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 4.11 Bleeding Kansas by Anita Sanchez

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Join date : 2013-10-13

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Post4.11 Bleeding Kansas by Anita Sanchez

Bleeding Kansas
by Anita Sanchez

“Ossawatomie, Kansas, one mile,” Kid said, reading aloud the sign that leaned drunkenly by the side of the muddy road. The faded letters were hard to see through the drizzling autumn rain. “Ossawatomie. Who thinks up these names anyway?”

“Indians,” said Heyes, turning up his coat collar against the cold wind that blew raindrops down the back of his neck. “It means place of the buffalo hunt, or something. You know that.”

“Probably means place of the stinking cold rain,” Kid said morosely. “I swear it always rains in Kansas. In between hailstorms, that is.”

“Oh, give it a rest,” said Heyes. “Come on, we’re almost there. We’ll just stop for the night, to get out of the rain, and then head out in the morning.”

Kid looked out under the dripping brim of his hat, at the wide gray sweep of Kansas prairie that surrounded them. The horizon was veiled in curtains of rain, but up ahead the lights of the town glowed faintly orange. “Never should have come this way,” he grumbled. “Would have been shorter to go around by Witchita.”

“The river was flooded by Wichita, you feel like a swim?” Heyes snapped. “Come on, I’m gonna melt if we stand here much longer.” He shook the reins, and his tired horse plodded on.

Kid glanced at the sign again, and shook his head. “Kansas,” he said heavily, and spat on the ground. “We must have been crazy to come back here.”

“Feeling better?” Heyes inquired, as they leaned side by side on the bar, a well-filled whiskey glass in front of each of them. A piano sounded gaily, and the golden glow of an oil lamp chandelier made the crowded saloon seem a warm and home-like place.

“Little better,” Kid admitted. “Drier, anyway. Figures the rain would stop soon as we got here.”

“Well, we’ll be leaving in the morning, and next week we’ll be out of Kansas altogether,” said Heyes. He turned and surveyed the ring of straw-hatted players who were frowning over their cards at a near-by poker table. “Bunch of Kansas farmers,” he said in a low voice. “Some things never change. Want to get in the game?”

“Nah, not in the mood,” said Kid.

“Well, this is too good to miss,” said Heyes. “See you later.” He ambled over to the table, and gave the players a pleasant smile. “Howdy, neighbors, got room for one more?” he asked, pulling up a chair. They looked him over with blank, suspicious faces, and Heyes smiled winningly. “So how do you play this game, anyway?” he inquired, and Kid looked down to hide his grin.

A flash of gold caught his eye, and he saw something shiny on the floor, half hidden in the wood shavings and peanut hulls. It was a gold watch. He bent and picked it up, and saw it was a man’s pocket watch. The weight in his hand felt like solid gold. Kid glanced around the saloon to see who might be the owner, but there was no one in the crowd of farmers and shop-keepers who looked well-dressed enough to own such an expensive trinket.

He opened the front of the watch to see if there was a name engraved anywhere. Framed inside the front lid was a small photograph of a woman’s face. He stared at the picture, frowning.

It was a young woman, in a high-necked dress, with hair that he could tell was pale and fine, even though it was drawn back in a bun; hair like cornsilk, long and straight, and pure gold. Her eyes were light, fringed with dark lashes. Pretty girl, he thought, but there was something about her expression, some sadness in the sweet eyes, that made sudden tears prick his eyelids.

“Nice watch,” said a gravelly voice in his ear, and he jumped and looked up. “Oh, it’s not mine,” he said, blinking. “I found it on the floor here. Any idea who it belongs to?”

“Yeah, it looks like old Daniel’s watch, actually. He’s always mooning over that picture just like you were,” said the bartender, a small man with a bushy handlebar mustache. He peered with curiosity over Kid’s shoulder. “Dan never gives me a look at it, though. Hell, women are a dime a dozen, ‘specially blondes, don’t you know that yet, pal? What’s so special about her, anyway?”

“Nothing,” said Kid, snapping the watch shut with an annoyed click. “Where can I find this Daniel guy?”

“Over in the corner there, having a drink as usual, don’t think he’s noticed he lost it yet. Hang on to it for a couple of days,” the bartender advised, grinning. “Maybe he’ll post a reward.”

“You’re all heart, friend,” said Kid.

“Ain’t got no heart, pal,” the bartender said, pouring himself a drink. “Last blonde I met stole it clean away.”

Kid smiled and then walked over to the corner where an old man was sitting at a solitary table. The man looked up suspiciously with watery, red-rimmed eyes under white brows, but as soon as he saw the watch in Kid’s hand he leaped to his feet, open-mouthed. He scrabbled at his empty vest pocket, then snatched the watch from Kid.

“My God, I had no idea I’d dropped it,” he said, his voice quavering. “Must thank you, I am sincerely in your debt, sir. Many thanks.” He bowed in a courtly manner, and almost fell over.

Kid put out a hand to steady him, noticing that his face was an unhealthy shade of gray. “That’s okay, friend. Looks like the chain broke, better get that fixed.”

“I surely will,” said the man. “Thanks again.”

“Who is she?” Kid asked casually. “I don’t recognize her, exactly, but she...reminds me of someone.”

The old man looked around, and leaned closer to Kid. “Francina,” he whispered. He opened the watch and gazed at the picture. “Francina Talbot,” he said, as if that explained it all.

“And who’s that?” Kid inquired. “She sure is pretty.”

