"Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine…," counted Heyes as he stacked a small pile of cash on the table in front of him. A motley group of outlaws hovered around watching him divide up the loot carefully. The silence in the leader's cabin was absolute, but several of the men followed the count ticking off the bills on their fingers, until the numbers got too high for them to calculate. "…And this makes two thousand seven hundred and eleven," Heyes slid the money across the table to Hank. "Here's your cut, Hank."
The eager outlaw grabbed the bills and shoved them into his pocket quickly. "Thanks Heyes, Kid." He stood up and hurriedly left the cabin to hide his money before his fellow gang members could see where he kept it. Lobo sat down in his place. "Explain the split to me again."
Heyes sighed. He was asked this question by one of his men nearly every time he divided up the loot after a job. "It's the same as it's always been. Ten percent off the top for the gang's expenses; five percent each of what's left to me and the Kid for putting the plan together; two and a half percent to Wheat for heading up the work; the rest divided equally by the eight of us."
Lobo listened intently, frowned at the end of the explanation, and asked, "So how much did you take?"
Starting to take offense, Heyes glared at the man. "Why do you ask?"
Not intimidated, Lobo stared brazenly back, "'Cause I figure we all have a right to know."
Angry brown eyes flicked a glance at the Kid who nodded imperceptibly. Heyes sat back and held off answering. He wanted to grab Lobo by the throat and drag him across the table, but he struggled to control that impulse. It was always his policy to be transparent with his men about the money. He needed their trust. "All right, I'm taking twelve hundred thirty-nine for my five percent and another twenty-seven eleven, same as you, for the rest of my cut. That's thirty-nine fifty. The Kid gets the same. If that's okay with you, of course," growled Heyes as he leaned forward into Lobo's face.
"And what's Wheat's take?" asked Lobo cooly. He figured Heyes wouldn't go for him in front of the other men.
"That's Wheat's business, Lobo. You can ask him yourself," said the Kid, stepping forward next to his partner, sensing that Heyes's control was about to slip, and casting a cold-eyed look at the craggy outlaw.
"That ain't none of his business!" protested Wheat.
Lobo turned his head and stared at the big, mustached man. "Heyes didn't have any problem telling me his take, you hiding something from the rest of us, Wheat?"
Wheat felt his face go red with anger, but he knew the other men would take it for embarrassment, so he drew himself up and, unable to do the math, he said, "Go ahead, Heyes, tell him my cut."
"We took in twenty-seven thousand, four hundred ninety-seven dollars, so Wheat's take will be thirty-three thirty-one." Heyes stood up. "Kid, you mind taking over splitting up the cash? Me and Lobo are going to step out and have us a private conversation. If any of the rest of you are unhappy with the cut, you can pack up your gear and ride on out of here, but don't plan on coming back."
"I don't have any more questions," said Lobo, starting to squirm.
"Oh, but I've got a whole bunch of them." Heyes seized Lobo by his shirt collar dragging him off his chair. He yanked the man's gun from its holster and tossed it onto the settee, then pulled him out the door as the rest of the gang watched them go.
The Kid slid into his partner's empty chair and started to count loudly. A roomful of eyes swung back in his direction and fixed themselves on the green paper in his hands. No one paid any attention to what was going on outside the cabin.
"So how did Lobo's math lesson go?" The Kid handed a chunk of ice he'd fetched from the icehouse and wrapped in a towel to his partner who held it to his right hand.
"He found it illuminating," said Heyes, sitting at the kitchen table in the leader's cabin. "Matter of fact, I'm betting Wheat's going to help teach him some more."
The Kid didn't laugh. He didn't find it funny at all to see Heyes challenged by any of their men. He couldn't be on guard all the time and, despite knowing that his cousin was capable of taking care of himself, it worried him when the men got disrespectful. He frowned and turned his back to his partner and began rummaging around in the pantry.
"Kid, it's okay. He got the message."
"It just pisses me off, that's all. Here we are busting our butts to keep this gang together and running smoothly, then we have to put up with that crap. If Lobo's causing trouble, why don't we just throw him out of here?" The Kid pulled out a can of beans and scowled at it before shoving it back on the shelf. He dug further inside.
"I need him. He's the next best shot after you, and the man can spot the law a mile away. Besides, he's the only man we have who can read above the fourth grade level. That has come in handy more than once." Heyes pulled the ice away and flexed his fingers, wincing; he put the ice back on.
"You need him so bad you're willing to let him challenge you like that?" The Kid pulled down a can of peaches and set it on the counter. He pulled open a drawer and slammed it shut again, pulling open another and reaching in for a can opener.
