Kyle found Heyes sitting on a stool dozing in front of the closed telegraph office. Heyes thanked him for the information and sent him up the street to watch out for Decker's arrival and notify Wheat who was stationed across the street. Heyes had sent the Preacher, Lobo and Hank onto Devil's Hole with the cash from Bill's safe. He knew if Decker was riding in, he had probably figured it all out and he didn't want to risk being found with the cash. He also knew that old Bill would be greedy enough to have an eye on the reward money and Heyes was ready for him. He stood up and stepped off the sidewalk heading towards the jail.
Heyes had played poker many times in the last few weeks with the sheriff, Roy Haines, and had gotten to know him pretty well. Haines was a real nice guy and he and Heyes had hit it off. Roy knew Cole James, ranch foreman and a good hand with a gun. Heyes would trade on that. Because he was on friendly terms with Roy, it was without any qualms that Heyes now entered the sheriff's office.
"Cole, good to see you; what brings you out this early in the morning?" asked Roy. He liked this friendly young man despite the fact that he was Boswell's muscle. He understood the need for Boswell to protect his water and didn't hold it against James or Boswell. James was no killer, unlike the gun hands Decker had hired. Bill Decker had pushed his weight around for far too long and even Roy was sick of it. He'd have gone after Decker himself if he wasn't sworn to uphold the law. Decker had cost him his ranch a few years back by buying up the mortgage from the bank and foreclosing on him for missing a couple of payments when his wife, Maddie, was so sick. Roy was sure the loss of their beloved ranch had hastened her demise, God rest her soul.
"Roy, I've got a problem brewing and it involves Bill Decker," said Heyes.
Roy sighed and said, "So what's new? It seems like all the trouble around here leads back to Decker. You know as well as I do that he had something to do with the shooting yesterday." He was annoyed that Decker wasn't implicated and couldn't help mentioning it. Roy had talked to Boswell for quite a while. The man had insisted that McGuire was just trying to make a reputation for himself by taking on James, a known gunman. Boswell had told Roy that he had just stepped into the gunplay when it looked like McGuire was going to draw on Cole for refusing the fight. Boswell had gotten in a lucky shot according to James and the other two men, Rocking M hands, who had been close by and witnessed the shooting. McGuire had told him pretty much the same story. Roy knew that Decker was involved but he couldn't prove it without more evidence and getting the shootist out of his town had been his main concern. McGuire had been patched up by the doctor and swiftly escorted out of town by the sheriff.
Heyes was pleased to hear his partner hadn't gone to the sheriff to press charges against Decker. Kid hadn't been at the ranch when he'd returned before dawn and Heyes had wondered if he had visited Roy. Apparently, he hadn't. Kid did have quite a temper and Heyes was never sure of what he might do when provoked; and Heyes knew he had provoked him.
"Well, things with Decker seem to be getting uglier," said Heyes, ignoring Roy's barb about the shooting. Heyes wanted to direct Roy's attention elsewhere. "Mind if I have a cup of that coffee?"
"Sure, help yourself and set down and tell me what's up," said Roy. He watched as Heyes walked over to the woodstove and poured a cup from the pot staying warm there. Heyes came back over and sat in the chair across from Roy's desk. He looked down at his coffee mug as though he was collecting his thoughts. With a small smile, Heyes looked up and shook his head ruefully.
"You know I work for Steven Boswell of the Rocking M, right?" said Heyes. Roy nodded and waited. Heyes continued, "He's no rancher, so I run things for him." It was no secret around town that Boswell's Pa had forced the ranch on him. Roy nodded again.
"We've been fighting with Decker over the reservoir up there in the northwest corner and it's turned violent," said Heyes. The squabble over water was big news around town and Heyes knew that Roy had been a close friend of Scott Medgar's and had been furious with Decker when he forced Scott off his ranch. Roy had told him so during a particularly late night poker game.
