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 The Long Road Back - Part Twenty-two - When the Fat Lady Sings - 12,300 words

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Cal

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Join date : 2015-11-11

20161128
PostThe Long Road Back - Part Twenty-two - When the Fat Lady Sings - 12,300 words

---oooOOOooo---

The Long Road Back
(Haff & Wong seven)
By Cal

---oooOOOooo---
Part Twenty-two
When the fat Lady sings
---oooOOOooo---


“When he sleeps …he’s mine” spat Haff into Red’s ear.

They were on the ground again, supposedly looking for tracks on the glass like surface, in the long shadows of early dusk.

“You will have to be quick …cause my sister will beat him to death with a rock …first chance she gets” mumbled Red darkly.

A bullet pinging off the rock between their feet and got their attention, and they stared back at the white man on the horse with loathing.

“You boys must think I’m stupid … Well let me tell you something …I ain’t stupid!”

Weaver dug the pistol back into Flower’s ribs.  She bristled resentment.  Weaver looked over to Wheat, who’d been eying their captor warily for signs of tiredness.

“Well … looky here now … your friends over there … have found me a nice hole …for you to spend the night in…” sneered Weaver.  

“Step down, Carlson” he ordered, winding a coil of rope round his saddle horn and throwing the rest of the coil towards Wheat’s feet.  

He jerked his head towards the lip of a deep fissure.

“I can see you been wondering … if’n I’m a might sleepy.  Well I got to admit … I am.  So it’s time fer you to inspect your overnight accommodation.  Of course, I’ll be staying up here …with the blankets … and the guns …and the woman …. While you’ll be down there … in the dark … with your Indian friends … and the snakes…”

Wheat’s eyes narrowed, looking over the edge of the fissure.  It was deep and sheer sided.  He bent slowly to pick up the coil of rope.

Haff, hearing Weaver’s words concerning Flower, flew across the gap between them his hand already searching for the knife. But Weaver had the pistol in his hand.  He shot at Haff’s feet, the bullet throwing up rock and scree, bringing Haff to a skidding, snarling stop only feet away from the horse.

“What you waiting for Carlson… an invitation“ shouted Weaver, never taking his eyes off Haff.  

“You’ve got two minutes to start climbing down that rope … or I’ll be helping your friend here down with a bullet.”

The pistol was waved just a little, as Weaver nodded towards Red.

“You next.”

Without a word, Red solemnly complied glaring at the white man as he descended the rope.  Finally, when Wheat and Red stood together at the base of the climb, Weaver moved the horse toward Haff, put a foot into his chest and kicked him backwards, down to join the others.  Wheat rapidly went up in Red’s estimations.  The big man tried his best to break Haff’s fall, by putting himself between the small Indian and the rock slab floor.  Unfortunately for Wheat, he managed to knock himself out in the process, and they all heard the sickening sound of Wheat’s arm breaking, as it folded up underneath the pair.

Red rushed over to untangle the two men, throwing Haff aside, and pulling and setting Wheat’s arm straight before he came around again.  He found a loose shard of rock to use as a rough splint, and bound the arm to it using bandages improvised from the ripped sleeves of Haff’s tunic.  

Haff himself, was only winded by the fall and otherwise unhurt.  

He stood up slowly from a rousing, groggy, moaning Wheat, and stared back to the rim searching for a way to climb out.  Without the rope, it was impossible.

“Sleep well boys” laughed Weaver nastily from the rim.  

“Don’t you let any of them snakes bite now...”

---oooOOOooo---
Lom had left the cave house to move the horses.  Truth be told, he was quite relieved to be outside again and away from all the groaning and the moaning inside.  

Kid’s headache was preventing him from falling asleep or even lying down flat.  He’d sat on his bedroll, moaning for hours, then ran to hurl most of the food he’d managed to put away earlier by the cave house door.  This hadn’t improved the ambience of the cave any, and Heyes wasn’t shy in sharing with Kid, his opinion of the new aroma.

Heyes’ arm had started to swell at the shoulder, and the tight skin was pulling uncomfortably at two the stiches Lom had managed to put in.  Heyes couldn’t help but point out that his shoulder had become a lot more painful, since Lom’s ministrations, and he also couldn’t help implying, that Lom had got through an awful lot of whiskey fixing up the Bounty Hunter.

