Heyes gave his cinch one last firm tug. His gelding laid his ears back and lifted his hind leg in irritation. "Don't even think about it, you flea-bitten hay burner." He had offered to fetch the horses and settle up the hotel bill in order to let his tired, surly partner sleep in a little longer, but he was feeling a bit out of sorts himself and wasn't sure why. He'd been so excited last night, but, after a restless night, he had awakened to a cloudy, overcast morning, and felt his spirits fade. The weather was really getting to be a problem. Now snow was falling heavily and it was going to be a long, cold, sloppy ride back to the Hole.
Pulling out his pocket watch, he glanced at it, and looked up the street. Laramie was quiet at this hour and there weren't many folks wandering the sidewalks yet, but his glance was caught by a trim figure crossing the street. He felt his heart skip a beat and a frisson of tension rippled through his body, causing him to involuntarily step in that direction as his partner came out onto the porch.
"What's wrong?" The Kid asked as he saw his partner's attention fixed on something up the street. "Is it the sheriff?" He dropped his hand to his gun and, turning his head, saw a young woman walking carefully along a narrow board crossing the mud. "Heyes, that ain't her," he said gently, taking his hand off his pistol grip and relaxing.
"Don't you think I know that?" snapped Heyes, swinging around and trying to pretend that he hadn't been shaken. The Kid saw the brief flash of pain in his partner's brown eyes before anger filled them. "What took you so damn long?" said Heyes as he grabbed a hank of mane and swung up onto his gelding. The Kid ignored his outburst, untied his own horse, and mounted.
Riding past the storefront he had seen the young woman go into, Heyes couldn't resist glancing through the glass, but he couldn't see anyone inside. The Kid watched him. He hated seeing Heyes like this. "You ain't said more than a few words about Allie in the last couple of months so I know you're still hurting. About the only time you ever shut that mouth of yours is when you're upset about something and it's plain that you've been upset a lot lately." Mutinous eyes met the Kid's and he held them with his own calm gaze. "It's time for you to let go."
Heyes glared at his partner, ready to lose his temper, but, instead, he sighed and rubbed his hand over his eyes. "You're right. It's just that it's not that simple; I can't stop thinking about her. She's everywhere; in my dreams, on the street. Hell, even when we were in the bank last night I couldn't stop thinking about her. I've tried everything I can to get her out of my head and nothing helps."
The Kid frowned; he knew how deeply his partner's feelings went. "You've gotta quit it or you're gonna get yourself or one of us killed."
"So tell me how. I've tried other women, that didn't work. Outlawing ain't doing it either. Why the hell do you think I've been planning one job after another?"
"I know what you've been doing, Heyes, and I've stood back and let you do it because I knew you had to get it out of your system; now it's high time you did. It ain't fair to the rest of us and it ain't safe for you or the gang."
"You're right," said Heyes softly after several quiet minutes.
"Do you want to talk about it?" prompted the Kid. Heyes had to stop keeping everything bottled up inside and letting it eat at him.
"Ain't nothing left to talk about." Heyes spurred his gelding into a gallop, leaving the Kid frowning at his retreating back. That sure didn't go as well as he'd hoped it would.
"Are you two plumb loco? I ain't doin' that!" growled Wheat. He and the other men were sitting around the woodstove in the bunkhouse listening to the latest insane plan they were expected to follow. He looked at the other men's faces and saw varying degrees of disbelief on each and every one of them. Turning back to his leader, he stood up. "Forget it. You've gone too damn far, Heyes. It can't be done and we ain't backin' this plan, are we boys?" The many pairs of eyes watching him blustering began to slip away. Even Kyle found the fire suddenly interesting. "Well, are we?" asked Wheat again, more feebly.
The Kid pushed himself upright from the wall he'd been leaning against. He could hardly blame Wheat, he wasn't sure he believed in this plan either, but it didn't matter, he'd back his partner. "It can work. Forty thousand dollars is a lot of money to pass by, Wheat."
"What about you, Lobo? Are you in or out?" asked Heyes, pointedly.
"You ain't buyin' into this, are you?" Wheat was staring at Lobo. "You know he's givin' you and me the riskiest jobs, don't you?"
Lobo, irritated that Wheat put him on the spot, slid his eyes to his boss. "I'm in, Heyes, but I want the same cut Wheat gets for this one."
"You'll get it. Who else wants to make a little extra doing Wheat's job for him?" Hank's hand shot up and Heyes nodded at him, "Okay, Hank, you've got it. So do you want in on this job at all, Wheat, or are you planning to ride out?"
Wheat's eyes widened. It was a full-blown blizzard outside and he had no desire to be turned out of the Hole into it. He looked around at his erstwhile compatriots one last time and, seeing no support amongst them, he sat down and mumbled, "Hold on a dang second, just 'cause I don't want to get my head blowed off doin' something stupid, don't mean I'm out."
