I want to say thank you so much to all of you who have left comments. It really inspires me!-InsideOutlaw
"Look over there, Wheat. Someone's camping," said Kyle, pointing down below the trail, where the glow of a campfire stood out in stark relief from the gathering darkness. "I wonder who'd be camping way out here. Must be some hunters, don't you think?"
"Maybe. They sure ain't worried about being spotted," said Wheat, following Kyle's gaze. He could barely make out the valley below. It was nearly dark and they had stopped to wait for the moon to rise higher. There was a pale reflection off the stream and he could see the tall mountains silhouetted against the blackening sky, but not much else. The fire stood out like a sore thumb. He'd never stoke a fire that high, it was too easily seen from too far away. One thing was for sure, he and Kyle wouldn't be having a fire tonight. Not with the neighbors so close and all.
"Let's go check it out. Maybe they're cooking up something good to eat," said Kyle hopefully. His hangover had melted away and he was now ravenously hungry. He and Wheat had eaten all the corned beef and potatoes last night and now all they had were stew and beans. After a paltry lunch of jerky, Kyle could imagine all sorts of good things to eat.
"Okay, but we're going in real quiet like. I don't want them knowing we're here." said Wheat, "If it looks all right, we can introduce ourselves all friendly and nice." He was curious about who was down there, but he had no intention of letting them know they were being watched.
"Sure, Wheat. Hey, if they're hunters, maybe they're roasting venison. I sure would love a big, juicy slab of meat about now," said Kyle, still thinking about food.
"Just make sure your stomach doesn't keep growling; it'll give us away," said Wheat as he left the trail to head down towards the campfire off in the distance. Kyle followed closely behind him.
Heyes and Kid had quickly and efficiently set up camp while Allie had gone out into the meadow to practice her draw and sighting before the posse got too close and it got too dark. She was determined to show Jed that she could handle the responsibility of carrying a gun. When she returned to camp, she saw the bedrolls neatly laid out in a semi-circle about the campfire and a large fire burning brightly. The two cousins were seated cross-legged near the fire and gestured for Allie to come over and join them. As she sank to the ground, Jed handed her a couple of biscuits and jerky. "I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to a hot meal," she said.
"If this works, we'll be eating well in no time," said Heyes, "It's getting darker. I'm guessing the posse ought to be here soon."
"I still don't like this plan. It's too risky," said Kid. Allie thought so, too, but knew her opinion wouldn't carry much weight with Heyes so she kept quiet.
"Kid, believe me, I've thought this one through. We can't ride on. The valley is even narrower up ahead and the trail gets worse. The posse's going to catch up with us no matter what we do. We can't evade them; there's nowhere to go. Our only chance is to surprise them," said Heyes, "I'm sure this will work."
"That's what worries me, Heyes. I always worry when you say you're sure," said Kid with a frown.
"Look, it's not the sheriff out there; he would've brought more men. That means it's either the Bannerman or those yokels we ran into the other day. Either way, they are probably not the shoot-to-kill types," said Heyes.
"No, they're not the shoot-to-kill types; they're only the shoot-to-maim types so it's okay with me. Is that okay with you, Allie?" said Kid sarcastically. Allie giggled, but kept silent. She knew that Heyes had already made up his mind and, despite the risks, she had already agreed to the plan.
"Quit worrying. Besides, if they're coming gunning for someone, it'll be you. No one knows who I am, and they aren't going to shoot me if I'm unarmed," said Heyes, "It's time to get going. Are you both ready?"
"I'm ready. Jed, are you ready?" said Allie trying to draw him out.
Sighing, Kid said, "Ready as I'm ever going to be. You just make sure you don't draw that pistol unless you absolutely have to. Do you hear?"
"Aye, Captain, loud and clear," said Allie. She gave a crisp salute, too, and the boys smiled at her silliness. Allie wanted to lighten the mood. She didn't want to think about the fact that she was about to face a posse who was pursuing her and her friends. She knew it was a serious situation and she was scared, although she wasn't as frightened as she ought to be. Not with Heyes and Curry watching her back. She felt like she could do anything; like she was a character in one of her dime novels; as she had imagined so many years ago.
