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 Age Before Duty 2010

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CD Roberts
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Posts : 114
Join date : 2013-09-23

20131011
PostAge Before Duty 2010



“I’d say, as far as favors for Lom go, this is one of the easier ones. All we have to do is deliver this message.” Hannibal Heyes held his horse’s reins in his left hand and patted his shirt pocket with the right.

“It might be easy Heyes, but this has gotta be the dullest part of Wyoming to ride through. No wonder we never robbed any banks ‘round here.” Kid Curry halted his horse and stared at the vast expanse of nothingness that surrounded them. “It’s all; well it’s all gray ‘round here.”

“Uh huh. I have to agree with you there.”

They rode on.

Curry yawned and interrupted the silence. “You sure this is an ‘easy’ favor? I thought Lom had a funny look on his face when he handed you that note. Don’t you think he looked kinda odd?”

“I think this amnesty business is getting to you. Don’t you trust anyone anymore? After all, we are talking about Lom here.”

“And you do trust him?”

“Of course I do. Lom has been our friend for years.” Heyes smiled. “And...I read the message.” The smile turned into a wide grin as he handed the message over to the Kid.

Curry turned the envelope over in his hand, and handed it back. “You still have the touch, partner. This don’t even look like it’s been opened. So what’s it say?”

“Not much. It’s just that General Van Winkleton is taking too long to shut down Fort Havisham. They want him and his remaining three men to head south and join the unit at Fort William Henry Harrison.”

“Three men? That’s all that’s left?” The Kid laughed. “Why are they still there?”

Heyes smiled in return. “Dunno, but from the wire it sounds like they just refuse to go.”

“That’s just plain weird.  I haven’t heard about any Indian problems up here for years now. There’s no reason for a fort up here anymore. Wonder why it took so long for the government to shut it down? Seems like a waste of money and manpower to me.”

Heyes gave the Kid a knowingly superior smile. “Must seem that way to them too. This message seems to be one of a whole bunch of messages and orders. This general must be real stubborn.”

“Speaking of this message, ain’t it a little strange having us deliver it? I mean, if they really want these men to move on, why doesn’t the army send a soldier?”

Heyes shrugged. “I guess maybe we were just heading in the right direction.”

“We weren’t ‘just headin' in the right direction.' We weren’t heading this way at all until Lom sent us. Who goes to Medicine Bow when they can avoid it?”

“That’s what I mean. No one else was going to travel this way to deliver it, were they? That’s why Lom asked us,” Heyes concluded smugly.

“Well, I still think it ain’t that simple. If these fellows aren’t leavin' when the army asks, why would they leave now?”

“All we have to do is deliver the message. Lom didn’t say we had to do anything else. So it isn’t our problem.”

“Uh huh,” the Kid responded, with a dubious tone in his voice.

They continued northeast. After a few minutes the Kid stopped his horse a second time.

“Heyes, what’s that?”

Heyes halted, turned to look where the Kid indicated, and glanced back at Curry.

“What’s what?”

“Over there, there’s smoke.”

Heyes shrugged. “A campfire?”

“Out here? In the middle of nowhere? Who’d be fool enough to camp here?”

The Kid shielded his eyes with his hand. “Uh, that ain’t a campfire. It’s a smoke signal. That’s Indians sendin’ a message.”

“You sure?”

“Sure, I’m sure. Look. That’s a signal all right.”

“Well, there aren’t supposed to be any hostile Indians out here anymore.”

“You think maybe this is why Lom had us take that message? Maybe this isn’t so simple after all. Maybe those soldiers have a reason to want to stay here.”

“Maybe you’re right, but I hope not. I don’t want us to get mixed up in army business.” He paused to think, and grimaced. “But maybe we should check them out, just in case.”

“Maybe they already know we’re here. Maybe that’s why they’re sending the signals.”

“I think if they had seen us, they wouldn’t be sending messages. There’s only two of us, so they could have got the drop on us by now if they’d a wanted to. But no sense taking any chances. Let’s see how many there are, and what they are up to. It’s probably just a small party of Indians that made camp here.”

“Sendin' smoke signals?”

“We send telegrams. They send smoke signals. Sending signals doesn’t mean they are up to anything. Look, you ride around those rocks and approach ‘em from the south. I’ll ride around, and come down over there.” Heyes pointed.

“And we meet back here. OK.”

The Kid turned his horse and rode off. As he approached the rocks he dismounted leaving the horse at the base of them as he quietly crawled to a vantage point.

~~~~

Heyes turned north. He mirrored Curry’s movements. He crawled slowly between the rocks on his belly. He raised his head—and felt the barrel of a pistol on the side of his face.

“Don’t move. You are under arrest.” The gun receded slightly. “Take your gun out with two fingers and hand it over. Carefully now.”

Heyes sat back slightly so he could comply with the order. Beside him, holding an army pistol was a grizzled man in blue. He looked at the man’s stripes.

“You mind telling me what I am under arrest for, Sergeant?”

~~~~~~~~~

Looking downwards Curry saw two Indians sitting by a campfire, roasting meat on skewers. One of the two Indians hunched near the food was extremely thin, extremely wrinkled, and extremely old. The other was much younger, a mere fifty years or so.

The Kid continued forward to get a better view of the Indians below. As he did he dislodged some small rocks. With a look of dismay he watched them roll downward before landing in front of the two Indians.

He made a slight grimace, and then stood, pulling out his gun and holding it in front of him as he made a step forward.

“I wouldn’t move, if I were you,” said one of the Indians.

“Why?”

“Because Broken Feather has a rifle aimed at your back.”

The Kid managed a glance over his shoulder to verify this. Sure enough an Indian was behind him, rifle ready.

He rolled his eyes.

