A loud banging on the cabin door woke the two outlaw leaders the next morning. They'd been too far past tired after their long ride into the Hole and hadn't been able to fall asleep. Instead, they had stayed up late drinking a bottle from the case of fine whiskey they'd bought in Denver and talking happily about where they would go and what they would do on their vacation. The Kid had favored California and the ocean while Heyes had professed a desire to see the 'other' Rockies in Canada. Lots of good-natured arguing had kept things lively and, before they'd known it, it was four in the morning when they'd staggered off to bed.
"Heyes, you up?" yelled Wheat. "Hey, Heyes!" He put his ear to the door and could hear someone stirring inside. He waited impatiently but no one came to the door so he resumed pounding. He'd been waiting to talk to Heyes since sun rise, and he couldn't wait any more.
Kyle was standing behind his partner, stretching up on his toes to try and see over the bigger man's shoulder. Wheat had told him that he had something important to tell Heyes; something the whole gang would be excited about. His curiosity aroused, he'd begged to come along.
A chip of wood flew past Kyle's cheek as a bullet ripped through the door over their heads. He threw himself to the porch and Wheat landed heavily on top of him, knocking the wind from his lungs. Choking on his plug of tobacco, Kyle spit it out and rolled onto his back gasping for air. Wheat cautiously lifted his head and asked, "You all right?"
"I think so. Damn!"
"Kid seems outta sorts. We'll come back later," said Wheat nonchalantly as though dodging bullets from his boss was an everyday affair. He stood and picked up his fallen hat, dusting it off and putting it on his head, before hiking up his pants with an air of importance and stepping off the porch. Kyle got to his feet and hurried after him.
"Why do you think it was Kid? You was hollerin' for Heyes."
"'Cause Heyes would've aimed lower." Wheat could wait. He was anxious to share his news, but he wasn't about to get perforated to do it.
An hour later, a scruffy Heyes and a rumpled Kid staggered into the bunkhouse. They made a beeline for the woodstove, grappling at the same time for the coffee pot. Kid pulled it out of his partner's hand and sloppily poured a couple of full mugs. The men in the bunkhouse eyed them cautiously having heard about their companions' earlier experience.
Wheat was sitting on his bunk, cleaning his boots. He smiled at the bleary-eyed looks on the two leaders' faces. Served them right if they were hung over, there'd been no call to shoot at him. He stood up, dropping his boots on the floor. The sudden sound startled the Kid, who bobbled his mug, spilling a little of his hot drink down his shirt. Heyes limped to the table.
"Well, well, look what the cat dragged in." Wheat crossed the room, pulled out a chair at the table, and sat down, grinning like a fool. "You two don't look too rested for havin' had a month off. Maybe you need to take a little more time off. "
Heyes looked at him sharply. Did he know they were planning to take the summer off? "What the hell were you raising a ruckus for first thing in the morning?"
"Weren't first thing, Heyes, it was way past nine," said Kyle, getting up to start another pot of coffee going. Heyes and the Kid looked as if they were going to need a whole lot more. He felt a dark-eyed scowl scorching his back.
"Got anything to eat?" asked the Kid hopefully.
"Might be a few biscuits left in the cookhouse; I'll go check," volunteered Hank, putting down the sock he'd been darning. He'd take his time about it, too, because it was painfully clear to him that Wheat was going to piss Heyes off. Again.
John stood up, too. "I'm gonna go get started on cleaning the tack. Wall-eyed, you coming?" He'd been hearing Wheat hinting, ever since he'd gotten back about how he was going to show Heyes up. John wasn't about to give him an audience to do it.
Wall-eyed jumped off his bunk, "You bet I am! Lobo, wanna help?" He was sick of hearing Wheat saying how smart he was; it was time for the man to put up or shut up and he reckoned the shutting up part was going to be coming from Heyes.
Lobo looked from Heyes to Wheat and wondered what he'd be missing if he left. Not much, he decided. If there was a fight, they'd know about it soon enough to get their bets on, and, if not, he had no desire to listen to Wheat baiting Heyes some more. "Comin'." He sauntered out after his friends.
The Kid wished he could leave, too, but instead sat down at the table and prepared to hang onto his temper.
Heyes sat next to him and stared at his big lieutenant. "Wheat, what's on your mind?"
Disappointed that the rest of the boys were making themselves scarce and missing the fun, he sat back in his chair smugly gazing at his leaders. "While you and the Kid were goofin' off in Denver; I got us a job."
