"Why are you here?" said Heyes quietly. Allie looked at him, surprised at the turn of conversation, but he continued to gaze into the flames. He wasn't challenging her; he genuinely wanted an honest answer from her. He needed to know.
Allie, too, stared into the fire. She was asking herself the same question and she wasn't sure of the answer. "I…I don't really know."
Heyes nodded, pleased that she hadn't tried to put him off. He laughed softly and said, "When I met you on Decker's arm, I never would've guessed you'd join up with a gang of outlaws; seems kind of out of character."
"I'm not sure who I was before I met Jed," she said with a small snort.
Heyes was listening to her intently now. He had to get a feel for exactly what Allie's and Kid's relationship was. He could tell that Kid had deep feelings for her and just the fact that he hadn't mentioned it to Heyes was enough for him to think it was serious. He was worried she was going to badly hurt Kid.
"Jed knows why I'm here, but I guess you need an explanation. I'm sure you are wondering if I am using him," she said bluntly as she looked again at the dark-haired man watching her closely now. His eyes were warm and welcoming, but she knew he was drawing her out. Taking a deep breath, she decided to give him what he wanted. "I grew up in a house without love. My parents didn't love each other; that much was very plain to me at an early age; and they certainly showed no signs of loving me. What they did love was their social standing and my mother took great pains to raise me to secure a good future. I always thought that was her way of showing love; that she wanted me to be taken care of. I learned, thanks to you, that what she wanted was for me to secure her place in life, not mine."
"Thanks to me?" said Heyes.
Allie smiled and reached out her hand to his arm again. She wanted him to know that she wasn't accusing him. "Yes, your torment of Bill brought out his true nature and I am grateful to you for that. I may have been raised to be a gold digger, but I wasn't raised to be abused. When he beat me and told me my mother had sold me to him for her new home; it was as though I was suddenly set free from my previous life."
"Decker beat you?" Heyes unconsciously curled his hands into fists and Allie noticed. She patted his arm. "Allie, I'm so sorry. I never meant to push him that far." She could see his remorse and knew he meant it.
"Thank goodness you did. If that hadn't of happened, I might very well have been married to that repulsive man right now and still lying to myself," shuddered Allie. "Heyes, strangely enough, it was the most incredible feeling in the world; I was lying in the mud, furious and looking for a weapon; anything I could fight back with. I was ready to kill him with my bare hands; and I had never felt so good."
Heyes was openly staring at her now; she had surprised him completely. She was far, far tougher than he'd given her credit for. No wonder Kid had fallen for her.
Allie laughed and said, "I wasn't been broken by Decker; I was liberated. He showed me I was strong and I wasn't anyone's victim. I didn't bow to him; I fought him with everything I had. He couldn't break me. What he did was free me from all sense of loyalty to my mother and her world. I had a moment of amazing clarity about who I really was. I was delighted to learn that for the first time in my life I actually respected myself."
"There's a lot there to respect," said Heyes with a huge grin. He still needed to know about Kid, though. "Allie, you must know that Kid has fallen for you. How do you feel about him?"
She looked at him openly and said, "I love him very much, but I'm not at all sure I love him the way he wants me to. I've never loved anyone besides my aunt. She was the only one who ever made me feel loved until Jed came along. I don't know if what I feel for Jed is enough, but I promise you I will never deliberately hurt him."
Heyes said nothing for several seconds, he just studied her carefully. Allie began to feel uncomfortable, when he finally smiled and said, "That's fair enough. That's more than I can promise; I hurt him all the time." Getting up, he reached down and helped Allie to her feet. "I think it's time to get some sleep. Good night, Allie."
"Good night, Heyes," she said.
It took Clete the better part of two days to reach Leadville. He'd started out late on the day Amos and the others had ridden out. It had taken him until lunchtime to gather his gear, Clete had been hurting quite a bit from the wound in his thigh and hadn't been in any hurry to mount a horse, but he eventually started out for Leadville. He'd had a small bit of trouble setting up camp alone the first night, but had pared down the amenities required by the second night. So it was that he rode into Leadville right about the same time his friend, Amos, was trying to get some shut-eye along with his co-prisoners.