“Put your gun down on the ground in front of you,” Broken Feather ordered.

~~~~~

Heyes and the sergeant were riding towards the fort.

“You still haven’t told me what I’m under arrest for.”

“Desertion, Captain Smith. And deserting during a time of war is punishable by death.”

“At least you’ve got the name right. It is Smith. Joshua Smith. But I’m not your Captain Smith. In fact, I don’t believe we’ve ever met before. I’m a civilian. I suppose even you must have noticed I’m not in a uniform. And there haven’t been any hostilities in this part of Wyoming for a few years. So maybe you can inform me what war you’re talking about.”

“It is easy enough to change one’s clothes, sir. And the fort is surrounded by hostile Indians as you well know, Captain Smith.”

Heyes stared at the nothingness between them and the fort. “Uh huh. Hostile Indians. Think you could point some of them out for me?”

“You were approaching some when I arrested you, sir.” Heyes opened his mouth to respond but the sergeant cut him off. “I think you had best take this up with General Van Winkleton.

Heyes grunted.

~~~~~

“General Van Winkleton, I found and arrested Captain Smith.”

Heyes and the sergeant stood in front of the general’s desk in his office.

The man behind the desk was well-built and sat ramrod straight; apparently this was now second-nature after years of military duty. His face was formed out of parchment-like dry skin, weathered as a result of years in service. It was the years that were indeterminable. The man was somewhere over sixty-five, but that somewhere was a bit hazy and wouldn’t be easy to locate. The general looked up in response to the sergeant’s address. His eyes were a filmy-blue, and they focused somewhere on the wall behind the two men in front of him.

“Good work...” The general nodded to himself as his voice trailed off.

The sergeant piped in helpfully, “O’Keefe, sir.”

“Yes, I know who you are, O’Keefe. Hmm, very good work, er, O’Keefe.”

He turned to Heyes. “Desertion during a time of war is a serious offense, very serious. The punishment is…well the punishment is severe.”

Heyes tried to speak. The general held up his hand. “However, as I am certain you have an unsullied record prior to this, and as we are currently undermanned, I am commuting your sentence. The captain does have an unsullied record, doesn’t he Sergeant?”

“Yes, sir. Captain Smith has no prior offenses on his record.”

“Well, then, he shall be, um...” The general’s eyes wandered.

“Sir?”

“Oh, yes, O'Reilly, yes. Captain Smith is confined to quarters for two days.”

“That’s O’Keefe, sir. Yes, sir. I’ll see to his punishment, sir.”

“That’s real generous of you, General, and you too, Sergeant,” Heyes offered in a sarcastic tone of voice.

“Yes, well that is taken care of. Very satisfactorily, I do believe.” The general's head neared his chest, and his breathing began to resemble snoring.

“Sir?” The sergeant spoke while he and Heyes remained in front of the general waiting for dismissal.

“Ah yes, Sergeant…O’Keefe!” The general snapped out the name. “Tea.”

“Yes, sir.”

“For myself and for Captain Jones here.”

“That’s Smith, and you just said I was confined to quarters.”

“Captain, I know what I said. It isn’t your prerogative to correct a superior officer. Sergeant, bring some tea for myself and Captain Smith.”

Sergeant O’Keefe spun around and left.

Heyes looked down at the general who was now fussing with some papers on his desk. The general’s hands shook from palsy. Heyes put his hand in his pocket where the dispatch was, and then removed his hand, still empty.

“Uh, General Van Winkleton, I’d like permission sir, to, uh, to assist Sergeant O’Keefe with the tea.”

The general gazed at Heyes and blinked. “Ah, Captain Jones, there you are. Pull up a chair and sit down. Give me your report on the enemy’s position.”

Heyes brought over a chair and dropped it loudly. He sat on it and leaned forward until his nose was almost touching the general’s.

“It’s Smith, and I don’t have a report on the enemy’s position. I’m not even in the army -- General.”

“Smith, yes.” The general looked down at his desk. “You must join me for tea. Find Sergeant O'Reilly and tell him to bring us some tea.”

“That’s O’Keefe, sir, and I’ll go get him.” Heyes hurried to the door and grabbed the doorknob.

“I know the names of my own men. Captain Jones, you are not dismissed. You haven’t made your report yet.”

Heyes opened his eyes wide and stared bemusedly at the general. He returned to the chair and sat down.