"It ain't your job to get us jobs," growled the Kid feeling his control already slipping. Hell, he hated being hung over.
"Now hold on a second, Kid, let's hear what Wheat has to say." Heyes smiled but it wasn't a friendly smile; he crossed his arms and waited. Kyle reached around each of his bosses, topped up their coffee, but he kept nervously looking out the door. He was hoping that Hank would return with the food before any blood was shed. Putting down the pot on the table, the small outlaw decided to go see what the holdup was. Only Curry noticed him leaving.
"You'll be interested in this one, Kid. It's a piece of cake and the money's real good." Wheat was visibly puffing up as he spoke.
"How good?" asked Heyes. He was willing to consider it if it was worth it, much as he hated to feed the big man's big ego.
"Fifty-thousand dollars' worth," Wheat couldn't help drawing the words out slowly and gloating. It was about time he got one up on Heyes.
Heyes was so surprised he could barely keep his poker face in place, but he managed. "You talking about the Columbine train we're hitting next month?"
Wheat's jaw dropped and he sputtered, "How'd you know about it?!"
"Question is, Wheat, how did you? You working my sources?" asked Heyes coldly. Wheat was familiar to a lot of his spies. If he was extracting information from them, it wouldn't go well for the spies or for Wheat.
"No, I ain't workin' your sources. I'm workin' mine," Wheat crossed his arms, too, and glared back at Heyes, fury etched across his face. "I paid for this info, fair and square!"
"From who?" snapped Heyes.
"I ain't telling you that! This is my source!" yelled Wheat, balling his hands into fists dangerously close to his gun. The Kid looked from one face to another and discreetly slipped the tie-down off his gun, standing up and pretending to stretch. He'd always known this day might come, but he'd hoped it never would. Pain in the butt that he was, the Kid liked Wheat.
"Not if it's also one of mine!" Heyes slammed his hands on the table and half-stood. He was furious at the idea one of his many spies might've betrayed him to his own man. It didn't take a genius to know that could cause a fatal rift in the gang. Whoever had done it was going to pay dearly.
The other Devil's Hole men had clustered outside the door, straining to hear what was being said, but they couldn't make out the words. As the voices inside got louder and the tone angrier, the bets passed more quickly from hand to hand.
Wheat looked from Heyes to the Kid and he realized he wasn't getting out of this room with his skin intact if he didn't give up the source. "Dammit, Heyes, I paid five hundred dollars for that information," he whined.
"The source, Wheat," Curry said icily, no longer concealing his irritation. He wanted to put a stop to this before it got out of hand.
Wheat slumped, pride leaking out of every pore. "Kyle and me spent the night at Eyser's Saloon before catchin' the train to Laramie. We ran into this drunk guy at the bar braggin' on and on about how he worked for Union Pacific and how he was in on some big deal they had goin'. Said he was a manager in charge of movin' the money around.
Dammit all to hell, Heyes, I spent the whole night workin' that little toadie; buyin' him drinks and I still had to pay him five big ones!" He was pissed and couldn't hide it. This had been a huge triumph for him and now it had been pulled out from under him. There wasn't any use asking his leader were he got his information; Heyes had spies everywhere. Wheat was just grateful none of the boys had stayed to listen in. He didn't want anyone seeing him this humiliated.
Heyes was pleased to learn that none of his spies had double-crossed him. He was sick to death of having to keep an iron fist on his men and tired of doling out punishment to those who crossed him. His relief bubbled to the surface and he chuckled, "Who'd of thought that little weasel would be selling his story all over town? I wonder who else knows about it."
"I'm gonna go beat the crap out of that blabbermouth and find out." Wheat was fuming.
"No, you aren't. I'll send Lobo into Belton today. He can send Corky a telegram. Fallon will find out if anyone else knows and make sure our mutual friend understands that he needs to keep his mouth shut from here on out." Heyes smiled, relaxing, and tried to change the subject. "Guess what? Corky's got a legit job now; calls himself Charles. He's still for working us, though."
Wheat couldn't let go of the conversation. "So, you were already plannin' this job?" He couldn't believe it. All he'd wanted to do was prove to Heyes and the gang that he could come up with a plan that would work.
"Yeah, we were." The Kid sat down, too, and slipped the safety back onto his gun. That one had been close. It would've haunted him forever if he'd had to gun down Wheat for drawing on Heyes. He rubbed his bloodshot eyes and sighed. More and more, he was finding that he wanted out of this business every bit as much as his partner.