“She is that,” the man said. “You should see her smile...”

Before he could finish, someone elbowed Kid roughly aside. He swung around to see five young farmers, all carrying beer bottles, belligerently red-faced. One of them gave the old man a shove. “Get outta the way, old-timer, you’ve been taking up a whole table long enough.”

“I didn’t mean to...” the old man began politely, but one of the farmers shoved him again. “Get out!”

Kid didn’t waste time in arguing, just grabbed the youngster by the scruff of the neck and hauled him around. The farmer swung his beer bottle at Kid’s head, but he easily ducked it, and hooked his boot around the farmer’s ankle, tripping him neatly. The young man crashed to the floor, swearing.

“Hey, Bill’s in trouble,” said a burly man in overalls, waving to a crowd of half a dozen other men lounging by the bar. Kid noticed Heyes watching from the poker table, and saw his partner throw down his cards and shove back his chair.

“No, this guy’s the one who’s in trouble,” said a man in a battered straw hat, grinning at Kid. “Come on, pal, you think you can scare us? Who do you think you are, anyway?” Three men approached him, fists raised, and others were getting to their feet. Kid got in front of the old man, and drew back his fist with a grim smile and a feeling of perverse pleasure. He’d been longing for someone to hit ever since he crossed the Kansas border.

Five young farmers sat meekly lined up on the bench in the sheriff’s office, like a row of schoolboys, with torn clothes and blackened eyes. Behind them, on a second uncomfortable bench, sat Heyes, dabbing at a bleeding lip, and Kid, nursing a bruise on his cheek. They were all sitting quietly, listening to the sheriff, and had been doing so for the last quarter of an hour.

“..and there’s other ways to settle things, boys, peaceable ways,” the sheriff went on, his voice sounding as though he was at last coming to a conclusion. “So remember, this is a peaceable town.” Kid glanced at the rolls of fat that overhung the sheriff’s gunbelt and reflected that it was a good thing the town was peaceable. “Now get outta here, all of you, and don’t let me see you in here again,” the sheriff finished.

The farmers limped out of the office, with menacing looks at Heyes and Kid. As the door slammed behind them, the sheriff sat down at his desk and drummed his fingers on a pile of papers. “No good, those boys,” he said, shooting a glance at Kid. “They’re in my office twice a week, some of’em.” He scratched his stomach thoughtfully, and looked them both over with narrowed eyes. “You guys are new around here, aren’t you? Don’t remember seeing you around here before. ‘Course I’m pretty new here myself.”

“Nice to meet you, sheriff, we’ll try not to trouble you again,” said Heyes, heading for the door.

“Try hard, boys,” said the sheriff pleasantly, eyeing Kid’s low-cut holster and the well-worn handgrip of his gun. “Try hard.”

They clattered down the wooden steps of the sheriff’s office, and set off hastily down the dark street. The office had been brightly lit with kerosene lamps, too brightly lit; Heyes felt more comfortable in the shadows of the street. He glanced back over his shoulder, and saw the sheriff standing on the steps looking after them, and he deliberately slowed his steps to avoid the appearance of hurrying.

He blinked as his eyes began to get used to the dark. It was close to midnight, and the street was deserted. The night wind, blowing straight off the prairie, was damp and chill; overhead the stars were blotted out by sagging clouds that could be felt rather than seen. The side streets were black as mine shafts, but on the main street an occasional lamp on a windowsill sent a gold gleam across the muddy road. The warm light from the houses only made the street seem colder.

They shivered and buttoned their coats, and trudged along till Heyes broke the silence. “Well, we were in town for, let me see, not quite twenty minutes before we got hauled to the sheriff’s office,” he said pensively. “That’s got to be some kind of a record, even for us.”

“You didn’t have to get into it, you could have just sat quietly and played poker,” Kid muttered.

“Well, actually, that’s what I was trying to do,” Heyes said. “I think it was when you and the fat guy in the overalls crashed into the poker table and splintered it to matchwood that we decided to postpone the game.”

“Oh, come on...” Kid began.

“Of course, the chandelier crashing to the floor and setting the bar on fire was a factor, too,” Heyes went on. “I don’t want you to think we made a hasty decision or anything.”

“It wasn’t my fault, I didn’t start it,” Kid said sullenly.

Heyes snorted. “You’ve been looking for someone to pound on ever since we got here,” he said.

Kid gave him a sideways glance. “I’m gonna find someone handy to pound on right quick if you don’t shut up,” he growled, and pulled his hat lower as rain began to spit down. “See, what’d I tell you?” he said with gloomy triumph. “It always rains in...”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Heyes moaned. “We’re leaving in the morning, get a new tune.”

“Never should have taken this job,” Kid grumbled. “We’re becoming damned delivery boys.”

“Well, the pay beats cattle driving,” Heyes pointed out. “And delivering documents is easier than fixing fences. Maybe they’ll pay us extra for bad weather.”

As they passed the mouth of a dark side street, they became aware of shouts, and curses, and the sound of running feet. Before they could do more than look around, a figure came at a clumsy, stumbling run out of the alley and crashed full tilt into Kid, who staggered back against Heyes as the man grabbed at him wildly. “What the hell?” Kid demanded, but the man made no reply.

Heyes grabbed the figure by the shoulder, and hauled him off his partner, fist drawn back. The light from a window gleamed on the man’s face, and Heyes relaxed his grip as he saw the wrinkled face under the shock of white hair. The old man swayed, and Heyes propped him up.