Heyes grinned and held up a skinned, bruised fist. "He's not going to challenge me again for a long time, partner."
"Yeah, so he'll just stir things up behind your back." Curry turned his attention to the opener and started to work on his can.
"No, I don't think so. He's making better money here than he could by doing anything else and he knows it. Kid, it's Lobo, he's been a troublemaker all along but, when it counts, he's loyal enough."
"I don't like it. Wheat's getting uppity and now Lobo is too. What's it going to take to get them to cross the line and decide to come after your job?" Lifting the jagged lid carefully, the Kid took a spoon from the sink. He scooped a slippery fruit into his mouth and looked at Heyes.
Heyes laughed and stood up to throw an arm across the Kid's shoulders causing him to nearly drop the next spoonful. "They can have my job."
"It ain't funny, Heyes." Curry pulled away and sat down at the table.
"Yes, it is Kid. Look, the boys aren't going to back Wheat or Lobo. That's five more guns than just yours backing me up."
"Well, what if they did back Wheat?" said Kid Curry, around a large mouthful of peaches.
"That day's a long ways off, why are you worrying about it now?"
"It's my job to worry about keeping your back bullet-hole free." Another big mouthful disappeared.
"You know what? I like it when you worry; you take better care of me."
Curry frowned at his cousin and loudly dropped the spoon into the emptied can. Heyes chuckled and picked up his book on his way to his rocker by the fire. From somewhere in the cabin, Lucifer appeared and leapt onto his person's lap, curling up and purring happily.
"At least one of the gang's happy with their cut," said the Kid dryly.
"Gully likes to call it his salary, Kid. Remember, he's an employee; not a gang member." Heyes and the Kid had just stopped in to see their cook and give him his split of the take. Gully took a straight two hundred from each job, that money coming from the ten percent for expenses. Since he never had to ride along on a job and get shot at, he was always happy when payday rolled around.
Heyes stepped out of the cookhouse and saw Wheat and Kyle riding down the trail into the Hole. He had sent them out early for a supply run to Belton. To keep his men happy, he rotated the town chores around the gang so that everyone got a chance to blow off a little steam, but not enough time in town to get into any real trouble. Men holed up together for the winter could get awfully testy.
"Heyes, Kid, lookee what I've got," yelled Kyle, jogging into the yard on his little bay mare and waving a newspaper over his head. Wheat trailed him, leading a pack mule loaded with supplies from Belton. "There's a story about the bank job."
Heyes and the Kid walked over towards the barn to meet the two men as they reined up. "What's it say?" asked the dark-haired outlaw leader.
"You know I can't read, Heyes," admonished Kyle, still sitting on his mare.
Wheat had already dismounted. He tied his horse up and turned to his leaders. "I'll tell you what it don't say. It don't say nothin' about the Devil's Hole gang or Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry."
Heyes felt a small twinge of disappointment before remembering that most of the West still believed he was dead. The Kid laughed out loud at the expression on his partner's face. Heyes thrived on the notoriety his thieving brought him. "Hey, that's good. The bounty's high enough on us in Wyoming without Colorado jumping in and adding to it."
Heyes smiled. "That's right; so far we ain't been caught stealing in Colorado yet, Montana neither, not to mention, Texas, Utah, South Dakota and all those other states."
"I don't know; when I pull a job, I like a little respect for it," grumbled Wheat.
"Not me, I want a whole lot of respect," said Kyle, dismounting his horse and handing the paper to Heyes. He led his mare away, chuckling.
"You'd feel real different, Wheat, if the law had ten grand on your head. Twenty-five hundred don't cause near the trouble that ten does," said Heyes, opening the newspaper and starting to read it as he walked back to the cabin with his partner by his side.
Wheat watched him go, frowning. "Think you're a big shot, don't you? Well, it ain't gonna be long before Wheat Carlson's more famous than Hannibal Heyes," he mumbled under his breath.
"Geez, Kid, Wheat was right. The law has no idea who pulled that job. Says right here that they think there might be a new gang operating in these parts with someone even smarter than me leading them. Can you believe that? Oh, wait, Marshall Fenton from the Fort Collin's Marshall's Office speculates that Kid Curry might have found himself a new partner. Seems that expressman gave the law a description that matches that no-good, thieving, lowdown…"
"Let me see that paper."
"He says, quote, 'a homely, blond-haired man with a palsied right hand led the gang away.'"
Curry reached over and snatched the paper out of his partner's hand and began reading swiftly through the article. "No, it don't. It says the expressman didn't get a look at the outlaws at all." He looked up at Heyes accusingly, "It doesn't say anything about me."
"Well, are you surprised? The man ate dirt when we took off."
