Leaning back into the broad chest behind her, Lindy sighed happily. There weren't many moments in her line of work where she could claim contentment, but this was one of them. Across the table sat her friend Paulina whose real name was Madge, snuggled into the arms of the handsome, blue-eyed cowboy, Thaddeus Jones. Smith and Jones—what a joke! Did they think she was a green girl who wouldn't know an alias when she heard one?
Joshua nuzzled her neck in the sensitive spot she favored and she wiggled delightedly. Turning into him, she threw her arms around his neck and whispered into his ear. "Let's go upstairs now, cowboy, I can't wait any longer."
"Thaddeus, Paulina, will you excuse us?" Joshua rose and gently set Lindy on her feet.
She looked up and admired him. He was so handsome with soft brown eyes completely focused on her. Not her usual client at all. Smiling seductively, she led him up the stairs and into her room. This was going to be a pleasant evening. Tomorrow was soon enough to telegraph her brother, the bounty hunter. He'd figure out right quick how much these two were worth.
Responding to his sister's telegraph, Jake Hawkins got to Gunnison in record time. If those two were who he thought they were; he and his sister had just struck it rich. Riding into town late in the morning, Hawkins stopped to visit Lindy at the dance hall. Together they sat down at a corner table and she began to enthusiastically describe Smith with downright embarrassing detail. Her excitement at a possible windfall showed all over her face and drew the attention of Paulina who moved closer to the two siblings while pretending to clear tables. She kept herself out of their line of sight, but kept them within earshot.
"I knew he was someone special. Those two were not your average cowpokes. They had dangerous written all over them in a sexy kind of way," Lindy confided to Jake. "How much do you think they're worth? What's your plan to take them in?"
Paulina had heard enough. That little schemer was setting her Thaddeus up. She was half in love with him and had to warn him. Setting down the tray of dirty glasses on the bar, she checked to see if anyone was looking at her and slipped quietly out the back door, hurrying down the boardwalk to the hotel. She knew enough not to try for the front entrance so she slipped down the alleyway to the kitchen door. It took her some money and some fast talking, but the cook eventually told her what room Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones were staying in. She crept up the servant's stairway to the second floor and, keeping watch for the decent customers, tapped quietly on the door to Room 203. There was no answer. Trying the knob, the door opened easily, and Paulina glanced inside. The beds were made and the room was ready for the next customers. He'd left without saying goodbye and it hurt her. Had they known what Lindy was up to?
"You ever get the feelin' we're gonna spend the rest of our days ridin' from place to place until one day we just dry up and blow away?" The Kid, looked over at his partner of many years riding alongside him.
"Now, don't start. I'm not any happier than you to clear out of Gunnison, but it had to be done," growled Heyes. He refused to look at the Kid; instead focusing his attention on a trail that appeared to leave the open rangeland they had been riding through. It branched off to the left for as far as he could see and led towards a deep forest of Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines. Wanting to lessen their visibility to any pursuers, he gently nudged his horse onto the path.
They had left late in the evening with no time to replenish their meager supplies and, after a long night in the saddle with no breakfast or lunch, they were both feeling proddy.
Curry was upset with being forced to move on before he was ready and doubted Heyes' reasons for leaving in a hurry. Thinking back to Gunnison and the lovely Paulina, he said, "Do you think maybe you're gettin' a little paranoid leavin' town 'cause you woke up and saw Lindy going through your pockets? She's a workin' girl. What'd you expect? It ain't exactly the first time you got rolled by a dove."
"That wasn't it, Kid. I forgave her for that. It was the look in her eye when she tried to get me to stay. Look, I had a feeling something was wrong and I didn't want to find out if I was right. It isn't like it hasn't happened to you. We've got to pay attention to our instincts or we aren't making it to our amnesty, right?" Heyes was angry he had let his guard down and it stung him to think the lovely Lindy might find his bounty sexier than his body.
"Couldn't we have at least had breakfast?"
Days later, they rode into yet another dusty cow town with a small mercantile, livery, two saloons and a seedy looking hotel adjacent to the pungent stockyards. The Kid wasn't pleased by what he saw. Rather than heading to the hotel, he chose instead to check out a saloon in hopes of a cold beer and a late lunch.
Pulling up in front of the liveliest bar, Heyes wearily dismounted his sorrel gelding and patted him gently. Turning his back on his horse and his partner, he trudged up the rickety wooden steps and through the bat wing doors without so much as a glance at the Kid.
Curry sat his horse for a moment becoming irritated with his partner for silently walking away. He briefly considered moving onto the next saloon to make a point, but decided he was too tired. Shaking his head, he swung stiffly out of the saddle and entered the saloon.
Squinting as the bright lights of the saloon momentarily blinded his eyes, the Kid saw his partner moving intently to a poker table across from the bar that ran the length of the building. Heyes hadn't looked back at him.
"You boys have room for one more?" The dark-haired ex-outlaw looked from one face to the next as the players sized him up.
"Have a seat and get your money out," was the gruff reply from the rancher seated to his left. "This here's Ray and the fellow across from me is my foreman, Don. I'm Bill. We're from the Lazy Elk up the road a ways. Over there is Mel from the Triple J south of here. And you are….?"
