With You Right Beside Me
Free from Heyes’ scrutiny, Curry made his way wearily over to the water’s edge where he sank down to his knees and dipped his bandana down into the water before he draped it over the wound. After waiting a few moments he removed it and a deep sigh of resignation escaped him as he stared down at the dark crimson stain on the square of red material he held in his hand.
“Must be why I feel as weak as a newborn kitten,” he muttered. “Part of the reason, anyways; nothin’ like bein’ thrown off a cliff an’ seein’ your whole life flash before you to sap your strength.” With
another grimace, Kid rinsed the bandana, eyeing the watery red liquid that dripped from it with distaste. “Well, guess that settles that; there’s no way I’m gonna be able to hide this from Heyes any longer.” He shoved his hat back on his head and rose to his feet with a look of determination on his face.
“Well, there’s one good thing, at least I’m only bleedin’ in back.” The words may have sounded matter-of-fact, but they lacked conviction, for even as he acknowledged the truth of his statement, the Kid took little comfort from it. The significance of the words confirmed something he’d only guessed at and would rather not think about too much right now; just one more thing Heyes would be forced to deal with.
“I wish it was all over an’ done with!” Curry muttered. He’d picked this spot because of its location, far enough away he was sure Heyes would never come across the mess. Among other things, he’d had to leave his other shirt and Henley behind on his first trip down here. Between the bullet hole and the blood, both were in a pretty sorry state.
There was another motive behind his thinking. Besides the sight of the blood which had caused his stomach to churn, it had brought back bad memories; a pain-filled recollection from when he and Heyes had found the bodies of their relatives. Gut-wrenching memories of how they had tried to salvage what was left of their loved ones in order to give them a proper burial. It had been a terrible ordeal for the two young boys to experience, but they had survived.
Well, not ‘they,’ he was quick to correct himself; Heyes was the one who had done most of the work. The older boy had been the one to deal with all the blood and carnage, not allowing his cousin to help until the bodies were covered up. But as hard as he’d tried, Heyes hadn’t been able to hide everything from the younger boy. And what was worse, as much as a young Jed had seen, he knew it didn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to what Heyes himself had been subjected to. His resolve became more firm.
“No, I can’t - I won’t - let Heyes down again. This time I’ll make sure he doesn’t have to deal with everythin’ on his own!” Curry vowed. “I can at least spare him that much; I owe it to him! All I have to do is jus’ tell him what happened, an’ then he won’t have any reason to see this. ‘Sides that, he’ll be too busy tellin’ me what a walk-off I am for not lettin’ him know in the first place.”
Curry stared down at the pile of blood-stained clothing without enthusiasm. “I’ll come back an’ bury ‘em later...when I don’t feel so lousy.” He turned away to head back to camp. “Guess I’m doin’ a good enough job of hidin’ things so far,” he congratulated himself.
A frown on his face, Heyes observed Curry’s progress, “He looks plumb worn out. It’s a good thing we can rest up here for a while; we can both do with the break.” As tired as his partner appeared, Heyes was reasonably sure the Kid was unaware of his watchfulness. He busied himself by the fire as the other man entered the camp.
Curry came to an abrupt halt when his nostrils were immediately assaulted by the pungent smell of rabbit that roasted over the fire and his stomach began to churn a warning. Wonder how long I can hold my breath?
“I figured that hare would get you back here on the double,” Heyes teased. Taking a quick look over his shoulder he inhaled deeply. “Mmmm, mouth-watering, huh? What do you say, Kid?”
With eating the furthest thought from his mind for once, the Kid attempted to draw in what he hoped would pass for a convincing enough sniff and tried not to gag. He turned away to eye the rabbit. “Words cannot describe the way I feel at the moment,” he forced out with false cheerfulness.
“My thoughts exactly!” Heyes smacked his lips in appreciation. “So, how hungry are you?”
“I’m so hungry I think I could eat a horse!” Curry returned.
“Well, since we are without horses at the moment, you’ll just have to settle for rabbit tonight, Mr. Curry; tomorrow you can go out and track us down a horse or two.”
