The narrow valley of the cutoff began to broaden out as it neared the Arkansas Valley south of Leadville. From this point on, the gang would leave the forested meadows of the higher ground and drop down onto sparser, rolling hills of sage-covered grasslands. They would be visible for a long ways and Heyes wanted to stick to the lowest land following along the stream bed as it cut its way through the hills and rises to the Arkansas River.
The wind was beginning to buffet the riders with strong occasional gusts. Heyes had ridden on ahead of the gang seeking solitude more than company. He stayed within sight to be sure his men followed his route and also to forestall Kid getting antsy if he strayed too far. Now that some time had passed, Heyes found that he did feel better for having talked to his cousin. He should've known Kid had realized something was up with him. Kid always knew; although Heyes felt really bad to think that the Kid had thought he was heading towards suicide. Geez, he must've been scaring the hell out of him. No wonder he'd reacted so badly to Heyes's behavior towards Bill Decker.
Decker sure had a lasting effect on a lot of lives; not just his. Heyes thought about Allie and how close she had come to tying herself to a bad marriage; a girl like that deserved far better. He thought about the Kenneters and Scott Medgar nearly being driven from their homes and all the people in Golden that Decker had harmed. Kid was right; it was Decker's desire to win at all costs that had taken his life. Bill had been so furious at Heyes for besting him, that he had drawn his gun surrounded by lawmen. If it hadn't been for Heyes's lucky dollar stopping the bullet, Decker would have taken Heyes out right along with him. Heyes patted his pocket, feeling the dented coin for good luck. He'd been wondering ever since why he'd been spared and he still hadn't found an answer.
It ate at him to think that he'd spent most of his life trying to gain control of it; so much so, that he'd lost all control of their future. When had it all changed? When had it stopped being fun and exciting? Perhaps, he was just getting old. Hell, he was old for an outlaw. He'd be twenty-eight come February. Few outlaws ever lived to see thirty especially not ones as successful as he was. He had never thought much about the future until now; he'd been so busy running wild. Maybe it had changed the moment he was bleeding out and he saw the abject fear on Kid's face. He'd always known that if one of them bought it, it would be awful hard on the other; but he'd never really thought long about it. It was just an occupational hazard. Seeing the lost look on Kid's face at that moment, he had recognized the mess he was leaving his partner in and it had given him the strength to hold on. Afterwards, he'd spent hours trying to come up with a plan to get them out of this life, but he just kept coming up empty handed.
Kid liked to say that he was the only thing keeping Heyes alive, but Heyes knew it worked both ways. Every bounty hunter and lawman in the West would be gunning for Kid Curry now that word was out that Heyes was dead. He hoped the five men they'd left behind would set the record straight; but would word spread to all the right places?
Allie rode alongside of Kid. Patches was fine now and she was enjoying riding him again. He was playing friskily this morning, prancing and chomping at his bit. The cold was closing in on them and it made her think of those poor men having to walk bare-footed on the frigid ground. She admired Heyes's manner of dealing with them. A normal outlaw would've left them tied up to freeze to death or shot them where they stood. He was obviously no normal outlaw, nor was Jed; they were intelligent, caring men. What was it that was missing from their personalities causing them to lead a life of crime? She thought about what Jed had told her of their childhood; it had been a sad tale but not an unusual one. There were many families shattered, and children violently orphaned, during the war. Those children hadn't all grown up to be outlaws. It had to be something else; but what? Jed had said that they had both come from loving families. What glitch in their moral compasses had led them into this life? For that matter, what glitch in her own caused her to be riding with the Devil's Hole gang? Why had she accepted Jed's true identity so calmly and why, once knowing exactly who he was, did she stay with him? Puzzling these thoughts, she rode silently on.
Kid glanced sideways at Allie. She was being awfully quiet. Well, that was just as well, he didn't feel much like talking. He kept his eyes roving over the landscape alert for possible danger. They might have left the posse behind, but he wasn't taking any chances. He wished that Heyes wasn't riding alone so far ahead, it made him nervous but he knew that he couldn't say anything. Not after what Heyes had revealed earlier. He couldn't rein him in. He'd just have to grit his teeth and put up with his partner's casual handling of his own life.
"Fifty dollars says that Kid and Heyes end up fighting over that gal," whispered Wheat to Kyle.
