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 Ready or Not. Chapter ten

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Keays



Posts : 33
Join date : 2013-09-26

20140218
PostReady or Not. Chapter ten

Ready or Not


“Discussin’ a plan?” snorted Gus derisively.  “I thought we was raisin’ a posse.  We need fast horses, not a plan.”
 
Heyes’ eyes immediately went flat and he looked at Lom.  “Much as I hate to say it; the man’s right, Lom, we don’t need a plan.”
 
“Now, Heyes…,” protested Lom, but he quickly gave up.  He could see that he wasn’t going to get any plan details from his friend while Gus and his boys were looking on.
 
“What I want to know is how come you and the Kid are sidin’ with the law on this?” asked Wes, leaning forward into the conversation.
 
“It’s Jed now, not Kid,” growled Curry giving Wes a measured stare.  The man straightened back up, but the question hung in the air.
 
Heyes picked it up and said, “We have to.  The law’s still making us earn our freedom.”
 
“So Heyes and Curry are just the law’s hand puppets?  Hear that, boys?” snickered Gus.  “How the mighty have fallen.”
 
“That’s enough,” snapped Lom.  “Around here, I’m the law so I’m in charge of this little expedition.  You have a question, you bring it to me.  You have a problem with someone; I’m the first to hear it.  Got it?  All of you?”  He glared at the men before him hoping that he wasn’t making a huge mistake taking Gus and his men along.  This already seemed to be turning into a fiasco before his very eyes.  He downed his beer in one long draw and slammed the mug down on the table.  Getting up, he leaned over the table.  “You all better get along from here on out or you’ll find yourselves warming a cot in the Porterville jail instead of earning top dollar riding for me.”  With that, he pulled down his hat and strode out the doors of the saloon.  Heyes thoughtfully watched the batwing doors swinging until Gus drew his attention again.
 
“So what’s your plan, Heyes?” Gus sneered.
 
“Don’t have one,” said Heyes, ending the discussion and standing up.  “I’ve got an errand to run.  I’ll see you later.” 
 
Curry nodded.  “Reckon we’ll be here when you’re done.”  He knew that Heyes wanted to slip away without the chance of Gus following him and he was pleased to make sure everyone stayed right where they were.  He waited until Heyes had left and then he ordered another round for the table.
 
“Lom, wait up,” yelled Heyes, hurrying down the muddy street towards his old friend.
 
Trevors stopped and waited until the dark-haired, younger man caught up to him.  “You figure that plan out already?”
 
“I did.  Want to hear it?”
 
“Not here.  Let’s go over to my office.”
 
The two men stepped into the sheriff’s office and tossed their hats on the desk.  Lom poured them each a cup of stale coffee from the pot kept warm on the woodstove and they sat down with the desk between them.  He pushed Heyes’ mug towards him, but his friend stared at him aggressively.
 
“Why the hell did you hire Gus Stainton and his band of idiots to join us?” growled Heyes.
 
Lom had been expecting this reaction.  He sipped his coffee placidly and took his time answering.  “They were willing to do it, no one else was.”
 
Heyes slammed his fist down on the scarred desktop.  “They’re bounty hunters!  Could you have stooped any lower?”
 
“They aren’t wanted.  I checked,” said Lom, calmly.  He’d be damned if he’d let Heyes provoke his temper.  He’d already lost it once today and it wasn’t going to happen again.
 
Heyes let that one pass without comment.  He didn’t want to get into a fight with Lom.  “That doesn’t mean we can trust them!”
 
“They’re probably saying the same thing about you.  We’ll figure out if we can trust them soon enough.  No different than any other posse.  You never know who you’re getting until things get tough.”  Lom set his cup down and sighed.  “Heyes, think about it.  You’re planning on going into Devil’s Hole.  What sane, upright citizen is going to want to help?  None of them, that’s who.  I already asked them all.  We’re lucky we got Stainton.”
 
“Lucky?” said Heyes sardonically.
 
“Look, I got you four more guns and breathing bodies to hold ‘em.  It’s the best I could do.  If you want to give up on this job, say the word, I’ll be happy to.  You call it, Heyes.  You’re the one with the most to lose here.” 
 
Heyes was riled, but he knew Lom was right.  They’d given their word to the governor and the man could make all sorts of trouble for them if they backed down now.  Besides, he wasn’t about to leave Karma in the hands of Tom Duncan. 
 
Lom saw the fight go out of him and knew his mercurial friend was finally seeing the clear picture and was ready to listen to reason.  “Heyes, we have thirteen men.  We can’t afford to lose Stainton.”
 
“I thought you said fourteen in the saloon.”
 
“I did.  But that was counting Harker.  He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s staying here to cover things.”
 
“How come?  Couldn’t you get one of those ‘honest’ citizens to cover for you?”
 
“I could, but that’s not why he’s staying behind.  He’s my deputy and it’s my call.  Wilkins is a good man, but he’s getting old and slowing up.  He’s not acknowledging it, and that makes him dangerous; to him and us.  I’m not dragging him along to get him killed.”  Heyes nodded in agreement.  “Now, let’s talk about Allie.  You can’t seriously mean to let her ride along with us.  That horse isn’t worth that young woman’s life.”
 
“Trust me, Lom; I’m not going to let anything happen to Allie.  I learned a long time ago how to handle her and that’s what I’m doing.”
 
“Care to elaborate on that?”
 
“No.”
 
“You know her just being along for the ride could cause trouble?”
 
“I’ll deal with it if there’s trouble.”
 
“That’s what I’m afraid of.  I don’t like it.”
 
“So what did you tell Gus about the job?” asked Heyes, changing the subject abruptly.
 
“I told him I was looking to fill a posse.  He tried to find out who we were after but I put him off telling him it was some two-bit thieves.”
 
“Good.  Let’s keep him guessing.  He’s probably wondering what you need Jed and me for.  My bet is that now that he knows we’re going, he’s already thinking you’re holding out on him and there’s more money to be had than you’re paying.  Gus Stainton never met a dollar he didn’t like.  The best way to keep him working hard for us is to let him think there’s a big payday ahead.”
 
“There just might be.  The bounty on Duncan’s gone up to five grand after the train wreck and Ferguson’s had a thousand added to his head, too.  He’s at three grand.  There’s paper on a few others, too.  Maybe ten grand total.”
 
“Ferguson?”
 
“Goes by Fergie; he’s older.  Rode with Duncan and his brother before Gerald was killed.  He’s Duncan’s second-in-command.  Wheat says he’s pretty smart and knows his business.  According to him, Fergie pretty much runs the gang.  No one knows why he lets Duncan think he’s in charge.”
 
Heyes leaned back in his chair and smiled grimly.  “Well, that was a helluva stupid way to rob a train.  Five seems low to me.  Hell, we never hurt anyone and they tacked twenty grand on our heads, dead or alive.”
 
“That’s ‘cause you kept right on robbing ‘em.  Duncan won’t be so lucky.  He’s not smart enough to live long enough.”
 
“Still, that’s good to know,” said Heyes.  “We can offer up the gang’s bounties to Gus and the rest of the posse if we need to.  We don’t want it any part of it and I doubt the Medgars do either.”
 
“So just how well do you know Scott and Monty?”
 
“Well enough.  Scott’s an honest man and, if Monty says he’s capable, that’s good enough for me.  Monty Northrup’s real handy to have around.  He tracked me and the Kid all over Colorado a few years back when Allie was riding with us.”
 
“She rode with you?!  You mean like in the gang?!”  Lom’s temper slipped its reins and he stood up glowering down at his friend.  “Are you saying she’s wanted?”
 
Heyes chuckled, “Not by the law.  She never got caught.  And she didn’t ride with the whole gang, just us and Wheat and Kyle.”
 
“Caught?” choked out Lom, plopping down in his chair again, and rubbing his eyes warily.  “Why do I get the feeling I don’t want to hear this?”
 
“It’s all right, Lom, the statute of limitations already ran out on that one.”
 
“Which one?”
 
“The Merchant’s Bank of Denver.”  Heyes was grinning broadly now and remembering the thrill of that particular robbery.  He’d opened a Pierce and Hamilton Model 78.  No one had believed it could be done, but he’d found a way.  Unfortunately, because of Allie’s involvement, he hadn’t been able to take credit for it.  Still, word had gotten out.
 
“And she helped?” groaned Lom.  Why was he surprised?  Heyes had gone to prison for keeping his accomplices secret from the law.  Allie had been just one more of many people he’d refused to incriminate.
 
“Not with the robbery.  I pulled that one alone.  Nearly blew myself up doing it.  Allie and the Kid got me away.  It was close, too.  The law chased us through the streets of Denver and they weren’t too particular about shooting at us, but they never figured out who we were.  After all, I was supposed to be dead.  The point is, she can handle herself.  She’s got more guts than most.”
 
“So who’s Northrup?  Is he another crook?” growled Lom. 
 
“No.  He used to be a deputy down in Texas.  His family was killed by border scum and he took to drinking.  Got fired and hired on with a detective Allie’s real father had enlisted to find her.  He ended up proving himself a friend, Lom.  I trust him.”
 
“All right,” sighed Lom, feeling defeated.  If Heyes said he trusted the man that was good enough for him.  Heyes didn’t trust easy.  “Let’s talk about your plan.”
 
Heyes smiled.  “Well, first we’re gonna have to go to Cheyenne.”
 
“Cheyenne?!  What the hell for?”
 
“Beeves.”
 
“Beeves?” repeated a confused Lom.  “What do we need beeves for?”
 
“They’re getting us into the Hole,” Heyes grinned.
 
“How?”
 
“Lom, what’s kept the law out of the Hole so far?  I mean except for Morrison.”  A wave of pain shot through Heyes at the thought of all the friends they’d lost in the last raid on the Hole.  Good men who he and the Kid had been proud to call their friends.  He was bound and determined that this siege would be as bloodless as possible.  “Far as most folks know, there’s only one way into the Hole, through the slot canyon, and that’s guarded night and day, right?”
 
“Right, and Duncan keeps guards at the overlook around the clock; his best sharpshooters.” 
 
“So we can’t just ride in there or we’ll be mowed down one by one.  We could try to sneak in the back way, but Duncan’s probably got that covered, too, after what happened to Wheat.  We need a distraction.”
 
“Yeah, so what’s the plan?”
 
“We’re going to convince our good friends at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association to loan us a herd of steers.  We get enough animals; we can drive them through the canyon and into the Hole without losing a man.”
 
“What good is that going to do?”
 
“Lom, think about it.  The Hole’s not that wide.  There’s only so much room in there.  We’ll plug the entrance and drive Duncan and his boys further into the valley.  A herd of ornery steers milling around is going to cause enough of a stir no one’s going to pay attention to the rest of us sneaking in the back way.  We’ll stand a good chance of rounding up Duncan without having to kill anyone.”  It was important to Heyes that this didn’t turn into another blood bath and he’d thought long and hard how to get in without having to shoot his way in.  He might be working for the law now, but he couldn’t bring himself to kill someone just because they’d made the same mistakes in judgment he had.
 
Considering what he’d just heard, Lom was quiet for several minutes before nodding, “All right, it could work, if you can convince the WSGA to help you out.  I like the idea of not trying to storm in there.  What’s the rest of the plan?”
 
“I’m still working on that part,” smiled Heyes.
 
Curry quietly sipped his beer and kept his eye on the next table.  He couldn’t hear what Gus Stainton was saying, the saloon was too crowded, but he was talking a lot and Jed was sure that wasn’t good.  From where he sat, he could also see Joe sitting in on a poker game at the back table. 
 
Scott and Monty saw that Curry was distracted so they spoke softly to each other about ranch business and enjoyed their drinks before they met up with Allie.  None of them had any desire anymore to sit in a saloon until day turned to night.  It no longer held the allure for them that it had when they’d been single.  A beer or two with a good friend was fun; an all-nighter no longer was. 
 
