Drena Hills


“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.”


Desiderius Erasmus




It was a dark and stormy night (no really, it was!).  Kid and Heyes had been riding for what seemed like hours, the cold rain drenching them to the bone, the wind howling through the skeletal trees.  They both knew their horses, and they themselves, couldn’t take much more.  Heyes was in front, letting his horse follow a faint track through some overhanging trees.  It wasn’t so much that Heyes knew where he was going, it was just easier to let the horse go where it wanted than to fight it along a different route.  The cold and dark were lulling Heyes and Kid both into an exhausted stupor.


Through the fog covering his brain, Heyes realized that the horse had stopped.  A screeching sound followed by a loud bang startled him into full wakefulness.   In front of them was a large structure that on closer inspection was an old barn.  Heyes dismounted, motioning Kid to do the same.  They entered the barn cautiously, making sure to grab the banging door so it didn’t spook the horses.  Heyes pulled a match, thankfully and miraculously dry, from his pocket, lit it and quickly surveyed the surroundings.  It wasn’t a large barn, but it was snug against the storm.  The dust and cobwebs gave them the idea that it hadn’t been used in a long time, so they decided to bed down the horses for the night – not that the horses or the men had any intention or desire to go back out into the storm.


Kid looked out through the crack between the doors, old habits making him check that no one had followed them. 


“Heyes, look at this…”  He held the door open a bit more so Heyes could see the outline of a large bulk of a house.  They were both surprised, they’d missed it as they rode up, but chalked it up to exhaustion and the dark.  There were no lights on in the house, but the occasional flash of lightning lit up the surrounding area, giving the two-storied, gabled house an eerie look.


“Guess we better make sure no one is home.”  Heyes grinned, the state of disrepair of the barn telling them that no one had lived there for years.


“I don’t know Heyes; the barn is fine with me.”  Kid couldn’t explain the uneasy feeling that the thought of going into that house gave him.  Maybe it was too many of Heyes’ spooky stories when they were children.


“Oh c’mon Kid, it’s got to be better than sleeping on moldy old hay.  I’m going; you can stay here if you want to.”  Heyes headed back out into the storm, the wind grabbing the door and slamming it back against the outside wall.  Kid sighed and followed, shaking his head.


They stepped up on the decrepit porch, making sure to glance in the windows just in case they were wrong about no one living there.  The lightning lit up the interior enough for them to get a glimpse of broken furniture and more cobwebs.


“Looks pretty deserted to me; I’m going in.”  Heyes reached for the doorknob, which turned easily in his hand, but the door wouldn’t budge.  “Give me a hand here Kid.”  Kid thought about clapping, but common sense won out and he went over and both men threw their weight against the door.  It held against them for a few seconds, then flew open like it was pulled from the inside.  Heyes landed on the floor first, Kid landing on top of him, knocking the breath out of both men.  They looked up sharply at the sound of a match striking, and a raspy voice…


“It’s about time you got here; I’ve been waiting for you.”





            Heyes watched out of the corner of his eyes as his partner rolled to his feet like a cat.  His gun had entered his hand even as he was falling and despite the awkwardness of their entry both men had recovered smoothly each in sync with the other thoughts.


Rising slowly to keep the attention of whoever was speaking Heyes made a great show of getting to his feet and finally turned his attention to the crack in the door across the room as if he had just noticed it.  The light from the recently lit candle illuminated the slender opening, but gave no clue as to who waited beyond.


          “My apologies,” Heyes replied pleasantly allowing his partner to move out of the speaker’s line of sight.  The room was small, but built like an L and Kid was using it to his full advantage.


“Why don’t you come out where we can talk,” Heyes said taking a step forward.


          “You just stay right where you are Mr. James we can conduct our business just fine this way.”


          “Can’t blame a man for wanting to see who he’s dealing with,” Heyes pointed out.  Kid had nearly edged up to the door along the wall now and nodded to Heyes to say he was ready.


          Kid charged first kicking open the door and allowing his partner to cross the room and join him on the other side of the door.


          Guns drawn they peered in and stared in amazement.


          “What the heck you go and do that for!”  A small boy no more than 10 said from the floor where he sat with four other children who were moving from startled to fear very quickly.


          “You knocked over the candle,” the only girl said picking it up.  She was perhaps a year older and her hands shook as she righted the room’s only light.


          “What are you kids doing here?” Kid said disgusted holstering his gun.  “I could have shot you!”


