He stood in a world all his own, his brilliant blue eyes taking in every detail of the information on the flyers pinned to the telegraph office notice board.
People came and went, sending and receiving telegrams or simply stopping by to pass the time, gossiping with the telegrapher.
All telegraphers knew everything about what was news in town, therefore they were the most popular men to go to for information. Discretion rarely came into it.
The slim man standing by the notice board did not draw any attention. He was good at that; disappearing in plain sight. At first glance, there was nothing outstanding about him. To say he had a baby face really would not have been a correct description. The term tended to bring to mind an innocent and fresh countenance, rounded out with a chubby youthfulness. But this man was not chubby. His face, like his body, was lean and masculine, and his blue eyes held anything but innocence.
And yet, at first glance or a casual passing, most men tended not to take him seriously. His slender build and average height suggested youthfulness, until they looked closer. Until they took note of the impressive firearm that he wore, strapped low around his slender hips and tied down, the way a gunman would pack it. Then they'd take note. Then they'd back off.
Until he smiled at them. A wide, happy smile that exuded friendliness and an open, honest personality. The smile would cause the sun-etched wrinkles around his eyes and mouth to crinkle and belie his true age and maturity. Those first meeting him would scrutinize this enigma and decide through their own personality whether this man was friend or foe.
But on this day at this particular time, the man of contradictions was not concerned about meeting new people, nor what impression he had upon them. He contemplated the two wanted posters tacked to the message board. He drank in all the information; committing to memory every detail that the rather generic physical descriptions offered him.
He frowned, but his frown held a determination that would not be denied. It was 1882, and Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were in their heyday. They were running rough-shod over three territories and, with the lack of pictures and concrete information about them, they were almost arrogant in their cheeky lack of concern over being brought to task.
His mouth tightened in a line of conviction as his right hand rested upon the handle of the sawed-off Winchester shotgun that was strapped to his waist. The two outlaws were at the top of their game, but Josh Randall, professional bounty hunger, decided that it was time to bring them down.
We're bein' followed," Curry informed his partner in a tone that suggested their pursuer was right behind them.
Heyes frowned as he directed his horse over a rough section of the trail. "We are?"
Heyes sighed, not even questioning how his partner would know. "How many?"
"How should I know? I just know we're bein' followed."
"Okay." Heyes soothed his tone. He hadn't meant to insult. "What do you think we should do about it?"
"You're the thinker, Heyes. I let you know when someone is followin' us, and you come up with a plan. That's the way it works."
Heyes frowned again.
The two horses plodded along in the ensuing silence.
"Well?" Curry prodded.
"Well . . ." Heyes chewed his lip, "we could split up."
"That never goes well."
"Yeah." Heyes thought some more. "How about we split up, then circle around and come up behind them? We get the drop on them."
"Yeah. Then what? We turn them in for the reward?"
"Ha, ha. At least it would give us an idea of how many there are and what to do about it."
Curry looked around at the rolling but sparse hills that surrounded them. "Not much cover here. And with this dirt footing, it'd be real easy for 'em ta see what we'd done."
Heyes nodded, then sighed again. "We could make a run for it."
"On these horses?" Curry snorted. "They weren't in great shape when we bought 'em. I don't think either one could outrun a donkey."
Heyes growled in frustration. "Fine. My ideas aren't good enough, let's see you come up with something."
The discussion was abruptly terminated by a loud crack from a Winchester. The little bay Curry rode tensed, then crumpled like a paper sculpture.
Curry cursed as they both went down, then he scrambled to get away from the dead weight of the animal.
Heyes' chestnut somewhere found the energy to rear and then try to take off at a pathetic gallop. Heyes fought to bring the horse under control, but more rifle fire added incentive to the animal's panic. It continued to rear and fight against the restraint upon its mouth.
Curry, using his dead horse for cover, pulled his peacemaker and shot it in the general direction of the attack, trying to give Heyes a chance to find cover.
Heyes had different ideas. Finally getting his horse under control, he pulled his schofield and pumped shots toward their opponent.
"C'mon!" he yelled as he maneuvered his horse closer to his partner. "I'll cover you. Get on!"
"I can't! That first bullet went through my leg. Get to cover or get outta here!"
"Damn it," Heyes cursed, as he sent the last of his rounds toward the only rock large enough to hide a man.
His mind flashed from one option to another. Making his choice, he grabbed his rifle from the boot and was about to dismount when another volley of shots came at him. He felt the searing pain go through his right arm, and he dropped the rifle.
His horse reared again, then dropping down onto its hindquarters, it toppled over backwards, taking its rider with it.
Heyes hit hard; the wind knocked out of his lungs.
The ground, that had previously appeared so soft and dusty, now felt like a rock-strewn battleground, baked hard by the desert sun.
Then the horse came down on top of him, and he was certain his ribs were crushed. He couldn't move; he couldn't breathe, and his rifle was out of reach.
The situation did not look good.
Curry cursed as he witnessed the wreck in progress and, deciding he didn't have time to reload his empty colt, he made a grab for his rifle.
More shots thumped into the dead horse, right by the stock of the weapon, and Curry jerked his hand back for fear of getting hit again. He glanced at his partner, as Heyes struggled to get out from under the horse. As it was, he couldn't even reach his schofield.
Not seeing assistance coming from that quarter anytime soon, Curry gave one more effort to grab his rifle, but the result was the same. He jerked his hand back, then sighed and shook his head.
He swiveled slightly and began to reload his colt, but as he looked back at his partner, his expression was one of defeat.
"I think we're done, Heyes."
"We're not done yet." Heyes increased his efforts to get out from under the horse. "All I need to do is get to one of my guns, and we're back in business."
"Uh huh." Curry wasn't convinced. He turned back toward their attacker and waited, hoping to find a target.
Meanwhile, Heyes wriggled and pushed, ignoring the searing pain in his arm and ribs. He gritted his teeth and gave one more serious push with his foot against the saddle. He was able to raise the animal just enough for him to pull his trapped leg out from under. He then lay on his back and, gritting his teeth against the pain, he pulled out his handgun and reloaded it.
Biting his lip in concentration, he maneuvered his body around and took aim. He managed to get off a couple of rounds before his arm decided to stop working.
"Damn it." He cursed as he tried to get his finger to pull the trigger.
"What's the matter?"
Heyes sighed and gave up the effort. "This isn't going to work. I need my rifle."
"Do ya think you can get it?"
"Yeah. Cover me."
Curry glanced back at him and was surprised to see his partner already on his knees and getting ready to make a dash for his rifle.
Curry cursed and spun back to recommence shooting.
Heyes ran, bullets hitting the dirt around him, but he kept going, ducking into a roll and grabbing the rifle as he went over it. Then he was on his feet again and running toward Curry. He dodged bullets and, diving in behind the downed horse, he came to a sliding skid on his hands, bumping into his partner.