Monty was the first to stand up to go.  “Guess I’m gonna go find Allie.  What time are we riding out?”  Jed looked up at him and he heard all conversation stop at the next table.
 
“Meet us out in front of Lom’s office at five o’clock,” replied Curry.  “There’ll still be four or so hours of daylight left so we can cover a few miles tonight.
 
“Will do,” nodded the big man, taking his leave. 
 
Scott stayed seated.  He knew Jed was keeping watch on the new men and he leaned forward and quietly said, “Is Allie going to be all right around those four?  I don’t care what she says; I’m not letting her get herself hurt.  She already knows she’s not going into the Hole.  We can leave her in Cheyenne.”
 
Jed snorted.  He doubted anyone could leave Allie anywhere she didn’t want to be and he guessed that Scott knew that, too, or she wouldn’t have gotten this far.  “Just make sure she knows they’re not to be trusted and not to wander off alone.  We’ll all be keepin’ an eye on her.”
 
“All right then.  She’ll see the sense in that.  I guess it’s not really that different from the time she rode with you and your gang.”  Scott stood and left Jed sitting alone. 
 
Joe had seen the two Second Chance men leave and he cashed out of the poker game he’d been sitting in on while he was still ahead.  Picking up his beer, he drifted over to Jed’s table and sat down.  Not saying anything, just being there in case trouble broke out.
 
Ten minutes later, Heyes walked in and stood over his friends.  Lifting a mug up, he finished Scott’s abandoned, half-drunk beer in one long gulp.  “Let’s go get some lunch.”
 
Joe nodded.  Jed polished off his drink, set the empty mug on the table, and stood up.  “I told Scott and Monty we were leaving at five; figured you’d want to get some miles in tonight.” 
 
“You leavin’ already?  Fun’s just getting’ started,” said Gus snidely, looking up from where he sat at the next table.  His friends snickered, but kept their eyes down and away from Kid Curry.
 
“We’re leaving for Cheyenne tonight.  Meet us at five in front of the sheriff’s office and see that you’re sober.  We’re not paying a bunch of drunks to shoot their feet off,” snapped Heyes, passing their table on his way to the door.  Joe followed him.
 
“We’ll earn our keep,” growled Gus.  Jed had gone over to pay up their tab and drifted out the door behind his friends.  Stainton watched the men leave and then lowered his voice, leaning towards his cohorts.  “Heyes still thinks he’s the boss.  It sure burns my ass to see those two walkin’ around like they own the place.”
 
“Yeah, me too,” agreed Wes.  Blake and Lee nodded their agreement.  “Ain’t nothing we can do about it, though, they ain’t wanted no more.”
 
“They ain’t wanted by the law but that don’t mean the banks or the railroads wouldn’t be grateful to see them taken down.  Those two robbed these parts blind; not all folks have forgotten that.  You know, I still got the paperwork on them and it says who was postin’ rewards on them.  Maybe someone might still be willin’ to pony up a little cash to make them disappear.”
 
“How’re we gonna know?  If we send a telegram now, we might not get an answer before we go,” pointed out Blake.  He was always the pessimist in the crowd.
 
“No problem.  Heyes said we’re headin’ to Cheyenne.  There’s telephone service all over the place in Cheyenne.  No one’s gonna notice me makin’ a few calls.”  Gus grinned evilly and signaled Fitz to bring another round.
 
That evening, a small crowd gathered in front of the sheriff’s office.  Gus and his men were saddled up and ready to go looking none the worse for wear from their liquid lunch.  They sat on a bench out in front of the office waiting for the rest of the posse to show up.  Feeley was walking down the street towards them leading his horse.  It carried heavily-stuffed saddlebags.  Heyes, Jed, and Joe sat mounted and waiting patiently as Lom and Harker Wilkins stood some distance away on the boardwalk, arguing.
 
“You ain’t leavin’ me behind,” snarled Wilkins.
 
“Harker, I’m not leaving you behind.  I’m asking you to stay,” said Lom, reasonably.  “I can’t just up and leave Porterville without knowing I’ve got someone capable watching over things.”
 
Wilkins preened a little at the praise, but said, “You need me.  I watch your back!”
 
“I know you do and you do a great job of it, but don’t you think I’ll be all right with Kid Curry watching it this time?”
 
Wilkins frowned and glanced at Curry.  He didn’t want to go; had no real desire to try busting into Devil’s Hole, but he’d always gone with Lom.  This was the first posse he’d sit out and he didn’t like it.  Still, the good folks of Porterville deserved to sleep well knowing he was on the job.  “I guess when you put it that way, it makes sense,” he said grudgingly.
 
Lom slapped him on his upper arm and smiled, “Thanks, Harker, I owe you one.  I’ll keep in touch best I can, but I know you’ll handle everything just right for me.”  Relieved, the sheriff turned his attention to gathering his posse.  He milled around and questioned every member as to what weapons they’d brought, how much ammunition they were carrying, and what other supplies they’d seen fit to bring.
 
He didn’t notice when Gus sat up straighter and stared down the street, but Heyes did.  He smiled at the look of consternation that crossed Stainton’s countenance.  Allie must’ve arrived.  Turning, he saw Scott and Monty flanking Allie, who was sitting a good-looking dark bay horse.  He smiled at the three of them as they pulled up alongside him.
 
“Evening,” said Monty.  “Sorry, we’re late.  It took a little longer to find a decent horse than we expected.”
 
“What’s she doin’ here?” growled Gus, standing up and pointing rudely at Allie.  “I thought this was a posse we was joinin’, not a tea party.”
 
Allie frowned at him, but held her tongue.  She knew to let Lom explain her presence.  He was the leader of this group and the new men would accept it better from him.  Scott had already told her all about them and warned her to be careful.  She looked them over and didn’t take long to decide she would be.
 
“She’s coming,” said Lom flatly.  His tone brooked no argument.  “If you want to get paid, you won’t say another word about it,” he said, deliberately leaving Stainton with the impression that Allie was financing this expedition. 
 
“She’s huntin’ outlaws with us?” Gus was dumbfounded.
 
“Mrs. Medgar’s only riding along part way, she won’t be chasing outlaws with us,” said Lom, firmly.  He could feel Allie’s eyes boring into his back and hoped that she’d stay quiet.
 
Instead, Scott spoke up.  “My wife has a vested interest in this job and has every right to join us for the first part of it.”
 
Gus started to open his mouth again, but Jed cut in, “Allie’s a personal friend of mine and Heyes.  You have a problem with her; you’ve got one with us.”  His cold, blue eyes dared Gus to speak, but Stainton wasn’t stupid; he shut his mouth and sat down.
 
“Nice horse,” said Heyes, hoping to distract Allie. 
 
“Yes, she is, isn’t she?”  Allie patted her mare’s neck gently.  “She’s a thoroughbred.  Can you believe it?  Mr. Jenner down at the livery said he bought her off the banker’s daughter.  Miss Porter had her shipped from back East, but she was too much horse for her so she traded her for a gentler mount.”
 
Heyes smiled, “Miss Porter, huh?  She’s an old friend.”
 
“Another old friend?”
 
“Not girlfriend.  Just a friend,” laughed Heyes.
 
Allie smiled, too.  “She’ll make a fine broodmare for the ranch.”
 
“Miss Porter?”
 
“I seriously doubt she’d appreciate your humor, Heyes,” giggled Allie.
 
Scott had sat quietly listening to this exchange.  He felt a small pang of envy at his wife’s easy camaraderie with the former outlaw leader, but he deliberately ignored it.
 
“What’s her name?” asked Jed.  He knew that Allie named all her horses, even the foals.  They might be 'Fannie’s Foal' or 'Aurora’s Colt', but they all had names.  It was her insistence that they were individuals that had led to Jed naming his horses.
 
“Oh, it’s some ridiculously long, lofty Greek thing.  I’m calling her Swift,” said Allie.
 
“Swift?”
 
“Because she is.  You and Heyes are going to have a heck of a time keeping up with me,” she smiled sweetly.
 
“We already do,” mumbled Jed.
 
Preparations completed, the ‘posse’ set off at a face pace for Cheyenne.  Lom was intent on keeping things moving as quickly as possible so that there was no time for conversation and, therefore, no time for fights.  It wasn’t until dusk had darkened into night that he called a halt by a small stream cutting through a lush meadow.  By the time camp had been set up and dinner had been served, it was well after eleven o’clock according to Heyes’ dented, old timepiece.  Gus and his boys hadn’t said much during the meal.  Afterwards, they’d constructed their own fire ring and had gone to bed early.  That was fine by him; he had no desire to spend any more time in their company than necessary.  He was glad things were finally moving along faster.  They ought to reach Cheyenne early the next morning and he intended to leave town as soon as possible no matter how his visit to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association turned out. 
 
Scott finished taking the feedbags off the horses and stowing them away for morning.  He glanced over at Allie who was sitting on her bedroll, brushing her hair.  He could see the signs; she was tired.  He stopped next to her and dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
 
“Going to bed?” he asked.
 
“Yes.  I’m really tired.  Can you believe it?  All the riding we do at home and I’m exhausted after one evening,” she grumbled.
 
“It’s more than the riding.  It’s been a wild few days,” he said.  “I’m going to sit up for a while; I’m not tired yet.”
 
Allie yawned and accepted a light kiss on her lips.  “Love you.”  She crawled into her bedroll and sighed as Scott tugged it snugly around her shoulders.
 
“Love you, too,” whispered Scott.  As he turned to the fire, he saw Gus Stainton looking at him speculatively.  He held the man’s gaze until Stainton dropped his eyes, but he was unsettled by it.  Continuing to the fire, he sat down next to Heyes, and reached for the coffee pot, pouring a hot mugful and sitting back.  “Is Stainton going to be a problem?”
 
Heyes wasn’t surprised by the question; he’d seen the man ogling Allie earlier.  “Might be, but if he is, it’s a problem that’ll get solved real fast.  Don’t worry.  Allie’s got you, me, Monty, Jed, Joe, and Lom looking after her.  As long as she doesn’t go off by herself, she’ll be fine.  You spoke to her about that, didn’t you?”
 
“I did and she didn’t object,” Scott said ruefully, “I hope that’s not a bad sign.”
 
Heyes chuckled.  “Allie’s pig-headed, but she’s not stupid.  She’s aware Stainton’s been watching her and she’s keeping real close to the rest of us.  Besides, she’s armed and dangerous.”  He was pleased to see that she still wore the same gun he’d given her years ago. 
 
“You know, she told me a long time ago about riding with you and your men.  I didn’t listen too well at the time, being the jealous sort,” Scott snorted.  “But I do remember that she said she never felt safer.  You and your men were perfect gentlemen.”  Heyes wondered if he was supposed to confirm that.  Scott didn’t wait for a response and he continued, “I hope she’s safe now.”
 
“You agreed that she could come along.”
 
“Agreed?  No, I wouldn’t say that.  I knew a losing battle when I saw one.”  Scott shifted slightly and crossed his legs in front of him.  “One thing you learn after eleven years of marriage is to pick your fights.  This was one I wasn’t going to win and I knew it.”
 
“If you’ve won any, you’ve got my respect.  Allie fights dirty,” laughed Heyes.  He glanced over at her and then looked beyond to where Jed was keeping first watch.  He couldn’t see his partner, but he knew he was out there.  Lom had wisely decided that he would post guards.  There’d been plenty of objections, but Trevors stood firm.  He’d selected three men by the drawing of matches.  Jed had gotten the shortest.  He’d gotten one of the longest.  Despite camping in a relatively settled area, posting watch kept up a certain level of discipline and established a routine.  They would definitely need guards in Devil’s Hole.
 
Scott smiled, “She does sometimes, doesn’t she?  I love that about her.”  He saw Heyes look at him like he was crazy.   “She lets nothing stand between her and what she wants.  You should have seen her build the ranch, Heyes.  She worked harder than anyone.  Out in the fields all day and up all night working on the bills.  Lucky for her, she had generous sponsors, but it was still amazing to watch her make it all happen.”
 
