The Prodigal Son
By Lana Coombe
Intense, blue eyes focused intently on the large winged bird circling languidly above in the clear azure sky. One eye squinted closed, in contemplation, before the man lowered his gaze from the glare of the sun. Tilting his wide brimmed brown hat, further over his face, Kid Curry urged his horse forward to catch up with his partner Hannibal Heyes.
Heyes rode, chin on his chest, head bobbing with the motion of his horse.
“D’ya reckon the next town’s much further, Heyes? Don’t fancy another night sleepin’ out. It gets pretty chilly in these parts at night and I’m tired of wakin’ up cold and stiff!” Curry shook his head and added “… and hungry too!” When he got no response from his partner, Curry called his name again.
“Hmmm?” came the distinctly lackluster reply.
“You ain’t sleepin’ in your saddle, are you?” Curry asked, the humor of this thought clear in his voice.
Heyes’ head immediately snapped up.
“Course not! I was just deep in thought,” came the terse response.
Curry allowed himself a smile before continuing, “What’s got you so thoughtful? The beautiful scenery? The joy of being alive on a day like this. Or maybe it’s our lack of funds or the possibility that we’re completely lost in the middle of nowhere.”
“Actually, I was considering how difficult it would be to find myself a new partner.” Heyes remained straight-faced, while said partner stared at him in astonishment, until he could hold it no longer and the corners of his mouth twitched, a mischievous twinkle appearing in his dark eyes.
Curry rolled his eyes in exasperation at his partner’s obtuse humor.
“I mean, seven years is a long time to be with the same partner and you ain’t getting any younger. I may have to find myself someone with quicker reflexes, someone more able watch my back.”
“You know, you may be right, Heyes. I might need a partner who talked a little less and could come up with some plans which could make some real money – honestly.”
“Now, Kid, be fair. We haven’t done so badly and I’ve gotten you out of a few tricky situations. You don’t really think you’re going to find someone else with a mind as brilliant as mine, do you?”
The question was met with a stony silence. The ongoing banter had been thankfully brought to a halt when something in the distance attracted Curry’s attention.
“Aw, come on, Kid. You know I’m not serious,” said Heyes, taking Curry’s distracted muteness as a rebuke for his quip.
“Huh? No – it’s ….. Heyes, what d’ya reckon that is?” Heyes followed the direction in which Curry was pointing and stared into the open, sandy wilderness, periodically interspersed with rocks and occasional vegetation. At first he couldn’t see anything but then a movement caught his eye.
“Looks like someone walking, Kid.”
“Out here, in this heat? Reckon we ought to go check they’re alright.”
“I think we ought to mind our own business and not get involved,” came Heyes’ unequivocal reply.
“But they might be in trouble and …”
“If they’re in trouble, that’s a real good reason not to get involved,” Heyes commented, with a certain finality.
With a humph at his partner’s cautious nature, Curry turned his horse in the direction of the lone walker. With a sigh of exasperation, Heyes followed.
As the two riders drew closer, it became apparent that the stranger was limping badly. The simple task of walking had become so arduous he stumbled every few staggered steps, his left hand clasping his left thigh. It was only when Heyes and Curry were quite near that he realized he had company. He juddered to an unsteady stop and turned to face them.
A boy of about seventeen stood staring defensively at them, a sheen of perspiration covering his face. He licked his lips and Curry noted that his hand had dropped instinctively to his side, to an empty holster.
“Easy now,” Curry assured him. “Just wanted to see if you needed some help.”
The boy continued to glare at them, eyes flicking from one to the other. He shifted the weight onto his right leg and balled his fists, grimacing with the pain it caused.
“Pretty unusual to see a person walking out here, alone, in this heat!” Heyes added, keeping his tone light and friendly.
The boy’s breath was heavy and labored from the physical exertion.
“Here.” Curry tossed a canteen in the boy’s direction, which he caught in a swift, smooth movement.
Still watching them warily, the boy removed the top from the canteen and drank thirstily, gulping down mouthfuls of the lukewarm water. After he had finished, he lifted the canteen and poured some of its contents over his head. Wiping the excess liquid from his face he mumbled his thanks, before securing the lid and throwing the canteen back to Curry. The movement caused him to let out a gasp and clasp his left leg with his hand.
“Looks like that leg is givin’ you some trouble,” Curry commented.
“Some,” the boy responded.
“What’s your name, son?” Heyes asked.
“I’m not your son,” the boy retorted insolently.
“No, no you ain’t,” Heyes replied, with a chuckle, leaning forward on the saddle horn, fixing the boy’s defiant stare with such intensity, it made him shift uncomfortably.
“I’m Joshua Smith and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones. Now we’ve acquainted ourselves, how about you do the same?”
“Name’s Fallon. Cory Fallon,” came the surly reply.
“Well, Cory Fallon, looks like it’s your lucky day.”
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying that,” the young man replied wryly, through clenched teeth, as his injured leg protested once more.
“How’d you come to be out here, without a horse?” Curry asked.
For a moment Cory hesitated, biting his lip as he considered his answer.
“I was on my way home when my horse threw me. Guess a rattler or something must have spooked it. Hurt my leg when I fell and by the time I was back on my feet the damn horse had run off.”
“So where’s home?” Heyes inquired, narrowing his eyes as he looked at the boy thoughtfully.
“The Four F,” came the mumbled response.
“Come again?” Heyes frowned, while Curry sat quietly studying the boy.
“The Four F Ranch, ‘bout five miles that a way,” Cory responded, more clearly, pointing west.
“That’s quite a way to walk on that leg,” Curry told him.
“I guess.” Cory gazed in the direction in which he had just pointed.
“Need a ride?” Curry kicked his left boot free of the stirrup and gestured behind with his head.
Cory looked from Heyes to Curry with some uncertainty and then, after a moment’s deliberation, limped to the horse’s side. Awkwardly he raised his left leg towards the free stirrup and, with some difficulty, managed to place it in the keep. As he went to grab the back of the saddle, his leg began to buckle but Curry reached out and took hold of his arm with a strong grip and hauled him up onto the horse behind him.
