"You ready?" Kid Curry stood over his partner, his arm extended in an invitation to help him up.
"Yeah," answered Heyes, although he didn't sound very sure. The swelling had gone down considerably, but that was mostly because he'd sat on his butt for the last day or so. He wasn't at all sure about his odds of making it all the way to Boulder on foot. They were still at least ten miles away and he knew he couldn't move fast enough to stay ahead of anyone looking for them. "Kid, maybe I ought to stay here; let you go for help."
"Ain't gonna happen."
"Listen, I don't know how far I can make it, you'd be better off on your own. I could wait here…"
"C'mon, Kid, don't you think it makes more sense if you…"
"Nope." Kid's hand was still held out and Heyes grabbed it pulling himself up.
"Have I ever told you how annoying you are when you argue?"
"Yep." Curry picked up Heyes's saddlebags and pulled his partner's arm over his shoulders. He started off slowly and Heyes tentatively took a few steps. His knee didn't feel too bad and he began to hobble along with more confidence.
Heyes stumbled for the third time in the last half hour and went down to his knees, cursing. The Kid helped him up again.
"Let's take a break. I could use some jerky, how 'bout you?" asked the Kid, giving Heyes the excuse he needed to stop. It was obvious to him that Heyes really wasn't going much further and he was worried that they hadn't made enough distance yet. He wasn't about to leave his injured partner behind, but he also wasn't about to say that out loud or Heyes would start up another argument.
"Yeah, sounds good." Heyes hobbled over to a downed tree and sat on it stretching out his knee and flexing it. He was thinking hard trying to figure out how to get his partner to go on without him. Damn the Kid for being so mule-headed. He sat listening to the wind stirring up last fall's leaves. There was weather coming in. He could see the big thunderheads forming over the mountains and it wouldn't be long before they were overhead. Great, just what they needed. He glanced over at the Kid. He was crouched by the small stream they had been following and filling his old brown hat with water.
They had changed into their trail clothes yesterday. Heyes's suit had been a total loss and he had buried it under some rocks and old leaves not wanting to carry any unnecessary weight or leave any clues. He still hadn't worked out how they would sneak into town without raising a lot of questions about why they were horseless. First, they'd need to check and see if word had gone out that Heyes and Curry were in the vicinity.
"Water?" The Kid had returned.
"Thanks." Heyes took a long, thirsty drink and handed the soaked felt hat back. The Kid squeezed it out and put the sodden lump on his head. The brim hung down comically and water dripped down his neck, turning cold in the breeze.
"Hear that?" said Curry, turning and putting his hand on his gun.
Heyes listened. He could hear harness jingling and faint hoofbeats. "Someone's coming. We must be near a road. Help me up."
Together the two outlaws moved as quietly as they could until they reached a rough track carved through the forest. They stayed hidden in the thick brush lining both sides of the road. A wagon was just coming into view. The bed of it was piled high with furniture and a loose tarp was thrown over it to ward off the weather. A tall, thin man sat in the buckboard and guided two well-kept mules.
"Heyes, I've got an idea. When I stop him, you get in the back and hide." The Kid didn't wait for an answer, but emerged from cover and walked out into the middle of the road waving his arms over his head. The driver saw him and reached down, picking up a shotgun with one hand and reining in his team with the other.
"Whoa." The mules stopped and the man stared at the Kid, not saying anything, just looking him over.
"Howdy. Boy, am I glad to see you." He was, too, and gave the driver his friendliest smile.
"Are you now?" Narrowed eyes stared hard. Heyes drew his pistol and waited tensely.
"Yes sir. My horse threw me yesterday and the fool nag took off. I've been looking for him ever since, but I'm hurting pretty good."
The man watched the Kid closely as he walked stiffly towards the wagon. Curry saw Heyes creep out of the woods and sneak up to the rear of the wagon.
