A Matter of Honour
By Maz McCoy
(The author would like to thank Gregory Peck and the film The Gunfighter for the idea for this story)
Boyd Cartwright kept a clean saloon. He was proud of the fact that his beer glasses were spotless, his floor covered in fresh sawdust and the tables wiped after, or as soon as possible after, the customers sitting there left. He was an amiable man, a desirable characteristic for someone who made his living dealing with the public. Today he chatted with Ned Butler, Willie Sykes and Karl Lunger, all local farmers, as they discussed the price of corn, the recent weather and whether or not Mayor Morrison was carrying on with Widow Ellis.
"I saw him leaving her house when I was on my way home the other night," Butler informed his friends.
"And whose house were you on your way home from and does your wife know?" Lunger asked.
"I was going home from the temperance meeting!" Butler insisted through the others' laughter.
"Says a man sitting in the saloon, drinking a beer!" Cartwright muttered as he picked up an empty glass.
The men fell silent as the batwing doors swung open and a tall, blond man entered the saloon. His old sheepskin overcoat was dusty and despite the warmth of the day he wore it buttoned. His chin was covered in several days' stubble and his blue eyes narrowed as he took a moment to survey the room and its occupants before walking slowly towards the bar.
"What can I getcha?" Boyd asked.
Cartwright poured a glass and placed it before the man.
"Leave the bottle."
The bartender placed it on the counter as the man finished the first glass then picked up the bottle and poured himself another.
"Got quite a thirst on ya, huh?"
Blue eyes met Cartwright's but the man said nothing.
"Excuse me?" Ned Butler headed along the bar towards the stranger. "D'you mind if I ask you a question?"
"Not if you don't mind if I don't answer it."
"Are you Kid Curry?"
Cartwright took an unconscious step back. The stranger stared at his drink before turning to face the man. The bar fell silent once more.
"Why'd you ask?"
"Nothing. Just wondered."
"And who are you?"
"Ned Butler. I'm a farmer."
A slight smiled creased the corners of the man's mouth.
"I thought so. Saw you once back when you were with the Devil's Hole Gang. Heard you and Heyes got your amnesty."
Kid turned away from Butler.
"Mind if I finish my drink?"
"Oh, no, no sir. I didn't mean no offence by…"
"None taken." Kid turned his attention back to his whiskey and the man walked back to his table. The men sitting there exchanged words in hushed tones, an occasional glance was sent Kid's way but no one else felt brave enough to ask another question.
Kid picked up the bottle and glass in his right hand. He walked slowly along the bar stopping suddenly at the end as a wave of pain coursed through his left shoulder. He pulled his left arm in closer to his side.
"Mister Curry? You all right?" the bartender asked.
"I'm fine." Kid headed towards an empty table, seating himself in a chair with his back against the wall, facing the batwing doors. He looked beyond them into the street. He would be coming soon. Soon it would be over and he would be dead too, either lying out there in the street or hanging a day or so later from the end of a rope. He'd do it for Heyes. It was a matter of honour.
"Who did you say?" the sheriff asked as he buckled on his gun belt.
"Kid Curry." Ned Butler followed the lawman as he walked towards his desk. Sheriff Albert Carson stopped and Butler had to sidestep to prevent himself running into him.
"Kid Curry is in the saloon?"
"The Kid Curry?"
"How long's he been there?"
"'Bout an hour I guess."
"An hour? I got a gunslinger sitting in my saloon and nobody bothers to tell me for an hour?"
"Well, we all wanted to see what he'd do first."
The sheriff opened his desk draw and pulled out his badge. He pinned it on his vest.
"And what did he do?"
"Had a drink."
"Ned, are you telling me that he's been sitting there for an hour and all he's done is have a drink?"
"More or less."
The sheriff placed his hands flat on his desk and looked Ned in the eye.
"More or less? What does that mean?"
"Means most of the time he sat there with a whiskey in front of him watching the street."
"He was watching the street?"
"What's he watching it for?"
"I don't know. Figured you'd ask him that."
"Saved all the good questions for me, huh?"
Butler didn't reply. Sheriff Carson stood up straight and adjusted his vest.
"All right. What did he do when he wasn't watching the street?"
"That's the weird bit. Every now and then he'd close his eyes and sort of grimace, like this." Butler demonstrated what he'd seen Kid do. "Reckon he's in some kinda pain."
"Oh terrific, I've not just got a gunslinger in the saloon, I've got a wounded one at that!"
"So whatcha gonna do, sheriff? You gonna tell him to leave town?"
"He done anything wrong?"
"I don't know."
"Then I guess I'll just go talk to him and find out what he wants in Wild Flower."
"Want me to get Dylan?"
"Not yet. Reckon my deputy's entitled to a day off now and again. Reckon his missus won't thank me if I send for him, for nothing."
"My wife says they're trying for a baby."
"Now that's an image I did not want in my head!"
"Don't reckon he does nothing different from what we all do."
"Ned, will you shut up! There are some things a man doesn't want to think about and what his best friend does with his wife is one of them!"
Kid sank his fork into a piece of meat and put it in his mouth. Even chewing took energy and that was something he didn't have too much of. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a young man leaning on the bar, talking to the bartender in hushed tones. He tried to ignore them, turning his attention back to his meal. He wiped at the gravy with a piece of cornbread and was chewing on it when the young man approached his table.