“General Van Winkleton, maybe we should clear this up. Is my name Smith or Jones, and do you want me to make you a report or join you for tea?”

~~~~~

The Kid and the three Indians sat together around the fire, eating a meager repast of prairie chicken, and speaking between mouthfuls.

“How come you didn’t move south with the rest of the Indians?” The Kid looked at his small piece of chicken forlornly.

“We cannot leave as long as the white soldiers remain. When they go we will go.”

“But maybe they’re still here for the same reason.”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe they don’t wanna leave until you leave. When you leave then they’ll go. At least that’s what me and my friend were startin’ to think. We had a message ordering them to go, but we think they’re not going because you’re still here.”

“We’ll leave after they leave, and then we can join our brothers in the south.”

“Why can’t you leave first?”

“It would not be right for the Indian to retreat before the white man.”

“As far as I can see, it wouldn’t be a retreat; it’d be a smart move. This is about the worst land in Wyoming. You’d be smart if you left it. Let the soldiers figure out there ain’t nothin’ left here for ‘em. Come to think of it, there ain’t much around here for anyone. What’s here that you would wanna stay for, anyway?”

“The blue-coats must leave first; Drooping Feather has seen that this must be. Until he sees different we must stay.” Broken Feather waved his hand in the direction of the very old Indian sitting beside him.

“Drooping Feather? Him? You mean you three are staying here ‘cause he has had a vision?”

“Drooping Feather is a wise leader, and our grandfather. His visions are true. We have lived by them.”

“This don’t look much like livin’ to me. Maybe you oughta live by your own ways and not his ‘visions’.”

The old man raised his head and stared, more through Curry than at him. “We stay to fight the great white general,” he began in a shaky voice. “There will be a great victory, and Yellow Hair and his blue coats will depart our lands in shame.”

“Yellow Hair? You mean Custer? Does he mean Custer? ‘Cause Custer’s already dead. If that’s what he’s seein’ maybe it really is time you live for yourselves.”

“Drooping Feather is a very old man. Sometimes the names are wrong but his visions are true. He means the pale-faced general at the fort.”

“You mean he means Van Winkleton? Well, I suppose anyone could mix up the name Custer with Van Winkleton,” Curry said sarcastically. “Look, Custer was, well, he was Custer. Everyone’s heard of him. Who’s ever heard of Van Winkleton? Maybe your grandfather has more than the names confused. How old is Droopin' Feather anyway?”

“Old enough to have met The Great White Father.”

“Uh, Broken Feather, that ain’t exactly much help. Which Great White Father?”

“The Great White Father who fought Indians bravely in the east, and made many Indians who were not of our people leave the land you call Georgia. This is known to all. Drooping Feather went with his father to look on him in his house, to see who could command men to do this thing.” White Feather looked at Curry as if he were a child.

The Kid’s face developed a pained expression as he thought this through. “Look I didn’t learn much in school but I’m pretty sure the Indians left Georgia before I was born. Let’s try again. How old is that, in years, I mean? He looks like he’s a hundred if he’s a day.”

“Yes,” was the response from White Feather.

The Kid shook his head at the reply. “As old as that,” he muttered.

“That is true,” Broken Feather added.

Drooping Feather closed his eyes and hummed softly to himself. He swayed gently.

White Feather and Broken Feather gazed upon the old man intently.

“Is he…” began the Kid.

“Hush, Drooping Feather is seeing beyond us.”

Eyes closed, Drooping Feather spoke. “Stubborn Mule, where is Hungry Locust?”

“Stubborn Mule? Hungry Locust?”

“He sees his brother who died long ago, and asks about his other brother.”

“Let me guess, Hungry Locust is dead too?”

“Yes, he talks frequently with his brothers who are gone.”

Drooping Feather continued his conversation with his brothers. “Our mother wove that blanket.” He paused. “Yes, the buffalo are plentiful this year.”

“If you want my opinion, weaving blankets and huntin' buffalo ain’t much of a vision. I think he’s just old. I knew an old man once who saw all sorts of dead folk who weren’t there.”

White Feather and Broken Feather turned their attention to Curry. “We do not want your opinion. Drooping Feather sees much we cannot see and knows what we cannot know. His visions tell us how to live.”

“Well, they can’t be tellin' you too much of how to live then. You’re livin' out in the middle of nowhere, eating scrawny prairie chickens. Come to think of it, all of you look kinda half-starved.”

“We remain to fight.”

“Fight who? Three or four soldiers who refuse to leave a useless fort? Because he sees his brothers who are dead?”

“My brothers are not dead,” Drooping Feather said haughtily.

“Well they ain’t here. Even these two Feathers here agree about that.”

“My brothers are here. I know who my own brothers are.”

“Okay, you know your own brothers. That don’t mean they’re here.”

“I do not know you. You are a stranger. You are…you are…he is Yellow Hair?”

“No Grandfather, this is not the great Yellow Hair. Yellow Hair is dead. You remember.”

“Yes, I should remember that. We had a great battle yesterday and killed many blue-coats.”

“The battle was long ago, grandfather, not yesterday,” Broken Feather pointed out helpfully. “Now, today, you must tell us what to do with this one, this not great yellow-haired one.”

“Hey!” exclaimed the Kid.

Drooping Feather stared at Curry. “He is Yellow Hair?”

“No, he is not Yellow Hair. Yellow Hair is dead.”

“He is a pale-face. We should kill him.”

“What!” The Kid yelped and sat up straight.

“But Grandfather,” Broken Feather leaned towards the old man and whispered, “If we kill him we don’t get ransom money…”

“…and fire-water,” added White Feather.

“…and fire-water. We need money for food.”

“Ransom?”

“Yes, like the others. Then we can eat something besides prairie chickens.”

Curry relaxed.

“Yeah, why don’t you ransom me?” He stopped, looking puzzled. “Who you gonna ransom me to way out here? The fort? Would they buy a captive?”

“No, not the fort, they have no money. We ransom you to Harry Harper. He has a ranch with cattle not so far from this spot. He has money.”

“And fire-water!” White Feather’s face brightened noticeably.

“And fire-water,” sighed Broken Feather. “After we are done eating we will go to his home. He is the wealthiest man here. He can afford fire-water. And much good food, and has many belongings. He can afford you.”

“Glad someone can,” muttered the Kid, gnawing on the scrawny prairie chicken leg in his hand.

~~~

“You pay us one-hundred dollars…” began Broken Feather.

“And some fire-water…” added White Feather eagerly.

“And some fire-water,” repeated Broken Feather, “for this one first, and then we will talk about the future when the blue-coats leave, like you wish.”

The Kid and the three Indians stood along a fence in front of a grizzled man holding an antiquated rifle outside a lonely homestead. The fence was in need of repair, and the homestead was the size of a one-room cabin from its outer appearance. Four thin cattle grazed on the almost barren surrounding land.

Drooping Feather listed gently to one side, staring off into the distance throughout the conversation. At almost regular intervals, Broken Feather propped the old Indian up against the fence with one arm, and propped the fence itself with his other arm.

“I’m tired of talkin’ ‘bout the future. That’s what you told me last time I ransomed one of your captives, and the time before. I pay for this one, well that’s just throwin’ good money after bad, as far as I can see. I don’t want him. What I want is for you to leave so those idiots at the fort will leave.”

“Why do you want the idiots, I mean, the soldiers to leave?” asked the Kid.

“’Cause their fort is on the only dang-blasted good land out here! It’s prime cattle grazin’ land. I bought that land from the government when they was supposed to leave that fort and they ain’t gone yet. Look at them beasts,” The wealthiest man in the vicinity waved in the direction of his ‘herd,’ “them’s all I can feed on this piece of dirt. I want you to leave—now!”

“We will leave when the blue-coats leave.”

