The hotel desk clerk looked up as the two men approached the desk. The dark-haired man had a makeshift bandage across his forehead and his face was covered in small cuts and bruises. His blond-haired partner had a swollen left eye, looked as if he had been in a fist-fight and was favouring his right side.
“Had a bit of a rough night, gentlemen?” the desk clerk inquired politely. Their eyes narrowed and they looked at him but neither man spoke. The desk clerk knew not to mention this again.
“Can we have our key?” Heyes asked and the man took it from the hook and handed it to him. “Can you send up a bath?”
“Of course sir.” He watched them as they walked towards the stairs and made their way up to the first floor, their movements stiff and careful, revealing how much they both ached.
Kid unbuckled his gun belt and hung it from the bed post. He placed his hat on the post too and then dropped onto his bed. He groaned and closed his eyes. Heyes removed the makeshift bandage from around his head and examined the wound in the mirror.
“I can’t remember the last time I ached so much,” Kid told his partner.
“Kid, I’ll toss you for who has the bath first,” Heyes said.
“Whose coin?” Kid asked, not opening his eyes.
“Yours,” Heyes assured him as he dropped onto his own bed. Kid realised how weak his partner was, to have agreed to that.
By the time the bath was brought to their room, both men were fast asleep. The desk clerk knocked gently, several times on the door and, receiving no reply, he quietly unlocked the door with his pass key. The clerk, and the men who had carried the bath up the stairs, saw the two men fast asleep on the bed. Turning the clerk put his finger to his lips to keep the men quiet. He ushered them out of the room and locked it behind them. Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones would summon him when they were awake. From the state they were in, when they arrived back today, he did not expect them to call for some time.
Frank McCloskey had left his brother at the doctor’s receiving treatment for his gun shot wound. He knew the sheriff would be around soon and asking awkward questions. Tom was out cold so he wouldn’t be telling anything just yet. If Frank made himself scarce, he could avoid having to explain what had happened for a while longer. He had unfinished business with the men who had shot his brother and a friend had already informed him they had been seen riding back into town. Frank McCloskey entered the hotel lobby with anger in his eyes and a shot gun under his arm. Spotting the bald headed clerk behind the desk, he headed towards him.
“I’m looking for Thaddeus Jones. He stayin’ here?” Frank asked, not expecting to wait long for an answer. The clerk looked past McCloskey to the large man standing behind him, the man Frank had brought with him. Bill Dixon was over six feet tall with broad shoulders and huge muscular arms. He had scruffy black hair and beard and narrow eyes. He towered over his brother-in–law and Frank knew the desk clerk would not want to tangle with Bill. He had brought him along to help him deal with Smith and Jones, but if he scared the desk clerk into telling him what he wanted to know, that was a bonus. The clerk could not think of any reason why McCloskey would want Mr. Jones.
“Mr. Jones has retired to his room,” the clerk told them. “I don’t think he would want to be disturbed.”
“What room?” McCloskey asked. The clerk hesitated.
“I don’t think I should…”
“He asked ya what room,” Dixon said and gave the clerk such a menacing look that the man pointed to the stairs.
“Room f..four,” the clerk stuttered. The two men headed for the stairs.
“This is it,” Frank said as they stood outside room four. “I guess I could knock,” he stated and Dixon smiled as Frank stood back to give his brother-in-law room. With one well-aimed kick the lock was broken and the door flew open. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were instantly awake and scrambling for their guns, expecting to be facing a sheriff or a posse. Instead they came face to face with Frank McCloskey, a giant of a man they did not know and McCloskey’s shotgun. The ex-outlaws froze. Kid looked down the barrel of the weapon as it was pointed in his face.
“It would give me real pleasure t’pull the trigger right now,” McCloskey told him as that icy blue stare focussed on him once more. “Trouble is, folks know I was comin’ up here and the sheriff ain’t no fool. Still if ya give me a reason, I’d just hafta shoot.” Kid eased back onto the bed, his hands raised. Heyes was already on his feet. McCloskey motioned to the armchair and Heyes sat. McCloskey looked pleased with himself. He had both men at his mercy; exactly where he wanted them. Bill Dixon pushed the door closed and stood in front of it, blocking the exit.
“Git up!” McCloskey ordered and Kid got slowly to his feet, his eyes fixed on the older man and the gun he held. “M’brother’s over at the doctor’s cuz a you,” Frank said.
“He’d be at the undertaker’s if you’d had your way,” Kid replied and Heyes closed his eyes. Why did Kid have to goad the man? Heyes caught Kid’s eyes and gave his head an almost imperceptible shake. He sent Kid an unspoken message. Don’t push it Kid, you can’t back it up. Heyes glared as his partner who pretended not to notice. McCloskey raised the shotgun towards the blond man, his finger moved on the trigger. His eyes met Kid’s. If he had his gun, Kid would surely have drawn by now. Instead he could do nothing but wait to see what the other man did. The weapon was aimed at his head.
