“Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.”
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry stood at the closed double doors of the large trading post and paused. Despite being soaked to the skin and having been in the saddle for nearly 10 hours neither made a move to enter the only lighted building and shelter for a hundred miles.
Behind them the storm was just coming into its own and the rising water licking at the wooden porch steps clearly showed they had few options.
"That river is gonna crest before Heyes we don't have a choice unless we wanna float down to Lom," Kid said disgusted.
"Yea and this is the only
"Heyes at this point I'll share it with the bear, I just wanna get dry," Kid said irritable.
"It ain't the bears I'm worried about," Heyes grimaced and they opened the doors.
Pushed in with a gust of wet wind they were suddenly engulfed in darkness.
"Shut the door ya idiot!" came a southern snarl and the two ex-outlaws quickly obliged as around them matches were found and the lamps lashed to the two great wagon wheels hoisted above the floor relit.
The trading post and stopping station
was the only ‘civilization’ in this rugged part of
A long, rough, wooden plank supported by two barrels was acting as a makeshift bar and a lean black man was pouring drinks with a bored expression.
Stairs to the right of the front doors led up onto a second landing, which revealed a row of doors leading to rooms available for travelers staying over for the night. It was clear the storm had brought in more customers than the establishment could deal with comfortably and the smell of damp clothes, alcohol and tobacco permeated the room.
"Libby how many times I gotta tell you to get new glass for them lamps!" Slurred a dark handsome cowboy at the bar supported by a world weary red headed woman who looked like she didn’t come with the place, but was still managing to pry her trade.
"When you fellas at the Double R quit shooting them out!" an older woman of perhaps 60 with a deep north eastern accent replied as she stomped up from the back of the room where she had been stirring a huge pot of stew over a large fire. She looked competent and fit in men’s trousers and a soft lavender silk shirt. Her white hair piled neatly on her head showed her pronounced cheek bones to an advantage and she knew it. The instant impression was femininity tolerated as long as it was comfortable.
Facing them boldly she met their eyes and seemed satisfied when they didn’t flinch at her scrutiny. The men in the room watched interested, an odd assortment of drummers, trappers and miners they were prepared to come to her aid if there was trouble, but clearly none thought she would need it.
"Well look what the cat dragged in Jeremiah," she said to the tall thin black man shining glasses behind the bar. "You boys look like you swam up river."
"Darn close ma'am," Kid said pulling off his hat and looking apologetic as the water splattered everywhere.
"Get the mop Jeremiah," the woman sighed disgusted and turning.
"Ah ma'am?" Heyes said pleasantly. "My partner and I were wondering if you might have a room for rent tonight."
She smiled at him, "Jeremiah these boys got them some fine pretty manners, even if they do look like drowned rats. You boys looking for a room to yourselves or do you want company?”
"Lenora is with me!" the cowboy said straightening looking suddenly far sober than he had on their entry.
"Now Paul don't get all worked up," the girl smiled coaxing him back, but not before giving both Heyes and Curry a wink. "Course I'm all yours."
"Better be!" the cowboy growled allowing her to pour him another drink.
“Damn straight she’s with you boy
cause I ain’t running no whore house,” the owner Libby growled dangerously and
Heyes finally placed the accent as coming north of
"No ma’am were fine just having a place to get dry," Kid said quickly.
"Well I got one room left, kinda small, but it does have a fine pot belly stove that will dry you out real fine, ten dollars a night."
They stared at her.
"Ah ma'am isn't that a bit steep?" Heyes asked politely.
"In advance; unless you wanna take your chances with the flooding? Last time it got this bad we were an island up on this hill. Being so far out in the middle of nowhere to service the stagecoach means the rest of the world is underwater and I'm high and dry."
The two outlaws sighed and dug in their pockets and came up with the money.
"This room it include supper?" Kid asked clearly cynical.
"Nope, that's 3 dollars. Names Libby Cromwell, Libby to paying guests."
Kid rolled his eyes and Heyes had to grin at the woman's business sense.
"Well Libby I'll give you this you sure know how to play your hand, speaking of which the poker doesn’t have a charge does it?" Heyes said giving her his best smile and only partly joking.
She gave him a withering look, but the effect was lost when a small smile escaped. "No I figure such things keep you yahoos occupied and save me having to keep you in line…or it better.” The warning was not lost on them or anyone in the room as Jeremiah cocked back a shotgun for effect.
"Well then maybe this isn't going to be such a long night after all," Heyes said quietly to his partner as Kid paid the bartender for a bottle and the two men trudged up the stairs, neither missing the way the man stared after them with something far too interested to be mere curiosity.
The room was little more than a closet and had probably been used to house supplies in the past, which explained the luxury of a stove. Winters there were harsh and provisions and animals were given more care than their human owners.
Stripping down the two men laid their clothes to dry and aired out the damp ones in their saddle bags. The warmth along with the whiskey soon improved both their moods enough to dig out shaving equipment to make an attempt to look respectable and downplay any suspicion about them.
"Heyes you see the way that barkeep looked at us, he's thinking too hard," Kid said moodily as he pulled on a dry shirt from off the back of a chair next to the pot belly.
"Kid the way we looked coming out of that storm I would have been skeptical of us," Heyes said turning away from the mirror, which in all honesty was just a sliver from a broken looking glass and only allowed a man to see a small portion of his face at a time. "We'll just go down there and get some supper and put their minds at ease. Then when we see an opening we’ll ease into one of those poker games going on."
"Can we afford supper? I mean that Libby is probably charging for the forks and plates too."