“I know, and they say they won’t leave until you Indians leave, like I need ‘them’ to protect me from you. I guess that’s a stalemate. It don’t help me none. I want you to go. Vamoose. Go south. I want my land and I don’t want no more of you, the soldiers, and your blasted captives.”

The two younger Indians exchanged looks. White Feather spoke. “But you Harry Harper are their savior. You pay the ransom. Then the freed men are grateful to you. They owe you much in return. You save their lives and they work for you. We get fire-water and money and it is good for us all.”

Harry turned to the side and spit.

“Good for all of us? Don’t think so, Feather. You know how grateful those men are? So grateful they run off soon as they can. They figure they’re lucky to get away from the fort and escape that crazy general, Winkleton, so they head on south. South! You hear me? That’s where they go and where you should go too. There’s only three of ‘em left now, anyhow. Rest has all deserted. Ain’t worth you stayin’ here. All you do is ruin things for me.”

“If we knew how to get the blue-coats to leave, we would do that. But we do not know how.” The Feathers hung their heads in shame.

“I already told you, go south. You leave, they leave.” The Indians shook their heads. “Well, why don’t you just kill ‘em!” Harry shrieked impatiently. “You’re Indians, ain’t killin’ soldiers what you do?”

The Indians looked shocked at Harry’s outburst. “The blue-coats are your soldiers. You do not care for their lives?”

“I just want ‘em gone.”

“Hey, mister, I can get those soldiers to leave for you,” Curry offered.

“You can?” Harry took genuine notice of the Kid for the first time. “You ain’t jokin’?”

“I mean it, Harry,” the Kid said confidently.

