"Get some rest, Kid. I'll take first watch. I want to check Patches' leg and poultice it again," said Heyes, "It'll be an early wake-up. We need to be gone before that posse starts to move." He got up from the rock and dusted the biscuit crumbs from his jacket pulling it tight against the night's chill.
Kid watched Heyes as he walked tiredly over to his saddlebags and retrieved the medicine. He thought about what his partner had said. Much as Kid hated to admit it, he hadn't thought about what the risks were to Allie beyond the physical ones. He never thought about the psychological and emotional toll running could take on a person. He was so used to this life it was nearly impossible to imagine anything different. Yet he had; and he'd known better than to do that. He had created this whole silly fantasy of settling down with Allie and raising a family. He stood with a sigh and went to bed.
Allie was still awake watching as Heyes worked on her horse's leg. She had forgotten all about poulticing Patches, but he hadn't; and she watched as he gently cared for the paint. What was it about this man that made it so difficult for her to see the good in him? Why could she be so non-judgmental with Jed, but totally the opposite with Heyes? She was jealous of the closeness of the two partners, she had already admitted that to herself, but there was something more. Why did she react so viscerally to him? Slowly, pondering these thoughts, Allie drifted off to sleep.
Heyes stood over Allie and cleared his throat several times. Allie stirred slightly in her bedroll and mumbled, "Please stop making that awful noise, I'm awake." Heyes grinned and moved onto his partner. He gave Kid his usual kick on the boots and Kid sat up quickly; wide awake this morning. It was just past dawn and there was a bright glow of light over the top of Mt. Elbert to the east.
"Any sign of the posse?" said Kid. He was already crawling out of his bedroll and straightening his clothes.
"Nope. I climbed up the hill at first light, but I couldn't see any sign of movement. Still, we better get going. The horses are saddled," said Heyes. He was packing the gear they'd used last night.
"Why didn't you wake me, Heyes? You look asleep on your feet," said Kid studying his partner. Heyes looked haggard.
"I am, but I still couldn't get any shut-eye. I guess being dead has that effect on a man," said Heyes with a grin.
"Heyes, what's eating at you?" asked Kid, lowering his voice.
Heyes glanced over his shoulder at Allie, and whispered "Not now, Kid. We'll talk later, okay?"
"I'm holding you to that, Heyes," said Kid, shaking his head as he walked around his partner to stow his gear on his horse.
Munsen rousted his men at the crack of dawn. Amos moped about while Mr. Jenkins brewed a pot of coffee. The Swenson twins passed out apples for breakfast.
"Amos, help me get these horses saddled," said Munsen. He knew he had to exert his authority over Amos immediately or there would be trouble later. He had no intention of following this idiot any further. Amos stood and walked over. He was surly and resentful; but he was also compliant. Like a dog, he sensed the dominant male in the pack.
The posse was mounted and ready to ride within half an hour. They were all anxious this morning knowing they were likely to catch up with the outlaws before sundown. It was with very mixed feelings that the five started out.
Wheat woke late. His head hurt from the whiskey they'd drunk last night and his mouth tasted like something had crawled in there and died during the night. He rolled over with a groan and sat up. Kyle was still snoring heavily in his bedroll. Picking up one of his boots, Wheat threw it at Kyle.
"Hey, Kyle, get your lazy butt up," said Wheat. Kyle sputtered and cursed, but he just rolled over. Wheat crawled out of his own sleeping bag and stretched; then scratched absently. He felt like hell. Reaching down to his saddle, he pulled the canteen off and drank deeply from it. Almost immediately he felt light-headed and slightly drunk again. Heck, that wasn't good. Looping his canteen back over the horn; he pulled a half-empty whiskey bottle from his saddlebag and pulled a long, hard swig from it. There; that ought to clear out the cobwebs. He corked the bottle and returned it to his bag. "Kyle, c'mon, we ain't got all day!" he hollered.
"Sure we do, Wheat. Let me sleep some more," was the reply from inside the lumpy bedroll.
"Geez, I've got to do everything around here," grumbled Wheat as he started saddling up the horses.
