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 Golden Opportunity by Allegra

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Join date : 2013-10-13

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PostGolden Opportunity by Allegra




William Smith as Matt Granger


Denny Miller as Deke


Ken Curtis as Sheriff Dainer


Milburn Stone as Mayor Beasley


Brett Cullen as Will Mason


Melissa Leo as Annie Mason


Michael Anderson Jr as Zack Mason


Keith & Kevin Schultz and Tammy Locke
as Ed, Mike and Laura Mason


Buck Taylor as Deputy Rivers


Dennis Weaver as Deputy Parker


Guy Madison as Sheriff Redding



It was a hot and dusty day of the sort which would easily make someone feel grimy in places they’d rather not think about. On the horizon and coming steadily closer down the road were two weary-looking riders, their hats down low over their eyes to keep out the sun. As they drew nearer, it was possible to hear them talk, or rather bicker at one another, although it was impossible to hear what was being said.

On a small outcrop to one side of the road, a man watched them ride by. Having checked that the town was indeed the direction they were headed in, he hurriedly left his hiding place and scrambled down the bank on the other side where his horse was grazing. Quickly, he mounted and galloped out of the undergrowth and past the two startled riders as he galloped towards town.

Curry stopped his horse as he watched this spectacle.

“What’s that all about?” he asked, looking puzzled.

“Someone’s in a hurry,” replied Heyes.

“Think we were recognized?”

“Nah, he can’t have gotten that good a look at us an’ I don’t think he could’ve heard us talking. Relax, Kid. You sure let yourself get spooked easy.”

“So it’s normal for someone to just go chargin’ off from the side of the road when strangers pass by, is it?” said the Kid, sarcastic now.

“Have a little faith,” soothed Heyes. “Look, we’re real close to the next town. Whoever just rode off will have come from there and he’ll have been busy with something…”

“Spyin’,” muttered Curry under his breath.

“…Something,” repeated Heyes, with emphasis, “that ain’t got nothing to do with us. Look, we’ve got a few dollars still. We’ll get ourselves a drink, a room, a bath and a steak dinner in whatever order you want. You’ll feel a lot better then and you’ll see you were worrying for nothing again. In fact, we could look around later and see if we can find any work. How’s that sound?” Heyes had a hopeful look on his face.

The Kid gave his partner a glare, but then he sighed and looked resigned. “Whatever you say, Heyes. Whatever you say.”

Coming into town, Kid noticed that they were drawing distinctly unfriendly looks from the townspeople. A woman hurried by scowling at them and an old-timer, who had been sitting in front of his house, got up and went inside, slamming the door behind him.

“Real friendly town you picked here,” Kid mumbled to his partner, and Heyes turned to him in the saddle with an ‘it’s not my fault’ look on his face. Together they observed that the street seemed to be emptying out as they approached the town center.

“Jus’ what’s goin’ on here?” muttered Kid.

“Beats me. You think we smell that bad?”

“That ain’t funny, Joshua!”

“You’re right. I don’t smell that bad. It must be you.”

“Ya don’t know when to stop sometimes, do you?” Now the Kid was scowling to match the looks they were getting. “C’mon. I’m beginning to feel real exposed out here. Let’s find the hotel and get ourselves a room.”

* * * * * *

“We’re full,” said the hotel clerk to Heyes as he slammed the register on the desk shut. Heyes flinched at the action as he looked at the grim man. “There’s nowhere to stay here,” the clerk continued. “You’d best be moving on.” Heyes was left standing as the clerk then picked up the book and went into the back room. The partners shared a look of puzzled exasperation.

“I think I need a drink,” said the Kid, turning away from the desk.

* * * * * *

The partners walked through the saloon doors.

“We’re closed!” barked a voice from across the other side of the bar. “There’s nothin’ for ya here. You be on your way now!”

Heyes looked at the Kid again. “Maybe I DO smell that bad.”

“Funny!” said Kid. “C’mon. Like the man said there’s nothin’ for us here. Let’s get us some supplies and get out.”

They turned and, leaving the saloon, headed to the mercantile. A man came out and stood stony-faced behind the counter as they entered.

“Uh, howdy,” said Heyes, flashing a smile.

“You’re not closed, too, are you?” interrupted Curry suspiciously.

“Depends,” answered the man.

“On what?”

“On whether I’m helpin’ ya leave town or not.”

Heyes intervened. “Oh, we’re definitely leaving town and we’d be real obliged if you’d help us with some supplies.”

The shopkeeper looked at Heyes as if he wasn’t for real. “What ya want then?” he mumbled and Curry rolled his eyes with impatience.

* * * * * *

A few minutes later, Heyes and Curry were more or less pushed out of the mercantile door. They re-mounted their horses and set off again down the main street. From within his office, the sheriff, his two deputies and two civilians, including the man who had seen the partners on the road, watched their departure.

“Look which way they’re headin’,” said the man who’d first seen them.

“I don’t like this,” said the other.

“Sheriff, think we’d better follow ’em. Then, if they do head towards the Masons’, we can get ‘em.” This from one of the deputies.

Having watched the two strangers disappear out of sight, the sheriff nodded to the men with him.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Kid was taking his frustration out on Heyes.

“We’ll get a drink, a room, a bath and a steak dinner,” he mimicked sarcastically and it was Heyes’ turn to scowl.

“And just how was I supposed to know that that particular town would be about as friendly as a sheriff with a toothache?” he demanded. The scowl then changed to a frown as he went on, “Why were they so keen on getting rid of us, anyway? That’s what I’d like to know.”

“Right now I don’t care.” Curry was unrelenting. “You owe me, Heyes.”

His partner, however, had stopped listening. He was looking over to the left of the road. “Hey, Kid. You see that?”

Curry lifted his hat, wiping sweat from his brow, and squinted in the direction Heyes was pointing. “Looks like some kind of homestead,” he said.

“Kid, maybe we’ll get lucky yet. Why don’t we go ask if they need to hire anyone on? And if they don’t, well…maybe they’d let us sleep in the barn. That’s gotta be better than sleeping out under the stars for another night. We got nothing to lose by asking.” He looked at the Kid, who seemed to be weighing the options in his mind.

Finally he shrugged. “You still owe me,” he said, but they both turned down the small trail which would take them up to the ranch.

* * * * * *

“Look, Sheriff. We were right. They’re heading right for the Masons’ place. We got no time to lose,” said one of the deputies.

The man who’d watched them come into town nodded vigorously. “Need to stop ‘em, Sheriff.”

“Alright, boys. Go get ‘em,” said the Sheriff. “But no shooting,” he emphasized. “We need to find out what their business is. Just bring ‘em in.”

The rest of the men didn’t need any more encouragement. They sped off after Heyes and Curry who, once more, stopped their horses and looked in puzzlement as the group of riders came up to them, and they found themselves surrounded by a sheriff, two deputies and two other men.

