Blackness crept in from the corners of his vision; a black curtain eclipsed the unrelenting sun overhead. Heyes fought against the spell. He held it at bay with sheer determination, but he was tired and it was so very hot. He tried to focus on the sounds around him. The twittering of small cliff swallows as they darted in and out of their precarious hanging nests glued to the rocky walls closing in on him; the shuffling of his exhausted horse's hooves in the blistering sand; the creaking of the saddle; anything would help distract him from his misery.
He thought about the Kid. He wondered if he'd ever be forgiven for riding off and leaving. He hated to think of what he was putting his partner through, but even more he hated the idea of him witnessing his descent into madness. The Kid had always teased him about being a genius; had always poked fun at his grandiose ideas; but he'd always been proud of him, too. Heyes was sure he was losing his mind. Even now, his thoughts were becoming cloudy.
He lost track of time until he came to a drop in the canyon floor. He remembered this big hill of sand; not too far from here there was an area of seeps. Moist spots, not springs, but moist enough for small puddles of cool, stagnant water. His horse perked up a bit having sensed the water ahead. It was a funny thing about animals how they could do that, but a person couldn't. Most parts of the year there was water to be found in the desert, but you had to know where to look; and he did. He sent his horse slipping and sliding down the soft sand dune.
It had taken the better part of two days, but the Kid was gaining on Heyes. He could tell from the hoof prints Heyes' horse was taking smaller and smaller strides. The animal was tiring from the heat and lack of water. His horse was, too, but it appeared from Heyes' trail he was carrying a fair amount of weight; likely water. More weight than he was, though he had enough water for a while longer being as how he was only sipping at it once in a great while. Heyes had planned this trip and Kid figured he'd brought plenty of water with him to make it at least part way through. He also knew Heyes was real good, as was he, at finding water when he needed it. Over the years, the two of them had learned every trick in the book about survival and those tricks had served them well many times.
"God damn this miserable heat," swore Lindy. "I am ruining my skin in this God awful hellhole. How much longer do you think, afore we catch 'em, Jake?"
Jake smiled. His sister's fine ways were taking a beating in the harsh climate and she was sounding more and more like the saloon gal she was. "I reckon we can't be more than an hour or so behind them now," he said.
"Behind who? The Sheriff or Heyes and Curry?" asked Lindy. She was sick of this place. Her arms and face were burning and her lips had cracked with the desert dryness. Lindy wanted to finish this business as quickly as possible and get back to civilization before she lost her looks completely.
"All of them," said Jake. He looked about him at the dry, arid desert brush. There was greasewood and saltbrush, yucca and cacti, but not much else. It looked barren and it looked real dry. He hadn't planned on this and he knew they'd be out of water soon; especially with the way Lindy was guzzling it. They'd have to find more somewhere, but where? Jake didn't know this land, but he'd crossed the desert a time or two and knew what to look for. Only problem was, he wasn't seeing it.
Neither were Marley and Poke. They, too, were getting low on water and getting real worried about it. Being old hands at traveling the desert, they were each sucking on small handfuls of pebbles to keep their mouths moist and stave off the need to sip at their remaining supply of water. It'd be real serious if they didn't find water soon. Damn Curry and Heyes for leading them into this deathtrap.
Heyes found the seeps easily enough. They were soft mossy patches concealed in a jumble of rocks tucked under an overhanging ledge. There was enough shade for one man but not enough for his horse; and Heyes' horse needed shade and a rest. Heyes smiled through dry, cracked lips as he pressed down on the moss hard. He watched as the depression made from his hands slowly filled with water. He tore apart some of the moss and created a small pool of water. It took a while for him to refill his canteens. He forced his thirsty horse to sip small amounts of water at a time and took pains to walk him around in between drinks. He knew a hot horse drinking cold water was a recipe for colic which could kill a horse. Heyes was tiring and starting to feel shaky. He needed to find a place where they could both rest and he'd be safe from the seizure he felt coming on. Once watered and partially refreshed, Heyes remounted and continued on in search of shade.
The trail narrowed as it wound its way through the abundance of desert shrubbery growing around the seeps attempting to poach what precious water was there. If his horse hadn't of stumbled through some sagebrush, he would have missed the slight shadow of a crevice in the canyon wall to his right. His pounding headache and spotty vision were making it difficult for him to see. The noon light was hitting it right to highlight it, and in a few more minutes it would be hidden. Heyes rode his horse up the rocky hillside to the crevice. It was a large vertical cut in the rock wall wide enough to pass a horse through. Peering in, Heyes could see it widened out a bit and was big enough to turn his horse around in and still have space for him. It was cool and shady inside, and his horse eagerly followed him in.