Keeping his eyes trained on the flames, Heyes said, “Allie believes in herself.  She always has.  No one ever encouraged her as a child, but no one really discouraged her either.  She learned early on to rely on herself and her instincts.”
 
Scott agreed with Heyes’ assessment although it irritated him a little to know the man knew his wife so well.  “After you came to see me, I thought I should ride over and renew my acquaintance with the lovely Miss Harcourt. I was expecting to see the polished, composed young lady I’d met on Bill Decker’s arm.  That woman hadn’t interested me at all.  Instead, I found Allie behind the barn, shooting tin cans with a .45 strapped to her thigh.”
 
Heyes smiled.  “She’s quite the shot.  I taught her and she picked it up like it was second nature.  Trust me, the Kid and I knew better than to piss her off when she was armed.”
 
“I figured that out pretty quickly, too.  After her ‘adventure’, she was a different woman altogether.  When I’d met her before, I’d only seen the veneer of civilization she’d donned, not the fierce fighter underneath.  It took me a while to get to know the real Allie Golden, but when I did, I fell totally in love with her.”
 
“It’s hard not to.  She’s one of a kind.”  Heyes wasn’t going to say more.  He had no idea what Allie had told Scott about her past.  About Bill Decker, her father, or even her convoluted family; he didn’t want to cause any trouble.
 
“She went through a rough patch, but she had good friends to help her.”  Scott held out his hand to Heyes.  “I never thought I’d say it, but I’m glad that you and Jed were there for her when she needed you and I’m sorry I ever interfered with that friendship.  I hope you can forgive me.  I’d like us all to be friends.”
 
Heyes took the offered hand, clasping it firmly.  “We already are.”
 
Scott nodded, “Good.”  He stood up and went to join his wife.
 
Heyes got up and wandered over to where Jed was keeping watch.  “Hey.” 
 
“Hey, what’s up?” said Curry, leaning against a tall pine tree and gazing into the dark night.  All was quiet. 
 
“Thought I’d come out and relieve you.  I’m not sleepy yet.  Why don’t you get some shut-eye and I’ll wake you when I’m tired?” 
 
“You’re doing me a favor?” Jed turned to his partner and narrowed his eyes.  “What’s the catch?”
 
“I think I'm beginning to like ya',” Heyes responded with a flash of his smile. He patted his cousin on the shoulder as he sat down beside him. “No catch.” he assured him.  “Get some rest.”
 
Just after dawn, Heyes was about to throw his saddlebags over Clay's back when he felt a touch on his arm.  He turned, surprised to find Monty next to him with Fannie in tow.

“Mornin' son,” Monty gave his usual greeting.  “Wonderin' if you'd mind switchin' horses for today?”

Heyes brow creased.  “What?” he asked, not quite sure he had heard right.  “What for?”

“Well,” Monty shrugged.  “I like the look of your gelding and thought I might give him a try if that's all right.  Besides, I thought maybe you'd appreciate some time with your old gal here.”

Heyes' smile brightened up the morning.  “Really?”

“Sure.”

“Allie won't mind?”

“You let me worry about Allie,” Monty assured him.  “Besides, it's my call.”

Heyes grinned even more and gladly accepted Fannie's reins.  He stepped over to her and rubbed her forehead.  She nodded her head and put some weight into it in order to get the most out of the rub.  Heyes laughed and patted her neck.

“Yeah,” he said.  “Thanks Monty.”

“Sure thing, son,” Monty returned as he stepped aboard the tall gelding.  “Just remember she ain't as young as she used to be.”

Heyes nodded and gathering up the reins, he slipped a foot in a stirrup and swung his right leg over the cantle.  Settling into the saddle he reached forward and gave the mare another pat on the neck.  “No,” he mumbled to no one in particular, “neither am I.”

He glanced up and noticed Allie watching them from her perch on Swift and when their eyes locked, she smiled and gave an approving nod.  Heyes smiled back and with barely a shifting of his weight, Fannie stepped forward and the day was begun.
 
Jed smiled as his partner rode up next to Gov.  “Nice horse.”
 
Heyes grinned like a child on Christmas morning.  He leaned over and stroked the glossy neck.  Fannie preened.  Both horse and rider were in perfect balance; neither had forgotten the feel of the other; had never lost the connection.
 
“Clay looks a little peeved, though,” said Curry, looking past Heyes to where Monty was having a small struggle with the gelding.  The animal tossed his head repeatedly and danced sideways; upset with the heavier weight he had to carry.  Scott’s stallion pinned its ears back as the nervous horse sidled too close to him and stepped away.
 
Heyes started off on Fannie and Scott’s stallion fell into step next to her.  The two horses were used to riding together as Monty and Scott worked the ranch; and they naturally walked side by side.  Jed had to pull Gov up as the blood bay cut him off, but Allie and Monty fell into step next to him.  The skittish claybank gelding didn’t take long to settle down and he was soon jogging along on a loose rein up the road to Cheyenne.
 
The rest of the posse trailed behind them.   Lom and Joe rode alongside Stainton; trying to engage the man in conversation, but it was rough going.  Gus answered the lawmen’s questions politely enough, but he didn’t volunteer anything.  As a bounty hunter, he’d been screwed by the law too many times to be sociable.  Instead, he turned his attention to trying to wheedle information from Lom and Joe about the job.  They all soon realized that talking was fruitless and each contented himself with keeping an eye on the others.   Feeley trailed mid-way between the two groups; not quite belonging with either faction and somehow lost in the middle.
 
Heyes admired the blood bay stallion next to him and the easy way his rider sat the horse’s big, long stride.  He’d liked Scott Medgar when he helped him bring down Bill Decker, but he had wondered if Scott would hold that deception against him along with his past relationship with Allie.  Fortunately, he was pleasantly surprised that neither seemed to be the case.  Whatever problems Scott and Allie had had over her relationship with the two notorious outlaws, it was very apparent that they’d worked through them and Scott was secure in his marriage. 
 
“So what do you call him?” asked Heyes.
 
“What?” Scott had been thinking about his lapsed tasks at the two ranches and was distracted by the question.
 
“Your stud.  What did Allie name him?”
 
“Cass,” said Scott with a chuckle.  “Short for Casanova.  He was a little overzealous in his siring.”
 
“Good name for a stallion.  You said he wasn’t your best stud, but you still bred him?” asked Heyes.  The horse was well-proportioned and smoothly muscled.  He moved loosely and easily in a ground-covering stride.  Heyes was impressed.  If this wasn’t their best stud, he’d sure like to see the ones that were better.
 
“We’re breeding Quarter horses almost exclusively now, and we lean more towards the ranch-type.  Cass is a thoroughbred; we use him in the mix to add refinement, but he tends to throw foals more thoroughbred-like so we breed him to the coarser mares. 
 “There’s less demand for racehorses.  Most of our clients are looking for working horses, not sporting horses.  Still, he gets his fair share of the fillies.  We might just breed Swift to him and start up a line of Second Chance thoroughbreds.  The gentry in Denver might go for them.”
 
“So he’s fast?”
 
Scott looked at the smiling man next to him and grinned.  “You want to find out how fast?”
 
Heyes didn’t answer; instead, he sent Fannie leaping forward as he leaned down over her neck.  She stretched into the powerful gallop he knew so well.  He heard Scott urging his stallion on with a yell, but he’d left the two in the dust. 
 
The years peeled away with every stride and he remembered all the times this gallant mare had saved his life by never giving up.  Fannie laid her ears back and chomped down on the bit, pleased to have her freedom, but it didn’t last long.  By the time they’d covered a quarter of a mile, the bigger horse was upon them and, with little effort, passed them as though they stood still.  Fannie’s ears pricked up as he sailed by and Heyes felt her re-double her efforts, but he pulled her up.  She wouldn’t quit on her own, she’d run herself into the ground if he asked her to, but he would never ask that of her again.
 
She pranced and blew in excitement, dancing sideways under him and straining to be let loose again.  She still had plenty of energy, still wanted to run, and couldn’t understand why he’d stopped her.  Scott had eased Cass up as well and circled back to the coppery mare.  Heyes grinned at him.  “He’s fast, but not as fast as Fannie at the start.”
 
“No, not many horses are.  She might not be a papered mare, but she’s quarter horse through and through.  One of the fastest things on earth over a quarter mile, but the thoroughbred will catch her every time over a longer distance.”  Scott kept his stallion walking in a circle while he caught his breath. 
 
Heyes fell into step next to him.  “Yes, I’ve seen that for myself.”
 
“You have?”  Scott was surprised.  “Not too many thoroughbreds racing out west.”
 
“No, but the Kid and I made a bundle betting on one once; he ended up delivering her to Mexico for the breeder.”  That wasn’t the whole story, but Heyes wasn’t about to rehash that incidence.  He’d tried hard to forget how close he’d come to losing his partner.
 
“Really?  What did you think of her?” 
 
“She was everything I’d read about the breed.  Tall, long-legged, rangy with speed to spare, but it took her a while to get going.  When she did, the other horses didn’t have a chance.”
 
“Yes, they are amazing athletes.”
 
“I’m glad there weren’t any of them in the posses that chased us, but I’d rather be sitting on Fannie or Karma any day.  Thoroughbreds are fast, but they don’t have the quick agility of the quarter horse.  Fannie was always a good choice for outrunning the law over rough ground and Karma is the fastest horse I’ve ever sat.  When we get her back, you and I will have to have a little rematch.”
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Ready or Not. Chapter ten :: Comments

Ready or Not
Post on Tue 18 Feb 2014, 9:57 pm by Keays
“Yes, we’ll plan on it.  Just don’t tell my wife,” Scott laughed.  He was impressed by Heyes’ horse sense.  “I can’t thank you enough for giving Fannie to Allie.  She was the cornerstone of our breeding program.  You’ve got to come see some of her other foals; they’re beautiful.  We sold some, most we kept for breeding, but she was our very best broodmare.”
 
“She’s retired now?” asked Heyes, patting the sweaty mare.  She had settled down and was walking placidly alongside the stallion.  He glanced over his shoulder and saw that the others had nearly caught up to them.
 
“Yes, she had a difficult delivery the last time; we nearly lost her.  We won’t risk breeding her again.  She still wants to work, though, so Monty keeps her happy.”
 
“Were you two trying to shake us?” asked Allie as she rode up on an edgy Swift.  The rest of the horses were excited by the race. 
 
“No, Scott was just showing off,” smiled Heyes.
 
Jed grinned.  It was great to see Heyes on Fannie again.  It brought back so many memories; some frightening, but most of them happy ones.  Fannie pinned her ears back as Gov neared her.  “She hasn’t changed much.  She’s still the ornery cow she always was.”
 
“Life’s bumped her around a bit, but she’s all right,” said Heyes, still stroking her. 
 
Bumped both of them around, thought Allie, but she didn’t say it.  She couldn’t.  A knot of emotion had wedged in her throat at the sight of Heyes flying up the road on Fannie.  She’d seen the man she had fallen in love with; the outlaw leader, Hannibal Heyes.  She still loved the idea of the outlaw, just a tiny bit, if she was being honest, but Heyes was no longer that man.  He’d become a stranger to her a long time ago. 
 
She leaned far out of her saddle and kissed Scott’s cheek.  “My husband’s hard to keep up with, but he’s well worth the effort.”
 
Scott beamed at the compliment and took her hand, riding side by side.
 
The riders entered the outskirts of Cheyenne well before the noon hour.  Lom leaned over to Joe as they passed the sign marking the city limits and stating the population.  “Can you keep Stainton’s boys and Feeley busy for a while?  I’d like to help Heyes.”
 
