Memories Are Forever
"Do you think he knows, Heyes, somehow?"
The outlaw leader contemplated the question. From what he had heard, they seemed so innately attuned, but feelings only extended so far. "Maybe, but …" He made brief eye contact before looking away. "No. He hasn't seen this yet."
"I'll be back at the bunkhouse."
"Don't tell any of the boys. And keep an eye out for Kid. When he rides in, tell him I want to see him right away."
Memories come and go as cobwebs with the wind. Grainy and ethereal, clear and colorful, barely remembered at all, they march through time, and minds, insinuating themselves at the least convenient moment. Indeed, their very, transitory nature can leave one elated, unsettled, or pondering; or far from the status quo of a comfortable middle.
Hannibal Heyes was just sad.
He stood by the hearth, staring at a fire just built up. It flickered as if mad from the draughts overhead. Memories surfaced.
She had caught his eye first, but poker won the day. When his partner arrived later, the flitting barmaid struck up the usual conversation. The gambler noticed as said partner seemed to enjoy her company, buying her a drink, another, a third. Before long, partner and barmaid were ensconced at a table situated so as to best both watch the gambler's back and have a little privacy.
On the gambler's breaks, he and partner acknowledged each other with an imperceptible nod, raised brow, amused smile. Poker was his lady today; he conceded his partner the other.
At evening's end, he stood, stretching the muscles positioned in one place far too long. The establishment was empty save for the occupants of his table, his partner, and those there employed. He indicated the door. The partner answered with a subtle shake of his head and nod to the girl in his arm. Heyes left, alone.
Fleeting or static though they might be, memories unfold as a rose, petal by petal, layer by layer, until – maybe – fully revealed. Good ones soften over time, their clarity as gossamer. Those less pleasant we bury, if we can; deny or forget, perhaps. But treasured are the good ones, kept dear, and close to heart and soul. Evocative, emotional, ecstatic, evasive, memories are as to experience.
Kid Curry remembered.
A certain barmaid had captured his attention one night as he settled in to watch his partner's back. The relaxed evening meant she could sit with one customer for longer than the usual few minutes, as long as he bought drinks, and he did – he drank only a few, though; she drank nearly too much.
His partner did well in his poker pursuits; nothing new there. And when closing time rolled around, he declined his partner's company, wanting to see the tired barmaid home. He did not join Heyes until morning.
A supply trip undertaken by two leaders of a notorious outlaw gang could be dangerous; best to send subordinates. But leaders deserve some time away, too. They took advantage of an opportunity to breathe, unknown as they were in this slip of a town recently founded on a new piece of railroad track – and no sheriff.
Supplies ordered, they paid the shopkeeper's son to pack the wagon; kept the boy out of trouble, gave them time for a beer.
As Curry entered the saloon, his eyes eagerly sought out and locked with hers. She came over. He bought her a drink. They adjourned yet again to a table.
Left to his own company, Heyes ordered a beer, conversed with the bartender, ordered another drink, glanced over his shoulder. Kid and the girl whispered, heads together, smiled as only two knowing conspirators could, the world blocked from view, and mind.
The shopkeeper's son entered, spoke to Heyes for a short time. They exchanged money. The boy left.
The brown-eyed outlaw approached the table. Curry did not notice. The partner waited, as patient as the proverbial saint. Nothing. Heyes cleared his throat; and again. Kid and the barmaid looked up.
The partner tipped his hat, smiled at the girl. "Pardon me, ma'am." To him, "It's time we get going."
"Wagon's all packed?"
"Didn't you want to play more poker before leavin'?"
"Um, no tables going right now; too early in the day. And we have a long trip ahead."
"Oh. Okay. … You go on ahead. I'll catch up."
"Can I see you … alone?" A nod to the other side of the room.
"Um … right now?"
The girl followed them with her eyes.
With reluctance, he rose, whispered something to the young woman. With continuing conspiracy, she smiled.
Five minutes later, he returned to her, Heyes exiting the establishment. Two days on, he left as well, Lobo having been dispatched to fetch him.
Yes, memories. Those of a shared childhood and growing up are especially recalled, often with great delight; sometimes, though, with sadness, anger. But kids are adaptable, or so it is said, and they were, as they had to be. The elder watched out for the younger, the younger sometimes for the elder; both for the other, as the need arose. Their mutual adventures, scrapes, and experiences forged a bond stronger than iron; brothers they might well have been. But bonds – familial or otherwise – can be broken, or threatened.
Hannibal Heyes gathered his thoughts.