"Decker tried to force his way into the reservoir with his gun hands, but, fortunately, I was there with my men at the time," said Heyes. Roy was listening carefully now and Heyes knew he had him. "Roy, you know I'm pretty good with a gun so I managed to stop things from getting out of hand, but there's also been an incident with dynamite." Heyes wasn't about to admit that he had been the cause of the explosion. "No one was hurt, but Decker's making threats and I felt it was time that you knew what was going on. Decker's plum crazy, Roy. He confronted me last night and made all sorts of insane accusations. Now I'm a peaceable man, for the most part, but I take pride in my reputation and it's important to me," finished Heyes. He sat back to measure Roy's reaction.
Roy was frowning now and said, "A man's reputation is damned important, Cole. I'm surprised you didn't call him out."
Heyes laughed and said, "I wanted to, Roy, but he was drunk and it wouldn't have been a fair fight; claimed I was stealing from him. I knew he was out of his right mind so I let it go, but I got to thinking that a man like Decker is capable of anything. I just thought it best if I let you know what was going on in case he tried something….you know." Heyes looked down, embarrassed, and Roy smiled at him. He got up from his desk and walk around it to lean against it facing Heyes.
"He sent that gunman after you, didn't he? Why didn't you and Boswell press charges?" asked Roy.
"We didn't want any more trouble with Decker than we already had," said Heyes.
Roy smiled at him, pleased at his restraint. "Well, I am glad you came to me now. You did the right thing, son. I'll keep an eye on Decker and you let me know if you have any more trouble, you hear?" said Roy, reaching out and patting Heyes on the shoulder. Heyes smiled up at him gratefully.
"Thanks, Roy, I really appreciate it. Say, can I buy you breakfast? It seems like the least I can do for you taking that burden off my shoulders," said Heyes grinning as he stood up.
"I'd like that, Cole. Let me finish a couple of things and I'll lock up and meet you out front," said Roy returning to sit at his desk.
Heyes stepped out the door onto the sidewalk and brushed his sleeve. Wheat was watching from across the street and took his hat off for a moment. Heyes knew from Wheat's signal that Decker was in town. His men had done their jobs well.
Kid had not been happy to hear that last night hadn't gone as planned. He had run into Kyle a few minutes ago and had questioned him about last night's robbery. Kyle had hesitantly told Kid about Heyes opening the safe with Decker in the room. Kid was furious with Heyes that he had gone through with the robbery and he knew Heyes's pride was getting the better of him. Kid was planning to have it out with his cousin this morning. Kid sat down on a rocker on the porch of the hotel where he had stayed in last night. He had a great view of the street and could keep an eye out for Heyes.
Heyes was waiting for Roy in the shadows cast by the alleyway alongside of the Sheriff's office. He knew Decker was on his way in and didn't want Bill to see him until he was ready. Almost immediately, Decker came galloping down the street and reined up in front of the sheriff's office, dismounting. His back was to the alley where Heyes was waiting. Heyes walked out of the shadows and crept up behind him. Grinning widely, Heyes said, "Hey Bill, are you finally ready to do your own dirty work?"
Decker jumped a mile and turned to see Heyes. "You!" he spit out. "I know who you are and you'll pay for crossing me. I'm getting the sheriff." He was terrified to be facing such a notorious outlaw. He hadn't expected to face Heyes without the safety of a posse, but Decker was also enraged by all that he had suffered at the hands of this man.
"Are you sure you want to do that, Bill? I mean aren't you afraid you'll have to explain how you tried to have me killed…..twice?" said Heyes with a wide smile. He was having fun now. "That was me in Kitcher's Falls," he added. Decker was confused for a second and then he realized; Heyes was the lawyer, Kenneter's lawyer who got shot. Hannibal Heyes was the cause of all his troubles.