For his part, the Bounty Hunter was very still and quiet.  Even that was unsettling though.  Asleep, it was easy to believe he was indeed dead, so pale and still did he lie in his blanket thick with blood.  It was a real temptation to walk over and kick a boot, just to see if he would rouse again.  Also, swelling was kicking in around his neck and face.  The pale white skin there gave way to blue black, with lurid pink and yellow edges.  

Not pleasant to look at.  

Lom had gotten used to having the man around.  

He liked the feeling of having someone to watch his back again.   He hadn’t had a partner since his last train robbery, all those years ago, back when he was an outlaw.  When his partner hadn’t made it back.  That loss had sent him from the Hole to seek first the bottle, then an amnesty, then eventually a new life on the right side of the law.  

If Lom was any judge of character, he saw that need again now, in this man with the hanging scar and coldblooded reputation for seeking a bloody form of justice.  

The need to change direction.  The need to start over.  The need to connect and trust again.  

They’d all noticed the change in the Bounty Hunter, though even Heyes, would have had difficulty putting it into words.  Lom recognised a fellow traveller and he wanted to help, and what’s more he realised, a trust had grown between them.  Harker was getting old.  Porterville could use a new deputy sheriff.

He’d got the horses settled, and was just debating whether to make the climb back to the cave house when he heard distant gun fire.  Two faint pistol shots, a long way off.  It was impossible to guess at the distance, or even the true direction they’d come from.  Sounds bounced around the high cliffs making accuracy impossible.  His gut told him the shots were from the North, not from back in the Outlaw hideout.  

Lom decided to stay with the horses and keep watch for a while longer.

---oooOOOooo---

Later that night

“So much for… he’s gotta sleep some time” whined Wheat, unable to sleep in the dark at the bottom of the hole because of the pain in his arm.  “Did you hear a snake? Think I heard a snake…”

Haff sat next to Wheat keeping watch, with the knife in his hands.  

He mumbled “No. No snake. Try to sleep.”

But Haff was watching the rim, more than the dark shadows of the pit.  As far as he was concerned, the only snake to worry about was Weaver, and Flower was up there with him.

Weaver was sleeping, very lightly.  He had his hands on the rope that lead to the noose around Flowers neck.  Flower’s eyes were wide open.  She fought at the knots tying her arms and legs tightly, as she lay squirming on the hard rock floor.  

‘Just give me one chance’ she thought. ‘And I’ll make sure this white man gets a good long sleep!’  

She had heard the thud of Haff’s landing, and the sound of breaking bone.  It had sickened her stomach.  She’d come back to protect her new husband from the dangers of the Badlands, sudden crevasses and fissures like the one he was currently marooned in.  Her tribe knew every inch of this land.  This barren place was home.  She was determined to do better, if only she could free herself.

Below, in the hole, Red was lightly dozing.  He flicked his eyes open to see the other two still wide awake.

“We have entered the sacred lands of my people…” he said.  “These lands are walked by our ancestors… Many fierce warriors walk here …they will protect us….No harm can come to me … or my sister in the sacred lands…” he tried to reassure Haff.

Haff said nothing.

“Can they protect us from snakes?” whined Wheat.  “Or shift this god-awful pain outta my arm?”

“You should try to sleep” answered Red, rather unhelpfully.

Wheat didn’t look impressed.

Haff sat and brooded.

---oooOOOooo---
Next morning at the cave house

Lom had got things moving along, good and early.  

The horses waited patiently above in the meadow. Lom didn’t think any of his travelling companions wanted to tackle the rope down the cliff at the front of the cave house this morning, and besides, it was a lot easier to load up the horses with supplies, from the store cave, this way.

When he lifted the hides to re-enter the cave house, the aroma of sick and bad cigars, mixed with feet and strong coffee and worse, assaulted his nostrils.

Kid was the personification of a bear with a sore head. He prowled around the cave, getting his bed roll together, glaring at anyone who even looked towards the smelly mess by the front door, to which, he had added during the night.

He had only managed to utter one coherent word this morning,

“Coffee.”

‘Good,’ thought Lom. ‘At least The Kid seems to be able to function this morning, even if he won’t make for an easy trail companion.’

Heyes, had been the last to wake.  