"Joshua Smith from Porterville." Heyes reached out and shook Bill's hand. He slipped into the open chair. "Thanks for letting me sit in." The barkeep arrived a moment later and delivered the beer and sandwich he had ordered on his way in. He took a moment to glance over his shoulder at the Kid who was standing midway down the bar chatting up one of the gals. Curry looked back at him without interest. They were tired, broke and heartily sick of each other's company. The closer they had gotten to town, the grumpier the Kid had become despite Heyes' attempts to draw him out of his bad mood. He'd been talking about some of the more amusing parts of the book he was reading to try and lighten things up. After finishing a description of one of the more risqué chapters, he'd laughed and turned to his best friend with a broad grin. "You know, if you don't shut up and stop being so damn cheerful, I might shoot you," the Kid had nastily said. The light in Heyes' eyes had died and his smile vanished. Curry had seen Heyes' reaction and looked away guiltily. Those had been the last words they had exchanged over five hours ago.
Now the Kid broke eye contact and turned back to the bar. He knew it wasn't fair to take out his surliness on Heyes, but he hadn't been able to stop himself earlier. He was too tired to pretend to be cheerful. Irritated with himself and his partner, he stood at the bar and began drinking uncharacteristically heavily. Despite having eaten a sandwich, the alcohol began to have an effect on him and he failed to notice the dark stranger who entered the saloon an hour after their own arrival.
Heyes, however, had spotted him straight away; noticing his tied down gun and his restless eyes. He watched the stranger survey the room and move past the Kid but do a brief double take. Though the new man went to the back of the room and settled with a beer, Heyes had no doubts he'd recognized his partner. Waiting a while, he quietly excused himself from the game and casually went to the bar and stood next to Curry. Whispering without turning his head, Heyes had laid a hand on his cousin's arm. "Time to go, fellow in the back recognized you."
"So, now you're talkin' to me?"
"Kid, c'mon," chided Heyes gently, but Curry had turned his back and stomped out the door. He glanced back at the stranger, but he was blocked from view by the barkeeper who had stopped at the man's table. Tugging down his battered black hat, he swiftly followed in the Kid's footsteps.
Curry was nearly back to the hotel before Heyes caught up to him and pulled into a side alley. "What the hell's the matter with you?"
The Kid wheeled on him viciously, "I'm tired! I'm tired of bein' on the move, I'm tired of eatin' bad food, sleepin' on the hard ground….I'm so damned tired of lookin' over my shoulder and watchin' your back. Most of all, I am tired of you!"
Clamping his jaw tight, Heyes drew himself up, put his hands on his hips, and stared with angry eyes. "Are you done yet?" he asked scathingly. "Because if you are, I think it might be a good idea if I found out who was looking at you as if you were his own personal pot of gold."
Sighing, his anger spent, the Kid quietly said, "You do that, Heyes. I'll get us packed up and bring the horses 'round back."
"Good," Heyes spit out before turning on his heels and heading back up the alleyway and out of sight.
A half hour later, the Kid came downstairs with their saddlebags over his shoulder. Through the front window, he saw Heyes sitting on the porch staring intently up the street. After paying their bill, he stepped out front and sat in the empty chair next to his partner with his hat pulled down low. "Anything?"
"Yeah, our friend just left the telegraph office. I'm gonna stroll over there and see if I can find out what he's up to."
"How're you gonna do that?"
"With these." Heyes held out his open hand and showed the Kid the firecrackers he'd paid a young boy a nickel to buy at the mercantile.
Curry smiled for the first time in days. "Guess I could help. I'll get the horses."
The sound of gunfire had exploded up the street. Doors opened and people poured out onto the sidewalks curious for a closer look. Up and down the street voices rose. Kid heard a familiar voice yell, "It's the bank, they're robbing the bank!"
As Heyes watched from the shadow of a doorway next door, the telegraph operator came out of his office and rushed up the street to see what was happening. Heyes saw the stranger from the saloon hurrying in the same direction as the operator. The dark-haired man had his gun drawn. Moving quickly, Heyes slipped around the corner and into the telegraph office. He stepped through the gate and over to the littered desk. Rifling through slips of paper, he snatched one up and swiftly left the building.
The Kid was waiting in the alley behind the hotel mounted on his bay gelding and holding the lead to his partner's sorrel. He saw Heyes rounding the corner up a ways. Arms pumping and legs flailing, he was running full out towards him with a huge, maniacal grin splitting his face. Flinging himself onto his horse, and laughing breathlessly, Heyes wheeled his mount around. Reaching out, the Kid grabbed a rein, stopping him. "So?"
"Jake Hawkins, bounty hunter. Sending a telegram to his sister, Lindy." Shocked blue eyes met brown. "Yes, that Lindy. They're looking to make twenty grand." Heyes dug his heels in and set his gelding in flight with the Kid following close behind.
"You're crazy, you know that don't you?" yelled Curry at his partner's back.
Once again, they had ridden on through the night and now, in the middle of the afternoon, they were headed up an overgrown trail leading into the high country. They had made efforts to hide their tracks and it didn't look as if they were being followed but it paid to be careful.