“You alright?” Curry questioned him, over his shoulder.
‘Uh huh,” Cory responded half-heartedly, struggling to ignore the fierce pain that burned inside his thigh.
Heyes raised his eyebrows at Curry, who responded with a shrug of the shoulders, before turning his horse and leading in the direction of the Four F Ranch.
As they rode along, Heyes probed Cory for more information.
“Four F? Interesting name for a ranch. Any story behind it?”
Cory raised his head from behind Curry’s back, where it had slumped, grimacing in pain as he did so.
“You ain’t heard of it?”
Heyes shook his head. “No. Should I have?”
“Most folk hereabouts have.”
“Well, that explains it. We’re not from around here.”
Cory looked nervously at Heyes, from behind Curry, “What you doing here then?”
“Looking for work.”
“Where you from?” It was Cory’s turn to ask the questions now and Heyes to feel on edge.
“All over. We drift around a lot.”
Curry caught his partner’s eye and frowned. Wanting to divert the boy’s inquisitiveness, he directed the conversation back to the ranch. “So, why the Four F?”
“It’s because of my family – me, Pa, Ma and my kid brother – four Fallons.”
“That sounds real nice,” Curry commented.
“It was. Should be the Two F now, with just me and Pa left,” he continued sourly.
The trio slipped into silence, with only the rhythmic beat of the horses’ hooves to deaden the quiet.
Another fifteen minutes passed before the ranch came into view and Heyes called out, “Home, sweet home!”
Cory shifted nervously behind Curry.
“You alright?” Curry asked.
“I haven’t seen my pa in a while. Not sure what sort of reception I’m going to get,” he informed them.
“How long you been away?”
“’Bout a year.”
Heyes drew his horse alongside Curry’s. “Why’d you leave? Looks like a pretty nice set up,” he said, as he looked down at the array of well-maintained buildings, which included a good-sized ranch house, a couple of large barns and an assortment of smaller outbuildings.
“Me and Pa had a bit of a disagreement so I decided to take off on my own for a while.”
“For a whole year?” Curry didn’t disguise the surprise at the length of time a boy of Cory’s age had been away from home.
“Thought it would be for the best.”
“So why’d you decide to come back now?” Heyes asked.
Cory did not answer immediately and avoided eye contact with the dark-haired man, who raised his eyebrow sceptically at his partner.
“We going to sit here all day or we going down there?” asked Curry.
“Yeah, let’s get it over with,” replied Cory with a grateful look.
They descended the track, which led to the ranch compound. Cory gripped Curry’s jacket tightly, gasping with pain several times.
All was quiet as they came through the main gate and the place seemed deserted until a loud bang came from the direction of a barn, as a door slammed shut.
A tall, sturdy man, in his mid-forties, appeared through the doorway. The sound of hoof steps alerted him and he looked up at the approaching riders.
“Can I help you fellas?” he called out, his tone neither unfriendly nor totally welcoming.
Heyes was about to respond when Cory peered around Curry’s shoulder.
“Well, I’ll be!” It wasn’t clear from the man’s expression if he was glad to see the boy, as the look was one of total astonishment. His feelings were soon made clear by the broad grin which appeared on his face.
“It’s good to see you, young Cory! We were beginning to think we’d never see you again,’ the man babbled as he strode over. “Get down offa that horse and let’s get a proper look at you.”
Cory shifted himself backwards and, with Curry’s assistance, dropped off the horse. As he hit the ground he grimaced in pain and held onto the horse’s neck for support.
“You’re hurt,” the man said, looking accusingly at Curry and Heyes, going to the boy’s side and putting a protective arm about him.
Once Cory explained about falling from his horse and how Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones had come to his aid, Joe’s demeanour changed instantly. Holding out a hand to Curry and bobbing his head at Heyes, he said, “Mighty obliged to you. Mr. Fallon will be very grateful to you both, I’m sure.”
“How grateful?” Heyes inquired, causing his partner to shoot an incredulous look in his direction.
“We’ll find out soon enough,” Joe retorted, nodding behind them. Both Heyes and Curry turned in their saddles to see a group of six men riding towards the ranch.
It didn’t take long to work out which of the riders was Cory’s father. At the head of the group was a large man with strong, even features. He sported a wide-brimmed white Stetson and rode a handsome grey gelding.
“What’s going on here, Joe?”
Joe stepped forward while Cory shrunk back, positioning himself slightly behind Curry. He looked downwards then galvanized himself to raise his head to meet his father’s glower.
As their eyes met the older man’s expression became hard, his eyes narrowed, his lips drawn in a hard line. The other men in the group looked from the boy to their boss with obvious curiosity to see how both would react. Without saying a word, Quentin Fallon eased himself from the saddle and strode purposefully towards his son. For a moment he stood before him, running his eyes over him, before he reached out and pulled the boy into a firm embrace.
Shoulders sank visibly as the onlookers released an almost audible sigh of relief. Cory stood in his father’s arms, motionless, arms hanging by his side, clearly overwhelmed by the greeting. A full minute later, Fallon took a step back, placing his hands on his son’s shoulders.
“I wasn’t sure you’d ever come back.” The words were conveyed with a wealth of emotion.
“Wasn’t too sure myself,” Cory replied, but there was a flatness in his tone. His father gave a sad smile and then turned his attention to the two strangers who had accompanied his son. Both Heyes and Curry felt uneasy under the man’s scrutiny. It was clear, by his manner, Fallon was a man who commanded respect and was used to being in charge.
“You two responsible for bringing my boy back in this state?” The man’s tone was gruff and demanded a response as he regarded them closely. Curry flicked a quick look at his partner. Just as he suspected, Heyes was bristling at the man’s abrupt manner but managed a cordial expression and response.
“He was in ‘this state’ when we found him wandering in the scrub. We offered him a ride, on account of his injury. Nothing more.” Heyes’ own tone was equally assertive and he fixed Fallon with one of his dark stares. Curry, sensing the tension, shifted position, ready to reach for his gun, should he need to back up his partner.
