Somewhere around 1880 or so a group of tired prospectors from Leadville, Colorado camped in the Clear Creek Canyon area. The next morning they awoke minus their burros for the simple reason that they didn’t remember to tether them. They found their burros down by a creek, declared this was “good luck,” and decided to build a new town on the spot. That new town was Beaver City, Colorado.** There’s not much left of Beaver City today except for a couple of outhouses.
This is the story of what happened a year or two later, or perhaps three, when two strangers rode into town:
“You know Heyes, I think we’re gonna make it to the saloon just ahead of the storm, I’ve never seen such clouds. You ever seen such clouds?” asked Kid Curry spurring his horse on past the ramshackle cabins, wood huts and tents scattered along each side of a wide dirt road that made up the town of Beaver City.
At the far end he could make out the large hand-painted sign that grandly read Palace Saloon; closer were the barber’s pole, a sign announcing the home of The Beaver City Epitaph, and a diner with a menu posted but no name. It was obvious from the equipment left lying about that some quick roofing repairs had been in progress in advance of the coming storm.
“No I haven’t, not recently at any rate. Of course there was that downpour in Lee’s Ferry. You know the one where the cemetery flooded out. Some people have no sense, burying bodies in low ground instead of high."
They walked their horses on to the other end of town. “Kid,” with a wide grin Heyes turned towards his friend, “I don’t see a sheriff’s office, and I do believe we’ve seen all that matters in Beaver City. I think I’m going to like it here, depending on the poker, that is."
They passed an old trunk.
"Who would go and leave a trunk in the middle of the road? Like I said some people just don’t have any sense.” He rode along the trunk’s right side as Curry rode along its left.
“I don’t know," said Curry. Maybe the folks here figure it’s as good a spot as any. Kinda funny though ain’t it? Did you see the lock? It's all rusted out. Must have been here awhile. You would think they’d move it by now.”
Glancing at the tools on the boardwalk he added, “Maybe they don’t put anything away.”
After parking their horse in the livery they started for the saloon.
A long tall beer and some hot stew would just about fit the bill mused the Kid. Well, he supposed his stomach would have to wait until a few rounds of poker supplemented their income some. Maybe then instead of stew they could have chicken, potatoes with biscuits dripping in gravy or maybe even a steak.
So lost was he in his thoughts he didn’t notice the small man in overalls hurrying in the opposite direction until after the man veered to their left to avoid them, as they passed him.
The little man let out a yelp. Turning towards the sound they saw him staring gape-mouthed in horror at a ladder he had unintentionally passed under. Gulping he looked towards the Heyes and Curry.
“Oh tarnation. Look at that - Its bad luck that‘s what it is. Lord no. Walking under a ladder. Either of you...you wouldn’t happen to know a counter-jinx to it would you?”
“A counter-jinx?” Heyes responded with a bemused expression.
“Ah come on Mister - you know, a counter-jinx. Something that’ll counter the jinx I just done to myself.”
“Ah, that sort of a counter-jinx,” Heyes replied and, appreciating the enjoyable possibilities of the situation, smiled as he turned towards Curry. “I myself am no expert in these matters but perhaps my friend Mr. Jones here could assist you.”
Curry turned towards Heyes with a look of ill-contained exasperation, and then looked back at the man.
“Well um uh maybe if you...oh yeah...you gotta walk in a circle 5 steps backwards 5 times. That’ll take care of your problem. ‘Course you gotta walk to your left not right. Don’t forget that part or it won’t work.”
“Thanks Mister Jones. I’m truly grateful. I’ll go do that right away. You sure are smart, and I’ll remember, right not left.”
“That’s left not right.” Curry looked back at Heyes, and the two grinned at each other.
“You don’t think he’s indicative of the locals do you?”
“Indic a what?
“You don’t think the rest of the locals are like him?”
“Can’t be. He’s gotta be one of a kind.”
As they entered the saloon pushing aside the cloth that served as a door, the man in overalls stood perplexedly in the street muttering to himself “left, left not right”, looked to his right, and then his left, and scratched his head as if he wasn’t quite exactly sure which was which.
Inside they ordered a couple of much needed beers, and relaxed, observing the surroundings. The saloon was one of the smaller ones they had been in, roughly built but serviceable.
The bar consisted of a long plank set atop barrels. Behind it along the wall was a counter of similar construction and above that, wooden shelves had been erected. The glasses on the shelves were mostly chipped but clean. On the wall above the shelves was a picture of a rather plump nude reclining on her side, thin gauze-like material draped on her body, holding a long-stem rose in one hand.
On the counter alongside the bottles of alcohol were dispensers with cigars and various other forms of tobacco.
The inhabitants were mostly miners and were not the cleanest folks around, but they played poker, and it was easy to see they played it poorly which suited Heyes and Curry just fine.
