The Kid yanked the saddle off his exhausted gelding and swung it over the half-door of the stall behind him. Grabbing up a mud brush, he started cleaning the sweat off the horse's back.
Heyes turned up the lantern that was poorly lighting the dark barn and turned to his cousin. "Kid, let's call a truce okay? I don't want to fight with you. I'm real tired of fighting," said Heyes so glumly that Curry felt himself respond. They hadn't spoken for hours and the ride back to the Hole had been cold in many ways. They'd arrived home just after midnight soaking wet from the unrelenting snow.
"I don't want to fight with you either, but it grates on me that you don't tell me anything any more. Like the fact that you blackmailed Gully."
"I didn't blackmail him, I just called in a favor."
"He didn't see it that way and neither do I; and why didn't tell me about your stash? I thought you were done hiding things from me."
"Kid, we already talked about this. I told you where it was hidden."
"You didn't tell me until I already knew you had it. How come? Was it because you were never going to, because you don't trust me anymore?"
Heyes glared at his partner and slammed down the bridle he was holding. "Of course I trust you! You didn't need to know. It wasn't your money, not until something happened to me."
"So how was I going to find it; you having it so well hidden and all?" The Kid stood still, mentally challenging Heyes to lie to him.
"Soapy has my Will, the instructions are in it. He was gonna give it to you after I was dead," growled Heyes.
"You have a Will? Heyes, I'm sorry, I didn't…"
Heyes plopped down on a bale of straw and put his head in his hands. "You think I'm a liar. That I even lie to you."
"No, I was just hurt that you didn't trust me. Why didn't you tell me?" The Kid felt ashamed. Had he and Heyes grown so far apart that he should doubt his best friend's intentions?
Heyes looked up and snorted, "So you could give it to the needy folk?"
The Kid grinned, "Seems to me you've been doing a fine job of that yourself, partner."
"Where'd all your money go, Kid?" asked Heyes.
"I gave some to Mary Lou to send home to her sick Ma and old Mr. Jenks needed a new wagon to make his deliveries. I don't know about the rest; here and there, I guess." The Kid sank down onto the bale next to Heyes.
"See? That's why I didn't tell you. You run through money like you run through women. Always have. Your Ma used to say you had a hole in your pocket. She was right."
The Kid chuckled ruefully, pleased to hear Heyes speak of his mother. "I guess you've got a point."
"I haven't been lying to you, Kid. I can't lie to you."
"No, listen to me. You are the one person in the whole world that I will never lie to. I can't promise not to stretch the truth or leave a few things out here and there when it suits me-that's my nature-but, I swear I will never outright lie to you."
"You don't need to swear anything to me."
"I ain't swearing it to you, Kid. I'm swearing it to me. If I start lying to you, there won't be anything left of me…anything left of who I was before we started this life. Do you see?" Heyes looked searchingly at his cousin, sincerity etched in his face.
The Kid nodded slowly reassuring his partner that he understood. "I see, and I'm sorry I doubted you. It won't happen again."
Heyes slumped in relief. "Thanks."
Curry stood up and held out a hand to his friend, "C'mon, I'm beat. Let's wait and talk to the boys in the morning. It's late and I'm hungry."
Heyes took the offered hand and allowed the Kid to haul him to his feet. He picked up both their saddlebags and slung them over his shoulder.
"I wonder if there are any left-overs?"
"Let's dump this gear at the cabin and go see," suggested Heyes.
The two tired partners trudged through the muddy yard and onto the porch of their cabin. It was dark inside and the Kid struck a match and lit the small oil lamp he left on the railing for late night returns. He opened the door and walked in holding the lamp up high. Even in the dim light, he could sense that something was out of place. "Someone's been in here, Heyes."
"No kidding," said Heyes, pointing at the floor. "You'd think they'd have learned to wipe their feet by now."
"It's not funny. You know they were looking for the money." The Kid put the lamp down on the kitchen table and lit a large oil lamp in the living area. He opened the doors to his room and Heyes's before coming back to stand in front of his cousin.
"They didn't find anything so now they think it's all gone," smiled Heyes, knowing that Kid was worried about him sitting on a bunch of cash. The Kid nodded and took his saddlebag from his partner carrying it into his room. Heyes looked around again, seeing the faint muddy footprints all around the room. What he didn't say, was that this was a prime example of just how far his authority had slipped and that was bad; very bad.
If the men turned on him, Heyes knew they'd get the Kid out of the way first before they came for him. He couldn't allow that to happen. He'd have to rush the next job to keep things settled down. Geez, he was beginning to hate his life. He needed money fast and he wished with all his heart he could figure out a way out of the outlaw life before it took everything he had left from him.
The Kid came out of his room and walked for the door. "You coming?"
"Right behind you."
"If we're lucky, there might be some stew left we could heat up," said the Kid, hopefully.
"So there ain't no cook comin'?" growled Wheat. He stood at the front of the other outlaws who were gathered on the porch of the leader's cabin, assuming a leadership position. The snow was falling heavily again and it settled a muffled silence over the rest of the Hole.
