The drifter standing in the lengthening shadows hugged the side of the building a bit closer as he waited impatiently. For his plan to succeed he needed to know the whereabouts of that deputy! A cloud of dust caught his attention and his eyes narrowed as he recognized the portly figure of the man sweeping the boardwalk in front of the sheriff's office. He ducked back just in time as the man in question raised his head and looked in his direction. Even though he was unrecognizable, Hannibal Heyes felt vulnerable. He had to admit the disguise had served its purpose, but there was still a feeling of unease that he couldn't quite shake.
Reaching up, he patted his vest pocket. Along with the money the Kid brought in, they wouldn't be sleeping out in the open on the cold, hard ground for quite awhile. His partner wouldn't be grumbling about where their next meal would be coming from either. A grin appeared as his thoughts jumped ahead to include poker games. He'd be able to stake both the Kid and himself without having to worry about mundane things like food or shelter for quite a while. He took a deep breath, willing himself to relax. Leaning back against the wall, he shook his head not believing their luck. He and the Kid had been sure that Kettledrum was a safe town for them to meet up in.
Thoughts about the Kid brought his attention back to his current situation. He scanned the street once more, casting another glance in both directions for his missing and very late partner. He hated to admit it, but he was starting to get a bit concerned. Maybe that was why he felt so restless. What could be keeping the Kid?
Heyes cautiously peered around the corner and breathed a sigh of relief. The deputy must have stepped back inside the sheriff's office. His broom lay propped up against the wall and he was nowhere in sight. Pushing his dusty, battered hat further down over his eyes, the outlaw stepped out on the boardwalk and weaved his way unsteadily towards the livery stable. The rain which had been threatening all day, chose that moment to let loose. Heyes turned up the collar of his jacket.
"Great," he muttered scowling up at the darkening sky, "just what I needed!"
Making it to the safety of the stable, he quickly saddled up his horse while going over his plan. He'd ride out towards Clearwater; maybe get lucky and run into Kid along the way. Heyes didn't want his partner to ride into Kettledrum only to discover the same way he had, that while they had picked a town with a safe sheriff, the same couldn't be said about the deputy. How could we have known?And from past experience with the lawman, Heyes knew this was one deputy they didn't want to mess around with!
It was sheer luck he'd spotted the lawman before the deputy recognized him. With no way to get a warning to Kid in time, he was stuck in town waiting for him to show up. That was why he'd adopted the guise of a bearded, slightly drunk drifter. It had allowed him the freedom to go on about his business around the small town without arousing too much suspicion. With a faint smile, he recalled that he'd even won a few hands of poker, much to the disgust of the other players.
He shook his head again, marveling at their persistent run of bad luck. Staying out of trouble while waiting on that amnesty sure is getting more and more complicated. Will we ever be able to ride into a town without being recognized? he wondered.
Finished, Heyes swung himself up into the saddle. He paused a moment as he fastened the top button of his coat before urging his horse out into the now drizzling rain. Directing another glare at the dark thunderclouds overhead he spoke fervently, "Kid, I sure hope you're on your way!"
From the safety of the sheriff's office, the deputy followed the outlaw's progress. He watched intently as the man made his way to the livery stable.
The boss sure is gonna be interested in what I've got to report, yes sirree, mighty interested. His eyes narrowed as a smile slowly spread across his face.
"Lotta good that disguise did ya, Heyes!" And as he started laughing, a fanatical gleam appeared in the lawman's eyes.
Jed "Kid"Curry was cold, wet, tired and hungry. Not a good combination even on a good day, and today was definitely not a good day. He'd left Clearwater two days ago just ahead of the storm, but the rain had quickly caught up with him and seemed bound and determined to keep him company for the entire trip. He shook his head and was rewarded with a shower of rain that made a river down the back of his neck. Grimacing and rolling his eyes heavenward Kid thought, It could be worse, it could be snowing.
Having to seek shelter every few miles had delayed him considerably. Kid knew Heyes would be worrying, so he hadn't bothered to stop and make camp, choosing instead to eat on the run. He knew that once he reached Kettledrum he'd be able to relax and enjoy a nice, hot meal with his partner.
Trying to think of something other than food and how miserable he felt, he thought instead of how much he looked forward to talking with Heyes. This time he had something really good to share. He'd done such a good job that the boss had paid him a bonus. A $100 bonus! Kid smiled. It wasn't often he was the one to bring in the extra money. Catching sight of the small town in the distance, he patted his horse's neck encouragingly, urging him into a trot, wanting to cover the remaining miles as quickly as possible.
Yep, it'll sure feel good to get outta these wet clothes, and to eat a nice hot steak dinner with all the trimmins'...I'll even offer to pay!He grinned as he pictured Heyes' reaction.
A sudden flash of lightning and crack of thunder sent him ducking for cover again. He yawned deeply as he sat in the shelter of the trees, waiting impatiently for the storm to calm down enough for him to start traveling again. He was getting mighty tired of all these delays, especially when he knew Heyes would be looking for him.
Yeah, and he'll probably try to pin all the blame on me, like I could control the weather, wish I was already in Kettledrum!Shaking his head resulted in another drenching shower of water. Shivering, he hunched his shoulders against the dampness. No good wishin' for somethin' when there's no way it's happenin'.