Harry scratched his chin and looked the younger man up and down. “OK, I guess I’ll pay that ransom then, maybe you’ll actually be worth somethin'. But no fire-water. Last time I gave you fire-water you three got all whooped-up, and Droopin’ Feather there let my pigs out sayin’ I was keepin’ ‘em prisoner for Custer.”

~~~

General Van Winkleton, the sergeant, and Heyes sat around the general’s desk which now was covered by a tea service. Heyes finished sipping his cup of tea, placed the cup on the saucer, the saucer on the general’s desk, and then stood.

“Thanks for the tea, General, Sergeant, this has been a pleasant break. Now I’ll be on my way if you don’t mind. I’ve got a friend outside the fort that I’ve gotta find.”

“Harrumph, harrumph, yes, of course, Jones, you and O’Brien still have your reconnaissance to perform. Dismissed.”

The two men hurried out of the General’s quarters before he could change their names or his mind. Heyes trotted ahead of O’Keefe toward the gates. O’Keefe pulled his pistol out of his holster, cocked the trigger and aimed the gun at Heyes’ back.

“Oh come on,” Heyes protested as he turned. “You really aren’t going to keep me here with that crazy man against my will, are you? You do realize he’s crazy, don’t you?”

“I’ve served with the general for thirty years now…”

“I don’t doubt that.”

“…and he’s always done right by me. I can’t leave him.”

“Not feeling the same as you, I can.”

“No. You can’t. Our last captain deserted. We need men. We need you.”

“Look, Sergeant, there’s only two of you here.”

“Three of us.”

“Two of you,” Heyes repeated slowly and loudly. “That’s not enough men to run a fort. Why haven’t the two of you left for Fort William Henry Harrison?”

“The government thinks we are needed here. There is still an Indian presence. Not a large one, but they are here, nevertheless. When we receive orders to leave, we shall.”

“Sergeant, you’ve received orders to leave, lots of orders to leave.”

“We have not. Our country needs us here. And we need you. Your country needs you.”

“Uh Sergeant, I’m not exactly sure my country feels that way about me. Look,” Heyes added hurriedly, “I know you’ve received orders to leave.”

“You are, I mean, ‘were’ a civilian. You would not know what our orders are. If we had received orders to leave, the general would have informed me. He reads me every order he receives from headquarters.”

“You sure?” asked Heyes, reaching into his pocket. “Tell you what. I’ve got a dispatch right here for the general. We can settle this here.”

“You have a dispatch for the general? Why didn’t you deliver it to him?”

“Let’s just say I figured it might be a good idea for you to have a look at it first, ‘O’Brien’, or is it ‘O’Reilly’?”

The sergeant hesitated, his manner indicating internal conflict. “It’s impossible. All dispatches for the general must be delivered to him.”

“I’m not saying we’re not going to deliver it to him. I’m just saying it might be a good idea for you to read it first.”

“My duty…”

“Doesn’t your duty say you’ve gotta do something when your superior officer is incapable of performing his duty?” Heyes held the dispatch out.

Sergeant O’Keefe licked his lips. “I suppose the general has been a little muddled lately, with names, but that doesn’t mean he can’t perform…” His voice drifted off as Heyes raised his eyebrows and gently waved the piece of paper.

He took the envelope in one hand and touched the seal with the other. “General Van Winkleton will know I have opened it. He’ll feel I have betrayed his confidence.”

“Uh, O’Keefe, why don’t you let me open it? Then you can honestly say you didn’t.”

“Excellent idea.” He quickly handed the envelope back to Heyes.

Heyes smiled as he nimbly but carefully opened the dispatch. O’Keefe glanced at him suspiciously while he did this, and even more so when Heyes handed it back to him undamaged.

“Let’s just say I have a knack,” Heyes said shrugging his shoulders.

O’Keefe grunted as he removed the dispatch from the envelope. He read it slowly.

“Well?” asked Heyes.

“We are to report immediately to Fort William Henry Harrison. No further delays.” O’Keefe looked thoughtful as he replaced the note into its envelope. He returned it to Heyes. “You must deliver this immediately to the general.”

“OK. Why don’t you come with me?” Heyes loped off towards the general’s quarters. O’Keefe straightened his shoulders and followed.

“Hey. You there in the fort. I know you’re there. Open up.” Harry Harper’s gravelly voice bellowed out accompanied by several loud bangs on the fort’s wooden gates. “C’mon there. Hurry up. We ain’t got all day.”

O’Keefe and Heyes exchanged glances and shrugged their shoulders. Together they walked towards the gates, apparently in no particular hurry.

“Hey, c’mon now. Me and my friend, Jones here, been spending all day lookin’ fer his friend, Smith, and we trailed his footprints here. Yours too, O’Keefe.  We read your tracks plain as day. Could read everything you did. I know you got the drop on Smith, clear as daylight, and I know you got him in here. I also know he ain’t no soldier, Jones told me, so you cain‘t keep him here against his will. It ain’t legal. And me and his friend here, who’s my friend now too—why he saved my life—shot a rattlesnake quick as that, that were a gonna bite me while we was on our way here. Like I said, Jones here is my friend now, and you cain’t keep his friend locked in here. Not without takin’ it up with me. Now you hurry up and get over here. O’Keefe, and you open these here gates and you…”

Heyes stopped O’Keefe, putting his hand on his arm. He smiled. “Who is this character?”

“He’s harmless. His name is Harry Harper. He holds a claim to the land the fort is built on. Who is this friend of yours?”

“Jones? Oh he’s harmless. I can vouch for him. I’ve known him for years.”

O’Keefe started towards the gates again. “And his name is Jones? Harrumph.”

Harry kept up his harangue until, and even after, the gates were opened and he and the Kid were inside the fort. Curry and Heyes grinned at each other.

“I’m sure glad to see you, partner,” Heyes’ grin broadened further.

“Me too,” replied the Kid. “This here is Harry Harper. He ransomed me from the Indians.”

Harry broke his rant to add his opinion. “And I’m glad I did. Was a real good thing for both of us.  Why he saved my life. Shot a rattlesnake…”

“Harry, we did hear you,” broke in O’Keefe.

An excited Harry could not be stopped.“…clean through the head just as it was about to strike. Them three Indians asked for a lot for him, but I guess it was worth it.”

“Jones, you let yourself be captured by three Indians? I think I’m disappointed in you.”

“’Three’ Indians, Smith,” Curry responded tartly. Don’t suppose that’s any worse than lettin' this one fella here get the drop on you.”

“O’Keefe get the drop on me? Jones, you know me better than that. I’m just visiting him and the general here, waiting for you. I knew you’d show up eventually.’

“Uh huh, visitin' huh? Not accordin' to Harry here.”

O’Keefe crossed his arms as Heyes spoke while Harry Harper looked at the two friends. He turned his face towards each as they spoke. His mouth twitched convulsively when he listened to Heyes. He crossed his arms, as well, and his visage darkened.

Heyes held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Harry. Thanks for helping out my friend. I’m Joshua Smith.”