“Sure.  Free beer ought to do it,” said Joe.  “Good luck.”  Heyes and Lom had taken him aside before they’d left Porterville and filled him in on what would happen next.  He thought it was a crazy idea for Heyes and Jed to face the Wyoming Stock Growers in their posh headquarters and he was glad that Lom wasn’t letting them do it alone.  Nothing would happen to his friends with the law present.  Joe tripped over the word 'friends' and considered it.  Somewhere on this convoluted journey he’d crossed the line from watchdog to friend and he knew it, but it didn’t bother him at all.  “We’ll be at the Red Garter when you’re done.”
 
Lom reached into his pocket and pulled out a small sack of coins.  “Here take this; the Governor’s treat.”
 
With a smile, Joe took the bag and tucked it into his jacket.  “It’s the least he can do.”  He waited for Gus to pull up alongside him and offered to stand everyone to a drink.  This was met with a smile, but Stainton said he had to send a telegram to his wife.  He left the rest of them and rode up towards downtown promising to meet them once he’d run his errand.  Monty joined them and they rode abreast up the street towards the saloon district.  He figured he’d be more help to Joe than he’d be to Heyes.  Feeley, once again, tagged along behind the six men.
 
“You ready?” asked Lom, looking at the two partners. 
 
Scott and Allie turned to them, too, curious.  “Where are you going?” asked Scott.  Neither of them knew what the purpose was to ride to Cheyenne, but it was obvious that Heyes was up to something.
 
Heyes looked at his partner and Lom.  Both men shrugged their indifference to him.  Making a decision, he said, “We’re going to see if we can borrow a few steers from our old friends at the WSGA.”
 
“Steers?” Allie was confused and didn’t try to hide it.
 
“Heyes thinks we can plug up the way into the Hole with a herd of cows,” said Jed.
 
“That’s genius.  Let them shoot the cattle, not us,” laughed Scott looking at the two ex-outlaws with newfound respect.
 
“It will be if we can get the steers,” grumbled Heyes, not altogether sure he could convince the Association that it was in their best interests to help them.
 
“Let Scott help you,” said Allie.  “Several WSGA members are also in the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, too.  He knows them.”
 
“That’s true.  We have a few ranches that straddle the border.  The owners belong to both associations,” said Scott.
 
Jed and Heyes exchanged a glance.  They were both wondering how helpful Scott would feel if he knew they’d already used his name to get into the closely-guarded Cheyenne Club.
 
Lom spoke up before they could decline.  “It makes sense to me.  The WSGA boys won’t turn you down in front of witnesses.  They’d have a hard time explaining to the Colorado Cattlemen why they didn’t help clean up the Devil’s Hole when they had the chance.”
 
Heyes had to agree.  “All right, Scott, Lom, and I will go to the Cheyenne Club.  Allie, you and Jed can relax for a little while; unless you’d rather have a beer with Joe and Gus, that is.”
 
“Hey,” said both Allie and Jed at the same time, “I’m coming with you.”
 
Heyes looked from one to the other.  “No.  Neither of you are coming,” he held up his hand to stop the protests before they started.  “Women aren’t allowed in the Cheyenne Club and I think I have enough backup.  Like Lom said, the WSGA won’t pull anything in front of Scott or Lom.  Rubbing Kid Curry in their faces won’t help our cause.”
 
As much as they didn't want it to, after thinking about it, Allie and Jed had to admit it made sense.  Curry held out his elbow and Allie slipped her hand through it.  “I’m hungry; how about you, Jed?”  Allie knew he always was and that, most likely, so were Lom, Heyes, and Scott.  “Let’s go have lunch and an ice cream at the Oyster Bay restaurant, my treat.”
 
Jed grinned back at his famished friends and let her lead him away to the famous restaurant that first introduced the frozen treat to the citizens of Cheyenne.
 
“She knows how to twist the knife, don’t she?” said Lom, watching Curry being led away like a lapdog.
 
“Just be grateful she agreed to go,” chuckled Scott. 
 
The three men left the horses tied up in front of the general store on Ferguson and hurried over to Seventeenth Street.  If they failed in their mission, they wanted to be able to get out of town quickly.
 
Trotting up the stairs to the large, double doors of the Cheyenne Club, Heyes noticed the same two doormen who had been on duty their last visit just a little over a week ago.
 
The larger of the two men sprang forward and opened the door.  “Mr. Medgar, it’s good to see you again.”
 
Scott stopped and looked at the man quizzically, but Heyes grabbed his coat sleeve and pulled him through the doorway.  Holding onto Scott, he crossed the spacious entryway taking aim on the big conference room he knew to be at the back of the paneled hallway. 
 
A footman hurried towards them.  “Mr. Medgar, welcome back.  How may I help you?” he asked, planting himself in front of Heyes and looking at him challengingly.  They weren’t going any further until they declared their business.
 
Looking at Heyes speculatively, Scott smiled, “Yes, Mr. Medgar, please do explain why we are here.”
 
Heyes never faltered.  “We’re here to lobby the members with an interesting proposal.”
 
“Of course, sir.  If you will please wait here, I will see if that is a possibility.”  The liveried man gestured to a grouping of stuffed chairs lining the left side of the corridor.  Once his guests were seated, he hurried down the hall and through the heavy wooden doors leading into the conference room.
 
Lom sat down, but Scott turned to the dark-haired ex-outlaw.  “Mr. Medgar?  Tell me, Heyes, when did Mr. Medgar last visit the club?”
 
“Last week.  Look, I needed a way in and you were the only thing I could figure out.”
 
“It’s funny that none of my acquaintances saw through your lie.”
 
“There weren’t many men here, just the chairman, a few members, and a lot of muscle.”
 
“Muscle?” asked Scott.
 
“Now you tell me, do you and your friends at the Colorado Cattlemen go around with armed guards?”
 
“No.  Why would we need to?” countered Scott, confused by the change of subject.
 
“I guess you wouldn’t, seeing as how you haven’t killed innocent men and women in a recent range war.  How do you think it would’ve gone for me and Jed if we’d waltzed in here and told them who we were?”
 
“I see your point, but what do we do now?”
 
“We tell the truth,” said Lom, standing up as he watched the footman returning.
 
Heyes hated that idea, but he knew he had to play his cards right or they would come up empty-handed.  “Lom, I’m not using my real name.  Not if you want this to work,” said Heyes firmly.  It was all too possible that Calhoun could be sitting in that room and the cattleman knew him as Rembacker.  He could talk his way out of one false identity but not two. 
 
Heyes saw the footman hurrying down the hall towards them and knew he’d run out of time, “Scott, I need you to follow my lead.  Got it?”  He didn’t wait for an answer, but walked forward to meet the footman, who said the members were willing to see them.  The man turned again to lead the way to the conference room as Heyes waved for Lom and Scott to catch up.
 
The footman threw open the double-doors and stood to one side, letting the visitors pass by.  Heyes quickly spotted Wilfred Mannington standing by the fireplace and surrounded by his cronies.  Mannington offered him a crocodile smile.  “Mr. Medgar, so nice to see you again,” he said insincerely.
 
Heyes also pasted a smile on his face and crossed the room as he saw two men look at Scott in confusion.  Calhoun was not present,  but that was the least of his worries.  “Mr. Mannington, I’m afraid I have a confession to make, my name is not Scott Medgar.  I’m Hank Rembacker, Special Liaison to the Governor, at your service, sir.”  Lom stared daggers at his dark-haired lying sonova…friend.  Then he realized that Heyes hadn’t said which governor.
 
“Gerald, escort Mr. Rembacker and his friends off the property!” snapped Mannington.  A grizzled gunman stepped out of the shadows.
 
“Hold on a minute, Mannington, you might want to hear the rest of it.  This here’s Scott Medgar and this is Lom Trevors, Sheriff of Porterville.”  The two men stopped directly behind Heyes and nodded at the powerful chairman.
 
The gunman paused at a quick gesture from Mannington, who said, “How do I know you’re not lying again, Mr. Who-ever-you-are?”
 
“Wilfred, this is Scott Medgar.  I’ll vouch for him,” said a gray-haired rancher.  “We’re in the Colorado association together.”
 
“Hello, Brant, good to see you,” said Scott, holding out his hand to his fellow cattleman.  He quickly looked about the room and saw another familiar face across the expanse.  “Sam,” he said loudly, “How’re Mary and the boys?”
 
Sam smiled back.  “Just fine, Scott.  Give our best to Allie.  What brings you up to these parts?”
 
“Well, sir, that’s what I’d like to explain,” cut in Heyes.  “You see I was working undercover when I was here before.  My partner and I were on the trail of some rustlers who’ve been wreaking havoc near Golden.  Mr. Medgar here had a fine lot of yearlings stolen a few years back and the rustlers have hit him and his neighbors several times since.”
 
“That’s true,” confirmed Brant, “There’s been a real problem with rustlers in those parts.”
 
Heyes continued,   “These parts, too.  The trail led up to Wyoming and we knewas how you folks know everything that goes on in the state, I figured you might have information we could use. But knowing how exclusive your club is, I knew I wasn’t going to prance right in here, so I lied and said I was him.”  Heyes hooked a thumb at Scott.
 
“You admit it?” said Mannington mildly, finding himself appreciating the nerve of the man.
 
“Yes sir.  Flat-out lied.”
 
“So, why are you here now?” asked another rancher, intrigued by what he had just heard.
 
“We’ve determined that the rustlers are hiding up in the Devil’s Hole,” said Heyes.
 
“Devil’s Hole!  You mean Heyes and Curry are behind this?” snapped Mannington.  “Damn the governor!  He swore to us that he had those two whipped and hog-tied.
 
Lom glanced at Heyes, hoping his temper wouldn’t betray him, but relaxed as he saw his friend’s poker face firmly in place.
 
“Now, sir, I didn’t say it was Heyes and Curry.  No sir.  Those two has-beens are long gone from these parts.  You know that, as well as I do,” said Heyes.  “This here’s the work of a lowdown, no-good, doubling-dealing snake known as Tom Duncan.  He’s the one who re-started the Devil’s Hole gang and he’s responsible for last week’s train wreck, too.”
 
“Duncan?  I heard he was killed a few years ago,” said the gunman, still hovering near the shadows.
 
“That was his brother, Gerald.  Tom’s alive and well and stealing you all blind,” said Heyes.  “Your governor’s invited us up here to put an end to it, but we need your help.”
 
Lom flinched at the half-truths Heyes was spewing forth.
 
“What exactly is it that you need from us?” asked Mannington. 
 
Heyes remembered him saying nearly the same thing just before having them thrown out during the last visit.  “No sir.  You have it all wrong.  It’s what you can expect from us.”
 
“I beg your pardon.”
 
“We’re willing to ride into Devil’s Hole and clean the outlaws out of it once and for all.” 

Heyes heard the ranchers scattered around the room move closer together and start to grumble amongst themselves.  They had suffered the deprivations of rustlers for years.  Getting rid of them was the main reason for forming the association; that, and pushing back the tide of small ranchers trying to get a foothold in the lush state.
 
“Ridiculous.  Everyone knows that Devil’s Hole is impregnable,” snapped Mannington.
 
Scott stepped up.  “Was impregnable, Mr. Mannington.  The law cleaned it out once already.”
 
“That’s right, Wilfred, they did,” said Sam.  He turned to Scott.  “If you manage to clean it out again what guarantee will we have that the outlaws won’t return again?”
 
“We aren’t offering guarantees,” growled Lom.  “Some of the first Devil’s Hole gang got massacred right inside the hideout; everyone knows that.  If we take this whole gang down inside the Hole, do you really think anyone’s going to be anxious to hole themselves up in a deathtrap again?”
 
“How are you going to get inside this time?” asked Mannington.
 
Heyes gave the man a broad, dimpled smile.  “That’s where you boys come in.”
 
Two hours later, Scott and Heyes stood at the rail of one of the stockyard pens watching as the drovers cut the last of the castrated males out of the three big herds held at the yards.  The animals had been driven into town for next week’s big stock sale.  For their purposes, steers were preferable to cows and bulls being more placid and easier to herd.  The WSGA would supply them with a hundred and fifty head which had no value as breeding stock, but they were on their own for the drovers.  No WSGA man would accompany them.  That decision suited everyone just fine.
 
