One Good Turn – Chapter Twenty Eight
The next morning both men rose early for a last breakfast with the Reeds and Asa. The old healer was leaving before they were, getting an early start on his calls to neighbours further afield. He bade Hannah and Ginny and Will goodbye at the house, before saying to Kid and Heyes, "You boys want to take a walk over to the barn with me, while I saddle up Wodi?"
Taking this as a hint that the older man wanted to speak a last word to them out of earshot of the family, Heyes and Kid followed him across the yard. In the shade inside the barn, they stood while Asa fitted his gear onto the pinto horse. Once he was ready, the old healer turned and held out his hand to each of them in turn. "I'll say goodbye, boys." They shook. "And I'll say another thing, too. I got to fretting last night, after I turned in. That maybe I was a little too hard on you both, with what I said." He held them with a level gaze. "So I wanted to tell you, before we parted ways this morning: what you've done for Hannah and her children is a fine thing. I should've said that right off… But I'm saying it now. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what the two of you have done for them."
Heyes and Kid exchanged a look, then turned to smile at Asa. "Well… Like we said last night, we owe Mrs Reed," said Heyes. "This is just our way of settling up."
Asa gave a slow nod. "Surely. I'm just sorry she won't ever know who to thank for it." He reached out to Wodi and gave the horse a gentle pat on the neck. "There is just one other thing."
Asa's gaze rested on both of them, steadily. "I get the feeling that there's still something the two of you aren't levelling with me about."
Heyes blinked. Beside him, Kid grew tense. They made no reply. After a moment, Asa continued. "I have a pretty fair idea of what kind of a man Thomas Pakenham is. And even if I don't spend too much time in town, I hear enough about what goes on in those poker games of his to know that maybe you boys didn't just get lucky when you beat him the other night."
Wodi shook his neck, then settled again. There was a stillness in the barn.
"Now you boys say you beat him at poker and he agreed to make a deal. I figure that's probably true as far as it goes. But I don't think a man like Pakenham is the sort to give in easy when he loses. So I think there's a little more in-between that you left out, of how exactly you persuaded him to write off that debt and hand over that letter." Asa cocked one eyebrow. "So as I was lying awake last night, turning it over my mind, what I come to thinking was this: maybe there's something more to you two than just being a pair of drifters. And maybe it's just as well that I won't ever know exactly how you got Pakenham to write that letter."
"We didn't do nothing unlawful," Kid asserted.
Beside him, Heyes nodded. "That's the truth."
Asa gave his own answering nod. "I'll take your word on that. And I won't ask you any more about what I just said… Because I've a notion this isn't the first time you boys have walked a little on the crooked side."
Heyes took a breath. Beside him, Kid said in a low voice, "Asa… You plan on telling Mrs Reed any of this, after we've gone?"
Asa shook his head. "No. I'm guessing you boys have got your reasons for not being straight with us. Probably best for us, if we don't know what those reasons are." He held them both with a steady gaze. "Probably the best thing for you, as well."
There was a long pause. Asa looked at the sober expressions on their faces, and gave a half shake of his head. "Least said, soonest mended, I reckon. Something I saw a lot of in the war. A whole lot of darkness come upon folks during those years, and it takes a while to leave that behind." He ran his hand steadily down Wodi's neck, soothing the restless horse. "But for now… We best head back out into the yard, or the young 'uns'll be coming into the barn to see to their chores and wonder why we're still here talking."
The three men walked back out into the bright morning daylight, where Asa led his horse to a stop and stiffly mounted up. He looked down at the two outlaws. "Well… I guess we won't be seeing you boys round here again anytime soon."
Heyes managed a smile, although his eyes stayed sombre. "I guess not." He looked briefly at Kid, then back to the healer. "There's some… business we've got to see to, means we're on the move most of the time. We don't know how long it'll take. But after it's settled and done, maybe we can head out this way again."
"I reckon we'd all be glad to see you both," said Asa.
Kid nodded towards the house. "And if Pakenham ever makes a move or starts causing any trouble for the Reeds, you just get word to us and we'll come right away."