His left hand went to the bloody slice on his right arm, and he grimaced as he gasped for air.
"Is it bad?" Curry asked.
Heyes bit into his lip as he delicately pulled the torn material away from the wound. "No, but it hurts like mad, and my chest feels like there's a vice squeezing it." He pulled off his bandana and handed it to his partner.
Curry took it with well-honed confidence and wrapped it around Heyes' arm. He tied it snug, but not too tight.
Heyes settled, then both jumped as another volley of bullets came their way.
Heyes leveled his rifle along the horse's barrel and, using his left hand, began to fire, giving Curry his chance to re-load.
Once their token return fire was complete, Heyes tended to Curry's injury.
"It's not too bad, either," he said as he inspected the wound. "Just sliced you across the front of the thigh."
"Yeah, I know." Curry took his own bandana and tied it around his leg. "But it still won't take much weight."
More shots fired, and both men ducked.
Curry fired back. With his chamber empty again, he gave it up. "This ain't gonna work. He's just sittin' up there, waitin' for us ta run outta bullets. After that, there's nothin' stoppin' 'im from mosseyin' on in here and doin' whatever he wants."
Heyes nodded, already thinking the same thing. "Are you sure you can't put any weight on that leg?"
"I might be able ta manage a slow, agonizing limp. What did you have in mind?"
"We both fire what we got in our guns, then split up. If we can circle around behind him, maybe we can take him instead of him taking us."
"Sure," Curry said with mock bravado. "That ought'a work."
Heyes' dimples showed through the smudged dirt on his face. "Glad you agree with me. You ready?"
"Nope. Gotta re-load." Curry again removed bullets from his belt, taking note of how few he had left, and slipped them into the chamber. He rolled into his stomach and took aim. "Fire away."
Both men began firing toward their adversary until the rifle and the colt clicked on empty.
Heyes didn't even make it to his feet when another rifle sounded from behind them, the bullet slamming into the dirt where Heyes' hand had just been.
The two outlaws came up short and pivoted around to come face to face with the grungy looking vagabond who had come up behind them.
He grinned a grin that showed more holes than teeth and kept his rifle aimed at the two men.
"Howdy." He smirked then spit out to the side. "You fellas weren't thinkin' 'a goin' nowhere's now were ya?"
"Woo hoo! We got 'em," came the exuberant claim from the direction of the rock.
The partners slumped as the man who had pinned them down with rifle fire now came strutting around them to go stand by his buddy. Apparently there had been two bounty hunters all along.
The two hunters grinned and slapped each other on the backs, sending up billows of dust and unwashed odor into the air. Once the short celebration as over, Orville approached their captives and collected their guns.
"You've made a terrible mistake," Heyes began his usual spew. "We have every right to charge both of you with assault. Maybe even attempted murder."
Orville and Odin glanced at each other and laughed.
Odin spit again. "Since you fellas are wanted dead or alive, we can hardly be charged with murderin' ya, now can we?" His grin dropped to a scowl, and he gestured with his gun. "Now, you boys just start walkin' that 'a way, and we'll get ya inta town, lickidy-split."
Heyes pushed himself to his feet, then gave his partner a hand to help him.
It was a struggle, but Curry managed to haul himself up. He shifted his weight in an effort to ease the burden on his injured leg.
"Ah, in case you ain't noticed," he said, "one 'a you put a bullet through my leg, so I ain't gonna be walkin' nowhere."
"You ain't walkin'." Orville smirked at him. "You can still ride, can't ya?"
"Oh." Curry's brows rose in mock surprise. "You got some spare horses back there?"
"Hell, no. You can ride yer own damn horse."
A glance was exchanged between the cousins.
"Ah, excuse me," Heyes said. "You fellas shot our horses. See?" He motioned with his good arm, indicating the two dead animals.
Orville and Odin stared at the mounds of deceased horseflesh, expressions of confusion, then slow recollection, drifting across their faces.
"Oh yeah." Orville gave his brother a smack on the arm. "What did ya shoot their horses fer?"
"What do ya mean? Ya told me to."
"Yeah, but ya weren't supposed ta shoot him in the leg as well."
"How was I ta know I shot im in the leg?" Odin puffed up in his own defense. "I was shootin' at the horse. His leg just got in the way."
Orville turned on him, his face red with rising anger. "Maybe ya should'a learned how ta shoot! Now what are we gonna do?"
"And the way this arm keeps bleeding," Heyes chimed in, "I doubt I'll be able to walk more than a mile or two. How far is it to the next town?"
The two bounty hunters stared at Heyes, the wheels slowly turning in their heads as they searched for an answer.
"Twenty miles?" Orville asked.
Odin nodded agreement. "About that."
Both Heyes and Curry groaned, shaking their heads.
"There's no way my leg will hold up for twenty miles," Curry said.
"And I'm likely to pass out from blood loss." Heyes then emphasized his prediction by grimacing in pain.
Curry perked up. "You could let us ride your horses."
Orville snarled at him. "You ain't ridin' our horses. Then we won't have no horses ta ride."
"Yeah," Odin agreed. "I ain't walkin' twenty miles inta town."
"Well," Curry thought about it. "Maybe we could ride double. I'm sure your horses are strong enough to carry two people apiece for twenty miles."
"I got an idea!" Odin was so excited to find a thought in his brain that he ignored Curry's suggestion. "Why don't we just shoot ya. Then we can ride inta town, get us a buckboard and come back out ta collect yur bodies. Shouldn't take more 'n a day."
"Oh well . . ." Heyes paled. "I don't think that's a good plan."
"No," Curry shook his head. "You don't know who might come along and find us. Maybe somebody who also mistakes us for those notorious outlaws, and claims the reward money for themselves."
The bounty hunters again presented the appearance of looking thoughtful.
"He's got a point," Odin admitted.
"Yeah," Orville agreed. "So, why don't you stay here and guard the bodies while I go inta town and get a buckboard?"
"If you're going to do that," Heyes piped in, "then you don't have to kill us. You can stay here and guard us while your buddy goes into town. We won't try anything. Honest."
"Yeah." Curry supported this idea. "Especially with my leg the way it is. I sure wouldn't get far tryin' ta run off."
Heyes nodded with a dimpled grin. "And I wouldn't be much help, supporting him, with my arm like this. We'd just stay put, right here, until you got back."
Orville and Odin exchanged looks, then as one, made up their combined mind.
"Nope," said Orville.
"Safest just ta shoot ya." Odin nodded.
The two rifles came up with intention.
Heyes and Curry both paled with surprise that their smooth-talking plan hadn't gone the way they expected.
Heyes was just about to lay in a protest, when another rifle boomed from out of nowhere. A splattering of shotgun pellets sent dirt flying into the air right under Orville and Odin's noses.
"Hold it!" came the command from behind a small rise of a hill. "You two, drop them guns."