"I ain't taking that bet, Wheat. Kid and Heyes end up fighting over everything these days," said Kyle, spitting out some chaw. The wind was picking up and some of the vile liquid splattered back onto his pant leg without him noticing.
"All right then, let's bet on which one of them she chooses," said Wheat agreeably.
"Naw, that wouldn't be gentlemanly," said Kyle.
"Hell, when did you become a gentleman?" said Wheat looking at Kyle in amazement.
"This morning; when Miss Allie said I was one," said Kyle proudly.
"You know, Kyle, you might be a gentleman now, but you sure ain't no fun anymore!" said Wheat, spurring his horse to ride on ahead.
Monty raised his arm and pulled up his horse. "All right, we're gonna have to be real careful-like from here on out. Check your weapons and make sure you're ready for trouble."
Clete pulled his pistol and checked the chambers. He was ready. Stafford was beginning to get tired of the boisterous man assuming control over him and he stubbornly stared at Monty. Monty knew a challenge when he saw one and said, "Don't be stupid, son, your pride ain't worth your neck. That's Kid Curry you're planning to face off with; do you really want to get caught unprepared?"
Stafford hated that Monty was right. He reached down, checked his gun, and found that two chambers were empty. Stafford quickly filled the chambers, but Monty was grinning at him like an ass. "There now, that's better, ain't it? Sure would be embarrassing to get a shot and come up empty," said Monty with a laugh. Stafford glared at him. Boy, Monty thought, these two were poor company. What a couple of wet blankets. He sure hoped their spirits rose soon.
Heyes came galloping back to the gang. "There's a stand of old cottonwoods alongside the stream about a ½ mile up the trail; we'll leave the posse's horses there. They'll be all right until those five get here."
"You keeping an eye on the weather, Heyes? Looks like something's coming in; maybe snow from the feel of it," said Kid. Allie, Wheat and Kyle reined up around him.
"Yep, that's what I'm hoping for. We're leaving the horses here and cutting north above Turquoise Lake. The posse thinks we're heading east," said Heyes.
"Are you sure about that? There's no trail to keep to; it'd be awful easy to lose our way in a snow storm," pointed out Kid. Wheat and Kyle were frowning at the change of plans, but knew enough to keep quiet. Wheat might have ridden Heyes a little, but not with the mood his leader was in today. Allie listened to the partners' discussion. She watched as Heyes was questioned by Jed. Jed really was an equal partner in this relationship; not an easy thing to do with someone as assertive as Heyes.
"I'm sure, Kid. I'll use the compass to stay on a northern heading. If the weather turns bad, we'll make 3-4 miles an hour. If we miss Turquoise, we'll turn east after 3-4 hours, that'll put us right about at Tennessee Pass," said Heyes.
Kid nodded, "That makes sense. We can head north up that little stream back a ways; that ought to hide our tracks well enough if we go in at the cottonwoods."
Grinning, Heyes said, "The snow should hit before those five get to their horses; with any luck there'll be ground cover by then. I can just hear the squealing, can't you, Kid?"
Relieved that his partner's spirits had risen, Kid laughed and said, "I believe I can."
Munsen, the Swenson twins, Amos, and Jenkins had just reached the pile of cold, stiff boots left by the roadside. There was definitely some loud whining going on. Their feet were cold and swollen from their hiking and they were all having trouble pulling their boots on. Even Lars and Gunther were cussing, which they never did. To add to their troubles, the first snowflakes had started to drift silently to the ground. Boots on, the five hurried up the trail as quickly as their sore feet would carry them.
Monty had given up trying to make conversation with either of the two pinheads he was riding with. He rode out ahead looking for tracks and quickly picked up sign of hoof prints. Galloping back to Clete and Stafford, he pulled up. "Found a pair of tracks up ahead. They look to be a few days old. There's another set even older," he said.
So the big deputy could track, well, that made him more useful. Stafford said, "That makes sense. It's probably the two men I hired to find the Harcourt girl."
Clete and Monty looked at him, "What two men?" said Clete carefully.
Monty just stared at Stafford. He was pissed that he hadn't been told there were two more men out looking for Curry and Carlson. Splitting the reward nine ways didn't seem nearly as worthwhile as splitting it seven.
