A hurt/ comfort story plus. I have borrowed these characters with thanks and with no idea of violating copyright or making any money, but only to tell a story. The symptoms of the malady as portrayed are entirely fictional, arranged purely for creative purposes and not intended to hurt any sufferers. My apologies to those who wrote the original television scrip that inspired me to strike the victim with this malady. Let's just say that we know the actor in question could pull it off wonderfully! Most of the locations and institutions (not including bars or medical institutions) cited are real, but the people are invented. I have my own much darker story that replaces that pilot, as is reflected in this story. This story is dedicated to the teachers among our readers. You'll need to be very patient to find out why.
Two dusty horses in worn western rig, a tall claybank dun and a stocky dark bay with a black head, were stumbling with weariness as they clattered up a rocky slope in the Flatiron Mountains. The sun was setting beyond the mountains to their right; it was getting hard for their two exhausted riders to see the way. The dark haired young man on the dun pushed his battered black hat back for a better view as he and his partner with wavy honey blonde hair pulled up, listening and peering into the dim distance behind them. They heard the faint echoes of rapid hoof-beats on stone. "Ah shit, that posse's still coming! Don't they know it's gettin' too dark to track? And too cold?!" Kid Curry, shivering even in his heavy fleece coat, addressed his exasperated rhetorical question to his partner in crime, and now in the search for amnesty, Hannibal Heyes.
"Tonight we'll be in a nice, warm cell if we don't move on – now. Come on, Kid. One more push before we find someplace to get out of the cold," said Heyes wearily, pushing his black hat back down onto his head.
"And where'll that be?" muttered the Kid sarcastically as the two former outlaws turned their horses' heads to the south and spurred on again. There was surely no promise before them of anything but a long, cold, dangerous ride in the rugged mountains with a determined posse on their tails. No matter how straight they had gone in the past two years, they could never seem to avoid the unwanted attention brought by the price of $10,000 on each of their heads, dead or alive.
The way was rough, rocky, and icy. The horses had to wade through occasional drifts of snow. Not five minutes after their brief pause Heyes felt his worn out horse slip on a patch of ice and stumble. He leapt off as it went down to its knees. The tall gelding scrambled to stand, but held his left foreleg up limply, bleeding. Heyes bent over the leg, feeling it. The horse threw its head up and grunted in pain. Heyes looked up at Curry, stricken. He had gotten close to this horse as they rode into town after town, and too often out again when someone had recognized them or seemed likely to. But far more than the welfare of the horse was on his mind. "Clay's not going on, Kid, not with me in the saddle. It's too dark – I can't see proper, but it's not good . . ." Heyes' voice was low and desperate. The pursuing posse was so close now that the pair of reformed outlaws couldn't talk aloud without risking being overheard in the echoing mountains. "No way can beat that bunch back there if we got to ride double."
Curry looked around and pointed, eyebrows raised in question, to a rocky outcropping behind Heyes. There they could wait and be invisible from the trail. The Kid patted the gun tied down on his right hip. He asked, "What else can we do? When they catch up, if they come this way, we'll be waiting and we have more bullets than they have men. If we can get the jump on them . . . You know those guys'll take the first choice on 'wanted dead or alive.'"
Heyes hesitated for an instant, and then nodded reluctantly. Murder was, and had always been, absolutely the last thing they wanted to do. The two second cousins never wanted to have anyone feel about them the way they felt about the men who had murdered their families two decades before. Of course, the sentence of hanging was also deeply unappealing. But it looked like it might be murder or death. Even if Curry's estimate of their pursuer's plans was wrong, they were due to serve twenty years in prison per count of armed robbery – and that was a lot of counts. Kid had lost track of how many, though he suspected that Heyes knew precisely.
