New challenge stories for 2018, not part of any other piece...... yet. #1. The Bonnet, #2. May, #3. Sabbatical, #4. Breakfast[, #5 Fireworks#1. The Bonnet
Kid slapped the heavy saddle down on the big black’s back, and instantly regretted it. The horse swirled around with a reproving look; Don’t take it out on me!
Kid, soothed the horse’s ruffled feathers, and placed the saddle, gently this time, a little higher. He sighed into the cold early morning air, his breath escaping like a boiling kettle. The Hole was real quiet, just the faintest, tuneless whistle from Doc in the cook shack. The Bunk House, still, most of the gang in their beds.
He’d kicked Junk out of bed before sunrise, and sent him off to hunt. Then rousted up a reluctant early watch. Hadn’t taken many words.
Just as well, he and Heyes had tied one on last night, celebrating their latest lucrative raid. Kid smiled wolfishly, seeing a cascade of green falling onto the table between them. He’d considered going back to their cabin, sleeping it off some more, but something was keeping him from his bed.
A feeling of unease.
He’d sent Junk up to the far North of the Hole without back up.
You could bag a large stag at water there, just as dawn broke, if you were quiet and could take an animal down in one shot. But it was cat country, not to mention the local tribes.
Junk could shoot. Kid had seen Junk shoot. Seen him take a running man’s hat clean off his head.
But it was a passenger’s hat. Kid had flattened Junk for that. Inch lower, and that little show of skill, could have ruined everything for the Devils Hole Gang. The reputation, he and Heyes had worked so hard to broadcast. The certain knowledge, in every chasing lawman’s head that, whatever else they were, the Devils Hole Gang weren’t killers.
All gone, in one cocky second.
Kid rubbed at his bruised knuckles, and nudged his mollified mount to a walk. Junk had sailed backwards through the air and landed real hard on the tracks. Kid winced, remembering the sound the boy had made as all the air came out of him in one big rush.
He’d taken it well enough, considering. Got up, and went about the business of corralling up the passengers. Kid admired him for that. And the boy had taken the Gang’s jibbing on the way back to the Hole. Suggestions that the gang may have a new Kid…
“The …Squealing like a stuck pig…. Kid!”
Kyle should know better. Junk was only an inch or so shorter than Kyle, and a deal younger.
Kid scowled. Being a leader, enforcing the rules, was tricky. Wasn’t as easy as Heyes made it look. Heyes had just raised one eyebrow to Kid, and chewed up his lips. No words necessary. And now, Kid had got up, with a sore head and sent Junk out to the Badlands, with no backup.
Looked like he was siding. Looked like he was holding a grudge or something against the new gun.
Well, maybe he was. Junk could have ruined everything. Got him and Heyes hung. Let him take his fancy shooting to where it could do some good! Get the Gang fed.
Kid gave another huge sigh and shook the unwelcome thoughts from his head.
Junk was, basically, a good kid, that’s why Kid had brought him in. He’d mostly shown good sense. He was good with his gun. Good at listening. Good at taking orders. Good at taking a punch…
Kid’s head dropped.
Of course, it didn’t hurt to offer an olive branch now and again. That was the sign of a good leader, apparently. Heyes had said so.
Kid pushed his horse towards the Badlands.
Junk’s trail was simple to follow. Straight to the lake at High Water. Kid soon found signs of a small fire, a warm coffee pot, then saw a big pile of rocks covering a good-sized kill. A stag, one bullet, guts removed and buried. Clean, quick, efficient; Kid nodded approval.
So where was Junk?
Down below, out in the deep water of the lake, something moved. A head broke the surface and disappeared again. Kid watched for several minutes. This time an arm surfaced first, holding a speared fish.
Kid grinned. He liked fishing. He was a good swimmer, and he’d never tried catching fish like that. It looked fun.
Below, Junk surfaced near the shore and tossed the fish to the bank. Kid waved, but the boy’s head turned quickly and disappeared below the surface again.
Kid wasted no time, bounding down to the shore, stripping off, and diving in. He swam out to where he’d first seen the boy’s head appear, and waited.
The lake surface stayed resolutely glass like. Kid turned, scanning the water, beginning to feel uneasy.
Had the boy drowned?
Then, in a flash of pale skin, Junk suddenly broke the surface in the shallows. He scrambled up the rocky shore, where his clothes lay warming in the sun, next to the flapping fish.
Kid laughed, calling out that he was looking forward to catching a little something himself. The boy flinched grabbing up his long johns. He didn’t answer, or turn. Kid hollered again, he was hoping for a lesson. He’d been watching for some time, and it looked like Junk was having fun.
He’d like some fun, too.
