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 The Long Way Home Part 1 by Inside Outlaw

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royannahuggins
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Join date : 2013-10-13

20181102
PostThe Long Way Home Part 1 by Inside Outlaw

Starring

Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes and Ben Murphy as Kid Curry



Co-Starring


James Drury as Lom Trevors


Dakota Fanning as Callie Monroe


Gil Birmingham as Running Wolf


John Cusack as Paul Monroe


Tilda Swinton as Mildred Monroe




The Long Way Home - Part 1
by Inside Outlaw



Kid Curry sat on a hard-wooden bench in the middle of a dusty town square.  He held one boot in his hands, shaking it until a small pebble dropped out.  He stared at the hole in the sole, sighed, and slipped his boot back on before settling back to look at the entrance to a one-story building across the street.  Traffic streamed by him and busy pedestrians went about their business.  He could see Heyes through a plate glass window bearing the name Bladesburg Telegraph Office and, a moment later, his partner emerged holding a piece of paper.  

Heyes stepped off the sidewalk and crossed to the small, weedy square of soil that served as the center of town.  He plopped down onto the bench.

“What’s it say?”



“Not much.”  Heyes read the words aloud.  “Smith and Jones (stop) meet me morning 9th (stop) Jack’s cabin (stop) important (stop) Lom (stop).”

“The ninth?  That’s the day after tomorrow.  We’d have to leave now to get there on time,” groaned Curry.

“Don’t have much choice.  Lom says it’s important and you know what that means.”

“Yeah, it means he has somethin’ dangerous he wants us to handle and he ain’t tellin’ us what before we get there.”

Wearily, Heyes stood.  “Let’s go.”

“Hold on.  What about breakfast?”

“No time.  We’ll pick something up and eat in the saddle.”

Curry stood and scowled.  “I knew you were gonna say that.”  


#


“See anything?” asked the Kid.

Heyes was lying on his belly at the top of a small rise.  Behind and below him, his partner held both horses concealed in a small copse of scrubby trees.  The landscape was mostly flat and open with trees few and far between.  A small, obviously abandoned, log cabin was situated several hundred yards away in a meadow of scraggly grass.  A saddled horse was tied to the broken-down corral fence and an old windmill behind the house creaked out a rusty tune giving the whole place a forlorn feeling.  

Heyes scrambled down from his vantage point and took the reins to his horse from the Kid.  “Lom’s already there.”  He swung up onto his bay gelding.

Curry mounted and settled into his saddle.  “You sure it’s Lom?”

“Yeah, he’s still got that old roan of his.”

The two men rode slowly towards the dilapidated cabin.  A small plume of smoke drifted from the crumbling chimney, but there were no other signs of life.  The Kid took both his reins in his left hand casually dangling his gun hand next to his Colt.  

Heyes glanced at him and smiled.  “You ain’t planning on shooting ol’ Lom before he tells us what the governor wants, are you?”

“Pays to be careful.”

“I like it when you’re careful, but I’m not sure he will.”  

The front door to the cabin eased open and their tall, dark-haired friend stepped out.  The sun glinted off the brass star pinned to his duck vest.  “Kid, Heyes, good to see you.”

“Lom.” Heyes reined up without dismounting and leaned his forearm on the saddle horn.  “What’s up?  You didn’t give us much time to get here.”

“Why don’t you come inside and I’ll tell you.  I brought some grub and there’s coffee brewing.”

“You don’t have to ask me twice.”  The Kid stepped down and tied his sorrel next to the roan.  He was already up on the porch before Heyes was out of his saddle.


#


“More coffee?”  Lom picked up a blue speckleware pot from the coals smoldering in the fireplace and carried it back to the table where the two ex-outlaws were finishing sandwiches.  

Heyes put a hand over his cup preventing it from being refilled.  “You’ve buttered us up just fine, Lom, now tell us why we’re here.”  His tone was friendly but his eyes were suspicious.  s

Curry wiped crumbs from his mouth with his sleeve and sat back, patting his stomach with one hand and holding out his mug.  “I’ll have some more.”  

Having filled the mug, Lom set the pot on the table and sat down.  “The governor has a favor to ask of you.”

“A favor?” snorted Heyes.  “What’s it been, almost two years of favors, right?  But no amnesty.  What is it this time?  Steal some art or maybe con a competitor?  Or is he on to bigger and better things?  Maybe he wants us to knock over the Denver Mint; finance his next campaign.”

The Kid sipped his coffee and watched his two friends with a smirk on his face.  

Lom held up his hands.  “Now, Heyes, settle down and give me a chance to spit it out.  It’s hard enough for me to ask this.”

“If it’s hard for you to ask, I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna want to hear it.”  Heyes started to stand up, but Curry’s gloved hand gripped his arm stopping him from rising.

“Hear ‘im out.  I wanna know what the governor’s got planned.”

“The governor’s not asking for himself.”  Lom stood up and began walking back and forth in front of the fireplace.  “You remember the battle of Prairie Dog Creek back in ‘76?”

“Yeah, we heard something about it,” said Heyes.  “It was at the confluence of the Tongue, right?  The Cheyenne tried a surprise attack on General Crook but the cavalry drove them off.”

The Kid was frowning.  “That’s old news, what’s it got to do with us?”

“I’m getting to that.  The cavalry ran off the Cheyenne, but some folks got in their way during the retreat.  A couple of homesteads were raided, stock stolen, families killed.”

The two ex-outlaws glanced at each other meaningfully.  The Kid swallowed hard, and asked quietly, “Anyone survive?”

“The Cheyenne took a captive.  A little girl.  Callie Monroe.  She was three at the time, she’d be almost eleven now.”

“If she’s still alive,” said Heyes flatly.

“Yes, if she’s alive.  The army tried hard to find her but she disappeared along with the tribe.  Her relatives searched for years but gave up after the trail went cold.  Last month, a trapper from Gardiner named Tompkins said he saw a young white girl with a rogue band of Crow in the valley along the East Fork of the Yellowstone.”

The Kid frowned.  “There aren’t any Indians in Yellowstone anymore.”

“Apparently there are.  Tompkins traded some furs for information about her.  Seems the Crows bought her from some Cheyenne in exchange for ponies.  He tried to trade for her, but the chief refused.  She’s been promised in marriage when she, er, matures and that could be soon.”

“Marry!  She’s a baby!”  Curry looked scandalized.

Heyes picked up the coffee pot to pour himself another mugful, but paused.  “Rogue Crow?  I thought they were all on the reservation.”

“They were, but there’s been a lot of anger over the railroad’s plan to build a spur line to Red Lodge not to mention the government seizing control of their grazing rights.  Seems the local ranchers wanted to run cattle on Crow land and they weren’t happy with the Indians choosing who can and can’t get leases so the state stepped in.  It’s caused a lot of trouble with the more traditional members of the tribe.  Quite a few of them took their ponies and up and disappeared,” explained Lom.  “Rumor has it they’ve gone back to the old ways.”

“So how come the army doesn’t go out and round them up?” asked Curry.

“They tried.  Fort Washakie sent in a company and searched the area for a month but found nothing.  The Crow must’ve gotten word they were coming.  It’s a little hard to hide that many soldiers in open country and finding a handful of Indians is like finding a needle in the haystack.”

“So, send in more men,” said Heyes.

“Things are a little touchy right now.  The railroad and the cattlemen don’t want to stir up any more trouble before they get what they want from the tribe.  That’s why our governor wants you two to get her back.  He figures two men can get the job done without attracting attention,” finished Lom in a hurry.  He looked sheepishly at his friends.  “I know it’s a lot to ask, but he wants to keep this very quiet and he’s getting a lot pressure to find her.  The girl’s relatives are well-off and well-connected and they don’t want anyone to know what’s happened to her.  That’s why he’s coming to you.”

