Heyes banged his heavily laden tray down on the bunkhouse table, spilling the beer over the rims of the full mugs. "Dig in; you've earned a few beers." Laughter rippled around the table and greedy hands grabbed the mugs, pulling them to eager lips. He had just finished splitting up the loot and had a haunch of beef grilling over an open fire in the yard. Spirits were running high all around the room. They'd celebrate tonight and tomorrow they'd go their separate ways for a while. Heyes was relieved that they'd managed to get through the winter without a new cook.
Wall-eyed and John were staying on at the Hole to keep an eye on things, but the rest of them had other plans. Spring had arrived and the snow was melting quickly. While the weather was improving, it could be unseasonably warm one day and snowing the next. The ground was turning into a quagmire and Heyes knew that his men had no desire to work until the mountains dried out. They'd meet up here again in mid-May.
Wheat surfaced from his brew first, his mustache dripping ale. He raised his mug and grinned, "To warm weather and warm women."
"You heading south, Wheat?" asked the Kid, lifting his mug and drinking deeply.
"Yep. Kyle and me are hoppin' a train to Brownsville day after tomorrow. I've got an old friend down that way; made a fortune smugglin' cotton durin' the war. Got himself a big fancy casa on the Rio Grande and filled it with pretty senoritas."
"Wheat says we might even go to the ocean. I ain't never seen the Gulf of Mexico," added Kyle, grinning with pleasure.
"Me and Hank are going to Tucson," said Lobo, "Where are you headed?"
Heyes deflected the question. "John, you sure you're okay with staying on here?" He'd noticed the disconsolate expression Garcia was wearing.
John nodded, "Magdalena sent a telegram last week to Mr. Jakes for me. She wants me to stay away. The Federales have been making surprise raids. Took my neighbor's goats and burned his house down. She's afraid of what they'd do if they found me there." John had a faraway look in his eyes and his friends knew he was missing his family.
He had been in the states so long that he'd nearly lost his accent and could pass for a Texan with little trouble. Maybe it was a sign that he was supposed to stay here. He wondered if and when he'd ever get to go home. He loved his wife and kids but he could barely remember the dusty little farm he'd ridden away from so many years ago; when he had ceased being Juan and become John. The creased photograph of his Magdalena was so worn from him rubbing his cheek across it that her face had all but disappeared. His oldest boy was grown, eighteen now, and the man of the family; the youngest had been a baby when he left. Would they ever welcome him back or were they content to live their lives without him?
Wheat cleared his throat drawing attention away from John and giving the man a chance to pull himself together. He knew how hard it was to be an outcast from the only family you'd known. His pa had driven him off when he wasn't quite fourteen. "Heyes, what I wanna know is how you knew where that mess of snow was gonna land."
Pleased to keep the conversation steered away from his own future plans, Heyes smiled smugly. "When the Kid and I scouted that area, we knew we wanted to stop the train on the uphill grade since that's where it'd be going the slowest; but that raised other problems. The only place to hide was that stand of trees a good forty yards from the tracks."
The Kid grinned and leaned forward, eager to join in. "The snow was already deep along that stretch being that it was north facing and shaded by the peak. Me and Heyes knew we'd never get to the train from those trees without being sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. Snowshoes would work to get us there, but we'd have to walk too slowly and we'd be picked off before we made it. I can tell you, we scratched our heads over it for long time, but we kept coming up empty."
Heyes picked up the conversation again, "Since we had to catch the train going by once or twice so we could get the timing down right, we ended up camping in those trees for a couple of days. It snowed the second night we were there. You remember that big wet snow last month?"
Wheat nodded. He was hanging on every word. If he wanted to be leader, he knew he had to learn how to come up with clever plans. He'd have no problem with a regular robbery, but few robberies proved to be standard and this one certainly hadn't been. He was nobody's fool and he knew he could still learn a thing or two from Heyes, much as he hated to admit it to himself. Sure as hell, he wasn't about to admit it to anyone else.
The men were spellbound listening to their leader explaining how he had worked out the details; they all appreciated a good plan. Each of them had made out well on this job and they could finally afford to take a break and have some fun. Lobo was lying on his bunk with his eyes closed, drinking it all in. Someday he'd try his hand at a robbery where he didn't have to share the take. Right now, he had a hard time taking his mind off the thought of the poker and women in Tucson, but he wanted to know the answer to Wheat's question, too.