"Hey!" Orville was in a snit. "What do ya think yer doin', mister?"
A slim, wiry man walked into view; his sawed-off shotgun aimed squarely at the two bounty hunters.
"I'm preventing you from committing cold blooded murder."
"It ain't murder," Orville sneered at their opponent. "These two is Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. They's our prisoners, and they's worth the same dead or alive. We got every right ta kill 'em if we wanna."
"I know who they are. And, maybe by the letter of the law, you're right. But in my book, shooting down two wounded and unarmed men is murder. Plain and simple. Now, drop them guns. I ain't tellin' ya again."
"This ain't no fair," Odin complained as he and his brother deposited their guns onto the ground. "These two is our prisoners. You ain't got no right takin' 'em like this."
"We'll see about that," the stranger said. "I'll let the sheriff in Sweetwater know that you're entitled to half the reward. But I'm takin' them in. Alive."
"And just how are you gonna get 'em there?" Orville asked with a smirk. "They ain't got no horses."
"That's all right. We'll borrow yours."
"What?" Odin was incensed. "Then how are we suppose ta get inta town?"
"You can walk."
"Excuse me," Heyes interrupted the negotiations. "There are a couple of items that all of you gentlemen seem to be over-looking."
"Oh yeah?" the stranger asked. "What's that?"
"For one thing, both me and my partner have been shot. They aren't bad wounds, I admit, but we are kind of still bleeding here."
"Well, you'll get tended to in a minute," their new captor assured them. "You're not going to bleed to death."
"The other things is," Heyes continued, "that I think all of you fellas are under the same misinformation."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
Heyes smiled with all the charm he could muster. "The assumption that we're Heyes and Curry."
"Heyes," Curry interrupted him.
Heyes sent his partner an incredulous look.
Curry simply smiled at him. "Take a look at his rigging."
Heyes frowned, but his eyes dropped to the man's holster. It was a simple rig, but custom made, designed to hold and give quick release to the mare's leg, Winchester sawed off shotgun the stranger handled as though it were an extension of his own body.
Heyes' heart sank as his eyes rose up to meet the blue piercing ones of the bounty hunter standing before them.
He tried to smile, but it came up as a resigned grimace. "Your name wouldn't happen to be Josh Randall, would it?"
The boyish face broke into a grin, and the dust-caked features metamorphosized into manly laugh lines. "It just so happens that it would."
The two ex-outlaws groaned.
"I got the feelin' we might 'a just met our match."
"I can see you're an intelligent man. Well, let's face it, your reputation speaks for itself. I'm not going to waste your time or mine, by trying to convince you that we're not who you know we are.
"You've done your research, that much is obvious, but there is one other thing that I'm pretty sure you're not aware of. You see, my partner and I, we have a deal with the governor of Wyoming."
Curry cocked a brow at his cousin. Heyes must be feeling desperate if he was willing to give out this information.
"Yes, sir," Heyes continued, as the three horses jogged along the dirt trail, "Governor Hoyt has offered us an amnesty if we can stay out of trouble for a time. Just to prove we can do it, you understand. So, you taking us into Sweetwater for the reward will kind of be defeating the whole exercise.
"We had to keep this deal a secret, though, which is why you haven't heard about it. The governor couldn't let it be known that he was considering such a deal with quality outlaws like us. And besides that, he likes to call upon us on occasion to do small jobs for him. You know, things that only we can do because, well, we're so good at our professions.
"Aside from that, I have to admit, having my hands tied behind me like this is very uncomfortable. I mean, it's not pleasant at the best of times, but with this wound on my arm, it really is hurting. My ribs don't feel so great either, especially if you're going to keep these horses at a jog. I might have even fractured them. Horses aren't all that light-weight, you know, and when you have one fall on you . . . I don't know, maybe they are fractured. They sure are hurting.
"My partner has been wounded too, you know, in case you have forgotten. I mean, he's riding along right here beside me, and I can see that it has started bleeding again. We need to stop and attend—"
Josh Randall put his horse into a quick roll back, effectively stopping the two horses he led, and Heyes' dialogue, all in one efficient movement.
Heyes sat, his mouth caught in mid-sentence, as the silent pressure from their captor bore down on him.
He'd always admired Curry's talent to subdue an adversary with just a cold, hard stare from his blue eyes. He'd smile and even outright chuckle at how easily these weak-minded bullies would back down from that look and slink away to hide in a corner.
Whenever Curry tried to use this look on him, it always fell flat. Heyes just laughed at him and carried on with his argument, secure in his belief that he was immune to "the stare".
But now, that same stare was coming at him from the ice-blue eyes of the bounty hunter, and Heyes felt the daggers pierce his heart and numb his brain. He stopped talking and had to fight the impulse to look away.
Having made his point, Randall turned his black gelding forward again, and they continued along the track toward town. At a jog.
Curry scowled. "What was that? You prattle right on through that stare when I give it to you."
Heyes coughed, sheepishly avoiding his partner's accusing gaze. "I didn't feel like pushing the point. Besides, my ribs really do hurt, and that non-stop talking is making it worse. Maybe the sheriff in Sweetwater will be a little more flexible."
It seemed an eternity before Randall turned in at the hitching rail in front of the sheriff's office.
Casual observers stopped to gawk, but it was only out of idle curiosity, as it wasn't unusual for petty-anti thieves to be brought into town. Most of the townsfolk moved on after a casual glance.
Sheriff McGrew leaned against the door jamb of his office, his expression showing casual curiosity.
"Who ya got for us this time, Josh?"
Randall assisted the outlaws from their horses and ushered them toward the door. "I'll tell ya when we get 'em inside. Best send for the Doc, they're both wounded."
McGrew cocked a brow, as he watched the two prisoners limp onto the boardwalk. "Really? You must be slippin'. It ain't like you ta have ta shoot your prey in order ta bring 'em to ground."
"It weren't me that done it," Randall said as he pressured the two men inside. "It was the Benton brothers."
McGrew followed in behind the group. "The Benton brothers? Yeah, well that does make sense. Robbie, get these two into a cell, then head on over to the Doc's. We have need of his services."
While Robbie attended to his duties, McGrew and Randall settled in around the desk. Randall unhooked the two gunbelts from his shoulder and plunked them on the desk before sitting down.
McGrew whistled as he inspected the Colt Peacemaker and the Schofield. "Those are two fine pieces of hardware. Ha! And lookie here. You even got a set of lockpicks." He sent a glance to the cell where Robbie was just closing the door on the prisoners, then cocked a brow at the bounty hunter. "Just who are they, anyway?"
"The blonde one is Jed Curry, the other is Hannibal Heyes."
A whistle from Robbie sounded behind Randall. "Really?" He gazed in admiration at the outlaws. "Dang. Sure glad I didn't know that before lockin' 'em up. I might'a fumbled the whole thing. That's Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes? Really?"