"The two men I hired earlier this week. They were supposed to bring her back, but I haven't heard anything. They should've caught up to Curry and Carlson by now," said Stafford ignoring the angry expressions on his co-riders.
"Well, gee, did you think that maybe they did catch up to those desperados already and maybe they're dead or maybe they've joined up with the posse? Did you think that maybe we might like to have known that there were two more men out there looking for that reward money?" said Monty, letting his hand drift down to his gun handle. He was really mad now.
"Of course, I did. Why do you think I didn't tell you?" said Stafford. Clete laughed out loud at the fury on Monty's face.
The snow was falling more heavily now as the gang rode north. The yellowed leaves of the aspens were swirling through the snow as the trees dropped their fall foliage with the first onslaught of winter. Most of the flakes were still melting as they hit the warmer ground, but temperatures continued to drop. It wouldn't be long before the gang's tracks disappeared under a white blanket of snow. Heyes was riding a few lengths ahead and had pulled out his compass to check their direction. Visibility was getting poor and he was being very careful to stay on a northern route. If the snow got much heavier, they would have to stop for the night far earlier than he wanted to.
"Look, there's our horses," cried Amos, pointing towards a stand of cottonwoods he could just make out through the snowfall. He picked up a jog, stumbling a bit because of his pinching boots, and headed towards the animals. The others cheered and grinned at the welcome sight. They, too, ran after Amos.
The horses spooked as their riders ran up. They'd been napping quietly under the canopy of the trees and shied at the sudden activity. Approaching the horses more carefully, the posse members reclaimed their mounts. They were wet, cold, and eager to get to civilization. Gazing about, Mr. Jenkins found their weapons piled neatly under a tree with a note laid on top and held in place by a rock. Picking it up, Jenkins read aloud,
"Dear Posse, we have left you your guns since we are already heavily armed; however, we have taken your bullets and powder. I would recommend that you head into Leadville before the snow flies. You sure won't want to meet up with us again!
Sincerely, Hannibal Heyes."
Staying close to his gang because of the visibility, Heyes rode on squinting into the blank whiteness. Early fall storms like this one could be ferocious, but they usually blew themselves out fairly quickly and residual snow melted fast on the still-warm ground. He planned to call an early halt today as they were all wet and miserable. No one would be able to track them now and they were far enough ahead they could light a fire and cook some of that venison he had packed on his gelding. It was a good night to rest up a bit.
Kid rode up alongside him and Heyes said, "There's a good-size stand of spruce over there. I saw it a few minutes ago when the snow let up a bit. I'll ride on and see if it'll make good shelter." Kid nodded; he knew that spruce often grew in clumps which formed natural tents with shelter being provided by the thickly limbed trees. As Heyes and his horse disappeared into the white curtain, a chill crept up Kid's back. Given what he had heard this morning, he wondered if Heyes would soon fade from his life.
"Kid! When are we stopping? I'm plumb soaked to the bone," complained Wheat. He did look soaked. His cowboy hat was drooping and so were his spirits. Kyle didn't look much better. Poor Allie was shivering in her wet coat, but keeping a brave face. Kid turned his horse and rode back to her.
"So much for freshening up, huh?" said Kid pulling up alongside.
"Where did Heyes go?" asked Allie.
"Up ahead to scout out a camp; we'll stop soon. There's no point in going on while the snow's falling. We've already shaken anyone who might have been following us," said Kid.
"How do you know?" said Allie.
Turning in the saddle, Kid pointed behind them where the snow was covering their tracks almost as soon as they had made them. "We aren't following a trail; without tracks there's no way for anyone to know where we are headed. You can have that hot meal tonight and a big fire. We'll be able to dry out. That ought to make up a bit for being soaked to the bone."
"Nothing can make up for that," said Allie, laughing.
Monty called a halt at the crossroad to the cutoff. He couldn't see more than a few feet in front of him and to make matters worse, the temperature kept dropping. Wet snowflakes were freezing to his eyelashes and mustache despite his constant wiping of his face. Glancing around to his co-riders, he saw them hunched miserably over trying to avoid the worst of the moisture.