Hank was mending his girth in the rocker by the woodstove. A couple of strands of the wool had frayed and he wanted it in good condition for the long ride south. He was barely listening, contented to be a follower; his life was a whole lot less complicated that way.
"Well, the morning after the snow, I got up early to make coffee. I poured myself a cup while it was still brewing, then went over and sat on a downed tree to watch the sun rise while I waited for the Kid to wake up. We'd sat up late, talking things over, trying to come up with a plan that wouldn't be too risky. The sun was halfway up the sky and he still wasn't stirring, so I walked up to the edge of the trees and studied the tracks. I couldn't get up close to the rails because I couldn't afford to leave footprints that might be seen from a train. That's what did it."
"Did what?" asked Kyle. Both of his elbows were on the table and he was resting his head in his hands, avidly waiting for the next part of the story.
"Triggered the plan," said the Kid, beaming now at his brilliant partner. "Heyes figured it out because he could see the big picture."
"How so?" asked Wall-eyed.
Heyes set down his beer and gestured with his hands. "I was looking up at those two, big cornices wondering if they were going to be a problem. Thinking how, if we got too much more snow, they'd avalanche, covering the tracks, and we'd lose our chance to take the train. While I was standing there, a chunk of rotten snow broke off and caused a small slide. That's when it struck me how the snow slid right down that channel in the mountain just like coal down a chute."
"Heyes got so excited, he booted me awake. Fortunately for him, I got what he was babbling at me before I tanned him good." The Kid leaned back in his chair, lifting it onto its back legs.
"I still don't get it," said Wheat.
"The snow funneled down the mountain according to the contours of the hillside. It slipped and slid its way down the chute until it lost steam. All we had to do was to wait for enough snow to fall on the cornices so that when they slid, the avalanche would go all the way to the tracks. You could see, clear as day, exactly where the snow would end up. It would stop the train and we'd have the element of surprise."
"But how'd you know you had enough snow?" asked Wheat.
"There's a formula for everything, Wheat," smiled Heyes. "All I had to do was estimate how much had broken off, how far it had traveled, approximate its weight, and come up with an idea of how much more snow needed to pile up on the cornices in order to make it to the tracks. The dynamite would guarantee that it all came down."
"Yeah, and it wasn't exact science. All we needed was enough snow to snap a few trees and drag them down the hillside. If the snow didn't stop the train, the debris would," said the Kid, almost as smug as Heyes. He'd loved this plan. Very little risk and lots of rewards. If only all of Heyes's plans could all be so easy.
"Huh," said Wheat, sitting back in his chair. "Lucky for you, it snowed again."
The Kid patted his bulging shirt pocket. "Lucky for all of us."
A single finger rose up, pushing the brim of the brown hat up. The Kid opened his drowsy eyes and turned to his partner. "Tell me again why we didn't just go south."
Heyes pulled the collar of his grey jacket up and hunched his shoulders, settling into his seat again. The Denver Pacific train lurched along the rails at a steady clip. He and the Kid had ridden with Kyle and Wheat for two days in miserable wet weather to pick up their trains in Greeley. The wetter they'd gotten, the surlier they had all had become. Wheat and Kyle had left the next day on a southbound train. The Kid and Heyes boarded the Denver train early this morning.
The Kid hadn't said a word since they'd hopped the train; instead, he'd pulled his hat down and fell into an exhausted sleep. "I've got some business to take care of in Denver. You can head south if you want," said Heyes.
"And leave you prancing around Denver alone? Nope, can't do that; not with you risen from the dead." The Kid closed his eyes again, and quickly fell back to sleep.
Turning his attention out the window, Heyes watched the miles roll by. The mountains were a soft charcoal in the early morning light. Their jagged peaks outlined against the clear blue sky. He loved this land; the sheer immensity of it all; the sky, the space, the lack of people. But it was changing, people were moving West in huge numbers looking for free land and fresh starts. Homesteading was on the rise. How long would it be before his beloved West was teeming like the eastern cities?
The buffalo were already nearly gone; massacred by the Army in an effort to subdue the Indian threat. The stately creatures had populated the plains by the billions. Now their bones littered the prairies and high desert; the meat stripped from them and shipped east as a novelty food for a greedy population. It had worked, too, the Indians were suffering, their lives forever altered by the loss of the once plentiful bison.
