Heyes walked back into camp with a scowl on his face. He was annoyed that he had told the Kid too much. Somehow his partner had a way of drawing him out and most of the times Kid managed to, Heyes usually felt better, but not this time. He didn't like how he was feeling at all and it made him irritable. He saw that Allie was up and at the campfire so he walked over towards her. The wind was picking up and it blew small licks of flame about the fire ring as she bent over a pot, stirring. Heyes buttoned his coat closed; the temperature was dropping and that meant weather was moving in.
"Why is everyone up so early today?" he said irritably. Allie looked up at him and correctly read his mood; surly. She tucked one hand into a pocket to warm it and kept stirring with the other.
"I've got some oats on. If you'd be so kind as to return the coffee pot…" she said.
Kid walked up to the fire, coffee pot in hand. "It's right here. I brought some fresh water for a new potful," he said, holding the pot out to Allie.
"Here, give it to me. I'll do the coffee," said Heyes grabbing for it. Kid snatched it out of his reach, spilling water from the spout. Allie watched sitting back on her heels, amused at the sight of Kid taunting Heyes. She could see the easy comraderie between the two partners. It seemed funny that she had ever thought that Jed was subservient to Heyes; that was so obviously not true.
"No way; I've already had a cup of that tar you call coffee. I'll make the next pot," said Kid walking over to Heyes's mare to fetch the grounds.
Heyes turned back and caught Allie's amused smile. "What? There's nothing wrong with my coffee. It's better than that dishwater Kid brews," he grumbled.
"My, you sure got up on the wrong side of bed," said Allie, returning her attention to the pot of oats cooking over the fire. The steam from the pot warmed her face.
Heyes growled in answer and went over to awaken Kyle, but he was already stirring in his bedroll. Wheat was returning from the last watch and walked up to his leader. "How's the arm?" asked Heyes.
"It's okay; it don't hurt too bad," said Wheat. It hurt like hell, but there was no way he'd tell Heyes that. He knew Heyes had enjoyed his discomfort last night and there was no show any weakness to him today. Wheat brushed past Heyes, and bent down to retrieve his mug and plate for breakfast.
Heyes nodded, "That's good to hear. I'll take a look at it after breakfast." Wheat headed towards the fire and Heyes walked over to the prisoners. Harshly kicking their feet, he woke them up. Allie had taken pity on the tied up men and had spread their bedrolls over them during the middle of the night when she had woken up feeling cold. Reaching down, Heyes snatched the heavy bags off. He squatted next to Lars and examined his wrists. Looking him in the eye, Heyes said, "Who wrapped you up? Was it the lady?"
Lars didn't answer, but Heyes stared hard at him until he wilted under the scrutiny and nodded. "Allie! Come here," barked Heyes as he scowled in her direction.
Allie stopped stirring the pot and briefly glanced at Jed. Jed was watching his partner as he set the coffee pot on the fire to brew. Allie stood up, slowly wiped her hands on her skirt, and walked over to Heyes. "Yes, did you bellow for me?" she said sweetly.
Heyes reached out and tugged her down next to him. "Look here. Do you see that?" said Heyes, pointing to Lars' bloody wrists. "I didn't cover them up for a reason. It wasn't cold enough last night to kill them to be uncovered."
"Heyes, I'm sorry. I didn't realize…" said Allie.
"No, you didn't realize. You were giving them a chance to get away and what do you think would've happened if they had?" said Heyes harshly. His eyes demanded an answer from her and she had no idea was to say. Allie just stared at him wide-eyed. She knew he was angry and there really wasn't anything she could say. She'd made a serious mistake. Kid had wandered over; he was keeping an eye on Heyes's temper. He knew his partner was upset over their earlier conversation and was now spoiling for a fight and he wasn't about to allow Allie to be the focus of Heyes's ire.
"I'll tell you what might've happened. They might have gotten the jump on us during the night. That's what. Don't let your heart get in the way of your head again," snapped Heyes, standing up. Allie knew he was right and she blushed deeply with embarrassment.
"Heyes…" said Kid warningly.
"What?!" roared Heyes, turning and walking over to his partner. He stood in front of Kid and said, "You think I'm wrong?"
"No, Heyes; I think you're being an ass," said Kid so softly only his partner could hear. Kid braced himself for the swing he knew was coming. Heyes's eyes narrowed, but over Kid's shoulder he saw Amos grinning at the sight of Hannibal Heyes angry and out of control. Walking over to stand in front of Amos; Heyes loomed over him and coldly said, "Maybe I should be taking it out on you." Amos lost his smile fast and cringed away from the outlaw, but Munsen struggled to his feet and placed himself between Heyes and Amos.
