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 3.16 A Difficult Delivery by Kate Ashe

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20150408
Post3.16 A Difficult Delivery by Kate Ashe

A Difficult Delivery
Written by Kate Ashe


"Gentlemen, Gentlemen, so pleased to meet you! I understand that you have come about the advert?" He shook Heyes' hand and then the Kid's as he spoke.

Heyes spoke up, causing the man to turn away from Kid to look at him. "Yes. It was somewhat vague though. Can you tell us more?"

"I require a, erm, package to be delivered. However, circumstances require that a route is taken which is, how to put it?, other than the easiest."

"What sort of package?" Curry asked. Heyes frowned at him. "It sounds dubious," he said. "We won't do anything illegal."

"No, no, nothing illegal, I can assure you. It's just that certain parties may try to disrupt the arrival, for their own purposes. The, erm, package must arrive safely and quickly."

"And the pay?"

"If the package arrives safely, in excellent condition, $5,000."

Starring

Pete Duel
as Hannibal Heyes
Ben Murphy
as Kid Curry

Guest Stars

David Doyle as Mr Brewster
Charlene Tilton as Abigail Lovern
Lorne Greene as Mr Lovern
Gordon Thomson as Jeremy Lovern




Two tired and weary cowboys rode into town. Heyes and Curry had been on the trail for several weeks and were looking forward to a beer and a long rest in a comfortable hotel room. The town of Appleton was a busy, prosperous looking place with much movement on the street. This enabled Heyes and Curry to slip in unnoticed, something they preferred. As they rode past the Sheriff's office, they checked it out. They were relieved that they did not recognise anyone. Without speaking to each other, they made their way to the livery stable where they left their horses. Carrying their bedrolls and saddlebags, they headed for the hotel.

"One room please."

"Three dollars, up front."

Heyes handed over the money while Curry signed the book. He looked up at the desk clerk. "Any chance of a bath?"

"I'll arrange one for you Sir." The clerk replied.

"How long?"

"Around 30 minutes Sir."

"Just time for a beer. Joshua?"

Heyes nodded.

They went into the small hotel bar and ordered two beers. Curry stared around the room, but Heyes' eyes lit upon a small bookcase.

"Mind if I borrow one of those?" he asked the bartender, who shook his head. Heyes went over and checked out the titles. Selecting one, he called out to the Kid, "Thaddeus, I'll see you in our room!" Curry turned and sighed heavily as he spotted the book in Heyes' hand.

* * * * *

Curry stared morosely at the small pile of coins in front of him. Heyes was lying on the battered, brass double bed, reading the battered book. The entire room had a battered and worn feel. Curry was heartedly sick of it.

"Heyes, how much money you got?" Curry asked for the thousandth time.

Heyes ignored him.

Curry turned around completely and looked at his partner. Heyes wore his look of concentration.
Curry sighed heavily and loudly. "I got precisely two dollars and 35 cents left. What do you have?"

Heyes turned a page.

"I would just like for once to be able to stay in a smart hotel, you know, with clean sheets, without holes and a ceiling without a bullet hole in it!"

Heyes shifted slightly and crossed his ankles.

"Can we even continue to pay for this room?"

Heyes turned another page.

A look of irritation flashed across Kid's face. Heyes had been reading for hours. Kid had sat downstairs in the bar, taken his bath, gone for a walk, done some target practice and checked on the horses. He'd been back in the hotel room for over an hour and had counted the money in his pockets four times, though the amount hadn't changed! So far, Heyes hadn't said a word and Kid was bored.

Seriously, Curry now said, "If you're as broke as me, and you likely are, I'll go and rob the bank now, only way seems we're gonna have enough." He stood up and began to strap on his gun.

Heyes slowly raised his eyes from the page and watched him finish tying the gun down, collect his hat and head for the door.

"When you're done, bring me back some meatloaf would ya? With biscuits? The restaurant should do something for 35 cents." Heyes looked back down at his book and added, with a hint of a smirk, "That'll leave you with two dollars."

Kid Curry glared at his partner and then stomped out. Heyes winced as the door slammed shut. He sighed, oh well, he'd apologise when the Kid returned.

Kid Curry stomped down the corridor and then down the stairs. He marched across the lobby and flung the door open.

Outside, he stood still, unsure about what to do. He saw the restaurant Heyes had referred to and, sighing, walked over and bought two meals. While he waited, he noticed a local paper on the counter.

"Could I have that?"

The young woman smiled and nodded, "It's a couple of days old."

"That's okay, I've not read it yet!"

Curry returned to the hotel room. At the door, he rapped three times and entered. He tossed the paper bag onto the bed and then slumped down in a chair. He opened the paper and started to read. Heyes looked up at him and decided to keep quiet. He did begin to eat, murmuring a polite thank you. Curry acknowledged this with a grunt.

The two sat in silence, reading. The room was still and quiet and Heyes jumped when Curry suddenly sat up with a cry.

"What on earth?"

The Kid was shaking the paper at him. "Heyes! Take a look!"

Heyes took it and scanned the columns. "Take a look at what? Mrs Johnson had a baby boy, congratulations to her. Oh look, Hans Frederick is going to college in the fall, good for him."

The paper was snatched away, folded and stuck back in front of him.

"Here!"

Heyes looked carefully. It was a wanted advert, for two men to undertake a delivery to Red Rock, Colorado.

"This? I thought the weather was too bad to sleep out? Besides, paper's old, job'll have gone."
"We can at least find out! Heyes, this is the first sign of work we've had in a while. It'll be enough to see us through winter."

"You hope."

"Heyes! It'll be more than we've got now."

"It'll have gone."

"We can ask. What harm is there in asking?"

"It's a mite suspicious don't you think?"

"Suspicious? How? C'mon Heyes, if we don't get work soon, we'll starve."

Heyes stared at the advert again. "Okay, we'll check it out tomorrow."

"Why not today?"

Heyes glanced at the book and then climbed off the bed. Picking up his gun and hat, he smiled at Kid, "C'mon then."

* * * * *

Heyes and Curry were shown into a well appointed room. They waited. Curry stared out of the window while Heyes browsed the books on the shelves. Neither spoke and, unusually, the silence had a slight edge. Heyes was reluctant and Curry remained a little annoyed with him.

A long five minutes had passed when the door opened. A portly gentleman hurried in. He approached Heyes with an outstretched hand, a smile and a pleased expression.

"Gentlemen, Gentlemen, so pleased to meet you! I understand that you have come about the advert?" He shook Heyes' hand and then the Kid's as he spoke.

Heyes spoke up, causing the man to turn away from Kid to look at him. "Yes. It was somewhat vague though. Can you tell us more?"

"I require a, erm, package to be delivered. However, circumstances require that a route is taken which is, how to put it?, other than the easiest."

"What sort of package?" Curry asked. Heyes frowned at him. "It sounds dubious," he said. "We won't do anything illegal."

"No, no, nothing illegal, I can assure you. It's just that certain parties may try to disrupt the arrival, for their own purposes. The, erm, package must arrive safely and quickly."

"And the pay?"

"If the package arrives safely, in excellent condition, $5,000."

"Mister ?"

"Brewster."

"Mr. Brewster, you really are not convincing us that it's not going to get us into trouble with the law."

"The pay is to encourage rapid delivery Mister ?"

"Smith."

"If it takes longer than two weeks, then the pay will be nothing. It is vital to get," there was a slight pause, "it there within that time."

"Hmm. I presume there is an element of danger involved?"

"No, though, if you encounter trouble, I'm authorised to offer an additional $1,000."

"Well, thanks for your time." Heyes started to make his way out. However, he was stopped by Curry.

"Mr. Brewster, would you give us a few minutes to discuss this?"

"Certainly, certainly. Glad you'll consider it. I'll come back shortly."

Heyes glared at Kid as Brewster left the room. The door shut and he exploded, "NO! No, no, no, no and no! It's dangerous and probably illegal. It's going to be hard riding and fast. And he's desperate. How many others have turned it down? That should tell you something!"

Curry waited until Heyes had run down a little and then said, "How much is the hotel bill?"

Heyes looked at him.

"We need this job Heyes. I know it's dangerous and hard and only a fool would take it. Well, we're broke and that's as close to being fools as you can get. That money will take us a long way and it's not as though we've not done dangerous, hard and foolhardy jobs before!" Curry stared straight at Heyes, daring him to contradict him.

Heyes sighed. Sometimes, his partner could really surprise him. He really should have had all that figured himself! That's what came of too much reading, he smiled to himself.

"Okay. You've convinced me!"

Heyes went to the door and opened it. He called Brewster's name. In response, a door opposite opened and Brewster appeared.

"Gentlemen? You have reached a decision?"

"We have two conditions. First, we require half up front, for bills and supplies and because we have no intention of doing it for nothing, whenever we arrive. Second, we'll do it for $5,000 each."

"But, but what if you just take the money and disappear?"

"You'll have to trust us. We're honest men, Mr. Brewster and we keep our word. You have our word that we will see the job through, whatever happens." Heyes paused and added, "Course, you could get someone else."

Brewster considered Heyes' words, "Gentlemen, you have a deal. Come through."

Heyes and Curry walked across the hall and entered the other room, a well appointed study. Brewster went to a safe and opened it. Heyes watched intently, until Curry nudged him in the ribs and gave him a look that said, stop it, we're outta that business!

Heyes smiled a little, I'm only looking! He responded silently.

Brewster counted out their money and handed it over.

