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 The Toadsuck Ransom by Nora Winters

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Join date : 2013-10-13

20140301
PostThe Toadsuck Ransom by Nora Winters



Starring
Ben Murphy as Kid Curry and Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes



Guest Stars:

Amy Carlson as Melanie Duster


Terence Hill as Robert Duster


Johnny Crawford as Jamie Duster


Mark Hembrow as Bill Heyward and Tom Burlinson as Sam Heyward


Andy Devine as Sheriff Ben Wilson



Prologue

Weak sunlight filtered through the trees, shining on the two grubby men by the fire. Neither appeared rested – both had bloodshot eyes underlined by dark shadows and stubble on their chins. Heyes stirred the coals and looked sideways at his partner, who looked sourly back at him.

“Okay, so you want to talk about it?”

“What’s there to talk about? You think I’m crazy.”

“Kid, I don’t think you’re crazy; it’s just…”

“Like I said, you think I’m crazy.”

“Look at it logically. If she’s a lady we wouldn’t know her, and you say she wasn’t in any bank or on any train we robbed, which means she doesn’t know us. So why did we have to run?”

“I told you – she’s a bounty hunter!”

“A bounty hunter? That’s …”

“That’s what, Heyes, crazy?” the Kid asked, glaring dangerously at his partner.

“I didn’t say that, but just how many lady bounty hunters do you think there are?”

“Just needs to be one – and she was it.”

Heyes rolled his eyes. “Why do you think she’s a bounty hunter?”

“It’s the way she looked at us.”

“The way she looked at us! That’s it?! That’s why I got dragged out the back door of the saloon before I could even get a drink; that’s why we rode half the night?! Because you didn’t like the way she looked at us?!” Heyes threw up his hands and looked to the heavens as his voice rose.

“Yeah, Heyes, it was the way she looked at us. I’ve seen enough bounty hunters lookin’ at us to know what that look means,” the Kid shot back, his voice also rising.

“That’s… that’s…” At a look from the Kid, Heyes stopped the sentence, took a deep breath, and tried again. “Did you ever think she was looking at you because she found you attractive?”

“She was lookin’ at both of us, speculative-like.”

“Maybe she found both of us attractive and was speculating whether we’d be interested or not.”

“No one’s that attractive – especially when they’ve been on the trail for days – hadn’t even bathed yet. She watched us until we went into the saloon. That wasn’t the look – it was more like a cat that has a mouse cornered. Well, I’m no mouse.”

“You’re getting too jumpy, Kid. She was a nice lady – well dressed and staying at a good hotel. So we’re on the trail again, all because you’re leaping to conclusions about the way a nice lady looked at us,” Heyes growled.

“No, Heyes!” the Kid shouted back. “You’re leapin’ to conclusions that she was a nice lady. We’re on the trail again because there was a bounty hunter that recognized us in the last town we were in and I just saved our skins. Don’t bother to thank me!”

“I WON’T!”

“FINE!”

“FINE!”

The two sat in silence, glaring at each other and finishing their coffee.

Heyes sighed and stood up, throwing the dregs of his coffee onto the fire. “So where do we go now?”

The Kid stood up and began to put out the fire. “I don’t know, Heyes. Why don’t you pull out that map of yours and choose someplace?”

Heyes walked over to his saddlebags and pulled out the map. He returned to the ashes of the fire and stood staring at the map. “Hmm, well here’s somewhere we haven’t been – Toadsuck.”

“Toadsuck?”

“Yeah, see right here on the map – Toadsuck, Texas. Bet we won’t find any lady bounty hunters there – what lady, bounty hunter or not, would come to a town called Toadsuck?”

“Now who’s leapin’ to conclusions?” the Kid asked, smiling slightly, as he set about packing up his gear.

Heyes laughed and began packing his gear. “Look, we’ve never been there so we can stop for a day or two, after you’ve checked it out, and wire Big Mac, see if he has anything for us.”

“Sounds like a plan, partner.”

They mounted their horses and rode off.

As soon as they had gone, a woman stepped from behind the bushes that had been concealing her. She put her gun back in its holster. “Toadsuck, hmm.” She smiled and left.


Toadsuck, Texas

As they rode into Toadsuck, Heyes and the Kid looked carefully around at the dusty street.

“Don’t recognize the sheriff there, do you?”

“No.”

Their shoulders relaxed slightly as they ambled along the main, and only, street in the town.

“Guess we don’t have much choice where we stay, the Boll Weevil Hotel it is.”

“Yeah, it don’t look too bad, but why would you name a hotel after a bug?”

“I think it’s because of the cotton fields we saw riding in, Kid.”

“Still seems strange, but then again these folks named the town Toadsuck. Look, the saloon’s called the Toadsuck, too. Do you suppose it was named first or the town?”

“I wouldn’t know, Kid. Can’t imagine why anyone would name anything that – town or saloon. Someone in this town has a peculiar sense of humor. What’s got your attention?”

The Kid had been staring hard at something a few doors down. “Nothin.’ I just thought I saw that lady bounty hunter headin’ around the corner there, but she couldn’t be here, could she?”

Heyes looked hard where the Kid indicated. “I don’t see anyone. There’s no reason she would be here, and I keep telling you she’s not a bounty hunter.”

“You keep tellin’ me and I keep not believin’ you,” the Kid muttered.

“Let’s get a room then go check out the Toadsuck Saloon – I don’t know about you but I’m powerfully thirsty.”

“Yeah. Then let’s get baths and get the dust off us, then get another drink, then a steak, then another four or five drinks.”

“Sounds good, but maybe I should wire Mac before the four or five drinks – hate to think what I’d say afterwards,” Heyes chuckled in response.

“Tomorrow; tonight let’s just relax, and maybe we’ll decide to stay for a few days.”

Heyes nodded his assent.

They pulled up to the hotel, dismounted, and entered.


Inside the Hotel

A considerably cleaned-up Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry walked down the hall towards their room. As they walked, they were laughing and counting money.

“These folks sure are good losers. Maybe we should hang around a few days, through Saturday night at least, see how much we can win.”

“I’ll wait to wire Mac, maybe we can win enough we won’t need to bother him,” Heyes agreed.

They laughed as they entered the dark room. Heyes shut the door and began to remove his gun belt as the Kid lit the lamp. A dark figure rose from the chair behind them, her silhouette indicating that she was armed.

“Hello, boys. Just reach gently with your left hands and remove those guns with two fingers, then throw them under the bed.”

Heyes and the Kid glanced at each other, grimaced, and did as instructed.

The woman speaking was pretty and holding a very business-like Derringer. As they got a good look at her, their eyes widened.

The Kid muttered, “Told you so.”

Heyes briefly closed his eyes before returning his attention to the gun pointed at him.

“Now, Mr. Heyes, Mr. Curry, why don’t you two sit down and we’re going to have ourselves a discussion.”

They sat on the edge of the bed.