"I'm hungry." The Kid had been trying to ignore the hungry pains clawing at his stomach for hours but it was time to admit defeat.
"Didn't I see you eating a sandwich at the bar?"
"THAT WAS YESTERDAY!"
Heyes smiled and rode on.
"You know, I'm not like you. I can't go without food. It ain't natural!"
"I'm hungry, too, Kid. I don't dwell on it, 'cause it makes it worse. Here, maybe this'll help." Reaching into his pocket, Heyes pulled out two beautiful, red apples. "Seems I back slid a bit as I passed the produce stand."
"I take back everything I ever thought about you!" Curry reached out for an apple and took a bite. It was delicious. "Sure is pretty up here." No longer starving, his mood took a turn for the better.
Looking back at his partner, he saw Heyes pull a dog-eared book from his saddlebag, tie up his reins and rest the book on the horn, taking a bite of his apple and reading contentedly.
This made the Kid smile. Somehow, Heyes had a way of finding small comforts no matter what situations they found themselves in. Like it was some sort of challenge for him to land on his feet no matter what happened. Waving away the bees attracted by the sweet scent of the apples, Curry took another bite of fruit. Too late, he realized he'd ridden across a yellow-jacket nest. "Bees!"
Heyes startled at the sudden noise causing his flighty horse to shy and rile the surly insects. The sorrel was stung severely and instantly leapt into the air, pulling his head down and bucking like a rodeo bronc. Heyes scrambled for the reins; juggled and dropped both apple and book; and tried to hang on. By the third buck, his gelding sprang off the ground, twisted his hind end hard to the right and his forehand to the left. Flying out of the saddle, he hit the ground hard and rolled down the hillside. Colliding with a tree he came to a halt and lay unmoving.
"Heyes!" The Kid vaulted out of his own saddle and ran to his partner's side feeling like this was all too familiar. Gently grabbing a shoulder, he rolled Heyes over onto his back. A large purplish bruise was already forming on his left temple where he had been shot only a few months ago. The doctor had warned them to be careful, saying a re-injury was likely to be serious. Looking down at his cousin's ashen face, Curry felt his anxiety leaping to life.
He reached under Heyes' arms and carefully dragged him back into the heavy underbrush nearby. After retrieving their gear from the horses, he knelt by his partner's side trying to make him as comfortable as he could on his bedroll and tucking his own bedroll under Heyes' head. It took him a while to hobble the horses near a small brook where they could graze. Returning, he set up camp for the night and built a small fire. Fixing to brew coffee, he kept an eye on Heyes who had not moved. The Kid placed the pot on the fire, stared at the flames, and thought back to yesterday. The sight of his best friend gleefully running towards him, laughing like a delighted child, stealing apples; a Heyes he hadn't seen in a long time. Not since before trying for the amnesty. When had Heyes changed? The Kid studied him. When had those lines around his eyes gotten so deep? Why hadn't he noticed before? Heyes looked careworn. It's what his Ma would've said.
He couldn't help wondering if the amnesty was a good idea. The past months had been hard on both of them, but he hadn't noticed the toll it was taking on his partner. Heyes was always so positive about it, but did he really feel that way? Moving closer to his unconscious cousin, the Kid looked closely at the face he knew so well. The dark brown eyes were closed now and there was nothing to draw his attention away from his scrutiny of his closest friend. Was that gray he saw in Heyes' hair? Long dark lashes rested against pale cheeks. The bruise on his forehead had formed a goose egg in ugly shades of purple and brown. His mouth was tight as though, even unconscious, he was uneasy. Reaching out, Curry gently brushed the long brown hair off Heyes' face. "I'm sorry for being so proddy lately. You always make it look so easy I guess I didn't realize how hard it really was on you." Heyes moved his head slightly towards the sound of his voice. "C'mon, Heyes, open your eyes." The eyes opened but were unfocused. "Can you hear me?" The Kid leaned closer.
"Of course I can hear you," said Heyes groggily.
The Kid rocked back on his heels and broke out in a huge grin. "Heyes!"
"Ugh, keep it down will ya? My head feels like hell." Moaning, Heyes rolled over and a sick expression crossed his face. Leaning to the side on his elbow, he retched violently. The Kid grasped his cousin's shoulders to support him until the spasm passed. Easing him back, Curry felt him shudder. Heyes wiped a grimy sleeve across his mouth. "I'm a mess." Trying to rise again, he failed. Closing his eyes with the pain, he sank back to the bedroll and passed out.
Curry was scared. It was obvious to him Heyes had a concussion and he knew that was trouble.
It was late the next morning when Heyes really came round. The Kid had kept him up as best he could during the night. Finally in the early hours of the morning, his own exhaustion had caught up with him and he, too, had fallen asleep. When he awoke this morning, he had roused Heyes once again and then allowed him to fall back to sleep.
Heyes now opened his eyes carefully and turned his head away from the sunlight. His mouth was dry and sour tasting and his head was pounding painfully. He remembered waking during the night. He had vomited until there was nothing left to bring up. Slowly rising by inches so as not to upset his queasy stomach, he sat up and looked about the camp seeing Curry brushing his horse across the clearing. "Kid," he croaked.
"Heyes, how're you feelin'?"
