Home & Safe

                                                                                                                 Tina Belcher

 

 

The two figures rode toward the farmhouse.  They were bone tired.   It had been a long day.  Actually it had been a long week.  They never thought that they would make it this far.  Giving up had been out of the question.  No matter what they knew that they had to make it.   Now it was all the two could do to keep moving. The horses they rode were just as exhausted.  The riders were barely in the saddle.  Occasionally one or the other of them would stretch to try to get the kinks out.  It didn’t help.   Or they would look behind them to make sure no one was there. No one had been for well over a day now.  They were reasonably sure they were in the clear.  They both wanted to stop, but they were to close to home to quit now.  Not even just for the night.

 

Home.  The word didn’t really apply and using it didn’t come easy, but the farm was the closest thing they had to one.  It was home if for no other reason it was safe.  Maybe not for long, but for long enough.   It was someplace warm and dry where a hot meal could be found. Where they could sleep without having to worry about who would wake them up.  But most importantly they knew they both would be welcome any time day or night and the only questions asked would be out of concern for their safety.  For that reason they had been very careful coming here.  They had to protect the place and occupant no matter what.

 

As the house came into view the two looked at one another.  Neither had the energy to smile, but there was relief there as their eyes met.  Even the horses knew how close they were and picked up the pace with out prodding from the two men.  The house was dark.  But considering the time of night it was that wasn’t a surprise.    The occupant didn’t know they were coming.  As a small plume of smoke rose from the chimney they dismounted and walked the horses into the barn.  Unsaddled and headed them into stalls that where already stocked with feed, hay and water as if someone knew they were coming.    She usually kept it that way, just in case.  Grooming would have to wait.  The corral or pasture would probably have been better, but they couldn’t risk the horses being seen.  Not until they were sure.

The two then made their way to the house and let themselves in.  The living room was neat and clean but lived in, with what remained of a fire in the fireplace.  One of the two unbuckled his gunbelt leaving it on the floor close at hand and dropped onto the couch.  His friend looked at him as he pulled his boots off.

 

“You know there is another bedroom and the bed, I’m sure is made and ready”

 

“yip.  I know.  But I don’t think I can make it that far.”  Was the response as he sank back with a relieved yet contented sigh.  He was asleep before his head hit the throw pillow in the corner of the couch.

 

The other just smiled at his friend shaking his head as he eyed the big soft chair close to the fire.  It was tempting.  But what was waiting upstairs held more appeal.  So with a sigh he turned and headed up the short flight of stairs to the bedroom.  Quietly he entered the bedroom where there was just enough light from the moon to make out the lone figure sleeping soundly snuggled down into the covers.  He took off his gunbelt and hung it on the post of the bed closest to where he would be sleeping.  Then with a silent weary sigh sank into the rocker near by.  He pulled his boots off, sat back with his eyes closed thinking, ‘I’ll just sit here for a minute’.  Shaking himself awake he took off his shirt.  Standing he removed his pants and dropped them across the back of the chair.  He then carefully pulled back the covers, trying not to wake the sleeping figure.  She stirred slightly as he slipped his arms around her bringing her body close to his.

 

“Hummm…. Who is it?’’ she sighed quietly.  Knowing full well who it was.

 

“Shhhh. It’s just me.”  He responded,  “I didn’t mean to wake you.”  He kissed her cheek as she turned her head toward the sound of his voice and placed her hand on his cheek letting it run back threw his hair to the back of his head.  “Go back to sleep.”

 

“When did you get here?”

 

“Just now.”  As he settled down adjusting his position to fit comfortably close to her.

“You alone?”

 

“No.  He only made it as far as the couch in front of the fire.”

 

“He’s okay?”

 

“Yea, worry wart.  Just beat.”  He kissed her cheek again. “Now go back to sleep.”

 

She waited a few minutes until she was sure that he was asleep and then slipped out of bed.  Picking up a blanket from the trunk at the foot of the bed she made her way quietly down the stairs to the living room and the couch.  Seeing the figure laying there peacefully she smiled thinking how much like a little boy he looked without a care in the world.  Thinking to herself, ‘if only that were true’ she covered him with the blanket, kissing his forehead as she did so.  As she reentered the bedroom he lifted the covers to allow her to slip back into bed with him.

 

“Satisfied?”

 

“Yeah.  I just needed to see for myself that he was okay.”

 

He wrapped her back in his arms, settling her against him stroking her hair as she lay her head on his chest.  “A fella could get jealous of the amount of attention that you pay to him.”

 

“A fella could find himself sleeping in the barn too.”  She answered with a smile. She looked up into his eyes and brushed a kiss across his lips.  His hand moved to the back of her head to keep her from pulling away and deepened the kiss.  “Hummm” she sighed, “I don’t think so.”  She said finally pulling gently away.

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I really don’t like the idea of my fella falling asleep in the middle of something and to look at you that is exactly what would happen.”

He started to protest, but as he opened his mouth to speak a yawn escaped.  “Okay, you have a point there.” He reluctantly admitted,  “Wouldn’t be much fun for either of us if I fell asleep would it.” Closing his eyes as he said it.

 

She laughed at him softly, “Just go to sleep.  We have plenty of time.” Realizing he was asleep before she even finished speaking.

 

He awoke with a start the next morning.  He realized that it was late, but he didn’t know how late.  He also realized that he was alone.  Then he smelled the coffee, bacon, eggs and biscuits.  Finding his pants he pulled them on.  Leaving his shirt, boots and for a change the gun where they were he wondered downstairs to find the source of the smell.

 

“Something sure smells good here.”  He slipped his arms around her and kissed her neck.  “Where is ….?”

 

“The barn.  He figured that he should check on the horses.  Besides I think I woke him up puttering around in here.” 

 

“That’s what he gets for sleepin on the couch.”

 

She turned around within the circle of his arms to face him.  As he lowered his lips to hers the door burst open they were joined by his friend, partner and cousin.

 

“Something sure smells good.”

 

With a smile at the annoyed look one partner gave the other and the muttered comment about timing, “Sit down.” She told them,  “It’s ready to eat.”

 

She set the food on the table and watched as they dug in like they hadn’t eaten in months.  “Okay. Who was it this time?”  She asked as she sat down.

 

Blue eyes and brown ones met across the table then both avoided hers as she waited for an answer.  Looking from one to the other her sense of worry grew.  “Maybe I don’t want to know?”

Kid reached over and touched her hand. “I wish we could answer the question.  But we don’t know.  Could be a posse.  Could be a bounty hunter.   All we do know is that they are persistent.  They been chasing us for over a week now.”

 

“I think we finally lost them though.” Heyes added hopefully.

 

They sat in silence for a while and ate.  Finally she asked, “ So what do we do now?”

 

Two heads shot up in unison, “We?” They asked.  Kid went on, “We don’t do anything.  Sweetheart, we only came here cause…”

 

“Cause you didn’t know where else to go and it’s safe.  Also I can go into town and see what is going on and if anyone knows anything and you can’t.”  She finished for him.  She was determined not to be shut out by the two men and they’re over protectiveness.  The two men looked at one another.  “Well, I can!”  She insisted.

 

Both responded quickly and firmly, “NO!”  Heyes went on, “This is OUR problem.  We can’t have you taking the chance of putting yourself at risk against someone who just might shoot first and ask questions later.”

 

“Besides,” Kid added, “if you draw that kind of attention to yourself, then it won’t be safe for you here either.”

 

“Oh please.  You both know perfectly well that NO ONE pays any attention to this place. It’s to far from town.  I can ride down to the main road and hide the horse, stop the stage and ride on into town.  I don’t even have to ask around just keep my ears open.”  They both just looked at her;  “Ole Jake will stop the stage for me.  He does it all the time when I need to go in for supplies.  Heck he doesn’t even charge me fair.  Just gives me a lift.  You two certainly can’t do it.  And you can’t go back to Devils hole, with someone on your tail.  Wheat would shoot first and ask questions later.”

 

They looked at one another.  Finally Kid shrugged and looked at Heyes, “We do need to know.  If she can find out and,” pointedly at her he added, “stay out of trouble.  Might be worth a try.”

Heyes sighed almost giving in, “Won’t someone find it strange that you are in town just wondering around.”

 

She began to smile; she was winning, “So I’ll pick up supplies.  I haven’t been in town in a while.  NO one will think anything about it.  Geeze give me a little credit here.  I’m not gonna just camp out outside the sheriff’s office and ease drop on all his conversations.”  She rolled her eyes, “I’m also not gonna walk in and say ‘so sheriff who ya been chasing lately? Anybody I know.”

 

“When does the stage come?”  Kid asked giving in.

 

She smiled triumphantly.  Half the battle won, “Tomorrow about mid-morning.”

 

Heyes wasn’t convinced just yet reached over and turned her to face him, “Understand if we agree, to this it is only cause we know you’ll go anyway and we would rather know what your up to instead of just having you take off with no word.”

 

She gave him a surprised look, “Would I do that?”  Heyes was not amused.

 

“How will you get back?”