“That’s far enough, boys,” said one of the men wearing a star. “Gonna hafta take you back to town. Take their guns,” he ordered.

“What’s goin’ on here?” said Curry with a hint of anger and another lawman drew his gun nervously, as the first one relieved both men of their weapons. “We ain’t done nothin’.”

“Just need you to come with us,” replied a third man who was wearing a sheriff’s badge. He had his hand on his gun. “You’re not gonna give us any trouble, or am I gonna have to cuff ya?”

Heyes and Curry shook their heads, shared a look of baffled exasperation, and turned their horses around. Together the party headed back to town.

At the ranch, the interchange between the boys and the townsfolk was being watched through a window.

“Damn!” The man put down his binoculars. “The sheriff’s got ‘em. That means they’ve gotta be the boys we were waiting for. What’re we gonna do now?”

A woman put her hand reassuringly on his arm. “We can’t know that, but if they are, Sheriff’ll let them go. He’ll have to. Then we can meet them and bring them up here.”

“Sure, Annie,” said the man. “We’ll wait and see, but if they don’t let ‘em go, well, I’ll go into town and see if I can find out who they are.”

Annie turned away and her voice went cold. “You can’t go into town, now, and you know it, Will,” she said.

* * * * * *

SHORTLY AFTER AND BACK IN TOWN


Heyes and Curry found themselves, once more, in a jail cell.

“I like this town more and more,” said Curry sarcastically as the deputy left them and went to sit at his desk. “What’d we do wrong?” He got a look from his partner. “Okay, this time,” he amended. “They’re not even talkin’ to us!”

Heyes shrugged, although there was an impatience in his air as he began pacing. “Guess we’ll have to wait and see.” He stopped and looked out through the bars, tested the door as if he couldn’t believe he was locked up again and then resumed pacing. Curry threw himself onto a bunk and put his hat over his eyes.

* * * * * *

THE FOLLOWING MORNING

The door of the sheriff’s office opened and a large, important looking man in a suit walked in. Heyes and Curry looked up from poking at their unappetizing breakfast as he and Sheriff Dainer then came over to them. The man looked up and down the cells with an air of distinct disapproval.

“Good morning, gentlemen. Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Reginald Beasley and I’m the mayor of this town. I must apologize for this,” he added, indicating the cells. “I wasn’t aware of your being here until this morning.” He turned to the sheriff who was watching the floor and shuffling his feet.

“I think we can let them out now, Hank. After all, it’s only a little matter which we want to talk to them about.” Hank looked up and, with a slightly put out air, went and fetched the keys. He opened the door and signaled for Heyes and Curry to come out and sit down in front of his desk.

“I take it then, we’re not yet free to go?” Heyes couldn’t help quipping as he exited the cells behind Curry.

“No,” answered the sheriff.

“Hank!” said Mr. Beasley, a warning in his voice, and the sheriff stiffened before saying, “That is, we just um…need a few minutes of your time.”

As they sat, two pairs of eyes scanned the notice board and, inevitably, they found the wanted posters for Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry clearly visible. Hurriedly, both men looked away and over to Mr. Beasley, who had now seated himself behind the desk, forcing the sheriff to stand uncomfortably behind him.

The man smiled. “Once again, please accept my apologies for keeping you here against your will,” he said.

“What was so important that you needed to lock us up overnight?” demanded Curry quietly.

Mr. Beasley leaned back in his chair. “I’m interested to know why you were going to see the Masons,” he said.

“The who?” queried Curry.

“You were heading out to their ranch when we stopped you,” put in the sheriff. “What’s your business with them?”

Heyes looked surprised for a moment. “Nothing at all. We found out that the hotel was full and the saloon wasn’t serving drinks. The town made it clear it didn’t want us around, so we headed out. Then I saw that ranch and we decided to go see if they were maybe hiring, or if they knew anyone who was. We don’t know the owners, these er…Masons, and have never met them.” He indicated the Sheriff. “Your sheriff here saw to that.”

Mr. Beasley looked relieved. “Then, once more, I offer you my sincerest apologies. This has all been a misunderstanding. However, if you would allow me to explain, then I think you will see why we are being so careful of strangers who come into town. Particularly when they’re wearing guns.” He paused and looked pointedly at the boys’ waists, as if he could still see the pistols tied, low and dangerous, “…And look like they know how to use them.”

At this, both Heyes and Curry’s right hands migrated slightly towards where their weapons usually rested. Then in unison, they checked their movements and crossed their legs as if to cover that action.

“You see, that ranch, which you were so innocently intending to visit, belongs to a family who are causing us townsfolk an awful lot of trouble. The Masons haven’t been living here long, but we soon noticed the way they threw their weight about in town. At first it was little things, threats and so on but, recently, it’s been getting out of hand and it’s made us all mighty uneasy. To cap it all, now we’ve heard they’re planning to try and make a move on the town, maybe try to take over or something. And we know they’re trying to hire guns from outside to help them. So you see, when you arrived here last night, we were merely trying to protect ourselves. We just can’t afford to trust strangers. And, when the sheriff saw you heading over to the very ranch which is causing all the trouble, we felt we had no choice but to stop you until we knew what your business was. We need to be safe. This here is a peaceful town and we want to keep it that way.”

“Maybe if you’d asked before lockin’ us up,” Kid responded, dryly, “my partner and I could’a avoided spendin’ the night in a cell. I’d like my gun back.” His tone remained cordial, but his eyes carried a warning, “Please.”

“There is something else,” said Mr. Beasley. He turned and looked at the sheriff and indicated for him to go on with a sharp nod of the head.

Sheriff Dainer cleared his throat. “Uh..uhem…”

“First our guns,” said Curry firmly.

“Get their guns, Hank,” said Mr. Beasley. “After all, they may well be needing them.” He raised his eyebrows at the sheriff.

At his words, a look of concern passed between Heyes and Curry. The Kid’s right hand reached out, once more, towards where his gun usually lay.

“Fine,” snapped the sheriff. He leaned over Mr. Beasley, pulled open a drawer in his desk and removed two guns and their holsters from within. These he plunked onto the desk before straightening up. “Right, boys,” he started. “Well, you heard why we’re so careful with strangers. But, well, you’d be knowin’ how to handle yourselves in a situation, wouldn’t ya?”

“Maybe,” replied Heyes, noncommittally reaching for his weapon.

“Depends on the situation,” said Curry as he checked his own gun and began to strap it to his hip again.

“What Sheriff Dainer is making a complete mess of asking you is, if you’re not working for the Masons, then would you consider working for us to keep this town safe?” Mr. Beasley asked, with a short glare over his shoulder at the sheriff. “We don’t want anyone hurt, but we really need to find a way to get these people to leave. Wading Creek will have no peace until they do. We could use the help and you’d be well paid. What do you say?”

Heyes and the Kid both let out breaths at the same time.

