share?”
 
  Heyes grinned.  “I hope not!”
 
  Jed chuckled.  “See?”
 
  Heyes nodded, then a look of mild guilt took over and Jed frowned,   wondering what was coming next.
 
  “I also had that shaving kit that Abi gave me for Christmas,”  he admitted.  “I probably should have just left it at home when I travel like this but unfortunately I like to keep it with me.  Just—because.”  He gave an ironic smile and shook his head.  “I never thought I'd wish Devil's Hole wasn't such a strong hold.  Still, we do have Wheat and Kyle in there and apparently still on our side.  That might amount for something.”
 
  “C’mon Heyes, don’t worry about it,”  Jed repeated.  “We’ll get your things back.  It might take us awhile but we will.”
 
  “I know,”  Heyes smiled, trying to lighten  the low mood he’d caused.  “and when we do, that shaving kit is going to stay at home.”  He smiled wickedly.  “Nobody says Randa needs to know who gave it to me.  I’ll pick up another one here and use that for when I’m travelling.”
 
  Both Jed and Joe smirked at Heyes' mild duplicity.  “Yeah, okay Heyes,”  Jed told him.  “Nobody says a husband and wife can't have some secrets from one another as well.  A spare kit is a good idea.”
 
 
 
  After breakfast, Heyes and Jed went off in two different directions. Jed wanted to get to the telegraph office as soon as they opened to see if there was a message there from Beth.  He said it was just because they all were waiting for information on the brand, but Heyes knew it was because Jed was missing his wife.  Any word from her right now would be like water to a thirsty man and Jed could barely contain himself through breakfast before the time was right for him to head that way. 
 
  Joe went along with Jed as he wanted to send a telegram to Sheriff Jacobs to keep him informed as to their whereabouts and progress, so Heyes found himself on his own.   As much as he didn't want to do it, he took himself off and headed down to the livery stable to check out the horses that might be available for sale.
 
   All the way down to the stable, he felt a knot tightening up in his gut as though he were just about to betray his closest friend.  How would he ever find a horse to replace Karma, even just temporarily?  It didn't seem right, as though buying another horse meant that he was giving up on her and even though he knew that wasn't the case, he still felt like a heel.
 
  He approached the corral fence and stood there for a few minutes just running his eye over the various animals who were quietly munching their lunches.  A couple of the horses stood out as possibilities and he began to run a more critical eye over those few until he could narrow down the field.  Slowly but surely, small faults in confirmation or attitude made themselves apparent and he eventually settled on one tall gelding who seemed to have most of what he looked for in a horse.
 
  He pushed himself off the fence and looked around for the proprietor.  He walked into the barn and could hear the tell-tale sounds of stall mucking going on so he made his way down the row of empty enclosures until he came upon the occupied one.
 
  “Good afternoon,”  he greeted the hostler.
 
  “Oh, good afternoon sir,”  he answered as another shovel of manure plopped into the wheelbarrow.  “Sorry, I didn’t hear ya’ come in.  Stalls are usually all done by this time but my stable boy broke his arm last week and it’s been a hell of a morning.”  He shrugged as he came out of the stall, wiping his hands on his dungaree.  “Still, not your concern.  What can I do fer ya'?”
 
  “I'm looking to buy a horse,”  Heyes informed him.  “I'd like to take a closer look at that red dun if he's for sale.”
 
  “Sure,”  the livery man agreed.  He straightened up, stretching out his back and then joined his customer as they returned to the outside corral.  “You got a good eye, mister.  That's a real nice gelding.”
 
  “Uh huh,”  Heyes was used to this game.  “Bring him out will you?  I'd like to see him move.”
 
  The hostler took a halter and lead down from a hook and entered the corral.  Heyes stood back and watched, taking note of how the horse reacted to the human approaching him.  Did he lay his ears back in an effort to protect his hay pile?  Did he move away, attempting to avoid the halter?  Or did he willingly allow the human to approach him, unthreatened?  It seemed the latter was the choice and Heyes smiled as the horse was haltered and led out of the corral.
 
  “Here ya' go,”  the livery man said.  “Take as close a look as ya' like.”
 
  Heyes nodded, running his hands along the animals back and hind quarters.  He liked what he was seeing, and feeling.
 
  “Far as I can tell, this gelding is about seven years old,”  the holster was informing his patron.  “He's a real willing horse.  I've rented him out a few times and never had no complaints.  He's sound as a bell too and got a real soft mouth.”
 
  “Uh huh,”  Heyes wasn't really listening.  “Trot him around a little will ya'?”
 
  The hostler clucked to the horse and easily got him into a trot, up the lane and back again.  Heyes watched the animal move and liked what he saw.  He was a plain looking horse, but well put together with a kind and intelligent eye.  He was the colour of a dusty chestnut with a dorsal stripe running down his spine and he had a star on his forehead in the shape of a falling leaf.  He stood about 16 hh and though not as flashy in his lines as Karma he still had clean, long legs and a nice solid build.   Heyes hated to admit it, but he liked him.
 
  He went up to the horse and patted his neck.  He stroked the animal's long face and looked him in the eye as they each assessed the other.
 
  “I'll give you twenty dollars complete with rig.”
 
  The holster rubbed his chin.  “Oh, I donno,”  he mused.  “the horse himself is worth twice that, then with the saddle and bridle thrown in on top.”  he shook his head.   “I can't see myself letting him go for less than forty-five.”
 
  Heyes nodded and walked casually around the animal, scrutinizing every aspect of him.  “Well,” he commented.  “I tend to prefer mares, but he's a decent enough horse.  I'll give ya' thirty dollars.”
 
  “Well, thirty might buy ya' the horse, but not a decent rig along with him,”  came the counter wager.  “I got a real nice saddle in there that fits this fella like a glove.  Real comfortable for the rider too.  Forty dollars for the whole package.”
 
  “Thirty-five dollars.”
 
  “Sold.”  he handed Heyes the lead shank and headed into the barn to get the rig.
 
  Heyes smiled and approached his new 'temporary' horse and gave him another pat on the neck.  “So, what's your name young man?”
 
  “Claybank,”  came the answer from behind him.
 
  “What?”  Heyes turned as the hostler returned with the saddle.
 
  “Well you mighta called him a red dun, but most of the old hands around here call that colour a 'clayback', so his name's Claybank,”  the holster informed him.  “You can change it if ya' want.  It ain't written in stone.”
 
  Heyes turned back to the horse and rubbed the animal's forehead while the hostler got him tacked up.  “Claybank,”  he repeated.  “Suits him—I think I'll keep it.”
 
  Heyes was just finishing up his business with the livery man when Jed and Joe put in an appearance in order to gather up their own horses. 
 
  Jed grinned as he saw Heyes with his new horse.  “I don't know how you do it Heyes,”  he observed.  “but you always seem to find the best horse in the herd.”
 
  “Yeah,”  he agreed.  “he is nice, isn't he?”
 
  “Um hum.” Jed nodded as he and Joe walked into the barn.
 
  “Any news from home?” Heyes called after them.
 
  “Not yet, but I just sent Beth a telegram letting her know we’re okay.  She’d of heard about the wreck by now.”  Jed led Gov out of his stall as he spoke.
 
  “News travels fast these days,”  Heyes commented.  “I never even thought of that.  I should send a telegram to Randa, let her know we're okay.”
 
  “I already did that,”  Joe assured him as he walked Betty out to the hitching rail to tack her up.  “I included it in the message to Sheriff Jacobs.  Don't worry Heyes, he'll let her know.”
 
  Heyes nodded and smiled.  “Thanks Joe.”
 
The three men finished tacking up their horses.   They soon mounted up and departed Carr, glad to leave the horror of the train wreck behind them and head out to Loveland.
 
“You know, Heyes, I’m not sorry we’re riding to Greeley.  I think I’m over train travel for a while,” said Jed.
 
“Yeah, me too,” said Heyes.  His new gelding danced nervously under him.  He stroked the animal’s neck and spoke soothingly to it. 
 
“How come you always go for the antsy ones?” asked Jed, noticing the animal’s nervous tension.
 
“He’s not antsy.   We’re just getting used to each other.  He’ll be all settled down by the time we get to Loveland tonight.”
 
“Tonight?  It’s over forty miles to Loveland,” said Joe. 
 
“Then we better get a move on,” said Heyes.  He eased up on the reins and the clayback gelding leapt forward, eager to be off.  Joe and Jed urged their horses to catch up.
 
 
It was late evening by the time they rode into Loveland.  The quiet little agricultural town was dark and shuttered for the night.  There was a single light at the far end of the next block out in front of the Loveland House Hotel.  Heyes and Jed had stayed there once or twice before their long journey towards amnesty and knew the establishment well.  The framed building was simple but comfortable and everyone, even the horses, was looking forward to a good night’s rest.  The three tired men pulled up in front of the hotel, stiffly dismounted, and plodded up the front steps.
 
The lobby was small and contained only a sofa and tiny table tucked into an alcove at the foot of the wooden staircase.  The night clerk appeared through a door behind the front desk and greeted them warmly.  “Gentlemen, welcome to the Loveland House.  How may I be of assistance to you?”
 
Heyes stepped forward and smiled charmingly.  “We’d like a couple of rooms, please; a single and a double.”
 