For a moment no one spoke, then Fallon turned to his son. “You’re hurt? Where? What happened?” he asked, his concern evident.
“It’s nothing,” Cory told him. “Just bruised my leg a bit when my horse threw me.”
“Well, let’s get you inside and get that leg seen to. I’ll get one of the boys to ride for the doctor and ...”
“I tell you, it’s fine. Don’t fuss so,” Cory interjected, his brow furrowed angrily.
Fallon raised his hands in surrender. “OK. If you think it’s alright we won’t bother the doc but I reckon you could do with cleaning up and getting something to eat.”
Cory nodded his response and started to make his way to the house. Fallon started to follow but turned back to the assembled group and regained his authoritative stance.
“Men, you’ve got work to do. Plenty to keep you busy for the rest of the day getting ready for the round up. I suggest you get on with it.” Giving the strangers one last look of inspection, the men rounded their horses and headed off to tend to their jobs.
Joe, who had remained standing nearby, also made to leave.
“Joe,” Fallon said, “Before you go, perhaps you could sort these fellas out. Give them something to eat, chance to rest up their horses.”
“Oh, and Joe, when you’ve finished come up to the house.”
With those brief instructions and one last look at Heyes and Curry, Fallon too headed off in the direction of the ranch house.
Both men were stunned. Was that it? After they had returned his one and only remaining son to him, was that all they were being offered? Heyes started to open his mouth to call after the man but decided against it. Shaking his head in disbelief, all he muttered was an incredulous, “Well, of all the unappreciative, arrogant ….”
“Don’t be too hard on him,” Joe interjected, before Heyes said something about his boss, which couldn’t be ignored. “He’s a mite distracted at seeing Cory. He was getting to the point where he didn’t think he’d ever see his son again.”
Joe indicated for them to bring their horses and follow him to the barn.
“Cory said he’d been away a while,” Curry commented as they walked. “Why’d he leave?”
“He and his pa just couldn’t seem to get along anymore, not after Mrs. Fallon and Bobby passed on.”
“Bobby? Was that the other son?”
“Yep. Cory’s younger brother”
“What happened to them?”
“Fever. Poor Mrs. Fallon nursed that boy day and night but weren’t nothin’ she could do. ‘Bout a week after Bobby died, she fell sick too. It was like she’d given up. A week after burying his son, Mr. Fallon buried his wife too.” Joe shook his head sadly at the memory.
Heyes’ natural curiosity made him probe further. “So why’d Fallon and Cory fall out? Seems to me he’d want his son with him at a time like that.”
“Oh, he did. Thing was, Cory was fast becoming a man and Mr. Fallon wanted to keep him a boy, keep him close. Boy’s always had a wild streak in him and I think he needed to find his own way in the world, so one day he said he was leavin’. Mr. Fallon was pretty broke up but when he couldn’t persuade him to stay he became angry. There was one helluva row and Cory took a beating from his Pa. Next day he just upped and left. We ain’t seen or heard from him until today.”
A look of understanding passed between Heyes and Curry.
Once they had taken care of their horses, Joe pointed them in the direction of the bunkhouse.
“I’d best get up to the house. You should be able to get washed up over there and get yourself some coffee. I’ll arrange something for you to eat.”
Both Heyes and Curry nodded their thanks and parted company from Joe.
They’d only had enough time to sort themselves out and were just finishing their first cup of coffee when Joe returned, carrying a couple of plates of food. They weren’t sure what Fallon had said to the man but his demeanor was somewhat changed. Where he had seemed relaxed and jovial before, now he appeared agitated and abrupt.
“Here,” he said, handing each a plate.
“Thank you, Joe,” Heyes said amiably.
The older man shifted uncomfortably.
“Everything alright up at the house?” asked Heyes, lifting a biscuit to his mouth but keeping his eyes trained on Joe.
“Only you seem a little jumpy.”
“Yes, everything’s fine. Look, Mr. Fallon said to tell you that you can stay the night, here in the bunkhouse.”
“That’s mighty generous of him,” replied Heyes with only a hint of sarcasm compared to his real feeling at the offer.
“The boys aren’t a bad lot and’ll make you welcome. Might even deal you into one of their regular poker games,” Joe continued, in a friendlier but noticeably strained voice.
At this news, Heyes gave a broad grin and commented, “Ain’t that nice, Thaddeus?
Joe had been right. The other hands seemed amiable enough and were only too keen to allow the two strangers to join in with their poker game.
The subject of Fallon junior’s return to the ranch was touched on briefly but the ranch hands proved to be a loyal bunch and would not be drawn into any detailed conversation.
After a while Curry began to lose interest in the cards and asked to be dealt out. Deciding his gun was about due for a cleaning, he rose from the table, to get his saddlebags from the barn where he’d left them earlier.
Walking across the yard, in the gloom of the evening, he saw a figure slip furtively into the barn. He was pretty sure it had been Cory. Curry quietly approached the building and slid through the doorway. He waited for a moment, as his eyes adjusted to the light. A lamp flared at the other end of the barn and he could make out the boy’s hunched silhouette. Drawing closer it became apparent Cory was tending to his leg.
“Everything alright?” Curry asked in a low voice.
Cory almost jumped out of his skin at the sound of it, his hand instinctively reaching for the gun strapped to his other leg. He was quick but not as fast as Curry, whose own instincts made him do likewise.
“Hey, it’s just me. Jones. Didn’t mean to startle you.”
For a few seconds Cory didn’t speak, his eyes fixed on the weapon, which had appeared in Jones’ hand so swiftly. Seeing the boy’s expression, Curry slid his Colt back into its holster and crossed his arms across his chest.
Finally regaining his composure, Cory holstered his own gun and snapped, “What d’you expect, sneaking up on folk like that?”
“I wasn’t sneakin’. Guess you were a little preoccupied with what you’re doing,” Curry replied smoothly and calmly. “See you’ve got yourself another gun.”
“Yep. Joe lent it to me until I can get myself a new one.”
“Don’t seem necessary to carry one around here.”
“I like to be prepared,” Cory replied brusquely.
“For what?” Curry replied.