“What’s the trouble, friend?” said Kid, recognizing his acquaintance from the saloon who had lost the gold watch.

“They’re coming, they’re after me,” the man gasped, clutching at his chest with both hands. They heard voices approaching, and gave each other a glance over the old man’s bent head. Five more figures emerged from the alley, and a strong smell of alcohol and their weaving footsteps showed that they were still good and drunk. “What’s the trouble now, boys?” Kid called.

“That you, deputy?” demanded a slurred voice.

“Yep,” said Heyes promptly. “You boys don’t want to pay another visit to the sheriff, you better back off.”

“Where’s that crazy old coot?” said another voice. “I told him this time I’d teach him...”

“Get out of here.” Kid put his hand on the handle of his gun, but Heyes grabbed his arm.  

“You ain’t the deputy, you’re the guy who got us in trouble with the sheriff,” said the first voice, as the shadowy figures swayed to and fro. “We’re gonna make you sorry you ever saw this town.”

Kid shoved Heyes off, and drew his gun. “Get out of here before I count to three,” he said in a hard voice that Heyes barely recognized, “or you’ll be the sorry ones.”

The old man had been leaning more and more heavily on Heyes, gasping and choking, and now gave a violent shudder. “Thaddeus,” Heyes interrupted. “Something wrong with this guy.”  Heyes lowered the old man’s slight weight to the ground, where he lay clutching his chest and drawing moaning breaths.

“He looks bad,” said Kid, straining his eyes to see the old man’s face. “One of you boys go get the doc,” he ordered, but the group shuffled their feet and muttered in low tones.

“Come on,” said one. “Let’s get outta here.” There was a spattering of running feet as they fled down the muddy road.

Heyes propped up the old man’s head, and Kid bent over him. The light from a window fell on the man’s wide eyes and bloodless cheeks, and they saw that his lips were blue. He looked wildly from one to the other, then grasped the front of Kid’s jacket. “You’re the man from the saloon,” he said in a thread of a voice. “The one who returned my watch. You’ve been... very kind.”

“Take it easy, pal,” Kid said. “Stay here with my friend, and I’ll go get a doctor.”

“No,” said the old man, clutching his jacket. “It’s too late for me. But you protected me, and I want to thank you for that.” His face twisted in pain, and he whispered, so low Kid could hardly hear him. “I wish you could watch over her, too...”

“Who?” asked Kid, a cold chill shooting through him. “Protect who?”

“Francina,” the old man gasped. “She’s all alone.” He raised himself on an elbow, and called in a desperate voice, as if searching for a lost child. “Francina...”

“Protect her?” Kid demanded. “Why? Is she in danger?”

The old man covered his face with his hands, and tears rolled down his face. He murmured so they had to bend over to hear him, but couldn’t catch the words.

“Okay, friend,” said Kid soothingly. He glanced at Heyes, who shook his head, his eyes solemn. Kid took the old man’s hand. “I’ll do what I can to help her. I promise. But you gotta tell me where...” The old man interrupted him with a gasping cry, then shuddered and went limp.

In the silence, Heyes opened the threadbare jacket and put his ear to the thin chest, but there was no heartbeat. He looked up at Kid, and laid the man down gently.

Kid released the limp hand, and was surprised to find himself shaking. Death was nothing new to him, and this was only a stranger, but he couldn’t seem to keep his hands from trembling. He rose and stood looking down at the small, twisted body in the road, and jumped when Heyes put a hand on his shoulder. “You okay?” Heyes asked softly.

Kid nodded dismally, and heaved a sigh. “Kansas,” he said.

Kid paced the length of the small room, then turned and paced back again, like a bear in a cage. He fidgeted with the handle of his gun, feeling an intense longing to shoot someone. Anyone. Heyes gave him a warning glance, but Kid sighed, and rolled his eyes. He couldn’t help it. It was impossible not to be fidgety, when they were in a sheriff’s office for the second time in an hour.

He dragged his eyes away from the wanted posters on the wall, and forced himself to smile disarmingly at the sheriff, as he answered the same questions for the fourth time. The complications of death in a civilized town amazed him; out at Devil’s Hole, you dug a grave and buried the guy, said a few words, that was that. In a town, there were reports, forms, officials, and questions, and more questions. He and Heyes had answered questions for the sheriff, the doctor, the coroner, and now the sheriff was painstakingly going over every detail of the old man’s death again.

“Well, all right, boys,” said the sheriff finally, stroking his mustache. “Guess we’ve got it all. You can go.” He shook his head, looking mournfully at them as they rose hastily. “Hate to have this kind of trouble here. This is a peaceable town, y’know.”

“But let’s get back to this girl, Francina, that he was talking about,” Kid said. “She’s in some kind of danger.” He was uncomfortably aware of the old man’s body, stretched silent under a sheet in one of the back cells.

“Well, you got me, young feller,” said the sheriff, scratching his broad stomach. “I don’t know. I already told you three times, I never heard of her.”

“Yeah, but he seemed so convinced she was in danger.”

“He’d been drinking,” said the sheriff soothingly. “You know how people get when they’ve had a few.”

“No, he hadn’t,” said Heyes. “No booze on his breath. He was sober as aa judge.”

“Well, you got me, boys,” the sheriff said again, glancing at the clock on the wall. “What do you want me to do? Never heard of no Francina. But then I’m new in town, just started this job last month. I’m from Texas, myself.” He yawned widely. “Well, boys, it’s past my bedtime. Better get off to wherever it is you’re staying. We’ll find this Francina in the morning.”