After losing nearly another hour, he was finally able to continue on his way. Smothering another yawn, he tucked his chin down snugly into his sheepskin collar, seeking the warmth it provided. Maybe I'll catch a little shut-eye while I can, the horse can pick his own way into town.
Almost an hour had passed as, head bent against the falling rain, the bedraggled outlaw made his way down the nearly deserted street. Exhaustion had finally claimed him as a victim and it barely registered as he rode into Kettledrum.
The deputy's eyes narrowed in speculation as he shifted his attention away from Heyes and spotted the lone rider coming into town.
"Well it's the right direction, and that looks like his hat and sheepskin coat." The boss had made sure he'd memorized every little detail about both men. That had been well over six months ago, but he'd know that man anywhere. Yep, no doubt about it, that was Kid Curry alright.
Glancing back in the direction of the livery stable, his face wore a look of such intensity, it almost seemed to glow. "Now all I have to do is wait." He could be mighty patient when it came to waiting...
After leaving the stable, Heyes had to pass directly in front of the sheriff's office to get out of town. He resisted the temptation to look, keeping his head tucked down. No use inviting trouble.The sudden neighing of a horse and the answering whinny of his own claimed his attention. Peering through the falling rain and the shadows of twilight, he was surprised to see a rider coming towards him. He was even more surprised to make out the familiar figure of the Kid. His face broke into a smile of relief and he noticed with some amusement that while the Kid gave every impression of sleeping, his hand still rested solidly on his Colt.
Heyes shook his head as Kid rode past him. It sure must've been one heck of a trip; I'll have to rib him later about falling asleep on the job!
Heyes turned his horse, intending to call out a greeting, but seeing a sudden flash of movement behind Kid, his smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He watched as the deputy drew his gun and pointed it straight at his partner! Shouting "NO!," and hoping to get both Kid's and the deputy's attention, Heyes swiftly drew his own gun.
The startled deputy froze. Kid's head jerked up and he turned to see the drifter with his gun pointed straight at him. His reaction was instinctive, his gun seeming to leap into his hand as he fired. Startled by the gunshot, Heyes' horse shied, even as the sound of another gunshot reverberated through the night.
Kid watched as the drifter's body tumbled to the muddy ground. Taking a deep breath, he leaned over his saddle trying to make sense out of what had just happened.
I only meant to shoot the gun out of his hand, if his horse hadn't spooked...He looked around and only then did he see the lawman standing on the boardwalk, a smoking gun in his hand. As the deputy's face swam into focus, Kid did a double-take and his eyes widened in disbelief. A shiver ran down his spine as he recognized the man.
There's no way, it can't be...A hint of desperation crept into his voice as Kid whispered, "Heyes, c'mon, where are you? I don't think I can take much more!"
Interrupting his thoughts, the deputy yelled, "Hey you!" and as he watched him raise his gun, Kid realized what little luck he had left had just run out. With one last apologetic glance at the drifter laying motionless, Kid pivoted his weary horse and made his escape out of Kettledrum.
The deputy slowly re-holstered his gun as he watched the outlaw ride out of town. Sure didn't take much to scare you, Curry! Don't worry, your turn's comin'. One down...and one to go. His eyes gleamed with anticipation as he turned to grab Heyes under the arms and drag him out of sight before some busy-body came along and started asking questions.
After riding hard for several miles, Kid concluded there wasn't anyone following him. Not a posse, not the sheriff, not even that loco deputy. Why? he wondered briefly. Then, as he allowed his exhausted horse to slow down, he decided he didn't care.
Finding a secluded spot by a stream, he wearily slid down off his horse and leaned against a nearby tree. Angry and frustrated by what had happened, he smacked his palm against the trunk. It didn't make him feel any better, but at least the pain did give him something else to think about. It took his mind off the pain in his side. He gingerly pulled his shirt loose so he could inspect the damage. Wincing as he felt around, he was relieved to find an exit hole.
He smiled wryly. My luck must be turning, the shot went clean through. Well, that was one less thing he had to worry about. Funny, I never even felt the bullet hit, guess maybe I was a little busy with other things. And why in tarnation did that drifter try to save me anyway? Kid wondered if he'd ever know the answer to that question.
Trudging over to his saddlebag, he pulled out his oldest shirt and looked at it a moment, before using his pocketknife to cut it into strips and press it against the wound. Tucking his shirt back in, he sat down on a rock, letting his head drop wearily down onto his chest.
Drawing a deep breath and slowly releasing it, he wondered silently, How am I ever gonna explain this one to Heyes? He wasn't sure what to do next. Ride on to the next town? Wait until dark and risk going back to Kettledrum? Heyes was usually the one to come up with a plan.
Raising his eyes to stare out into the darkness, he whispered, "OK partner, I could use a little help..." After a few moments he stood up suddenly and shouted angrily into the still-falling rain, "AND WHERE ARE YOU?" The wind took his words, carrying them away and he was left alone in the silence.