"The package?"

"You need to come back tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. Be equipped for the journey. I'll let you have the, er, package then."

Heyes gathered up the money. "Goodbye till then." He shook Brewster's hand, Curry followed and both men left.

* * * * *

At 7.55 a.m. the next morning, Heyes and Curry pulled up in front of Brewster's house, provisioned, packed and ready to go.

They approached the front door and knocked. Inside they could hear raised voices. Casting a quizzical look at each other, they opened the door and entered.

In the hall way stood Brewster and a young woman. She was shouting at him, "I am NOT going to travel all the way on a horse! Just who do you think I am? And I will not travel with a couple of unknown drifters!" She spat the word.

Heyes coughed loudly. She turned and looked at him. "Who are you?" she demanded, rudely and haughtily.
"The couple of unknown drifters Ma'am." Heyes replied confidently, not in the least perturbed by her attitude.

She, however, was thrown by his response. Defensively, she said, "How dare you be so insolent"

Heyes interrupted her. "Insolent Ma'am? That wasn't insolent. However." He stopped and looked at her and gave every appearance of being perfectly capable of considerable insolence!

He looked toward Brewster. "I take it that this is the package we are to deliver."

Brewster nodded sheepishly.

"Mr. Brewster, you misled us. I think that perhaps we should have asked for considerably more danger money. However, we did agree." He turned back to the woman. "We are leaving, with you, in five minutes. You can travel in that getup, though I would not recommend it, or you can change into appropriate clothing and collect your belongings. I warn you, we are travelling light."

"I am not going!" she stamped her foot.

Heyes walked up to her, cupped her chin in his hand and stared into her eyes. Very softly he said, "You are coming with us, riding upright or across the saddle. We have a considerable sum of money waiting for us and we are not about to leave it to satisfy your pride or comfort. Now, I suggest you get ready." He released her.

For a moment, she stood staring at him, slack jawed. Heyes barked, "NOW!" at her and she fled up the stairs.

Curry released the laugh he'd been holding inside. "Well, it should be an interesting journey." He said, with amusement.

Brewster stared at them. "You, you're still going?"

"We gave you our word Mr. Brewster. What is the young lady's name?"

"Abigail Lovern. You're taking her back to her father's ranch."

"Thaddeus, would you get another horse ready, for our package. I'll get further directions from Mr. Brewster."

Curry nodded and left. Heyes indicated to Brewster to enter the study.

* * * * *

A short time later, Abigail Lovern returned to the hallway, carrying a valise and dressed in riding gear. Curry entered at the same time. He took in her outfit and nodded approvingly. In his left hand, he carried saddle bags. He took the valise off Abigail and proceeded to empty it, putting certain items into the saddle bags. Abigail protested, but a look from the blonde haired man silenced her. He fastened the bags and faced her, "My friend did say we were travelling light. I'm Thaddeus Jones. My friend is Joshua Smith. You can call us Thaddeus and Joshua, Miss Lovern."

Recovering some of her earlier haughtiness, she replied, "Thank you, Mister Jones. Is my horse ready?"

Curry could barely keep the laughter out of his voice. She sure had some opinion of herself! He managed to utter a reasonably polite "Yes Ma'am" and then watched her leave the house. He knocked on the study door.

"Joshua, we're ready."

Heyes came out, followed by Brewster. "Thank you Mr. Brewster. We'll let you know when we arrive." He shook Brewster's hand and followed the Kid out.

"Everything okay?"

"Sure, no problems."

Curry looked at Heyes' back and watched him mount, somehow, he had a feeling that there were going to be more than a few problems before they saw the last of Miss Abigail Lovern.

* * * * *

The three travellers rode briskly and silently. Abigail was positioned between Heyes and Curry. She rode stiffly with her jaw clenched. Other than shouting over her, conversation was impossible for her disreputable escorts. Curry was also preoccupied with keeping their mule moving; the animal had turned out to be as stubborn as the proverbial beast!

It was a long day.

* * * * *

At least an hour before sunset, Heyes had had enough. He was leading the group and began actively to seek somewhere to make a camp. It wasn't long before he spotted a shady grove near water. He led the way to it.

At the glade, Heyes dismounted and tied his horse to a tree and approached Abigail. He held the bridle of her horse and offered his hand to her. After a moment's hesitation, she took it, accepting his help in dismounting. Immediately her feet touched the ground, she let go and stalked away. Heyes smiled, at her retreating back, amused by her attitude.

Kid pulled up next to him. The expression on his face told Heyes clearly that he had had enough. He glowered at Heyes, "I am not dragging this beast all day tomorrow." He snapped, indicating the packmule.
Heyes grinned, aggravating Kid all the more, especially when he said nothing about the Kid's complaint and merely asked politely, "Would you see to the animals?"

Glancing at Abigail's frosty demeanour, Curry readily agreed!

Some time later, the animals were groomed, unsaddled and grazing quietly, a fire was burning and the smell of cooking stew was spreading over the glade. The camp was silent. Abigail sat on a log, stone faced. When the meal was cooked, Curry handed her a plate; she took it but ignored him. Neither Curry nor Heyes were in the mood for their usual chat, though Curry griped continually about the mule. Heyes ignored him, and sat staring into the fire; which only served to make Curry more frustrated. They all ate silently. When they were done and the pots cleaned up, Curry yawned and rolled up in his blanket, he was too tired to continue dealing with Heyes.

"Night Joshua." He murmured, despite his annoyance with his partner.

"Night." Heyes responded absently. He sat drinking coffee slowly. Abigail sat stiffly, staring at the fire. Finally, the cold and tiredness overcame her reluctance and she crept forward. Heyes solemnly handed her a cup of coffee, which she took and drank with gusto. She wrapped her blanket around her as she sat close to the fire, eyelids drooping. Heyes smiled thinly at her and said softly, "Why don't you turn in? Don't worry about us, we'll take good care of you. You're worth a lot to us. You need to arrive in perfect condition."

Abigail stared at him, shocked. "You make me sound like a package!"

"You are." Heyes said, his voice hard. He returned to staring at the fire and sipping his coffee.

Abigail watched him for a while, amazed at his temerity. No one spoke to her or about her like that!

Her eyelids drooped and finally, she gave in, curling up on the ground, wrapped in her blanket.

* * * * *

In the morning, she was woken by Curry, gently shaking her. Kid smiled at her. "How'd you sleep?" He held a cup out, "Coffee?"

Abigail was cold and stiff and so eagerly took the hot drink to warm her up. Kid had started to walk away when she suddenly said thank you. He turned back and flashed a dazzling smile at her, "You're welcome." He responded. Over at the other side of the fire, Heyes rolled his eyes.

Curry crouched down next to him.

"What are you doing?" Heyes hissed at him.

The Kid helped himself to breakfast and replied calmly, as much to irritate Heyes as to explain, "May as well have a pleasant trip."

He filled a second plate and took it over to Abigail, who smiled gratefully at him.

Soon, they were back in the saddle. As Curry had feared, they took the same roles as the previous day. Heyes was in the lead and set a brisk pace. Abigail rode stiffly between them. She was unused to riding and was sore in places she didn't realise she had! Curry was at the rear, with the mule. He alternated between glaring at Heyes and at the mule! The little party rode in silence.

The shots that rang out took them all by surprise.

As they died away, Heyes grabbed the reins of Abigail's horse and turned off the track. Curry was already bent low and racing his animals. Together, they headed at the gallop to the cover of a stand of trees. Abigail clung onto her saddle horn, unconsciously copying the men's bent over posture. Bullets ripped into the ground around them.

Inside the small glade, Heyes pulled up.

"What the heck just happened?"

Curry had his gun drawn and had dismounted. He stood behind a tree at the edge of the glade and peered out, listening.

Heyes looked at Abigail, ashen faced and speechless with shock.

"You okay?"

Abigail was unable to respond, so Heyes gave her a quick inspection. He couldn't see any blood or other sign of injury so for now assumed she was unhurt.

"Sit tight." He ordered.

He joined Curry, who gave him a quick glance as he approached. Satisfied that Heyes was unhurt, he turned back to the outside, in time to see a group of riders heading toward the glade. Now that there was a real danger, all the irritation between the two was forgotten. Each knew exactly what the other would do and they worked together smoothly. A few well placed shots from each ensured that the group turned tail and fled.

Curry holstered his gun and took a step back. "Recognise them?"

"Nope, you?"

"No. Is Abigail?"

"Seems to be okay. Shaken up. Where the heck did they come from?"

"No idea. I'm certain they didn't follow us, but, how could they lie in wait? They'd have to know…"

"Yeah."

"You think they're after us?"

"Mebbe, but our 'package' is precious. I told you it was a mite suspicious!"

Curry gave Heyes a scathing glance. Why did he always have to say I told you so! "Her name is Abigail."

"I know. It's just," he sighed and passed his hand through his hair, pushing it back off his forehead, "Oh, I don't know."

"What now?"

Heyes stared at him, "Kid, I ever tell you, you ask too many questions?" He paused briefly and continued in a firmer voice, " I don't think they'll try that approach again. I'll go back and see how Abigail" he stressed the name a little sarcastically, "is doing."

Abigail was still sat on her horse. Heyes approached her.

"Want a hand in getting down? Abigail? Abigail!"

She started and looked down at him, a blank expression. Her eyes were clouded with shock.

Heyes spoke gently, "Abigail, do you want a hand in getting down?" He reached up to her.