There were two tables of poker players, both filled with eight players at each.
Other inhabitants stood or sat nearby watching the action. In a far corner, near a pot-bellied stove, sat what had to be the filthiest and second filthiest miners in the room, although it was a fair debate as to who won the title. They were smoking cigars, and engaged in what appeared to be an absorbing, or at least an extremely loud, conversation.
Heyes and Curry stood with their backs to the bar soaking it all in, mirroring each other, Heyes with his glass of beer in his right hand and his left elbow resting on the counter, the Kid with his glass in his left hand and his right elbow on the bar.
Observing the two miners in the corner Curry’s face registered disgust mixed with amusement. “Looks like those two haven’t been visited by a bar of soap in a couple of years or maybe they don’t know what soap is or bathwater neither.”
“I agree with you there, partner. I sure wouldn’t wanna be downwind of either of them.”
The bartender glanced up from the counter he was wiping in a futile effort to remove water rings from the wood. “That’s Sam Weavil and Tom Orrell. They’re some of the original founders of our town, and been working their claims real hard. Got piles of gold dust. I suppose they’re just about the richest boys around about here.”
“Well if they’re so rich you’d think they could spare the two dollars for a bath,” Curry observed.
“Well that’s just it, ain’t it? They got it in their heads that if they bathe they’re gonna loose their good fortune.
I figure,” and here the bartender pondered a moment before continuing, “I figure it’s been at least two years since they bathed. It’s just a fancy them two have. Figure it's bad luck.”
He chuckled. “They don’t believe in hiding their dust in their cabin neither so I guess it’s been hid all up and down Main Street ‘til they make the ride to Leadville. They move what they have all the time; why I even heard they managed to get it under the horse trough one time though I never saw it myself. I don’t think anyone’s actually ever found one of their hiding spots.“
“That could be safer than putting it in the bank, you never can tell,” said Heyes, and laughing, he and Curry picked up their beers and eased over to the nearest poker table.
Two of the players were pocketed their remaining cash and called it a night. Heyes and Curry indicated they would take the vacant chairs.
The other players grunted their greetings impatiently.
“Ante’s five dollars, boys. We’re playing draw, jacks or better to open. Cut the cards Joe, and let’s go.”
A couple of hours later he was happily raking in his chips, placing them into neat stacks, when one of the other players, a lanky, dirty-blonde miner named Will Johnston, sat back in his chair and gave him a long stare. He looked around the table slowly and then back at Heyes.
“I’m trying to figure it out Smith.”
“Figure what out?”
“My luck was real good until you sat down, but now it’s all bad. I think you’re the cause of that. Mind you, I’m not saying I’m angry at you or I don’t like you, don’t know you well enough for that; I just think you brought bad luck to this table.”
Heyes continued stacking the chips and smiled pleasantly at Will. “I guess that just depends on how you look at it. From where I sit things look pretty fortunate.”
Will wiggled in his seat uncomfortably, a puzzled expression on his face.
“Joe, Frank, what do you think? I think he brought bad luck.” The other players nodded in agreement.
Heyes shrugged. “What about my friend Thaddeus? He sat down at the same time. Did he bring bad luck?”
“Nope can’t say as he has. He’s not doing better than the rest of us, and anyway he’s got blue eyes. My Ma always said having someone around with blue eyes was good luck.”
“Will,” Heyes said in a patient voice, “maybe I’m just a better poker player than you.”
The other players looked at each other. In their minds they contrasted the blue-eyed, curly blond-haired “Jones,” with his slightly angelic face, with the angular jaw, brown hair and brown eyes, and somewhat devilish appearance of his partner.
“No,” said Joe, “I don’t think that’s it. I think Will’s got a point. Why don’t you leave Smith? Then we can go back to playing normal.”
“Fellas,” Curry began, “you know it may be that Smith is playing better then you guys, and it just may be that lady luck is with him.
“And? If he’s lucky we’re not, so he’s gotta leave.”
“What are you planning to do if I don’t leave?”
The players’ faces frowned in concentration. No one had considered that. The miners in Beaver City were all about equal as players and this situation had never come up in their experience.
They looked at Heyes.
“Well, what should we do Smith? You got any ideas?”
“Me? My idea is we forget this and keep playing.”
Joe scratched his head. “That don’t seem right to me. There’s gotta be something else we should be doing.”
The other miners looked towards Joe deferentially. A man in his forties, he was the eldest, more neatly attired than the rest, and wore a pair of spectacles that gave him an air of intelligence. This made him a leader among his fellow Beaverites.
“Hey, don’t folks usually fight over something like this?” Will suggested.
“Will is right,” Joe pronounced sagely. He pondered the matter for a few minutes. “I think I got it. Boys, I think what we gotta do is one of us has gotta stand against Smith here with his gun. I’ve heard that’s what’s usually done.”