Heyes stared angrily at his former gang mate.  “So, he wants us to ride into Crow territory and steal one of their tribe members out from under their noses then, if we’re still alive, we nursemaid a little girl across Wyoming territory and turn her over to what, to her, are a bunch of strangers.”

“The family’s offering a two-thousand-dollar reward for her safe return.”

“We’ll do it.” The Kid was nodding his head emphatically.

Heyes turned to him, glaring.

“We can’t let her get married off, Heyes, she’s still a child.  Besides, I’ve never been to a national park, could be fun.  Kind of like a vacation.”

A strangled noise, but no words, escaped from Heyes.


#


“I’m glad the governor sprang for train tickets.”  Kid Curry gazed out of the nearly empty railcar watching miles of high desert slide by.  They were seated towards the front of the car.  The only other passenger was by the rear door, stretched out on a bench, and snoring loudly.

“It’s the least he could do,” grumbled Heyes sitting in the opposite bench.

“I wonder where the heck Monida Pass is.”

“Hmpf, you’re gonna find out real soon.”  Heyes pulled his hat down over his brow and crossed his arms.

“Lighten up, will you?  Don’t make this trip longer than it has to be.”

Using one finger to poke up his hat brim, Heyes glared at his partner.  “It’s already long enough for me.  I don’t want this job.”

“Not even for two grand?  That kind of money could go a long way.  Get a nice little spot to hole up in for a year or two and wait for the amnesty to come through.”

“Like that’s gonna happen.”

It was the Kid’s turn to glare.  “What’s got into you?  You’re usually the one talkin’ me into every lamebrain idea the governor comes up with.”

“Maybe I just like breathing more than money.  Have you thought of that?”

“Far as I know, there ain’t nothin’ you like better’n money.”  

“It’s no joke.  Did you miss the part where Lom said angry, renegade Indians?”

“You’re workin’ yourself up over nothin’, partner.  We’ll take some good-lookin’ horses with us and your silver-tongue can work us a deal.”

“My silver tongue doesn’t speak Crow.”  

“Don’t matter; those ponies’ll speak for us.  It’ll be a piece of cake.  We’ll get the girl and the cash.”

“Those last few words will look real fine on your tombstone.”  Heyes slumped back and pulled his hat back over his eyes.  


#


The train depot was a simple shack with a crudely-painted sign tacked over the doorway declaring they had arrived in Monida.  A small step stool was placed next to the tracks but the station was deserted.  Alighting, Curry swung his saddle up over his shoulder and took the saddlebags Heyes held out.  No sooner had the dark-haired man stepped foot on solid ground than the engine whistled and a long plume of steam announced the locomotive’s departure.  

“What’s their hurry?” grumbled the Kid.  His partner was looking around at the desolate, windswept, high-altitude countryside.  Several brick buildings in various stages of construction and a few rickety wooden homes marred the otherwise barren mountaintop view.  Heyes’ gaze shifted to a tall barn outside of town surrounded by fencing and populated by a handful of horses sporting heavy winter coats.  Long wagons with bench seating sat idly by.  Detritus blew about their boots as they walked towards the livery and stagecoach terminal.  No one was outdoors.

“Don’t look much like a tourist town, does it?” said the Kid.

“Tourists won’t be here ‘til late June.  Stages aren’t even running yet.  It’s still winter in these parts.”  Heyes pulled his gray jacket tightly closed with one hand, his other gripping the swell of his saddle.  

“No kidding, I’m already freezin’.  I vote for gettin’ our horses and gettin’ the heck outta Monida.”  

“Reckon I’ll second that vote.”

As they neared the barn, one of the tall doors creaked open and a bearded man stepped out to greet them.

“You Smith and Jones?”

“We are,” said Heyes with a friendly smile.  He dropped his heavy saddle.  

The Kid dropped his, too, and held out his hand.  “I’m Jones, he’s Smith.”  The hand was ignored.

“Yeah, and I’m Santy Claws.  I don’t care who the hell you are.  The boss said you two were some kind of government agents and that’s more’n I need to know.  Got two good saddle horses and some broncs ready for you.  Follow me.”  Leading them around the side of the barn, the man indicated two horses tied to a hitching rail, their manes and tails rippling in the unrelenting wind.  “That’s Spike and Lulubelle.  He’s a bit on the ornery side, but she’s a sweet little thing.  Both of ‘em are good, solid mounts.  See that you treat ‘em right.”

“We will,” agreed the Kid.

“Those other five in the corral are for tradin’.  Finest horseflesh in these parts.  Damn shame they’s bein’ wasted on those savages.  They ain’t broke but to halter so don’t go swingin’ a leg over any of ‘em.  Crow like ‘em best that way.”  

With no further comment or farewell, he hurried down the street towards town clutching his old hat to his head as a vicious gust whipped up the dust around him.

“Folks sure are friendly ‘round these parts.”  Heyes smirked.

“If that’s how he treats government agents, I’d sure hate to see what he’d do if he knew who we really are.”

“C’mon, I’ll flip you for the gelding.”  Heyes fished a coin from his pocket and smiled mischievously.

“Just take him,” muttered Curry sullenly.  


#


Scattered snowflakes whipped by the brutal wind peppered the bay gelding’s winter coat.  He stood atop a rocky promontory with his head lowered against the weather as his rider lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and surveyed the broad alpine valley below them.  The flea-bitten gray mare next to him stamped her hoof impatiently while the other horses put their noses down to nibble the sparse weeds.  Her rider had the collar of his thick sheepskin coat turned up, his brown concha hat pulled down low, and his gloved hand gripped the lead to the string of broncs.

“Sheesh, and I thought May was cold in the Hole.”  Curry shivered.  “Hey, y’see that smoke?”  He pointed to several white plumes rising off the valley floor in the distance.

“It’s not smoke, Kid.  I think those are geysers or maybe hot springs like in Saratoga.”  Heyes tucked away the binoculars in his saddlebag and rubbed his cold hands together.  

“Hot springs sound good.”

“Not these hot springs.  I’ve read about Yellowstone.  The pools here could melt the flesh from your bones in seconds flat.”  

Curry gave him an exasperated look.  “You know, I’m beginnin’ to re-think the whole vacation thing.”

“C’mon before we freeze to death.”  Heyes nudged his horse, and the gelding heaved a great sigh before picking his way carefully down the rocky trail, the mare cautiously following his every step while the Kid tugged along the other horses strung out behind him.

Once they reached level ground, the train of horses followed a river upstream past several waterfalls and through meadows with elaborate river bends until they reached the broad, desolate valley they’d seen from above.  Very few trees dotted the landscape and many of those were dead, skeletal remains.  The eerie plumes they’d seen from above were everywhere, varying in size and intensity.  

“Where in the blue blazes are we, Heyes?  I’ve never seen anything like this!”  Kid Curry twisted from side to side in his saddle, frowning at the gloomy landscape before him.  A large cloud overhead had leached color from the day lending the scenery a lifeless grayness.

“I think that’s why it’s a park, Kid.  There’s nothing else like it,” answered Heyes.  “Follow me, but be careful.  The ground will be crusty around those geysers.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice, partner.  This place is a deathtrap.”  Curry frowned.  “How come you let me take this job?”

Heyes rolled his eyes.  As they neared the steaming ground, the horses became skittish and balky.  Both riders pulled their bandanas up over their noses and tightened their reins as their animals tossed their heads and pranced.

“Ugh, smells like rotten eggs,” groaned Curry.

“More like the Hole’s bunkhouse.”  No sooner were the words out of Heyes’ mouth than he heard a soft rumble as a gushing spout of hot water shot into the sky causing his horse to sink its hips and spook away from the offending spectacle.  The broncs pulled away from the Kid, burning the lead rope through his hand, and took off running in the opposite direction as his mare threw a bucking fit.  Curses sliced the cold air until the two men regained control of their unruly mounts.  