“Look, ma’am, I know we must resemble those despicable…”

“Really, Mr. Heyes, don’t bother. You should have listened to your partner before. I am a bounty hunter, and I overheard you two talking, saying you were coming to Toadsuck. If you don’t want to be recognized, you should be more careful when you use your names.”

The Kid shot Heyes a look that could have stripped paint from the door. “But then, Mr. Curry, I didn’t recognize you two when I first saw you, but when you snuck out of the back of that saloon just after you entered it… Well, let’s just say that got my attention, and I followed you; so perhaps if you hadn’t overreacted…”

It was Heyes’ turn to glare at the Kid.

The two stood up simultaneously and started edging to different sides of the room.

“Back together, please, and SIT DOWN!” She emphasized her order with her gun.

The two sat side by side.

“Could you at least tell us your name?”

“Of course, it’s Mel, Melanie Duster.” While she spoke, she reached up and casually tore the shoulder of her blouse and pulled several strands of hair loose from her braid.

“What you do that for?” the Kid asked.

“Oh, it’s a little insurance. See, if you two try anything, I’ll scream and no one will believe you didn’t attack me first. By the way, not only do ladies come to Toadsuck, Mr. Heyes, I’m from Toadsuck. Perhaps I should mention that my brother is the mayor.”

“Heyes…”

Heyes grabbed his hat and flung it on the floor. “I know, Kid, I know.”

“Alright, Mr. Heyes, please tie Mr. Curry’s hands to that bed post over there. I’ll be checking them so make sure they’re good and secure.” Heyes gave her a look; she cocked her pistol; Heyes took the thongs she threw to him and tied the Kid to the bedpost.

“Very good, it’s nice to know you can listen to someone, Mr. Heyes. You probably should have listened to your partner. Now take these handcuffs and handcuff yourself to that bed post over there on the other bed.”

“It’s just Heyes,” he muttered as he did as she instructed.

“So, darlin’…” began the Kid.

“Miss Duster.”

“Okay, Miss Duster, ma’am, why exactly are we tied to these beds?”

“Well, there’s no one at the sheriff’s office this late, so we’re all just going to spend the rest of the night right here, until I can take you in to Benny in the morning and claim the reward.”

“Well, won’t that be cozy,” Heyes grumbled.

“Heyes…”

“What, Kid?”

“Just stop talkin’, would you, or I may have to shoot you myself.”


Later…

“So, Miss Duster, how did you decide to become a bounty hunter? You have to admit it’s a pretty unusual occupation for a lady such as yourself.” Heyes looked up at the woman sitting beyond reach of their feet in a chair placed between the two beds.

“Why did you become an outlaw, Mr. Heyes?” Mel countered, with a slight smile.

The Kid appeared to be slumped against his bound hands, dozing, his head moving as he breathed.

Heyes shrugged. “There’s as many reasons as there are days and no reasons at all.”

“What a wonderful non-answer,” she laughed. “By the way, Mr. Curry, I wouldn’t bother trying to loosen those if I were you; you’ll just tear up those wrists of yours, and I’d have to shoot you both if you did manage to get loose. You are wanted dead or alive, after all. Personally, I prefer the “alive” option, but it is up to you.”

The Kid looked up at her. “So do we.” He smiled, although it didn’t reach his eyes. “I’m curious, ma’am, what does your family think of your choice of profession? You did say you have a brother?”

“Oh he’d prefer it if I married the cotton farmer next to our land, or even a cattle rancher, but he’s gotten used to it,” she replied lightly. “What do your families think of you being thieves and gunslingers?”

“They don’t; they died long ago.”

Mel looked at them somberly and nodded.


Outside the Sheriff’s Office

Heyes and the Kid, heads down and with grim expressions, walked slowly across the street towards the sheriff’s office. Mel followed closely behind them.

“Remember, while it may be hidden, I have a Derringer pointed at you and at this distance even a Derringer can’t miss.”

The two looked at each other and kept walking slowly.

Suddenly, the sheriff appeared up the street running towards them.

“Miss Mel, Miss Mel! I’ve been looking all over for you!”

“Sheriff, I’m glad to see you. I have…”

“No time now, Miss Mel; you have to come with me to your brother’s office. It’s urgent!”

“But…”

“No time!” he interrupted again, tugging on her arm.

Heyes and the Kid stopped and looked on.

Mel planted her feet firmly and shook off the sheriff.

“Ben, really not right now, you need…”

“Now, Miss Mel, I’m telling you, you need to come with me. I’m not taking no for an answer. Your brother needs you. These men can wait for whatever it is.” The sheriff headed back towards the town hall, turning around to glare at the trio. “Miss Mel, you hurry up!”

Mel huffed in frustration.

“Go ahead, Miss Duster, no need to hurry on our account.” Heyes smiled at her.

The Kid also smiled at her. “Our business isn’t that important.”

She glared at them. “Okay, both of you are coming with me. Don’t try anything; as you can see the sheriff will be with us.”

They both grinned slightly and went in front of her, following the sheriff.


Mayor’s Office

The sheriff, Heyes, the Kid, and Mel entered the office. The mayor was standing holding his wife, who was weeping and being comforted by her husband.

“Mel! It’s about time you got here,” the mayor exclaimed as they all came in. He ignored the others, focusing solely on his sister.

She motioned Heyes and the Kid into a corner away from the door and turned to her brother. “Robert, what’s the problem? Hester, why are you crying?”

Hester turned from her husband and fell on her sister-in-law, crying hysterically. Mel stepped back under the impact and sighed impatiently, then patted Hester on the back while looking at her brother.

“Oh, Mel,” Hester cried. “It’s Jamie…” She broke down again, weeping.

“Robert, I repeat, what is the problem? What trouble has Jamie gotten into now?”

“Jamie’s been kidnapped.”

“Kidnapped!”

“Yes. They want ten thousand dollars to return him.”

“Oh my.”

“You need to find him and get him back before we have to pay. We have ten days to pay, but we need to respond the day after tomorrow.”

“Robert, how can I do this? Why can’t Ben do this?”

The sheriff looked down and shuffled his feet. “Now Miss Mel, you know what Jamie is like. He don’t like me so I doubt he’d cooperate with me, even if I did find him. Besides, I need to protect the town.”

Throughout this exchange, Heyes and the Kid had been standing in the corner ignored. They looked at each other and began to sidle to the door.

“Don’t go anywhere,” Mel exclaimed as she saw them approach the door.

Suddenly, everyone was looking at them.

“Who are you?” Robert asked.

“I’m Joshua Smith and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones. We had some business with Miss Duster, but we can see you’re all busy. We won’t take up your time at this sad occasion, so we’ll just be moving on,” Heyes responded.

“No,” Mel exclaimed. “No! Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones can help me find Jamie and bring him back.”

They looked at her, eyebrows raised and brows furrowed.

“Uh,” ventured Heyes.

“Well…” started the Kid.

“Really, this is family business. We’d just be intruding,” Heyes continued, and the two sidled closer to the door.

“No!” exclaimed Mel again. “Please, we could really use the help.”