"It's all right, Amos; everybody knows that Heyes and Curry never killed anyone," said Munsen reassuringly.
"Well, not that the law knows about," said Heyes snidely, "and everyone knows what a great job they've done on our wanted posters. By the way, should any of you get a wild idea to provide the law with a more accurate description of us; let me assure you, that if I see better descriptions on the next set of wanted posters, I will personally track each one of you down and make a liar of every lawman west of the Mississippi." His expression left no doubt in the prisoners' minds that he was completely serious.
Munsen read Heyes's eyes searchingly and nodded. "My apologies, Mr. Heyes; it seems that I have misjudged you." He slowly sat back down.
Clete met Monty out by the cattle pens early that morning. The big deputy was tightening the cinch on his horse and checking his gear.
"Hey," mumbled Clete, "you all set?" He was leading his own buckskin mare, and he had just stopped at the merchantile to re-stock his ammunition. While he wasn't happy to be going after Curry and Carlson, he was ready.
"Yessiree, I am ready, son, but we've got to wait for Stafford," said Monty, testily. That weasly detective was running late, and he was mightily annoyed about it.
"Stafford! What are you talking about?" said Clete, alarmed.
"Well, it's like this, son, I cut us a bargain, see? He's paying us good money to come along on this little soiree. I mean really good money," said Monty.
"But, what about the reward money; you didn't want to share it with the sheriff; why Stafford?" said Clete.
"Well, son, he's not after the reward money, he's after the gal riding with those two. Her family's paying a lot to get her back and he'll be getting all that. He's paying us to lead him to her; he don't want any of the reward money." Monty glanced at Clete and frowned, "What the hell are you so glum about, son?"
Clete kept quiet. There was nothing to be said. The deal had already been done, but he couldn't think of anything much worse than chasing after a bunch of dangerous outlaws with Monty and Stafford for company.
Kyle and Wheat were sitting by the fire finishing off a couple of bowls of cooked oats and watching as the boys and Miss Allie came back to the fire.
"Can we stay here for the morning? Now that the posse isn't chasing us anymore; I would like an opportunity to wash my hair and take a bath," said Allie, stirring the oats again and helping herself to a steaming bowlful. It was pretty chilly this morning and the hot cereal would be very welcomed.
Heyes grinned. "I suppose it's the least I could do; isn't it?" he said, knowing that he'd been hard on her.
She smiled slyly, knowing he was on to her, and said, "Yes, it is the very least. Perhaps, you might even help me practice my shooting later."
Before Heyes could answer, Kid spoke up and said, "I'll help you, but it might take all day to undo the bad habits Heyes has probably taught you."
Allie laughed and scooped up another bowlful of oats handing it to Heyes and she filled one for Jed. Jed carefully took the hot bowl and looked down at his breakfast with dismay. Oats. He hated oats. They were horse food, not people food. At the very least they ought to be a side dish, not the main course. Sighing, he sat down and stirred his oats.
"I can't stand being dirty one minute more than necessary. Kyle, will you please keep watch for me while I bathe?" asked Allie. It was going to be a very cold bath in icy water, but she didn't care. She'd rather be frozen than filthy. If only there was time to wash her clothes.
"I can do that for you," said Jed as he paused from blowing the steam off his meal.
"I'm sure you can, but I don't trust you not to peek. I trust Kyle, he's always been a perfect gentleman," said Allie. She pulled the oats off the fire and stood up planning to feed the prisoners from the pot. They would have to let her spoon feed them or they would go hungry. Heyes had been right, she could've gotten them all killed and she wouldn't make that mistake again. She was a member of this gang now; she'd known that the minute Heyes had chewed her out just like he would've chewed out any other gang member who had done such a dumb thing. Rather than being offended, she had felt accepted. Heyes had treated her like one of his men. Why couldn't Jed do that? Allie walked over to the tied up men.
Kyle was frowning. He hadn't planned to be a gentleman at all. Kid glanced sharply at him and said, "If you aren't a perfect gentleman, you'll answer to me."
Kyle smiled quickly, "I'll be perfect, Kid; cross my heart, you can trust me." Kid eyed him skeptically.
Heyes finished the last of his oats and said, "I think maybe I'll ride out this morning and do a little hunting. We could use the provisions now that we have more mouths to feed." He scraped his left over in to the fire ring to burn.