“Not even gonna think ’bout tomorrow,” Curry injected enthusiasm into his voice. “Let’s get started on that hare right now!”
“Nothing wrong with your appetite!” Heyes flashed the other man a knowing grin and shook his head. No matter how tired he was, the Kid could always find strength enough to eat.
The men ate in companionable silence, too hungry for words to get in the way. At least that was the impression Curry strove for; the less said, the better. He managed to hide most of his uneaten food when Heyes wasn’t looking. He even pretended to take drinks of water now and then, biding his time as he waited on his partner to finish. He set his empty plate down on the ground beside him while he contemplated how best to broach the subject. It’s not like I can jus’ come flat out an’ announce something like this…
Washing down the last of his meal, Heyes grinned when he glanced over and took in the Kid’s clean plate; not even a scrap remained on it. He leaned back, glad that the rabbit had chanced to cross his path as he scouted for firewood; even without a gun he was still a Champeen tracker. A relaxed feeling came over him while he enjoyed a second cup of coffee and listened to the sounds of dusk as it settled in, and around, them.
The campfire burned bright, throwing dancing shadows across the camp in the twilight. Knots of wood erupted every now and then with a loud crackling hiss or pop. The lyrical songs of birds combined with chirps of crickets and croaks of frogs blended together to create an evening serenade. River water splashing over the rocks and the hooting of an owl added to the mood of ambiance. Howls of coyotes somewhere off in the distance lent a final haunting touch to the atmosphere.
All in all, Heyes reflected, it’s really quite peaceful. A man could almost be lulled to sleep while he listened to it. He took another sip of his coffee, inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, savoring the opportunity to experience and appreciate it all. This is nice, the dark-haired man mused; maybe the Kid and I should take advantage of it and spend a few extra days here. There’s no need to be in any rush to leave. We could just sit around and take it easy; use the time to get our strength back.
Across from him, a not-so peaceful Curry took a deep breath of his own then released it, all too aware that what he was about to do would destroy the mood his partner was enjoying so much. “Think I’ll go on down to the river an’ wash up a bit,” he announced.
Heyes peered at him over the rim of his coffee cup. “Whatcha got left to wash up, Kid?” he chuckled, then went on in a amused tone. “We spent half the day swimming in the river, and you just washed up for supper.”
“I jus’ wanna wash up after eatin ‘- if that’s okay with you!” Curry snapped. “I didn’t realize you were keepin’ track of my bathin’ habits!”
Heyes arched his brows and shot his cousin a look before he spoke. “Wasn’t keeping track; you just go right ahead and wash whatever you want - sorry I asked!”
Curry rose to his feet. “Forget it - I’m the one that should be sorry!” Making an abrupt pivot, he turned and began to walk away. “You’re right; there’s no reason to take it out on you!”
Heyes was left to stare after his cousin with a perplexed expression on his face.
Curry reached the shelter of the boulders again. With an angry motion he jerked the bandana free and stared down at the piece of material he held in his hand. What’d you expect - a miracle? Yeah, well maybe when hell freezes over! He gave a derisive snort. Miracles weren’t in the habit of coming his way. Forced to acknowledge the undeniable truth, the outlaw expelled a drawn-out breath. Well, that settles it, there’s nothin’ else I can do. He laid the bandana out on a rock while he washed his face and scrubbed his hands until all traces of blood were gone.
It was a very reluctant Kid Curry who began the trek back towards camp. I’m dead tired with a shoulder that feels like it’s on fire, an’ I’m about to tell Heyes I’ve been shot; things can’t possibly get any worse!
Stymied by Curry’s outburst, Heyes rose to his feet as his partner strode away. Arms akimbo on his hips, he watched the sandy-haired man walk down to the same spot he’d gone to earlier; the one hidden by the big boulders. His eyes narrowed in speculation as he strove to figure out what was wrong with the picture. Something wasn’t right and whatever it was, that something somehow involved Kid. His nimble mind worked to sort the puzzle pieces out and a few minutes later he snapped his fingers.
“It’s simple, it’s the distance that not adding up right! Okay, Kid, so tell me why, as tired as you are, how come you want to go all the way over there to wash up? Why not someplace closer? What did you find down there that’s so interesting, hmm? Well, there’s one sure way to find out and there’s no better time to do it than right now!”
