Down The Crooked Road
His gear secured around his waist with a rope, Heyes took a step towards Curry.
“Hold it right there!” Curry growled, holding up a hand. “Don’t even think of comin’ any closer - there’s nothin’ you can say or do that’ll convince me to do what you’re thinkin’!”
Heyes’ eyes flickered to the cliffs then back to his partner.
“You’ve gotta be kidding!” Curry hissed, his blue eyes wide with emotion.
Heyes edged closer; palms up in front of him, he began to speak in the tone one might use to placate a fractious child. “Kid, listen to me; this isn’t just a chance, it’s our only chance. If there were any other way...” Heyes shook his head. “After being chased by that posse for the last five days, neither you nor I have the strength to outrun them anymore.”
The expression on Curry’s face never altered; Heyes lowered his hands to his sides.
“You and I both know they’re not going to give up. You don’t want to spend the next twenty years in a prison cell - do you?” Heyes spared another glance towards the cliff, then back to Curry. “I know it looks like it might be a long fall, but I checked and there’s plenty of water. The water will break -”
“That’s a great word to use, Heyes - break. An’ that’s jus’ what I’m afraid of - what’ll get broken - or maybe what won’t!” His voice charged with emotion, Curry continued, “An’ as for spendin’ twenty years behind bars, I’d still be alive an’ in one piece! Maybe we’d even be lucky enough to get separate cells - on opposite ends of the prison! At least maybe then I might be safe from you an’ your loco ideas!” The Kid had definitely reached the end of his rope; with eyes the color or cobalt, his body went rigid as he assumed a gunfighter’s stance.
Clue number two as to Curry’s frame of mind. Not one trace of a smile could be found on his face and there was the familiar obstinate set to his chin that Heyes recognized all too well. As the dark-haired man took this all in, he dared another step and braced himself.
“Aw, c’mon, Kid,” he cajoled and hooked his thumbs into his belt, “you don’t really mean that; you’re just all wore out and so am I.”
Curry’s glare only intensified.
Outwardly calm, Heyes’ thoughts were running a mile a minute. As stubborn as you can be, Kid, when you get in this mood I know I’m in for one humdinger of a fight! It’s unfortunate we don’t have the luxury of time for my usual patience and finesse. Guess I’ll just have to fight fire with fire; I only need to get your attention focused on something else for just a few seconds. He sent a silent plea to the powers that be, “Please don’t let my silver tongue fail me now,” and pinned his cousin with a look that had caused many a man on the receiving end of it to back down in seconds.
“Look,” he began, his persuasive tone transformed into one that brooked no argument, “we don’t have much time before that posse gets here. IF we’re lucky, they won’t know we’re here and they’ll keep on riding, chasing after our horses. Problem is, we don’t have any idea how far the horses got; all we can do is hope they kept on running to buy us a few extra minutes. If luck’s not on our side, and the animals did stop, that posse’ll double back - be here in no time - and then you and I will have the next twenty years to think about what we should have done!”
Curry glowered at Heyes in silence as his partner continued to press his case.
“After we jump, we’ll float downstream a bit and find us a nice quiet place to make camp. Why, that posse would never expect us to do something like this.”
“I’m with the posse on that one!” Curry snapped, breaking his silence. ”I don’t expect us to do something like this!”
“Think about it, Kid; once we lose ‘em we can finally rest. Besides having the element of surprise on our side, no one would be following us. C’mon, it’ll be just like when we were kids down by the ol’ swimming hole. Remember that time when we played hooky - when we dammed up the water and built that raft? We pretended to be Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.” Heyes smiled that special smile of his, the one that was usually guaranteed to get him what he wanted, with everyone except the one person who knew him best.
Curry’s look spoke volumes. “Sure, Heyes, jus’ like the ol’ swimmin’ hole,” he snapped. “But with one great BIG difference - that was jus’ a rock! This - this is a MOUNTAIN! I also remember YOU tellin’ me to jump feet first, right before Joey Jenkins pushed me an’ I almost broke my ankle when I hit that stupid rock! Ruined most of my summer; not to mention that neither one of us could sit down after our pa’s got done with us!”
Heyes’ grin increased at the memory. “Most?” he quirked a brow at his cousin.