Curry reined his mare up and stroked her neck, speaking to her soothingly while her eyes rolled in her head.  Once she settled, he turned to his partner.  “The sooner we get outta here, the happier I’m gonna be.”  Heyes was looking at a stagnant pool of steaming water a short distance away to his right as his horse pranced in place under him.  

“What are you starin’ at?” asked the Kid, urging his hesitant horse next to the nervous gelding.

“Look at the colors.  It’s amazing.”  Following Heyes’ pointing finger, Curry saw the prismatic reds, oranges, greens, yellows, and blues that swirled within the bubbling waters.

“It’s pretty, but deadly—like an ornery rattler.  Let’s get those nags rounded up and get outta here.”  



Heyes noted the numerous small fissures issuing steam around them.  “Hang on tight to Lulubelle.  I’m thinking we’d be smart to retrace our steps getting out of here.  From the looks of those vents, we could break through this crust real easy.”  He carefully turned around the gelding and started following the clearly indented hoof prints.  Silently, the two men worked their way back to solid ground and pulled up again.  

Heyes removed his hat and wiped a sleeve across his forehead.  “Now I know what they mean by breaking out in a cold sweat.”

“Horses are over there.  We’ll circle around to the left through the trees.  Seems like the geysers are out in the open; there’s no plants near ‘em.  Maybe they can’t survive around ‘em.”  The Kid swung his horse around.

“Maybe the plants have more sense than we do.”


#


The two ex-outlaws finally managed to re-capture the broncos and continue on.  Near dusk, they approached a large clearing barely visible through the trees.  Across the clearing stood two canvas tents, buttoned tight.  Smoke uncurled from a vent in the center of each roof.

“What d’you think, Kid?”  Heyes’ breath streamed from his mouth as he spoke.  His lips were chapped with the cold and his cheeks were rosy.  The snow was falling softly, dusting both riders.  The backs of the unsaddled horses had turned white.  

“Could be soldiers, could be rangers.  No way of tellin’.”

“I sure could go for a hot cup of coffee.”

“We’d better pass ‘em by.  I’d hate to run into some army clerk who spent his free time readin’ wanted posters.”  Curry glanced at his partner who was gazing longingly at the tents.  “Let’s go, Heyes.  It was your idea to bypass Camp Sheridan ‘cause of all the rangers.  What’d you say?  We’ll be a whole lot better off if no one knows we’re here or what we’re here for.”

“I hate it when you listen to me,” snapped Heyes.  

“The trail heads off that way.”  The Kid pointed to a cleft in the mountain beyond the meadow.  “We’ll camp just below the summit on the other side.  It’ll be cold, but we’ll be in good position to drop down into the next valley in the mornin’.  Accordin’ to the governor’s man, we’ll follow that one north and we should be in the East Fork the day after.  How’s that sound?”

“Cold.”

“We can build a small fire tonight since we’ll be out of sight of those tents.  It’ll warm you up and keep the grizzlies away.”

“Cold as I am, a grizz would bust a tooth on me.”

Curry unbuttoned his heavy sheepskin coat, took it off, and held it out.

“What’re you doing?”

“Whatever it takes to stop your whinin’.  Here,” the Kid shoved his coat towards Heyes.  “We’ll trade.  Once we get that fire goin’, you can give it back.”

Heyes took the offering.  “Thanks, Kid.”  He slipped off his gray cloth jacket and took the coat, putting it on and smiling.  “I gotta get me one of these.  All these years and I had no idea how warm you’ve been.”  He dug his heels into the gelding and started up the trail while the Kid buttoned up the gray jacket.

“All of these years and I had no idea what a moron my genius partner could be,” muttered Curry.  


#


The Kid reined up his mare and rolled up his shirtsleeves.  Heyes had stopped a few yards back to take off his gray jacket and when he rode up next to his best friend, Curry was watching several huge herds of elk weaving in and out of the budding aspen trees blanketing the rolling hillsides.  The meadow grasses were greening up as far as the eye could see.

“East Fork sure is something,” said the Kid.  “Hard to believe all this good land is set aside just for a bunch of tourists.”

“I kind of like the idea of a national park.  I didn’t expect it to be so big but, as fast as the cattlemen are stringing barbed wire across the west, it’s nice to know some places won’t ever change,” observed Heyes.  He pointed to the river below them.  “Let’s make camp along the banks.  Maybe do a little fishing tonight.


#


The sun was directly overhead the next day when they scared up a mama grizzly and her three cubs decimating a bison carcass next to a rocky riverbed.  Several wolves were lingering nearby taking turns dodging in and harassing the angry sow hoping to convince her to move on.  Her silvered, humped shoulders shimmered in the sunlight as she swiped at the annoyances with a huge, impressively-clawed paw.  One wolf yelped loudly and ran off to lick his wounds.  Sitting atop Spike and Lulubelle on the other side of the broad watercourse, the two men observed the contest while eating a cold lunch of jerky and hardtack until the wolves began to show too much interest in the horses.  Heyes and Curry stowed their food in a saddlebag and rode their animals away.

That evening, they camped alongside a creek in a stand of tall pines.  The horses were high-lined and hobbled in the center and the Kid constructed several small fires around the circumference of the camp while Heyes unfurled two bedrolls away from their mounts’ stamping hooves.  Lighting the last fire, Curry stood and stretched, rubbing his lower back.  “That oughta keep the bears and wolves away.”

“Let’s hope so, but we better stick to hardtack and biscuits tonight.  No use drawing the wildlife with the smell of cooking beans.”

“Or any other kind of smell.”

The two partners sat side by side, eating and watching night fall on the valley.  As the darkness grew, their breaths became visible.  Crazy, cackling yips split the night’s silence, making both men start.  

“We aren’t the only ones eating,” said Heyes.

The Kid smiled grimly.  “There’s something about a pack of coyote carryin’ on makes my blood run cold.”

“Yeah, me too.  Let’s turn in.  It’s getting cold again.”  Heyes tossed the crumbs of their meal into the fire and picked up a stick.  He stirred the embers until the flames went out.  The Kid walked over to the creek and scooped up water in their old coffee pot then poured it over the coals until the sizzling stopped.  The two, tired partners crawled into their beds and fell asleep.

The next morning, they set off following the river until the trail began to climb in elevation.  Raging water roared down a narrow canyon skipping off boulders and careening against sheer walls of rock forcing them to ride away from the river and deeper into the forest.  The further they went, the tighter the trees closed in, and the horses took up a nervous jigging like they had in the geyser basin.

“Must be more bears around.  I don’t know about you, but the hairs on the back of my neck are standin’ up and salutin’,” said the Kid, once again reassuring his gray mare.

Heyes didn’t answer.  Distracted, he was peering into the forest.  

“I’d sure hate to meet up with that mama,” continued Curry.

“Shh.  D’you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

Heyes reined up the gelding until the Kid pulled up alongside him.  “Don’t look, but I think we’ve got company and it ain’t bears,” he whispered.

“Indians?”  Unlooping the rawhide keeper around his Colt as nonchalantly as possible, Curry looked around.  “I don’t hear nothin’.  Your nerves gettin’ the best of you?”

A flash of white preceded the emergence of a fierce-looking warrior.  The man wore an old top hat adorned with straight-up eagle feathers and his greased hair was plaited down his back.  Another man appeared on the left and, moments later, Heyes and the Kid were surrounded by six members of a hunting party.  Each man was attired in soft buckskin tunics beautifully decorated with beads and quillwork.  Each also carried a bow and nocked arrow or a hunting axe at the ready.

No one was smiling.

“How many you reckon there are?” whispered Heyes.  “What’re our odds?”

One of the men, his hair in a bun and his headdress filled with feathers, frowned harshly and drew back on his bowstring.

Curry smiled weakly.  “I get a real bad feelin’ that fellow speaks English.”