Heyes laughed pulling on his vest, "Don't give her ideas."
“Seriously Heyes this room just about took all the money we have on us, we can’t afford another night if we want to keep eating. We gotta find some work or you gotta win real good tonight.”
“I’ll do my best,” Heyes said smiled at his friend’s confidence in his skill. Truth was Kid was no slouch at poker himself, but always deferred the game to Heyes if there was only one seat. “And let’s worry about tomorrow when it gets here. We got a room and food tonight and most importantly were not out there!”
Kid had to nod secretly happy to let his partner’s optimistic nature buoy his own more practical one, "You got a point and I have to admit I’m kinda grateful were on the second floor," Kid said looking out the window. "Though by morning that might not hold as true."
“Yea the last thing we want to do is get stranded here,” Heyes said. “Can you imagine how much this room would be if the ground floor was under water!?”
Heyes and Curry descended the stairs to see the room had swelled by four more men who sat in the back corner looking wet and miserable and bringing the aroma of damp clothing to an uncomfortable level.
“Them the fellas that took our room?” one of them said loud enough to Libby as she passed so the whole room could hear.
Libby turned back from placing plates of hot food down and looked at the four.
“I told you I gave the last room up 3 hours ago your welcome to sleep in here if you don’t cause any trouble.”
“Me and my boys don’t cause trouble
ma’am,” the older of the four said standing up. He was near thirty and wore his two guns
facing in. A
“You boys got names?” Libby said attempting to ease the tension in the room.
“Why we surely do ma’am,” the man replied giving his friends an amused laugh. “That small one shivering in the corner is Mountain Bill; he may look small, but well hell I guess he is. This fella on my right is Dandy Joe Cummings, finest knife thrower ever walked. The fella on my left with that mean scar and funny tick is Michael Denby, he don’t talk much seeing as how that got him the scar. And me? Well I’m Arkansas Johnson and I know about that scar for a fact cause I gave it to him.”
“Fine way to treat your friends,” Libby said disapprovingly.
“You should see how I treat them what ain’t my friends,” he grinned smoothing down his mustache. “Which brings me to the little problem of our room…?”
He never got to finish as the front doors suddenly burst open and a large burly figure stumbled in carrying a second man clearly in bad shape.
“Libby! I need bandages!” the man bellowed as a third figure, a young boy of no more than 16 hurried to shut the door and lug in the gear he had been carrying. Quickly the lamps were once more relit as the demands of the four were forgotten over more pressing needs.
“Who is it Hoover?” Libby asked clearing a table for him to lay the unconscious man down only to fall back and gasp with the rest of the room at the state of the man. He was blood soaked with flesh torn out of his left leg and side, not to mention a stump that was all that remained of his left arm.
“Miner, found him down along by
“Whiskey,” the man begged.
“You got it son,” Libby said comfortingly to the man and hurried to the bar to scoop up a glass.
“Ma’am I’m no doctor, but with bleeding like that I don’t think whiskey is going to…” Heyes said softly to her.
“I know, but he ain’t got but another five breaths left in him, least I can do is give him comfort,” the woman whispered back.
Heyes nodded and watched as the tough innkeeper gently helped the dying man sip the hard liquor in grateful gulps under soft words of hope.
A minute later he was dead.
“Hell and damnation after all that
work getting him here the least he could have done was live!”
“You and Charlie look done in, go back to my room and clean up and rummage for some dry clothes,” Libby said putting a comforting hand on his shoulder.
The man nodded, “Let me settle him out back first, no point in anyone else getting wet and blood soaked.”
“Wait a minute lady I thought you said you had no more rooms?” Johnson said annoyed he was no longer the center of attention.
“That there is my room and I only let friends use it,” Libby said coldly having clearly given up any hope of staying civil with the strangers.
“Well I think we just became your best friends,” Johnson said with a smirk. “My boys can have those fellas room and I’ll take yours.”
“You go to hell you scallywag!” Libby said hands on her hips as Jake slowly rose to his feet and made a move for his rifle.
“Don’t be trying nothing mister,” Denby said backing up his friend as all four strangers stood when Jake growled and turned to face them. “Or your gonna be wearing your own blood to match his.”
“Uh excuse me don’t you think you should be discussing these room arrangements with us?” Heyes said quietly from the bar. He had turned slightly to allow Kid a clear shot, but had unhooked his own weapon as well. Just as his cousin rated his gambling skills higher, Heyes did the same to his partner’s ability with a gun, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t hold his own and then some push come to shove.
“Mister you are gonna sleep out in the rain with that dead fella if you give us any problem,” Johnson said spitting and looking hungry for a fight.
“After you,” Kid said turning to face him.
The knife came from out of no where, but Kid was ready his first bullet deflecting it and his second hitting the thrower dead center as he moved to release a second knife.
“Ain’t nobody that fast,” Dandy Joe whispered and dropped hard.
But it was the third and fourth bullets that even surprised Heyes. They came so fast it was as if they had been shot simultaneously and for a moment Heyes wasn’t sure what his partner had been aiming at until the giant wagon wheel and the candles it held lit crashed down onto the three remaining men under it.
One of the men groaned and still tried to paw for his gun only to have Heyes click his revolver back in his face.
“Ah uh,” Heyes said firmly. “First off I don’t like being evicted from a room I all ready paid for and second people trying to kill me before supper just leaves a bad taste in my mouth so let it be or we’ll finish it.”
Heyes’s voice was husky with anger and his eyes flashed dangerously. The room was instantly convinced these were not just two trail bums to be pushed around.