 

“Jake of course.  He has to go back by this way anyway.  Not a problem.”  She looked from one to the other.  Her smile getting bigger all the time.

 

Knowing full well that she would do it anyway, both gave up with a sigh.

 

The next morning she dressed and headed out to meet the stage.  As she told them ole Jake didn’t even think twice about stopping and picking her up.  He even allowed her to ride up top with him. Jake knew she liked to do that. He was glad to have the company.  He hadn’t had a passenger for miles.  They headed on into town gabbing about whatever gossip Jake could pass on from the towns that he had come threw.  But he hadn’t heard anything about a posse chasing anyone.  As they rounded the bend in the road a gang of men stopped them.   There were 9 or 10 of them.  All dirty and mean looking.  All the meaner looking because they were as tired, as her two visitors had been when they arrived.  They were also angry and frustrated because the two they were looking for had apparently alluded them.  The apparent leader of this group looked up at her and smiled wickedly realizing somehow their luck had changed and this was the girl they had been trying to find.

 

“Damn girl. There you are!”

 

Jake looked at her “You know this feller.”

 

She shook her head no.

 

“We been lookin in all these farms around here for you.  Knew them boys had to have you stashed around here some place.  How are our two friends?”

 

“Who are you?  And what do you want with this young lady?”

 

“Shut up old man.  The lady knows what we want.”

 

“How would I know that when I don’t even know who you are.  Or how you know me.”

 

“No ma’am you don’t know who we are and have no reason to know, but we know who you are.  And we know about your friends.”  He indicated one of the others. “Our friend here used to ride with your two friends.  He told us all about you.”  He began to grin evilly,   “As well as were he thought we could find you.  Them two friends of yours are who we want and I think we just got us a way to get them.”  He pulled a gun and pointed it at her then grinning bigger than ever.  “Or to at least get their attention.”

 

“Here now,” Jake protested reaching for his rifle.  She stopped him from saying more or grabbing the gun with a touch of her hand and a small shake of her head.

 

“Just be calm old man all we want is the girl.  Get down from there.”  She just looked at them with out moving, “NOW!!!” he ordered.  As she climbed down another of the group searched for a piece of paper and scribbled a note, He then rode over closer to the stage and handed the note to ole Jake.  “You leave that where you picked her up.”  Still another one of the men had pulled her up behind him as she had climbed down.  Once the note was handed over then took off fast.

 

Ole Jake couldn’t read, but he knew that these men were trouble.  He liked that girl.  Had often wished he were about 25 years younger.  He also knew that if the men that those fellers were after were friends of the girl’s then they had to be okay.   He was muttering all these things to himself.  He knew where she always left her horse when she hitched into town with him.  He immediately turned the stage around and headed back to the spot.  To heck with his schedule.  When he got there he climbed down and looked around until he found the horse where she had left it in the shaded grassy spot. He saddled the horse tightening the cinch just enough to keep the saddle on.  He then attached the note to the saddle, smacked the animal on the rear to send it home.  Then he sat to wait.

 

The two had decided to do some chores around the place while they waited.  There were things that needed to be repaired on the house as well as the barn.   Besides it would kill time while they waited.  Neither of them was very good at just waiting.  Without something do to they just might head into town themselves.  Kid looked up from where he was working on the fence when he heard the sound of the horse approaching.  “Heyes!” Kid called.  Heyes was startled and hit his thumb with the hammer as he looked at Kid while trying not to swear.  He then followed Kid’s gaze with curiosity that turned to dread as he spotted the riderless horse.  He climbed down from where he was working on the roof of the house as Kid grabbed the horse to bring the animal under control.  He spotted the note handing it to Heyes as he ran up to him.  Heyes unfolded it and read:

 

If you want to see the girl again, you will meet us ten miles south of the bend in the road within the next two hours.  Be there!  Or the girl pays.

 

“That’s not a posse.”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Bounty hunter.”

 

“Maybe.  But I don’t think so.” Heyes was already thinking.

“What are we gonna do?”

 

Heyes looked at him and shrugged, “Meet ‘em what else.”  As if not going had ever been an option.

 

“Then what?”

 

“I’m workin on it.”  Kid headed to the corral to claim their horses and saddle up.  Heyes ran into the house first to gather some things while Kid was taking care of the horses.

 

The horses were moving already as they hit the saddle.  They turned the animals down the road leaving a cloud of dust in their wake. Ole Jake stood up from his perch on a rock as he heard the two riders approaching.  They pulled up hard and stopped.

 

“You boys her friends?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Some of them fellers looked pretty mean.  What they want you boys fer anyway?”

 

“Wish we knew old timer. They hadn’t hurt her had they.”

 

“No sonny they just yanked her off the stage and rode off like their tales were on fire.”

 

“Did you see which way they went?”

 

“South.  The two riders headed out as the old man called behind them, “You be sure to get that girl back.  You hear.” Then began muttering to himself again as he walked back to the stage and reboarded to move out, “I like that girl.  Them boy’s friends of hers then they are all right.  Sure seemed like nice fellers.  Real concerned for her.  Sure hope they get her back.  Hell ifin I was 25 years younger.  Yes sir I’d show them boys how to rescue a girl.  Sure wish I could have gone with them.”  He laughed at himself.  “Oh shut up you old fool.  You’d a just slowed ‘em down anyway.  Get on there horses.”  Then he was gone.

 

The boys approached the appointed spot carefully. The clearing below was where the men had made camp.  Heyes and Kid looked the group over.  They saw her. Tied to a tree.  Her hands had been tied together and the rope thrown over a branch.  She had been hauled up by her arms so that her toes barely touched the ground.  They both spotted the leader at the same time and exchanged a look.  Then they spotted someone else they knew and neither was happy to see him.  Him being there could only bring trouble.  Bill something his name was.  He had ridden with them for a while.  He was responsible for the worse holdup gone wrong that they had ever been involved in.  He had almost gotten them all killed.  The seven had rode into the town with a plan.  The Sheriff had been away for several days.  It was one of Heyes simpler plans, but it would work. They knew it would. They had used it before.  Bill had been a new member of the gang then and would serve as lookout while the rest went in.  The others hadn’t quite trusted him to be inside with them.   The four regulars that were going were afraid he would go to far, panic and kill someone.  Jail for robbing a bank was one thing.  Hanging for murder was something else again.  So Kid and Heyes had given in to the wishes of the older members of the Devils Hole gang.  Bill had stayed outside with the horses. So he had been the lookout.  He had been supposed to let them know if the sheriff came back into town.   He had looked out all right.  He had looked out for himself.  As soon as he had seen the sheriff ride in he had ran.  But not quietly or quickly enough not to have been seen.  This caused the sheriff to investigate what all the excitement was about.  That had been the high point of the robbery.   From there it had all gone downhill.  Fast!  Heyes had been in the process of opening the safe while Preacher waited to empty it.  Kid was keeping the security guard and the folks in the bank under control.  The rest of the boys liberated the tellers of the money in their drawers or from the customers that had been in the bank.  Because the sheriff had been tipped off the escape resulted in a shootout.   Wheat and Lobo had been badly shot.  Kyle and preacher had various degrees of injury.  To Bill’s credit he had left the rest of the horses tied up taking only his own when he ran.  Heyes and the Kid were battered and bruised, from various fights to get everyone to their horses. But they had all managed to make it out of town.  Scattering as they did so. They had managed to regroup later.  Then they had all made it to the farmhouse and she had taken care of them. She had found a doctor to come look after Wheat and Lobo while asking no questions.  Meanwhile she took care of everyone else’s injuries.  They had then returned to Devils Hole to recuperate.  Their new friend had disappeared.  They had seen no sign of Bill since the disaster.  The boys would have been very glad to see him.  Took a long time before they, with a little nagging from Preacher, had agreed to turn the other cheek and stopped planning how greet him if they did meet again.

 

As Heyes and Kid rode into the clearing they could hear an argument going on.

 

“When are they gonna get here.  I’m tired of chasin and waitin. ”  Someone growled,  “You shoulda put a time limit on this thing.”

 

“Who cares.”  Another put in, “Just let us have that girl.  We deserve some fun.  Then we will go take care of that bank.  We don’t need them boys.  We can get the money outta that bank.  This whole thing is for the birds.”

 

“I did put a time limit on it.  And they will be here.  They ain’t gonna let anything happen to this little lady.  Besides who knows how soon they will get the note.  Either way y’all already made a mess of robbin that bank once.  I for one ain’t goin in there with out Heyes and Curry.  We need someone who knows what they are doin.”

 

“Well,” Yet another member piped up,  “I care.  That feller in that town promised us a big haul would be in this.   That Banker done crossed us once and I don’t think we’ll get it without them boys helpin us.”

 

“I didn’t…”

 

“Riders coming in.”