Curry returned, looking as if every step he trudged might be his last.
Heyes searched his friend’s face; there wasn’t even a trace of the Kid’s usual smile. He strode towards the other man, his steps brisk.
Curry came to a halt as he met up with Heyes. “Heyes, there’s somethin’ I need -”
“It’ll have to wait until I get back.”
“Back? But -”
“No buts, Kid, you’ve convinced me; think I’ll go and wash up a bit, too.” Heyes brushed his way past the open-mouthed outlaw.
Curry lifted his head and then gave a groan of frustration as he watched his partner walk away. “Sure, you go right ahead an’ do that, it’s jus’ that I was all set to tell you somethin’...” his voice trailed off when he realized he was talking to himself. “Somethin’ kinda important... nevermind - I give up!” he muttered. “Every time I try to tell you...”
Curry did his best not to jar his shoulder as he leaned against a nearby boulder, unwilling to stir up the pain that had finally subsided to a dull, aching throb, much like the pounding in his head. Then, when Heyes was far enough away, he slowly slid down the rest of the way to the ground and leaned back, grateful for the solid support the rock provided.
I’ll be better off if I’m already sittin’ down, that way I won’t have as far to fall. Maybe Heyes’ll wait ‘til I’m feelin’ better? Now there’s a cheery thought, something to look forward to. Curry closed his eyes to await Heyes’ return. The peaceful sounds of twilight that had wrapped the Kid in a temporary cocoon of false security were shattered by something loud enough to resemble a safe being blown up by dynamite - lots of dynamite!
“JEDEDIAH... EZEKIEL... CURRY!”
What now? Curry froze and his eyes flew open in surprise. Sheesh, I haven’t been called that since...? He searched his mind, but came up blank. I’m pretty sure Heyes has never... He frowned. Leastwise I sure don’t remember him ever doin’ it, he finally conceded. No disrespect to Grampa Curry, but his cousin knew he disliked his middle name almost as much as Heyes detested Hannibal. Kid frowned as he pondered what he had - or hadn’t - done to incur his partner’s wrath. “I haven’t even told him ‘bout gettin’ shot yet, an’ the way things are goin’, it looks like I’m never gonna get the chance!” he grumbled.
Heyes stormed back into camp and slid to a grinding halt at the seated man’s feet.
The look on Curry’s face as he caught sight of what Heyes had clenched tight in his fist was a dead giveaway.
No, not just a bandana - HIS red bandana. The one he’d forgotten to grab in his haste to get back to camp; the one splattered with his blood. Kid stared at it a few seconds longer before his gaze travelled slowly upwards. As soon as blue eyes made contact with brown the look on his partner’s face made Curry wish that he hadn’t.
The sandy-haired outlaw realized too late that most of the time he was standing behind Heyes, backing him up, while the gang leader was giving someone else that look. The few times he had been on the receiving end had been more than enough to convince Curry that he never wanted to be there again, and yet, here he was. You knew it was gonna be bad, he reminded himself. Dry-mouthed, Kid swallowed. “I -”
Heyes held up a hand silencing him. “What in the hell happened down there? This is your bandana, isn’t it?” the dark-haired outlaw demanded and threw the piece of material on the ground next to Curry.
Curry tracked its flight with his eyes, then stared down at the incriminating piece of evidence with a fervent wish that he had a silver tongue of his own right now. He nodded. “Sorry -”
“Sorry? You’re SORRY?!”
“Guess I jus’ wasn’t thinkin -’”
“You got THAT right - you don’t have to say ONE more word to convince me!” Brown eyes smoldering dark with their owner’s anger, Heyes continued to lash out. “You’re absolutely right - you sure weren’t thinking! And do you know what else? If you spent half as much time NOT thinking and trying to stay outta trouble as you put into thinking, my life just might be a helluva lot more peaceable - did you ever think of that?!”