Robert looked back and forth between the three of them. “Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, if you could help, I would be most grateful. Jamie is our only son. While he’s a handful, we couldn’t bear it if anything happened to him, but we’d need to sell the farm to pay the ransom; even the bank doesn’t have that kind of money.”

“Let me talk to them in private for a moment,” Mel replied.

She pulled them back into the corner. “Look, I’ve heard that you two keep your word. So if you give me your word that you’ll help me rescue my nephew, I’ll forget who you are.”

The two looked at each other.

“If you don’t, I’ll hand you over to the sheriff right now and you’ll be off to Wyoming, while I use the reward to ransom my nephew.”

“How do we know you’d keep your word?” Heyes asked. The Kid looked skeptical.

“Do you have a choice? The sheriff’s right there,” Mel countered.

The two paused.

“Can’t let the boy come to harm.” Heyes shrugged.

“No, no, that would be terrible,” the Kid agreed. “You have our word.” They both held out their hands and shook Mel’s.

She turned back to the rest of the room. “Alright, Robert; Joshua, Thaddeus, and I will see what we can do. Respond, but try to stall them.”

Heyes spoke up, “How did they contact you?”

“They left a note on Jamie’s pillow and told us to leave a note at an abandoned well outside of town.”

“They took him from his room!” exclaimed Hester, before she broke down in tears again.


The Toadsuck Café

Heyes sighed contentedly and pushed back from the table while holding his coffee cup out for a refill from the obliging waitress. Once she had left, he looked at his companion who was still steadily eating.

“You might want to slow up there, Kid; there’s other folks who might want to eat this month.”

“It’s good, and I never know when I’m goin’ to get a good meal, do I?” The Kid mumbled around a mouthful of biscuit and bacon.

Heyes laughed gently. “No, I guess not. Eat as much as you want.”

Mel entered the café, looked around, stalked up to their table, pulled out a chair, sat down, and exhaled loudly.

“Here you are,” she exclaimed. “I thought you had skipped town.”

“We gave you our word, ma’am,” the Kid said, glowering at her then turning back to his meal.

She watched him eat for a moment, looked up and caught Heyes’ amused look, and slammed her fist on the table. “How can you eat at a time like this?”

“It’s pretty easy with food this good.”

“Thaddeus here is real particular about starting the day with a good breakfast,” Heyes explained.

“You’re supposed to be helping me find my nephew. I can still turn you in, you know.”

Heyes looked at her coldly. “Don’t. I’m giving you one warning – it is never a good idea to threaten us. We gave you our word, and we are doing just that. The sheriff is asking around to find any strangers who may have left town in the last day or so.”

She looked up and met his cold glare, then looked at the Kid, who dismissed her and finished his breakfast. She flushed and sighed, “Sorry. I’m just worried about Jamie.”

Pushing his plate aside, the Kid finally looked up. “We’ll do our best to make sure Jamie is rescued. What can you tell us about him?”

“Jamie?” She paused a moment, then spoke, picking her words with care. “Jamie is a very smart, energetic boy. Too smart maybe. He gets into a lot of trouble – he has a kind of reputation around these parts – trouble just seems to find him. Really, you wouldn’t believe the things that boy thinks up and the trouble he gets into.”

The Kid glanced at Heyes and smirked. “Yeah, we used to know someone like that when we were boys.”

Heyes rolled his eyes but said nothing, nodding at Mel to continue.

“Despite all the trouble, he’s a good kid. He’s also very single-minded and once he decides to do something, he does it. If he doesn’t want to do something, he won’t, and there’s nothing you can do to make him. His parents, teachers, and the townsfolk certainly can’t. Really, I’m surprised these kidnappers were able to take him against his will.”

“So maybe these kidnappers convinced him he wanted to go with them,” Heyes speculated.

“I suppose,” Mel murmured, eyebrows raised.

Before she could say anything else, the sheriff burst into the mostly empty café and hustled over to their table.

“Miss Mel, Mr. Jones, Mr. Smith,” he started. “Miss Callie over to the dry goods said that Miss Novak the school marm said Mr. Humphrey the dentist – though I wouldn’t go to him less’n I was desperate if I was you, he’s also the undertaker – anyways, Mr. Humphrey told her that Henry the blacksmith spoke with Doc Johnson who said that there were two men he played poker with a few nights ago that he saw talking to Jamie back of the livery stable yesterday.” He paused to draw breath. “Anyway, Rev. Carson said that he saw these two down to the creek camping. But no one has seen them today and I went down there and there’s no one camped there, at least not now. So I was thinking you might want to look at their old campsite by the creek,” he ended triumphantly.


Many miles outside of Toadsuck

Two cowboys sat by a campfire in a hollow among some large boulders. There were numerous bushes and a few trees in the area and the sound of rushing water in the background. It was an isolated spot.

“Sam, I don’t know about this. That kid is crazy.”

“Well, Bill, we’re too far into it now to draw back. His folks will have found the note by now.”

“Where is he anyway?”

“Hands up, ya low-down thievin’ varmints!” a voice suddenly rang out.

Bill and Sam instinctively put their hands up while they looked around for the source of the orders.

“Hah, I got you good that time,” a dusty ten-year-old chortled as he leapt from behind some boulders.

Bill and Sam lowered their hands, looking sheepish.

“Yeah, Jamie, you got us good,” Sam agreed. “But you really shouldn’t go around startling desperate outlaws like us – might get yourself shot, you know.”

“Huh, you two ain’t anythin’ big. If you were such desperate outlaws, whyn’t I never heard of you?” Jamie responded belligerently. “You said you knew Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry and could take me to meet them. I wanna be in their gang. That’s probably just a bunch of hogwash. I bet you don’t really know them, after all.”

Bill looked up quickly, “We do too know Heyes and the Kid. Rode with them on a couple of jobs, it’s just…”

Sam interrupted, “It’s just that it takes some time to get word to them, but don’t worry, they’ll be here in a few days; you can count on that.” He reassured the boy while glaring at Bill.

“Well, if I find out you’ve lied to me, you’ll be sorry,” Jamie pouted. “My aunt’s a bounty hunter, you know,” he added conversationally.

Bill and Sam looked up, startled; then Sam gave an unconvincing laugh, “A lady bounty hunter? Not likely.”

“Let’s play hide-n-seek,” Jamie demanded, distracted. “I’ll hide and you two count to one hundred, then try and find me,” he instructed, running off.

Bill and Sam rolled their eyes but began to count loudly.


Creek bed outside of Toadsuck

Heyes knelt down while the Kid looked over his shoulder. After a moment, he looked up at the Kid and stood, turning to the sheriff.

“What you do, Sheriff, bring a herd of elephants through here?”

“What do you mean?” the sheriff asked.

“He means, Ben,” Mel huffed, “that you milled about so much, you muddled all the tracks. There’s no way to track someone from here, now. I can’t, so I’m sure that Mr. Smith can’t.”

“Hey, I was the champeen tracker of all southern Utah, you know,” Heyes protested.

The Kid rolled his eyes and snorted. “Yeah, he once tracked a mountain lion that was goin’ around leaving fresh two-week old tracks just to confuse folks.”