McGrew scowled. "Robbie, just go get the Doc, will ya?"
"Oh yeah. Yeah, of course."
Robbie sent one more look toward the cell, then headed out the office door.
"Damn greenhorn," McGrew grumbled. "Anyway, back ta business. If it was them Benton brothers that shot 'em, how come you're bringin' 'em in?"
"Well, I'll tell ya, Sheriff. I was tracking these two myself, but those brothers beat me to it. They had them both wounded by the time I arrived and were just fixing to kill them in order to make things easier for themselves."
McGrew snorted. "Yeah, that sounds like their style, all right. They bring in more dead outlaws than a hangman's noose."
"Yup. Still, I did offer to split the reward with 'em, so if they show up here, layin' claim, well, that's what they'll get."
"That was awful generous of ya."
"Yeah well," Randall shrugged. "Fair is fair."
"I suppose. I don't know many who'd do it, though."
"Hmm. Well, I best tend to the horses and get myself a room. I'll come by in the morning to check up on them."
"Sure. It's gonna take a few days for the reward money to get here, anyway."
Randall turned to leave, but stopped at the sight of the two dejected men sitting in the cell. He briefly met Heyes' eye and saw nothing there but pain and resentment. Then the outlaw looked away, sending the bounty hunter a proverbial cold shoulder.
Randall sighed. Yeah well, I suppose that's to be expected.
Yet, as he led the horses to the livery, Heyes' insistence of a deal with the governor negged at him. He'd heard of governors making deals like this with outlaws. At first, he thought Heyes was just mouthing off; looking for any out he could find. But now, he wondered if there was some truth to it.
Once the horses were tended to Josh Randall took a walk to the telegraph office.
The following morning, the cousins felt better physically. The doctor had arrived the previous evening and tended their wounds, and the food had been better than average for jailhouse fare.
Curry sat stretched out along his cot, extra pillows comfortably propping him up and giving support to his injured leg. He sat quietly, nursing a cup of coffee as he watched Heyes pace.
"Why don't ya sit down and relax?" He knew it was pointless, but he was wearing out just watching. "Read the newspaper or see if you can get a book, or somethin'. The food is good, so is the coffee, and the sheriff's a decent sort. There ain't nothin' we can do right now anyway."
Heyes stopped, one hand on his hip and the other holding his ribs, as he leaned against the bars. "There's got to be something. We can't just sit here."
"Oh yeah? The way this leg is feelin', I don't think I could get far even if we did get outta this cell. We don't have any horses, or money, and your lockpick is outta reach. And besides, the doc told ya ta rest them ribs. Don't think I can't hear ya gaspin' for air. You're hurtin' just as bad as I am."
Heyes subconsciously rubbed his rib cage. "I'd be a lot less uncomfortable in a hotel room with service."
Curry snorted. "Yeah, and if wishes were horses, we wouldn't 'a got caught in the first place."
"We had horses."
An outright laugh came from the cot. "If you say so, Heyes."
This conversation ended as the front door opened.
Both prisoners perked up in the unlikely hope that it was good news. Then both their expressions hardened when two disheveled and foot-sore bounty hunters limped in.
Sheriff McGrew glanced up from his newspaper and prepared for battle.
"Howdy, boys. What can I do for ya?"
"What can ya do for us?" Orville spit tobacco juice onto the floor, then pointed at the occupied cell. "Them two is our prisoners. And we ain't goin' nowhere's until we get paid for em."
"Josh Randall brought those men in." McGrew stood up to meet their assault. "And as far as I'm concerned, he's the one entitled to the reward."
Odin's lip curled in a smirk. "I told ya that bastard wouldn't honor nothin'. We're gettin' shut out."
Orville leaned forward on the desk. "We didn't just cover twenty miles in boots that ain't made fer walkin', just ta be told we don't get nothin'. Randall stole them prisoners right out from under us. And he took our horses, too."
"Your horses are waiting for you at the livery. You don't even have to pay for their keep. They're yours; take 'em. As for him stealin' your prisoners. According to him, you were about to murder them in cold blood. Considering your reputation, I tend to believe him."
Orville straightened, his tempter rising with him. "They're wanted dead or alive. It ain't murder. Them two is slippery. I'd rather bring 'em in dead than not at all."
"You'd rather bring them in dead, period," McGrew said. "They were wounded and on foot. Randall brought the two of them in on his own, alive. No reason why the two 'a you couldn't have done the same."
"The only reason Randall brought them in is cause we already done the hard work. That reward money is ours."
"Well, it's your lucky day." McGrew shook his head as though he still couldn't believe it. "Randall agrees with you."
Two blank stares came back at him.
"He agrees with us?"
"Yeah, he does. He said half the reward goes to you. That's ten thousand dollars."
With dropped jaws, Orville and Odin exchanged looks.
"Half?" Odin took his turn at staining the floor with tobacco juice. "We want it all. It's ours by right."
"You're getting half!" McGrew's tone rose with his anger. "And you're damn lucky to get it. Take it and be thankful."
The brothers stood and stewed.
Finally, Orville managed to put a thought together. "We'll take two thirds."
Odin sent a wide-eyed glared to his brother. "What do ya mean, two thirds? I want it all."
Orville elbowed his partner but kept his eyes on McGrew.
"There's two 'a us and only one 'a him. That's a third each. We'll accept that, but no less."
McGrew stood silent, surprised that Orville had enough brain cells to calculate a third. He recovered quickly. "It seems to me that one person, Randall, did a job that two people, you two, couldn't do. You get half or nothin'. Up to you."
The brothers stood, chewing their lips as each struggled to come up with an argument.
Finally, Orville found some wits. "Yeah, well," he jabbed a dirty finger at the lawman. "Well, we'll see about that. C'mon Odin, we got things ta do."
Orville grabbed his brother's sleeve and pushed him toward the door. "We'll be seein' ya later, Sheriff."
"Yeah, a telegram did come in for you. Let me see, where is it?" The telegrapher shuffled through some loose scraps of paper before lighting on one. He read it then nodded. "Here it is. I knew it had to be around someplace." He cocked a brow at the recipient. "Looks important."
"Yup." Randall snatched the paper away from the pudgy fingers. "It is."
Randall went outside and stopped to read the telegram in private. He frowned, then sent a disappointed look toward the sheriff's office.
Randall released his mare's leg from its holster and set it on the desk. "I need to have a word with the prisoners."
"That's fine. You know where they are."
"Hmm. Actually, you might want to join us."
"Yeah?" McGrew cocked a brow. "Important, is it?"
The outlaws watched Randall and McGrew approach their cell, but neither of them moved from their respite. They couldn't think of anything either lawman could say to brighten their situation. Until . . .
"I just received a telegram from your sheriff friend over in Porterville."
Brows jumped; blue eyes met brown.