          “I know that’s why we stayed hid Mr. James,” the 10 year old said speaking for his companions.  “We didn’t think you’d do business with us if you knew we wuz little.”


          “Our offer still stands don’t make no difference how old we are,” the girl said and was shushed by a dark haired younger boy who looked like he was going to break into tears at any moment.


          “Why don’t we start with you telling us your names,” Kid said trying to fight a smile. 


          “I’m Colby Martin,” the leader said trying to look taller.  “These are my friends Shaun Dean, Spencer Blake and Noel Turner, were the Victory Victory Team, I made that up,” he admitted proudly.  “We wrote you about the job Mr. James.”


          Kid and Heyes exchanged glances.  Now that the danger had passed their adrenilin was draining away and they were realizing they were just too tired for games.


          “We aren’t these James people you’re looking for,” Heyes said wearily walking back into the living room.  “Why don’t you get on home before your parents miss you.


          “They won’t miss us, they are all at the town meeting trying to save Victory, that’s our town,” Shaun said following him with the others more hesistent.  “And don’t worry we won’t tell anyone you two are here.  Heck that would ruin everything.”

          “Don’t say heck Shaun, your momma says that’s cussing no matter what you say, Noel reprimanded.  “So when are you going to rob the bank?”


          Kid and Heyes were instantly alert.


          “Ma’am?” Heyes asked.


          “The bank, why else would we write the James Brothers,” she said exasperated.


          “You hired Frank and Jesse James to rob your bank?” Kid said.  “I think I need to sit down for this.”


          “I wanted the Devil’s Hole Gang, but Colby said they didn’t do little banks like ours,” she continued. 


          “Ah why exactly do you kids want your bank robbed?” Heyes said agreeing with Kid and pulling up a seat.


          “Mr. Crazel,” Spencer whispered still standing back worried one of them were going to rise up and instantly shoot them.


          “Look you don’t need to know why you just need to go rob it and remember we need you to take all the papers out of the safe and burn ‘em or no deal.  You can keep the money, but you gotta burn all the papers.” Colby said sternly.


          “I hate to disappoint you all, but we aren’t Frank and Jessie James,” Heyes said.


          The four children looked at each other.


          “Then what are you doing here?” Noel said disgusted.


          “Storm, needed a place to rest for the night,” Kid admitted.


          The four looked at each other.


          “Well this isn’t gonna work we gotta have professional bank robbers!” Shaun said angrily.


          “I told you we should have got Heyes and Curry, they always get it right in the dime novels,” Noel said rolling her eyes and sitting down now that it was clear the infamous were no longer in their midst.


          “Come on were just gonna have to do it ourselves,” Colby said.  “See ya misters.”


          “Whoa, whoa you can’t go out in that storm!” Kid said.  “Just hold up a while and we’ll get you home when it clears.”


          Spencer seemed to approve of this plan and together the group moved back into the main room where Heyes soon had a fire going.


          “We got some sandwiches for the James Brothers, but since they aren’t coming reckon you can have them,” Colby said with a heavy sigh.


          Heyes bit back a smile as the group gathered around the fire and the food was shared.


          “So what kind of bank is it?” Heyes asked with professional curiosity.


          Kid shot him a look of wonder almost choking on the bite of ham sandwich he had just taken.


          “Not real big, safe is though, that’s why we needed help getting it open and robbed.”


          “This Mr. Crazel got some papers on your folks?” Kid said swallowing and keeping a wary eye on his partner.


          “Whole town.  Locust took most of the crops last two years and everybody owes him. He’s the biggest rancher in these parts and he’s been trying for years to move the farmers out.  Tomorrow all the land is his and he plans on filing on it at the county seat next day unless we do something to stop him,” Colby said miserably.


          “And you figure robbing his bank will fix that?” Kid questioned.


          “Least slow him down,” Shaun said.  “Can’t put a claim on land he ain’t got paper on.”


          “I know this sounds a bit harsh, but if he loaned your families money then by rights it is his land,” Heyes said sympathetic, but realistic.


          “Not when you kill folks,” Spencer said softly. “My daddy was a lawyer and he killed him. My brother says its cause he got proof that the killings in the range war were done by him.”


          Heyes glanced at his partner giving him a warning look that said clearly ‘We are not getting involved’.


          “Hurt other folk, some just as dead as Spencer’s Pa.,” Colby explained. “Anyone who stands up to him ends up dead or missing.”