 

The leader signaled to someone to cut the girl down.  She groaned as her aching arms lowered.  Her wrists were red and chaffed to the point of being very raw and bloody.  The one that cut her down held her against him. The knife came to her throat.  He held her a little to tightly against himself.  His hand without the knife in it doing it’s best to roam freely.   Kid stiffened at the sight.  Heyes’ mind was on other things so he didn’t outwardly react, but the man’s actions did not go unnoticed.  Bill had already gotten the leader to agree that he would deal with these two. After all he was the one that had ridden with them.

 

“Boys.  Been a long time.”

 

“What do you want Carol.”  Kid used the name intentionally remembering now Bill’s full name and the embarrassment he felt over that part of it.  The other men snickered.

 

“Names Bill…” William Carol McMathews stopped realizing, “but you knew that.”

 

She was struggling now against the roaming hand.  The man holding her sneered and laughed enjoying her fighting him.  Enjoying it way too much and hoping that she would fight harder.  Until she raked her heel along his chin and stomped on his instep.   She tried to kick him in the groin, but missed.  Rather than let go he swore and tightened his grip on her pressing the knife more firmly against her throat causing her to bleed from the cut the pressure caused.

 

“Honey stop!”  Heyes ordered firmly.  Then returned his gaze of barely masked anger to Bill.  Actually he wasn’t angry.  He was livid.  “What do you want.”

 

“I need you boys’ help.”

 

Kid and Heyes looked at one another and began to laugh humorlessly.  Kid spoke first, “You want our help!  After the way you left us in that bank and” indicating the girl, “pulling this.”

 

“Now Kid.  Obviously he has lost what was left of his mind.”  Heyes composed himself.  “Why should we help you?  Give me one good reason why we shouldn’t just shoot you take the girl and leave?”

 

“First off you won’t just kill us in cold blood. Ain’t in ya Heyes.”  Heyes and Kid exchanged a look.  Then both gave him a look that said that might not be entirely true under the circumstances.  “Besides there are 10 of us and only 2 of you.  And cause if ya don’t help us or kill us I’ll let him have her.  I’ll let them all have her.”  Coming from him, it didn’t sound like something he had in him to do, but more something that he wouldn’t have a choice about.  Though most of the men looked willing and eager.  A few were just uncomfortable at the thought.

 

“Uh-huh.  I see.  Exactly what do you want us to help you do.”

 

“I want you to open a safe for me.”

 

“Uh-huh.” Heyes stifled a small smile glancing at Kid, “and I would do that why?”

 

“There are some papers in there we need to get out.  See there is this big wheel bankerman who is trying to buy up all the land around where some of us live so he can sell it to the railroad for a big profit.  He said that he had bought the paper from the bank.  Which don’t make no sense cause he owns the bank anyway.   But he didn’t buy it.  It was taken in a robbery along with around a million dollars.  He paid these here guys to rob that bank for him.  Only thing is they claim that there weren’t nothin in that bank.  And they couldn’t figure out how to open the safe.  But yet all that money that was missin was in that there safe and the sheriff found the door open.” Heyes and Kid exchanged a look. “He claimed that the records that showed that we had kept the notes up were taken as well.  So now we can’t prove that the notes are current.  He says now that we are all behind and that he is within his rights to sell the land to the railroad no matter what, cause he owned the paper.  I can’t let him do that.  See I done settled down after…Well you know.  Got me a little farm, wife, kid on the way and…”

 

Kid interrupted him, “You mean to tell me that the man with his hands all over our friend over there is a family man.”

 

“Uhmmm..Well no.  I tried to get together a bunch of my neighbors to help us do this, but none of them know how to open the safe in the man’s home or in the bank.  We hooked up with them cause they already knew all about the whole thing.  And said they were willing to take on the banker again cause he had crossed them.  When they tried to rob the bank it was a worse mess than…well you know.  Only without all the shootin.”  At least he had the decency to be embarrassed by what had happened,  “So I decided to try and find you boys.  I heard you was up by the boarder there by the state line where we started chasin ya, but we couldn’t catch up to talk to ya.  Then when you headed this way, I thought maybe you might be headed to her and that we could head ya off.  But we lost ya.  Now they are mostly just mad and tired.  But them papers gotta be one place or the other and we gotta have em.  I only know one person who can do it fer us.  That’s you Heyes.”

 

“Uh-huh. I see.  So let me get this straight.  You want me to open this safe for you with,” looking around, “this bunch part of who have already blown it once and the rest who don’t have a clue how to do any of this as back up.”  Heyes had realized ole Bill had already told these guys who they were and that part of them had dollar signs in their eyes.  Twenty thousand dollars wasn’t a bad consolation prize.  It was a long way from that million Bill mentioned but much better than nothing.  One way or another these guys were gonna get paid.  They would turn him and Kid in. Probably not alive which would leave the girl in worse trouble than she was already in.  These farmers wouldn’t be able to protect her from the rest. He turned and looked at Kid.  Then back at Bill, “We need to talk.”

 

He and Kid moved a little ways away,  “What do you think?”  Kid asked.

 

“I think we are gonna have to go along with this. At least for a while.  If we don’t half those guys are gonna cause problems.  And they are not gonna let her or us go.”

 

“You got a plan?”

 

“I’m still workin on it.”

 

“Heyes”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I got a feeling this had better be a good plan.”

 

They headed back to where Bill stood.   Heyes spoke, “First off, you gotta let the girl go.”

 

“Nope.”  The man holding her said, “She stays here with me till y’all get back with the money.  We gonna get to know each other real good.”  She winced at the smell and the feel of his breath on her cheek.  The rest of him didn’t smell any better than his breath had.

 

“No I don’t think so.”  Heyes responded firmly,  “Either the girl goes with us or you might as well kill us all now and forget keepin those homes of yours or getting the money.”

 

Bill was a little worried by that cause he knew that most of these men would just as soon shoot them and turn them in for the reward.  They didn’t care about farms or families.  They just wanted money, to keep the girl and do as they pleased with her.   Maybe try the bank again, even if it was suicidal to do it their way.   But he really needed to get those papers.  He had promised the others in the group that he could figure out a way to save their homes.  But he was just so tired he was beginning to have a hard time thinking straight.  And time was running out for him.  He had to get those papers.

 

“Look Heyes, you cannot expect her to ride with us like that.”  Indicating the way she was dressed trying to think of a way to please everyone.  At the same time knowing this wouldn’t work.  “One of us could stay here with her to make sure she’s safe.”

 

Heyes walked back to his horse and took the bag he had gotten from the house off the back of his saddle.  Dropping it to the ground at his feet when he returned to where he had been standing.  “Already thought of that.  Her staying behind is totally out of the question.”

 

“What about a horse.  She doesn’t have one. Or a bedroll.”

 

Kid picking up where Heyes left off and put in, “She can ride with us.  She’s done it before.”  Heyes produced a second bedroll off the back of his horse along with her jacket.

 

“Two on one horse.”  One of the other men spoke up. “That will slow us down.”

“Nope.”  Kid answered, “It won’t.  We’ll trade off so the horses won’t get to tired.”  He looked Bill directly in the eyes. “This is not negotiable.  She goes with us.”

 

Bill sighed, “Alright.  She goes.”  Some of the others started to complain.  “Look you can always have her later if this doesn’t work out. Let her go.”

 

The man holding her just looked at him.  “I said let her go.”  Bill repeated more firmly.  The man looked at the leader, who nodded agreement.  Bill had little control of the roughest members of these men.   What little he had was slipping badly as their impatience grew.  The man released her cutting the rope on her wrists.  She ran to Heyes.  Who hugged her tightly then passed her back to Kid who examined the cut on her throat and the injury to her wrists.  “Now as soon as she changes, we’ll head out.”

 

Bill looked at them both as they picked up the bag and followed her to a group of bushes so she could change clothes.

 

“Okay, so now what?”  She asked.  As she began to change.

 

“I’m not sure.”  Heyes answered, “I’m making this up as I go.”  He picked up her petticoat as she tossed it on top of a bush and began to tear strips from it.

 

“Heyes, that is not exactly what I wanted to hear at a time like this.”  Kid told him worried. “It’s not very reassuring.”

 

“Good Kid, I like when you worry.”  Heyes smiled at him.

 

Kid frowned at Heyes.  Then he spotted one member of the group of men trying to sneak around and watch her change clothes.  Kid slipped around behind where she was and behind the man closing in on her.

 

“Goin someplace?”  Kid asked as he literally stuck the barrel of his gun in the man’s ear.

 

“Just thought Id have me a little look see.”

 

“Don’t think so.”

 

“Why not you’re watchin.”

 

“Yeah your right.  I’m watchin’.  Watchin you and trying to decide if I should just shoot you myself or let the lady do it.  After she makes a fool of you.  She can be very good at that.”

 

“She got no gun.”

 

“No she doesn’t, but you know what she is always welcome to borrow mine.  And since I taught her to use it…” Kid smiled at the memory, “she got pretty good too.” Kid then cocked the hammer. “Now go away.”