Lom had gone to round up the rest of the posse.  It was his job to tell Stainton’s men what their next tasks were and Heyes knew there would be lots of grumbling when the men learned they’d be driving cattle.  It was an ugly job and one he wasn’t about to do.  He saw Allie and Jed approaching leading the horses.  Good, he was ready to go.  There was still eight hours of daylight left before they’d have to stop and he wanted to use every minute of it.  He tapped Scott on the shoulder and drew his attention to his wife.
 
Allie carried a large sack in her right hand and she held it out as she reached her husband.  “I thought you all might not have had lunch.”
 
“You’re right, I’d forgotten all about eating,” said Scott, taking the sack and opening it.  There was a loaf of bread, several thick slices of beef and a block of cheese inside.  He immediately began to salivate.
 
Jed was grinning from ear to ear.  Heyes had done it!  Somehow he’d managed to sweet talk the WSGA into helping them.  “Heyes, you’ve still got it.”
 
“Yeah, well, we better get the hell outta here before they change their minds.  Let’s mount up and move ‘em out.  Lom’ll be waiting with the rest of them on the other end of town.”
 
 
The final morning before arriving in Devil's Hole territory, the posse was busy breaking camp.  Lee and Wes continued to have the honored positions of drovers for this endeavor and they had already departed to get the herd organized and ready to follow along behind the horsemen.  As long as there was no stampede all should go well.

  Saddlebags were attached to saddles and rifles slipped into sheaths as the final touches were made to head out.  Heyes gave Fannie's girth a final tugging and mounted up while he waited for Jed to do the same.  A minor squeal over by the Medgar group caught Heyes' attention and he glanced over at Allie's new mare giving the blood bay stallion a definite warning.

  “What's goin' on over there?”  Jed asked quietly as he mounted up himself.

  “Looks like Miss Swift might be coming into season,”  Heyes announced.

  “Oh great!”  Kid grumbled.  “If'n it ain't one mare it's another.  You better warn Allie to keep her mare away from Karma with that stud around.  Karma's likely to kick her to pieces.”

  “Hmm.”  Heyes watched as Allie deftly moved Swift over to the other side of Clay.  “I figure Allie knows what's she doing.  Not sure Scott does though, bringing a stud on an outing like this.  Could be trouble.  I think I'll stick close, just in case.”

  “Well that's fine Heyes,”  Jed told him.  “Me?  I'm stayin' as far away from the 'love-birds' as possible. Have fun.”

  Heyes nodded as Jed pushed Gov forward and trotted up to take the lead of the procession.

  Heyes was as good as his word and hung back for a while, just in case that blood-bay decided to get a little too amorous with the ladies in the herd.  He need not have worried though, as the stallion proved to be well behaved and though he kept his eye on the new mare in the group, he was a gentleman through and through and respected the man on his back.  Heyes couldn't help but be impressed with the obviously knowledgeable handling and education of the young stallion that had been required to keep him in hand.

  Three hours into the ride, Heyes noticed that his partner appeared far away in his own thoughts.  That was unusual for him, even in these days of post-amnesty.  Kid always kept his mind in the here and now, watching for any signs of trouble.  For him to be distracted like this caused Heyes to feel insecure and he didn't like feeling insecure.  He gave Fannie a little more leg pressure and the mare picked up the pace and trotted up to join with the taller Gov.

  “Hey Kid.”

  “Heyes,”  Kid glanced over at him and nodded.  “Somethin' wrong?”

  “Yep.”

  Jed suddenly looked concerned and did a quick scan of the surrounding territory.

  “What?”  he asked.  “I don't see nothin' that don't belong.”

  “That's 'cause you're looking out there,”  Heyes informed him and he did a sweep with his arm indicating the great outdoors,  “when you should be lookin' in there.”  And he pointed to the Kid's forehead.

  Kid frowned.  “What?  You ain't makin' no sense again, Heyes.  Speak english why don't ya'?”

  Heyes gave a patient sigh.  “You're looking for something amiss out there when you should be looking inside your own head.  It ain't like you to be daydreaming Kid, not on a job like this, with two bounty hunters in our midst.  What's wrong?”

  Jed suddenly looked contrite and a bit embarrassed.

  “Oh.  Yeah.  Sorry,”  he said.  “I guess I shoulda been payin' more attention.  Is anything goin' on?”

  “No,”  Heyes assured him.  “Other than what's going on in your head.  Want to talk about it?”

  Jed sighed.  “I ain't used to this Heyes,”  he admitted.  “This being out here, doin' what we do best, but wantin' to be back home.  All I can think about is my wife and that I'd much rather be with her than.....”

  “With me?”  Heyes asked with a slightly petulant look.

  “No!”  Kid denied that.  “Well....no!  Just, I'd rather be with her than out here, that's all.  Especially now.”

  Heyes smiled at putting his friend on the spot.  “Yeah I know Kid—me too.  I know Miranda's worried about this as well.  I....I think that's why she was so upset in Denver; why her emotions were all over the place like that.  It's not like her at all.  So, I think that's what it is.  That's the only explanation I can come up with anyways.”

  “Yeah,”  Kid agreed.  “It's strange isn't Heyes?  Having people back there who we miss so much, we can't stop thinkin' about them.”

  “Yeah.”

  “And now I'm worried about missin' the baby comin',”  Jed admitted.  “And I know Beth is worried that I won't be there too.  She shouldn't have to be worryin' about that at a time like this.”

  “Yeah, I know,”  Heyes sympathized.   “This is all taking longer than we thought.  But she's still got a couple of weeks to go.”

  “Yeah, but what if the baby comes early?  What if there's trouble?  I don't know any of those doctors in Denver.  I'd much rather have David tending to this.  Do you think David would come to Denver to attend to Beth?  Oh but then Tricia is expecting too though, so I don't suppose he'd want to leave her.”

  “I'm sure the doctors in Denver are quite qualified to deliver a baby,”  Heyes assured his cousin.  “I mean Bridget is quite comfortable with her doctor and the mid-wife and I'm sure Beth will be attended by the same ones.  Besides, as soon as we finish up here you can head straight back to Denver.  It's just a couple of days ride to Porterville and then the train.  It wouldn't take long.”

  “That's what ya' say now,”  Jed grumbled,  “but you know how plans can go astray.  It might take longer than we think to pull this off.  We could be sittin' out here forever.”

  “Well, if it looks like it's gonna go that way, you can always head back to Denver on your own,”  Heyes suggested.  “We got enough fellas here to take care of a two-bit, dirt scrubbin' interloper like Duncan any day of the week.”

  Jed sent his partner a disapproving look.  “No Heyes, that won't work,”  he told him.

  “Why not?”

  “You're not goin' into a den of thieves without me ta' watch your back.”

  Heyes grinned.  “Kid, may I remind you that we used to be the 'den of thieves'?”

  “And besides,”  Jed ignored that comment,  “I want you there with me.  This is a big step Heyes; a whole new life.  On top of that, there ain't too much difference between me bein' here and worryin' about Beth  and being with Beth and worryin' about you.  And believe me Heyes—if you go into a den of thieves on your own then I'd REALLY be worryin' about you.”

  “Well I'm hardly going to go in on my own,”  Heyes countered although inwardly he was smiling at the Kid wanting him there for the arrival of his first born.  “Like I just said; there's mor'n enough fellas here to....”

  “You know what I mean Heyes,”  Kid threw back at him.  “You're not goin' after those fellas without me there to watch your back.”

  “Well if you're gonna be that way about it....”

  “Yeah!  I am.”

  “Okay.  Then we're just gonna havt'a make sure we take this gang of no good thievin' outlaws down before Beth has her baby.”  Heyes seemed satisfied with that line of logic.  Then he frowned as another thought occurred to him.   “Allie said they keep coming back to take more of their livestock.”

  “Yeah,”  Jed concurred.  “We used to do that too Heyes; hit places further afield.  And if it was good pickin's we hit em more than once then high-tail it back to the Hole.  Nothin' new there.”

  “No, I know that,”  Heyes agreed.  “But I wonder why they've never hit Jesse's place.  The Double J has some prime livestock too.  Why would they hit the Second Chance more than once, but leave Jesse alone?”

  “Maybe they have hit the Double J and Jesse just doesn't know it,”  Kid surmised.  “Jesse has a big spread and his horse and cattle herds pretty much have the run of it.  It would be easy for Duncan and his boys to come onto the property and snatch up a few yearlings and nobody would be the wiser.  There's always losses due to hard winters and predators.  Who's gonna notice a few taken by thievery?”

  Heyes sat quietly for a moment wondering why he'd never thought of that.

  “Hmmm,”  Heyes mumbled.  “Maybe taking out this particular den of thieves might just be a good thing for everyone concerned.”

  “Yep.  So.....?”

  Heyes grinned and reaching over he gave his partner a friendly pat on the hand.  “Don't worry Kid,”  he said,  “one way or another you'll be back for Beth.  I'll make sure of it.”

  All of a sudden Joe was beside the partners and pointing to something up ahead.

  “What's that up there?”  he asked the two seasoned trackers.

  Heyes and Jed both looked startled at having been caught flat-footed themselves for not paying attention.  They followed Joe's point and sure enough there was an object on the ground a few hundred feet ahead of them.  All three men pushed their horses into a gallop in order to investigate.

  They pulled rein by the object and jumped down, all three of them feeling a touch of apprehension at the grisly discovery.  It was a man, that much was obvious and the bullet hole in the middle of his back made it just as obvious that he was dead.  The only reason the various scavengers in the area weren't taking advantage of the meal was that they were far more attentive to their surroundings than the men had been.

  Heyes knelt down and rolled the body over.  The man hadn't been dead for long, probably meeting his demise the previous night but the creepy crawlies were already making their presence known.  All three men grimaced in disgust.

  Monty trotted up to them and pulled rein.  He didn't bother to dismount.  “Damn,”  he cursed.  “Poor bastard.  Any idea who he is?”

  All three men on the ground shook their heads.

  “Better get Lom up here to take a look,”  Jed suggested.  “And for goodness sake; keep Allie away.”

  Monty took a quick look over his shoulder, suddenly thinking that Allie was going to be right behind him.  Fortunately she had stayed with her husband but she was looking their way and wondering what was going on.  Monty nodded and turned Clay back to inform the sheriff of the new events.

  Heyes was carefully going through the man's pockets looking for anything that might identify him when Lom came up and dismounted by the crime scene.  He stood beside the Kid, looking down at the corpse while Heyes flicked away bugs and worms in his attempt to search the body.

  “You know him, Lom?”  Kid asked his friend.

  “Yeah,”  Lom admitted.  “That looks like Ed Davis.  Wheat said he was up riding with Duncan. Looks like they had a falling out.”

  Heyes and Jed locked eyes for a second.  Dissension in the ranks caused its own set of problems, even from their point of view.

  “Maybe the best plan is to just leave them alone,”  Joe suggested.  “Looks like Duncan is going a good enough job of destroying his own gang himself.”

  “There's only one thing wrong with that plan, Deputy,”  Heyes told him.  “Whoever shot Davis is obviously loyal to Duncan and doesn't mind shooting an acquaintance in the back if the boss tells him to.  There may be some who are loyal only out of fear and that can be in our favour, but he obviously has some men who will stick by him and those are the ones we are going to have to watch out for.
  “What about that Ferguson fella, Lom?  You said you knew him and that he's loyal to Duncan.  Do you think he'd do something like this?”

  Lom shook his head.  “Naw, I doubt it.  Ferguson's been in this game a long time, but he's not a killer.  I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't even know about this.”

  Heyes stood up with a disappointed sigh.  “Well, there's nothing on him.  Whoever shot him must have taken everything.  Even his gun and holster are gone.”

  “I guess we better bury 'em,”  Kid suggested.  “Did anybody bring any shovel's?”

  “Nope,”  Heyes informed him.