“Yes sir.   I believe we can accommodate you.”
 
Heyes glanced at the board behind the counter and then at his partner.  Jed rolled his eyes.  There were eleven keys hanging there, only one key was missing.  It looked like the hotel could accommodate an army.  “How much?”
 
“Two dollars for the single, sir, three dollars for the double; meals are not included.”  The clerk smiled.  He knew there wasn’t another hotel for fifty miles.
 
“Too much.  Thanks, anyway,” Heyes turned away and started for the door leaving Joe and Jed to follow.
 
The clerk was so surprised by his retreat that he leaned over the desk and blurted, “Sir, hold on.  I’m sure we can come to an understanding.”
 
Heyes stopped and came back.  He caught the clerk with his flinty brown eyes and coldly said, “I’m understanding you’re trying to gouge us.”
 
Chilled by the hard gaze, the man put his right hand on his chest and said, “Sir, I’m wounded that you would think I was trying to cheat you.”
 
It was Jed’s turn to lean closer and softly say, “You will be wounded if you are.”  The clerk gulped and his eyes widened as he peered into a pair of icy blue eyes.  Joe looked on, ready to step in if Curry tried to make good on his threat.
 
“You see, my partner and me have stayed here before,” began Heyes, “when we were still running from the law.  Used to be fifty cents for a double with meals.   Ain’t that right, Kid?”
 
“That’s true, Heyes.” 
 
Heyes?  Kid?  The man’s face paled as he realized exactly who he was trying to extort money from.   “Well, yes, that was a long time ago.  Costs have risen and…”
 
“How much for the rooms?” cut in Heyes.
 
“Um, er, since you are returning customers, I’ll be delighted to give you both rooms for two dollars.  With meals, of course; as a matter of fact, I can whip you up some sandwiches right now if you’d like.”
 
“Good.  Throw in stabling for the horses and you’ve got yourself a deal,” said Heyes, his eyes warning the man not to refuse.
 
“Yes...sir, I’ll see to them myself.  If you’ll please sign here, Mr. Heyes,” said the clerk, spinning the register around and handing him two keys.  “Mr. Curry, would you sign as well?” he asked hopefully.
 
Jed regarded him for a moment and then nodded.  He knew damn well the enterprising weasel was going to try to sell their signatures.  He grabbed the pen and scrawled his name, then pushed the book to Joe.  “Guess you’d better sign, too.”
 
“Who are you?” asked the clerk.
 
“I’m the law they aren’t running from anymore,” snapped Joe.  He threw down the pen and followed his two friends up the stairs.
 
  “It's not really supposed to be that way, you know,”  Joe commented once they were out of earshot of the clerk.
 
  “What way?”  Heyes asked.
 
  “Intimidating people in order to get your way,”  Joe explained.
 
  “Got the job done didn't it?”  Jed asked him.
 
  “Well yeah, but still....”  Joe was floundering, looking for the words.  “I've noticed that you both do that a lot.  You use your names and your reputations to scare people into complying with you.  It could almost be called harassment—and that's a crime.”
 
 “And inflating his prices wasn’t a crime?”  Snapped Heyes before he sighed in mock frustration.  “Is everything a crime these days?”  he asked. “Seems I can't even take a breath anymore without being told it's a crime.  Maybe I should’ve just let him cheat us.”
 
  “Well, you don't see Sheriff Jacobs dealing with people that way,”  Joe pointed out.  “and not Jesse Jordan either.”
 
  Joe didn't know it, but he'd hit a nerve with that last comment.  Heyes' stance tightened and he focused on putting the key into the lock.
 
  “Well,”  Jed picked up the slack.  “soon as you can show us a better way, we'll be happy to try it out.”
 
  “Yeah, it's just....”
 
  “Goodnight, Joe,”  Heyes said as he opened the door into the single room and disappeared into it.
 
  Jed and Joe stood abandoned in the hallway for a moment while Jed unlocked the door to the double room and then sent Joe a slightly reprimanding look.
 
  “I did it again, didn't I?”  Joe mumbled.  “Just when I think we're getting along fine I go and put my foot in it.”
 
  “Yup,”  Jed agreed.  “It seems you and I are sharing tonight.  Don't worry about it, he'll be fine in the morning.”
 
  “Yeah, but what did I say wrong?”  Joe pushed as he followed Jed into the room. “I was just making a suggestion.”
 
  “Ya didn't say nothin' wrong Joe,”  Jed assured him as he walked over to the dresser and lit the lamp.  “Just leave it be.  He'll be fine in the morning.”
 
  Joe sat down on the bed with a huff. “Has he always been this moody?”
 
  Jed stood quietly for a moment, staring into the light from the lamp and thought back with fondness on their days of running amok and being at the top of their game.
 
  “No,”  he finally answered quietly.  “No Joe, he hasn't.  I mean, he's always shown how he felt, at least to me; his emotions have always been close to the surface.  But the moodiness—no.  Prison did that to him.”
 
  “Oh.  Yeah I guess.”
 
  Jed sat down on his bed and smiled at his new friend.  “He still finds criticism hard to handle that's all.  He's gettin' better, I can see it.  More accepting of things, you know.  But losing Karma again has thrown him off balance.  Just give him time, he'll be alright.  He does like you.”
 
  Joe snorted and shook his head, but then he smiled and nodded agreement.  “Yeah, I know.....”
 
 
 
  Heyes lay on his back on the top of his bed in the single room.  He could hear the conversation going on next door to him and felt slightly guilty over his reaction to Joe's innocent comments.  Joe wasn't a bad sort and he knew the young deputy was just trying to be helpful and the more Heyes thought about it, the more he had to admit that the young man's comments were usually right.
 
  Heyes sighed and got up in order to get ready for bed for real.  He'd really have to start trying to be a little more understanding.  He still let things get under his skin too easily and then he'd end up hurting people without meaning to.  Abi was right; he had a sharp tongue sometimes and his sarcasm could too easily be taken the wrong way.
 
  But why did Joe have to say that about Jesse?  And the fact that Joe was right made it all the more hurtful.  Jesse could control a situation just by his mere presence and that presence had nothing to do with intimidation.  He just simply was the one in control and no one questioned it.  Even Heyes knew it and respected it and yet wasn't able to emulate it.
 
  He finished his night time toilette, blew out the lamp and settled himself into bed.  But he still lay on his back and looked up at the ceiling he couldn't see and wondered what it was he was missing; what it was he didn't understand.  He groaned and rubbed his eyes.  It was late and he was tired.  The talking next door had ceased and Heyes pulled the sheet up over his shoulders and rolled over onto his side. He closed his eyes and said his silent 'goodnight's'.  To Miranda, to Sally.  To Abi, to Anya.  To all the ladies who were the loves of his life and who mattered more than life itself.
 
  He smiled at the thought of how lucky he was and fell asleep.
 
 
 
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Loose Ends Chapter seven :: Comments

Loose Ends
Post on Sun 22 Dec 2013, 5:53 pm by Keays
The next day dawned clear and warm.  Heyes was up first and made enough noise banging on the door between the rooms that Jed couldn’t ignore him.   “Heyes, what time is it?”
 
Heyes pushed open the door to the double room and peered around it.  The deputy was already half-dressed and Jed was just dragging himself out of bed, having given up the attempt to ignore his cousin.
 
 “I want to get an early start.” Heyes informed them.  “I’ll meet you at the hotel stables.”
 
When Jed and Joe walked into the stables, they found Heyes saddling up the horses himself.
 
“Clerk had to go back to the desk, but they’ve been grained.”
 
“Good,” said Jed, running his hand along Gov’s hind end.  “Did you ask him about Smith’s ranch?”
 
“I did.  It’s five miles down the west road on the left.  Open seven days a week,” grinned Heyes.
 
“Great,” said Joe, “We ought to make Greeley by tonight.”
 
 
Smith Ranch turned out to be tiny.  The fencing enclosed no more than ten acres, but the fields were fenced and cross-fenced creating a dozen small enclosures each containing a horse.  There was a small farmhouse and a large round ring behind it.  As Heyes, Joe, and Jed rode in, they saw a young man not much older than Joe sitting on the top rail of the round ring, talking to another young man riding around atop a buckskin mare.  The man on the fence turned to them and waved, “Be right there.” 
 
 The ex-outlaws and deputy dismounted and watched as he climbed down and came towards them.
 
“Joshua Smith?” asked Heyes, walking to meet him and holding out his hand.
 
“Yes, and you are?” said Josh, clasping the proffered hand and shaking it.
 
“The former Joshua Smith,” said Heyes with a twinkle in his eyes.
 
“What?” asked Josh, thinking he was being had.
 
“Hannibal Heyes.  This here is Joe Morin and my partner, Jed Curry,” said Heyes, waving a hand to encompass his companions.
 
“T…the real Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?” stammered Josh.  Sid had gotten off the mare and was coming up behind his partner.  Heyes nodded.
 
“Wow, we’ve heard a lot about the two of you,” Sid said, impressed. 
 
“We’ve heard a lot about you, too,” said Heyes.
 
“You have?” Josh was beginning to feel a little nervous.
 
“Your Pa told us where to find you, Josh,” said Jed, gently.
 
“He did? Why?  Is he all right?”  It was plain that Josh was scared.
 