"Hank, you seen Heyes?" asked the Kid as he walked out of the leader's cabin.
"I saw him go into the barn a while back; ain't seen him since." Hank was hauling a load of split wood up to the bunkhouse. It was hard going through the deep snow that had fallen since last's week's heavy blizzard. The weather had become a real problem for the gang. They only had a few more days before they had to be ready for the Wells Fargo job and it wasn't cooperating in the least. The Kid passed Hank heading to the barn. He had a few concerns he wanted to talk over with his partner. Not the least of which was how on earth could they steal a stage through snow this deep? The stages would still be running and the routes they used would be plowed to some degree, but nothing else would be. He was sure Heyes had a plan to deal with the snow and it was time he was let in on it.
John and Gully were out with shovels doing their best to clear the snow from the yard while Kyle and Wheat were splitting logs from the pile out behind the cookhouse. The Kid could hear Wall-eyed working at the anvil in the storage shed, hammering away at a horseshoe or something. This was the first break they'd had from the series of storms that had swept across the Hole over the last week and the chores had to be done before the next storm rolled in. Dark clouds were beginning to coagulate in the slate sky. It took some effort for the Kid to pull open one of the large doors to the barn. He had to grab it with both hands and yanked it towards him, clearing a swath of snow as he did. "Heyes? You in here?"
"Yeah, over here."
The Kid squeezed through the narrow opening he had made. He could hear a steady, rasping sound from one of the stalls. He peeked inside and saw his partner bent over a pair of sawhorses. He had his shirt off, despite the cold, and Curry could see the sweat sheen across his muscles as Heyes worked. His partner stopped and straightened, turning to him and using his free hand to sweep back the hair that had fallen in his eyes. "What's up?"
The Kid looked past Heyes to what he was working on and began to chuckle. "Heyes, you really are a criminal genius!"
"Next," said the gray-haired man sitting at the large desk. His head was down and the pen in his hand was scrawling notes across the paper in front of him. He had hoped for a better turnout than this. The weather must be keeping most folks inside; only the truly desperate would turn out on a day like this. A shadow appeared on his desk and he looked up at the man who was hovering over him and nervously toying with the hat held in his hand. "Name?"
Hank hesitated for a second trying to remember his alias. Damn Heyes for always coming up with some crazy name! "Er, Floyd, um, Floyd Bea-gle-spiker."
"How do you spell that?"
Hank had no idea and stared at the clerk, confusion etched on his face. Lobo cleared his throat and drew the man's attention to him. "Mister, my friend's a good man and a real experienced hand with a stagecoach team, but he can't read or write a lick. Not even his own name."
Hank turned red, but shot a grateful look at Lobo, and cleared his throat. "Yessir, that's right. Ain't never learned how, but tell me somethin' once and I don't ever forget it."
"No need to be embarrassed, son; most of the men driving for us don't read or write. That won't disqualify you from working for Wells. You say you've driven a stage before?"
Smiling broadly at remembering the stagecoach heists he used to pull with his last gang, Hank nodded and said, "Yessir, me and my buddy here have driven many a stage under some real unusual conditions."
The gray-haired man returned his smile, pleased to finally have some experienced recruits. He turned to Lobo, "And your name, sir?"
"All right, Mr. Carstairs. You and Mr. Beaglespiker report to the Wells Fargo stable on 11th Street in an hour. You're hired. The job pays two dollars a day plus room and board."
Hank chuckled and patted Lobo on the back. "Hear that Bosco? We's Wells Fargo men now. Ain't that somethin'?"
"Yeah," mumbled Lobo sourly, "really something."
Kyle and Wheat rode into the yard at Devil's Hole, dismounted, and trotted up the steps onto the porch of the leader's cabin. Kyle turned to spit out his chaw and glanced at Wheat, who was scowling. He'd been sulking for days. Lifting his fist, Kyle rapped sharply, and opened the door.
"Hey, you here, Heyes? Kid?"
The Kid walked out of his bedroom, wiping the shaving cream off his face. "Yeah, we're here. Heyes just stepped out to the privy for a second. You want some coffee?"
Wheat nodded and sat down with Kyle at the table. The smaller outlaw smiled and said, "Thanks. You got anythin' to eat?"
"Already ate, you're too late. When you're done here you can hit Gully up for some biscuits. He's been baking all morning."
Heyes walked in as the Kid handed out the mugs. He noticed that Wheat suddenly found his coffee interesting and wouldn't look him in the eye; this worried him. "You did meet up with Hank and Lobo, didn't you?"