There was no response this time. Cory merely avoided looking at Curry and made to pull his pants back over his leg.
From where he stood, Curry could see a dark, discolored bandage. The injury was more than a bruise. It appeared to have bled a lot and by the look of the brighter red, had been bleeding fairly recently.
“Here, let me take a look. I’ve had to tend to my share of cuts and bruises in my time.”
Cory was about to refuse the offer but the steely stare the older man gave him told him Jones wouldn’t be taking ‘No’ for an answer.
Peeling back the bandage, Curry peered at the wound and then turned his gaze to Cory.
“You didn’t do that fallin’ from a horse. Did you get the bullet out?”
“It just skimmed me. Wasn’t deep,” Cory replied glumly.
“I take it you haven’t told your father about this.”
“No! And you’re not going to either,” the boy shot at him.
“None of my business,” Curry replied coolly, “but you need to clean that up properly else it’ll get gangrene.”
“I don’t know how.” Cory looked up at the Kid, like the boy he truly was. Curry’s shoulders sank.
“You should get a doctor to look at it.”
“You said you knew how to do this,” Cory said angrily, the pain beginning to show in his face.
“That was before I knew it was a bullet wound. I don’t fancy having to answer to your father if it don’t heal right.”
“He ain’t gonna know. ‘Least I won’t let on it was you helped me.” Curry considered this for a moment but the look of pleading in the boy’s eyes soon persuaded him otherwise.
“I’ll need some hot water or whiskey – or iodine, if you know where I can find some.”
Cory’s expression brightened. “There’s some whiskey hidden in the tool box and some iodine in the tin on the shelf. Joe uses it for the horses, the iodine that is. The whiskey’s for him.”
With an understanding smile Curry went to get them.
“Guess we’re going to have to do without the water. This is going to sting some but I’ll do my best,” Curry told the boy, as he squatted down and began to clean the wound.
“Can I speak to you a moment, Joshua?” Curry asked in a low voice, leaning over Heyes’ shoulder, as he pulled in another pot from the center of the table.
“Can’t it wait?” one of the hands asked. “He’s got most of my money and I want a chance to get some back.”
The Kid glared at Heyes and the pile of money in front of him. Heyes gave his partner a sheepish grin. He’d gotten bored playing such cautious cards and had decided as they were leaving in the morning, it was worth making the evening a little more profitable.
“I won’t be long fellas. I’ll give you a chance to win it back in a couple of minutes.” He gave them one of his more charming smiles as he scooped the pile of coins in front of him, into his hat, before scraping back his chair and following his partner outside.
“What do you think you are doin’, Heyes? The Kid asked when they were out of earshot. I thought you weren’t gonna skin those hands, to keep ‘em from getting’ upset with us.”
“If we are leaving in the morning we’re gonna need some money to live on, aren’t we? Especially as it looks like we’re not gonna get rewarded for bringing Cory home, does it?” He pause and looked at the Kid, smugly. Then he continued, “What’s up?” he asked, when they were out of earshot, as he tipped the coins from his hat to his hand and transferred them to his pocket.
“Trouble, that’s what,” came Curry’s serious response.
“What sorta trouble?”
“Fallon junior, sorta trouble.”
“I told you helping that kid was gonna be trouble, but would you listen? Nope! You had to do the Good Samaritan act.”
“If’n I hadn’t played the Good Samaritan, that boy’d be dead by now.”
“He didn’t hurt himself fallin’ from a horse. He was shot.”
“SHOT?” Curry merely raised his eyebrows at Heyes’ overly loud reaction.
Grabbing the Kid by the arm, Heyes pulled him further from the bunkhouse.
“Who shot him?”
“He ain’t sayin’”
“What’s his father gotta say on the matter?”
“He ain’t told him.”
“So how come he told you?”
“He didn’t tell me. Found him in the barn, trying to doctor his leg.”
“Did he tell you anything else?”
“Didn’t you ask him?”
“Heyes, you’re always tellin’ me to mind my own business and stay away from trouble. A boy with a bullet hole in his leg seems like trouble to me.”
Heyes pursed his lips and nodded his agreement. “What d’you wanna do?” he asked.
“Don’t seem much we can do. Best we just keep out of it and move on in the morning.”
Heyes put his hands on his hips and considered the options. Moving on seemed a good idea – just as soon he’d lightened the ranch hands’ pockets of a few more dollars. He nodded his agreement to his partner and, with his hand on the Kid’s back, steered him back to the bunkhouse.
The following morning Heyes and Curry were tightening the cinches on their horses, preparing to leave, when Joe came scurrying towards them.
“You boys ain’t plannin’ on leavin’ are you?”
Heyes pushed his hat to the back of his head, squinting questioningly at the man, while Curry merely looked up briefly, before adjusting his bedroll.
“Well Joe, you’ve been mighty hospitable but there don’t seem much to keep us here so we’ll be moving on,” Heyes told him.
“Mr. Fallon would like to see you up at the house,” Joe replied agitatedly.
A dimpled grin creased Heyes’ face and a larcenous glint came into his eyes, as he anticipated the reward Fallon would offer, for the return of his son.
“Well, we’d better not keep him waiting,” he said, flipping his horse’s reins back over the hitching post. Curry allowed himself a small smirk of satisfaction before following his partner to the ranch house.
They followed Joe into the spacious house and were led through a large sitting room at the back. A loud conversation could be heard coming from a room. Quentin Fallon’s raised voice seemed agitated. Joe stopped outside the door and hesitated before knocking cautiously.
“Come in,” boomed Fallon.
As they entered the room the door slammed shut and a stormy faced rancher stood behind them.
“My son’s horse was found shot – dead. You two know anything about that?” he asked accusingly.
“Why would we know anything about that, Mr. Fallon?” Heyes kept his voice level but his anger at the allegation was clear.
“You were the one’s who brought him back and …”
“Yes, we brought him back safely. He was walkin’, or at least tryin’ to, when we found him,” Curry interjected. “Look Mr. Fallon, you and your son are of no interest to us. We thought we were doing a good deed bringin’ him home. This really is none of our business so if you don’t mind, we’ll be leavin’ now.”
