“Let Me Lean On You”
Keep your eyes upon me; Keep me in your sight;
Help me down the crooked road; Lead me to the light.
The road I’m on is dark; I’m not sure if I know the way.
Yet with you right beside me, I’m certain I won’t stray.
Protect me from the world; I know we’ll make it through.
Give me all the strength I need...
Let Me Lean On You
~Written by Megan Stroup~
1882 - Somewhere in Colorado
Bodies parallel to their mounts, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode low to keep wind resistance at a minimum. They needed all the help they could muster in order to outrun, and outsmart, the very determined posse from hell that had been dogging them for the past five days, relentless in its pursuit of the outlaws.
Surrounded by flatland as far as the eye could see, they took advantage of whatever might pass for shelter. With those places few and far-between, when the opportunity presented itself the two desperate outlaws dared to stop for a breather and ducked for cover behind a sparse outcropping of rocks and trees.
A moment later Hannibal Heyes lifted his head from the saddlehorn where he had dropped it to lay atop his hands. He tilted it back far enough to aim a fierce scowl at the bright beacon of light that hung in the sky above them.
“Just our luck…” he growled between drawing deep gulps of life-saving oxygen, “you’d have to… be full… tonight!”
“Gettin’ mad… at it ain’t… gonna help,” Curry ground out, as breathless as his partner. “Besides, it’s been… that way… for the past… few nights.”
“Maybe...” Heyes admitted grudgingly. “But it… wasn’t… so high… Clouds helped… didn’t light up… everything like… the Fourth of July!… It’s making it… that much easier… for them to… track us… we’re like… sitting ducks!”
“Want me… to take… point for… a while?”
“No!” The sharp retort was accompanied by a vehement shake of Heyes’ head. “You… make sure… they don’t… get too close…Shoot… a few holes… in their… guiding light… while you’re at it!” He kneed his mount and man and horse made an abrupt pivot; without another word they began their descent down the mountain.
Kid watched his cousin as he rode past, but didn’t favor him with a reply. Heyes sure is in a foul temper tonight, but I can’t say as I blame him. His countenance was troubled as he fell in behind. He had no problem following his partner; it was as the man had said. The moon was not their friend tonight; instead it aided and abetted the group of men who followed close on their heels.
A quick glance over his shoulder only caused Curry’s frown to deepen. Way too close.
It wasn’t long before the two outlaws picked up the grueling pace they had been keeping for the past few hours. Faces grim with determination, both men were thinking ahead and along the same lines. Their last option would be to split up, something neither one relished. They had put it off as long as they dared and the time to make that decision wasn’t too far down the road.
“Maybe Lady Luck’ll take pity on us before we have to decide?” Curry sighed with resignation. “It’d sure be nice, but the way things stand right now, I sure wouldn’t bet on it!”
Shortly thereafter, no doubt remained in either man’s mind that their time had indeed run out.
Forced to eat and drink while on the run, snatching rest only when the posse did, trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers had taken its toll on Heyes and Curry mentally as well as physically. The sparse words the two exhausted outlaws exchanged every now and then were far from the easy-going banter the two friends tossed at one another under normal circumstances.
On that first day, back when they had still been able to joke about their predicament, Heyes had turned to face his partner when they stopped to check out the lay of the land.
“They’re tracking so good, that posse must have an Apache riding along with them,” he had decreed with a dimpled grin.
That had been five days ago; five long, grueling days of riding hell-bent for leather. Their situation was no longer a joking matter and Heyes hadn’t cracked another smile since his prophetic words. Instead, just that morning he had leaned against his horse, the outlaw’s sides heaving nearly as much as the animal’s, and turned around to face his partner once again. This time, however, his brows were knit together and the corners of his mouth were turned down in a grim frown. He’d been forced to swallow several times before there was enough saliva in his arid mouth to speak.
“Forget... what I... said... I was... wrong,” he gasped between gulps.
Drawing deep breaths of air into lungs that felt as if they might explode, Curry lifted his head to stare at his partner. “Huh? Wrong?...” His face had a blank look. “'Bout what?”
“That posse... I was... wrong... about ’em.”
“The posse?... Whaddya mean... you were... wrong?”
“Remember... when I said... I thought... they must have... an Apache with ’em?... Well, I was wrong,” the disgruntled outlaw’s tone spoke of his chagrin. “I think… the whole… damn posse... is one hundred percent... full-blooded Apache - every last one of ’em!”