“What do you want Mr. McCloskey?” Heyes asked, hoping to distract the man from his partner. McCloskey lowered the shotgun but kept his eyes firmly on Kid’s before finally turning to face Heyes.
“I want t’repay ya for the way ya’ve treated m’family,” Frank told him. “Want t’repay ya real good. I gotta reputation in this town and folks know not to mess with me or mine. They’ll be askin’ who shot Tom and what I inten’ t’do about it. Don’t wanna disappoint the town folks do we now?” He beckoned to Dixon. “Tie ‘em up Bill.” The big man stepped forward and pulled two leather straps from his pocket. He advanced on Hannibal Heyes.
“Hell we ain’t gonna kill ya. Jus’ let folks see what happens if ya cross us.” McCloskey told them both as Dixon tied Heyes wrists together.
“You think that’ll impress ‘em?” Kid asked disdainfully and McCloskey hit him across the face with the back of his hand. Kid staggered backwards and Heyes rose in his seat only to have Dixon lay and firm hand on his shoulder and push him back down. Heyes had no weapon and Dixon turned his gun on him, holding it close to Heyes’ face. There was nothing he could do to help his partner. Kid was normally the quiet one, almost too reticent at times. What was it about this man that made him so gabby? Damn it Kid, will you just shut up? Heyes thought. It was then that McCloskey noticed the blood stains on Kid’s shirt for the first time.
“Well now what happened to ya?” he asked pushing the shot gun into Kid’s stomach. Kid flinched as the barrel pressed against the claws marks. McCloskey smiled and pushed the barrel into the blond man a little harder enjoying his pained reaction. “That hurt boy?” Kid said nothing, which angered the older man. McCloskey shoved the barrel into Kid’s abdomen once more and Kid fell back onto the bed.
“I asked ya a question,” McCloskey told him. He pushed the barrel into Kid again and Heyes looked into Kid’s eyes and knew how much the gun was hurting his friend. “That hurtin’ ya?”
“No,” Kid lied through gritted teeth and McCloskey rammed the gun barrel into Kid causing the blond gunslinger to cry out in pain as the scarred flesh was torn once more.
“I sure don’t like people lyin’ t’me,” McCloskey told him and gave a triumphant smile as fresh blood began to appear on the front of Kid’s shirt. Frank McCloskey ripped open Kid’s shirt revealing the makeshift bandages and the bloody claw marks. “Whoa! That bear get ya?” Blue eyes fixed McCloskey’s with a murderous icy gaze.
“Bet ya’d like to kill me wouldn’t ya?” McCloskey goaded knowing he had Kid’s attention. “Yeah, if I was to leave this six gun on the bed, I bet ya’d grab it and try to kill me, wouldn’t ya?” He met Kid’s eyes and Heyes saw the anger welling up in Kid.
“Thaddeus,” Heyes cautioned not sure if his partner was listening to him. McCloskey took his gun from his holster and placed it next to Kid. Slowly he stepped back giving the blond man the chance to reach for the gun. Heyes hoped Kid would realise it was a trick, an attempt to goad him into reaching so that McCloskey could shoot him and claim it was a fair fight. It was at that moment that Heyes realised the gun was probably not even loaded.
“Thaddeus don’t. Don’t do it,” Heyes said and Dixon yanked him backwards.
“Why don’t ya shut up?” the big man advised.
Kid said nothing but he looked at the gun on the quilt beside him and his fingers longed to wrap around the handle and gently squeeze the trigger. Heyes watched his partner’s face and waited, praying silently that Kid would not touch the gun. Then he saw the change come over Kid’s face and Heyes’ knew it would be all right. Kid Curry looked at Frank McCloskey and smiled, the chill having gone out of the blue.
“I’ll pass on that if you don’t mind,” Kid said and McCloskey held his gaze for a moment before realising this man was not going to do as he hoped.
“Suit yer self.” He turned to his brother-in-law. “Bill let’s get ‘em outta here.” Kid met Heyes’ gaze and saw the relief in his partner’s eyes. Heyes gave his head a shake sending his partner a message that said, ‘I don’t believe you sometimes.’
Once they were both tied up, Dixon dragged each man to his feet and they were pushed out of the room and along the corridor towards the first floor exit. There was a door at the end of the corridor that opened onto to a set of wooden stairs leading to an alley at the side of the hotel. It was a fire escape of sorts although it had more use as a swift exit for a man about to be caught in the wrong room by his wife, girlfriend or an irate husband. At the bottom of the stairs was the buckboard, the horses waiting patiently.