Curry made to leave but found his way blocked by a drawn gun, held by the ranch hand, with whom Fallon had been talking when they had come in. With a sigh, Curry gave the man a withering stare and turned back to face Fallon.
“Look, this really isn’t necessary. Mr. Smith and I don’t want no trouble. Perhaps you’d do better talkin’ to Cory to find out what happened to horse.”
Fallon glanced from Curry to Heyes, then gestured to the hand that the gun wouldn’t be necessary.
“You’re right. I’ll talk to Cory when he wakes up. I actually asked to see you because I wondered if you needed work. With the round up looming I could do with a couple of extra hands for a week or two and wondered if you’d be interested.”
The partners exchanged a look. “Could I talk this over with Mr. Jones?” Heyes asked.
Fallon furrowed his brow. “Alright. I’ll be outside when you’re ready.”
With a nod, he indicated to Joe and the gun-toting ranch hand to go and giving Heyes and Curry one last sweeping look, left them to talk.
Curry went to the door and listened, satisfied when he heard retreating footsteps. “What d’you reckon?”
Heyes folded his arms and frowned. “Dunno, Kid. We could do with the work but I hate ranching and there’s something that don’t feel right.”
“You get that too, huh?” Curry crossed to the window and, pushing the curtain to one side, peered out.
“There’s something about the way Fallon keeps looking at us and of course, there’s the son with a bullet wound in his leg.”
“Don’t forget all those hands you took money off of last night! Don’t think you made many friends there either,” Curry said wryly.
His partner smirked. “Perhaps not but I did get us a stake. I vote we say thanks but no thanks.”
“Think I’m gonna to agree with you on this one, Heyes.”
Having come to a decision, they went to find Fallon.
The rancher was standing with a group of his men when they found him. All eyes turned to Heyes and Curry and stopped talking as they approached the group.
“Mr. Fallon. Thaddeus and I have talked it over and we appreciate the offer but a good friend of ours mentioned a job and we wouldn’t want to let him down, so we won’t be staying.” Heyes extended his hand to shake Fallon’s but it was ignored. A low murmur went through the men.
“Well now, that’s a shame as I was really hoping you’d stay. You sure you won’t change your minds?”
“No thank you, Mr. Fallon. If it’s all the same to you, we’ll be movin’ on,” replied Curry, tipping the brim of his hat with his finger.
“Well boys, I’d really like you to stay. In fact I insist that you stay.”
At those words all the ranch hands drew their guns and pointed them at Heyes and the Kid.
Taken aback, Heyes could only manage, “What’s this? There must be some kind of mistake.”
“Take their guns, men,” Fallon instructed. “No mistake, boys. You see, I wasn’t certain at first but the more I thought about it, I was pretty sure I’d seen you some place before.”
“That’s no reason to point guns at us, Mr. Fallon,” Curry scowled as his Colt was removed from its holster.
“It is when they’re bank and train robbers,” came Fallon’s confident response.
Heyes’ Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. He gave a perturbed frown, cocked his head to one side and smiled coolly at the rancher, as he too was relieved of his gun. “I think your memory must be playing tricks on you. Don’t know who you think me and Mr. Jones are but I can assure you we do not rob banks or trains.”
“On the contrary, Mr. Heyes. I understand you’re rather good at it.”
Heyes swallowed hard. Curry appeared outwardly calm and un-phased by the allegation. Heyes focused his attention on Fallon and the Kid kept a wary eye on the gun-toting hands.
“Look, we’ve been mistaken for those two despicable criminals before but …”
Fallon cut Heyes off mid sentence. “I remember you well, Mr. Heyes. It’s not every day a bank robber apologizes to you for jumping the line.”
Heyes’ eyes widened at the comment but remained outwardly passive.
“It must have been the most courteous of robberies I’d ever witnessed but it does not alter the fact, you robbed a bank at gun point – yours, in fact Mr. Curry – and frightened a whole passel of people out of their wits.”
“Still say you’re making a mistake!” Heyes continued his defiance.
“That may be, but I don’t think so. We’ll let the sheriff make that decision, shall we?”
Just at that moment Cory appeared from the house.
“What’s going on?” he called out.
“Just sorting out a little problem, son,” Fallon returned. Curry scowled at his being referred to as ‘a little problem’.
“Can I talk to you?” Cory asked, as he made his way across the yard, walking awkwardly on his injured leg.
“I’m busy right now.”
“I need to talk to you.”
“It’ll have to wait, Cory."
“No, Pa. I need to speak to you – now.”
As he neared, it became clear, by the sheen on his face, the boy was running a fever. Fallon was torn for a moment, whether to deal with Heyes and Curry or tend to his son. As Cory suddenly staggered, the decision was made for him.
“Tie these two up and put them in the grain store. We’ll take them into town later,” he directed his men. Heyes and Curry found their hands being bound behind their backs, with leather thongs, before they were pushed roughly towards a stone-built shed.
In the meantime, Fallon went to his son and began to guide him back to the house. Cory let himself be led but looked back over his shoulder, as the two men who had come to his rescue, were escorted away.
“What’s going on, Pa?”
“Let’s get you back to the house and I’ll tell you.”
Heyes tried to continue to claim their innocence as they were manhandled inside the grain storage room but got no response from the men in charge of them. One of the men who had been in the poker game the previous evening with Heyes handled him particularly roughly. Just as they were about to enter the building Heyes found himself being pushed against the wall. Curry immediately spun around and tried to come to his partner’s defense but he was held firm by two of the other ranch hands.
“Hey!” Heyes’ protest fell on deaf ears, as he was pushed against the wall and the man rifled through his pockets.
“Think this belongs to me and the boys!” he said, pulling out a roll of bank notes, with a rueful grin.
Heyes and Curry were then unceremoniously shoved into the grain store and the sound of a heavy bolt was heard being drawn across the heavy wooden door.
“Well, that’s just great!’ griped Curry. “There goes our stake.”
Heyes stared at his partner. “Geez, Kid! Glad to see you’ve got your priorities sorted.”