“Gentlemen, I’d suggest you drop your weapons,” the man said with perfect enunciation.

Carefully, the two ex-outlaws lifted their guns from their holsters slowly using only their fingertips and dropped them on the ground before raising their hands in submission.  One of the braves swept them up and tucked them into his tunic.

“Dismount,” ordered the English-speaking man.

Heyes and the Kid alighted on the ground as the other men surged closer, surrounding them.

“Sir, we come in peace,” said Heyes with a friendly grin.

“We’ve heard that one before.”  Despite his words, the man lowered his weapon and released the tension of the bowstring.  “I am sure my friends will dissuade you from any sudden moves.”

The Kid stared at the vicious-looking weapons grasped by each man and said ruefully, “I ain’t movin’ a muscle.”

“Are you Crow?” asked Heyes.

“We are Apsáalooke, but the white man calls us Crow.  Tell me why you are here and be honest.  I know how hard it is for you people to speak the truth but a lie will cost you your lives.”

Heyes started to open his mouth again, but Curry interrupted before he could speak.  “We want to trade these ponies for the little white gal you folks got from the Cheyenne.”  He ignored the annoyed stare his partner was giving him and continued.  “The Governor of Wyoming sent us.  Her family wants her back real bad and they won’t stop tryin’ to get her now they know she’s here.”

“Perhaps if I send the governor your scalps, he might be persuaded to give up.”

Elbowing the Kid aside, Heyes quickly spoke up.  “No sir, if you do that, he’ll send in enough soldiers to blanket this valley.  He sent us, his very close and very trusted friends, because he doesn’t want to take the girl; he wants to trade for her; fair and square, everybody wins.  You get some fine horseflesh and we get to take the girl back to her family.”

The man said something undecipherable and three of the other braves walked over to the unsaddled horses.  They chattered excitedly as they ran their hands over the animals, examining them closely.  Finished, they turned to their leader and nodded their approval.

“What will stop me from taking the horses and letting you two walk out of here?  The bears are hungry after their long sleep.”

“This guy’s got an answer for everything,” mumbled Heyes under his breath.  He cleared his throat.  “You could do that, but then the governor will wonder what happened to us, his very dear friends, and send more men and they’ll be coming for your people.  Is this little girl important enough to get you all killed?”

“She is promised to my son,” snapped the man angrily.  “You are coming with us.”  Speaking Crow once again, the man growled what sounded like a series of orders.  The Kid and Heyes were seized by their arms and swiftly bound with rawhide.  One of the braves pushed them to start walking and another led the way.  A third man gathered up the horses as the others disappeared into the forest only to return a short time later with their own animals, several of which were laden with dead elk.

Heyes scowled at his partner as he walked.  “I thought we were gonna stick to our story.”

Curry frowned.  “You heard him, Heyes.  He said the truth.  Ain’t nothin’ you were gonna say wasn’t a lie.”  The man behind them gave him a rough poke in his back.  “Besides, Indians make me nervous.”

“It was your idea to take this job!”  

“I didn’t say nervous enough to turn down two grand.”

Heyes turned his attention to the apparent leader, pasting a smile on his face.  “I guess we ought to introduce ourselves.  I’m Smith and he’s Jones.  Who are you?”

“I am Running Wolf, son of Iron Elk, and brother to Fast Water, our chief.”

“How’d you learn to speak English so well, Runnin’ Wolf?”  The Kid stumbled for a moment, but quickly regained his feet.

“The reservation school frowns upon us speaking our native language and its teachers delight in punishing children who dare to speak our tongue.  I have many scars as well as many words.”

“Is that why you left?”

“Yes.  We have left the reservation because your people not only took our land; you wish to turn our children into white men.”

“Not us, Running Wolf.  Some of us believe in live and let live,” observed Heyes.

Casting a sidelong glance at the white man next to him, Running Wolf scoffed.  “Then you are very rare, exceptional white men.”

“We like to think so,” replied the Kid rather smugly.  


#


The shadows were growing longer by the time the small party arrived back at the Crow camp.  It was situated in a broad clearing near the edge of the forest before the trees completely gave way to a vast, sagebrush-dominated valley.  A small stream bubbled its way through the grassy meadow continuing its journey towards the valley floor and the large river that bisected it.  Several very young children ran throughout the camp, weaving past hand-painted tepees, playing with a pack of scrawny dogs.  Women were outside, too, some tending cooking fires while others sewed or softened hides as their older children gathered firewood or performed other chores.  Elk skins were stretched on crude racks, drying in the sun.  Horses wandered freely, ambling by, nibbling at the new grasses springing up out of the worn dirt.  

When a cry went up from one of the children, attention turned to the hunting party’s arrival.  People poured out of their tepees and clustered around the riders, talking excitedly, as the men dismounted.  Everyone was surprised, and plainly concerned, by the captives.  The horses carrying the elk carcasses were led away.  Women reached out, pinching and prodding Heyes and the Kid until the men chastised them and chased them off.

“Come, I will take you to my brother.  Fast Water’s English is not as good as mine, but he will understand you.  I will speak for him.”  Running Wolf grabbed Heyes’ elbow and dragged him along towards a larger, highly-decorated tepee near the center of the encampment.  Brightly-painted hunting and battle scenes adorned the structure.  The Kid was escorted by a tribal member who had a grisly scar running from his forehead to his chin.  When they reached the open-door flap, Running Wolf halted and called out in his native tongue while Heyes and Curry studied the efficient home.  Two flaps were open at the top, allowing billowing smoke to escape.  A seam secured by bone skewers held the tanned bison hide around the lodge poles which were lashed together near the top, forming the skeleton.  A response was uttered from inside and Running Wolf gestured for his two captives to enter.  

Heyes ducked as he came through the entrance and saw daylight filtering down from the smoke hole illuminating the dirt floor.  He blinked several times until his eyes grew accustomed to the interior light then he gazed around.  A second, interior skin circled the tepee about a foot from the ground and stretched up another four feet.  A bow and quiver of arrows hung from it as well as a war shield and several skin bags.  A clay and beaded wooden pipe were suspended by a sinew strap.  A small fire blazed in the ring of stones in the center dispelling the last of the day’s chill and a stack of wood sat nearby.  Several pallets of furs were placed around the edges and a fierce-looking warrior sat upon the largest.

The man stared at him impassively and Heyes stared back, both men’s faces revealing nothing of their thoughts.  The Kid’s escort shoved him roughly forward until he stood next to his partner.  He, too, was silent.  Running Wolf spoke in his own language to the chief for quite a while then turned to his prisoners.  “Be seated and do not speak unless invited to do so.  Fast Water has heard your story.  He alone will decide your fate.”  

Pushed to the floor and seated back to back, Heyes and the Kid were wary but immobile.  Time passed slowly until the warrior before them finally spoke.  His voice was deep and harsh and the words he used were clipped.  The brave who’d accompanied Curry rushed from the tent.  



“He is bringing the horses,” explained Running Wolf.  “Fast Water wishes to see them.”

The chief spoke again.

“You may speak.  He can understand you but he will not speak your language.  He forbids it.”

Curry’s brows drew together.  “But…”

“I am allowed to speak the white man’s language for the tribe.  We find it useful at times like this.”  

“Is he considering our trade?” asked Heyes hopefully, watching the chief.  “You told him the governor won’t give up?”

“I did and he is.  Much will rest on the quality of the horses, but he has not ordered you killed yet.”

“Great.  I feel so much better.”  Turning away from the chief, Curry asked, “What about you?  Are you willin’ to let your son’s future wife go?”

A ripple of anger crossed Running Wolf’s visage.  “It is not for me to say.  If Fast Water agrees, so be it.”  The warrior chief cackled as he listened to the men talking.  He spoke again and broke into laughter.

“What’s so funny?” asked Heyes.