Curry sat up straighter as Heyes approached the bars. His smile was cautious.
"Lom Travers? How did you know about him?"
"As you stated the other day, I do my research. His friendship with you isn't common knowledge anymore, but it's easy enough to dig up if you know where to look."
"Yeah, okay. But why would you bother? You didn't need him to identify us."
"Well, I tell ya. You prattling on about a deal with the governor got me thinking. I decided to check it out for myself. Sheriff Travers wasn't much help at first, but once he realized that I already had the information, he was happy enough to confirm it."
"You already had the information?" Heyes frowned. "But the deal with the governor is a secret. Me going on about it is hardly official. As you say, even Lom can't reveal it. How did you—?"
"Ohh, it wasn't that hard to dig up, as long as you—"
"Know where to look." Heyes smiled a dimple. "Yeah, yeah. So, what now?"
Randall sent the question to McGrew.
McGrew shrugged. "I don't have the authority to release them. We'll have to wait for the circuit judge."
"When is he due?" Heyes asked.
"About a week."
An audible groan came from the cot as Curry swung his feet to the floor. "Ya mean we gotta sit around in this cell for a week? And you can bet them Benton brothers ain't gonna be too happy about this neither."
"Hmm." Heyes nodded, then turned back to Randall. "What about you? You have $10,000 coming to you."
"Yup. It's a lot of money all right. And it is still payable. It surely would change my life."
Heyes grinned. "Yeah, but how would your conscience let—"
Randall's raised hand stopped Heyes flat. "I don't need you to worry about my conscience. It does a good enough job all on its own."
McGrew took the telegram from Randall's hand. "Are you sayin' this is legit? That they really do have a deal with the governor to get amnesty?"
"Yup. But they're keeping it quiet, so in the meantime, they can still be arrested and turned in for the bounty."
Heyes' grin broadened. "Yeah, but you're not going—"
Again, the hand came up. "You let me deal with that. C'mon, Sheriff, let's go have a drink."
The sheriff and the bounty hunter agreed and, laughing and joking with one another, they left the jailhouse to the care of the deputy.
Curry sighed, shaking his head. "Geesh, he sure knows how ta stop your silver tongue from waggin'. What I don't get is why ya let 'im do it."
Heyes leaned against the bars and frowned. He still couldn't quite figure that one out either.
By the third morning, both prisoners were restless.
Heyes paced the cell, occasionally grimacing as he massaged his ribs with his good hand.
Curry couldn't decide if he wanted to sit or stand. His leg throbbed no matter where he put it. Finally, he settled on his cot and, tugging his pant leg open where it had been slit up the side, tried to peek at his wound under the bandage.
Heyes frowned at him. "You shouldn't play with that."
"It's itchy. And you should talk. I've seen you scratchin' at your arm."
"Yeah, on top of the bandage. I don't go digging in underneath it."
"I'm just takin' a look. I ain't gonna gouge it with my fingers the way you've been."
"I don't gouge it. I just rub it a little."
"You're more'n just rubbin' it. I've seen the fresh blood on your sleeve. You're goin' after that wound like you've been inflicted with hives. The doctor is gonna cuff your hands behind ya, if'n ya ain't careful."
Heyes sneered. "Well maybe if I had something to do, I could forget about it. You usually sleep the whole time we're in a jail cell anyway. Why don't you do that and leave me alone?"
"How am I supposed ta sleep with my leg throbbin' the way it is?"
"How should I know? You're the big expert on sleeping through a crisis. Figure it out."
Curry glared at his partner. "What's that supposed ta mean?"
"What? You can't figure that out either?"
Curry came to his feet, flinching as weight came onto his leg. "I don't see you comin' up with any great ideas. We've been stuck in this cell for three days now. You sure have met your match in Josh Randall, ain't ya? Geesh. Silver tongue. You're losin' your edge."
Heyes' lip curled and he struck the bars with his right arm, then sucked wind as both his ribs and his wound reacted to the shock.
A heavy sigh from the front office caught their attention.
The deputy stood up and strode with purpose toward the cell. "Will you two stop bickerin'? Damn, you sound like an old married couple. Maybe some coffee will help calm ya down. How about that? You want some coffee."
Curry sat and stared at the floor.
Heyes leaned against the bars and pouted.
Robbie sighed. "I'll make some fresh coffee."
"It would help if there was something to do in here," Heyes called after him. "How about a deck of cards or a chess set?"
Robbie pumped water into the pot and opened the can of coffee grounds. "Chess set? I don't know nobody who plays chess." He grinned. "I got a checkers set. How about that?"
Heyes' sigh was audible. "I suppose if that's all there is."
The coffee pot was set to boil. "I'll go get it once the sheriff comes back. It might be fun. I ain't had a good game 'a checkers in ages."
Curry looked up at his partner. "Checkers?"
Heyes shrugged. "Better than nothing."
Curry's eyes snapped awake as the front door banged open.
The Benton brothers strode into the office, and Robbie glanced up at the intrusion.
His expression changed from pleasant greeting to irritated concern when Odin closed and locked the door behind them.
Robbie stood up and pointed at him. "Hey, what you doin'? You can't lock that door while—"
Orville's gun was in his hand and aimed at the deputy before Robbie could make a move around the desk.
"Don't you go tellin' us what we can and cannot do. You put your gun on the desk and hand us the keys to that cell."
"But you can't—"
Orville cocked the hammer. "Now what did I just tell you?"
In the cell, Curry was instantly alert. He glanced at his partner who had finally fallen asleep, his black hat covering his eyes and shutting out the world.
"Heyes . . ." The name came out as a hiss. "Heyes, wake up."
No movement from the genius.
Curry frowned and glanced at the hostile take-over. All their focus was on the front desk. No one was paying attention to the cell.
Curry took his hat and flung it at his partner. "Heyes."
Heyes jumped, both hats tumbling to the floor. He scowled and squinted his irritation at his partner.
Kid didn't say anything, but pointed toward the desk.
Heyes' eyes followed the point and then, he too was wide awake.
Up front, the drama unfolded.
"I ain't got the keys here," Robbie insisted as he placed his revolver on the desk. "It's always either with the sheriff or in the safe."
"So, which is it, Deputy? With the sheriff or in the safe?"
"Well . . ." Robbie gave the game away with an anxious glance at the large steel box set against the wall.
Orville snorted. "In the safe. Ha! I hear Heyes is real good at openin' one 'a those."
The three men now looked to the cell.
Orville grinned and walked up to the bars. "Yeah, you're a real good safe-cracker, ain't ya, Heyes? Now you get over there and open that safe so we can get the keys ta this cell."
Robbie had been eyeing his gun on the desk, but this comment even brought him up short.
The two prisoners exchanged quick looks, then Heyes stood and, trying to keep his smile under control, he walked up to Orville.
"I'll be happy to oblige you. Just open this cell and let me out."