“That’s a very kind offer, Mr. Beasley, Sheriff,” said Heyes.

“But we don’t hire out our guns…ever,” said Curry.

“If it’s all the same to you,” added Heyes, “we’d like to be on our way. We won’t stop at the ranch. We really don’t want any trouble.”

Mr. Beasley looked disappointed, but the sheriff smiled. “We reckoned on that,” he said. “You’re free to go, but we’ll be escortin’ you out personally just to be safe. We can leave now. Your horses are outside waitin’.”

Heyes and the Kid now exchanged surprised looks and the Kid shrugged, as they both turned around and started towards the door.

Outside they found, not only their horses, saddled and ready, but two other men also mounted and waiting for them. They were the same two from the day before.

The sheriff came up behind them and spoke over their heads to the men. “It’s been a misunderstandin’. They don’t know the Masons and they want to move on. You can take them out of town.” He came around and looked at both boys cynically. “See them on their way.”

“Sure thing, Sheriff. C’mon boys. Let’s go,” said one of the men.

Heyes and the Kid mounted their horses and, accompanied by the other men, rode out the same way that they had tried to leave the previous day.

* * * * * *

A SHORT WHILE LATER

The four riders were just riding past the turnoff which went up to the Mason’s farm when a shot rang out in front of the horses which brought the party to a sudden halt.

“That’s far enough, all of ya!” shouted a voice from the side of the road. “Put your hands up.”

The two escorts looked very angry at this turn of events. Heyes and Curry looked at each other with ‘now what?’ expressions. The voice spoke again.

“Now, very slowly, using your left hands, take your guns out by two fingers and throw ‘em to the ground. Don’t try anything. We’ve got ya covered.”

Each rider complied and then returned his hands to the air.

“That’s good. Now, you two, Matt and Deke, I believe. Think you’d better ride on back home if ya know what’s good for ya. Go on! Git!”

Matt and Deke looked over to where the voice was coming from. “Mason! You’re really in trouble now!” called Matt.

Deke looked at the pair they were supposed to be escorting. “An’ we’ll be seein’ you!” he snarled before they rode off at full speed towards the town.

Heyes and Curry watched them go and then Heyes turned his attention back to the bushes. “What’s this all about?”

The question was ignored. “Both of ya put your hands behind your backs. Now!” came the command when they hesitated.

A young man came out with some rope and proceeded to tie the two ex-outlaws up. When he had finished, he picked up the dropped guns. Then he too looked to the bush from which he’d emerged. “’S’okay,” he said.

An older man stepped out holding the reins of two horses in one hand and a rifle in the other. He gave the younger man back his horse, before taking Curry’s reins. The younger man mounted and he took Heyes’.

“Sorry ‘bout this, fellas, but we need to talk,” said the older man. “C’mon.”

“Everybody just wants to talk,” muttered Curry. “Real friendly!”

“We hafta be real careful right now,” the younger man explained, with an apologetic tone.

“Where have I heard that before,” replied Curry.

The younger man looked slightly confused before moving the horses in the direction of the ranch.

* * * * * *

“Mr. Mason, I take it?” said Heyes, as they rode up to the ranch.

“Aye, I’m Will Mason and this is my son, Zack,” replied the older man. They stopped in front of the main house and a woman, two teenage boys and a very little girl came out. They all watched, eyes wide with worry, as Will and Zack help Heyes and the Kid down from their horses.

“My family,” said Mason. “My wife, Annie, twin boys, Ed and Mike, and my youngest, Laura. We mean you no harm, boys, but we gotta talk. If you’d just go inside.” He indicated the main house with his rifle.

They all filed into the house and Heyes and the Kid were directed to sit at the kitchen table. They watched as the rest of the family came in and stood around.

“Untie them, Will. What must they think of us?” said Annie. She looked upset.

“In a moment, Annie,” said Will. “I just need to be clear on something.”

He faced the boys and looked sternly into their eyes. “We saw you boys headin’ for our ranch yesterday and watched as the sheriff and his boys took you away. Then this mornin’ we find you ridin’ along with a couple of the townsfolk, free as ya like. I need to know what your intentions are.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” answered Heyes. “We were leaving town this morning when you stopped us.”

“Well let me explain. There’s folks in the town who’ve got it in for us an’ yesterday you looked like you were on your way to help us with that. However, today we find you ridin’ along with a couple of the very fellas who’re makin’ our lives so miserable, and I figure you could be headin’ this way with maybe a different purpose in mind. Like I said, I need to know your intentions.”

“We’re tryin’ to leave town,” answered Curry in irritation.

“Sir,” said Heyes, “the sheriff stopped us and we were taken back to town where a Mr. Beasley told us that you’ve been causing trouble. He then told us you were now looking for gunmen to try and take over the town...” Heyes stopped talking as the Masons all reacted to his words.

Annie Mason gasped and sat down; the younger children all moved towards her. She held out her arms and pulled them close. Zack said, “Son of a gun,” and slammed his fist onto the table before turning away in anger, while Will Mason took a deep breath and pursed his lips together. “Lies!” was all he said.

“They thought we were hired guns, which is why they stopped us. Then the sheriff asked us to work for him.” Heyes paused. “We said no. They want you out of here, though,” Heyes continued. “Of that you can be sure. Say the town won’t have any peace until you’re gone.”

“Oh, Will!” cried Annie.

Curry looked to her as she held her children close. “Pardon my sayin’ so,” he said to the family, “but you don’t seem like the sort of people who’d be threatenin’ a town.”

“Us threaten a town,” scoffed Zack. “The town’s got it in for us!”

“If only we knew why,” said Annie. She stood up and turned to Heyes and Curry. “But things are about to change.” She looked at them with confidence, “especially now you’ve come to help. Now Zack, you go untie them at last.” She pointed to their hands.

Zack scuttled over and hurriedly released the bonds muttering, “Sorry, but we had to be sure.” The partners brought their hands forward and rubbed their wrists to get the circulation going again. Both breathed a sigh of relief.

“Would you like some coffee?” asked Annie brightly.

“Ma’am,” said Curry, “we’re real sorry for the way the town seems to be treatin’ you but, like my partner said, we were leavin’ town before, and we’d really like to be on our way.”

Annie Mason gasped in shock. “No!” she cried. “We need your help! You can’t just leave us after we sent for you.”

“No one sent for us, Mrs. Mason,” replied Heyes. “We only turned this way yesterday because we were looking for work.” He looked at his partner. “Not one of my better ideas as it turns out.”

“Mrs. Mason,” added Kid. “We told the townsfolk, and now we’re gonna tell you. We don’t hire our guns…not to anyone.”

Will Mason stared at the pair. “But you’re lookin’ for work?”

“Not that sort of work,” Kid reiterated.

“Course not,” Mason replied “but the fact is, we just don’t know why the town’s against us. We’re peaceful, God-fearin’ folk who settled here about six months ago. We planned to make this place our home and at first we had no trouble.”