Curry remained silent, unsure how - or if - it would be wise to answer. His eyes shifted from the bandana to hazard another look up at the irate man who waited for a reply. What he saw etched on his partner’s face only increased the Kid’s hesitancy. Heyes’ complexion was a few shades lighter than usual and there were tight lines of white around his mouth.
But even more compelling than all that was the look that now occupied his cousin’s brown eyes, competing for space with the anger. It was the other look that Curry had hoped never to see in Heyes’ eyes ever again for as long as he lived. In that split second things suddenly clicked and Curry realized the real reason behind Heyes’ intense show of fury. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the man who had led a whole entire gang of outlaws was scared. The Kid’s feelings of guilt multiplied.
“You weren’t supposed to find out like this, I jus’ thought -”
“There you go thinking again!”
“We hadn’t eaten -”
“Eaten? Food? You were hungry? You are kidding - right?” Incredulity warred with anger for prominence on his face as Heyes continued. “Let me get this straight; you’re saying that making sure your belly was full was more important than telling me what was going on?” His scowl intensified. “Do you have any idea what went through my head when I saw that... that mess? And that brings up a few other points - like WHY is there blood all over and WHY is your bandana soaked with it - what happened down there?”
Curry drew his knees up to his chest and leaned forward to rest his head upon his good arm. “Anyone ever tell you that you ask too many questions, Heyes?” he muttered wearily. “I wasn’t hungry, I jus’ thought that maybe you...” Curry’s voice trailed off. What’s the use? Why am I even tryin’? Heyes is too full of anger to listen. Knowin’ why he’s so mad doesn’t help; he doesn’t even know I’ve been shot yet! Everythin’ I did, all that plannin’, was for nothin’! Heyes still found the mess, still saw the blood...“I -”
“Well? I’m still waiting,” Heyes snapped, interrupting Curry’s silent tirade of self-recrimination and ignoring his attempt to explain. “What in the hell is going on?” he demanded, his patience at an end.
“That’s what I was doin’, too - waitin’. Waitin’ on you to come back so I could tell you -”
“Tell me? Tell me what? I STILL don’t know what it is that you haven’t told me yet!”
Curry’s head jerked up. “Maybe if you’d shut up long enough to listen I could tell you!” he shouted, raising his voice for the first time.
“I’m listening now!” Heyes snapped.
“I was tired; I forgot to clean up -”
“Tired? I’m tired of hearing excuses, Kid. First you’re hungry, then you’re tired -”
“I wasn’t hungry - YOU were -”
Heyes’ voice, as well as the atmosphere around him, underwent a rapid change; both become ominously calm and quiet. Each word he spoke was deliberate and succinct. “For the last time, Kid, I swear if you don’t tell me - right now – what is going on, you are going to wish all I did was flatten you’!” His promise was accompanied by a threatening shake of his fist in the seated man’s direction.
Curry had no doubt he was right smack dab in the eye of the storm. It might sound as if Heyes had calmed down, but from past experience he knew better than to get lulled into a false sense of security. He took a deep breath. “Well, you see, it’s like this...” he began in a subdued tone.
“Huh?” Heyes crouched down next to Curry in exasperation and leaned forward, his brows knit together in a frown. “I didn’t quite catch all that…”
“The bandana you found, you’re right, it’s mine; the blood’s mine, too,” the Kid mumbled, “I... well, I got shot today,” he finished in a rush. Curry closed his eyes, ducked his head and braced himself; he didn’t have long to wait.
“You were… WHAT?” Heyes exploded, “WHERE? WHEN? JUST WHEN DID YOU GET SHOT? AND WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SOMETHING - WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?” The decibel level increased with every subsequent question, which proved to be rather unfortunate for Kid, since his partner was still right next to him, in very close proximity to his ears.
Curry winced. On top of gettin’ shot, I’ll be lucky if I’m not deaf! “Do you think maybe you could quit yellin’ for jus’ one minute - an’ listen?”
Faced with the stark reality of the situation and despite his ire, when the other man’s words soaked in, Heyes looked Curry over with a critical eye, searching for injury and any signs of blood. Seeing none, his eyes narrowed as he fixed his cousin with a glare.
“Tell me - again - what happened?”