The Kid glowered at his cousin. “You know... what I... think?… I think… sometimes... you think… too much!” As saddle weary as he was, Curry hadn’t dismounted when they had stopped; he was positive that if he did, he would never be able to climb back up. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he stood up in his stirrups to stretch his legs before gingerly easing his backside down onto the hard leather of the saddle.
“If that posse... don’t give up soon... I jus’ might… turn myself in!” he snapped. Pivoting his animal about, Curry looked down at the man who still stood on the ground. “Less’n you wanna... get a real close look... to see if you’re... right this time... you might… wanna think… ‘bout gettin’… on your horse... an’ movin’... muy pronto!”
Heyes threw his partner an annoyed glance but hauled himself up into the saddle showing even less enthusiasm than Curry had. His body protested every time he moved, forcing him to acknowledge aches and pains in places he didn’t even know he had. A grimace crossed his face as he stifled the groan that had risen to his parched lips.
That had been the first real conversation the two friends had shared in the past few days. They couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t be their last; right now, every day was a gamble. The most they could hope for was that fate would smile down upon them as they urged their weary horses along the trail.
Raking a dirty shirtsleeve across his face to wipe the beads of perspiration from his brow, the dark-haired outlaw took the lead again, his mind in a fervent race with time to come up with a plan. They needed a scheme that would save the two of them from the very real possibility of spending the next twenty years behind bars in the Wyoming Territorial prison if they were captured. He didn’t need to look back to know the whereabouts of his partner.
The second man was as fair as his companion was dark. Sandy curls, drenched with sweat, clung to his head in damp ringlets; his face was drawn and haggard, the boyish features hidden beneath an inch of trail dust. He rode just behind his friend and kept a close watch on his back.
As different as night and day in their looks, the two men worked together as a team. They complemented each other and were as efficient as a well-oiled machine. Each one had placed their faith and trust in the other while still young children; that foundation had only grown more solid as the years progressed.
Cousins, born and raised in Kansas, they were all that remained of two loving families that had been slaughtered by Quantrill and his marauding band of renegade border raiders. Heyes had been barely ten and Jed only eight years old at the time of their tragic loss.
As they matured, both boys learned early on not to place their trust in anyone; forced to learn that lesson the hard way. The few times they had lowered their guard, more often than not they found themselves to be the ones who paid the price, they were the ones who ended up neck deep in trouble.
Wanted posters that decorated the jail walls or lived in the desk drawers of lawmen across the western countryside proclaimed Hannibal Heyes and Jedediah “Kid” Curry to be worth $10,000 each - dead or alive.
Heyes was the leader, the schemer and the mastermind of plans for a gang of miscreants known as The Devil’s Hole Gang; he also possessed a rare and special gift when dealing with safes. His quick, agile mind, combined with a set of nimble fingers, were assets that were unequaled and revered by both lawmen and fellow outlaws alike.
Curry, who helped to lead the gang with him, was a great listener and sounding board when Heyes needed to talk through his schemes. Quick to detect any weak links in his partner’s plans, he was just as quick with an alternative suggestion. Notorious for his prowess with a gun, he was legendary as the gun-fighter with a lightning fast draw. It was this last trait that enabled the Kid to ensure that nobody got out of line, either inside or outside of Devil’s Hole.
With their strengths combined, the two men were a formidable pair. It had been only a matter of time before Heyes and Curry became two of the most successful outlaws of their time despite the fact that in all the train and bank robberies they had committed, they had never shot anyone. Lest it be thought otherwise, that was not to say that the outlaws had not used guns in the commission of their crimes, but that the weapons were merely a ploy to instill intimidation into the people so that killing would not become a necessity.
In truth, the pair were more like a couple of latter-day Robin Hoods; they hurt the banks and railroads in their most vulnerable spots, yet shied away from taking personal property from the passengers of the conveyances they robbed or causing harm to innocent bystanders. When modern technology made it near impossible for the two outlaws to continue along their chosen path, they both came to the realization that something would have to change, and furthermore, that something would have to be them.
Heyes and Curry got wind of the Governor of Wyoming’s new “Amnesty Plan” and slipped unnoticed into the small town of Porterville one moonless night to approach a fellow ex-outlaw and old friend, Lom Trevors. Trevors, who had already received his own amnesty from the Governor, was now the acting sheriff of Porterville.
