Crossing the Line
The bunkhouse was rocking with Hank's special distilled whiskey and Kyle's family recipe for 'bourbon and beans' extra spicy. The boys were having a good ole' time and their laughter and cajoling over their most recent 'job well done' could be heard all the way to the leader's cabin.
"I swear that was the easiest bank job we done in ages!" Hank hollered as he slapped his half empty glass down on the hard wood. Contents splattered into the air and sloshed onto the already gummy surface of the table top.
"You got that right," Kyle agreed through his mouthful of chaw and beans. "Them folks was just bendin' over backwards ta' help us inta' that safe."
"Heyes done a good job on this one," Lobo added from his corner. "Even you gotta admit it Wheat; it was easy pickin's and a big pay off."
Wheat snorted. "Even that runt is gonna get lucky on occasion."
This snipe was met with another round of uproarious laughter and Wheat was plastered with an onslaught of back slaps and another mug full of whiskey.
"C'mon Wheat," Hank chided him. "That whole job was pure genius—even you gotta admit that."
"Fine," Wheat finally conceded, his usual resentment towards his boss becoming blurred along with his vision. He raised his glass and emitted a loud burp. "To Hannibal Heyes; the boy genius who might eventually grow up to be a real outlaw!"
More laughter and back slapping, but everyone smashed mugs and glasses together and drank what didn't get sloshed onto the floating table.
Preacher pushed himself to his feet and helping himself to the jug first he then made the rounds and topped up everyone else's receptacles. Preacher swayed and bumped into chairs but he still managed to pour out an equal share to all, including the floor, but then stopped when he got to Charlie. He plunked the jug down on the table and while oscillating in his tracks, pointed an accusing finger at the gang member who was still waiting for his glass to be re-filled.
"You cross the line there though, didn't ya' Charlie?" Preacher accused him.
"What do ya' mean?" Charlie played the innocent though his eyes sparkled with the devil. "I didn't do nothin'!"
More uproarious laughter and accusing fingers pointing his way.
"Aw c'mon!" Charlie protested "That was just fer fun." He smiled and poured his own drink from the jug. "Got myself a real nice payback for it too."
"Yeah well don't be surprised if Heyes don't see it that way," Wheat cautioned him. "Believe me, he don't like nobody steppin' out on their own durin' one 'a his 'well laid out plans'."
Charlie tossed back his drink and poured himself another.
"I'm thinkin' it's time ta' move on anyways," he announced and downed the next cup full.
Preacher scowled and grabbed the jug before Charlie could polish the whole thing off himself. Charlie's little announcement was met with a chorus of protests.
"What do ya' mean; movin' on?" Kyle whined. "We ain't had this much fun since ole' Red Man left the gang."
"Yeah," Hank agreed. "You're real good company, Charlie. What ya' wanna go 'movin' on' fer?"
Charlie shrugged and went to grab for the jug only to realize that it had found its way to the other side of the table with Preacher protectively guarding it.
"I ain't got nothin' agan' you fellas," Charlie assured them. "Hell, I really like Heyes and the Kid too and they sure done me a good turn lettin' me join on here. Give me a chance to get on my feet, ya' know? But I wanna have some fun a'for I die!" His eyes lit up and he grinned in anticipation. "Heyes and the Kid just run too tight a ship for me, that's all."
"Yeah, but they get us good hauls," Kyle pointed out. "You ain't gonna do no where near as good on yer own."
"Sometimes bein' yer own boss is worth a cut in pay," Charlie surmised. "Besides, I won't be on my own fer long. There's some fellas over in Colorado who kinda' fit me better. They may not run as tight a ship, or bring in as big a haul but they sure do have fun doin' it!"
"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do," Wheat slurred. "And you sure got the goods on Heyes. Bloody dictator if'n ya' ask me. A fella can't even have his own opinion around here without..."
"Well why don't you come with me Wheat?" Charlie suggested eagerly. "All I ever heard you do was grip about Heyes. Why don't ya' come where we can have some real fun?"
Kyle was drunk, but not so drunk as to miss the implications of that offer. He sent a worried look over to his partner, but Wheat was instantly shuffling and trying to back step.
"Oh, ah...no thanks there Charlie," he mumbled. "I may not like Heyes much but I'm kinda' dug in here. You know how it is..."
"Yeah I sure do."
Charlie raised his empty glass pointedly towards the Preacher. Preacher scowled, but given this new announcement he begrudgingly scooted the jug over so Charlie could pour himself another. That done, he raised his glass in a toast.