"I'll come with you. I'd like to do a little hunting myself," said Kid, setting his bowl aside and standing up.
"No, I'm going alone," said Heyes walking away towards the stream to wash his utensils.
Kid knew it was probably eating at Heyes that he'd talked so openly. He decided to make sure Heyes got the space he needed. "Wheat, you can watch the prisoners. It'll do you some good to take it easy today; just make sure you stay awake since you had last watch," said Kid. Wheat grinned. "Kyle, after you help Allie, you can take the horses into that swale we passed on the way in. Make sure they're out of sight of the trail. Hobble them up and turned them out. They deserve a morning off as much as we do."
"That's it; hold it up a little higher; there that's good," said Jed. Allie drew aim on the log Jed had set out 80 feet away and, squeezing the trigger slowly, she shot it close to the center. She laughed, delighted, while Jed shook his head. "Girl, you're a natural. If you get too much better, you'll be giving me a run for my money."
She giggled and kissed him on the cheek, "You are an excellent teacher. Thank you so much!"
Taking her hand, Jed said, "You do realize that shooting a piece of wood is a far cry from shooting a living, breathing creature?"
"Of course, I do. Jed, I have no intention of taking up hunting or bank robbing. I just want to be able to take care of myself should I need to," said Allie. "I know it's important to you to care for those you love and I truly appreciate you for it, but it's equally important for me not to feel helpless. You have no idea what it's like to be born a woman in this day and age. A woman is taught from the very beginning, that she is the fairer, weaker sex and she needs to have a strong, powerful man to protect her from the world. What nonsense!"
Jed listened, but wasn't about to speak his thoughts out loud. He'd been taught to care for and protect the womenfolk and it was going to be a hard habit for him to break. He wanted someone to need him and rely on him. Of course, as a wanted man he was in no position to offer Allie any kind of protection, so maybe it was a good thing that she learned to fend for herself.
Allie continued, "I was raised to learn all the things I would need to serve a man: how to cook and sew; how to create a cozy home; how to be attractive and decorative. Do you have any idea how liberating it is to learn that I have the means of taking control of my life; to learn that I don't need a man to live my life?"
Jed frowned at where this conversation was going.
"Oh, don't look so glum! Just because I don't need a man; doesn't mean that I don't want one. Wouldn't you rather be wanted than needed?" she said smiling gently.
"Why can't I be both? Why can't you want and need a man? I don't understand what is so awful about relying on someone. I've always had someone I depended on and someone who depended on me. My folks, and then Heyes; I don't see anything wrong with that," said Jed, shaking his head. "Is it Heyes who's filling your head with these ideas?"
Allie was irritated by that remark, but she also realized that Jed was upset about something more than her learning to defend herself; she ignored his remark and said, "Did you and Heyes have words again this morning?"
Jed looked surprised at the question. "No, well, yes, in a way. He's tired. He wants out of the outlaw life, but we can't seem to see a way out. Well, at least not one where we survive. I always thought Heyes loved this life; he seems to thrive in it. Why couldn't I see what was happening to him? Maybe he's like you, Allie, maybe he wants to be alone," said Jed sadly. Maybe I've been holding him back just like I'm trying to hold you back, he thought.
"Jed! I don't want to be alone. That is not at all what I am saying. I want to be independent. Those are two very different things. I need to know who I am and what I am capable of. Do you understand?" asked Allie.
"Not really, but I respect you for wanting to take care of yourself," said Jed. "I guess that's enough practicing and talking for one day. I'm all talked out." Off in the distance, Jed heard a rifle shot. "Sounds like maybe Heyes found something to take his frustrations out on. I'm just hope it wasn't Kyle or Wheat," said Jed with a chuckle.
Allie hugged him and slipped her arm around his waist. Jed smiled, and pulled her tight to his side and together, they walked back to the camp.
Stafford was late. Not an early riser, he'd had to have a hearty breakfast before he had the wherewithal to ride out at such an early hour. He had kept Clete and Monty waiting and the big deputy was angry. "Where the hell have you been, son? We've been cooling our heels all morning. I quit a good job to go after these misfits and I ain't gonna be happy if we miss them," said Monty annoyed to be delayed.
Clete didn't even look up. He had been wishing that Stafford wouldn't show up at all. He wanted nothing more than to give this whole crazy idea up and go back to the saloon to wait for Amos.
"My dear sir, I am ready now. Are you going to waste more time standing around berating me or shall we ride?" said Stafford.