Harry looked suspiciously at Heyes and slowly accepted the proffered hand.

“Jones here says you can help me. Says you can get these danged fools off of my land.”

“As a matter of fact we were just about to do that, weren’t we O’Keefe? We are going to pay a visit to General Van Winkleton. Why don’t you two join us?”

The four men headed for the general’s quarters, Heyes walking confidently in the lead.

Harry held Curry back. “Son, you’re a good man, anyone can see that. You saved my life back there so I owe you one, and I’d hate to see a nice young fella like you get in trouble hangin' out with the wrong sorts of folks.”

“Wrong sorts of folks? Harry, what do you mean?”

“That friend of yours, Smith? He’s no good.”

Harry held up his hand as the Kid tried to respond.

“A nice young fella like you probably thinks the best of other folks, so maybe you won’t believe me,” Harry lowered his voice so the Kid had to strain to hear his next words, “but—now you ain’t gonna believe this—he’s an outlaw.”

The Kid’s jaw dropped.

“Now I see you don’t believe me,” Harry continued, “but it’s true. I saw him rob the bank over in Laramie years ago. You don’t forget a thing like that. And he weren’t just robbin’ the bank, he were a leadin’ the robbery.”

“No,” managed the Kid.

“Yes, it’s true. That there’s Hannibal Heyes.”

“Harry, are you sure?”

“Sure I’m sure. Like I said, that ain’t the kinda thing a body forgets.”

Curry swallowed. “Tell you what, Harry. If my friend is Hannibal Heyes, and I’m not sayin’ I think you’re right, he should be real smart, right?”

“Well, yeah,” said Harry, scratching his head. “But there’s a big reward on him.  Ten thousand dollars, I heard. If we split that, it’s five thousand each. I sure could use that money to get my land all fixed up.”

“Then we should let him get your land for you first, right?” said the Kid, hurriedly, “You can’t fix up that land until you get it. Then we think what we should do about him. How does that sound?”

“I guess that sounds OK to me. But it’s not just the money I’m thinkin’ on. You’ve done me a big favor and you’re doing me another one, and well, I like you. I think you’re a fine young ‘un. It’s you I’m a worried about. Hangin’ around with someone like him.”

“I know that, Harry, and I appreciate it.” Curry gave Harry a friendly pat on the shoulder.

Harry began walking again. The Kid followed him, rolling his eyes.

The four men strode into Van Winkleton’s office. He was still sitting at his desk, eyes not focused on anything in particular.

“Ahem, sir,” O’Keefe coughed into his hand.

“Ah, O’ Grady, yes.”

“O’Keefe, sir.”

“Yes, as you say. Jones!” he exclaimed in delight to Heyes. “And Smith,” he said, to the Kid.

The Kid gave Heyes a puzzled glance. Heyes returned it with a wry smile.

“Oh yes, and you, Harvey,” the general directed his glazed eyes towards Harry and spoke in a condescending voice.

“Looky here, you old…”

Heyes cut Harry off. “General Van Winkleton, me and Smith here,” Heyes smirked at Curry as he said this, “have a dispatch for you from headquarters.” He handed the envelope to the general.

General Van Winkleton took the envelope. He opened it extremely slowly in his shaking hands, and stared at the contents. And stared. And stared.

“Sir?” prompted O’Keefe.

The general blinked. “Yes, yes, what is it, O' Reilly?”

O’Keefe made a face. “The dispatch, sir. What are our orders?”

“We are to,” the general stopped, and looked with blurry eyes down at the piece of paper in his shaking hands. He looked up, and said briskly, “we are to monitor the Indians’ movements. Jones, you take out a party of men for reconnaissance.”

“But, sir,” began O’Keefe.

He was quickly interrupted by the general. “You men are dismissed. My tea. Where is my tea?”

The men hurried out the door. Van Winkleton called after them. “O’Reilly, bring me tea, and you Jones, where is your report?”

O’Keefe started to pivot around to return. Heyes stopped him. “Forget it,” he said, “You realize he isn’t going to remember what he just said in another minute, don’t you?”

“Well, what do we do now?” asked the Kid.

“Yeah, what do we do? My friend, Jones here, told me you were real smart, and could take care of this. I ain’t no better off than before you delivered that there dispatch.”

“Delivering the dispatch was merely to make a point to O’Keefe here,” Heyes responded in a superior tone of voice. “I didn’t expect the general to act on it, in fact I doubt if he could actually read it at all, and if he could he wouldn’t understand it.”

“You made your point, Smith,” said O’Keefe, “but that doesn’t get us anywhere. The general isn’t going to leave the fort, and I will not leave without him.”

“You won’t?” asked the Kid in a tone of disbelief, “why not?”

“Loyalty,” responded O’Keefe, standing straight in military fashion.

“Oh yeah, right,” conceded Curry. “Well, like I said, now what? The general’s not gonna leave because the Indians aren’t gonna leave, and if the general don’t leave, O’Keefe won’t and Harry won’t get his land.”

Heyes put his hands on his hips. “I really don’t believe you three. Here you are three capable adult men,” he looked at each in turn, finishing with the Kid, “well, almost capable.” Harry bristled at the insult to his new friend. “It’s simple.”

“It is?” asked Curry.

Heyes sighed. “Yes, it is. You and Harry go back and tell your Indian friends the general wants a meeting with them before he leaves for Fort William Henry Harrison, and O’Keefe and I tell the general the Indians want to meet with him before they head south.”

“But, that’d be lyin’,” the Kid observed.

Heyes gave the Kid an odd look and said, “yes…it…would.”

“I don’t think I could lie to the general,” said O’Keefe.

“O’Keefe, you and I have a bargain, remember? I’ll do the talking, that way you won’t be lying.” He turned to Curry. “Partner,” he laid heavy emphasis on the word, “let’s have a confab.”

He and the Kid walked away from the others and lowered their voices.

“What in the world is the matter with you? Kid Curry, worried about lying? I think this amnesty business is beginning to corrupt you.”

“It’s just that me and Harry, well he thinks I’m a good man, and he knows you aren’t.”

“What do you mean he knows ‘I aren’t?” Heyes hissed.

“He knows who you are.”

“You told him?”

“’Course I didn’t tell him. He saw you at the bank in Laramie. Took me awhile to figure out why he didn’t recognize me, but then I remembered I was sick and didn’t go with the rest of you on that one.”

“You remembered you were sick,” Heyes said in a voice oozing sarcasm.

“Well, it was a long time ago, and there were lots of banks. Anyway, Harry thinks you’re a bad influence on me.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“That he thinks you’re a bad influence on me? Well, you are Hannibal Heyes.”

“No, what I don’t believe is that he’s that stupid. You shoot a rattlesnake before it bites him, you have blond hair and blue eyes, and you say you’re my friend and hang around with me. How can he ‘not’ know you’re Kid Curry?”

“It was a slow rattlesnake,” the Kid said in defense of Harry.

“Maybe we should get back to the Indians,” said Heyes changing the subject as the Kid gave him a superior smile.

Curry’s smile faded. “Heyes, I’m not so sure this is gonna work. You haven’t met Droopin' Feather.”

“Why, what’s the problem?”

“He’s the Indian version of Van Winkleton.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope.”