“Fresh two-week old tracks?” the sheriff repeated, scratching his head.

“Oh, never mind,” Mel sniffed. “Let’s go back to town and try something else.”


Duster Farm

Heyes, the Kid, and Mel examined the ground under Jamie’s window.

“Well, that could be Jamie’s footprint there, so they didn’t carry him. But can either of you find any other tracks?” Mel asked.

She looked up from the mark they had been examining. She then glared around the yard with increasing exasperation. “This is impossible! Those chickens have scratched up the yard so much you can’t find anything.”

She headed for the door.

“Let’s see if we have better luck in Jamie’s room.”


Inside the Duster Farmhouse

“Hester, Hester!”

Hester rushed out of a room and again threw herself into Mel’s unwilling arms.

“You have to save my boy! He’s just a baby.”

Mel pushed her off and held her at arm’s length. “That’s what we’re trying to do, Hester. We just want to look around Jamie’s room.”

“Oh, oh,” Hester wailed.

“Ma’am, if we could just take a brief look, we might find something useful to help us track these men.” Heyes took off his hat and nudged the Kid, who did the same.

Hester looked up at Heyes and the Kid tearfully. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re helping Mel. Mel’s wonderful, but she is just a woman, and I feel so much better knowing two such strong men are helping her. It’s not really women’s work, but I’m sure you two will save my boy.”

Heyes and the Kid’s lips twitched briefly as they glanced surreptitiously at Mel, who was glaring at her sister-in-law during this speech.

“Ma’am, your son’s room,” the Kid prodded.

She led them into the small bedroom, which was messy and cluttered with string, nails, seed pods, a small animal skeleton, snake skins, a bird’s nest, marbles, a sling shot, and various books and dime novels – all the detritus left behind by a bright, young boy.

Mel surveyed the mess. “Hester, is anything missing, besides Jamie? Is there any indication the kidnappers were in here?”

Hester looked around vaguely. “It’s so hard to tell; Jamie’s room always looks like a tornado hit it. He’s such a bright, curious boy. Oh, I’m just not sure.”

The Kid spoke up with a smile, “It’s alright, ma’am. This looks like a lot of boys’ rooms. My partner’s room used to look a lot like this when he was little.”

Heyes, ignoring the Kid’s comments, picked up one of the dime novels and showed it to him. “Hmm, Kid Curry and the Valley of Vengeance, huh? Interesting choice of reading material.”

Hester spoke up, “Oh, I know we shouldn’t let him read so many dime novels but he does love them so – especially the ones about Hannibal Heyes, Kid Curry, and the Devil’s Hole Gang.”

The boys smirked slightly. Mel rolled her eyes.

“In fact, before we found the note, we were afraid Jamie had run off to join the Devil’s Hole Gang.”

The smirks quickly vanished and slight frowns appeared.

“Hester, you’re sure he was kidnapped, that he didn’t just run off or this isn’t some game Jamie is playing?” Mel asked.

“Oh, do you think it could be?” Hester’s face lit up, then crumpled again and tears began to form. “No, I don’t see how it could be; the note isn’t in his handwriting, and he’d be back by now if he ran off, I just know he would. Something terrible’s happened to my Jamie!” She began crying again. The three looked on helplessly, until Mel gently patted her back and led her out of the room.


Doc Johnson’s Office

“Doc, we have some questions for you,” Mel announced as she strode briskly into the doctor’s office, Heyes and the Kid on her heels.

“Good afternoon, Miss Mel. Good to see you, though I’m terribly sorry about the troubles your brother is having. If it isn’t one thing it’s another with Jamie, isn’t it?”

“Jamie’s the reason we’re here,” Heyes said striding forward and holding out his hand. “I’m Joshua Smith; this is my partner Thaddeus Jones, and we’re helping Miss Mel here look for Jamie.”

The doctor shook hands with the two men. “Well, I don’t know how I can help, but happy to oblige. You don’t think he’s been injured, do you?”

Mel paled. The Kid glanced at her then spoke up, “No reason to think that. You told someone that you were playin’ poker with two strangers the other night who you later saw talkin’ with Jamie. Can you tell us anything about them?”

“You think they had something to do with this? Terrible.” He shook his head and dropped into a reverie.

“Doc, can you describe the men to us? Did they give names or anything?” Heyes prodded.

“What? Oh, yes. Let me think. Ben, no, Bob, no that’s not it, Bill? Yes, that’s it! Bill and Sam. Didn’t seem to be all that bright.”

Mel, Heyes, and the Kid looked at each other.

“But did they say anything that might be helpful?” Mel asked.

“Say anything? No, not that I can recall. It’s not as if they’d sit in a poker game and announce they were planning to kidnap the mayor’s son, after all. Later when I saw them with Jamie, I worried a little. But that was because, well you know what Jamie is like, and they had guns.”

The Kid spoke up, “Guns, were they hired guns, gunslingers?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. I would think a gunslinger would be a hard, cold, mean man. Neither of these boys was like that. They were real polite and quiet-like.”

The Kid grunted and glowered at the description of a gunslinger, but said nothing. Heyes looked at him, eyebrow raised, and mostly suppressed a smile; even Mel’s lips twitched at his reaction.

“Did you hear what they were talking to Jamie about?”

“No, I was down the street. But when I heard Jamie had gone missing, I remembered seeing them together. I wondered if he had followed them or something. I was so surprised to hear he’d been kidnapped. I wouldn’t have thought he’d let them.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

“You’re welcome. Anything else I can do to help, you just let me know.”

The three took their leave.


Campsite, Outside Toadsuck

Bill and Sam, now mud-spattered and disheveled, sat wearily by the campfire looking at the sleeping Jamie. Sam’s right eye was rapidly blackening and both bore numerous scratches. Although covered in a layer of dirt, Jamie asleep looked young, innocent, and vulnerable.

Sam shook his head, “Dang. Hard to believe that’s the same kid.”

“Sam, don’t leave me alone with him, please,” Bill begged.

“It’s just one kid, Bill. Take him on to the spot we agreed. I won’t be gone that long – just two nights.” Sam hesitated before finishing. “You’ll be fine.”

“I don’t think I can take one more game of outlaws and sheriffs, or worse – he was talking about playing cowboys and Indians tomorrow – I just know he’s gonna scalp me.”

“Yeah, if he yelled “stand and deliver” one more time today I was thinking of shooting him myself. But you know, looking at him now he looks like a nice kid. You wouldn’t know he was such a demon if all you did was see him sleeping.”

“We didn’t know it when we decided on this job. Maybe we should just send him back.”

“What, without the reward? You really want to go back to robbing stores and such?”

“Nah, maybe we ought to try something honest; maybe Heyes was right and we’re just not cut out to be outlaws. Hiram’s dry goods business is looking better and better.”

Both looked at the sleeping boy and sighed.


Outside the Toadsuck Saloon

Mel caught up to Heyes and the Kid just as they were about to enter the saloon. “Where do you two think you’re going?” she stormed.