“Well alright, but who’s it gonna be?”
During this exchange Heyes and Curry gazed at the other players and at each other in disbelief. Heyes raised his eyebrows at Curry.
“Look, you fellas need to think about this. Smith here is my friend, and if one of you fights him, well, you may wound him, you might even kill him.”
Heyes frowned slightly at this, and gave the Kid an irritated look, which the Kid ignored as he continued. “If that happens, then you’ll have to stand against me.”
“That’s a possibility, I suppose. I mean we don’t wanna kill Smith but we may do it accidental-like. So then, we may have to kill you too I suppose.”
“Joe you ain’t thinkin'. What if it’s the other way around? What if I kill one of you?
Tell you what, why don’t I stand and draw. Now you understand I ain’t fighting any of you, so you can see if you think you’ll be faster than me.”
Joe, Will and the others considered this a moment or two.
“Alright Jones, that sounds reasonable. You stand and draw.”
By this time Curry had the entire room’s attention. Everyone waited in anticipation.
The Kid stood and drew.
The people of Beaver city froze. It took a few minutes for them to thaw out.
“Whoowe! I don’t think I ever seen someone so fast.” Will looked up at the Kid with the deepest admiration etched on his face.
The room buzzed.
“That is the most amazing thing I ever saw.”
“Sure was. That warn’t even human.”
“Nobody shoots like that.”
“That’s plain miraculous.”
“I’ll second that. This Jones fella has a true God-given talent. You don’t see that just anywhere.”
“Boys, didn’t Will say he was something special. Didn’t he just know that right off on account of his eyes being so blue?”
On and on and on the miners continued. Heyes and the Kid looked at each other in amusement and waited for the excitement to abate. It didn’t. The room couldn’t settle down; apparently this was the most exciting event that had happened in Beaver City since Roy Collins got drunk, climbed up on top the dry goods store, and tried to shoot Bob Harrison’s hat off.
He leaned over to Heyes and whispered in his ear, “What is wrong with these people? I thought someone just said 'not only isn't his shootin' human, he ain't human. I mean, its one thing to impress folks and get free drinks, but this is weird.”
“I don’t know Thaddeus,” Heyes muttered in return, “I thought of buying drinks for the house to settle 'em down, but that may get them more riled up instead.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, but we gotta do somethin'.”
“You got any ideas? I don't. Maybe we should sit and wait a little longer. They’ll settle down.”
"I don't think their settlin' down. I got it, I'll change the subject."
Curry looked around desperate for inspiration.
Suddenly, the cloth door blew open, and seeing the clouds, he said loudly and clearly, “Looks like rain.”
Just as Heyes glanced at him with a look that seemed to say, “Oh is that the best you can come up with”, a huge clap of thunder roared, and the biggest down-burst seen in years flooded from the dark skies onto the earth.
“Did you see that? Did you hear that? That fella Jones, well you heard it, he said it was gonna rain and it rained.”
“Most amazing thing I ever seen. First he shoots all up to heaven, and then he calls it and it rains.”
“I ain’t ever seen such a thing. That fella does have a gift. You can see it. Will’s right, that other one may not be good luck, but you can see this Jones is something special.”
Heyes smirked at Curry’s almost dazed face.
Curry tried again. “Uh fellas, fellas. It was going to rain. I mean me and my friend Smith here could see that as we road into town. I didn’t say anything you all didn’t know just now. There wasn’t anything special about that.”
“Nothing special about that! Nothing special about that! Now don’t you go bringing yourself down, boy. You said it was gonna rain, and it did right when you said it would.”
“Now hold it just a minute, I never said when it would rain,” Curry answered in a loud deliberate voice.
He looked at Heyes and realized his partner was almost biting his cheeks to keep from laughing out loud. Very funny he thought, but he’d deal with Heyes later.
“Now you surely did Jones. You said it was gonna rain, and it rained exactly when you said it. You got a gift.”
“He sure does,” a voice piped up from near the bar, “I walked under a ladder and you all know how much bad luck that is. Jones told me how to counter the jinx, and sure enough it worked.”
Curry turned to see the man in the overalls working his way towards him from the crowd.
Curry shook his head at the man and groaned. “You do realize it’s only been a couple of hours since you walked under that ladder.”
“Well and I haven’t had any troubles since I saw you Jones. That’s a fact sure enough.”
The miners stopped to take in this impressive bit of evidence.
They mulled it over, and added it to the other miraculous events of the evening. Finally Joe rapped on the table to get their attention.
“Gents, I got something to say. Jones here he’s an oracle just like that Jones fella was in Denver a few years back, and sure as anything his name being Jones as well is a sign.”
“What’s an oracle, Joe?”
“That’s a man who can predict all sorts of things, like, well like the weather and other stuff. That man in Denver was called Oracle Jones, and he really helped them out in Denver, told them all sorts of important things, and in return they gave him drinks and stuff.”