“Hell he shot that rope straight
“Get their guns,” Kid told Hoover who with a hearty laugh collected them and passed them off to the teen Charlie who was staring at Heyes and Curry as if trying to engrave them forever in his memory.
“What you wanna do with them Libby?” Jake Hoover asked Libby who had stood back watching.
“Put them in the tack house in the stable; got a good lock on the door. We’ll leave them there to morning and then decide.”
“You can’t stick us out there we’ll drown,” Mountain Bill said angrily.
“Son you better be grateful we don’t
just hang you now and save us the bother of finding dry rope in the morning,”
“You think maybe the law has paper on them?” Libby said always the business woman.
“Hell no we ain’t wanted! We’re bounty hunters!” Johnson spat.
“Yea well tonight you’re gonna be cold and wet ones!” Paul the cowboy laughed.
It took very little time to get the 3 men and their wounded friend out to the tack room. Kid had volunteered to go along wanting to be sure the men were not going to have any chance of coming back and bushwhacking him and Heyes in the middle of the night.
He was relieved to find Libby had taken extra care to protect the stage lines property and the door and lock on the windowless room would not allow any chance for escape, especially after Kid tied them all firmly with leather strips.
“What about our friend? He’s gut shot, he needs a doctor,” Denby whined.
“I don’t reckon he’ll see morning even
with a doctor,”
“Didn’t have much time for that reason,” Kid said still regretting he had been forced to shoot to kill.
“You done right by all of us, man has
a right to protect himself, even the Bible tells ya that,”
“Well let’s get back Mr. Jones and see about something hot and solid to fill our bellies. Damn I’m sick of water.”
Returning to the trading post
“How’s it look?” Heyes asked quietly.
“They aren’t going anywhere and there are just three of them now,” Kid replied simply.
Heyes nodded, he knew better than to take his partner’s unemotional summation as callous. Kid did not take having to draw to kill lightly, but the man had given him no choice; faced with killing to save himself or his partner, Kid never wavered.
“Libby was real grateful you handling things,” Heyes said quietly.
“Dinner free?” Kid asked surprised.
“No,” Heyes said straight faced. “But she didn’t charge us for the plates.”
Kid sighed clearly annoyed it had come to this, “She’ll probably charge me for the wagon wheel’s rope then.” And picking up his fork he began to eat with little enthusiasm.
“How the hell did you think of that?” Heyes asked sincerely impressed and attempting to lighten the mood.
“I read I did it in a dime novel once,” Kid said. “I remembered it when I saw the way the lights were held up; wondered if it might come in useful when we came down and saw those four.”
“Kid, let it go, you could have just as easily and justifiably killed them all,” Heyes said seriously.
Curry sighed and finally looked up. “I just didn’t have time Heyes, not with him being that good with a knife.”
“Yea,” Heyes nodded sadly. “Age is slowing you down, did all that in under 3 seconds. Why I remember a time…”
Kid looked up sharply and Heyes gave him a grin. It was the same smile that had brought him back every time he had been forced to shoot to kill.
Kid felt some of the tension in his shoulders slip away and the knot in his stomach begin to release.
“Thought you boys might like some pie,” Libby said suddenly at their back and placing two large slices next to them. “And don’t worry boys,” she said fighting a smile. “It’s on the house.”
She walked away without another word, but her simple act was enough.
“You think she’s grateful enough to allow seconds for free?” Kid said suddenly hungry again.
“Yea, but she’s still gonna charge you for the rope.”
Jeremiah Hillstone moved quietly out the back door and made his way cautiously through the mud and rain. Miss Cromwell would not miss him if he was quick and he couldn’t sit still thinking on the fortune that was his if he was brave enough to act on it.
When them two outlaws first walked in he had thought about taking them in himself, but after that one called Curry drew his gun he knew he wouldn’t have a chance. But those men, those bounty hunters, were up to the job and splitting $20,000 four ways was better than nothing.
But he would have to be careful. No white man was gonna give up $5,000 to him without a little leverage. He shifted the weight of his rifle; he would just have to make sure he kept it.
Seeing a seat opening up at a game Heyes spooned up the last of his food and with his cousin’s blessing ambled over to join it.
Poker was better when it was being played to pass time and not for survival Curry felt, but knew Heyes thrived on a challenge that meant ensuring they would eat the next day.
Getting up he wandered over to fill up his coffee cup too on edge to consider anymore alcohol for the night. Reaching the pot he glanced over to see the teen Charlie over by the fire sketching away on paper as if his life depended on it.
Curious he wandered over and let out a low whistle. It was a crude charcoal drawing done on the back of a bill of lading, but there was no doubt he had captured the action and deadliness of the shootout. All the figures seemed fluid and in motion and Kid had to exhale relieved the boy had not the means to sharpen the images to recognizable figures.
“You’re good,” Kid said simply pulling up a chair next to him and studying the drawing. “Looks like its alive, most folks can’t draw people like that.”
Charlie grinned, he was a skinny teen of perhaps 16 who could have used a few more good meals, but his eyes were bright and intelligent.
“Thank you!” he said flushing at the compliment. “Never seen anything like how you and your partner handled yourselves.”
“A man tends to get worked up about giving up a dry place to sleep on a night like this,” Kid said brushing it off.
“You moved faster than my eye could follow, you always been that good with a gun?”
“You always been that good with a pencil?” Kid turned it back.