As Mason talked, Laura, who had been staring at the Kid, moved away from her mother and sidled up to him. She stood next to him and put her hand on his. He looked down at her and she smiled. He had to return the smile.

Mason continued. “Things changed real sudden-like about four months ago and our feelin’ is that folks‘ve been out to get us ever since. It’s got so bad we’re really beginnin’ to fear for ourselves. That’s why a few days ago, as a last resort, we sent a telegram to the next town asking for help. We never heard anything. In all honesty, we had given up hope and decided to call it quits and leave, when we saw you on your way here.”

Heyes and Kid looked at each other, and then Heyes’ eyes moved deliberately to where Laura’s hand was nestled in his. He raised his eyebrows and the Kid shrugged slightly before they both returned their attention to Will.

“We thought our prayers had been answered. Turns out we were wrong.” Mason paused and sighed. “Like I said, it don’t matter none anymore ‘cause we’d just decided we’d had enough. Maybe it’s no bad thing we hadn’t gotten fully settled here. We’re plannin’ on movin’ just as soon as we can get our affairs together.” He looked at the partners. “However, thinkin’ about it, it’d sure be nice to know why the town turned so suddenly on us.”

“It’s something we can’t understand,” added Annie, her voice anxious. “We don’t know what we are supposed to have done.”

“Do you think that’s something you could help us with?” asked Mason.

There was a silence in the room as the family looked expectantly at the Kid and Heyes. They, in turn, looked at each other and the Kid’s eyes narrowed. He turned back to the family. “Uh…could I have a quick word with my partner, Mr. Mason?” said Curry. “In private,” he added quickly.

“Sure,” replied Mason, getting up and moving to a far corner. “Boys! Laura! Get back to your chores. I bet they’re not done yet. And Annie, come over here so that these boys can talk.”

Curry leaned over to Heyes with a brusque, yet whispered, “No!”

Heyes just gave him a placating grin. “C’mon, Thaddeus,” he said as his eyes flicked over to the Masons who were not quite as out of earshot as they maybe should have been, “wouldn’t you like to know why the town REALLY wants strangers staying away from the Masons’ place?”

“What I’d REALLY like to do, Joshua,” the Kid hissed back sarcastically, mimicking his partner’s emphasis on the alias, “is flatten you! Think about it! This town’s nothin’ but trouble! The kind’a trouble we don’t need. The kind’a trouble we’re supposed ta be avoidin’, if you remember.”

“I am thinking about it,” Heyes reproached his partner. “And what I think is we’re in trouble anyway. The Masons snatched us away from those townsfolk who were supposed to escort us away. Now, they’ll have gone back and told everyone that we’re working here after all. You can bet it won’t take long before they’ll be out looking for us. If we just try to leave, I don’t think they’d let us get far. Wouldn’t waste time talking to us this time either.”

Curry stared at his partner and then looked down and away. He sighed. “Don’t look like we’ve got much choice then.”

“Hey! Look on the bright side, partner,” said Heyes, putting his hand on his shoulder. “At least this time we’ll get paid.”

“I’ve heard that before, too,” muttered Curry darkly as Heyes called. “Mr. Mason, you’ve got a deal!”

Will Mason hurriedly came over to where Kid and Heyes were sitting. “It’s Will,” he said putting out a hand to each. “I thank you, boys.”

“Joshua Smith,” said Heyes, shaking Will’s hand and turning to Annie as she too came over. “Joshua is just fine.”

“And I’m Thaddeus Jones,” said the Kid. “Thaddeus,” he continued as Annie took his hand.

“I’ll get that coffee now.” Annie beamed.

“Coffee sounds good,” said the Kid.

* * * * * *

MEANWHILE BACK IN WADING CREEK

In the sheriff’s office, Matt and Deke were with Sheriff Dainer relating what had happened.

“Mason was jus’ waitin’ fer us, Sheriff. There weren’t nothin’ we could’ve done. Reckon them boys is over there plannin’ trouble as we speak.”

Deke nodded vigorously. “Mason must’ve gotten word out somehow. I thought we’d stopped all the telegrams, but ya never know. Them two’s workin’ fer ‘em fer sure.”

The sheriff looked angry. “Knew those boys meant trouble. I had my suspicions that they were no strangers to tellin’ a lie. Okay, boys. I tell ya what we’ll do. I’ll get word to Mr. Beasley and tell him to meet us here tonight and we’ll see about how to deal with this. Meanwhile,” and he turned to Matt, “we need to keep that map safe.”

Matt’s face closed up. “It’s safe enough. I know where it is and no one else. That way I’m fairly sure nothin’s gonna happen to me, if ya get my drift.”

The sheriff walked up to Matt and towered over him. The other man shrank a little under his glare. “You insinuatin’ somethin’?”

“U…uh?” stuttered Matt. “Insina…what?”

“I’ll tell you this jus’ once, Matt Granger. If that was the case, you’d already be grass fertilizer. Jus’ what do ya think’s gonna happen? That map’s safe, is it? How much am I bettin’ it’s under your mattress in your bedroom at home?”

Matt visibly deflated. “Oh,” was all he could manage.

“You’re an idiot,” said the sheriff. “Now, as I was saying, that map needs to be kept locked up and I happen to have a nice big safe here in my office. I suggest you bring it with you tonight and we’ll put it in there where no one will be able to get at it. Then we’ll see what we can do about the Masons and their gunnies. Meanwhile, we need to know what they’re up to. You and Deke had better go over and watch the place. Think ya can manage that?”

The sheriff turned abruptly, effectively dismissing the two boys, who looked mutely at each other, before shuffling towards the door of the office.

“Uh…okay. See ya later, Sheriff,” mumbled Deke.

“An…er, I’ll bring the map ‘round tonight,” added Matt, but the sheriff had gone back to his desk and was ignoring them. They closed the door quietly.

* * * * * *

BACK AT THE MASON’S RANCH

Kid, Heyes, Will and Annie were sitting together around the kitchen table.

“Reckon we’ll need to go look around the town an’ try to find out why people are so keen to get rid of you,” said Curry.

“Will, Annie, do ya get the feeling the whole town is equally against you, or some people more’n others?” asked Heyes.

“Definitely some more than others,” answered Annie. “I mean the town has stopped bein’ friendly but some are really gunnin’ for us.”

“Matt and Deke are always there, followin’ us ‘round and makin’ things very difficult,” added Will. “The sheriff’s no help. Well, you’ve seen his attitude. He’s with them and his deputies’ll do whatever he tells them without question. But the worst thing is we’ve got the feelin’ that Mr. Beasley, the town mayor, is behind it all. The town has been poisoned against us by rumors and Mr. Beasley is always quick to add his piece. The town listens to him and, as a result, we simply feel we have no chance.”

“Sounds to me like the town don’t actually know what’s really goin’ on here,” said the Kid.