Heyes looked up suddenly alert at this, and he smiled ever so slightly.
“Well, my friend Jones is a modest man, and he doesn’t like to advertise his gifts, but I see we can’t hide them from you.”
Curry looked over startled at first, but began to relax as he realized Heyes was up to something, and he already had a fairly good idea of just what that something was. Might be OK, he thought, the inhabitants of Beaver City may be a bit strange, but they didn’t seem too dangerous.
Joe moved on over to the table, signaling the bartender for a bottle of whiskey and glasses. He sat next to Heyes and poured out drinks for the two of them and himself.
“Now anyone can see, Jones, that you’ve got a real talent, and I suppose anyone can see that you keep quiet about it and why. But, while you’re here in Beaver City, there’s no need to hide it, why we’d even make it worth your while if you’d stick around and help us out with a few things.”
“What sort of things?”
“Oh nothing big. We don’t have too many problems amongst ourselves seeing as we all get along pretty well. Once in awhile two fellas may fight a bit over a claim boundary but that’s rare nowadays. Maybe there’s an argument over whose equipment is whose, seeing as we leave things about sometimes. I’m thinking you can help us out with these things but mostly just be here the way Jones was in Denver. For luck if you see what I mean.’
“Just be here? That’s it?” It couldn’t be that easy, could it?
Curry reclined, and sipped his whisky. “I’ll have to talk this over with my partner, Joshua here, but”, and here he decided to take a stab at it, “I do my best thinkin' when I’m not so hungry.”
A miner shouted out, “Hey, he’s hungry. Jones’s is hungry. Someone go on over to the diner and pick up some supper for him.”
Another spoke up, “What’s it you want Jones? You want chicken?”
A third chipped in eagerly, “No, no, not chicken. He needs steak. Steak, and greens and potatoes and biscuits. He needs real food.”
A bit belatedly some one added, “Oh, and I guess we better get some grub for his friend while we’re at it.”
Curry relaxed exchanged a smile with Heyes. “You may be right Joe, me and my friend may wanna stick around awhile.”
“I thought you might see it that way.” Joe raised his glass. “Here’s to Oracle Jones the Second.”
Back in the room the townsfolk generously provided for them, the Kid plumped up his two genuine down feathered pillows, and stretched out on his bed as he watched Heyes rummage through the nightstand drawers. “That was some meal wasn’t it? I do believe I’m gonna like it here.”
And how about this room? Best room for board in the entire town, two separate beds so we can really spread out, and has its own bathtub. I wouldn’t have thought they’d have a room with its own bath in a town like this."
You know Heyes; I think this is the best job we’ve had since we were protecting Hank Henderson. Well the best job I’ve had at any rate. You really aren’t doing much are you? Maybe you should get a real job while we’re here.”
Ignoring this last remark, Heyes moved from the second nightstand to the dresser and began a search of its drawers in turn.
“Kid, need I remind you Hank Henderson was shot and killed. Now I agree this is a real nice set-up, but do you honestly think it was wise to tell them we’d stay a month. What if someone recognizes us and we have to leave in a hurry? Wouldn’t that make them a bit suspicious?
“What, a little out of the way town like this? Whose gonna know us here. And these people - suspicious? They may be a little weird, but they like me.
Anyway, I don’t think they are the smartest group of people we’ve run into. You know, I heard being too closely related can do that. Do you think they’re all inbred here? I mean they do look a lot alike. And by the way, if you’re looking for a book, I hardly think this is a town you’ll find one in.”
“Well I don’t think they’re inbred, but you are right about one thing. If they prefer you to me they can’t be all that smart.”
Heyes stood up triumphantly with a book in his hand and then looking down at the title gave a grunt, “I don’t believe it. “Life on the Mississippi”-again.”
The next day started with breakfast at the diner, complete with a stack of flap-jacks, real maple syrup, bacon, eggs, and coffee.
As they ate, many of the townspeople came by for a look at their new oracle. Heads peaked around the doorway for a glimpse of Curry, while others peered through the window. There was a lot of whispering and pointing, and heads nodding. Most moved on to their daily routines, but Will Johnston, and a few of his friends, couldn’t take their eyes off such a wondrous personage, and remained fixed at a far window.
Finishing breakfast, the Kid and Heyes moved on to the saloon for their business of the day, poker, followed at a safe distance by Will Johnston and his contingent.
In the saloon, Currywas eagerly welcomed to one of the two poker tables, one of the players rising to give him the best seat, a chair that had even legs and didn’t wobble.
In contrast, when Heyes sat down, one of the miners took his lucky rabbit’s foot out of his coat pocket and laid it prominently on the table, another got up and returned with a salt shaker, poured some salt in his hand, and threw it over his shoulder. A third rapped on the table several times in patterns of threes and fives, and one player simply shook his head and left. His replacement placed a horseshoe on the table.