“He’s fine.  He’s helping us track down a mare you two sold ten years ago.  When you were operating under the name, Cole Stockyards,” said Heyes.
 
“Shh, don’t use that name,” hissed Josh, involuntarily looking over his shoulder. 
 
“Don’t worry, no one else knows who you are and no one followed us here,” assured Joe.
 
“Mr. Heyes, I’ve bought and sold a lot of horses over the last ten years.  I doubt I can help you,” snapped Josh, annoyed now.
 
“She’s a real big mare, ‘bout sixteen two.  Liver chestnut.  Real fancy mover, but kind of flighty.  I bought her from a fellow named Logan up in Fleetwood.  Ring a bell?”  Heyes could see that it did and it pleased him.  There weren’t many mares like Karma roaming the west.
 
“’Princess?’  Josh, it has to be her,” said Sid, excitedly.  He turned to Heyes, “Yeah, we had a filly like that.  She wasn't as big as you describe but she was just a youngster back then and she was promising height that's for sure. Found her runnin’ wild with a band of mustangs not that far north of here.  She wasn’t no mustang, though, she had some thoroughbred in her or I’m a monkey’s uncle.”
 
“You found her with a herd of wild horses?” asked Heyes.  He couldn’t believe it.  All this work and it led to a dead end!
 
“Yeah.  She was wearin’ a saddle, though.  Must’ve shaken her rider and ended up lost,” said Josh.   “She was an awful nice mare; kinda flighty though.  Where is she now?”
 
“That’s what I’d like to know,” muttered Heyes under his breath.
 
Jed stepped forward and spoke to his partner, “There’s nothing more we can do here.  We’ll just have to hope Beth can run the breeders down from her end of things.”
 
“Hey, we’ve got some real nice horses here if you need to replace her,” offered Josh.
 
Heyes’ face darkened, “No horse can replace her!”
 
“Sorry, Mr. Heyes, my partner didn’t mean no offence,” placated Sid.  “You ain’t gonna tell anybody you was here, are you?”
 
Heyes softened as he took in the pair of frightened eyes turned his way.  “No.  The WGSA ain’t gonna find out where you are.  Your Pas are making sure they don’t.”  Heyes walked back to the horses, terribly disappointed that the search was over.
 
“Thanks, Mr. Heyes.  We’ve got a good business goin’ here and we’ve worked real hard to keep everything on the up and up.  We ain’t crossing up the ranchers ever again,” vowed Josh loudly.
 
“That’s smart, but you might want to think about changing your name again,” said Jed.  “Joshua Smith ain’t the best name for someone hiding out.  Didn’t you know that was Heyes’ alias?”
 
Josh blushed a deep red.  “Yes sir, I did.  You see, you and him were kind of heroes to me when I was a kid.  I figured no one would think I’d be stupid enough to use it as my alias; they’d have to think Smith was my real name.  Lots of folks named Smith and Jones.”
 
Jed chuckled, hearing the same words fall from this youngster’s lips as had fallen from his own and Heyes’ many times over the past ten years.  “That there are.”
 
  “So,” Heyes turned back to the young wranglers.  “are you the fellas who broke Karma out?”
 
  “Karma?”  asked Josh, looking confused.
 
  “Yeah,”  Heyes confirmed.  “that's her name now.”
 
  “Oh,”  Josh nodded and smiled.  “Yeah, it suits her.”
 
  “So does 'Princess',”  Jed mumbled behind his cousin's back.
 
  Everyone still heard him though, loud and clear.  Heyes rolled his eyes, but Josh and Sid smiled again, knowing that they were for sure talking about the same animal.
 
  “Yeah,”  Josh told him.  “I took extra care and more time with that filly.  I knew she was special and wasn't like the rough and tumble mustangs we usually handled.  So yeah, I broke her out easy.”
 
  Much to everyone's surprise Heyes stepped forward and shook Josh's hand and meant it.
 
  “Thank you,”  he told the young man.  “Karma's a fine mare and the best horse I've ever owned.  I knew right away that someone had taken time with her and broke her out right.  I really appreciate that.  You know your business.”
 
  Josh smiled with pleasure mixed with embarrassment.  “You’re welcome, Mr. Heyes,” he responded with some pride. “I'm glad she found the right person.”
 
  Heyes nodded and turned back to Clay.  He saw no reason to go into details about his mare's whereabouts now.  He was going to get Karma back one way or another and that's all that mattered.  The three horsemen tipped their hats to the two wranglers and carried on their way.  Greeley was the next stop on their list.
 
 
 
The tinkle of the small bell set over the door halted the progress of the silver flask to parched lips.  Disgusted, the old telegrapher hastily stowed away his ‘medicine’ and pushed through the dusty curtains to the front office.   He was startled to find two obviously pregnant women standing on the other side of the counter.  Irritated by the brazenness of today’s females, he grunted a hello.
 
“Good day, sir,” began Bridget pleasantly, “We would like to send some telegrams, please.”
 
“Well, you’d be darn disappointed if you wanted anything else.”
 
The sweet smile slipped from Bridget face and she glanced at her younger sister.  Beth was still pale from the fright she’d had, and Bridget was anxious to get this task over with and get her home.  Her protectiveness for her sister hardened her heart and her expression.
 
“If you’ll be so kind as to provide some paper and a pencil, we will be able to conduct our business swiftly,” said Bridget coldly.
 
The old man’s eyebrows shot up at her aggressive tone, and he grumbled while retrieving the items from the counter behind him.  Beth heard him mutter, “modern women, it ain’t decent.”  She, too, ground her teeth at his ignorance.
 
“Here you go,” he pushed the paper at Bridget and she passed a sheet to Beth.
 
“You write to Jed.  I’ll write the one to the Second Chance,” she said.
 
The clerk’s ears perked up at the name.  He snorted and thought to himself, ‘the Second Chance?  I should’ve known.  These two gals ain’t ladies; if they were they’d be at home where they belong.  No decent women would parade around in that condition.  These two are knocked-up whores looking for a place to stay until they can get back to work.  Ever since that damned ranch opened its door to their kind, there’s been a flood of soiled doves heading out of the saloons.  Bleeding charity’s driving the cost of a romp in the hay right through the roof!   Hmphf, these two are pretty well dressed; must’ve demanded high dollars’.  “That’ll be four dollars up front.”
 
Bridget glared at him.  “How can you charge us before you even know how many words we’re using?”
 
A nasty, tight smile appeared on the old man’s face.  “You want to send telegrams; it’s going to cost you four dollars.  If you want to fuss about, it’ll cost you five, unless you want to pay some other way.”
 
“How dare you speak to my sister that way?!” demanded Beth, gasping with shock and bristling in fury.
 
“Your sister?  My ass,” snapped the hideous man.
 
“Shh, Beth.  Write your telegram.  We’ll pay the four dollars, sir,” said Bridget, somehow managing to make 'sir' seem like a slur.  She pulled the cash from her reticule and pushed it across the counter along with the telegram she had quickly dashed off. 
 
Beth couldn’t believe what she had heard, but she completed her telegram and handed it to her sister who pushed it at the vile man.   He sat down at his desk and quickly tapped out the first message, surprised that it was a well-written request for a meeting and the reply was requested to be directed to the Capitol Hill Western Union office.  He felt a prickle of unrest.  That was the wealthy part of town.   No wonder these tramps were well-dressed.  They were rich men’s toys.
 
Finished, he laid the first one down and picked up the second one.  He broke out in a cold sweat when he read the name of the addressee, Jed Curry.  He knew exactly who Jed Curry was.  If that little gal was carrying his bastard, he might not take it too kindly having her cheated.  He stood up with a different demeanor and counted out a dollar and ten cents in coins.  “Didn’t come to as much as I thought it would.”  He pushed the coins back across the counter; not polite enough to pick them up and hand them back.
 
Bridget ignored them and captured the man’s pale, watery eyes with her own stern, narrowed ones.  “You may keep the change, sir.  You may need it when my husband lets his fellow Athletic Club member, Mr. Belvidere Brooks, know exactly what his employees are up to.”  She lifted her chin as she turned and looped her arm through Beth’s, almost pulling her sister out the door.
 
The telegrapher gulped.  Brooks was the Assistant Superintendent for Western Union!  He turned pale as he watched the women leave; he saw the door swing shut and frantically reached for his flask.
 
 
 
Evening was coming down upon the Wyoming countryside.  A small fire was sending up a flickering glow into the evening sky like a beacon through the woods.
 
  The men sitting around the fire and getting settled in for the night obviously were not concerned about staying concealed.  They were in territory that was familiar to them and were confident that the wrong kind of person would never venture here, especially after dark.
 
  “We still havta get over those mountains, so don't be countin' your split yet,”  came a quiet tired voice.  “Everyone get a good sleep tonight but we still keep someone on watch....”  this was met by a round of grumbling.   “Don't give me that!”  the voice hardened.  “We ain't home yet.  It'd be stupid to lose it all now after all the planning that went into this job.”
 
  A familiar snort responded to this.  “Plannin',”  came the snarky tones. “weren't no plannin' gone into this job.  We ain't never seen a job go bad so quickly as this one, have we Kyle?”
 
  “No siree,”  came the agreement.  “Why, when Heyes was runnin' things....”
 