"Let's call it a day. I can't see a gosh-darn thing. Last thing we need is to go wandering off in a blizzard," said Monty. Clete actually managed a smile on his frozen face, but Stafford was too wet and cold to respond. All he could think about was the comfortable hotel room he'd left behind. Damn this weather. He worried that this delay might make it impossible to catch the girl. Thank goodness the Bannerman Detective Agency required a big advance. He hated to think of his expenses to date.
"I will never, for as long as I live, ever join another posse. This is a vile way to make money!" complained Mr. Jenkins. His fingers were stiff with the cold. The wet and slippery reins kept sliding through them until he knotted his reins together. Lars and Gunther rode behind him. They stoically endured the vicious storm side by side. Amos straggled several lengths back. He'd worn out his welcome with the other posse members and was now being firmly shunned. Munsen led the pathetic troop. He was straining to see the trail when he spotted a glow through the dense fog of snow. He pulled up to let the others catch up to him, and whispered, "There's a campfire ahead. Let's spread out in case there's trouble. I'll ride in and the rest of you can hang back." The others nodded enthusiastically. If this was the Devil's Hole gang, Munsen was welcome to them.
Stafford and Clete were leaning into the fire trying to warm their hands. They both jumped back, shocked, when Monty appeared out of nowhere and began kicking snow on the fire. It sizzled wildly, and Stafford yelled, "What did you do that for?" Clete pulled his gun; he'd already figured out they had company. Dodging away from the beacon, he disappeared into the trees surrounding their camp. Stafford, too, came to the realization that something was up. Monty held a finger up to his bedraggled moustache and gestured for Stafford to hide. He did.
"Who's out there?" yelled Monty as he dropped low after giving away his position.
"Dr. Munsen from Twin Lakes. Who are you?" answered Munson.
"Monty Northrup, Deputy outta Leadville," said Monty still on guard.
"Deputy, I've got four men with me. We raised a posse a few days back to hunt down Kid Curry and Wheat Carlson. Can I come into your camp? My weapon is holstered," he added.
"All right, son. Just make it nice and easy; don't be making any sudden moves or you'll be ventilated. Are you clear on that?" said Monty.
"Yes sir," said Munsen, appearing out of the gloom with his hands raised.
"Stand over there where I can see you and call in your men one at a time," yelled Monty loudly. He wanted to be sure everyone knew what to do.
"Jenkins!" said Munsen. Seconds later, Martin came in with his hands raised and shaking mightily from the cold and his fear. The big deputy looked formidable.
Clete and Stafford huddled side by side out of sight. Clete had to give the deputy credit. As irritating as he was, he sure seemed to know his business.
"Lars! Gunther! Come out one at a time," said Munsen. The twins, too, approached cautiously.
"Amos!" said Munsen. He waited several minutes, but there was no answer. "Amos!" he called more loudly.
Clete, upon hearing his friend's name, stood up and nearly screamed, "Amos! It's me, Clete."
"Clete?" said Amos, recognizing his partner's voice. He stepped up behind Monty who spun around, pointing his gun at him.
"What the hell is the matter with you, son. Didn't your mama teach you not to sneak up on a man with a gun in his hand? Are you brain-damaged, son, or just powerfully stupid?" snarled Monty, holstering his pistol at the sight of Clete welcoming his friend. These five were obviously who they said they were. "All right, then, don't just stand there you all. Come on in and get yourselves settled. Stafford, you can stop hiding now."
Stafford huffed and indignantly stepped out from the tree he was hiding behind. "I wasn't hiding! I was providing you cover," he said loudly.
Ignoring the others, Monty uncovered the embers and set to work stoking up the fire. The wood was damp from the snow, but the hot coals soon had it burning again. The cold, wet men gathered around.
"So, what are you boys doing back this way? Did you lose Curry and Carlson?" asked Monty, crouching next to the fire and poking at the wood.
Munsen, holding his hands over the warmth, laughed out loud. Monty looked up at him sharply, "What's so funny, son?"
"They lost us all right, but it wasn't Curry and Carlson—it was Curry and Hannibal Heyes," said Munsen.
Monty dropped the stick he was holding and gaped, "What the hell did you just say, son? Do you think I'm an idiot? Everyone knows Heyes is dead. He got his face blowed off a few days ago in the Pioneer."
"He ain't dead and his face ain't blowed off, neither," piped up Amos.