“What about him?” Kid asked, indicating the body. “Don’t you have an undertaker or something?”

“It’s late, we’ll deal with that tomorrow. Don’t worry, he’s not going anywhere.” He got up and ambled over to the door, and held it open invitingly. Kid hesitated, but Heyes gave him a surreptitious kick; it wasn’t often they had to be asked twice to leave a sheriff’s office.

They once more walked down the steps into the dark road dotted with mud puddles. The sheriff locked up behind them and went off whistling. Heyes heard the sheriff’s heavy footsteps receding down the street, and heaved a sigh of relief, that was cut short when Kid grabbed his arm and pulled him into a side-street.

“Come on,” Kid said. “This way.”

“What?” Heyes said. “No, I think the hotel’s actually over...” Kid paid him no heed, just strode down the alley, and Heyes followed, puzzled. They groped along the narrow way, stumbling into puddles. Kid turned left at the end of the alley, and left again at the end of the next, and finally came to a halt at what was plainly the back door of a low building.

“This is it, I bet.” Kid peered in the window. “Yeah, I thought I noticed a back door. Come on, open it.”

Heyes glanced at the heavy padlock on the door. “You’re kidding.”

“You think you can’t?” Kid said, tapping his foot. “It’s just a padlock.”

“Child’s play,” said Heyes scornfully, running his fingers over it. “But you mean you want me to break into a sheriff’s office?”

“Just for a minute,” said Kid. “I want to get something.” Heyes opened his mouth, but Kid met his eyes. “Please,” he said.

Heyes sighed, pulled a short piece of wire from his vest pocket, and bent over the lock. Kid heard a rapid series of clicks and in thirty seconds the lock was dangling open. Heyes pushed the door ajar. “After you,” he said.

They entered the pitch-black room silently. Kid groped in his pocket, and struck a match. The tiny gleam showed the deserted office and the shadowy stripes of cell bars. There was a candle on the sheriff’s desk, and Kid lit it, ignoring Heyes’s disapproving stare. Shielding the light with his hat, Kid turned and headed for the rear cell and its silent occupant.

He approached the draped figure on the cot. Years of fast-draw encounters had taught him to keep a steady hand, but he couldn’t quite keep his hand from shaking as he reached out and pulled down the cloth.

The face was set in the stiffness of death, with only a shadow of resemblance to the living, moving features of a few hours ago. Kid pulled out the watch out of the man’s vest pocket, and immediately flipped the cover open and stared at the picture. The sweet eyes looked up at him gravely, as if asking for help.

“That her?” Heyes asked, coming up behind him.

Kid nodded, gazing at the face. “Francina,” he said, as if that explained it all.

He began to feel in the man’s other pockets. “What are you doing?” Heyes hissed, hurrying over to peer out the window. “A career as a pickpocket seems a bit of a comedown after the Denver First National Bank. What the hell are you looking for?” He crouched low and peered cautiously over the sill.

“I don’t know,” Kid muttered. “Something...something to lead us to her.” He dug around and fished out coins, a tobacco pouch, a penknife, and other odds and ends. Then he put his hand in the breast pocket, with a shudder at the feel of the dead man’s body, cold and hard. In the pocket, his fingers closed on something round like a coin, but with sharp points. He drew it out, and in the candle flame silver glinted on his palm. A sheriff’s star.

Heyes reappeared behind him. “Come on!” he urged, poking Kid in the back. “Let’s get out of here.”

Kid put the star gently back in the pocket, and drew the sheet over the closed eyes. They stole silently out of the room and Heyes relocked the door, then they scuttled like cats down the back alleys till they reached the main street.

It was long past midnight; all the householders had gone off to bed, even the saloon was closed, and every window was blank and empty. “Okay,” said Kid, taking a deep breath, and loosening his gun in the holster. “Let’s get busy.”

“Busy? Doing what, exactly?” Heyes asked. “I hate to say it, but I think the sheriff’s right. Not much more we can do tonight, might as well go back to the hotel. If we can find it,” he added, peering down the unlighted street.

“But she needs protecting,” Kid said firmly. “We’ve got to do something.”

Heyes knew better than to argue when Kid was in this mood. “Okay,” he said agreeably.

There was a pause. “Not sure what, though,” Kid admitted.

Heyes smiled in the darkness, and gave Kid a gentle shove. “Come on, let’s get some sleep,” he said. “Things’ll look brighter in the morning.”

True to Heyes’s prediction, the morning dawned in a blaze of sunshine. From the hotel window, Heyes could see the prairie beyond the town, wave on wave of low hills golden with autumn sunflowers. A meadowlark sang outside their window as Heyes pulled on his boots, and he was tempted to comment on the lovely weather, but refrained. Kid was in a mood as black as a thundercloud.

“Let’s get going,” Kid snapped, buckling on his gunbelt. “I want to avoid that sheriff, he won’t be any help. The man’s an idiot.”

“Why, what a coincidence, I’d like to avoid the sheriff, too,” said Heyes. “I don’t know if he’s as stupid as he looks. He had his eye on you, all right, and noticed our holsters tied down, too.”

Kid snorted. “Well, if he comes after us, I’ll let you take him,” he said. “Even you couldn’t miss a target that big.” Heyes heaved a pillow at him, but Kid didn’t retaliate, just stared out the window at the cloudless blue sky. “So where do we start?” he asked the air. “How do we find her?”