"Look, you came by your information fair and square so why don't we work together on this one? You help set the job up and you'll get the same cut as the Kid and me." Wheat was shocked speechless and so was the Kid. He hadn't seen that coming. Heyes grinned at each of them. "What do you say?" He stood and held out a hand to Wheat.
Kyle cracked the door, peering in; while Lobo, John, Hank, and Wall-eyed whispered at him to tell them what was happening. The yelling had stopped and the suspense was killing them.
Wheat pulled himself together and shook the offered hand, "Sure, Heyes, if you need my help I'm happy to lend a hand."
Heyes slapped him on the back. "Thanks, Wheat, I knew I could count on you. Get your boots on and come on up to the cabin after dinner and we'll have a few beers and talk about the job." He walked past his other men who'd scrambled off the porch trying to look casual, but they hadn't been able to wipe the amazement off their faces. Heyes was letting Wheat in on a job! All bets were off.
Kid came out through the doorway a few seconds later and, without giving the men a glance, he hurried to catch up to his partner. "What was that all about?" he hissed.
Heyes kept walking; he didn't want to have this discussion in front of his men. Turning the corner of the barn, he stopped and grabbed the Kid's shoulders holding his gaze with his brown eyes. "Look, we're planning on taking a bunch of time off this summer and that means Wheat's going to have to handle things here. The way I see it; better we find out how he does sooner rather than later. I don't want to screw up the whole gang just because we want a vacation."
"I guess that makes sense," said the Kid. Heyes let go, and they began to stroll towards their cabin. "I just hope this doesn't make Wheat even more uppity."
Heyes laughed, "Wheat can't get any more uppity. I'm thinking he might ease off now that he's been brought into the inner circle. At least I hope so, because I'm gonna have a hard time turning the reins over to him if he's still being a pompous ass."
"I thought that was part of the job. Who knows, Heyes, maybe he'll do it better than you." Curry easily ducked the blow flung towards his head and laughed.
"I still say we go in this way," Wheat pointed to the map splayed across the kitchen table in the leader's cabin. Heyes shook his head in disagreement and glanced at the Kid, who was sitting by the fireplace cleaning his gun. Curry had tried to help with the planning earlier in the evening, but after listening to Wheat say black every time Heyes said white, he'd finally retreated to the rocking chair. Lucifer was curled at his feet in the warmth of the fire. Every so often, he'd stretch his orange and white-striped body, arching his back, and yawning widely. Kid wished he could relax like the cat, but he was waiting for the inevitable. His partner was going to lose his temper sooner or later the way Wheat was pushing him.
"Well, I don't agree. If we go that way we run the risk of getting boxed in here if the posse comes around this way," Heyes tapped his finger on the map and slid it to another spot.
"If we go your way, we'll have to ford this stream here." There was more map tapping from Wheat. "We don't want to be doin' that. This time of the year, it's gonna be runnin' too high and we'll run the risk of gettin' the dynamite wet."
"I already told you, we can plan for that. I'll have Kyle wrap it in an oilskin and carry it on himself. Even if we have to swim the horses across it'll be above water level."
"Well, I don't like it." Wheat wore an obstinate look as he sat back and crossed his arms.
"Good, that just makes me all the more sure it's right," sniped Heyes.
Carefully putting down his gun, the Kid stood up and came over to the table. He looked from one man to the other before snatching up the map and crumpling it as he carried it back to the fireplace. With one final glance at Wheat and Heyes, he threw it into the flames. Heyes started to open his mouth, but Curry held up a hand in warning, "Don't. If I have to listen to you two bicker for one more minute, I'm gonna shoot both of you. We're heading out in the morning to case the job. We'll see soon enough who's right and who's wrong. I'll back whoever I think is right and that'll be the end of it. Got it?"
Wheat looked at Heyes, who shrugged, and they both looked at the Kid.
"Works for me," said Heyes smugly, knowing that his partner would be backing him. He always did.
"Me, too," added an equally certain Wheat. Kid was no fool, he'd see for himself just how wrong Heyes was. If anyone could change Heyes's mind, it was Curry.
"Fine, now get some sleep. Both of you!"
"Sheesh, you don't have to be such a grouch about it, Kid," said Heyes, standing up and stretching.
"Yeah, we was just discussin' things." Wheat rose from the table.