Oblivious, Curry turned his back to him, saying, “It’s your turn.”
“I did it last time,” Heyes replied but turned round and manoeuvred himself into a position where they could reach each other’s bindings.
“Here you go, son.” Fallon handed Cory a whiskey.
The boy looked at it skeptically.
“For the pain,” his father explained. “Looks like that leg is still giving you some trouble.”
Taking the glass, Cory took a tentative sip and cradled the glass in his hands. Fallon poured himself a whiskey and perched on the edge of a desk, looking across at his son, who sat across the room, in a worn leather chair.
“You want me to get the doc for you now? I’ll be going into town so I could …”
“No!” came the unequivocal reply.
“Looks like you’re running a bit of a fever and …”
“I said, no.”
Seeing his son was going to continue to be obstinate, Fallon decided not to push it further. “I’m just glad to have you back home, Cory. If you say your leg don’t need tending that’s good enough for me. What was it you wanted to talk to me about?” Fallon asked.
“You going to tell me what that was all about out there?” returned the boy.
“You mean Smith and Jones, as they’re calling themselves?” Fallon took a sizable swig of his whiskey.
“Yes, Smith and Jones. Why’d you have them locked up?”
“You managed to bring a couple of notorious outlaws home with you.” Fallon gave a snort and took another swig.
Cory gaped at him. “What do you mean?”
“Remember I told you I was in a bank once, when it was robbed? You must have been about twelve at the time.”
“Yeah, course I remember. It was held up by …. You’re not telling me that …”
“Yep, I’ve got Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry locked up in the grain store.” Fallon laughed and shook his head. “Been an eventful couple of days, thanks to you, son.”
“What you going to do with them?”
“Take them in of course.” Fallon’s response was incredulous.
“But Pa, they helped me and they don’t seem like outlaws. You sure they’re Heyes and Curry?”
“I wasn’t at first, which is why I offered them work, to keep them here until I was sure. When they were in my office a short while back, something jolted my memory and I’m pretty sure now they’re Heyes and Curry but the sheriff should be able to confirm it.”
“You really going to turn them in?”
“It’s my law-abiding duty to hand them in. They’re criminals!”
Cory said nothing for a moment, then replied, “I’m a criminal too, Pa. You going to hand me over to the law?”
“What are you talking about, Cory?” Fallon stood up, placed his glass on the desk and moved towards his son.
Cory ran his hand through his hair and took a large mouthful of his whiskey. “I’m in trouble, Pa. Real trouble.”
“What sort of trouble?” Fallon stood in front of the boy, looming over him. At first, Cory did not respond.
“What trouble, Cory?” demanded Fallon.
“I shot someone.”
Fallon searched his son’s face but it remained expressionless.
“Who? How bad they hurt?”
“They’re dead, Pa.”
Fallon regarded his son in astonishment. “Just what have you got yourself mixed up in? I knew there had to be a good reason for you to come back!” The older man’s face flushed as the anger rose in him.
“Think you ought to fill me in on some details here, don’t you?”
Cory drained his whiskey and lifted his head to meet his father’s gaze. “Think you ought to sit down!” he told him. Taken aback by his son’s sudden assuredness, Fallon complied.
Taking a deep breath, Cory sat back in his chair.
“I was doing alright at first, managing to pick up bits of work here and there, mainly ranch work. Just kept moving from one job to another but couldn’t find nothing permanent. Anyway, not long after finishing a job, I decided to relax a little. Got playing some poker in a saloon. There was a bit of a dispute and I ended up drawing my gun on someone.”
“Well, of all the idiotic …” Fallon shook his head in disbelief. “You killed someone over a game of cards?”
“No. Turned out I was faster than the other guy. Anyhows, some fellas offered to buy me a drink and were real complimentary about the speed of my draw. They asked if I’d like to ride with them as they were on their way to a good job and thought I’d be able to get work too. I had no place better to be, so I went.”
Cory studied his fingers briefly before continuing, “Turned out they needed my gun,” he said, raising his eyes to meet those of his father, before adding, “as the job was robbing a bank.”
Fallon said nothing but visibly paled.
“By the time I realized what I’d gotten myself into, it was too late to back down. They just wanted me to impress on the folks in the bank that we were serious, by drawing my gun and waving it around a little.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I thought me and your Ma brought you up to be a sensible and decent boy.” Fallon shook his head sadly.
“Don’t you go bringing her into this,” Cory hissed venomously. “If she’d still been here and you hadn’t treated me like some no account, little kid, I’d never have left in the first place.”
“I don’t think that excuses what you did.” Fallon’s voice was raised now and the pair glared at each other. “So, what happened? Who’d you shoot?”
“I didn’t shoot no-one for the first couple of jobs.”
“You mean you did this more than once?”
Cory managed to look suitably shameful. “It was the fourth job that went wrong. The teller got brave and tried to rush me. I shouted at him to stop but he just kept coming. It all happened so quick and then the gun went off.”
“Just like that, huh?”
“Yeah, just like that.”
“And you killed him?”
Fallon poured himself another whiskey and drained the glass in one gulp, shaken by his son’s admission.
“But you obviously managed to get away? How long ago did this happen? I mean, did anyone recognize you?”
“It was nearly four weeks ago. I managed to get out of town. Two of the others weren’t so lucky. Anyway, to cut a long story short, turns out the man I shot was the banker’s son who was there learning the business.”
“Dang, Cory! You’ve messed up real bad this time.”
“I know Pa. That’s why I need your help.”
“Just why should I help you? You’re a killer.”
“I’m your son. The only one you’ve got. Your own flesh and blood.”
“What do you expect me to do? Hide you here? For how long? If the law comes …”
“The law’s the least of my worries. The banker, Jarvis, hired a bounty hunter to track me down. I thought I’d lost him until a few days ago, when he caught up with me and let off a couple of shots. Killed my horse and put a bullet through my leg.”
Fallon stared at his son, trying to come to terms with what he was hearing.
“I managed to lose him but he’s sure to have picked up my trail again by now. I was real lucky Smith and Jones, or whoever they are, found me. If they hadn’t, I’m pretty sure he’d have caught me and I’d be dead by now.”