He’d finally managed to go to sleep in the early hours, still bitterly bemoaning the lack of whiskey. This morning, the barely warm, strong coffee, was eyed with a dark scowl and met with a tirade of how he couldn’t taste it anyhow, what with the smell of sick and cheap cigars!  His arm and shoulder were stiff.  His burnt fingers were even more sore than his leg.  The rough stitches at his shoulder were pulled tight against the swelling skin, and they hurt like billy-o if he as much as breathed, let alone attempted to move.  

‘Bad’ thought Lom.  ‘Very bad.  A bad tempered Heyes would be like travelling with a whole posse of wasps! I don’t know how Kid puts up with him when he’s like this.  At least our newly resurrected friend won’t be saying much.’

The Bounty Hunter was responsible for the cigar smell.  He was wafting it about to fight the stink of sick as he sipped his coffee, rather than having it clenched between his teeth as was his usual custom.  He looked extremely pale, except for his lower face and neck, which had swollen alarmingly overnight, the skin there turning a deeper shade of blue-black.  The contrast with the rest of the skin on his face, which looked paper white and drawn tight, gave the man even more of a cadaverous appearance.

‘Ugly’ thought Lom ‘That wound looks real ugly this morning.  He looks like he’s gonna need help getting to his feet, let alone getting up on a horse.’

Lom decided it was time to leave.

“Well …I got everything ready up top” said Lom, rubbing his hands together and sounding chipper.

“Huhrrrr” growled Kid, throwing Lom the look.

“Huhrrrr” moaned Heyes.  “You could at least let a man finish his coffee”

“Huhrrrr” groaned the Bounty Hunter in resignation, attempting to get to his feet clutching at his neck.

Lom wiped the smirk off his face and tried to replace it with his ‘Sheriff Trevors rousting a posse’ persona.  

“Right men … We ain’t in no hurry … no one’s chasing us… or waiting on us… so we can take our time …go our own speed.  (Maybe not a posse then)  We got plenty of supplies …there’s plenty of water …and I can get us some game as we go along… Kid knows the fastest way back to Flower of Morning’s trail … and Heyes there, can pick out them pebbles easily enough… So … let’s get going … …and we’ll just aim to get a couple of hours up the trail …then you can all get a chance to stop… and rest up if you need it…”

“Lom … quit yakkin … let’s just get movin’!” spat Good.

“Yeah just … go … get on yer hos will yer“ scowled Bad.

“Huhrrrrr” groaned Ugly, still struggling to stand.

---oooOOOooo---

Weaver was back on the horse, the rope dangling down the hole.  

“You … Indian brother … you get up here” he called.  “And bring Carlson with you …he’s worth $10,000, dead or alive.  Either way doesn’t bother me none.”

Haff watched, as Red braced his legs on the wall to try keep both him and Wheat from being scraped to shreds on the sharp rock, as above Weaver used the horse to pull them up.  The rope did not return when they finally disappeared over the edge, Wheat crying out in pain.

“Flower” he shouted.

Up above, Weaver watched Wheat.  If he couldn’t sit the pony, he’d put a bullet in him now and tie the body on.  Wheat, seeing the intent, tried to make light of his injury and climbed aboard the pony.

“Well now… We all know there’s a trail outta here don’t we … and we all know Heyes is following it with my money… so …today…you …”

Weaver fixed Red with a glassy stare.

“…are going to take me straight back to the trail… No… wait a minute … better …You’re gonna get me ahead of Heyes… you hear me boy …you get me in a nice ambush position … or your sister ain’t gonna live long enough to come rescue her boyfriend there…”

Weaver moved the horse to the edge of the fissure to look down at Haff.  

Haff was looking back at Flower, hands tied, noose around her neck, still she radiated defiance and hatred towards Weaver.  He felt very proud of her.  She was magnificent.  

Weaver was still talking to Red.

“…you better get us back on the right trail boy… or I can tell you now…I ain’t dying alone out here… if I die… you all die….one by one… you understand.”

Weaver pointed the pistol down the hole.  Haff, suddenly realising what Weaver was about to do dived for cover.  Weaver fired the pistol, managing to hit Haff in the leg.  

Flower screamed.

Weaver looked very satisfied with himself.  ‘Good that’s got everyone’s attention’ he thought.

“…and you better be quick about it boy…” sneered Weaver to Red. “…or he’ll have bled to death before she can get back here to find him…..Hahahha….”

---oooOOOooo---
Kid had found the way to the Badlands, through the stream and up the correct creek bed this time, in record time.  He knew more than a few rat runs.