He stood, head bowed, lost in thought. Guess it'd probably be better to head on into the next town, whatever it is. Get a message to Heyes, let him know where I'm at. Maybe he'd better save the why part for later? Shoot, knowing Heyes he probably already knows why. Innocent bystanders don't get shot up without somebody noticing! Great, now he'll be worryin' about that too. Guess the sooner I get to town, the sooner I can send that message.
Pulling himself wearily back up into the saddle, he grabbed the reins with his left hand, tucking it carefully around his wounded side and leaving his right hand free to rest on his holster, hoping the next town wasn't too far away.
The deputy glanced uneasily behind him. The boss had been very clear. Hannibal Heyes was to be brought back alive. He scratched his head. He hadn't seen any signs of life from the body slung over the saddle since they'd started up the mountain trail. For all he knew, the outlaw could be dead already.
He'd done his best. Hadn't he patched up the wounded man the best he knew how? He couldn't help it if he weren't no daggone doctor! The wound wasn't deep, the bullet had gone clean through, but there were all kinds of things that could go wrong afterwards and he knew who'd be blamed for 'em if they did. The boss had made that perfectly clear too. If anything went wrong, there'd be the devil to pay! He swallowed nervously and looked back at his prisoner once more. Maybe I'd better go ahead and check, just to be sure?
Reining in his horse, he climbed down and walked back to the other man. Cautiously lifting Heyes' head, he was rewarded by a groan. Well, at least the varmint is still alive.He smiled maliciously. He might wish he wasn't after the boss gets done with him, though.
Satisfied, he let the outlaw's head drop back down and climbed up on his horse. Urging it forward, they started on the last leg of their journey. By his calculations, he figured they'd make it to the cabin by mid-morning. He smiled. Just in time for a late breakfast. I can turn the prisoner over to the boss and then Hannibal Heyes won't be my problem anymore.His smile grew even bigger and that look was back in his eyes, giving him an almost feral look. He was looking forward to carrying out the next part of the plan even more. The part that involved him and Curry. The baby-faced outlaw had been promised to him as a reward for a job well done. He liked jobs like this one. And this time, I won't be followin' no orders neither.
As Hannibal Heyes slowly began to come around, he was careful not to show any signs that he was back among the living. He lay there playing possum, quietly listening. There was a murmur of voices, but he couldn't make out what they were saying. Well, he finally decided, whoever they are, one of them sounds really mad.
Heyes laughed mirthlessly. What else could he do? He had wakened only to find his hands were tied tightly behind him and he was gagged and blindfolded. He was no longer wearing the beard he had used to disguise himself with; someone had removed it. As he became more alert, he realized he hurt in places he didn't even know he had. He felt as if he'd been trampled by a herd of wild horses!
How in the world did I get into a mess like this? Who trussed me up this way? And why? Where am I? And where is the Kid? Was he somewhere nearby, suffering the same fate, or worse? He struggled against his bonds, testing the knots and wishing he had at least one clue as to where he was.
After a few moments he quit. It was no use. Whoever had tied him up had done too good a job. Despite the pounding in his head, he tried to remember what had happened. Something, anything. Anything that would help him figure out how he came to be here, wherever here was.
His brain working fervently, it came back slowly. It had been raining. He had been on his horse, riding out of Kettledrum to meet up with the Kid. And then..? He struggled to sit up as he suddenly remembered what had happened next. The Kid shot me!
Frustrated, Heyes gave up and fell backwards, fireworks exploding behind his eyelids. The pain in his left shoulder was real, there was a gunshot wound there alright, so it hadn't been a dream. His own partner had pointed his gun towards him and fired! He remembered falling, then nothing but darkness until now.
But that's not all, there was something else...I was riding my horse, it was raining, starting to come down harder. I remember hoping I'd meet up with Kid on the road outside of Kettledrum, didn't want him running into that deputy - Heyes stopped. The deputy! He'd jumped out of the sheriff's office, gun drawn, ready to shoot the Kid! I pulled my own gun and tried to shout a warning, but Kid turned and thought I was drawing down on him. Well, Heyes amended, the Kid didn't know it was me he was shooting at, with the disguise I had on, he didn't recognize me.What had happened after that? Had the deputy shot Kid? Had Kid shot the deputy? Powerless to get the answers he so desperately needed, Heyes realized he had an even more pressing problem.
Kid wouldn't know he needed help. He wouldn't have any way of knowing that instead of a drifter, he'd shot his own partner. If he was safely on his way to another meeting place, how long would he wait before he realized something was seriously wrong? Heyes would bet Kid would stay as far away from Kettledrum as possible after the shooting until finally, as a last resort, he'd come back looking for him. Right into that crazed deputy's hands. It could be a very long wait.
Gritting his teeth against the pain, Heyes tried again to sit up. His second attempt brought him success. Trussed up like a prized Thanksgiving turkey, he was at a slight disadvantage. He wished he could see his surroundings, maybe then he'd be able to figure a way out. Heyes tried wiggling his fingers, the numbness in them alternating with the waves of pain shooting up his arms was something else he'd like to forget. He needed to focus on getting loose and out of here first, then he'd work on finding the Kid.