Peeking over a fallen tree trunk, Lars and Jenkins observed Carlson, unarmed, sitting by the fire whittling on a piece of wood and sipping coffee. An old, dented coffee pot sat on the edge of the rock fire ring keeping warm. Every so often, Carlson would reach out to the pot and refill his mug. The other two, Curry and the woman, were curled up inside their bedrolls on the other side of the fire. It was completely dark now, and it was hard to see them through the bright flames of the well-stoked fire; so Lars and Jenkins waited a good thirty minutes to see if they moved. Finally, they tired of watching Carlson's obsessive whittling. They had seen no other movement around the camp. The two backed away from their hiding place and hurried off to report to Munson.
Munsen, Amos, and Gunther were waiting a distance away in a stand of thick spruce trees. Munsen stood at the edge of the trees waiting for his men, while Amos sat with Gunther talking softly. "I still say, we ought to rush them. Munsen's a doctor; what's he know about catchin' outlaws? He thinks too much; we need to act. That's a lot of money sitting out there just waiting for us to come get it. If I were leader…." said Amos.
"Shut up, Amos. You ain't the leader and I'm sick of hearing what you would do," growled Gunther. He stood up and wandered over to Munsen leaving Amos alone, scowling in the darkness. Gunther was worried about Lars. It made him nervous to be separated from his twin; it always felt as though half of him had gotten up and walked off. "See anything yet?" asked Gunther.
"Not yet, but that's not a bad thing," said Munsen, "I told them to be sure they knew what we were facing." He kept his eyes straining in the direction of the campfire. It had been a stroke of luck that the outlaws had lit a fire tonight. They had ridden late into the evening last night, but had quit early today. Munsen was sure that the outlaws were unaware they were being followed; still, he would be careful. If that really was Kid Curry, he had no intention of rushing in. He wasn't at all convinced this wasn't some wild goose chase. After all, it was that idiot Amos who'd spread the word that he'd seen Kid Curry. The man wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he had a bloated opinion of himself.
"I hear someone coming," said Gunther eagerly.
"It might not be them," warned Munsen. He and Gunther retreated further into the trees and waited silently.
"Hey, what do you hear?" said Amos loudly from behind them. Munsen visibly winced at the stupidity of the man. Turning, both he and Gunther whispered, "Shh!" at the same time.
A few minutes later, Lars and Jenkins came back. "It's them all right. We saw Carlson clear as day and the other two are sound asleep. They've got no idea we're here. Carlson's keeping watch and he isn't even armed," said Mr. Jenkins, shaking his head ruefully and walking over to his horse to stow his rifle.
"It sure looked that way," said Lars, corroborating Martin's story. Lowering his voice and speaking only to Munsen and Gunther, he said, "I'm not so sure that is Curry and Carlson. I find it a little hard to believe that two big-time outlaws like that would be so careless. Do you think Amos was stretching the truth?"
"Maybe, but I plan to find out who they are," said Munsen. Turning around, he said, "All right, men, here's the plan…" Even Amos got up and moved closer to listen in. He wanted to hear the plan even though he was sure he could come up with a better one.
Heyes sat quietly, listening intently to the night sounds while he whittled away at the wood. He wasn't carving anything special, just chipping slivers off a branch with each pass of his knife. He hated whittling, but it was serving its purpose now. He planned to stay awake and this was going to help with his plan.
"Wheat, it's Heyes!" Kyle whispered to his partner. They were hiding in some bushes screened from the light of the campfire. He had recognized his leader straight off and was busting with excitement. Kyle started to rise, but the heavy weight of Wheat's hand held him down. Kyle frowned down at Wheat.
"Now, hold on there, Kyle. Something's up; it ain't like Heyes to stoke a fire like that. Hunker back down here and let's see what he's up to," said Wheat. Realizing that Wheat was right, Kyle sank back down and stayed still.
Lars crept silently towards the fire. Carlson had his back to him and Lars could see the man was still unarmed. He felt anxious at the idea of confronting a real outlaw, but maybe this man wasn't Carlson. He wasn't taking any chances. Rising slightly, with his .45 stretched out in front, Lars lunged forward and violently pressed the gun barrel against Carlson's head knocking the man's head forward. "Hands up, you're surrounded!," he said with more bravado than he felt.
"Ow!" said Heyes angrily, as he dropped his knife and branch. He rubbed the back of his head and slowly put his hands up.
Gunther and Jenkins rushed into the camp site and held their weapons on the two sleeping figures. Gunther stepped forward and kicked the bedroll in front of him, but he felt the bag give to the pressure of his foot. Reaching down, he pulled back the flap and saw brush peeking out at him. Jenkins's eyes widened at the deception and he yelled out, "It's a trick!"