Lobo returned forthwith with his tardy partner. Perhaps it was a good thing said partner had heeded his message; he would have hated to mete it out, especially in front of the men. Instead, they spoke quietly into the night – discussed plans, hopes for the future, where they saw themselves in five, ten years. Heyes really could not answer that question; Curry could. Was a normal family life difficult to imagine for them; could it be achieved? Well, maybe, but only if they were not caught and thrown in the penitentiary to rot for twenty-odd years. Wide-eyed wonderment at the number: How many years? That was almost a lifetime; into the next century.
And the girl? Curry had never felt this way before. The attraction was quick, strong, unbelievably intoxicating. The blond man could drink her with his eyes, take her whole being in his own and get lost in it, not wanting to return to the world at large.
Heyes could hear it all.
"She's young." "Old enough."
"You're a wanted man." "I'll settle down."
"The bounty on your head?" "We'll go north over the border and no one will ever notice."
"What about us?" "We're family and always will be."
And on, and on.
In the morning, Curry rode out, in the direction of the town.
And what of memories ongoing – in the present moment, the here, the now? They can overwhelm with their intensity, fresh as they are. They are being lived. Each step we take is another ahead, looking forward. Back is for naught; it is over, and that second, part of the treasure of the mind. And of the bad times? They are there as well: To acknowledge, but from which we step aside, hoping the next minute to return to the walk with that which is most wanted, desired. Clarity sharp, edges not yet frayed, the picture is as a photograph just snapped, the long-held pose for the camera imbibing images on a plate, forever there for recall, until destroyed; or forgotten.
Kid Curry would not forget.
He stayed with her a month. Days spent doing whatever they wanted. At his insistence, she left her position. A barmaid was fine if she had to support herself, but a man with jingle in his pocket to spare, and then some, had no need of a woman to work.
His partner stayed away. But Lobo showed up once.
"How are you?" "Tell Heyes I'm fine."
"When are you coming back?" "I don't know."
"There's a job coming up." "That life isn't for me right now."
"What about your partner's back?"
The question reverberated, rung in his ears as loudly as any tintinnabulation from a too-near gunshot whizzing by. He felt torn. Old loyalties died hard. Did they have to? Could a man serve two masters, at opposite ends of an ideal still shadowy, undefined? Desired, yet possibly fleeting?
If experience to this point had taught him anything, it was that life was transitory, that what was in hand right then could be gone in a swoop, or might last another day. Best to hold tight to what one had at that second, etching it onto his mind, hoping it did not get lost in the clutter of outlawry. And so, he did.
Carefree as the wind, he took her riding; she cooked him dinner.
She read to him; he listened.
They laughed, together.
He took her in his arms; she responded.
That last night, he watched her sleep, the dim illumination from a withering flame dancing off her hair, flickering onto the wall opposite. He put his arm around and nestled in behind her. That perfect, nocturnal shadow blazed ever so bright before slumber overtook him.
The next morning, he put her on a train headed east. Her father had fallen ill and she had to tend to him. She would return.
Memories. Seen from afar, from another's vantage point, they might exist, but barely. The neutral party sees the people, the situations, the incidents, in a jumble, piecemeal, unable possibly to glean the whole impact upon another. But the words were clear.
Lobo Riggs understood.
And, after he delivered the telegram meant for Mr. Hotchkiss to his boss at the cabin, so too did Hannibal Heyes.
Now, one does not usually read what is not addressed to him, but here, the words laid bare, stop, clear, stop, cold, stop, black and white, stop. The men could not but feel the impact. Stop.
Kid Curry, also known as Mr. Hotchkiss, rode in shortly thereafter. The expression Lobo wore gave him pause, especially when the subordinate offered to take his horse. Heyes wanted to see him, right quick.
He opened the door to their shared cabin. Lips pursed, the silver tongue silent, Heyes proffered a piece of paper. He hesitated, took it.
From her father; simple words, but so final: "Return stagecoach robbed and overturned. Stop. Two passengers and driver dead. Stop. I mourn her too. Stop."
Choking back a rising gulp in his throat as the words on the page blurred, he closed his eyes tight, furiously blinking back tears. Gasping for breath, he tore through the door frame, pushed Lobo out of the way, grabbed the reins of the nearest mount. He frenetically spurred the animal away.
Kid Curry galloped full out across the Hole. The wind in his face reminded of a happier time. He could see her countenance aglow with the sun at her back, the little chirp she made to the horse attempting to settle it, the way she scrunched her nose at an odd angle when he said something she did not comprehend, how she giggled with mirth as she called him old man. So many other moments …
But she was gone, ripped from him by such as himself. The irony of it all was not lost on him. Damn it!
He had the memories. They would have to suffice.
And he would never forget.