Suddenly Heyes tensed. The voices he'd heard earlier were getting closer. He heard a door open and close, then the sound of two sets of feet as they came closer to him. One set belonged to a pair of worn out boots. He listened intently. The other set was harder to identify, almost as if the owner was deliberately trying to remain a mystery. Unable to ask even one of the hundreds of questions racing through his mind, Heyes was forced to wait impatiently until one of them spoke.
"Oh good, Joshua, you're awake. I'm glad to see you're still with us, I had my doubts about you there for a while. My, my, my, and you're even able to sit up, you must be feeling better." Then the sound of laughter.
Heyes' head had shot up at the first few words. He was sure he recognized that voice. But it couldn't be, could it?The pounding in his head was back with a vengeance, and he wished the blindfold would just drop off so he could see.
"Oh Joshua darling, I'm so sorry, how remiss of me. All tied up, gagged and blind-folded as you are...how could I possibly expect you to be able to communicate with me? I'll tell you what. If you promise to behave yourself, I'll have Charlie remove your gag. But I'm warning you, he can put it right back on just as quick if you start causing any trouble. Well? What do you say? Shall we give it a try, Joshua?"
Heyes nodded his head slightly. At least it was a start. He'd have promised his soul to the devil at this point. He needed to be able to ask questions so he could get answers.
He could hear the booted footsteps coming closer. He felt hands roughly removing the gag and carefully flexed his mouth to ease the stiffness.
"Is that better, Joshua?" He heard the rustle of silk and smelled the perfume as the voice came closer.
"Hello Blanche. It's nice to see you again. You're looking well, I see." His voice was raspy, barely audible as he struggled to get the words out past a bone-dry throat.
Hearing the dryness, Blanche spoke to the man next to her. "I think we could both do with something to drink. Bring us some...water please."Turning her attention back to the man seated on the bed she continued. "Why Joshua, I'm pleased you remember me, it has been awhile. And it is nice to see you still have your wonderful sense of humor."
As the man returned with the water, Blanche reached out and took one. "Here's something to wet your whistle, Joshua," and she pressed the cup to his lips.
Heyes drank greedily, letting the cool liquid slide down his sore throat. Having already determined that he was going to have to play the game by Blanche's rules for now, at least until he learned what he needed to know, Heyes gave her a cheeky grin.
"Now Blanche, what makes you think a man could ever forget a woman like you?"
"A woman likes to hope she's not too easily forgotten. Tell me honestly, Joshua. You haven't given me one thought since you handed me over to that lawman, have you?"
"Honestly Blanche? You're right."
Blanche lost her smile. It was replaced with a look of hurt and anger. She started towards him, but as Heyes continued speaking, she stopped.
Heyes never missed a beat. "I never gave you one thought because the truth is, I haven't been able to stop thinking about you."
Her smile back in place, Blanche's laughter rang out. "Charlie, could you bring a chair over here for me, please? Joshua and I are going to spend some time catching up with each other."
Heyes heard the sounds of a chair being dragged and then Blanche settling down in it. His mind still busy trying to figure out what was going on, he stiffened as he felt her hand on his arm.
"I'm not making you nervous, am I Joshua?"Blanche spoke teasingly. "Well, you don't have to worry, you don't have a thing in the world to be nervous about."
"Me? Nervous? Worried? Oh no, I'm not worried at all."Though it was a bit strained, Heyes managed a laugh.
"Why, I like you, Blanche."
"Ah, you're such a charmer. I think we need to take that nasty old blindfold off too, don't you? I want to be able to see those wonderful brown eyes of yours."
"You won't get any argument from me, Blanche, and I'll be able to see that beautiful face of yours too." With the blindfold removed Heyes knew he stood a better chance of planning an escape. He wished he knew what Blanche was up to. He had told Kid he could handle himself in the clinches, well maybe he was about to find out?
"Don't try too hard Joshua, you're overplaying your hand." Blanche stood up and leaning forward, reached behind Heyes' head. She untied the bandana, letting it drop between them and placed her hands lightly on his shoulders.
As the bandana fell away from his face, Heyes opened his eyes and blinked several times trying to adjust to the light. Letting his eyes slowly travel upwards until they met hers, Heyes whispered huskily, "Yes, I can see you've definitely been busy taking real good care of yourself, Blanche." He gave her another warm smile.
Blanche cupped Heyes' chin in her hand, lightly brushing her lips across his before stepping back and looking at him. "It wasn't easy, Joshua. I thought I was going to wither up and die in that prison! Then one day, the guards came in as usual, but this time they brought a message from the governor. Seems that the lawyers messed up legally somehow, and their mistake made me a free woman. Well, I wasn't about to argue or ask any questions so I got out of there as quickly as I could."
Blanche paused a moment as she sat down. Straightening her skirts absently, she began speaking again but Heyes noticed her voice had lost its honeyed sweetness.
"But do you know what, Joshua? I never gave up. I knew there'd be a chance to get eve- to get to see you again. We never did have the opportunity to get to know each other as well as I would have liked. There were too many interruptions. El Clavo, that scheming little liar Michelle and especially that baby-faced partner of yours, Thaddeus!" She leaned forward to look into his eyes, her face just inches away. "However, the little bit of time we did spend together, it was good, Joshua."