“Yeah,” said Heyes. “Reckon we ought to take a closer look at what Mr. Beasley’s part in all this is.” He glanced at his partner with a smile and then looked over to Will. “Where does he live?”

“Over on the other side of town; nice big place just on the outskirts. Ya can’t miss it,” replied the rancher.

Heyes nodded.

“They’ll be watchin’ the road,” warned Will.

“Then I guess we’ll go cross-country,” said Curry, standing up.

Heyes also got up and then paused, frowning. “Perhaps it would be better to wait until after dark.” He looked over to the window where the sun was blazing down, guaranteeing excellent visibility. “The town wasn’t exactly pleased to see us last time we were there and so I’d rather keep this visit a bit more secret.”

The others nodded at this. “In the meantime, I’d like to take a look around the ranch,” said Heyes. “See if maybe there’s a reason why they don’t want you on this land.”

Will looked surprised. “Well, I’ll show you around, but it’s just grazing land, quite rocky and not even properly fenced off, as a matter of fact. Hard to tell where one ranch ends and the next piece of land starts. The fencin’ was what I’d started on when all this trouble began.” He looked up at Kid and Heyes. “Wish I could be offerin’ you that job instead of what I’m askin’ of ya, but there’s no point puttin’ up fences now. Can’t stay here anymore.” He, too, then got up. “Let’s go, then.”

* * * * * *

Deke had been half dozing in the shade of a tree at the turnoff to the Masons’ ranch, when he caught some movement on the horizon. Quickly he sat up and strained to see what was happening. When he couldn’t make it out, he reached into his bag and took out his binoculars in order to get a closer look. He watched as Will, Smith and Jones came out of the house and got back onto their horses. They rode out onto the Masons’ ranchland. He scratched his head, puzzled, and then he suddenly went wide-eyed. “They’ve found it,” he said aloud, jumping up and running to his horse. A minute later he was riding back to town.

* * * * * *

A SHORT TIME LATER


Deke and Matt burst into the sheriff’s office, both out of breath.

“What’n tarnation you doin’ back here?” demanded Sheriff Dainer. “I told you to watch the Masons’ farm!”

“I was watchin’ it,” replied Deke, “and them two boys went off ridin’ with Will Mason a while back. Thought it might be important.”

“And it needed the both of you to come tell me this, did it?” growled the sheriff. Deke looked embarrassed. “Well, I went to Matt ‘cos I wondered if someone had gotten hold of the map.” He looked defiant. “Well, you knew where it was straight off,” he challenged.

“I got the map,” said Matt sulkily. “No one’s taken it.”

“Then what are you doin’ here?” asked the Sheriff. “Get yourself back over to that ranch!”

“You think they know somethin’?” asked Deke.

“What could they know? The only people who know what’s on their land are the three of us and Mr. Beasley. If Will Mason had found anything we’d have heard about it. It might mean trouble, but just keep watchin’ ‘em and we’ll talk tonight.”

* * * * * *

EVENING

Under the cover of darkness, two figures left the Masons’ ranch house by way of a back window, so as not to be seen from the road, and began to walk.

“Think we’ll find out anything?” asked Kid.

“I’m certain Mr. Beasley’s up to something,” replied Heyes, “and, since we found nothing this afternoon looking around the ranch, I think this is our best chance.”

“Yeah,” the Kid agreed and then he sighed. “How far you reckon it’s to town?”

“Couple of miles at most.”

“Don’t think these boots were made for walkin’.”

“Well, as long as they’re made for being quiet, we’ll be okay.”

“Heyes, since when did you know anything about bein’ quiet?”

“I know quiet when I hear it, but there’s not much of it going on right now. In fact, if you walked as fast as you talked, we’d be there by now!”

“If I was wearing the right boots we might be.”

“Don’t try and get the last word in, Kid. It don’t fit your personality.”

“What? You mean like a certain smart-mouth I know, who happens to be way too big for his boots!”

“You’re starting on about boots again? Sheesh! Talk about obsessive.”

“I’m obsessive?” The irritation in Kid’s voice now clear.

“…and proddy.”

“That’s the company I’m forced to keep.”

“Or the boots you’re forced to wear.” A grin from Heyes. Then, “Look, Kid. I can see the lights of town up ahead. We’re nearly there.”

* * * * * *

At Mr. Beasley’s house the boys watched from behind a bush in the front garden.

“Only the hall light’s on. Think anyone’s home?” asked Heyes.

“Shhh… Look!” The Kid indicated as that light too was extinguished and then the front door opened. Mr. Beasley came out, closed the front door and began walking towards the town. As they followed his progress, they watched Sheriff Dainer walk up to him and greet him with a handshake, but they were too far away for them to hear what was being said.

“C’mon, Kid,” muttered Heyes. “Let’s see what they’re up to.”

Keeping to the shadows, they followed the lawman and Mr. Beasley back to the sheriff’s office. They snuck around to the back where there was an open window and carefully peered in.

“Good thing it’s a warm night, huh?” whispered Heyes, indicating the window.

“Yeah, my blisters are real grateful,” replied Curry.

Heyes rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the goings-on in the room.

Inside, they saw Matt, Deke, Sheriff Dainer and Mr. Beasley sitting themselves down in some chairs around the sheriff’s desk.

“Perfect,” said Curry quietly.

“Shush,” mouthed Heyes. “Listen.” His ear was pressed as close as possible to the corner of the window.

“Deke, get some coffee,” said the sheriff, indicating the pot over to one side of the office and, as Deke got up to fetch it, he turned to Matt. “Right, we don’t have much time before one of my deputies comes in for the night and, even if they both do what I say, no questions asked, I still ain’t too interested in sharin’ what we’re doin’ here. So, do ya have the map with ya?” He put out a hand.

Matt shifted uncomfortably, then dug his hand into his back pocket and pulled out a scruffy piece of paper. He put it somewhat reluctantly into the sheriff’s outstretched hand and then, as the sheriff tried to take his hand away, he held onto it.

“Uh..hem,” he started. The sheriff looked at him angrily. “Just thought I’d, uh, let ya know, Sheriff, that…um…while I’m sure we’re all workin’ together, I wanted to make sure that nothin’ll go wrong…er…now I’ve given ya the map.” He coughed as Mr. Beasley and the sheriff glared at him. Matt’s eyes darted nervously from one to the other and he let the sheriff’s hand go, but continued. “So, I’ve wrote a letter to the newspaper tellin’ ‘em what’s on the Masons’ land an’ what we’ve bin doin’. Somethin’ happens to me or Deke, that letter gets sent.” He shrank further back into his chair as the sheriff bristled at his words. Deke returned and carefully put coffee down in front of everyone and sat down, which seemed to break the tension as Mr. Beasley suddenly let out a guffaw.

“Well done, Matt,” he laughed. “Never trust anyone! Good man, but you’ll see there’ll be no need for your precautions. Don’t you worry, we’ll all end up extremely rich when all this is over.”