At that moment, the two heard a gun cock behind them and a voice from the darkness say, "All right now, everybody stay real calm and no one has to get hurt." Kid Curry kept his gun trained on Gunther's heart; having rightly guessed it was this man's kin who was holding a gun to Heyes's head. Heyes was sitting there smiling; delighted his plan was in motion, despite the cold, hard steel at the back of his head. Kid decided right then that he hated all of Heyes's plans.
Amos, who had stayed concealed, rose slightly from his position in the bushes and drew his Colt aiming it in the general direction of the hidden man. He started to creep quietly through the bushes towards that side of the camp, keeping low and moving stealthily. Amos wasn't about to face Kid Curry down. He'd sneak up and surprise him from behind. He couldn't believe it; he was going to be the man who finally captured Curry. He was nearly there when he felt a pistol prod him. "Don't move, mister, or I'll drill a hole in you," said a very determined, very feminine voice. Amos froze and turned his head slightly. He saw the young woman staring coldly back at him with an ugly look in her eye. He had forgotten about her and would never have expected her to be armed. Amos dropped his gun and raised his hands. "Now, stand up slowly and keep your back to me," Allie ordered, stepping back from him. He did as he was told. "All right, let's go," she said, gesturing toward the camp.
Amos and Allie stepped out of the woods and into the circle of light cast by the fire. Lars, seeing that his companions were held at gunpoint, dropped his pistol and handed it to Heyes, who stood up. Kid came into the light and grinned at Allie; she smiled back happily; but Heyes started frantically kicking dirt onto the fire to smother it.
"What are you doing?" asked Allie as she pushed Amos towards his companions.
"All right, you can come out now. We've got your friends covered," yelled Heyes. Allie looked at him, surprised. Kid began tying up the captives; he'd already seen what Heyes had seen.
"I counted at least five of them. There's only four here," said Heyes as he stepped back quickly from the dying light.
Munsen, lying on his belly, was sighting down his rifle at Carlson. He already couldn't see the other two. He wouldn't shoot a man in cold blood. He wasn't sure what to do, but he wouldn't let anything happen to his men. He'd have to give up.
Kid had finished binding the captives and he settled them into sitting positions while Allie kept them covered. He leaned over Amos and whispered. "Is there anyone else out there I should know about?"
Amos whispered back, "No sir. It's just us four. There was five of us, but that yellow-bellied coward, Munsen, turned back this morning. I'm leading this here expedition." He tried to stare Curry in the eye, but his nerve failed him and he looked away. Kid saw the sweat spring to his brow and knew he was lying; he grabbed Amos's arm and the frightened man squealed loudly.
Munsen heard Amos. He couldn't see anything at all and he hesitated to shoot. It would be just too easy to hit one of his men. Still, he took a deep breath and aimed in the general direction of the cry prepared to do whatever was necessary.
"I wouldn't be doing that if I were you, Mister," said a menacing voice in his ear. Munsen jumped and jerked the rifle, shooting a round high and wide, as he rolled over onto his back.
At the sound of the report, Kid swiftly drew and fired several rounds in the direction the shots had come from. Allie kept her gun trained on the four bound men who had just seen the speed of Kid's draw. He was Kid Curry all right and if this gal was riding with him, she must know a thing or two about guns. They had no desire to give her any reason to pull the trigger. The four kept very, very still.
"Oww, damn it! Stop shootin', will you? Hell, Kid, it's us!" yelled Wheat at the top of his lungs as he grabbed his arm where a shot had grazed him. He glared down at the man lying at his feet.
Munsen looked up at the two men who had surprised him. A small, grinning man held a six-shooter aimed at his face. "Howdy," said the man, "you weren't planning on shootin' my friends, now was you?"
Wheat was looking at his arm, cussing up a storm. The Kid had shot him!
Munsen slowly shook his head no; he was too shocked to speak. Where had these outlaws come from? They'd been tracking three riders, not five. Where had these two come from?
Kyle spat out a wad of chaw and said, "Cain't you talk, you back-shootin', scum-suckin' pig?"
"We're coming in," yelled Wheat. He reached down with his good hand and grabbed Munsen by the shirt front; hauling him to his feet. Kyle took Munsen's arm and shoved him towards the camp.
Heyes and Kid looked at each other and rolled their eyes. There went any chance they had of convincing these men they weren't desperate outlaws. The four captured men were cowering now and casting furtive glances in the partners' direction.