Asa smiled at him. "From the way your friend here tells it, son, the both of you are going to be moving round the country far and wide. I don't reckon you'd be too easy to reach."
Heyes hesitated for a moment, then said quietly, "There's a sheriff in Porterville, Wyoming. Name of Lom Trevors. If you need to reach us, get in touch with him. He'll be able to get word to us."
Asa nodded. "I'll remember that. Lom Trevors." He straightened up in his saddle. "Well, I wish you boys well. And I surely hope we'll meet again, before too many years go by."
"Goodbye, and thanks," said Kid, reaching up to shake the older man's hand one last time. He was succeeded by Heyes, who also shook the healer's hand.
"Thank you, Asa," said Heyes. "I won't forget how you fixed me up."
Asa chuckled. "You won't forget the taste of quinine in a hurry, I reckon. Make sure you don't forget to keep on taking it for a while yet."
"I'll make sure he doesn't forget," put in Kid dryly, earning himself an annoyed look from his friend. With another chuckle, Asa gathered up the reins, and urged Wodi forwards and out of the yard. Kid and Heyes stood and watched him go.
Once Asa had departed, there was little left for the two partners to do except pack up their own gear. Kid took a little longer than Heyes to collect his things together; as he walked out of the house he heard the sound of wood being chopped round back. Setting down his gear on the porch, he walked round to the woodpile at the back of the house, where he found Mrs Reed splitting logs. Stepping forward, he gave her a smile. "How about I finish that up for you."
Mrs Reed gave him a firm look. "I can manage well enough. Though I thank you for the offer, Thaddeus."
Kid turned his smile up a notch. "Ma'am, I know full well you can manage just fine. But it'd be my pleasure to do this one last thing to help out."
After a moment, Mrs Reed stepped away from the chopping block with good grace. She handed Kid the axe. "That's the first time I heard a body call splitting kindling a pleasure. But you go to it and welcome."
Kid set up a log on the block, gave Mrs Reed one more grin, then brought the axe down with a satisfying thwack!
The morning was still cool: the barrow by the wood pile was filled steadily by Mrs Reed, picking up the wood split by Kid and stacking it neatly. When at last it was full Kid drove the axe into a log and left it, then straightened up and reached for the barrow handles. "You'll be wanting this taking into the kitchen, I reckon."
"That I will. But you can leave it for me to bring."
Kid shook his head. "I just wouldn't feel right leaving the job half done." So saying, he wheeled the barrow round to the front of the house, then carried the firewood into the house, an armful at a time. When he'd finished dumping the last load he came out onto the porch, brushing a few wood chips from his shirt, then bent down to pick up his gear.
"Thank you, Thaddeus," Mrs Reed called from the chicken pen, where she'd been busy feeding the hens while he'd been carrying wood indoors.
"Like I said ma'am: it's a pleasure." Kid nodded to her in acknowledgement, then headed across the yard to the barn.
Inside Kid moved to the stalls where their horses were tethered. He saw that Heyes' sorrel was kitted out and ready to go… But there was no sign of Heyes. Giving a momentary frown, Kid saddled his own mount and strapped on his bedroll and gear. When it was done, he gave his horse a friendly pat, then headed back out into daylight. There was no sign of Mrs Reed in the yard, so Kid walked out back of the house, and on to the vegetable garden. It wasn't too long before he caught sight of Ginny and Will, hoeing industriously among the rows of plants. Kid hailed them and they instantly looked up, their faces brightening. Leaving their hoeing, both children came towards him. "You two look to be doing a good job there - don't let me stop you. I just came looking for Joshua."
"He came by a little while ago," said Ginny. "Said he was heading on out to the pasture, to take a last look over the place 'fore the both of you leave." She said the last a shade mournfully, and both she and Will regarded Kid with glum expressions.
Kid tried to counteract their gloomy looks with a cheerful smile. "Then I'd best go round him up. We'll be heading out pretty soon." Both children looked glummer than ever. "Hey – the two of you better chirk up. Me and Joshua don't want to leave here with you looking so down in the mouth. Makes us feel pretty bad our own selves."