She reached down and took his hand; it was stone cold. Heyes reached up and slipped his arm around her waist and slid her off. He sat her down on a nearby fallen log and rubbed her hands and cheeks. Suddenly she started and pushed his hands away.

"I'm fine thank you, that will suffice." She said, with more than a hint of her previous haughtiness.

Heyes sat back on his heels. "So, do you know anything about that?"

Anger flashed in her eyes. "Why would I? I do not mix with such, such men!"

"So, why would they be shooting at us?"

"It must be something to do with you and Mr. Jones! Unless…."

"Unless what?" Heyes prompted.

"Nothing. It has nothing to do with me!" she replied flatly.

"Well, whatever the reason, we can't stay here for ever. I'll be right back."

Heyes returned to Curry.

"Seen a glint or two, up in the rocks." His partner reported.

"You want first watch?"

"Toss for it."

Heyes fished out a coin, "Call."

"Tails."

Heyes tossed the coin, grinned at the Kid and returned to Abigail. Curry sighed and settled down to stare out at the road.

"You may as well make yourself comfortable, we're going to be here for a while."

"What about those bandits?" she asked fearfully.

Heyes had begun to tear strips off a blanket. "Oh, we'll keep an eye on them."

"What are you doing?" Abigail asked, curious.

"Something we'll need later."

Heyes lay a couple of blankets on the ground. "Lie down and get some rest, we'll be up all night." Heyes lay down, tipped his hat over his eyes and went to sleep.

Abigail lay down, but remained wide awake.

* * * * *

As dusk fell, during the Kid's second watch, Heyes got up and quietly wrapped the horses' bridles and feet with the cloth strips. By the time he'd finished, the sky was completely dark. Curry joined him as he knelt down beside Abigail. He put his hand over her mouth and then shook her. She woke with a start and would've made a noise but for Heyes' hand. She stared at him. He put a finger to her lips, indicating her silence was required and then helped her to her feet. Her eyes began to adjust to the dark and she could see vague outlines of the two men. Curry hoisted her onto her horse and mounted himself. Heyes took hold of her reins and then led the way, through the trees and out onto the plain. Curry took the rear, keeping a watch out for any pursuit.

Heyes took a long and circuitous route. By dawn, Abigail had no idea where they were, or were the road had gone. However, she found that she now trusted the two men. They moved confidently and Smith seemed to know where he was going. Given that he had also made it clear that he wanted to claim his pay, she had no doubts that they would make every effort to get her home!

They had left the plain and were entering a rocky canyon area. The trail was narrow and the cliffs towered above them. They had to negotiate around boulders lying at the side of the path and, occasionally, across the path. The path twisted and turned and twice they came to a dead end.

Abigail was tired, sore and hungry. "Do you have any idea where you are going?" she finally snapped at Heyes. "And when are we going to stop?"

A voice came from the back. "She's got a point, Joshua. I'm hungry!"

Heyes pulled up. "Will you all keep your voice down? Do you want to get caught in here? We'll stop when we've gotten out of here and I'm satisfied that we're in a clear place. And keep quiet, this place is prone to rockfalls. Oh and Miss Abigail?"

"Yes?" she whispered.

"I do know where I'm going!" Heyes' voice was taut with anger as he turned back and continued.

The party plodded on. The sun rose high in the sky and it became hotter and hotter. Abigail reached for her water canteen as a rattle broke the silence. Her horse reared, she screamed and a shot rang out. The snake writhed, its head smashed. Heyes turned around in his saddle. "Everyone okay?"

Abigail was off her horse, Curry beside her. He helped her up and boosted her back into the saddle, then handed her the fallen canteen. He looked toward Heyes, "She's fine, a bit bruised, but no broken bones."

He made his way to his horse and was in the act of mounting when a rumbling noise caused him to pause momentarily. Settling back in, he looked toward Heyes with a questioning expression. Heyes' head was cocked to one side, listening. Suddenly, a look of horror spread over his face.

"Run!" he shouted, "Move it - rockfall!"

He moved his horse to one side, letting Abigail go in front and then he kicked his horse and spurred hers on. Curry came behind him. They raced along the narrow passageway, the sound of rumbling growing to deafening proportions. Small rocks fell about their ears, some falling on their head and shoulders. Behind them the whole face of the canyon seemed to shudder and then slide down on top of them. Boulders fell ahead of them, causing them to swerve their horses round. Curry still had hold of the mule's reins and the animal was keeping up nicely! However, manoeuvring the two animals was becoming increasingly difficult and he wondered, if he let go, if the mule would follow. Larger and larger boulders smashed down around them. The noise was overwhelming and it was only a matter of time….

And then, it was over. A cloud of dust settled around them. The noise died away and they stopped being pelted. They pulled up and sat. Their horses were covered in sweat and their sides were heaving. All three were dusty and somewhat shaken. It was a few moments before anyone spoke. Heyes dismounted and approached Abigail. He helped her off and sat her on a rock. She trembled slightly but sat up straight, her face set.

"I'm alright. You're bleeding!"

"Its nothing. Here, you've a few cuts on your face." Heyes wet his bandana with water from his canteen and wiped at her face. "They're not bad."

Curry was stood at his horse's head. He looked sheepish. "Joshua," he muttered.

Heyes looked round and walked over to him. He wet the bandana again and dabbed at the cuts on Curry's face. "You're okay, you'll be as pretty as ever when they've healed!"

Curry grimaced at him and brushed his hand away when he tried to continue.

"Will you quit that! I'm fine. Joshua, I'm sorry. I, I shouldn't have fired, it was automatic, but after you'd said about"

Heyes shook his head. "Forget it. We'll give the animals a breather and then move on. I want to be out of here by nightfall."

They both looked toward Abigail. She was sat with her head in her hands, but feeling their gaze upon her, she looked up and stared back. "I'm alright!" she snapped. "Don't you think we should be moving on?"

Heyes walked to his horse and stroked its flank. The animals had calmed and were breathing normally. "If you're ready, we'll set off again now." He responded with more than a hint of sarcasm.

Curry threw him a look and then spoke gently to Abigail, as he helped her onto her horse. "You sure you're okay to ride? I could."

"I'm fine, thank you Mr. Jones." She was dismissive of him as she pulled her reins out of his hands.

As Curry returned to his horse, he could feel Heyes grinning at him!

They continued to wend their way through the maze. Finally, Heyes turned, "Not much further, I think."

Abigail was relieved, she was hungry and sore again.

They rode around a corner when Curry called out, "Stop!"

Heyes pulled up and looked back at him. Curry was scanning the tops of the cliffs, his gun drawn. Heyes looked up, shielding his eyes with his hat. He caught a flash of light, the sun reflecting off metal.

Curry rode past Abigail, "D'ya mind?" he said, handing her the mule's reins.

He drew level with Heyes. "Someone's up there."

"Watching? Or waiting? Why haven't they fired yet? And, are they the same group? If so, how did they find us?"

"You want me to answer any of those?" Curry asked.

Heyes glared at him. Curry shrugged.

Heyes leaned on his saddle horn, pondering. Curry waited. Abigail, however, did not. She had drawn level with them. Thrusting the mule's reins back into Curry's hand with a look of distaste, she spoke to Heyes.

"What is going on? Why have you stopped? I demand that we keep moving!"

Heyes looked slowly at her. "I'm sorry, I'm not sure I heard right? You demand?"

"That we keep moving!"

"Miss Abigail," Heyes spoke slowly and clearly, stressing each word, his anger evident, "I don't think you understand your position. You cannot demand anything. We are to deliver you safely. Therefore, you will do what we tell you to do. Now, is that clear enough for you?"

Her face pale, Abigail nodded.

"What are we going to do, Joshua? We can't stand here forever!"

"Thaddeus! I am well aware of that, thank you!"

"Just thought I'd mention it, in case you'd forgotten." Curry backed away quickly before Heyes could flatten him.

The look in Heyes' eyes would've burnt a hole in paper. Through gritted teeth, he said, "Let's just keep riding." He urged his horse on, followed by the other two, Abigail smiling slightly at Curry.

They came out of the canyons, into a valley. Curry pulled up alongside Heyes. "We're still being followed."

"I know. I just don't see how they could be from the same group as before. No way they could've followed us and caught up with us." Heyes was puzzled. The only way they could was if they knew all along where the trio were headed and that would mean they were in trouble.

Another thought struck him. "Just what do you think you're doing with Abigail? You're not still mad at me?"

"Me, Heyes? Still mad at you? Oh no, I'm not mad at you. I mean, why would I be mad at you, for reading that whole time and not talking and getting me to run your errands and not."

"Alright, alright!" Heyes held up his hands in surrender. "I apologise, okay? Next time we're in town, I'll play poker instead of reading! Okay?"

"No, its not okay, that's not what I mean at all!"

"And what about this job anyway? I told you it was suspicious and now we're being followed and we've already been shot at and nearly crushed to death!"

"Alright." Curry said, resigned, "I was wrong, happy?"

"I'll be happier when we collect that second $5,000!" Heyes said, grinning broadly at his partner.

Curry looked at him, quizzical at first and then he began to laugh. Heyes joined in. Abigail stared at them, astounded.

At last, the two men quietened. Abigail listened intently.

"We can't go on letting this guy follow us."

"When the opportunity arises, we'll ambush him. Til then," Heyes shrugged.

They rode along the valley floor. Fortunately for them, opportunities for ambush were non existent and it was nearing dusk. Heyes signalled to Curry.