Bill screamed, "You, it was always you!" He threw himself at Heyes swinging wildly. Heyes was ready and caught Bill across the chin. Decker plowed into Heyes like a maddened bull and knocked him into the street. The two rolled about in the dirt as a crowd formed. Kid had seen Decker ride in and Heyes's sudden appearance and he knew it was trouble. He rushed down to the street and pushed his way into the crowd that was starting to form around the two combatants. Wheat and Kyle had pushed their way to the front, too, and glanced at Kid who moved next to them. Wheat was waiting for a signal from Kid to break up the fight. Kid shook his head slightly and grinned. Wheat grinned back. They were both going to enjoy the sight of Decker getting a few good licks in. The crowd cheered the fight on. The two men fought fiercely; but Decker fought like a man who did not have much experience in fighting his own battles. On the other hand, Heyes had fought tooth and nail all his life to get and keep everything he had, and it showed. Heyes was wiry and fast. It wasn't long before Decker was bloodied and battered. Heyes had wanted this fight for a long time and he planned to teach Decker a hard lesson about bullying.
From the window of her hotel room, Alyssa watched the commotion. The two men struggled in the street, surrounded by onlookers. Decker had the size advantage, but Heyes was everywhere at once; his fists were flying. He had broken Bill's nose and was concentrating on the rest of his face when Bill roared with rage and grabbed Heyes around his waist swinging him over. Decker straddled Heyes as Kid and Wheat tried to decide whether or not to interfere. They both waited as Decker landed a few more punches. Kyle yelled encouragement to his leader.
Roy heard the yelling from inside his office and came running out with his gun drawn. Seeing Decker on top of Cole, hitting him repeatedly, Roy fired a couple of shots in the air, startling both men. Decker stood up and yelled, "Arrest him, Sheriff. I demand that you arrest him. He's an outlaw. He's Hannibal Heyes!" Bill noticed Kid, and pointing at him, screamed, "Arrest him, too, he's Kid Curry."
Wheat started laughing and said, "Sure, and I'm Jesse James and that little lady over there is Belle Starr. Can't you come up with a better story than that for picking a fight?"
The crowd started to laugh, too. Another man came forward and said, "I saw it all, Sheriff. Cole here was talking to Decker all pleasant-like with a big smile on his face and the next thing I know he went after poor Cole like a mad dog."
Roy frowned at Decker. Roy's deputy had heard the shots and ran up. "Arrest Decker for disturbing the peace," said Roy. He finally had his chance to take Decker down and he was pleased to do it. Bill began to sputter in outrage and then, to everyone's surprise, he burst into tears. Roy lowered his gun feeling slightly embarrassed by what he was witnessing. The deputy walked into the street past Bill who stood sobbing and shooed the crowd back. Heyes had turned towards Roy smiling and was wiping the blood and sweat out of his eyes with a corner of his shirttail. The people dispersed quickly now that the show was over, but it had been fun to see Big Bill Decker swilling around in the dirt like a pig and crying like a baby.
Kid and Wheat were standing right in front of the deputy, laughing at the spectacle and the sight of Heyes covered in dirt and his clothes in tatters, when Kid saw Decker go for his gun. He reached to push the deputy out of his way as shots rang out. Kid roughly shoved the young man aside and what he saw froze the blood in his veins. Decker was lying on top of Heyes and they were both splattered in blood. The sheriff, who was standing behind Bill, had seen Decker draw and had shot him. Reaching Heyes's side, Kid's heart leapt into his throat, and he grabbed his partner's shoulder, shaking him. Heyes's eyes opened but they were glazed and he was clearly shocked. "Hey…, hey, Cole, you're okay, right?" Heyes focused and looked at Kid and said, "Yeah, I'm okay. Whew, that was close."
Kid pushed Decker off Heyes. It was obvious that Big Bill was dead. Kid pulled his cousin to his feet. "You sure you're okay?" asked Kid again, patting Heyes's chest looking for bullet holes. Heyes nodded and Kid decked him with a solid punch to his jaw. Heyes fell hard, grabbed his jaw, and painfully yelled, "What was that for?"