“If Lom can do it, then we can too… right, Heyes?”
“Yeah, but there’s more to it than that, Kid; if we can convince Lom that we really mean it, he would be a good man to have on our side, especially when we have to talk to the Governor.”
It was a good plan. However, even after a whole night of talking and arguing until they were blue in the face, Heyes and Curry were still unable to persuade the lawman over to their side.
While suspect of their true motive, Lom was wise enough to keep his counsel to himself and decided to try a different tactic.
“Do you know – do you have any idea how many men have a price tag of $10,000 on their heads?” Trevors drew himself up to his full height and answered his own question before either of the other two could say a word. “Two - and I’m looking at both of them right now!”
“That’s not fair, Lom, and you know it!” Heyes growled in protest. “Why should we be penalized for being the best in our field?” He slammed a palm down against the lawman’s desk, producing the sound effect of a gunshot. “We can’t help it that we were better at our jobs than everyone else now - can we?”
Quick to back up his partner, Kid positioned his body so that he was alongside his friend. “Yeah, Lom, Heyes is right; even though we were outlaws, an’ we did rob all those banks an’ trains, neither one of us is wanted for murder – anywhere.”
“And another thing, can some of those other outlaws – you know, the ones with a smaller price tag on their wanted posters - make a claim like that?” Heyes raised his eyes until they were level with those of their friend; eyes that reflected the sincerity in his voice. “That should count for something, shouldn’t it, Lom? Surely the Governor should be willing to take a thing that important into consideration… right?”
The lawman looked first at Heyes and then to Curry. The seconds ticked by as he stared each man straight in the eyes; the silence in the small office was deafening. In the end, the out-laws’ final words, along with the fact that both men spoke of their lawless days as if in the past, were what won the sheriff over to their side. Convinced by what he read in their faces, he blew out a breath and gave a curt nod. “Alright, I’ll go see the governor and discuss the amnesty for you - for old time’s sake!”
Several Days Later in the town of Porterville, Inside Sheriff Lom Trevor’s Jail
"I've got some good news," Lom announced when he returned.
The expressions on the outlaw’s faces were as dazzling as the fireworks that lit up the sky on the fourth of July. Unable to contain their emotions any longer, anxious to hear what had happened both began to speak at once, bombarding the lawman with questions.
“What’d he say, Lom?” Heyes queried. “When does it take effect?”
“Yeah an’ how do we let everyone know we got it? Curry turned to his partner. “You think maybe they’ll put it in the newspapers?”
Impossible for the sheriff to get a word in edgewise, he had to raise his voice to be heard. “Hey - you two are worse than a couple of magpies! If you’d simmer down long enough to listen, I just might be able to tell you!” After they had complied, he began to explain.
“You did receive the amnesty -”
Shouting, grabbing each other in an exuberant bear hug and clapping each other on the back, the two men’s enthusiasm forced Lom to wait once again for the celebrating to subside before he could continue.
“I knew it, Kid!” Heyes grinned.
“Yahoo, Heyes - we did it!” Curry threw his hat into the air, “No more runnin’ from posses and lawmen! No more eatin’ cold beans out of a can!”
“We’re not wanted anymore…wahoooooo!”
“There’s something I -” Lom began.
“I know what let’s do, Heyes - let’s get every one of those wanted posters all whomped up together in a pile an’ have us a great big bonfire!”
“Fellas, listen -” the sheriff tried again.
“Sounds like a real good idea, Kid - I like it! And we can invite everyone to help us celebrate - Clem and George -”
“An’ Wheat an’ Kyle, an’ all the rest of the boys -”
“If you’d just let me -”
“We can’t leave Silky and Soapy out -”
A shrill whistle was able to get their attention when all else failed. “Neither of you is going to be inviting anybody anywhere to do anything!” Lom snapped.
“We’re not?” Heyes’ smile turned into a frown. “Why?”
“Yeah - why not?” Curry echoed.
“Because you didn’t let me finish! Before you two start sending out the invites and hoorahing the town, there’s something real important you’d better listen to. I’m supposed to tell you that the amnesty is provisional -”
“Provisional?” Heyes cut him off, “Just what do you mean by provisional?” He fixed the lawman with a glare.
“Well, there are certain strings attached.”
“Strings?” Curry favored the lawman with a deep scowl of suspicion. “What kinda strings?”