"Thaddeus, we may as well make camp. Abigail isn't going to be able to continue anyway."

"Our unwelcome guest?"

"So far he's left us alone, let's hope that continues."

"I guess that means we go short on sleep too." Curry added, ruefully.

Heyes pulled over and dismounted. He stopped Abigail and helped her down. She sank gratefully onto the ground and stretched her aching muscles. Curry collected her horse and settled their animals for the night, while Heyes prepared a meal.

"Sorry," he said to Abigail as he handed her a plate, "We'll be eating cold tonight. If you've got another jacket, put it on, it could get cold sleeping as well."

Abigail nodded. She was so tired, she didn't think she would care really.

Heyes and Curry shared watches through the night. Their follower also had a cold, dark camp as they saw no sign of a fire. Nor did he appear to come closer and they had no opportunity to try to capture him. By morning, Heyes was very frustrated.

Soon after first light they set off again. Abigail's muscles protested as she tried to get moving and she was grateful for the silent assistance that Curry gave her to get onto her horse.

A short while after starting, Curry approached Heyes.

"Have you seen the guy yet?"

"No"

"Trouble or not?"

"I could hope that he was just another drifter, who happened to be nearby and followed for a while, but has another route planned. But, I think that he was a scout. And I think those guys are trying to find us. And, I think that it's connected to Abigail. I don't know why and I'm not sure that it matters much. I think we have trouble."

"That's what I figured."

Curry's vigilance increased. He tried to watch everywhere at once. At the back of his mind was a question about how long it would be before they were free of having to watch in front and behind at the same time for trouble or whether they ever would be. After all, here they were, in the same old position and no robbery to account for it! He concentrated on looking out for trouble.

They travelled further down the valley and the landscape began to change as did the weather. The sky was clouding over and getting dark, the wind had increased and the temperature had dropped. Rain was on its way.

Trouble hit sooner. Suddenly, from behind them, down the valley came the sound of galloping horses. Heyes and Curry spurred into a run, Heyes grabbing Abigail's reins again. Shots rang out and whined around them. There was little point in trying to fire back, the men concentrated on getting safely out of range.

Heyes was a little ahead of Curry and still upright, pulling on Abigail's horse. Suddenly, he gave a little hmnpf sound and fell forward. Curry's gut twisted and he shouted, "Heyes!" Heyes pulled himself up, making Curry feel a little better. He headed up the side of the hill. Yelling at Abigail, he let go her reins, "Just follow me!"

Heyes rode recklessly up the narrow animal track, barely visible. Heavy drops of rain began to fall. Curry pushed the mule in front of him. Nudged by Curry's from behind, the animal followed the horses. A last scramble brought them up on top. Heyes and Curry leapt out of their saddles and knelt at the side of the hill. The rain was now falling steadily. They fired down on the men attempting to come up behind them. As several were knocked off their horses, the rest, once again, retreated. Without waiting to see what they would do, Heyes and Curry jumped back on their horses and continued to push them forward. Within minutes the rain was a downpour and travel was becoming impossible. Visibility was limited and it was the height of folly to be going fast. Nose to tail, the party travelled on, heads bent against the rain.

Curry was drenched and cold. He looked up at the others and figured they must be the same. He couldn't remember how much farther their destination was, though he knew Heyes did, he just hoped it wasn't long; it was a long time since he'd been this uncomfortable.

Abigail had lost all feeling. She had never been so cold and so wet and so miserable. The only thing on her mind was to remain in the saddle and follow Smith's horse, which she could barely see. So it was a great surprise when the horse ahead stopped and her animal ran into it!

"Hey, hold up there!" A voice came from a distance. "C'mon, you'll be warm and dry soon." Someone lifted her from her saddle and passed her over to someone else, who carried her.

Heyes entered the small line cabin. He and Curry had found it once, in their exploration of the area and he'd noted it as a possible place to hold up. There was one room, which contained a table, some chairs, a cot and a fireplace. A large pile of wood stood in one corner. Heyes set Abigail down on a chair and started to make a fire. Once that was under way, he set about undressing Abigail, removing her jacket, boots and outer garments. He spread her clothes out on the table to dry. Curry came in. He was carrying saddlebags and sacks.

"How is she?"

"Cold. You got a change of clothing there?"

"Sure."

Heyes rubbed Abigail's cheeks. "Abigail, Abigail." He repeated.

Slowly, her eyes focused on Heyes' face.

"Welcome back to us Abigail. We've brought in your clothes. You need to get changed."

Abigail nodded and took the saddlebags that Curry offered.

Both men stood and turned their backs on her. "Let us know when it's safe to turn around huh?" Curry asked.

After a while, Abigail spoke, "Okay, I'm done."

The men turned around. Heyes reached for the blanket on the cot and winced slightly. Curry looked hard at him. He was pale and tired looking.

"Joshua, you okay?"

"I'll be fine, once I've gotten into some dry clothes." He handed Abigail the blanket and then picked up his saddlebags. Curry watched as he took off his jacket and shirt. He went up to him.

"Joshua, you're bleeding."

Heyes sighed, "Not any more." He replied.

"Fine, you were bleeding. I thought you were hit! Where?"

"I'm fine."

"Joshua! Let me see." Curry pulled up Heyes' henley and examined the wound. Heyes had been hit in the side, the bullet passing through, grazing him just above the waist.

"Okay, it's just a flesh wound I guess. It's stopped bleeding."

"I told you I was fine! Now, will you stop fussing and let me get changed?"

Curry threw his hands up and turned to his own saddlebags.

Half an hour later, the three of them were dry, warm and fed. They were all sitting in front of the fire, sipping coffee. Abigail was drowsy, her eyelids fluttered.

Heyes looked at her. It was still raining hard so travel was impossible. "Why don't you get some rest Abigail? We'll be here until the rain lets up."

She nodded and lay down on the cot and was immediately asleep.

* * * * *

The following morning, the rain had stopped and the group set off again, after breakfast. Curry tried to ask Heyes about his wound, but Heyes brushed him off, telling him he was fine.

As they set off, Curry crossed his fingers and hoped that nothing else would go wrong.

* * * * *

_________________
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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3.16 A Difficult Delivery by Kate Ashe :: Comments

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Re: 3.16 A Difficult Delivery by Kate Ashe
Post on Wed 08 Apr 2015, 9:50 pm by royannahuggins

The rain held off, though, up in the hills dark clouds hovered, glowering down on them, matching the mood of the small party. However, the morning passed peacefully enough, though Curry couldn't shake a growing feeling that there was someone else around. He could see no signs so didn't pass on his feelings to Heyes; chiding himself for his imaginings. They crossed the hill and began their descent into a lush valley, through which a river ran. Heyes knew that they had to cross that river and hoped that the rains hadn't swollen it so that it was impassible.

At the bank, they stopped.

Heyes stared at the river as though it was one of the Devil's Hole Gang questioning one of his plans. At this point, the river came out of a narrow canyon and swelled out onto a flat plain. At present, it was swollen and running fast.

Curry, dragging the mule again, stopped by his side. Abigail waited a short distance away.

"Think we can cross?" the Kid asked.

Heyes stared at the water.

"Long way round if we don't. But, can Abigail make it?" Kid glanced back at her.

Heyes stared down at the river.

"Er, Joshua? You still with us?"

Heyes shrugged and reached across the mule for a length of rope. He tied it to his saddlehorn and passed it to Curry. He then urged his horse into the swirling water. His animal resisted but soon gave way to the coaxing. Curry, watching him, kept his face impassive.

Carefully, Heyes rode his horse across the river. The animal picked its footing daintily. The water wasn't as deep as Heyes' feared, but it was fast flowing and he could feel the horse struggling to resist the current. Finally, the horse was scrambling out of the river onto the bank.

Heyes waved across to the Kid, who had started breathing again!

Kid turned to Abigail, "Come on!" he called.

Wearily, Abigail moved her horse forward. Curry tied the end of the rope around her saddlehorn.

"Just go in and keep urging him forward. Smith'll keep the line taut, nothing to worry about."

Abigail was dubious.

"Go on."

Abigail hesitated again.

"Go on!" Curry slapped at her horse, causing it to start. Glaring at him, Abigail entered the river.

Heyes kept the rope taut at Abigail made her way across. As he did, he heard a distant noise that caused him to glance up. A feeling of unease came over him. It sounded like the sound of a distant posse!

"Thaddeus," he yelled, "Hurry up!"

Curry looked at him as though Heyes had gone mad. Hurry up, cross without a rope, with a stubborn, onerey mule?

Abigail's horse began to climb out of the river. Heyes went forward and rapidly untied the rope. He curled it up and flung it across the river toward Curry. He reached up and stretched, leaning forward as the rope fell through his fingers and landed on the ground.

The distant noise was growing. Heyes looked up the river this time and his unease grew.

"Thaddeus! Hurry!" His voice was harsh with impatience.

Curry climbed back onto his horse, the rope tied to the saddle horn. He headed into the water, dragging the mule.

The noise had grown to a roar. Curry entered the river, looking back at the mule.

"Thaddeus!" Heyes yelled, his voice laden with anxiety.

Curry looked across at him as the noise grew to thunderous.

"Go back! Go back!" Heyes screamed, panic surging through him.

The roar was so loud that Curry didn't hear him, but he had figured out the cause of the noise. He tried to pull his horse around, but the rope was still on the saddle and he became entangled with the reins of the mule. As he twisted and tried to untie the rope, the roaring became unbearable.