He turned to the sheriff. “Put it in the safe, Hank.”

Everyone watched in silence as the sheriff went over to the safe, opened it and put the map inside before returning to his place.

“Now!” went on Mr. Beasley and he suddenly looked serious again, “let’s see what we can do about the Masons and their new found friends.”

“Far as I can see it, we’d just about got the Masons convinced to leave town before them two gunnies showed up,” the sheriff told the group.

Mr. Beasley nodded. “Then the obvious solution is for those two to be gotten out of the way. The Masons won’t be a problem after that.” He looked thoughtful. “Think we could buy them out?”

“They weren’t hirin’ their guns if you remember,” the sheriff reminded him. “But, despite that, they’re now helpin’ the Masons. They’ll be bein’ paid for that. I have my doubts they’d just leave, then. Don’t think they’d trust us to let ‘em go apart from anything else and I couldn’t blame ‘em.”

“What were their names again?” Mr. Beasley asked.

“They called themselves Smith and Jones,” replied the sheriff.

“Did they now,” mused Mr. Beasley. Outside Heyes and Curry exchanged nervous looks before returning their attention to the window.

“They don’t hire their guns and they wanted to leave,” he continued to think out loud and then he looked at the three others sitting around the desk. “You know, it’s a possibility that they never planned on going to the Masons and now they can’t leave ‘cause of us.”

“We don’t know that,” said the sheriff.

Mr. Beasley looked over and held up his hand, indicating for the sheriff to hear him out. “And I’d be very surprised if those really were their names, especially the way they carry their guns. In fact, I reckon if I was to go through all your wanted posters, I might just find descriptions which fit Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones.” Now he smiled. “I think we ought to let them know that’s what we’re thinking and then, even if they have been hired by the Masons, that might be enough to persuade them to leave here.”

At this the others smiled too. “Matt an’ Deke,” said the sheriff. “We need you to go back over to the Masons’ and watch the house. Let me know if anything happens over there.”

Matt and Deke, both looking distinctly unenthusiastic, stood up and headed for the door. “And boys,” added the sheriff, stopping them briefly, “if something happens, only ONE of you comes and tells me. The other stays and keeps track of what’s goin’ on. Think you can do that?” They nodded and went out, grumbling indistinctly. Heyes and Curry pulled back into the shadows as Matt and Deke went past the side alley where they were hiding.

Mr. Beasley then turned and addressed the sheriff. “Right, that’s those two occupied. Now I want you to leave a note for your deputy asking him to look carefully through the wanted posters tonight with a view to finding descriptions of Smith and Jones. Far as they’re concerned, it’ll add credibility to the idea of the Masons hiring wanted gunnies to take the town. No need to tell them more. I reckon, vague as some of those posters are, there’s bound to be a pair which would match. Either Smith and Jones leave town directly or we’ll arrest them as wanted outlaws and get them extradited. By the time any misunderstanding has been cleared up, the Masons will have left town and I’ll have bought up the land.”

“An’ if there isn’t a match?” queried the sheriff.

“Well, if it can’t be avoided then Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones are probably going to need to have an accident,” replied Mr. Beasley coldly. The sheriff looked a little uncomfortable at this and Mr. Beasley went on sharply. “Hank, may I remind you what’s at stake here? We can only do this together and we’ll end up rich men. Just remember that.”

“It’s not that,” replied the sheriff, “but four accidents are gonna look mighty suspicious.”

Mr. Beasley clapped him on the shoulder. “Well, we’ll deal with that when the time comes if we have to, but I’m sure it won’t. I have a very strong feeling that those two really are wanted and I’m rarely mistaken.”

Again Heyes and Curry shared a look.

Mr. Beasley spoke again. “And that leaves us with the problem of the letter which Matt has so carefully written to the newspaper. I must admit, I didn’t know he was capable of writing.”

“He can’t very well, but it’ll still be enough.”

“So, where would he hide a letter? I doubt it’d be under his mattress this time.” Mr. Beasley smiled cynically.

“He didn’t have much time to find someone. He’d have hardly given it to Deke and he don’t know many others that well; well enough to trust anyway,” said the sheriff. Then he laughed and looked at Mr. Beasley. “He hasn’t got much goin’ on upstairs either. Ya know, I reckon he’s just given it to his old ma.”

“Then I suggest, once you’ve written that note to your deputy, that you pay ‘Ma’ a visit,” said Mr. Beasley, getting up and putting on his hat. “I have no doubt she’ll be cooperative. Right, I must be going. We’ll talk again tomorrow about bringing in Smith and Jones.” He turned and left. Heyes and Curry, once more, ducked back into the shadows as he passed by.

The sheriff cleared up the coffee cups and went over to his desk drawer where he pulled out a large pile of wanted posters. Then he quickly scribbled a note, put on his hat and went out the door, locking it behind him.

As soon as the sheriff had left, Kid and Heyes sneaked around the side of the building. Heyes dug out his lock pick, opened the door, and they went inside.

“We haven’t got much time,” whispered Curry.

Heyes nodded and went straight to the safe and put his ear against it, leaving the Kid by the door keeping a lookout. He twisted the dials, listening carefully and, a few minutes later, grinned and opened the door. Quickly, he grabbed the document that the sheriff had put in and hurried back to the Kid. On his way past the desk, he also gathered up the note and the wanted posters. Curry smiled at the action and, with that, they slipped out the door and around the corner just as the deputy walked into view.

* * * * * *

MUCH LATER THAT NIGHT

Back in the Masons’ kitchen, the Kid was sitting with his feet in a bowl of warm water. He sighed and wiggled his toes as Annie poured more heated water in from the kettle. Meanwhile, Heyes and Will were sitting at the table poring over the map.

“This is a map of my land,” Will was saying. “I can make out the creek, and the ridge going over into the neighboring piece of land.”

“And X marks the spot,” said Heyes, indicating a large black ‘X’, which was just to the left of the area Will had pointed out. They looked at the map. There, clearly written in crude letters under the ‘X’ was the word ‘gold’.

Heyes picked up the map and showed it to the Kid. “I wonder,” he mused out loud, looking his partner in the eyes.

“Well it’d make sense that Mr. Beasley wants this land,” said Curry.

“Matt must have found it and Mr. Beasley saw a golden opportunity,” added Heyes.

There was a moment of silence and then Will spoke. “What do you think we should do?”

Heyes cleared his throat. “Uh…Will. You hired us to find out what’s going on here and…uh…well, we’ve done that.”

Will stared down at the map. “Well, obviously this changes everything. I reckon I’m gonna need you here and I can make it worth your while. What do you say to helpin’ me in return for a stake in this claim?”

Heyes and Kid both grinned. “That sounds like a good deal,” answered Heyes.

“So,” Will repeated, “what do we do?”