Fetching a canteen and plucking a biscuit from the edge of the fire ring, the Kid came over. "Here, nibble on this. It might settle your stomach. Don't drink too much. You damned near puked up your stomach last night."
Taking the water, Heyes sipped it slowly and reached for the biscuit. "Thanks."
They sat together companionably for a while. Not speaking, sitting quietly. Heyes spoke first. "We ought to think about moving on." Curry started to argue but he rightfully pointed out he would be better off getting to the next town and seeing a doctor there and ended the discussion. The Kid knew if Heyes wanted to see a doctor he had to be feeling awful. He quickly set about packing up camp while furtively judging his partner's condition.
The ride into Dolores was slow and easy. The Kid took the lead and the sorrel followed behind with little guidance from his rider. Arriving before dusk, Curry carefully checked out the town as they rode in. Stopping in front of the hotel, he dismounted and told Heyes to stay put on his horse as he went inside. He returned a few minutes later and helped his partner from his saddle. Leading Heyes into the hotel with a firm grip on his arm, the Kid guided him up the stairs to the door of their room. Propping the injured man against the wall with one hand, he used his other to insert the key to the door. Together, the two ex-outlaws rolled through the doorway and over to one of the beds.
"Home away from home," said Heyes goofily, collapsing onto the bed.
"Now I know you're addled. There ain't nothing homey about this place." The room was shabbily furnished and spoke of poor housekeeping. The dirty window looked out over the street as promised, but seeing out of it was another story. The Kid pulled the tattered comforter at the foot of the bed up over his cousin. "You rest, Heyes. I'll fetch the doctor."
Heyes nodded and closed his eyes.
"Your partner has a serious head injury. Could be a fracture, but it's hard to know. When he wakes up, fetch me again and we'll see what kind of symptoms he has," said the doctor as he finished his examination of Heyes and straightened up.
"Symptoms?" asked the Kid, "what kind of symptoms are we talkin' about, Doc?"
"He might have blurry vision, speech problems, trouble with his coordination, that kind of thing. He could be irritable. He might seem different."
"Different? How do you mean?"
The doctor, preoccupied with packing up his bag, continued, "He needs complete bed rest for at least a week or so. Keep the room dark and quiet. He may not feel hungry but see if you can get him to eat a little. He may vomit some more when he does eat."
"Keep him quiet and make him eat, huh? Doc, you have no idea what you're asking for."
"Mr. Jones, this is not humorous. You must keep your friend quiet or his brain could swell."
Alarmed, the Kid asked, "What happens if his brain swells?"
"He'll most likely die." The doctor snatched up his bag and left a shocked Kid Curry behind.
Heyes woke the next morning while the Kid was eating breakfast. Curry had seen the brown eyes open but had stayed quiet until he turned and looked at him.
"Hey, where are we?"
"Dolores. You got thrown. Do you remember?"
"The last thing I remember is riding hard out of Creede two steps in front of the posse."
"Creede! Heyes, that was two years ago."
"Hah, very funny."
"No. I'm serious. Creede was two years ago. You stay right where you are. I'm going for the doctor." The Kid jumped up and started for the door.
"Stop," Heyes commanded, "Give me a second. I just woke up. Is it any wonder I'm confused?"
"Let's not draw attention to ourselves. Last thing we need is folks remembering us if Hawkins comes looking."
"You remember Hawkins?"
"Yeah, I guess I do."
"All right, that's good. You rest a bit more and then we'll talk," said the Kid firmly as he returned to sit beside the bed.
The doctor had returned, at his insistence, to examine Heyes thoroughly. He quickly ruled out a skull fracture, but warned the Kid again it was imperative Heyes stayed quiet. By the second day, Curry was at his wit's end. He'd managed to keep the patient quiet easily enough the first day because he was feeling so poorly, but now Heyes was feeling better. He'd been fussy all morning, insisting he was well enough to get up, so the Kid had let him try. Heyes hadn't lasted more than five seconds before he sank gratefully back into the bed. He was dozing now.
Curry picked up his hat and slipped out the door. For the first time this week, he felt comfortable enough to leave his partner and nose around town. The saloon would be the best place to start.
Entering the cool building, he saw it was nearly empty. The barkeeper was polishing the wooden bar top and a tired-looking barmaid was washing up the floor. It was early for a beer, but he'd been deprived so he bellied up to the bar and ordered.
He spent the afternoon wandering about town and chatting idly with whoever was willing to pass the time with him. Dolores was a quiet little town sharing a sheriff with the next town over. Luckily for the partners, the sheriff was not in residence this week. Curry had learned he would be in by the weekend, but Heyes was improving quickly and they should be gone by then.
He picked up a light meal from the café near the bank and returned to spend the evening in with Heyes.
The next morning, the Kid awoke to the bright sunlight forcing its way through the grimy window. He rolled over onto his back and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Looking to his left, he saw his cousin was fast asleep with one arm dangling over the edge of the bed, snoring softly. It reassured him to see Heyes resting peacefully. Rising quietly from his bed, he walked to the dresser and examined his two-day old beard. Deciding a shave could wait until after breakfast; he reached for his hat on the hook by the door and put it on then retrieved his gun belt from the bedpost and strapped it on tying down the holster. With a glance at his partner who was sawing logs, he pulled open the door and headed down to the dining room.