 

The man wander off as she emerged from behind the bushes.  She stood for a moment and watched Heyes who was thinking and tearing up her slip.   He looked up into her eyes when he realized that she was standing there.  He reached for her hand and sat her next to him on the branch where he had sat down.  He looked at her wrists.  Heyes produced a canteen from beside him and gently began to clean the injuries washing away the blood. She winced and sharply inhaled as the cool water hit the raw wounds. Then he carefully wrapped them using the strips he had tore from the petticoat as bandages. Then he looked at the cut on her throat and washed the blood away silently giving thanks that it wasn’t any deeper or closer to the major artery than it was.  But it was bad enough.  Kid had rejoined them.  “It didn’t look to bad.” 

 

“No.”  Heyes agreed, “I don’t think it is.  I just hope it doesn’t get infected either from that knife or the guy.”  He folded a pad out of part of the strips that were left from what he had torn and placed it over the deepest part of the cut.  Then he gently wrapped it with another strip to hold it into place. “There that should help keep it clean.  It’s not to tight is it” She shook her head no.

 

“Yeah know,” Kid began looking at the way she was dressed, “Those Levi’s are not gonna help to keep them away from her.”

 

Heyes really looked at the outfit for the first time; “A little distraction can be good.”

 

“Who am I supposed to distract them or you?”  Her sense of humor was returning

 

“Yeah well…” Heyes stammered

 

“You picked it.”  Kid reminded him.

 

A short time later they were on the road.  They spent the rest of the day in the saddle finally stopping to make camp as the sun began to set. She rode behind Heyes to begin with.   Her arms were around his waist and resting her head against his back.  Kid carried the bedrolls and the bag Heyes had brought along.  They managed to hang back a little bit away from the others.  Heyes wanted this. He wanted to be able to watch the group of men.  He was using the time to get the feel of the group.  When they finally stopped to make camp, She asked, “So now what?  Do we just slip out in the middle of the night?” 

 

“Nope.  I think we can play this out.”

 

She and Kid both looked at him like he was nuts.  “Heyes are you feelin all right?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“You can not afford to be robbing any bank!”  She told him firmly.

 

“Who said we would rob it?”  Heyes said thoughtfully.

 

She looked at Kid then at Heyes again. “Hannibal, you have a plan don’t you.”

 

He smiled at her,  “I think so.  Kid you remember what we did in Red Gap?”

 

“Yeah.  So?”

 

Heyes smile got bigger, “ Might work again.  Might get ole Bill there what he needs, them boys off our backs, his back and hers.”

 

Kid thought about that a minute. “How exactly?”

 

Heyes’ smile faded. “I’m still workin’ on that part.  But if we do this right, someone should end up in jail.”

 

“Who you guys?”  She folded her arms in annoyance as she spoke.  “Heyes. Hannibal dearest, didn’t you only have one guy to doublecross in Red Gap?  What was his name…” She stared off in the distance as she thought, “Powers I think it was.  And you had that Fletcher guy to help you.  Even though you stuck it to him again too.  Here there are at least four of these guys that you can’t depend on cause they have no clue what you’ll be doing and the rest would just as soon shoot you and get it over with.  I don’t even want to think about their plans for me.  All of them are suspicious, angry and cranky from lack of sleep and frustration from chasing you two.”

 

“That can work for us.”  He interrupted.

 

She went on ignoring him but frowning at his comment,  “And you want to con the banker, and doublecross these guys, get them thrown into jail, keep yourselves out of jail and get these farmers back their deeds.  All at the same time.”  She looked totally unconvinced of Heyes sanity.  Then she looked at Kid; “Doesn’t this ever scare you?”

 

Kid was trying not to laugh as Heyes Looked at him with a wounded expression and told him, “We have got to stop telling her things.”

 

She shook her head; ”I only have one thing to say.  No matter what happens I love you both very much.”  She looked at Heyes, “But I’m riding with him tomorrow cause you’ve totally lost your mind!”

 

One of the farmers walked up to the group somewhat shyly, “Ma’am?”  She looked up at him. “Hate to be a bother, but we shot some rabbits and was wondering if you would be kind enough to cook ‘em up for us.  None of these guys can cook worth a darn and it would sure be nice to have a decent meal rather than hard tack.  Some a us just ain’t used to this livin on the road.”

She shrugged, “Sure why not.  It will give me something to do while these two…” indicating her two friends, “Do what ever it is they do.”

 

“Your lack of faith in me is becoming disturbing.”  Heyes pouted. She just shook her head as she walked away. 

 

The meal wasn’t as big a problem as she had thought it was going to be.  The group had managed to produce a pretty good selection of dry ingredients.  One of the farmers had found some greens.  They had bacon, flour, sugar with them, as well as coffee and a few other odds and ends.  So she managed to produce a pretty good meal for the bunch.  But, the next argument came when everyone decided to bed down for the night.  The man who had insisted that the girl be left behind with him now insisted that she be bedded down close to him and his friends.  He had an awful leering sneer on his face as he said it.

 

“Nope.  That's about as likely to happen as her being left behind with you was.”  Kid responded.  “She’ll sleep right here between us.”

 

“What so y’all can sneak out of camp and take off.”

 

“Nah they want to have some fun with her themselves.”

 

Kid looked at them, then at Heyes and the girl, “I don’t know about them but I’m not going anywhere.  Except to sleep.  And the lady is just that a lady and will be treated as such.”

 

Bill spoke, “It’ll be okay. We’ll stand watch.  They won’t go anywhere.”  His little band didn’t like that very well.  Heyes stifled a grin.  The gang had intended to all get a good night sleep.    Something they hadn’t had in a long while.  Now it was clear the only ones getting a good night sleep were the girl and her two friends.  Tried men didn’t pay as close attention to detail as they should.  Heyes intended that he, the girl and Kid would sleep very well.

 

As the others argued about who was gonna stand watch and when.  The girl and her friends lay out their bedrolls next to each other.  One of them on each side of her.  As they settled in for the night, the man who has slipped into her bed the night before again slipped his arms around her and pulled her as close as he dared to.  He was close enough to keep her warm, but yet not quite close enough to lead to other activities.   Tricky but they managed.  She let go with a relaxed sigh and slipped her hand into the other mans hand since he was just within arms reach on the other side of her and softly spoke, “you know, guys, something just occurred to me.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“I can’t think of a safer place to be.  Than right here with the two of you.”

 

She heard him answer quietly; “You wouldn’t say that if you knew what I was thinking about right now.”

 

“And you complain about my Timing.” His cousin mumbled half asleep.

 

Next morning they were rudely awakened by a kick.  The girl sat up with a groan of pain.  She was stiff and sore.  The wounds on her wrists and neck ached as well.  The stiffness was not so much from the long ride and sleeping on the ground, but from the rough treatment she had received the day before. Over a cold breakfast Heyes checked the bandages on her wrists and neck.   He was relieved to see that none of the wounds had continued to bleed.  Especially the neck wound. That was the one he had been most concerned about.  Then everyone mounted up and headed out again. This time she rode behind Kid.  Arms around his waist she made herself as comfortable as she could.  It wasn’t easy; she was sore all over.  For a while she lay her head against his back and closed her eyes.  Later from her place behind Kid the girl noticed that she could watch Heyes.  She could see the wheels turning and was pretty sure she knew the exact moment that it all came together in his mind.  Because he became relaxed.  Thoroughly and completely relaxed.  He looked at her smiled and winked.  When they took a break to water the horses.  Heyes lead them away from the rest as far as he dared and not draw attention.  She folded her arms across the seat of his saddle and looked at him. 

“You know don’t you.”  She asked.

 

“Know what sweetheart.”  His eyes meeting hers over the back of the animal.

 

“What your gonna do.”

 

He grinned, dimples popping out and his eyes lit up in mischief, “I think so,” he said.

 

Kid moved over closer so that he could hear, “What’s going on?”

 

“I’m gonna tell them that she needs to go into town alone.”

 

“They aren’t gonna go for that.” she responded.

 

“They’ll have too.  We’ll tell them that someone needs to do it to see whats going on since they blew their robbery.    Which is the truth.  Obviously none of them can do it.  And we can’t do it.”  He went on,  “Then I need for you to go talk to the sheriff.  Kid and I are gonna check out that Bankers house to see if we can find that safe and see what’s in it.”

 

“Exactly what am I supposed to tell the sheriff?”

 

“About these guys and what they plan to do and that they are the ones who tried to rob the bank…” Heyes explained,  “Also you might want to mention who they THINK we are.  So when they start trying to make a deal with the sheriff we will be covered.”

 

She caught on, “Oh, okay so I tell the sheriff that since they messed it up so badly they went looking for help and saw you two.  Thought you were Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes.  NO matter what we said,” getting into it now, “we couldn’t convince them that you weren’t Curry and Heyes.  That your names are Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.” She dropped into it as if she were speaking to the sheriff,  “Now I realize Sheriff that my two friends look like those two outlaws.  I’ve seen those posters myself.   The resemblance sounds striking, but it’s really only superficial at best.  They aren’t those two terrible men.  They are just two cousins who grew up a few miles from my parent’s farm.   They are actually preacher’s sons.   I’ve known them all my life practically and now they are insisting that my two friends rob the bank for them.”