Heyes called a halt where the trail crossed the talus slope. Kid rode up next to him. "We'll dismount and lead the horses across. The slope's pretty unstable. You go first with the horses, we'll put Allie in the middle, and I'll bring up the rear with Fannie," said Heyes. The rocky field stretched nearly three hundred feet across the face of the mountain and Heyes knew from his earlier crossing that the scree could give way at any moment. Still, they needed to cross it; if they tried to bypass it, it could take hours. His hope was the posse wouldn't risk it and would elect to find another route.
Kid dismounted and tied Heyes's gelding to the ring of his flank strap. Taking the paint's lead from Allie, he then tied Patches to the gelding forming a train. "Allie, grab hold of Patches' tail as you cross. It'll help steady you. If he goes down, let him go." She started to protest, but Kid cut her off, "It's a long way down."
Allie looked over the edge of the trail. They were several hundred feet above the valley floor and the slope dropped steeply down before spilling over the edge of a cliff. The sheer drop gave her a momentary vertigo. Allie was scared, but she was sure she could do it.
Kid started out and got about two-thirds of the way across the talus when his gelding stepped wrong, sliding sideways a yard or so. "Let go of his tail!" yelled Kid. Allie let go of Patches. Kid's horse rolled his eyes, thrashed wildly, and went down to his knees. Kid hesitated, ready to let the reins go, but the horse scrambled his way back up the trail. Heyes's gelding threw his head up and sat back on his haunches sending a cascade of scree down the hillside. Patches was thrown off-balance and his hind end slipped, but he righted himself quickly. Kid leapt forward, pulling the horses along behind him, and hurried away from the shifting rock. The side of the trail completely slid away in a noisy tumble of loose stone falling to the valley floor and the path disappeared before Allie's eyes. She didn't know where to step. She was paralyzed with fear.
Allie felt a hand grip her elbow. "Easy now,"said Heyes, who had crept up next to her. "That's it. Follow me."
"I can't," she whispered.
"Yes, you can. I know you can," said Heyes, sliding his hand down to grasp hers. Kid, unable to turn around on the narrow path, had to continue on to firm ground. Tying his horses off, he turned to anxiously watch Heyes and Allie.
"Don't look down, look at me. C'mon," Heyes said as he tugged her gently.
"No, I can't," she cried. She started to try to pull away, but Heyes held her tightly.
"Yes, you can. Trust me," said Heyes. She looked deep into his brown eyes and saw only confidence there. Slowly, she nodded. Allie took a tentative step and her foot slipped, but Heyes yanked her upright. "Look at me!" he commanded. She locked onto his eyes and obediently followed him, slowly and cautiously, across the slope. Fannie followed carefully behind them, her reins tied through her bridle in a knot as Heyes whistled her to him every so often.
As Allie reached the edge of the scree, Kid reached out and pulled her to him, hugging her tightly. "Good girl. I'm proud of you," he said. Looking at Heyes, he smiled and said, "What took you so long?"
Allie gently pushed her way free of Jed's embrace and turning to Heyes with a smile, she said, "We stopped to admire the view."
The sun climbed higher in the sky, shining brilliantly, and Kyle cringed with pain. He tugged his hat low over his eyes and squinted. Wheat was watching his reaction and chuckled at his discomfort. He was glad he'd had that little nip earlier; he was feeling pretty good now. Kyle, on the other hand, was feeling out of sorts. He was usually a real easy going type, but today he felt hideously hung over and it wasn't helping his disposition. Wheat had tried to draw him out in conversation, but he wasn't having any of it. His head hurt, his stomach hurt, and he wanted nothing more than to sleep the rest of the morning, but Kyle knew they needed to catch up with Kid and the lady. He sure hoped that Heyes was with them, too; he couldn't take the thought of having to hunt up another leader. Not with the way he was feeling.
"Hold up!" said Munsen, as he raised his hand to halt the posse. They had reached the scree field. Amos looked across the rocky slope and said, "We ain't getting across that. We'll have to go around somehow. You'd better see if Lars knows a shortcut." Secretly, Amos was enjoying this wrinkle in Munsen's plans; he'd been sulking ever since they'd started out. It wasn't fair; Amos knew he could be a better leader than Munsen, if he could just get another chance.
"We'll lead the horses across, one at a time. That way, if the slope goes, it won't take all of us out," said Munsen.