          “Sounds like this is a case for the law,” Heyes said trying not to get pulled in.


          “Yes sir and folks up in the capital are starting to listen, but we run out of time.  Tomorrow is November 1st and all the deeds are gonna be sold.  If we don’t get them from that mean ole rancher town is gonna lose everything.  Folks despairing something awful.  Why last Halloween…”


          “It’s Halloween?” Heyes said softly and glanced at his pocket watch.  Sure enough it was ten minutes into the new day.


          “Shouldn’t you children be thinking about trick or treating or turning over outhouses?” Kid said sadly.  “Planning a bank robbery for Halloween sheesh how do children come up with these things!”


          “Is pretty clever,” Heyes had to concede with a small grin.  Lot of noise, distractions…”


          “The Devil’s Hole Gang did it in Denver last year, that’s where we got the idea,” Colby explained. 


          “Two years ago actually,” Heyes said under his breath.


          “Maybe we can think up a new plan by morning,” Spencer said with a yawn curling up in front of the fire.


          “Gotta, folks depending on us,” Shaun nodded and followed suit.


          “Go on we’ll wake you when its morning,” Heyes told Colby who was clearly trying to keep his eyes open.


          “I’m obliged mister, kinda glad you didn’t turn out to be those murdering bank robbers after all.”


          And with that the four children curled up and didn’t even notice when Kid and Heyes’s bed rolls were tucked over them.


          “Heyes what we gonna do about this?” Kid said as the two men sat back in their chairs for a long time thinking.


          “Not much we can do, but get them back home in the morning and move on.  It’s a sad story, but we can’t risk getting involved.”


          “Hiring the James Gang,” Kid said shaking his head.  “Sounds like something you would have come up with as a boy…what am I saying you would have figured out a way to rob it yourself!”


          The knock at the door startled them both and as Kid pulled out his gun and moved behind the door as Heyes answered not sure what to expect.


          The young man was perhaps twenty, his white blond hair cut long to his shoulders and mostly hidden under a large misshapen hat that did not fit his head well.  His clothes were worn revealing a lean, but muscular body.


          “I’ve come for the children,” he said simply.


          “You kin?”  Heyes said feeling oddly protective of them.


          “I look after them,” he answered.  “They need to get home.  They were all spending the night at Shaun’s and they need to be back in time.”


          “Might want to wait till the storm lets up,” Kid said coming over to stand beside Heyes and staring surprised to find the sky now clear and almost no wind at all.


          “I didn’t get the name,” Heyes said as the man brushed past them unconcerned and picked up Noel. 


          Cawdor,” the stranger said carrying the little girl out to the wagon and placing her in the back without waking her.


          Shrugging at each other the two men helped him carry the other sleeping children until all were loaded safely.


          “You look after them,” Kid said firmly as the man climbed up onto the buckboard and picked up the reins.


          “I will not leave them,” he promised and the wagon moved away.





          Heyes woke up and blinked trying to place where he was.  The room looked remarkably ordinary with sunlight streaming in and it took him a moment to place where he was.


          “Wondered if you were ever getting up,” Kid said coming out of the kitchen and handing him a cup of coffee. 


          “Thank you,” Heyes said taking it grateful. “Haven’t slept that well in a long time.”


          “Wish I had, I tell you Heyes that story those children told…well it made me think is all.”


          Heyes looked up sharply from his coffee, “But not about robbing a bank for them right?”


          “Yea,” Kid finally nodded.  “The last thing we need is to get ourselves caught up in the middle of a range war.” 


          Heyes exhaled relieved. “Good then lets go into town, get those supplies we need and be on our way.  I think Halloween this year is going to be less troubling out alone on the trail!”





          Victory was a small town, but one with prosperous possibilities if the new shop fronts going up were any indication.  There was a school, two churches and enough enterprise to warrant several streets and three hotels.


          Families seemed to dominate the community and as they rode in the signs of Halloween were evident in the carved jack-o-lanturns placed on the odd porch front signaling the night of revelry to come.


          But as they pulled up in front of the merchantile they could not help but notice the crowd that was gathered around the sheriff office everyone talking angrily.  It seemed as almost the whole town was there and the sheriff, a man of perhaps 25 was forced to stand on a packing crate to try and maintain some order.


          “You don’t think they…” Kid whispered to Heyes.


          “No!” Heyes told him rolling his eyes at the suggestion and then cast a glance at the bank just be sure there were no holes in it.