Curry dismounted and helped Heyes to coax his injured horse behind the outcropping. Then both men mounted up on Curry's gelding, ready to ride if they had to. Heyes was in front and Curry up behind where he would be free to use his deadly skill with a six-gun to shoot at pursuers. Both men had their pistols ready in their hands and the horse stood parallel to the path so they would both have a clear shot when they ambushed their pursuers. They just hoped it wouldn't come to that.
In the distance, they heard the posse getting closer. But their pursuers were moving more slowly over the rough, icy terrain in the fast fading light. It was so dark now that Curry and Heyes could hardly see anything. The red-brown rocks began to look black and the snow caught between the rocks turned dark grey. They could hear the approaching men more and more clearly. When the posse was only a couple of hundred yards away the horses stopped. There was a quiet but vehement argument going on, evidently between those in favor of continuing the pursuit and the ones who wanted to turn back for the night. Heyes and Curry froze and strained to hear what was said. But their pursuers kept their voices too low.
At last, the hoof beats of five horses echoed off the rocks again. Which way were they going? Without looking out from behind the rock where they were hidden, Heyes and Curry could not be sure. They listened tensely.
Eventually the two could hear that the hoof beats of the posse were getting softer. Their pursuers were going back toward the north where they had come from. Heyes and Curry exhaled with relief, but they remained hidden and quiet. It could easily be a trap, and they could be seen or heard if they emerged from their hiding place too soon. After they had waited for a while the guys were getting chilled and impatient in the growing darkness.
At last, Heyes urged their horse out from behind the rocks so they could see where the posse was. "There they go." He whispered, pointing across a valley toward where a faint glimmer of the setting sun caught the distant retreating figures riding over the distant rocks before they were swallowed by shadows. The partners began to relax – at least the immediate threat was gone. Now they would just have to find that place out of the cold that Heyes had spoken of. He was already looking south and thinking about their route. Curry gazed after the retreating posse, from whom they heard the soft echo of arguing voices. Some of the posse members weren't leaving the chase of their $20,000 prey willingly. The posse emerged from the shadows for a moment as they routed around a peak. Curry saw a tiny speck of light as the setting sun glinted off the barrel of a gun that was waving around randomly. The muzzle flashed and a shot rang out. It ricocheted loudly before the posse disappeared into the distant shadows again.
At nearly the same moment that he heard the shot, Curry felt Heyes' head jerk back against his own. "Heyes!" the Kid cried, but his partner didn't answer. Heyes was out cold. It was all Curry could do to keep his partner's dead weight balanced in the saddle. For a shot fired at random and bouncing off a rock, it had hit with uncanny accuracy. Curry steadied his partner with his left arm and felt around the man's head delicately with his right hand. It didn't take long for him to find the blood coursing from under the long dark hair on the left side of Heyes' face. The wound was a deep diagonal graze across the temple, about three inches long and plowed bloodily wide by the flattened bullet.
"Not again!" the Kid moaned. But yes, Heyes had been shot in the head, again. Curry felt sick to his stomach as he remembered the last time Heyes had caught a bullet in the head, more than a year before when they had been hunting mountain lions. Then they had been hunted themselves, by a serial murderer, outside a berg called Hollistown. This new wound seemed to be a bit deeper than the shallow but bruising graze Heyes has suffered before. Curry leaned his head against Heyes' back and listened. His partner's heartbeat was slow and faltering. If Jedediah Curry had ever prayed in his life, he prayed then. And slowly Heyes' heartbeat grew steadier and stronger. If he was going to die, it seemed that it wouldn't be right away. While keeping his unconscious partner balanced in the saddle, the Kid took off his bandana and clumsily bound up the wound. The improvised bandage didn't do much good. The long scalp wound was still bleeding all too much. The Kid was glad at least that he had been able to keep Heyes in the saddle – a fall onto the rocks would have been fatal and there was no way for Curry to dismount unaided without letting his partner fall.