“Enough!” Curry retorted, “It wasn’t funny then an’ it sure ain’t funny now! You keep right on smilin’, thinkin’ I’m gonna give in an’ do this jus’ ‘cos you say it’s a good plan an’ it’ll save our hides, but this time you’re wrong! I don’t havta think about it - I’m not gonna change my mind.”
While Curry exercised his lungs, Heyes had worked his way a few steps closer. He was pleased with the progress he was making until the Kid moved his right hand to rest on his hip. The dark-haired man came to a standstill when he recognized sign number three, but kept his gaze fixed on his partner, his eyes never breaking contact with the other man’s. He sent a disarming smile his cousin’s way.
Curry wasn’t buying it. “That’s not gonna work, Heyes,” he growled, “I know you, remember?”
Heyes’ smile never faltered. No problem, Kid, I’ll just switch to plan B. “That’s right, you do,” he chuckled, “and if you can remember that much about that day, then you’ll also recall that I was the only one who was in any real trouble. You had the injured foot - along with everyone’s sympathy, I might add. But, when you found out that I was going to take all the blame, you just couldn’t stand it…could you?” Heyes arched a brow.
Although Curry began to fidget under his partner’s scrutiny, he didn’t respond.
“Yep,” Heyes forged ahead. “You just had to come hopping out, sprained ankle and all, trying to stop me. It’s funny, but what I remember most is that I couldn’t believe you would be loco enough to want to be in as much trouble as I was!” He shot a smug look at the Kid. “Guess loco ideas just run in the family - don’t they, cousin?”
When Curry relaxed his pose and his hand dropped back down to his side, Heyes breathed a sigh of relief; this was the opportunity he had been waiting for. The dark-haired outlaw didn’t waste a single second.
“Time’s up,” he took the last two steps needed to bring him in front of his friend. “We can’t afford to wait around any longer. Sorry, Kid, trust me-”
“You ain’t got nothin’ to be sorry ‘bout, Heyes.” A mocking smile accompanied his words as Curry took two steps sideways; steps that kept him just out of Heyes’ reach. “You jus’ go right ahead an’ jump - if you wanna; I’ll take my chances goin’ down the other side of the mountain. Jus’ nice, little jumps, you know.”
Keeping a wary eye on the other man, the Kid reached down to grab his gear. ”Maybe we’ll meet up somewhere down there,” he jerked his head in the direction of the swirling water, “That is, if you make it. An’ another thing, don’t say ‘trust me’, every time you do -”
Whatever else Curry was about to say was cut off mid-stream when a hand snaked out and grabbed him by the collar of his sheepskin coat. He was swung around in a half-arc that brought him precariously near the edge.
Taking a deep breath, Heyes grabbed his partner around the waist and pushed. Despite a last ditch effort by the Kid digging his heels into the ground, they lost their balance and both outlaws toppled backwards over the edge of the cliff.
Then, both men experienced the sensation of falling… down, down, down, spiraling downward, the wind whistling past them as the water rushed up to meet them.
It has been said that fear can be a great motivator. It is also true that it can cause a temporary memory lapse.
Thus it was that despite his extreme level of pain, Curry was able to maintain a strangle hold around his partner’s neck, rendering the normally verbose Hannibal Heyes bereft of speech. Due to that fact, only one voice and one solitary word were to be heard as the two cousins plummeted towards what Curry surely believed would be their death.
Alas, dear reader, other than that one solitary word, neither Curry’s nor Heyes’ thoughts as they plummeted towards the murky waters that awaited them below are to be found printed here. Instead, I shall leave it to your fertile imagination.
Knowing Jedediah “Kid” Curry as you do, take your time; savor the moment. Have a bit of fun, as you imagine the pithy words that might have spewed forth from his mouth, had the man been capable of speech. And, if you like, spare a moment (or two) to bestow a bit of sympathy and understanding upon the poor, unfortunate soul to whom the Kid might have addressed those words to...
They hit the water hard but still together with Curry maintaining his death grip of a bear hug around his partner’s neck. As the shock of the cold water hit them, the Kid’s hold on Heyes slackened. The dark-haired outlaw took advantage of the situation and kicked with both feet to propel himself away in order to get his bearings.