"My feet have blisters growing blisters and I'm sore all over. I'd sure be obliged if I could get a ride into the next town with you, Mister." The Kid reached quickly with his hand towards the mules' reins, spooking them slightly so they jostled the wagon and covered the fact that Heyes had just pulled himself up over the tail of it. The shotgun leveled on his heart and he stopped, holding up his hands. "Hey, I don't mean no harm! I can pay if I have to." He reached slowly into his shirt pocket and pulled out a wad of bills.
The man's expression softened and he lowered the gun. "Climb on. No need to pay. I reckon if you got that much cash to flash around, you ain't interested in robbin' the likes of me."
The Kid grinned and climbed up on the seat next to the man. "Thanks, Mister. I'm Carl Bowman." He held out his hand.
"Howdy, Carl. I'm Rufus Hinkson." He gripped Curry's hand and shook it firmly. "I'm headed to Boulder. Got to be there before three to deliver this here furniture to the train depot. You kin ride along if that suits you."
"Why thanks, Rufus; that'll suit me just fine."
The ride into Boulder was tedious. Rufus wasn't much of a conversationalist and the Kid now knew how his partner felt when he answered every question with one word. Finally, they arrived at the train depot and the Kid helped Rufus unload the wagon as thanks for the ride. Heyes had jumped out long before they'd made it to the station. The Kid had seen him limping away down the sidewalk towards a local saloon. Figures.
"Well, good luck to you, Carl," nodded Rufus.
"Thanks Rufus. Are you sure I can't buy you a beer?"
"No sir, drink is the Devil's best friend." He turned from the Kid and climbed back up on his wagon, clucking to the team and pulling away without another word.
Curry chuckled. Too bad. A few drinks might've loosened ol' Rufus's tongue up a bit. He saw the stationmaster's office at the end of the train platform and headed that way. Inside, there was a short line and he waited patiently until he reached the front desk. "When's the next train to Laramie?"
The grizzled rail man said, "Seven-thirty. It'll cost you two dollars and thirty cents. How many tickets you want?"
The Kid hesitated, "I heard there was some trouble on the Greeley line. Gossip says that there were some outlaws caught hitching a ride."
"Well, gossip's wrong, Mister," frowned the stationmaster, who glanced at the passengers behind the Kid. They had all heard Curry's question and were looking worried. "The conductor on that train got canned for drinking on the job. Darn fool could hardly see straight by the time the train got in. He was just making up tales trying to save his butt. Sorry, Ma'am," he said, tipping his hat to the lady standing right behind the annoying young man.
"That's a relief. One ticket, please," said the Kid.
Heyes made a beeline for the saloon he'd seen. He passed the sheriff's office and glanced at the name painted onto the door; never heard of him. Hurrying on, he pushed his way through the double doors and limped into the smoky barroom. It was still early enough that there weren't many patrons. That was good, he had no desire to gamble and the fewer people the less chance of being recognized. Not that anyone would recognize him with his three-day stubble and the layer of dirt he was sporting. Heyes wanted a cold drink and the local gossip. He sidled up to two men standing at the bar and plunked down a dollar.
"Beer, please, and beers for my friends here. I'm celebrating!"
"Celebrating what?" asked the man next to him, somewhat suspiciously.
"My claim came in. You're looking at the proud owner of a successful silver mine," grinned Heyes. He held up several more bills to prove his veracity and the man next to him slapped him on the back.
"Congrats, pal. I reckon you can afford to stand us to a couple of beers. What's your name?"
"It's Vern, Vern Packer."
"No relation to Alferd, I hope," grinned the barkeep setting down the beers.
"No sir, but I can't say as how I'm not hungry enough to eat a democrat," quipped Heyes. All of them laughed heartily and picked up their mugs, toasting their entertaining new friend. The day had just brightened for them all.
"Well, Vern, let me see what I can rustle up in the kitchen." The barkeeper wiped his hands on his apron and went through the door behind the bar, returning a few minutes later with a sandwich. "It ain't much, but it ought to save you from fixin' the next election," he said with a wink.
"Thanks, and pour yourself a beer on me." Heyes tore into the sandwich, proving that he was, indeed, a hungry man. He ate a few bites before turning to his companions. "So, what's the news? I've been out in the hills for a couple of months."