Junk eventually looked up from the struggle of putting dry clothes onto wet limbs, his face a mixture of terror and disgust. Kid disappeared under the water and swam to the shore. As he surfaced, he caught that look on Junk’s face.
The boy looked scared, real scared. The only thing in the water, besides fish, was Kid himself.
Surely, he can’t be THAT scared of me?
Kid had been a bit of a bear this morning, rousting Junk from his bunk, but nothing to warrant this reaction from the boy. He put his most ingratiating smile on his face, stood out of the shallows and threw his arms wide.
“Hey… I like a little fun…same as the next man!”
Alarmed, Junk grabbed up the rest of his clothes and ran.
“HEY … WAIT UP!” shouted an annoyed Kid, scrabbling ashore.
He grabbed a fish in each hand as he passed them, waving them aloft
“JUNK! … WAIT UP! ... YOU FORGOT BREAKFAST!”
The boy didn’t even look back. Kid shook his head in exasperation. He even thought he could hear Heyes laughing.
This was ridiculous, and needed settling, RIGHT NOW.
He took off after the boy at full run. Soon, he caught up and tackled Junk to the ground, fish flying. The boy squealed and fought back, viciously, with elbows, knees and teeth.
“WILL YOU LET UP! What’s got into you? You’re acting like you got the Devil himself after you! HOLD STILL!”
Beneath him, Junk went limp, suddenly defeated.
“Get off me Curry…” he snarled.
Satisfied he got his way, Kid rolled off and headed towards his own pile of abandoned clothes.
“Well now… that’s a little more like it…”
He started pulling on the red long johns.
“What’d you think I was planning to do to you…?”
The wet curls poked through the rolled-up Henley.
“You ran like … like you thought I was planning on …. DROWNING YOU …or something!”
Kid found his socks.
“Just wanted to fish with you… is all… Have breakfast… Sheesh! … If I wanted to harm you … I could ‘ve just shot you!”
Junk sat up and watched Kid with disbelief. He looked dumbstruck.
Kid pulled on his pants, getting the heavy gun belt fastened around his hips. He glanced over to the boy, as he tied the leather round his thigh. The boy still stared open mouthed.
“What?” asked Kid, confused. Maybe this kid was touched a little, in the head.
“Swimming gives me an appetite… I want breakfast… You coming?”
Junk blinked slowly, shook his head incredulously, then started to cry and laugh at the same time, silently.
Kid stared, unsure what to say or do. Eventually, Junk’s face screwed up in anger and he broke the awkward silence between them.
“UNBELIEVABLE … UNBELIEVABLE … THAT’S JUST… UNBELIEVABLE … “
He shook an incredulous head at the confused gunslinger.
“YOU! … You stand there … you say … you watched me swimming …NAKED! … you follow me outta the water … you chase me up here… near roll’n’rope me… and … ALL YOU SEE … all you see is … JUNK! UNBELIEVABLE!”
The boy laughed.
“AND …. YOU WANT BREAKFAST!”
Kid tried to follow this rant, his face contorted in concentration, but he wasn’t getting any of it. Another awkward silence needed filling. He felt he should try.
“Yeah… well… I’m hungry… we got fish … coffee… thought …we could have breakfast together… ’s all…”
“I don’t think of you… as junk… NOT LIKE THAT!”
More silent tears escaped down Junk’s cheeks. Kid felt out of his depth; considered hitting him again. Riled, he gave it one more shot.
“JUNK’S YOUR NAME …. AIN’T IT?!”
Junk rolled his eyes, threw up his hands, and scoffed loudly.
Kid didn’t appreciate people scoffing at him. Not even Heyes. The gunslinger returned. The blue eyes narrowed. He stood to his full height, looming over the half-dressed boy, his voice coming out low and cold.
“You know… JUNK… I been thinking… Maybe… you’re not best suited to outlawing…”
“WHY?” demanded Junk, not the least intimidated.
“WHY… BECAUSE I’M A WOMAN???”
The gunslinger fled Kid’s eyes. He lost all poise. His voice soared to a whiny soprano.
“You’re a WHAT!?…. A WO’… A WHA’ … A WO’…. YOU’RE A … A WHAT?!?”
Kid clutched the neck of his shirt together defensively, staring down at what he’d thought was a skinny youth, in disbelief. As he stared, the boys wiry frame seemed to resolve itself into different, softer contours. The belligerent, battered youthful face, got rounder, older-looking, the eyes bigger somehow. The neck seemed to both narrow, and elongate, before his eyes. Kid shook his head, trying to dislodge the image.
Had he been hexed?
Now he looked, properly, he could see the jaw line was too round, the hands too small, The calloused fingers too fine…
Had he been blind?