Orville looked at the locked cell door and his brain skipped a beat. He was beginning to comprehend the flaw in his logic.
"Dag blast it!"
"What's the matter?" Odin asked. "Get 'im over here."
"You idiot! How are we supposed ta get 'im outta the cell ta open the safe when the keys to the cell are in the safe?"
Odin scrunched up his face in an effort to piece it together. Then enlightenment dawned. "Ohh. Yeah, didn't think 'a that."
All eyes turned to the front door as the knob rattled and someone from outside pushed against it.
"Dagnabbit," the sheriff's voice came through followed by an irritated knocking. "Robbie! What did ya lock the door for?"
Orville put a finger to his lips then whispered. "Tell 'im you'll be there in a minute."
Robbie frowned but complied. "Yeah, ah, I'll be right there, Sheriff."
Orville emptied the chamber in Robbie's gun and gave it back to him. "The sheriff knows the combination to the safe, don't he?"
"Fine. You go let 'im in." He waved his gun at the deputy, indicating he should move. "But you be careful what you say. I'll be covering you from behind the door. Odin, get over to the cell and make sure them fellas don't yell out. If either of 'em so much as sneezes, shoot 'im."
Odin ginned with his important task and came over to cover the prisoners.
Another, more persistent, banging on the front door. "C'mon, Robbie. Open up."
"Yeah, yeah." Robbie opened the door and stepped back.
McGrew came through, his face like thunder. "What the hell is the matter with you? You know damn well—"
The door crashed closed behind him and McGrew spun around to come face to face with Orville and his gun.
Orville grinned as he locked the door again. "Howdy, Sheriff. You're just the man we've been waitin' for."
Odin started to giggle.
Sheriff McGrew and Robbie both sat with their hands tied behind them. Robbie was set off to one side, bound and gagged, as Orville and Odin concentrated on the sheriff.
McGrew sat defiant, blood smearing from his nose and a split lip.
"I'm not opening that safe. You can beat me bloody, but I ain't doin' it. We had a deal and I expect you fellas ta stick to it."
"That deal weren't ta our likin'," Orville sneered. "Those are our prisoners, fair and square, and we're taken 'em where we'll get the full bounty. Now open that safe, lawman, or I'll beat ya more than just bloody."
"And what good will that do ya? You still won't have the safe open."
Orville's fist plunged in for a gut punch then followed through with a right hook.
McGrew doubled over then gasped, spitting more blood.
"Open that safe!"
Orville's fist drew back again.
Orville stopped and glared at Heyes. "What?"
"There's no need to keep beating on him. I'll open the safe."
Orville snorted. "We already went over that? Do you think I'm an idiot?"
"Yeah, actually I do. Because if you were smart, you'd know that I can open locked doors as well as safes."
Orville went from being insulted to being confused. "Yeah? With what, your fingers?"
Heyes grinned. "No, my fingers are for the safe. Look around out there. Somebody must have a pen knife on them, or even a couple of letter openers. Find me anything long and narrow, and I can open this cell door."
It took ten minutes before the bounty hunters found what was required. The letter opener had been easy, but despite searching through desk drawers and the lawmen's pockets, a penknife was not to be had. That is until Odin patted his own self down and came across one hidden in his jacket.
"Give me that," Orville snarked as he snatched the knife away from his brother. "Ain't this the one I gave ya for your birthday?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"And you forgot you had it?"
"Wull," Odin shuffled, "I ain't used it in a long while, and—"
"Aww, shut up." Orville handed the tools to Heyes. "Here, and be quick about it."
Heyes took them and, ignoring his rising dislike for Orville, he settled in to open the cell door.
Orville turned away just in time to hear the tumblers click open. He flicked back to meet Heyes' smiling face.
Heyes' grin deepened. "Uh huh." He used his middle finger to push the door open.
He exited the cell with Curry limping up behind him.
Orville was on it instantly, his gun out with intention. "Oh no, not him. Just you."
"What do you mean?" Heyes looked back at Curry, then frowned at Orville. "We're partners. He goes where I do."
"Nope, he stays locked in the cell. I only need you ta open that safe."
"Open the safe?" Heyes couldn't help his incredulousness. "What for?"
This was when Orville lost his temper and landed a left-handed strike across Heyes' face. "To get the keys out, you idiot! Ain't that what this was all about?"
Heyes staggered back but kept his feet.
Orville shifted the aim of his revolver as Curry made a move for him. "Don't you even think it, Curry. Now get back in there."
Curry contained his anger and met Heyes' eye.
Heyes shrugged. "You best do it, Kid. It doesn't look like we have much choice."
Curry shuffled back into the cell. "Yeah, I don't suppose so."
Heyes closed the door and gave it a gentle shake. "There we go; all locked in."
Orville growled and gave Heyes a cuffing on the back of his head. "Stop playin' me for a fool. I know ya gotta turn them tumblers again ta lock it. Now get on with it."
Heyes sent Orville a sneer, no longer even trying to hide his contempt for the bounty hunter. He opened the penknife and inserted it into the lock.
McGrew coughed and spit blood, distracting Orville. "Just what do you expect to gain by this?"
"Like I told your deputy," Orville said, as he glared at the lawman, "we decided we wanted all the reward on these two. It's ours by right. We'll take 'em over to the next county and turn 'em in there."
"You're going to just walk down the main street with two men in cuffs? You're not going to get far doing that."
Orville rolled his eyes. "You figure we didn't plan ahead? We got four horses tied up out back. As soon as Heyes opens the safe, we'll be outta here."
Heyes and Curry exchanged a subtle smile as Curry took hold of the bars on the door to alleviate some of the weight from his leg.
"There you go." Heyes gave the cell door another shaking. "All locked up."
Orville turned to face him again. "Get over there, let me test it."
"Fine." Heyes stepped away as Curry got a tighter grip on the bars.
Orville gave it a shake, and the door didn't budge. "Okay, good. Now go open that safe."
Heyes sighed and walked across the office to the safe. He glanced at Robbie who still sat, tied and gagged, but with eyes darkened by anger. He then passed the sheriff and, in the instant their eyes met, Heyes sent him a quick wink.
He hadn't needed to though, because McGrew knew, as did Heyes, that there was more than just a set of keys in that safe.
Heyes placed a hand on top of the metal box and smiled in anticipation. Though not top of the line, it was a better safe than most law offices had. It wasn't really going to be a challenge, but after being celibate for so long, even this little tidbit would be fun.
He settled into his usual cross-legged position then set his fingers upon the knob and his ear to the tumblers.
Just like with the cell door, the lock surrendered far too quickly, but Heyes smiled anyway.
He glanced at Orville, who stood just on the other side of McGrew, his arms folded in a lazy way, as he waited for the job to get done.
Heyes took note of Odin who stood beside Robbie and at least still had his gun out and paying attention to the going's on.