“Well, everyone who goes in or out of town has to leave their horse someplace,” Heyes said. “Let’s stop by the livery stable after breakfast.”

Kid headed for the door. “Let’s stop by there now,” he said.

Heyes kept a casual eye on Kid all through the long morning. The sunny weather had brought the citizens of Ossawatomie out of doors, the shops were open and the streets were thronged with people; it was a cheerful morning, and the townspeople were willing to chat, but every conversational path they started on ended in the same dead end. “Francina Talbot? Never heard of her.”

No one seemed to know anything about old Daniel, either. They asked the freckle-faced kid at the livery stable, and the girl behind the counter of the store that sold ladies’ hats and bolts of calico. They asked the young clerk at the bank: “Francina Talbot? No, sir,” and the boy who sold newspapers on the corner. “Francina Talbot? Nope. Never heard of her.” And with every shake of the head, every blank face, every shrug, Kid’s eyes became more grim.

“You know, I could use a little breakfast about now,” Heyes suggested cautiously, as they left the last shop at the end of the main street. “Maybe just a quick bite.”

Kid rubbed a hand over his eyes. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Three o’clock,” Heyes said.

Kid smiled reluctantly. “I guess it wouldn’t be too early for a plate of ham and eggs,” he agreed, and followed Heyes towards the cafe on the corner.

“You know, maybe we should think about moving on,” Heyes said. “It’s kinda clouding up, we should travel while the good weather holds. We really need to get those documents to Topeka pretty soon, the lawyer said that...”

“Hey, let’s try those guys,” Kid interrupted, pointing across the busy road to two figures lounging against the wall of the feed store. “They were in the bar last night, they must know the old guy, anyway.” He crossed the street, dodging under the noses of two horses pulling a wagon, and ignoring the driver’s shouted questions about his eyesight. Heyes sighed and followed, splashing through the puddles to the drier ground on the other side of the street.

By the time he caught up with Kid, the conversation was well under way. Heyes could tell from the shaking of heads and outstretched palms that these two young farmhands knew no more of Francina than anyone else.

Then one of the men scratched his head thoughtfully, and spat a stream of brown tobacco juice at Kid’s feet. “Hey, I know what,” he said, through the wad of tobacco. “Why don’t you ask Sam?”

“Yeah,” the other one agreed, slapping his friend on the back. “Sam’ll know.”

“He knows everybody,” said the farmer, and spat again. “Well, he gets to know everybody eventually. He’s that kinda guy. “

“Bet he’ll know,” said the first, and they nodded at each other, their straw hats bobbing up and down.

“Sam who?” Kid asked politely.

“Sam, you know,” said the man, surprised at his ignorance. “Sam. Everybody knows Sam.”

“And he knows everybody,” said the other, elbowing him, and they both chortled. “You new in town or something?”

“Just passing through,” said Heyes, glancing at Kid, who was drumming his fingers on the handle of his gun.

“Sam who?” Kid asked again, holding onto the rags of his patience.

“Don’t know, everyone just calls him Sam.”

“Any idea where we can find him?” Heyes said casually.

They looked at each other and pondered this with sober faces. “Well, ya mostly see him in the saloon, actually,” said one. “Don’t know where he lives. You might keep an eye out at the saloon.”

“Well, thanks,” said Kid. “It’s a start, anyway.”

They walked down the street, leaving the two farmers still chuckling. “Well, we’re making huge progress,” said Heyes. “I feel like we’re narrowing it down rapidly. Maybe if we stand on a street corner and yell ‘Hey, Sam!’ for a few hours.”

“I’m about ready to try that,” said Kid. “What else can we do?”

Heyes stopped and looked at him with a serious face. “Get going, that’s what,” he said. “It’s a dead end, Kid.”

“I’m not...”

“Come on, be reasonable. This is a lot of money we’re talking about, and a long trip, it’ll all be for nothing if we don’t get those documents to Topeka soon.” Kid kept on walking, head down. “Okay, okay,” Heyes sighed, reading the stubborn look on Kid’s face. “Let’s go ask at the saloon. At least we’ll get something to eat there.”

The bartender was sweeping broken glass off the floor, but hastily retreated behind the bar when he saw them. He clutched the broom in front of him like a weapon, his large mustache quivering.

“Relax,” said Heyes. “We’re not looking for trouble, just a little information.” The bartender kept a tight hold on his broom, but listened to what they had to say; he denied any knowledge of Francina Talbot, but cautiously admitted that he knew Sam. “You aren’t going to beat him up, are you?” he asked anxiously.

Kid sighed. “Like the sheriff keeps saying, I’m a peaceable sort,” he said. “Just tell us where we can find Sam, and we’ll be on our way.”

“Well, I don’t know where he lives, but he goes by here most days on his way to work,” said the bartender. “I’ll keep an eye out for him.”

“You serve lunch?” Heyes inquired hopefully.

“Two bits,” said the man. “You got two bits, I got stew.” He disappeared into a doorway behind the bar, and they heard him rattling pots and dishes.

Kid turned and leaned back against the slightly charred wood of the bar, and couldn’t help a rueful grin as he surveyed the room. “We did make a bit of a mess last night,” he admitted. “That chandelier may never be the same again.”

“That’s why it’s so important we lay low for a while, not cause any fuss,” Heyes said severely.