In the lobby, he saw the clerk at the front desk waving him over. "Mr. Jones, someone was looking for you earlier."
The Kid stiffened. "Who?"
"He didn't leave his name and he didn't ask for you or Mr. Smith by name, but he sure could describe you both."
"What'd you tell him?"
"I told him I hadn't seen anyone like he was describing." The clerk looked at him expectantly.
Curry tossed two bits on the counter. "Thanks. Fix up our bill, we're checkin' out." He nearly ran up the stairs. He couldn't believe their luck. How did this guy keep finding them? They were being careful but it didn't seem to do any good. Opening the door to their room quietly, he found Heyes awake.
"What's wrong?" Heyes had seen the look on his partner's face.
"It's Hawkins. He's here."
Heyes reached for his gun belt lying on the chair next to him and stood up slowly, wobbling slightly. "I'm ready. You go get the horses. I'll pack and meet you outside. Take the back stairs."
Nodding, the Kid left.
It was late in the day when they neared the rocky country before the Southern Utah desert's edge. Heyes was swaying in the saddle in rhythm to his horse's motion. His head had dropped onto his chest and he seemed to be sleeping. Leading Heyes' horse, Curry kept one eye on the dozing rider and one on their back trail. There had been no sign of Hawkins, but he now knew that meant nothing. The man must be half apache. He was worried. The doctor had said Heyes had to rest. Well, this wasn't very restful. So far, he'd seen no symptoms of anything unusual, but he watched his friend closely. They had to somehow shake the bounty hunter and find a place to hole up until Heyes was better. Up ahead he saw a grouping of large boulders had tumbled down the hillside from the top of a mesa. The stones had come to rest mid-way up the hill and seemed to form a natural enclosure. He headed for them. It would be a good place to camp for the night and offered him good view both up and down the trail.
It had been a peaceful evening. Heyes had barely been awake long enough to eat a small bit of stew and then he had fallen soundly asleep with the plate sitting across his lap. The Kid had covered him with a light blanket and left him where he was propped up against his saddle. No sense in disturbing him.
The sound of horse hooves clattering across the rocky ground brought the Kid instantly awake and to his feet. He gently shook Heyes' shoulder until his cousin looked up at him. Holding one finger to his lips and nodding towards the trail, he hooked Heyes' rifle out of its scabbard and placed it in his friend's hand. Heyes nodded back. Creeping silently to the largest boulder and carefully edging around it, Curry was ready for trouble. He looked back at his partner who had rolled over onto his stomach and was peering over the top of a fallen rock nearby.
"Hold it right there. Put your hands up, nice and easy-like," said the commanding voice from the rocks above the narrow trail.
Sighing, the dark-haired man raised his hands over his head slowly. "Mister, I don't know who you think I am, but..."
"I know who you are. You've been doggin' me and my partner for days now. You're Jake Hawkins, bounty hunter." Kid Curry held his gun steady on the rider below him. Rising, he stepped out from behind the cluster of red rocks. "Toss your gun over there and your rifle, too." He gestured to Hawkin's left.
The man did as he was told using two fingers on his left hand. He knew Curry could shoot the wings off a fly at thirty yards and there was no way he'd provoke him now.
The Kid slid noisily down the slope scattering loose shale as he descended. He walked carefully up to the mounted rider and removed his lariat all the while keeping his gun trained on him.
"Where's your partner?" Hawkins was looking about. He saw a rifle barrel trained on him above and to the left of where Curry had hidden.
"I'm up here covering you," yelled Heyes.
The Kid reached up and dragged him from the saddle. After tying him up securely, he hauled him roughly up the slope to where his partner waited. As they approached, Hawkins could see something was ailing Heyes. He was ashen and his hands on the rifle looked none too steady. Curry shoved him down hard and he dropped to the ground sitting a few feet from where Heyes sat propped against a boulder with his legs stretched out. Looking each other over like two stray dogs, Heyes finally spoke, "You're a persistent cuss, ain't you? I thought we'd lost you out of Dolores."
"Not everyday a man has a chance to make twenty thousand dollars. You look sick, Heyes, are you dying?"
Heyes snorted and with a smile underscoring hard, dark eyes, said, "Hoping I'll make your job easier? How's your lovely sister, Lindy? I have unfinished business with her."
Hawkins stiffened. "You ain't ever gonna see her again."
Heyes chuckled but he was tiring and his face whitened even further. Closing his eyes, he said, "What are we gonna do with him, Kid? He's not going to stop. This guy won't give up."
"Yep, he's got to be crazy to trail us like that with no backup." Curry frowned at Hawkins.
Heyes thought for a moment. "Let's tie him to that tree over there. If you use some latigo, it ought to take him all day to work the leather loose. Leave him his canteen and we'll take his horse."
"Good idea, that oughta slow him down a bit." The Kid roughly pulled Hawkins up by one arm and led him to the large pine tree a few yards away.
Sighing, Heyes unsteadily levered himself up off the ground. He reached up and pulled his hat down tight to shade his eyes from the noon sun. Hawkins might be tireless, but he sure felt like he could sleep for a week. Moving slowly, Heyes wearily prepared to break camp.