Like the others, he was worried about the Bounty Hunter staying on the horse in the difficult climbs.  

Lom stayed at the Bounty hunter’s side, whenever it was possible, and pushed him back into the saddle if he seemed to have drifted off.  

They could all see a stop was necessary.

“Ahhh… there it is …look” said Heyes, pointing at the pebble marker as they crested the top of the creek.  

“Wait a minute …hold up everyone … stay where you are… there’s tracks.”

He got down stiffly from Sally, and went ahead to scour the ground.

Kid looked sceptically at his partner, doubting the possibility of Heyes finding anything up here to track. But as his own eyesight was still fuzzy, and the suns glare on the rocks, was triggering shooting pains behind his eyes. He sat his horse and stayed quiet.

“There’s a good place … over here… to leave our horses while we make coffee…” called Heyes.

“Someone’s already beaten us to it though …no fire…”

Lom assisted the Bounty Hunter to the floor.

“There’s been at least one shod horse here recently…” continued Heyes. “Looks like they went out that way, maybe …with a coupla ponies…unshod… strange … Flower’s trail marker definitely says that way…”

“Nothing but sharp rocks, sudden crevasses, and very deep fissures that way…” said Kid shaking his head at the upland trail.  

“A man could easy fall into one of them … never be seen again” he opined.

The others nodded.

“Well someone went that way… and not too long ago…” said Heyes, also shaking his head at the steep climb to nothing.  

He screwed up his face in thought, then turned and let his eyes follow the trail marker.  The trail they’d be following looked to be dropping to lower ground on the other side of this ridge.  Just a goat track really, but the marker was clear, and that was the way they’d be taking.

Kid helped Lom sit the Bounty Hunter down on a bed roll and saddle, then started to pull rocks into a circle for a fire to heat the coffee pot.  Lom had some wood behind his saddle, gathered from below.  The Bounty Hunter groaned lighting his cigar and reaching into his pack to pull out some papers.

“Huhrrrr” he said, waving the Heyes and Curry wanted posters.

The ex-outlaws looked a bit uncomfortable and perplexed.  The boys exchanged a mute conversation, then looked to Lom for explanation.

Lom had nothing.

The Bounty Hunter grunted and smiled.  He took his stub cigar, and lighted the corner of the posters, and used them under the brush to get the fire going.

“Huhrrrr” he chuckled closing his eyes, seemingly asleep in seconds.

“Will you look at that Heyes” smiled Kid gleefully.  “Ain’t that a beautiful sight?”

“Sure is” confirmed Heyes, with a huge dimpled smile.  “I like the way he’s beginning to think… right …. I’ll make the coffee…”

“No!” groaned Kid and Lom together.

“Huhrrrr” mumbled the Bounty hunter without even opening his eyes.

---oooOOOooo---

Red had decided no white man’s life was worth his sister’s safety.  

If getting this white man back on the trail of Heyes and Curry, and on out of the tribes sacred lands and off their hands, was what it took to be rid of him, then so be it.  Haff had said the other white men followed Flower’s trail to the sacred valley.

He truly believed no harm could befall him or Flower while they crossed the sacred lands, and he knew for certain that when they had passed the sacred valley on into the tribal hunting grounds, the braves would see they needed rescue, and this white man would pay for his insult to his sister.

Red was a patient man.  It was just a matter of time.  Haff would have to take his chances.  

Red didn’t share his father’s assertion that Haff would become the tribes next Shaman after he had joined their ancestors walking these sacred lands.  He certainly didn’t share his sister’s infatuation with the strange little man either.  

If they should come across the other white men, the ones this one was looking for, well then, they could kill each other if they so wished, save the tribe the trouble.  What was it to him?

He pushed his pony to move just a little quicker over the difficult ground feeling he now had a plan, purpose.  Beside him, Wheat moaned, trying to hold his arm still as possible on the other bouncy pony as it struggled to keep up with Red’s.  

Red eyed Wheat carefully.  This white man had broken his arm, trying to save the neck of one of the people.  He sighed.  Haff may not be high up in Red’s estimation, but he was still of the people, and his sister’s husband, and his father’s chosen successor.  

He sighed heavily again.

He slowed the pace of the ponies, and took a little more care picking out their path, as he lead the party down towards lower terrain.