The double doors opened again and a dusty Kid Curry walked in. The men at the bar turned and smiled at him, beckoning him over for the fun, but he frowned and stopped at the other end of the bar as far away as possible.
The man next to Heyes, chuckled and said softly, "He ain't too friendly, is he?"
The barkeeper put down the beer he was drinking and went over to take his new customer's order. "Welcome, Mister. What'll you have?"
"Beer and something to eat," growled the Kid, keeping his head down. He tossed some coins on the bar.
The barkeeper frowned. "Sorry. Kitchen's closed." He fetched the beer and left his surly patron alone.
Damn, he'd overplayed that and he was hungry. The Kid glanced down the bar at his partner enjoying a meal and good company. Heyes sure had a way of drawing people to him like bees to honey when he put his mind to it. He listened in on the conversation.
"Let's see," said the red-headed cowboy next to Heyes, considering the question. "Not much, really; rustlers been workin' these parts; stole ten head from the YX up the road. Couple of the college boys got in trouble last month for paintin' the dean's porch light red. That's it. It's been pretty quiet around here what with the mud season and all." The other man and the barkeep nodded.
"Someone over at the Assayer's Office told me to be real careful 'cause there'd been outlaws around," said Heyes, probing for the information he wanted.
"He was pulling your leg, Vern. I ain't heard nothin' 'bout that at all and I reckon I hear most everythin' that happens in these parts," said the barkeeper.
Heyes smiled widely. That was better news than he'd been hoping for. He finished the first half of his sandwich and picked up the second half. "Well, gents, it's been grand but I've got to run; got work to do. See you around." He quickly left the saloon and hurried down the street turning into the first alley he came to. Several minutes later, the Kid came around the same corner. Heyes held the sandwich out to Curry.
"Here, you sure charmed the pants off them, didn't you?"
"Thanks," said Curry, nearly stuffing the sandwich into his mouth whole. He chewed it quickly and gulped it down. "Train to Laramie leaves at seven-thirty."
"Too risky, Kid, news might not have gotten here yet, but the bulls could just be keeping their eyes peeled for someone answering our descriptions."
"So, we ride? I passed a livery on my way over from the station."
"There's one a block south of here, too. Let's split up and get our horses separately. We'll be less memorable that way. I'll meet you in Longmont."
"At Cuddy's Saloon?" asked the Kid.
"No, that burned in the big fire last year and they're still re-building. Meet me at that little bar two blocks south of Main on the corner of 11th Street. We'll get a beer and a quick bite, pick up some supplies, get a good night's sleep and head out in the morning."
"See you there."
The Kid took another huge bite, finishing the remaining sandwich. Heyes slipped around the corner at the other end of the alley and disappeared from sight leaving the Kid chewing quickly. He stepped back out onto the sidewalk and walked leisurely towards the livery he'd passed on his way in.
"Ahh, that's better," said Kid Curry, sitting back from the table and rubbing his belly happily. The meager remains of a steak dinner soiled the plate in front of him and he looked around the bar appreciatively. "Nice place." The wooden wainscoting gleamed with pride of ownership and the place bustled with a more genteel crowd than they were used to encountering in a western saloon.
"Yeah." Heyes was still finishing his steak and took a quick sip of the whiskey by his right hand.
"So, you planning on poker tonight?"
"No. I'm turning in early."
"What's with all the questions, Kid?" Heyes pinned him with a hard look.
Curry held up both hands and laughed. "Easy, Heyes, chew that steak not my head off."
"Sorry. Guess those last few miles in the rain put me out of sorts. Yeah, I'm hurting a little, but I thought we'd be better off laying low. I'm still a little spooked by being recognized."
"Yeah, me, too. Bed sounds real good. We can get an early start tomorrow. It'll be good to get home." The Kid saw the look of dismay that crossed Heyes's face. "What?"
"You said home. Seems kinda sad that the only home we've got is one where we have to sleep with one eye open hoping one of our 'good' friends don't decide to cut our throats in the middle of the night and rob us blind."