"Are you Kid Curry?"
Kid stabbed at another chunk of meat.
"What can I do for ya?"
"So, are you? Him?"
Kid's eyes appraised the skinny youngster standing before him. Far too sure of himself for his own good, he wore his gun tied down and had a chip finely balanced on his shoulder.
"I'm Will Barton."
"Never heard of ya." Kid herded the vegetables into a pile on one side of the plate.
"You have now."
"Yeah, I guess I have." He scooped the vegetables onto his fork and ate them.
"They say you're the fastest gun around." Will said this loud enough for the whole saloon to hear. Voices stopped talking as a hush fell over the room.
"That's what they say."
"I say you're not." Someone gasped. No one else said a word. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.
Kid put down his fork and leaned patiently back in his chair, his hands in his lap. Slowly, he raised his head to meet the boy's eyes.
"Is that right?"
"Yeah. I reckon I could outdraw you."
"You do, huh?"
"Yeah. I do."
"Well, you didn't."
"What?" It was only then that Will realised he couldn't see Kid's hands.
"I've got a Colt .45 pointed at you under this table. Pulled it without you even knowin'. Now that we've settled that, can I get back to my meal?"
"How do I know you have a gun drawn?"
"Want me to shoot ya?"
A fine sheen of sweat appeared on Will's top lip. He probably hadn't even started shaving it yet.
"Well?" Kid prompted.
"I don't belie…"
Two ice blue eyes met Will's brown ones.
"Can I finish my meal, now?"
Will took a step backwards, then another and another until he went out through the batwing doors. Kid replaced his gun, picked up his fork and continued eating.
Boyd Cartwright walked over to him and poured Kid another cup of coffee.
"Will's not a bad kid."
"If he keeps that up he'll be a dead one."
"Youngest of five brothers, so he's got a lot to prove."
"He's going about it the wrong way."
"Yeah, I reckon he is." Boyd didn't leave the table. Kid looked up.
"Is there something else?"
"Thanks for not shooting him."
"Gotta think of my reputation." Boyd smiled and Kid…grimaced as another sharp pain shot through his shoulder.
The sun was shining, a small dog barked as two boys teased it with a bone, women strolled along the boardwalk chatting, and the people of Wild Flower went about their business. At least most of them did. A group of men had gathered outside the saloon on the pretext of discussing the next Fourth of July celebrations. Discussions that had to take place at a volume loud enough to let anyone who might be listening know that they were there to discuss the Fourth of July and not to take a look at the infamous Kid Curry. No sir, that was definitely NOT what they were doing.
"He still in there?" Sheriff Carson asked as he walked into the shade of the saloon porch.
"Yep." Boyd Cartwright informed him, as he swept the boardwalk with a besom broom. "Sitting at the table in the corner, watching the street."
The discussions stopped. All eyes focussed on the sheriff as he took a quick glance through the window at the far table.
"Will Barton called him out."
"Said he reckoned he could outdraw him."
"What did Curry do?"
"Outdrew him. Had a gun pointed at him under the table."
"Nothing. Sent the kid off with his tail between his legs."
Carson looked through the window once more.
"Know why he's here?"
"You ask him?"
"Not like you to leave your customers in peace, Boyd."
"I make exceptions for gunslingers."
"Good to know."
"I reckon he's hurt though."
A murmur went through the crowd at this news.
"Ned said. He asked for a doctor?"
"Okay. Guess I best go find out what's going on."
The sheriff pushed open the batwing doors and entered the saloon. Ten pairs of eyes followed his every move.
Kid looked up as the doors swung open. Sunlight through the window hit something metallic on the man's chest. Lawman. Kid dropped his hand to his right side, his fingers close to his gun. He didn't want any trouble, at least not from the town's sheriff but it was always well to be prepared.
It seemed to take an age for the man to walk the short distance from the doors to his table. Time enough for Kid to study him. Late forties, flecks of grey at his temples but still in good shape so he probably took his job seriously and didn't see it as a way to get fat and lazy.
"Mornin'," the sheriff said as he stopped in front of Kid.
"You Kid Curry?"
"Mind if I ask you a few questions?"
"Not if you don't mind if I don't answer them."
"Fair enough." Carson indicated a chair. "Mind if I sit down?"
"Help yourself." Kid waved his left hand casually and inhaled sharply…Oh, that hurt.
"You all right?"
It took a moment before Kid could speak, so he just nodded and the lawman sat opposite him, watching the beads of sweat form on Kid's forehead. His right hand was by his hip, close to his gun which was no more than Carson expected; Curry was no fool. His left hand was held close across his body. It had caused him some pain when he moved it. If he was wounded it was an injury to the left side. Carson looked up to find Kid watching him. Blue eyes narrowed.
"What's your first question?"
"D'you need a doctor?"
The directness seemed to surprise the blond man.
"I don't want one."
"Didn't ask if you wanted one. Asked if you needed one."
The eyes that met the sheriff's this time softened slightly.
"I'm fine sheriff but I appreciate your concern."
The sheriff nodded, it was Kid's choice.
"What are you doing in Wild Flower?"
"Having a drink."