“Just do this for fun, I came out west to be a cowboy, ceptin I’m not having the best of luck, if Jake hadn’t of took me in I would have starved by now.”
“Ain’t easy a man getting a stake out here and keeping it,” Kid said and Charlie flushed at compliment of being called a man. “Where you from?”
Kid laughed, “Wait till you try and turn a cow.” He got up seeing an opening at another table presenting itself.
“Mr. Jones you think I could ever be as good as you with that gun?”
Kid looked the boy dead in the eye, “Son if I had your talent I would never have slapped a holster on. You got a real gift there.”
“Won’t keep me alive,” the boy replied.
“Nope, but neither will this forever.”
It was ten the next morning before the sun put in an appearance and neither Heyes or his cousin made any great effort to rise early to wait for it. Poker had been penny ante and despite being the big winners of the night they had little more in their pocket than when they started. They needed work and quickly if they were going to continue to eat as they headed south.
Climbing down the stairs they realized they weren’t the only later risers, everyone being held in check until they were sure the rain had let up. With Jeremiah clearly having his hands full supplying breakfast they stepped outside to survey the damage and wait for a chance to eat.
“What a mess,” Kid said shaking his head at the mud stretched out before them. Across the compound the cowboy, severely hung over, was mounting up along side a group or miners also moving out while the weather held.
When Kid received no reply from his partner he turned to find Heyes studying a hand written flyer tacked to the makeshift bulletin board next to the door.
Glancing over his partner’s shoulder he read:
For Bear terrorizing
See Jake Hoover
Kid grimaced at the thought and was about to turn away when he realized his partner was still studying it.
“You are not seriously thinking of taking that job are you?” Kid said incredulously making sure he emphasized the ‘you’ part as he did.
“$500, Kid,” Heyes said, but didn’t look at him.
“Heyes that bear has killed 6 men! And those are the ones he left enough to count!”
“They didn’t have any experience with that kind of hunting.”
“And we do?”
“Did pretty good at the Carlson’s.”
“Heyes you got jumped by a cat and in the end nearly killed.”
“Bear that big can’t sneak up on you.”
“Yea I bet the fella they are burying out back thought the same thing.”
“Nothing too it. Remember when Grandpa Curry used to tell us about taking just one shot to bring down that 12 foot grizzly...”
“Yea and he also told us about how he used to drink whiskey with the little people!”
“Our Pa’s killed that big one, remember them coming home with it? Your Ma sure cried a lot for them you think it had killed them.”
Kid gave him a hard look.
“Anyway what I’m getting at is bear killing is in our blood!”
“Oh there will be blood all right.”
“Five hundred dollars Kid!”
“I can’t spend it in a bear’s belly!” Kid growled.
“You boys interested?” Jake Hoover said coming up. “Miners and ranchers these parts are paying a fine bounty for that critter. Lost too many men all ready this summer and it is only gonna get worse as the autumn creeps in. Beast is a man killer and he ain’t gonna be discriminating on how he packs on fat for hibernating.”
“I don’t know, just 500? Not much for a killer,” Heyes negotiated and Kid turned away disgusted.
“Plus you can keep the fur or sell it for another $100.”
“$600 for one bear!” Kid said turning back now totally convinced he did not want the job.
“Must be some bear,” Heyes said poker faced.
“You saw that fella last night, that’s more than we’ve found of men who went after him previous,” Jake said.
“Thanks, but we prefer work where we don’t have a chance of being eaten,” Kid said firmly.
Heyes paused still considering the money. It would easily tide them over for a few months and summer would not last forever. Work was hard to find once the season changed and sleeping out of doors out of the question.
“Well let me know if you change your mind. I’m heading back to my ranch and you could go with me and I could show you where he’s been spotted.”
The man walked away and Kid just stared at his partner.
Heyes finally squinted and gave him a smile, “Your fault Kid, I just got too much confidence in you and your aim. Why one good shot through the eye and he’d drop down…”
“Yea well when the bear ties on a gun and wants to meet me in the street we’ll talk.”
Heyes laughed and followed his friend in for breakfast. The truth was he did have an unshakeable faith in his partner in any situation that required a gun. Kid was a hell of a tracker too. But he understood his reluctance and had to agree they were smarter to try and find work that while may not pay as much would at least leave them un-mauled at the end of the day.
“Jake didn’t talk you into hunting down that bear did he?” Libby said coming over with hot coffee.
“No last night convinced us we can find work that is less likely to eat us,” Kid said firmly.
“You boys heading out this morning? Trail is gonna be real muddy and the river has overrun its banks.”
“Yea, but we have a friend expecting us,” Heyes smiled.
“Sure? The room drops considerable when it isn’t raining!”
“We’ll keep that in mind for next time,” Kid smiled as she handed them over a full plate each for breakfast.
“Well then eat up gonna be a ways before you all see another place to hide up.”
Tucking into their meals they ate enthusiastically as Libby wandered away yelling for Jeremiah who had let the fire die down.
“You still think Jeremiah knows us?” Heyes asked softly.
“Yea,” Kid said simply. “You?”
“He knows,” Heyes said quietly. “But I don’t think he’ll brace you after seeing you in action, but he’s got himself three bounty hunters locked up who might if he cut them in.”
“You think he’s stupid enough to trust them to do that?” Kid asked.
“I think he’s greedy enough to think he has a plan to…”
As if in confirmation of Heyes’s prediction gunshots suddenly rang out and leaping to their feet the two men hit the door and out onto the porch just in time to see Jeremiah drop face first into the muddy street. Behind him one of the bounty hunters, Mountain Bill, had a shotgun which was still smoking.