"It was Heyes," said Lars.
"He laid a trap for us and caught us neat as could be," said Mr. Jenkins, proud to have been prisoner of the notorious outlaw and lived to tell about it.
"Was the girl with them?" asked Stafford.
"Yep, and that's not all. Two more gang members showed up during the ambush. That's when Carlson joined up with Heyes and Curry; Kyle Murtry, too. They said they'd been hired to find Kid Curry by some idiot Bannerman," said Munsen.
Stafford blushed a deep red as Monty scowled at him in disgust. "How you'd get away?" asked Monty, his attention returning to Munsen and his men.
"He let us go. He ain't no killer. Everybody knows that," said Amos, but he shivered. As Heyes had pointed out, no one really knew that for sure.
Heyes reappeared out of the snowfall. His hat and shoulders were frosted white and Fannie was covered with flakes, but he was smiling, "C'mon, it's time to get settled." He spun the coppery mare about and galloped off through the snow. The rest of the gang whooped and charged after him through the powder.
Fannie led the way to a cluster of huge spruce trees. The lower limbs sagged with the weight of the snow, but Heyes dismounted and reached up to shake a limb. Relieved of its burden, it sprang up several feet higher allowing enough space for an un-mounted horse to pass under its boughs. Inside of the copse, the snow barely reached the ground. There was plenty of room to tie the horses, mostly out of the weather, under one of the trees. The other trees provided shelter for the riders and enough space for a small campfire. It was ideal. The trees hovering above would help to dissipate the smoke.
"Welcome to our humble abode," said Heyes with a broad grin and sweep of his arm. He bowed deeply as Allie passed by and she pushed him off-balance with a laugh. "Methinks, milady is pleased," said Heyes.
"Milady is most definitely pleased not to freeze to death!" said Allie, playfully curtsying.
While Heyes was watching Allie, Kid reached up and shook an overhanging branch sending a cascade of snow down Heyes's shirt collar and back. "Hey, what was that for?" yelled Heyes. Kid just laughed and passed him by.
Kyle came next, followed by Wheat. "Damn snow. I swear I'm wet clear to my longjohns," Wheat grumbled, brushing his sleeves.
"Kyle, you get the fire going. We're going to roast up some venison tonight. Wheat, do you have any more of that whiskey?" asked Heyes.
"Sure do," said Wheat.
"I've got some carrots and potatoes, Heyes. How about a stew?" asked Kid.
Allie walked over with a can of peaches. "I have dessert!" she said. The men cheered. Spirits were definitely lifting.
"I'll start the stew," said Kid, leaving his horse tied up and going over to help Kyle collect kindling.
Wheat was spreading out his bedroll. His arm was still hurting and he was beginning to fever now that it was getting late in the day. Heyes noticed his pallor as he passed him by and told him to take the night off. Wheat nodded, feeling too terrible to even pretend otherwise.
Heyes tied Fanny and his gelding off next to Kid's gelding and pulled all the saddles. Steam rose from the backs of the horses, so he untangled a saddle blanket from the pile of tack he'd just dumped and began rubbing down his gelding. Allie saw him and decided to do the same for Patches. Her horse nuzzled her as she un-did his cinch and heaved a sigh of relief as the heavy saddle slid off his back. She began to gently rub his steaming back.
"Put some elbow grease into it," said Heyes, "it's good for them; gets the blood circulating." Allie smiled and rubbed harder. She felt the muscles relaxing in Patches' back.
"You seem to know so much about horses," said Allie, "More than the average outlaw; that is."
Heyes grinned. "My grandpa taught me a lot; the rest I picked up here and there. I've always had animals."
Allie turned to look at him. He meant his and Jed's grandfather. "You said animals. Do you have others?" she asked.
"We have livestock in the Hole and cats for the mice. The occasional dog'll come in with someone from time to time," said Heyes.
"You have pets?" said Allie, surprised that outlaws might keep pets. She turned back to Patches and patted him, saying, "You are the first and only pet I've ever had and I love you."
Wheat chuckled, and spoke up from his sleeping bag and said, "Heyes has a cat. His name's Lucifer. That damn cat won't let none of the rest of us anywhere near it. Mean old tomcat, but he's got Heyes wrapped around his paws."