"No, there ain't," said the Kid, softly but forcefully, walking up behind the men and facing his partner, his brown hat rapidly becoming white. He'd been checking on his horse in the barn when he'd seen the boys go by heading for the cabin. It was their expressions that had drawn him out, they looked angry, and Wheat was leading them. Everything spelled trouble to the Kid. That's why he spoke up, he wanted the boys to itch with the thought of his pistol at their backs. He'd learned a long time ago that the key to being a successful gunman was understanding how to put fear in a man's heart without even drawing a weapon.
"Now boys, getting a cook is my top priority; I sent a telegram to Soapy and he's gonna send out a cook from one of those fancy restaurants in Denver that he has; someone who's real good at cooking. Trouble is, what with the weather and all, the man won't be here for at least another month or so…" Heyes was talking fast, but not fast enough.
"A month! We ain't gonna last another month without killin' each other," said Kyle.
"We need food now. I ain't eatin' rat stew again. If you can't take care of the gang, we'll find someone who can," Wheat looked at the other men, trying to muster support. "Right, boys?"
The men didn't respond, not in front of Heyes, or the Kid's gun. Of course, they had to admit to themselves, Wheat had a point. Heyes was hiding things from them. What was the money for? Were he and the Kid planning on taking off and leaving the rest of them high and dry?
"Rat stew? Who said anything about rat stew?" asked a baffled Heyes, ignoring Wheat's tiresome threats.
"I made my grandpa's special recipe. Took me all day, and these yahoots turned their noses up at it!" said Kyle, still annoyed at his favorite dish being shunned.
"Well, there's no accounting for taste is there, Kyle?" Heyes crossed his arms and looked at his men. "Look, it won't be that long. The Kid and I will do the cooking until the new man arrives."
"We will?" The Kid was frowning at Heyes. His partner nodded at him, mutely asking him to go along. He did. "We will. I brought back all sorts of stores and I promise you it'll be good."
"You ain't making the coffee, are you, Heyes?" said Lobo, suspiciously.
"No, the Kid can do it if you want."
Grudging nods happened all around and, one by one, the men drifted off the porch and trudged through the muddy snow towards the bunkhouse. Finally, only Kyle was left. Heyes chuckled, "Did you really serve them rat stew?"
Kyle grew defensive, "It's real good. They liked it just fine until they knew what was in it. John thought it was so good, he wants the recipe for his mama."
"Well, at least John liked it." said Heyes.
"Well, someone else must've, too, 'cause they ate the rest of it last night," smiled Kyle, stepping off the porch and walking away. A stunned Heyes stared at an alarmed Kid Curry.
"When is this damn snow gonna stop? It's March already," groused the Kid. He was playing solitaire at the kitchen table, bored to death at being indoors.
Heyes was at his desk and crouched over a piece of paper, scribbling across it, making plans for the next job. He had to iron out the details quickly. The boys needed another heist to keep the peace. Heyes's and the Kid's cooking wasn't that great and the men were beginning to grumble again. "Hmm?"
"I said: when is the snow stopping?"
"I don't want it to stop. It's gonna be real important to the next job."
"You keep dropping hints about the next one. Don't you think it's time to let me in on it?"
Heyes sat up and smiled at his partner. He knew that the Kid was still feeling a little left out. "Sure, come over here and let me show you what I've got. I've been waiting for you to ask."
The Kid stood up, pleased, "You have?"
"Yep, it's nearly ready. I need you to look these plans over and fill in any holes you find."
The Kid sat down at the chair Heyes vacated and read the paper in front of him. After a few minutes, he chuckled once, then twice, and broke out into loud laughter, "Only you, Heyes. Only you!"
Heyes laughed, too, but stopped as the Kid sifted through the papers and pulled out an envelope glancing at it.
"What's this?" demanded the Kid, scowling, and turning around to look at his partner.
Heyes had forgotten he'd left that on his desk. He wanted to sidestep the question, but he didn't dare given the Kid's recent concerns about his character. "It's a letter."
Curry stood up and confronted Heyes, "I can see it's a damn letter, Heyes. What I want to know is why are you writing to the railroad?"
"Give me that." Heyes grabbed the envelope out of his partner's hand. He didn't want to get into this; it was just going to lead to another fight and he was tired of all the tension in the gang as it was.
The Kid wasn't going to let it go, though, "I asked you a question, Heyes. You said you weren't going to lie to me."
"Fine!" Heyes started pacing around the kitchen table. He wanted to be sure to have the table between him and his cousin when he admitted what he was doing. "Look, Kid, I've had it with being dead. It ain't all that great. Someone spots me alive and I'm still in the same fix as I was; maybe worse because a man died in my name."
"So, I thought this string of robberies would've made someone sit up and say, Heyes is back, but it hasn't. Poker Annie already came forward and retracted her identification of the body, but nobody's listening to her. Wells turned a deaf ear to their own men on this last job, all but calling the rumors outright lies."
"I don't get it; why does it bother you? I mean no one's looking for you. Or, is it your ego that's troubling you?"