“Now nobody move or we’ll take off this kid’s head!” Johnson yelled as Denby pushed Charlie forward a peacemaker at his throat.
“What the hell do you think you are doing…?” Libby started to say and suddenly found herself pinned in front of Johnson.
“Shut up old woman, we want them two, anyone else tries anything we’ll kill you with the boy understand?”
For a moment the courtyard was silent. From where they stood both ex-outlaws had a good chance of getting off a shot and maybe reaching their horses, but to do so would mean shooting through both the boy and the woman.
The other men looked at one another no one knowing what to do or wanting to take a chance of killing the innocent or being one of those innocent.
“Any chance,” Heyes hissed.
“Not without a blood bath,” Kid said with a sigh. “All right, all right let them go.”
“Bill git their guns,” Johnson said with a sneer. “Seems Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry ain’t so big and tough after all!”
“Can they do that?” Charlie said horrified as the three men pulled out hand irons and bound the two cousin’s hands behind them.
“If’n they are who they say they are I
“You just back off mister or I’ll plant you like that bartender! That damn fool told us who they were and then thought we would split the reward with him! Hell I wouldn’t have split it with a white man let alone…”
Heyes suddenly tripped and went down on one knee. Roughly Denby pulled him to his feet.
“Look Mr. Outlaw near as I reckon your wanted dead or alive and while dead is easier the smell plum gets on my nerves when I got this long a trip ahead of me so you just mind your manners and we’ll bring you in alive!”
Heyes nodded complacently and Kid knew he had gotten the lock pick from his boot. It was a lucky break them using irons instead of ropes. Knots took time, locks…well Heyes had yet to meet one he couldn’t coerce into cooperating.
Heyes meanwhile, lock pick securely in hand frowned trying to think of something to give them a distraction. Even with the chains unlocked they were still unarmed and outnumbered. With the mud and rain damage they were looking at least a four day ride to the nearest sheriff and that meant time to find a way to escape.
And then he saw it. Libby and
As the man with him waited for the horses to be brought up Heyes pretended to pause at Jeremiah’s body as if fascinated by the hole blown through the man; even to the point of leaning forward and appearing to pick at.
Frowning Kid watched this, but knowing his partner gave him a momentary distraction by stopping stubbornly and forcing his guard to run into him causing a few terse remarks and everyone’s attention to turn on him.
Heyes took advantage of it and quickly balled the blood soaked bandana into his hand.
“Come on boy or you gonna look the same,” Johnson growled pushing Kid over to the horses and pulling Heyes likewise.
Quickly Heyes tucked the cloth into the man’s saddlebag and then innocently got aboard his horse, but not before wiping the blood from his hand on a second bounty hunter’s horse’s flank.
Kid caught the motion and gave him a puzzled look until he thought it out and stared at Heyes in shock. It was a crazy imaginative idea that just might backfire on them, but he had to grin at his partner’s audacity.
“You see what he did?” sharp eyed
Charlie whispered to
“You think he’s crazy?” Charlie asked.
The storm had left a wake of debris in the form of downed trees and combined with the mud what little trail was left was slow going at best. Both outlaws bided their time knowing any delay worked in their favor and the more frustrated their captors became the greater chance of them making a mistake they could capitalize on.
Surrendering after going only 10 miles the group stopped to make camp next to the river flanked on one side by a large pile of boulders and the other dense black forest.
The two prisoners were chained together to a tree, much to Heyes’s delight, and ignored.
“Hey what about supper?” Kid attempted after the men had settled down next to the fire grumbling the river was moving too fast to cross and would slow them down even further.
“Ain’t wasting supplies on you two,” Johnson spat spooning out his beans. “Besides figure you two will be a lot easier to deal with hungry and thirsty!”
“Real charmer isn’t he,” Kid said softly.
“We’ll wait till they bed down then split up. I’ll head up over the rocks. You head into the woods,” Heyes said quietly. “We’ll meet at the river fork once we’ve lost them.”
“I’ll see if I can get us a horse while I’m at it,” Kid agreed.
It was well after before the two men made an attempt to move. Heyes had waited until they had been checked by Johnson one more time before bedding down for the night before going to work on the locks holding them. As both men had suspected Heyes had little trouble manipulating them to open with the steel pin he carried for that very purpose and a moment later they were quietly rubbing their wrists to generate some circulation.
The uncomfortable cold night in the barn along with the hard journey had left the three remaining bounty hunters too tired to even consider a sentry as long as they had the iron handcuffs to reassure them.
Slowly the outlaws silently rose to their feet and waited for a reaction; when none came Heyes quietly slipped over to the rocks and began to make his escape.
Kid moved the other direction and as he did spotted his holster discarded next to the men’s saddle bags.
For a moment he was severely tempted, but then deciding it was not worth the chance he reached the edge of the camp and melted into the trees unseen.
And then their luck gave out.
Something stirred Johnson, perhaps a six sense or just the moon coming out from behind the clouds and he sat up groggily just as Heyes reached mid way up the rocks.
With a yell he grabbed his gun and roused his companions who scooped up theirs and all turned to fire on Heyes trapped without cover.
One man got off a shot and Heyes dodged it just missing him all too aware of how exposed his back was. A second shot chipped the rock next to his leg as he tried to scramble to safety.
Kid was in the clear when he heard the first shot. He had managed to free a horse and was scattering the others when he realized his partner had been spotted. Without hesitating he abandoned his escape and ran back.