“I said,” Curry took a deep breath, “I got shot today. You know, shot – like with a gun? Someone pulls the trigger, out comes a bullet, the bullet hits you an’ makes a hole in you -”
“I know what it means,” Heyes ground out between teeth clenched tight in frustration, “And this is definitely not the time for you to start getting all philosophical on me! Guess I gave you more credit than you deserve, I can’t believe that you’d be stupid enough -”
“Stupid? What makes you think I’m the one bein’ stupid?” Curry retaliated, “Maybe I was the smart one!”
“What makes me think?” Heyes snorted. “You, smart?”
“So when do you think would’ve been the right time, huh, Heyes? When that posse was breathin’ down our necks? Or, maybe right before you threw me off the cliff? Or how ’bout when I almost drowned? You tell me!”
His own anger began to cool down to a slow simmer as Heyes listened to his friend’s words. He held up a hand, but Curry was like a locomotive train all fired up and racing down a steep mountain.
“If you think about it, I did try, but no - YOU told me to wait!” Curry mimicked his partner, ‘Later, like when we’re NOT bein’ chased by a posse, Kid; Nothin’s more important, Kid; there’ll be time later, Kid; Not now, Kid.′ An’ then jus’ a few minutes ago, I tried to tell you again, but you walked right past me, sayin’ it could wait ’til later. Well, guess what, Heyes? Later is too late - ain’t it?!”
Unconscious of doing so, Curry cradled his wounded arm against his chest in a protective gesture as he searched for the right words. “There wasn’t any good time to tell you. Maybe if I’d’ve told you that I’d been shot straight off, you’d’ve tried to fix it right then an’ there an’ we could be in that posse’s hands right now, ‘stead of hollerin’ at each other!” Curry’s voice had risen with each sentence as he strove to defend himself then, as suddenly as he’d started, he stopped.
His shoulders slumped, Kid drew in a deep breath and released it slowly before he continued on in a more controlled tone. “It was when we were being chased by that posse, not too long before you came up with that loco plan of yours that almost got both of us killed!”
Heyes had stood up and was in the midst of walking away in order to gather his thoughts together when Curry had first begun his explanation, but upon hearing the last few words, he pivoted around to point a finger of accusation at Curry.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to be calling my plan loco! I think I’ve got the ‘King of Loco’ right here in front of me. You might know him - he’s the one who got shot and only waited HALF A DAY TO TELL ME!” Anger and frustration, mingled with fear were fast proving to be a losing combination for Hannibal Heyes. He turned away once more to put some distance between the two of them. Rubbing the back of his neck, he took a few moments before he spoke. “Where’d you get hit?” He crossed to stand beside Curry. “And just how bad is it?”
His questions were met with silence. Heyes raised a brow and pierced the other man with a searing glare.
“My left shoulder, an’... I don’t rightly know,” Kid mumbled finally, sounding reluctant to admit even that much. “I haven’t been able to see it real well; think it might still be bleedin’ a bit though.”
“Oh really?” Heyes retorted wryly, “Well, imagine that!” It was only when he knelt down next to Curry that the ex-outlaw became aware of just how tense he was. He’d been holding himself rigid as he strove to keep his emotions in check. “Guess you’d better let me take a look and see what the damage is.”
It’s not really Kid I’m angry with, he reminded himself. It’s the whole damn, rotten situation; the undeniable fact that one of us is wounded, hurt and in pain - again. It was the feeling of quiet desperation that gnawed at him and taunted him with the knowledge of how futile it was for outlaws like Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry to keep trying to catch that elusive amnesty. No matter what they did or how hard they strove to do the right thing, it always ended up this way - always!
“Left side you say?”At Curry’s nod, Heyes lifted Kid’s shirt and Henley up. It wasn’t hard to find the spot where the bullet had entered, but as he examined his cousin’s chest, the outlaw’s brow furrowed in concentration while his fingers continued to probe around. A few moments later he released a sigh of resignation and rested back on his heels with a shake of his head. “Looks like it’s still in there, Kid,” he stated in a flat tone.