Kyle grinned, revealing his blackened, tobacco-infused teeth, "Sure did, Heyes. It's all goin' just like you planned. Hank's even drivin' one of them. Lobo's ridin' shotgun on the other. He said to tell you it's happenin' Friday and he drew out the routes for you." Kyle reached into his coat and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "Here you go. He wrote down some other stuff for you, too."
Heyes took the proffered note and read it carefully. "Good work. Go see if Gully's got some breakfast for you." He waited until the door closed behind his two men and then looked at the Kid and grinned, "Wheat still isn't talking to me."
"Kinda noticed that."
"Lobo says he got a good look at the strongboxes and thinks they could be picked open easily enough. Says they're reinforced all right, but they're locked with a regular padlock. We'll bring along some dynamite just in case. He also says he and Hank will be heading out on two different routes. Wells is being careful, Kid."
"Not careful enough if they've already handed out that information. Let me take a look at the maps," said the Kid, holding out his hand. Heyes handed them over, sat down, and waited. "Looks okay, but we'll have to split the gang and that means fewer men and more that can go wrong."
"It'll be fine. You can take one bunch and I'll take the other."
"No." The Kid was still looking down at the drawing in his hands and not looking at his cousin.
"What do you mean-no?"
Curry could feel the heat of his partner's stare, but answered calmly, "I mean, no, I ain't splitting up from you."
Heyes's hand smacked down on the wooden table, "Damn it, Kid, I need you to do this."
"Forget it, I'm not doing it."
Heyes's temper boiled over and he stood up slamming his chair back against the wall. "I'm leader and I say you are!"
The Kid stood up slowly and took three short steps, his blue eyes turning frosty, and he leaned towards his cousin's face. Heyes, seeing him coming, had raised his fists and was prepared for a fight. Curry knocked the fists aside. "I ain't fighting you on this, Heyes, and I ain't splitting up with you, neither, and that's final."
Heyes lowered his arms. He knew a fight would do nothing to change the Kid's mind when he took that tone. "Can I at least ask why?" he said sarcastically.
The Kid smiled slightly, knowing he had won, and placed his hands on his partner's shoulders, his blue eyes softening as he looked at Heyes. "Because you ain't yourself and you know it. It's my job to watch your back and keep you safe and I'm doing it whether you like it or not. Let Wheat take the other team. He's had his pants on fire to lead the gang; let him try."
The pot clanged loudly as Gully dropped the lid back onto the stewpot he had just stirred. The door next to the stove opened slightly and Heyes poked his head in. "You have a second to talk to me?" asked the outlaw leader.
"I'm making stew; I ain't got nothing but time 'til it's done," said the older man. "Grab yourself one of them biscuits and sit down with me. I was just about to take a load off."
Heyes picked up a biscuit off the plate warming on the shelf above the stove and shoved it into his mouth while pulling out a chair. He sat and savored the warm treat as Gully finished at the stove before turning to him. "What is it you need, Heyes?"
The younger man smiled around his mouthful and swallowed before speaking. "I need your help, Gully. We're going to be short-handed on this next job and I could use an extra man."
Gully shook his head regretfully, "You know I ain't no outlaw. I told you flat out that I wasn't gonna be stealing from no one when I came to work for you."
"Yes, you did, and I wouldn't ask except things are getting complicated. Wheat needs at least four men for the route he's taking and that leaves just Kid and me for the second stage. We can't do it with just the two of us, we need a third man." Seeing the gray-haired man opening up his mouth to protest, Heyes jumped up and started pacing. "I ain't asking you to stick a gun in anyone's face, Gully. All I need you to do is stay hidden and lay down some cover for the Kid and me and then help us get the stage away. You won't need to see anyone and no one will see you."
"You think that's what this is about? I don't give a dang if anyone sees me. I'll know what I did."
Heyes met the man's angry stare with one of his own. "Gully, where do you think that two hundred dollars a job I pay you comes from? We steal it. We, the Devil's Hole gang, take it and you know that. You work for me which makes you one of the gang. I know you don't like to admit it, but you are an outlaw. You are also one of my men and I'm asking for your help." He reached out and put his hand on the cook's arm and said quietly, "I helped you when you needed it, or have you forgotten?"
Gully flushed at the reminder and lowered his eyes, then raised them again. "All right, I'll do it this time, but don't ever ask me again. We're square after this. Got it?"
"I won't ask again. Thanks, Gully." Knowing that he had worn out his welcome, and feeling ashamed at having to strong-arm his friend, Heyes stood and walked to the door. "We'll be riding out the morning after next. Come on up to the cabin by six a.m."
The cook didn't answer. He lifted the lid off the pot on the stove again, grabbed his wooden spoon, and savagely attacked its contents as the door swung closed.