"Your darn tootin' we should ride. Clete, son, mount up and wipe that frown off your face; I ain't spending the next few days looking at your sour puss," said Monty, swinging up onto his horse and jogging on ahead.
"I ain't your son, you big, stupid lummox, and who put you in charge?" grumbled Clete. Stafford had heard and smiled conspiratorially. Clete knew he was going to hate every minute of this ride.
By lunchtime, Heyes had still not returned and Kid was beginning to get concerned. He knew Heyes was punctual to a fault and they had planned to ride out after lunch. He'd give him another hour or so and then he would head out in the direction he had heard the shot. After a cold meal, Kid spent the time breaking down camp and helping to organize the prisoners. Finally, he saw a lone rider approaching from across the stream. It was Heyes and it looked as if he'd had a successful hunt. He was on his mare and leading his big gelding who was heavily packed. That would explain what had taken so long; butchering game was an arduous task.
"Hey, Kid," said Heyes as he rode up to where his partner stood watch. He reined up and slipped off his mare. "I found a big buck on the other side of the ridge. I got a clean shot and dropped him real easily."
"I heard it. You dress him out?" asked Kid, knowing that normally that was a task they would've all shared.
"Yep. Sorry, I'm a little late. I lost track of time getting him bled and butchered," said Heyes. He was leading his horses and watching the ground as he talked. Kid knew he was lying. Heyes never lost track of time. He'd been working out his anger on the poor, dead buck. Butchering was back-breaking work and it was exactly what Heyes had needed. He looked about done in; just as well, he'd be easier to handle now.
"No problem, we're all packed up and ready to go. It's getting cold enough we can wait until tonight to smoke the meat. What are we going to do with the posse?" asked Kid as he walked alongside his partner. He studied Heyes surreptitiously; his cousin looked tired but definitely more relaxed now.
"I've been thinking about that, Kid. I think we take their boots and their horses like Clint did to me; only I'll leave them their boots a couple of miles up the road. They won't get too sore, but it'll slow them down a lot. We can leave their horses another couple of miles up the trail. By the time they get to their animals, we'll be long gone," said Heyes with a grin.
Kid smiled, "I like it, Heyes. Effective, but nobody gets hurt. What about their guns?"
"We can leave them their guns; we'll take the bullets, though. Those, we'll keep. They won't be coming after us without guns," said Heyes. "Did you see those weapons? That one fellow, Jenkins, was carrying a black powder rifle like Grandpa used to hunt with and one of the twins had a penknife. Sheesh, what were they thinking?"
"They were thinking about money, and not much else," said Kid with a laugh.
Clete trailed Monty and Stafford by several lengths. He'd been dropping further and further behind as though with each mile he became less and less committed to the plan.
"So what exactly has this little lady done to cause her family to drag her home against her will? I mean if she's run off once, what makes them think she won't do it again?" asked Monty. He and Stafford were riding side by side down the road heading south out of Leadville. Monty was going to take the Mt. Elbert cutoff in hopes of shaving some time off the lead that the posse had.
"I have no idea what she's done or what her family plans to do with her. Perhaps, they'll have her committed as an incorrigible. That's what I'd do if a daughter of mine ran off with a no-account outlaw," said Stafford.
Monty squinted sideways at him, "You got kids?"
"No, I have no family," said Stafford.
"Uh huh, if you did; you'd be speaking a different language, son," said Monty, spitting his chaw to his left and swinging his head around to eye the detective.
"Don't you find it a bit absurd that you're calling me 'son'? It must be obvious to you that it is mathematically impossible for me to be your son," said Stafford. The big deputy was already getting on his nerves and they were just a few miles out of Leadville.
"It's just an expression. We're all called, 'son', where I come from," said Monty good-naturedly.
"Let me guess- you're from Texas," said Stafford sarcastically.
"How the hell did you know that?" said Monty genuinely surprised.
"Lucky guess, son," said Stafford, picking up a jog and riding on ahead.
Kid and Heyes had parceled the meat out onto their six horses. Kid, Kyle and Heyes would each lead two horses leaving Wheat and Allie free. Wheat's arm was still a bit sore to be hanging onto a lead rope and Allie had no experience leading a balky horse. Packed and organized, Heyes walked over to the prisoners. Kyle and Wheat had taken the men's boots and gunbelts, despite their protests. The five men eyed Heyes with caution.
"Have a nice hike. If I see any of you ever again, it'll go badly for you. Understood?" said Heyes, giving them his most ferocious scowl.
Five heads nodded as one.