Heyes and the Kid looked her up and down. Heyes’ eyes darkened and his lips narrowed but he responded quietly, “We are going to get a few drinks, see what we can find out about Bill and Sam, and relax. Then we are going to bed once we’ve relaxed. We didn’t get much sleep last night and don’t intend to repeat the experience.”

“You’re just trying to slip out of town. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you,” she fumed.

The Kid glared at her. “He told you; we keep our word. Now, I am goin’ into that saloon and gettin’ some drinks. If you don’t like it you can come too, but don’t blame us if the other men in there misunderstand your intentions. We ain’t rescuin’ you.” He turned and walked away.

Mel huffed and glared at his back, hands on her hips, her foot tapping a staccato beat on the wooden sidewalk. “Fine, but I’m going to wait in the livery stable. You are not getting away from me.”

Heyes strode into the saloon after the Kid. “Suit yourself, Sweetheart; we’ll know where to find you in the morning,” he shot over his shoulder.


Next Morning, Toadsuck Livery Stable

In the slender light of dawn, Heyes and the Kid spoke quietly as they tacked up their horses. They mounted and prepared to head out.

“Let’s go, Kid.”

Mel appeared in the doorway, gun in hand. “Planning on running out on me, boys?”

The two stopped and looked at each other.

Heyes spoke, “Awake, are you? We’re just going to check out this well where your brother is supposed to leave the response. We want to get the lay of the land. If we can find a good hiding spot, we’ll use it tomorrow and follow the person who comes back to Jamie. Now get out of the doorway before we run you over!”

Heyes started to walk his horse forward. The Kid looked at him for a moment then followed. They pushed past Mel and were almost out of the barn when she finally recovered. “Wait up! I’ll come with you.”

They stopped.


Road Outside Toadsuck

The three rode along – Heyes and Mel in the lead, the Kid behind keeping a watchful eye on the countryside.

“You still don’t trust us.” Heyes smiled quizzically at Mel. “What happened to you to make you so suspicious?”

“Why would I trust a pair of outlaws?”

“You told us yourself that we keep our word and we’ve given you our word. Besides, we don’t want to see a boy come to harm either.”

“My mother died when I was young,” Mel started abruptly. “My father was killed a few years ago in a bank robbery.” She looked at Heyes and back at the Kid. “You asked why I became a bounty hunter, that’s why. When my father died, we had to mortgage the farm, my fiancé left town – no money,” she explained. “Anyway, we needed money, so I helped track down the men that killed my father and the reward money helped with the mortgage. I don’t like thieves, and I know of no reason to trust the likes of you.”

“We’re not all alike, you know,” the Kid said gently.

“No,” Heyes continued. “In all the banks and trains we robbed we never even shot anyone – we’re kinda proud of that. Anyway, we don’t rob trains and banks anymore. We’re retired, you might say.”

“Tell that to the folks whose money you took,” Mel said, but she looked less angry. “The well is up ahead there.”

They looked where she pointed, then grimaced to each other as they reached the well and looked around.

“No cover,” the Kid said.

“No, they’d see us here.”

“Ground’s too hard to leave tracks, too.”

“Let me think a minute, Kid.” Heyes dismounted and thrust his reins into the Kid’s hands while he walked away, pushing his hat back as he walked.

Mel and the Kid watched while Heyes paced and paced. He stopped, looked at the well then back towards town, shook his head, and resumed pacing.

“It’s too bad your fiancé left, but you’re better off without someone who won’t stick around when times are hard,” the Kid commented to Mel as they watched Heyes pace.

“I don’t want your pity,” she snapped.

“I wasn’t offerin’ it.”

Heyes walked up to them. “Get down, folks; we need to haul as many buckets of water as we can.”

“Why?” Mel asked, looking confused. “One is enough for all three horses.”

Heyes ignored her and hauled a bucket of water up, which he then poured on the ground around the well. The Kid watched for a minute; then he hauled up the next bucket and poured that out as well. The Kid continued to haul buckets and splash them on the ground where Heyes indicated, while Mel watched, her eyes narrowed, and an exasperated expression on her face.

“What are you two doing?” she finally asked.

“Like the Kid said, the ground’s too hard to leave tracks and we can’t hide to follow them when they come for the answer. So we’re changing that.”

“What?”

The Kid stopped hauling buckets, took a deep breath, then continued the explanation as Heyes took the bucket and splashed more water in an ever widening semi-circle away from town. “We’re softenin’ up enough of the ground so we can come out later and follow the tracks.”

“Do you really think that will work?”

“You have any other suggestions?”

Mel glared at them then held out her hand for the bucket, filled it, and poured it on the ground.


Back in Town

“Let’s talk to the preacher,” Heyes suggested. “He saw the men at the creek side. Maybe he can tell us something useful.”

The three rode up to the church and halted.

Mel was rubbing her hands.

The Kid watched her. “Bring gloves when we go back this afternoon,” he suggested.

She frowned at him.

“We’re gonna have to pour more water out again, you know,” he smirked at her.

She rolled her eyes, dismounted, and went to knock on the door of the parsonage, next to the church.


Kidnappers’ Campsite, the Next Day

Bill groaned and wiped the sweat and dirt from his forehead. “Have a heart, kid,” he pleaded. “We ‘bin playin’ horsie for hours. My knees are all tore up and my back’s about stove in.”

Jamie looked at him, his eyes narrowing a little. Then he shrugged and smiled. “Okay then let’s play Cowboys and Injuns.”

Bill’s eyes opened wide and his lips pursed; he glanced back at the path towards Toadsuck. “Only if you promise no scalping,” he replied.

“I promise,” said Jamie, crossing his fingers behind his back and smiling.


Later at the Campsite…

“…ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.” Bill looked up from the tree where he was hiding his eyes while counting. He now sported a bandage wrapped around his head. “Okay, kid, I’m gonna find you, then I think we’ll try some roping, with you as the dang calf to be hog-tied,” he muttered to himself.

Bill looked around, his attention caught by a clump of bushes that was gently swaying. “Got ya,” he whispered and crawled into the bush.

Almost immediately he backed out rapidly, coughing and sputtering.

“Watcha doin’, Bill?” Jamie asked, walking up behind him. Bill spun wildly, his eyes and nose streaming, muttered incoherently, ran to the stream, and began splashing water on his face. Then he shoved his whole head into the stream, holding it there as long as he could.

He pulled his head out spluttering, and took the cloth Jamie held out to him. “You stink,” Jamie said conversationally. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to chase skunks?”

Bill glared at him, breathing heavily. “I was seeking you. We were playing hide and seek, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, guess I won again,” Jamie replied. He wandered over to look at the bushes Bill had exited so rapidly. “Uh, oh,” he said.

“Uh, oh!” Bill exclaimed. “What do you mean “Uh, oh?””

“Nothing, it’s just… You didn’t crawl that way, did you?” he asked, pointing through the bushes at an angle.

“Yeah, that’s how I went I think,” Bill answered, his eyes narrowing. “Why?”