“Two things,” replied Heyes, immediately going into action. “First, we need to check if there is actually gold there and second, to make sure you can hold on to what’s rightfully yours, you need help from the law and you need it as soon as possible.”

“It won’t be no good askin’ anyone from town,” said Will. “Sheriff and Mr. Beasley saw to that.”

“How far is the next town?”

“’Bout eight miles,” replied Will.

Heyes looked over to Kid. “Reckon you could take Zack out of here to fetch help?”

Kid nodded. “We’ll set off first thing tomorrow mornin’.”

“Meanwhile,” smiled Heyes, now looking at Will, “we’ll check out this map and see if it’s really what we think it is.”

“An’ we can take the twins with us,” Will said. “They clamber around the rocks much better than we can.”

It was Heyes’ turn to nod. “Right, then I think we’d all better get some sleep. Tomorrow looks like it’s going to be a long day.” He looked over at his partner, who had taken his feet out of the bowl and was now studying the blisters. “Come on, Thaddeus,” he said in his most condescending tone of voice, “I think you’ll live.”

* * * * * *

EARLY NEXT MORNING

Matt and Deke watched from their lookout as several people left the Masons’ ranch. Jones and Zack headed off first in one direction. Matt then focused on Smith through his binoculars. He appeared to be studying a piece of paper. Then he pointed his hand in the direction of the nearby hilly land, and he, Will and the two younger boys set off towards it.

“Deke! They’re movin’.” Matt scrambled up and back to the horses. “I’m gonna fetch the sheriff. You keep watch.”

“Ain’t nothin’ to watch now,” grumbled Deke.

“Sheriff’s orders,” shouted Matt, who was already on his horse and setting off at a gallop towards town.

Back at the house and looking through the window, Annie watched her menfolk leave. Then she turned around and caught sight of her daughter playing in the corner of the room, humming to herself. Her eyes continued to rove over her kitchen and caught the pile of wanted posters which had been left on the table. She sat down and started casually thumbing through them.

* * * * * *

BACK IN TOWN

Sheriff Dainer came into his office where his deputy was asleep, his feet up on the desk. As he heard the sheriff come in, he scrambled up and tried to look alert.

“Take it you had a hard night,” remarked the sheriff dryly. “You’d better get some coffee goin’. See if ya can’t stay awake for a bit.”

“Sure thing, Sheriff,” answered Deputy Rivers hurriedly and he went over to the stove.

“You find anything in them wanted posters?”

“Which wanted posters?”

The sheriff turned around. “The ones on my desk! I left you a note tellin’ you to go through ‘em an’ see if any of ‘em matched up to them two boys who were at the Masons’.”

“There wasn’t no note, Sheriff,” said the deputy. “An’ there weren’t no wanted posters on your desk neither.”

The sheriff scratched his head as he went to the desk and started searching the drawers. “What ‘n tarnation…”

At that moment, the door was flung open and an agitated Matt rushed in. “They’re on the move,” he almost shouted.

“What?” asked the sheriff.

“Yessir. Zack and Jones headed east an’ were movin’ pretty quick. Smith went off with Will and his other two boys a few minutes later. Sheriff! Smith was studyin’ somethin’. Then he pointed and they went off in the direction of…the…er…” He looked over at the deputy.

“In the direction of what?” asked the deputy.

“Somethin’ I’ve been keepin’ my eye on,” covered the sheriff. He looked at Matt. “He was studyin’ somethin’, ya say?”

Matt nodded vigorously. The sheriff’s glance went from Matt to his empty desk and then to the safe. In two strides he was at the safe and opening it, while Matt watched over his shoulder.

“Gadnabbit! They took the map!” exclaimed Matt.

“Sheriff, what’s goin’ on?” asked the deputy. “A map of what?”

The sheriff turned to him. “Rivers, go get Parker. We got a problem over at the Masons’.”

Deputy Rivers left and the sheriff turned to Matt. “I’ll go tell Mr. Beasley and then we get after the Masons quick as we can,” he instructed.

“Which ones?” asked Matt. “They went and split up.”

“Which ones went after the gold?” asked the sheriff, his voice dripping sarcasm.

“Oh…right.”

* * * * * *

Will and Heyes were at the creek, which was clearly marked on the map. Heyes was pointing again. “There’s the ridge like it’s drawn here. That means we need to go south across there.”

“You sure?” questioned Will.

“Pretty much. Then we head slightly west again.” He turned in the saddle and grinned at the two boys riding behind him. “Gonna need your help, then.” The twins nodded and grinned back.

As they rode, Will looked up at the ridge and back behind him. “We must be gettin’ mighty close to my boundary about now,” he muttered to himself. He shook his head and shrugged.

* * * * * *

THE MASONS’ RANCH AGAIN

Sheriff Dainer, Matt, Deputy Rivers and Deputy Parker all rode up and Deke came out to greet them.

“What’re they doin’ here?” he asked angrily, pointing at the two deputies.

“We gotta get hold of Smith and Jones,” answered the sheriff. “They broke into my office last night and stole some property from my safe. Then they took all the wanted posters. We reckon ‘cos theirs were among ‘em.”

Deke smiled at that. He pointed east. “Jones and Zack went that way. Smith and the rest headed out over there.” He indicated further to the left.

“Smith first,” snarled the sheriff. “Matt, I believe you know where they’re headed?”

“This way,” said Matt and the group headed off at a gallop.

* * * * * *

The twins were climbing around the rocks on the higher ridges while Heyes and Will searched the lower ground. “If the map’s right, it must be somewhere here,” Heyes said.

Will continued to look around. “How far west you reckon we are?” he asked.

Heyes glanced at him. “Is it important?”

“Well, I ain’t really been this far out on my land.” Will scratched his head. “I just don’t know if this is still actually…”

He was interrupted by Heyes’ exclamation of, “I don’t believe it!” as he pointed to the rock where a large vein of gold was clearly visible running through the face.

At the same time, the twins, clambering above him, let out a whoop. “Pa! We found some!” one shouted as Will looked up. Both twins stood, grinning madly, first at each other, then down at their father.

Will, still skeptical, called up the ridge, “Ya sure, Mike?”

The twins laughed out loud, “We’re sure, Pa!” they called, in unison.

“I’m sure, too,” Heyes said, turning to Will. “This is quite a discovery.”

“Which I found first!” Matt’s voice cut through the bushes as five horses came into view, each rider pointing a gun in their direction.

Will and Heyes put up their hands.

“You boys get down here,” shouted the sheriff to the twins. Reluctantly and with wide, frightened eyes, they made their way down the rock face.

“Believe you’re trespassing,” said Heyes, looking up at the sheriff.

“We’ll see,” answered the sheriff. “You’re tryin’ to steal from these people. We know you’re wanted and we aim to prove it. Parker! Tie him up.”

The deputy got down from his horse, approached Heyes and pulled his arms behind him.

Angrily, Will looked up at Dainer. “What d’ya think you’re doin’?”