"Then I might have another one. Might even eat some more food too."
"I should have been more specific. Why are you here? People seem to think you're waiting for someone."
"Would those be the same people who've been outside the saloon for the last half hour discussing the next Fourth of July?"
"That'd be them."
"I'm not here to cause trouble to anyone in your town."
"What about anyone not in this town?"
Kid looked up at the lawman.
"You've been watching the street, or so I am told. Who are you waiting for?"
Kid said nothing.
"Your partner? Heyes?"
There was a long silence as Caron gave him time to answer but Kid chose not to.
"Guess that's one of those questions you're not willing to answer, huh?"
Carson motioned to the bartender and Cartwright brought over a beer, placing it on the table as he shot a look from Kid to the sheriff.
"Heard about your amnesty. It was in the newspaper."
"I don't imagine it's something you agree with."
"Oh, I don't know. From what I read the old governor kept you two waiting long enough."
"That he did."
"That was quite some story the lady reporter wrote about you two."
"Yeah, that was her name. Clementine. She seemed to know you well." There was that slight smile again on Curry's face. "Seems you and Heyes didn't get much of a start in life. Course a lot of folks didn't and they never turned to robbin' banks." Kid remained silent. "But then I've lived out here all my life. I know what a harsh place it can be and what a man sometimes has to do just to survive. Know a man can change too. Guess the governor figured you'd changed enough to give you amnesty."
"Not everyone agrees with you on that."
"I don't reckon they do."
Kid closed his eyes momentarily as another wave of pain passed.
"So are you meeting Heyes here?"
Kid looked up and the sheriff was surprised by the hurt he saw in the ex-outlaw's eyes. Kid's jaw tensed. The sheriff waited. Finally Kid spoke.
"Heyes is dead."
As the sheriff stared open mouthed at him Kid pushed back his chair.
"Reckon I could do with some fresh air."
He stood up too quickly and the room swam, white hot pain seared through his left shoulder, his vision blurred and it was all he could do to grab for the table as his knees buckled. The sheriff was swiftly beside him holding him up.
"I got it." Cartwright ran across the room, pulled over Kid's chair and the sheriff lowered the blond man back into it.
"Get the doctor."
"No!" Kid protested; his voice a strained whisper. Boyd stood to one side, waiting on the sheriff's decision.
"Son, you're hurtin'. I don't know what it is but…"
"I don't need - a doctor."
"Yes, you do. You're mixing up want with need. Now let's get this coat off you and…" He'd only undone two buttons but that was enough for the sheriff to see all he needed to. Kid's shirt was soaked in blood. "Boyd, go get the doc!" This time Kid did not protest. He slumped back in the chair and fixed the lawman with a weakened gaze.
"You always this - persistent?"
"Glad you never led a - posse after us."
"If I had son, I'da caught you."
"Reckon you might. Reckon you…" Kid grimaced again. He couldn't pass out. He couldn't lose consciousness. He had to stay awake. Had to be ready. He'd promised Heyes.
"I am not going to treat a man for a bullet wound in a saloon!" Doctor Morgan Kaminski insisted placing his black bag firmly on the table next to which a semi-conscious Kid Curry was slumped.
"Yes, Doc, you are!" Carson pointed to the wounded man. "He doesn't want to go anywhere else and I want to find out what's going on, so you…" He pointed at the doctor… "Will treat him here."
Each met the other's gaze.
"Don't try to outstare me Morgan you know you won't win!"
The doctor chuckled and opened his bag.
"Get his coat off. Boyd, I'll need hot water and…"
"I know! I know! Just don't let his blood stain my floor."
Doctor Kaminski turned to his patient.
"Now then, Mister Curry, let's see what we can do shall we?"
"Just patch me up. Stop the bleeding if you can." Kid didn't make eye contact; instead he focused his gaze on the floor.
"Well now, I don't remember reading about your time at medical school. Must have been something they missed when writing about your exploits." He opened Kid's shirt, pushing the fabric away from his shoulder, to reveal an angry bullet wound. "So why don't you let me decide what to do about this?" He motioned for Kid to lean forward then pulled his shirt off his shoulder. "Hmm, quite a mess."
"Is that meant to make me feel better?"
"Nope. Just an observation. Of course if you'd had it properly treated sooner…"
"Save the sermon doc, just…OW! DAMMIT!"
"That hurts huh?" The doctor smiled amiable at Kid's angry glare. "Least we know there's no nerve damage there."
"Morgan, stop tormenting him."
"Sheriff, I am merely assessing the extent of his injury, as well you know."
"Just reminding you."
"I don't tell you how to do your job, do I?"
"What you so grumpy about?"
"Still haven't forgiven me for beating you at chess have ya, Doc?"
"That has nothing to do with this."
"Bet it does."
"It was a fluke. I was distracted by that drunk in the cell."
"Ha! I had taken both your rooks and…"
"Will you please get on with it!" Kid interrupted. A look was exchanged between the doctor and the sheriff before the medic reached into his bag.
"Hannibal Heyes is dead?" Gustav Kohl asked as he sat down in the chair opposite Deputy Sheriff Dylan Avery, in the lawman's office.