"What makes you say that?" said Heyes, bemused. He had finished with his gelding and had paused to look at his lieutenant as he walked around to Fanny.
"Hell, Heyes, we all know it. There's cat hair all over your cabin; I bet you even let him sleep on your bed," said Wheat. "Why do you think we all tolerate that ugly-tempered tabby?"
Allie laughed at the look on Heyes's face. He was embarrassed and blushing—the cat did sleep on his bed! Gripping the saddle blanket tightly, Heyes started briskly rubbing Fanny, his back to Allie and Wheat.
After a few minutes, Heyes finished with his mare and stepped over to Kid's gelding. He said, "Allie, do you mind rubbing down Wheat and Kyle's horses? I want to take another look at his arm."
"I'd be happy to," she said moving over to the dun gelding Wheat rode. She pulled the tack and began rubbing the tired horse down.
"Thank you, Miss Allie. I'm much obliged," said Wheat as Heyes knelt next to him and started upwrapping his wound. Wheat hissed at his leader, "Don't you go poking at anything tonight, Heyes, or I swear I'll kill you in your sleep."
Heyes chuckled but he was intently peering down at the wound. It looked like an infection was beginning. That was not good. Heyes got up and walked over to Wheat's saddlebags for the bottle of whiskey he knew was tucked carefully inside. Walking back with the bottle and kneeling next to Wheat, he smiled and very quietly said, "There's an infection starting so I'm going to have to scrub it hard with some of your whiskey. Hold on tight to my arm and see if you can avoid screaming like a six year old girl. Allie's watching." He knew there was no way Wheat would allow the smallest peep to pass his lips now. Heyes went to work. By the time he was finished, Wheat was pale and breathing quickly through his nose, but he had made no sound. Heyes tied off the bandage and patted Wheat's shoulder gently. "Rest easy; I'll bring you some willow bark tea soon as the fire's going," he said softly.
Unable to answer, Wheat nodded and rolled over on his side trying to bring the pain under control. He knew as they all did; an infection in even the smallest of wounds was a very serious problem.
Heyes was a constant surprise to Allie. She never knew what to expect next and she found that it delighted her. He and Jed were so much alike; yet so very different. Jed was so kind and caring and he wore his heart on his sleeve; Heyes, she was learning, was kind, too, in a more subtle way but he kept his heart hidden away like a jealously guarded secret. At least she now knew he had one. It was obvious in the attention and concern he gave to his gang.
Munsen finished relaying the tale of the unsuccessful posse as they all circled the fire seeking warmth. As night came on, the colder temperature dried the snow and it now lightly fell in soft, powdery flakes. It was still cold, though, and the damp and tired men drooped listlessly before the meager warmth of the fire. Spirits were sinking fast in this camp.
"I guess there's no point in going after them now. It would take a bloodhound to pick up their scent under all this snow. No way will we ever find their tracks. Least ways, not till spring," said Monty morosely. He'd quit his job for nothing and now he was going to have to crawl back to Leadville empty handed. He couldn't believe that he'd missed the chance to get Curry and Heyes.
Bellies full from a delicious venison stew; Heyes, Allie, Kyle and Kid sat back and enjoyed the warmth of the large fire. Wheat had fallen asleep hours ago. The outlaws had changed into dry clothes now that the snow had stopped and they were drying the wet ones on the hot stones around the flames. Heyes had passed around the whiskey a few times and they were all now contently relaxing in front of the fire. Allie was leaning drowsily on Kid's shoulder and Kyle's head was dropping every few minutes then jerking up right. Kid grinned at Heyes who smiled back. "I guess it's time to turn in. No need for a watch tonight," said Kid gently rousing Allie and standing up.
"Nope. We'll all get a good night's sleep tonight," said Heyes, reaching over to shake Kyle awake. "C'mon, Kyle, time to turn in."
Clete and Amos sat together whispering quietly. Clete was lobbying hard for riding out in the morning. It was time to move on. Curry and Heyes were long gone and winter was on its way. It was time for them to ride south and find some easy work to carry them through the winter. Amos hated having nothing to show for all the hard work and suffering of the last few days, but he had to agree with his partner. They'd slip out before dawn. Neither of them had any desire for long goodbyes. Clete smiled, pleased to finally put this whole fiasco behind him. He would be glad to see the last of Monty and that oily detective and he promised himself that the next person to call him son would live to regret it.