“What exactly are you saying, Lom?” Heyes took a step in the sheriff’s direction. “Spit it out! Did we - or did we not - get the amnesty?”
“Yeah, Lom, it can’t be both,” Curry came to stand alongside his partner, his hand coming to rest on his gun.
Taking in the Kid’s stance, Lom held up a cautionary hand. “Now, take it easy, hold on just one minute, fellas; I said it was good news, remember? Well, it seems that the Governor feels it’d be political suicide for his career, this close to election time, to just flat out and grant the pair of you full amnesty now.
“He says that first you’re going to have to prove you deserve it. So, if you can manage to stay out of trouble for one whole year, then he’ll definitely consider granting your request by making it official; he’ll announce the deal to the public.”
As both men opened their mouths, Lom was quick to add, “I wasn’t finished; there’s one final condition. You can’t tell anyone else about your special deal - nobody, not one single person - understood? Only the two of you, me, and of course the Governor, will know about it; it’ll be our secret, agreed?”
The two outlaws exchanged a silent look, and then nodded, albeit with reluctance.
Heyes’ warm brown eyes had darkened to the color of obsidian. Having heard, and understood, the underlying message in the lawman’s explanation, there were two significant words, ‘if’ and ‘consider’ that stood out like sore thumbs. Arms akimbo on his hips, he fixed Trevors with a glare.
“So what it all boils down to is, that IF we don’t make it, that IF we make just one mistake – no matter how small - the Governor can UNconsider it and forget the whole thing,” he snapped his fingers, “just like that?”
Lom nodded. “That’s the deal, fellas; you can take it or leave it.”
The men’s initial joy and elation when Lom had first informed them that they had received the amnesty was quick to evaporate, leaving in its place bitterness, anger and disappointment. With no other options to choose from, Heyes and Curry accepted the deal with the stark realization it meant that not one solitary thing had changed for them. In reality, they would still be wanted, they would still be worth $10,000 each - dead or alive - to anyone who recognized them, but the worst part of all was that they would still be on the run.
In effect, according to the rules set forth by the Governor, and which they would be forced to abide by, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry could still be blamed, and held accountable, for any illegal activity that even remotely involved a train or a bank. They would still have to survive, but it would be without the money they had been getting from the banks and trains they robbed.
It would be tough going. Even when the two outlaws had been pocketing their share of those illicit funds it had been just enough for them to get by on. Now, all it would take was one slip and they could forget all about the proposed amnesty.
The two men shared another long, silent look before turning to face Lom.
“Anything else we should know about, Sheriff?” Heyes snapped, making no attempt to mask his sarcasm.
Lom didn’t flinch. “I went to the Governor for you, didn’t I?” he shot back. “It’s MY reputation on the line!”
It was a standoff. All three men stood scowling at each other as the seconds ticked by.
Lom ran a hand through his hair. “Look, fellas, I know you’ve never lied to me, and you’ve got no cause to start now. You’ve both given me your word that you’re going to stay out of trouble and that’s good enough for me. If anyone can do it, you two can. But,” Trevors went on, “I’m going to be keeping a real close eye on you.”
Not one hint of a smile was visible on the lawman’s face when he added, “I’m giving the both of you fair warning right here and now, that if something should happen, I’ll be the one to come after you.”
Heyes and Curry were under no illusions; they knew with dead certainty that the sheriff meant every word he said. The outlaws also acknowledged the truth of the matter: Lom Trevors was the one person whom they would never be able to outrun.
Under the guise of ‘protection’, and as a final condition of the proposed amnesty, ‘aliases’ had been created for the two outlaws to live under for the next year. Hannibal Heyes would cease to exist; he would become Joshua Smith. Jedediah “Kid” Curry would also vanish; in his place would ride a man by the name of Thaddeus Jones. Upon hearing Lom make the announcement, neither Heyes nor Curry appeared to be very impressed with the choice of names about to be bestowed on them.
“What’s wrong with them I’d like to ask?” the lawman challenged.
“Well,” Heyes grinned, “you have to admit, they’re not very creative. So, Lom, who is it, you or the Governor who’s cursed with such a sorry lack of imagination?”
Bristling with indignation, Trevors’ eyes glittered as he pierced both outlaws with a glare, “As a matter of fact, the names belong to a couple of good, honest, hard-working men! Joshua was the Governor’s father’s name and Thaddeus just so happens to belong to my grandfather! Those names were good enough for them and they ought to do just fine and dandy for you - still want to complain?”