Dixon dumped them unceremoniously in the back of the buckboard and threw a greasy old tarpaulin over the top of them, before climbing onboard to take the reins. The buckboard moved off heading out of town. The partners were shaken about in the back, feeling every jolt as the wheels hit a rock or bump in the road. Eventually, after what seemed like days instead of hours, they arrived back at the mine. The McCloskey family seemed to like that as a place to deal with their enemies. It was quiet, remote, and in the tunnels the sound of the occasional scream bothered no one. Heyes and Curry were dragged down the tunnel deeper into the mine. A series of lanterns burned to light their way. Huge shadows danced ominously across the walls as the four men moved deeper into the mountainside. Eventually they entered a small chamber where a shaft plunged to unknown depths. A ladder disappeared into the darkness below. Boxes were piled in one corner and before he had time to study his surroundings Heyes was pushed into a corner and shoved behind the pile of boxes worryingly labelled ‘Dynamite’. Heyes did not know if they were full or not, but the way their luck was going he suspected they were. Pushed to his knees, Heyes’ hands were then tied to a metal ring fastened into the tunnel wall. Heyes heard a scuffle and Kid did some pretty good cursing. He assumed Kid was resisting whatever McCloskey had in store for him but the boxes obscured his view, so he could only guess at that. There had been the sound of punches but it had fallen ominously silent now. He hoped Kid was okay.
Without a backward glance, McCloskey and Dixon left them there and the sounds of their footsteps grew dim as they hurried away. Heyes pulled on the metal ring trying to free himself but to no avail. Dixon had bound him tight and Heyes was not going to free himself easily.
“Kid? Kid?” Heyes called. He could not see his partner. Why wasn’t his friend answering him? Was he hurt? Unconscious? “Kid?” Heyes called again.
“What?” came a somewhat terse reply.
“You okay?” No reply. “Kid? You okay?” There was a heavy sigh.
“What’s wrong?” Heyes asked knowing something was, even if Kid hadn’t said so.
“Nothin’,” his partner replied in a tone that told Heyes the opposite was true. Heyes twisted round until he lay on his side. His arms were at full stretch but he could just about peer out from behind one of the boxes. Finally, he got a view of his friend. Kid Curry was standing against the wall, his arms raised above his head, his hands tied together and fastened to another metal ring, this time set high in the wall. Heyes thought the blond haired man looked ready to drop which was a poor choice of words because Kid was standing on a tiny wooden ledge at the edge of a shaft. If he took one step forward Kid would be hanging by his wrists above the chasm of indeterminate depth. Kid had no wish to plummet, into the darkness, to his death and so was struggling to maintain a semblance of a foot hold on the inches wide piece of wood beneath his feet.
“Don’t move,” Heyes instructed. “Keep as still as you can. Hang on.”
“Gee Heyes, I never would have thought of that,” Kid replied sarcastically, giving his partner a look that suggested he was ready to flatten someone and it might just be his friend.
“I’ll get to you Kid,” Heyes assured him. “Just hang on.”
“Heyes will you stop sayin’ that. I can’t do nothin’ but hang on!” Kid complained and at that moment his foot slipped and he felt himself fall.
“Kid!” Heyes cried as his friend dropped a couple of feet. Kid cried out as his arms were yanked painfully in their sockets. He hung in mid air, swinging slightly, as the ropes about his wrists took his weight. The ropes began to cut into his flesh as they tightened, opening the wounds caused by the rawhide. The metal ring groaned as it scraped against the rock wall. Kid managed to get his feet on the wall to steady himself and found just enough of a rocky ledge, to support him, enabling him to grab hold of the ring with his fingers. As his hands grasped the metal the rocks beneath his feet broke off and he was hanging free once more only this time he had his hands around the ring.
Hannibal Heyes pulled on the ropes that held him, then on the metal ring before cursing himself for his own stupidity. He reached into his boot and withdrew a small thin knife. Thank God no one ever seemed to check his boots! With a few careful movements he was able to manoeuvre the knife into a position to cut through the ropes that bound his wrists. He sawed perilously close to the flesh on his wrists but eventually the threads began to break one at a time. When the last fibre was cut through Heyes pulled his wrists free and was quickly on his feet heading towards his partner. Kid did not say a word, he just clung onto the ring, hanging above the shaft, his legs swinging in the air and he hoped Heyes would think of someway to help him. The metal ring groaned again and Kid felt a sickening creak as the rock around the ring began to come loose from the wall.
“Heyes, if you’re thinkin’ of some brilliant way t’get me outta this, could you do it a bit faster?” Kid pleaded desperately.
“I’m workin’ on it Kid,” the dark-haired man replied.
“Well work faster! I don’t think I can hold on much longer!”
“Boy you sure are gettin’ proddy,” Heyes complained.