  “Geesh,”  Jed complained.  “There's always somethin' you forget on a trip.”

  “We have to keep movin' if we want to get to Wheat's camp before night,”  Lom pointed out.

  “Well, we could roll him up in a tarp and take him with us,”  Heyes suggested.  “Bury him when we get to the camp site.”

  “We don't have an extra horse,”  Lom pointed out.  “Unless you want to walk and put him up on your horse, Heyes.”

  Heyes grimaced, not liking the sound of that.

  “But we can't just leave him here for the scavengers, Lom,”  Kid argued.  “That ain't decent.”

  “Besides that,”  Heyes argued,  “he's right in the path of the beeves coming up behind us.  We leave him here, he's gonna get turned into minced meat.”

  “Dammit!”  Lom cursed.  He knew they had to keep moving, but even he couldn't just leave the body there to be desecrated by animals.  “Alright.  Get him into those rocks over there and cover him up as best you can.  We can always collect the body up on our way back.  Or maybe find a shovel up at the Hole and just bury him here.”

  “Yeah, okay,”  Kid agreed,  “we can do that.”

  “Just keep everybody going Lom,”  Heyes suggested.  “We'll catch up with you.”

  “Alright,”  Lom nodded and mounting his horse he galloped back to the party.

  The three companions exchanged looks, wondering how it was that they got stuck with burial duty.

  “Well, let's get to it,”  Jed suggested.

  Heyes and Jed each grabbed an arm and began to drag the body over towards the not too distant rocky knoll.  Joe gathered up the reins of the three horses and followed along behind.  Sometimes there was an advantage to having a hole in your arm.
 
 
Kyle and Ames were once again on look-out duty while Wheat had gone into Saratoga to pick up more supplies for the anticipated increase in population for their meager camp site.  Kyle was laid out on his belly with the spyglass up against his eye, keeping tabs on what was happening inside the hide out. 

Things had been pretty quiet since the 'town meeting' in the Hole the previous day and nothing of the comings and goings of the various individuals caused the two spies much concern.  The only bug in the ointment so far was that it was obvious to the experienced outlaw that the gang was getting ready to pull a new job. Kyle just hoped that the reinforcements would arrive before the Hole emptied out for who knows how long and the raid would have to be put off till they got back.

  Ames was sitting next to his friend, but looking off to the right of their position.  It was his job to make sure that no one snuck up on their campsite without them knowing about it.  Even though they were expecting company, the wrong kind of company at this stage could be disastrous. Kyle took his eyeball out of the spyglass when he felt Ames give him a nudge in the ribs.

“I think they're comin'.”  Ames announced as he pointed off in the direction of his eye line.

  “Ya',”  Kyle agreed.  He shifted position and brought the eyeglass up to his face again and scrutinized the approaching dust cloud.  “That's them aw'right.”  He frowned and focused onto a larger dust cloud about a mile behind the first.  “What in tarnation are they thinkin'?”

  “What?”  was Ames' obvious question.

  “Looks like they's bringin' their own food on the hoof with 'em,”  Kyle explained.  “They got a whole herd of beeves comin' up behind 'em.”  He started chewing on his tobacco again as he considered this situation.  “They must know them beeves are there,followin' 'em.”

  Kyle dropped the eyeglass and an expression of pure consternation froze on his face as his mind tried to figure out the point of the exercise.

  “Hey!”  came an irritated voice from down below.  “What kinda' lookout are you postin' up there?  I done rode right inta' camp without so much as a challenge from neither one of ya'.  What'cha doin'--playin' cards or somethin'?”

  “Oh!   Hey Wheat!”  Kyle called down and giving Ames a reassuring nod they both headed back down to their tethered horses.

  Wheat sat on his own yellow dun with a pack mule in attendance and scowled at his two associates.
“How come neither one of ya' saw me comin'?”  he demanded to know.

  “'Cause we just seen Lom and everybody comin' this way,”  Kyle explained, then gave a stained toothy grin over the rest of his news.  “And yer not gonna believe what they's bringin' with 'em.”

  “A herd of steers,”  Wheat stated blatantly.

  Kyle's smile dropped.  “Oh, yeah.  How come you knowed that?”

  “'Cause there was a telegram from Lom waitin' for me in Saratoga, that's how,”  Wheat informed him.  “Now c'mon; let’s get this stuff organized before they get here.  This place is gonna get real busy real quick.”

  Kyle and Ames mounted up on their horses and they headed back into their camp, Kyle looking anxious about where everybody was going to fit.

  “Where are we gonna put them steers though?”  he asked his partner. “They're gonna trample everything is sight.”

  Wheat gave an exasperated sigh.  “Well they ain't bringin' the herd right into camp!  Heyes has them goin' into that small box canyon over by Deer Creek.  They'll be secure and outa sight until we need 'em.”

  “But what do we need 'em fer...?”

  “Shoot Kyle!  How should I know?”  Wheat snapped, though he was more irritated at being left out of the loop than he was at his partner. “Typical Heyes strategy; don't tell no one what's goin' on till the very last minutes.  Geesh.  He sure ain't changed none.”

  The three men began to get organized.

  “Kyle, you help me unload the mule,”  Wheat told him.  “And Ames, since you seem to like doin' it, you can get the fire stoked again and put some coffee on.  I expect them boys are gonna be tired.”

  Ames smiled and quickly set about his task.  By the time the weary travellers arrived at the camp, three different fires were going and spaces were ready for the additional men and horses to be able to settle.

  “Howdy boys,”  Lom greeted them as everybody dismounted and stretched out sore back muscles.  “How's everything?”

  “Everything's fine,”  Wheat told him.  “A bit of a commotion yesterday, but nothin' since.”

  Heyes and Jed exchanged looks.

  “Anybody ride outa there yesterday and not come back?”  Kid asked them.

  “Yeah,”  Kyle informed them.  “Ole' Davis rode out, lookin' like he was packin' fer good.  We figure he's long gone by now.”

  “Well,”  Kid surmised,  “I guess that depends on what ya' mean by 'long gone'.”

  “What'cha mean?”

  Heyes stepped forward.  “We came across Davis' body earlier today.  He was about ten miles from the entrance to the Hole.  Somebody had shot him in the back.”

  Stunned silence met this bit of information.  Ames felt a chill go down his spine as he realized just how lucky he had been to get out of the gang alive.

  "Shoot,” Wheat spit into the dust. “he sure do know how to build loyalty with his gang, don't he?” he snarked. “He's gonna end up cuttin' his own throat doin' stuff like that.” he shook his head with a disgusted grunt, then got down to business. “You get them beeves all settled in? Who you got keepin'
an eye on 'em?"

  Lom looked to Heyes who glanced at Jed.  Wheat saw it all and growled, "Who did you bring with you?"

  "Joe Morin's keeping an eye on 'em," said Heyes, offering up a half-truth. Joe was keeping an eye on the cattle as well as Stainton and his men, but he wasn't ready to tell Wheat and Kyle that they'd brought four bounty hunters with them.  That could wait.

Fortunately, Kyle grinned at that moment, and nudging his partner, nodded over to another member of the posse.

  “Hey Wheat, lookie there,”  he said.  “What she doin' here?”

  Wheat followed his partner's gesture then sent Heyes a suspicious look. “Now that's a real fine question, Kyle,”  he grumbled.  “What about it Heyes?  What you thinkin' bringin' a....”

  Allie quickly moved forward to intercept.  “Don't blame Heyes for this, he didn't have much choice.  I insisted.  It's good to see you both again. Hello Kyle.”

  Kyle tipped his hat and smiled.  “Howdy Miss Allie.  Been a long time.”

  “Yes it has,”  she agreed.  “And I'm Mrs. Medgar now.”

  “Mrs. Medgar?”  Wheat asked.

  “Yes.  You remember Scott, don't you?”

  Wheat suddenly took in both Scott and Monty coming up to stand beside Allie.

  “Oh well ya', a' course.  But....”

  “Listen fellas, let's save all this for over supper, shall we?”  Lom suggested.  “We're all pretty tired and the horses need to be tended to. How about it?”
Ready or Not
Post on Tue 18 Feb 2014, 10:00 pm by Keays
“Oh, well yeah okay,”  Wheat agreed.  “Good idea.  C'mon Kyle; help 'em get their horses settled.”

  “Yeah.”

  Wheat and Kyle disappeared on their own errands leaving a rather uncomfortable Mr. Ames standing alone in front of Heyes and Curry.  The poor young man was so awestruck he didn't quite know where to look next.

  “Mr. Ames,”  Heyes acknowledged him and offered his hand.  “You're looking better than the last time I saw you.”

  “Yessir, Mr. Heyes,”  Ames shook his hand.  “Ah, so are you.”

  “Uh huh.  This is my partner, Jed Curry.”

  “Oh, hello Mr. Curry.”

  “Howdy.”

  The two men shook hands but then Ames' eyes went back to Heyes again. There followed another awkward silence.

  “Sooo....”  Heyes began.  “You getting along with Wheat and Kyle alright?”

  “Oh yeah,”  Ames nodded.  “They've been real good.”

  “Ames!”  Wheat yelled from across the camp.  “Get over here and tend these fires!  It's time ta' get supper cookin'!”

  “Oh!  Yeah—I'm comin'!”

  Ames smiled at Heyes, gave Jed a quick nod then smiled at Heyes again. Then he was off and running towards the cooking fires to get going on feeding this gang.

  “You got yourself a friend there, Heyes,”  Jed commented.

  “Hmm,”  Heyes wasn't impressed.  “Funny, he wasn't like that in prison. Tended to keep to himself—except for buddying up with Kyle.”

  “Well,”  Jed clapped a hand onto his cousin's shoulder.  “Maybe he's seein' ya' in a new light.  Out here in the real world, you're somebody.”

  Heyes sent his cousin an exasperated look.  “That's all I need; some pup with a fetish for fires hanging on my coattails.   C'mon; I'm hungry.”

  “You're hungry!?”  Kid couldn't believe his ears.

  “Yeah!  I'm hungry.”  Heyes repeated and walked off towards the cooking fires.

  “Wow Heyes,”  Kid commented with a smile.  “You really have changed.”


  Night had settled down and everyone had come to settle in around the main fire to enjoy and supper of venison stew from the buck that Kyle had brought down the previous day.  Wheat had picked up some vegetables from the market in town and with some herbs that Allie had in her bags, the stew and
biscuits rounded out into a mighty fine meal.

  The plan had been discussed and questions presented and answered by the time coffee was again put on to perk and everyone settled in around various different fires for the evening.  Heyes glanced over at Kyle, finally feeling that it was time of ask him the question that had been burning at him since they had arrived at the camp site.

“You been keeping an eye inside the Hole, Kyle?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Wull, yeah,” Kyle felt a little defensive; he never did like being put on the spot. “I didn't miss nothin', Heyes.”

Heyes smiled and nodded. “That's what I'm counting on.” Kyle frowned, wondering what this was all about. “Have you seen Karma?”

Everybody else round the campfire smiled now with understanding. Allie perked up; being interested herself in the answer to that particular question.

Kyle grinned, relieved to be able to give an affirmative answer.

“Yeah, she's there,” he informed in former boss. “Duncan's been workin' with her every day.”

Heyes felt an instant stab of possessive and protective jealousy. “He's been riding her every day?”

“Wull no,” Kyle clarified. “Not ridin' her much, except'n the last day or two he's been tryin' to.” Kyle grinned again. “Ain't had much luck though.”

Heyes grinned hopefully. “She giving him trouble?”

Kyle and Ames snorkeled and smiled at each other.

“Yeah, I'd say so,” Kyle agreed. “Wouldn't you say so, Ames?”

Ames nodded playfully, “Yeah.”

“I mean, she don't actually go after 'im,” Kyle assured his ex now current boss, “but she don't make it easy neither. It usually takes 'im about twenty minutes just to get the saddle on her, then when he does finally get aboard, she gives him the roughest ride she can without actually buckin'. Yesterday she ran his knee right into one of the fence posts of that round corral!” He and Ames started laughing again. “I bet he's still walkin' with a limp!”