"He did; didn't he?" laughed the Kid. "Does it bother you that they don't know it's us?"
"A little; a man likes to be acknowledged when he's done his job well. Guess I'll just have to soothe my bruised ego with all that cash," smirked Heyes.
Several members of the Devil's Hole gang gathered around their own green-baize poker table in the center of the storeroom. Heyes had won the elegant table from a casino owner one profitable night in Denver and had presented it to his men as a gift. Originally, it had been installed in the bunkhouse, but was moved to its new location after one particularly long game that had lasted close to three days. Cass Williams had called a halt to that game by cutting the deck with a hatchet after being sleep deprived by the goings on. The table was moved, but the hatchet remained buried deep in the center of it.
When the gang was larger, seats at the table were often hotly contested and won by the lottery system with the Kid presiding and keeping the process peaceful. With only nine men at the Hole this winter, everyone who wanted to play could sit in. Wall-eyed and Gully had elected to turn in early, so only five men circled the table.
"Lobo, what the heck were you thinkin'; challenging Heyes like that?" asked Hank, looking at the bruised outlaw to his left.
"What's it to you?" growled Lobo. He held his cards in his left hand, his right was still too sore to hold onto anything.
"It affects all of us if one of us goes pissin' Heyes off," said John. "What's the matter with you? That was one of the easiest jobs we ever pulled and you go off and start bitchin' about your cut. Where's the sense in that?"
"I just think we ought to split things even. There's eight men on a job, then the loot gets split eight ways," said Lobo.
Wheat guffawed, "So who's gonna pay for keeping food on the table and the stock fed? Who's gonna buy those new roofin' shingles to fix that leak in the John? You think that stuff pays for itself?"
"That's easy for you to say, Wheat, you get an extra percentage just for pushing your weight around," sniped Lobo, "I don't see you doing nothing special for it."
The chair under Wheat skidded back several feet as he jumped to his feet. "You got a problem with me now? I was gonna overlook you draggin' me into your little drama, but now I don't guess I will. Why don't we step outside and take care of it. 'Less Heyes already kicked the stuffin' out of you." He dropped his right hand close to his gun and glared at Lobo, who glared back.
"Cut it out, you two. What in tarnation's the matter with you?" yelled Kyle. "We just pulled one of the fanciest bank jobs the west has seen; why ain't we celebratin' instead of goin' at each other?"
"Is it true the newspapers said the law don't know who did it?" asked John, hoping to distract the two men.
"That's right. We just got away with almost thirty thousand dollars and there ain't no one the wiser!" cheered Kyle. He glanced at Wheat and Lobo who were still throwing ugly looks at each other.
"Seems like kind of a pity that no one knows we did it. I mean, I kinda like bein' famous, don't you all?" said Hank sadly.
Wheat sat back down and pulled his chair up to the table again. He picked up his cards and studied them carefully. Picking up several chips, he tossed them into the pot. "I see that five and raise ten. You know, if I was leader, I'd make sure everyone knew every job we pulled. I wouldn't be hidin' behind no rumors of my death."
"Heyes ain't a man to keep dead for long, Wheat. You just wait, he's gonna do somethin' truly bodacious and the law's gonna know it was him," said Kyle, confidently.
"If you was leader, Wheat, would you still take ten percent off the top for expenses?" asked Lobo.
"I'm thinking it's time for us to start working on the next job, Kid," said Heyes. He and the Kid were out behind the barn doing a little target shooting the next morning. Curry was helping him smooth out his draw with a few exercises.
"Why? We just got done with the last one."
"That's true, but the next one goes kind of hand and hand with that one."
"Well, I figure we're going have to rob the Wells Fargo branch in Laramie seeing as how they have a shiny, new safe that I haven't opened yet."
The Kid grinned at his partner who flubbed his draw badly. "You know, I was wondering when you were gonna get around to that safe. Laramie ain't gonna be easy, though. Not with all the law they have there."
"That'll be part of the fun, partner."
"True. And, the Wyoming Territorial Prison's just down the road a ways. It'll save all sorts of time for them sheriffs and marshalls there; not to mention all those armed Wells Fargo guards."
"What better place to pull a job than in a cesspool full of lawmen?" smiled Heyes as he drew smoothly and mowed down the six tin cans lined up along the top rail of the corral fence.
"If you try pulling that job, Heyes, you're gonna need a gun that shoots a lot more bullets."
Thanks for reading along with me and also for your kind comments. I just wanted to let you all know that it might be a few of weeks before I can post the next chapter. I'm going on a camping trip and doubt I'll have many chances to get on the internet. I will post if I can, but if not, I plan to set my mind to Heyes's next devious plan.