The partners exchanged a quick look.
Despite the warning headshake Heyes gave him Curry turned back to face the lawman. “Smith an’ Jones?” he snorted, “C’mon, Lom!”
“Well, we can’t very well contact you by your real names now, can we? The Governor wanted something that wouldn’t attract attention; I thought they should be easy to remember and common enough people would believe they were your real ones. Besides,” the lawman was quick to point out, “the world is full of Smiths and Jones’.”
When presented with those unarguable facts, Heyes and Curry decided to fold, and so the monikers stuck.
As the three friends shook hands and said good-bye, ‘Joshua Smith’ and ‘Thaddeus Jones’ hoped that the next time they all met it would be because Lom had good news to share with them, news that the Governor of Wyoming had finally seen fit to grant both Hannibal Heyes and Jed “Kid” Curry full amnesty.
Mounted on their horses and on their way out of Porterville, Joshua Smith favored his partner with a wry grin.
“Well, Thaddeus, looks like it’s going to be a long twelve months...”
Two Months Later…Down the Straight and Narrow Road
To give credit where credit was due, Heyes and Curry really did do their best to try and stay out of trouble, and out of the law’s hands, but sometimes it seemed as if trouble came looking for - and found them - with a vengeance. With great reluctance, more often than not, the two had even taken on jobs that required long hours of hard, back-breaking work in return for very little pay in order to avoid questionable circumstances. It was at the end of one such day that, after staring at the piece of jerky he held in his hand, the Kid turned to his partner.
“You know what, Heyes? Ever since we decided to go straight we never have any money an’ we’re always short on food!” Curry groused; his stomach gave a loud rumbling growl in agreement. “I don’t think that deal we made with the Governor was such a good one!”
Gnawing on his own tough piece of dried jerky, Heyes grimaced. “Kid, I’m way ahead of you on that!”
Back To the Beginning: We re-join our two outlaws, with the posse still in hot pursuit…
The breaking of dawn signaled that yet another sleepless night had ended for the two outlaws. Heyes darted a quick look up at the sky. The sun had just begun to rise over the mountains that surrounded them and here they were again, trying to outrun a posse that was determined as well as ruthless in its pursuit of the wanted men. As exhausted as he was, he had come up with a foolproof plan, a sure-fire way guaranteed to lose them.
“I’ll admit, it might be a bit daring,” he conceded, “but it’ll keep us alive and out of that posse’s hands.” A grin tugged at the corners of Heyes’ mouth. “Now all I have to do is convince Kid to go along with it.”
Behind Heyes, Curry twisted around in his saddle just enough to put a hand on his lower back and began to knead the sore muscles in the hope of easing some of the discomfort. He clenched his teeth in frustration when he realized the effort was pointless; his neck and shoulders were also beginning to cramp, stinging like pins and needles, and it didn’t look as if they’d be getting out of their saddles anytime soon.
He raised his head and twisted a bit further around to judge the posse’s position before easing up slowly; he arched his back and hunched his stiff neck and shoulders. The corners of his mouth turned up in a smile, his first in several days. Lordy, but that sure felt good! Kid breathed in relief.
A few seconds later, a wave of searing hot pain shot through the outlaw’s left shoulder blade and caused him to regret his impulsive stretch. It spiraled across his torso and continued along the entire length of his arm; Curry's grip on the reins slackened and he slumped sideways. In danger of falling off his horse, at the last second he managed to grasp the animal’s mane with his good hand. His efforts hindered by the injury, he struggled to regain his balance.
Numbness started to set in; it began to snake its way down his arm and complicated the task even further. It required every ounce of grit the outlaw had left to wrap the wrist of his wounded arm around the saddlehorn with the fervent hope that he could hold on. He bit down on his lip and drew blood as another spasm shot down the length of the injured appendage and jolted him to his core.
Working one-handed on the knot, Curry reached up to untie the bandana that encircled his neck. Just as he was about to concede defeat, he felt the knot give way and yanked the red square of material free. The outlaw sent a quick glance at the horse and rider ahead and released another relief-filled sigh.
Well, one good thing, at least Heyes hasn’t noticed - yet. He’d jus’ worry, an’ right now we can’t afford for him to be doin’ anythin’ ‘cept figurin’ out how to steer us clear of that posse. There’ll be plenty of time enough to let him know later on when we stop. He’s bound not to like it much, but somehow I don’t think that posse’s gonna let us stop an’ take a break jus’ so’s he can patch up a gunshot wound in one of their $10,000.00 prizes!