"I enjoyed our time together in San Juan too, Blanche. You really know how to make a man feel wanted."
Blanche's laughter filled the room. "Oh there's that wonderful sense of humor again, Joshua! And what an excellent choice of words. Wanted. Hmmm, you know that little word causes many things to come to mind. For instance, wanted men with big rewards on them. Two wanted men in particular. Men who travel together, under aliases. Like Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones!"
Poker-faced, without hesitation, Heyes replied smoothly, "Now Blanche, we've already been through all that. Don't you think that lawman at the border would have taken us right into custody if we really were Heyes and Curry?" He flashed her another smile.
"I had a lot of time to think about that too, Hannibal. I came to the conclusion that Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry had made some kind of special deal with the law in return for bringing me back into the States so they could arrest me." Blanche leaned forward to look directly into Heyes' face. "That's what happened, isn't it Hannibal? You can tell me the truth now, just how much money did they bribe you with? What was your price to become bounty hunters?" At Heyes' silence, she added angrily, "Well, I certainly hope it was worth the price you're going to pay!" She stood up and walked away. "You tricked me into leaving San Juan. You played your part superbly. You knew exactly what to say and do...what a manipulator you turned out to be. You even used Michelle to make a fool out of me. Oh you two were good! Such a great plan. I bet you and Curry had a real big laugh over it later, didn't you?"
Beneath the anger and bitterness, Heyes sensed another reason and decided to take advantage of it. Slowly standing up, he spoke soothingly. "No, Blanche. That wasn't the way it was at all. I only told you what you wanted to hear...what I needed to in order to get you to do what I wanted. It wasn't anything personal. It was just a job." He took a step towards her, but stopped as he heard the sound of a gun being cocked behind him.
"Hold it right there Heyes, don't take another step! The only reason you're still alive and walkin' around right now is that my sister insisted I bring you back to her that way. It would've been a whole lot easier if we'd done it my way, a whole lot easier!"
"Your sister?" Heyes raised his eyebrows and looked questioningly towards Blanche. "Your brother?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, you'll have to forgive me. I guess in all the excitement I forgot to introduce you two. Hannibal Heyes, I'd like you to meet my brother, Charlie Graham. Charlie, why don't you come around and let Mr. Heyes get a real good look at you?"
Heyes knew something was wrong. Having regained her composure, Blanche was looking entirely too pleased with herself.
As the man slowly stepped into his line of vision, Heyes tripled his efforts to remain poke-rfaced. This was the deputy from Kettledrum! The one who could identify them - the one who'd tried to shoot Kid! And as Heyes continued to stare at him, he had the nagging suspicion that he'd seen the deputy somewhere else, but where? He frowned as he concentrated on figuring it out.
Charlie walked up to Heyes and grabbed him roughly, pulling him back towards the bed, and pushed him down. What in the world was going on? Heyes wondered as he stared up at the two of them.
"Actually, it's been quite a time for reunions for me lately." Blanche walked back and sat down facing Heyes. "You see, my brother was considered unpredictable, a bit dangerous you might say, and the authorities thought it would be safer for everyone if Charlie stayed in a sanatorium. After I was released, I went straight there and arranged for his release.I knew I wouldn't be able to get both you and Curry by myself so..."
Lowering his voice, Heyes leaned closer to Blanche. "Now Blanche, we can settle this another way. A way that would be mutually beneficial to both of us, not to mention, much more pleasurable..." Heyes smiled as he tried to catch her eye.
But Blanche continued on as if he hadn't spoken a word. "Then, as I made my plans, amidst all my preparations, it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't need the both of you. There wasn't any real reason to keep Curry around, so I decided he was,"Blanched paused a moment before adding, "dispensable."
Smiling triumphantly at the set expression on Heyes' face, Blanche experienced a momentary feeling of satisfaction. She had guessed correctly, she had discovered the outlaw's Achilles' heel. Heyes couldn't maintain that calm demeanor of his where his partner was concerned. Good, that would make the rest of this so much more enjoyable. She wanted to make him suffer as much as he had made her suffer. And then? When she was through with him, she'd turn him in for the reward, along with what was left of Curry. Revenge and $20,000.00, not a bad combination. Heyes interrupted her musings.
"OK Blanche, enough of the fun and games. Where's Thaddeus? What have you done with him?"Heyes' steely tone chilled the room.
Blanche managed to keep her smile from faltering. Reaching out, she laid her hand on his arm. "Hannibal -"
Shaking free of her touch, Heyes glowered at her. "And quit callin' me that! It's Joshua - Joshua Smith!"
"Maybe you'd prefer Heyes?" At his stony silence she continued, "OK then, Heyes it shall be. Now, where were we, hmmm? Oh yes, now I remember, you were asking about Curry. Where is he? Well now, that's a very good question. Let me ask you one instead. If you were Curry and found out that you had done something - something so, shall we say unforgivable? Maybe even unbelievable, where would you go?"
"Blanche quit playin' these stupid games! Where is Thaddeus?"Aware that Charlie was again standing with his gun in hand, Heyes forced himself to relax, knowing he needed to keep a level head if he wanted to find out about the Kid.
