The train was nearly empty for the return trip back to Greeley. The Kid and Heyes had sat down in the second passenger car. A family with three children was seated nearby; the two young boys were taking delight in torturing their sister much to the dismay of their parents who were kept busy trying to keep the peace. Three roughly-dressed cowboys dozed in the back of the car; their saddles leaning up on the benches across from them.
The two outlaws had decided that it would be far more suspicious if they sat alone in the empty car trailing this one so they had slipped into the second bank of benches. Heyes had pulled out a battered book and begun to read, keeping his head down and his feet up on the opposite bench while the Kid stretched out on the next bench with his grey dress hat pulled over his eyes. The light flickered across Heyes's book as the telegraph poles flew by the window, making it difficult to read.
He closed his book after a while and stared at his hands, thinking. The last month had been spent avoiding that process as much as possible and it was time that he came to grips with the changes he'd suffered. Allie was no longer a part of his life and she had left a large, cold hole in his life. When would he learn not to let his heart get control of his head?
Despite doing so anonymously, supporting the Second Chance had given Heyes a connection to her and a way to feel as though he was still important to her. Now he had to face facts. When he'd ridden out the gate of the ranch, he'd freed her from any obligation to him. She had moved on and it was time for him to as well. But, where was he moving on to?
He'd dug himself into an even deeper hole by pulling so many robberies this winter. Usually, the snowy months were a time for things to settle down; for people to forget their indignation over the summer's thieving. This year the shock of discovering that Hannibal Heyes was still alive and, furthermore, responsible for their losses had whipped the railroads and shipping companies into a frenzy. They were screaming for his head The newspapers fanned the flames by running stories about the increase in crime and the need to bring peace to the west. The call had gone out to all law enforcement entities that the public expected the authorities to get the 'outlaw problem' solved.
His way of life was coming to an end even faster than he'd thought it would. Soapy had proudly shown him his new-fangled invention, the telephone. His mentor had had one installed over the winter and had joined the Colorado Telephone Company's new exchange located above Frick's Shoe Store on Larimer Street. Heyes had shopped at Frick's last year, completely unaware that the means to his demise was being set up in the space over his head.
Soapy had given him a shocking demonstration on how easily the telephone could connect one town to another by dialing up the operator and asking to speak with a friend in Chicago. It had only taken a matter of minutes before he was chatting happily with his acquaintance. Heyes had realized instantly what it would mean for him and his partner and had almost choked, feeling the noose tightening around his neck. The world had shrunk terribly in the space of a few seconds.
It was definitely time for them to get out of the business. The question was, how? Maybe the Columbine job was the answer. Their cut of fifty thousand dollars would give them a good start somewhere else and he had tucked some more aside back at the Hole. But the problem wasn't money; where would they go? Heyes had always resisted the idea of leaving the West and he wasn't sure that he wanted to go now, but he knew, too, that if he stayed, he'd be signing his own death warrant and, worse yet, the Kid's. His partner would never go without him. Sighing, he sat back and gazed out the window. The mountains rose majestically to the west of the train and, to the east, the vast prairie stretched out as far as the eye could see. Could he really just disappear and leave this all behind or would he find that life wasn't worth living away from everything and everyone he loved?
The door to the car opened and the conductor walked in. He was late and it appeared that he had been drinking. His tie was askew, his uniform rumpled, and Heyes thought he could see the neck of a pint liquor bottle peeking out of the man's pocket. The man shook one of the cowboys awake and asked for their tickets. The first cowboy rousted his friends and they fumbled around in their pockets for their tickets. One of the little boys across the aisle started to scream at his brother. Heyes used the distraction to reach up and pull his bowler hat down low. He re-opened his book and concentrated on the pages before him. Several minutes later, he heard the conductor clearing his throat politely. Instead of being demanding as he had been with the cowboys, the man was respectful of the well-dressed man before him.
"Ahem, excuse me, sir. May I have your ticket, please?" The odor of alcohol wafted to Heyes's nose as he dipped his hand into his inside jacket pocket. Pulling out two tickets, he held them up without lifting his head. A bony claw reached out and snatched them. "Very good, sir." The man didn't move on immediately and Heyes risked a glance up at the conductor. The disheveled railroad man was staring at the Kid; specifically at the modified Colt .45 strapped to his hip. His grey suit coat had fallen open while he slept.
Damn! Heyes turned his attention back to his book and held his breath until he heard footsteps quickly receding down the aisle. Shoving his book into his saddlebag, he leaned forward. The Kid was still fast asleep. Slowly, so as not to startle his hair-trigger partner, Heyes reached down and placed a hand on Curry's right arm, shaking his partner with his left. The Kid jumped, went for his gun but was held down. Eyes-wide, he frowned at Heyes.
Heyes held a finger to his lips. "Shh, I think we've been recognized. I'm going to get up and start for the back of the train. Follow my lead." They had to get off the train without anyone in the railcar realizing what they were doing.