  “Well Heyes ain't runnin' things anymore is he?”  the first voice snarked
back.
 
  “Yeah, we can tell.”  came the snarky tones again.  “However, I was referring to when I was runnin' the gang.”
 
  “YOU!?”  came back the first voice.  “You ended up killin' your gang!  At least Duncan ain't stupid enough....!”
 
  “Shhh...what was that?”  came another as of yet, unheard voice.  “You hear somethin'?”
 
  Silence surrounded the campfire.  Then a horse snorted somewhere out there in the darkness.  Everyone scrambled for their hardware, their petty argument forgotten in a combined concern for their continued existence.
 
  “Hello the camp!”  came a greeting from the deepening darkness.  “It's just us!”
 
  “Yeah, and who's 'us'?”  asked the first voice.
 
  “C'mon Fergie!”  came the response.  “stop jokin' around.  You know my voice.”
 
  “Yeah yeah, alright,”  Fergie accepted them.  “C'mon in.  Duncan with
 ya'?”
 
  Two men leading their horses walked into the firelight and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
 
  “Naw, it's just me an' Ames,”  Orrison told him.  “Duncan stayed behind to get them damned horses.”
 
  “And you didn't stay and back 'em up?”  Fergie was sounding dangerous again.
 
  “No, we didn't,”  Orrison told him with a long suffering tone.  “Look, let us settle our horses and get a quick bite will ya'?”  he looked pointedly over at Wheat and Kyle.  “Once we tell ya' what's goin' on you fellas just might want to high tail it outa here.”
 
  “Well now why would we want to be doin' that?”  Wheat asked.  “Me and Kyle got a few grand apiece comin' for our cut on this job.”
 
  “Yeah,”  Kyle agreed with his partner.  “we ain't in no hurry to go nowhere's.”
 
  Orrison nodded at them while Ames looked slightly guilty.  The two newcomers led their horses over to the string and settled them with some grain without untacking them.  Chances are they wouldn't be here all that long themselves.  They removed the bridles and loosened the girths but that was the extent of it and then they returned to the fire and settled in themselves.
 
  Davis handed them both a plate of beans and biscuits and fresh coffee was poured all around.  Every head was turned to the newcomers and the fire flickered over their worried faces while Orrison stuffed beans and biscuits into his mouth.  Ames picked silently at his food, still looking guilty and not meeting Kyle's enquiring eye.
 
  “Well!”  Fergie finally demanded a report.  “Why didn't ya' stay and back 'em up?”
 
  Orrison sighed.  “Look, it was a stupid idea anyways; goin' back after them horses.  Even if them fellas did go for help in Carr, we had a good head start and there was no reason for it.  We got a good enough haul, we didn't need no more trouble.”
 
  “Come off it, Orry,”  Fergie snarked.  “you were willing enough to go with 'em at first.  Why would ya' change yer mind half way through?”
 
  Orrison and Ames exchanged looks.
 
  “It seems one of them horses was that liver mare Duncan had a hankerin' for,” Orrison informed them.
 
  Everyone around the camp fire groaned.  Wheat and Kyle exchanged a quick but worried look.
 
  “The one that dumped him on his head a couple a weeks back?”  Fergie had to confirm.
 
  “Yep.”
 
  “Damn!”  Fergie cursed.  “what the hell are the chances of that?  But still, that's no reason to backin' out on the boss.”
 
  “Yeah, but the man ridin' that mare was,”  Orrison informed him.  “Tell 'em Ames.”
 
  Ames swallowed his mouthful with a loud gulp and sent another guilty look over to Kyle.  He took a quick swig of coffee to give him time to build his courage.
 
  “I recognized 'im from prison,”  Ames finally admitted.  “It was Hannibal Heyes.”
 
  “Why you low-down, miserable ingrate...”  Kyle accused him.  “after everything Hannibal Heyes done fer you, you ratted 'im out....”
 
  “I didn't mean to, Kyle!”  Ames whined.  “I done said it afore I thought.  I guess I was just so surprised at seein' 'im out there....I jest didn't think....”
 
  “Yeah, well whatever,”  Orrison picked it up again.  “Point is, I wasn't prepared to come up against Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry over some stupid horse.  Duncan went nuts.  All of a sudden it was like a personal vendetta, like Heyes had stolen that mare from him and was gonna pay fer it.  I don't need no part 'a that.”
 
  “Did ya' stick around to see what happened at least?”  Wheat demanded to know.  “Cause if Duncan took out Hannibal Heyes by ambush then he better 'a taken out the Kid too.  Cause if'n he didn't, he's a dead man.”
 
  “Yer a fine one ta' talk Wheat,”  Fergie turned on him.  “You've been a walkin' dead man for a few years now.  But this brings up another fine point, don't it?  You and Davis dealt with the passengers back there.  You come across your old bosses and you don't say nothin'?  What kinda' game are you playin'?”
 
  “I ain't playin' no game,”  Wheat insisted though his voice rose a notch. “Yeah, I knew it was them, but I didn't see no reason to announce it.  You know what Duncan's like; there would have been trouble right then and there.  It was just less complicated to let it go.”
 
  “Yeah,”  Orrison added.  “except that Duncan thinks that you deliberately talked him outa takin' them horses right then and there, cause you knew that them horses belonged to your ex-bosses.  Or am I remiss in callin' them yer 'ex' bosses.  Are you still workin' fer them?”
 
  “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”  Wheat demanded.  “Heyes and Curry have gone straight, you all know that.  Me and Kyle want nothin' ta' do with them.  Now just ‘cause I saw them back at that train don't mean I'm all chummy with 'em.  I don't need them two comin' after me neither!”
 
  “Well, you can explain all you want to,”  Orrison told him.  “but Duncan is pissed at you.  He's thinkin' that you're playin' both ends here and when he gets back to the Hole, you better have more to tell 'im than just fear of retribution caused you to lied to 'im.”
 
  “I'm thinking that Duncan is going to be pissed with you too Orry,” Fergie interjected.  “If you ran out on him he's not gonna take too kindly to that.”
 
  “Yeah,  I thought a' that,”  Orrison told him.  “but I got too much invested in this job to just ride away from my cut.  Hopefully Duncan will have calmed down some by the time he gets back.  Especially if he got that mare back, he might be downright amiable.”
 
  Fergie didn't comment but settled in to drinking his coffee.
 
 
 
  Later than night, Davis had fallen asleep on watch duty and the fire itself had died down into softly glowing embers.  Two of the horses on the picket line jerked up from their standing doze and watched intently as a shadow crept silently from one bedroll over to another.
 
  “Kyle,”  the shadow whispered as it shook the sleeping outlaw.  “Kyle, wake up.”
 
   Kyle awoke with a start and made a move for his gun when he stopped in recognition.
 
  “Ames,”  he spoke just as quietly.  “whaddya want?”
 
  Ames put a finger up to his lips, indicating quiet and then motioned for Kyle to follow him over to the picket line.  Kyle glanced around at his partner but he was softly snoring, so he quietly scuffled out of his bedroll and followed Ames over to the horses.
 
  “What is it, Ames?”  Kyle asked him.  “I ain't too inclined to be on friendly terms with you after what you done ta' Heyes.  He could be dead now cause 'a what you done.”
 
  “I know,”  Ames whined.  “Look, I said I was sorry.  Heyes really helped me out at that prison.  I probably weren't never survived there if'n it weren't fer him.”
 
  “Yeah,”  Kyle agreed wholeheartedly.
 
  “And that's why I'm here now,”  Ames carried on.  “You and me is friends.”
 
  “Wull, I thunk we was,”  Kyle snarked.  “but after this....”
 
  “No, c'mon Kyle,”  Ames whined.  “yer my friend and this is what I'm sayin'.”
 
  “What are you sayin'?”
 
  “Me and Orrison ain't stayin',”  Ames informed his friend.  “we're gonna take our share of the haul and lite outa here before Duncan gets back.  He wasn't too happy with us fer runnin' out on 'im back there and we ain't got no delusions about what he'll do to us if he finds us back at the hole.”
 
  “So what ya' tellin' me fer?”
 
  “Cause Orrison's right,”  Ames continued.  “Duncan was real mad when he put two and two together and realized that you and yer partner woulda known Heyes and yet said nothin'.  It wouldn't take much more fer him ta' think that maybe you both knowed that Heyes owned that liver mare and that's why your partner talked him outa takin' the horses that were on the train.”
 
  “Wull, we didn't know that Heyes' horse was the one that Duncan was lustin' after,”  Kyle complained.  “How's we suppose ta' know that?”
 
  Ames just shrugged.  “I donno.  But I've been with this gang longer than you two and I'm tellin' ya', once Tom Duncan gets an idee in his head, he don't let it go.  If'n he thinks you fellas are playin' both sides you best not be at the Hole when he gets back.”
 
 
 
A soft tap on the hotel room door woke Jed from the light doze he’d fallen into.  They’d arrived in Greeley late last night.  Joe and Heyes had been exhausted and achingly sore from their injuries.  He’d been too awake to fall asleep easily so he had gone out last night until the small hours of the morning.  Rising early, he had breakfast in the hotel dining room before returning to the room only to find that his companions were still asleep.  He’d settled into the big stuffed chair by the window and must’ve dozed off.
 
Carefully opening the door, Jed saw a young, dark-haired man standing there. 
 