Amos started to object, but he saw Lars and Jenkins nod their agreement. Gunther was skeptical, but Amos knew Gunther would go wherever his brother went. The other three riders began to dismount as Amos said, "I'll go first; the rest of you can follow me." He quickly jumped off his horse and pulled the reins over its head. He'd show them what he was made of; he didn't see Munsen stepping up to volunteer.
Munsen smiled. Amos could 'test the waters' for the rest of them. If the slope went, it would be a small loss.
Progress was slow as the path narrowed and grew rockier. Heyes knew there was a long stretch of bad trail ahead, where it would be very slow going, and he was riding up the hillside every few miles to check the back trail. He was still hoping the posse had bypassed the talus slope, but he had to be sure.
By mid-afternoon, he sat his horse on the hill above the trail. He saw sunlight reflecting on metal a few miles behind them. Damn it! The posse had crossed the slope, too; and they'd make good time now. That last stretch of trail had been smooth with easy footing.
Heyes sent Fannie plunging down the hillside, half sliding and half leaping through the underbrush. Kid and Allie watched Heyes ride wildly down the slope towards them. Allie had dismounted to stretch her legs, but Kid sat quietly on his gelding.
"Is he always so reckless?" asked Allie.
"Only with his own neck; he's real careful about everybody else's," said Kid, his eyes glued on Heyes.
"Why do you think that is?" said Allie.
"I try real hard not to think about it, Allie. I don't like where those thoughts go," said Kid looking down at her.
Fannie leapt onto the trail and Heyes reined her up next to Kid. "Posse's three-four miles back. They crossed the slope."
"What do you want to do, Heyes?" said Kid. He could tell that Heyes had a plan.
"I want to let them catch us," said Heyes, stroking his mare's neck as she blew from her exertions.
"What?! You can't be serious," said Allie.
"Oh, he's serious all right. Okay, Heyes, let's hear it," said Kid. He crossed his arms over his saddle horn and leaned forward to get comfortable. A Heyes plan took a while to listen to.
"Look, we don't know who that is back there; it could be those two clowns who caught up with you the other day and some of their friends; it could be that detective fellow; it could even be the sheriff, if someone figured out that I'm not really dead. The point is we need to know who we're dealing with..." said Heyes, only to be interrupted by Allie.
"Why do we need to know that? Why don't we just keep going?" she said impatiently. She was ready to go now. If the posse was gaining on them, why were they wasting their time talking? She looked at Jed smiling and his relaxed posture. He looked like he didn't have a care in the world. Heyes was grinning at her, too. With a jolt, she realized this was fun for them. They were looking forward to confronting the posse. Were they crazy; or were they very dangerous men? She wasn't sure which.
"We're heading into some real rocky trail up ahead. It's going to slow us down a lot. The posse's going to catch up to us and I don't want it happening in a bad spot. I'd rather be ready and waiting, wouldn't you?" said Heyes.
"What do you have planned, Heyes?" asked Kid, watching as he partner swung down off his horse. Heyes began rummaging in his saddlebag. He pulled out the holster and gun he had bought in Breckenridge and turned back to Allie.
"First, we make sure Allie can protect herself," said Heyes holding out the holster to Allie. She took it from him awkwardly not knowing what to do.
"No, we ain't doing that, Heyes," said Kid flatly. He wasn't so relaxed now; he'd straightened up in the saddle.
"Why not?" said Heyes looking up at Kid. He saw the stubborn set to his cousin's jaw and knew this wasn't going to be easy.
"Cause it ain't safe for her and it sure ain't safe for us," said Kid, "She doesn't know anything about guns."
"That's why we're going to teach her what to do," said Heyes, smiling at Allie, who was trying to put the holster around her waist. "Here, let me help you with that," he said as he reached around her and brought the belt around and buckled it snugly. Heyes bent down and tied the holster down around her upper thigh, snugging it down on her split skirt leg. Allie felt uncomfortable having Heyes so close to her, but she was excited to learn how to shoot. She'd been meaning to ask Jed to teach her, but the timing had never been right.
"Take it off, Allie," said Kid with an edge, "You ain't wearing it."
"Don't you want her to be able to protect herself?" said Heyes innocently. He'd expected this reaction from Kid and was prepared for it.
"She doesn't need to protect herself; I'll protect her," said Kid.
Allie stared at him for a second before her mouth fell open and she said, "Jed Curry, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard you say. Of course, I need to know how to protect myself. I don't want to depend on anyone else to keep me safe; I want to know how to do it myself." Heyes grinned and stepped back out of the fight he knew was coming.