Fallon’s mouth gaped open and he swallowed hard, digesting what he was being told.
Seeing his words were having the desired effect on his father, Cory pushed further. “I need money, Pa, and a good horse. This man’s got a reputation for never giving up and being very successful.”
“You’re in no fit state to ride. You’ve been shot. You need to see a doctor and get that leg seen too.”
“My legs fine. It’s cleaned up just fine, just a little sore is all.”
Fallon clearly wasn’t convinced. “But it may be putrid and …”
“Jones cleaned it up real good for me,” Cory told him.
“Jones! Did you tell him how you got shot?” Fallon ran his hand worriedly through his hair.
“No. He has no idea.”
“Good, let’s keep it that way. Look, you’ll stay here and I’ll get the boys to keep a look out and if anyone comes riding in we’ll take care of it.”
“Can’t ask you to do that, Pa, or the hands. It’s not their fight. Even if you manage it, others will come. Jarvis’s not going to give up on me. He wants me dead - just like his son.”
The words rang hard and true in Fallon’s ears. He would feel the same.
“I need to get as far away from here as I can and fast,” Cory stated. “I need to find somewhere where I can hide out for a while. Someplace safe.”
Fallon slumped in a chair. “Where you going to find someplace like that?”
Cory suddenly grinned. “Think I’ve just thought of the perfect place, where no bounty hunter or law man will be able to touch me.”
“Will you keep still,” Heyes said irritably.
“It’s no use. The more you try, the tighter these things seem to get!” replied his partner, jerking his arms in defeat. “What are we gonna do, Heyes?” Curry asked resignedly.
“Guess we’ll have to just wait and see what Fallon plans to do.”
“He’s made it pretty plain he’s gonna turn us in. Wonder who the sheriff is around here?”
“Hopefully not one who knows us and we can manage to make him believe Fallon has made a mistake.”
“Is that the only plan you got?”
“You got a better one? If so, I’d like to hear it.”
Curry glared momentarily at his partner then gave a sad smile. “How come we keep getting ourselves in these situations?”
“Because you keep insisting on helping people.” Heyes’ retort sounded sharp but there was no malice in his dark eyes. Curry sighed and shook his head before slumping dejectedly against the grain store wall.
Heyes twisted his bindings a few more times but knew it was futile. He joined Curry and leaned back alongside him. “Something will come up, Kid” he assured him.
“Yeah, but it’s what the ‘something’ is, that worries me.”
The clunk of the lock being drawn back brought them back to a more upright position. They were surprised to see only Fallon and Cory in the doorway. They were even more surprised when Fallon said, “I like to make a deal with you, boys.”
There was a brief glance between the partners before Curry spoke. “What makes you think we want to do a deal with you, after the way you’ve treated us?”
Heyes stared at the Kid and rolled his eyes in exasperation. “What my friend means to say is, what sort of a deal?”
Fallon made his way into the grain storage room and Cory followed, closing the door behind him.
Fallon’s voice broke through the dingy light in the storeroom. “Seems, my boy here has gotten himself into a little bit of trouble and needs somewhere to lay low for a while, somewhere he can’t be found. One of you will show him the way to Devil’s Hole. The other will stay here and, when I know Cory is safe, I’ll let the him go. I don’t mind who stays or who goes, that’s your decision but if, for some reason, you don’t return or Cory doesn’t get to safety then I’ll turn the other in myself.”
There was a considerable pause before Heyes, having exchanged a look with his partner, spoke. “Even if we do agree to do this, which we are in no position to do, as we’re not Heyes and Curry, but even if we do go along with the plan, what guarantee do we have that you won’t turn the other man in, regardless of whether your son gets into Devil’s Hole, which in itself is not an easy thing to do – so I’ve heard?”
Both Fallon and Cory frowned, while Heyes and Curry kept their expressions blank and unreadable.
“You have my word!” Fallon replied indignantly.
“Well, that’s all well and good,” Heyes continued, “but things can go wrong and who’s to say one of your boys won’t decide to take the law into his own hands? Besides, won’t they think it kinda strange that you haven’t turned us in?”
Fallon looked bemused but could see what Heyes had said was plausible.
“He’s right, Pa!” Cory contributed. “You know as well as I do any one of those boys would like to get their hands on ten thousand dollars and won’t care about crossing you to get it.”
“Can I make a suggestion?” Heyes offered.
Fallon exchanged a look of incredulity with his son at Heyes’ audacity.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to make demands, Mr. Heyes.”
“Name’s Smith and you may be right but I happen to think your plan isn’t workable.”
“Let’s hear what he’s got to say, Pa. I mean, if he’s who you think he is then he’s supposed to be some sort of genius,” Cory interjected, derisively
Heyes smiled smugly but said nothing. Curry kept his stoic stance.
“Okay. Let’s hear it,” Fallon complied.
“If both of us go with Cory, then you can tell the hands he’s the one turning us in because you need them here for the round up. I take it none of them know of his misdemeanor, what ever it might be?”
Father and son both looked suitably impressed with this idea, for a brief moment. “How do we know you’ll take Cory to Devil’s Hole and not shoot him and ride off?” Fallon asked with more than a hint of cynicism.
“You have my word!” Heyes retorted.
“Mine too. Besides, we don’t shoot people,” Curry added for good measure.
Fallon raised his eyebrows at the jibe but let it go. “Think we need to discuss this a little more, in private, so if you don’t mind …” Fallon turned and, for Cory’s benefit, gestured to the door.
“What d’ya think, Heyes?” Curry asked in a low voice when they were alone.
“I think that Cory has gotten himself in a mess of trouble and I think they’re desperate enough to go along with my idea.”
“You reckon? What we gonna do? We can’t go to the Hole and we can’t afford to get mixed up with someone who’s in trouble with the law neither.”
“I know, Kid but at the moment I think we need to concentrate on getting outta here. If we can get them to agree to both of us leaving with Cory then perhaps we can work something out.”
“That’s your plan?” Curry said sceptically.
“Yep!” Heyes sounded more assured than he felt.