Which way was up?
The disoriented man searched for his partner in the swirling waters. Catching sight of the Kid’s coat amid thrashing body parts, he grabbed the back of it and began to tow the man behind him as he swam. Not only did he have to struggle against the current to fight his way to the top, but the Kid’s body was dead weight, and an additional burden.
It’s like trying to swim through molasses in the middle of January! Heyes groaned. We’re not out of the woods yet and I’ve still got a good distance to go; sure hope I can hold my breath! Drawing on an inner strength, Heyes broke through the surface before he blacked out and tugged his cousin up alongside him.
“Lay… on your back… just float,” he gasped.
Curry was all too willing to oblige. Truth to tell, he would have been hard pressed to do otherwise. Now that he was reasonably sure he was not going to die, the Kid took stock of his injuries. Feels like I’ve been sucker-punched an’ then run over by a stampedin’ herd of beeves! he groaned. But even that pain wasn’t enough to take his mind off the burning sensation in his left shoulder.
Allowing the current to take them downstream, the two outlaws breathed in great gulps of air, filling their tortured lungs with oxygen, grateful they would live to tell the tale of how they had survived the fall. Both men were full of gratitude, but each for very different reasons.
Curry thanked his lucky stars above that in addition to surviving the fall he was still in one piece. The whole trip down had been divided between cursing Heyes and bargaining with the Almighty, pleading for one final opportunity to deal with his cousin as he saw fit.
Heyes was grateful, as well as inordinately pleased with himself, because his plan was an unqualified success. They were alive, they hadn’t hit one single rock and, best of all, they were free from the posse. A small grin tugged at the corners of his mouth as he caught sight of Curry out of the corner of his eye.
I have a hunch our little jump off the cliff was a piece of cake compared to what’s ahead. All I have to do now is keep some distance between me and the Kid, at least until he’s had time to cool down a bit. Once he’s had time to think things over, I’m sure he’ll agree that it was our only option.
The posse never did figure out how the two outlaws managed to elude them. The tracker followed the trail that led him right up to the ledge that overlooked the swirling river below, but he never gave credence to the possibility that the men could have jumped.
“White men outlaws would have to be plenty loco to do something like that.” And, as far as he knew, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry might be wanted, but they were not loco. His dark eyes somber, his expression just as solemn, he squatted down to study the tracks left in Mother Earth one final time.
The Apache shielded his eyes to look up into the sky and then shifted his gaze to stare out across the river at the shadows that lengthened with the setting sun and rose to his feet. Faced with the unenviable task of informing the disgruntled posse that they would be heading home empty-handed, the tracker shook his head and turned away from the cliffs with a soft grunt.
No, the white men hunters who wore the silver stars on their chests were not going to be very happy when he told them that the two outlaws had vanished like Spirits in the sky...
Unbeknownst to the posse, several miles downstream Heyes and Curry had come across a place with water shallow enough they could touch bottom. The two waterlogged men moved closer to the shore, dragged their bodies up onto the riverbank and collapsed right where they lay.
A few moments later, Heyes turned his head just enough so he could see his partner.
Face down, Curry’s head rested on his arm; his shoulders shuddering with the heaving breaths he took.
The dark-haired man frowned as the breaths escalated into a bout of coughing which forced the Kid to roll over onto his side, his back to Heyes. When his partner curled a protective arm around his stomach, Heyes was unable to maintain his silence any longer. “Hey - you alright?” He asked, concern etching his face.
Curry rolled over to lie flat on his back and tried to ignore both the pain and his cousin’s voice. It shouldn’t hurt this much to breathe! he groaned. Not long after that the coughing spasm subsided, leaving him even more weak and irritable than before.
“At least listen -”
Motionless, eyes closed, Curry’s words were clipped. “No, Hannibal, I am not alright… an’ I am not listenin’ - or talkin’ - to you ever again!”
“Sounds like you’re talking to me,” Heyes countered. When there was no response, he continued, “Aw, c’mon, Kid.” He propped himself up on his elbow and added, “You know as well as I do, that if we hadn’t jumped-”
“Leave… me… alone!” Curry growled.