“Fast Water knows I do not approve of the girl becoming my daughter.  She is white and, worse, she believes she is Tsitsistas.”  Running Wolf spat.  Seeing the blank looks on their faces he clarified, “Cheyenne.  My son, who is too young to know the trouble he is asking for, wishes it and Fast Water wishes to cross me.  He also knows I cannot object.”  A look of repressed enmity passed between the two Crow men.  “He is my chief.  If he orders it, I must obey.”

“Sheesh, we’re in the middle of a family feud,” said the Kid in a soft whisper.

Approaching hooves could be heard and a moment later, another voice called out.  The chief rose and gestured for Running Wolf to bring the two captives outside to see the animals.  Heyes studied Fast Water as he exited the tepee.  A glimmer of a pleased look passed across his face before the stoniness returned.  Heyes smiled, too.

The chief wandered around the five horses eyeing them carefully.  He had the brave jog each one some distance away and then run back towards them.  Scrutinizing the two stallions in the group, Fast Water ran his hand down their legs and across their backs.  He stood back and smiled, nodding his approval.  Another flood of guttural words issued from him and the brave was sent away again.  When he reappeared, he had a young blonde girl with him.  The child was gaunt to the point of starvation and her hair was a matted tangle.  She wore oversized buckskins, an obvious hand-me-down.  The sounds of a woman howling with fury echoed throughout the camp.

Curry leaned into Heyes.  “That’s her!”

The child stared at them with unabashed horror.  Tears streamed down her face.  She slowed her steps and tried to hide behind the brave but the man spoke harshly to her.  She dropped her eyes to the ground and didn’t lift them again, walking reluctantly alongside him.  When she reached the chief, she stood in front of him, silent.

Fast Water lifted her chin and turned her head, one way and then the other.  When he released her, he spoke again.

Running Wolf nodded.  “He accepts your trade.  The girl is yours.  Take her and go quickly.”

“That’s it?” The Kid looked stunned, but Heyes took the girl by her hand.  She didn’t look at any of the men, but the tears were flowing freely now.

“Does she speak English?”  Heyes held on tightly to the small hand engulfed by his.  The girl fruitlessly tugged away.

“No, she barely speaks our language.  She has been stubborn and willful.  Despite punishment, she refuses to behave.”  Running Wolf harshly spoke to the girl and the child nodded her understanding.  He turned to the two ex-outlaws and smiled for the first time.  “I have told her you are ignorant in our ways and she must be patient.  She is not to bash your heads in while you sleep.  She has agreed she will not.”

Curry’s mouth hung open for a second before he croaked, “Thank you, I think.”  

“I have told her you are returning her to her people.  She will give you no trouble.  Now go.  Do not return here.  We will be gone.”

“Wait a second!  What’s her name?” asked the Kid.

“We call her Mule Child.”  Running Wolf left them standing alone in the center of the camp and went to join several of the men watching them from in front of Fast Water’s tepee.  The women had disappeared into their homes, symbolically abandoning the girl to her fate.

“C’mon, sweetheart, we’re taking you home.”  The child stared up at Heyes then listlessly allowed him to pull her along towards their horses tied outside of another tepee.  They helped her onto Lulubelle, and the Kid mounted behind her.

“We better get her outta here before they change their minds,” whispered the Kid as they rode out of the encampment.

“I don’t want to give them a chance to catch up to us.  I’m thinking we cut east to Cooke City.  It’s pretty open land and we can get there faster than Monida.”

“That’s on the reservation!  You wanna ride straight into Crow Territory?!”

“It’s not on the reservation anymore.  They changed the boundaries for the miners a while ago.  I’m pretty sure we can get a stage outta there.”

“Pretty sure?  That ain’t good enough.  Open land means we can be seen for miles.  Why don’t we light out for Camp Sheridan?  We can re-supply and catch the Northern Pacific at Cinnabar.”

“Why would we do that?  The Northern Pacific doesn’t go anywhere near Wyoming.”  

“So, we have a long ride this end or the other?  Personally, I’d vote for ridin’ later when a bunch of hostiles won’t be on our tails.”

“Are you forgetting we’d be riding through Powder River Territory with a little girl who’s more Cheyenne than not?”

“Dang it, what’re we gonna do?!”

“We’re gonna stop arguing about it and get riding.”  With that, Heyes spurred Spike.  The big bay leapt into a gallop, bursting from the forest and eating up the sage-covered, high- altitude meadow with his long strides as the smaller, more heavily burdened, mare struggled to keep up.

After several hours of hard riding, Heyes reined up his heaving horse and slowed to a walk.  When the Kid reached him, he had dismounted and was leading his tired animal.  

“No sign of Running Wolf and his pals?” questioned Curry.  The young girl was clutching the saddle horn with whitened knuckles, her pale face etched with strain.

“Not that I can tell.  It’s going to be dark soon.  I’m thinking we find a sheltered spot to camp and get to bed early.  I’ll take first watch.”  

“Works for me.”

Heyes pulled off his hat and wiped his brow with the sleeve of his dusty jacket.  “Skies are clear.  It’s gonna be cold tonight, but we’d better forget the fire.  It’d be too visible in these parts.”

The Kid scanned the broad valley.  Buffalo herds dotted the grasslands and gentle, sloping forested hills led to towering mountains.  The river they’d followed into the forest had broadened considerably and fed the lush land.  “I’d feel a whole lot better if it weren’t so exposed here.  Maybe we can hide ourselves in those hills, but it’s still awful open land.”

“It is, but there’s nothing much we can do.  The route to Monida would’ve taken days through rugged country.  We’ll make Cooke City by mid-day tomorrow.”

“I hope you’re right.  Just ‘cause there’s no sign of Crow, don’t mean they’re not out there watchin’ us.”  Curry dismounted, too, but left the girl on the horse.  “Stay put, darlin’, no need for you to wear yourself out walkin’.  You don’t weigh but a feather to this nag.”  He smiled up at the child while stroking the mare’s sweaty neck.  The girl ignored him but made no move to dismount.  She continued to watch both men with a suspicious expression as they led the horses into a small fold in a hill and set up camp for the night.

Heyes and the Kid each stole glances at her while they tied the horses to a tree and fed them.  Removing the bedrolls from both saddles, they unrolled them side by side.  The girl stared down at Curry’s back as he picked the horses’ feet.  Her perch was maintained while Heyes prepared dinner.  Only when the food was laid out did she indicate a desire to get off the mare.  The Kid walked over and held up his arms to her and she reluctantly slid into them before alighting to the ground.  She quickly pushed him away and drew herself up regally, walking over and sitting next to the food.  The men sat down on either side of her and started filling their plates.  The child watched but made no move to take any food.  Heyes looked at her curiously then picked up a biscuit and held it out to her.  She snatched it from his hand and greedily stuffed it into her mouth whole, chewing it with difficulty.  Finished, she gazed at the bowl of cold, canned stew but made no move to take any of it.

“I get the feeling our friend here has been taught she doesn’t eat unless she’s told to,” said Heyes gently.  He picked up the bowl and gestured for her to take it.  With an almost grateful expression, she took the bowl, but only stared at it.  Heyes picked up his spoon in a fist and made a show of dipping it into the stew and putting the spoon into his mouth before withdrawing the empty utensil.  The girl giggled at him but she took the spoon he offered and began shoveling the stew into her mouth deftly and enthusiastically.

“I think you’re makin’ a friend, Heyes.”

“Shh.  We should use our aliases, partner.  She could understand more than she lets on.”

“What should we call her?  I’m not too fond of Mule Child.”  

Putting his hand on his chest, Heyes said, “Joshua,” repeatedly until the girl looked at him.  He then pointed at her and said, “Callie” over and over.  As he spoke, she stopped eating and cocked her head.

“Do you think she knows her real name?”