Ginny made an effort at a brave smile, nudging her brother who tried to do the same. Kid nodded approvingly. "That's a whole lot better." He gave both children a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Before you know it, time'll pass, and one day Joshua and me'll be riding down the road again."
"When?" demanded Will eagerly. "After Thanksgiving?"
"Maybe a little longer," replied Kid cautiously, not wanting to raise any false hopes.
"By springtime?" Will asked. His sister gave him another nudge.
"C'mon, Will. We best get back to work." She looked at Kid. "We'll come and say 'bye to you and Joshua, when you go."
Kid walked out across the pasture, thinking of the hours spent with the two Reed children. Helping Ginny with the hens; mending fence with Will; listening to them giggling with laughter at Asa's tall tales on the porch the night before. A restlessness was beginning to make itself felt inside him, that was warring with the comfortableness that being with the Reeds had brought.
Never did like drawing out goodbyes. Part of him was mildly irritated that Heyes had chosen the moment of departure to go wandering… Although another part of him had an urge to do the same thing.
He'd walked towards the river, and was now in sight of the single oak tree under which Ned Reed's grave marker lay. Kid was unsurprised to see a familiar figure leaning against the tree, gazing away into the distance.
As he reached the cool shade under the tree, Kid slowed down and came to a halt just beside Heyes. "Taking a last look around?"
Heyes spoke quietly, still looking away from his friend. "I got a notion that I wanted to visit here a while, before we left. Wasn't sure why, till I got here."
Kid waited for a moment. When further explanation appeared unforthcoming, he prompted it. "You want to let me in on it?"
Heyes smiled wryly. "It's gonna to sound kind of screwy."
"Spill it, anyway."
"I realised, I just wished there was some way of letting Ned Reed know what happened." Heyes nodded towards the grave marker. "Y'know, that there was some way he'd know that his family are going to be okay. I'm pretty sure he died thinking he'd left them with a big burden to carry. Just… kind of makes me sad, that he never knew they would be all right."
Kid thought for a moment. Then he suggested, "Maybe what matters, is that they are all right." When Heyes finally looked around at him, Kid shrugged. "Not everything can be fixed, Heyes. Ned Reed's gone, but his family are free. Maybe that's as good as it gets."
"Maybe. But I can't help wondering, how many other people Pakenham has got his claws into. How many more folks' lives he'll cast a shadow over." His mouth set into something of a bitter line. "And I'll bet he goes right on living the easy life, no matter what crooked deals he pulls. While you and me try to do the right thing, and wind up on the lam till maybe someone decides one fine day we might just deserve amnesty. That's if we don't get shot by some bounty hunter first."
Kid sighed, recognising his partner's dark mood all too well. "Heyes… Life don't seem to be a fair deal. We worked that out some considerable time ago, as I recall. But you can either let that eat away at you, or let it go. Every man ever walked on this earth gets the same choice: hold onto the good stuff, or hold onto the bad. We did a good thing, and the Reeds are better off for it." He paused, watching his friend to judge the effect of his words. "You know, Pakenham ain't our problem any longer. Getting amnesty is the job we've got, and if you ask me that's a big enough task to be working on."
Heyes was frowning now: he met his friend's gaze. "Big enough that we might not ever make it."
Kid let out a slow breath. Turning his gaze away, his eyes fell on Ned Reed's marker. "Maybe life isn't about a sure thing. Maybe it's about not knowing how things are gonna turn out, but doing the best you can anyway. Just putting one foot in front of the other, and seeing where you wind up."
Heyes smiled at last. "Kid… There are times when what you say kinda makes sense."
"Glad to hear it." Kid laid his hand on his friend's shoulder and gave it a shake. "But that's about all the sermonising I got in me for one day, so we better get to moving before it wears off."
As they walked back across the pasture in the direction of the farm, it occurred to Kid that there was one more detail that was likely to help Heyes see the upside of the situation. "Y'know, it was kinda ticklish bringing this whole deal with Pakenham off… But we come out of it okay. Not to mention, with near on two thousand dollars more than we came here with."
"Any second now you're going to say, every dark cloud's got a silver lining," answered Heyes. "I hate to tell you, Kid, but someone thought of that one first."
"Well, two thousand dollars is a pretty good silver lining."