Hannibal Heyes looked around and spotted in the shadows, a large wooden plank a few feet away. Heaving it towards the shaft he pushed and dragged it across the opening until it was close to his friend. Kid swung his legs and got his feet onto the plank, finally able to take the weight off his wrists.
“Thanks,” Kid said with relief and gave his partner a grateful smile. Heyes climbed onto the plank, took hold of his knife and, reaching up, began to saw through the ropes at Kid’s wrists. “How do we keep gettin’ into things like this, Heyes?” Kid asked and his partner gave a shake of his head.
“I don’t know Kid. I wouldn’t believe what happens to us if I read it in a dime novel.”
“I thought they made all that stuff up. Now I’m not so sure.”
Kid was breathing heavily as he recovered from the adrenaline rush brought on by the thought of plunging hundreds of feet to the impact of an unpleasant death. As Heyes worked on the ropes, the partners found themselves face to face. Not knowing where to look and not wanting to be in a position to rub noses with Heyes, Kid turned away. Heyes smiled at his friend’s discomfort but his smile was short lived as the board on which both men now stood began to creak and crack.
“Cut faster!” Kid instructed his friend.
“I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’,” Heyes told him as the knife finally broke through the first rope. Something in the plank snapped and they felt the board give a little. Heyes clung to his partner.
“Heyes!” Kid hissed impatiently and the ex-outlaw continued to work on the ropes. There was another snap of wood. The board sank lower and the knife cut Kid’s wrist. Heyes was horrified to see blood run from the cut.
“Sorry Kid,” he said but his partner was no longer concerned for his own safety.
“Heyes, get off the board,” Kid ordered.
“No.” Heyes’ tone was defiant.
“Get off or we’ll both fall,” Kid told him.
“Shut up, I’m concentratin’,” Heyes told his partner as he continued to work on the ropes, trying to ignore the thin stream of blood that ran down Kid’s wrist.
“Damn it Heyes, get off, now. You tried your best, there’s no more time.” His partner did not move. The board began to bow in the middle, creaking continuously, and they heard another snap. “Heyes, please. Save yourself.”
“Yak, yak, yak. No wonder I can’t concentrate,” the dark-haired man scolded.
Finally, Kid felt the last binding loosen and he pulled his hands free of the metal ring. Without a word both men grabbed the other and jumped. They landed on the dirt floor as the plank went crashing into the darkness.
They lay for a moment on the floor. Their breathing heavy; their thoughts on what could have been. Kid slowly sat up and patted his friend on the back.
“Thanks partner,” he said and for Heyes no more words were needed. He sat up and gave Kid a smile. Kid shook his head. “You’re crazy you know that? You could have been killed.”
“So could you. I figured you didn’t really want me to stop cuttin’.” He gave Kid a smile nodding as he did so.
“Can we get outta here?” Kid asked hopefully.
“Sure, Kid, let’s go.” Heyes got to his feet and offered a helping hand to his young cousin.
Kid noticed that Heyes was still limping as they made their way towards the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. He must have sprained it badly when he fell down the hill and the jump in the tunnel had not helped, but typically, his partner wasn’t complaining.
They looked cautiously out of the tunnel’s entrance. No one appeared to be about. There were no horses. No buckboard. It looked as if McCloskey and Dixon had gone. Moving cautiously into the open they headed once more for the trees and the path they had ridden along earlier that day; the path that led back to town. They had no choice but to walk and if McCloskey and Dixon returned, they would be hidden from view.
“You gonna be alright on that foot?” Kid asked and Heyes stopped in his tracks.
“No Kid I’m not. You got another one I could use?” Kid stared at his partner momentarily confused by his reply. When Kid did not say anything Heyes smiled and shook his head. “Forget it Kid. I’ll be fine. It hurts a little but what choice do I have? Unless, you’re offering to carry me?”
“Nope, not offerin’ that.” Kid stated.
“And after I just save you from a fall to your death,” Heyes said indignantly.
“Well you know I’m grateful Heyes but not enough to carry you all the way t’town.”
As dusk began to fall, they walked in companionable silence, ever watchful for any sign of their captors returning. Hearing a sudden noise Kid put a hand on Heyes’ shoulder and they stood still. Both men listened. Kid heard Heyes breathing next to him but the sound that had caught his attention had stopped.
“What was it?” Heyes asked, his voice little more than a whisper..
“Don’t know. Jus’, heard somethin’,” Kid assured him in equally hushed tones.
“Maybe you’re jus’ a little nervous?” his partner suggested.