“Good morning, sir.  I have a telegram that just came for you.”  The telegraph clerk held out the folded piece of paper he held. 
 
Jed took it, and handed the man a nickel.  “Thanks.”  As the man started to go, Jed said, “Hey, if I want to send a reply where do I go?”
 
“I’m three doors down on the east side of the street, Sir.”
 
“Thanks.”  Curry returned to the comfortable chair he’d slept in.  The telegram was from Beth:
 
Dearest STOP In Denver with Bridget STOP We’ve found the breeders  STOP  Contacting them  STOP More soon STOP Lovemissyou STOP Beth
 
He had to grin at Beth’s succinct endearment, but found himself wishing he hadn’t schooled her in telegram shorthand.  He was missing his wife terribly and a few more words might’ve soothed the ache he was feeling.  He’d already been gone far longer than he’d expected to be and he was starting to worry that he might miss the birth of his child.  Jed leaned back in the chair and looked out the window to the south towards Denver and Beth. 
 
So she was in Denver?  He’d sent his last telegram to Brookswood so she wouldn’t have seen it.  How did she know he was in Greeley?  Then he remembered, Union Pacific had said that they were sending all passengers onto Greeley.  Beth must’ve heard about the wreck and been frantic.  She probably went right to the UP office in Denver and sent the telegram here knowing he’d be arriving shortly.   Thank goodness she was with Bridget and not alone.  He felt guilty for putting her through so much stress.
 
She was so close, just a brief train ride away, yet he knew that once Heyes was able, he’d be ready to go after Tom Duncan.  Who knows how that was going to turn out?  Jed knew that he had to back Heyes up on this and he also knew that Heyes was aware that they couldn’t do this job on their own.  Whether Lom helped or not, they had to try to take Duncan down and not just to get Heyes’ belongings back either.  After all, together, they’d made the Devil’s Hole gang infamous and both had a responsibility as upright citizens to see that this new, vicious leader was ejected from the hideout.  But they weren’t young any more, and they no longer believed in their own invulnerability.  How were two rusty, has-been outlaws going to manage to clean up this mess without getting killed?
 
As Jed pondered that thought, his mind formulated another one.  If they were going after the Duncan, he was going to insist that they see their wives first.  He had to see Beth, just in case, and Heyes needed to do the same for Miranda and Sally.  They were no longer free to risk their lives without considering the consequences.  They had families.
 
Heyes might resist the idea, but Jed knew if he put his foot down, his partner would do as he asked.  Besides, they were going to need more hands to get this done.  It made sense to go home and try to raise a posse.   Jed had to chuckle at the idea that Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes might raise a posse to go after the new Devil’s Hole gang.  Making his decision, Jed decided to handle this the way Heyes would; he wouldn’t give his partner a choice.  He’d send a telegram back to Beth reassuring her they were fine and asking her to set up a meeting as soon as possible.
 
Jed quietly left the room.  He’d send his message and go have a bite of lunch at that little café down the street.
 
Loose Ends
Post on Sun 22 Dec 2013, 5:54 pm by Keays
Bridget and Beth were sitting in the parlor enjoying a cup of tea.  Rose was upstairs napping.  The Granger’s new maid, Sylvie, was working today and Bridget had just sent her to the telegraph office to see if they’d received a reply yet.  It had been two days since Beth had sent her telegram to Greeley and she was beginning to worry that maybe Jed, Heyes, and Joe had been injured after all.  Surely, one of them would’ve have let her know they were all right.
 
Beth had breathed a sigh of relief when she’d heard the front door close as Sylvie went out.  She felt exhausted by the waiting and craved a few minutes of peace and quiet.  Her sister looked just as tired as she did.  It was a comfort to her to have her big sister and her mother to guide her through her pregnancy.  What would she have done without them? 
 
“I swear if I get any rounder, I’m going to pop,” groaned Bridget.  Beth giggled.  Her sister was much bigger this pregnancy than she had been with her last, but Beth could no longer see her own toes and knew she wasn’t much smaller. 
 
“We’re both going to pop soon,” said Beth.  As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she felt unhappy tears welling up in her eyes.
 
“Sweetie, Jed will be home before the baby comes,” said Bridget encouragingly, “He’s as excited as you are about the baby.  He’ll be here when the time comes.”
 
Beth rubbed her swollen belly, “I hope so.  Oh, Bridget, why haven’t we heard from them?   They must be in Greeley by now!” 
 
Sylvie returned ten minutes later.  She came in and closed the door softly before peeking into the parlor to see if her ladies were still awake.  They’d looked so done in before she’d left that she’d bustled them into the parlor and had put the kettle on.  Poor little chicks.  They reminded her of her own babies.   Sweet they were and kind to boot. 
 
Sylvie and her husband had taken in their three grandchildren after their daughter and her husband had been killed in a wagon accident.  When her husband had unexpectedly dropped dead recently, Sylvie had found herself with three small mouths to feed and no income.  For months, as her meager savings dwindled rapidly, she’d responded to every advertisement for a maid.  But the families had all been shocked when they’d open the door to a gray-haired applicant.  Not Miz Granger.  She’d ushered Sylvie in and sat her down in her lovely kitchen making her tea and treating her like an honored guest.  By the time the interview was over, Sylvie would’ve worked for her for free just for the pleasure of serving such a sweet lady. 
 
Not only did the Grangers pay her a more than fair wage, they treated her with kindness and respect.  Miz Bridget never fussed at her and often gave her Miss Rosie’s lovely hand-me-downs for her own granddaughter, Marcy, who was just a little bit smaller.  Her baby girl was dressed like a queen. 
 
Seeing that the ladies were awake, Sylvie walked into the room.  “Miz Granger, I have two telegrams for you.” 
 
“Oh, Sylvie, thank you so much!” said Bridget, eagerly taking the telegrams.  Seeing that one of them was from Jed, she asked, “Can you please give this one to Beth?  I don’t believe I can pry myself from this chair.”
 
“Yes, ma’am.”  Sylvie handed the second telegram to Miz Curry.
 
Beth read it quickly and looked up, excited.  “Bridget, everyone’s fine!  Jed wants us to set up a meeting as quickly as possible.  He wants to come to see me!”
 
“Of course, he does, darling,” said Bridget.  She unfolded her message and smiled.  “This one’s from a Mrs. Haines at the Second Chance Ranch.  She says the owners will be in Denver this coming Friday and we could all meet for lunch at noon in the dining room at the Oxford Hotel downtown.” 
 
“Oh, yes, Jed and Joshua are so close; they can meet us in Denver!” beamed Beth.  She looked up to see Sylvie standing patiently by the door.  “Sylvie, could I impose on you to send our replies?”
 
“I’d be right pleased to take them, ma’am.”
 
Bridget smiled.  She’d liked Sylvie from the first minute she’d met her.  The gray-haired woman reminded her of her own mother in some vague way and having her in the house gave Bridget comfort.  Not that she wasn’t capable of running her own household; when Stephen had begun to insist on hiring a maid, Bridget had dug in her heels and stubbornly refused to have a stranger come into their home, telling him that she was perfectly capable of running the family.  As her pregnancy had progressed, it had become more and more difficult for her to accomplish her tasks and she soon found herself agreeing to hire a helping hand.  “Please, Sylvie, you must stop calling us ma’am.  I feel years older when you do and I’m sure Beth does, too.  Call us Bridget and Beth.”
 
“Yes, Miz Bridget,” nodded Sylvie.  She waited until the girls had finished writing their replies.  Taking the notes, she left again.
 
“Well, Miz Bridget, I think we’ve earned a reward, don’t you?”
 
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
 
“Sylvie’s chocolate cake?”
 
“Yes!  After all, we are eating for two,” said Bridget.
 
 
 
Jed had enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel dining room.  The cook had served up the best biscuits and gravy he’d ever had.  He’d washed it all down with gallons of coffee and was now sitting in the front lobby by the window enjoying the view and reading the Greeley Tribune.  He saw the door of the Telegraph Office open and the young dark-haired clerk step out.  The young man pulled down the shade on the glass pane and shut the door behind him.  Starting up the street, he crossed it and made a beeline for the hotel.  Jed folded up the newspaper, set it aside on the sofa, and waited patiently for the clerk to arrive.
 
“Mr. Curry, I have a reply for you,” said the eager young man.
 
“That was fast.  Thanks,” said Jed, taking the telegram and handing the man a dime this time.  The clerk smiled and tipped his hat on this way out.
 
Unfolding the telegram, Jed read:
 
Darling STOP MeetingDenverFridayNoon Oxford Hotel STOP ExcitedBeth STOP
 
He tucked the note in his chest pocket and took the steps upstairs two at a time feeling happier and lighter than he had in weeks.  He barreled through the door to Heyes’ room and startled Joe who was in the middle of buckling his belt.  “Hey, you’re up!”
 
“I am, but I don’t know about him,” said Joe, gesturing over his shoulder at the squirming form on the bed.
 
“Shut up, can’t you see I’m sleeping?”  Heyes tugged the covers up over his entire head.
 
“Don’t sound like you’re sleeping,” observed Jed.  “Heyes, get up.  It’s almost noon.  Beth found the owners!”
 
The covers were flung off and Heyes sat up.  With a groan, he held his head in his hands until the pounding stopped.
 
