Writer's Note: I'm heading out on vacation and didn't want to leave the partners hanging, so here's chapter 8:
A bell tinkled somewhere nearby and the sound of gurgling water danced through Heyes's consciousness. He rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes. It was another clear, cool morning. Heyes stretched and yawned before slipping out of the warm bedroll. Standing up, he looked about. His horse was grazing in the meadow where he'd left him last night. Hearing the sounds of stirring, the big gelding lifted his head and stared at the outlaw. Heyes scratched his beard absently while appreciating the play of the sunlight across the face of French Mountain. The birds were twittering busily in the trees and a slight breeze was rustling through the aspens.
Scratching again, Heyes noticed how much his beard itched. He hated sporting facial hair, it made him feel scruffy; still it had been an effective disguise in Leadville. Or maybe not; he really hadn't run into anyone he'd known besides Annie and she'd recognized him instantly despite the fur. Heyes picked up his saddlebag and rummaged for the new razor and cake of shaving cream he'd bought in Breckenridge. The beard had to go, it was driving him nuts.
Allie woke up curled next to the fire ring on Kid's bedroll. She was covered with her own bedroll. The embers had been stirred and the coffee pot had been placed on the newly kindled fire. She could feel the warmth of the low flames and she remembered drifting off last night, cuddled next to Jed, listening to him talk. Allie flushed at the idea. She, who had never even been kissed passionately, had spent the night sleeping in the arms of a man. She saw Jed tending to the horses, but she gave him no sign she was awake. She snuggled back down into the bed and watched him moving quietly about the camp. Was she falling for Jed? She had no idea if what she felt was true love, or if she was in love with him, but she knew she cared deeply for him. She, Miss Alyssa Marie Harcourt lately of Denver, loved Kid Curry.
Kid was remembering last night, too; how Allie had gently coaxed him to talk about Heyes. It had been like a dam breaking and, once he had begun, he couldn't stop. He had told her things that he had never voiced to anyone. Feelings and fears he had thought long since gone. Kid felt better for it, too. He knew he'd never get over losing his partner, but he now thought he could survive it. He knew he could with Allie by his side. Kid had known many women, but no one like her. Allie understood him and accepted him completely for who he was. For the first time in seventeen years, he could be just plain old Jed Curry. He felt like he could tell her anything and he could trust her not to turn it on him. Even Heyes used to use Kid's own words against him. Allie was too kind to ever do that. She was amazing, and Kid loved her. She may not want a man right now, but Kid aimed to be there when she changed her mind. In the meantime, he would be her friend.
Tossing the saddle onto Patches, Kid bent down to pull the cinch under the horse's stomach and saw that his left foreleg was puffy. Running his hand gently down the tendon, he could feel heat. The sheath around the tendon was slightly filled with fluid. "Damn it," said Kid.
Allie heard him and sat up. "What's wrong? Is Patches all right?" She crawled out of her bag and hurried over to Jed. Leaning over him she peered at her horse's legs.
"He's pulled something. It's not bowed, but there's heat. You aren't going to be able to ride him," said Kid.
"We don't have to leave him, do we?" she asked fearfully as they both straightened up.
"Naw. We'll lead him, you can ride Heyes's horse and I'll split the supplies between the two so Patches won't have to carry any weight," said Kid, "It's the best we can do. Mind you, Heyes's mare can be a handful. She may give you a hard time. No one else has ever sat her besides Heyes."
Turning to Fannie, Allie stroked her muzzle gently. "Poor thing, she must miss him, too. Don't worry, darling, I will take good care of you," she said. Fannie lowered her head in pleasure and pressed her muzzle into Allie's chest snuffling her softly. "See, we're friends, we'll get along fine."
"Uh huh. Just don't trust this ornery cow. She's as sneaky as Heyes was," snorted Kid, stroking the mare's silky neck. "Why don't you check and see if the coffee's ready? I laid out a couple of biscuits, too. I'll tack this one up. She's likely to chomp on you when you tighten the girth." Allie walked off to tend the fire and Kid turned to pick up Heyes's saddle. Putting it on the mare, he grabbed and tightened the girth and then buckled up the flank cinch, swatting her as she turned to nip him. He snapped her breast collar onto the girth and gave her a pat. "You better take good care of her, you ugly cow, or I'll dine on you tonight," said Kid with a chuckle.