Heyes paused his pacing and smiled tightly. "Yeah, well, maybe a little, after all, we did the jobs, we should get the glory. But, it's more than that; they're still looking for you, aren't they? I still ride with you, don't I? What do you think is gonna happen when someone, say some sheriff who knows me, sees me riding with you? They're going to start wondering how did good old Clint die and just how much was I involved in his demise? How long do you think it would be before I found a murder charge attached to my newly printed wanted poster? What's more, if you're riding with me, how long do you think it's would be before someone decided you were in on it, too, and tacked that same charge on your head?"
That got the Kid's attention. He considered his partner's words and realized that Heyes was right. There were big risks to both of them if Heyes continued to be dead. "What are you gonna do about it?"
Heyes shook the letter he held. "This is what I'm gonna do."
"Write a letter? Dear Sirs, I'm alive and I'll be robbing you shortly?" snorted the Kid.
"I'm writing a personal letter to the Manager of the railroad."
"I see that, but why?"
"Let's just say that I have some information that's going to be embarrassing for them when it gets out."
"Heyes, you aren't planning to blackmail the railroad, are you?" groaned the Kid.
"No, I'm not. What I am planning to do is to make it plain to someone, someone who'll be listened to, that I'm alive." Heyes gripped the back of the chair he stood behind. It was clear to his partner that he was committed to this plan.
"How are you gonna do that?" The Kid pulled out the chair opposite from Heyes and sat down. Heyes leaned towards him across the kitchen table.
"Remember when we robbed that train a few years ago—the one outside of Cheyenne?"
"Well, I found something in the safe; a registered letter from the Manager to the President of the railroad. Let's just say, that letter never got to where it was going and our railroad friends know it was in the safe that I opened. It was on the manifest of stolen goods. The law knows I took it and so do the newspapers."
"Didn't they up our rewards after that job?"
"Because you had the letter?"
"Probably, but I forgot all about it. I never even read it, just tucked it away in my desk with a bunch of other mail that had been in the safe. It slipped down a crack at the back of the desk. The railroad probably figured I'd thrown it away. I came across it this morning when I was digging around for some more paper."
"You never read it? That ain't like you," observed the Kid.
"I know. It just got lost in the shuffle," Heyes chuckled, but sobered quickly, "I read it today. I wish I'd read it when I took it, it's real bad. The railroad doesn't want this to get out."
"Great, that's just great; like they aren't already mad enough at us. Okay, what's so damning about this letter?"
"There's a bunch of ranchers who fought the railroad coming through their land. They refused to have it cross their properties and the railroad didn't have time to take it legally by Imminent Domain since they were in a race to span the West. Instead, they sent a front man in to buy up what they needed. They do that all the time when it suits them. Only they didn't choose real well this time, and this man ended up burning down a ranch house, killing a woman and her two children. The railroad worked real hard to cover it up and the details are in this letter."
"Geez, that's pretty damning. Shouldn't you be sending this to the law?"
"I am, but when has the law sided against the railroad? Besides, the man acted alone, the railroad's crime was in covering it up after they found out about it."
"But this is murder."
"I know. That's why I'm also sending a letter to the Cheyenne Leader."
"The Leader? Ain't that owned by a bunch of cattlemen?"
"It is. That woman and her kids deserve justice, Kid."
The Kid nodded his agreement and his chest rumbled with laughter, "You're gonna have the whole West screaming you're alive."
"It's about time. I've done everything I can think of short of announcing who we are at the beginning of a job."
Several weeks later, the Kid and Heyes watched from their rockers on the sunny porch of the leader's cabin as Hank and Lobo rode into the yard leading a heavily laden mule. The two had taken a few days off to party in Belton. Heyes had started a rotation of time off to help improve morale by sending his men, two at a time, to blow off steam and pick up supplies in the nearby town.
The cooking hadn't improved yet, but the grumbling sure had. Spring was just around the corner and the weather was looking up, too. Snowstorms still blew through the Hole, but less frequently, and they were often followed by warm spells like this one. It wouldn't be long before conditions were right for the next job and Heyes wanted his men ready to steal.
"The boys look relaxed. When are you and me gonna take a turn riding into town?" asked the Kid, leaning back in his chair, and raising his face to the warm sunlight. He sure could use a good meal for a change; and, a lovely lady, too.
Heyes drew on his cigar as he watched Lobo and Hank unpacking the mule and carrying the gear into the barn and the food to the cookhouse. It was his turn to cook tonight. Hell, he was getting tired of eating his own slop. A night in town sounded good to him, too, but now wasn't the time. If all went well, they'd be pulling the next job in a few days. He glanced up at the sky, pleased to see a few clouds drifting in. He just might be the only man in the Hole wishing for more snow and it looked like it could happen.
"Soon, Kid. Real soon."
"Brought you something, Heyes," said Hank, walking towards his leaders, grinning widely, and holding up a newspaper. A giant headline leapt off the front page. "Hannibal Heyes Is Alive! Reveals Railroad Tragedy!"
Heyes came trotting down the steps to meet Hank. He grabbed the paper, grinned at the Kid, and laughed wickedly, "It's about time!"