“You all right?” asked Jed.  Heyes looked a lot better than he had last night, but Jed was concerned about the new concussion.  He couldn’t help wondering what David would have to say about Heyes getting knocked cold again.
 
Heyes dropped his hands, “I’m fine.  Tell me what Beth said.”
 
Jed smiled.  “Not much.  They found the breeders and there’s a meeting set up for Friday noon.  That was the time they could make it,” he embellished.  No way was he agreeing to go anywhere until he met with Beth.   It was the time the breeders could make it.  He wasn’t lying.  Maybe there were other times only Heyes didn’t need to know that.
 
“@#$!!  We can’t let Duncan hold onto Karma.  Who knows what he’s doing to her!” growled Heyes.
 
“Heyes, he wants Karma as badly as you do, he’s not going to hurt her,” said Joe.
 
Angry brown eyes glared at him.  “Oh yeah?  He already has and, if I find any more spur marks on her, he’s going to get a taste of his own medicine.  We’re going after her.  To hell with the meeting.”
 
“Too late.  I’ve already accepted.  Besides, I’ve been thinking…” said Jed.
 
A loud, dramatic moan issued from the direction of the bed.  “We have an agreement about that, Kid, and you keep violating it.”
 
“Look, Heyes, I’m backing you up on this just like I’ve always backed you up; but I’m not going into the Hole until I see my wife, my expectant wife, and tell her what we’re planning to do.”  Jed was ready for a fight; he wasn’t taking 'no' for an answer.
 
“Can’t do it.  We’ll lose too much time.”  Heyes stood up and reached for his pants. 
 
Joe stayed silent.  He wasn’t getting into the middle of this one although he thought the Kid was right.  If he had someone waiting for him at home he sure would want to say goodbye before doing something as crazy as riding into Devil’s Hole unannounced.
 
“Yes…we…can.  You need to see Miranda, too.  What if we don’t come back?” ground out Jed.  Heyes paused while buttoning up his trousers and ran a hand through his hair.   Curry knew this gesture meant that Heyes felt trapped.  It was one of his few tells.  “Heyes,” he said more gently, “We’re married men now.  We have others to think of.  It ain’t just you and me anymore.  Think of what it would do to Miranda and Sally if you did this without them knowing and didn’t come back.”  He could see his words hit home as Heyes’ shoulders slumped and he sighed despondently.  He wasn’t about to mention getting more help, one step at a time worked best with Heyes.
 
“You’re right.  We’ll go to Denver.  But as soon as the meeting’s over, I’m heading to the Hole whether you’re with me or not.”  Heyes pulled on his shirt and began buttoning it. “If we hear from Lom, fine.  If not—I’m going anyway.”
 
“I’ll be with you, partner.”
 
“Me, too,” said Joe.
 
“Guess I better let Jesse know about the meeting.  He’ll want to be there, too,” said Heyes.  “Why don’t you two head down to the restaurant and order up some breakfast?  I’ll go send the telegrams and meet you there.”
 
Joe nodded and picked up his hat.  He pulled the door open.
 
“Good idea.  I hear the biscuits and gravy are real good,” said Jed, loving the thought of a second breakfast.  He followed Joe out.
 
 
 
“Mmm, this looks great,” said Heyes, sitting down and picking up his napkin as the waitress arrived with the meal Jed had ordered. 
 
She had looked at Curry askance when he sat down again with Joe, but had made no comment.  She was used to feeding hungry men and as long as they were paying customers, she didn’t care what this one did. 
 
Heyes was warming to the idea of seeing Randa and Sally.  This was the longest they’d been apart since they’d been married and, while Heyes had been focused on the task at hand, he hadn’t been successful at keeping thoughts of home at bay.  He was a father now, too, and it was important to him that he was home for Sally.  She’d lived most of her life in the orphanage and he knew, all too well, how much she had missed having her own family.  “You know, I was thinking on my way over to the Western Union office that we really should have more help than just Lom going into the Hole.  We don’t know what we’re going to be facing.”
 
“I’m glad to hear you say that, Heyes.  I was getting kind of worried about that myself,” said Joe.
 
“So who do you think we should ask?”  Jed took a large forkful of biscuits and gravy and shoveled it into his mouth to keep from smiling.  It was far better to let Heyes think this was all his idea.
 
“Well, I already sent that telegram to Lom.  He’s right there and he’s been working with Kyle and Wheat so I’m betting he’ll want in on this.  Maybe we can get some help from the boys once we’re inside.  I asked Lom if he had anyone else worth bringing along, too.  I want a few more hands than just him.”  Heyes dug into his breakfast with enthusiasm.
 
“Good plan, partner.   Jesse might want to come, too, when he hears about it but I’m not sure that’d be the best place for him.  We might be better off letting him negotiate with Karma’s breeders and get all the paperwork in order.  Besides, Belle would skin us alive if we took Jesse into the Hole.” 
 
“Yes, she would,” agreed Joe.  He reached for the coffee pot and topped off his cup as well as Heyes’ and Jed’s.  “Let’s talk about how we’re going to get into the Hole.  I thought it was impregnable.”
 
“It pretty much was until Morrison discovered the back way in,” grumbled Jed.
 
“I didn’t think there was a back way in.  How’d he do it?” asked Joe.
 
“Oh, there’s an old overgrown trail we’d use as a last resort, but no outsiders knew about.  It was totally impassible in the winter months, but the rest of the time we always kept it guarded; a small detail that Wheat forgot about.   Cost him dearly, too.  Morrison got wind of it from an ex-gang member who was trying to bargain his way out of prison time.  And it worked.” 
 
“I’m betting it’s gone now.  Duncan would’ve seen to that.”  Heyes sat back and wiped his mouth.  He was full. 
 
“Maybe not, Heyes,” said Jed around a mouthful of his meal.  “It’s been years since Morrison’s raid.  Any trails they used would’ve been overgrown by the time Duncan arrived.  Far as we know, the only ones left who’d know Morrison got in a back way would be Wheat and Kyle.  I doubt they’d be telling Duncan about it.”
 
“Good point.  They’d probably keep quiet about it in case they needed a way out.  I wish we had a way of getting in touch with Wheat.”  Heyes chuckled a moment later, “Never thought I’d hear myself say that.”
 
“I guess we’ll just have to scout around for ourselves and see if it’s still there,” said Joe.
 
 
 
  Duncan kept the two mares going at a good clip for at least ten miles.  He didn't want to take any chances of anyone from the train catching up with him.  Finally, after a number of looks back and seeing no telltale sign of rising dust, he allowed the two horses to slow down and have a rest.
 
  The outlaw dismounted and took a look at the liver mare.  He smiled in satisfaction not only at the horse, but at that fine saddle that once again came along with her.  He didn't notice, or didn't care that Karma herself was standing tense with her head up and the whites of her eyes showing wide.  She blew indignantly as Duncan stepped towards her and she tried to move away from him.  He tightened up on her, forcing her to stand still while he surveyed his bounty.
 
  Karma was too well trained now to pull away from a human, any human unless she was really frightened or in pain.  So she stood—not liking it one little bit, but didn't even consider the option of pulling back in order to get away from him.  Her ground manners had become too well engrained for that.  So she stood, blowing nervously and practically flinching with his touch.  But she stood.
 
  Duncan turned back to his own mare and unbuckled one of the reins off her bridle then re-attached the strip of leather to Karma's bit.  He could have simply changed bridles but he didn't want to take the chance of either horse running off once they'd realized their headstalls were off.  Besides, Karma's head was much bigger than his own mare's and the bridle probably wouldn't have fit her anyways.
 
  That little adjustment of tack was quickly taken care of and Duncan prepared to mount the big mare.  Then he stopped as a thought occurred to him.  Tom Duncan might not be the brightest shoe on the anvil but he does occasionally learn from past mistakes.  He carefully knelt down and one at time, he removed his spurs and tucked them away in his own saddlebags.  If anyone else had been around, he wouldn't have done it as he felt it would have suggested weakness on his part; conceding a point to the horse.  He sure didn't want a repeat of their last experience and rather than take the chance of accidentally raking the rowels along her sides, he wisely removed the offending footwear altogether.
 
  Karma: One.  Tom Duncan:  Zero.
 
 
  Duncan pulled the mare around to him and stepping into the stirrup he pulled himself aboard.  Karma stood stock still, feeling anxious and already deciding that this encounter was not going to go well.  She mouthed the bit in irritation and her ears went back as her own emotions slowly began to take precedence over her conditioned training.  She was antsy and short-tempered.  She wanted something but she didn't know what it was but the one thing she did know was that this human wasn't it.
 
  Duncan sat deep in the saddle and pressed his lower leg into her sides.  Her ears went back further and she didn't move.  He clucked to her and gave her a nudge so she started to back up.  He growled at her and gave her a solid boot and she gave a little cow hop of a buck.  He cursed at her and gave her a slap on the rump with the reins.  She grunted and kicked out for real.  Duncan felt her back rounding up underneath him and knew that she was getting ready to explode.
 
  He didn't need this, not now.  He quickly swung his right leg over the cantle and stepped down.  Removing the one rein from Karma's bit he returned it to the bit belonging to his own mare.  He dug his spurs out of the saddle bag and quickly re-adorned them, then keeping a firm hold onto Karma's one rein; he stepped aboard his mare and sent them off again at a hand gallop towards the mountain pass to Devil's Hole.
 