"That's what the sheriff said. Curry told him. We haven't heard about it, so I want you to get in touch with every newspaper in the state, county, whatever. Contact anyone who might know. Find out what happened. We need to know who Curry's waiting for and I don't have time to sit around the telegraph office while the crowd outside the saloon grows larger."
"Do you think there's going to be trouble?"
"With the fastest gun in the west sitting in our saloon? No, 'course I don't expect any trouble."
"But the bullet has to be removed!" Doctor Kaminski insisted as he stood looking down at Kid who sat with his shirt off his shoulder, the flesh around the open wound now cleaned of dried blood.
"Mister Curry, you don't seem to understand…"
"I do, doc. I've been shot enough times to know." His tired eyes revealed the truth in his statement.
"Then you know how serious your wound is. If I do not remove the bullet…"
"I'm not sure you do."
"I know if you take the bullet out I could be unconscious for a day or two. I can't afford that."
"You'd risk your life to…What? Stay awake?"
The doctor exchanged a glance with the sheriff.
"Can't force a man to have a bullet taken out. Least not as far as the law's concerned."
"You're a very stubborn man, Mister Curry."
"I've been told that a time or two."
The doctor sighed, acknowledging defeat.
"All right. I'll stitch it up and bandage it, but as soon as you've done whatever it is that's so important you'd risk losing your arm or even your life for, you let me do my job properly! Agreed?"
Sheriff Carson looked up from the papers on his desk when the door to the jail opened and Deputy Avery walked in. He waved a piece of paper in his hand.
"Kohl just got a telegram," he announced as he approached the desk.
"Since when do you deliver to the newspaper?"
"I don't." He pushed aside a stack of wanted posters and perched on the corner of the desk.
"Make yourself at home, why don'tcha?" the sheriff scowled.
"You'll wanna see this." Avery held out the telegram. "Gustav gave it to me. He sent a few out asking about Heyes and Curry."
His interest sparked, the sheriff took the piece of paper and read.
HEYES HERE LAST WEEK STOP LOOKING FOR CURRY STOP CURRY NEVER HERE STOP
Carson looked up at his colleague.
"When does Curry say Heyes died?" the deputy asked.
"Gooodman's Creek's a few days ride away, so if Heyes was there…" he mused. "Where was Curry?"
"Yeah. Makes me wonder what happened and how he got shot. I want to know who he's waiting for and just how much trouble is riding here." The sheriff pushed back his chair and stood up. "I'm going to see our celebrity gunman is. You get Gustav to send another telegram. Find out anymore you can. Where was Curry when Heyes died and who did it?"
"The county willing to pay for all those words and letters?" He raised a questioning eyebrow.
"You finished school. I'm sure you'll be succinct." He grabbed his hat from the hat stand.
"What's that mean?"
The sheriff's only reply was a chuckle as he left the office.
"Never heard of him," the sheriff replied as he placed his beer glass on the table.
"You will," Kid stated, flatly. He ate a spoonful of the apple cobbler still steaming on a plate in front of him. Beside it was a coffee pot, empty cup and the remains of a bowl of stew. Despite the meal, Kid looked paler, if that was possible. A fine sheen of sweat covered his forehead.
"There have been no reports of Heyes' death." Carson sat back in his chair. Kid was still at the same table, back to the wall, facing the door.
"Won't be. He died in a fall from a cliff. No body to bury." He stopped chewing.
"And what does Cavendish have to do with it?"
Kid swallowed then met the sheriff's attentive gaze.
"He pushed Heyes over the edge."
"Did he put that bullet in your shoulder?"
"So who did?"
"Not everyone wants an ex-outlaw in their town; especially one askin' questions. There's a lotta fellas out there only too willin' to go up against Kid Curry to prove themselves to their friends."
"Like Will Barton?"
"So you met someone faster?"
"No, just one with a couple of friends hidin' in the bushes."
Kid eased himself into a more comfortable position and grimaced as he did. He scooped another spoonful of cobbler. The sheriff watched it disappear into Kid's mouth.
"You know you really should let the doc take that bullet out."
"Not until I've seen Cavendish."
"What makes you think he's coming here?"
"I got word he was heading to River Flats. Only place to pick up supplies before the journey is here."
"You could wait outside of town."
"And miss out on all your hospitality?"
The sheriff smiled.
"I've never known Boyd serve food before. You're getting special treatment."
"I'll remember to thank him."
"And when Cavendish gets here?"
"You don't want to hear the answer to that."
"You can't just gun a man down in cold blood. You of all people know that."
"What makes you think I'm gonna do that?"
"Then what are you gonna do?"
Kid didn't reply.
"He told me to keep the coffee topped up so he don't fall asleep. Passing out's more likely," Boyd Cartwright said in a hushed voice as he ran a wet cloth along the bar. His eyes watched Kid Curry across the room. "He ain't gonna last much longer if he don't let the doc take that bullet out."
"Says no one's touching him till he's seen Cavendish." Sheriff Carson leaned an elbow on the bar.
"He may not last long enough to see him."
"I reckon he knows that. I also reckon he's stubborn enough to live just long enough too."
"To do what?"
"Kill the man who killed his partner, what else?"
"You gonna let that happen?"
"So what are you gonna do?"
"Well, the state he's in, it wouldn't take much for Dylan and I to overpower him."
"So why don'tcha?"