Junk said nothing, just looked back into Kid’s baffled face. Kid’s head hurt, and he felt duped, angry, protective, hungry. He desperately needed time to think, and, make himself decent. He picked up a boot, and started to pull it on, as million questions flooded his brain.
“WHY WOULD YOU EVEN… ?”
“WHAT MADE YOU THINK …YOU COULD…. ?”
Eventually, he settled on the one question he wanted answered most.
“ARE YOU CRAZY?!?”
Nothing. Kid’s shoulders dropped.
“You were with us … we stopped trains…”
“You could have been killed…”
“Devils Hole is no place for a woman… “
Kid dropped his head into his hands.
“You done?” asked Junk, quietly.
Sudden realisation hit Kid like a low blow.
“I HIT YOU!... JEEZ! …I hit you… “
He kneeled before Junk as repentant as any sinner.
“I… I… I’m sorry…”
Kid was lost.
Out of his depth.
Where was Heyes when he needed him?
“Hi” came a smiling drawl from higher up the ridge.
Heyes sat on his horse looking down at them.
“You done?” he beamed.
“Nice day for a ride. See you got fish … enough for one more?”
Junk turned, and returned Heyes’ smile.
Kid had never seen Junk smile. When he/she smiled, she couldn’t be anything else but a woman. He put his head back in his hands. He must have been blind.
“You alright?” asked Heyes,
“What you need… Kid… is breakfast.”
Heyes made fresh coffee and delighted in sharing it round. He patted Kid on the shoulder.
“When Kyle said… he’d seen you taking off after Junk… I thought I may have to come up here …And I don’t know… Stop a gunfight or something … And here you are… been swimming together… getting breakfast. All nice and peaceable… Can’t think what I was worrying about.”
He sat down next to Kid, patted his knee, and raised his mug to Junk across the fire.
“Now … Who wants to tell me …what’s really going on here?”
Kid suddenly found Heyes’ coffee delicious, burying his face in his mug. Heyes’ eyebrows rose to Junk.
“You didn’t know… Curry.” She said simply.
Kid shot Heyes worried look but the leader of the Devils Hole Gang remained enigmatic as he sipped his coffee and nodded.
“I didn’t mean for no one to find out, neither” she continued, looking pointedly at Heyes.
“I’m sorry” she said turning to Kid.
“You saying… you been watching me … and then … you wanted … to have a little fun… Well … …I thought… …You know…“
Kid’s blue eyes went wide as realisation hit. Heyes hid a smile in his coffee.
“…And then … when it was plain… …you DIDN’T want… …you know… and … you REALLY wanted BREAKFAST …”
Heyes choked, and wiped his face on a sleeve. Kid’s face was a picture.
“Then… well … I guess …I realised… even NAKED… you didn’t see me … LIKE THAT. Made me sort of sad …’s all … or relieved… I don’t know … Guess I finally got my way… I upped and disappeared.”
Kid looked across to the grubby, skinny, probably not-so young woman on the other side of the fire, wrapped in over-sized rough clothes, with calloused, red knuckled hands and short, straw-textured hair, and inwardly shuddered. She wasn’t any kind of woman he’d want to go a wooing. He tried hard to summon up some consolation, and smiled weakly.
She saw his discomfit.
“It’s OK Curry… I’ve had it coming a long time. I move around …a lot. You only get to be a boy… for so long in one place... Then …you see it in faces… the wondering… And time comes to move on. I got me plenty of years on you Curry. Pity is… I’d ‘ve liked to spend a little more time at the Hole… With Heyes here… in charge …I might have finally made me some money!”
Junk smiled across at Heyes and he lifted his mug to the compliment, agreeing.
“All that hiding …stuff… Pretending to shave, for God’s sake! … It gets old… real quick… Seems…’round here… I needn’t have worried… “
“I could have danced around naked …and no one would have noticed…”
They clicked mugs.
Kid’s eyes narrowed seeing how relaxed, and unfazed, Heyes was with Junk’s revelation.
“Think …maybe… I been around men too long… I turned into one of them… “
Heyes nodded agreement and smiled broadly.
Kid looked uncomfortable. He didn’t like lying to a woman, but he felt someone was beholden to say something nice.
“No…no…. you could …never do that. Why... Let your hair grow …some … paint you up a bit… Get you some skirts…. fancy ribbons… a new bonnet maybe… and you’d be …er… you’d be… pretty as a picture….”
His smile looked frozen, as he attempted sincerity. The other two erupted into giggles.
“Junk ….in…skirts!” sniggered Heyes, failing to stifle a laugh.
Kid was catching on. He looked like he might like to flatten Heyes.