"Which way d'you wannahead? We could go east to Durango or north to Grand Junction." Curry looked at Heyes who was gray-faced and obviously in pain and knew they needed to find a safe place fast. He didn't look like he could go on much longer, but the Kid knew his partner would never say so.
"West. We go west."
"West! There ain't nothin' west of here but the desert. Are you crazy?"
"You're wrong, Kid. Robber's Roost is west of here. We'd be welcomed there. No one knows we've gone straight yet."
"It's a hard ride over some of the worst land known to man. You're in no condition to try it." Reining up, he looked at Heyes whose face was drawn and his eyes narrowed. The sun was obviously painful to him.
"We have no choice, Kid. Hawkins'll be loose soon and he knows I'm hurt. He'll figure we'll head to the nearest town. He could easily walk back into Dolores and wire ahead to the sheriffs. We've got to do the unexpected and he won't be expecting us to head west." His head throbbed with his pulse and his vision had been bothering him since yesterday; everything looked blurry to him. Without waiting for an argument, he spurred his horse into a lope.
"Heyes?" The two partners were sitting quietly in a thick grove of Pinyon and Juniper trees watching the last rays of the sun settle on the western horizon. The sky was turning dark; the last of the colorful sunset leaching to shades of gray. Their horses were concealed in another cluster of the stumpy, scraggly trees. They had eaten a cold dinner and made do with wrapping themselves in their saddle blankets for warmth against the chill of a desert night. There would be no campfires for the foreseeable future. They couldn't take the chance in this open country of having the light from a fire spotted. The bounty hunter was not likely to seek them in this direction, but he might and they had to take every precaution.
"Hmmm?" Heyes knew he was in no condition to ride this arid land, but they had to. This was only the third day and already he was exhausted. The exposure to the hot, drying wind during the day and the cold nights had left him drained of all energy and his head pounded miserably. He couldn't let on to his cousin how bad he really felt or he'd be in for an argument he knew he wouldn't win. They'd left Hawkins two days ago. No telling where he was now. The stress was wearing him down quickly and he'd give anything for a warm bed and a hot meal.
"How d'you think Hawkins keeps findin' us?" asked the Kid.
Heyes looked over at him and smiled. Leave it to his partner to read his thoughts. "All I can figure is he's working with Lindy. We know he telegraphed her from that cow town. My bet is he lets her know where he is and she telegraphs ahead to all the surrounding towns in any direction. There ain't many towns on the Western Slope. Someone has to be keeping an eye out for us and letting him know where we are. There's no other way for him to keep showing up. 'Less, of course, he really is half Apache."
"Huh, kind of like Lom does when he's tryin' to find us. But why would they let the sheriffs know? Hawkins and Lindy don't seem like they'd be interested in sharin' the reward money." The Kid had picked up a small twig and was idly stirring the sandy soil next to him.
"Don't have to wire the sheriff. They could be wiring the telegraph operator; or a bartender. It just needs to be someone likely to notice strangers in town. They don't have to offer much either."
"How do you figure?"
"Well, if I were them I'd make up a story. Something like Lindy's no good husband took off with all her hard earned money and left her poor and hungry with six kids and no mortgage money. Now he's whooping it up with his pal and playing poker every night while his poor kids starve. Her brother is paying good money to bring her low-life spouse back. Something like that." Heyes winced from a pain in his head.
"You're spooky how easily you make that shit up, you know that? You ever think amnesty would be this hard? I mean, I guess I knew it'd be tough tryin' to make an honest living and be wanted, but I never dreamed our luck would go so far south. Did you?"
"I don't know it's gone all that south. I mean we've got the chance for amnesty, that's more hope than we've had in a long time. Sure, we've been in some tight spots, but we've made it out of each of 'em. We'll make it out of this one, too. What's got you talking this way?"
"Maybe I just see how much things have changed and I wonder if we wouldn't be better off going back to robbin'. I had fun. You had fun; didn't you?" It was plain by the expression on the Kid's face that he really wanted to know.
"I did, but I'm not sure it was much fun near the end of our run. We always say the safes were getting harder and the posse faster, but I think, for me, I felt like we were heading for a fall. It was only a matter of time before things went wrong. You can't be the best forever, and we were for a long time."
"We were always real careful."
"Yes, we were careful, but you can't foresee everything. You know that. Sooner or later, we'd have been caught or worse."
"Kid, we've been all over this before. Why are you bringing it up now?"
"I don't know." But he did know. They wouldn't be in this fix if they hadn't gone for the amnesty. Just like Heyes wouldn't have been shot a few months ago. He was worried about his cousin who was trying to hide how bad he felt, but he could tell. This was the second time in a few months Heyes had been concussed. He kept thinking about what the doctor had told him while Heyes had been out cold. He needed rest and he wasn't getting it. Was his brain swelling? Is that why he was feeling worse? Heyes didn't know what the doctor had told him and he didn't want him to. If he did, he'd hide his pain so well he'd never be able to tell what he was feeling. It was better this way. He looked over at Heyes. His eyes were closed now and he could see he was feeling sick. Real sick. He thought back to what Hawkins had said and wondered if Heyes really was dying and he wished with all his heart they'd never heard of amnesty. "Heyes, do you really want to try for the Roost? We don't know who's there now. It could be Cap, but it could be somebody not quite as friendly."