Heyes was hanging precariously now on the rock and without pausing Curry dived back into camp and for his gun. Startled the men leapt for cover as Kid pinned them down giving his cousin the precious seconds he needed to reach the top and disappear out of range.
His gun clicked on an empty chamber and sighing Kid leaned back as the three men warily got up and surrounded him guns drawn.
“Damn it!” Johnson swore kicking him viciously in the leg. “I thought we chained them up!”
“Must have picked them,” Denby said scooping up his rifle. “I’ll get the other one.”
“I’m gonna kill you right now boy!” Johnson roared clicking his gun back at Curry.
“Dang Johnson don’t be getting all crazy we need him!” Denby said pushing his arm down. “If’n his partner thinks he’s still alive he’s not gonna go too far hopin’ to get him clear too.”
Johnson considered this, “Yea you might be right, heard these two were family. Bill you go with Denby,” Johnson said still furious. “Help me tie this fella up and then I’m gonna make sure he ain’t got no strength to be trying nuthin else.”
Heyes reached the back of the rocks knowing full the sacrifice his partner had made. It would do nothing to dwell on it or even consider guilt since both knew had the circumstances been reversed he would have done the same. Well I wouldn’t have gotten caught, Heyes corrected himself.
Determined not to let his partner’s surrender be in vain he moved quickly through the woods knowing Johnson would have the others after him as soon as Kid was secured.
He tried not to think about how they would take out their frustration on his cousin, but instead turned his energy to getting away. Once they thought they had lost him he would have time to think about rescues AND payback.
It wasn’t long before he heard the men behind him crashing through the trees. For bounty hunters they possessed little skill as woodsmen and Heyes was easily able to move away from them unnoticed. He and Kid had entered too many banks successfully in the dead of night not to have learned the art of moving silently and it held him in good stead now.
“Aw hell we ain’t never gonna be able to track him in the dark,” Denby yelled finally. “This mud gonna leave some fine tracks come morning, lets go back and git our horses. He ain’t gonna get far on foot.”
Bill seemed to agree for Heyes heard them moving away and slowly exhaled.
Figuring he had just a few hours to work with he took off and hoped a plan would find him.
A moment later he stopped dead having nearly tripped over an object in his path.
It only took a moment longer to realize it was a body.
Or what was left of one.
Kid was pulled to his feet painfully two hours later. The bounty hunters had indeed taken their anger out on him and the beating had been a thorough one. Aching with sore ribs, one eye puffy and bruised, and with his lip swollen with dried blood he looked like hell and felt near the same. It was gonna be a long ride if Heyes didn’t come up with something soon.
Doubt that his partner, unarmed, without a horse in the middle of nowhere would figure out a way to save him never crossed his mind. Heyes was predictable in only one way. He loved doing the impossible.
It took help getting him on his horse and Kid closed his one good eye trying to fight the nausea threatening to send him right back off it.
The men quickly picked up Heyes’s trail, but it was fully light before they found the body.
It consisted of only the upper torso and the right arm and it lay in a mangled heap on the trail.
Johnson slipped off his horse to investigate as a hush fell over the group.
“Damn there ain’t nuthin but the top left…” Bill swallowed.
“What happened to his head?” Denby whispered as Johnson picked up a discarded and all too familiar black hat.
“Hell, damn bear didn’t give us enough to collect the reward on,” Johnson said disgusted.
Kid stared his face expressionless. The hat was his partner’s and he recognized the fragment of shirt, it had been his. Heyes had borrowed it since it was dry first.
“Looks like your partner didn’t do too good,” Johnson smirked at Kid hoping for a reaction.
Kid didn’t give him the satisfaction just stared back at him concentrating on where he was going to put the first bullet when he got free.
“Lets ride that bear might still be around,” Denby said uneasily.
Kid tried to put the memory of the body out of his head. Yea it was Heyes’s clothing, but. He let out a breath trying to fight down his fear. He had to believe it was a trick. Heyes wouldn’t lose that easy, not this way.
“Keep your guns ready boys,” Johnson said looking around clearly spooked. “That bear done gone and ate $10,000 and I don’t want it to add one of us as well.”
Heyes reached the perimeter of the
small ranch and crouched down planning his next move. He had hoped the trail he had stumbled across
would lead to the ranch
Shivering he shrugged off the cold. Leaving his jacket, shirt and hat behind had been a small sacrifice to get his pursuers off his trail. He had stumbled on the remains of the poor cowboy from the trading post in the dark and despite his horror at the poor man’s fate he had quickly seen a chance to throw the men off his trail. With them no longer looking for him he had a far better chance of getting the drop on them and freeing his partner.
But for that he was going to need a horse and a gun.
He caught the boy at the barn door quickly catching the gun out of his waist band held it on him apologetically.
“Sorry about this but I’m going to have to borrow a horse.”
“Mr. Heyes!” Charlie said staring in
amazement at the muddy weary man, his white
“You gonna need more than that gun and
a horse to take those three on,”
Heyes nodded, “I know, but I’ll just have to do what I can though. I’ll pay you for the horse and the gun, but don’t try and stop me.”
“Quit your worrying I don’t peddle in
human flesh mister,”
“That fella Paul’s I don’t doubt,” Heyes said and explained about the body.
“Damn that makes seven, that bear is terror,”
Heyes didn’t move.
“Mister if I wanted you dead I could
have picked you off from the house,”
Slowly Heyes lowered the gun.
“Got some food on and the coffee is
hot, looks like you could use a little sustenance,”
“I need to get back after my partner,” Heyes said the exhaustion apparent in his eyes as he reluctantly followed.