“Well, I don’t think you’re really cut out for being out here on your own. That was a patch of poison ivy you just crawled through.”

“*!$@” Bill cursed.

Jamie smiled serenely.

“Come on, we gotta move on to where we’re gonna meet Heyes and the Kid. Sam’s gone to fetch them, remember?” Bill growled, as his hands clenched and unclenched.


Toadsuck

Heyes and the Kid were sitting on the hotel porch, their feet on the railing watching the street. Mel and her brother came striding up the street, climbed the steps, and walked over to the two men.

The Kid pushed his hat up and looked at them. “Mornin’,” he greeted them.

“Well?” Heyes asked.

“I left a note like he said. Didn’t see anyone, though,” Robert said.

“What did your note say?” Mel asked curiously.

“I stalled, just like you three suggested. I enclosed two hundred dollars and said that we couldn’t pay ten thousand, but that we could probably raise one thousand in the time they asked. And I said I was giving them the two hundred as earnest money.”

“Not bad,” Heyes approved.

“Not bad!?!” Robert exclaimed. “I just told those men I wouldn’t pay ten thousand dollars for my son’s return! Who knows if we’ll ever see him again.”

Mel patted her brother’s shoulder; “Robert, I know this is hard, but just leave it to us. We have a plan to follow him. Why don’t you go home to Hester; I’m sure she needs you now.”

“It better work!” Robert fumed at her then stomped off.

Mel watched him leave then turned to Heyes and Curry with her eyes narrowed. “This better work!” she exclaimed. “When are we going out to the well?”

Heyes lifted his feet from the rail and stood up. He looked at her. “Just before dusk this evening, we’ll go out. We can follow him until it gets dark, then make camp and continue in the morning.”

“Not until then?” Mel began to fume again.

“Mel, we don’t know when he’s comin’ to pick up the note,” the Kid explained. “If we go too soon and he sees us, you may never see Jamie again.”

Mel stared at them for a moment, biting her lip, and then lowered her eyes. “I suppose,” she agreed reluctantly. “But what will we do until then?”

“We,” Heyes announced, pointing first to the Kid then to himself, “are going to get something to eat. You’re welcome to join us; then we’re going to have a couple of drinks in the saloon. We’ll meet you at the livery stable at three.”

The two stood up and walked towards the café.

Mel stared after them, then sighed and walked the other way.

“That girl sure is excitable,” the Kid remarked to Heyes as they walked away.

“Sure is.” Heyes grinned at him.


Well, Outside Toadsuck

Once again, Heyes and Mel rode in front and the Kid followed, keeping a steady watch on the countryside around them.

When they reached the well, Mel dismounted and ran towards it. Heyes and the Kid followed more slowly.

“Where did your brother say he put the note?” Heyes asked.

“Right there in the bucket.” Mel pointed. “It’s not there!”

“Seems it’s been collected; let’s find the tracks.”

“It’s one person, and he went that way,” the Kid said, pointing, “about three hours ago.”

“I don’t think we’ll catch him tonight, but maybe in the morning.”

“So let’s go!”

They mounted up and headed out, this time the Kid in the lead as they followed the tracks.


Dusk by a Stream

Mel took a deep drink from the canteen then wiped her mouth and looked over at Heyes and the Kid. “What are you doing? Why are you untacking your horses?”

The Kid rolled his eyes and finished pulling the saddle off his horse. He looked around, put down the saddle, and began to lay out his bedroll.

“Stop that! We have to keep going!” Mel exclaimed.

Heyes looked up at the rapidly darkening sky, then pushed his hat back on his head, and turned to face Mel. He spoke slowly and clearly, like a man barely hanging on to his temper. “We are setting up camp for the night. It’s too dark to follow the tracks. We told you we would not find them today.”

“One more hour.”

“No.”

“Bah, outlaws!”

Heyes stalked over to the Kid. “Women! Bounty hunters at that!” he expostulated quietly.

The Kid smiled then turned to Mel. “Don’t you ever relax? We’ve seen no sign that these men want to harm Jamie, and all we’ve heard is that Jamie can take care of himself. We don’t want to catch this man until he gets back to the campsite, so we can find Jamie.”

Mel stared hard at him, turned, and began untacking her horse.


The Trail

Heyes watched the Kid and Mel stare at the ground as they held their horses with one hand and gesticulated with the other. The two were arguing.

“I told you, we’ve lost it.”

“No, see that’s part of a horse’s hoof print.”

“Yeah, but it’s old; it could be anyone’s.”

“It’s not old; it’s fresh – one hour fresh.”

They both stopped and glared at each other. Heyes smiled to himself then cleared his throat, “Ahem.”

The two turned to him.

“Look, these are the only tracks we see, so I suggest we follow them. They take the right fork. We’ll follow that for one hour and, if we don’t see anything then, we’ll turn back and try the left fork. Either way, we have a better chance of finding Jamie if we GET MOVING!” He finished loudly, then stopped and smiled sweetly at them.

Mel opened her mouth, caught his glare, and closed it again. She mounted her horse.

Heyes and the Kid did the same, and all three moved off down the right fork of the trail silently.


The Trail

“Kid, can you see anything?” Heyes called to the Kid who was in the lead and looking intently at the ground before him.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’re gettin’ closer, so we might want to slow down some. Don’t want to catch him before he gets back to their camp, Heyes,” the Kid called back.

They slowed their horses from the quick walk they were using to a slow walk.

Mel dropped back so she was riding next to Heyes. “If you don’t want folks to recognize you, why do you use your names so much?” she asked.

Heyes looked at her for a moment. “You’re right; we probably use them too often. Maybe it’s habit.” He paused before resuming thoughtfully, “I don’t know, maybe it’s something else. Having lost our families young and now having retired and started out new; maybe using our names is how we hold on to ourselves.” He stopped talking and rode forward to catch up with the Kid.

Mel looked after them then shook her head and followed.


Kidnappers’ Campsite

Bill looked up from the burnt remains smoldering in the fire.

“Well that’s just great, Jamie; that was the last of the bacon and beans. Now what are we going to eat?”

“You’re an outlaw, aren’t you? Why don’t you shoot something?”

“Don’t tempt me, kid, don’t tempt me,” Bill muttered then looked up at the sound of an approaching horse, pulling his gun out.

Jamie, too, looked up then yelled, “Hey, Sam, did you hear from them? Are they coming?”

Sam rode up and dismounted before answering Jamie.

“Of course they’re coming – I told you we’re friends like. It’ll take them a few more days though. Why don’t you go get more firewood?”

“Sure, Sam,” said Jamie, running off excitedly.

Sam and Bill watched him run off.

Sam then looked Bill up and down. “What in tarnation happened to you?” He sniffed, “And what’s that smell?”

“That kid will be the death of me, Sam, I swear. First, I have a run-in with a skunk because of him, then poison ivy, and don’t even mention the scalping.” Bill stopped and drew a deep breath, looking hopefully at Sam. “So how’d it go? Can we send him back early?”