"That was for taking it too far," growled Kid. He turned and pushed his way through the crowd leaving Heyes nursing his jaw in the dirt.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Heyes had been questioned for quite a while by Roy in his office. His jaw was swelling up and the deputy had fetched a bit of ice from the saloon to help ease the pain. Heyes was sitting in a chair, holding the ice to his face, as Roy satisfied himself that Decker had provoked the fight. The sheriff was regretting that he had killed Decker and wished that things had not happened so quickly. "All right, Cole. It's obvious to me that Big Bill attacked you and, given what you were telling me earlier, I guess that temper of his finally got the best of him. Big Bill won't be throwing his weight around here anymore," said Roy with a sad frown. He was questioning his own actions in shooting to kill. Had he allowed his own resentments to rule him? He'd never know but he would always wonder if that was true.
Heyes only nodded. He was still feeling shocked. He hadn't wanted Bill dead at all and he knew he had a part in Decker's death; a big part. It had been his intention to draw Bill into a fistfight and finally make him get his own hands dirty; not to leave him lying dead in the street. Heyes was too shaken up to do more than answer Roy's questions quietly and directly. The guilt was eating at him. Heyes found himself wanting to blurt out the truth to Roy, but he couldn't do it. He just wanted out of this office and out of this town.
Roy could see the sadness and regret in Cole's eyes. It was tragic, really, that Decker was still managing to hurt people. "Thank you, Cole. If I have any other questions, I'll let you know," said Roy as he shook Heyes's hand. Heyes left in a hurry. He wanted to find the Kid and get the hell out of here, but first, he had to send a telegram to Scott Medgar to let him know they would be clearing out of the ranch tomorrow. Heyes thought back to his meeting with Scott, he had given his word that there would be no bloodshed and now Decker was dead. Heyes felt sick.
Heyes found Wheat and Kyle in the saloon having a couple of beers. "Where's Kid?" asked Heyes looking around for his partner.
"We ain't seen him since this morning," said Wheat, "He sure was pissed off at you, Heyes." Wheat was smiling meanly. Kyle made sure to keep his eyes on his beer mug.
Frowning, Heyes snapped, "Be ready to go in an hour. I'll find Kid and then we'll head back to pack up." Heyes never found his partner. After a couple of hours of scouring the town, he gave up knowing that if Kid didn't want him to find him he never would. Heyes was gloomy and quiet the entire ride back to the Rocking M. Wheat and Kyle trailed behind him whispering about the day's events.
Big Bill Decker was laid to rest the next morning. Kid rode by the cemetery and watched the service from a distance. It was a pitiful affair. The sheriff, a few tradesmen who had done business with Decker, and the Reverend were the only people in attendance. Kid was surprised by Alyssa's notable absence; after all, she was the man's betrothed, wasn't she?
Kid watched the forlorn group at the graveside as he held his horse still. His partner had killed this man just as sure as if he'd taken a gun and shot him. It may not have been planned, but it happened all the same. Heyes had driven the man crazy with anger. Kid had killed a few men, too, but it was the way Heyes extracted his revenge that bothered him. Decker had tried to kill Heyes twice and, if he had succeeded, Kid knew he would've gone after Decker; but not like this. Not stripping this man's life bare piece by piece and exposing his ugliness to the world. Decker had been a cruel, hateful man but what about Heyes? What did this scheme say about Heyes? Kid didn't like the answer.
Kid had stayed in town again last night. To his knowledge, Heyes hadn't come looking for him and, for that, Kid was grateful. He didn't want to think about what might have happened if he had. He was calmer now and ready to see his cousin. Clucking to his horse, Kid picked up a lope and headed back to the ranch and his partner.
One by one the mourners placed a clod of dirt in the grave, bowed their heads, and departed. The reverend finished the ceremony and closed his bible, tucking it under his arm. He said a short, personal prayer and then he, too, departed; leaving only the gravedigger to complete the burial of Big Bill Decker.
About half way through this story, I realized that Alyssa has her own tale to tell. I will continue in the next story from the point that this one has ended. The next story in the series will be titled, "Moving On".
This tale ended much differently than I had intended it to. Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading-IO