Kid dismounted his horse and strode over to her. "You….are….not….carrying…a gun," said Jed very, very clearly. There was nothing relaxed about him now. He stared at her coldly and waited her out. He knew from experience that no man could withstand his 'gunfighter's' glare for long.
Unfortunately, Jed did not have much experience staring down an irate woman. Allie glared back and it wasn't long before Jed blinked. "Allie, guns are dangerous. You have no business carrying one," he said.
Heyes watched the two with amusement. His partner loved woman, but sometimes he loved them a little too much. Kid had a habit of wanting to be the knight in shining armor for all women, and Allie was not the kind of woman who needed rescuing. Kid was about to find that out.
Kid towered over her with a scowl on his face; Allie curled her hands into fists and stretched as tall as possible and snarled, "Don't you look at me like that. You don't own me and you can't tell me what I can or can't do!" She started to turn away, but his hand snaked out and caught her forearm; stopping her. Allie stared down at his hand and then up into his eyes. Kid dropped her arm and backed up a step at the savage look to her face. "I am not some little girl that needs a man to defend her. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself and I don't need you to do it for me," she said.
"Okay. Well, now that we have that settled; I think we'd better get to it. Posse's coming, after all," said Heyes cheerfully, as he inserted himself between the two. Heck, he hadn't prepared for bloodshed; it was time to separate these two. "C'mon, Allie; let me show you a few things," said Heyes as he walk off to a small clearing, not checking to see if she was following. She was.
Kid watched them go. He was furious with Heyes and Allie. What did they think they were playing at? She could shoot her damn fool leg off for all he cared or, better yet, she could shoot Heyes's. He grabbed up the horses' reins and led them down to the stream to cool off.
"Okay, are you ready to try this?" said Heyes. Allie had a grim set to her mouth as she nodded to him, still too angry to trust herself to speak. Heyes wasn't altogether sure any more that this was a good idea. She looked like she'd have no problem shooting a man dead.
Heyes quickly went to work showing her how to handle a six-shooter as Kid watched from upstream. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but he could see Heyes walking her through the steps: checking her chamber, loading and unloading, how to hold the gun and how to sight it. They were laughing together, heads close, and intent upon each other. Kid felt an unfamiliar jealousy of his partner, watching as Heyes charmed Allie. It should've been him teaching Allie to shoot; not Heyes. Kid roughly tugged the horses' heads up from the water and led them back up the hill to the trail; he'd keep an eye out from there.
Heyes set up a few pine cones on a rock by the stream. Walking back to Allie, he said, "Okay, let's see what you can do."
"You want me to shoot for real?" she asked, "Aren't you worried the posse will hear us?"
"They know we're here, Allie, that's why they're coming this way," said Heyes, smiling. He stood next to her and gently corrected her stance as she lifted the pistol. Stepping behind her, he stood at her back and reached around to guide her hands. She blushed at his closeness; she could feel the warmth of his body. "That's it, nice and easy. Take a deep breath…sight…don't pull the trigger yet. That's good. Now, keep your eyes open, exhale, and gently squeeze."
Kid flinched at the report and saw a pine cone fly into the air. Allie jumped up in down in excitement and threw her arms around Heyes's neck as Kid watched from above; frowning. He continued to watch as Allie shot several more times. Finally, the two turned to head up the trail. Kid quickly went back to the horses and readied them.
"Did you see her, Kid? She's a natural!" said Heyes, proudly walking up to his partner.
Allie beamed with pleasure until she saw the angry look on Jed's face. The smile fell from hers, too, and she stomped away to Patches. It was time for her to start riding him again and she fussed with his tack. She wasn't about to let Jed spoil her fun.
"So help me, Heyes, if something happens to her…if she gets hurt because of this…" said Kid.
"Kid, she's riding with us. I think the chances of something happening are pretty good, don't you? I'm just trying to give her a fighting chance. Besides, we're outnumbered and every gun counts," said Heyes.
"You really think she's capable of shooting someone, Heyes, because I don't!" hissed Kid.
"I'm sure she's capable and you'd better hope it's not you," said Heyes. "Kid, c'mon; she doesn't have to shoot it, she just needs to be able to point it like she can."