“No, I don’t know. They left some money – two hundred dollars but said they can’t raise more than a thousand. What should we do?”

“Do? What should we do? We’ll take it. I can’t take any more of this kid. You get on that horse right now and ride back with a note saying that’s acceptable if they pay it within the next five days. No, change that; I’ll get on the horse; you ain’t leaving me alone with him again.”


Rocks Overlooking the Campsite

Heyes, the Kid, and Mel lay on their stomachs looking down at the campsite. Heyes was looking through field glasses.

“Well, can you see them?” Mel asked impatiently, “Is Jamie there? Have they hurt him?”

“Jamie’s there alright and he doesn’t appear to be injured at all,” Heyes reassured her, handing her the glasses. He looked at the Kid over her head and nodded back towards their horses.

The Kid followed him back. “What’s the problem, Heyes?”

“Could you see well enough to tell who the kidnappers are?”

“Not really, but there was somethin’ familiar about them...” He tapered off and sighed. “Bill and Sam… Heyward, right?”

“Right.”

“Sheesh, Heyes, I thought we told them to go straight.”

“We did.”

“Kidnappin’ will put them in jail for life, if they don’t get lynched. They don’t deserve that – they’re dumb, not dangerous. And if we bring ‘em in, they’ll tell everyone who we are.”

“I know, Kid, I know.”

“So what are we goin’ to do?”

“I’m thinking.”

“Think faster, Heyes.” The Kid went slowly back to Mel who was still watching through the glasses.

“Come on, Mel, let’s go down. Quietly, we don’t want to spook them.”


Back at the Campsite

“He ain’t that bad, Bill.” Sam rolled his eyes.

At that moment, a large dollop of mud landed splat on his back, followed by several sharp pings as little rocks and nuts pelted the back of his head.

“Hey!” Sam shouted, turning around.

“Look, I made a sling shot,” Jamie cried, racing up. “Now we’ll have fun.” And he raced off.

Bill looked beseechingly at Sam. “Please, Sam, I’m begging you. Let me go this time. When we’re done, I’m going to California – even working for Hiram is better than this.”

“Alright,” Sam sighed. “You can go. Just wait until after we eat, okay? You’re not serious about Hiram’s store, are you?”

“Oh yes, I am. Dry goods may be boring, but Hiram eats reg’lar – and I bet he don’t have to babysit demons.”

“Watch me hit that nest!” Jamie shouted.

They turned and saw him, about five yards away, launching a rock with the sling shot right at a bee’s nest a little ways behind them.

“NO!” they shouted in unison.

Too late; an angry buzzing filled the air as the nest fell and the sky darkened with bees. Bill and Sam ran for the stream, slapping at the bees as they went, and plunged in, submerging their bodies.


Still at the Campsite

Sam and Bill came out of the stream, water flowing off them. Bill’s eye was swelling from the bee stings, and Sam looked as if he, too, had had several encounters with the bees.

“That’s it,” Bill muttered, “I’m gonna kill him.”

He stormed over and grabbed Jamie, Sam right behind him. “I’m gonna kill you!” he shouted and began shaking Jamie.

A gunshot blasted in the air.

Heyes strode into the clearing. “Let him go,” he ordered in his best outlaw leader voice.

Bill and Sam whirled around to see Heyes, the Kid, and Mel come into the clearing, pointing guns at them.

Bill and Sam paled.

“We weren’t really gonna hurt him, Heyes, Kid, honest,” Sam stammered, putting his hands in the air.

“Even if he is the devil’s spawn,” Bill averred, letting go of Jamie, who appeared completely unharmed and was standing transfixed, staring at Heyes and the Kid.

Mel rushed over to Jamie. “Jamie! Are you all right? Did they hurt you? Your mother and father will be so relieved to see you.”

Jamie ignored her and turned to Heyes and the Kid. “Are you really Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?”

They nodded.

“Wow!” Jamie turned to Bill and Sam. “I’m sorry, I was beginning to think you had lied to me. You really do know them.”

“We told you we did.”

“Just put your guns down over there, boys,” the Kid interrupted.

“What?”

“Oh, oh sure, Kid. Honest, we didn’t mean any harm.”

Bill and Sam hastened to comply with the Kid’s orders.

“Why are you holding guns on my friends?” Jamie demanded.

“Friends!” Mel exclaimed. “Jamie, they kidnapped you!”

“No, they didn’t; I came with them so I could meet these two.” Jamie danced around Heyes and the Kid. “Can I be in the gang, can I, can I? I’d be real good at it. I can get into and out of anything,” he boasted.

“No,” Heyes stated flatly.

“Well, gee, why not? And how come you’re with Mel – don’t you know she’s a bounty hunter?”

Heyes and the Kid looked at each other.

“Yeah, Jamie, we know she’s a bounty hunter,” the Kid stated.

Bill and Sam paled at the news and began to edge out of the group.

“You’re not going anywhere, you two.” Heyes called them back, using his gun to indicate where they should stand.

They quickly complied. “Sure, Heyes, anything you say. You know we’d never do anything to anger you two.”

Jamie ignored them. “Why can’t I be in the gang?”

“Lots of reasons,” the Kid stated. “For one, you’re too young. The Devil’s Hole Gang don’t accept ten-year-olds. For another, you wouldn’t like it – you shouldn’t believe what you read in dime novels. Why they have me killin’ eight men with one round – it ain’t possible.”

“You just don’t want me,” Jamie pouted. “I can always find another gang that does.”

Heyes frowned and spoke up. “Jamie, everyone keeps telling us that you want to be like us; is that true?”

“Well, sure!”

“Then you don’t want to join the Devil’s Hole Gang or any other gang.”

“Why not?”

“’Cos we wised up and don’t ride with the gang anymore, or with any gang. We realized that the outlaw life was a sucker’s life – too short, too brutal, and not worth it. So if you really are as smart as everyone says and you want to be like us – you’ll stay straight.”

“Really??” Jamie asked, his mouth turning down. “What about the excitement?”

“Really, we quit,” the Kid confirmed.

“There’re times when it can be exciting I admit, but it’s not much fun being chased by posses and getting shot at all the time. And Devil’s Hole is a really boring place to spend your time,” Heyes assured him.

Jamie listened to him then searched first his and then the Kid’s faces. “I guess you’re telling me the truth,” he said, shoulders slumping.

“We are, Jamie,” the Kid assured him. “It’s not a life you want if you have other choices.”

“Anyway,” Heyes continued, “the golden days of outlawing are over. Communications are too good. A few years ago, we saw the telephones they have in Denver – why you can talk to people in other buildings, even in other cities, just like you were standing next to them! Imagine that, and imagine how easy it will be for the sheriff in one town to contact the sheriff in another town quickly. No, it’s too easy to get caught these days.”

“Well, gee. Okay, I guess. At least I got to meet you two.”

Heyes and the Kid nodded; Mel looked thoughtful.

Heyes turned to the Kid, “Kid, maybe you and Jamie could go rustle something up for all of us to eat, while we figure out what to do now.”