Heyes indicated the Kid and said, “Thaddeus”, and the girl nodded her understanding, quickly gabbling unfamiliar words at him.  Heyes looked at her blankly and she sighed, disappointed, but he continued his pantomime.  By the time the meal was over, the girl was trying out her ‘new name’ and the names of her companions.  The new names twisted her tongue but she kept repeating them like a mantra.  


#

_________________
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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The Long Way Home Part 1 by Inside Outlaw :: Comments

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Re: The Long Way Home Part 1 by Inside Outlaw
Post on Fri 02 Nov 2018, 11:30 pm by royannahuggins
The next morning, the three riders passed a sign at the top of a summit marking the eastern boundary of the park.  They rode on.  The trail gradually dropped downhill over the course of several miles before they saw a small, dirty town come into view.  Another rough, hand-painted sign tacked to a tree proclaimed it Cooke City.  Ramshackle cabins and canvas tents were scattered haphazardly about the taller, more permanent-looking commercial buildings lining a hopelessly rutted street.  A newly constructed mine headframe loomed over the town next to a cascade of tailings staining the mountainside.  A haze of smoke hung over Cooke City lending it a thoroughly dismal atmosphere.

“Sure does stink,” said the Kid.  He took in the disgusted look on Callie’s face as they neared the town and added, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, we ain’t plannin’ to stay longer than we have to.”  He turned to Heyes.  “Let’s go find the stage office and see how soon we can catch a coach.”

Riding down the center of the potholed road, the ex-outlaws endured catcalls from a two-story saloon featuring a long balcony across its front.  A trio of weathered, scarcely-garbed women cackled with delight as the men studiously ignored them.  Ribald, derogatory comments followed them as they passed two hotels, a general store, livery stable and the local meat market, but no stage office.  

As they rode past the stockyards, a busy smelter, and a Chinese restaurant adjoining a filthy pig sty, Callie pinched her nose and gagged.  The buzzing noises in the background were issued from two sawmills.  Cooke City was bustling despite few, and predominately male, people wandering the main street.



Reaching the edge of town, Heyes turned them around and reined up in front of the general store.  Without a word, he dismounted and left the Kid and his young charge waiting on their horse.  Callie had retreated into the safety of Curry’s sheepskin coat.  He held his arm around her.  Minutes later, Heyes returned.  

“There’s no stage service, but we’re in luck.  The storekeeper says the army’s got a detail due here tomorrow.  The miners send their ore out with the soldiers by mule train to the rail line in Rock Springs.  He thinks we can ride along; seems the soldiers feel the more, the merrier when riding through Indian country.”  

“I don’t much like the idea of riding around with a bunch of bluecoats.  What if one of ‘em gets curious about us?”

“It’s a risk we’ll have to take, ‘less you want us to ride through Indian country on our own.”  Heyes untied his horse.  “Let’s take the horses to the livery then get a room at the hotel and rest up for the night.  I don’t know about you, but the saloon didn’t look too inviting to me.”

Callie clung nervously to the Kid and stared around the cavernous lobby while Heyes booked them a room at the nicer hotel in town.  Once upstairs and tucked safely inside the large room with two double beds, she noticeably relaxed.  Wandering around the furnishings, she ran her hand down the velvet curtains, dipped her fingers into the pitcher on the dresser, picked up a brush from the grooming tray, and was surprised by her reflection in the large, full-length mirror.  When Heyes stepped into the frame next to her, she turned to study him then looked back at her own image and smiled.  He slowly took the soft, horsehair brush from her and rubbed it across his hair before reaching for hers.  She shied away reflexively at first, but soon allowed him to gently stroke the knots from her hair as she solemnly stared at herself.  

“Seems like she’s finally figurin’ out we ain’t gonna hurt her,” said the Kid, watching from where he’d flopped down onto one of the beds.

“Maybe.  Or maybe she’s just less afraid of us than other white men.  Or maybe she’s being cooperative because she was told we were taking her home.”  Heyes continued brushing the long, blonde hair.  Callie didn’t move a muscle but stared at the mirror intently.

“She needs clothes.  We can’t take her to her folks barefoot and wearin’ buckskins,” said the Kid.

“Why don’t you run down to the store and see if you can pick her up some clothes before they close?  The shopkeeper’s wife was there, she could help.”

“You sure you’ll be all right alone with her?”

Heyes laughed at his partner’s concerned expression.  “If I can handle a gang of knuckleheads, I’m pretty sure I can deal with a ten-year old girl.”

“Yeah, well, don’t forget what Runnin’ Wolf said about the head-bashin’.”

“Go on, we’ll be fine.  Order us up some dinner on your way out.”

When the Kid returned with a large, paper-wrapped bundle under his arm, he found his partner sitting in the lone armchair reading a book.  Callie was curled on a bed, fast asleep.  “Guess I’m not the only one you bore to death with your readin’.”

“Shh!”  Heyes held up a finger to his mouth, but it was too late.  Callie rubbed at her eyes drowsily and sat up peering at the bundle with curiosity.

The Kid held it out to her, but she only stared at it.  “Go on, it’s for you.”  He tore at one corner and then gently took her finger using it to tug at the paper and enlarging the opening until the wrapping fell away.  He pulled out a calico dress and held it out to her.  Her fingers rubbed at the fabric while her blue eyes peered up at him.  He pulled a flannel nightdress out, some woolen underwear, a coat, a shirt, pants, and a pair of laced shoes.  The nightdress was the clear favorite and the stiff leather shoes were discarded on the floor followed by the other clothing.

Callie stood up as Heyes slipped the cuddly nightdress over her buckskins.  She appeared alarmed at first but soon stroked the soft fabric before she reached underneath it and unlaced her tunic, letting it drop to the floor.  The Kid handed her the pantaloons.  She turned her back to them and put them on slowly.

“She seems to know what she’s doin’.  D’you think she remembers?”

“Hard to know,” said Heyes.  

Curry returned to the package and rustled the wrapping making a big show of digging through the paper.  He got Callie’s full attention before drawing out a small, stuffed rabbit and putting it in her arms.  The response was immediate and the toy was clutched to her chest with a fierceness that surprised both men.  “I’m pretty dang sure she knows what a stuffed animal is.”

A knock at the door announced the delivery of dinner.  Soon after it was consumed, Callie was asleep, snuggled into one of the beds with the little rabbit tucked in her arms.  Heyes turned the key in the lock, pulling it out and concealing it in his shirt pocket.  He picked up the clothes from the floor, laying them across the chair, and then bundled the buckskin into the discarded wrapping paper.

“What’re you doing?” asked the Kid, who was stretched out again on the other bed.

“I’m packing it up.  It’s the only thing she brought with her, Kid.”

“Yeah, I guess we both know how hard it is to lose everything.”

Heyes didn’t reply.
 

#


The next morning, the threesome walked down the street to the livery stable to fetch their horses.  As they entered through the opened, double doors, a swarthy man poked his head out of one of the stalls.  

“Droppin’ off or pickin’ up?”

“Picking up.  We left the big gelding and the gray in your corral last night.  What do we owe you?”  Heyes dug into his pocket.

“Two bits’ll do.  Only grained ‘em once,” said the man.  He came out of the stall and set aside a pitchfork.

Callie and the Kid wandered down the broad aisle, looking at the inhabitants of the other stalls.  In the last stall by the back door, was a paint pony.  Curry couldn’t fail to notice the smile that lit the young girl’s face.  “Is the pony for sale?” he asked.

The liveryman smiled.  “Everything’s for sale for the right price.” He walked over to the stall followed by Heyes.  “You have a good eye.  She’s a fine little mare.  I’ll let her go for eighty dollars.”

“Eighty dollars!”  The Kid frowned.  “I could buy a full-sized horse for that price.”

“Horses are easy to come by,” shrugged the man.  “Ponies not so much.”  

“We’ll give you fifty dollars if you throw in a saddle,” said Heyes.