"Here's ta' findin' the right fit!" he announced. "God loves a fool—don't he Preacher."
The next morning Heyes was up early and pacing the common room of the leader's cabin. He'd made coffee and was already onto his third cup as he tried to decide how to deal with this current situation. He liked Charlie—a lot. He was good natured and no coward, that's for sure and he added a lot of comic relief to the gang when everyone else was feeling bored and frustrated. That counts for a lot.
Unfortunately he was too much of a clown, he just didn't seem to know when to shut off the fun and games. He was going to get the gang into trouble one of these times and this last job had almost become 'that time'. Heyes sighed and shook his head. He hated this part of being leader. He didn't like to cut a man loose especially when it was just for being too easy going. But this time Charlie really had blatantly disobeyed orders and Heyes simply could not let him keep getting away with it.
That settled it. Heyes put his coffee cup down, ran his hands through his hair and turned towards the door of the cabin. He was brought up short by a quiet knocking on that same said door and his brow creased in mild confusion.
The door opened quietly and Charlie's smiling face poked in.
"Howdy Heyes," he greeted the leader. "Mind if I come in fer a spell?"
"Sure Charlie, come on in. Want some coffee?"
"Naw. I just wanna get this said and done if'n ya' don't mind."
"Well," Heyes shrugged. "Have a seat."
Charlie pulled out a chair and sat down while Heyes did the same.
Charlie grinned over at him again. "I bet you was workin' yerself up ta' come and tell me you was lettin' me go, weren't ya'?"
"Oh." Heyes smiled dropped and he looked slightly embarrassed at having been found out. "Yeah well, you are kind of pushing your luck there Charlie. And what's worse; you're pushing the luck of the gang too. You just can't keep on doing the things you've been doing and not expect there to be consequences."
"Aw, you know me Heyes," Charlie shrugged. "I don't mean nothin' by it; it's just all in fun."
"But that's the whole point," Heyes countered. "This isn't for fun; this is a business. It could mean the difference of surviving the winter or not."
"And that's why I've decided I'm gonna head on out," Charlie informed him. "Workin' fer you is too much like havin' a real job. You got so many dang rules that fellas gotta stick to."
"Charlie, leaving your post to go rob the mercantile while we're right in the middle of taking down the bank isn't just breaking the rules, it's lacking common sense!"
Charlie grinned. "Yeah, but I got me a whole extra $50.00 outa it AND a kiss and tickle with the grocer's pretty daughter!"
"Who instantly started screaming and got the attention of the whole town!"
"Yeah!" Charlie agreed whole-heartedly. "Ya' couldn't 'a asked for a better diversion."
"I didn't need a diversion!" Heyes snapped back. "I had that heist planned right down to a quiet, casual, diversion free saunter out of town. That girl's high pitched screaming brought attention that we didn't need." Heyes calmed down but shook his head in regret. "I'm sorry Charlie. You're gonna have to..."
"That's why I've decided to leave," Charlie cut him off. "You're a stick in the mud Heyes; You just ain't no fun at all. I really appreciate you and the Kid takin' me in when I was down on my luck but this really ain't a good fit for me and we both know it."
Heyes sat and looked at the grinning face for a moment. Then he smiled himself and nodded, deciding to let Charlie take the high road here.
"Alright Charlie. Sure you don't want a coffee before you go?"
"Naw. I already got my gear together." The two men stood up and shook hands. "I'll just be on my way."
"Okay," Heyes agreed. "Take care of yourself—and try to stay out of trouble."
Charlie grinned. "But where's the fun in that?"
Charlie trotted down the steps of the leader's cabin and with a great weight now lifted off his shoulders, he headed over towards the barn to get his horse ready for travel.
Charlie stopped and a grin came to his face yet again when he spied the Kid coming towards him from the bunk house.
"The boys tell me you're movin' on."
"Yeah," Charlie conceded. "I sure have learned a lot from ridin' with you fellas but, let's face it. I ain't really fittin' in here."
"Yeah well," Jed extended his hand for shaking. "Can't say ya' weren't fun ta' have around but Heyes do like ta' run a tight ship."
"Yeah. I'll be seein' ya' around Kid."
"Yep. Oh and Charlie? You be careful out there. One of these times you're gonna step so far over that line it's gonna wind up costin' ya' your life."
Charlie smiled. "Yeah, you're probably right."