Heyes grinned but then frowned as another thought came to him. “He's not using spurs on her is he?”

“Nope,” Kyle was pleased to confirm. “I think he's done learned that lesson. She sure don't like him much though—not by a long shot.”

“She always was a willful filly,” Allie piped in. “Just like her mother.”

Jed snorted. “Yeah; willful. That's exactly what I'd call it.”

Heyes and Allie both smiled and locked eyes for an instant, love and appreciation for both mares mixing together in the one glance.

Wheat's eye drifted over at Allie and then flicked back to Heyes.

  “So,”  he began,  “what's the idea of bringin' a woman along, Heyes?  I mean you was always the one sayin' that a woman is just trouble on a job.”

  Allie sent Heyes an indignant look.  “Really?”

  “Like she said earlier, Wheat, she insisted,”  Heyes reminded him,  “it wasn't my idea.  She has a vested interest in this little soiree and she wanted to come along; she's not going into the Hole.  She'll stay here as part of the lookout.”

  “What vested interest?”  Wheat asked.

  “What difference does that make?”  Heyes snapped, getting all defensive.

  “Well as I seem to recall I developed a real fondness for Miss Allie, I mean; Mrs. Medgar.  Sorry ma'am,”  Wheat nodded to her and Allie smiled. Scott sat back and listened to this exchange with interest.  “And if I'm gonna be part of a raid that could get her hurt, I'd kinda like ta' know why.”

  Heyes sighed. He was getting tired of having to explain everything over and over again.

  “Did you happen to take note of the horse I was riding when we came into camp?” he asked the older man.

  Wheat frowned.  “No!  What the hell difference does that make?”

  “Well it was Fannie,”  Heyes informed him.  “You remember her?”

  “Aww geesh!”

  “Yup,”  Kid grinned,  “sounds like he remembers her.”

  “Yeah,”  Wheat concurred.  “I remember you were fit to be tied when you found out someone had been messin' with her.”

  “Someone?”  Heyes asked pointedly, remembering how Wheat had interfered with a young Fannie's breaking out.  It hadn't gone well for the big outlaw.

  “Yeah well....”  Wheat shuffled uneasily, then changed the subject.  “I still don't get....”

  “Allie's been using her as a foundation mare to get their ranch up and running.  Karma was Fannie's first foal.  Karma was stolen as a yearling along with all the other yearlings from that year and Allie has been looking for her ever since.  She didn't know that I had her.  Now she is going to help us get her back from Duncan in exchange for putting an end to the rustling.” Heyes saw no reason at this point to go into Karma's pending ownership and the true reason for Allie's presence.  “Duncan seems to think that Karma belongs to him so we're thinking that he's the one who stole her in the first place and is therefore claiming that right.”

  Wheat and Kyle sat with mouths gaping as they listened to this monolog.

  “Ya' don't say,”  Wheat finally commented.  “This oughta' be real interestin'.  All yer ex's seem to be popping up outa the woodwork Heyes.”

  “What's that supposed to mean?”  Heyes snarked.

  “Well first it's Abi now Allie—not ta mention, Fannie!”  Wheat and Kyle started laughing and slapping each other on the backs.

  “So what?”  Allie was instantly on the alert.  “I have every right to be here!"

  Jed was doing his best not to laugh.  “Yup,”  he finally got out.  “The boys are right, Heyes.  Guess that's what you get for choosing the feisty ones.  You never know what they're gonna do.”

  Heyes sent his partner a scathing look.

"Hey!  I didn't come here to be insulted," said Allie.

  “No one’s insultin' you, Darlin',”  Kyle agreed.  “But he likes 'em when they fight back, don't ya' Heyes?”

  “What!?”  Heyes couldn't believe his ears; even Kyle was turning on him.

  “My point exactly,”  Wheat continued.  “Since all your exes seem to be showin' up, why didn't ya' just time it better?  Get 'em all up here at one time then all we gotta do is wind 'em up and point 'em in the right direction.  Man, they'd clear out Devil's Hole all on their own!  Wouldn't need to herd of stinkin' cattle to run 'em out.  Ain't that right, Kyle?”

  “Yeah. I thought you was good at plannin' stuff Heyes.”

  “I don't believe this!”  Allie complained and got up to stomp over to the other fire to sit with Lom and Monty.

  Scott got up to go after her.  “Allie,”  he chuckled, “they're just pulling his leg...and yours.”

  "I know that!  I just don't want to hear it," she ground out.

  As the married couple strode away, Heyes turned on Wheat feeling like he wanted to strangle the older man.

  “Dammit Wheat!  What the hell was that all about?”

  “Hey, I was just pullin' yer leg is all,”  Wheat protested through his laughing.  “Ya' gotta admit Heyes you do go for a certain type.  But why ya' gotta bring one of 'em on a job like this is beyond me.”

  “Aww, c'mon Heyes,”  Jed patted his partners knee.  “Wheat's right.  You do like the feisty females.  Wouldn't that be a sight, gettin' 'em all in the same room together!”

  The other men around the fire whooped and hollered at the thought, but Heyes scowled. Now he was going to have an angry Allie to deal with.

  “Yeah, brother!”  Wheat commented once he got his breath back.  “I'm gonna havta thank Miranda the next time I see her.”

  Kid started laughing even harder and Heyes just looked confused.
 

 Later that night while Heyes and Jed were getting their bedrolls ready for habitation, Heyes was still in a snarky mood.  Fortunately Scott did know how to placate his wife and Allie was not the problem.  Wheat going over and apologizing for his comments did help to calm the waters.  When he added that sometimes he just couldn't help needling his ex-boss since Heyes could be so insufferably arrogant at times, Allie had laughed and totally agreed. Apology accepted.

But Heyes was still grumbling and being rather abusive towards his bedroll until Kid sighed and sent him a look.

“You still ticked off Heyes?”  he asked.  “C'mon.  You know Wheat was just eggin' ya'.”

“Yeah, but what was that supposed to mean?”  Heyes groused.  “That's the second time someone has said they were gonna have to thank Miranda.  What's Miranda got to do with this?”

Jed sat back with a grin growing on his face.  He looked at his partner through the darkness and shook his head.  “I tell ya' Heyes, for a genius you can be real thick sometimes.”

“What!”  Heyes' whisper spoke volumes.  “What's everybody needling me for?”

“Cause sometimes you make it so easy,”  Jed answered blatantly, but then he took pity on the frustrated look that got sent back at him.  “C'mon Heyes, you said much the same thing to Beth.  It's kind of a compliment, actually.”

“I did not!”  Heyes insisted.  “When did I say that?”

“When we got betrothed!”  Jed reminded him.  “You thanked Beth for saving me from marrying one of the 'needy folk'.”

Heyes frowned as he recalled that statement.  “Oh.  Yeah.”

“And that's all they're sayin',”  Jed continued.  “Seems to me everybody approves of your choice of a wife.  They just want to thank her for stoppin' you from marryin' someone who was gonna eventually drive ya' nuts.  Not to mention the rest of us.”

“Oh,”  Heyes mumbled.  “But Allie and Abi are both fine ladies—there's nothing wrong with either of them.”

  “Of couse there ain't,”  Jed agreed.  “As you know I'm quite fond of both of 'em.  But bein' married to someone yer constantly competing with does not make for married bliss.  Even you were figurin' that out.  Now Miranda; she's no push over either but she's more subtle.  She gets ya' to do what she wants quietly and don't make no fuss about it.”

“What do you mean; 'do what she wants'?”  Heyes became defensive.  “I make up my own mind.  She accepts the wisdom of my decisions and supports me in them.  The way it should be between a husband and wife.”

Jed's grin grew as he settled himself into his bedroll.  “Yeah alright Heyes.  You just go on believin' that and you'll be fine.”

“But....what?”

“Goodnight Heyes.  Better get some sleep; we got a big day tomorrow.”

“Yeah, but....”

Jed rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes, effectively ending the conversation.  Heyes sat for a moment, looking perplexed.  He was more confused now than he was when the conversation had started.

Heyes and Jed rode into Deer Creek Canyon early the next morning.  Joe was up and making breakfast with Feeley’s help, but Stainton’s men were nowhere in sight when they entered the campsite situated at the mouth of the box canyon.  Tree limbs, ropes, and brush had been used to create a natural fence at the mouth of the canyon to keep the cattle confined and the sounds of faint lowing was drifting in the air.
 
“Where’s Stainton?” asked Heyes as he dismounted and tied off Fannie to the low-hanging branch of a pine tree on the edge of the small clearing. 
 
“I sent him and his men to check the steers.  They were restless last night.  New place, I guess,” said Joe, standing up and wiping his hands on his already very soiled trousers before walking over to his friends.  He hated being dirty, but there was no way to stay clean when you were riding herd on a bunch of filthy cows. 
 
Feeley looked up from his work and gave the two visitors a brief wave, but stayed by the fire.  He wasn’t comfortable around the two ex-outlaws; especially after he’d been caught eying Mrs. Medgar.  She sure was pretty and it was hard for him not to admire her.
 
“Who’s restless?  The cows or the men?” Jed smiled and dismounted.  He led Gov over next to Fannie and tied him up, ignoring the coppery mare’s pinned back ears.  She lifted a hind leg and Jed slapped her hard on her ample posterior making her jump forward and adjust her attitude.
 
“Both, I reckon.  Feeley let slip that we were in Devil’s Hole country and Stainton got a bee in his bonnet over it.  He wants to know what we’re doing here,” said Joe, with a shake of his head.  “I didn’t know what to say, so I told him I didn’t know what the plan was.   You can imagine how that went over.  Anyways, they’ll be back in a minute so you’ll want to figure out what you’re going to tell ‘em.”
 
“I came over to talk to him.  It’s time he was let into the plan,” said Heyes.  He glanced at Feeley and lowered his voice.  “Wheat, Kyle, and Ames are at the other camp.  I haven’t told Wheat about Stainton yet and I don’t think he’s going to be too happy about it.  I wanted to speak to Stainton first and set the ground rules with him.”
 
Joe nodded, “Good luck.  He’s not the easiest man to deal with.”  He led the way back to the fire ring.
 
“Heyes, Curry,” said Feeley.
 
“Feeley,” said Jed, equally as terse in his greeting.  Heyes said nothing. 
 
Coffee was passed all around and the four men sat down together to wait for the others to return.  It didn’t take long.  They hadn’t even finished their first cups of coffee when they heard the riders approaching.  Heyes stood up and waited for the confrontation he knew was coming.  That, too, didn’t take long.
 
“Heyes, what the hell are we doing in Devil’s Hole?” growled Stainton, walking over to the ex-outlaw leader.  “What kinda game are you playin’?”
 
“No game.  We hired you to work a posse and that’s what you’re doing,” said Heyes calmly.
 
“Posse?  We’ve been eatin’ dust for the last two days,” Wes came up and stood next to his friend, spitting a gob of tobacco near Heyes’ feet.  Jed casually stood, as did Joe, and both men wandered over to back up Heyes.  Lee and Blake came over, too, but Feeley sat by the fire preparing to watch the fireworks.  Four men squared off against three. 
 
“It’s all part of the plan.  We’re going into Devil’s Hole,” said Jed flatly.
 
Stainton squinted at Jed and then Heyes.  “Why?”
 
Surprised at the succinct question, Heyes smiled.  He’d been expecting an explosion, not logic.   He relaxed and gave Gus an honest answer, “Because the governor asked us to clean it out.”
 
“Of outlaws?” Stainton chuckled at the irony.  “Are there any left?  Way I heard it, your gang was pretty well wiped out a few years ago, right?”
 
Jed stiffened at the memory of seeing his friends ruthlessly mowed down by Morrison while he was forced to watch.  He couldn’t keep a bland expression.  His fists curled and his eyes turned glacial, but Heyes stepped in and redirected the conversation.  “Then it shouldn’t worry you to ride in with us.”
 