It was a painful and time-consuming task, but Curry managed to wedge the bandana between his shoulder blade and Henley. That should take care of things for now; could our luck get any worse? the exhausted man dared to wonder. He tensed when his partner turned around to give him a quick look of inquiry. From somewhere deep down inside, the sandy-haired outlaw summoned up the strength to produce both the semblance of a smile and a thumbs-up gesture.
Satisfied, Heyes nodded and returned his attention to the job at hand.
Free of his partner’s scrutiny, the Kid pitched forward to bury his face deep into his horse’s mane. He stifled another groan, not because he worried that Heyes might hear it, there was no possibility of that. No, it was because he was sure that if he gave in to the pain, that if he allowed it to escape, it would ultimately be his fault when the posse captured them.
His thoughts kept pace to the staccato beat of the pounding hooves. “Can’t let Heyes know... can’t let Heyes know... can’t let Heyes know...” The whispered words became a mantra as the two men continued to ride for their lives. As he struggled to remain conscious, Curry’s thoughts drifted as he recalled how they had come to be in this lousy, but familiar, predicament in the first place...
NINE DAYS EARLIER…
The town was perfect.
In fact, that was exactly the word both he and Heyes had used to describe it. Perfect. The place had appeared to be all that they required; the answer to their petitions.
Even the name was perfect: Harmony.
The town was small and quiet, filled with townspeople who were friendly, but not too nosey. The saloon provided liquid refreshments and poker games with moderate to unskilled players who were genial and willing to part ways with their money and not kick up too much of a fuss. There was even light entertainment to be found in the form of a drunken brawl or two, as well as the off-key howling of customers too inebriated to care whom they offended.
Their second floor hotel room had a bird’s eye view of the building that sat right smack dab across the street: the Sheriff’s office.
But the most perfect aspect of all was the complete stranger who wore the star-shaped badge and sat in that office. Curry remembered he and Heyes had exchanged a satisfied smile when they read the name above the door. Sheriff Lester Addams. Nope, it didn’t set off any warning bells in either of their heads.
All in all, the two partners concluded that Harmony would be the perfect place to hide out in; a great town to pass the time while they figured out what they wanted to do and where they wanted to head next.
And, it had been perfect...at least for the first few days. The pair had fallen into an easy routine: wake up, eat breakfast, exercise their horses, read and pass the time until the next meal. Eat lunch, drink, play poker. Eat supper, play more poker, drink more beer, go to sleep…It was a schedule of leisure that had suited them perfectly.
On their fourth afternoon in Harmony, the two men were in the saloon enjoying a beer after a few uneventful games of poker when, without warning, Heyes pulled his hat down low and raised a hand to shield his face from the rest of the room.
“Don’t look now,” he whispered, “but I’m pretty sure that man who just walked in is Lefty Carter. He’s at the table over by the wall next to the bar.”
“Where?” Curry’s head swiveled in the direction his partner had indicated.
“I said don’t look!” Heyes hissed.
Curry threw Heyes an apologetic look, averted his eyes and ducked his head. For good measure he hunched down and made a half-turn in his chair so that his back was to the man. “You don’t s’pose he still holds a grudge against us, do you?” he whispered.
“Unfortunately for us, I do suppose, taking into consideration the fact that I’m the one who accused him of cheating and you’re the reason he’s nicknamed Lefty...” Heyes paused long enough to take a covert look through his fingers at the man in question before turning back to his partner. “You do remember the last thing he said to us, don’t you?”
Curry nodded, his expression as glum as his partner’s words. “How could I forget? Said he’d get even with us, ’specially me, if it was the last thing he ever did. You think we can get outta here without him noticing us?”
“Too late for that.”
Something he heard in his partner’s face caused Kid to tense; his hand went to rest on his gun.
“Easy…” Heyes cautioned.
“Lefty just got up; he’s heading for the door.”
“You think he’s gonna go tell the sheriff who we are?”
“It’s not what I think that matters; it’s what the sheriff thinks and what we do next that counts.”
Kid raised curry-blue eyes to stare into brunneous ones. “You sure he saw us?”
“Positive, and yes,” he forestalled Curry’s next question, “I’m sure he recognized us.”