 

Heyes smiled at her, “Yeah something like that.”

 

“Preacher’s sons?” Kid laughed at her then nodded, “Okay then what?”

 

Heyes shrugged, “Depends on what we find in that safe.”

 

“Meaning?”

 

Heyes continued, “When she’s spinning that little story of hers, she might just mention that one of these fellas got drunk one night and was trying to impress her.  So he mentioned that the banker of this town had paid then to rob the bank.  Paid them a lot of money to do the job and offered a cut of the take.  But he had doublecrossed them.  There was no money in the bank and they couldn’t get the safe open when they tried to rob the bank.  So they didn’t understand why there had been so much money reported stolen. And that they plan to try it again just to get back at the banker.  That they expected her two innocent friends to be able to open the safe for them.”

 

The girl and Kid looked at one another and smiled,  “So then when the bank is robbed again..” Kid started and she finished, “ the sheriff will go looking for these guys and not you guys.”

 

“Wait a minute.”  Heyes stopped them; “ I also want you to tell him when the bank might be robbed again and how.  Since these guys THINK we are Heyes and whats-his-name.  They are gonna make us either blow the safe or open it. Or at least try to.”

 

She frowned, “but what about when the sheriff finds the safe open?  He’ll know then who you really are.  After all Hannibal there aren’t many around who can do that”

 

Heyes shook his head, “maybe but if we hand him back a million dollars and a bunch of bank robbers along with what ever else we find. Maybe he won’t ask to many questions.”

 

Kid finished, “Then what do we let ole Bill do?  what he does best.”

 

“No I don’t want him or the rest of those farmers anywhere near this.  We may need them to get us out of this later.  She can be our lookout and do what Bill did before.  Only we will be the ones slipping away and not getting shot up.  And when we go we’ll take Bill and his friends with us.  Leave the rest of these guys to the sheriff.   Even if it doesn’t go right.  Hopefully the sheriff will believe that we aren’t two dangerous outlaws, that it was pure luck that we got the safe open and let us go.  Or that is where Bill and his friends will be able to help us out.  They can help convince the sheriff of later if necessary.  Then the sheriff can checkout the bankers house and find the money from the original robbery and papers.  And we will still be in the clear.”

 

“I don’t know Heyes.  Seems a little risky” Kid shook his head. “What makes you think the sheriff will even believe her?  Or them farmers later.”

 

“Look at her,” Heyes nodded in her direction and reaching out to gently touch her cheek, “Look at that sweet innocent face.  All bruised and battered from the way these guys have treated her.  If the sheriff believes her then it won’t matter about Bill and the rest of them farmers.” Then he shrugged. “Trust me” Heyes smiled.

 

“Do the words, I love it when a plan comes together mean anything to you?”  She asked.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Never mind.”  She mumbled, but thought, ‘if he starts saying that so help me.’

 

“Hey.” The apparent leader yelled at them, “what’s goin on over there.”

 

“Nothin just watering our horses like the rest of you.”

 

“One problem.” She spoke up quietly.

 

“Only one.” Kid mumbled

 

She glanced at him and went on, “How am I gonna get into town with out a horse?”

 

Heyes frowned, “There are still some details to be worked out.  But I’ll think of something.”

 

She and Kid just exchanged a look.  “Just keep thinkin’ Heyes. It’s what you do best.”

 

“Why don’t I find that reassuring?”  She frowned

 

That night when they made camp, Heyes made a point of getting Bill alone so they could talk.  He explained to Bill how they were gonna need another horse for the girl and why.  But he didn’t tell him everything.  He didn’t need to know everything.  Not yet.  The rest would come on a need to know basis.  He said just enough to get the ball rolling.   Bill shook his head, “They aren’t gonna let her just ride out like that.  And where we gonna get a horse.  Heyes I can’t steal one.”  Heyes gave him a look that said ‘oh please’, “I put them days behind me.”

 

“Look Bill, we aren’t thrilled about stealing a horse either.  But it’s real important to getting us all out of this that she gets into town.”

 

Bill looked into his eyes as he thought about what was being asked of him.  He was very aware that the three of them being in this mess was his fault.  And he felt very guilty about that, on top of the guilt that he already felt for running out on them before.  But somehow he sensed that even though they had no reason to trust him or anything that he had said to them was the truth, Heyes was trying to help him and his friends.    He knew that he already that he owed them because of the bank mess before.  Slowly he nodded his agreement.  “Okay we will get a horse.”  He sighed, “somehow.  But I don’t think they will let her go into town alone”

 

“Okay.  Then YOU go with her.”  Heyes agreed, “But Kid and I are gonna have to go alone to check out that bankers house.  No exceptions.”

 

“I think they will go for that as long as the girl is still here.  But some one will need to go with you to show you where that banker lives.”  Bill looked up from staring at his feet as Heyes nodded agreement to that.

 

“Okay,” Heyes agreed, he admitted to himself that he hadn’t thought of that. “I will agree to that.  But who ever goes, no one but the Kid and I go in.”  Now Bill nodded agreement.

 

“Why you doin this Heyes?”

 

“What makes you think we have choice.”

 

“Well you could always set us up to all go to jail, but somehow I don’t think you are.”

 

Heyes smiled just a little, “Don’t give me to much credit yet.  Jail might be an improvement.  Cause I may just end up getting us all killed."

 

Bill nodded slowly, thoughtfully and began to wonder back toward the others.  Heyes watched as he walked up to them and began to explain that they needed a horse and why.  The most vocal of the group began to yell, “What!  Are you nuts?  We can’t trust any of them and you want to let her go into town.”

 

“Look it’ll be okay.” Bill went on, “I’ll go with her.  I think I can ride in and no one will notice.  Besides Heyes has a point.  We do need to know what’s going on in town.  I can’t think of another way to find out.  Can’t any of the rest of you go that’s for sure.”

 

That night one of the gang disappeared to return with the needed horse.  The next morning Bill and Heyes had another long private talk before Bill and the girl rode out in the direction of town.  Both hoping that no one would recognize the stolen horse.  Kid and Heyes waited for a while then rode out in search of the banker’s house.  Another member of the gang that knew where the banker lived went with them to get them there.

 

As they neared the town Bill pulled up to a stop. “I just realized,” he began, “I can’t ride in there either.  Someone is bound to recognize me.  Right now we just can’t afford to let that happen.”

 

“That’s okay.  I can go alone.”  Bill just looked at her. “Look, I can understand why you don’t trust me or the boys, but if any of us are gonna get out of this your gonna have to.”  She looked straight into his eyes.  “You already know what Heyes sent me here to do He told you this morning and that I’m gonna talk to the sheriff.  It’ll be okay Bill really.  Heyes may be nuts but it’s a good nuts.  That’s why his plan’s usually work.” ‘Well most of the time’, she thought no point scaring Bill more by saying it out loud.

 

“Okay” Bill agreed, “Your right.  I do have to trust someone.  Since I am the one that came looking for them boys and got y’all into this, I guess I should trust him to do the job now.”

 

She raised an eyebrow at him and nodded. “Makes sense to me.  So what do I do Bill.  Go on or….”

 

“Go on.  I’ll wait for you right here.”

 

“Give me a couple of hours.  It may take a while to convince him.”  Bill just nodded as she rode out.

 

Meanwhile:  Heyes, Kid and their new shadow were sitting on a small rise watching as the banker left his home for the day.  They watched the man, who was a big fella.

 

“Reminds me of big Mac” Kid commented.

 

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”  Heyes responded.

 

He used two separate keys to lock his door and double-checked to make sure the locks had worked.

 

“Hummm.”  Heyes thought out loud. “Man that careful with lockin his door must have something to hide.” 

 

They watched as the man drove away in his buggy toward town.  Heyes turned to the gang member, “You wait here and keep watch.  Fire two shots if you see someone coming.”

 

“Boss won’t like that if I don’t go in with ya.”

 

“You gonna tell him?!”  Kid asked.   “Besides someone has to keep watch.”

 

“Well just don’t be to long.”  He nodded agreement.  It made sense that someone should watch.

 

Heyes and Kid headed for the house.  While in town the girl was just walking in to the sheriff’s office.  He reminded her a little of Lom.  She only hoped he would be as fair.

 

“Ma’am.  Something I can do for you.”  Indicating that she should sit.

 

“I sure hope so.  Cause you are probably gonna have a hard time believing this story I have to tell you, but it is the truth.”  She took the seat that was offered and began to tell him about the last few days.  He listened intently as she explained about the gang of men, them taking her on her way to town.  What one of them told her about robbing the bank, the banker, all of it. When she finished he was thoughtful for long enough that she was afraid that he wasn’t gonna believe her.

 

Then he asked, “Them men responsible for them bandages on you.’

 

Her hand went to her throat, “Yeah.  This is where he had the knife to my throat.’

 

The sheriff rounded the desk, “mind if I have a look.”

 

“No.  Go ahead.”  He gently removed the bandage and examined the cut there.  Nodded his head and sat back down.