The Kid's mind raced. Where could he go for help? They weren't too many miles from Boulder and Denver – he would have to be very careful where he went and who he met. Their Devil's Hole gang had struck the Merchants Bank in Denver only three years ago. There were some who would remember the gang and maybe even their faces. Heyes, as usual, had worked out the detailed plan of the Denver robbery. Curry didn't remember the exact routes Heyes had painstakingly mapped around these mountains. During this current scrambling ride away from a posse, the Kid had been counting on his partner to guide him. The only way out of this rocky place that Curry himself knew for sure led back to the north, where the boys had just come from and where the posse was now riding. If the boys met them, neither Curry nor Heyes would live out the night in freedom. No help lay that way. But going in any other direction would be just random wandering in the rocks.
There was one other option that Curry could think of. He looped his lariat around Heyes and himself a few times to help hold the unconscious man in the saddle. Then he held Heyes with his right arm and felt in front of his partner with his left hand, groping for the reins. "Come on Blackie!" he said urgently to the horse, "Take us home!" There was no home anywhere near, but horses were said to be able to find a good place, if you asked them. Curry and Heyes had called on horses to do this more than once and they had always come through. The dark gelding stood for a moment, sniffing the air. Then he began to walk, slowly and uncertainly, swinging his head back and forth. He stumbled on loose rocks, weary under the double load. Curry frantically fought to keep Heyes safely in the saddle. He worried as Blackie scrambled and paused and scrambled again. Soon the Kid could tell that his horse was as lost as he was. Blackie wasn't used to leading - he usually followed Heyes' horse, Clay.
Clay whickered softly in the dark. The claybank dun was limping heavily, but he headed confidently to the southeast, taking the lead just as he had done when Heyes was in the saddle. Clay evidently did know where he was going. It was a good thing, because the sun was gone now and the slender moon overhead was not enough for Curry to see anything beyond the wounded man in front of him. The night vision of the horses was all he had to go on.
Clay and Blackie walked slowly in tandem along narrow mountain trails. Pine boughs and stone outcroppings scraped past them in the dark. Curry held Heyes in his arms and now and then leaned forward to listen to his partner's heartbeat. It stayed too faint for comfort, but steady. After a few hours Curry was fighting sleep, struggling not to slide off his perch behind the saddle. He came back to himself to find that Clay had led them onto a dirt road. Soon Curry could see lights in the distance and they were in a town. The Kid heard a tinny piano playing and voices from a saloon that would be the only business still opened. "Thanks, boys." The Kid said softly to the horses. "I'll find someone to look after you guys as soon as I get a doctor for Heyes." Had Heyes been awake he might have teased the Kid for talking to the horses like they understood, but Heyes was far from conscious.
Curry rode down the dark street toward the lights and voices. Clay walked beside the Kid's horse, just as if he had had a rider in the saddle. The Kid leaned forward to check Heyes' heart beat just in time to hear it skip once, twice. "Christ, don't fail now! We're almost there." the Kid moaned. He didn't dare urge his horse to trot – if Heyes fell or was shaken around he was sure to die. Getting to the saloon was the longest, slowest ride Curry ever remembered. Gradually, Heyes' heart steadied again, but Curry didn't trust it.
As they reached the front of the saloon, Curry heard a man's slurred shout, "Hey, mister, you alright?"
The Kid leaned around Heyes' sagging form and shouted down to the inebriated cowboy in the street below. "No, he ain't! Is there a doctor in town? Man's shot bad – in the head."
The cowboy in the street shouted back into the saloon. A dozen poured out the swinging doors, knocking the stumbling drunk off his feet. Curry unwound the rope that had held Heyes in the saddle and soon the men from the saloon had gotten the injured man off the horse and were carrying him in the door as gently as they could. Curry wearily dragged his far leg over the saddle, dropped to the ground, tied up his horse, and followed the group carrying his partner. A slender blonde woman in a modest brown dress joined the crowd of men. They called to her - "Miss Christy, man's been shot! Shot in the head!" Someone shouted. "Jake's gone to get the doc."