The game went smoothly enough as Heyes had decided, based on the previous evening's experience, to moderate his play, not bet so high, or win so noticeably. As a result tempers remained even.
Will was sitting a few feet away mesmerized by the Kid, his head rising and falling with the movement of Curry’s hands.
They didn’t talk much but one player asked Kid for a weather prediction.
The downpour had ended but the skies were still cloudy and a light rain was falling so he felt pretty safe in predicting rain for the day. The players were pleased with this, and the game continued.
Two miners entered the saloon, and approached the table. Removing their hats, they stood respectfully behind the Kid. When the hand was finished, one cleared his throat.
“Jones, we want your opinion on an a matter of real importance.”
“His goat wandered onto my place, and et up my long johns which was hangin' on the line.”
“You had long johns hanging to dry in this weather?” Heyes asked.
“That don’t matter none, and it’s none of your business anyway. It’s Jones we came to talk to. Anyway as I said his goat et my long johns, and I think he owes me some money for ‘em.”
“They weren’t worth nothin'.” The other miner was indignant. “They was so old and full of holes, it was a good thing the goat ate ‘em so you’d have to buy some others.”
“Well Jones, what do you say?” came from one of the poker players. They looked towards him, expectantly.
Curry thought it through a moment. “Seeing as how they had some value, at least as goat feed, the owner of the goat should pay 50 cents to the owner of the long johns.”
“Fifty cents! That’s robbery!”
“I said fifty cents,” the Kid repeated evenly as he stared at the owner of the goat. The owner “backed down,” and paid the fifty cents, all the while muttering under his breath how “ragged them long johns was.”
In the afternoon the two former outlaws moved to seats along the far wall for observation and relaxation.
Leaning his chair back against the wall, the Kid surveyed his “domain” benignly, while he and Heyes alternated sips of whisky with “sips” of aromatic cigar. They had strategically placed themselves upwind of Sam Weavil and Tom Orrell with a view of the entire room and its doorway.
Will Johnston and his friends sat close enough to watch Curry’s every move in awe, but far away enough to be at, what they considered to, a safe distance, from Heyes. Joe walked nearby, and Curry waved him to him.
“Howdy Joe. Come and have a seat.”
“Howdy boys. Hope you are enjoying your stay, means a lot to us here. Town’s nice and quiet.” He pushed his spectacles back up the bridge of his nose.
“Joe, is this town ever anything but nice and quiet?”
“Now Smith, you know what I’m saying. We don’t get many problems as a rule but the town feels more secure-like with Jones around, and that’s a good thing for a town, ain’t it?”
“Joe, we understand entirely. Joshua here just has a peculiar sense of humor. We like your town and plan to stay the month, maybe longer.”
“That’s good.” Joe scratched his head and then the inside of his right ear. “Sorry ‘bout that, not polite but I get the most uncommon annoying itches. You know, end of this week we get our visit from the federal marshal and I’ll introduce you.”
“The federal marshal...,” Kid began, and he glanced at Heyes.
"...is coming here?” finished Heyes, cigar drooping in his mouth.
“That’s right. We ain’t big enough to have our own law, so he comes around here ‘bout every three or four months. Real nice fella, by the name of Wade Sawyer.”***
“Wade Sawyer, Wade Sawyer is coming here. That’s just great.”
Heyes paced their room.
“I told you,Kid, I told you a month was too long, but noo, you had to go and promise we’d stay a whole month.”
“Well, how was I to know Sawyer would show up? Last time we saw him was in Wyoming.”
“Well, he’s in Colorado now, and he’s coming here.”
“Alright, so he’s comin' here. All we gotta do is just pack up and head out when it’s dark.”
“Just pack up and leave? Even the residents of this town would wonder about us disappearing so fast. What if they tell Sawyer? What if they describe us to Sawyer? You think there’s a possibility he might put it all together and figure out it’s us? ‘Cause I sure do. And, maybe, he’ll think we were up to something here, and maybe he’ll come after us.”
“Heyes you worry too much. But we can’t be here when he arrives, so I vote we take our chances and leave.”
“I agree we gotta leave. But we gotta do it so we don’t draw any suspicion to ourselves. That way when he arrives, if they do mention us they won’t be so likely to go and give descriptions. And maybe we won’t have to worry about another posse on our tails.”
“OK, I think you’re borrowing trouble but we’ll do it your way. You got an idea?”
“Well no, not exactly but I will.” Heyes paced some more.
"I’ve got it," Curry exclaimed. "All I’ve gotta do is predict something that doesn’t happen. They’ll probably be happy to see me go after whatever doesn’t happen doesn’t happen.”