  Just wait, he mused as he ground his teeth in irritation.  Just wait until he got her into the corral up at the Hole; he'd show her then who was boss.  She'd have no say and nowhere to go.  She'd have to submit.
 
  Karma: Two.  Tom Duncan: Minus one.
 
 
  That night, Duncan stopped to make camp and even felt confident enough to light a small fire and make up some coffee with biscuits and hardtack.  He had unsaddled both the horses and tied them securely to some scrub trees that were handily close to the stream he had chosen to camp by.  He also put hobbles on the liver mare just to be double sure that she didn't break her line and disappear during the night.
 
  What a surprise then when he awoke the following morning and found only one mare standing quietly at her picket.  He cursed and forgoing breakfast he saddled up his own horse and, looking around for hoof prints, he cursed again.  That fool mare was heading back towards the train wreck.  How the hell had she gotten loose?  He knew he'd tied a solid knot and yet there was no sign of a broken tether.  But gotten loose she had, and she was hopping her way back to where she had last seen her human.
 
  Duncan cursed again and digging the spurs into his own horse they took off at a gallop away from Devil's Hole.  He kept his mare going at a fast gallop until he spotted the liver mare in the distance.  Karma was trying to put distance between her and this unwanted male but the hobbles were proving to be difficult.  She could hop but she couldn't gallop.  Although some horses, who were used to hobbles and had the incentive, could learn how to move with some dexterity with them on; Karma was not accustomed to them and her pace had been slow and awkward to say the least.
 
  Duncan spotted her within a couple of hours and caught up with her quickly. He approached her from the near side but she still laid her ears back and with a squeal, kicked out at the innocent mare he was riding.  Piper, which was her name even though Duncan didn't know that or even care, did a very quick side-step in order to avoid being kicked and then was hesitant to get in close to her again. But Duncan dug in the spurs and Piper chose the lesser of two evils and came up beside Karma once more.
 
  Karma laid her ears back again but Piper was too close to her now for a kick to be effective so she tried to bite.  Duncan smacked her across the nose then quickly grabbed the dangling tether line and snubbed her up to the saddle horn.  He slid out of the saddle on the off side between the two horses and removed Karma's hobbles.  Mounting back up again, he spurred Piper back up to a gallop and with the two of them he headed back to the camp site.  He had no intentions of leaving that fine saddle behind.
 
  The next night, and hopefully the last one before he returned to Devil's Hole, he once again hobbled the liver mare.  But this time he tied the tether line up high on a tree branch.  He didn't know how the mare have gotten loose the previous night but somehow it had occurred to him that keeping the knot out of the mare's reach just might prove advantageous.
 
  Even at that he did not spend a restful night.  Both mares appeared restless as though there were some predator in the area but every time Duncan got up to check, all was quiet.  He'd check the mares and find them both securely tied and both of them looking at him, wondering what he was doing up at such an ungodly hour.  He'd curse and shake his head and go back to bed, only to be roused again by squealing and stamping of restless feet from the picket line.
 
  Duncan roused the next morning feeling grouchy and bleary eyed.  The two mares looked at him with ears up and eyes looking for breakfast.  He almost didn't feed them out of spite, but he also knew that hungry horses did not make for good travelling companions, especially when they had some hard riding ahead of them.
 
  He expected to arrive in Devil's Hole later that afternoon, but he still had some rugged terrain to get over before then and he wanted his horses feeling up to snuff.  So, despite feelings of resentment he measured out two small portion of grain from the saddlebags and fed the horses.  Then while they were contentedly munching he built a small fire and made coffee and heated up some left-over beans and hardtack for himself.  A meager breakfast, but enough to keep them going until they got home.
 
  Home, he thought as he sipped his coffee.  What would he find when he got home? Did Wheat Carlson deliberately betray him or was it simply feeling a loyalty to his ex-boss?  Had he known that Heyes' mare was aboard the train or was he simply looking out for the welfare of the other gang members?
 
 Even if Wheat had known that Heyes' mare was on board how would he have known that it was the same mare that Duncan coveted?  Even Duncan himself hadn't been aware that the mare belonged to Hannibal Heyes.  No, Wheat could not have known that. But if he had known that the horses in question had belonged to his ex-bosses and had stepped up to stop Duncan from taking them on that basis, then Wheat was showing duplicity in his loyalties and something would have to be done about that.
 
  And what about Orrison and Ames, running out on him like that?  What a pair of cowards!  And now obviously Orrison was still holding a grudge about Milt Price and Duncan didn't need that kind of festering inside the ranks.  Probably time to cut him loose; couldn't count on him anyways, obviously.
 
 Duncan sighed as he chewed on the hardtack.  The trials and tribulations of being gang leader.  Had Heyes had this trouble?  He supposed it took time to weed out the loose cannons until you were down to the few loyal ones who would stand by ya' through thick and thin.  Old Ferguson was one, and Davis seemed to be alright too, But Orrison and Ames?
 
  Ames was friends with Kyle Murtry from prison, Duncan knew that.  Originally he hadn't minded that connection; friends will watch out for each other and if they're both loyal to the gang then that's what makes a strong unit.  But if Ames is more loyal to Kyle than to Duncan then that could be problems.  Kyle was Wheat's partner and, if Wheat was playing both sides, he and Kyle just might convince Ames to turn on their gang leader.
 
  Yeah, Duncan thought, time to cull the herd.  He didn't need loose ends.  Better to get rid of four bad apples now and get them replaced, quick.  No loose ends.  It was time that Wheat Carlson lived up to his reputation of being dead and he can bloody well take the other three with him.
 
  Having decided that, Duncan kicked out the fire, collected up his breakfast utensils and got them all ready for the trail.  He'd push it and get back to the Hole as quickly as he could before any more damage could be done.
 
 Things however, do not always go as planned.
 
  Much to Duncan's surprise, as he moved to swing the saddle up onto Piper's back she squealed and kicked out at him with her hind leg.  He jumped back and she missed but when he caught her eye, she was sending him a most defiant look unlike any he had noticed in her before.  Was he going to have trouble with both these horses now?
 
  He growled at her and she cringed.  He took hold of her tether line and held her steady while he threw the saddle onto her back.  She accepted it this time, but her spine was bunched and Duncan wondered if he was going to have to ride the bucks out of her before hitting the trail this morning.  He got her cinched up and left her standing while he got the liver mare ready to go.  She gave him even more trouble.
 
  Head up and nostrils blowing Karma circled her hind quarters around and though Duncan had hold of her head, she would not stand still long enough for him to swing the saddle onto her back.  He tried more than once to heave the heavy hunk of leather in her direction, but she simply stepped out from under it and the saddle ended up in the dirt.  He cursed and swore and jerked on her tether but she refused to stand still.
 
  Finally he maneuvered her up against a tree so that she couldn't swing away from him and he actually got the saddle settled onto her back.  But as soon as he reached under her belly for the cinch strap, the mare changed directions and nearly ran him over.  He jumped out of her and cursing, began to aim kicks at her groin. He got a couple of good ones in too even though Karma tried her best to stay out of range and even attempted to run into him again.  But he was ready for that move now and deftly stayed out of her way.
 
  Finally he'd had it with this mare.  He tethered her up tight to a high tree branch, got the rope from Piper's saddle and catching up her off hind foot he looped the other end of the rope around the mare's neck and pulled that hoof up off the ground until he had it snubbed up tight.  Karma blew at him indignantly but she was experienced enough with this technique to know that she couldn't fight back without risking a fall and the last place a horse wants to be is on her back.  Karma submitted and allowed him to saddle her.
 
  Tom Duncan: One.  Karma: Two.
 
  Duncan didn't quite make it back to the Hole that night.  Both mares were in cantankerous moods.  If it wasn't Karma kicking at Piper or trying to bite Duncan, it was Piper squealing and giving little cow-hop bucks at any small disturbance in her world.  More time was spent trying to keep the two mares far enough away from each other that they didn't start fighting than it was covering the distance to home.
 
  Duncan was totally done in by the time he decided he'd have to stop for one more night sleeping on the ground.  He was in a foul temper and though he still fed the two mares, he did not unsaddle them, not wanting to have a repeat of that morning's escapades.  He waited until they had finished their grain and then tied the liver mare's head up high again so she couldn't pull back, or reach the knot.  He'd had enough of this and had no sympathy left for either one of them.
 
  Finally, by mid-morning the next day, Duncan found himself riding into the Devil's Hole Basin.  He was tired and sore and in a foul temper.  How the hell had Heyes put up with this bitch of a mare?  Maybe he was happy that someone had taken her off his hands, but then he snorted.  What was he thinking?  He'd shot Heyes square in the chest and there was no way he would have survived that hit.  Damn, too bad the man wasn't still wanted; that would have been a tidy sum to lay claim to. Wouldn't that have been ironic?  The reward money on Hannibal Heyes helping Duncan to get the Devil's Hole gang up and running again for real.  Duncan cursed again; somehow the timing of things in his life never did seem to work out right.
 