“No Heyes, I’m a lot nervous,” Kid told him, unable to hide the irritation he felt. “We’ve got no guns, no horses, we’re both hurt and we’re miles from town. There could be anyone around here. Another bear maybe. A mountain lion. Hell we could even run into some outlaws.” There was a sudden commotion in the bushes in front of them and both men froze. Kid slowly reached for a large stick that lay on the ground, arming himself against who knew what; the memory of the bear attack still fresh in his mind. Heyes stood beside him ready to face whatever lay in wait for them. They held their breath and waited. A family of raccoons scurried out of the undergrowth, across the path in front of them and disappeared behind a fallen tree. Kid let out a long breath and rested on the stick. Heyes rested a hand on his partner’s shoulder.
“Well, they had masks on. I guess they could’a been outlaws,” he said. “D’you think you’d recognise them if you saw them again, Kid?” He grinned at the blond-haired man.
“Very funny Heyes. You know what I meant.” The blond man walked off along the track, leaving his smiling friend, to limp quickly, to catch up to him.
They walked along the path each lost in their own thoughts. Once they were far enough away from the mine, they would join the road into town. It was relatively well used during the daytime and, even as evening drew near, there was still the distinct possibility that they would be able to get a ride back to Valentine.
Another scurrying sound, in the bushes up ahead, caught Kid’s attention. He stopped. Kid held up his hand for his partner to halt too. Heyes was tired, his foot ached and he just wanted to get back to town. He was feeling a little irritated at his partner’s insistence that they check out every rustle of leaves or snap of a twig, however much he knew Kid had their safety in mind.
“Now what?” he asked gruffly.
“Don’t know, heard somethin’,” Kid told him in a whisper.
“What you got this time? Another family of racoons? Or maybe a whole gang of turkeys waitin’ t’rob the noon stage?” The dark-haired man ventured into the bushes. He waved his arms about and turned back to face his partner. “There’s nothin’ here okay? Can we get goin’?” He saw Kid’s expression change and the blond man began to shake his head and held up his hands trying to stop Heyes from shaking the bush.
“Heyes don’t….” and then there was the smell. A smell you wanted to run as far away from as possible. A smell as distinct as it was awful. Like a mixture of very bad cheese mixed with the worst case of unwashed socks. A stomach-churningly awful smell. Only your best friend would stick with you if you were covered in a smell like that. Kid was reconsidering his position as Heyes’ best friend.
The skunk walked indignantly away from Hannibal Heyes. Its black and white fur seemed ruffled at having been so rudely disturbed during a pleasant nap. For his part, the ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang was trying to maintain some form of dignity despite the fact that his back had just been sprayed by the animal.
“Oh God,” Heyes said in a quiet voice.
“Phew, Heyes, I tried to warn ya,” Kid said walking backwards away from his friend, his hand over his nose and mouth as he did so. “I think you’re gonna hafta stand down wind o’me now.”
“I gotta get outta these clothes,” Heyes stated.
“And into what?” Kid asked.
“Your shirt, give me your shirt,” his partner pleaded, beckoning Kid closer.
“I’m not givin’ you my shirt, you smell like a skunk.” Kid took two steps backwards.
“I can’t stay in these clothes!” Heyes yelled. Kid looked at him.
“Well if you take ‘em off you’re gonna hafta go nekkid.”
“I can’t walk around naked!”
“Well you ain’t wearin’ my clothes smellin’ like that,” Kid told him. Heyes looked at his friend.
“Fine partner you turn out t’be,” he moaned as he unbuttoned his shirt and then pulled it over his head. He threw it into the bushes. “Y’know if this had happened to you I’d…”
“You’d what?” Kid asked, interested to know what Heyes would do in his place.
“Well I’d be more helpful that’s for sure!” he pulled his Henley top off and threw that away too. Heyes shivered, his skin covered in goose-bumps. The air in the woods was cool and night was not far off. He folded his arms across his chest.
“Gonna take yer pants off now?” Kid asked derisively but Heyes just glared at him. “I mean you plann’ on freezin’ t’death out here?” He walked to where Heyes had thrown his Henley. Kid picked it up with fingertips, held it at arms length and threw it back at his partner. Heyes caught it, unsure what he was supposed to do.
“Put it back on Heyes. You stink anyway, no need to catch yer death.” Heyes smiled at his partner but the smell on the Henley made him retch.
“I can’t Kid.” He threw it away. The blond man had a sudden thought.
“Water. We hafta find some water. You could wash it off. How far away’s that river?” Kid asked.
“Too far,” Heyes told him.
“Well maybe there’s a stream around here. Did you see one when you rode out?”
“No,” Heyes retorted, “But then I didn’t see a skunk either!” Heyes yelled fixing him with dark brown eyes. Then an idea came into his head. “No wait, tomatoes!” Heyes cried.
“What?” Kid asked.
“Tomatoes kill the smell. Remember, when Kyle caught the skunk that time? And he got sprayed?” Heyes looked hopefully at his partner who was still keeping his distance from his friend.