Heyes glanced up sharply, and then relaxed into a smile. “Well it sounds good. Exactly what is it you got in mind to not happen?”
“I thought maybe you’d have an idea. I mean I thought of something not happening.”
Heyes returned to his pacing and thought through the options. He grinned knowingly at the Kid. “Kid I do believe I’ve got an idea.” The Kid grinned back.
The two arrived early the next morning at the saloon, and sat in their usual chairs along the back wall. Hot coffee in tin mugs was brought over. Will Johnston and his friends arrived soon after, and sat at their usual safe distance, their eyes fixed on Curry.
A few other townsfolk wandered in for coffee and to exchange the latest local doings. Some warming up from the cool morning air by standing near the stove.
When it looked as if enough people had arrived to hear and spread news, Curry began.
”Where’s Sam Weavil?”
”Why do you wanna know where Sam is?”
“Because when he comes into town today, he’s gonna be all cleaned up and in his best suit. I wanna see that.”
“Sam Weavil? In a suit? Did he tell you that?”
Heyes looked at the miners with a superior air. “Of course he didn’t tell Thaddeus that. Jones doesn’t need anyone to tell him something simple like that.”
“Jones, are you sure? ‘Cause that don’t seem real likely.”
“I’m sure. Wait and you’ll see.”
“Now, if that happened, that would surely be a miracle.”
“I don’t think he’s had a bath in nigh on a year now.”
“More like three.”
“Well I don’t think it’s gonna happen. Everyone knows how he and Tom think that’s bad luck.”
“That’s right. Maybe Jones saw it, but I sure don’t see it happenin'.”
The men shook their heads at each other, and most left the saloon to begin their business for the day. Even Will left, his brow puckered in thought as he attempted to process what he had heard.
“I suppose all we have to do now is sit back and wait.”
“You do suppose right, partner. By this time tomorrow we should be on our way.”
About an hour later they hear a commotion in the street as someone began to yell.
“Look at this. I don’t believe it.”
"If I hadn’t a seen it with my own two eyes I would have never…”
“He’s done it again! Jones has done it again!”
In the saloon the Kid’s eyes widened and he turned to Heyes. They stared at each other a moment. “Heyes, I’ve done it again?”
“Can’t be Kid. It’s not possible.” The two rose quickly and left the saloon.
Standing awkwardly on the boardwalk was a newly washed Sam Weavil in a three piece suit. Fresh as a daisy; his hair was parted in the middle and slicked down.
The Kid moaned, “It’s possible Heyes.”
“Sam Weavil, what in tarnation has got into you?” asked Joe.
“Now don’t laugh at me fellas. I gotta go up to Leadville to meet my sister. She’s coming in on the train all the way from St. Louis so I had to clean up, didn’t I? I’m riding out now so you got any business with me you take it to Tom.”
While the inhabitants of Beaver City were saying their farewells to Sam, Heyes and Curry turned in unison, and walked morosely back into the saloon. They sunk back into their chairs.
“Heyes, I do not think that was one of your better ideas.”
“Kid, this was a Hannibal Heyes idea. You’re the oracle. You should have thought to say Tom Orrell instead of Sam Weavil.” And he added forgivingly, “Its alright, Kid, I guess we’ll have to sneak out of town before Wade Sawyer gets here, and take our chances.”
“Heyes this was not my fault.”
“Of course it’s your fault, but don’t let that eat at you. What you need to do is drink a beer and relax.”
Later Kid was on his third beer, and almost beginning to relax. Heyes had left to take a walk and do some thinking, which Curry figured saved him the trouble of shooting him. Tom Orrell burst through the door out of breath.
“It ain’t there,” he shouted to the room at large.
“What ain’t there Tom?” asked the barkeeper.
“The dust. It ain’t where Sam said he put it. I needed some, and went to look, and it ain’t there where he said it would be, and he’s gone. What am I gonna do?” He looked about wildly and his eyes fell on Curry.
“Jones, what should I do?”
“You think someone took it Tom?”
“Naw, Sam is too smart at hiding it for that to happen. It just ain’t exactly where he said it would be.”
“Now Tom, calm down a bit. It’s simple. If that’s the case all you gotta do is look harder where he said it would be.”
The Kid figured this was as good an idea as any as there was no way he could know where the gold was. At least it would probably keep Tom busy until he and Heyes left town.
“Thanks Jones.” Tom ran back out the door.
A few minutes later Heyes returned. He neared the table, and the Kid lowered his glass, to speak.
“You heard about the gold.”
“Uh huh,” Heyes slid into his seat, picked up the Kid’s glass, and sipped his beer. “Kid you do realize if we leave town tonight they’re gonna think we took it. They’ll probably think you “saw” where Sam put it.”
“No, I didn’t think of that. Now what are we gonna do?”
“Well, the way I figure it is, we’ll have to stay until it’s found.”