The Kid nodded his understanding and sat up, running his fingers through his hair trying to clear the cobwebs from his brain. Heyes stood up and looked down at him angrily, "Fine!" he said loudly, "If that's the way you want it, I'm finding another place to sit!" He grabbed his saddlebags and his coat, slung them over his shoulder, and stalked out of the car, slamming the door behind him.
The Kid stood up, shrugged at the other passengers, picking up his saddlebag and his sheepskin coat. He took his time strolling down the aisle and smiled, "Sorry for the disturbance; my partner's feeling a little out of sorts. Broken heart, you know. I'll go settle him down." He nodded at the mother holding onto to her youngest son, trying to keep him from climbing over the seat behind her. She smiled at him. The three cowboys glanced up but quickly returned to their naps as Kid Curry sauntered by.
He found Heyes waiting in the next car. This one was empty and followed by a boxcar. Standing at the open back door, Heyes waved to the Kid to hurry.
"We'll jump here; no one will see us get off with that boxcar behind us." Heyes said as his partner reached him. He stepped out onto the platform, but the Kid grabbed his arm holding him from going any further.
"Train's moving too fast, we'll break our necks."
Heyes looked past Curry and shook his head. "We can't wait, Kid."
The Kid glanced over his shoulder and could see through the glass windows of the platform doors that the conductor was coming through the first passenger car. He had three burly railroad bulls with him. Curry loosened his hold on his partner, keeping his eyes on the rail men. They hadn't seen the two outlaws yet, but they would at any moment. "I don't…" He swung his head around just in time to see Heyes jump. Groaning, he closed his eyes, forced himself to go limp, and stepped off into empty space.
He hit the ground hard and rolled head over heels several times before sliding on his chest and ending up in a tangle of chokecherry bushes. He lay still for several minutes letting his heartbeat return to normal and taking inventory of his limbs. His head and his shoulder ached from the rough landing, but he didn't think he'd broken anything. Slowly, he disengaged his legs from the bushes and crawled away from them on his hands and knees spitting out the dirt he'd swallowed. He stood up and swayed slightly, still unsteady from the fall. Looking up towards the tracks, he saw that the train was gone; out of sight and so was his partner. Picking up his grey hat and smacking the dust from it, he carefully put it on his aching head and walked back in the direction the train had come from. If he stuck to the rail bed, he shouldn't have any trouble finding Heyes.
It only took a few minutes of walking before he heard a familiar voice. Judging from the colorful language he was using, Heyes couldn't be too bad off. Kid Curry walked around the next bend in the tracks and found his partner sitting under a large pine tree. Heyes's good suit was torn and he was covered with dirt from head to toe; having found a particularly dusty landing site. The Kid grinned.
"What's so funny?" snapped an irritable Hannibal Heyes.
"Nothing. You okay?"
"No, I'm not okay. I wrenched my damn knee again!" growled Heyes. "Help me up, will you?"
Curry took a hold of Heyes's arm and gently helped him to his feet. Heyes moaned as he tried to put weight on his injured leg. "Hey, take it easy. Here, let me help." The Kid ducked under Heyes's arm and gripped his partner around his waist. He knew Heyes was hurting when he didn't protest. "That's it, c'mon, let's get going," he encouraged.
Heyes hobbled alongside the Kid. "You know, Kid, I'm getting too old to be jumping off trains."
"Amen, brother, amen."
The campfire flickered brightly under the late-evening shadows cast by the large fir trees looming overhead. Heyes was propped up against a log by the fire, their saddlebags padding his back, his knee lifted and supported by some branches that the Kid has stripped from the trees. His old grey jacket was draped around his shoulders. They had walked west as far as they could; heading in the opposite direction of the train. The law was expecting them in Greeley, so they'd aimed for Boulder, planning to get some horses. They could lose any pursuers in the Rockies; they both knew the trails in these parts like the backs of their hands. Heyes's leg had been paining him too much to go on any further tonight, though, and when the Kid had found this spot, they had stopped and settled in.
Curry had gone off to forage for food. The forest was thick here providing plenty of cover for small and larger game and he quickly brought down two hares. It was nearly dark and the perfect time of the day to hunt. The animals were always most active just after dawn and right before dark. They were so far from any settlement he wasn't concerned about his shots being heard so he continued hunting. He soon stumbled across a herd of mule deer grazing in a clearing. Carefully taking aim, he brought down a small doe. That ought to hold them until they reached Boulder. The closer they got to civilization, the riskier it would be to shoot.
He could butcher the deer at camp and spend tonight and tomorrow drying the meat. Heyes would have a chance to rest his leg and they'd be provisioned. Even if the conductor managed to raise a posse, the Greeley train would only just now be getting to the station. It would be dark in a half an hour and the Kid was sure a posse wouldn't set out until first light. It would take at least two days of hard riding to get to where they were now. They could rest easy for a day or so, but then they'd have to be on their way. He crossed the meadow towards the downed beast and spotted a small bank of snow sheltered by some tall trees on the north side of the clearing. Pulling out his knife, he slit the doe's throat to leach the blood from her so the meat wouldn't spoil, then he crossed the rest of the clearing. Snow might help reduce some of the swelling in Heyes's leg, so he pulled off his sheepskin coat and, using it as an ersatz sack, he gathered up as much snow as he could carry. He returned to the doe, hoisted her onto his shoulders, and picked up the sack again. His sore muscles protested at the weight, but he ignored them as he would ignore the cold night air breezing through his cotton shirt. It was up to him to take care of them both.