The crashing sounds of three men flailing through the brush drifted into the campsite and, a few seconds later, Munsen appeared with Kyle prodding him along with his gun barrel. Wheat trailed behind, his right hand grasping his bloodied arm. Despite his injury, he had a proud grin on his face. "Hey boys, looks like we just saved your asses." Seeing Allie, Wheat blushed and mumbled, "Er, sorry, ma'am."
Kyle grinned and tipped his hat, "Nice to see you again, ma'am." Allie bestowed a brilliant smile on him.
While Wheat and Kyle were being polite; Heyes had walked over and grabbed Munsen by the arm, leading him to his men. "You won't get away with this, Carlson," said Munsen, fighting the iron grip on his arm. Heyes stopped short and glared at him. The man thought he was Wheat! For once in his life, Heyes was speechless; he roughly hauled Munsen to the others.
Wheat had overheard Munsen and loudly said, "He ain't Carlson, I am."
"Shut up, Wheat," growled Heyes as he began to tightly bind Munsen's arms behind his back.
Munsen looked from the tall mustached man to the scowling, dark-haired man and said, "If he's Wheat Carlson, who the hell are you?" Heyes ignored him.
Kyle piped up and said, "Why, he's Hannibal Heyes."
"Shut up, Kyle," said Kid with a glare. Kyle shut up.
Heyes looked down, shaking his head, wondering why the hell he hadn't killed these two years ago. He'd known all along that he couldn't stay dead forever; it would be just too dangerous for his partner, but he'd hoped to enjoy it a little while longer. He took a moment to get a firm rein on his temper and said, "Kyle, finish tying these two up. Wheat, get over here and let me take a look at that arm. Allie, you keep them covered." He shoved Munsen to his knees. The man was as white as a sheet now and stared at Heyes.
Amos stammered, "You can't be Heyes. He's dead." They were all staring open-mouthed at the outlaw leader.
Kid smirked at them and said, "He ain't dead anymore.
"If he's Heyes, who was that who got buried?" said Gunther. Heyes glared at him and he shut up.
Kid laughed and said, "A real poor loser." He walked over to Allie and held his gun on the bound men. Glancing over at her, he saw her cold stare and the determined grip on her pistol. He was glad he wasn't on the receiving end of that look. Damn, she was scary.
Wheat, looking a little pale, walked up to his boss. Pulling Wheat's hand away and trying to look at the wound through the tear in his shirt, Heyes said, "How bad is it?" He tore the sleeve open wider.
"Not too bad, but it sure smarts," answered Wheat. He was sweating a bit, too.
"Thanks, Wheat, we owe you one," said Heyes quietly as he poked at the wound.
"Ouch! Geez, you got a real strange way of showing your gratitude; you know that, Heyes?" whined Wheat.
Heyes gave his lieutenant a broad, evil grin and said, "Kyle, when you're done over there, stoke that fire up. I'm going to need to stitch Wheat up."
"Now why don't you tell me what you and Kyle are doing out here?" asked Heyes as he wrapped Wheat's arm none too gently. Allie and Kid were busy giving water to the prisoners.
"Hey, not so tight; I want it to heal, not fall off!" growled Wheat.
"We's working for a Bannerman, Heyes," said Kyle proudly as he watched his leader doctor his partner, "He's payin' us six hundred dollars to bring Kid and Miss Harcourt back." Heyes looked up, surprised at Kyle's answer.
"Golden," said Heyes. How did these two hook up with the detective?
"Naw, he paid us in paper money," said Kyle, confused as to why Heyes would care.
"Her name isn't Harcourt anymore; she's changed it to Gold-en, Allie Golden," said Heyes, pulling the bandage tight and tying it off around Wheat's arm. Wheat was watching Heyes intently, but he looked up at that and said, "Hah, she's got an alias!"
"Yep, I guess she does," said Heyes, "So what do you have to do to earn that six hundred?"
"Heck, not much. Just bring Miss Har…Golden back. Shoot, Heyes, he already paid us two hundred up front," bragged Wheat.
Heyes laughed aloud at that. "He's going to be a little put out when you ride off with his money."
"Yep, but it's going to take him a while to figure out what we done," said Kyle, grinning at Heyes and Wheat. It was good to have Kid and Heyes with them again. Kyle liked his bosses and he had been sad to think that Heyes was dead.