 

“We’ll get doc to look at that.”

 

“Thanks.  My friend Joshua will appreciate that.  He was concerned about infection.”

 

“Now about them two friends of yours,” she held her breath as the sheriff spoke, “you say these men think they are Heyes and Curry?”

 

“Yes sir they do.”

“Think your friends can manage to make them believe that a while longer?”  She released her breath in relief.  He was gonna believe her.

 

“Yeah I think so.” She answered, “Josh and Thad,” careful to use their alias.  “Have managed to keep them thinking it and us all alive so far.”

 

“What’s your friends plan?”  She smiled as she began to fill him in on Heyes plan.

 

Back at the bankers, after spending way to long looking they finally found the safe.  Well actually Kid found it along with a plate of cookies.  In of all places the kitchen pantry.  Heyes smiled when he saw it.  This safe he could open in his sleep. Too easy.  Kid looked on as Heyes went to work on the safe. His face was a mask of concentration.  He didn’t even notice that he was holding his breath until a tumbler would fall into place and he would let it out.  He looked at Kid and grinned with a delight and pleasure that was almost sexual as he reached for the handle and opened the door.  They looked inside then at each other.  They had never seen so much money.  Just sitting there.  Stacks and stacks of crisp new bills. 

 

“Heyes” Kid moaned, “Why did we quit?”

 

Heyes frowned, “Quit what?  Oh oh you mean that deal thing for…umm” He picked up one of the stacks smelled it, caressed it, “Umm you know kid.  Right now at this moment. I don’t remember.”

 

“That is a lot of money.  More money than we ever stole.  And it’s just sitting there.  And everyone already thinks it’s been stolen.  And…”

 

“Kid we can’t.”  Heyes groaned putting the stack of crisp bills back into the safe.  He had gone a little pale.   It had to be one of the hardest things he had ever done.  He reacted almost as if it physically hurt to do it.

 

“What?”  Kid came back to reality, “oh yeah. Umm are them papers in there?”  He asked trying to concentrate on anything but the money.  Not quite succeeding.

 

Heyes lifted them out, “yeah they’re here.” He handed them to kid and picked up a ledger book and began to turn the pages.  “Bills telling the truth.  These note are paid up.”  They read threw some more of the paperwork that the Banker had in the safe.  Then Heyes made a discovery, “Well Whatta know.”

 

“What?”  Kid asked putting things back into the safe preparing to close it.

 

Heyes had picked up a second book and was flipping threw the pages thoughtfully, “Bankerman here has two sets of books for that bank.  Seems he’s been taking a lot more than what’s here.”  He put the books back.  “Lets go.  And hope that things went well in town.”

 

Bill was beginning to get a little nervous.  She had been gone a long time.  Just slightly over the two hours, when he finally saw her coming. 

 

“I’m sorry.”  She said as she rode up, “the Sheriff insisted that a doctor look at this.”  Indicating the new bandages.

 

“That’s okay.  How did it go otherwise?”

 

“Well if the boys found what they hoped to in the bankers house. We are all set.”  Bill was visible relieved and she noticed. “Don’t get to comfortable.  We aren’t out of this mess yet.”

 

“ I know but it sounds like we are at least half way there.”

 

They got back about the same time as Kid and Heyes did.  The gang member rode off to report that the boys had done was they were supposed to while the other four huddled together to figure out where they went from here.

 

“He agreed?”  Heyes asked as he helped her down.

 

“Yep. He accepted everything.  Even wanted to know if my friends could continue to convince these guys that they were Heyes and Curry.   What did you find?”

 

“Exactly what Bill here said we would. And then some.”  Heyes filled them in about the second set of books.

 

“Now what?”  Bill asked.

 

“We rob the bank again.”  Heyes said as if it was the simplest thing in the world.  “Only this time.  When the Sheriff gets there the only ones in the bank will be those guys.”  Indicating the hostile bunch watching them as the member who had ridden with Heyes and Kid explained how it had gone. 

 

“When do we do this?”  Bill asked.  He was beginning to get nervous.

 

Heyes shrugged, “The sooner the better I think.  We might as well go tonight.”   He looked at her, “When did you tell the sheriff?”

 

“Told him I wasn’t sure but it would be very very soon.  No later than a day, two at the most.”

 

The others joined them, as one of them growled, “What’s going on over here?”

 

Kid answered honestly, “Just discussing when we should hit the bank in town.”  He draped his arm around her shoulders.  “Lady here says that there is no extra security, sheriff doesn’t seem to be looking for anything out of the ordinary.”  He shrugged, “Heyes here seemed to think we should just get it over with.”

 

The group of men began to look much happier, “Now then we are getting some where.  Tonight it is then.”

 

“One thing though,” Heyes spoke up.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“I don’t want these farmers to go into town with us.”

 

The leader looked suspicious, “Why?”

 

“Well for starters you and your boys made a mess of things in this town once already.  Ole Bill here made a mess of a robbery for us once already.   Doesn’t seem to me that all of you together is such a good idea.   Not to mention way to many men involved.  I think he and the rest of these farmers should stay here.  You and your boys can go and we’ll show you how to do it right.”

 

The leader thought about that for a minute.  Remembering what Bill had told them about the robbery he had been involved with and seeing the possibility of trouble again.  Heyes was trying to keep a smile off his face as the leader spoke, “Got a point.  All right they stay here.  But this girl goes.”

 

“That’s fine.”  Heyes smiled now.  Everything was beginning to fall into place.

 

As the group began to spread out and wait for time to go, Bill looked at Heyes, “What is the point of us not going?”

 

“No need.  If this goes right.”  Heyes looked at him, “Just wait here and when we come back you should be able to go home.  If this doesn’t go right we may need all of you to get us out of it.”

 

Bill didn’t look convinced, but nodded that he understood.  He really wasn’t sure exactly, but he trusted Heyes and Kid.  As he too wondered away, Heyes slid his had in hers not allowing her to walk off.  Kid stayed close to make sure that they were able to talk uninterrupted but could still hear.

 

“I want you to watch the horses.”  He told her, “I also want you to tip the sheriff.”  She looked up into his eyes.

 

“How?  Without being caught missing.”

 

He thought a minute, “How close is the sheriff’s office to the bank?”

 

“Well it’s not Porterville, but it’s close.  Maybe a couple of doors or so away.”

 

“Same side of the street.”

 

She thought a moment picturing the layout of the street.  Then shook her head, “No.”

 

Heyes frowned, “Well that will make it a little harder, but you’ll have to sneak across the street I guess.  Unless you can get his attention some other way.”

 

“I’ll think about it.”

 

He kissed her cheek, “Good girl.”

 

“This part scares me.”  She admitted, “what if he figures out that you really are who I said you weren’t?”  She looked worried, “ Heyes, if that safe is opened.  He’s gonna wonder.”

 

“With some luck.  We won’t be around for him to question it.”  He shrugged one shoulder, “If we are…Well, I guess we will play it by ear.  And hope ole Bill there and his friends have their own silver tongues.”

 

She and Kid looked at one another, “He’s doin it again!”  She said.

 

“Long as he’s thinking, don’t worry.”  Kid tried to reassure.

 

Long after dark the little band rode into town.  The town was asleep and the street was quiet. There wasn’t even a light in the saloon.  But a dim one did burn in the sheriff’s office. She and Heyes exchanged a look and he nodded.  Then he mouthed, ‘do the best you can.’  She nodded.  Kid smiled and winked at her.  As they dismounted she collected the reins and led the horses to a spot away from the front of the bank into an ally.

 

“Where she goin?”  One of the men demanded

 

“Getting the horses out of sight stupid.”  Another member of group answered.

 

“Oh!”

 

Kid and Heyes looked at one another and Kid rolled his eyes.  She waited until they were in the bank before she went to work.  She tied the horses where the men could see them if they looked, but positioned herself just out of sight.   Hoping that if they didn’t see her they would think that she was trying to stay out of sight of the street.  Then she slipped away down the ally.  Inside the bank, Heyes was beginning to work on the safe while the others looked to see if any money had been left in tellers drawers, desk drawers or just watched him fascinated.  None of them bothered to look out the window. Kid had been watching.  He knew that she had to have gone and a little smile filled with pride crossed his lips as he realized that no one would have seen her go.  He thought to himself, ‘that’s our girl’.  She found the back door of the sheriff’s office and knocked.  She sheriff himself answered almost right away.

 

“So they couldn’t wait huh?”

 

“No,” she answered as she slipped in the door, “give me a few minutes to get back and tip off my friends.  Then the rest are yours.”

 

“I been thinking about what you told me about them friends of yours.”  She froze.

 

“And?” 

 

“Why they going to so much trouble for complete strangers?  Wouldn’t it have been easier just to go to the sheriff and get help.”