"He's not done anything wrong."
With another glance at Curry, the sheriff gave a nod.
The sheriff leaned against the porch post outside the jail and blew out a long trail of smoke from his cigar. From under his hat his eyes surveyed the street, ever watchful for signs of trouble. Most of the men outside the saloon had dispersed. Called home by their wives no doubt, but a few, maybe four or five, remained. Other than that the town was quiet. A horse and rider entered Main Street heading for the hotel. He watched as the stranger, a dark haired man, pulled his horse to a halt and then, his movements stiff, eased himself from the saddle. When his feet hit the ground the man stretched his back, the sign of many hours in the saddle. He took a moment to scan the street and his eyes fell on the men gathered outside the saloon. He watched for a moment before untying his bed roll from the back of his horse. He removed his saddle bags, slung them over his shoulder and headed up the steps into the hotel.
Maybe Lyle Cavendish had finally arrived.
"GILBERT!" the sheriff bellowed as he stood in front of the empty hotel reception desk. "GILBERT!" There was a flurry of activity in the back room and then Gilbert Drew emerged, tucking his shirt into his pants.
"Sheesh, Sheriff! Can't a man attend to his personal needs without someone hollering for him?"
"Depends on what those personal needs were."
"The same as yours would be if you'd drunk too many cups of coffee before noon. Now what can I do for ya?"
"A man just came in here. You give him a room?"
"What's his name?"
"Does the law say I hafta tell ya? I got my customers privacy to consider."
"Dammit Gilbert, I ain't got time to stand here arguing with ya. Just tell me the man's name."
"D'you want to look at my register too? Make sure I'm entering things properly?"
"Gilbert, so help me, I'm gonna reach across this counter any minute now and use your necktie to strangle ya! What's the man's name?"
"Gee, Sheriff, no need to get violent."
At the sound of a knock on the hotel room door, Heyes drew his gun. Old habits die hard.
"Who is it?"
"Sheriff Albert Carson."
The law. Heyes' shoulders dropped. It was the same in every town he and Kid rode into. The minute someone knew who they were the law, be it the sheriff, the marshal or some over eager deputy came calling.
Heyes opened the door and came face to face with a man in his late forties; flecks of grey speckled his dark hair and a shiny star gleamed on his chest.
"What can I do for you, sheriff?" Heyes asked amiably.
"Are you Hannibal Heyes? The Hannibal Heyes?"
"Is there another?"
"Yes, I am."
"Then, am I glad to see you."
It wasn't every day that someone surprised the silver-tongued ex-outlaw but Sheriff Carson had done just that.
"I think you'd better come in."
Carson did so and Heyes closed the door behind him.
"I won't waste words with you. Kid Curry is across the street in the saloon. He's got a bullet in his shoulder and he's waiting there for the man he believes killed you. Have to admit I thought you were him."
"HE'S WHAT?" Heyes' mouth opened then closed.
"You heard me right."
"How bad's he hurt?"
"Bad. Won't let the doctor remove the bullet until he's done what he needs to do."
Heyes turned to the door.
"Can I get you another drink?" Cartwright asked as he approached the table. There was no response. Kid Curry's head was down, his chin close to his chest, his breathing deep. The bartender reached for the bottle of whiskey…
Cartwright dropped the bottle as he found himself staring down the barrel of Kid Curry's Colt.
"I'm sorry Mister Curry I…I thought you'd finished with it…I…I...didn't…I'll fetch another. I'll clear up the mess. Be right back." He scurried away, his heart racing in his chest.
Kid's eyes scanned the room. Butler and Sykes were playing cards unconvincingly trying to pretend they hadn't seen what had happened. Kid returned his gun to its holster.
He'd almost fallen asleep, he refused to admit it was more like passing out. Worse than that, he'd almost shot an innocent man. He had to stay awake; had to be ready when Cavendish got there. After that…He'd be sleeping for a long time; an eternity.
"He told us you were dead. A man named Cavendish killed you and he's the one he's waiting for," the sheriff informed Heyes as they descended the stairs.
"I guess he saw me…" Heyes jumped down the last two steps and headed for the Hotel doors with the sheriff running to keep up. "If I'd known…No wonder he didn't answer my telegram. Musta been on his way here before…Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
"Sheriff Carson! Sheriff Carson!" a female voice called out and the sheriff duly came to a halt in front of a group of ladies led by the formidable Mildred Stewart.
"Mrs Stewart, I don't have time to…"
"This won't take long." She noticed a dark haired young man waiting for the sheriff. "I'm sure you will allow me a moment to talk to the sheriff."
Impatient as he was to see Kid, Heyes nodded his approval.
"All right Mildred, what is it?"
"There is an outlaw in the saloon and we want to know what you are going to do about it."
"Well first off, he's not an outlaw."
"He robbed trains and banks didn't he?"
"Yes, he did but…"
"Then he's an outlaw."
"Kid Curry was given his amnesty, ma'am," Heyes informed her. "That means…"
"I know what it means young man, but he and his partner, Hannibal Heyes were vile robbers and thieves. We don't want their sort in Wild Flower." She turned back to Carson. "So what are you going to do? Make him leave town?"
"Mrs Stewart, at the moment I don't have any reason to ask him to leave but I was just about to…"
"Surely the fact that he's a bank robber is enough reason? We won't feel safe in our beds until he's gone!"