“You don’t really mean that -”
“I do mean it - jus’ shut up! I’ve had it! It’s over, finished - done! You got your way as usual. I know I’m askin’ the impossible, but could you at least try to quit talkin’? Better yet, if you can’t stop, jus’ go away - far away! There’s not a part of me that doesn’t hurt; the last thing I wanna hear -”
“Hey, hold on! You wait a minute!” Bristling with indignation, Heyes pulled himself upright. “What do you mean, ’I got my way as usual’? I don’t always get my way, sometimes you get your way! You’ve got to admit, that’s not a fair - or accurate – assumption -”
“Fair? Accurate?” Curry snorted and turned sideways in time to catch the annoyed scowl on his cousin’s face. “You know what, Heyes? You sure are easy to rile,” he chuckled, “As good ol’ Grampa Curry used to say, ‘Don’t get mad, get even’.” He turned away to add under his breath, An’ the way I’ve got it figured, cousin, we’re more’n even already!
Heyes stared at his friend. “You’re like a piece of puzzle. Just when I think I’ve got you pegged, you go and do something that blows it all to smithereens.”
“Maybe,” Curry shrugged. Under the close scrutiny of his partner, he pulled himself up with caution. He started to reach down to tug off a boot, but thought better of it and switched to using his foot instead. With careful maneuvering, he achieved his goal with minimal discomfort and, even better, without arousing Heyes’ suspicion.
Once the Kid had the boot in hand, he turned it upside-down. In silence the two men watched the water drain out and form a puddle. This soon disappeared as the sunbaked ground greedily absorbed it with indecent haste.
“You know, I feel more like a drowned rat than a puzzle piece, an’ if I don’t get outta these wet things soon I’m gonna be a sick or dead one. You’re in the same shape,” the Kid pointed out as he removed his other boot in the same manner as the first one.
“Good point; the sooner the better. And, since every stitch of clothing we own is soaked, we need to make use of what sun we can. Right now there’s nothing more important than us getting out of these wet clothes and putting something warm into our bellies; everything else can wait.”
Curry stopped what he was doing to eye his friend in silence. “You sure about that, Heyes? Nothin’s more important?”
Heyes subjected his partner to a searching look before he replied. “Not one thing,” he repeated. “We’d better get a move on; we’re burning what little daylight we’ve got left sitting around here jabbering.”
On his feet first, Heyes reached down to offer the other man a hand up. His hand still clasped in his cousin’s, Curry’s blue eyes locked with brown as the two men exchanged a look.
They were alive, and they were together; they could face anyone - or anything.
It didn’t take long to find a suitable place to make camp; they laid their things out to dry on the nearby rocks and bushes. That task completed, the men began to gather firewood.
It was now Curry’s turn to keep the distance between them; he gradually increased his search perimeter without arousing his partner’s suspicion. Without his coat, the outlaw was left with only a shirt for protection. He’d chosen the darkest one he owned in the hopes that any oozing blood would not be too obvious. He grimaced as he recalled what an ordeal it had been trying to justify wearing the wet clothing to his partner.
Having stripped down to long johns, Heyes had stopped hanging his wet clothes on a rock to raise his eyebrows in surprise when the Kid walked into their makeshift camp buttoning up his shirt. Unable to ignore the look, Curry was on the defensive.
“I thought the idea was to get out of our wet things?”
“It was and I did.”
“Well, getting out of one wet shirt to put on another wet one is -”
“Smart,” Curry interjected. “This one’s drier.”
Heyes cocked his head to one side. “Oh… really?”
Tossing his clothing onto the rock Heyes began to head in Curry’s direction.
“What’re you doing’?” Jed eyed his partner with suspicion.
“Just wanted to test out your theory; don’t worry, it won’t hurt a bit.”
“I’m not worried - it ain’t gonna hurt at all.” Curry pulled his gun out of his holster, pointed it towards Heyes and held out his left hand, palm up. “Give me your gun.”
Heyes stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes riveted on Kid’s Colt. “What?”
“I said…give me your gun.”
“I heard you. I meant why?”
“You know, it sure would make things a whole lot easier if you said what you meant.”
“Well, you kinda surprised me; I didn’t think I’d said anything to make you want to shoot me!”