Heyes pulled the saddle from the sweaty animal and tossed it down. The horse sighed in relief as Heyes tied the reins around the horn. The animal was thankful to stop and had no intention of wandering away. Heyes left the crevice and walked down to the seeps again. There was enough shade here for him to rest and he could watch his back trail from here. He didn't know if he was being followed, but caution was so ingrained in him; he never questioned his need to keep watch. He sat with his back to the rock wall and set his right hand on the moss to help cool him faster. The spell hit him unawares. He came to lying on his side covered in sand and staring crazily at a tilted landscape. It took a moment to clear his head and sit up. Heyes thought he saw movement up the back trail. He did. Scrambling like an animal, not really capable of walking yet, he crawled a distance away from the moss and into a knot of tangled bushes. He had to pull himself together real quick. Peering out, Heyes watched the trail.
Kid Curry's horse, too, had sensed the water ahead and both horse and rider anticipated it eagerly. He followed in Heyes' footstep, smiling now. He'd been following in Heyes' footsteps for a long time now and only prayed he'd have the chance to follow some more. The tracks broke off to the left and then doubled back and crossed to the right. His horse pulled to the left hand trail and he gave him his head knowing he had found the water source.
The Kid pulled up at the mossy pool Heyes had created and dismounted. He let his horse sip, watching the thirsty animal push at the moss and slurp at the water. Without turning around, he casually said, "You okay, Heyes?"
Heyes sat up and irritably said, "How the hell did you know I was here?!"
"You ain't yourself, Heyes; you left a trail a mile wide when you dragged your ass into those bushes. Are you hurt?" He turned around to look at his partner. Heyes was pale and wobbly. This ride hadn't done him any good. He walked his horse over to his cousin.
"Just my pride," said Heyes lying. "Kid, what are you doing here? I figured you'd get the message I didn't want you riding with me when I up and rode off." Standing up, he started to dust the sand and bits of brush off his clothes. The strain of standing too fast caused his head to spin and he started to fall. Curry caught him as he went down and kept him from pitching face first into the sand. Half-conscious, he swatted at his hands. "Let me go. I said, let me go," said Heyes, his voice rising in a familiar squeaky tone. The Kid didn't let him go.
"If I let you go, you'll fall flat on your goddamn, stubborn, double-crossin' face and I'd have to pick you up again. Just sit here a minute and catch your fool breath."
Heyes looked at him wide-eyed and said, "Sheesh, no need to get proddy." He smiled broadly, unable to keep his delight at seeing his partner hidden any longer. Curry helped him up again and led him to the shady patch next to the pool. The Kid's horse followed them and greedily dropped his head to suck water as quickly as he could. "Pull his head up, he'll get sick," fussed Heyes. The Kid yanked his horse up and walked over to tie him to some sagebrush. Walking back towards his cousin, he looked him over. Heyes' hands were shaking and he was blinking repeatedly. He noticed there was no sun shining on Heyes to cause the squinting and realized his partner was having trouble seeing.
"Heyes, can you see me?" he asked softly. When he didn't receive an answer, he exploded, "Dammit! Is that what this is all about? You figured to crawl off and go blind all alone?!" Seeing the guilt on Heyes' face, he roared on, "Of all the stupid, self-centered things to do…"
Heyes bristled, "Self-centered! How d'you figure that for self-centered?" He was trying desperately to pick a fight, change the subject. He did not want his cousin to know how sick he was. It was better for the Kid to think he was going blind. He didn't want him to realize it was far worse.
Curry glared at him astonished his genius partner could be so ridiculously stupid some times. Shaking his head, he said, "Well, whatever you were thinkin', you ain't getting' rid of me now; and don't get any ideas. I need you to lead me out of this mess you've led me into."
"Help me up, will you? I ain't feeling too good." Heyes reached out his hand and the Kid grasped it tightly, pulling him to his feet, and steadying him until the dizziness passed.
"Where's your horse?" Curry scanned the area around them. There was nowhere to hide something as big as a horse.