Right on cue, a shaft of light penetrated the storeroom, as the door was opened and Fallon and Cory reappeared.
“We’ll agree to your both going but there are a couple of conditions,” Fallon told them. “You will both remained tied up. I’m not risking your running out on my son. When you have shown him to Devil’s Hole, then you will be released. To further ensure he does not come to any harm, Joe will be riding with you. It’ll look better to the men too, if he goes along to ‘turn you in’. Are we agreed?”
“And what’s our guarantee Joe won’t turn us in after Cory is safe in the Hole?” asked Curry.
“There are no guarantees in this life, apart from death and taxes, but I will assure you that you will be free to leave as soon as Cory is safe.”
Heyes shifted position and shot Curry a questioning look before saying, “Just one thing, Mr. Fallon. Can I ask what it is that Cory did to warrant such risky measures?”
“You can ask but I’m not going to tell you,” Fallon scowled. “Are we agreed?”
Heyes looked to Curry who shrugged his shoulders and dipped his head.
“Doesn’t look like we’ve got too much choice,” Heyes responded. “We’ll do our best to try and find Devil’s Hole but, as I’ve said before, you’re making a mistake about who we are, so it won’t be easy.”
“If I’m making such a big mistake, how come you’re going along with the plan and not letting me turn you in? Answer me that, Mr. Smith?”
It was a somber group leaving the Four F Ranch later that day. Cory took the lead, with Heyes and Curry following, both with their hands bound to the saddle horns and the horses tailed together. Joe brought up the rear, a grim expression on his face, clearly unhappy at what he had been asked to do. The ranch hands went about their business but watched them ride out with resentment, their chance at notoriety and a share of the reward being taken from them by the boss’ son.
They took the road towards town but after riding for about half an hour, Cory pulled up his horse.
“Which way now?” he asked.
“Depends where you want to go! Personally, I’d like to go in the opposite direction!” Curry replied churlishly, causing Cory to scowl at him and rest his hand on the butt of his holstered gun. Unperturbed, Curry looked back at him with a steady gaze, adding, “but I guess I don’t have much say in the matter.”
“That’s right. We go where I want to go!” Cory replied tersely. Curry glowered at the boy.
Heyes watched the interplay with interest for a short while and then interceded. “We need to head north towards the mountains.” Cory gave a curt nod of his head and swung his horse around. The rest of the group followed, with Curry scowling at the boy’s back, gripping so tightly to the saddle horn, his knuckles were white.
Conversation was difficult, riding in a line, as they were, so they rode without talking for a good while until Heyes finally broke the silence.
“Hey, Joe,” he called over his shoulder. “Sorry you’ve been dragged into this. Seems Mr. Fallon is under the impression that Thaddeus and me are Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry! Can you believe that? I’m just hoping we can find this Devil’s Hole for young Cory. It seems such a shame a boy like him is mixed up in all this trouble, don’t it? Of course, it wasn’t his fault was it?”
Heyes sensed Joe was none too happy at being included in the party and wanted to optimise the opportunity. Joe took the bait as Heyes had intended. “What d’ya mean it wasn’t his fault? He didn’t have to start robbing banks and he didn’t have to shoot no one.”
“Shut up, Joe!” Cory barked from the head of the group.
Joe bristled at the boy’s words. “Now listen here young Cory, I’ve known you since you were no bigger than a sack of grain and I’ve taken good care of you over the years, for your pa but I have my self respect and what you’re doin’ ain’t right! If you ask me, you should be turning these fellas in and yourself, come to that.”
“Well I ain’t asking, Joe. This is what my pa wants and if you don’t like it you can answer to him.”
The older man became subdued and said no more.
As they rode along, Curry couldn’t help but notice that Cory was increasingly uneasy and constantly furtively looking around. “We expecting company?” he eventually asked. “If so, I’d like to know who.”
Cory flicked his head to look at Curry. “Just being careful, that’s all.” He tried to sound confident but there was no denying the nervous look in his eyes.
“Tell them, Cory,” Joe called from the end of the line. “Tell them about the bounty hunter. If they’re who your Pa thinks they are, they’d probably be able to help. I’m beginning to feel like a sitting duck out here at the back.”
Curry spun around to look worriedly at his partner. “Think you need to fill us in some, Cory,” Heyes called out. “What’s this about a bounty hunter? I’ve heard some of them can be pretty ruthless and ain’t too fussy how they bring in the people they’re after. Sounds like you need our help but we can’t do much, tied up like this.”
“He’s right, Cory. Maybe we ought to untie them,” Joe responded.
“And give them a chance to run out on us? You must be kidding. No, they stay tied. I can look after myself,” Cory told him, with the arrogance of his youthful years. Heyes shoulders slumped at the boy’s outburst. Biting his bottom lip thoughtfully, he set his mind to thinking. Curry continued to stare grimly at the back of Cory’s head as they set off once again.
Evening found Heyes and Curry unbound, eating a meal, watched carefully by Joe, who held a rifle pointed at them, while Cory twirled his revolver provocatively, as they ate. When they had finished, they were instructed to sit back to back and were bound together.
“You can’t expect us to sleep like this?” Curry grumbled.
“Don’t expect you to do anything but stay put,” Cory retorted, pulling the last knot a little tighter. “When we’ve got to Devil’s Hole, you’ll be free to go and can get as much sleep as you want. Until then, this is the safest way. Besides, it’ll give you a little more incentive to get me there quicker,” he commented flatly.
Joe had been taciturn for most of the day but as he watched Heyes and Curry being tied in this way, could hold his tongue no longer. “Look Cory, I done what you asked, watching over these here boys and I gotta tell you I ain’t happy but your pa has been good to me over the years and I look on ya as kin. I’ll go along with ya but I have to tell ya, it seems a real shame things have to be like this.”
Squatting down besides the secured captives, Cory fingered a leather thong. “That’s just what it is, Joe – a shame. Now, you get some rest. I’ll take first watch,” Cory said. Joe merely nodded sadly and lay down on his bedroll.
'If I hadn't seen such riches I could live with being poor.'