“Yeah, yeah,” Kid said. “The chairs are kinda beat up, too, but at least we didn’t break any windows...” He glanced out the big plate glass window and his voice trailed off.

“What’s up?” said Heyes, seeing his partner tense. He spun around, expecting to see an angry posse approaching.

“See that woman, in the blue dress, across the street there? Look at how she’s trying to sneak along,” Kid said. “She’s afraid.” Heyes peered through the streaked window and saw a woman hurrying down the sidewalk, glancing fearfully over her shoulder, and clutching a shawl about her head to hide her face.

“That’s her,” said Kid, craning his neck. “Yellow hair, blue’s her!”

“How the hell do you know what color her eyes are?” Heyes demanded.

“It’s Francina,” Kid said under his breath, and headed for the door at a run.

The sheriff was strolling along the wooden boardwalk that ran in front of the saloon. “Look out!” Heyes called, but it was too late. Kid burst out the door, and slammed full tilt into the sheriff. Both men crashed to the ground, and Heyes groaned out loud as Kid scrambled up, leaped over the sheriff who was lying on his back like a beached whale, and fled down the street.

Kid shoved his way down the sidewalk, leaving a trail of irate citizens in his wake. He had a glimpse of the woman’s blue skirt as she turned a corner, but when he charged around the bend the street ahead of him was empty.

He paused, panting. The road ran past a few sheds and barns and then ended, the packed dirt surface blending into the limitless sea of grass that surrounded the town. The low sun emerged from behind a cloud and he strained his eyes in the glare to glimpse a woman in a blue skirt with corn-silk hair coming towards him across the prairie, but the horizon was empty under a windswept sky.

“Where are you?” he called, but the flat prairie had no echoes, and no voice answered his. “Francina!” he called again in a desperate voice, as if searching for a lost child. “Francina...”

He was turning to go back, when suddenly he caught a flash of blue out of the corner of his eye, and whirled to see another glimpse of blue skirt as it disappeared through the side door of a barn. He ran over to the ramshackle building, shoved the door open, and went inside.

No one was in sight; bars of sunlight slanted down through high windows onto stacks of hay, and over his head pigeons clapped and fluttered in the rafters. Then, blended with the sound of the birds he heard a feminine giggle. “Francina?” he called.

The face of a young woman in a blue dress looked down at him from the high hayloft, and smiled. “What do you want, mister?” she inquired, raising her brows archly. “You followin’ me?”

Kid knew right away she wasn’t the girl in the picture, but he asked the question anyway. “Francina?”

“No, I’m Sophie,” said the girl, and smiled more broadly, looking him over. “Who’re you?” A stern male voice said something from the hayloft behind her, and she giggled again, and the blonde head vanished. Kid left, closing the barn door quietly behind him.

Heyes fingered the coins in his pocket, and wondered if he had enough to buy the sheriff yet another drink. Wining and dining the sheriff had seemed a good way to smooth his ruffled feathers, but the man had a big appetite, and his funds were running low. The sheriff pushed aside his empty plate, and leaned on the bar, sadly regarding his flattened, filthy hat, which Kid had trampled in his haste.

“So, that guy, is he a friend of yours?” he asked, as he finished his fourth large whiskey.

“Nah,” said Heyes. “We’re just travelling in the same direction.” He eyed the sheriff’s broad, bland face, and had a sudden thought. “Say, you’re new here in town, you say. Who was sheriff before you? Was it that old guy who just died?”

“No, no, it was Richard Jakes, he was sheriff here for years. Good man. Why?”

“Oh, no reason,” said Heyes. “Have another drink?”

“No, thanks, not on duty,” the sheriff said. He brushed the remaining mud from his trousers, and settled the dented hat carefully on his head. “Well, watch out for that Jones fellow, neighbor. He’s nothing but trouble, I can tell. He’s a dangerous man.” He nodded at Heyes. “Very dangerous.”

Heyes finished his drink with relief as the sheriff left. The saloon was starting to fill with the afternoon crowd, and many of the men who entered eyed Heyes curiously, remembering last night’s brawl. Heyes groped in his almost empty pockets, and realized there wasn’t enough in them to get started in a card game. The piano player started up a merry tune, and a poker table was forming, but he went out the swinging doors glumly. The music faded behind him as he trudged back to the hotel.

He went up to the dingy little room, and stretched out on the bed, yawning. The room darkened as the sun sank behind clouds, and the curtainless windows and bare walls made the room seem chilly. He sighed, and pulled his mind resolutely away, as he always did, from thoughts of a warm kitchen fireside and welcoming faces around the supper-table. He fell asleep on the hard bed, waiting for Kid to get back.

It was more than an hour later when he woke to hear Kid’s slow footsteps trudging up the hotel stairs. The door opened, and Kid entered wearily. As soon as he saw Heyes’s expression he put his hands in the air. “Don’t shoot,” he said. “I surrender.”  

“It’s unbelievable,” Heyes said, looking up at the ceiling. “It really is.” He shook his head. “What have you got planned next?” he inquired, sitting up. “Why don’t you challenge the sheriff to a little fast draw? Do some target practice outside his office? Ask to see his wanted posters?”

Kid ignored this. He sat down on the hard wooden chair, and drew his gun, checking it over carefully. Heyes watched him for a few minutes. “So it wasn’t her, huh?” he said, in a different tone. Kid shook his head without looking up.  

Heyes got off the bed, and walked over to put a hand on Kid’s shoulder. “Come on, Kid. We can’t do any more here, it’s a wild goose chase.”