“I’m apprehendin’ an outlaw is what,” answered the sheriff, getting down from his horse and marching over to Heyes. “Him and his partner broke into my office, opened my safe and stole somethin’.” He reached into Heyes’ shirt pocket and pulled out the map. “This, in fact!” He glared at Heyes. “Now, where’s your partner?”

“You still think you’re gonna keep this to yourself, Sheriff?” asked Heyes. “This land don’t belong to you and you didn’t find any gold. Matt did. He drew this map,” he indicated with his head to the piece of paper the sheriff was holding, “but he didn’t trust you with it, did he? He wrote a letter detailing how you and Mr. Beasley were trying to get the Masons to leave so you could buy the land and claim the gold for yourselves. He was already worried you’d betray him.” He turned and addressed Matt. “And you were right. He was planning to double cross you. Last night he paid a visit to your ma and took that letter. Now, why do you think he’d do that?”

Matt glared at the sheriff. “You stole my letter?” he demanded, his gun wavering as he turned towards the sheriff.

Sheriff Dainer looked from Heyes to Matt and then back to Heyes. “He’s just trying to turn you against me,” Angrily he grabbed Heyes by the front of his shirt. “What did ya have to go mess everything up for?” he shouted. “The Masons were about to leave. Everything was goin’ to plan and we’d have been rich. You ruined everything!”

“’Scuse me, Sheriff,” said Deputy Parker, lowering his gun. “You tellin’ us this was all planned?”

But the sheriff was no longer listening. He was shaking Heyes by his shirt. “Where’s your partner?” he shouted.

“His partner is here,” came a calm, clear voice.

The sheriff jumped and let go of Heyes, who was dropped unceremoniously on the ground. He turned to see Kid Curry, sitting on his horse, holding a gun on him. He was with another two men wearing badges and Zack, who was grinning widely at his father.

“Redding!” spluttered the sheriff. “You can see I’ve got a bit of a situation here.”

“Yup. I’ve been listening to ya, same as I listened to this young man’s tale,” answered Sheriff Redding, indicating Zack. “I think there are quite a few people who need to do some explaining. Now, I’ve sent a couple of my deputies into town and they’re gonna invite your Mr. Beasley over to your office.” He nodded to the sheriff, “I suggest we all join them there.”

The sheriff seemed to deflate. He then nodded in defeat.

The Kid got down off his horse and walked over to where Heyes was still sitting in the dirt. He looked up at Sheriff Redding. “Can I untie my partner?” he asked.

Sheriff Redding gave him a cynical half-smile. “Sure,” he said.

* * * * * *

LATE THAT NIGHT AND BACK AT THE MASONS’ RANCH

Heyes, Curry and Will were, once more, gathered around the kitchen table with Annie and the children. Heyes and Curry were staring dejectedly at their coffee cups, as Will talked about what had happened.

“They arrested Mr. Beasley and Sheriff Dainer. Matt and Deke started shoutin’ somethin’ fit to bust once they realized they were gonna be double-crossed. Turns out Matt had been wanderin’ around this area when he discovered the gold. He told Deke, but they didn’t know what to do. That’s why they went to Sheriff Dainer, who said that the land belonged to me, so they couldn’t touch it. Dainer wasn’t about to let it go, though. He went to Mr. Beasley, who thought of tryin’ to force us to leave town. Then he’d be able to buy the land and ‘discover’ gold there. We know now he wasn’t plannin’ on sharing with either Matt or Deke. One wonders whether he was goin’ to share with the sheriff in the end, but it don’t matter now.”

“So the gold is ours!” gasped Annie, clapping her hands together. The children all looked excitedly around at each other before staring hopefully back towards their father.

“Not exactly,” answered Will. “I did a bit of talkin’ to Sheriff Redding. Ya see, I wasn’t sure exactly where we were when we found the gold. You know before all this started, I’d been looking into checkin’ our boundaries and fencin’ in our land. Well, after Sheriff Redding and I studied a map of the area, it became pretty clear that all this was, in fact, for nothin’ because the gold isn’t actually on our land.”

“It belongs to the railroads,” said Curry darkly. He sounded almost as if these words hurt him.

Annie looked crestfallen and the children’s faces mirrored hers.

“Annie, it’s not so bad,” said Will. “Think about it. We know nothing about gold-mining. We’d have needed a lot of help to get the gold. An’ I talked to Sheriff Redding. He has a lot of contact with the railroad people ‘cause they own a lot of the land ‘round here. They’re on good terms. He’s certain they’ll want to buy our land and, from his experience, they’ll offer us much more than it’s worth.” He looked into her eyes. “This town will never go back to what it was before this started. But now we’ll have more than enough to start again in a new place which will accept us. We’d already decided to go. Let’s just leave this behind us and move on.”

Annie tried to smile. “You’re right, of course,” she said. She paused and looked up at Heyes and Curry. “There’ll be work here for you now, though,” she said.

“I think we’ve pushed our luck far enough in this town,” Heyes replied.

“Yeah,” added the Kid. “Somehow I can’t see us working for the railroad company.”

Heyes smiled ruefully.

“I’m sorry I can’t pay you with any gold, boys,” said Will. “I’m afraid it’s not mine to give you, but I believe we still owe you for findin’ out what was goin’ on in the first place.” He pulled out some notes.

“Twenty dollars, I think it was.” He handed them over to the Kid.

“Thanks,” said Curry dryly, putting the money into his shirt pocket.

“Told you we’d get paid this time,” Heyes said to him as he got up.

“You’re not staying?” asked Annie.

“Nah, I don’t think so,” said the Kid, also standing up. “Next town ain’t far and there’s a hotel which is both open and friendly, according to Sheriff Redding anyway.”

“Might even have a little poker game going somewhere,” added Heyes, indicating the Kid’s pocket where the twenty dollars sat. “And let’s say we’d rather not be here when people from the railroad come swarming around. From our reckoning, that’ll be sooner rather than later.”

Annie nodded and followed her husband, Joshua and Thaddeus out onto the front porch. As they turned to say goodbye, she looked at them. “I found a pile of wanted posters on the kitchen table this morning,” she said carefully. “A couple of them looked mighty familiar. The railroad company is very generous with its rewards, isn’t it?”

Heyes and Curry glanced nervously at each other and back at Annie, who was now smiling. “Probably my imagination,” she said. “I threw them all in the fire. That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?”

“Thank you, Annie,” said the Kid shaking her hand.

Heyes smiled at her as he, too, took her hand in goodbye.

“Goodbye Mr. Smith,” said Will, shaking Heyes’ hand and then Curry’s. “Mr. Jones. It’s been a privilege.”

The partners smiled, mounted their horses and set off, turning briefly to give a last wave.



(Writers love feedback! You can let Allegra know how you enjoyed the story with a quick comment. Just Post Reply to the Comments for Golden Opportunity 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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