Clete wasted no time in visiting the sheriff's office. The sheriff had gone home for the evening but his deputy, Monty Northrup, was sitting behind the big oak desk with his feet up. He'd been dozing lightly, but awoke quickly enough when the office door slammed open and a skinny, dirty-looking man entered.
"What the hell do you want? Didn't your mama teach you it was polite to knock first? Geez, you damn near scared the skin off me!" said Monty more than a little irritated at being awoken from his nap. Dropping his feet heavily to the floor, he stood up, all six-foot three of him, and adjusted his gunbelt back onto his hips. "Well, speak up, son. What's the matter; the cat got your tongue? I ain't got all night, you know."
Clete waited patiently until the deputy came up for air and then he went for broke. "I came to report that me and my partner, Amos, had a close encounter with Kid Curry out on the Hunter's Pass trail day before yesterday," he said in a rush.
"Well, why the hell didn't you say so, son?" said Monty warming up again. "Kid Curry, huh? Hell, we've been waiting for him to show up. Yessiree, Sheriff Duncan has us deputies working overtime keeping watch for that hombre." Monty paused and Clete dove in again.
"My friend, Amos, raised a posse in Twin Lakes and they went after Curry and Carlson," said Clete, "I'm kinda worried 'bout what's gonna happen if my friend catches up with them. There was only five of 'em in the posse."
"Carlson? Wheat Carlson? Why the hell didn't you say so, son? That boy is worth a fair amount, too. Why I bet I could retire on what those two would fetch. Say, how about we get in on that deal ourselves and go after them desperadoes, too? I know a real good shortcut that would save us all sorts of time," said Monty. The big deputy slipped an arm about Clete's shoulder and pulled him close.
"I don't know, I've already been shot by Curry once. I ain't too excited about meeting him again. I'm just doing my duty as a citizen and notifyin' you like I promised Amos I would," said Clete. "I'm heading over to the saloon, and I aim to stay there until I forget all about those two."
"What the hell are you thinking, son? A chance like this comes once in a lifetime. Sure, you took some licks, but, heck, when was money ever easy to come by? $15,000 split seven ways is still a whole lotta money. Think what you could do with that kind of cash, son," said Monty. He could tell that Clete was coming round to his way of thinking. "Ain't no need to tell Sheriff Duncan, nosirree; I mean that reward money will only go so far, right, son?"
Clete finally agreed to partner up with Monty and go after the outlaws. He decided it was easier to just say yes than to have the big deputy bend his ear for another minute. Fleeing the sheriff's office, he headed over to the saloon to have that cold beer he'd been thinking about all day.
The bartender set a foamy mug down in front of him and as Clete reached out for it a hand came out of nowhere and grabbed his wrist. Surprised, Clete looked up with a scowl on his face. Jonas Stafford was smiling back at him.
"Clete, it's so good to see you again. I was wondering whether you and my money had ridden off into the proverbial sunset," said Stafford pleasantly enough.
"Mr. Stafford, I just got into town. I was gonna come see you soon. I'm just real thirsty," said Clete reaching for his beer again.
"Ah ah. I think you owe me an explanation, don't you? Where's your partner?" said Stafford still gripping Clete's wrist tightly.
"I don't owe you a damn thing, mister. You nearly got me killed, do you know that?" said Clete, getting angry. "That wasn't no gambler you sent me up against. That was Kid Curry and I got the bullet hole to prove it."
"What are you talking about?" hissed Stafford.
"That gal you're looking for is riding with Kid Curry and that's not all; she's also riding with Wheat Carlson," said Clete.
"Carlson. Who is Wheat Carlson?" said Stafford, confused now. What was going on here? He'd sent those two morons on a simple task and, when they disappeared, he'd had to send two more morons after them. This plan was getting expensive. It was time to take things into his own hands.
"Why, he's one of the Devil's Hole boys, everyone knows that," said Clete.