"Cap Brown ain't exactly friendly. He's a horse thief and a cheat, but I think it's our only choice. I'm willing to try." Heyes rolled onto his and pulled his blanket up across his shoulders. He looked at his partner. He knew the Kid was worried about him; heck, he was worried too. His headache was getting worse and his vision wasn't improving. It was blurry and even now, he could really only make out the shape of his partner. Well, it had taken a few weeks before when he'd been shot to have his head stop hurting and no double vision. It'd probably be a few weeks this time, too. He could tough it out. He had no intention of being plucked to feather Lindy's nest.
"If you're sure you want to. Good night, Heyes." Curry yawned and settled back into his bedroll.
The next morning, the Kid rose early to pack up the gear before waking Heyes. Tying off the last latigo around his bedroll, he turned and walked over to the sleeping man. Nudging his boots, he said, "Rise and shine, time to go." There was no response and his stomach turned over as he reached down and shook an exposed shoulder. "Heyes!" Still nothing. Flipping Heyes onto his back, and thoroughly panicked, he listened for a heartbeat. It was there and it was steady. What the hell? He started patting Heyes' face. Finally, eyelids flickered open, but the eyes were unfocused. "Wake up. C'mon, wake up, dammit."
"Uhnn." Heyes moaned, not completely conscious. The Kid quickly fetched a canteen and returned to his partner. He splashed some water his cousin's face causing him to sputter. "Stop. Stop. What're you doing?!"
"Geez, you wouldn't wake up. You scared the hell out of me," yelled Curry. "That's it! We're headin' to Moab. This ain't right. There's somethin' really wrong with you."
"Yeah, my partner's trying to drown me," snapped Heyes as he sat up and wiped at his face. He rose carefully to his feet but he was dizzy. Seeing the terrified look on his friend's face, he softened. "I'm up, see, and I'm all right."
"Really, I'm fine. Let's get going. We're less than a day or so from the Roost, and I want to get a move on. It's going to get hot soon." He brushed past the Kid and went to his horse and mounted easily enough. "Are you coming?"
"Damn stubborn jackass….." mumbled the Kid.
"I heard that."
The day warmed quickly and by noon the sun was brutally beating down on them. They'd passed out of the high desert Pinyon/Juniper country and were now riding through a canyon area populated by jack rabbits and sagebrush. There was no cover anywhere and the horses were feeling it and refused to move much faster than a slow crawl. The riders were tired, too. Once again, Heyes' head was down on his chest. He was doing all right, though, and hadn't complained. He's tough, thought the Kid. Riding on, an hour or so later, Curry heard a thud and whipped his head around. Heyes lay sprawled out in the sand face up. "Shit!" He jumped off his horse and ran back to the inert form, sliding to a stop on his knees. Heyes was out cold again. This was not good.
The Kid looked about wildly for some sort of shade. They'd ridden into the mouth of a large arroyo. The sides had gradually steepened and now towered over them. There wasn't any shade this time of day with the sun directly overhead. Further ahead, he could see the canyon forked and there might be some shade. With effort, he hauled Heyes up and across his shoulders. Grabbing the reins to the riderless horse, he stepped on them to hold the gelding in place. The animal was not cooperative and kept swinging his hind end away. Finally, he lost his temper and turned the horse loose. Walking to his gelding quietly standing nearby, he shouldered Heyes across the saddle and tied him on securely. He led his horse over to the other animal and snatched the reins roughly causing Heyes' horse to step back. "Dogmeat, you're dogmeat," he grumbled, leading the two horses further into the canyon.
In a few minutes, he reached the fork. There was no shelter from the sun. Sighing, he took the right fork and plodded on leading the two horses while keeping a hand on his partner's leg. He walked for another hour as the canyon snaked and turned growing ever more closed in until he could see the end looming ahead. He'd walked himself into a dead end. Good thing Heyes was out or he'd never hear the end of this one. What could he do now? Disgusted, he stopped and looked up the rocky walls on either side hoping for a trail out. What he saw shocked him. There on a ledge about thirty feet off the canyon floor was a stone house! The roof was gone, but it looked to be two, maybe three stories tall. He couldn't believe it until he saw another one further along the same side. That one was completely ruined but had obviously been built by men; men from a very long time ago. Swinging in a circle, he counted several more buildings all reduced to not much more than rubble, but the first building had shade. He could see it inside the T-shaped doorway facing out to the canyon. The Kid looked harder and saw the overgrown outline of a game trail leading towards the house. He whooped and slapped his partner's legs. Grabbing Heyes' horse, he climbed on and urged the horses up the trail; small rocks clattering down the hillside as they climbed.
The building seemed taller as the Kid approached and he could see it was easily three stories tall and built of finely fitted stones. It was a nearly perfect square. There was only the one door but up higher in the second and third stories there were small windows. It was a fortress-like tower and easily defendable. Looking closely at the rock work, he saw there were small stones fitted between the layers of larger stones. Almost like the chinking in a log house. The craftsmanship was amazing and he marveled someone could build something so beautiful in such a god-forsaken place.