“That’s a nice picture you painted …Curry…” soothed Junk.
She’d got Kid’s attention away from the dimpled sniggerer.
“Kinda reminds me of a time when I saw Bryartown’s prize ram… all dolled up in a Bonnet and ribbons … parading down Main Street leading a brass band … pretty as a picture!”
They all exploded with laughter, even Kid. Heyes relented.
“I met Junk over ten years ago… she was a boy then! … Junk’s been outlawing longer than both of us…Kid… There’s nothing she ain’t seen… The stories she can tell…”
“Have to say Kid … I was real happy …when I seen you’d found us a new boy… But the Hole’s got rules… Big Jim’s rules… And well …you know how you are….”
“You could have told me!” groaned Kid.
“Yeah… You could have told him… Heyes…” laughed Junk,
“Then he might not ‘ve hit me like a mule.”
“Nah…” barked Heyes. “Nah... he’d ‘ve probably held your horse... so you could mount!”
Kid looked hurt.
“Kid’s not real good at mixing …robberies… and ladies… and I knew you could take it… Remember that time… when Jem Wilson thought you stole his horse…”
Kid could see that Heyes and Junk had plenty to talk about, and way out here, they felt safe enough to kick back and reminisce on old times. He’d be having words with Heyes, later.
Junk? That was a different problem. Laughing lit up Junk’s battered, angular face. The more Kid looked, the more female, and seemingly vulnerable, she became.
“I don’t understand ….” he said more to himself than anyone else.
“Why would any woman choose a life like this?”
“Beautiful day for a wedding… isn’t it?”
Hannibal Heyes stepped out into the street, tipping his hat to the undertaker’s wife and brushing off the cuffs of his stylish brown suit.
“Sure is. Beautiful sunshine. Music in the air. All these spring flowers. Scent on the breeze…”
Kid pulled at the front of his blue suit jacket, wishing it would feel just a little less tight. The suit had been tailored in leaner times. He pulled his hat forward to shade his eyes and grin at his partner. Heyes gave him a quizzical look. It wasn’t like Kid to wax lyrical on nature.
“… Martha is sure gonna make one beautiful June bride” finished Kid with a poetical flourish.
“It’s May” stated Heyes, raising his eyebrows to the poet. “And its Martha and Red, not Romeo and Juliette.”
“Do we know them … Did we go to their wedding too?” asked the gunslinger guilessly.
“No… I think we may have missed that one Kid… by a coupla hundred years or so” said Heyes, shaking his head in amusement. “So… we better make the best of this one… What d’yer say?”
“Oh yes..” grinned Kid. “We’re gonna be drinking, and eating, and dancing, and… everything! I say … we enjoy ourselves royally. I’ve made sure we ain’t getting disturbed”
The small white church was just at the top of the street. A parade of small children in their Sunday finest, each holding a small clutch of freshly plucked wildflowers, streamed passed Heyes and The Kid. The boys stopped to let them pass.
“The Murtry’s …sure know how to …multiply …don’t they” grinned Kid in wonder.
“Yeah…” agreed Heyes. “Weird thing is… even the little girls have a look of Kyle about them. Kinda makes me worry … if any of them posies contain dynamite.”
“Hah! Don’t worry Heyes.” Reassured Kid. “This here wedding may be Kyle’s idea… but its Martha calling the shots. I never saw anything this complicated… get organised so quick…”
“Yeah… Anyone would think she’s been planning it for years” smiled Heyes ruefully. “A plan like this …Kid… don’t just come together by itself… overnight.”
Kid’s face contorted in thought.
“Sure is strange. Kyle being so dead set against Red ever marrying his youngest sister… and now…. this!”
They’d arrived at the beautifully arranged floral arbour at the front of the church. Two fiddle players were funnelling the cheerful wedding attendees through to the pews beyond.
“Welcome Brethren” said Preacher solemnly, waving Kid in to take his place.
Kid tipped his hat to Heyes and left him outside, waiting for the bride.
Kyle had asked the leader of the Devil’s Hole gang to stand in for an absent father of the bride. Heyes had reluctantly agreed. He was also footing the bill for this shindig, well technically, Wells and Fargo were.
Heyes looked back up the street towards the only Hotel Harristown had to offer. The bridal party was on its way. Martha, in lace bonnet and ribbons, Sunday best dress and enormous bouquet of Spring flowers was surrounded by an adoring entourage of her sisters and mother.
Heyes beamed in their direction.
“Hold up! Hold up! “cried Kyle, waving at them furiously to slow them down.
“We ain’t got the groom into the church yet! It’s gotta be done proper!”
He waved his shotgun about, earning him a scolding from his eldest sister, Rosalind.