---oooOOOooo---

No trails were particularly easy or clear in the Badlands.  Not even for the ex-outlaws following an easily marked one.  Many times, it wasn’t apparent which way to go.  One of them would have to ride ahead and report back on the suitability of the footing for the horses.

For the Bounty Hunter, the journey was proving to be near impossible.  

He was weak and feeling faint.  His concentration floated in and out, often finding himself at dangerous angles in the saddle, looking down over long drops of sharp ragged rocks, when his mind eventually refocussed.  

He knew he was holding the others back too and that they were eager to make better progress.

“OK… that’s far enough for today” called Lom, rapidly putting his horse back on the downward side of the Bounty Hunter, and pushing him back up into the saddle for the umpteenth time.  

That had been too close.  The man needed rest.  

“Don’t think we should plan on going much further today Heyes…” called Lom at the back of the partners’ heads.  

“You might want to start looking for somewhere to spend the night.”

Heyes was quite a long way ahead, Kid on his heels.  

The partners exchanged a look.  They were traversing a low angled bank of rough scree, heading for a deer track, just visible in the scrubby vegetation.  There didn’t look to be anywhere close to camp, and there were hours of daylight left.

Kid shrugged.

“Lom…” called Heyes.  

“We’ll find you somewhere to stop and make our friend there some more coffee and food… see if you can persuade him to burn more of them wanted dodgers…” he smiled.  

“Then Kid ‘n’ me … we’ll scout ahead … see which way the trail’s going … See if we can find easier route for the horses between trail markers … Think she’s marked the quickest way … but there may be an easier route for …for him … We won’t be more than a coupla hours…”

Lom was already off his horse, the Bounty Hunter slumped forwards on his, he may have lost consciousness.  The sheriff nodded his head, his hands full with holding the pale rider in his saddle while he guided both horses off the trail to the lea of some taller rocks.

“Come on Kid … I don’t know about you… but there a saloon and a hot bath just calling me … from that direction” smiled Heyes.

“In case you’ve forgotten Heyes…” said Kid looking back to Lom, and already turning his horses head to go back and help, “They want to hang us …out there …and we’re flat broke again.  Go on … I’ll just be a minute … Go find the next marker.”

---oooOOOooo---


Weaver rode with his back to the sun.  He was confident the Indian was taking him back to the trails North this time, and with the falling sun behind him and being on the higher ground, he felt confident he’d be able to spot Heyes and Curry if they were ahead.

“You keep your eyes ahead for that thieving outlaw Boy…” he called to the ponies ahead.  “Not only has he got my money …his hide is worth $10,000 …so’s his partner’s … That’s a lot of money Boy …enough for me to consider a sizable contribution to the tribe … if I was assured a safe passage out of here … You might want to think on that…”

Red lifted his eyes to Wheat.  

Wheat looked worried.  That was a temptation. Red was a bit of a hot head, and the $10,000 on his own hide alone, would buy an awful lot of guns for the tribe.  Guess being the successful leader, of a notorious outlaw gang, had its down sides.  He raised his eyebrows to Red in question.

Red’s face was inscrutable. He didn’t turn his head, let alone offer an answer to either of the white men.

Suddenly, a distant movement ahead got his attention and he brought the pony to a standstill.  

His eyes scanned ahead.  

Two riders, were carefully picking their way through a boulder field below.  They were too distant to identify, but who else could they be.  A huge sigh from Wheat at his side, confirmed for Red that this must be Heyes and Curry.

“Oh …well looky here” said Weaver, riding up close behind the ponies.  

“Time for you to pick a side Boy …”

---oooOOOooo---

Down below a little while later

Heyes raised a hand to bring Kid to a stop.  

Up ahead, in the middle of the trail between two huge boulders, stood Red with a rifle pointed their way.

“Hi” smiled Heyes warily, slightly raising his palms.

He’d spent quite a lot of time in Red’s company back at the Indian camp, when he was fighting for his life, after the snake bite.  He was well aware, that this was the brother with, both the smattering of English though he hadn’t wanted to talk to Heyes much, and with a hot temper and short fuse.  He remembered too, that the temper had been directed mostly at his father, Lone Wolf and his elder brother, Tall Pines Sing.  