“If he’s like Van Winkleton, he couldn’t survive out there on his own. Who’s taking care of him?”

“There’s a couple of other Indians with him. White Feather and Broken Feather, his grandsons. But I don’t think they would lie to him.”

“Kid, they aren’t going to lie to him. You are. Just tell them Van Winkleton wants to meet. Lay it on thick that Van Winkleton is conceding and leaving. That seems to be what each of ‘em wants to hear.”

The Kid nodded. “OK. What do I do about Harry? He knows who you are, don’t forget.”

“You seem to have kept him from doing anything about that so far,” Heyes said thoughtfully, “just keep stalling. By the time we get this all sorted out, maybe he’ll be so grateful, he’ll forget all about turning me in.”

“I dunno, Heyes. He seemed pretty excited about the reward money.”

“We’ll just have to handle that later, Kid. Right now you’d better get back to Harry and get going. I’ll take care of O’Keefe and Van Winkleton.” Heyes started to walk from the Kid.

“Ain’t you forgetting somethin'?” asked Curry smiling smugly.

“What?”

“Where’re we gonna meet, and when?”

“Well, I suppose it should be someplace neutral so it can’t be here at the fort or at the Indians camp. I’ve got it! How about we meet at Harry’s place after sundown?” Heyes grinned. “He’s bound to have something to drink stronger than tea.”

---

That evening all the men  met at Harry’s cabin. As the cabin only contained four chairs Heyes, General Van Winkleton, and Drooping Feather, across from the General, were seated around a wooden table; the empty spot was left for Harry. O’Keefe stood to the right of the general, while Broken Feather with his brother, White Feather, stood at the older Indian’s sides. The Kid stood beside Heyes. The cabin was small, but snug against the prairie cold night air outside. Harry had not only lit the fireplace, but had a pot hanging over the fire. The Kid smiled. A good host, Harry poured drinks for everyone whether they sat or stood. Heyes smiled.

“I think everyone here knows why we’re having this meeting.”

“’Course everyone knows why, Smith. Let’s get down to important business like when all you Indians and you soldiers leave and I get my land.” Harry spoke in a quick, excited voice.

“Indeed. Where is my tea, O’Brien?”

“It’s right in front of you, General,” said Heyes, pointing to the tin cup by the general’s tin plate.

“But that’s…” began O’Keefe as Van Winkleton raised the cup and sipped.

“Mmm, fine. I do believe this is the finest tea I have had in some time. Drooping Feather you must try some.”

Heyes blinked in surprise. “He knows Drooping Feather, and he remembers him?”

“The general and Drooping Feather have had considerable contact, good and bad, over the years,” said O’Keefe.

“That is true,” added Broken Feather.

Drooping Feather drank at the General’s request. “The drink is good. General, my brother sends you good wishes for your health.”

The Kid leaned towards Heyes. “His brother’s dead.”

“Figures.”

The general blinked. “Yes, Drooping Feather, I agree we have had a seasonable year. Most fortunate.”

Heyes opened his mouth. Harry bit his lip, and wiggled in his chair.

“We will battle Yellow-Hair,” said Drooping Feather.

“O’Reilly, see that my sword is polished.”

“We’re not talking about having a battle,” Heyes interrupted, but the general continued along his line of thought.

“We’ll have a parade of the troops tomorrow. It is a fine thing and you must attend, my old friend.” He reached across the table and patted Drooping Feather’s hand.

Heyes closed his mouth. Harry moved in his seat in an excited jerky manner as if he couldn't contain himself, and kept opening his mouth only to close it quickly.

“Yes, I remember our battle at the creek,” Drooping Feather said in turn to the general. “My son, Hawk Feather fell there, and you lost many good men.”

“Yes, and I will have my men fire the cannon for you. We shall have some tea I think.”

“You had a brave captain. He slew many of my men at that battle.” Drooping Feather turned to White Feather. “That was the battle at the low mountain, you were there.”

“No, Grandfather, that was before I was born.”

“You were there, I remember, and you, General, you had a brave captain who slew many of my men.”

“Yes, yes. I think we shall have tea like this tomorrow, O’Brien. Drooping Feather, my old Friend you must pay me a visit at the fort tomorrow. We will have tea.”

Heyes stood. “I can see that you two have many good memories to talk over. I think the rest of us should leave you to it. Let’s give them some privacy, shall we?”

“I do not think it is a good idea to leave my grandfather,” said White Feather.

“I do,” said Broken Feather. “This white-not-blue-coat-man is right. Grandfather and the general have much to talk over.” He grabbed his brother and dragged him out. The others rapidly followed.

Once outside, Heyes began the talking, briskly, before Harry, who again was wiggling impatiently, could get a word in. “I think it is pretty obvious why you fellows have got nowhere over the last few years.”

“I do not think we should leave Grandfather,” White Feather repeated.

“We’re right outside,” said the Kid. “What kind of trouble can those two get into while we’re out of the cabin?”

Everyone stopped. They all turned and looked at the cabin.

“I think we had better reach terms as quickly as possible,” said O’Keefe.

“I think you have a point,” agreed Heyes.

“’Course he does! Let’s get this settled quick before they tear up my cabin. I want my land and…”

“Very well. You leave and then we leave,” offered Broken Feather speaking to O’Keefe, and ignoring Harry, as did the others.

“General Van Winkleton cannot leave before you leave,” replied O’Keefe. “to leave first would be a sign of cowardice.”

“Maybe those two aren’t the only problem here, Smith,” the Kid observed.

“It doesn’t matter who leaves first, I mean neither one is going to remember anyway,” said an exasperated Heyes.

“It is a point of honor,” said O’Keefe. White and Broken Feather nodded.

“How about everyone leaves at the same time?” suggested the Kid.

Harry began to jump in place. “That’s it! That’s the ticket! That’s a great idea, Jones. I second that. How long will it take you to wrap things up at the fort, a couple of days? Do you fellas have anything that’ll take more than two days to take care of?”

The Indians and O’Keefe tried to respond, but Heyes cut them all off. “Then it’s agreed, two days to finish any business here and then everyone leaves the morning after at, er, at sunrise. Sounds like a fair deal to me.”

“Me too,” added Curry. “You couldn’t ask for anythin' fairer. Everyone saves face.”

“Yep, that’s as fair as you can ask fer,” buzzed Harry to no one’s notice.

White Feather and Broken Feather shared glances. They nodded. “We agree to this plan. It will be better for Grandfather to be with the rest of our tribe in the south. What do you say, O’Keefe?”

“I agree. It’s time we were at Fort William Henry Harrison.”

Heyes smiled. “That’s true. Tippecanoe is waiting for you.”*

The Kid groaned.

There was a sudden crashing sound from inside the cabin.

“I said we should not have left Grandfather.” White Feather began to scold Broken Feather.

The men ran indoors.

Drooping Feather was sitting at the table with his head drooping onto his chest, six empty cups in front of him.

General Van Winkleton stood near the fireplace holding a fire iron backwards, point in hand. In front of him were another fire iron and a small shovel.