  With a breath of relief, Duncan approached the look-out station and pulling his Colt revolver he fired two shots into the air.  Both mares jumped but neither spooked away; they were both used to the sound of gunfire.  Almost instantly he was rewarded with an answering gunshot and he pushed the two horses into a lope towards the entrance to the hideout itself.  He was ready for some down time.
 
  Fifteen minutes later, he pulled the horses over to the hitching rail in front of the barn and dismounted.  He was too tired to notice that the corral was a little shy on horses.  He registered the fact that there were indeed horses there and that was all that sunk in.  He unsaddled both mares, then one at a time he lead them into the corral and slipping the bridles off them, turned them loose.
 
  With Karma's headstall dangling from his tired hands he opened the corral gate, stepped through it and closed it behind him just in the nick of time.  He'd barely got the latch secured when the gate itself trembled and banged from an impact that send Duncan staggering backwards in surprise.  He turned around just in time to see Karma rebounding from the gate after she had ploughed into it with her chest.  She sent the human a haughty look and then trotted away, snorting and shaking her head with indignation.
 
  Karma:  Three.  Tom Duncan:  One.
 
  Duncan cursed under his breath and dumped the bridle into the dirt along with the saddles.  He was too tired to bother putting that stuff away.  He could get Ames or their wrangler, Len to put the equipment away—he was leader after all, he shouldn't have to bother himself with such mundane tasks.
 
  He carried on over to the leader's cabin and thumped up the stairs, not noticing that Fergie was sitting in the rocker on the porch, apparently waiting for him.  As soon as the two men locked eyes, Duncan knew something was wrong.  He slumped; he didn't need anything more going wrong right now.
 
  “What is it?”  he reluctantly asked his second in command.
 
  Fergie sighed.  “I'm sorry, Tom.”
 
  Duncan felt a sinking in his gut.  “What about?”
 
  “Well, Orrison and Ames caught up with us the other night out on the trail,” Fergie explained.  “I didn't think nothin' of it—I mean they are part of the gang after all.”
 
  Duncan was getting suspicious now.  “Yeah?”
 
  “Well, they'd said there'd been some trouble between ya' but they didn't seem too concerned about it, so I didn't think anything more of it.  But they got the drop on us during the night.  I mean, Orrison was on watch and so me and Davis, we was sleepin'.  We didn't think there was anything to worry about.  But Orrison was part of it, so...”
 
  “Part 'a what?”  Duncan snarled, already feeling like he wanted to wring someone's neck.
 
  “Well, all four of them fella's was in cahoots,”  Fergie explained. “They got the drop on us.  Tied us up and took the money.”
 
  “WHAT!?”  Duncan was instantly livid.
 
  “Well not all of it!”  Fergie tried to save face.  Normally he wasn't afraid of Duncan, but this was an entirely new situation.  “they only took their shares, but still.  I had the idea you wanted to have a word with a couple of them boys—if not all of 'em.”
 
 
  “You bet I did!”  Duncan yelled.  “GODDAMMIT!  Can anything else possibly go wrong today!?”
 
  A loud shrill squeal from the vicinity of the corral answered his question. Karma and Nonsense,  the dominant gelding were forehead to forehead.  Their necks were arched and with ears forward, they blew at each other, testing the waters. Nonsense nickered repeatedly, deep and quiet as he moved in closer and rubbed his head against Karma's tensely arched neck.  She squealed again and struck out with a front leg.  She didn't hit him.  She didn't intend to hit him.  This was just all part of the dance.
 
  The other horses in the corral were excited and began trotting around, bucking and kicking at each other as the tension within the herd increased by the moment. The more dominant mare of the group, Sassy had herself all up on her toes and in a springy trot approached this new mare all intent in putting her in her place. Karma's attention went from the handsome gelding to the intruding mare and instantly her ears went back and with teeth bared, she charged.
 
  Sassy pivoted around and kicking out with her hind legs, she hit Karma with a glancing blow to her chest.  Karma kept coming and got a good bite in on the mare's flank.  They separated, each trotting off to opposite sides of the corral where they turned and stared at each other.  Necks arched again, both mares began to paw the ground, daring the other one to attempt an attack.
 
  The other horses on the most part were doing their best to stay out of the conflict.  But now Nonsense was also mad at having had his seductions interrupted. He ran into the herd, ears back and teeth striving to sink into any flesh that didn't get out of his way fast enough.  The horses were on the move, trotting or loping around the corral and sending up great billows of dust.  Squealing and snorting could be heard coming from the center of the chaos until suddenly a loud and angry bellow drowned all the other noises out.
 
  Nonsense charged out of the dust camouflage and attacked one of the subordinate geldings.  Now Ranger knew that he was high up on the pecking order, but he also knew that Nonsense was still boss over him.  But the dynamics inside the herd had suddenly changed.  Ranger was feeling his oats now that there were two hot mares in the group and both of them were swishing their tails under his nose.  And besides that, there was nothing quite like two young ladies, squaring off and preparing to do battle that could get his dander up and make him start to feel mean.
 
  Ranger screamed his indignation as Nonsense ploughed into him, biting him on his neck and shoulders.  Ranger ducked away from the onslaught then came at the other gelding, teeth out and ready for action.  The two males crashed into one another and up they went onto their hind legs, slashing at one another with their front hooves and both trying to get their teeth into flesh.
 
  Sassy, enraged by this usurper and excited by the aggression of the males, reared up herself and then charged the liver mare.  Karma's ears went back again, laying flat along her neck and met the charge full on.  She was bigger than Sassy and stronger too so it didn't take long for the resident mare to be on her knees and scrambling to get away from the reign of kicks and bites that were coming at her. She finally got her front legs under her and got to her feet, but the liver mare was in a frenzy, and pushing the smaller mare into the wall of the barn, she continued to kick at her.
 
  Sassy finally got out from between those deadly hooves and the wall and limped over to mingle with the herd, definitely out of the fight.  But Karma was in a heat rage and she continued to kick at the wall of the barn until the wood started to splinter and the boards began to fall apart.
 
  The two geldings were continuing to battle it out and though Ranger began to remember why he was second in the pecking order, he still tried to put up a good fight.  Finally he'd had enough though, and leaping away from the striking front hooves of his adversary, he followed Sassy's example and headed for the cover of the herd.  It didn't help much though, because Nonsense came after him, scattering the herd in all directions.  The horses were on the run, trying to get away from the battling males and Karma got caught up with them, running around and around the corral, putting on the brakes or changing direction whenever the fight got too close to them.
 
  Ranger was totally on the defensive now, biting and kicking only in an effort to get away from the dominant gelding.  He was limping and bleeding from numerous wounds where the teeth or sharp hooves of his adversary had broken through his hide.  He just wanted out!  Nonsense could have the mares—he didn't want them anymore—he just wanted out.
 
  Ranger found himself trapped up against the fence while Nonsense landed kick after kick to his barrel and shoulders.  Ranger reared and turning in an effort to get away, he pawed at the top railing of the fence until it splintered and fell away.  Finally!  An escape route!  He bunched up his hindquarters and heaved himself into the air to get over the fence and actually made it even though he took the second rail out as he went.
 
  The other horses, already stressed out and on the run spied the opening in the fence as well and everybody made a dash for it.  Within seconds, every horse in the corral had jumped the bottom rail, taking out a fair measure of what was left of the fence with them.
 
 
 
  At the first sound of trouble from the corral, Duncan and Fergie came running down the front steps of the cabin and made a bee line towards the horse herd.  Len was out of the barn with a rope with the intentions of getting into the corral and separating the trouble-makers, but he soon vetoed that idea.  He was too experienced at horseman to deliberately put himself into that kind of harm's way. Still, he waved the rope and yelled, trying to get the attention of the horses but to no avail.  They were too far gone in their own rite of passage.
 
  Other men from the bunkhouse joined the audience while everyone ran around the outside of the corral trying to distract the animals and get them settled down.  Unfortunately their efforts went unnoticed, or if anything, only added more fuel to the fire and got the herd moving even faster.
 
  “Goddammit!”  Duncan cursed yet again.  “What the hell's the matter with them two geldings?  They ain't studs!”
 
  “Don't matter!”  Len yelled over the commotion.  “You put a mare in heat into a herd 'a horses that don't know her and yer gonna get trouble!  Who the hell was the idiot what done that?”
 
  “I didn't know that bitch was in heat!”  Duncan yelled, openly admitting his guilt, then cursing at his stupidity for doing it.
 
  Len sent his boss an exasperated look and went back to try and calm the herd down.  Duncan pulled his revolver and fired a number of shots into the air, but again it made no good difference to the horses in the corral.  It simply drove their aggression and the battling went on.
 
  “Dammit!”  Duncan cursed again and going to his saddle that was still sprawled upon the ground, he pulled out his rifle with the intentions of shooting the antagonists in order to bring peace to the valley again.
 
  Fortunately for the horses concerned, Duncan hardly had time to turn back with the weapon when he heard the unmistakable sound of wood splintering.  He stood in shocked silence along with everyone else as the herd crashed through the opening on the far side of the fence and took off at a gallop.
 
 The huge cloud of dust began to settle down to the ground at the same rate as the sound of thundering hooves diminished into the distance.  No one could quite believe what had just happened.  Every single horse in Devil's Hole had just disappeared on the wind.
 
  Tom Duncan: One.  Karma: Ten
 
To Be Continued.
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