“That had better be before Sawyer arrives.”
“I suppose so Kid. By the way, where do you think Sam told Tom he put it?” He said this with an overly innocent look on his face.
Kid answered suspiciously, “I didn’t ask.”
“The public outhouse. And they’re tearing it all apart. Seems somebody told them to ‘look harder’ where Sam said he put it.” With a smirk, he finished the beer and left to watch.
The early supper they had was not a happy one. It was obvious to the two of them, although not to the townsfolk, that the gold dust was not in the public outhouse. It was also obvious to them that they would be in a lot better situation if it was found.
“I can’t figure it out. I don’t think anyone in this town would steal it. If that was going to happen someone would have followed them a long time ago and taken it from one of the other hiding spots.”
“Maybe no one needed it before.” Finishing his meal, the Kid began to eye his partner’s plate.
“Maybe so. Problem is we’re two strangers here and they’ll likely blame us over anyone they know.” Sitting back, Heyes tilted his head up and stared at the ceiling without really seeing it.
“If they give our descriptions to Wade Sawyer it’ll be Heyes and Curry at it again.”
The Kid reached over and took Heyes’ remaining biscuit, lifted it to his mouth, and thinking better of it, sopped up the rest of the gravy before taking a bite.
“And if Wade Sawyer and the law think that, what do you think the governor of Wyoming is gonna think?”
“Heyes, I wish you hadn’t a said that.”
“Why don’t you go over to Tom and talk to him some more? Maybe you can find out something from him. They trust you here - for now, that is.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“I’m gonna take another walk. I can’t help but feel we’re missing something.”
They left the diner, Kid heading for one end of town and Heyes for another. The rain was intermittent now, but the street was still pockmarked with large puddles.
The Kid approached the outhouse with caution. The roof and two of its walls had been removed and torn to pieces, and it looked as if the miners were about to start on the remainder. It was truly a sight, and the smell was worse. That the men were working in the rain only made it messier.
He moved towards Tom trying to figure out where to stand so as to stay upwind. Tom didn’t smell too good on the best of days, and this was certainly not one of those.
“We’re taking it all to pieces just like you said.” He smiled at the Kid. “I suppose we’ll find it soon.”
“Ah Tom, I said to look harder-not tear the place to pieces.”
“That’s what we’re doin'. There’s no other way to go about it.”
“Tom, are you sure this is where Sam said he put the gold dust?”
“’Course I’m sure. Well he didn’t exactly say it right out loud. We was at the saloon and he didn’t want no one else to know so’s he mouthed it at me but he couldn’t have meant no place else. Nope he said the outhouse alright.”
“Well how can you be sure?”
“What kind of a fool thing is that to say? You think I don’t know my own partner? What else could he have meant?”
“Tom take it easy. I’m just trying to make certain.”
“Well I’m sure, and anyway you said to tear it apart.”
Incredulous, Curry watched Tom return to force apart the remaining walls apart.
Meanwhile, Heyes wasn’t having much better luck. He wandered down the main street muttering to himself, trying out ideas and discarding them. He shook his head to himself and looked back at the outhouse. He walked off the boardwalk and into the street.
In his distraction he walked into a puddle splattering mud on his pants, turned abruptly, and walked right into the trunk in the middle of the street. He glanced down at it, and when he looked back up, he saw Joe and Will approach.
“Gotta watch for that box,” Joe yelled out before reaching him.
“That’s right," added Will as they came up to him, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tripped on it.”
“Why doesn’t somebody get rid of it?”
“On account of it being good luck.”
“You see,” continued Joe, “when we first settled here one of the fellas dropped the box here. Figured he come back and get it later. Then he made a really big strike. We all felt dropping that box was what did it, so it’s been there ever since.”
“Joe, Will, you surely have some unique superstitions in this town.”
“Guess we do at that Smith.” Will, still a bit nervous around Heyes edged away a few paces.
“Sheesh,” Heyes shook his head, and smiled wryly at Joe.
“Now, Smith, don’t you go and laugh at us. That old box of Kraut Strauss’ has been mighty good to us.”
“Whose box did you say this was?”
“It belonged to a fella we call Kraut Strauss on account of his being from some foreign country or other. You been here almost a week, and you didn’t know that?”
“Well, Joe, I guess no one thought to tell us.”
Heyes looked thoughtfully at the outhouse and the ever-growing pile of debris by its side. It was so simple. Well, it was simple to him he added, giving himself a mental pat on the back. He looked down at the trunk again, and congratulated himself a second time.
Scratching his head he turned to Joe and Will. “Hey ya Joe, do you see that?” pointing at the box.
“That. It seems different somehow than when I first saw it.”
“Really, you certain of that?”
“Well, I do believe so, can’t say how but it is.”
“I don’t know Smith. I truly don’t know.” He and Will exchanged blank stares.