He turned to go, but noticed Heyes's saddlebags still secured to the skirt of the saddle and his bedroll snugged down on top. He had forgotten about them. The wrangler had sold him the saddlebags, bedroll, and Heyes's rifle for an extra twenty dollars. The man had said that he hadn't even looked inside the bags as it wasn't long after he bought the mare that Hannibal Heyes got shot at the Pioneer and he'd run down to State Street to take a look. Kid unbuckled the left-hand bag and peered inside. It was an almost comforting feeling to see Heyes's winter underwear neatly folded and ready to use. There was a spare bandana, a cast iron fry pan, some cooking utensils but no book. It surprised Kid that he didn't find one; his partner had loved to read and always had a book or newspaper on him. Placing his hand on Fannie's hind end, he swung around to the other saddlebag. This one contained the old, battered coffee pot they'd had forever. Rolled up inside the pot were two pairs of extra socks, a set of hobbles, a bag of coffee, and a small sack of flour. He also found a supply of rolled up bandages, some hooks and fishing line, a bindle of white willow bark for pain, and another small bag; this one containing oats. There was a bit of sugar and some baking powder stuffed into a tin coffee cup. His partner could stuff more things into a pair of saddlebags than anyone Kid had ever met. Securing the flaps again, Kid gave Fannie one last pat and he walked over to the fire and Allie with the old, dented mug clutched in his hand.
The big gelding balked at stepping onto the talus slope. At his rider's urging, he tentatively stepped onto the broken, shifting shale, but snorted and sat back on his hocks as the ground moved under his hooves. "C'mon, get up there," growled his rider, but the gelding couldn't be persuaded; not even at the touch of the rowel spurs. Disgusted, Heyes dismounted, and pulled the split leather reins over the horse's head. He knew the well-broke horse would follow him and he wasn't about to beat a fine animal when he could outsmart him. "All right, let's go," he said leading the gelding out onto the loose stones. Heyes had trouble keeping his own footing, but he kept his eyes on the trail ahead ignoring the sliding, slipping sounds of his horse struggling behind him. He was ready for trouble, though. The stony slope dropped off below them and beyond it was a sheer drop of several hundred feet. If his horse lost his footing, Heyes would let him go.
Kid and Allie skirted the small resort town of Twin Lakes. It was a popular summer home site for the wealthy of Leadville and Kid didn't want their passing noted. They would ride on to just below the switchbacks that started the climb to Hunter's Pass. Patches was doing fine and Allie was having no difficultly working with Fannie. She rode quietly alongside Kid. The mare was behaving for her, and she was enjoying the sensitive, highly-strung mount. Heyes had been fond of saying that Fannie was a one-man horse; Kid figured one man and one woman from the looks of it.
The shortcut trail dead-ended where it crossed the larger Hunter's Pass trail. Heyes looked west and saw that he was just below the first switchback but well above the trail winding up from Twin Lakes. Riding down the trail a few hundred yards, Heyes found an excellent spot where he would have a clear view of the trail below. He dismounted and tied up his gelding. Heyes would keep him saddled up for now. There was no grazing for the big horse and Heyes wanted him ready to ride out and meet Kid. He took some time to check the animal's hooves for stones and examined him carefully for cuts and scrapes. The horse had worked hard today so Heyes gave him a small ration of oats. Heyes was hoping to see Kid and his girlfriend before nightfall. He reached into his jacket and pulled out his book; it was still early evening and he could read for a few hours. Heyes found a comfortable spot and settled down where he could look up and periodically check the trail.
Kid and Allie rode out of the pines into a broad meadow. The horses nibbled at the tall, dry grasses that overgrew the trail as they walked along and swished their tails in irritation at the flies that were disturbed from the weeds only to fly about and settle on the tired, annoyed animals. Picking up a slow jog to shake the insects, Kid led the way across the field, leading Patches behind him. Fannie became resentful at having to bring up the rear, and crow-hopped in anger at being reined in. She was spoiled and used to leading the way.