"Miss Harcourt is riding with the Devil's Hole gang? That's impossible!" said Stafford.
"No…it…ain't," said Clete, reaching down and unpeeling Stafford's fingers from his arm. Grabbing hold of his mug, he downed half his beer in one thirsty gulp.
"Are you sure?" said Stafford, starting to wonder. That girl was cleverer than he gave her credit for if she somehow managed to hook up with such notorious outlaws. How was he supposed to get her now? Maybe he could turn this to his advantage. Curry was worth $10,000, after al,l and Carlson had to be worth something.
"Drink up, Clete. We're going after Curry and the girl. I'll pay you double," said Stafford. He was already paying the second pair of morons double, why not one more?
"I already got a partner. Me and the deputy are heading out in the morning," said Clete, turning his back on Stafford.
The deputy? Stafford wondered why the deputy was going and not the sheriff. Of course! The deputy was cutting the sheriff out of the action. Stafford knew just how to handle this.
Heyes was first up, again. It was an old habit for him. He enjoyed watching the sun rise and the dawn of a new day, but mostly he enjoyed the quiet time before everyone else woke up. He could relax with a cup of coffee and allow his mind to wander with no interruptions. He did some of his best thinking at dawn. Moving quietly about the camp, he stirred the embers in the fire ring, added kindling, and soon had a fire going. Next, he prepared his coffee by taking his old pot down to the stream and filling it with water. He tossed in a few handfuls of coffee from his treasured store and set the pot down on the coals to warm. He'd watch it carefully to make sure it didn't boil and make the brew bitter. While he was waiting, he wandered over to the horses and checked them over.
Having five prisoners was going to be a problem. Heyes wasn't about to be taking them with him. He intended to clear the end of the valley by early tomorrow afternoon and he would head straight onto Denver. They needed to settle things with Allie's mom and get that detective off her back and theirs. Straightening up from checking Patches' leg, he walked back to the fire.
Heyes poured a steaming cup of coffee and walked quietly to the stream with it. Sitting down on the undercut bank, he dangled his legs off the edge and held the coffee clutched in both hands. It was cold this morning; he could see his breath and felt the chill through his new winter coat. The aspens blanketing the north face of Mt. Elbert had turned brilliant shades of yellow and gold with a few small patches of bright red leaves. The willows along the bank were dark red and all around him were signs of the changing season. It wouldn't be long now before the first snows dusted the peaks and winter was on its way.
Heyes still had a lot to do at the Hole to get ready for the winter. There were supplies to be laid in and repairs to be done. There were always a lot of chores this time of the year. He had hoped that Wheat had taken charge in his absence, but that hadn't happened. He would send Preacher a telegram as soon as he could. The man was smart enough to know what needed to be done, but his drinking sometimes clouded his judgment. Heyes knew his men feared him a little too much to shirk an assigned task. He absently sipped at his coffee as he thought about what needed to be done.
The sound of footsteps behind him brought him out of his reverie. Turning slightly, he saw his sleepy-looking partner headed his way. Kid had a mug in his hand, too; and, when he reached Heyes, he settled down next to him.
"You're up early" said Heyes, still watching the sun rising.
"I wanted to talk to you. Alone," said Kid.
Heyes frowned slightly. There goes the peaceful morning. Sighing, he said, "Let me get a refill first. I'll be right back." He levered himself off the ground using Kid's shoulder and walked back to the coffee pot.
Kid admired the scenery much as Heyes had and soon heard the sound of his partner returning. Heyes had brought the whole pot. Kid grinned and held his cup out for a refill. Pouring a steaming mugful, Heyes said, "Okay, I think it's time we talked, too." He set the pot on a small rock and sat back down next to his cousin.
Kid stared down into his coffee, gathering his thoughts. "Heyes, I owe you an apology," he began. Heyes's eyebrows shot up in surprise, but he waited. "I was awful hard on you about Decker…"
"No, you weren't, you were right; I went too far. I pushed Decker over the edge," said Heyes sadly.