“Ah, you drive a little too hard of a bargain.  Sixty dollars for the pony and ten for the saddle.”

“Sixty for both.”  Heyes crossed his arms.

Shaking his head, the man said, “Now you’re trying to rob me…”

“You see any kids running around town, Thaddeus?”  

Curry smiled.  “Not a one.”

“Mining towns aren’t real family-friendly places, are they?” asked Heyes.  “Pony riders are hard to come by.  Sixty-five for both.”

With a sigh, the liveryman capitulated.  “Done.”

The deal completed, the horseman saddled up the pony and brought her out of the stall.  He held out the reins to the girl who couldn’t take her eyes off the little paint.  Callie hesitantly took the reins with trembling hands.  She burst out in a huge smile.  The two ex-outlaws watched her.

“Nemehotatse,” said Callie, over and over.

“What’s she sayin’?”  

“I have no idea, but I like how she’s saying it,” replied Heyes with a broad grin.

She turned to them and pointed to herself, “Ka—li” and pointed to her new pony, “Nemehotatse.”

“Joshua, she’s namin’ the pony!”

“Whatever it means, I think it’s good.”

The liveryman laughed at them.  “She’s speakin’ Cheyenne.  My maw was Cheyenne.  She used to say that to me.  It means ‘I love you’.”  

Laughing, Heyes lifted the girl up and she swung a pant leg over the saddle and put her shod feet in the stirrups.  The Kid clipped a lead line to the bit and tied it to the rear rigging ring on his saddle.  Once mounted, they rode to the stockyards where the army detail was waiting for the miners to finish loading the mule train.  

The army captain in charge was barking orders at his sergeant to hurry up the miners who milled around checking packs and adjusting the loads.  The whole atmosphere was one of impatience and the blue-jacketed officer was at the center of the chaos when Heyes approached him.  The Kid kept Callie well away from the preparations and the two of them sat on their horses watching the scene unfold.  Her gaze kept drifting towards the soldiers and her worried frown and fidgeting made it easy to see she was very agitated.  

“Captain, I’d like a word, please,” requested the ex-outlaw leader.

“Mister, I haven’t time to chit chat.  We’re already running late,” snapped the harried man.

“So, I see.  My friends and I would like to ride along with you to the train depot at Rock Springs.”

The captain turned and scowled at Heyes then glanced at Curry and Callie.  “You want to bring that young girl on a hard ride through Indian Territory?  Are you crazy?  Forget it.  I’m not doing it.  I’ve got enough headaches to deal with without looking for more.”

“Perhaps, this will change your mind,” said Heyes, reaching into the inner pocket of his jacket.  He withdrew the governor’s letter and passed it to the officer.

“Of all the fool…,” growled the captain as he read.  He thrust the letter back.  “You better not make me regret this, Mr. Smith.  Governor’s agent or not, if you cause me one moment’s trouble, I’ll leave you and your friends behind like a bad smell when we get to Fort Washakie.”

“Fair enough.”

“You three can fall in at the end.  See that you keep an eye on that girl.”

Heyes watched the captain stomp off and then walked over to where the Kid waited.

“Pleasant fella,” observed Curry.  “So much for ‘the more, the merrier’.”

“We’ll steer clear of him and the others.  I don’t want anyone getting to close enough to start asking questions.”

To this end, the threesome lagged behind the detail of twenty-seven soldiers far enough to be out of earshot and avoid eating its dust.  Callie rode between her two companions, her eyes downcast, and her nervousness betrayed only by the white-knuckled grip on her reins.  

That night, they set up camp at the fringe of the larger contingent but within the perimeter of the guards the captain had posted.  Every ten minutes, Heyes and Curry could hear the sentries passing by and their hushed conversation would cease until the receding footsteps disappeared.  Callie had eaten her dinner quickly and crawled into bed, pulling the bedroll up over her head.  Soft snoring emanated from the canvas-covered lump by the Kid’s side while the two partners enjoyed a hot meal.

“Kid’s worn out,” said Curry, chewing thoughtfully.

Heyes looked over at the sleeping form.  “She’s doing fine.  She’ll toughen up fast.”

The dark sky was clear of clouds and the stars shimmered over their heads.  The soft glow of multiple campfires defined the trees that surrounded the camp and the sounds of raucous laughter and the occasional burst of harmonica music periodically punctuated the quiet.

“You’d think they were in a saloon and not camped out in Crow territory,” groused the Kid.  

“It’s not the Crows I’m worried about.  They’re friendly compared to the Shoshone and the Arapaho.”

“Aren’t they on a reservation, too?”

“Supposedly, but there’s always a few bands who refuse to stay; they go off the reservation every spring to hunt and harass the settlers then return when winter makes the food scarce.  Can you blame them?”  Heyes disparagingly shook his head.  “Only our government would think it was a good idea to put the Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone together in one place.  The folks at Fort Washakie must have a full-time job keeping them from killing each other.”

“At least they won’t be payin’ much attention to us.”

“Don’t kid yourself.  We’re babysitting a gal who thinks she’s Cheyenne.  The Shoshone hate the Cheyenne as much as they hate the Arapaho.  Better yet, the Arapaho are allies of the Cheyenne and they might feel compelled to help Callie if they find out she’s been raised by their blood brothers.  We need to stay on our toes; we’ll be nearing the Wind River the day after tomorrow.”

“Sheesh, how do you know all this?”

“I read.  A lot.  Especially when my partner decides he wants to vacation in Indian Country.”

Irritated, the Kid dumped the rest of his meal into the fire ring causing sparks to fly.  “You’ll be singin’ a different tune when we have that two grand in our pockets.”

“If we live to get paid.”

Approaching footsteps hushed the two partners’ bickering, but instead of receding it became apparent someone was entering their camp.  The Kid slipped his gun from its holster and rested it on his leg before calling out, “Who goes there?”

“It’s me, Captain Brighton.”  A moment later, the officer emerged from the shadows.  “May I join you?”

“Sure,” said Heyes without much enthusiasm.

“Mr. Smith, I wish to apologize for my inexcusable behavior this morning.”  The captain sat down cross-legged.
 
“I know we caught you by surprise.  We’d been hoping to catch a stage ride out of Cooke City.”  Heyes offered him some food but he declined.  

“But there ain’t one,” pointed out Curry.

“New to these parts, huh?”

“Yes sir,” said Heyes.  “We’re more familiar with eastern Wyoming and Montana.”

“Well, life is a bit more uncivilized out here.  It’s changing fast, but transportation is still a problem.  How did you get here?”

“We took the train to Salt Lake and then north to Monida Pass,” said the Kid.

“So, you rode through the park?”

“We did.  It’s impressive.”  Heyes scraped his leavings into the fire and rinsed the dishes with a pot of hot water he lifted from the rocks surrounding the flames.

“Yep.  A real gem,” added Curry.

“Better not say that too loudly.  The locals are still unhappy about having good mining and grazing land ‘stolen’ from them.”  The captain shook his head.  “Some people can’t see past their own interests.  So, I assume you are not simply vacationing.  Who is the young lady?”

“She’s the daughter of some close friends of the governor.”  Heyes gave the Kid a quick glance.  “She’s been staying with friends, visiting the area, and we’re escorting her home.”

The captain looked at the sleeping form.  “Not sure I’d want my little girl roaming around Indian Territory with only a couple of guardians, but who knows how rich folks think.”  He yawned and stood up.  “Well, gentlemen, we’ll head out early tomorrow.  I want to be over Dead Indian Pass before the afternoon thunderstorms set in.”

Curry looked up.  “Dead Indian?”  

“Rumor has it there’s a brave buried at the summit.  Some say he’s Nez Perce and others say he’s Bannock.  Whatever he is, he’s dead.”  Brighton bid them goodnight and walked into the darkness.

“It ain’t the dead ones I’m worried about,” muttered the Kid as Heyes tossed sand on the fire, smothering the coals.