Engrossed in his book, Heyes didn't look up until just before Kid entered a tall stand of lodgepole pines and deep underbrush. He saw the two riders leading a paint horse, and he recognized both his partner and his own horse. He was surprised to see the woman mounted on Fannie and he laughed to see the difficulties she was having. Leave it to his mare to be testy. Smiling broadly, he stood up and tucked away his book. He'd meet them partway; he couldn't wait to see the look on Kid's face when he rose from the dead.
The dense stand of pines was dark and cool. The flies had stopped at the edge of the forest and the horses settled down into a walk. Kid turned to watch Allie disciplining Fannie. The mare was still expressing her displeasure at being last and Allie was taking a strong hand to her. Kid laughed at the outraged look on Allie's face and the peevish expression on the mare's.
The cocking of a gun snapped Kid's head around. A tall, skinny man stood in the center of the trail and held a Colt Frontier aimed at Kid's chest. "Put your hands up, sonny," said the man grinning. His teeth were blackened by chew, and several were missing. It was not a pretty sight. Kid slowly raised his hands as another man emerged from the bushes next to Allie. He reached for Fannie's reins, but she shied away from him forcing him to lunge at her. He yanked her down as she struggled to free herself. Allie whipped the man about the head and face with the ends of her reins.
"Gosh darn it, sis. Will you stop hitting me? Amos, help me here" whined the second man as he grabbed at Allie's hands.
"Clete, stop fooling around with that little gal, will you? We're being paid good money to see that she's brought back safe and sound," said the first man, returning his attention to Kid, "Mister, no one gives a damn about you, so you'd best be careful when you toss that hogleg over here. Uh uh, two fingers or I'll shoot."
Kid slowly moved his hand to his holster, but startled at the sound of a loud whistle. Fannie reared back from her captor and struck out at him with her front legs as Allie clung to the saddle horn. Clete dodged to the side as Fannie took off into the brush at a mad gallop. The first man was as surprised as Clete, and cut his eyes away from Kid for a split second. That's all the time Kid needed. He drew and threw himself out of his saddle rolling for the ground. Amos swung back, but couldn't get a shot off before Kid winged him and continued to roll; coming up in a crouch and shooting Clete in the thigh. Clete collapsed to the ground clutching his wound; screaming and yelling. Kid stood up and walked over to Amos, kicking his pistol away. He roughly yanked Amos to his feet and dragged him over to where Clete was sprawled in the dirt. "Sit down, and, you, Clete, shut up," said Kid. Keeping them covered, he backed towards his horse and pulled a couple of pieces of latigo off his saddle where he had tucked them for trailside repairs. Kid made quick work of tying up the two gunmen to the trunk of a tall lodgepole. He picked their weapons up and shoved them through his gunbelt. What the hell had just happened? That had sure sounded like Heyes's whistle. The hairs on the back of Kid's neck stood up and he cautiously entered the brush following Allie's trail.
Fannie galloped headlong through the forest weaving agilely around the trees. Allie sawed at the reins trying to pull her up, but she had stiffened her jaw and taken the bit in her teeth. The horse was crazy and just as Allie contemplated jumping off her; the mare plowed her forelegs to the ground and slid to a halt. Allie grabbed wildly for the horn again as she started to go off. She tilted to the left and righted herself as Fannie gave a nicker and pricked her ears.
"There's my girl. How've you been, sweetheart? I missed you," said Heyes soothingly, as he stepped out of the brush leading his gelding. Fannie pranced over to him and chuffed a greeting while Allie stared in shock.
"Miss Harcourt, it's nice to see you again," said Heyes. Allie blankly stared at him, her mind awhirl. "Alyssa, are you okay?" asked Heyes getting a little concerned. So this is who Kid ran off with; leave it to his partner to pick the ripest peach in the orchard. He reached up and helped her dismount his mare. Allie's legs were shaking from the mad dash and the shock at the end of it. She sagged against Heyes's chest for just a second before she straightened and looked at him wide-eyed.
"You're alive," whispered Allie. She knew she should be glad to see him for Jed's sake, but this man unsettled her. He was gripping her forearms, and she instinctively struggled free.