"Ma'am, Kid Curry would never hurt innocent people. I know for a fact that in all the trains and banks they robbed they never shot anyone. The sheriff plans to find out why Mister Curry is here and I can assure you, he won't be any trouble to you or these other good ladies."
This seemed to soothe Mildred.
"Sheriff why isn't this sensible young man one of your deputies?"
"I'm not sure the town would want Hannibal Heyes working here," Carson replied before heading across the street. Heyes tipped his hat to the ladies, smiled to see their mouths still open in surprise then quickened his pace to catch up to the sheriff.
The crowd in front of the saloon parted like the Red Sea when the sheriff approached, but no one strayed too far, in case they missed anything important.
"He still in there?" Carson asked.
"With a bullet in his shoulder, where else would he be?" Karl Lunger asked rhetorically before he spat a gloop of tobacco into the street.
Kid looked up as the batwing doors swung open. Two men stepped inside their outlines silhouetted against the afternoon sunlight. They started towards him and he recognised the Sheriff's rolling walk and…Why did so many things remind him of Heyes? So many people. A hat in the crowd, the way a man sat his horse, this fella now. Why if he didn't know better…
The man even sounded like Heyes. Kid tried to focus on him but he was so tired. At this rate he wouldn't be strong enough to raise his gun when Cavendish finally got here, let alone face him down.
Kid's eyes narrowed.
It couldn't be? Couldn't.
"Yeah, it's me. What do you think you're doing? I mean look at ya! You're covered in blood, got a bullet in your shoulder…"
"I ain't ready to go with you yet. Got something I gotta do. Gotta avenge your death."
"Kid, I'm not dead and we really need to get you to a doctor." Heyes informed him but Kid just chuckled.
"I'm talkin' to a ghost." Kid shook his head. "I must be in a bad way."
"Here's really here," the sheriff interjected as Heyes pulled out a chair and sat down next to his partner. Kid looked so tired. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, stubble on his chin and...
"Kid, you gotta let the doctor treat that wound."
Tired blue eyes met Heyes' clear brown ones.
"He already did."
"He needs to do more."
"I can't let him. Cavendish is gonna be here anytime soon. I'm gonna…gonna get him for ya. I'm gonna settle it."
"There's nothing to settle."
"I reckon there is. Man kills…" Kid took a deep breath, "…My partner, I reckon…"
Heyes grabbed his arm.
Kid looked from his friend to the sheriff then back at Heyes.
"You can't be here. I saw…"
"I'm here. I'm alive. I know what you saw but…" Heyes sat back in the chair, arms open. "Kid it's me. It's really me."
"Can't be…Can't…You fell." Kid grimaced and stared at Heyes in disbelief. "I looked for ya…I looked."
Kid clasped his left shoulder doubling over in pain.
"Call the doctor!" Heyes snapped as he laid a hand on his friend's arm. Kid looked up at his friend, then his eyes rolled in their sockets and he slid sideways off the chair.
"GET THE DOCTOR IN HERE NOW!"
"How's he doin'?"
"No change," the doctor replied as he rinsed his hands in a bowl of water.
The sheriff looked down at the still form of Kid Curry. His shoulder wound was bandaged. The bullet removed. But even against the white pillow his face looked pale. Deathly pale and deathly still. He wasn't about to voice his opinion with the man's friend in the room but he'd be surprised if Curry survived. Carson stood beside Hannibal Heyes. He'd always thought he'd be taller. Didn't expect them to be as amiable either. Guess you can't tell to look at a man.
"You all right?"
Heyes turned at the sheriff's question.
"Not much of a liar are you? Thought you had a silver-tongue?"
"I'm a little out of practice."
"Goin' straight'll do that to a man." The sheriff looked back at Kid. He looked nothing like the hardened gunfighter folk took him for. Heck, he was glad his daughter wasn't in town or he'd be worried she'd fall for the handsome young fella. He turned back to Heyes. "Is it always like this now? Since the amnesty? Folks gunning for ya?"
"Sometimes. At first we stuck with the aliases we'd been given. Smith and Jones. But that seemed disrespectful to our families so we started using our own names. Not much point getting' amnesty if you still hafta use an alias. Some people were impressed. They want to be seen with two famous outlaws. Others take a step back. Out of the corner of my eye I'll see a woman hold her child's hand just a little bit tighter or they'll cross the street to avoid us. Suddenly there are no rooms available at the hotel or stalls for our horses at the livery. And then at other times I'll see Kid's shoulders stiffen as someone heads towards our table and I know they're gonna call him out. D'you know what scares me?" He looked directly at the lawman. "Someday they really will be faster than him and I'll watch him take a bullet and there won't be a darn thing I can do about it."
"You could go back to being Smith and Jones."
"We may have to do that."
The doctor finished packing his bag and buckled it closed.
"Gentlemen, I think it's time we let Mister Curry rest."
"I'm staying," Heyes informed him.
"I figured you would." Morgan Kaminski turned to the sheriff. "You on the other hand, can come along with me. I can hear a chess board calling."
"Morgan you are gonna lose again."