"C'mon, Heyes. It's not that bad."
"Feels like it lately. Kid, I've been thinking about what you said about taking a break. Let's talk to the boys, let them know that this is the last job for a while. You and me can take a few months off, heck, maybe even the whole summer; go see Silky or take a trip somewhere. You're right, it's time we start having some fun." Heyes face brightened as he spoke and a sparkle lit his eyes.
"I'm what?" smiled the Kid, pleased to see his partner's mood lifting. Finally, Heyes was ready to ease up on himself.
Confused brown eyes looked back at him and then cleared and a sunny, broad smile split Heyes's face. "You're right."
"Thanks, I don't get to hear that often as I should," said the Kid. "You do realize that the gang's gonna fall apart if we leave for a while?"
"Truth is; I don't care anymore. Let Wheat have it; might be for the best." Heyes sopped up the rest of his gravy with a dinner roll and tucked the morsel into his mouth, sitting back satisfied with both his meal and his decision.
"Might be best not to say anything to the boys; telling them we're taking off could just get our throats cut. Next time Wheat gets uppity, you could just step aside and let him take over."
"Good idea, Kid. I like it."
"What? You saying I'm right again?" chuckled Curry.
"Don't let it go to your head, partner."
Looking at the licked clean plate in front of Heyes and the happy expression on his face, the Kid knew he liked this plan and it was one he could support wholeheartedly.
Several days later, the two outlaw partners rode into Belton dirty and trail weary. Heyes pulled up in front of the post office and dismounted stiffly. He handed his reins to the Kid. "You mind taking these two to the livery? I'm gonna stop in and see if Mr. Jakes has any messages for me."
"I'll meet up with you at the saloon. I'm gonna stop at the store before it closes and put our order in for tomorrow morning." They were only staying for the night and picking up supplies to take into the Hole first thing in the morning. The boys would be back by now and probably starting to worry. He and Heyes were already a few days overdue.
Heyes limped up the steps slowly and opened the door pausing to let a young woman leave; she was blushing and grasped a letter in a gloved hand, thanking him prettily for his politeness. He tipped his hat, "My pleasure, Miss Lucy."
"Mr. Heyes, welcome home," said Mr. Jakes. The good folks of Belton had embraced the Devil's Hole gang and its leaders like family. It was a truly symbiotic relationship. The gang purchased supplies and hurrahed here often; pouring money into the town coffers and sometimes paying for much-needed repairs. In turn, the few citizens that lived here welcomed them with open arms. It was a dying town, too far off the beaten path to survive. It had sprung up around a mine that had played out in its first few years of existence. Besides the post office, Belton could only boast a saloon, whorehouse, post office, and general store; in short, all the necessities of outlaw life. Best of all, no sheriff.
Heyes had to wonder how long the good will would last once the town lost the support of the Devil's Hole gang. He didn't think his decision to leave the gang would be too popular around here. Hopefully, Wheat would see the wisdom of continuing to keep Belton afloat. The old postmaster came out of the back room surprised to see the outlaw leader standing at the counter. He hadn't heard the bell over the door tinkle again.
"Heyes, welcome back."
"Hi Mr. Jakes, have anything for me?"
Mr. Jakes reached under the counter and sifted through a box he kept there. "Sure do. You got a couple letters and here's a telegram that came for you last week. Here's a package for the Kid, too." The boys received mail regularly under closely guarded aliases used only for correspondence.
"Thanks, I'll deliver it." Heyes handed the man a five-dollar bill and tucked the package in his pocket. He picked up the mail, read the telegram, and glanced at the letters. One of them was from Gully. Pleased, he put them all in his pocket.
"You don't need to do that, son. You having your men patch my roof last fall was all the thanks I need."
"Please, I insist."
"Well, thank you then. Oh, by the way, Sam over at the saloon has a cousin visiting this week. You might want to talk to him if you're still looking for a cook. He used to work at one of them fancy hotels down in Denver; got fired last week for stealing the silver." Mr. Jakes chuckled.
Heyes grinned, "Thanks, Mr. Jakes, I'll look him up. Good day to you."