"And me coming down with marsh fever?" queried Heyes.
"I guess we'd never have come to know the Reeds if you hadn't. And you pulled through, anyway."
Heyes let one eyebrow raise. "You given any thought to what you'd have done if I hadn't pulled through?"
A grin twitched at the corners of Kid's mouth. "Why, I'd have picked out a nice, peaceful place to bury you in." He met his partner's look, allowing the grin to spread over his face. "Maybe one with a tree."
When the two men reached the vegetable garden, Ginny and Will left their hoeing to accompany them back to the house. As the partners went to fetch their horses from the barn, Ginny ran into the house to get her mother: once Kid and Heyes led their mounts into the yard the Reeds were waiting for them, lined up in front of the porch steps.
There was a moment's silence: Heyes broke it by stepping forward and holding out his hand to Mrs Reed. "Ma'am… I'll say goodbye. And thank you. I won't forget how you took in me and my friend here, when we needed help."
Mrs Reed shook his hand, and gave a nod. "Glad to do it," she answered. "And both of you boys have been a godsend about the place, these past few weeks. We'll miss you."
Kid stepped up too, also shaking Mrs Reed's hand. "We'll miss being here too, ma'am."
"You'll miss my cooking, I've a notion," replied Mrs Reed, a smile that was almost mischievous crossing her features. Kid gave her an answering grin.
Ginny and Will stepped forward. Ginny held out two small bundles to the outlaws, her face pinking up a little. Beside her Will stirred up the dust with one foot, eyes on the two men. Ginny spoke up. "We made you something."
Heyes and Kid took the small cloth packages from the girl. Carefully they unfolded the cloth: the wrapping of each bundle turned out to be a colourful hand-sewn bandana, neatly hemmed around each edge with tiny even stitches. Inside each bandana was a small wooden carving. Rolled up in Kid's bundle was a salmon, curved as though swimming through a rushing current of water; in Heyes' hand a mountain lion stood, its tufted ears slanted forwards in alertness. Although each carving was only a few inches long and simply executed, the spirit of each animal was caught in the wood. The two men turned their gifts over in their hands slowly, examining them… Then as one they looked up at the waiting children with smiles on their faces.
"Just saying, thank you, doesn't seem good enough," said Heyes. "These are real fine. I'll bet the two of you must have spent hours working on them."
"We didn't think we were gonna get 'em finished before you had to leave," Will explained eagerly. "Then when you went into Lawton, we worked on them every evening after supper. Ma let us stay up late."
"I reckon we never got given a finer gift," assured Kid. "Thank you, Will. And thank you, Ginny."
"They came up with the idea themselves, of making you something," explained Mrs Reed, laying one hand on each of her children's shoulders. "Thought it was only fitting."
Heyes gave his partner a sidelong look. "Well… You reckon what we came up with is going to be anywhere near as good?"
"Nope." Kid pursed his lips, looking mock-regretful. "Could be they'll be kinda disappointed."
Will and Ginny looked with puzzlement at each other, then at the two men. Kid laughed. "C'mon, Joshua – I think Will's about to bust if we don't let 'em see what it is."
Smiling, Heyes reached back into his saddlebag… And brought out two more packages, wrapped up in brown paper. One was small and narrow: he handed this to Kid, who held it out to Will. The other package was larger and flat; Heyes proffered it towards Ginny.
The children stared at the packages; seemed about to reach for them, then checked and gave a brief questioning look at their mother. She gave a nod. "Go on. But mind your manners and thank Thaddeus and Joshua first."
"Thank you, Thaddeus! Thank you, Joshua!" The children spoke together, then excitedly took the packages from the men. Will had his open in a twinkling, letting out a crow of triumph when the wrapping yielded a brand new shiny jack knife. He opened each of its three blades, turning it this way and that so that they flashed silver in the sun.
Ginny took longer to unwrap the brown paper that covered her package, but when she did her eyes grew wider than before. Inside were two leather-covered notebooks and a small flat wooden box: Ginny opened this to disclose a row of fine wooden pencils. She looked up at the two men, her mouth a small O of astonishment. Heyes smiled at her. "Thaddeus told me you were a budding authoress. I figured maybe these would keep you going for a while. But you've got to promise us you'll dedicate your first book to us."