“What about it, Jamie?” the Kid asked. “Want to go huntin’ with me?”

“You bet!” Jamie shouted.


The Campsite

Mel, Heyes, Bill, and Sam watched the Kid and Jamie head off then Bill and Sam turned to Heyes.

“Heyes,” began Sam.

“Save it, Sam,” Heyes replied shortly. “The Kid and I told you you weren’t cut out for outlawing and look at the mess you made here.”

Bill and Sam looked down and dug patterns in the sandy ground with the toes of their boots.

“Well, but we’re just not very good at anything else, Heyes.” Bill looked sideways at Heyes as he spoke. “But I swear after this I am going straight forever. I told Sam I was going to go out to California and see if Hiram will let me work in his dry-goods business.”

“Hiram?”

“Our brother.”

Mel’s frown deepened as she listened to this. “Just a minute. You kidnapped my nephew – you two aren’t going to California; you’re going to jail!”

Bill looked beseechingly at Heyes. Sam frowned slightly then smiled. “I don’t think we are, lady. How are you going to explain riding with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry? Or are you planning to turn them in when we get to town and claim the reward on them, too?” He carefully didn’t look at Heyes as he spoke.

Heyes’ eyes darkened and narrowed. “Are you seriously threatening me, Sam Heyward? You know you will regret that.”

Sam looked at him, paled slightly, and held up his hands palms out. “I’m not threatening you, Heyes, honest. I would never do that, but it would come out, you know it would. Bill here never can keep his mouth shut.”

Bill’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth then shut it as Sam stomped on his foot.

Mel looked at Heyes. “No, just no.” She walked away.


Campsite

Jamie wiped his mouth with his sleeve and sighed. Mel picked up the last corncake and broke it in half, offering the other half to the Kid before consuming her piece.

Heyes stood up, brushing off his pants as he did. “Jamie, can you take Mel down to the stream and help her with the dishes?”

“Sure, Heyes.”

“Dishes!? Just because I am the only woman here does not mean I do the dishes,” Mel exclaimed angrily.

“It’s not because you’re a woman, Mel,” Heyes explained wearily. “If you remember, the Kid and I washed the plates last night, and cooked breakfast and dinner today, for that matter. We’re both better cooks than you. But so far, we have done all the work and I suggest you pull your share!”

Mel opened her mouth, closed it, and looked down. “You’re right, sorry. Come on, Jamie.”

The four men watched them leave.

“Okay, boys, get out of here,” Heyes stated quietly.

“What?” Bill exclaimed.

“Go on; get going to Hiram’s. We’ll take care of Mel.”

They stood up. “Gee, thanks, Heyes, you won’t regret it.”

“I already do.”

“Wait a minute,” the Kid said. “Let’s see the money Jamie’s folks gave you.”

Sam reached into his pocket and pulled out the two hundred dollars. The Kid took it, leaned over, gave them fifty dollars back, and pocketed the rest.

“What was that about?” Sam demanded angrily.

“The price of bein’ delivered from sin. Use that money to get to Hiram’s. It won’t come so cheaply next time we have to save your sorry necks,” the Kid responded coldly.

Sam and Bill looked at each other, then at Heyes and the Kid glaring at them, and gulped. They gathered their horses. “Say, if you’re ever in California look us up at Hiram’s. Hope we see you again, Heyes, Kid.” They quickly mounted and loped away.

“Not if we see you first,” the Kid muttered.

Heyes and the Kid watched them ride off then turned as Mel and Jamie came up from the stream.

“Hey, they’re getting away!” shouted Mel.

Heyes smiled at Mel. “Look, Sam was right; if you took them to town everyone would find out that you lied to them about who we are and knowingly rode with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. Your reputation would be destroyed. No one would trust you as a bounty hunter. From the looks of them, those two paid a heavy price entertaining Jamie here, and he’s unharmed. Just call it a wash.”

The Kid turned to Jamie. “Jamie, did they force you to come with them or to stay?”

“Course not! I told you, I snuck out at night and joined them because they said they were friends of yours and could introduce me to you.”

The Kid turned to Mel. “See, they didn’t really kidnap him, and unlike the two of them he’s not hurt, so no harm done.”

The Kid turned to Jamie. “But Jamie, you can’t be so trustin’ of folks. You may have gone willingly with Bill and Sam, but they wanted ten thousand dollars from your pa for your return.”

Jamie looked outraged then dropped his eyes to the ground. “Well, gee. I’m sorry, Mel. Ma and Pa must be awful worried. We should go home.”

Mel glared at them. “And what am I supposed to do about you two?”

“Oh, we’re parting ways right now,” Heyes said, smiling sweetly. “You can take all the credit yourself for finding Jamie – or you can tell them we’re tracking the kidnappers.”

Mel opened and closed her mouth several times, but no sound came out. Finally she sighed and looked at Jamie. “Come on Jamie, let’s take you home.” She turned to Heyes and the Kid. “Just don’t expect me to be so forgiving if I see you again.”


Rocks Above the Campsite

Jamie was mounted behind Mel on her horse. The Kid and Heyes were also mounted.

“Bye Mr. Heyes, Mr. Curry,” Jamie called. “I can’t wait to tell all my friends that I met you.”

“You can’t do that, Jamie,” the Kid responded.

“What do you mean?”

Heyes smiled at him. “Most folks won’t believe you, Jamie, but you could get Mel and us in a lot of trouble if they did. We stopped outlawing, but we’re still wanted dead or alive. If you tell people that you met us, and they believed you, Mel would be in trouble for not telling the sheriff, and the sheriff’d probably send a posse out after us to try to catch us, or kill us.”

“Oh,” Jamie said. He thought for a moment then smiled. “Okay, I won’t say anything. It’ll be our little secret.”

Jamie and Mel urged their horse towards Toadsuck. Heyes and the Kid watched them go.

Heyes turned to the Kid. “Hey, Kid, I think you forgot something.”

“What?”

“You forgot to give Mel Robert’s money.”

“Hmph.” The Kid grinned. “Too late now; guess we’ll just have to keep it.” Heyes grinned back and the two loped off in the opposite direction from Toadsuck.



Author’s note: According to the Texas State Historical Association, in 1869, a town was surveyed (and incorporated) next to the existing Toadsuck Saloon, from whence the town got its name. In 1880, the Texas and Pacific railroad built a line about a mile outside of Toadsuck, and by 1887, most of the population and businesses had moved over by the rail line. That new town was named Collinsville and incorporated in the 1890s. The current town of Collinsville, Texas, encompasses the land where the town of Toadsuck and the Toadsuck Saloon used to stand.

Frederick O. Vaille was the founder of the Denver Dispatch Company, which began telephone service in Denver in 1879 with 161 customers. It was the 17th telephone exchange to open in the United States and was one of the largest.



(Writers love feedback! You can let Nora Winters know how you enjoyed the story with a quick comment. Just Post Reply to the Comments for The Toadsuck Ransom thread below the story. )

_________________
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the two most successful outlaws in the history of the west. And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone.
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