Kyle spat voluminously, straightened what looked like a floral cravat around his not-too-clean neck, and turned his back on the bridal party.
From the undertaker’s store room, the only place in Harristown that had ever been used as a jailhouse, Red was wheeled out into the street. His leg was shuttered in planks, where Doc said he’d had to dig Kyle’s bullet out, and he looked like someone else had dressed him, in someone else’s clothes.
Heyes took a fair guess the clothes had once belonged to a certain absent father of the bride, from the look of the cut and stiff collar.
Red smiled over to Martha, and patted the flower in his lapel. Then seeing the cussed look on Kyle’s face cast his eyes down.
“Git moving!” ordered Kyle, thinking that everyone should just remember that he was running things today and that this wedding was out of necessity ...as he’d come across… well … never mind what he’d come across. Just the thought of what he’d come across, sent a bright crimson wave of colour up his body to the very tips of his ears.
“You are marrying Martha today… and…. I’m seeing its done right!”
Heyes stood aside to let the grooms party enter the church.
With just a slight readjustment of the floral arbour, resulting in Red’s lap being filled with petals and Kyle looking like he’d already been showered with confetti, the church was set to receive the bride.
Heyes extended an arm to Martha with a broad dimpled smile as her mother and sisters also took their places on the pews.
“Shall we?” he said impishly.
“At last!” smiled Martha conspiratorially.
She looked up at the beautiful flowers over the door and paused for just a second.
“And Heyes…. Thank you …. for figuring out how to bring Kyle round… I was beginning to think this day would never happen.”
Hannibal Heyes groaned, as a stream of cold water slewed down his back. It must have found its way in, between his hat and his slicker. Sneaked past the collar of his winter coat, pulled tight against his neck. Wyoming rain. There was nothing wetter, and nothing colder.
He raised his right hand and heard the gang, behind him, pulling their mounts to a stand, sending the message back that Heyes had called the halt.
He strained to hear above the rain and driving wind. There it was, the slightest jangle of harness, coming from in front, not behind.
Had to be The Kid.
Heyes moved his slicker aside and put his hand on the butt of his Schofield.
Kid had had one of his feelings, instincts, a thing neither of them took lightly. He’d dropped back to see if they were still being trailed. It still had to be him.
“Single rider … coming in ahead!” he barked.
“It’s me” growled Kid from the gloom.
He rode in holding his pistol aloft. Heyes watched the Colt with interest. Why had his cousin felt the need to ride, gun in hand?
Kid threw his chin back the way he’d come, and rode a few yards back. Heyes pushed his mare to follow Kid. The gang grew restless.
“What is it?”
“Trouble” Kid looked anxiously back up the trail.
“Trouble? What kind of trouble?”
“Back-stabbing… bushwhacking… murdering… kinda trouble. Tall Pete… his brothers ….and the whole Rooster outfit are sat back there… in the hills above Longdrop Point …waiting on us” spat Kid. “That hogwash he sold us … falling out with his kin …joining Devils Hole… well… just wanted to get the drop on us …for our next big haul…. They’re waiting to shoot us down like dogs ….and they can’t miss in that narrow pass… even in this weather!”
Heyes saw the dangerous glint in Kid’s eyes. It must have cost him a lot to leave Tall Pete back there, alive. Betrayal was something Kid couldn’t countenance. He was poised to plunge back into the darkness, with murder on his mind.
“I guess we should take it as a complement really Kid” he said, calmly. “They know I’m the only one could open that vault… So… they plan to rob US instead!... You know… worryingly… that’s quite smart thinking. “
Kid looked confused, not understanding why Heyes wasn’t mad as Hell, like he was.
“Of course, it’s not all that smart” smiled Heyes. “They forgot …one …crucial …thing.”
“What's that?” prompted Curry, feeling calmer.
“This is Wyoming, Kid… and Winter’s coming on” said Heyes, catching a few snowflakes from the freezing rain.
“They’re as wet and cold as we are …. What difference is that gonna make?”
“Think about it Kid… We’re sitting here… with the biggest haul we ever made… heading back to Devils Hole… where we would divide the cash… and probably decide we got enough between us to see out Winter somewhere warmer. Send the Boys off with …good pay in their pockets till Spring.”
A small smile played on the gunslinger’s lips. The Colt was holstered.
“So…” he said, glee filling his blue eyes “….we just leave Tall Pete….and the Roosters in the snow… waiting on us… and we…”
“Take ourselves a sabbatical ….somewhere warm… with all our lovely cash!” beamed Heyes.
“Take a what?”
“A sabbatical… it’s what you call it …when you take a sort of a…planned break…. from your day job… which for us is robbing banks. We got us enough money here to see us clear through till spring.”