The gold and silver rushes had begun mid-century and the Indians' fate had been sealed by the clash of cultures. Thousands of hopeful prospectors had swarmed to the Rockies and the Sierras. Filthy mining camps sprang up in the most unlikely of places and grew into towns which drew more people hoping to find prosperity in the rapidly growing West. When Heyes had been a child, the native population had been a real threat. Caution and diplomacy had been demanded when traveling through their lands. Now, as an outlaw, he rarely encountered Indians, although uprisings were common. The slaughter of the buffalo was a key plan in the army's war on the Indians, but the real battle would be won by attrition caused by starvation and disease. The Army was turning its sights on the outlaws, too, its goal to sweep the West clean of all perceived pestilents. He and the Kid included.
Well, he was doing his best to keep the West undesirable for the honest folk. A few more winters like this last one and the Army would forget about the Indians and lay siege to Devil's Hole. Heyes chuckled softly and settled back into his own seat. He pulled his hat down to hide his face from his fellow travelers, pulled a book from his pocket, and began to read. He and the Kid never slept in public at the same time. It was his turn to keep watch.
"Mr. James! Mr. Boswell! Over here!" Heyes swung his head around looking for the source of the voice calling out their former aliases. He hadn't meant to use the same ones as he had on the last trip to Denver and he was irritated at being recognized. He felt exposed, waiting by the train for their baggage, and glanced at his partner who gestured at a small, slim man hurrying towards them down the long platform. It was a second or two before Heyes realized it was Corky. Gone were the worn, plain clothes his spy had favored and, in their place, was an elegant suit of fine fabric. The young burglar looked much more the young banker. He stopped breathlessly in front of the two infamous outlaws.
"Good to see you, Corky," said the Kid.
"It's Charles now, Mr. Boswell, and it's grand to see you, too." Charles held out his hand, shaking Curry's firmly. "I'm here to pick you up for Mr. Saunders."
"Charles?" Heyes wondered what had evinced such a dramatic change in his employee; even his speech was more polished and less accented.
"Yes sir. It's my real name. My blokes called me Corky, but my ma christened me Charles. Mr. Saunders told me I needed a man's name if I was going to go very far in business." Charles tugged at his suit jacket and straightened his sleeves as Heyes raised his eyebrows. His former mentor had apparently found another protégé.
"He's taken me under his wing, sir. Says I have a real talent for making money. I'm running some of his games for him now and, he says if I work real hard at it, I might be almost as good as you someday." Noting the outlaw's surprise at the praise, Charles reddened thinking he'd been too forward. That was another thing Mr. Saunders had told him; he needed to let his brain catch up with his mouth.
The porter handed down Heyes's carpetbag and the Kid's saddlebags. Heyes took them and set them down on the platform by his feet, reaching into his pocket for a tip. Charles reached for them, but the Kid waved him off, picking the luggage up. "I've got it. You don't need to wait on us, Co…Charles."
"Yes sir. Thank you, sir. The carriage is waiting for us in front of the station." Charles started walking. "Mr. James, I want you to know that my new responsibilities have in no way interfered with my working for you. I am still keeping our network running smoothly."
"I know you are and you're doing a great job. That last bit of information was very lucrative for us and I'm grateful. When we get to Soapy's place, I'll show you just how grateful that is," grinned Heyes reassuringly to his young friend.
Charles beamed. "I've come across a new tidbit that I think will also please you."
Jordan opened the ornately carved front door and smiled at the sight of his two favorite reprobates standing on the doorstep. "Mr. Heyes, Mr. Curry, welcome. Please come in." He stepped outside and held the door as they entered, watching Charles pulling the carriage around the back of the house.
"Thank you, Jordan, is Soapy in?" Heyes pulled off his black hat and grey jacket handing them to the butler. The Kid shrugged off his sheepskin coat, placing it and his brown hat on the coat rack tucked into the corner of the hallway.
"Yes sir, Mr. Saunders is in his study. May I say how good it is to see you again? I understand from the newspapers that you've had an extremely profitable winter. Congratulations to you both." He was proud of them, having had no small hand in taming these two as wild teenagers.
"It's good to see you, too." Heyes walked down the hall to the double doors of Soapy's study and pulled them open.
The Kid peeked through the doorway over his cousin's shoulder and saw their friend bent over his desk, writing. He cleared his throat and the older man looked up, frowning at the interruption. A smile sprang to his face upon recognizing his dear friends.
"Don't just stand there, come in. Come in and have a seat." Soapy stood up and gestured to the two armchairs arranged across from his desk. He picked up a fireplace poker and stirred the ashes in the hearth in hopes of coaxing a little more warmth from them.