Heyes hadn’t been able to understand their language, but he didn’t need to be a genius to know that Red, had vociferously questioned the wisdom of helping the Big Chief of Devil’s Hole and his friends.  And Heyes had sneaked off in the middle of the night, on the eve of his intended marriage to this man’s sister…

“Hello Red …” said Heyes quietly.  “Its …erm …real good to see you again… I had to leave …. sudden like… last time I saw you … You might have been thinking …that was a might rude of me … but you see … I wasn’t in any position ….to go marrying your sister …”

Kid rolled his eyes, raising his hands just a tad, pushing his horse up the trail to come to a stop beside his partner.  He hadn’t had many dealings with the Indians, but he recognised Red, and could see there may be some difficulty brewing between Heyes’ prospective bride’s brother and the genius.  

He smiled a big friendly grin.

“Hi again …Red” he said.

Red’s face was unreadable.  He lifted the rifle barrel to cover both ex-outlaws.

“You should know … the Big Chief here …he did keep his word …about the tribes sacred lands…” tried Kid.

“That’s right …” Heyes smiled, grabbing the straw offered by his cousin.  “You can go see … I had that sky bridge blown up …to the South there … them outlaws down there…they got no way to get up here into your lands no more … you got all this… “

Heyes looked around at the unforgiving terrain, seeing it now, as not very much to be bestowing back to the tribe.  

“…erm … All this sacred …space … You got all this…. all to yourselves now … just like I said  …  I did it, didn’t I Kid?”

“Yeah …yeah …that’s right he did … just like he promised” joined in Curry, seeing Heyes wasn’t getting anywhere.  

“And your sister …she got herself a real good husband … much …much better than Heyes here….”

Heyes didn’t look like he thought Kid was helping, he nodded along though.

“Yeah ... yeah… that’s right, Kid” he agreed begrudgingly.  

“You didn’t want your sister … hitching her wagon to a white man now, did you?  …Haff … he was real taken with your sis… Errr …well …he made a much better match than… erm … and he knows all that medicine man stuff” enthused Heyes.

“All that drummin’…and the singin’ …erm…and shaman …stuff…”

Kid sighed.

“Did Wong stay …and explain Red?   How we had to move on… sudden like…”

None of the partner’s words seemed to be having any impact on the Indian at all.  Kid played his last card.

“Wong gave you the whiskey, right? …and the cigars …and the bullets …he did, didn’t he? … Well all that stuff …that was from us… to say thank you … it’s kinda a white man thing…”

The partners looked at each other.  A mute conversation bouncing back and forth between them.  They didn’t understand what this was.  They questioned whether they’d got the right brother.  This was the one that understood some English, wasn’t it?

Heyes scowled at Red, wondering what to try next.  He took in a big lung full of air to try another tack, when a pistol cocked behind him, and he froze.

“Hannibal Heyes…” sneered Weaver.  

“And Jed ‘Kid’ Curry, wanted Dead or Alive and worth $10,000 apiece.  What did I tell you Boy …Now… you did good … git over there with Carlson … and remember …your sister here …is good and comfortable in my lap … Ain’t yer darlin’?”

Flower refused to make the desired flinching noise, as Weaver pulled her head back roughly.  She pushed her lips tightly together, eyes blazing towards Heyes and Curry.

The boys turned their heads in synchro to face Weaver, their hands lifting just a little higher.

“Now … throw them pistols over here …nice and slow like … “

The boys reluctantly complied, tossing the Colt and Schofield at Weaver’s horses feet.  

“Now …step down…both of you … And bring that saddle bag with you Heyes …You too Curry… I got me a hankering to see just what you’ve been stuffing them saddlebags with…”

Heyes grabbed up his saddlebag and shrugged at The Kid’s questioning eyebrows as he dismounted.

“Come on …” shouted Weaver, suddenly firing the pistol at Kid’s horse’s feet.  

“I said step down…and empty them saddlebags right here …I want to see what’s in them!”

“OK …OK….” Pacified Kid.  

“Guess if you want to see my dirty laundry …and my spare socks that bad… it’s fine by me … but I’m tellin’ yer …it ain’t very exciting… just calm down will yer, Weaver.”

“Just git moving!” spat Weaver, shooting at the ground by Heyes’ feet.

“Ok…OK!” shouted Heyes.  

“Jeez! Yer only had to ask…”

---oooOOOooo---

Lom looked up startled.  

The pistol shots had come from the direction Heyes and Curry had gone.  

