Wool Over the Eyes

Kid Curry rode along quietly, thinking about Heyes' warning about taking on other people's fights. The pay was good, though, and the Bennetts seemed like good people. Mr. Bennett had seen Kid stop a gambler from killing Heyes, had seen Heyes smoothly take things over when the sheriff arrived, and had invited them to dinner. They were intelligent, trouble-avoidin' men, so couldn't they take a job? With the pay offered, and the excellent dinner from the attractive Mrs. Bennett, Kid had been inclined to help. Heyes hadn't.

Curry might have kept on thinking about it if he hadn't smelled there was something wrong at the camp before he could see it. He eased his horse into a gallop, giving the pack mule tied to her fair warning, the scent of putrefying flesh getting stronger as he rode up to where the shed they were camping in had been. But the shed was down, collapsed in on itself, trampled to bits.

The camp was torn up and Heyes wasn't anywhere in sight. The stench came from Heyes' mare. She was shot up in several spots, bloated, her guts oozed out onto the dirt, flies landing on her staring brown eyes. Kid had stopped his horse, had stopped moving, had stopped thinking. The shack was kindling and their supplies were all over the ground, mashed into pieces.

Kid clenched his jaw, scanned the area, got off his horse with his gun drawn. After deciding he wasn't about to get picked off by a shooter, he went to the downed shed they'd bunked in. Anything that had happened to Heyes was his fault.

"Heyes?" Curry threw aside the pieces of the tin roof and the lumber, digging downward, ignoring his protesting hands. "Heyes?" As the shed had been more lean-to than house, he made a quick job of it.

Heyes wasn't there. He took in a shaky breath. Not there, not broken and tangled up in the rubble. But then where?

Kid hobbled the mare and mule. He tried to ignore the rotten smell and his growing sense of dread. He was a pretty good scout but not a self-proclaimed "champine" tracker like Heyes, which was ironic since he was the better of the two. Still, the signs were easy to read. A bunch of hooves lead into the camp from the south. The tracks said the riders had walked their horses until they were about 30 yards away when they'd galloped. Curry assumed the attack had gone on last night—there wasn't any other way they could have snuck up on Heyes.

Kid's partner had been making dinner; the overturned can of beans, the remains of the fire pit, and the fork lying flat in the dirt said as much. Cards were strewn over the ground like confetti, too, so Heyes had been playing Blackjack.

How many men had Heyes been up against? Judging from the tracks, Kid decided there'd been about five or six. Five or six guns against Heyes, who, though a good shot, wasn't a fast draw. Kid kicked the overturned can, scattering the beans. The partners had flipped for who got to go to town—which was closer than the Bennetts' bunkhouses from their end—stock up, get a bath, a decent meal, and Curry had won. He'd won and he'd been happy about it, and he hadn't been there for Heyes. He hadn't been there for him, but he'd gotten him into it.

Mr. Bennett had said they merely had to watch over the back end of their property—the regular hands had the front and the middle—so they knew the place was safe while they were gone. And maybe the boys could help their nearest neighbors, the Sterlings, friends of theirs, if needed. Heyes had asked why they were taking the extra precaution. Bennett said he'd had some trouble with the local ranchers about grazing rights but that they were leaving to sell the sheep, which he'd inherited from his father along with the animosity from the cattlemen. Heyes had been against it, figured if there was a losing side the Bennetts were it, but Kid had argued that the sheep that had shared open range with the cattle were gone and that they'd be paid triple what other local jobs offered. So Heyes went along with the Kid and the Kid might have gotten him killed.

Kid stopped and looked again at a bit of ground he'd walked past. The dirt was compressed like something had been there and a mark next to the spot seemed to be a handprint. And the dark red stain, that had to be blood. Someone had fallen, bleeding, and shoved himself back up. It doesn't have to be Heyes, Kid thought, one of the riders could have fallen. But there weren't hoof prints near and the proximity to the fire pit was undeniable. Five or six men had rode in shooting, killing the horse, and injuring Heyes who had fallen in his haste to get away from the fire into some cover. Kid stared at the blood stain as though it could tell him how bad Heyes was hurt, where he was hit, where he was.

He must've gotten away in the confusion, though, Kid reasoned, the hooves left the camp in different, winding directions like a posse would when looking for a fugitive. Kid clenched his fists. It could have been a real posse; someone at the Bennetts could have recognized Heyes and gone to take him in, dead or alive. After a moment, Curry decided it was the proddy cattle ranchers who were responsible, since a posse wouldn't have been so secretive, not when they knew Heyes was without his gunslinger partner.

Heyes would've headed toward the rocky woods rather than the valley, so Kid un-hobbled his horse, checked the mule, and headed out. He took several deep breaths, trying to assume his famous poker face. He was antsy, jumpy; he felt like he had a ball of worry in his throat he was going to choke on. Curry couldn't stand not knowing where Heyes was, if he was alright or dead or lying somewhere in pain wondering where his partner, his cousin, his brother, basically, was. Although the morning was chilly, Kid's stomach was rumbling, and he'd just discovered that digging frantically in splintered rubble hurt one's hands, he started the search determined to keep going until he found Heyes.

Kid picked up a set of hoof prints along the tree line and found a place where all the horses had circled around another spot of compressed dirt—a fallen man. Kid fingered the handle of his gun, a nervous habit; he'd spotted something black and half buried. He got off his horse, walked inside the circle and pulled a black hat with silver on the band—Heyes' hat—out of the dirt. Kid's hand shook as he picked it up and dusted it off, staring at it. So the riders had him. They had Heyes. As he turned the hat over, he noticed blood. Blood on the underside of the rim and blood on the ground. Heyes' blood. Kid held the hat tightly and closed his eyes.