Heyes then glanced at Curry.
The blue eyes and soft smile said he was ready. Noting that all eyes were on Heyes, Curry pushed open the cell door and stepped into the aisle where his partner would have a clear line on him.
Heyes took note of the move. "Okay," he said as he repositioned himself onto his knees. "It's unlocked." He opened the door, creating a handy barrier between himself and the bounty hunters. "And sure enough, there's the keys, just like you said."
Quick as a flash, he snatched the ring of keys and threw them across the room right at Odin.
Odin's eyes turned to saucers at the unexpected flying missile. He stepped back and dropped his gun as he attempted to ward off the attack.
Before Orville had time to draw his gun, Heyes' hand snaked into the safe again and, grabbing Curry's gun, he fired at Orville. He didn't wait to see if he struck; he knew he did, and slid the gun across the floor to Curry's waiting hands.
Orville fell to the floor, clutching his shoulder, but he had sense enough to fall behind the desk, protecting himself from further fire.
Odin clutched his face where the keys had hit him in the eye.
By this time, Heyes had grabbed his own gun from the safe, and both he and Curry fired at Odin, hoping to bring him down.
But Odin scrambled to get Robbie in between him and the shooters. Up against the wall, the office desk protected him from Heyes, and he maneuvered Robbie and his chair to block Curry. Still holding his injured eye, he looked to where he had dropped his gun and cursed.
Orville took a shot at Curry but only hit the wall where Curry had been.
Curry himself dove back into the cell as soon as he got off his shot. He flipped the cot over and used it as cover.
Heyes fired again, ploughing deep groves into the office desk. He knew he couldn't hit Orville but he might be able to pin him down for Curry to get in a shot.
Curry was busy keeping Odin where he was. He couldn't shoot directly at the bounty hunter without hitting Robbie, but he could prevent him from going for his gun. So that's what he did.
Lead flew in every direction.
The air filled with acrid gun smoke, and McGrew prayed to Almighty God that a bullet wouldn't hit him.
Orville stopped to re-load, and Heyes took the opportunity to slide Curry's gun belt and ammunition to him, then started to reload himself.
Odin took the chance and made a grab for his gun.
Curry snapped his chamber shut and took the shot.
Odin cursed and snatched his bleeding hand back.
Once everyone was reloaded, bullets flew again but only managed to splinter furniture, break glass and make a lot of noise.
Then Orville realized something that Heyes hoped he wouldn't.
"Stop!" Orville shouted above the din. "Stop shootin' and throw down your guns, or I'll shoot the sheriff." Then to prove his point, he cocked the hammer and pointed the gun right at McGrew's head.
"What do we care?" Heyes bluffed. "He's just another lawman trying to take away our freedom."
"Yeah," Curry chimed in. "I just might shoot 'im myself and save you the bother."
Orville laughed. "Nope. You'd a done that already if you were gonna."
McGrew looked at the gun staring him in the face and sighed. "Yeah, he means it, fellas. Best give it up."
The outlaws exchanged a silent conversation, then both slumped at the same time.
"All right." Curry slid his gun across the floor. "We give up."
Heyes, cursing under his breath, did the same.
"Good. Now both of ya, stand up and come on outta there.
A thunderous crash exploded behind Heyes as the back wall of the office erupted into flames sending bricks and wood splinters into the office.
Heyes was the closest and took the worst of it. He was lucky not to get hit with the flying debris, but the shock of the blast shoved him into the open safe door, breaking his already fractured ribs. He tumbled over the top of it only to lay where he landed, unable to move as he sucked air into his lungs.
Curry was the most fortunate, as he was out of the line of the blast. He'd already had the cot flipped over for cover, and he hunkered down behind that as soon as the explosion sounded.
McGrew and his chair were flung to the side. Small chucks of brick assaulted him but most simply clattered onto the floor around him.
Orville took the blast full on, but by the time the shock wave hit him, it had lost most of its punch. He staggered backward and hit the front wall. He dropped his gun but managed to stay on his feet.
Robbie, just like McGrew, got pushed over, and that shoved Odin out from hiding to end up standing beside his brother.
A stampede of booted feet trampled past Heyes' eyes as Josh Randall and a small delegation of rescuers charged through the hole in the back wall. Guns were out and ready for any resistance.
Orville saw them coming through the smoke-laden air and made the mistake of diving for his gun.
Randall's mare's leg spat fire, followed by the loud blast of the discharge.
Orville hit the wall again and slid to the floor, small holes from the shotgun blast slowly beginning to ooze blood.
Odin took one look at his brother; his eyes widened again, and he raised his hands. "I give up. We didn't mean nothin'!"
Heyes sat on his cot, facing the assembly in the office area. Getting his shirt off had not been an easy affair, but between gritted teeth, and the doctor's gentle maneuvering, they'd managed.
Heyes grimaced with the pain but still managed to draw in a gasp of air so he could talk.
"How long before I can travel?"
The doctor cocked a brow at him as he wrapped the bruised torso. "Travel? Ha. I'd say at least a month, preferably six weeks, maybe even longer."
"I can't hang around for a month."
"Really? And just where do you expect to be going?"
"Anywhere but here."
"Mm hmm. Tell me honestly, do you really expect to be able to ride a horse right now? Or even the train? Nope. You need to lie still and heal."
Heyes dragged in another breath. "You could give me some morphine."
"I intend to, but it's not to help you travel. It's to help you rest. Your busted ribs are still in place and taping you up will keep it there. But you start moving around, and one of those ribs dislocates, it could puncture a lung among other things. You give up on the idea of traveling. I don't see it happening anyway."
In the cell next to Heyes', Odin paced as he nursed his injured hand. "Ya could give me some morphine. Don't ya know I'm bleedin' in here? C'mon, Doc."
The doctor cocked a brow over Heyes' shoulder. "I'll get to you. Sit down and relax; that way you won't bleed so much."
"I said I'd get to you. Be thankful you're not laid out beside your brother."
Odin looked at Orville's covered body and paled. He hung his head and sat down on the cot, cradling his hand. He shot daggers at the men around him, and though he muttered under his breath, he made sure nobody heard him.
Heyes and the doc exchanged a look and the doc shrugged and shook his head.
"There you go." The doctor gave Heyes a pat on the shoulder and straightened up. "Now you do as I say, and rest. If I see you out and stumbling around, I'll arrest you and bring you back here myself. Understand?"
"Yeah, all right, Doc." Heyes pushed himself further back on the cot and found he could barely manage this. "I guess you're right."
"Uh huh. You take it easy."
The doc left that cell and moved on to deal with Odin.
Heyes frowned and glanced toward the office area. His partner, doing his best to stand on one leg, was in deep conversation with the lawmen.
"How did you know?" Curry asked. "There weren't any outward appearance that somethin' was goin' on."
McGrew and Randall exchanged a quick smile.