“Yeah I remember, ‘cept no one could tell what part of the stink was skunk and what was jus’ naturally Kyle,” Kid reminded him.
“Well we used tomatoes to clean ‘im up. Get the smell off,” Heyes said.
“I know.” Kid nodded. “But we don’t have any tomatoes, do we?” Heyes looked a little disappointed.
“I know Kid. I just meant when we get back to town we can get some and that will kill the smell.”
“You don’t think they’ll actually let you into town smellin’ like that do ya?” Kid asked as they began to walk along the track again, happy to be upwind of his partner. “Oh no. They’ll be hoards of angry villagers wielding pitch forks, yelling ‘Keep away’.” Heyes stopped and stared at his partner. Kid looked back.
“Hoards of angry villagers? Wielding pitch forks? You really have been reading dime novels haven’t ya?” He shook his head and pushed passed Kid who stepped back as if hit by lightening.
“Downwind Heyes! You gotta keep down wind!”
They saw the buckboard coming long before the man driving the team spotted them. On Kid’s insistence Heyes stood several yards away, downwind and for once agreed to let Kid do the talking. Kid stepped into the road and waved the man and his team to a halt. Samuel Williams picked up his shotgun. He rested the weapon across his lap. Just in case he needed it.
“Howdy!” Kid smiled as he stepped to the side of the team. “You headin’ into Valentine?” The man was in his early thirties, with dark hair and a muscular body. He looked like the farmer he was. In the fading light, Sam Williams looked suspiciously at the young blond man standing before him. The front of his shirt was covered in blood, he looked as if he had taken a recent beating and his clothes were dusty and torn. However the holster, of the gun belt he wore, was empty and as he stood in front of him with his hands raised he did not appear to pose a threat. There was a dark–haired young man standing some way off. He smiled and waved but came no closer. The man was naked to the waist, which puzzled Sam.
“I’m goin’ into Valentine,” he said. “You boys want a ride?”
“We’d really ‘ppreciate that,” Kid told him.
“What’s wrong with your friend? Sam asked suspiciously. “Why’s he over there? And why ain’t he wearin’ a shirt?”
“Well sir there’s a bit of a problem,” Kid began.
“Its Sam,” the young farmer told him.
“Pleased to meet you Sam,” Kid said holding out his hand, which the farmer shook. “I’m Thaddeus Jones and that’s my partner over there, Joshua Smith. Joshua had a bit of an accident.” Sam looked concerned.
“Only his pride, Sam.” Kid smiled. “He got sprayed by a skunk.” The farmer recoiled.
“Oh,” he said now wondering if offering the men a lift had been such a good idea after all.
“It’s alright, he’ll stay down wind. Sit right at the back so you won’t hafta smell ‘im.” Kid could see Sam wasn’t so sure. He gave the man a reassuring smile. “Whaddya say?” he beckoned to Heyes before the man could change his mind. He was a decent man and did not want to leave the two men so far from town.
“I guess it’d be okay. If he sat way at the back.”
“Oh he will Sam, no worries there.” Heyes approached and gave Sam a sheepish smile, self consciously covering his chest with his hands. The man nodded a greeting and then put a hand to his face to shield his nose from the smell.
“You get on the back, Joshua. Stay well away from Mr. Williams here.” Kid’s tone was patronising and Heyes gave him a look that told his friend in no uncertain terms that they would be talking about this later. Kid had a feeling the conversation could be painful if he didn’t handle it just right. Heyes climbed onto the back of the buckboard as Kid climbed onto the seat beside the farmer. As the horses started Heyes had to hang on tight as he was bumped and jostled about. Kid had his back to his friend so was fortunate not to see the look Heyes gave him.
An overpowering smell reached the nose of the hotel desk clerk as he replaced Mrs. Witherspoon’s documents in the hotel safe. He closed the safe and turned to see Mr. Jones at the desk. Getting to his feet the clerk gave the young blond man a smile as he discreetly placed a hand over his nose. Then he spotted Mr. Smith standing naked to the waist some way off, trying to hide himself beside a large potted plant. He looked embarrassed.
“Ah gentlemen, I wondered when you’d be back,” the desk clerk said greeting them with a professional smile. He took in Kid’s grubby, battered and bruised appearance. Mr. Smith drew nearer and the smell grew more powerful. Mr. Jones moved away from his friend. The clerk took a step backwards. He knew exactly what that smell was and that it was emanating from the dark-haired man but with true professionalism he made no reference to it. He coughed as his eyes began to water. “Oh my,” he rasped as the smell took his breath away.
An elderly couple approached the reception desk, noticing with horror Heyes’ state of undress and then, catching the faintest whiff of the two men at the desk, they scurried quickly away.