“O’Keefe, this rifle is not properly polished. You must see to this immediately.”

“At least he got my name right,” grumbled O’Keefe.

“Huh,” said Harry Harper, “at least he didn’t wreck the place you mean.”

Curry turned to the two Feathers. “Is that how he got the name Droopin' Feather?” he asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” answered Broken Feather.

“Grandfather, it is time to go home,” said White Feather as he and Broken Feather helped the old man to his feet.

“I think it best I get the general back to the fort as well.”

“So do I,” added Harry emphatically. “I’m satisfied now I’ve got my land. You did right by me, thinkin’ up how’s everyone should leave at the same time. I owe you again,” he said to Curry.

“Smith, you and Jones are welcome to stay at the fort until we leave,” said O’Keefe.

“Thanks, Sergeant. I think we’ll stay the night and then be moving on, right partner?”

“Uh huh. Oh, and I brought our horses here. They were at the Indian camp.”

“Jones, you ain’t gonna leave until I get a chance to say good bye to you tomorrow, are you? I wanna thank you proper.” He winked at the Kid.

“Harry, after today I think me and my friend are gonna sleep well past sunrise, so we’ll be there for sure when you get on over.”

The meeting adjourned, everyone left except for Harry. He got himself some stew and sat down to eat, chewing thoughtfully. He stared at the window as the others rode off.

Heyes drew his horse's reins, allowing O’Keefe and the general to ride on with the rest of the horses.

“You forgot, didn’t you, Kid?”

“Forgot what?”

“He knows who I am. If we stay until he comes over tomorrow morning, he’ll get O’Keefe to arrest me.”

The Kid groaned. “I was really hoping to get some sleep, Heyes. Do we leave now?”

“It might look a little suspicious to O’Keefe if we don’t return with him, and anyway, he’s still got my gun. Let’s go back, I’ll get my gun. When he and the general are asleep we’ll leave. That’ll give us a few hours head start.”

^^^^

Below a moonlit sky, the two partners quietly led their horses to the gates of the fort.

“Hold it right there, you.” They turned to see Harry pointing his rifle at Heyes. “I figured you would try to take off early to avoid me.” His voice rang out loudly into the night air.

“Harry, this is my friend. You don’t expect me to turn in my friend, do you?”

“He’s an outlaw, and that ain’t the right sort of friend for you. Like I said, I’ll split the ten thousand with you.”

O’Keefe banged out of his quarters. “What is going on now? Harry, what are you doing here, and why are you pointing a rifle at Smith?”

“O’Keefe, I want you to arrest this man. He’s Hannibal Heyes.”

“Harry, it’s almost midnight, and I’m tired. I have to get up early to start packing my belongings, and the general’s, so you can have your property. On top of that I have to complete all the necessary paperwork required to shut down the fort.”

“Didn’t you hear me? I said that there is Hannibal Heyes.” Harry was waving the rifle wildly. The other men grimaced as it veered from one to another, and back again.

“Harry put that rifle down. I know he’s Hannibal Heyes. I also know that your friend Jones is Kid Curry.”

Harry let the rifle sag downwards, a dejected look on his face. He looked at the Kid who shuffled, the look of a little boy whose hand has been caught in the cookie jar on his face.

“O’Keefe, you know who we are?” asked Heyes.

“Smith and Jones are suspicious names singly, but together they are fairly damning. You not only fit the wanted poster’s description, but Harry’s talked about that robbery in Laramie and described you to me. And in all honesty, his description is considerably more accurate than the poster's. When Harry here said your friend shot a rattler, I started to put two and two together.”

“You never said anything,” Heyes wondered.

“And I wouldn’t have. You have been doing your best to help me out of a difficult situation. I was caught between my duty to my country and my loyalty to my general, and you helped me to keep my conscience clean in regards both of them. It would have been the deepest ingratitude for me to turn you in after that.” He turned to Harry. “If you insist and want me to turn this man in, then I will turn your friend, ‘Jones’ in as well. Is that what you want, Harry? After he saved your life, and brought your trouble over the fort to an end?”

The three men watched Harry as he struggled with his conscience.

“Twenty thousand dollars sure is a lot of money, and now I sure could use it with all this land to take care of.” O’Keefe snorted at this. “But, it would be real disloyal of me to turn a good friend in. Especially the friend who done me two good turns. You sure did take care of those old coots fer me. I thought I’d never git this land. Anyone who would do somethin’ like that has gotta be a good friend. We are good friends, ain’t we, Jones? I mean,” he paused, and added, looking at the Kid with ill-concealed awe, “I mean, Kid?”

“Sure we are, Harry.”

“Then I ain’t gonna turn you in. Neither one of you.”

“We sure appreciate that, Harry,” said the Kid.

“Just the same, I think we should be leaving before Harry changes his mind,” laughed Heyes.

“I ain’t gonna change my mind,” said Harry, indignantly, as the two men mounted their horses.

“Harry, how come you admire him so much, but I’m a bad influence?” asked a puzzled Heyes. “Because of the rattlesnake?”

“Not just the snake, no sirree. Why, he’s the best shot I’ve ever seen, but that’s not it. He may have done wrong, but he’s a good man, I know it from bein' with him. I don’t know that about you.”

“I do,” said O’Keefe. “I only hope that the two of you stay good men.”

“If it makes you feel any better, we stopped robbing banks and trains over a year ago,” said Heyes.

“We really are trying to mend our ways,” added Curry.

“O’Keefe, I guess you and me both can say we are doin' right, now.”

“I think we can, Harry. Gentlemen.”  He held out his hand and the two took turns leaning from their horses to shake it.

“Now Harry, don’t you go and give any sheriff or Bannerman man my description,” Heyes shook Harry’s hand. “Your description is better than theirs. That’s too close for comfort.”

“I’d say mine neither, but I know you won’t tell on a friend,” said the Kid taking Harry’s hand after Heyes. “Bye now, Harry.”

“You boys keep yer word, and don’t go back to gettin' in trouble,” Harry shouted after them as they rode off.




*Tippecanoe = William Henry Harrison. He got the nickname after a victory in battle over the Indians at Tippecanoe. That’s why his slogan when he ran for president was, ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.’ The poor guy was prone to giving long speeches outdoors in the cold; I think his inauguration speech still holds the record for the longest ever given. Anyway, the upshot of that was he died, probably of pneumonia, around two months after he was elected. The other interesting fact about his election is that his ‘handlers’ ran him as a log cabin candidate so he would be seen as a man of the people like the extremely popular Andrew Jackson before him. This was the first time the idea was used in an election. Only problem was he wasn’t born in a log cabin, and his family was wealthy. I guess elections haven’t changed much.
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