"Haa! You'll never find him. Here let me show you." Heyes led them away from the water and across to the other side of the canyon. Curry watched his partner walking slowly and cautiously. He could tell Heyes was having trouble knowing where to put his feet. They were walking straight at the crevice, but the Kid couldn't see it. He worried Heyes had lost his mind, hoping against hope that he'd be able to lead them out of the mess they were in, but he followed willingly. They were only ten feet away before he realized there was a crack in the face of the cliff.
"Give me your horse. I'll tie him out. There's not enough room in there for two horses, but he can have a rest in a bit." Heyes led Kid's horse about fifty feet away and tied him to some sagebrush where he could nibble on the sparse grasses around him.
"How the heck did you find this with your eyes so messed up?" Curry peered into the slit and saw Heyes' horse dozing peacefully with his lowered nose resting on top of the saddle lying in the sand.
"It was a miracle, Kid! One like Sister Julia talked about. The light hit it just right as I was happening by," answered Heyes walking past his friend and gesturing for him to follow him in. "There's room enough for us and my horse. We can rest a spell."
They settled tightly into the small space, but the Kid had to admit it was comfortable and cool. Heyes had sat down facing him and closed his eyes. He could tell he was exhausted so he sat quietly allowing Heyes to fall into a deep sleep. There'd be time later to confront him about his injuries. He got up and gently eased his partner down onto his side to rest then he slipped quietly out of the cave and walked over to his horse.
"Hey fella, don't worry you'll get your turn soon." He patting the animal's neck then pulled the two canteens he had brought from the saddle and walked over to the seep to refill them. He sat down on the cool moss as Heyes had, refilled the canteens, and dozed off for a while. He awoke feeling more rested and got up to check on his partner.
He hadn't gotten very far on the way back to the crevice, when he heard a gun cock behind him. "Hold it right there, Curry," said a voice he didn't recognize. He put his hands up and very slowly turned around as the man holding the gun reached forward and disarmed him. "There now; wasn't so hard, now was it?" asked the big, graying man before him. The Kid looked at his chest, saw the gold star pinned to it, and groaned.
Poke was well hidden up the trail but still within rifle range. He was covering Curry for Marley. They weren't taking any chances. If Marley could take Curry on his own, fine. If there was trouble Poke would be ready. They'd talked a lot on the trail in and had come to an understanding. Marley hated his life and needed a change. Poke realized how much he'd missed having a partner. They'd agreed to share the reward. There was more to having a good life than money. Twenty thousand could go a long way if they supplemented it with a few robberies along the way. Things were looking up for both of them.
"Can I put my arms down, Sheriff? Thanks," said the Kid as he risked a glance towards the crevice. The Sheriff caught the quick shifting of his eyes and turned to stare at the wall. All he saw was Curry's horse contently nibbling the grasses. Upon arriving, Poke and Marley had watched for a long time to make sure he was alone. There was no sign of Heyes and only one horse. They'd decided now was the time to take Kid Curry before he met up with his partner. Poke had ridden back up the trail to hide the horses and find a high spot to cover the camp. One man would have an easier time sneaking into the camp than two. Looking back at the Kid, Marley said, "You get down on your belly and put your hands behind your back so I can tie you up."
Kid knelt down and prayed Heyes was still asleep. Lying down on the hot sand, he flinched from the heat for a moment and put his hands behind his back.
Heyes woke up aware the Kid was gone. This brought him awake more quickly and he sat up stretching. He heard the sound of a strange voice outside but couldn't make out what was being said. It didn't matter; anyone else down here was likely to be trouble. Creeping to the crevice entrance, Heyes peered around the edge, one hand dropping to the gun at his side. It was blurry and hard to see but he could make out someone big leaning over what he thought was the Kid. Heyes crept quietly out of the rock cut and circled widely behind the two figures, keeping low to the ground and tucked behind bushes. It was the Kid. As he got closer, he squinted hard and saw the big man haul him to his feet roughly and push him down the trail; he also saw a bright flash of sunlight up the trail and high on the side of the canyon that stabbed at his eyes. It was a reflection off of metal. Heyes flew from his cover tackling his partner as a shot rang out. The Sheriff grunted and grabbed at his arm falling to the ground. The two ex-outlaws rolled into a slight depression behind some greasewood and stopped with Heyes crouched over the Kid. "Get down. You're too high. Get the hell down," whispered Curry urgently. Heyes flattened next to him in the sand, but reached over and scrambled to untie his hands.