Curry raised his head a fraction, his shoulders drooped in defeat, all visible signs of fight gone. “Yeah, that’s kinda what I figured, too,” he admitted, his tone more revealing than the actual words themselves.
Heyes looked deep into his cousin’s face. What he saw there, what the young outlaw had kept hidden until now, caused more of his anger to drift away.
“You’re right; it was a stupid thing to do,” Curry began before Heyes could say a word. “You’ve got every right to be mad. I know I never should’ve sat up in the first place an’ I know I should’ve told you earlier. I mean, I did try, but you weren’t in a listenin’ mood. An’ then… well, I didn’t think there was any point in me tellin’ you when neither of us could do a damned thing about it! There jus’ didn’t seem to be any sense. I was hopin’ you wouldn’t come across the blood; I never meant for you to see it, Heyes. It was bad enough, the stuff it stirred up for me, I didn’t want you to have to deal with it...” the outlaw’s voice trailed off. “I’m sorry.”
Heyes gave Curry a sharp glance before he nodded. Contrite, curry-blue eyes locked with brunneous ones. When Heyes saw the look of uncertainty etched on his cousin’s face, the last remaining vestige of his anger evaporated. Despite his ire, he could well understand the Kid’s hesitancy to tell him and he had to admit, Curry was right on two other points as well. There really hadn’t been a good time to tell him and, if he had known, he would have worried - a lot.
“I’m sorry, too, Kid.”
Curry nodded. Now that his suspicions had been confirmed he was all out of aces.
After giving his partner’s shoulder a brief squeeze of reassurance, Heyes stood and walked a few feet away to lean his arms and head on a boulder. He didn’t have to turn around to know he’d find the Kid still watching him. The dark-haired man frowned as he stared out across the river. A look of grim determination appeared when he realized that the turbulence of the rushing water matched his mood as he contemplated what lie ahead. Both men knew what had to be done and neither one looked forward to any part of it. Heyes drew in a deep breath and released it slowly before he announced to the heavens above in a quiet voice, “It’s going to be one helluva night!”
Curry watched Heyes getting things ready in stoic silence.
The dark-haired outlaw worked with a precision born of experience, mentally checking things off as he went through the routine. A well stoked fire, water on to boil, an old shirt torn into strips and a bottle of whiskey; everything was ready.
One last object Curry himself chose to ignore, but that didn’t prevent him from knowing what and where it was. Sterilized by the whiskey, it lay next to the fire... waiting. When Heyes held it up for inspection, the sandy-haired outlaw turned his head away and closed his eyes. Unable to shut out his partner’s movements, Curry’s imagination painted a vivid picture of what he had tried so hard to forget.
With a covert look sideways, Curry saw his own emotional turmoil reflected in his cousin’s expression; this wasn’t going to be easy for him, either. Even though he might be angry, Heyes would never willfully choose to hurt him. From personal, previous experience they knew that this was going to hurt; there was no way to get around it.
Heyes uncorked the bottle and handed it to Curry with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Drink up, Kid, we need to get started before we lose what’s left of the light.”
Unable to summon up an answering smile of his own, Curry focused his attention on the bottle in his hand instead. He brought it to his lips and gulped down several swallows before he was forced to stop when a coughing spasm wracked his entire body and set his injured shoulder on fire. Kid pushed the bottle away with a shake of his head.
Heyes reached out a hand to steady his partner. “Easy, catch your breath and then you need to take a few more swallows.” He pushed the bottle back up to Kid’s mouth.
Curry grimaced, but dutifully drank the rest down without further incident. He leaned back and, despite his earlier intentions, his glance strayed to the fire and the object he had tried to ignore. The firelight that reflected off the metal blade gave it an eerie glow and caused a shiver to run down his back.
“Hey,” Heyes admonished and shifted his body so that it blocked Curry’s view of the fire. He turned to push the knife down further into the glowing coals.
Kid closed his eyes. A moment later he opened them to look up at his cousin. “I know, I -”
“That whiskey started to kick in yet?” Heyes interrupted.
“Yeah, sure... can’t feel a thing!” Curry mumbled with a fervent wish that his words were true. He stared at the bottle; there wasn’t enough left to finish the job. Great, jus’ what Heyes needs...