Heyes looked up and saw what to him was a vast wall of water bearing down on them. It surged out of the canyon and across the plain, rolling over the top of the river.

"Kid!" The cold, grey mass swept over his partner. Kid Curry, his horse and the mule disappeared from sight, enveloped by a swirling, boiling, roaring body of water. The rope tied to Heyes' horse tightened, causing Heyes to back his horse up, pulling on the rope, staring into the uncertain waters.

As Kid's animal emerged, shaking and shivering, out of the passing stormy waters, Heyes' face went slack. The last of the flood waters flowed over the empty saddle.

Hannibal Heyes stared numbly at the river as the water settled back to its previous state. Within seconds, the roar had passed like a train thundering on its tracks and the river returned. Curry's horse stood on the bank, its sides heaving. Across the way, the mule stood on firm ground. Heyes stared into the river, silent and unmoving. There was no shout for help, no floating body, no one climbing out and grinning, no sign that Kid Curry had ever been. Heyes stared, his face blank. It wasn't possible. It just wasn't possible. After everything. It wasn't happening.

Abigail watched him with concern. She too searched the river. She rode alongside the eerily silent Smith and tentatively touched his arm.

Heyes spoke. "I have to find him." He started to move his horse back into the river.

"Where are you going?"

"I have to find him." He looked at her and she saw the determination etched on his face. In a cold, flat voice, he repeated, "I have to find him."

Heyes retrieved the mule and then began to follow the river. Abigail followed him.

* * * * *

The roiling, grey mass carried Kid Curry under the water. As it dissipated and continued down the river, so did the Kid. He'd been sat on his horse trying to get back to the bank, hearing the roaring growing in his ears, feeling the panic rising and then he was in a butter churn, freezing cold and unable to breathe, tumbling and turning as he was carried helplessly along. He struggled to reach the surface, his clothes weighing him down. His breath was gone and he could feel the darkness descending. He hit into a rock and grabbed out but the power of the current kept him turning and rolling, it wrenched his hands away and carried him on.

Breaking the surface for a moment, Curry gulped in a desperate breath before he was then sucked back under and thrown against as many rocks as the river could find.

His chest tightened. He gasped and gulped in a lungful of water. Spots appeared before his eyes and he sank further beneath the waves as he passed out.

* * * * *

Heyes rode steadily down the riverbank, scanning each side and the water. He had no idea how far Kid may have been carried and he silently worried about finding him before dark. His face remained impassive as his eyes moved rapidly, searching.

The hours passed by and dusk drew near. Heyes knew that it would soon be too dark to see. He stopped and wiped a hand across his eyes and peered again into the dusk. Abigail had remained silent the whole afternoon and she remained silent now, realising that any injunction to stop would be met by anger.

Heyes rubbed at his eyes again. There seemed to be a darker spot. The gloom was growing, but Heyes felt certain that the dark spot required investigation. He urged his horse on again until he could see that there was something lying on the bank. He dropped off his horse and raced across the rocks.

Kid Curry was spread eagled on the rocks, unmoving. Heyes' heart sank. He dropped down by his partner's side.

Kid was lying face down. Heyes turned him over and placed his ear to his chest. Curry's lips were blue and his body was cold and soaking wet. Heyes turned him onto his face, put his knee in the small of his back and pulled his arms back. He then pushed Curry's arms forward and repeated this again and again until no more water came out of Kid's mouth. Heyes turned him over again and listened at Kid's chest, there was a faint heartbeat.

Abigail was still sat on her horse. Heyes yelled at her, "Get off. Get some wood!"

Abigail did as she was told. Heyes dragged Curry over to the ground at the edge of the rocky bank. He pulled his clothes off, down to his underthings. Abigail brought the wood. "We need more wood." Heyes instructed. Wordlessly, Abigail set off again. Heyes wrapped Kid in the blankets and then set about getting the fire going. By now, Kid merely looked extremely pale but he was noticeably breathing.

While the coffee brewed, Heyes rubbed at Kid's arms and legs. Kid still hadn't opened his eyes, but his limbs were warming. Finally, when the coffee was ready, Heyes lifted Kid and encouraged some of the liquid down the Kid's throat. Suddenly, Kid began to splutter and then cough violently. He took a great, rasping gasp and then his eyes flew open!

"Heyes" he gasped.

"Take it easy, Thaddeus. You've had quite a ride. There are easier ways to get downstream y'know!"

Kid looked blank.

Heyes smiled gently. "Here, take some more coffee." He held Kid up and then held the cup to his lips.

Curry sipped some of the strong liquid and coughed again.

Heyes lay him down and made sure the blankets were wrapped tightly.

"How'd you feel?" he asked.

Curry stared at him, eyes wide.

"Kid?" Heyes whispered, "You okay?"

Kid Curry squeezed his eyes tightly shut and turned his head slightly. He began to shiver and then, suddenly, he groaned, doubled up and retched. Heyes held onto him to try and ease the tremors. Minutes passed and then Kid sighed and leaned back.

"It's okay Hey, Joshua. I feel much better. I could do with some water."

"I'll get some in a minute, first, let's move you out of the way." Heyes indicated toward the contents of Curry's stomach that he'd brought up.

Heyes settled the Kid and then turned to get some water. It was then that he noticed that they were no longer alone.

"How touching." Said the man holding one hand over Abigail's mouth. The other held a gun, pressed into Abigail's side. Three other men were also standing, fanned out across the camp, guns drawn and turned toward Heyes and Curry.

Furious with himself for getting caught out, Heyes kept his face neutral.

"Gentlemen," he spoke politely, "You're welcome to join us for supper, no need for guns."

The apparent leader smiled mirthlessly. "Take out your gun, left hand, and throw it away. Now."

Silently, Heyes did as he was told. He looked at Abigail and could see the fear in her eyes and he tried to reassure her.

"What are you planning on doing? You should know, we've been hired to deliver Miss Lovern to a particular place and we always complete our work."

"This time, you'll be disappointed. Take out his gun," he indicated Curry, "and throw it away."

Heyes did so, exchanging a glance with the Kid.

"Tie 'em up! Good and tight."

A man approached them and tied Heyes feet together and his hands behind his back. He then began to do the same to Kid.

"Hey, be careful!" Heyes complained. "He's in no condition to do anything! He was swept down the river!"

"Gag 'em!" ordered the leader.

Heyes' bandana was stuffed into his mouth and another fastened round his head. Heyes' eyes were black with anger and he stared at the other man until the leader turned away, unable to face the gaze. Even bound and gagged, Heyes was unafraid and threatening.

Abigail was dragged off and the men left. A short while later, Heyes made out the sound of horses. He was in the process of untying the bonds around his wrists, an act that took much longer than he would have wanted. Eventually, though, he did get free, his wrists raw and bleeding.

He tore the bonds off his ankles and the gag out of his mouth. He turned to Kid, who was lying on his side, his eyes closed and still bound. Kid had made no attempt to free himself. Heyes quickly untied him and shook him gently.

"Kid?"

Eyes still closed, Kid murmured, "I'm awake Heyes."

"Kid?"

"I'll be okay, you go. Get Abigail back."

"You?"

"Heyes, I don't think there's a part of me that's not aching. I'm freezing cold. There's no way I can ride. And Abigail can't be left with those men."

"And exactly how do I get her out without you?"

"You'll find a way." Kid opened his eyes. "Heyes," he said urgently, "You've got to get after them, before the trail's cold. I can take care of myself. Now git!"

Still Heyes hesitated.

"Git going Heyes!"

Stopping only to collect his gun and toss the Kid's back to him, Heyes mounted and set off in the direction of the hoofbeats. Kid Curry watched him leave, shivering with cold. He listened until he could no longer hear the sound of Heyes' horse and then he closed his eyes again, trying to shut out the nausea and cold.

* * * * *

It was dark and Heyes was aware that his chances of finding Abigail were slim. He travelled in the direction of the sound but couldn't be sure that they hadn't changed direction.

There was no moon shining through the heavy clouds that still lingered. Heyes allowed his horse to pick its way along the trail. He knew that the men would be unable to travel fast and hoped that they would soon be making camp, with a campfire; not expecting anyone to follow them. All he needed was a little luck. Meanwhile, Heyes kept riding, trying not to think about his partner left behind.

The hours passed and Heyes' hopes began to fade. He was becoming convinced that the men must have changed course and he had missed them in the night. He would have to return to the beginning and try and track them in the morning light. The one belief he had was that they would not yet have harmed Abigail, else why take her at all?

He turned his horse to begin the trek back and noticed a faint glow over to the left of him. Tired, he must have missed it when he'd passed it. Now, he headed toward it.

Shortly after, he was overlooking the men's camp. Most of the men were also sleeping. Two were on guard, sat near a figure curled up on the ground. Heyes assumed that this was Abigail. One man couldn't take the camp. Yet, he couldn't go back for the Kid. There wasn't enough time before dawn to get there and back and the trail could be lost. Besides, Kid may not be fit enough and so the journey would be wasted. So Heyes waited and watched.

His patience was rewarded. One of the men got up and walked some distance from the camp. Heyes crept down and around and entered the camp from behind the remaining guard. A sharp blow from the butt of his gun on the man's head put him out soundlessly. Quickly, Heyes gagged and bound him and sat in his place. The second guard returned, nodded at the figure sitting on the far side of the girl and sat down. Before he knew it, he was also unconscious on the ground, bound and gagged.