Kid looked over Heyes shoulder to the gang, obviously impatient, moving their horses around to stop them getting too cold, and bogged down.
“How are they gonna take it, Heyes …knowing we’re running out on a scrap with the Roosters? They’re not gonna like it …might reflect badly on our leadership.”
“You said yourself, Kid…it would be a slaughter… like shooting fish in a barrel! Be real stupid to…” Heyes looked back at the gang thoughtfully. “But you’re right…”
Heyes’ eyes narrowed in thought, then a wicked smile crossed his lips.
“Kid … take out your pistol…wave it around like you were before….and try and get that mean, bloodthirsty look back on your face.”
Heyes’ face transformed to grim as he turned it back to face the gang.
“Wheat …. get up here!”
Wheat Carlson, the loudest of the complaining voices the boys could hear, reluctantly came forward. He hadn’t seen the size of the haul, having stood in the freezing rain, on look out. The job had been at 2am this morning. They’d been travelling all day. He believed Heyes, when he said the job had gone well, but it hadn’t made him feel any dryer or warmer. It didn’t help that, Wheat’s new slicker was wrapped around the haul, keeping it dry. He’d lost a coin toss with Heyes. He was wearing Kyle’s spare.
“What’s the hold up? We can’t be more than a couple of hours out from the Hole“ he complained, loudly. “Why we came this Godforsaken route …is beyond me.”
Heyes didn’t appear to notice the slight, he just rode straight on over Wheat's indignation.
“Well …as it happens, Wheat… an opportunity has arisen… for you to go earn your pay…. Tall Pete… his three murderous brother’s ….and the entire Rooster gang ….are sitting up ahead… at Longdrop Point ….just waiting to take all our hard won money…. Now ….The Kid here …he’s just busting a gut to go show them lowlives …just who it is they’re planning to kil….er….BUSHWHACK!“
Kid growled, and Heyes had to look at the floor for just a second.
“Now…. I want you to go back there and ask for volunteers ….to go with Kid and show them thieving back-stabbers… just who they’re planning to double cross.”
Heyes nodded home his words and Kid glared madly, looking like his bloodlust was all fired up.
“Go” ordered Heyes looking warily at Kid.
Wheat returned to the pack.
The two Leaders watched and waited. There were cries of indignation. Much waving of pistols. After a couple of minutes of loud declarations of violence, the mood visibly altered. They heard Lobo say something about the pass at Longdrop Point being extremely narrow, and Wheat reminding everyone that you couldn’t get up into the rocks behind the guns, unseen.
Kid would have liked to argue that point.
Then the clincher was, Kyle loudly asking, if he was amongst the dead, would someone send his share of the Haul to his sister, as it was the biggest day’s pay he’d ever had, and he hadn’t even got to hold it yet.
The Leaders could wait no longer. They testily jogged their horses back to the main group.
“What seems to be the hold up here?” snarked Kid, fiercely. “We can’t let them get away with what they're planning!”
Heyes put up his hand, and placed it carefully on his blood thirsty cousins shoulder.
“Wait a minute Kid” he said, very calmly. “I think we oughta hear …what the Boys have to say… after all …it’s their lives on the line.” He gave Kid a consolatory look. “I feel the same as you… We can’t let them… just sit up there …in this…” he caught a handful of sideways blowing sleet, and smiled. “…SNOW. Freezing themselves to death… waiting on us to bring them our money…”
Heyes saw a light go on in Wheat’s brain. The already tall outlaw, grew a few inches taller, and puffed out his chest.
“Seems to me…” he pronounced, “The smart thing to do… would be to leave them coyotes up there…. waiting till Hell freezes over… We divide the spoils right here… and take off …let Winter do our work for us… Get back to the Hole after the snows are over.”
Heyes saw the relieved nods of agreement. He looked mildly surprised and raised his eyebrows at Kid, who looked very sullen at the news.
“Well… I guess… if you’re sure that’s how you want to play it boys….”
This was met with lots of reluctant nodding of heads. Each man wanted the others to be aware that, he could see a smarter way to deal with Tall Pete and his cronies, otherwise nothing would have stopped him from riding at Kid’s side.
Heyes quickly, and as squarely as he could under the prevailing weather conditions, divided the haul.
When the last man had struck out, he turned to Kid with a smug smile.
“What are we waiting for…. We’re loaded… and we got all Winter to spend it!”
Kid, who had miraculously transformed from sullen to ecstatic in about a second, laughed and said
“Sometimes Heyes… when I see you handling the Boys, like that…. I get to thinking… are you handling me!?”
“…But ….we will be paying Tall Pete a visit ….Right?”