Heyes caught the look on his cousin’s face. As they continued to stare at each other, a silent conversation passed between them.
I trust you.
Do whatever it takes.
Wish I didn’t have to.
That makes two of us.
Heyes knelt down on one knee beside Curry, took the whiskey bottle from his partner’s unresistant hand and let it drop to the ground.
“Well, guess we’ll just have to move on to plan B then.”
“Plan B? We have a plan B?”
“Yep, and I’m going to need your help. Listen up and I’ll tell you what to do.”
Curry blinked and tried to focus on his partner’s swimming face. “You sure… you know… what…you’re doin’?” he inquired, his words beginning to slur.
“Just trust me,” Heyes promised, his voice was full of confidence. He began to give directions. “The first thing we’ve got to do is to get you sitting up.” Ignoring both the Kid’s groan and bleary-eyed look of skepticism, Heyes positioned Curry so that he was away from the rock.
“Uh, huh... now what?”
“You’ve got the easy part, Kid. See, I grab hold of your arm, and all you have to do it sit there and -”
Heyes’ face was the last thing Curry saw as his partner’s fist connected with his chin, the blow accomplishing what the liquor alone couldn’t do.
“Sorry, Kid,” Heyes whispered as he eased the unconscious man face down onto the ground. He took a deep breath, walked over to the fire and removed the knife from the glowing embers.
Kid had remained unconscious thus far, which was something Heyes was extremely grateful for.
“Gotcha!” Heyes cried out in triumph as he held up the small piece of metal that had caused him so much trouble and the Kid far too much pain and tossed it near the campfire.
Heyes rose carefully to stretch cramped up muscles that were tense and sore. As further testament to his weariness, he released a drawn-out breath of relief. It had not been a simple case of locating and removing the bullet this time; it had taken longer and been more complicated than any other doctoring he’d ever performed on his cousin.
It reminded him of a game of hide-and-seek; unfortunately the bullet knew all the good hiding places. He’d been forced to cut deeper into his partner’s flesh to dig the bullet out than he’d bargained for; a job which would have been impossible had Curry been awake. Heyes walked down to the river to wash up and tried to ignore the blood that stained his hands.
Just a few more minutes; that’s all I need and the worst of it will be over... at least for me. His thoughts elsewhere, he washed off the knife. When he returned to the camp he would lay it back in the fire. What he had to do next was his least favorite part of patching up someone; the smell of burnt flesh was enough to cause even the strongest of men to retch.
“That’s another thing I have to thank you for, Kid,” he snapped and directed a glare towards the prone body of his partner. “The least you could’ve done was to tell me before I ate. This could’ve been done on an empty stomach, but no, you didn’t want to worry me.” He shook his head at his friend’s convoluted logic.
Heyes retrieved the glowing knife from the fire. His plan was simple. Inhale and hold his breath as long as possible to keep from smelling the acrid stench. And, if he could just forget whose flesh it was, he might be able to finish before he lost his supper. Taking a deep breath, he placed the hot metal flat on Curry’s shoulder.
When the Kid’s body twisted with a convulsive jerk, it caught Heyes off guard; the knife flew out of his hand and fell to the ground. The outlaw swore under his breath, grabbed Curry and tried to force him back down without causing the wounded man any more pain than unnecessary. He directed an angry scowl towards the star-filled sky.
“Would it be asking too much for him to stay quiet until I’m done?” he demanded of the heavens.
In the throes of his struggle to turn over, Curry grabbed Heyes’ arm in a vice-like grip tight enough it made the other man wince.
“It burns - make it quit hurtin’- I know ya can do it – please... Han!”
Han?Heyes looked down at his cousin, wondering if he had heard right as he pried away the fingers that dug deep into the flesh of his forearm. “You haven’t called me by that name in years!” Despite the gravity of the situation they were in, a fleeting grin lifted the corners of Heyes’ mouth. Of their own accord, his thoughts drifted back to a happier time in their childhood while he went about getting Curry settled down. Back before they were wanted men; a time when they were just two young boys named Hannibal and Jed. A time when they both still had families to love and that loved them...