Heyes knelt besides Abigail. She was awake, her eyes wide. Like Heyes and Kid had been, she was bound and gagged. Heyes picked her up, put her over his shoulder and walked quietly out of the camp.

At his horse, he untied her and removed the gag.

"Are you alright?" he whispered.

She nodded.

Heyes boosted her into the saddle and then swung up behind her. He headed back to the Kid.

* * * * *

Dawn was breaking when Heyes and Abigail finally arrived back at the river. Curry was lying besides the fire, wrapped in blankets. He didn't move as the horse approached. Heyes felt his stomach tighten into knots; something was seriously wrong with his partner.

He knelt down and gently shook the Kid.

Kid Curry woke with a start, reaching for his gun. A hand on his arm stopped him. Seeing Heyes, Curry was ashamed that he'd been so soundly asleep that he hadn't heard Heyes' approach.

"Did you find Abigail?" he asked, his voice hoarse.

Heyes pointed to the girl, still sat on his horse.

"They'll soon know she's gone, if they don't already and then they'll be back this way…" Heyes looked at Kid questioningly.

Kid nodded. Stiffly, he pulled himself up, teeth gritted. Heyes dug out his clothes and handed them to him. Slowly and painfully, Kid dressed while Heyes gathered everything together. Now needing to travel as quickly as possible, Heyes decided to abandon the mule and packed as much as possible onto the horses. He then waited while Kid pulled himself onto his horse.

"Can you manage?" he asked, with concern.

Kid managed a smile. "As you once told me, you worry about staying on your horse"

"And I'll worry about staying on mine!" Heyes finished, grinning at the memory.

The three set off, moving at speed.

Heyes had a strong feeling that, though they may not be followed, they would encounter the men again. It was obvious that the gang knew who Abigail was and where they were headed. He wanted to put as much distance between them as he could, hoping that they had a lead and that the men would be unable to catch up. That depended on how well Abigail and the Kid would cope.

Despite the many bruises and sore ribs, Curry stayed on his horse and said nothing. He had reached the same conclusions as Heyes and knew that Abigail's safe return depended on the three of them keeping ahead of the gang. He gritted his teeth and ignored the pain in his body.

Abigail surprised both of them. She refrained from complaining and kept quiet as they rode without break, sometimes back tracking, twisting and turning, all the time alternating fast riding with walking so as to save the animals. Abigail was determined that she would show them that she was as capable as they were. Plus, she had no intention of falling back into the clutches of those men!

By nightfall, they had put a considerable distance under their belts! Heyes finally decided that they had better stop and get something to eat and some sleep. There had been no sign of pursuit, but the men could continue to ride through the night and Heyes was reluctant to allow them any time to close up. However, a glance at his companions told him that if they didn't stop, at least one of them would simply fall out of their saddle. Both Abigail and Kid looked exhausted.

There was no suitable shelter around so Heyes decided to camp where they were. He pulled up. Abigail stopped behind him, but Kid rode past.

"Hey! Thaddeus! Hold up!"

There was no response from the Kid.

Heyes rode forward, caught up and took hold of the bridle of Kid's horse.

"Hey, Thaddeus. Hold up. We're gonna stop here for the night." Heyes pulled the Kid's horse to a halt. He touched Kid's arm. "Kid? You okay?"

At Heyes' touch, Kid started and Heyes had to grab him to prevent him from falling.

"You okay?"

Kid Curry rubbed his eyes. "Sorry, I think I fell asleep!" he said, his face going red.

"Okay, we'll hold up here for a few hours." Heyes turned in his saddle and waved Abigail on to join them.

Abigail and Heyes dismounted and began the camp chores.

"I'm afraid we'll have to do without a fire and hot food or coffee. I don't want to signal where we are." Heyes told her.

She nodded, "I understand."

The two of them had seen to their horses, set out bedrolls and gotten out jerky and biscuits. Curry was still sat on his horse. Heyes went to stand next to him. He looked up into the Kid's face.

There was some moonlight and Heyes could see that one of the Kid's eyes was darkening with bruising. He looked very pale and there were numerous scratches and bruises visible on his face and arms. His face was drawn and lined with exhaustion.

"Kid?" Heyes said softly.

Stiffly, Kid turned his head to look down at Heyes.

"You wanna get down from there or are you plannin' on eatin' in your saddle?"

For a moment, pain flickered across Kid's face and his eyes glistened. Heyes silently held out a hand and, after a brief hesitation, Kid used Heyes' help to dismount. He walked stiffly to his bedroll and sat down. Abigail handed him his meal and he smiled his thanks at her.

The three ate quietly. Before they had finished, Kid's eyelids were drooping. He struggled to stay awake, mindful that Heyes had been up all the previous night.

"I'll take the first watch." He said to Heyes.

"I don't feel like sleeping yet. I'll do it."

"Joshua, you were up all night, I can do it!"

"There's no sense in arguing over this, I'll..."

Abigail interrupted. "I'll take the first watch!" she spoke firmly and glared at the two men. "All I have to do is watch and listen out for riders, correct?"

Heyes nodded.

"Well then. I'll do it. If I hear anything, I'll wake both of you!"

Heyes and Curry exchanged a look and held a conversation. It took only a moment for them to agree.

Heyes looked at Abigail. "You're sure?"

She nodded firmly.

"Well then, wake me in two hours, or sooner if you hear or see anything!"

"Goodnight Mr. Smith, Thaddeus."

"Night." Heyes responded. Both he and Abigail looked over at the Kid. He was already fast asleep.

* * * * *

Abigail and Heyes shared the watches and left Kid to sleep. It was a quiet night - neither one reported seeing or hearing anything. Heyes couldn't shake the bad feeling he had though.

* * * * *

Kid Curry woke suddenly with the morning light. He sat up. One of his eyes was painful and closed, but otherwise, he felt considerably better.

A gloved hand holding a cup appeared in front of him. Squinting up, he could see that it belonged to Heyes.

"You feeling better?" Heyes asked, smiling.

Kid nodded and took the cup. "You never woke me!" he chastised. "You should've gotten some sleep."

"I did. Abigail took the watches."

Kid gave him a sharp glance of amazement. Heyes shrugged, "Who'd have figured huh?" He went on, "Glad you're feeling better, cos you look terrible!"

"Thanks." Kid grimaced.

Heyes grinned. He bent over to wake Abigail. He handed her a cup.

She thanked him and then smiled at the Kid, "How are you feeling Thaddeus?"

"Better, thanks."

"Good. You look terrible!"

"Thanks! I've already been told that!" Kid grumbled.

The other two grinned at him.

The trio ate and then Abigail and Heyes got them ready to ride. Curry tried, but by the time he'd bent over to pick something up, one of the others would beat him to it. He gave up and spent his energy in getting onto his horse. He did feel better, but it was still painful to move quickly.

Again, they moved as quickly as possible. Again, they saw no sign of pursuit. Heyes was now extremely worried. He didn't believe that the gang had given up and it was likely that they were moving a good deal faster than the trio. He looked over at Curry and could see that the Kid was also concerned and alert.

The day stretched out. Nothing happened. Heyes and Curry became more and more tense. Tomorrow, they would be sure to reach the Lovern ranch. If anything were to happen it would have to be soon. They entered a forested valley.

Suddenly, Curry stopped, his gun in his hand. He scanned the area. Heyes joined him but could see nothing.

"What you see?"

"Thought I heard." Curry shook his head. "Sorry Joshua, I'm getting jumpy! Probably just an animal."

Heyes nodded, understanding.

Abigail looked between the two of them. A little frightened, she asked, "You, you think those men will try again, don't you?"

"They do seem determined to stop you getting back to your father. Why would that be?"

"I don't know." She responded sadly, then looked up at Heyes. The look of his face made her angry. "I don't know! Honestly. Why won't you believe me? I wouldn't lie to you!"

"Why do you need to get home so quickly?"

Abigail shrugged. "Father sent me a telegram and told me to come home immediately. I was visiting my friend. She's getting married soon so I didn't want to. Father wrote and said that he was cutting of my allowance so Mr. Brewster arranged the trip for me. Mr. Brewster is my friend's uncle."

Heyes absorbed this information, but found it didn't give him any answers. "Well, this isn't getting us any closer. Let's go."

But the Kid put out a restraining arm. "Wait."

Heyes realised that Kid still had his gun out. Kid Curry sat listening hard. When Heyes started to speak, he held up his hand for silence. They sat quietly. Curry moved his horse on a little and to one side.

"Stay here." he ordered. He pushed his horse up the side of the hill, loose rocks skittering down behind him. Just before the top, he stopped and dismounted. He then edged up to look over.

Below him, he saw three horses heading down the hill. They circled and began to follow the trio's tracks. Curry scrambled back, regained his horse and returned.

"Three guys coming up behind, others in front I reckon."

"Hold 'em off here?"

Curry nodded.

Within minutes, the horses were hidden with Abigail and Heyes and Curry were waiting.

* * * * *

The three men rode between Heyes and Curry. At the sound of a pistol cocking, they stopped their horses and raised their hands into the air.

The three men were bound and gagged and tied to a tree. Their horses were hidden with the others and Abigail and Heyes and Curry went back to waiting.

* * * * *

Four horses rode between Heyes and Curry. At the sound of a pistol cocking, they stopped their horses and raised their hands into the air.

The men were bound and gagged and tied to a tree. Heyes and Curry recovered their horses and with Abigail rode out. As they passed, Heyes threw the men a cheery wave.