Heyes had been growing worried. The Kid had been gone a long time and he was starting to wonder if something had happened. Finally, he could wait no longer. It would be dark soon. He struggled to his feet and used one of the branches that had been supporting his leg as a cane. Hobbling, he banked the fire with the dried wood the Kid had gathered earlier and turned to go find his partner only to see him emerging from the woods wearing a wide smile, two hares, and a dead deer.
"What took you so long?" snapped Heyes, despite feeling a wave of relief wash over him. He hobbled his way back to the log and levered himself slowly to the ground.
The Kid grinned at his grumpy partner. He knew the signs, Heyes had been worried. Dumping the doe by the fire, he turned to his prone friend.
"What's that?" asked Heyes, just noticing the bundled up coat.
"Snow, I'm going to pack your knee in it."
Heyes beamed. His partner was taking good care of him. "Hand me those hares, I'll start skinning them."
They worked in a companionable silence. The Kid built a second, smaller fire well away from the first one. He'd used the new fire ring to smoke the meat and he and Heyes could enjoy the other fire well away from the smoke. Once he had the meat stripped and strung over the coals on soaked willow branches, he walked back to Heyes.
The smaller of the two hares was roasting nicely. The skin was turning brown and crackling fat dripped into the fire. Heyes poked it carefully with his hunting knife and watched as a slightly bloody, watery liquid dripped from the gash. "It'll be ready soon. Wish we had some coffee," he said wistfully.
The Kid smiled. "We're lucky we have our hides, the coffee can wait." He sat down next to Heyes, resting back against the log. Heyes pushed one of the saddlebags to the Kid, who leaned forward and settled it behind his back.
"It sure seems like we have to work hard at being lucky sometimes." A pop in the fire distracted Heyes and he reached forward to turn the hare on the makeshift spit.
"Heyes, we could've been killed today or worse."
"That's just it. We can be killed…or worse every day. Aren't you tired of it?"
Curry sighed and stared into the flames formulating his reply carefully. "Yeah, I'm real tired of it. I guess, if I'm honest," he chuckled at the irony, "I could walk away right now and never look back. But there ain't anywhere to walk to. Is there?"
"I've been thinking, Kid…" Heyes began, ignoring the moan of protest next to him. "Maybe we ought to quit. Go somewhere like South America. Mexico won't be far enough. Not with those telephones cropping up everywhere. They'll be south of the border in no time. We'd have to go somewhere kind of primitive. Like maybe Brazil or Bolivia."
"And do what? Live away from folks; camping out and eating game? Seems to me like we're already doing that. Besides, we wouldn't know how to live in those places. We know what we're doing here."
"Hey, I thought you were the one who always wanted to go south."
Curry shrugged, "Not really. I just said it because I liked hearing you argue against it. I like it here. I don't want to go somewhere where the ladies can't understand what I'm saying."
"Trust me, Kid; the ladies can always understand what you're saying."
"That they can, partner," said the Kid with a very satisfied smile. "I reckon we should stop worrying about what the future holds and start having fun now."
"I thought that was what we've been doing the last six years; not to mention the last month," smirked Heyes.
"No, you've been working too hard at it. Making plans and keeping the gang running smooth; always keeping your eye on the next job; like this Columbine train. Maybe we should take a break from robbing for a while. Let things die down."
Heyes sat up straighter and grimaced as his knee ached. "You know I can't do that! The only thing that keeps the gang together is dangling a new job in front of them soon as we finish the last one. Piss the boys off and Wheat would take over in a heartbeat or the boys would go looking for another gang."
"So? Who cares if Wheat takes over? He's been spoiling for it for a long time and you're sick of it. Maybe we should change course right now and go south for a while. Have some more fun. Let Wheat see what it takes to lead a gang." The sky had darkened as they talked and now the firelight flickered across the contours of his partner's face. He could see Heyes thinking it over. Curry meant it, too. There was nothing he'd like more than to get out of the game, but he knew that as long as they had twenty thousand dollars tacked on their heads they'd never get out of it. Best they could do was live life to the fullest and take whatever came at them.
Finally, Heyes spoke softly, "No, I can't do that. The boys are all heading back to the Hole now. I gave them my word that there'd be another job. You know they're all gonna show up dead broke and ready to make some more cash." He stared into the flames for a few more minutes. "My word's all I've got, Kid. After Columbine, we'll take some time. Go have some fun."
Curry nodded encouragingly. "There ain't no reason you can't mix business with pleasure. This should be a simple job. There ain't much that can go wrong. We stop the train and blow the safe. Easy. So promise me, you won't be getting too serious about this one."
Heyes laughed, "I promise. Believe me, if Wheat tried to up and take over the gang, I'd probably just step aside with a big smile on my face."
"Yeah? Well, I'll believe that when I see it."