“Worry?  Are you saying I’m chicken?” snapped Gus.
 
Heyes smiled, “Do you only talk in questions?”
 
Gus was confused for a moment.  “You ain’t payin’ me enough to ride in there and get me and my men shot up.  We signed up to ride in a posse, not be ducks in a shootin’ gallery.”
 
“You ain’t heard who’s in there yet,” said Heyes.
 
“Who?”
 
“Tom Duncan and his gang.  Worth about ten grand all told,” said Joe.
 
“That so?”  They could all see the greed creep onto Stainton’s face.  He was mentally calculating the split.
 
Jed relaxed and rolled his eyes at Heyes.  The former leader quickly sweetened the pot.  “Now, all of us have talked it over and we know we got you here under false pretenses.  Because we did, we’re willing to let you four have the bounties on whoever we capture under one condition.”
 
Stainton and his friends looked at each other, shocked that they were being offered twenty-five hundred dollars apiece.  Gus spoke up first, and suspiciously asked, “What conditions?”
 
“You bring your prisoners in alive.  We won’t tolerate unnecessary killin’.  Understood?” said Jed.
 
“You go after Duncan and his men, but you leave ours alone,” added Heyes.
 
“Your men?  I thought those days were over for you,” said Gus.
 
“Wheat Carlson, Kyle Murtry, and another man, Ames, are working for me.”  Heyes watched Stainton closely trying to get a feel for what trouble he might cause.
 
“Carlson?  I heard he was killed in the raid,” said Lee.
 
“He wasn’t and he’s a very good friend of ours.  We take care of our friends,” said Curry, coldly eying the four men.  “I’m going to take it personally if something happens to him or Murtry and Ames.  Got it?”
 
“All right.  We got it.  We’ll do it,” said Gus, “but we still want our fifteen dollars a day.”
 
“Done,” said Heyes.  “All right, here’s the plan.  Lom’ll be leading this team.  He knows the way into the Hole.  Gus, you and your men will drive the cattle out ahead of you.  Be sure you stay behind them; that’s key.  There’s plenty of cover before you get to the slot canyon and you’ll want to use it.  There are lookouts on the cliffs overlooking the entrance but they can’t get a clear shot at you until you’re in it and you’re not going in it.  You’ll send the cattle on through, but stay clear of the canyon and make sure they don’t come back out.  Got it?”
 
“Sure, but when do we get Duncan?”
 
“You don’t.  I’m taking care of Duncan and we’ll round up the rest of ‘em for you,” said Heyes.
 
“You’re giving us the bounties for doing nothin’?  We don’t even get shot at?” said Lee.
 
“You boys’ll have the most important job,” said Jed, “You’re gonna make sure no one gets out.  If they do, you’ll have plenty of chances to get shot at.”
 
“Feeley, you’re coming with us.  Joe, be ready to go by noon.  Lom’ll get here before lunch.  He’s ironing a few wrinkles out right now,” said Heyes.  He led the way to the horses and waited as Feeley and Jed mounted up.  Joe had followed them over and Heyes turned to him before he mounted.
 
“What am I going to do?”  Joe asked.
 
“You’re going to ride herd on Stainton until Lom gets here.  Then you’re riding with us.”
 
Joe grinned.  He had begun to wonder if he’d be left out of the action.
 
“Try not to get hurt this time,” laughed Jed.  Joe scowled up at him, but had to smile at the good-natured ribbing.
 
Wes was watching the ex-outlaws from the other side of the clearing and only half-listening to Gus go on about the money to Lee and Blake.
 
“This here’s our lucky day, boys.  We’ll be set for life after this one what with what the railroad baron’s willin’ to pony up for Heyes and Curry.   Carlson and Murtry’ll just be icin’ on the cake.”
 
“But how are we gonna get ‘em if’n we’re not in the Hole?” asked Blake.
 
“Don’t you worry about that.  If’n we don’t get them here, we’ll get ‘em later,” snapped Gus.
 
“Here comes Morin.”  Wes turned back to his friends.
 
The four men snickered happily as Joe walked back towards them after bidding his friends goodbye.
 
When Heyes and Jed got back to the other camp, they were pleased to find that preparations were well under way.  Lom and Wheat had built two low walls on the lip of the canyon; they were spaced about 100 yards apart, shielded from below by some scrub, and piled high with rocks.  Between the two of them, most of the meadow below was exposed as well as a good portion of its scrubby surroundings.  This was where Scott and Allie would keep watch on the drama below.  If necessary, they could yell down warnings to the men below and provide cover.
 
“Looks good,” said Heyes, walking over to where his two friends were putting the last few rocks on the wall.
 
“Reckon they’ll do,” said Wheat.  “Is Joe all set?”
 
“He is.  He’ll be joining us when Lom takes over the herd,” said Heyes, wondering if he should leave off telling Wheat about Stainton.  He’d like to, but the chances were good that the bigger man might stumble across Gus and his men and it could go badly for everyone.  “Wheat, you got a minute?  There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
 
Wheat looked up.  “Sure, what is it?” he said, straightening up and stretching his back.  His health was much better than it had been since his injuries, but he still had trouble doing manual labor.  Despite that, he’d insisted on doing the rock laying when he’d heard about it.  He knew what was needed for the job and he knew he needed to prove to himself he could do it. 
 
Heyes walked off a few yards and Carlson followed him while Lom finished up the stonework.  “There’s something I need to tell you.”
 
Immediately wary from his past experiences with the ex-outlaw leader, Wheat said, “What have you left out, Heyes?”
 
“Now look, I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d kick up a fuss and, frankly, we don’t have a choice!”
 
“A choice about what?” growled Wheat, steeling himself.  “Dammit, Heyes, what have you done?”
 
“The four men watching the beeves are bounty hunters: Gus Stainton and three of his pals.”
 
“Bounty hunters??!! You brought bounty hunters to the Hole?  Are you crazy?”  Wheat’s voice rose as he spoke and Heyes waved at him to keep it down.  The last thing they needed was for someone in the Hole to hear them.
 
“Shh!  What difference does it make?  We brought the law and you were just fine with that.” hushed Heyes, his voice squeaking a little as he became defensive.  
 
“That’s different!  We’re workin’ for the law now.”
 
“Yeah, so why are you worried about Stainton?” said Heyes.
 
“I ain’t worried.  I just don’t like it, is all.”
 
“Stainton’s going to be working with Lom.  He’ll be keeping an eye on them.  They’ll be blocking the entrance to the Hole.  If all goes well, he’ll never see you and you’ll never see him, but I thought you ought to know,” explained Heyes.
 
“Did you tell him about us?” asked Wheat.
 
“Yes, I did.  He gave us his word that he’d leave you all alone.”
 
Carlson snorted derisively, “Like the word of a bounty hunter is good.”
 
“It is when it’s backed up by a threat from Kid Curry,” smiled Heyes.
 
“All right, but I’m holdin’ you responsible if something goes wrong.”
 
Heyes sobered quickly.  “Don’t worry.  I’m holding me responsible, too.”  He left the big outlaw to return to his task.
 
Allie and Scott were laying out their weapons on their bedrolls and splitting up their ammunition.  Heyes watched Allie deftly loading her gun.  She looked up and smiled at him.  “Don’t worry.  I know I’m supposed to stay here.  Lom already told me in no uncertain terms.”
 
“He did, huh?”
 
“Yes, but Scott’s staying here, too, so I’m happy with it.”
 
His eyes swiveled over to Scott, who was slightly behind his wife.  He winked conspiratorially at Heyes.  The man was a good match for his headstrong wife.
 
“Good.”  Heyes walked on to where Feeley was packing up his saddlebags.  This man was hard to read.  There just didn’t seem to be much to him and Heyes was still trying to feel him out.  Lom had said he was arrogant, but the ex-leader hadn’t seen that yet.  Mostly the man kept to himself, not mingling with anybody.  Loners always made Heyes nervous and arrogant loners were the worst.
 
“Feeley, how’s it going?”
 
“Fine,” said the man, snugging down the compression straps on his bag.
 
“You ready?  You need anything?”
 
Feeley stopped what he was doing and turned to Heyes.  “I don’t need anything from you, Heyes.  I ain’t working for you,” he said insolently.
 
Anger swept across Heyes’ face and he grabbed the man by his shirt front.  “No.  You don’t work for me, but you’ll damn well listen to what I tell you to do or we’ll all end up dead.  Now I know the Hole, that’s why Lom put me in charge.  You don’t like it, you ride out now.”
 
The heavier man’s eyes widen at the ferocity flowing from the dark brown daggers boring in to him.  Behind Heyes, he could see Kid Curry looking over this way wondering what was going on.  Making his decision, Feeley nodded.  “All right, you’re the boss.  For now.”  Heyes shoved him back and walked away.  Turning his back to Curry’s searching eyes, Feeley finished packing up.
 
Lom left just before noon and, ten minutes later, Joe rode in grinning at being released from babysitting duties.  He dismounted and joined his two friends.  “Stainton’s ready.  Lom says he’ll move ‘em out at one o’clock on the nose.”
 
Jed nodded his approval.  “It’ll take him forty minutes to drive those steers to the canyon.  I reckon we’ll be ready.”
 
“We better be,” said Heyes.  “All hell’s gonna break loose.”
 
Joe looked from one man to the other.  “This is gonna work, right?”
 
“We’re gonna find out,” said Jed.
 
“It’ll work,” said Heyes.
 
For some reason, Joe was feeling nervous.
 
At five minutes to one, Heyes snapped shut his timepiece and tucked it away in his vest pocket.  He looked up and down the line at Feeley, Kyle, Wheat, Ames, Joe, and Jed.  Everyone sat their horses patiently and awaited his signal.  They were hidden for the time being by the lip of the canyon, but when they rode down the damaged back trail into the Hole they’d be exposed for several minutes. 
 
After Morrison’s attack on the outlaw hideout, the trail had fallen into disuse and over the past eight or so years had become so overgrown with shrubs and plants that it wasn’t visible to the naked eye.  Wheat had told him that Duncan didn’t even know it was there.  Heyes was worried about how long it would take to pick their way down.   He’d known the trail well during his time as leader, but Morrison and his men had changed it.  He remembered how he had blown the original trail with dynamite years ago, when he and the Kid had returned to the Hole to get their cash for their bids for amnesty.  The cash had been gone, taken by a former friend, the gang hadn’t been happy to find them in the Hole.
 
Now he and Jed had hiked their way down at dawn, reconnoitering the trail, and making sure it was horse-worthy.  It was.  This was the diciest part of the plan.  Allie and Scott would watch over them and provide a line of fire if necessary, but Heyes was sincerely hoping that wouldn’t be needed.  If everything went well on Lom’s end, the cattle should distract the new Devil’s Hole gang.
 
His reverie was broken by the sound of gunshots up the canyon.  Lom had made his move.  He raised his hand and dropped it; urging Fannie forward and over the lip of the edge.
 
The cattle were panicking at the gunshots from the outlaw lookouts.  They had entered the narrow canyon calmly and passively.  But, once the shooting began, they spooked and stampeded.  The ones in the front of the herd had tried to turn around and go back the way they’d come in, but the inflowing tide of horned steers quickly dissuaded them.  They had no choice; they had to go forward and they started to run, their fear spooking the others behind them.  A cloud of dust rose from the pounding hooves and obscured them from their tormentors.  Lom and Gus drove the cattle ruthlessly forward from the rear as Lee and Blake stood on either side of the slot canyon entrance and made sure that there were no stragglers.

The two men on guard duty had been perplexed to see the cows.  It had taken them a minute to realize that they were being attacked, but once they did, they started shooting into the herd, panicking them further.  By the time, the guards understood the futility of firing on the frightened animals, it was too late.  The leading edge of the herd burst into the Hole and crushed everything in their paths.

To Be Continued.
 
 
 
 

Ready or Not. Chapter ten

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