Kid inspected the gun’s chambers with narrowed eyes. “I said I’d protect her.”

“Against what?” Heyes demanded. “What the hell was the old guy talking about? Kansas is pretty peaceful nowadays, you know. There’s no massacres anymore.”

“I don’t know,” Kid muttered.

“That sheriff’s watching us, and he’s no fool,” said Heyes, shaking him by the shoulder. Kid looked up, and their eyes met. “Come on, Kid,” Heyes said urgently. “For once, just once, let’s quit while we’re ahead. Let’s do the smart thing, and leave.”

“I’m not leaving,” Kid insisted. “She’s all alone, she needs me.” He stood up and shoved the gun back into his holster. “I’m not going to let her down.”

“She doesn’t know you from a hole in the ground,” Heyes protested. “And you don’t know her. I mean, I’d like to help, but we’ve done all we can.”

“No!” Kid shouted, striding around the room. Heyes watched, amazed at the violence in his tone. “She needs me!” Kid circled the room again. “She’s all alone, no one to help her. I was just a kid last time, but now I know how to use a gun. I’m not going to let her down this time.” He turned and flung out of the room, slamming the door with a crash that threatened to bring down the building.  

Heyes hardly head the sound of Kid’s boots thundering down the stairs. “This time?” he said out loud, staring at the door. “This time?”

Heyes sat a table in the saloon, an untouched plate of steak and fried potatoes in front of him, gazing at the opposite wall. His thoughts were years away. For once he had neglected the precaution of sitting with his back to the door, and he didn’t hear stealthy footsteps come up behind him, pause, and then approach closer.

Suddenly a hand, holding a shot glass full of whiskey, appeared in front of his nose, and he blinked in surprise. He looked up to see Kid standing over him, swaying slightly, and holding a half-full bottle. “Want a drink?” Kid inquired. “You don’t have to talk to me or nothin’, I’ll leave you alone.”

Heyes looked at him for a moment, then accepted the glass without comment. He shoved a chair out with his foot, and Kid sat down. They drank in silence for a while.

“You know, Kid,” Heyes said in a low voice, refilling his glass. “I agree we should try to help this girl, I’ll go along, no argument. But you gotta realize...” He paused. “Saving Francina isn’t going to change what happened. It won’t bring her back.”

“Her?” Kid stared at him warily. “Who do you mean?”

“Your mother,” Heyes said gently.

Kid’s eyes flew wide in surprise. “What are you, a damn mind reader?” he demanded. “Think you know everything.”

“I do know everything,” Heyes said smugly. Kid snorted, and splashed more whiskey into his glass, filling it to the brim. “That won’t bring her back either,” Heyes added.

Kid ignored this and tossed off the drink in one gulp. “You don’t know everything,” he said, filling the glass again. He held it up and looked at the amber whiskey gleaming in the light. “This’ll bring her back,” he said. “Works every time.” He downed the drink, then slammed the empty glass back on the table, and looked at Heyes defiantly.

“I know,” said Heyes in a low voice. “I’ve tried it, too. And it does bring my folks back, sometimes. I can see their faces and everything.” He looked away and shook his head. “It’s just that they’re never gonna be back to stay.”

The bartender waved across the room to get their attention. “Hey, boys,” he called. “Weren’t you on the lookout for old Sam?”

“Yeah,” Kid said, glad to end the conversation. He jumped to his feet and swayed a little. “You know where he is?”

The bartender squinted out the window. “There he goes—think he’s going to work, if you hurry you can catch him. Guy with the big hat, red suspenders.” Kid was out the door before the man had finished speaking.

Heyes got to his feet, and wearily followed him out into the drizzle. Kid stood on the boardwalk, looking up and down the street. “Red suspenders, there he is,” he said, and pursued the man. “Sam? Hey, Sam!”

His quarry stopped and turned around; he was an elderly gnome of a man, barely up to Kid’s shoulder. “What do you want?” he asked, squinting up at them. “I got to get to work, got a job to do.”

“Well...” Heyes began, but Kid interrupted him. “We’re looking for a Francina Talbot, do you know where she is?”

“Hm, Francina, Francina Talbot...” the old man said, tilting his head to one side like a thoughtful sparrow. “Name sounds familiar, now, why is that?” He blinked into space a few times, while Kid fidgeted. “Oh yeah, I remember—that old guy who croaked yesterday—he used to bring her flowers all the time.”

“Yeah, that sounds right,” said Kid eagerly. “So where is she, do you know?”

“Let me think, where did I see...yeah, just on top of the hill there. Over the stone wall, just across from the brook.” He pointed to a rutted road that ran past stores and houses up to the low hills that encircled the town.

“Think she’s there now?” Kid asked eagerly.

The man stared at him, and snorted. “Well, I should certainly think so--” he began, and that was enough for Kid. He strode up the hill under the lowering clouds, as raindrops began to splash down. He walked faster and faster, then broke into a run. “What’s your hurry, young feller?” he heard the old man call behind him, but didn’t look back.

He raced up the steep road, past the houses, past the church, and suddenly in his mind he was a boy again, running frantically up another Kansas hillside, smoke rising from beyond the crest, icy raindrops mixing with the hot tears that stung his eyes. He ran, knowing with the sure instinct of a child that something dreadful beyond words was waiting just over the top of the hill.