"Maybe to you there wasn't," the sheriff said, as he wiped blood off his face, "but we knew it right off. We spotted them boys taking four horses down the side alley here, then returning without them. As soon as they headed for the office, we suspected what they were up to. Then when we found the office door locked, we knew. We didn't want to tip them off, so I came in already knowing it was a trap, and Randall here, he went to organize a rescue."
Curry shook his head and chuckled. "You knew it all along?"
"Yup." McGrew frowned at Randall. "I sure didn't expect you to take so long though. What the hell were you doin'?"
"Oh yeah, well," Randall looked sheepish. "I didn't realize the back of this office was built like a fortress. I had ta go get dynamite, then round up a few fellas willing to help out. It's surprisin' how fast heroes disappear when ya come callin' for volunteers."
"Well, that was some rescue," Curry said and glanced at the sheet covered corpse on the floor. "Those two would 'a tried ta killed us as soon as we got into the back country. No doubt about it."
"Very likely." McGrew nodded at his deputy, "Robbie, go collect all the loose guns, will ya? We need to put them in a safe place."
Still rubbing his raw wrists, Robbie nodded. "Sure thing, Sheriff."
Curry bit his lip as he watched Robbie get on with his duty. "Ah, Sheriff, that kind'a brings up another matter." He glanced back at his partner, and their gazes met. He noted that the usual sparkle in those brown eyes had gone into hiding. "I realize that Heyes ain't gonna be able ta travel for a while, but—"
"You'd rather be puttin' in that time somewhere else," the sheriff finished for him.
"Well, we did help out here. We could 'a sided with them. The two of 'em combined can't rub enough brain cells together ta start a fire. We'd 'a had a lot easier time gettin' away from them, than we will from you."
"Yup, I have considered that," McGrew said. "You fellas could'a let Orville there kill me or Robbie, but you didn't, even though it could 'a been to your advantage."
"Yup. And since Randall here already knows about the deal with the governor, well, maybe you could see fit ta let us be on our way."
McGrew and Randell exchanged a look.
"What do ya think, Josh? You're the one who's got $20,000 comin'."
Randall cocked a brow and shrugged. "I tell ya; I've done some thinkin' on that. I suppose, knowin' what I know, I wouldn't feel right accepting that bounty." He grinned, the sunbaked wrinkles taking over his face. "Besides, I'd go stir crazy retiring to a sedentary life."
"Hmm," McGrew nodded then looked into Curry's hopeful eyes. "Well, I doubt your partner's fit ta travel, especially once the doc's done with him." He scratched his chin as he considered the options. "The judge will be here in a few days, and I'll put in a good word for ya."
Curry's heart sank.
"But," McGrew continued, seeing the disappointment come at him, "you won't be locked in. I ain't givin' you your guns back, but you can come and go as you please. But your partner stays here. If the judge releases you, well, then we'll make other arrangements."
"Yeah, but what are the chances of a judge lettin' us go?"
"He's a reasonable fella, and we still have the telegram from your sheriff friend. Along with what you did here today, I expect the odds are good."
Curry sighed. It wasn't the answer he wanted, but it was better than what they had.Four weeks later
Curry sat his horse and watched with concern as his partner cautiously mounted his little bay. "You sure you're up ta travelin'? The doc told ya ta give it six weeks."
"Agh. Since when has a doctor not exaggerated his prognosis. He just wants me hanging around longer so he can make more money of us."
"I donno, Heyes. You still look a might peeked to me."
Heyes settled into the saddle, his expression one of forced comfort. "As long as we stick to a slow jog, I'll be fine. Besides, the judge told us to move along as soon as we could. We don't want to wear out our welcome, do we?"
"The judge is long gone and won't be back for a month, and the sheriff don't mind us bein' here. He's even lettin' ya play poker so we can afford the hotel room."
"There you go. If I can play poker then I can ride a horse."
To prove his point, Heyes nudged his horse into the street and set off at a trot. He clutched at the saddle horn and slowed to a walk, but kept going.
Curry rolled his eyes but caught up with his partner, and they rode out of town together.One hour later
The livery man, Ira Kincaid, stood with his hands on his hips and a frown on his face.
"What are you two doin' back here? Now them two is quality horses, and I ain't buyin' back."
"Well, we don't wanna sell 'em back," Curry said as he dismounted. He walked around to his partner. "You okay? You want some help?"
"No, I don't want help." Heyes sat his horse, clutching the horn, his face tight and pale with pain. "Any time I can't get off my own horse, I'll take to riding a rocking chair."
"Yeah, well, I seem ta recall the hotel room had a real nice rocking chair."
Curry smiled. He noted that Heyes wasn't going to attempt a dismount while he had witnesses, so he turned his attention to Ira. "We'll keep these horses and pay ya board. I expect we'll be takin' 'em out for exercise every day."
"Okay, fine." Ira relaxed; he expected to be in for an argument. "Don't make no sense ta me, you buyin' these horses outright just ta ride em for an hour every day. Ya could 'a just rented 'em, ya know."
Curry heard the distinct grunts and groans as Heyes attempted his dismount, but he deliberately ignored him. "Yeah, I know. But we didn't want nobody else buyin' em out from under us. Like you said, they're good horses."
Ira squinted, expecting a con. He glanced at the two broomtails and wondered if these fellas had any horse sense at all. He noted that the second man had made it to ground and stepped up to take the reins of both horses.
"Fine. You'll know where they be." He clucked, and the horses readily followed him into their familiar surroundings.
Curry turned to Heyes, then with one long stride, was beside him and holding his arm.
"You okay? Ya think you can make it to the hotel?"
Heyes drew in a lungful before answering. "It's just across the street."
"Yeah, I know. But ya look like you're about ta pass out."
"I'm fine." Another gasp. "Let's just go."
Curry was dubious. "Okay."
"And let go of my arm."
Curry smiled and let go, but stayed close. "I'll come back and get our saddle bags later. Let's get our hotel room first. Maybe we can get the same one we've had all along."
"Sounds like a plan."
"I'll swing by the Doc's too and get ya some more laudanum."
"You hungry? Maybe I'll ask the clerk to send up some sandwiches for lunch."
"It's only ten in the morning."
"Yeah, but we had breakfast kind 'a early, and if we wait until lunch time, the café will be busy and it'll take 'em forever. This way, we'll have 'em for when we're ready."
"Hmm. Good point."
"I'll let the sheriff know we're back in town, too. I expect he expected us."
Curry smiled at a young woman who smiled at him as she walked along the boardwalk. "You know, if we had to be stuck some place, this town ain't bad. The people are friendly, the sheriff likes us, and the food is good. Yeah, I could really settle in here for a while. Maybe I'll get myself a real job and become respectable. Who knows? Maybe I'll meet a nice young lady and start courtin—"
"Will you shut up and help me up the steps!"