Blanche wagged her finger at him in admonishment. "Now, now Heyes, losing your temper like that can be very bad for you. Remember what I told you earlier? If you start causing trouble, that gag goes right back on. So, either talk with me civilly or you won't be talking at all."
With barely concealed anger, Heyes took a deep breath, reminding himself he was just playing along. "I'm sorry Blanche, I shouldn't be taking my anger out on you. All I'm asking is for you to tell me what you've done..."
Reaching up and patting his cheek, Blanche smiled. "That's much better, Heyes. And, as a little reward, I'm going to let you read for yourself what your friend Curry has been up to. We haven't done a thing to him. He's done it all by himself, poor boy. Charlie, bring me that newspaper, please. You know the one I'm talking about, the one with the really interesting headline."
Heyes dropped his head to his chest, his mind racing. What could Kid have gotten himself into? Had he robbed a train? Held up a bank? Had someone out-drawn him in a gunfight? He raised his head sharply as another possibility pushed its way in. Could he have gotten himself...killed? If that deputy brother of Blanche's had anything to do with it...
Charlie came in with the paper, handing it to Blanche. Heyes didn't care for the way the deputy was smiling or for that look in his eyes either...Heyes blinked rapidly as recognition suddenly hit him like a freight train! He kept from revealing his discovery, but he also realized he was in more trouble than he had imagined. If they were telling the truth about the Kid...He closed his eyes at the thought.
Blanche tapped his knee sharply with the paper to get his attention. As Heyes opened his eyes and turned to look at her, she unfolded the paper so that he could read the headline. Blanche held it up in front of him and waited expectantly, a smile curving her lips.
"OUTLAW HANNIBAL HEYES KILLED BY PARTNER, KID CURRY." Heyes tore his eyes away to look at Blanche in confusion. "But he didn't kill m - Heyes. I mean, he couldn't have. There's no way he could have done it. "I was disguised, no-one knew who I was...and I'm not dead, so why accuse Kid of killing me?
"Listen Heyes, I'll read the whole story to you, maybe some of your questions will be answered.
"Outlaw Hannibal Heyes was gunned down in cold blood Monday afternoon, in the town of Kettledrum, by his long-time partner, friend and fellow outlaw, Jedediah "Kid" Curry. Deputy Charlie Graham, acting in the absence of Sheriff Blake King, witnessed the entire incident and considers himself lucky to be alive to tell the story. He cannot be sure what sparked the confrontation. Deputy Graham watched the drama unfold as Heyes and Curry faced off in the middle of the street at dusk on Monday evening. In the pouring rain, with both men still sitting on their horses, they drew their guns and fired. Curry got his shot in first, hitting Heyes straight in the chest and knocking him off his horse. It is believed that Heyes' shot may have managed to wound Curry, but this cannot be either proven or denied, since Curry took off for parts unknown immediately afterwards and has not been seen since. The body of Hannibal Heyes has been removed to an undisclosed location, pending positive identification. Anyone with information leading to the capture of Kid Curry is entitled to the $10,000 reward. Warning, Kid Curry is to be considered armed, dangerous and desperate. The reward will be paid for delivery of the notorious outlaw, dead or alive."
As Blanche folded the newspaper and laid it down next to him, Heyes sat there in stunned silence. Kid had shot him, but he wasn't dead. And he knew he hadn't fired a shot at the Kid. If Kid had read the headlines, or heard talk, he was eventually going to put two and two together and figure out that the drifter he'd shot that rainy afternoon was Heyes. He'd be liable to do something really stupid if he thought Heyes was dead and that he was the one responsible! And that newspaper article was like a signed death warrant. Every lawman, bounty hunter and their brother would be tracking the Kid, and they wouldn't be looking to bring him in alive. There was no way to let him know it was all a lie. Heyes raised his eyes to look at Blanche and asked quietly, "How long ago was that? How long have I been a prisoner here?"
"Let's see, that all happened on Monday, and today is Thursday, so you've been here for almost three days. A lot can happen in three days, Heyes."
Heyes remained silent. What else could he say? She was right. A lot could happen in three days, especially if it involved Kid Curry! Closing his eyes, Heyes sent a silent message to his partner, C'mon Kid, hang in there, I'm counting on you.
Kid Curry knew he had to get his eyes open. Then he had to figure out where he was. He couldn't remember much past riding in the rain, feeling cold and trying to make it to the next town. He was dry and warm, he could tell by the feeling of softness beneath him that he was lying in a bed, so he was inside. He tried swallowing. His mouth was so parched he felt like he could drink a whole river dry. "Water..."he needed water...
Footsteps, then the sound of water being poured convinced him. He really did need to get his eyes open. There was just one small problem. He was enjoying the warm, safe feeling and he knew once he opened his eyes that feeling would disappear. The footsteps came closer and stopped. He heard a voice say, "Here, Thaddeus, let me help you sit up, it will be easier for you to drink that way."