He topped the rise and slowed, panting, hoping to glimpse a figure in a blue skirt with corn-colored hair, waiting to see her turn and smile at him, her blue eyes lit with
welcome. But as he reached the crest of the hill, the buildings ended, and the road faded into an endless horizon of brown prairie grass. The hilltop was empty.  

He looked around, and spotted the stone wall, and the little brook, but no one was there. “Francina!” he called out in wild despair. “Where are you?”

Heyes had started to run after Kid, but the small man caught his arm. “Hold on, boy, just hold your horses,” he wheezed. “She ain’t going nowhere, that’s for sure. Now what’s so special about this Francina? Old Sheriff Daniels, he used to bring her flowers all the time, I was always having to tidy up, and now you two mooning around.”

“What do you mean, tidy up?” said Heyes absently, watching Kid heading up the muddy road towards the small white church that stood on top of the hill.

“Sweep them away, after they faded. Dang mess, it was. He sure was broke up about it, felt he’d let her down, I reckon.”

“Sweep them after...what?” said Heyes, staring at the man. Suddenly things fell into place, and he realized with a sickening jolt what Sam’s job was, and why it was that he eventually got to know every body in town.

Heyes splashed through puddles, ignoring the rain that was beating down harder than ever. Finally he came to the top of the hill, where Kid was standing bare-headed in the downpour. He spun around when Heyes came quietly up behind him.

“I’m not leaving till I find her,” Kid said, through clenched teeth. “Where’s that little bastard? I’ll beat it out of him.”

“We found her, Kid,” said Heyes, pity in his dark eyes. “We found her.”

“What! Where?” Kid grabbed his partner’s shoulder as though he would shake the information out of him, then followed his glance over the stone wall, across the brook. He stared in disbelief for a long minute, then read the words on the tilted, lichen-covered headstone that was half covered by prairie grass.

A voice behind them broke the silence. “I see you found your friend,” said the little man, blinking at them with curiosity in his wrinkled face. He was holding a well-used shovel over one shoulder. “Terrible thing, really. She was so pretty, you know. Had the nicest smile, I used to...well.” He scratched his chin. “Daniels, he was nuts about her, promised her she’d be safe from the raiders. He never really got over it.” He stuck his shovel into the sod. “Guess I’ll put him up here, next to her. I don’t think he ever got over...” Kid turned away hastily, and strode off down the hill.

“Humph,” Sam said to Heyes, struggling to push the shovel through the tough grass. “Not very sociable, your friend, is he?”

“Oh, he just wants get out of the rain,” said Heyes, watching his partner walk back towards the town. “He hates rain. Like a cat.”

“Well, he came to the wrong place, then,” said Sam. “Hell, it always rains in Kansas. In between twisters.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Heyes, looking out over the darkening prairie. He lifted his face to the cold rain, so that he would have an excuse to wipe his eyes. “I know all about it,” he said. “We were born in Kansas.”

Heyes looked across the crowded saloon, warmly lit by the repaired chandelier. He searched the faces of the cheerful card-players and drinkers, and tipped his hat when he saw the sheriff leaning against the bar, eyeing him suspiciously. He finally spotted a lone figure sitting at a corner table, head down, a full whiskey bottle in front of him.

Heyes crossed the room, and sat down at the table, pulling a deck of cards from his pocket. “Deal you a hand, stranger?” he said, shuffling the deck and fanning the cards expertly.

Kid looked up at him and smiled. “Want a drink?” he asked. Heyes nodded, and Kid shoved his full glass across the table to him. “Doesn’t work anymore,” Kid said. “I can’t bring her back even for a minute.” Heyes took a sip, then idly dealt a couple of poker hands, watching Kid.

“Did you read the date on the headstone?” Kid asked. “Same year. Same exact year.”

“Lot of killing that year,” said Heyes, his voice bitter. “They called it Bleeding Kansas, remember?”

Kid picked up the shot glass and emptied it, then crashed his hand back onto the table so hard the glass shattered. “Damn it, it’s not fair!” he said, his voice rising. He cried out again, like a grief-stricken child cheated of his heart’s desire: “It’s not fair!”

There was a lull in the buzz of conversation, and the room fell silent as heads turned towards them curiously. Heyes gave his partner a warning kick, and Kid bowed his head.

The sheriff heaved himself erect, and ambled over to their table. “Now, now, boys,” he said. “This is a peaceable town, you know. If someone’s not playing fair, why, you need to settle your differences peaceably.”

“Sorry, sheriff,” Heyes muttered. “Didn’t mean to disturb you.”

The sheriff frowned at Kid’s clenched fists and the shards of glass on the table. “You take it easy, there, son,” he said. “I don’t blame you for being mad, but don’t go flying off the handle and shooting this guy here. He might be a cheat, but we got peaceable ways of dealing with his kind.”

“What!” Heyes protested. “I’m not cheating, we were just...”

“Sure, that’s what they all say,” said the sheriff. “What do you say, young fella?” he added, looking at Kid. “You want to let him off, or bring charges?”

Kid raised his head, and blinked up at the sheriff for a moment, then smiled. “Well, I reckon I’ll let the dirty skunk go this time,” he said magnanimously. “To oblige you, sheriff.”

“Well, that’s square of you, friend,” said the sheriff, patting Kid on the back. “I appreciate that. And you should too, young man,” he added sternly to Heyes. “Deal’em straight, now. It’s not an easy thing to take, when you’ve been cheated. It’s not a pleasant thing. Makes you mad.”

“I know that, sheriff,” Kid said, his eyes somber again. “We both do.”

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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