“You bought some time making them
think your dead,”
“You are as clever as the papers say,” Charlie said grinning and hurrying off on Jake’s urging returned with a dark green flannel shirt for Heyes to put on.
“I appreciate this, I can pay you for it,” Heyes said reaching into his trouser pocket.
“You just put your money away. You and your partner did me and Libby a good turn back there and I never forget a favor like that. I’ll get you a horse and a rifle and show you a shortcut, but first you’re gonna eat something before you give out. You do realize taking on those three is just bout impossible?”
Jake stared at the man’s stubborn face.
“Yea I suppose you will.”
“I read about how a man would look after his partner like you two do, just never figured it was real,” the teen said considering all he had seen out loud. “I think I like that about this country. Reckon I’m gonna stay.” And with that he walked out to saddle the horses.
“I appreciate you showing me a shortcut,” Heyes said grateful, but clearly wanting to be on his way.
“I can see keeping you is gonna be as tough as holding back winter,” Jake said rolling his eyes. “Jes sit a spell and eat something while Charlie gets the horses ready.” And pushing a plate of beef towards Heyes he cut him a slab with some bread and filled up a large cup of coffee. Reluctantly Heyes took a seat realizing it would do neither him or Kid any good if he went after him spent. Food would shore him up and he could use the energy.
Picking up the sandwich Heyes began to wolf it down and Jake smiled as he pulled down a cigar box on the shelf and opening it pulled out a key for the gun cabinet that sat amidst a collection of small blue rocks.
“My collection,” Jake explained as Heyes picked one up curious. “Found them scouting around for gold, right pretty I thought.”
“You ever get them checked out?” Heyes frowned.
“Nah, just liked them cause of their color,” Jake said loading the rifles and then added curious. “You and your partner pretty good at this bank robbin’ they say.”
“Was, we quit,” Heyes said swallowing his last bite and washing it down with the last of the coffee.
“I appreciate you helping me this way Jake.”
“Me and Charlie had to check some bear
traps any how,”
Heyes looked up suddenly smiling, “Did you say bear traps?”
The party of four moved along at a gloomy pace each participant lost in their own thoughts. For the bounty hunters the lost of $10,000 burned in their gut like a hot poker with each man feeling sure one of the others was to blame.
For Curry the physical hurt took a backseat to the nagging memory of the half eaten corpse they had found. Stubbornly he refused to believe it had been his cousin’s body. It was a trick; Heyes was too smart to get eaten by a bear. He had told him that numerous times since they were small that he when he finally did decide to die it was going to be doing something amazing and incredible that would make the women cry and leave him a legend forever. Heyes would never have stood for something as mundane as being eaten, even by a bear that impressive. No he wasn’t going to give up his faith in his partner just yet. Besides something about the body kept nagging at him and he couldn’t place what it was. He sighed, hurt, tired and thirsty the doubts kept creeping up on him and he slumped in his saddle devoid of emotion.
Finally the group stopped for the night and Kid was pulled roughly off his horse and lashed standing to a nearby tree.
“Tie it tight enough to cut through to
A burst of hope shot through him like a drug. Heyes was alive!
Heyes watched him from the vantage point on the rocks a half mile ahead. Beside him on their bellies with him were Charlie and Jake and the two pulled back physically at Heyes’s expression as he lowered the binoculars.
“Looks like they took their annoyance at my escaping on him,” Heyes said his voice a low dark growl as he observed the way his partner limped painfully to the tree and the vicious way he was tied.
“You think he thinks your dead?” Charlie said softly.
Heyes thought about this and hoped his cousin had seen through his trick. It was bad enough without that weighing him down as well.
“No, he’s just waiting for me to start something. He knows I don’t kill easy,” Heyes said lightly. “Much obliged for your help Jake, Charlie…”
Jake and Charlie looked at each.
“Look what exactly are you thinking of doing?” Jake asked both of them not wanting to see Heyes lose his life in an impossible gamble.
Heyes gave them a humorless smile as he swung the bear traps over the back of his horse.
“Figure those boys are probably real spooked about now worrying about that bear. Maybe even spooked enough to go off blindly into the woods and not look where they are stepping!”
A slow grin appeared on Jake’s face.
“Yea I reckon you just might be right and one of them traps would sure cut down the odds!”
“How you gonna make them think the bear is out there?” Charlie asked.
Heyes put his foot in the stirrup and mounted up, “By using the one thing most men can’t control…their imagination.”
Denby and Johnson had settled down for the night and Bill sat uneasily near the fire his rifle in his lap.
The three had decided after the escape attempt and the newest victim of the bear that a sentry might be a good idea and Bill had drawn short straw.
Against the tree Kid leaned his head back trying not to think about how thirsty he was and not missing the irony of how much water had been available to him a day or so earlier.
Both of the sleeping men had started to snore when Kid and Bill heard the first noise. The twig breaking had been sharp and distinct and in the still blackness sounded like a bullet going off.
Bill was instantly alert, “What was that.”
The sound of something scraping against a tree wafted into their camp.
“You’re the sentry go look,” Kid said not caring. The only thing keeping him upright were his ropes and even the sudden distraction wasn’t enough to rally him.
Cursing under his breath Bill got up slowly and moved towards the edge of the camp. The small sounds had fired his imagination as Heyes had said it would and all ready his mind was filling in the shadows with shapes both deadly and menacing.