The horse shuddered to a halt outside the Saloon and I gratefully slipped off into the dirt. I threw the rein at the hitching rail, knowing the horse was too beat to take another step, and climbed to the batwings. The wonderful smell of smoke, sawdust and cheap whiskey, or was it cheap women, assaulted my senses, as my eyes took a beat to adjust to the gloom. There were lamps over a mirrored bar to one side, and a few gambling tables, with lamps swung low over them, set right at the back of the long room. Other than that, it was just a bit of daylight crawling in through the grimy windows at the front.
Good and dark.
Just how I like it. I got a face people like to tell me they’ve seen before, and I am not in the mood to be telling anyone just how wrong they are. I NEED a drink and what I don’t need is interruptions.
My shoulder is still stinging, from that last bullet. I didn’t think I was getting out of that bloodbath alive. I saw TJ hit the ground with his eyes wide open in shock, and I heard Dagwood get his as we fled. Inch lower, and that damned bullet would have clipped my wings for sure. I been riding since noon, pushing that horse like the devil himself was after me, not even knowing if I been hit or not. Guess as I’m standing at this bar, I must have got lucky.
No more half planned, half baked, crackpot, no good, dumb-ass, get rich quick schemes for me. From here on in, I’ll do the planning myself. I got me a million good ideas, right up here in my head. I don’t need no half-cocked, jumped up, lame brained, no account gang leader telling me what needs to be done. I can tell me, what needs to be done, better than any of them.
From here on in, it’s Wheat Elroy Carlson going it alone. There's not one job I pulled, I couldn’t have planned, and done better myself. Safer, and more profitable, if I’m on my own.
The barkeep puts a dirty glass in front of me, and pours. He doesn’t turn a hair when I give him the stare to show him I’ve noticed the slight to my character. I’m dirty, so the glass is dirty. He can see I’m too beat, to argue the point, anyway. More importantly, he hasn’t recognised me from the wanted posters, so he doesn’t know who he’s dealing with, or things would be different.
My hand shakes as I lift the glass and down it in one. That surprises me. I thought I was over the scare. I close my eyes and my mouth, to swallow down the hogwash, and use the gasp, as it hits, to order a second. That bodged holdup has got me rattled.
It was a doozy alright. No pay, and the whole Williams Gang slaughtered. They’re probably all on display in the Hartsville jailhouse right now, with signs on their chests saying just how dumb they were. How’d I let myself get mixed up with them? If I hadn’t hung back, seen the lay of the land, took in all the possibilities. Used my God given brains, instead of mule headed greed, to go rushing in on top of the guns. That could have been me lying on display in that jailhouse. It was just plain stupid of TJ to hit that stage again so soon. Of course, they were going to hire guns for protection. After last time. Needed thinking out. Proper planning by someone with brains.
The second shot of whiskey didn’t shake so much, but it went down just as fast. My eyes were adjusting to the gloom and I took me a look in the mirror, to check out the rest of the clientele.
Up at the end of the bar, stood a real dandy, clean shaved, white teeth, with his arm around one of the young doves. New boots, fancy rig, clean clothes, no patches, not even one, looking like he owned the place. Cautious too. I saw his sharp blue eyes cut to the mirror a few times, obviously checking me out. Too fly to be the Law. Young and cocky. Gun worn low and tied down. Probably styles himself as one of them fancy Shootists like Doc Holiday.
Wouldn’t he be surprised, if he knew he was bellying up to a bar with the wanted outlaw, Wheat Elroy Carlson. Lucky for him, I'm not in the mood for mixing it up and showing him how a real man handles himself.
Then, he’s joined at the bar by this other flash type. They make a pair alright. This one, has a fancy black rig and hat, and he’s all studded with silver. He’s been playing the tables, and judging by that wad of notes he’s stashing in his fancy jacket pocket, I’d say he was quite a gambler.
That other one must be his muscle.
Well, all I see is easy pickings. Like I said, I got a brain. I don’t need no one else to plan me a robbery. All I need is opportunity.
“Breakfast?” asks the muscle.
“Sure… Give them time to pass around a little of their money… to each other, for a change” says the Gambler.
And they head out the door.
Only one place they can be heading for food at this time of night in this Godforsaken hole, though how anyone could call it "breakfast" is beyond me: Fan Wong’s Food Emporium across the street.
And that’s just fine with me.
When they come out of there, after dark, all nice and softened up on Wong’s noodle hog swill, that’s when I’m going to introduce them to the famous outlaw Wheat Elroy Carlson, and my good friend Smith and Wesson, of course.
No, I don’t need anyone else to do my thinking for me.