 

“Oh well, Bill McMathews isn’t a stranger.  They know him.  Not real well, but they know him.  Bill tried to tell these guys that their names were Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.  But they wouldn’t believe him either.  They just refused to believe that anyone could really be named Smith and Jones.”  She looked at him with eyes full of innocence and trust.  “They finally decided that it was easier to go along until we could find some help than to try and fight them.”  She shrugged, “seemed safer too.  As for going to the sheriff, they never gave us a chance to get away.  Took a lot of talking to let them allow me to come to town to check things out. They threatened the boys and me if I didn’t come back.  We just didn’t know what else to do.”

The sheriff nodded, “Yeah I reckon that makes sense.  All right little lady you get back over there and I’ll be along with my deputies in about ten minutes.”  On an impulse she stretched up on her toes and kissed the sheriff on the cheek causing the sheriff to blush.

 

“Thanks.”  She started to go, “Oh don’t forget You have to check out the bankers house too.  That fella told me that the money from the first robbery along with a bunch of papers and records of some kind are in the safe there.   The haul had to be there, he said cause the banker robbed his own bank the first time.   He also said that the banker thought it was very funny that you hadn’t suspected him before.  Something about you not being bright enough.”  She grimaced, “OOP’s sorry.  Didn’t mean to insult.”

 

“Don’t worry.  No offence taken.”  The sheriff responded angry now. “ I won’t forget.”  She hoped angry enough to want to forget about questioning her boys.

 

As Kid watched Heyes worked the safe will skill sharp as ever.  The others were fascinated by how he did it.  Which was good because they had forgotten about the girl.  Kid saw her duck under the neck of one of the horses.  As per the prearranged signal she let all but two of the horses go.  They had decided to let the stolen horse go as well and she would ride double again for a while.  They figured that if things went well, no one would be chasing them anyway and it would be okay.   Kid caught Heyes eye and nodded.  Heyes opened the door to the safe at that moment and stepped aside to allow the men to have access to the open safe. As the men pushed and shoved he slowly worked his way toward the door along with Kid. A couple of moments later they were out the door.  She was already mounted ready to go.  Heyes jumped up behind her and took the reins in his hands.  Kid threw himself into the saddle on the other horse taking the reins from her hands as he did so.  By the time the sheriff and his deputies made their way around the bank to the open back door they were long gone.  As were the rest of the horses.  So even if the others had gotten past the Sheriff, they wouldn’t have gotten far.  But the trio hadn’t left town at all.  They found a place down the street where they could still see the bank as well as the sheriff’s office.  From that spot they waited and watched.  It wasn’t long before the sheriff and his deputies came across the street dragging the men kicking and screaming about Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, needing to send out a posse and having been set up.  The sheriff wasn’t impressed.  He kept his cool merely throwing the group in jail with out a second thought.  The trio exchanged a smile and headed out of town then.  They rejoined the group of farmers. Again the group headed out. This time to the Bankers home, They found a place to sit and watch.  Within an hour or so, Bill sat up straight indicated a spot off in the distance.  As they watched the sheriff rode up with a couple of deputies and a very angry looking businessman.

 

Bill Grinned, “That’s the circuit judge.  He must have been in town.” It was something no one had counted on.

 

As they continued to watch the banker was very rudely awakened.  The sheriff and the judge pushed their way into the house.  The group couldn’t resist and slipped down closer to the house.  Finally finding a spot in the back by a kitchen window where they could listen and sort of watch what was going on inside.  As the banker sputtered and protested the sheriff demanded that he open the safe.  Looking from the sheriff to the judge the banker realized that he was caught and opened the safe.  Inside the safe the sheriff pulled out what turned out to be the million dollars plus a whole lot more, the records on the farms and the two sets of books.   As the sheriff pulled things out of the safe the banker sputtered and coughed trying to think of an excuse.  Something to say to make this look like something else.  Finally giving up he demanded to see his lawyer and began talking about wanting to make a deal.  All of this the judge found very interesting, especially since he had an account in the towns bank as well.  Quietly and unseen the little band moved away from the house and back up the hill.  Once they were a safe distance.  Heyes turned to Bill and his friends.

 

“Go on home.  No reason for you not to now.”  Heyes told them.

 

“What about all of you.”

 

“We’ll be just fine.  We’ll take the lady home and…” Kid shrugged.

 

“I just don’t know what to say.”  Bill stammered. “Thank you.”

 

Heyes looked at him, “Don’t thank us yet.  You still don’t know that this is gonna work out.”

 

“Yeah will.  I’m sure.  Weather you guys are or not. Either way thanks for trying.”

 

With that the two groups separated and headed home.   The girl and the two men took their time getting there.  Enjoying each other’s company and the fact that they had done a good deed.  Once the girl and the two men reach the farm.  The men decided to stay for a while. They were once again safe.  No one was chasing them.  For now anyway.  There was no reason not to stay. 

 

What they didn’t know and had no way of knowing was that their little escapade back in the town had produced a ripple effect.  They had inadvertently uncovered a major scandal.  Actually several major scandals. When the investigation began it was discovered that the banker had been embezzling money from the bank and the town for years.  That the railroad scheme was just the latest in a long list of crimes, crimes that made the robberies of two Kansas cousins look like petty theft.  The banker also had a partner.  A railroad man who had promised to help the banker in his plan and share in the profits.  As well as insuring that the railroads route would prove profitable for them all.  It was also discovered that all the young families were indeed paid up on the notes for their land and no one was going to lose their homes.  Not to the bank, railroad or anyone else, unless the chose to sell of course.  One of these young families drew a great deal more attention than the rest of them.  Seems that they were extremely young.  The boy in question couldn’t have been more than 19 or 20 and the girl was around 16 or 17.  Not all that unusual really considering that many farm families started young.  But these two were special. They were runaways.  Their parents had not approved of the marriage at all, regardless of the age of the couple.   Seems at one time the families had been good friends, but the pair's fathers had a serious falling out.  An argument that no one could remember what it was over, had caused a terrible riff and the two families had not communicated in years until they had discovered the attraction their children had for one another.   But what really caught everyone’s attention was who these kids were.  Seems the girl was the daughter of a highly placed state official.  The boy was the son of a political opponent of the same man.  The boys’ father also was also an extremely powerful man within the state.  The two had been missing for months and their families had been beside themselves with worry and fear for their safety.  So worried in fact that the riff and argument had all but been forgotten as the two sets of parents tried to comfort and reassure one another. The parents were very please to not only find their children, but to discover that they had been doing so well.  They were impressed with the little farm that two so young had managed to acquire, manage and make a fairly profitably good living on.  But what really caught everyone’s attention about the robbery itself wasn’t the story of the bank robbery but of the men that had been involved.   The real identity of the man who had opened the safe and the amount of money they had willingly passed up.   The boy had been one of the farmers in the group.  The story of how two notorious outlaws had gone to so much trouble for a bunch of people that they didn’t know got back to the governor of the state.  Not surprisingly, since it was his youngest daughter the boy was married to.  When he heard the names of those two out laws.  He insisted on hearing every detail of the tale.  His daughter was the one to suggest that the two men should be rewarded.  But she had no clue how to do so.  Her father however did.

 

As the lone rider came up the road, she walked out onto the porch to get a better look.  Squinting into the sun, it began to dawn on her who it was.

 

“Lom.”  She called loudly.  Had to let them know it was okay.  “What the devil are you doing here?”

 

“No need to yell.  Them two ain’t deaf.”  He reined to a stop, threw his leg around the horn of the saddle and leaned forward on his leg.  “I’m lookin for them two fella’s of yours. They wouldn’t happen to still be here or you wouldn’t know where they are would ya.”

 

Heyes came around the house from one side as Kid came out the door behind her munching on a cookie. “Hi lom” He called.  She frowned at kid, “Thief!”  He just winked and grinned.

 

“Something we can do for you.”

 

“Get down off there and come on in, before this one eats everything.”  She told them.

 

Lom dismounted and followed them all into the little house.  Coffee and lunch were provided.  Again Heyes asked, “What can we do for you?”

 

“Well..” Lom started, “Heard about that bank robbery south of here?”

 

“Yeah.”  Kid admitted, “I think we heard something about it.”

 

“Sheriff there seems to think that two of you had something to do with it.”

 

“Oh.”  Heyes answered trying to look innocent. “Why would he think that?”

 

Lom looked from one to the other, “Boys this is me you’re talkin to.  I know as well as anyone it was the two of you. And she was along.  Can’t think of anyone else around here that could have opened that safe like that.”

 

“Who me?”  She asked, “what did I do?”

 

“Will you three calm down.  No one is looking to arrest you. Least wise I don’t think they are any more anxious than usual.  The sheriff up there was pretty grateful to you boys for helping to expose that big mess.  Seemed inclined to overlook who you boys really were because of it.  And because all the money was recovered.”

 

It was time now for the three of them to look confused and innocent for real, “Umm.”  Heyes started, Kid finished, “what big mess?”  They looked at each other then at her.

 

Lom looked at them.  “You really don’t know do you.”  They all just continued to look puzzled.  “That robbery exposed a major banking fraud as well as railroad fraud and lead to two runaway kids being found by their families.”