Heyes and Curry waited until Lefty had left the saloon. As soon as the batwing doors swung shut behind him they exited by way of the back door, trying not to draw any unwanted attention to themselves. The men kept to the shadows until they reached their hotel; they slipped inside and took the stairs, two at a time, up to their room.
Saddlebags packed, the pair was on their way to the livery stable in record time. With an efficiency born of practice, horses were saddled, bridled and ready to ride within minutes.
Heyes and Curry mounted up and rode like the wind; they high-tailed it out of the perfect little town of Harmony. It wasn’t very long before they noticed a thick cloud of dust not too far behind them. The two outlaws pulled their horses up short and exchanged a look of resignation.
“Some deal huh, Heyes? We didn’t even do anythin’ an’ they’re still comin’ after us!” Curry complained. After a slight hesitation he added, “You think we’ll ever get that amnesty?”
“Like I said before, Kid, it doesn’t matter what I think. C’mon, let’s get going and give ’em a run for their money!”
“An’ that’s how we ended up here…” Curry muttered into the whistling wind.
Heyes continued to lead the way up the rocky trail, high into the hills above, intent on making it as difficult as possible for the posse to follow their tracks. Their pursuers who were getting closer with every minute that passed.
“I need to buy us some time. That tracker, whoever he is, has seen through every trick the Kid and I have used; we’re going to have to do something soon.” Heyes glanced around in search of the familiar landmark.
“How much further? You sure you know where you’re going?”
“Of course I remember,” Heyes muttered. “It should be right about here.”
“Well, nothin’ looks familiar to me so far,” Curry stated flatly. “Not much shelter here -”
“We’re not looking for shelter and nothing should look familiar to you; you weren’t with me the last time I was here. We had split up, Wheat and Preacher with me, Kyle and Lobo with you. You took off in the other direction. We lost the posse -” he stopped and a dimpled smile appeared on the outlaw’s face.
“There it is - this way!” Heyes called over his shoulder and pointed towards an odd-shaped rock. His smile deepened. “That posse’ll never credit us with half the nerve to even attempt what I have in mind.”
Curry let his horse follow his partner’s blindly into the shaded area. He didn’t care where they went, grateful for any chance to stop; protecting their backs had its disadvantages. It’ll be good to breathe somethin’ besides trail dust... An’ Heyes - me an’ you really need to talk...
But it wasn't in the cards for that to happen.
More than thirty minutes later, after miles of upwards, strenuous climbing, horses stumbling on the rocky terrain as they scrambled for footing, the outlaws fighting to catch their breath in the thinning altitude, Heyes held up a gloved hand, the signal to stop. Both men reached for their canteens; they slid off their horses, their boots hitting the ground with loud thuds.
After gulping down swallows of the tepid water, Curry leaned back against his horse and turned to his cousin. “Heyes... I’ve got... somethin’ -”
Hands on his knees, Heyes held up a hand and shook his head. “Me, too... a plan... don’t have... much time... I’ll explain... as we... go along...”
Eyes closed, Curry nodded, then gasped in surprise and winced at the sharp stab of pain that shot through him when Heyes grabbed him by both arms. He had to clamp his teeth together to stifle the sharp cry that rose in his throat.
“We send... the horses… down the trail... posse should... follow ’em... give us… a chance... some time... to make our escape.” Heyes punctuated his words with emphatic squeezes on the Kid’s upper arms; a motion which caused a fresh wave of pain to shoot through the injured man each time his partner did so.
Too weary to argue, Curry’s reply was automatic. “Sure... Heyes... whatever you say...” When the hands increased their hold even more, he sucked in his breath and twisted away with a quick step backwards in an effort to force Heyes to release his grip. The maneuver worked. Curry raised his head, his brow furrowed as he took in their surroundings.
“Hey - wait… hold on... jus’ one minute...” The Kid drew a ragged breath. “After that... then what?... We’ll be stuck... out here... in the middle of… nowhere... without horses!” In his frustration he lashed out at the only person available. “So, how’re we... s’posed to get... anywhere... without horses?... Jus’ where... do you think... we’re gonna make... our escape to?” he waved an arm at the vast emptiness that surrounded them.
Heyes deftly avoided both the questions and his partner’s eyes. “Just get your gear... we've got to… get the horses… outta here now... or we won’t be… doing anything... ’cept riding along… all tied up… with that posse!” He pivoted about and began to loosen his saddlebags.