"Never, why I…"
The door closed behind them and the room fell silent. Heyes looked at his friend. The only indication that Kid was alive was the faint rise and fall of the sheet across his chest.
"Tell me about Lyle Cavendish." Sheriff Carson had found Hannibal Heyes seated in the far corner table of Veronica's, the only cafeteria in Wild Flower. According to the doctor he had taken quite a bit of persuading to leave his friend and go and get something to eat. The dark haired man had just finished his breakfast and was about to have a second cup of coffee when the sheriff lowered himself into the chair opposite him.
"What d'you want to know?"
"Why Kid Curry thought Cavendish had killed you."
"Coffee, sheriff?" The lawman turned at Veronica's question. However, Veronica was clearly more interested in Hannibal Heyes than the sheriff's reply. She poured a cup without a clue as to what his reply had been and gave Heyes her most appealing smile. The ex-outlaw smiled back but it was a polite smile with no more promised.
"Cavendish," Carson prompted.
"Bounty hunter. We'd run into him a couple of times before. He didn't seem to care whether or not we'd been given amnesty. He was gonna bring us in and bring us in dead."
"But there'd be no reward."
"It was a matter of honour to him."
"I see. The ones that got away."
"I guess so."
"So what happened?"
Heyes took a drink of his coffee.
"He caught us. We were riding along a ridge overlooking a river. It was a pretty deep gully and our mind was on the terrain not who might be lying in wait. Kid heard him first. There was an almost imperceptible click of a trigger…"
"Hold it right there fellas!"
Heyes and Kid pulled their horses to a halt on the narrow trail. Below them a river surged into a deep ravine.
"Raise your hands above your heads, real slow."
"Cavendish, that you?" Heyes asked over his shoulder.
"Then you know we're not wanted anymore. We got amnesty."
"Getcha hands up, fellas!"
They did as asked.
"There's no reward on us." Kid added.
"Ain't doin' it for the reward." The partners exchanged a look. There was the sound of rocks tumbling loose as the man made his way towards them. "Throw down your guns. Do it real slow. And Kid, I'm watching you real careful like."
"Can't you watch Heyes for a change?"
"Nope. Get on with it."
Reluctantly they did as requested, tossing their guns a few feet in front of the horses.
"Now get off your horses, one at a time. You first, Kid."
"Why me first?"
"Boy you sure are grumpy."
"I don't like having a gun held on me."
"Thought you'da got used ta that over the years."
"Strangely enough, no!"
Kid swung his leg over the back of his horse and dismounted. He walked a few paces away from his horse, and then Heyes did the same. They turned to watch as Lyle Cavendish strode towards them.
"He was this great bear of a man. Wearing an enormous fur coat. Reminded me of a trapper we ran into once: carried a Sharp's Buffalo gun. Shot the thing well too." Heyes drained his cup. "Anyway, Cavendish was standing there big, mean and determined. He didn't become a successful bounty hunter by treating his prisoners well. He walked over to us and…
Cavendish raised his rifle, looked Kid in the eye and swung the butt hard against the side of his head. Kid dropped like a stone. Heyes stepped forward but found himself looking down the rifle's barrel. As anger blazed in his eyes he cast a glance down at his unconscious partner.
"Go on, Heyes, try me. I'll blow your head off." Cavendish smirked.
"You didn't hafta do that."
"Didn't I? How d'you think I was gonna deal with you two?"
"We are no longer wanted, you have no reason to…"
"I have every reason! You two outwitted the law for a long time. Made a laughing stock of more than one bounty hunter."
"You're doing this for the honour of bounty hunters?"
"No! I'm doing this for me. I'm proving something by gettin' you two."
"And doing what? The law don't want us. You can't take us in."
"Who said I was taking you in?"
Realisation hit Heyes.
"Dead or alive, remember?"
"So you plan on murdering us?"
"Heyes, for a genius you sure took your time to figure that one out."
"He just ignored Kid. He was lying on the ground not moving so he assumed he was still unconscious. So did I until I saw his hand move. Kid raised a finger and pointed to our guns. I figured he wanted me to distract Cavendish long enough for him to reach a weapon, I just didn't see how he was gonna do it. There was already a bruise on the side of his head and he wasn't focussing right. Maybe he wanted me to try for them. I didn't know."
The sheriff watched the young man turning the coffee cup in his hands.
"Cavendish wanted us dead. I thought he'd already succeeded with Kid. There was a sickening thud when that rifle connected with his head. I was angry and stupidly not thinking straight. When he took his eyes off me for a moment I seized my chance and lunged for him. We both went down, there were a lot of fists flying and connecting. I saw stars a couple of times but got a few good punches in too. Somehow I got to my feet and the next thing I knew I was falling."
Heyes looked up but the lawman didn't speak.
"I lost consciousness when I hit the water. I have no idea how I survived but I woke up miles downriver on a sandbank, no hat, no boots and part of my shirt ripped off and one heck of a headache. I dragged myself out of the water, staggered around for a bit and must have passed out again because the next thing I knew I woke up in a bed. A farmer had found me on his way back from town. By the time I was fit enough to travel I'd lost track of Kid."
"And he thought you were dead."
"Yeah. I don't know how he got away from Cavendish." Heyes stared into his coffee then drained the cup. "I should be getting back."
"The doc's looking after him, he'll be fine."