Stafford had been shocked to hear that Heyes and Curry had two gang members show up and help capture the posse. He said nothing, but listened intently. There was no doubt in his mind that it was the two men he'd hired to go after Miss Harcourt. No wonder they had seemed capable enough, he had paid them two hundred dollars to meet up with their friends! He excused himself and went off on his own to fume.
Lars and Gunther rose together from the fire without a word. They, too, were tired of it all and they were going to crawl into their bedrolls and go to sleep. They felt lucky to be alive and not dead in a ditch somewhere. The twins were done with posses; there were better, safer ways to make money.
Munsen and Jenkins sat up long after the others had gone off to sleep. They stared at the fire-each lost in his own thoughts. Jenkins, despite promising to accept his lot in life, wasn't looking forward to going home. The only thing he missed was his beer and he could get that in any two-bit saloon across the west. He'd always been a mild man and it was only his desperation to escape his bleak, mundane life that had caused him to join the posse. He had never believed that such a ragtag group of inexperienced men would ever be capable of running to ground the famous outlaws; but they had. Separately, they had been ordinary men, but together they had accomplished something incredible. They might have ended up as prisoners, but they had managed to track down the two most wanted criminals in these parts. He would never, as long as he lived, forget Heyes threatening them. It had been both the most frightening, and at the same time, the most thrilling moment of his long, boring life.
Jenkins realized he was a changed man. He wouldn't go back to his bossy, mean-tempered wife. He was done with that life forever. It wasn't too late for him to start over. This had been a great adventure and he wanted more. He had no idea what to do next, but he was excited at the thought of a new life.
Munsen sat quietly, too, contemplating his own life. He was desperate and he had a problem; he was a gambler and he wasn't good at it. He'd lost a lot of money at a casino in Kansas City and, unable to pay his debts, was threatened with bodily harm by the angry casino owner. He'd left town in the dead of night leaving his ailing patients and ailing practice behind. Munsen had moved on to Denver and, there, he had fallen in with another disreputable doctor and started a shady business writing bogus prescriptions to sell drugs to addicted clients in the gambling halls of the city. Eventually, despite liberal bribes to look the other way, the law started to close in on the doctors. After his older partner died of a sudden heart attack, Munsen had taken what money there was and fled to Leadville. He quickly ran through the little money he had. It was the promise of a small stipend and a comfortable house that had enticed him to relocate to Twin Lakes. There was no gambling there, though, and he was desperate to move on. The reward money would have been enough. Now, he had nothing. He'd have to go back to that backwater shithole and play the good town doctor once again. Jenkins stirred beside him and stiffly stood up to wander off to bed. Munsen watched the embers die away until the chill of the night forced him to seek the warmth of his bedroll. He laid awake for hours, brooding.
The next morning dawned clear and cold. The freshly fallen snow sparkled in the bright sunlight; the trees and bushes were frosted white. Monty had risen an hour or so before, and had a large fire going. He was attending to some personal business as he heard the sound of riders approaching. Buttoning up quickly, he stepped out of the bushes to see a large group of thirty or so men riding up. In the lead was his former boss. "Wake up, boys, we've got company," he yelled. He kept his eyes on the riders, but his ears picked up the moans and groans from the bedrolls.
The sheriff reined up sharply in front of Monty and glared down at him. "So, this is where you ran off to. I didn't much appreciate having you up and quit like that. Couldn't you have told me face to face instead of leaving me a note?" he asked.
"There wasn't time, Sheriff. I had to go after these five before they caught up with Heyes and Curry and got themselves killed," Monty smoothly lied.
"Heyes and Curry? Heyes is dead," said the sheriff. Monty was lying. His was a sworn deputy of the law; there had been no need to quit his job to aid a posse. It was obvious that his deputy had been after the reward money. Looking at the other men who were gathering around Monty; the sheriff sized them up quickly.
"No sir, he ain't. These five men were captured by Heyes. He's as alive as you and me," said Monty. Gunther leaned forward and whispered to Monty, "There's only four of us, Amos and Clete are gone." Monty ignored him and kept his eye on the sheriff. If he played his cards right, he could maybe get his job back.