Thaddeus? He released a small sigh of relief. Well, at least the voice knew him by his alias. He nodded, unable to get the words out. Concentrating on listening to the voice, he did as he was told. He cocked his head, listening. The voice was familiar, comforting even, but it wasn't Heyes. Disappointed and curious, he felt strong hands helping him as he struggled to sit upright against the pillows behind him. He felt a glass being pushed into his hand and grasped it eagerly. Lifting it to his mouth he drank greedily, not stopping until it was empty. Kid slowly opened one eye, then the other. So far, so good. He breathed another sigh of relief and looked up. His face broke into a huge grin.
"Reverend Spencer!" he rasped. Then a look of dismay flashed across his face. "Don't tell me I rode all the way to Taos? Did I go clear to New Mexico?" His voice laced with disbelief, Kid looked anxiously around the room.
Spencer laughed at the expression on his friend's face. "Hello to you too, Thaddeus. And no, you didn't make it all the way to New Mexico. I'm here in Lordstown for the big revival. We figured that since they were having the big Fourth of July celebration, there'd be a large number of people gathered in one place already, and we'd take advantage of that and invite everyone to attend our revival. Tonight's our last night. We've been drawing a pretty good crowd."
"That's a right smart idea, Reverend. I'm glad there's lots of smart people around here too. How've you been? How've things been going for you?"
Hearing the genuine gladness in the young man's voice, Spencer smiled back at him. Thaddeus hadn't changed a bit.
"Let me fill that water glass up again for you and then we'll talk. There's some, news I think you might be interested in, I've got something to share with you." The preacher turned and poured another glass of water. Handing it to Kid, he moved a chair next to the bed and sat down, keeping his eyes on his hands folded in his lap.
As Kid drank the liquid, he began to have a bad feeling. Keeping his eyes fixed on the man at his side, he saw that Spencer's face had lost its smile; in fact, he looked downright serious. Handing him the empty glass, Kid glanced apprehensively at the Reverend, afraid to ask but instinctively knowing that the news somehow had something to do with Heyes.
Spencer saw the look. He knew these two men had a special bond of friendship and he would have to tread carefully. The Reverend smiled. "Well, first I need to tell you that I know who you really are. You did a lot of talking while you were unconscious and it seems that the people's philosopher also has the infamous quick draw of a well-known outlaw."
Releasing a drawn out sigh, Kid didn't bother to deny it. He and Heyes both had the annoyingly bad habit of talking in their sleep and spilling their guts when they were hurt or sick. It didn't surprise him at all and he knew the Reverend wouldn't hold it against them.
"Yeah, and a pretty big mouth too, it seems." He returned the smile and shook his head. He felt the knot slowly begin to unravel inside his stomach. The news hadn't been about Heyes after all. "It's not the first time," and with another deep sigh added, "and it's probably not the last time either. If we keep this up, pretty soon the whole territory's gonna know who we really are! I'm sorry we had to lie to you..."
"I understand, Thaddeus. You have a good reason for keeping it a secret. It doesn't change things between us a bit. By the way, how is Joshua doing? Did he manage to get himself shot up too? Or is that another one of your specialties?"
Kid grinned. "Well, it all kinda depends on who you're askin'. If you ask Joshua, he'll probably tell you I go lookin' for trouble and that trouble follows me around, but honestly, I think we're both pretty much even with catching stray bullets."
"Your wound isn't from catching a stray bullet Thaddeus, you were shot from behind." Spencer gave him a searching look as he continued. "Now just what did you do to deserve getting shot in the back?"
Not looking at Spencer, Kid took a moment before answering quietly. "I wasn't sure until now. There were...two shooters, and it could've been either one, but I was kinda hopin' it was the way you said." He looked up. "It's sorta complicated, Reverend. If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not talk about it anymore right now." He smiled to soften the harshness of his words.
Gently, Spencer prompted him. "And Joshua? Where is he hiding himself? Or are you two supposed to meet up somewhere?"
Kid turned to look at Spencer with worried eyes. "I wish I knew Reverend! We both were working separate jobs for about two weeks, then we were supposed to meet back up in Kettledrum-" Remembering what had happened, he stopped abruptly. "I...well, something happened instead and we never found each other." Kid shifted his eyes uneasily, ashamed to tell the preacher what had really happened.
"Kettledrum you say? Well now, that's not far from here. Maybe Joshua is still waiting there for you. Would you like me to send a telegraph to him? Let him know where you are? Tell him that you're OK?" Spencer continued to study the young man's face intently as he spoke.
Kid's face broke into a smile of relief. "Could you? That would be great if you would, Reverend. I need to let him know as soon as possible. See, he worries about me and then gets mad at me for making him worry. If he knows I'm OK, he can ride over here and we can all have a meal together, I know he'd really enjoy seeing you again."
Spencer looked down at the floor and prayed for guidance as he began speaking.
"Thaddeus, there's something else. After listening to you these past few minutes, I must admit I'm really confused. After you read the newspaper, maybe you can help straighten things out."
Puzzled by the man's words, Kid echoed, "Read the paper? Why? Straighten what things out? What's that got to do with me?" He watched as Spencer brought the paper back. The knots were back and twisting twice as bad. There was something wrong. Almost afraid to take the paper the Reverend was holding out, Kid forced his hand to obey. The headline seemed to leap out at him and he turned grief-stricken eyes to the Reverend. His voice barely audible, Kid whispered, "Reverend Spencer, can this really be true? Something happened in Kettledrum, but not this!"