Both children appeared to be struck dumb by their gifts. Then Ginny broke the stillness: clutching her gifts tightly in one hand, she threw her arms around Heyes in a tight hug. Will followed his sister's lead, flinging himself on Kid. The two men were taken by surprise, but only for a moment: both rested their own arms around the children, returning their embrace.
Mrs Reed waited a moment, before adding her own thanks. "That's mighty generous of you boys. Thank you both." As her children detached themselves from the two outlaws, Will turned to his mother. "Ma, let's give 'em your presents now!"
Ginny rolled her eyes in disgust, as Mrs Reed regarded her son wryly. "Will Reed, you keep a secret like a bucket with a hole in it carries water." Will looked abashed. Mrs Reed laid a hand on his head briefly, signifying that her words carried no sting; then she stepped back to the porch and picked up two more objects. Turning, she placed one in Kid's hands, and the other she gave to Heyes.
Kid looked at his own gift: it was a shirt, so well cared for it was as good as new. Mrs Reed nodded at it. "Belonged to my husband. I thought you could use it. You tore a fair few holes in yourn while you were working here."
Kid knew that more than a shirt was being given here. Never as gifted with words as his friend, he found he could only fall back on the simplest of acknowledgements, feeling inwardly that it was inadequate. "Thank you." But Mrs Reed obviously sensed that the words had come from the heart, for she gave him a warm smile.
Beside Kid, Heyes held up a jar to the light, admiring the deep red of its contents. He looked at Mrs Reed, and there was a chuckle in his voice when he said, "And looky here… I got me a whole jar of those raspberry preserves. I figure somewhere down the line, you might be wanting to make a trade with me, Thaddeus."
Mrs Reed eyed him. "Well, I did make you drink a powerful lot of that fever tea. I reckoned maybe you could use something sweet, for a change."
Heyes laughed. "I'll think of you every time I taste it. Thank you."
"It's little enough reward for you both, for all the work you did here." Mrs Reed rested her gaze on each man, in turn. "Good luck, wherever you boys get to. I hope we'll see you both again here one day."
"We hope that, too." Heyes and Kid shook hands with Mrs Reed, one after the other; exchanged a last hug with the children, then mounted their horses. The family stood together on the porch, waving, as the two men turned their horses. With a last wave apiece, Kid and Heyes urged their mounts forwards and rode out of the Reeds' yard, away down the track.
With all the goodbyes, both men found themselves little inclined to talk. Each lost in his own thoughts, they kept a silence that lasted for more than an hour's riding. At last though, Kid appeared to surface from wherever his contemplation had taken him. "Heyes… Where are we headed?"
Heyes looked round at his friend, evidently still in the midst of his own musings. "Hmm?"
"We're not planning on riding through Lawton, are we? I figure Pakenham's probably still sore enough, we oughta give that place a wide berth."
"Yeah. I think so too." Heyes looked as though he was considering. "Brownfield's about a two-day ride from here, if we head southwest. Three days at the most, if we don't make good time."
"Don't think I'm in any hurry," responded Kid. "Long as the weather holds dry."
"Brownfield it is, then."
Kid nodded in agreement. Then he frowned. "Huh."
Heyes looked across at him. "What?"
"I just remembered. Thinking about Lawton reminded me: you never did get round to telling me why you had to go back into the saloon, just before we left town."
"Oh? Yeah, I guess I didn't." A small smile crept onto Heyes' face.
Kid regarded his friend, steadily. "Well? 'Unfinished business', was all you said."
Heyes grinned. "That's right."
"You gonna tell me now, exactly what 'unfinished business' it was?"
A little over two days before, late morning on Saturday, Ben Yates looked up from stacking glasses under the bar to find George Hampton standing on the other side of it. He straightened up, regarding the little man dubiously. "Well… Hadn't figured on seeing you up and about anytime soon, George," he remarked. "You're still looking kinda peaked."