 

They looked at one another again.  She broke first, “We did that?”  The boys looked at her a little annoyed, “oops sorry guys, but it’s just Lom.”

 

Lom was laughing as he went on,  “She’s right boys.  It’s no secret that it was the three of you.  I was a little surprised that you allowed her to be involved.” As the boys started to defend themselves he held up his hand, “Don’t bother, I heard the whole story from the boy myself.  I know you had no choice in the matter.  Just thought I’d give ya a hard time about it since you guys are so protective of her.  Anyway seems the governor wants to see you boys.”

 

Heyes and Kid looked at one another.  Then both looked at her, “What for?”  Heyes found his voice first.

 

“Can’t say for sure. He didn’t tell me.  He just told me to find you boys and bring ya to him. But I have a good guess.”  Lom wouldn’t say it out loud and they couldn’t bring themselves to ask what he meant.  The two looked at one another.  For the first time ever since she had known them she noticed that they were scared.    Truly terrified.  The possibility of what the governor could want had been a dream for so long that now it was a dream too real to hope for.  They had worked so hard and been threw so much that a light at the end of this tunnel was hard to accept.  To acknowledge it now was to risk jinxing it.

 

The next morning Lom and the two cousins rode out.   Leaving behind one very anxious young woman.   She would have to wait until they returned.  And as usual hope that they did return.  But for a reason that she couldn’t explain she wasn’t afraid the way she had been in the past.  She knew that in her heart this was different.  But like the two of them, she was afraid to call it by name.

 

As they neared the capital building they both slowed down not really sure they wanted to get there.  Lom not realizing it rode a head for a short distance.  When he noticed he reined in and stopped waiting for them to catch up.

 

“Boys don’t worry.  I have the man’s word that you are not to be arrested.  He wants to see you.”  Lom looked at the worried faces.  “You trusted me to start all of this. Trust me now.”

 

The boys looked at one another.  Kid made a small barely perceivable nod of his head.  The expression in Heyes eyes agreed. So they rode on.  They rode directly up to the front door and left their horses to the servant that came to collect them.  They were let into the house without having to knock and shown into a beautiful den/office.  The room was very tasteful and masculine.

 

“The governor will be with you in a few minutes. He asked me to tell you to please make yourselves comfortable.” the young maid told them indicating the plate of sandwiches and pot of coffee on the small table.  The she quietly left the room.  Lom found a set in a nice soft chair after he picked up a sandwich and poured himself some coffee.  Heyes was too nervous to sit or eat so he stood staring into the fire in the fireplace.  Kid paced.  He was even too nervous to eat.

 

They didn’t have to wait long.  Soon the door opened and the man himself walked in.  Offering his hand to Lom first as Lom came to his feet, “I see you found them.”

 

“Yes sir.” The governor indicated that he should sit back down.

 

“You did that much more quickly than I thought you would.”

 

“Well sir I was right about where they were, so I didn’t have to look to hard.”

 

Then the governor turned to them offering his hand first to Heyes.  “Welcome Mr.….”

 

When Heyes tried to respond, his voice wouldn’t come.  So he cleared his throat and tried again “Heyes” responded shakily taking the offered hand.

 

“And Mr. Curry.”  The Governor turned to Kid.  “Please gentlemen.  Make yourselves comfortable.”  Indicating of couple of chairs as he landed in his chair behind his desk.

 

The two looked at one another and Heyes shrugged and sat down.   Kid followed his lead. Then the governor went on.  “Now gentlemen, would you please tell me about you little adventure.”

 

“Sir?”  Kid asked

 

“Oh come now boys, Tell me about the bank robbery and the kidnapping of your friend.”

 

With some reservations Heyes launched into the story.  Waiting patiently as the governor would ask a question here and there.  And filling in the blanks when the questions were threw.  The governor nodded as they brought the tale to a close.  Then he asked, “Do either of you have any idea who any of those farmers were?”

 

Kid answered, “No sir, we only knew Bill McMathews.  Never got names of any of the others.”

 

“Hum-huh.  I see.”  The governor went on, “well let me tell you who one of them was.  Do you remember a young fella?   Probably seemed younger than the others by several years?”  The cousins looked at one another, “Sandy hair about medium build.  Would have looked more like a boy than a man with his own place.”

 

“Yeah.”  Heyes admitted, with a shrug. “I seem to remember him.  I thought he was the son of one of the other farmers.” 

 

“Well that young man, is the son of a friend and political rival of mine.  His wife is my youngest daughter.  Their mothers have been worried sick.  Not knowing where those two kid disappeared to.”  The governor looked at first one then the other. “What you boys did not only brought those two kids home, but saved that whole town.  And I understand that you boys passed up an amount of money that was larger than the sum total of everything you have stolen to date. Is that not correct Sheriff Trevors?”

 

“Ahmmm.”  Lom did some quick calculations in his head, “Yes sir I believe that you have that correct.  Although it is just a guess.”

 

“I must say gentlemen.”  The Governor smiled at them; “I am very pleasantly surprised.  When I first offered you that amnesty deal I never thought you would make any serious effort. I honestly figured that temptation would get the best of you and you would give up.”

 

“Well…” Heyes started, but the governor stopped him,  “ No Mr. Heyes let me finish please.”  The governor looked very serious now, “My daughter seems to think that you boys deserve a reward for all that you did back in that town.”  Again the boys looked at one another.  Both had gone a little pale.  “But she just didn’t seem to know how to reward you.  I must admit she was very surprised to hear who you really were.”  He began to smile again as he opened a drawer of his desk; “She was even more surprised and pleased when I told her that I knew exactly how to reward you.”  He handed each one a formal document. “Congratulations gentlemen I do believe you have finally earned these.  Probably more than earned them.”

 

Both Heyes and the Kid just looked at him for a long time.  “Well go on.”  Lom prodded with a smile, “take ‘em. You earned ‘em.”

 

With slightly trembling hands they reached for the documents.   It took a few minutes before they could bring themselves to actually read them.  They seemed to have trouble getting their eyes to focus.   But then the words at the top of the document hit them both in the gut: A full unconditional Amnesty for and each mans name.  They read them then looked at one another and then at the governor.  Heyes ever the skeptic asked, “what’s the catch?”

 

“No catch Mr. Heyes.  You earned that.  If I were to be totally honest, You earned that a long time ago.  I just couldn’t bring myself to issue them and risk angering the railroads and banks.”  The governor began to laugh, “But thanks to you boys being who you are, you seem to have solved that little problem for me.  Simply by doing what you do best.”

 

“This is for real.”  Kid waved the paper.

 

“Yes.”  The governor frowned at them, “Of course boys if you would rather not…” he reached for the papers.

 

Both men pulled them back out of reach.  As Lom and the governor laughed at them they both began to smile then laugh as well.

 

The governor looked at them seriously again. “Thank you gentlemen. I cannot thank you enough.  You have made four parents very happy.”  Then again he began to laugh, “and ironically the very railroads and banks that were so unhappy with you both.”

 

“Humm, your welcome.”  Heyes said at the same time that Kid answered, “No sir thank you.”

 

The governor offered them cigars and drinks as he invited them to stay for dinner and a homecoming for the two kids.  Though both men were anxious to head out the governor insisted that the other father; the mothers as well as the young couple would like very much to thank them as well.  So reluctantly they agreed.

 

They headed out bright and early the morning after the party.  It had felt very strange to so openly be themselves in a room full of people that had spent so long hiding from.  For the first time in a long time the two men parted company. Not for long. Just for a while. Both knowing where they would meet up again. Home.  But only one of them headed here right now.

 

As the day was beginning to draw to a close she heard the rider coming hard and fast.  ‘Now what’ she sighed.  Wondering out onto the porch she saw the lone rider coming and fear ran threw her like cold hard water.  He didn’t even bother to slow down or stop he just jumped off the horse and ran to the steps stopping at the bottom step.  For a moment all they could do was look into one another’s eyes.  “What’s wrong?”  She finally worked up the courage to ask.  He didn’t say anything.  He couldn’t.  He simply handed her the document for her to read.  He watched her face for the reaction as she did so.

 

“Okay.”  She looked up finally, “Where did you get this?”

 

“Where do you think?”

 

“Honey…” she began gently as if talking to a disobedient little boy, “love, you cannot just forge something like this.  Someone will realize it’s not real.”

 

“It’s real!”

 

She looked at it again and then at him, Her mind could not grasp what he was telling her. “Well you can’t just steal it either silly.”

 

“It’s not stolen either.”  He was coming up the steps now.  He reached for her just as the realization of what the document meant hit her and she became light headed, but not quite fainting.

 

“This is seriously for real.”  She asked looking at him questioningly.

 

“It’s real.”

 

“Then this means.”  She looked into his eyes again, as tears began to fill hers, “oh my god!  You’re free. It’s over.”

 

“It’s over.” He agreed.  Both began to laugh as he hugged her tightly and began to dance around the yard with her in his arms swinging her around so that her feet were not touching the ground.  As he began to cover her face with kisses the only thing she could think of to say was “Welcome home darlin.”