"You don't seem too happy to see me," said Heyes suspiciously. He wondered why. She was afraid of him. What had Kid told her?
"Nonsense, Jed has been completely heart-broken to have lost you, Mr. James," said Allie. Why did she feel so defensive?
Jed? Well, that explains her fear. "I suspect you already know that it's Heyes, Hannibal Heyes," said Heyes with a tight smile, "And, perhaps, I should call you Mrs. Boswell?"
Allie laughed at him, he looked so worried, "Oh no. It's Allie, Miss Allie Golden now. We just felt safer posing as husband and wife."
Heyes gave her a genuine, brilliant smile and she felt her fear subsiding. "Well, Miss Golden, I think we better find my partner, don't you?" he said as he handed over the reins to the gelding and swung onto his mare. Fannie preened with pleasure.
Kid followed the churned up tracks that Heyes's mare had left. If that idiot horse hurt Allie, he really would kill her. He was kicking himself for putting her up on such a fractious mount. Kid was anxious to find her, but moved cautiously through the dense foliage looking for the source of the whistle. There must be one more bandit hiding in the brush and he wasn't about to be surprised again. Kid heard the muffled thumps of hoof beats on the pine duff and he crouched down below a particularly full patch of shrubs. He saw Fannie's head first, and what he saw next caused him to stand up and stare, mouth agape.
"Hey, Kid," said Heyes as though it was the most normal thing in the world for him to come back from the dead. He grinned broadly at Kid and Allie gave her friend a little wave. Heyes pulled up and dismounted in front of his partner who was still staring dumbly at him. "Kid?" said Heyes as he reached out and placed a hand on Kid's shoulder.
His partner jumped back at his touch and stared a moment longer before he smiled. "HEYES!" Kid yelled throwing his arms around his cousin in a suffocating bear hug. He lifted Heyes clear off his feet and swung him around. Tears started to stream down Kid's face, alarming Heyes.
"Hey, Kid, it's okay. Take it easy now," said Heyes softly, as Kid freed him from the hug and stood staring at him; crying freely. Heyes felt his own eyes tear up at the sheer joy he saw reflected in his cousin's eyes. "C'mon, Kid, you're killing me here," said Heyes, before he laughed at the idiocy of what he'd just said. Allie was crying, too, at the happiness she saw on Jed's face. Heyes hugged his little cousin tight again and whispered in his ear, "I'm sorry, Kid, I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I tried to catch up with you as quick as I could."
Allie watched the reunion of the two partners. She was warmed by the softened expression on Hannibal Heyes's face at the sight of his partner. Jed hadn't exaggerated; Heyes obviously loved him as much as Jed loved his cousin. Perhaps she misjudged Heyes; maybe his infamy was coloring her opinion of him.
Heyes released Kid, but kept his hands on his shoulders until he was assured that his friend was steady enough to let go. Kid wiped his eyes and smiled. "Geez, Heyes. I should've known. I should've known you weren't dead, but Annie was there…"
"I know, Kid. I talked to Annie; she told me what she had said. It wasn't me. I got robbed outside of Breck and the poor fool that robbed me took everything. He was parading around in my gear. No one could've known it wasn't me; not with the way he died," said Heyes, shuddering at the thought of what he had seen in the funeral parlor under the piece of brocade.
"I saw your mare at the Clarendon's stable. I knew you were in town, or, I guess, I thought I knew. I left a note for you," said Kid. He was totally in shock. His partner was standing in front of him, looking at him; talking to him; Heyes wasn't dead.
"I never got it, Kid. After I talked to Annie; I knew I had to find you fast. I took the shortcut by Elbert," said Heyes.
Kid didn't know whether to be delighted that his partner had found him or furious that he was still risking his fool neck. He went with delight and gave Heyes another heartfelt hug, before gruffly saying, "Well, being dead sure hasn't hurt your sense of timing, Heyes. Those two bandits had me cold until you whistled for Fannie."
Heyes grinned, "She sure is something, isn't she, Kid?" as he turned and looked proudly at his mare. Kid was looking at Allie as he said, "She sure is, Heyes. She sure is."