"You too, son."
Heyes was nearly to the saloon when he met the Kid coming back from the General Store. "Did you get the order in?"
"Yep, it'll be ready for us as soon as they open."
"Good. How 'bout a beer?"
"Don't you want to get off that leg?"
"I can do that easily enough sitting at a poker table in the saloon. Besides, I thought you might like to visit with that cute little brunette. You've had quite a dry spell recently, Kid." A few days constituted a chaste eternity for his cousin.
The Kid smiled, "That I have. Let's go." The two men turned and walked up the street slowly, Curry pacing himself to his partner's limp.
They entered the saloon together and smiled as the bartender on duty, Sam, waved to them. "Hey, Kid, Heyes, good to see you again."
A short, rotund man came out of the kitchen and peered around the doorway at them, curious to see the two famous outlaws. His cousin, Sam, had told him all about Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes frequenting the bar, but he hadn't really believed him. The dark-haired man smiled at him, but the curly-headed blond one gave him an assessing look that made his blood chill in his veins.
"Chuck, come on out and meet Mr. Curry and Mr. Heyes." Sam waved the small man forward. "This here's my cousin, Joe Langdon."
Heyes tipped his head slightly and smiled quizzically, "I thought you just called him Chuck?"
The round man held out a pudgy hand to Heyes. "He did. That's my nickname, Chuck, short for Chuckwagon. I got my start cooking on the Chisholm Trail."
"Nice to meet you, Chuck," Heyes shook his hand, and the Kid did as well, smiling now at the friendly-faced man.
"So, you're looking for work?" said Curry.
"Yes sir, I am."
"And you know what we do?" asked Heyes.
"Everyone knows what you do, Mr. Heyes."
"It's just Heyes. Why don't we have a seat and talk over the job?"
"If it's all the same to you, er, Heyes, I'd rather let my cooking do the talking. Sit down and let me go rustle up some vittles for you."
Now, the Kid grinned widely, "I like you already, Chuck." He walked over to an empty table and sat down.
"Sam, bring us over some cold ones, will you?" Heyes joined his partner and eyed the small poker game going on at the next table. All the regulars were there, all three of them, and they smiled at Heyes. The games were all in good fun, for pennies mostly, and no one minded Heyes sitting in on them. It was worth the small losses to say that they were poker buddies with the infamous Hannibal Heyes.
The meal Chuck served was excellent and a bargain was soon struck. He'd meet the boys in the morning out in front of the general store so that he could order the goods he wanted to set up the cookhouse in the Hole the way he'd like it to be. He was looking forward to meeting the rest of the gang. If they were all as pleasant as the bosses were, he just landed himself a dream job.
Author's Note: The joke that Heyes made about being hungry enough to eat a democrat was an obscure reference to Alferd Packer.
Alferd Packer was a member of a party of five prospectors who left Montrose, Colorado on February 9, 1874 to travel east over the mountains to Gunnison, Colorado, despite having been warned by Chief Ouray of the Ute tribe that it was foolish to do so.
The men got lost and then became snowbound in the Rockies. They ran out of food. Packer was the sole survivor and gave three different confessions as to what had happened. He was not believed and, according to popular lore, the judge who presided at his trial supposedly made the following statement:
"Stand up yah voracious man-eatin' sonofabitch and receive yir sintince. When yah came to Hinsdale County, there was siven Dimmycrats. But you, yah et five of 'em, goddam yah. I sintince yah t' be hanged by th' neck ontil yer dead, dead, dead, as a warnin' ag'in reducin' th' Dimmycratic populayshun of this county. Packer, you Republican cannibal, I would sintince ya ta hell but the statutes forbid it."
What he really said was:
"Close your ears to the blandishments of hope. Listen not to its fluttering promises of life. But prepare to meet the spirits of thy murdered victims. Prepare for the dread certainty of death."
Packer was jailed for his crime, but escaped. The area where the incident occurred is now known as Cannibal Plateau.
The cafeteria at the University of Colorado at Boulder is named the Alferd Packer Grill.