He looked at the sleeping Bounty Hunter and made a decision.  There was plenty of daylight left and inactivity was making him twitchy anyway.  

He’d go investigate.

---oooOOOooo---

The Bounty Hunter woke.  He blinked away the crusts in his eyes and just caught a fleeting glance of Lom, on the chestnut mare, as he disappeared over the rim.

He wondered where the sheriff was headed, but didn’t feel overly concerned.

He guessed he’d gone after some game.

He tried closing his eyes again, hoping to find sleep, but some screeching birds kept him from drifting back off to oblivion.  He pulled himself to sit up and looked back behind him.  Some large birds were riding the thermals there, circling and coming down towards the ground.  They weren’t landing though.

‘Must be waiting for some poor creature to drop.’ Thought the Bounty Hunter, a smile playing across his face. ‘It could be a deer.  What would the others think, if they came back to collect their lame duck, and found a big slab of meat cooking over the fire…’

He carefully pulled himself to his feet, and keeping very low, weaved his way to the top of the climb.  He let just his head break the skyline, and sat motionless, staring back into the low evening sun.  This was no way to approach game, but if the animal was near death…

As his eyes became accustomed to the glare, he searched the craggy landscape below him for signs of life.

Nothing.

One of the huge birds landed awkwardly and waddled up to the opening of a deep fissure.

‘If its fallen in there, it’s probably starved to death… won’t be worth eating’ thought the Bounty Hunter, disappointedly.

Then a rock hit the bird, smack in the middle of its chest, making it flap and move away from the edge in a squawking protest.  Faint shouting came from the hole in a mixture of Apache, Mexican and Chinese!

‘Someone’s trapped down there…’ thought the Bounty Hunter, narrowing his eyes to try and see more, ‘…and whoever it is, must be badly hurt or maybe starved and thirsty.’

With the strength borne of his recent conversion to the side of the good guys, the Bounty Hunter slid back down the slope to his horse, checked it for rope and pulled himself up into the saddle of the patient animal.

---oooOOOooo---
Heyes and Kid stood behind a huge pile of their belongings.  Kid was pulling his spare leather jacket out of the accommodating saddle bags, and Heyes was trying to save their best shirts, shaving gear and Derby’s from getting too dirty or crushed.

From behind Weaver, came a long whistle from Wheat, rocking back and forth on the little pony, clutching his arm. Through a tight grimace, he remarked,

“Jeez! How d’you get all that in your saddle bags!?! Ain’t you boys ever heard of travelling light?”

Heyes pulled out his tightly rolled Brown suit trousers with a scowl, adding them to the pile.  

Kid did the same with his spare boots, sharing a glance with Heyes before shrugging to Wheat.  

Wheat looked to be in a lot of pain.  This needed to be over.  

Quickly.  

Kid turned the saddlebag upside down and shook it onto the growing pile and stood up.  

Seeing Kid’s actions, Heyes followed suit.

“There! You satisfied…?” he spat at Weaver.

Weaver looked at the pile with incredulity written clear across his face.  He stared, searching the pile for signs of the money.  He grabbed Flower round the neck and dragged her off the horse with him, as he came around to kick through the pile.  

Heyes’ face winced as his best suit got trampled into the dust, and his brown Derby was kicked skywards.  

Why his?

Kid’s was the one with the repair that would need replacing.

“Where is it? Where’s my money?” shouted Weaver, launching Kid’s blue Derby skywards.

Kid groaned.

Heyes watched it fly with glee, then turned back to Weaver with a serious frown plastered across his face.  

“What money?” he asked.

Red, standing by Wheat’s side, heard the big man wince and cough.

“Wheat told him you switched saddle bags on him and his partner, and stole what was rightfully theirs” he explained, dropping the rifle to help Wheat from the pony.  

Wheat hit the ground heavily and complained about his pain loudly. He fixed Heyes with a look, then dropped his head.

“That’s right Heyes…” he breathed heavily to the ground.  

“I told him …how you stole our money… I thought you must have had hid it in that saddle bag  …You never let out of your sight… Guess I must have been wrong… Must have been that four flushing Bounty Hunter…”

“ENOUGH …ENOUGH!” screamed Weaver, his eyes squinting up independently making him look more than a little deranged.

He rushed over to the dropped guns and awkwardly picked them up, shoving them into his belt.  Unseen by Weaver, Flower got hold of quite a large rock as he pushed and pulled her around in front of himself.