          “Hey fella what’s going on?” Kid said catching the arm of a farmer hurrying by.


          “Real tragedy, house burning, killed the whole family and some other children who were staying the night.”


          He tried to move away, but the news had hit both men like a punch in the stomach.


          “What children?”


          “Friends of the Deans, little Shaun used to play with my boy, thank God he was too sick last night to join them.”


          All thoughts of supplies or moving on gone they walked blindly over to the saloon and ordered a bottle.  It was two drinks apiece before they managed to talk of it.


          “It might not have been them,” Heyes tried.


          “It was them Heyes.  They left and walked right into a raid, the very thing they were trying to stop and we let it happen!” Kid said furious.


          “We let it happen!” Heyes said angry. “How is this our fault?”


          “We should have seen them home ourselves, we should have kept them there…”


          “Kid we had no idea what was waiting for them!” Heyes said feeling a little sick as it all sank in.


          “I’m gonna kill that Crazel, he killed my little girl just as certain as if he lit the match,” a man at the bar suddenly yelled out.


          “Joe, Joe get a hold of yourself that’s just what he’s waiting for!” a friend next to him said.


          “I gotta get me a gun!”


          “Joe he has a ranch full of hired guns they will blow you apart!”


          “Then I deserve it for letting them kill my little girl like that!  She’s all I had since her Ma died!  I didn’t want her to stay over with them kids, but she was so excited!  Oh my little Noel…”


          The doors of the saloon suddenly swung open and the room went quiet.  The man who had entered was older, perhaps drawing close on 60 and firmly flanked by six other men all with guns strapped down.


          “You got a lot of nerve coming in here, Crazel,” someone in the back said angrily.


          “I came to offer my apologies to Mr. Turner and the others on the their losses, such a terrible tragic accident.”


          It was said with a slight hint of a European accent and an air of bored superiority.


          Kid unhooked his gun.


          “I’m gonna kill you Crazel,” Joe Turner said simply.


          “Nonsense Mr. Turner that would be murder and you would hang or more likely go down in a hail of bullets from one of my ranch hands here,” the man said brushing the man aside with a flick of his glove.


          Heyes caught Kid’s hand and shook his head no.


          Kid turned angry eyes on his partner and was startled to find the rage there matched or equaled his own.


          “They aren’t ranch hands they are hired guns, probably the same ones that burned out the Dean’s place last night,” another man said standing next to his friend.  A slaughter was about to take place unless someone did something.


          Heyes unhooked his gun.


          Cawder moved through the crowd reaching the bar before anyone noticed.


          “Heyes isn’t that?”


          “Yea, yea it is, he’s got a lot of explaining to do,” Heyes said angrily.


          But oddly his presence seemed to ease the tension in the room as he walked up to Joe Turner.  “Your wife is looking for you Mr. Turner, at the church, she and the others need you now.”


          “I’m gonna kill that son of a bitch,” Joe said shaking with rage.


          “Vengeance is the Lords,” Cawdor said not condescendingly, but with such positive assurance it was startling. It was almost as if he was offering a sure thing, a promise.


          “When?” Joe hissed near tears.


          “In his time,” the younger man said and sensing an opening his friends pulled him from the bar and past Crazel who chuckled amused and then grew cold as he scanned the room to watch every man’s reaction.


          The room suddenly had something else to do and he smiled smugly until he met Heyes’s eyes.  The rich land baron found himself flinching first and looked away something he could never remember doing before to any man.


          Slightly flustered he left the saloon feeling Heyes’s cold stare on his back as he went.


          “You!” Kid said sharply stopping Cawdor as he moved to leave.  “We need to talk.”


          The man turned and paused considering this and then nodding took a seat at the table with them.


          “What the hell happened last night?” Kid growled.


          “Exactly,” the stranger nodded. “Always does on this cursed day.”


          “Did you see who did it?  How did you get away?” Heyes said trying to get annoyed with the man and somehow unable to muster it up.


          “What matters is the Lord did and He does not bear with the wicked forever.  Good day gentlemen.”


          “Heyes was that not the most confusing conversation…”


          But Heyes was staring down at the newspaper the man had left behind.  It was a weekly edition dated one year ago to the day.


          “What is that?”


          “Old newspaper.”


          “You think he’s trying to tell us something?”


          Heyes considered this and finally leaned back rubbing his eyes, “Kid I don’t know what to think.”