"You pushed him hard, but he was already going over the edge. I didn't see it at the time and I blamed you for his actions. That wasn't fair. You squeezed Decker, but he chose how to react and it was his own greed and ugliness that caused him to die, not you," said Kid.
"I appreciate that, but I should've seen the signs. I knew I was getting under his skin, but I never expected him to take it so far," said Heyes. "I should've known. I'm supposed to know."
Kid laughed. "Since when did you become a mind reader, Heyes? Must've been real recent, 'cause you sure missed a few of my thoughts."
Heyes shook his head, "Kid, I'm serious. I could've killed Allie."
"So she told you about that? I was blaming you for that, too. I was wrong, though. A man who would abuse a woman like that doesn't deserve to live a good life. Decker trampled on a lot of lives before he trampled on yours. He had it all coming to him, but it took you to bring him down. You didn't kill him, Heyes, you exposed him for who he really was and he couldn't handle having the world see him so clearly," said Kid.
"I appreciate what you're saying, but it doesn't help much," said Heyes.
"What's bothering you, Heyes? You said you'd tell me; I think now's as good a time as any," said Kid.
Heyes looked away from his partner and focused on something down valley. He sighed deeply. "I'm tired," he said, so softly Kid wasn't sure he had heard him correctly.
"We're all tired. It's been a long summer," said Kid, but he knew that his partner was not talking about a physical kind of tired. He'd known something was up with Heyes, but he was afraid to hear him out now that they were talking.
"I'm tired of my life," said Heyes.
Kid stared at him and carefully said, "What are you saying? Because I'm not liking what I think I'm hearing."
"I'm sick of it; all of it. The stealing, the lying, the being on the run; looking over my shoulder, waiting for it to happen," said Heyes.
"For what to happen?" said Kid.
"For one of us to get killed; no, for you to get killed," said Heyes, hanging his head. There, he'd finally said it out loud.
"Is that what all the risk taking's about, Heyes? Are you trying to go first?" said Kid softly. This had been a real fear for Kid for quite a while now. He'd been wondering about it, the signs had been there, but he could never put words to that thought. It was too painful. He was upset, but he could see that Heyes was baring his soul to him right now and that was a very rare thing. He wasn't going to do anything that would spook Heyes into shutting up. He needed to hear what was going on in his partner's head. Things had been wrong with him for a while.
"I don't think so. Well, maybe a little, but it's more than that. I've been angry for such a long time; ever since our folks died. I've fed that anger, nourished it along and helped it grow. I've used it as an excuse for a lot of things; things I should've been ashamed of. I'm tired of being angry, Kid. When I got shot and I was lying in the wagon; I knew I was dying and I didn't care. I didn't want to leave you, but I realized that the thought of dying didn't bother me. I've thought about that a lot since then. Why did I feel that way? It took a while to figure it out but I think I did. It's not that I want to die; I don't want to die; I want to live; I want both of us to live normal lives. I don't think I've really lived since I lost my folks," said Heyes. He was looking at his partner now, hoping that he understood what he was trying to say.
"Then why do you keep risking your fool neck, Heyes?" said Kid.
"Because that's the only time I feel alive," said Heyes miserably.
Kid sat back, stunned. He hadn't been expecting that. He'd thought all along that Heyes had been trying to kill himself and he'd never been able to handle the idea. "We need to get out of this life, Heyes," said Kid.
"I want that more than anything, but it's too late for us. You know that, and so do I," said Heyes. Kid wanted to suggest Mexico, South America, but he knew that was a waste of time. Heyes had heard all the arguments before and had always correctly pointed out that they were just too good at what they did.
"Maybe, we should just retire; quit stealing. Sooner or later, people would forget about us," said Kid, hopefully. He'd been thinking a lot about quitting and now that he knew Heyes's state of mind he was desperate to come up with a solution.
"It's no good, Kid. We made our choices and we have to live with them," said Heyes, standing up. He was tired of talking, he was tired of listening, too. Heyes walked back to camp and Kid let him go.