"I know it's difficult Thaddeus, but continue reading the story. See if it makes any sense to you. You're going to have to trust me enough to tell me what really happened when you're done." Spencer held Kid's gaze steadily until finally the young outlaw sighed and nodded in agreement.
Kid stared at the paper in his hands. There was just no way... The drifter I shot, how could they think he was Hannibal Heyes? And how did anyone know I was Kid Curry? Kid held his head in his hands, trying to ignore the headache...he felt like there was something he was trying to remember but couldn't quite grasp it . He was still exhausted and finding out this news about Heyes... Why would anyone say that he'd shot and killed his own partner? Was it some loco plan to lure them into a trap? He turned a questioning glance towards Spencer, looking for answers, but as the preacher shook his head, Kid bent his head to continue reading,
Spencer silently watched the young outlaw as he read the paper and saw the flood of emotions that crossed his face. Pain, worry, confusion, disbelief. "I've been in contact with the deputy in Kettledrum, Thaddeus. He confirms everything in the paper. He says the body has positively been identified as Hannibal Heyes and that he himself watched Kid Curry shoot him. You said something happened while you were in Kettledrum. Can you talk about it, Thaddeus? We might be able to get to the bottom of this, if you can."
Kid raised his eyes to meet Spencer's. "Reverend, in all my years of outlawin' I've shot plenty of men and as long as I've been together with Heyes, I'm positive I'd know if I shot and killed him!" Taking a deep breath, he continued. "Everything in the paper sounds right, except it wasn't Heyes! It was just some drifter. And I didn't gun him down in cold blood!He had his gun out, already drawn, I thought he was gonna shoot me, so I fired at him. I only meant to wing him- you know, shoot the gun outta his hand, but then his horse spooked and...I guess the bullet must have caught him in the chest. I never meant to kill him, honest- it was an accident! Then when I saw the deputy standing behind him, with his gun out. I realized the drifter had just been tryin' to save my life. I don't know why he was, but I'd give anything to do it all over again. I was cold and tired, I just did it without thinking." Defiantly he added, "But I do know it wasn't Heyes...I wouldn't make no mistake like that!"
Even to his own ears, Kid knew he sounded defensive. And to add to his pain, there was that feeling again, like he was forgetting something important, but the more he tried to figure it out, the worse the pain got. He thought it had something to do with the shooting, but as another wave of pain caused him to grit his teeth, he realized he might have to wait a while to find out.
Spencer sat down and placed a hand gently on his arm to draw his attention. "Thaddeus, listen to me. Would there have been any reason for Heyes to be wearing a disguise? Has he ever done something like that before? Is there any possible way that drifter could have been Heyes?" At the look of pain that crossed the younger man's face, Spencer was sorry for having to put him through all this. He was only going by the information he'd received from the deputy and from his expression, it was obvious Thaddeus had not known.
"Reverend, are you saying-" Kid paused to take a deep breath. "Do you know something you're not tellin' me? Are you telling me that drifter- that it really could've been Heyes? That he was wearing a disguise and I shot him? That I really am the one that killed him?" Groaning he fell back against the pillows, his head throbbing fiercely and closed his eyes, wishing he had stayed unconscious for just a while longer.
"Well, that's what the deputy says. I'm beginning to think that maybe there's more to it. I wanted to hear your story first before I said anything, but when I asked who had identified the body-" As Kid winced, Spencer gently squeezed his arm. "I'm sorry Thaddeus, Deputy Graham told me it wasn't any of my business, but he assured me that it definitely was Hannibal Heyes. I told him I was a Reverend, had known Heyes and would like to perform the service. I was told the bod- that Heyes was being sent to Wyoming and they would take care of it there. Thaddeus, something's not right... there's something going on in Kettledrum and I think we need to find out what it is!"
At the mention of the deputy's name, an image had appeared briefly but as he tried to make it out, it faded. Another flash of pain jolted Kid. Trying to ignore it, he was barely able to get the words out of his mouth.
"Reverend, what if it's true? If Heyes was that drifter, wearin' some kinda disguise, then it was me! There isn't any reason for anyone to want me to think I had killed him, if I didn't, unless it's some kind of trap..." Kid closed his eyes and leaned back wearily. As he thought back over the reverend's words, he suddenly realized what Spencer had said. Kid's eyes flew open as he turned to glare at him. "And just what do you mean by we? There's no way I'm lettin' you get mixed up in this!"
Spencer smiled as he remembered another time Thaddeus had been angry with him. At least this time he was laying down in bed.
"Well, Kid, it looks like I'm already mixed up in this whether we like it or not. Besides, you're still recovering from a gunshot wound, your partner is missing and we've got a mystery to solve in Kettledrum. Would you deny a friend the chance to help out a friend, when that one friend owes the other so much?"
As Kid listened to Spencer's words, an answering grin appeared on his face. Heyes had taught him long ago when to throw in a losing hand. The reverend's next words however, wiped the smile clean off his face.
"Now we need a plan. Have you ever wondered what you'd look like with dark hair, Thaddeus?"