"Soapy, let me do that," Heyes walked over and picked up a couple of split logs from the holder, placing them on the fire grate, then using the bellows, he fanned the coals into flames.
"It always was your job, wasn't it, Heyes?" smiled Soapy fondly.
"Yeah, and I had to take out the garbage," laughed the Kid, "No favoritism here."
"The last time you built a fire in this house, young man, you left a trail of soot from here to the kitchen door you can still see on my good oriental carpets," chided Soapy, but without any real rancor. He sat down, signaling the younger men to do the same. "So you have my curiosity aroused. To what do I owe this visit?"
"We're just taking a break and what better place to blow off a little steam than in Denver with our good friend?" replied Heyes sincerely.
"Shame on you, Heyes, trying to con an old con," chuckled Soapy, pulling a bottle from his desk drawer and reaching back inside for three glasses. He set them upright on the desktop and poured a small measure of scotch into each one.
"Heyes says he has some business to take care of." Curry took the offered glass and ignored his partner's exasperated glare.
"Business? Is there something I can help you with, Heyes? I'm assuming you need my help, of course," said Soapy kindly. He handed Heyes a drink and sat back down at his desk waiting for his former student to tell him what he needed.
Heyes looked at the Kid pointedly, annoyed to have been put on the spot. "I want to change my will. I want to add a bequest to Allie. I know she doesn't want money from me and I know it wouldn't do her any good if she was tied to a notorious outlaw but, if I was dead, it would be a different story. I could leave the money with you and you could give it to her directly. No one would know where it came from, except you, my executor. She'd know it was from me, she's not stupid, but she'd have a hard time giving it back." Heyes sat back in the chair and smiled. He'd thought long and hard about this; by funding the Second Chance through Soapy's help; he'd created a dependency that worried him. He knew his days were numbered and, as it stood now, with his demise the money that the ranch depended on would dry up quickly. He wanted to know that the ranch and Allie would be taken care when he was gone.
"Don't try to talk me out of this, Soapy. That's why I didn't tell the Kid. I'm dead set on going through with it. You can set up an account for me under your name at the First Merchant's Bank of Denver. I'm sure they've improved their security since I robbed it. Here's an initial deposit that ought to be able to draw a nice amount of interest and I'll step up the amount of money I send each month. You can deposit half to the account." Heyes stood up and reached into his jacket, pulling out a tightly bound wad of bills and dropping it on the desk as Soapy interrupted him.
"Heyes, there's something you need to know."
"If you can't do this for me, I'll…"
"Listen to me!" said Soapy firmly.
Heyes stared at his dear friend, startled by the look of pity that crept onto Soapy's face. He felt the air in the room grow heavy. "What? Is Allie all right?" Panic choked him. "Did something happen to her? What's wrong?"
"Sit down and do not say another word until I've finished speaking to you!" growled Soapy. Heyes sat. "She's fine. Nothing has happen to her."
"Get to the point, Soapy," warned the Kid. He didn't like the look on Heyes's face.
"The point is she doesn't need your help anymore. The ranch has been a complete success and she's taken on a partner to help finance the operation." Soapy knew it was going to hurt his young friend to be cut out of Miss Golden's life, but it was time for him to let her go. He had been alarmed by the Devil's Hole gang's crime spree over the winter and knew that Heyes's was pushing his luck in his desire to make more and more money.
"Who is it?" asked Heyes, warily.
"Her neighbor, Scott Medgar; he's been extremely generous in his support and has brought the ranch to the attention of other benefactors. The charities that had been supporting the ranch are moving onto other, more needy, projects. I can continue to make contributions if you wish, but I can no longer assure you that they will go to the ranch."
"Scott Medgar?" Heyes felt an ugly knot of jealousy form in his chest. He lifted his glass and knocked back the scotch in one gulp.
The Kid felt for his partner. The only link Heyes had left to Allie was the money he sent to support her and now he was losing even that small tie. He put his hand on his partner's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "She's done good. You should be real proud of her."
Heyes sat silently. His muscles finally relaxed under Curry's grip and he sighed, "I am proud of her."
"Come on, then. Let's take some of that hard earned cash and go blow off some of that steam you were talking about. Okay?" said the Kid.
Heyes stood up and nodded. "Give me a few minutes, will you?" He walked out of the room and a moment later, the Kid and Soapy heard the front door open and shut.