The woman in brown seemed young, but she took charge. Her clear voice rang out as more revealingly dressed dance hall girls came to join the throng: "Here, get him into the back room, on the bed - there. Careful, don't drop him! Here, let's get these pillows under him and keep his head up. Peggy, bring me some clean water and a towel. Somebody get me some extra pillows from the store room. Now, you guys go back out front and leave us alone. Peggy and the doc and I can handle this." A petite brunette dance hall girl ran in with a basin and towel for Miss Christy, who bent over Heyes and blotted the bloody wound. Her gentle hands seemed at odds with her strong, confident voice. She looked up at the Kid. He was startled to see how sad her blue eyes looked.
Curry grabbed off his hat and introduced them with their standard aliases, "Miss, I'm Thaddeus Jones and this here's my partner, Joshua Smith, been shot. I'm mighty grateful to you for your kindness." Curry hoped desperately that she wouldn't ask how his partner had come to be shot. He had lies ready, but doubted she would believe them. Miss Christy seemed to have a good head on her shoulders – maybe too good.
Soon the doctor arrived at the run. The thin, graying man with a medical bag in his hand bent over Mr. Smith and looked grave. He cut away the hair around the wound so he could work, then cleaned the wound and pulled the skin together with some stitches. It was only the skin he could mend at all; the frightening damage below he couldn't touch. The doctor tied a heavy bandage around Joshua's head to keep the wound safely covered. The doctor said to Mr. Jones and Miss Christy, "I don't have to tell you this is a bad wound. It's a miracle you got him here alive, mister. He may not make it. That's up to God, not me. All we can do is to keep him warm and still and quiet and watch him carefully. Keep his head up just the way it is, braced with pillows. Let me know instantly if he moves or wakes. Don't let him get up or move around if he does wake. I wish we knew more about brain injuries, but we know too little!"
"Thank you, Doctor," said Curry, "I'm Thaddeus Jones. I want to thank you for helpin' out my partner – he's Joshua Smith."
"I'm glad to do what little I can, Mr. Jones," said the doctor. "My name is Grauer. Don't hesitate to call on me if anything changes or you have questions."
As the doctor left, the young lady in the brown dress said, "Mr. Jones, I'm Catherine Christy. Folks call me Cat. I own this place and you're both welcome to stay here. The doctor's office is real close and he lives above the office, so we can get him right quick if we need him for your partner."
Curry left Miss Christy in charge and went out to look after the horses. It took a while to rouse anyone, but eventually a man who slept in the hay loft responded to the Kid's shouts and bangs on the livery stable door. The sleepy-eyed man bandaged up Clay's leg and said he would look after both horses. Clay's leg was cut up and strained badly. A little extra tip helped the Kid feel sure that the horses would get good care. But he was nervous – he didn't have much cash and doubted that his partner had much in his pockets to pay for the hotel stay for them both and medical care for Heyes.
Back at Christy's Hotel and Saloon the Kid was glad to find that Miss Christy had warmed some stew for him and given him a room just up the stairs from where Heyes was. The injured man was installed in Miss Christy's own bed in a little back room next to the kitchen. She smiled at Jones bleakly. He could see in her eyes that she held out as little hope for Mr. Smith as Mr. Jones did, but she wouldn't say it. "I'll watch him, Mr. Jones. Your friend will be warm and comfortable here. Don't you worry. You go and get some sleep – I can see you've had a real hard time."
Heyes lay so still and looked so pale that Kid could hardly stand to look at him, yet he stood and gazed down for a while, as if hoping that somehow Heyes would wake up and be fine. Curry was glad to see that Miss Christy had had another bed brought into the room and put it by where Heyes' slept so she could be near if the wounded man needed help. He thanked her so many times that she finally told him to stop and again urged him to go to his room and get some sleep. At last the Kid stumbled up the stairs and hardly got his boots off before he was asleep.
But nightmares disturbed Curry's sleep. He was fleeing from someone – all alone. He kept calling for Heyes but he got no answer.