Hampton had a wilted look about him, and his face still had something of a sickly hue about it. He leaned heavily on the bar. "If I had my druthers, I reckon I would still be in bed. But I figured I ought to get over here, in case Mr Pakenham wanted to see me."
Yates gave the little man a sympathetic look. "Well… Truth to tell, he did ask me to find you sometime this morning, give you a message. Said he wants you to come to his office, noon today."
Hampton stared bleakly down at the bar. His expression revealed that he was unsurprised by this announcement. The queasiness that had dominated his face took on a tinge of dread.
As a loyal employee of Pakenham himself, Yates said nothing aloud that could have been construed as a criticism of their boss. However, his empathy for his colleague went so far as to prompt him to fill a shot glass with whiskey, and slide it across the bar to Hampton.
Hampton stared glassy-eyed at the whiskey, and a small shudder ran through his frame. "Thanks all the same, Ben," he said tremulously. "Don't reckon I'm up to the hard stuff just yet."
Yates nodded understandingly, taking the glass of whiskey back across the bar. After a few moments' consideration, he knocked the drink back himself, wiped the shot glass on the cloth he'd been using to clean the bar counter, then tucked the empty glass back under the bar. Reaching under there appeared to remind him of something: he took out an envelope from where it had been tucked away next to the glasses, and placed it on the bar. "I nearly forgot. This is for you." He pushed the envelope across to Hampton.
The dealer turned his eyes on the envelope and gave it a frown. "What is it?"
Yates shrugged. "Damned if I know. That feller Smith, he swung in here at first light, left it here for you. Said to give it to you when I saw you." He nudged the envelope with a finger. "Maybe he thought he oughta leave you something, on account of him doing so well in that poker game." He smiled encouragingly at Hampton. "I guess Mr Pakenham doesn't have to know anything about it."
Hampton slowly picked the envelope up. Written across the front in pencil were the words: GEORGE HAMPTON.
Hampton slid his thumb under the flap of the envelope and tore it open. Two fifty dollar bills came out to his questing hand, folded inside a piece of paper.
Behind the bar, Yates whistled. "Well, now I know you better not tell Mr Pakenham anything about it. A hundred dollars – that's mighty generous. I heard that's what folks do, but only in fancy casinos and suchlike." Yates peered at the money. "The winners, I mean."
Blinking, Hampton nodded. He unfolded the piece of paper: written on it clearly in pencil, were the following two lines:
A tip for the dealer:
And then, a little way below it:
Find yourself a new job.
Yates tried unsuccessfully to see what was written on the note. Hampton glanced at him; carefully folded the piece of paper and the hundred dollars, and put them away in his pocket. When he returned his gaze up to Yates, there was a distant look in his eyes.
"I reckon I'll have that drink now, Ben," was all he said. Wordlessly, Yates poured out another glass of whiskey and handed it over. Hampton drained it in one go; shuddered slightly as the spirits went down; then set the empty glass back on the bar. "Thanks."
"Sure." Yates watched, slightly bemused, as the dealer turned on his heel and headed for the door that led to the street outside. "Uh… You remember I told you, that Mr Pakenham wants to see you in his office at noon?"
"I remember, Ben." Hampton raised a hand as he exited through the doors, without looking around.
As it turned out, Thomas Pakenham waited in his office for George Hampton long past noon. It took much less than an hour for Hampton to pack the little he owned into a bag and buy himself a horse…
Kid regarded his partner quizzically as Heyes finished his explanation. "You gave Hampton a hundred dollars of our money?"
"We walked away with more'n two thousand. I figured you wouldn't mind." Heyes gave him a persuasive smile. "I felt kind of bad about what we did to him. Just thought it would even things up a little."
Kid remained unpersuaded. "Okay, I'll say that another way: you gave Hampton a hundred dollars of your share of the money?"
Heyes looked a little wounded. "Think of it as an investment. Maybe one day we'll run into him dealing poker in another town, and he'll remember that he owes us a favour."
"Heyes… I thought the whole point of us moving on all the time is that we don't want people to remember us."
Heyes maintained a positive spin. "Well, at least Hampton'll remember us kindly."
Kid snorted. "Unlike his boss…"
A grin came over his friend's face. "Kid…That I can live with."