He had stepped out of the light of the fire when his foot hit a trap. His scream was loud, terrifying and racked with pain, or it was until Heyes decked him and quickly dragged the body out of sight.
From inside the
“Where did Bill go?” Denby swallowed.
“Sound came from that way, come on!” Johnson ordered.
Kid watched the two men carefully approach the edge of camp and suddenly stiffened when he felt a hand touch his.
Holding his breath he waited and then distinctly heard the sound of leather being sawed through with a knife.
“What’s happening?” Charlie hissed begging for the binoculars. It was only the full moon that gave them any chance of keeping up with the plan, but the scream had shown it was progressing as hoped. Both had been unable to tear themselves away needing to find out how successful Heyes’s attempt at a rescue was going to be.
“Boy I think he’s gonna pull it off!” Jake chuckled amused. “Damn cleverest….aw hell…no!”
Charlie followed where his friend was pointing and his eyes flew wide open in surprise and horror.
The animal had to be at least 1500 pounds, a monster of a bear…and it was moving up fast on the campsite!
The bear made no effort to hide his arrival into the camp and Denby coming out to see what was going on was the first to feel its wrath being slapped hard to the ground with one swipe of its paw, nearly taking off half of his face.
Hearing the man’s scream Heyes looked up from where he was finishing the last bond holding his partner and groaned. Hurrying around the tree he saw Kid had sunk to his knees the ropes no longer supporting him and in no shape to do anything to escape the creature’s fury.
Without thinking Heyes leapt between the charging animal and his partner and brought the rifle up and aimed knowing this shot had to count and fired twice.
The bear staggered for a moment and then dropped at their feet.
Suddenly a third shot went off and Heyes turned to see Jake lowering his gun as Johnson sunk to the ground.
“Hate bushwhackers almost as much as bears,” Jake growled.
Heyes broke into a grin and turned to smile down at his partner.
“Where did you learn to shoot like that,” was all Kid managed.
“Something I picked up from a friend,” Heyes said trying not to show his hands were shaking as he helped his partner to sit against the tree and passed him a canteen.
“Right through the eyes, one shot in a million or are you that good?” Jake said from where he and Charlie were examining the giant beast.
Kid rested his head back and grinned his thirst sated.
“Takes after our grandfather, all the Curry’s kill their bears that way.”
“How bad you hurt?” Heyes asked frowning as the moon came back out giving him a better picture of what his cousin had been through.
“Better now I realized I was right
that body wasn’t yours,” Kid said opening his good eye. “Remembered you were wearing a white
Heyes grinned, “Thought you might catch that.”
“However that was my best shirt.”
“Oh,” Heyes said helping him to his feet. “I’ll keep that in mind next time.”
Kid stopped and looked at him.
And both suddenly found the energy to laugh because there could be.
“How you feeling?” Heyes said from the doorway.
Kid blinked and realized the room was filled with sunlight. “How long I been asleep?”
Kid sat up and stared at him, “Two days! Heyes why didn’t you…what if…we have to…”
Heyes chuckled and stopped him from trying to leap out of bed by sitting down on the edge of it.
“It’s all right. Jake and Charlie took those boys over to Libby’s and she’s sent for the law to come get what’s left of them.”
“Yea and as soon as they talk…”
Heyes shook his head, “Seems him and Charlie forgot to mention we were healing up here at Jake’s ranch.”
Kid felt back against his pillow, “Not many men forget about $20,000 that easy.”
“Yea,” Heyes agreed. “Oh that reminds me he collected that bounty on the bear, six hundred, three hundred apiece.” Heyes said pulling out a wad of bills.
“Should all be yours your shot killed it,” Kid said with a hint of pride at his older cousin’s skill in his voice.
“You helped,” Heyes said seriously.
“Heyes I couldn’t have moved if I wanted too, how did I help?”
“Bait?” Heyes suggested and grinned when he said it.
“Gonna miss having you boys around here,” Jake smiled the next morning as the three of them sat nursing a pot of coffee after breakfast.
Kid looked up from the sketchpad Charlie had left on the table and whistled as he stopped at a sketch of cowboys trying to rope a bear. “Boy sure does have a way of putting life out here down on paper.”
Jake grinned, “Yea well I just wish he was as good at being a cowboy as he is drawing them!”
“Jake I really think you should send these rocks somewhere to get checked out,” Heyes said looking up from the cigar box of pebbles he had been studying. “We’ve learned from a friend of ours that pretty rocks have a real funny way of being more than they seem.”
“Horses all saddled Mr. Heyes, Mr. Curry,” Charlie said coming in the door and the group stood and headed out to the porch.
“Been real interesting boys and I can promise you no one is ever gonna hear who really killed that bear until you both are long gone and I can get me a dime novel writer to get it all down proper with Charlie here doing the illustrations!”
Charlie glanced down embarrassed, “Aw I just do this for fun, fella can’t make a living at it.”
“Well if you ever do decide Charlie just make sure you make those faces a little vague,” Kid grinned.
The teen grinned back, “That’s a promise Mr. Curry.”
“Kid will do.”
The boy smiled back delighted.
“Never did get your full name Charlie,” Heyes said mounting up.
Charlie reached over and took his hand.
“Russell sir, Charles Russell.”
Note: Charles Russell was born to
moderate wealth in
Grizzly bears can live up to 30 years in the wild and can range in height from 4.5 feet to 10 feet high! Weight ranges from 350 to 1800 pounds! They can run up to 35 miles per hour!
Hoover was a real person and did indeed befriend a young Charles Russell in
For more on Russell go to: