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 Nine Days in Wyoming 1/5

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flatterus
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20150615
PostNine Days in Wyoming 1/5

Nine Days in Wyoming


A Curry and Heyes Minibook Adventure


by flatterus







Chapter 1
Wyoming Territory May, 1879
Wednesday

Old leather creaked under Kid Curry’s weight as he coupled his reins with the saddle horn and slid his boot in the stirrup. Before mounting, he paused and leaned against his chestnut colored gelding, Homer. When he threw his leg over the cantle, his partner, Hannibal Heyes broke into a gallop. The quick move sent Homer jigging sideways, dropping Curry in the dirt.

“I hate when you do that!” Kid spat as he leapt to his feet. Dusting off, he quickly threw himself onto the horse in one smooth movement and clung precariously as Homer spun around again. Tightening the rein, he put a heel to his horse, and pulled up next to the grinning Hannibal Heyes.

“Ha ha! Lighten up, Kid! It’s a beautiful day!”

Curry removed his hat and ran gloved fingers through his wavy blond hair. “Don’t even start, Heyes. I also hate leaving a perfectly good town for no reason.”

“Aw c’mon…relax!” The smiling outlaw twisted around in his saddle taking in the grandeur of a Wyoming mountain pass. “Look at this beautiful place! We're doing the right thing, Kid. We already agreed it’s too dangerous to remain in one place very long.”

Curry grumbled, “Yea, I wasn't there for that conversation. We weren't in Baxter twenty four hours.” He reset his silver trimmed hat, adjusting it down over his eyes, just in time for a happy sun to wink at him from behind a hill. “Damn it, Heyes, you know I hate riding out without breakfast!”

“Sounds like you hate everything, today, Kid,” Heyes glanced sideways at his partner, “Just when things are going good.”

Curry rolled his eyes.

“You can sleep when you’re dead, Kid.” The dark haired man raised his hand to his eyes to observe the terrain below. Look!” Heyes pointed over his horse’s ears at two horsemen in the distance moving across the valley floor to the west. “See? A couple of riders! It is not all that early.”

Squinting in the dawning rays of sunlight, Kid Curry viewed the vast valley below. An early start gave the Kansas cousins the flexibility to make their way out of town before too many folks got too curious. In the past several years as partners in crime they had gained such notoriety they were considered the most successful pair of train and bank robbers in the West. Long tired of running, suffering too many nights in jail and close calls, they decided to go straight. This all came at a time when bank safes had become more sophisticated and bank protection techniques increasingly impenetrable. Safes were harder to crack. Sheriffs were getting smarter. Posses were getting faster. They agreed on an honest course after a close call following a foiled train robbery. Stealing just didn't pay like it used to.

In hopes of deterring bandits, a government program offered amnesty to petty thieves and minor outlaws who gave up the life of crime. For the growing number of disenfranchised, the opportunity was pretty good. But when it came to the most successful outlaws in the history of the West, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, amnesty just might be impossible.

It was for these reasons that Heyes and Curry leaned on Sheriff Lom Trevors, longtime friend and former outlaw himself who actually made the transition to law enforcement. In a rare compromise, the boys made an agreement through Lom with the governor of Wyoming to stay out of trouble for a year in exchange for amnesty. In the meantime, they’d still be wanted.

Staying out of trouble wasn't easy. And there were no guarantees. Wanted posters papered government buildings in towns throughout the country and fairly screamed in big bold letters, “Wanted: Hannibal Heyes, Kid Curry, Dead or Alive!” Citizens, politicians and outlaws alike yearned to collect the $10,000 bounties on each of their heads. A growing number of people were now able to recognize them, so Heyes figured it wasn't a good idea to stay anywhere for an extended period of time.

“What is it with you, Heyes?" Curry complained. "Have you forgotten how to live life, enjoy your freedom? We haven’t stayed in the same place for five minutes. Leaving town would be fine…after noon!” The horse bit clinked as Curry glanced back over his shoulder. “Besides, things were great back there! The poker games were great! I was ahead! You were ahead. Nothing wrong with that is there?” He stared at the back of a dark blue shirt and faded tan britches under the black hat moving just beyond Homer’s nose.

When his partner didn’t answer, Curry started up again. “What happens when we finally get amnesty? What are we going to do then?" He snorted, “That’s the question! Because whenever things are going good, you get jumpy.” Kid paused, dropped his voice a notch and pointed a thumb as his chest, “Me? I just want to live out a normal life, but, you?” He frowned again as his horse plodded along. “You worry too much. You gotta do something about your worrying or we’ll still be runnin’ when you’re 40, or maybe even 50!”

“Kid?”

“What!”

“Shut up.”

“Old men don’t ride as fast as young ones. They don’t think as fast, either.”

“You know what Kid?”

“What!”

Heyes circled his bay mare, Rambler, in front of Curry. A suspicious crease dimpled his cheek and his eyes sparkled. “You thinking about women, Kid? We’ll get you a woman and this little problem of yours will be fixed.”Kid rolled his eyes and grunted. “Aw, man...this ain't about women! And I ain't ever needed you to help me get a woman!”

“No?”

“No!”

A lopsided grin spread over Heyes’ face and he squeezed his legs and clucked at his mare to walk. He loved chumping Curry and watching his reaction. Heyes had a knack for handling people verbally, from besting thieving gamblers to pulling a scam at the Big Store, a crooked gambling establishment. He deserved his reputation as a ‘silver tongue’. But for all that cunning, it was really a silver mind. And it saved their outlaw butts no less than Kid’s unsurpassed quick draw.

Equally adept in a different way, Curry’s remarkable ability with a pistol made him a living legend. It also provided a mark for identification, something the two of them could not afford; not with the 20,000 dollar price on their heads. Word traveled fast when you were as notorious as they were, and their wanted posters hung in jails across the country keeping their descriptions fresh in the minds of folks. Because Kid’s gun handling was that quick, that smooth, Heyes often discouraged him from using it, if possible.

Serving Heyes’ talent now, the present circumstances were a little more generous. At times like this, he loved taking the opportunity to ‘out-gun’ The Kid. Since his quick draw was only verbal, Hannibal Heyes never even had to jerk steel.

Kid continued ranting, “I think it’s you with women on your mind, Heyes!”

“Naw.” Hannibal Heyes’ dimples grew.

“You brought it up!”

The dark haired outlaw leaned back in the saddle and pulled up on his reins, bringing Rambler around sideways to block the road. He leaned forward, crossed his arms and rested gloved hands on the saddle horn. “What evidence about a man shows he's thinkin' about a woman, Kid?” Heyes asked, squinting into the sun. “Is it the man that wants to settle somewhere or the man who moves around a lot?” He pointed a finger to the sky. “Aha! Just like you were thinkin’! It’s the setllin’ man, because the movin’ man can’t take anybody with him; so, by your own admission, wanting to stay in town, you’re practically beggin’ to put down roots!” With that, Heyes ceremoniously dropped his head and tugged at one dark leather glove showcasing the theatrics of victory, then leaned forward in the saddle, signaling Rambler to move out again.

Curry fumed, clucking at his horse to catch up. “What are you talkin’ about? Roots. What roots? I ain’t seen roots in 20 years. We don’t gotta stay anywhere permanent. We just need to rest a while. Doggone it, Heyes, I’m tired of running! I want regular meals. Play some all-night poker. Sleep in a real bed.” He was shouting now. “I want good grub and a place where I can get a hot bath and take my boots off for more than 10 minutes without having to worry about putting ‘em back on! Blast it anyhow! I’ve wanted all this for a long time, but now I’m demanding it!” He paused to gaze at the shadows cast by a large tree, lowered his voice and whimpered, “I need rest!”

Heyes gave him an mm hmm. “Tub, grub and a hub, I hear ya. I’m actually glad you brought this up,” He chirped.

“What are you talking about?” Curry shook his head.

“This subject, it’s important.” Heyes called back over his shoulder, his upper body rocking gently in the saddle as he leaned back for the descent down the hillside trail that led to the grassy valley below.

“It is?”

“Yep, the day we get amnesty, we’re going to find a big, fancy hotel. Rent a house, maybe. We’ll squat like settlers; get good, honest jobs...How about Arizona?”

Kid made a face, “Fine, why didn't you say this before you woke me up this morning? You know what?” He looked back for the hundredth time as they headed west. “I get this feelin’ we should turn around. There’s probably more trouble up ahead than back there. That hotel bed was actually comfortable! Look! No women out there.” Kid motioned with a sweep of his hand.

“Aha!” Heyes chuckled. “See? I knew it! This whole conversation was about women.”

Kid’s blue eyes narrowed. He sighed, shaking his head. “I was making a point, ok? So even if this whole thing really was about women, we aren’t going to run across any out there.”

“Like I said, Kid, the minute we hear from Lom, as soon as we get our amnesty, we’ll get a couple of real jobs and settle down permanently in Arizona…or maybe even California.”

“No moving around, no more running?”

“You have my word.”

“No leaving, for say, a month?”

“At least,” Heyes picked up the trot.

Kid Curry watched his friend move on ahead. The whole exchange had been way too easy. Even when he won an argument with Heyes, he lost. He fell into a silent muse, traveling at a slow, easy trot, barely missing Rambler’s dust blowing off to the east. As the sun climbed to the highest point in the sky, sweat began to bead around the dark blond curls at the brim of his hat. Finally Curry blurted, “You’re only saying all that because you don't think we're ever gonna get amnesty!”

Heyes’ lip curled and his dimpled cheek creased in a smile. The two men rode quietly through hills that ran along the valley for a while longer before ascending another hill to avoid the main road. Golden meadows of grass danced in the breeze blowing across the Wyoming prairie below. The Overland Trail ran parallel to their path and cut straight through the center of the plain like the blade of a knife. Snaking through narrower trails, frightening small critters, they meandered back and forth along an ever changing trail before debating again about their exact destination.

Curry finally asked, “Rock Springs or Green River?”

Before Heyes could answer, a gunshot rang out from the valley below. Sharing a brief glance, the men jerked their horses off the trail and broke into a run. They cut down the face of the hill their horses hopping rocks and trampling brush in order to reach a lower trail. Homer in the lead, Rambler was quick on his heels. Curry slowed long enough to glance back while Heyes stayed on his tail watching the prairie below.

Another shot sounded. Horses dancing in anticipation, the cousins glanced about for a good place to hide.

“The boulders!” Heyes pointed further down on the hill. Without hesitation, Curry and Heyes cut down the steep hill sliding through low brush, their horses bumping into each other in the rush to reach cover. They stopped and dismounted where the hillside jutted out before the last thirty feet dropped off in a cliff. Heyes squatted and pulled a spy glass out of his coat pocket—a personal treasure from one of their train robberies. Unlike the money they stole that day, this special glass had been a gift from a beautiful lady. The woman flashed in his mind, late 30’s, wealthy, with lovely flowing hair. He raised his chin upward in a secret thanks, then looked across the valley to view the wagon. That woman had saved their lives by encouraging the train conductor to move out to avoid a shotgun toting sheriff…and by the gift of the glass many times since then.

Heyes watched a wagon hitched to a pair of horses stop about two hundred yards from the base of the hill. He searched the surrounding area for other signs of life, and then settled back on the wagon. Crouching low, he pointed to a group of bushes at the foot of the hill and Curry nodded.

The riders they’d seen earlier suddenly sprang from the bush and ran toward the wagon. More gun shots ricocheted. Curry stopped to check his gun when Heyes saw a young woman getting dragged into the back of the wagon. He leapt up and crashed into his cousin. Kid blocked him with his body, grabbing him by shoulders. “What do you think you’re doing? We can’t get involved in this!”

“Those people are being robbed, Kid! Bushwhacked!”

“So?”

“So, we can’t just stand by and watch that happen!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Curry whispered at the top of his lungs. May I remind you...we use to do the same thing?”

“No we didn't! We robbed trains and banks, not people!”

A knowing smile creased corners of the Kid’s mouth and he shook his head. “Remind me never to argue with you, Heyes.”

Hopping nimbly over a boulder, they took a steep trail down the hill and zigzagged toward the wagon. Guns drawn as they approached, they slowly drew open the white canopy. As his partner looked in, Curry glanced back in case anyone approached. Burly and sweating, Heyes saw two men each sat straddling a woman. Curry looked in and sneered. Gagged and fussing women further proved the visitors did not come by invitation. Heyes and Curry clicked their hammers back, snapping the heads of the men around. Heyes met the eyes of each man as he touched the brim of his hat. His level tone matched his deceptive grin,

“Gentlemen...”

“Don’t shoot!” The molesters waved their hands about, shuffling across the contents of the wagon on their knees toward the exit. “We’re just havin’ some fun, boys. No harm done.” Upon release, the two young women hugged each other and checked themselves for damage. Heyes’ lip curled. Kid’s eyes narrowed as he barked at the intruders who continued to ramble on about how no one was going to get hurt.

“Stop sniveling, you filthy pigs! Or I’ll leave your carcasses for the vultures!” Curry pointed at the ground a couple feet away. “Face down, arms out! Gimme any reason to blow your heads off!”

Heyes’ eyes glittered dangerously until the men were secured and then his smile finally emerged. He came around and slapped Kid on the back. “Let me take care of these two. You help the women.”

Heyes motioned for the villains to exit the wagon. Gun at their backs, he led the men to their horses and helped them mount, bound and gagged. He showed the two men off the main road to an area north a couple of miles and tied them together ignoring muffled complaints coming from behind their gags. It was nearly an hour before he returned and tied his horse to the wagon. Heyes stepped up and parted the curtain again. His face pinched and his eyes rolled when he found the women holding their guns on Curry.

“Hand over your weapon, slowly Mister, or we’ll be forced to shoot,” The brown-haired woman addressed Heyes, her voice quivering.

A quick check confirmed that the chambers of the blond's fancy pistol were loaded. A woman with a loaded gun gave any man pause and Heyes in particular. Curry always said an armed woman was more dangerous than a gunslinger with a grudge. Kid grinned up at Heyes, “She ain't kiddin', Josh. I tried to reason with her, with both of them, but they’re afraid.”

Heyes slid back his silver trimmed black hat to scratch his head. He looked hard at the brunette who did the talking, checking for weakness, searching for opportunity. He responded sarcastically, “Correct me, ma’am, but didn't we just save your life?” Just as he finished talking, the blonde’s weapon pointed at Curry went off, blowing a hole in the canopy inches above Kid’s head.

“Sara!” The brunette screamed.

The blond woman dropped her gun and began to apologize. “I’m sorry…I didn’t...” The men leaped forward and each one grabbed a woman. Curry retrieved the weapons, stuffing the offending gun into the front of his pants then tossed the other one to his partner. Flustered and apologetic, the one named Sara cried, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for it to go off like that!”

Heyes opened the slit in the canopy, waving his gun toward the exit he sent the women out of the wagon into the Wyoming sunshine. Curry did nothing to try to hide his rage and as they stepped outside. He moved closer to blond girl’s face for emphasis. “Rule number one: if you say you’re going to shoot, you better be able to deliver! What the hell was that? Not that I’m not grateful that you’re a lousy shot!!” He shook his head, poked a finger in one ear and swirled it around. “You owe me an eardrum, lady!”

Soft, blond curls framed the blond girl’s beautiful face that now flushed pink, “Please, Mister, I’m…I’m sorry. I didn’t think…I don’t know how…” She shook her head. “Don’t hurt us. Please! My-my name is Sara.” She teared up, looked at the ground and continued, “You were so close to the wagon, we figured it was a trick; that you might be outlaws too.”

The horses snorted making Curry glance around. Heyes stood where he could see both sides of the wagon so when he didn’t respond with concern, Kid softened his voice and addressed the blond woman. “Ok, ok… Sara, I’m not going to hurt you. I’m Jones.” His voice tightened. “Thaddeus Jones.” He nodded at Heyes, “This is my partner, Joshua Smith.”

Heyes acknowledged the women and accepted the guns from Curry, turning one of the weapons over in his hands, giving special attention to the gun that missed Kid Curry’s head. Beautifully engraved with a scroll pattern in the wooden handle, he removed the bullets then twirled it on the first finger of his hand and pretended to dunk it in his holster. Kid Curry watched his partner with a smirk on his face and raised his brow,. He gave his partner a wink and said, “You’ll have to teach me that sometime.”

Curry and Heyes stepped away and spoke briefly about tying the women and riding off, but leaving them that way without protection didn’t seem right. Since the girls were unable to doing anything to them without weapons, Heyes decided that the most important thing was to move everything off the main highway and then decide how to handle the situation. They found a hidden spot behind an outcropping of rocks and set up a picket line, tying the four horses. A moving creek flanked them on the one side, the open prairie and main road barely visible beyond heavy bushes on the other. Heyes sauntered back into the campsite and dusted his hands off after dropping an armload of long grass down for the horses.

The brunette stood by her horse feeding him hanks of dry grass that remained just beyond her gelding’s reach. She dropped her eyes as Heyes approached, picked at her fingers and asked in a voice barely over a whisper. “Mr. Smith, my sister and I want to thank you and Mr. Jones for your kindness, considering....”

When he didn't answer, she looked up into his face. He gave her a lopsided smile and looked away. “Yes ma’am.”

The young woman continued.” We uh, were wondering if it would be possible for you and Mr. Jones to help us get back to the main road.” She cleared her throat before she continued. “We can’t travel alone without weapons and since it's maybe only a day's ride with the wagon to get to the next town, perhaps you’d be willing to help us get going? We won’t be any more trouble. You can return our guns when we move on.”

Heyes swallowed. Her statement was loaded. She meant; if you men are decent, we want you to help us. What if he and Curry weren’t good guys? And what about the girls? Why was she so friendly about this? The thought of that bullet hitting his friend made him swallow. How many more guns did the girls have under those skirts?

Curry had since sauntered up and broke into Heyes’ muse, “I would sure rather eat than ride right now.”

Hannibal Heyes’ head swiveled around with a snap. “What?”

Kid tossed his head toward the women. “They need a couple hands. We can build a fire. It’s hot and I’m hungry.” He shrugged. “It makes sense.”

“If we take time to do all it takes to set up camp and cook a meal we’ll be travelling through the night!”

“Why not leave in the morning?” Curry offered.

Heyes scowled at his friend. Thinking it through for a second, he shook his head once. When he looked around and everyone stood there quietly gazing at him, he realized he was alone in his opinion. Shifting his weight, Heyes scratched his nose waiting for some kind of reaction. With no protest from the women he dropped his shoulders and exhaled, “Fine…we’ll leave at first light.”

“Of course,” Sara interrupted. “We will have to get our weapons back.”

The men looked at each other and grinned. Curry raised his eyebrows, glanced at Sara and replied, “Not on my life!”

Kid Curry grabbed a dead tree branch and broke off some kindling. The brunette picked up a rock and set in next to another. She and the blond named Sara spoke in hushed tones as they fixed a ring for a campfire. Heyes stood at the wagon watching, arms folded. The darker haired gal walked over when she finished, leaned against the wagon, and wiped her hands on her apron.

Heyes asked her, “What made you two think you could safely travel without an escort, without any protection?” He removed his hat and looked her direction. Something awful was bound to happen to a couple of unprotected women. Even worse, when gals looked this good, they didn’t stand a chance alone in the rugged Wyoming outback. He moved in a step and his gaze intensified. “Wasn’t this a little desperate, Miss…? Um…?”

“Melanie”, she pushed herself away from the wagon to face him and gazed off in the distance.

The golden sun lit her face and she looked like an angel. Her beauty stunned Heyes. This girl had no idea how vulnerable she was, or to what kind of men she was talking. She just happened to be lucky he wasn’t the type to take advantage of a woman, not that it hadn’t entered his mind. Heyes leaned a shoulder against the wagon and examined the silver band on his hat. “I don’t mean to pry, of course.”

Melanie looked surprised for a moment and answered. “It is desperate, I suppose.”

Something about the young woman showed unusually refined poise and nothing about them appeared to be a threat. Heyes estimated the brunette was maybe twenty years old. When she looked up for his reaction, her blue eyes intense, he caught his breath. Hannibal Heyes had known a lot of women, but without question, this beauty was the finest vision of a female he’d ever laid eyes on. When he didn’t respond, she leaned against the wagon again and looked through the gap in the bushes that viewed the open prairie. He continued to stare at her. The exquisitely beautiful girl just stole his next thought.

“Why did you come to our rescue?” Melanie frowned. Heyes smiled back, feeling a little guilty for his last thought. “Uh, well,” He swiped his nose with a thumb. “We heard gunshots and decided to investigate. I saw a man dragging one of you into the wagon. When the shooting stopped, we moved in and opened the curtain and saw what was going on.”

“Please forgive me, Joshua. I’m glad you did what you did, but I must consider Sara’s and my concerns. We really need our guns to continue on. I’m truly sorry for this trouble, but going back to our ranch is impossible and even more dangerous than trying to get away. We have to move on. Those men are responsible for a lot of crimes. Sara is my sister. They are stealing our ranch from us. After our father died, they joined up with our uncle and completely took over.” She motioned to the wagon. “What happened back there was going to happen back at home.” She glanced back down at her feet.

Heyes wasn't about to turn loose of any weapons and stalled, “So you know those men?”

“They are part-time help hired for a job on our ranch.” Melanie frowned and wiped a tear away. “We knew they had been following us for several hours. I can’t imagine what would have happened if…”

Heyes sighed. A soft breeze swirled the dirt at his feet. He removed a leather glove and reached over to lift the gal’s beautiful chin so he could look at those eyes again. The air was cool as the sun dropped lower, but it suddenly felt hotter than summer. He told her, “You and your sister are safe now.”

Heyes struggled to figure out how to deal with the girl. Her looks alone could stop a train. He looked up when heard Thaddeus and Sara laughing and wondered if his friend had already fallen under the blond girl’s spell. Melanie suppressed a smile as her sister’s giggling increased. Curry suddenly laughed out loud and Melanie’s infectious giggle captured Heyes off guard. Soft and melodic, it sounded like music.

“You can’t just leave your home, your ranch.” Heyes turned back to sneak another look. The girl glanced at him sideways and answered, “The sheriff in Salt Wells is one those men's brothers. We had no choice.”

Heyes shifted his weight. Such a young, beautiful woman and she already suffered more than any woman twice her age could imagine. Her ranch and home under siege, manhandled, nearly raped, she was completely unaware she remained in the hands of one of the most notorious outlaws in the West. Her situation wasn’t exactly improving. Heyes straightened up, drew a deep breath and ran a hand through his dark brown hair.

Melanie sighed, “I should get Sara.” She combed away the tendrils dancing around her face and started in the direction of her sister. Heyes glanced at her again, touched his hat and turned to leave the opposite direction, “Ma’am.”

The girls spent the early part of the afternoon taking care of the horses and preparing food for an early supper. Soon, a fire crackled and an aromatic pot of coffee steamed at Curry’s feet. Sara joined him finally and the two sat next to each other talking about the day’s events.

Heyes stood gazing at the group with his elbow on the butt of a horse. He thought at first that the blond and Melanie might be twins, but a rounder face and pinker skin set her apart from her darker, olive skinned sibling. Heyes had never seen anything like the beauty of these girls. The warm exchange between the Kid and Sara grew in intensity and he wondered if she fully realized what she was doing to his friend. Kid hadn't quit smiling since Sara introduced herself, even after she nearly blew his head off with a gun!

“You risked yourselves for my sister and me. And I…” Sara smiled at Curry and tucked a blond curl behind her ear, “The trigger on that gun was more sensitive than I’m used to.” Curry smiled back, leaning in with incredulity, “You’re ‘used’ to guns? Heaven help us!” Sara held a hand up in defense, “It was the gun.”

Heyes and Melanie joined the couple to eat the beef jerky and corn mush that Melanie had prepared. The fire crackled as the men told the girls stories of their travels easing the uncomfortable introduction they endured. Heyes discovered Melanie really easy to talk to and found himself saying all sorts of things he normally kept to himself. He even revealed a telling story about playing a wild game of poker with a rancher in southern Wyoming. “When Big Mac cut the deck, he did it with a knife, right through the center of the deck. But the card he was supposed to cut was up my sleeve. So he lost the bet.”

Melanie giggled, “You cheated!”

He gave her a wicked smile and a wink. “So did Big Mac. This was more than any ordinary card game. It was a game of wits.” He tapped his head.

“And you won $20,000?”

“Yep, Thaddeus did too…and both of us lost every penny the same night on that hand.” Regret showed on his face. “A man that Big Mac owed money to showed up with gunmen and they cleaned out the table.”

Melanie shook her head smiling. “You can't be telling the truth!”

Heyes chuckled in self-deprecating frustration, “Believe me, telling it hurts as bad as the night it happened.” He looked up to see if Curry could add anything, but as the conversation wore on, he and Sara were now engrossed in their own conversation.

Curry and Heyes chatted with the girls into the late hours laughing around the campfire, none of them wanting the time to end. Just after midnight, Heyes finally walked Melanie to the wagon. Darkness had come hours before, but the campsite now basked in the glow of a moon near full which made getting around at midnight pretty easy. Heyes held Melanie’s hand as she climbed into the back of the wagon. She stopped and turned back, blue eyes glittering in the glow of the moon. “Thank you Joshua...for everything.”

A dimple creased one side of Heyes' face and his eyes fell on her lips. He felt guilty again and refrained from the considerations running through his mind. “Good night, Melanie.” He cleared his throat, nodded at her, then walked back to the fire.

Heyes took a walk to stretch his limbs. He tossed some stones into the creek wondering about this new situation. These women were really something special, and not the type men like Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry had ever met. After their long conversation, all the flirting, he felt almost giddy inside and it made him nervous. At least today he could still think clearly. Tomorrow he could not be sure. He left the water’s edge and walked toward Kid and Sara, stopping a distance away and waited for a lull in the conversation. He called his partner over. The two men withdrew a safe distance and Heyes put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “She deserves for you not to break her heart, Kid.”

“What?” Curry frowned. He stuck his chin out before he started rambling, “Hold it, Heyes...” Both hands pointing to his chest, he asked, “You think I’m going to break her heart? No wait…” He dismissed that and said, “Sara and I were only talking, having an ordinary conversation, and look, you’re already drawing conclusions. It just so happens she’s an incredibly beautiful woman and I like her.” His tone changed from guilty to guiltier. “Besides, you’re doing the same thing!”

Heyes winced. “I know, Kid”. That’s why I’m talking to you about this now. “These girls are different.” He pointed to himself then at Curry, “They don’t deserve to be wooed by outlaws. They have no idea what they’re in for. We come with additional trouble those girls do not need.” He shifted his weight and shoved his hat back. “We are no better for them than what they are running from.”

“What a bunch of hogwash!” Kid sputtered. “We’re sure a lot better for them than the last two! So what do you suggest? We made a deal to help them start to the next town…now what?”

Heyes didn't answer, so Kid continued. “Ok, do we just leave them here? Or maybe we should just quit talking to them? Ignore them? Because that is what it’ll take!” He paused again hoping Heyes would counter, but his friend only stared back. “Just great, Heyes!” Kid spread his arms helplessly, palms up.

“The way things are going, talking with that girl is not going to be the problem and you know it! Getting friendly with her will put you in over your head. You need to avoid Sara entirely. Don’t get too close, whatever it takes.” Heyes warned.

"Maybe they’d be safer without us?”

“Kid?”

“What?”

“May I remind you that you that you asked me to remind you that you should never argue with me?”

Kid turned and walked off, calling back over his shoulder, “It’s too late.”






Chapter 2
Thursday

A gentle patter of rain woke Melanie just before first light. She wondered if the men found a dry place to sleep. The wagon canopy wasn’t waterproof, but the tightly woven canvas material shed water quite well. It would take a longer, heavier rain to soak in or leak, which was a rarity in these parts. The older sister glanced at her sibling deep in slumber and decided to go check on the condition of the men. Donning a pair of breeches and a second shirt, she pulled on a woolen overcoat and a pair of boots and eased herself out of the wagon. Had it been a clear day, a dawning sun would have already made its debut. Instead, the dreariness of the clouds extended over the landscape, capturing the sunlight behind a dense curtain of gray. She looked in the direction she thought the men might be sleeping. Two boulders shaded in low light prevented her from seeing where they might have spent the night, but after crossing over a particularly large rock then resting upon another, she saw they’d found a place under a natural stone ledge that formed a shallow cave.

A gun clicked and Melanie froze when the cold steal touched her temple. A man’s head rose up from behind a rock. She looked up out of the corner of her eyes to find Heyes releasing the hammer. He smiled and apologized. “I didn’t know it was you at first.”

“I wanted to see if you two were still here, and had a place to sleep.” She confessed, looking sheepish.

Heyes studied her for a moment, making her even more uncomfortable, so she shrugged innocently and turned to leave. That he never answered and that she’d been caught peeping left her deeply embarrassed. His pointing a gun at her head made her wonder. Was he telling the truth that he didn’t know it was her? Or was there something he was hiding? She crawled back into the wagon and sat staring at the canvas until the smell of coffee brewing brought her back outside.

Heyes stoked the fire to blazing then stood back to pour hot black coffee into a tin cup. He and Kid didn’t say much and kept to themselves. Everyone cleaned up in silence after their breakfast of dry meat and biscuits.

When the wagon was packed, Curry helped Melanie hitch their two horses.

Once the horses were harnessed, Melanie went to put the saddle on Curry’s horse. “What are you doing?” Heyes stopped mid-stride as he passed by.

“Saddling to ride,” Melanie answered as she focused on capturing the cinch under Homer’s girth and fed it through the ring. Heyes wasn't going to argue about this. He wondered if the girl and Curry had come to some sort of agreement about who would ride in the wagon with Sara. He moved closer, responding with a firm. “No.” He reached for the strap and grasped it with the girl’s hand. She glanced at him as electricity jumped between them and she drew a breath. His touch generated a magnificent rush impossible to ignore. She looked past him when their surroundings suddenly darkened. Thickening clouds held out against one last hopeful ray of escaping sunlight, a sure sign that a storm brewed.

“Let her ride, Smith.” Curry said walking up at the end of the dispute. “I can drive the wagon.”

Heyes compressed his lips and shook his head once, but didn’t answer. For the next two hours the group rode slowly through spits of Wyoming spring rain as they traveled across the open prairie. Melanie gave no cause for Heyes to speak to her staying close to the wagon.

Sara signaled to her sister to ride next to her, so the dark haired girl dropped behind the back of the wagon just long enough to ride up the other side. She could feel Joshua’s eyes as she made the transition, but ignored him. She didn’t need his permission to talk to Mr. Jones or her sister. Sara made some motion to her sister to eat, but Melanie frowned and shook her head. Pride tasted better than food right now. Sara and Thaddeus didn’t seem to be saying much to each other and that wasn’t helping her to change her mind about skipping lunch. The first moment she got with her sister would help answer a lot of questions crowding her mind.

Dark and heavy the sky finally let loose. The cold rain soaked the travelers forcing them to put down early. A healthy growth of trees and shrubs near the creek offered some shelter and camouflage, so everyone agreed to stop and set up until the rain passed. Curry started to build a fire and Heyes tied the horses again.

When the fire was big enough to continue burning alone, everyone was cold and soaked and huddled around the flames without speaking. The rain eased and turned to mist. No one had anything to say about possibly spending another night on the prairie, nor did they complain about the chilly, wet conditions. Curry went out to capture dinner while Heyes tended the horses. The girls provided beans and a cooking pot they had stored inside the wagon. Twenty minutes later, Thaddeus dropped a rabbit against the campfire rocks. Melanie looked up and smiled at him, “Wow. I’m impressed.”

By the time the beans started to boil, the rain had completely subsided. When the clouds parted, the cold set in. Heyes stood in the shadows listening as Melanie spoke with Thaddeus. Their conversation was light and friendly. “I make a mean rabbit stew”, Curry offered, “So if the two of you don’t feel like it, I’ll be happy to do the cooking.”

Melanie looked surprised and gave him a big smile. “What girl wouldn’t take that offer?” She asked sweetly, “Can I get you an apron?”

Kid didn’t answer, but smiled back and shook his head in mock disgust. He took the pot to fill it with water at the creek. Both of them wondered if Heyes heard them talking and if they’d be in trouble for that friendly exchange. More rain fell delaying departure and the girls spent the afternoon in the wagon. Sara finally left to prepare the meal.

Melanie longed to pull Sara aside and find out what she was thinking, but they decided to finish preparations for the night and the girls could only exchange glances. She considered walking up and asking Joshua about their plans, just to make contact, but changed her mind. Like every other time, her pride tasted better. Besides, she feared he’d read her like a book and might see how vulnerable she felt. Further rejection would be unbearable. The men remained quiet and aloof, patrolling the area for signs of life or any movement along the main road. When they finally wandered off together to talk, Melanie grabbed Sara and the two girls held a conference behind the wagon.

“What happened? We meet these men. They save our lives. We almost shoot one to death and they are so wonderful it feels like we've been friends forever! They spend one evening being perfectly charming, flirting and laughing, then the moment it can’t get any better they suddenly act like we are poison!”

“I know…” Sara looked pensive. “Thaddeus was so wonderful last night. What a gentleman! Talk about blue eyes… and he has the most mysterious and appealing smile.” She blathered. “And tender? Psh! Mel, when he looks at me, I know there is something special between us. I have a feeling he and Joshua are in some kind of trouble, though. I told him that. You should have seen his face! He was so surprised I said it. He didn’t admit it, but he didn’t deny it, either. He later told me I was a smart girl.”

Melanie smiled at her sister. “Yea, I know…I'm definitely attracted to Joshua.” She peeked out from behind the wagon to observe the men who continued to talk just beyond the string of horses. “I don’t know why the big change.” She tapped her lips with a thoughtful finger, “Telling Joshua about Ray and the ranch might be the problem. I’ll bet he knows exactly who Ray is and doesn’t want to deal with him. Maybe that’s the trouble. I really can’t blame him. My guess is that he doesn’t want to get further involved with all of this and he warned Thaddeus not to get too friendly with you for the same reason. Nothing else I can think of makes sense.”

The men soon moved back to the fire and Hannibal Heyes poked the glowing red coals with a tree branch, talking to Curry in hushed tones the girls couldn’t hear.

“I know you don’t like doing it this way Kid, but it’s not right to encourage relationships that force us to reveal who we are or demand more than we can offer. Anonymity has served us well.” Heyes’ idea was meant to sound reasonable, but Curry stiffened at his words.

“Are you kidding me?” Curry spat. “So, this isn’t about endangering the women, it’s about your damned ego! Are you telling me that even after we get our amnesty, you’re going to walk away from Melanie? I can’t say that I’m not flattered. We’ve been together a long time.” He didn't get a response and added, “That girl is special, Heyes. If you leave her, I was right all along! You want to be miserable!”

Hannibal Heyes sat warming his hands then picked up a stone and jetted it out onto the prairie. “My ego’s shot to hell over this, Kid!” “It IS about her safety. Think of Sara’s safety! The reason you don’t think about it because we are used to our situation. But that doesn’t mean our lives aren’t shot, dangerous even! And what about their trouble? We don’t need that! The world we live in is way too messed up to add our problems to theirs. By ourselves, we manage—but only so far. Amnesty may change things. But it may not!” He crouched and stared hard at his partner sitting on the rocks, who was angrily cleaning mud off of his boots. Heyes continued, “Some people don’t think we deserve amnesty and we’ve seen they are willing to prove that. Doggonit Kid, I’m man enough to admit I’m not good enough for a woman like Melanie. In fact, I’ve always hoped not to find anyone like her. I have wanted posters in every bank and jailhouse from here to New Orleans! I can’t …” he paused working his jaw, “put an innocent girl through the hell that’s due to come back on me for living a life of crime!”

Curry spat on the ground and glanced over at Heyes. “That’s a bunch of horse crap!” He pulled his boot back on and stood up. “You can’t run from your past for the rest of your life! It never bothered you like this before. Haven’t I always covered your back? Look, Heyes, you can choose not to go to hell.” Kid paused, shifted his weight and sighed. “Ah, crap!” He slapped his hat against his leg and looked up, clearly annoyed. “Now that’s a first. I’m actually telling you NOT to go to hell!”

Heyes stood up and smiled at his friend. “I appreciate what you’re saying, Kid.”

“You know, Heyes…” Kid forced his voice back down. “I’m really disappointed.” His chin jutted out as he chose his next words. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen you walk away from something this good.” He picked up his hat and thrust it at Heyes like a dagger.

“Where's that old silver tongue now?” When his partner didn’t respond, Curry slapped his hat on his head and walked away.

The wind picked up, attempting to dry the soggy campsite. The girls exited the wagon. Soon forks scraping tin plates made the only sounds in the camp. Melanie was proud of her sister. Sara carried on like a woman without a care in the world. She didn’t pine, punish or even once try to catch Thaddeus’ eye. Melanie knew how her sister felt. But for that glorious Tomlinson pride! Sara’s unaffected manner tickled Melanie pink. Even so, the air practically cracked with tension. Clouds darkened the late afternoon sky forcing silent agreement between them that the group would not be leaving tonight.

The girls began cleaning up the meal when Sara dropped a plate of bones on the ground making the girls snort and giggle. Stooping to pick them up, Sara tossed a bone at Melanie hitting her in the head. The war began. Animal parts flew as the girls ducked and threw. Kid stood and watched, his arms crossed, grinning ear to ear.

Melanie plopped unladylike onto the ground and threw her head back laughing after smacking Sara in the forehead with a rabbit’s foot. The innocence and beauty of the girls at play, along with the musical tone of Melanie’s laughter captured Heyes. The fire cast the scene in an orange red glow. When Melanie glanced over at him standing between the fire and the wagon, she met a smoky, inscrutable gaze and his jaw flexed. The movement unmasked him and sent a shock of electricity coursing through her. She watched his face change the next instant. Before he looked away, he walked off into the darkness.

At Curry’s cue, the group cleaned up and packed the wagon. Soon the brilliant nearly full moon ascended to in a crescendo illuminating the vast wilderness in a beautiful and eerie green. Melanie relished the view for a while and finally climbed in the wagon. Joshua shamelessly haunted her thoughts. He’d proved to be not only handsome, but a very complex man and she found herself searching the corners of her mind to give back every detail. Sara had wandered off, so Melanie waited inside the wagon lost in thought hoping Sara and Thaddeus might be talking. The moon continued its trek across the starry sky and the sound of little creatures chanted their night song.

“Melanie! Wake up!” Sara hovered over her sister and shook her harder a second time,

“Melanie!”

“What?” Hair mussed, Melanie brushed some of it back, rubbed her eyes and sat up. “What’s going on?”

“Shh! Listen to me. You have to listen!”

“Ok, I’m awake. Is everything ok?”

“Yes. I mean, no. Just hush!” Sara lowered her voice making it smaller than a whisper. “I had a short conversation with Thaddeus last night. You told Joshua we were going to our family in southern Wyoming, but Thaddeus wanted exact details; where it was, what to look for, and he wanted to know a little bit about the town, you know, who the sheriff was, etcetera.”

“Ok…”

“Anyway, I told him we had cousins there who would take us in, that the town was quiet, and that we’d been there before…and that the family there felt the same about Ray as we did. I assured him we’d be happy and safe, that they could move on without concern for us.” She drew a breath, “Thaddeus didn’t say anything and it felt like he wanted to talk more. He didn’t though. It was all kind of uncomfortable, but I didn’t really care because I had a plan.” She grinned.

“Spill it then, Sara! Hey, wait a minute. What time is it?”

“Just past midnight,” The blond girl answered.

“Were you gone this whole time?” Melanie reached for her father’s pocket watch.

“Yes, but I only talked to Thaddeus for maybe 5 minutes.”

“Where were you?” Melanie frowned and threw off her covers.

“Relax Mel. Shut up and listen. You’re not going to believe this! Thaddeus and I said a few more things I can’t remember right now, but none of that is important. After saying good night, I came to the wagon. You were asleep so I snuck back out to take a walk. I slipped out when they walked over to check the horses so they didn’t see me leave the wagon.” She raised her hand to stop any protest. “Don’t worry I didn’t go anywhere. Joshua and Thaddeus went back to the fire to talk, so I listened for a while. It was nothing much, so I went around the other side of the wagon to try to get closer, but I couldn’t. From where they sat they might very well see me, especially if I tried to get into the wagon. So I waited. I actually fell asleep on that rock that sits against the back wheel. When I heard them again, it sounded like a heated conversation. I snuck to the front of the wagon and crossed over to that row of bushes and walked along the other side until I stood behind that big tree beyond the fire where I could hear them perfectly. They watched the wagon in case either of us came out but when they didn’t see anyone they figured they were alone. They didn’t know I was right behind them!”

“Oh, my goodness, Sara! You crazy girl! Go on!”

“So get this…” Sara frowned and grabbed her sister’s shoulders, “Heavens, Melanie, Thaddeus was practically yelling at Joshua, but he didn’t call him Joshua…” Anticipating the reaction about to come, she tilted her head, and purred, “He called him…“Heyes.”

“Heyes?”

Sara studied her sister waiting for a dawning while she held her fingers to Melanie’s mouth.

“Listen to me, Mel!” Having saved the all-important clincher, she raised her whisper an octave higher to spit it out, “Joshua also called Thaddeus, “Kid”!

Melanie searched her sister’s face before they said together, “Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry!”

“Crap!” Melanie’s eyes widened and she massaged her temple with fingertips. “You were right! They are in trouble Sara! Wait! What am I saying? We’re in trouble! That makes them bank robbers!” She emphasized that again, “Bank robbers, train robbers, thieves!! Oh my goodness! They’re probably using us for cover! Or ransom or…” Sara stopped her sister and reminded her, “Mel, those men saved our lives! And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone!”

“Great! Just great! I’m sorry, Sara, that doesn’t help. I’ve got to digest this.”

“I’m not done!” Sara pressed a finger to Melanie’s lips. “Do you want to hear what the argument was about?” Melanie rolled her eyes heavenward, grabbed her sister’s shoulders and hissed, “Sara, I don’t know what to do with any of this! But yes, finish!”

“Joshua told Thaddeus that he wasn’t being fair to me—that lying about who he was would only make me hate him. Joshua forbade Thaddeus to tell me because Joshua didn’t want you to know he was a train robber.” Sara took a breath and continued, “Thaddeus kept bringing up ‘amnesty’. Joshua told Thaddeus that even if they ever got amnesty, all he’d ever amount to was an outlaw with a promise that meant nothing to a lot of people. Thaddeus looked like he was going to punch him! He was so mad! Thaddeus said he was forced to take into account Joshua’s desire for anonymity, and that they needed to resolve that issue even if it meant separating as partners. Then they talked about going straight and amnesty again. Apparently, they’ve been living honest lives for a while.

“Amnesty? I’ve seen those wanted posters. I've heard the stories. Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes aren’t getting amnesty!” Melanie spat.

“Well, it’s supposed to happen! They've made a deal with the governor! They were going to wire a friend about it when we get into town.” Sara paused and looked straight at her sister.

“Joshua, I mean, Hannibal Heyes… is in love with you.”

Melanie bristled. “He said that?”

"Not in those words. But he told Thaddeus, uh Curry…” Sara cleared her throat, “That the thought of telling you that he is Hannibal Heyes is killing him and that if it weren’t for his past, he wouldn't think twice. He said he couldn’t continue this way but wants to wait until they get to town to find out about their amnesty before he decides what to do. He told Thaddeus, uh, I mean, Kid… that you were beautiful, that he dreaded going separate ways, but he was afraid that finding out who he really was, would make you hate him. He said you deserved better. He was also concerned that if we found out we might turn them in for the reward money. Thaddeus just wants to be able talk to me, but Joshua, I mean, Heyes, keeps getting in his way. Thaddeus, er, Kid, whatever, said that he didn’t need permission to talk to me, or be with me. I almost choked! Of course, if he did tell me his identity, the decision would have to be mutual. Joshua reminded him that he still had to keep my safety in mind. They continued talking but they got kind of quiet after that. I’m not sure what they finally decided, but I went back to the wagon because they talked about checking the horses.”

“And what does Mr. Curry think of your safety?” Melanie raised her head following a train of thought. She didn’t want to purposely hurt her sister but hardening her heart against the men by refusing to trust them felt pretty nice. “They’re criminals, Sara! What real interest could they have in us anyway; after only a couple of days? We’re being naïve!” Melanie’s bitter words hit home. Sara sat there zombie-like, staring at the canopy. She began to repeat slowly, “I’m in love with a criminal. I’m in love with…” Melanie snorted a giggle and they broke into stifled laughter. “Shh, now,” Melanie waved her sister away. “My head aches.” Melanie lay back on her cushion and turned away. You can fill me in with the rest of the details in the morning. I am going to go have a nightmare.”
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