"So what were you doing in Leadville in the first place?" said Heyes. Wheat looked up at that, unsure of how he wanted to answer.
"We was lookin' to avenge you, Heyes. We weren't gonna sit around and let someone kill our leader. Ain't that what you said, Wheat?" asked Kyle.
Wheat looked embarrassed, "Maybe I said somethin' like that."
"Thanks, boys. It means a lot that you'd do that for me," said Heyes, putting away the bandages in his saddlebags. Standing up, he held a hand out to Wheat and pulled him to his feet.
"I had to make sure you were dead, Heyes. I wasn't about to take over the gang without being sure," said Wheat sincerely.
Heyes patted him roughly on the shoulder, causing Wheat to pale again. "Appreciate that, Wheat."
Amos leaned over and whispered to Gunther, "See? I told you he was Kid Curry. If we'd had a better plan and a better leader, we could've been $10,000 richer by now."
"Shut up, Amos. You're lucky you didn't get yourself and the rest of us killed. You still might if you keep yammering," said Gunther, disgusted with the man. He turned away and started whispering quietly to his brother, "I think they would've killed us right off if they planned to, don't you?"
"Yeah," said Lars, "Everyone knows Heyes and Curry aren't murderers. I reckon we'll be all right as long as we do as we're told."
Amos looked affronted before leaning over to whisper to Mr. Jenkins, "I knew that hat. I knew it was Hannibal Heyes's hat, I just didn't know it was Heyes under it. How was I supposed to know that?"
"Shut up, Amos, none of us want to hear it," said Martin Jenkins. His mean old wife and boring life were starting to look better and better to him. If he got out of this alive, he promised himself he'd be more content with his lot in life.
"Will you all please shut up? I'm sorry I ever listened to any of you in the first place," snapped Munsen as he lay down to get as comfortable as he could with his hands tied behind his back.
"You did real well tonight, Allie. I'm impressed," said Heyes. He and Kid were sitting with her between them in front of the fire. Wheat had gone to bed after taking some white willow bark for the pain. Kyle was keeping watch for the first part of the night.
Heyes had used some of Wheat and Kyle's whiskey to disinfect the wound and the Kid was now taking a long pull from the opened bottle. Wiping his mouth, he passed the bottle to his cousin. Heyes leaned in across Allie and reached out for it.
"Thank you. I really didn't have time to think about how scared I was; it all happened so fast," said Allie, leaning back out of the way. Heyes took a swig and went to pass the bottle back to Kid, but Allie reached out and grabbed it. Heyes grinned at her and let go. She raised the bottle to her lips, took a long sip, and then coughed violently. Kid firmly patted her on the back until she quieted.
"Allie, you shouldn't be drinking this stuff. It's too strong," said Kid.
"Too strong for what? Too strong for a lady?" asked Allie, "I don't think I've been too lady-like tonight, do you Heyes?" She grinned at Heyes.
Heyes laughed and said, "Sure you were, you were the kind of lady I like." He winked and tipped his hat to her.
Kid frowned at his cousin. He didn't like the influence Heyes was having on Allie. She seemed different when his partner was around and he wished she didn't. Allie, however, was delighted and giggled at the compliment. She took another swig which went down much easier and passed the bottle to Jed. Jed was frowning again, so she gave him a little push. "Jed, please, I'm just having fun and trying to relax. You should, too," she said.
"Kid, ease up on her. It was a rough night," said Heyes, watching his partner. He hoped Kid would lighten up; Allie was just blowing off steam.
Kid shrugged and took another drink. He then corked the bottle and got up with it gripped tightly in his hand. "I think we've all had enough of Wheat's whiskey. I'm going to bed," he said shortly.
Heyes and Allie watched him walk away and then she sighed and gazed into the fire. "He doesn't mean anything by it, Allie. He really cares for you," said Heyes softly.
"That's the problem. He cares for me a little too much. I don't want to be cared for. I want to take care of myself," said Allie. She glanced at Heyes. He was watching the flames and the firelight danced across the planes of his face. He was so different from Jed. She found it hard to believe they were related, but there was no denying the bond between them. She loved Jed; he was her friend and he was a sweet, caring man. Heyes was something else altogether. He, too, was becoming a friend, but she would never call him sweet and he fully expected her to take care of herself.
"I can see that," said Heyes, "but Kid has a habit of protecting the ones he loves just a little too hard. He knows the risks of loving someone. We both do. It's a dangerous thing to do."