“That bath perhaps?” the clerk asked looking at Mr. Smith as he handed the room key to Mr. Jones.
“And send up as many cans of tomatoes as you’ve got,” Kid told him propelling Heyes towards the stairs.
“I’ll get right on it!” the clerk called out and scuttled off to the kitchen.
As he approached their room the desk clerk could hear the sound of the partner’s arguing. He could not make out what they were saying but they were clearly not happy with one another.
“If I had a gun…” but Heyes didn’t finish what he was going to say. Kid stopped and looked at his partner.
“What? C’mon Heyes. If you had a gun what?” Kid demanded to know, his hands placed firmly on his hips.
“I’d shoot ya!” Heyes told him.
“Well fine go right ahead. Hell it’s about the only thing that hasn’t happened to me in the last twenty four hours. I’ve been beaten up, attacked by a bear, shot at and strung up and all because of you and your big mouth. Silver tongued indeed!”
“Me? You’re blamin’ all of this on me?” Heyes shouted indignantly.
“Yes I am!” Kid yelled. “You’re the one that had to jinx us. Had to say how great things were goin’.”
“What about you? If you hadn’t gone t’help McCloskey’s sister we wouldn’t be in this mess!” They were nose to nose and Kid began to realise that was not a good place to be with Heyes smelling the way he did but he did not want to back down now.
“I told ya, I was brought up t’ help a woman.”
“Yeah and don’t we know it. How many times has your need to help a woman, got us in ta trouble?”
“I don’t know. I ain’t been countin’.” Kid retorted at full volume. There was a knock at the door.
“What?” they yelled in unison and the desk clerk put his head hesitantly around the door.
“Your bath sir?” he said and both men visibly relaxed.
“Please, bring it in,” Heyes said politely and two men carried the bath into the room before disappearing off to get the water. The desk clerk placed a can of tomatoes on the dresser and left too. Hannibal Heyes looked at his partner.
“This ain’t over,” Kid said.
“With you, it never is,” Heyes muttered as he picked up the can of tomatoes.
“I said with you it never is. You’re so stubborn. I never met a man as stubborn as you. Just once, can’t you let a woman manage on her own? Oh no, you hafta be the white knight and…” he stopped as he saw the look on Kid’s face. “What is it Kid?”
“Just somethin’ I‘ve been meanin’ to do.” He advanced on his partner.
“Kid?” Heyes stepped back. “Kid?” And then the punch hit him.
When the men brought up the first of the bath water, they found Mr. Jones sitting in the chair by the window trying to stop his nose bleeding. They set about their work and swiftly left the room.
“I didn’t hit you that hard,” the dark-haired man said with concern as he handed his partner a handkerchief. Kid fixed Heyes with a look.
“’ard enuff,” came the blond man’s muffled reply.
“You turned into my hand. I wasn’t aimin’ for your nose,” the ex-outlaw leader said defensively. He sat on the bed and began to pull off his boots. He stopped and looked at his blond friend.
“You alright?” Heyes asked his friend with concern.
“I think ya broke ma nose,” Kid told him.
“No I didn’t and you shouldn’t of hit me,” Heyes told him.
“Had to hit someone,” Kid replied. Heyes looked at his young cousin, his swollen eye, the bruises on his face, the blood covered shirt, and the scabs on his wrists where the bindings had cut deep. Kid was in a sorry state.
“It’s okay Kid. We’ve just had a bad couple of days. I promise you we’ll leave Valentine tomorrow.” Heyes paused and Kid looked across at him. “After we pay a visit to Frank McCloskey.” Kid smiled.
“Good. I thought you’d forgotten about him.” Kid looked at his feet and did not meet his partner’s gaze when he spoke. “I’m sorry I hit you. I was jus’ feelin’ cranky. I get like that when I’m hungry, you know that.”
“Hungry? You’re thinkin’ about food?” Heyes asked incredulously and Kid’s head shot up.
“Well I didn’t get any breakfast,” Kid informed his friend.
Heyes smiled and shook his head.
The hotel staff returned and began to fill the bath as another man appeared with several more cans of tomatoes and a can opener. They worked as fast as they could anxious to get as far away as possible from the man who smelled like a skunk.
Standing up Heyes approached his friend wanting to check on him but Kid screwed up his bloody nose. “Downwind Heyes I told ya, stay downwind!”
The following morning the two men rode out to the mine searching for McCloskey and Dixon. Their faces were bruised, each had an eye that was slightly swollen and Kid could still smell the skunk despite Heyes’ protestations that the smell had gone. He had used every last can of tomatoes that were sent up to their room, scrubbed himself until he felt raw, and Kid swore blind, the smell was still there. From the looks they had received, at the dining room that morning, as they sat down for breakfast, Kid knew he was right.