A look of skepticism upon his face, Curry shook his head. “Sure hope you ain’t got some kinda brain fever from ridin’ in the sun too long,” he muttered. His brow furrowed even more. There had been that one time when Heyes had forgotten to keep his hat on...
For the whole entire two weeks he’d tended to his ailing partner, Curry had been an unwilling participant in the drama, held captive and forced to listen to Heyes and his weird imagination as he’d ranted and raved in his delirium. The Kid shuddered at the vivid memories his thoughts had conjured up.
It had been awful; a real livin’ nightmare, complete with dreams of rottin’ flesh an’ talkin’ corpses...
He’d hoped to be spared from having to experience something like that ever again! Curry darted a quick look sideways, somewhat reassured when he saw the familiar black hat that rested upon his partner’s head. He cleared his throat. “Heyes, there’s somethin’ I -”
“But I think -”
“We don’t have time for you to be thinking right now!” Heyes cut him off. “You can tell me all about it later - like when we’re NOT being chased by a blood-thirsty posse!”
Curry expelled a frustrated breath and walked over to the far side of his horse, first and foremost because it took him out of Heyes’ sight. He tugged his jacket free and managed to get his arms inside the sleeves with minimal discomfort. The Kid leaned forward to rest his head against his horse. After a moment, he blew out a resigned sigh and began to loosen his gear. Well, Heyes, so much for lettin’ you know ‘bout bein’ shot. Sure hope you’re right an’ there’ll be a chance later on...
As Curry reached up a hand to pull down his saddlebags he finalized his decision. I know you, Heyes. If you find out about the wound now, you’re gonna insist on taking the time to patch me up, an’ right now isn’t the best time for you to be playin’ doctor - not with that posse breathing down our necks.
It wouldn’t be the first time they’d had to delay tending to a wound. “An’ it probably won’t be the last time, neither,” Curry added under his breath. He held himself to blame for putting them in even more danger; he was sure Heyes would agree that it had been a pretty stupid thing to do. “I’m worse’n a walk-off!” he muttered.
Curry whipped around with a guilty start at the sound of the voice that came from right behind him. “Nothin’,” he mumbled.
Heyes gave Curry a questioning glance when he saw his partner was still in the midst of pulling his saddlebag loose from his horse.
Kid chose to ignore the look and went back to completing his task under the watchful eyes of his cousin. When he was done they slapped at the horses’ flanks with their hats and yelled; the animals took off down the trail at a furious gallop.
“Grab your things and follow me!” Heyes ordered brusquely and turned away.
“Whatever you say, Heyes.” Sometimes it was easier to just go along with what Heyes said; it saved time. Curry bent down to pick up his gear and it hit him like a runaway freight train which direction Heyes was heading. The sandy-haired outlaw straightened up slowly and then stood stock-still to stare at his partner’s back.
Heyes had reached the rim of the cliff and rose up on tip-toe to peek over the edge. “Sure don’t remember it being that much of a drop,” he muttered with an involuntary gulp. The quick glance he shot over his shoulder revealed that Kid hadn’t budged. He raised his eyes to look in the other man’s face.
Curry’s gear dropped from his hand. “You cannot be thinkin’ of doin’ what I think you’re thinkin’!” His words were stilted, as if being forced out.
“Now, Kid, remember how this works; I’m the one who does the thinking -”
“NO WAY, Hannibal!” Curry growled. “Not this time!”
That was Heyes’ first clue as to what degree the Kid’s temper had reached.
“Just listen -”
“Kid, would you -”
“NO! This CAN’T be what you’ve been thinkin’! This is - it’s jus’ plain loco - that’s what it is, an’ so are YOU!”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, the corners of Heyes’ mouth turned up. I knew you’d say that.
Curry’s emotions had escalated until they reached the boiling point; he didn’t even make an attempt to keep them in check.
“An’ you can jus’ wipe that smile off your face! You don’t honestly think I’d think this was a good idea - do you? Are you gonna stand there an’ tell me that this is ALL you could come up with after all that time you spent thinkin’?” he snorted.
Already edgy with pain, exhaustion combined with frustration to put Curry in an even lousier frame of mind. Kid directed a sizzling glare at his partner across the distance that separated them. “You wanna know what I think, Heyes?” he yelled. Without giving the other man a chance to answer he continued, “Well, I’m gonna tell you - I think that if this is what you think, then you have yourself another think a-comin’!”