"I hope you're right, Sheriff."
Heyes turned the handle as gently as he could, opened the door slowly then crept into the room. Kid lay still in bed as Heyes walked slowly towards him. A floorboard creaked and he flinched as he stopped moving.
"You're supposed to be dead."
Heyes looked up and smiled at his friend. Kid's eyes were barely open.
"Well, you clearly are not, although it seems you tried damn hard to die!"
"I wasn't trying to die. I was trying to stay conscious so I could…" Kid narrowed his eyes at his friend. "Anyway, you're dead, Heyes. I'm not arguin' with ya."
"As I continue to tell you, no, I'm not." He placed his hand on Kids arm. "Real enough for ya?"
Kid was clearly confused.
"I saw you fall. I searched, Couldn't find your body." His eyes met Heyes. "I swear I looked for you. I searched everywhere."
"Kid, if you'd searched everywhere, you'da found me."
"Trust you to be sneaky even when you're dead."
"How many times have I gotta tell you? I am not dead!"
"Yeah, but I thought you were!"
Heyes pulled over a chair and sat beside his friend.
"And what about you?"
"What about me?"
"Getting yourself shot."
"The man supposed to watch my back was playing dead."
"Still, you must be slowing down, Kid. I'd heard rumours you were.
"He had two friends lying in wait. How was I supposed to…?" He realised Heyes was smiling. "It's not funny." Kid scowled.
"I never said it was." Heyes sighed. "You know you'da known I was still alive if you'd gone to Marshallville like we planned. I sent you two telegrams there."
"I didn't know."
"We were supposed to meet there if we got separated."
"I know that but it kind of assumed we were both alive!"
"I didn't know that!"
"Underestimating me again, huh?"
"So it would seem." Kid smiled. "So you tracked me down."
"Champeen tracker of all Southern Utah!"
"Following two day old tracks again?"
"Yeah, but they got me here in the end."
"I'm glad they did." Kid pointed beyond Heyes. "Look in the closet."
Heyes walked over to the large piece of furniture standing against the far wall.
"I'm not gonna find a dead cougar in here am I?"
"Just open it."
Heyes did so and smiled. Reaching in he retrieved the object sitting on a shelf and holding it in his hand turned to face his friend.
"You found my hat!"
"Got a ripped piece of your shirt if you want that too?"
"I think I'll pass." Heyes brushed his hat fondly. He leaned on the bed post, at the foot of the bed, turning his hat in his hand as he studied his wounded friend.
"So how d'you get away from Cavendish?"
"I didn't have to. When he pushed you over he lost his footing, went over the cliff with you. Only he landed on a ledge. He was out cold so I left him there. Wish I hadn't now." Kid tried to ease himself into a more comfortable position, failed and gave up. He looked up at Heyes, fighting the tiredness he felt. "I started searching for ya. For a while there…"
"Yeah, I know. It was a close one."
Kid nodded. Neither man spoke for a moment, then Heyes pushed off the bed post.
"You should get some more rest. I'll see if I can persuade those farmers to part with some of their money in a game of poker."
"What about Cavendish?"
"What about him?"
"He's still out there."
"Yeah, he is."
"He could come after us again."
"Don't that bother you?"
"Not as much as it seems to bother you."
"He tried to kill you, Heyes."
"So have a lot of people."
"He took pleasure in it. He probably woulda killed us both."
"D'you want to hunt them all down? Everyone that tried to kill us? Turn us in dead rather than alive?"
Kid let out a deep breath and gritted his teeth, his expression grim.
"That's not what I meant and you know it."
Kid shot a look at his partner.
"If you start with Cavendish, who's next?"
"He tried to kill you!"
"But he didn't succeed."
Kid shook his head.
"Let it go, Kid."
"That easy, huh?"
"Yeah, that easy."
Ice blue eyes met Heyes'.
"Maybe I'm not as forgiving as you."
Several days later, as Heyes held the reins of his horse, Kid eased himself into the saddle, his knuckles turning white as he gripped the saddle horn and tried not to let Heyes see the effort it took just to pull himself up. When he was finally seated Heyes looked up at him and shook his head.
"What?" Kid asked.
"Just watching a man who's ready to ride when you are, try an' stay on his horse." He handed Kid the reins.
"I could still shoot ya."
Heyes chuckled as he walked over to his own horse.
"Don't bet on it. I heard you were slowing up."
"Don't believe everything you hear, Heyes." Kid turned in the saddle as his partner climbed onto his own horse.
"You sure you're ready to ride 'cos if not…"
"I can ride."
"Leaving so soon, fellas?"
Both men looked up as the sheriff walked along the boardwalk towards them.
"Reckon it's time we moved on," Heyes informed him but the lawman was looking at Kid.
"You don't have to leave yet, you know that, right?"
Kid nodded. "I know."
"From the looks of it a few more days' bed rest would do you good."
"'ppreciate your concern sheriff but…"
"My partner happens to be one of the most stubborn men you will ever meet, sheriff. Once he decides something…"
"It's just time to leave," Kid finished.
"All right, boys, I understand." He stepped back on the porch. "Take care of yourselves and remember, you're always welcome here."
"We appreciate that." Heyes touched the brim of his hat before glancing at his friend. "Ready?"