“Shoot you, huh?” A small grin tugged at the corners of Curry’s mouth. “Well, you’re right; so far you haven’t said anything to get yourself shot.”
Heyes searched Curry’s face. “Oh, I get it; this is about me saving your life then? About how we jumped off that cliff and escaped from the posse.”
“Jumped? No, you pushed me off that mountain, remember? You know, Heyes, gettin’ pushed off a mountain, now that might make some people a tad upset.”
Arms akimbo on his hips, Heyes dared to grin back. ”Some people would be grateful that they were still alive to threaten the person who helped them jump off a cliff and saved their life.”
“Maybe, but as I said before, you did not help me jump; I was pushed. And I still want your gun; c’mon, hand it over.” Curry stretched out a hand once again.
Heyes’ arms dropped to his sides and his grin disappeared. “You really are serious - aren’t you?”
“Fine!” Heyes pivoted about, muttering as he stalked over to where his belongings lay in a pile. “Pushed, jumped - at least we’re alive! Of all the ingrates...” After rummaging around a bit he straightened and walked back to stand in front of Curry.
“Here!” he snapped and held out his gun.
Curry took the proffered weapon. As soon as it was in his hands he began to shake his head.
“What? No, wait - I mean why? What I want to know is why you want my gun? And why you’re shaking your head!”
“You know that little swim we took? Well, your gun’s in even worse shape than mine. It’s gonna take me a real long time to get ‘em back in workin’ order; we’re not gonna be able to shoot anythin’ for awhile. Everything’s wet - the barrel, the bullets, gunpowder...” He cocked his head to the side and favored his partner with a quizzical look. “What’d you think I wanted your gun for?”
Heyes’ chin dropped to his chest. When he lifted his head to look into his cousin’s face, there was a twinkle in his eyes, “Just another piece of that puzzle, right, Kid?”
Curry’s answer was a tired grin as he turned away and went in search of a safe place for the guns to dry until he could get around to checking them out more thoroughly. “Thank you both,” he whispered as he looked down at the Colt and the Schofield in his hands before he turned back to watch his partner light the fire. “I think you got his mind off my shirt pretty well...”
Although a lot of thought had gone into justifying his reasoning, conflicting feelings kept the young outlaw company as he scouted for wood; none of them decreased the guilt Curry felt about his decision. Angry with himself, he kicked a rock across the clearing. “I’ve already kept gettin’ shot a secret this long – why should another hour matter?”
Another big factor had been food, which had been scarce to nonexistent for them the past five days. While he himself could care less about eating anything right now, he knew Heyes’ stomach had to be going on empty. After he gets some food he oughta be in a better mood to hear my news. If only I hadn’t taken the chance...While he knew that his real motive was to stall for time, he was also keenly aware of the fact that it was not going to be an easy thing to confess his stupidity to Heyes. I knew better...
Dropping an armload of wood near the fire, Heyes looked around for his partner. It didn’t take long to spot Curry. Head bowed, the man was leaning back against a tree.
“Everything okay?” he called out and walked over to join him.
“Yeah, jus’ tired, I guess. Keepin’ outta that posse’s reach plumb did me in.”
“I know what you mean. Let’s get some supper, call it an early night; you’ll feel better in the morning.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Curry straightened up and moved away from the support of the tree.
“Me too.” Heyes gave his partner a hearty clap on the back.
The gesture caused Curry to pitch forward; he sank to his knees with a groan.
Heyes stared down at his prone partner in puzzled concern. “You must be more tired than you thought!”
“Yeah...” Curry muttered through clenched teeth.
For the second time that day, Heyes held out a hand and pulled his partner to his feet. “Tell you what, why don’t I finish supper and you go ahead and wash up?”
“Whatever you say, Heyes...”
“Why can’t you be this agreeable all the time?”
“Cos this involves food,” Curry gave his partner a lopsided grin. “An’ I know better’n to get the cook mad at me!”
When his cousin took off towards the river, Heyes was still chuckling. It felt good to be able to tease each other. With that posse off our tails at last and no other immediate concerns, we can afford to relax our guard a bit. Heyes thought back and it dawned on him that he couldn’t remember the last time the two of them had been given the opportunity to just be themselves.