* * * * *

Heyes and Curry were more relaxed as they continued. That evening they made camp and lit a fire. The three sat chatting quietly. Heyes yawned.

"Why don't you go to bed Joshua? I can keep watch tonight."

Heyes nodded and rolled up in his blanket.

Abigail and Curry continued to talk quietly.

"Abigail, can I ask you something?"

"That would depend on what you wanted to know."

Curry looked at her, now she sounded like Heyes. He sighed, took a deep breath and said, "Why?"

"Well, it might be very personal and I really don't think that we know each other that well!"

"Huh?"

"Why I might not answer, it may be too personal. Or, I may be unable to answer."

For a moment Curry looked blank, then realised the mistake. "No, no. I meant the question I want to ask is why. Why did you take a watch?"

"Oh." Abigail was thoughtful. "I'm not sure exactly."

"If you don't want to say."

"No, its not too personal. I think I should tell you. Only, don't tell Mr. Smith. Please."

"Okay."

"I thought, well, I thought. You see, I felt that. Well, it was because." Abigail dried up.

"Oh kay. I see. It was because. Well, that's fair enough." Curry couldn't keep the laughter out of his voice.

"Oh fine, laugh! Just because I can't explain!"

Curry was grinning broadly.

"I thought I owed it to you! All right?" Abigail snapped at him.

"Owed me?"

Abigail stared down at her feet. She spoke quietly. "If I'd crossed the river quickly enough, you wouldn't have got swept away and then you wouldn't have been hurt and you could have been on watch."

Curry stopped grinning. He stared at her, his face softening as she spoke. When she finished, he took her hand and used his other to tilt her face up so that he could look into her eyes.

"That was very kind of you, but it wasn't your fault. The speed it was going, I'd have still been in the river." He smiled, "Besides, that danged mule probably slowed me up more n' you did!"

Abigail smiled back, "It was a stubborn creature!"

He let her go. "Want more coffee?"

She nodded. Kid went to pour some when they heard a strange noise. A cracking sound, like a twig snapping only magnified.

"What was that?"

"I have no idea." Curry looked around.

"Men?"

"Nope, unless it's a whole troop of 'em."

There was another loud snap above them. Curry looked up and saw an enormous branch hanging down. He grabbed Abigail and rolled with her. A final crack and the branch fell down. Curry looked on in horror as it fell directly onto Hannibal Heyes, still sleeping peacefully below.

With a loud thud that reverberated around the little clearing, the branch landed. Curry and Abigail stared silently at it, while the sound died out.

Silence descended.

Curry and Abigail stayed motionless, not even breathing.

In the eerie stillness, a sharp voice broke the spell.

"What the. What just happened?"

Curry's heart began beating. He let go of Abigail and scrambled over.

"Joshua? Joshua? Can you hear me?"

"Of course I can hear you! I haven't gone deaf! What did you do? This is not funny Thaddeus!"

"Me! I didn't do anything!"

"Just get this off me!"

Curry looked at the talking branch. "In my condition? I dunno Joshua. I don't feel that strong, y'know, with being swept downstream and everything. I mean, it's been a rough few days, I don't think I've the strength to lift it off ya."

"Listen up Thaddeus," Heyes stressed the name, making it clear that it was not the name he wanted to say, "If you don't get this whatever it is off me, I will be going to see a mutual friend ALONE!"

"Alright, alright, leaf it to me!"

"Oh very funny."

Curry grinned as he snapped the smaller branches off and worked his way through the huge branch to where Heyes lay trapped. Finally, he revealed Heyes' face, which glared at him. Clearing the last of the little branches, he called Abigail over.

"When I move the trunk, you reach under and pull Joshua, okay?"

She nodded. Curry lent his back against the trunk and heaved. Abigail buried underneath, put her arms under Heyes' armpits and pulled. Heyes kicked and wriggled and stayed stuck. Abigail came back up.

"He's caught on something."

Curry sighed. "Why is it never easy?" he complained. He began clearing more branches away.

Meanwhile, Heyes lay, impatiently, under the trunk, listening to the snapping of branches. The trunk wasn't lying on him, but was just close enough that he couldn't move, pinned by the smaller branches, on which the trunk was balanced. Something was brushing against his face and hands as the trunk rocked when branches were snapped off. It tickled him and he couldn't reach it. It was infuriating!

At last, he heard Kid's voice, "Okay Joshua, I think I've cleared everything I need to. When I lift it, you should be able to slide out."

"Great."

Curry leaned against the trunk once more and heaved, it rose a few more inches off the ground and Heyes wriggled sideways. Abigail reached under and pulled him as well. For a moment, Heyes' foot caught and he had to spend precious seconds wriggling to free himself.

"Joshua," grunted Kid, "How much longer?"

"Nearly there." Panted Heyes.

His head, shoulders and chest emerged, Abigail grasped him and pulled and suddenly he was out.

Curry let the trunk drop with a crash and a relieved groan. He rubbed at his arms and shoulders.

"You okay?" he asked Heyes, who gingerly stood up and tested his arms and legs. "Nothing broken?"

Heyes shook his head, "Everything seems okay, a few scratches, that's all!" Heyes' voice was raised with amazement. He stared at the huge branch and then at the tree where it had come from. He shook his head, "I don't believe it." He muttered.

Curry sat down on the fallen branch. "Me neither. You're one lucky son of a gun!"

"Lucky? A tree just fell on me!"

"Yeah, but it coulda crushed ya!" Curry looked up at Heyes, his eyes wide and his face pale.

He looks shaken, frightened almost, thought Heyes.

"You coulda bin killed!"

Ah, thought Heyes, that explained it. He sat down next to Curry. "So could you, when you got swept away. Guess both of us are pretty lucky." Heyes rubbed at his face and arms. "Shame I don't feel it!" He kept scratching.

Curry looked at him with concern. "You okay?"

"Yeah, it just itches."

Curry picked up a firebrand and used it to more closely examine Heyes' face. He then peered at the branch. "Er Joshua?"

"hmm?" Heyes responded absently, scratching.

"I think maybe that you got, erm, poison ivy!"

"What!"

"I think you got poison ivy."

"I heard you!"

Curry poured some water onto his bandanna and handed it to Heyes, "Try washing some of it off."

Heyes wiped at his face and hands and wished they were near a stream. Then, with a look of resignation, he tugged his blanket out from under the trunk, rolled up in it and went to sleep.

"Night Joshua." Curry said, trying hard not to laugh. He'd had poison ivy once and knew it was far from pleasant, but after facing gunplay, rockfalls, floods, raging rivers and falling trees, it didn't seem the worst thing to happen!

"G'night Thaddeus, Abigail," came a muffled response.

"I'll take the first watch Abigail, you turn in."

Abigail nodded and did so.

* * * * *

The night passed quietly. After coffee and breakfast, they resumed their journey. They were, however, a sorry sight!

Heyes' face was covered with red blotches and scratches. Curry's bruises had turned a bilious shade of yellow, he moved stiffly and his eye was swollen shut and turning an unpleasant shade of blue and yellow. Abigail looked in the best condition, her hair was loose and tangled and her face was scratched, but otherwise, she looked quite cheerful. She had become accustomed to the riding and was no longer sore. However, she felt it wiser to say little. Heyes looked like thunder, the itching was driving him crazy and the gunshot wound ached. Curry was tired and stiff and still sore enough that he didn't want to talk much.

By midday, Heyes was mad fit to bust. The itching was unbearable. Curry noticed the tension in his friend.

"Want to stop for lunch?"

"No." Heyes snapped, "I want to stop this itching!" He raised his hand to scratch. Curry grabbed it.

"Stop that! Y're only gonna make it worse!"

Heyes yanked his hand away. "What would you know? It's driving me loco!"

Abigail looked at Curry, "Isn't there anything you can do to help him?"

"Well, if we had some comfrey I could." Curry's eyes narrowed in thought. "Joshua, what did Preacher use that time? Some sort of flower."

"hmm?" Heyes was absently scratching again.

"Joshua! Pay attention! What did Preacher use when Jake got poison ivy?"

"hmm, jewelweed I think."

"Should be some around here." Curry stared down at the ground as they rode along until he spotted a small yellow flower.

"Got it! Joshua, give me your bandana."

Heyes untied it and passed it over. Curry picked the leaves and flowers and placed some in a small bag. The rest he crushed, smearing most of it onto the bandana. He handed that back to Heyes who tied it around his face.

Abigail giggled. "You look like you're about to hold us up!"

Curry grinned. Even when they had been holding folks up, they hadn't hidden their faces. His face took on a pure, innocent look as he spoke to Abigail.

"Why Abigail, Joshua is an honest upstanding citizen. He'd never do anything like that!"

Heyes glared at him and held out his hand for the rest of the crushed plant. Curry handed it over and Heyes smeared it over his hands and arms.

"Since we've stopped, may as well have something to eat." Curry began preparations.

Soon, the three of them were eating a quick meal.

"Better?"

Heyes nodded, his mouth full. He swallowed and spoke, "Much better, the itching's almost stopped."

"This should keep you going, until we can get you washed up and get something from the doctor."

They finished their meal, washed up and set off.

* * * * *

Heyes and Curry were feeling secure, certain that the men they'd tied up would not follow them, once they got free. They rode steadily, without caution or haste, intending to reach the Lovern place by nightfall. Even the sight of a group of men riding toward them didn't alarm them, figuring they would be more than likely ranch hands.