“That’s it … I guess I’m just going to have to settle for the bounties on the three of you.   Suits me fine.   And as you’re all wanted dead or alive … I don’t need to hear no more of your yakkin’.”

He took Heyes’ gun from his belt and cocked it pointing it at Wheat.

Heyes threw up his hands, waving them and trying to get Weaver’s attention back on him.

“AAAhhhh… Weaver ….you know you can’t get away with turning us in …Even dead …Nobody’s going to pay you a bounty on us …You want money …We can understand that … Can’t we Kid?” started Heyes.

“Sure…” agreed Kid, nodding, but he sounded distracted.  

He was watching Weaver and Flower like a cat watching a mouse. Heyes glanced over at his partner, annoyed.  He desperately started grabbing at straws.

“… And there’s the Bounty’s on them Platts coming … that’s $15,000 … That’s a lot of money right there… And we got us a tame sheriff …to do all the paperwork.  That money’s as good as in the bag … well not in the bag …” smiled Heyes, trying to bring the mood back from the dangerous edge.

He pointed to the mountain of their belongings.  

“Could hardly fit anything else in the bag…” he laughed lamely.

“Quit your yakkin Heyes!”  Weaver had switched to quiet cold blooded killer.  

“Or the first bullet will be for you … Of course, then …I’d have to switch to Kid’s Colt.  You all think I’m so stupid …well like I been saying … I AIN’T STUPID … I shoot Carlson first … with your gun … then you get it …with the Colt … You caught up yet Heyes?  All I gotta say is … I come across the bodies … after you all shot each other…”

Lom watched the action from the rocks above.  

He’d worked his way around the group, to try to make a clean shot at Weaver.  Unfortunately, Weaver had hung on to the girl, and was stood with his back to the horse.  

Time was getting short.

Seeing Weaver, aim the Scofield at the wounded man on the floor by the Indian, and cock the pistol, Lom realised his time had run out.

“Weaver!” he shouted.

“This is Sheriff Lom Trevors … Drop the weapon … and put your hands in the air.

Many things happened at once.

Weaver turned to look for the sheriff, instinctively raising the Scofield to fire that way.  

Lom ducked, unable to get in a clear shot himself.

Heyes dived for the rifle dropped by Red. He fired at weaver’s hand.  With incredulity, he realised that the rifle was empty.  He shot a look Red’s way.

Flower turned and kicked Weaver ‘s leg, pulling away from the man to get a good swing on the rock.

Kid spotted his chance.  He dove his hand into his sheepskin jacket pocket, and fired the small calibre derringer in Weaver’s direction.  His eyes wouldn’t allow him the benefit of accuracy, so he aimed for the middle of the chest of the nearest Weaver he could see.  Experience had taught him, this was likely to be the real one.  With satisfaction, he saw both Weavers merge, clutching at their single chest.  

Weaver lifted the Scofield weakly, pointing it back at Kid.

Flower slammed the rock into the side of Weaver’s head, using her tied hands and her total body wait along with the rocks momentum.

Weaver went down like a sack of spuds, dead before his knees had time to buckle. Didn’t stop Flower adding kicks and curses to the insult.  She was like a force of nature.

Kid looked on with awe.

Heyes stared at the derringer in Kids hand.

“You got any more surprises for me partner?”

They both turned to watch Flower, their faces wincing up with every blow and curse.  Kid rolled his eyes at Heyes in a, ‘sure hope Haff never crosses her’ sort of way.

Red seeing his sister losing it, rushed to her side, to untie her hands and removed the noose around her neck.  He took her in his arms to console her.  But Flower pushed him away, and started screaming at him in their own language.  Seemed she wasn’t too impressed with her brother’s contribution to proceedings, and to be fair, she was terrified for Haff.  

She needn’t have worried.

As Heyes and Kid began the mammoth task of re-packing their saddle bags, the Bounty Hunter and a wounded, scraped looking Haff, rode into the clearing on the Bounty Hunter’s horse.  Haff fell into Flower’s open arms.

Up above, Lom broke his rifle over his arm and began the long climb down to join the others.

---oooOOOooo---

The story over ran and had to be posted in two sections.... the rest is here... http://asjbuckshot.forumotion.com/t411-the-long-road-back-part-twenty-two-the-final-chapter-continues
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