"That true?" asked the Sheriff looking at the other posse members.
Munsen stepped forward and said, "Yes sir, it is. It was some drifter who died at the Pioneer. Heyes is alive and with his gang. We almost caught them, but they laid a trap for us and we ended up their prisoners."
"How'd you get away?" asked a man next to the sheriff.
"He let us go, but he took our boots, ammunition, and horses," said Jenkins. A ripple of laughter floated through the riders' ranks. Jenkins colored, but stared back. "Maybe you could've done better, but you'll never know, will you?" he said defiantly.
The sheriff said, "Can you describe them?" It would be a huge feather in his cap if he could give accurate descriptions of those two. For some reason, witnesses could never seem to provide much more than vague details.
"Uh, yeah," said Munsen, looking at the other three. They all nodded at him to go on. "Heyes is about this tall," he said holding out his hand, "and Curry's about the same. They're about average weight; well, maybe Heyes is a bit skinnier than Curry. Heyes has dark hair and dark eyes. Curry's light haired, kind of curly, and has blue eyes."
"That's it? What about distinguishing characteristics? Any scars? Anything at all distinctive about them?" asked the sheriff. What he'd heard was almost the exact description from the already useless wanted posters. Could those two outlaws really be that ordinary?
Munsen quickly replied, "No sir. Not that we saw." He was an accomplished liar and it was a good thing. He'd never forget those cold, blue eyes of Curry or the glimpse of his own death reflected in Heyes's dark eyes. He wouldn't mention Heyes's dimpled grin or Curry's small scar on the side of his neck; not now, not ever, to anyone.
The sheriff stared him down for several seconds and then nodded. "We're headed up to the Milk River. The Utes are on the warpath. Some damn fool Indian Agent, Meeker, tried to shut down their horseracing. They've killed him and a bunch of others. Word has gone out to the army and all law enforcement that the government's paying good money to round up these renegades and drive them out of Colorado once and for all. I could use a few more hands," he finished.
Lars spoke up, "Thanks for the offer, Sheriff, but my brother and I are going home. We just aren't cut out for this kind of thing." The sheriff nodded; he only wanted willing men. It was going to be dangerous work.
Jenkins grinned, "I'll join you. I'm a fair shot and I don't have any kids to worry about." He made no mention of his wife. She could easily fend for herself. He hurried off to gather his gear excited to have another adventure.
"How much are they paying?" asked Munson
The sheriff answered, "Four hundred dollars a month, plus a hundred dollar bonus for every scalp you turn in."
"I'm in," said Munsen, already calculating how many scalps he needed to clear his debts.
"Me, too," said Monty.
"No, you aren't. You burned me once already, I'm not giving you another chance," said the Sheriff, switching his attention to Stafford, who tugged at his shirt collar.
"I'm sorry, Sheriff, I must decline. I'm a Bannerman Agent and I am working on an important case," he said pompously.
"Fair enough. You two catch up with us as quick as you can. We heading out now," said the Sheriff to Jenkins and Munsen as they were hurrying to tack up their horses. He spurred his horse and the troop followed him down the road. Gunther and Lars had already mounted and waved good bye.
"Shit!" said Monty watching his livelihood ride away, "I'm the best deputy he's ever had."
"I'm sure you are, Mr. Northrup," said Stafford. He had seen the deputy's skills and had been impressed despite the man's annoying personality. "That's why I'm prepared to offer you the same four hundred dollars if you help me capture Miss Harcourt. If we get Heyes and Curry, too, I'll split the reward money with you."
"Split it? The last deal you were going to give it to me," said Monty.
"That was the last deal; this is a new one. It's more money than you'd have gotten from the last deal and you can take it or leave it," said Stafford firmly.
"That's the first smart thing, I've heard you say, son," said Monty, "Lead the way."
Author's Note: On September 29, 1879, a band of Ute warriors killed Indian Agent, Nathan Meeker, and seven other members of the White River Indian Agency in retaliation for Meeker having ordered a Ute horse racing track be plowed under and converted to farmland. The Utes went on to attack an army troop led by Major Thornburgh. The Major and nine of his men were killed. Reinforcements soon arrived at the Agency and the Utes were rounded up and sent to a reservation in Utah. The tragedy became known as the Meeker Massacre.