Heyes pressed on. ”I mean do you think someone did something to it?”
“Well,” looking down at the box, “That’s a new lock on it ain’t it?”
“It is? Why, I’m sure I didn’t notice Joe. You certainly are smart. Now why would someone wanna put a new lock on an old trunk?” That should spell it out clear enough he thought.
“Now that is an odd thing isn’t it.”
Joe looked down at the box and started to think, putting his little finger in his ear to scratch it. An idea was coming to him, slowly but surely; he knew it. It was there just beyond his reach. He studied the box, and moved his hand to rub the back of his neck.
Heyes looked at him, and smiled inwardly. “I don’t see how’s I could figure this out so I‘ll leave it to you Joe. I think I’ll go look for Thaddeus over the other end of town.”
“Hmm what? Oh. Oh see you later.”
“We’ll be leaving town tomorrow morning,” Heyes announced to his friend.
“What makes you say that?”
"Our friend Joe is gonna find the gold dust any moment now.” He and Kid looked over to where Joe and Will were staring intently at the large box.
“What did you do?”
“Did you know that that box belonged to a man named Kraut Strauss?”
Curry gazed at his partner for a moment. “No one could mistake Kraut Strauss for outhouse. No one is that stupid. I mean Tom did say that Sam didn’t actually say it out loud ‘cause they were in the saloon……but …couldn’t happen.”
“Oh I don't know about that. A noisy saloon, lots of distractions, and remember, this is Beaver City. And anyway,” Heyes turned around, and started to walk towards the boarding house, “someone changed the lock on that box.”
They walked side by side, Heyes with a slightly loping gait, head held upright, and the Kid with slightly rounded shoulders, until they reached the spot where the equipment for the roof repairs had been left. Heyes stopped, and turned to look at the tools and materials.
“I sure wouldn’t wanna be in your shoes, partner.”
“You let these people down. They’re not gonna be too happy when they find out they tore down the public outhouse for no reason.”
“I let them down!?”
“Uh huh. They sure do have plenty of building supplies lying around about out here, don’t they? A lot of those long boards look just like rails, and I bet they have tar here, too.” He looked down into an open pail. Raising his head back up, and gazing directly into Curry’s eyes, he continued. “Yep, that’s tar alright. Shouldn’t be too hard for them to find some feathers.”
“Heyes they wouldn’t--would they?”
Will ran over and picked up a hammer. He nodded at them, turned around and ran back to Joe.
“I wouldn’t worry yet. They’ll probably celebrate tonight after finding the gold. Big party I would think. Then they’ve gotta clean up. Well, everyone but Tom that is. We can leave early in the morning.”
“Very funny, Heyes.”
“Yeehah! I’ve found it!”
“Hey everybody, Joe’s found it! He’s found the gold dust.”
They rode out of Beaver City the next day, at a leisurely pace. Most of the town was sleeping in after a big celebration.
“I figure we’ve got a good day or two before Wade Sawyer arrives," Heyes lectured. "I don’t think that’ll really matter though. Human nature being what it is, and I’m a good judge of human nature, they are not gonna wanna be advertising what happened here these past few days. Sawyer’s been here before so he must know what they’re like. Probably, he’ll figure they tore down the outhouse for good luck. There’s no way they will even wanna mention their oracle. Unless, that is, they make Joe an oracle. They’ll be sure and mention that to Sawyer.”
“Are you done? ‘Cause if you’re done I got somethin' to tell you.”
“We never had anything to worry about. Wade Sawyer won’t be in town for another three weeks.”
Heyes was surprisingly silent for a couple of minutes. He repeated, in a quieter voice, “What?”
“I spoke to the bartender this morning while you saw to the horses. Joe got mixed up over the dates. Seems he’s always doing that. So we could have left anytime, and by the time Wade Sawyer got here, not only could we have been far from Beaver City, we could have been out of Colorado.”
Softly Heyes questioned, “You sure?”
“I'm sure. Also, Sam Weavil wired that he’ll be back in town tomorrow. Seems he was wrong about when his sister was visiting, too. He could have told Tom where the gold was when he got back. That trunk’s lock was broken for no reason.”
The Kid turned his horse west, and rode on.
Hannibal Heyes stared at his partner’s back for a few moments. He followed Kid Curry – at a distance.
*The name Oracle Jones may sound familiar. The original is a character from The Hallelujah Trail. His prediction of the coldest winter in years for Denver triggers the plot of that book and movie. He was wrong.
**This incident is factual. The burros did wander off in the night and the miners did decide to found a town on the spot the beasts wandered to. Here’s the link for more detail:
HYPERLINK "http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/co/beavercity.ht" http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/co/beavercity.ht
***I don’t think I have to tell an ASJ fan this, but Wade Sawyer is the lawman seen at the beginning of Wrong Train To Brimstone.