          Suddenly the room hushed and they looked up to see why.  A wagon had just rolled in carrying 7 bodies wrapped in burlap.  


          Without a word the two men finished their drink and walked over to the bank.  Kid took his time breaking a gold 20 dollar piece allowing Heyes to study the interior of the building.


          “Brooker 202,” Kid said calmly as they walked away minutes later.


          “Yup,” Heyes said.


          “I’ll get what we need,” Kid said simply.


          Heyes nodded and walked towards the nearest hotel.





          The magic of Halloween through a child’s eyes had been ripped from the soul of the town of Victory leaving only a dark drizzly night where hollowed eyed mothers held their children close and thanked God for His grace in sparing them.


          Grazel had taken up residence in his town house, which was aglow with music and light as he forced his toadies to attend his annual Halloween party and amuse him.


          But this year even the overly eager to please had been appalled by events and stayed home, which only sparked his anger further.


          “Sold his soul to the devil that one did,” the bartender said shaking his head as he poured drinks to the near empty saloon.


          “Somebody needs to do something about that animal,” a world weary saloon girl shuddered shuffling glasses with little or no enthusiasm.


          Kid and Heyes merely sat and listened.  The town was numb and any thoughts of preventing or stopping the transfer of land tomorrow had been quelled in one strike of a match.


          “Just as he knew it would,” Kid said calmly.


          “You realize what were about to do could finish any chances we have at amnesty,” Heyes said because he had to.


          Kid nodded, “Yep.”  And stood up. “Ready?”


          Heyes nodded.  There never had been a choice.


          It went better than both men had ever remembered a job going.  The tumblers just seemed to sing out to Heyes and he opened the ancient safe in record time.


          Neither man even glanced at the money there.  They merely pulled the lamp closer and began working through the paperwork.


          This accomplished Kid blew out the light and Heyes shut the safe.


          They left the bank looking completely untouched.


          The Victory Victory Team had hired the best.





          They watched from across the street the next afternoon as the appellate judge arrived.  Word of the tragedy had brought a U.S. Marshall, well that and a few well directed telegrams.


          Crazel sat there smug until his lawyer arrived looking shaken and worried.  His whisper in the important man’s ear caused him to shake with rage and pound his fist on the table.


          At the same moment the U.S. Marshall was looking at a satchel of papers handed to him by Joe Turner who glared at Crazel triumphantly.


          And as he began to read the Marshall started passing the papers over to the Judge.


          Both men finally looked up and stared at Crezal who stared back defiantly.


          “In His time,” Cawdor said softly passing Heyes and Curry who nodded and went to saddle their horses.





          They stopped at the cemetery not sure if paying respects to folks not yet buried actually counted, but needing to do something all the same.


          They could not stick around for a funeral or for anyone to start to put together who had gotten the incriminating papers out of the bank vault.


          As for the deeds to the farms and nearby land those had been safely left in the hands of the two church pastors who had the good sense to thank God and not ask any questions over a miracle when it was handed to them in their poor box.


          “Still don’t seem enough Heyes,” Kid said softly as they got off their horses drawn into the little grave yard seeking some sense of closure. “Four children…”




          Heyes voice had broke in such a way that Kid turned sharply to see what had affected his partner so.  Following his partner’s stare he read the tombstone.


          “Noel Turner, beloved daughter, July 1, 1869October 31, 1880…1880 they got the year wrong and I thought they were burying those children tomorrow?”


          “Look at the grave,” Heyes said his voice just above a whisper.


          Kid crouched down and frowned.  This was no fresh grave.  The grass had grown over and the dirt long since compacted.


          “That’s impossible,” Kid said simply. 


          “That paper in town, what they said about when we robbed that bank in Denver…”


          “Heyes I don’t believe in ghosts.”


          “Very wise.”


          They turned to see Cawdor.


          “What do you know about this?”


          The man turned to walk down the hill.


          “Hey wait a minute,” Heyes said having to ask.  “When did these children die?”


          “One year ago,” the man called back without turning.  “You should know you were there.”


          “We were what?” Kid said confused and angry.  “That’s impossible a year ago we were…”


          “Not ready,” the man agreed and finally smiled.  “Fortunately time is no concern to God.”


          Heyes frowned his mind trying to make order of the jumble of circumstances, “Look just who are you?”


          The figure shrugged, “A friend of the light, you see gentlemen evil is not the only thing that walks on Halloween.”