#


Once over the pass and out of the mountains, the land gave way to islands of grasslands surrounded by high alpine desert.  The detail wound its way past terrain features with Heyes, Callie, and the Kid riding at the rear of the line.  The young girl still clutched her pony’s mane with one hand, but a big smile adorned her face.  As the soldiers reached open ground and broke into a gallop, she let forth with a war whoop that caused some of the rearmost troopers to look about with alarm.  Heyes and the Kid added their own whoops to hers.  The scowls they received made them smile.

That evening, two soldiers approached their camp.  Heyes was seeing to the horses as the Kid was preparing their meal while Callie was between them humming and drawing pictures with a stick in the sand.  She didn’t see the soldiers until they were nearly upon her, and she screamed when they startled her.  The Kid spun around, his Colt leaping into his hand, only his reflexes preventing a tragedy.  The men’s hands shot in the air.  Callie ran to the Kid cowering behind him, her hands over her eyes, whimpering sounds escaping her lips.

“Hold on!  Hold on!  We don’t mean no harm,” cried the oldest man, a heavy-set sergeant.  His arms wavered over his head.

Exhaling his tension, Curry slipped his gun back into the holster and gave the two men an icy glare.  “That’s a real good way to get yourself killed.”

Heyes had rushed back at the sound of Callie’s scream and stood behind the frightened men with his own gun drawn.  He quickly holstered it.  “What my partner means is you surprised us.  Whew, I thought a cougar had gotten our little friend here.”  The men jumped at his voice but lowered their hands as they turned to him and saw his friendly smile.  He walked over to the Kid and Callie as the soldiers watched.  Curry was doing his best to soothe the child, but her fear was apparent.

“Sorry.  Didn’t aim to frighten you, little Missie,” said the younger one.  “We just thought we’d come over and shoot the breeze with y’all.”  He held out a bottle of cheap whiskey as a peace offering.

Heyes nodded, but said, “That’s real nice of you, but me and my friend here don’t drink on duty.”

“On duty?” asked the sergeant.

“Yessir, we’re agents of the governor.  We’re seeing this little gal safely home to her family,” said Heyes.  “Wouldn’t be proper for us to be drinking in front of her.”

The Kid looked up at them.  “Best you leave.  You’re scarin’ the girl,” he said coldly.

“No need to be proddy, mister.  We was just tryin’ to be friendly,” said the younger soldier, plainly offended by Curry.  “C’mon, Sarge.  I know where I’m not welcome.”

“Sorry again, Miss,” said the sergeant, smiling at Callie.  She wouldn’t look at him and kept her face turned away until the two blue-coated men disappeared into the darkness.

The Kid wiped a hand across his face.  “Sheesh, I nearly shot those idiots.”  

“It’s all right, Callie.  They’re gone and they won’t be coming back after seeing Thaddeus’ fast draw.”  Heyes sat down next to her and stroked her back.  He added facetiously, “They’ll be too busy telling their soldier friends all about it.”

“Hobble your lip, will you?”


#


“Those two don’t look like no ‘agents’ to me.  They’s hired killers if’n I says so,” pronounced a weathered, gap-toothed private sitting by one of the numerous small fires sprinkled through the night’s camp.  A crowd of soldiers had gathered.

“I ain’t never seen no one that fast,” said the sergeant.  “Like a lightnin’ strike it was.”

“That dark-haired one is a smooth-talkin’, belly-crawlin’ snake if I ever seen one,” said the young soldier who’d face down Curry’s gun.  “He’s sneaky, too.  Didn’t even hear him come up behind us.  Like a thief, he was.  What is that sweet little thing doin’ ridin’ along with the likes of them?”

Another trooper joined the conversation.  “You said they answered to the Wyoming governor.”

“The question is which one?” zinged the sergeant and the others laughed along with him.


#


On the edge of the encampment, Heyes and the Kid were lying in their bedrolls, backs to each other.  Callie was asleep on the other side of the fire.  The darkness was nearly complete save for the meager light thrown off by the smoldering coals.  

“Joshua?”

“Hmmm.”  

“Are we doin’ the right thing?”

A soft rustling indicated Heyes had turned over.  “What d’you mean?”

“Takin’ Callie away from all she’s ever known.”

“Isn’t it a little late to be thinking about that?  Besides, we took her from the Crow, not the Cheyenne.  She was little more than a piece of property to them.  And don’t forget it was the Cheyenne who sold her in the first place.”

“Yeah, but at least she fit in with them.  How’s she goin’ to fit in regular folks?”

Heyes was quiet for a few minutes and the Kid thought he’d fallen back to sleep, but then he spoke again.  “What’s eating at you?”

A soft sigh escaped Curry.  “It’s just…well…I got to thinkin’ about how she’s not so different from me n’ you.”

“How so?”

“We never really fit in anywhere.  We’re too crooked for polite company and too polite for crooked company.”  

Heyes chuckled as the Kid continued, “Seems to me, we’ve spent our whole lives being misfits.  I don’t want that for Callie.”

“Me either, but she’s got a family who wants her.  That’s more than you and I had.  She’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”  A few minutes later, all that could be heard was the soft snoring of Kid Curry and the rustling of small nocturnal creatures going about their business.


#


“Wake up, she’s gone!”  The sound of panic strained the Kid’s voice as he tugged frantically at his partner’s shoulder.  

Heyes sat up, looking around him dazedly.  “Gone where?”

“How do I know?  I got up and her bag was empty,” growled the Kid.  “She’s just gone and so’s her pony.”

Heyes jumped to his feet.  Dawn was merely a hint of light above the mountains to the east and a gray light bathed the camp.  “We’ve got to find her before somebody else does.  You get the horses saddled, I’ll go find Brighton and tell him we’re going after her.”

To Be Continued…



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Re: The Long Way Home Part 1 by Inside Outlaw
Post on Sat 10 Nov 2018, 1:22 pm by Penski
Oh, I can't wait to see how this turns out, Inside Outlaw! Great descriptive writing of the area and I learned something about Indians, too. Fabulous Virtual Season story... and more of it next week!
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Re: The Long Way Home Part 1 by Inside Outlaw
Post on Sun 11 Nov 2018, 2:19 am by moonshadow
Going in I knew this was a two-parter, but still, when I reached the point where it said "continued" I went "awwwww!" Sigh, I guess I can wait a week... *Tapping fingers impatiently*
I also love your descriptive phrases. I feel as if I'm right there seeing things with my own eyes, enjoying the adventure and experience as if I were a part of it. I'm with Penski in regards to the learning department. There was so much history and geography, as well as Native American facts, but it didn't feel like work to learn them.
There was a poignancy in the interactions between Callie, Heyes and Kid that reached my heart and made me want to hold her and somehow let her know things would be alright.
Far too many bantering moments that made me grin to mention, but I did have a couple favorites.
I enjoyed Heyes' wheelin' an' dealin' about the Paint pony, as well as many other interactions throughout the story.
Really looking forward to Part Two and seeing how you wrap things up.
Re: The Long Way Home Part 1 by Inside Outlaw
Post on Sun 11 Nov 2018, 2:47 pm by Laura
I really liked this, and I am with Moonshadow, I too went "awwwww" when the chapter ended. Loved Kids' comment, "all of these years and I had no idea what a moron my genius partner could be". You have so much information in this story, Powder River is a name I know of but do not know much about it, may have to find a book on it. I am kinda with Kid on "are we doing the right thing" where will she be happier and better off. I am just shy of tapping my fingers impatiently.
Re: The Long Way Home Part 1 by Inside Outlaw
Post on Tue 13 Nov 2018, 6:52 am by Axwell
I especially liked the idea behind "we're too crooked for polite company and too polite for crooked company". I'm looking forward to part two.
 

The Long Way Home Part 1 by Inside Outlaw

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