There was no one at the mine when they got there but as they rode back towards town they heard approaching horses and turned off the path to watch who rode by. As if on cue Frank McCloskey and Bill Dixon appeared with the buckboard on their way to check on the two men they had left overnight. Cautiously the two ex-outlaws followed them.
“Mornin’ boys,” Kid Curry said cheerfully as he strode towards them. His six-gun pointed directly at them as they came out of the cabin. Both men looked surprised to see him. “Put your hands up.” He gestured with his gun and they raised their hands slowly. Hannibal Heyes strolled casually out from the side of the cabin.
“Hey fellas,” he said as if greeting old friends. He walked up to McCloskey and took his gun from his holster. McCloskey caught a faint smell of skunk on the man before him and screwed up his nose. Heyes removed Dixon’s gun and walked back to stand beside his partner. Heyes tucked one gun into his belt and then handed the second to Kid who did the same.
“Frank, I want you to turn around so that my partner can tie your hands together,” Kid instructed
“What you gonna do to us?” Frank asked.
“You’ll see,” Heyes told him and McCloskey did as he was told, lowering his arms when Heyes instructed him to. Heyes tied the man’s wrists together and then Kid repeated his instructions to Dixon. When the men were tied up, they led them to the buckboard which stood beside the cabin. Heyes threw back the tarpaulin.
“Get in,” he said. The two men exchanged confused looks.
“Why?” McCloskey asked.
“Where you takin’ us?” Dixon wanted to know.
“Jus’ do as your told,” Kid said in a tone that few men would argue with. With some help from Heyes, the men climbed up onto the buckboard.
“Lay down,” Heyes instructed them and with puzzled looks, they did as he commanded. Heyes gave them another cheery smile as he pulled the tarpaulin over them.
“Hey what’s goin’ on?” McCloskey called out but they decided to ignore him.
“Well go on Heyes,” Kid said as they strode out of earshot of the other men. “You know what to do now.” Heyes looked at his friend.
“Suddenly this isn’t such a good idea,” he admitted.
“Well it was your plan,” his blond-haired partner pointed out helpfully.
“Yeah, I know but although it grieves me to say it Kid,” he said in hushed tones. “This may not be one of my better ones. What if I can’t find it? D’you want to do it?”
“No Heyes, I don’t. Now git goin’,” Kid urged.
“Maybe we could leave the last part out?” Heyes suggested hopefully.
“I like that part and so will you when it’s done.” Reluctantly Heyes walked towards his horse, mounted and rode off. Kid smiled as his friend disappeared from view. It was approximately thirty minutes later that Hannibal Heyes rode back to the mine. He found Kid sitting beneath the shade of the trees twirling his gun casually. Kid got to his feet as Heyes pulled his horse to a halt. The dark-haired man climbed swiftly out of the saddle and walked towards his partner. He carried a sack.
“You got it?” Kid asked as Heyes walked towards him.
“Yeah, I got it. Don’t see why I had to do it,” Heyes said disgruntled.
“Because it was your idea,” Kid said patting him on the back. “An’ I told you Heyes, you still got the smell on you.” Kid gave him a brief smile.
“And I nearly had it again,” Heyes replied. “Stupidest plan I ever had.” The dark-haired man carried the sack towards the buckboard. Kid lifted the tarpaulin and the two men beneath peered out at them, momentarily blinded by the sudden bright light.
“Hey fellas,” Kid said.
“We got you a little goin’ away present,” Heyes told them. “Wanted to show you how much we appreciate all you’ve done to us over the last couple of days.” He lifted the sack, placed it beside them and shook out the contents. Kid gave them a smile and pulled the tarpaulin back over the men.
As they walked back towards their horses, they heard the men cry out. Kid looked at his partner.
“You think they smell somethin’?” Kid asked with a smile.
“I think they do,” Heyes replied giving his partner a broad grin.
“I told you you’d like that part. It shouldn’t take them too long to get loose, should it?” Kid asked.
“Oh no, I didn’t do the knots too tight. An hour at most,” Heyes assured him. Kid considered this, seemingly reassured. “Of course that’s an hour with that smell.”
“You think some of that smell will rub off on them?”
“I sure do hope so Kid.”
“O’course if it does, there ain’t gonna be a can of tomatoes left in town. Not after you used ‘em all last night.”
The partners grinned at each other.
“Real nice of you to leave ‘em your old shirt Heyes,” Kid said as he eased himself into the saddle. The dark-haired man smiled as he pulled himself up onto his own horse. “I still think you shoulda gone back for the skunk instead.” The blond man adjusted his hat, shielding his eyes from the sun.
“Try and catch a skunk? Now that really would be a stupid plan,” Heyes told him and they spurred their horses away from the mine.