Heyes and Curry pulled up, Abigail just behind them.

"Howdy." Heyes greeted them.

"Jeremy!" exclaimed Abigail, "What are you doing here?"

"Hello Abigail. I sure am sorry you made it this far. I would've liked that it was someone else, still" Jeremy reached for his gun.

As Jeremy Lovern spoke, Curry's instincts had screamed trouble. As he finished speaking and reached for his gun, Curry drew his and fired, sending Jeremy's holster flying. He then fired at the other men, knocking a gun out of one man's hand, shooting others in the arm or shoulder. Their guns still in their holsters, the remaining men scrambled out of the way, as Heyes, Curry and Abigail barrelled straight through the group.
As they galloped away, they heard Jeremy screaming, "Get after them!"

Abigail yelled, "This way!" She took the lead and drove on as fast as possible, closely followed by Heyes and Curry.

They raced down the hill, several of the men following them. Bullets flew around them, sending up little puffs of dust. Heyes felt a sharp pain in his arm and realised that the men were getting far to close.

Curry turned in his saddle and fired back at the men, his shots were wide but they did encourage their pursuers to fall back a little. Straightening, Curry urged his horse to catch up.

They crested a hill. Down below was a herd of cows grazing peacefully, with a few cowhands on horseback, watching.

Abigail shouted at the top of her voice, "Hank! Hank!"

One of the men turned and looked up. He saw several horses racing toward them. In front, from the hair flying back, appeared to a woman. She was being chased by several men, one of them wearing a mask round his face. She was yelling his name and he suddenly realised who it was, Miss Abigail!

"Red! Jacob!" he called to his men and set off up the hill, his gun drawn.

Seeing the reinforcements and hearing the whine of bullets, the pursuers turned and fled. Relieved, Heyes and Curry pulled up in front of the hands.

Heyes was just about to speak when Hank beat him to it. He levelled his gun on the two men, "Put your hands up!"

With a glance at each other, Heyes and Curry did so.

"Hank," Abigail began.

"A moment, Miss Abigail." Hank didn't take his eyes off the two men. They looked like desperate men, he thought, one of them had a black eye and the other wore a mask.

"Take your mask off!" he ordered, "Let's see ya!"

"Do I have to?" asked Heyes, politely.

One of the men reached over and pulled his bandana down.

"What the?" the men stared at the reddened rash across Heyes' face.

Heyes sighed, "It's poison ivy."

"Oh." Hank hesitated for a moment, "Red, get their guns. Jacob, tie their hands behind them."

Abigail drew her horse level with Hank's and tugged at his sleeve. "Hank," she started again. Again, Hank said, "Excuse me please, Miss Abigail."

Curry spoke, "It's alright Abigail, don't worry, we'll..."

He was interrupted by a blow round his face, which knocked him sideways and started his eye smarting painfully again.

"Don't speak to her you brigand!"

Curry rolled his eyes as he exchanged a glance with Heyes, who shrugged. Wait and see, he indicated.

Jacob spoke quietly, "Done Hank." He muttered.

"Right, let's go and see Mr. Lovern, see what he wants to do. Miss Abigail?"

Abigail looked questioningly at Heyes and Curry, asking them what she should do.

Heyes smiled thinly, "By all means, let's go see Mr. Lovern."

Abigail nodded and led the way. Hank followed her. Red led Heyes and Curry and Jacob took up the rear. Jacob kept his gun trained on the two desperadoes.

Around an hour's ride brought them in sight of the ranch. It was quite a spread, consisting of several buildings and a large, two storey house.

The little party drew stares and comments as they rode in. One man ran to the house and a short while later, a tall, grey haired, broad shouldered man appeared in the doorway.

"Papa." Cried Abigail, as she jumped off her horse, ran to the man and threw herself into his arms. They hugged each other.

"Thank goodness you're safe Abigail."

"Papa, there's been a terrible mistake"

Mr. Lovern was staring at Heyes and Curry, barely listening to Abigail.

"Hank, who do we have here?"

"They was chasing Miss Abigail Sir."

"I see. Take them into the barn."

"STOP IT!" Abigail shouted, angry and demanding. "You WILL listen to me!"

Stunned, the men stared at her.

"Father, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones were not chasing me! They were my escorts. You owe them five thousand dollars!"

Heyes and Curry smiled innocently.

Lovern stared at his daughter. "What? But," he looked back at the two, they didn't look like reputable escorts.

"We have had the most terrible journey." Abigail continued. "We've been through everything! That's how they were injured. And Jeremy tried to kill us!"

Heyes coughed loudly and said, "Excuse me? Abigail, before you start to regale your father with the tale, do you think we could possibly be untied?"

"Oh," Abigail was contrite, "I'm sorry. Father, you must have them released and invite them inside."

Resigned, Lovern threw up his hands and indicated to his men to untie Heyes and Curry. They took back their guns. Curry noticed the stain on Heyes' arm then. He glared at Heyes, who ignored him.

"Thank you Hank. You'd better round up a few men and see if you can find Abigail's attackers. Find Jeremy as well. Er, Gentlemen, perhaps we should all go inside?".

Abigail went to link arms with Heyes and Curry and she then noticed the growing stain.

"Joshua! You're hurt!" She took Heyes' arm and pulled him inside the house. Inside, she called some names and then she led Heyes into a study. She sat him down. "Take off your shirt Joshua."

Heyes was more concerned about the itching that had returned, but he did as she asked. A woman entered the room.

"We need some water and bandages Meg." Meg nodded and began to leave. "And fetch some coffee and something to eat."

"Yes ma'am." Meg started to leave again.

"Oh and Meg, some clean shirts."

Meg nodded and hurriedly left.

Heyes raised his hand to scratch and got it slapped back by Curry. Abigail smiled, "I'll go and see if I can find anything for your rash Joshua."

"Thank you."

The men stood as she left the room. Heyes and Curry sank down into the deep armchairs, relieved to be out of the saddle. Lovern paced back and forth.

"Would you," he paused, "gentlemen," he coughed on the word, "mind telling me what has happened?"

Heyes gave him a run down of the journey from Appleton. Lovern listened in silence. As he talked, Abigail came back in and proceeded to clean and bind the wound on Heyes' arm.

When Heyes had finished, Lovern looked at his daughter. "Is this true Abigail?"

"All of it Father. Why did Jeremy try to kill me?"

"I was afraid of this. Abigail, your grandfather died a few weeks ago."

Abigail gasped and paled. Curry placed a comforting hand on her arm.

"He left all his land and business to you, if you sign before your 21st birthday. Otherwise, it was to go to Jeremy. I suspect that the men that have been attacking you were all sent by Jeremy, to ensure that you didn't make it."

Abigail stared at her father and then she ran from the room, crying. Curry looked sadly after her.

Heyes waited a heartbeat and then addressed Lovern. "Sir, obviously, we have safely brought your daughter back. If we could collect our pay, we'll be on our way."

Lovern was staring after his daughter, a distant expression on his face. He started, "What?"

"If we could collect our pay, we'll be on our way."

"What did Brewster tell you?"

"He said that we would receive $5,000 when we safely delivered Miss Abigail. And, she has been safely delivered." Heyes' voice and eyes were hardening. He suspected Lovern was about to welch.

For a moment, Lovern considered having his men throw the two drifters out. However, he saw the look in Heyes' eyes and, more importantly, he saw the way Curry had his hand on his gun. He went to his safe and extracted the money. Heyes took it from him.

"Thank you. We'll be going now."

Heyes and Curry made their way to the door. Lovern stood in the doorway of the study and watched them leave. They made their way to their horses and were about to mount when a voice stopped them.

Abigail came running out of the house. She carried a bottle.

"Wait!"

The two men stood by their horses. Abigail came up and stood by them, staring shyly down at the ground. There was silence for a moment.

Curry broke the silence, "Abigail, take care of yourself."

She looked up at him and smiled, "You too Thaddeus. Thank you." She kissed him lightly on his mouth and turned to Heyes.

"This is for you. It should help the itching."

"Thank you."

"Thank you Joshua." She kissed him.

Both men smiled and mounted.

"Bye Abigail." they chorused and then wheeled their horses and rode out. At the entrance, they turned briefly and waved, Abigail returning it with enthusiasm.

* * * * *

Two tired, bruised and weary cowboys rode into town. Heyes and Curry had been on the trail for several days and were looking forward to a beer and a long rest in a comfortable hotel room. The hotel came first.

Heyes and Curry walked painfully up the stairs. They entered their room, a clean and spacious affair, without bullet holes. Curry didn't notice. He flopped onto the bed, unable to even remove his gunbelt or boots. He lay there, stretched out, with his eyes closed, trying to figure out which part of him didn't throb or ache. He couldn't find one. Finally he spoke, quietly, painfully and ruefully.

"Heyes?"

Heyes was sitting with his eyes closed in the chair across from the bed. He grunted acknowledgement.

"Next time I find a job and you think it's suspicious, remind me of this one and let's NOT do it!"

Heyes cracked open one eye and said solemnly, "I promise." He opened both eyes and, staring across at his beaten and bruised partner, slowly a chuckle began to form which grew until he was laughing loudly.

Curry raised his head, looked back at him, smiled and then, wincing slightly, burst out laughing!
 

3.16 A Difficult Delivery by Kate Ashe

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Stories: Alias Smith and Jones  :: Virtual Season :: Virtual Season Stories prior to 2008-
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