“You know what …. we gotta get, Heyes?” screamed Kid, just a few feet from Heyes’ shoulder, urging even more effort from his already speeding horse.
“Out of this business… I already heard you …Jeeez!”
Hannibal Heyes ducked his head lower as another bullet followed the one that had just pushed his hat forward over his eyes.
“Come on Kid…. It’s time things got scary for that posse back there… instead of us!”
He yanked at his horse’s mouth, and sent her plunging down the mountain side, leaving the dusty trail behind. He heard Kid’s yell of bravado, as he too threw caution to the wind, trusting the surefootedness of their mountain-bred horses to see them safe to the bottom of the long drop.
Gunfire rained down on them from above, but it was soon obvious to the two notorious outlaws, that if they were going to meet their maker today, it would be from a broken neck, not a bullet between the shoulder blades.
Heyes felt his mount leave the ground, in a leap for the bottom. As he sent a small prayer heavenwards, he realised for the first time, he heartily agreed with his cousin, and long-time partner, it was, indeed, time to get out of this business.
The firing continued above. The posse held their position, dismounting and switching to rifles.
“Bear rock… NOW!” shouted Kid, taking the lead and swinging his horse left, then right, then right again. Anything to confuse until they were out of rifle range.
Heyes followed suit. Who knew if they had a real gunman in that posse: A dead shot with a rifle. He didn’t like the way his brain was calculating the odds against them. Kid’s horse was kicking up plenty of dust, and he had to pull the bandana on his neck up over his nose. His eyes complained of the abuse they were getting, but his horse seemed to realise weaving and running were the only things that were going to keep them both alive today. He thanked the day he’d bought her; roped right off the mountain, sleek as a mountain lion and cunning as a coyote.
Kid disappeared behind a wall of rock, and when Heyes sped in too, just a few seconds later, he could see Kid was pulling his shotgun out of the boot to cover their retreat.
“Don’t fire!” barked Heyes. “Let’s see their play first.”
He wrestled to free the small opera glasses from his jacket pocket, and put them up to his stinging, protesting eyes.
The posse were mounting their tired horses and about half headed back up the trail towards their town, their families and their businesses. The other half, including the rather flamboyant, tall sheriff with the good aim, took off down trail towards the flat.
That was a long detour.
Persistent, thought Heyes, testily.
“Well?” asked Kid, his eyes never leaving their backtrail.
“Six or so… heading down… Oh… Not off the edge… Not like us… they not stupid…”
Heyes found a small smile for his partner.
“No… They’re using the road.”
“Gives us …at least …. forty minutes’ lead on them…” calculated Kid, staring at the far end of the flat where the trail came down. “I say …we round the mountain at Edwards Pass …and head back to the Hole… through Columbine… We know for a fact… the Sheriff …and all his deputies… are out of town!”
Heyes sent his cousin a wicked, full dimpled grin.
“That would be… the last place they’d think we were heading, alright… We can weave back over the rocks… won’t even have to press the horses… They won’t even be looking for a trail that way.”
Heyes started up the rock-strewn gulch, keeping the horse to the flat rocky shelves. Kid, booted the shotgun and followed.
“I like the way you think Partner…” called back Heyes.
“It’s what’s been keeping you alive all these years” retorted Kid, with a smile of his own.
“… and I kinda get the feeling …that town owes us a little something…” continued Heyes, not rising to the bait.
“How do you mean?” asked Kid
“Well … they owe me… a new hat …for one thing…” said Heyes, taking off his dusty black hat and poking his finger through the ragged hole at the crown. “And… we’re shy $50,000…”
“Heyes… You said, yourself…it would have taken you hours to open that safe… I don’t think anyone but the fishes are gonna get to spend that money!”
Kid sighed heavily. It hadn’t been their best day. That amnesty paper was weighing heavily in his pocket, but Heyes had dismissed it.
When they reached Edwards Pass, they stopped to stare back across the flats, Heyes using his opera glasses again, looking for any signs of rising dust.
They exchanged a look that spoke of more relief than either of them would admit to.
As they turned their horses back to the pass, they heard distant gunshots that came echoing across the flat to their ears like fourth of July firecrackers. The shots were getting more distant, and eventually faded altogether.
They sat in silence for just a second. The memory of the gunshots hanging around their ears like an absence, after a firework display.
“Don’t suppose …they came across …some of our boys…do you?” asked Kid uncomfortably.
Heyes looked a little uncomfortable himself.
“Nah… that whole posse took off after us… Wheat’s probably still swimming.”
“Yeah… probably still swimming…” agreed Kid, quietly.
“Come on Kid…” barked Heyes, breaking the mood.
“We’ve had the fireworks… Now let’s go have us some fun!”