There were some bushes and brush that had grown in the shadows cast by the building. Curry dismounted and led the horses to the shrubs, tying them both off on the sturdiest branches and untying Heyes from his horse. Gently easing him off the saddle, he lifted him onto his shoulder again and carried him into the shelter of the building. It was cooler and darker inside and it was surprisingly roomy. Setting Heyes down against the back wall, he went out to unsaddle the horses and bring in the gear. They'd camp here tonight and he'd see how Heyes was in the morning.
Heyes was awake and sitting with his back against the stone wall staring at the Kid as he rolled over opening his eyes. With a smile, Curry said, "How are you feelin'?"
Heyes continued to stare back unspeaking. "Are you okay? C'mon. You're not bein' funny."
Hard dark eyes bore into him as Heyes said, "I'm not trying to be funny."
The Kid bolted upright when he saw the gun drawn and pointed at his chest. "What're you doin'?!"
"I'm sitting here waiting for you to wake up and tell me how I got here."
Curry kept a close eye on the shaky gun hand. "Heyes, you passed out. I had to toss you over the saddle and lead the horses here. You have a concussion and you've been sick for days. Don't you remember?"
Blinking now, confusion spread across Heyes' face. "Yeah, I do. Kid…" He looked down at the gun in his hand and dropped it as though it were hot metal. Heyes sprang to his feet, swaying alarmingly. "Why was I holding a gun on you?!"
"I don't know, Heyes. Why were you holding a gun on me?" The Kid snatched the gun off the floor and tucked it into his own gun belt. "I'll hang onto this for you, all right?"
Heyes looked stunned as the Kid reached out and placed his hand on his shoulder. "It's fine. You're fine. Just take it easy."
Heyes stared at him. "I pulled a gun on you!" He looked like hell. His eyes were bloodshot, his hands were shaking and he had a nervous tic in the corner of his mouth. "What's wrong with me?" whispered the injured man.
"You have a concussion and I think it might be more. It could be your brain might be swellin'," said the Kid carefully.
"What…what are you talking about?" Heyes' voice ratcheted higher.
"Take it easy. The doc said this could happen. I didn't want to tell you."
"Why not? Don't you think I oughta know I might pull a gun on you?!"
"I didn't want you hidin' the symptoms, that's all. I didn't want you pretendin'everything was fine."
"Oh, it's not fine. It is so very not fine," said Heyes shakily.
"You set back down and rest. We're gonna stay here 'til you feel better." The Kid gently pressed Heyes back down into a sitting position onto his bedroll. He looked deflated and didn't protest at all. He simply sat back; exhausted.
"How're we gonna do that? What about water, food?" Heyes looked up at his cousin.
"Well, as long as you don't mind eatin' jack rabbit, we won't starve. There are cottonwoods at the head of the canyon so there might be a spring nearby. I'll go check if you promise to lay low." He adjusted Heyes' gun in his belt and picked up his hat before turning towards the door. "Just you rest, Heyes. That's all you need to do." He slipped out the small doorway.
Heyes couldn't believe what he'd done. He'd wanted to shoot the Kid and had been ready to. He couldn't ever say that out loud; it was too hard for him to believe. He was dangerous to the person most important to him. Feeling the panic building in him, he closed his eyes against the pain from the slight light filtering in through the small doorway. Brain swelling. He'd read about it somewhere. It could cause a man to go crazy. Maybe it was happening to him. He was slowly going crazy and he was going to hurt the Kid. His panic fueled his blood pressure and as it built, Heyes' thoughts spun swiftly out of control. He had to get out of here. Go off on his own. That's what he'd do. He'd leave the first chance he got. He had to get free. He was a prisoner. He had to get free. Exhausted, he let the broken thoughts chase around his mind until he drifted off into an uneasy doze.
He awoke a few hours later to the sound of gunshots. Startled, he scrambled up reaching wildly for the gun that was no longer by his side. For a few long moments, he stood listening. Heart and head pounding in rhythm, he ran out the T-shaped doorway. The light stopped him in his tracks and pain sliced through his head and dropped him to his knees.
The Kid was starting up the trail with a brace of dead jack rabbits in hand carrying both canteens strung across his shoulder and a pleased grin on his face. As he neared the stone house, he saw Heyes kneeling, bent over with his head in his hands. Dropping the game, he ran towards his partner.
Heyes lifted his head as Curry stopped in front of him and, roaring, drove upwards into the Kid's chest. Grunting, the Kid stumbled backwards and he was on him in an instant. Dazed, Curry failed to raise his fists to fend off the crazy attack. Heyes, both hands gripped tightly together, swung his arms in an arc and struck him soundly; knocking him out. He collapsed and lay still.
Heyes grabbed his gun from the Kid's belt, took a canteen, and ran to the horses. He was breathing hard, the pain in his head was unbearable and it was driving him mad. Grappling with the reins, he tore off branches in his haste to free the animals. He had to hurry; he had to get away. He'd been imprisoned but he was free now. He swung up onto his horse and, hanging onto both sets of reins, galloped wildly down the narrow trail leading the other horse behind him.