The rocks gracefully skimmed off the water several times before sinking – first thrice, then a quad. Subsequent ones followed, dancing their merry way across gentle currents before taking up residence in the river bottom. The thrower side-armed his pitch perfectly, practiced as he was in the art since childhood, although present life did not often allow for even such simple amusements.
His other talent lay in the six-shooter hugging his right thigh, tightly tied down by a knotted rawhide string. The appearance of the gun belt worn low on the hip alone stirred fear in some, if not most, who happened by, in contrast to the generally amiable disposition of the wearer.
Wholly lost in thought as he tossed the next stone, he did not hear soft footsteps approach from his rear, cautiously so as not to startle. The observer kept watch for what seemed an eternity.
The hurler threw once more, watching two flat pebbles skip across the flows in tandem five, six times. "What?"
Heyes moved alongside, placing a hand on one shoulder and giving an affectionate squeeze in solidarity. "You didn't hear me come up?"
"Guess not. River's kinda loud."
"That's not like you. Just wanted to let you know supper's ready."
The pitcher bent down to grab a handful of stones before skimming one more across. "Not hungry."
"Got biscuits and beans. Maybe not a royal feast, but good and filling."
The tossing ceased. "Sorry, Heyes, just didn't feel like huntin'. You deserve better than beans."
The observer brushed back strands of dark hair that had fallen in his face. "Beans are fine. If I wanted meat, I could've gone huntin' myself." He chuckled. "But, you really should eat, else you might wake us both up in the middle of the night with your stomach growling."
A quick smile faded. "Not likely. You eat."
"Ah, Kid, not sure I have an appetite, either." Heyes paused. "Enough excitement for one day, huh?"
"A day? More like a lifetime."
The rueful response left the silver tongue speechless. Heyes draped an arm across his partner's shoulders. The two stood in silence, mesmerized by the river's rhythmical rush.
"Come on, it's gonna be dark soon."
Kid nodded. The pair ambled to the campfire and sat down.
Heyes tossed a biscuit. Curry took a nibble and swallowed without chewing before accepting a plate of beans with a barely audible thanks. He absentmindedly moved the food around.
"Wasn't your fault, Kid."
The blond man locked eyes with Heyes. "Wasn't it?"
"I went huntin' him."
"We went looking for him."
"Okay, so we went lookin' for him. No matter. Still don't make it right, even if he did deserve it in the end."
Heyes watched the glow of the campfire play off his partner's countenance. "Maybe not. But he wasn't gonna let you leave town alive, and you know that as well as I do."
In one fluid, lightning-quick motion, Curry stood, side-arming his plate in the direction of the horses. His bay whinnied, as if in warning. His voice rose, "I know that, Heyes. It was him or me. And I'm still here to talk about it. And whether the man needed killin' or not, he's dead. And I killed him."
Heyes kept his seat, his voice steadier than a ship at anchor. "Yes, you did. Wasn't that what you wanted?"
Curry stared into the twilight, dropped his face to his hand. He looked up. "Yes … No … I don't know … I just don't know."
Heyes watched his partner pace in a tight space, like a caged animal, the still graceful movements not betraying his disquiet.
"So, you – we – went after him – hunted him - found him, and waited him out for a week. He wasn't forthcoming, and was obviously itching for a fight. He invited you out, more or less, and you felt you had no choice but to accept, knowing it was gonna be you or him. Does that about sum it up?"
Curry hesitated before speaking. "I suppose. But it seems too simple."
"Well, then, Kid, that's what it is. Simple. It doesn't have to be complicated. But it was self-defense, and no one's denying that." Heyes sighed. "You have to make peace with that, sooner or later."
The blond man pursed his lips. "I know … and I will. Guess it's just a little raw right now."
Heyes stood up. "Open wounds do heal … And what was that Grandma Curry used to tell us, about the wrathful man stirring up strife?"
"A wrathful man stirs up strife, but the one slow to anger appeases it."
"Yeah, that's it. It kind of fits."
Curry raised an eyebrow. "Does it? I was pretty angry through this whole thing."
Heyes mulled for a moment. "Yes, you were. I was, too. Maybe he got the best of us, all of us, but it's time to put it to rest."
The roar of the river diverted both men's attention. Strong and steady, its strength lay in its constancy, its murmur to mollify. Perhaps it would lull them to sleep tonight.