Night of the Wolf

By

Kellie Ingle

 

Hannibal Heyes reined up and listened.  His horse labored beneath him, his sides lathered, his breath a plume in the cool night air.  The sky was clear except for the full moon and the stars, which illuminated his path but made it dangerous to travel.  He knew the Devil’s Hole area by heart but he also knew his partner was in trouble and he was running out of time.  His dark eyes scanned the shadows willing there to be a sign of the Kid.  He looked up and his heart froze in his chest. 

On the edge of the rocks far above him was the silhouette of a wolf.  As he watched it lifted its head and sang out into the night, a long low mournful sound that turned his blood to ice.  A wolf pack could take a man down in nothing flat and make short work of him, especially if he were injured.  Please, he prayed to himself, don’t let the Kid be injured.  

As if sensing him the animal turned and gave him a level look, his eyes catching the reflective light of the moon and sending a shiver down his spine.  At that very moment he heard a rustle in the brush below where the animal stood.  He dismounted and drew his rifle.  Whatever was coming out of there he was taking no chances.  Part of the darkness separated itself from the rest and figure of his partner formed out of the mist.  Relieved beyond words he ran towards him in time to catch the Kid as he sank to the ground.

“Kid!” he barked, turning his wounded partner over and holding him close.  His hat was gone and his coat was covered with blood but he was still breathing.  He opened glazed blue eyes at the sound of his name and gave a crooked grin.

“Heyes,” he gasped.

“What happened?  How bad are you hurt?”

“Clumsy,” he said as the edges of his world began to fade.  He drifted away with a smile on his face.

“What?”  Heyes wasn’t sure he had heard right but he knew he needed to get his partner out of the cold and back to the Hole as soon as possible.

 

******

            Spring at Devil’s Hole was a wonderful mixture of beautiful days, cool nights, the occasional surprise snowfall and a thunderstorm or two.  Robbing trains was getting to be easier and easier for the Devil’s Hole Gang since Hannibal Heyes had taken over the direction of the team.  Wheat had pouted and railed, but Heyes’ quick thinking on a job that had almost gone south on them had the gang in the younger man’s corner.  They didn’t mind that he was younger than they were, they just wanted to make real sure that they stayed out of jail and since they had lost Big Jim, Wheat had not done a lot to their way of thinking.

            Heyes and Curry had moved into the leader cabin and had pretty much taken over the running of things.  The gang was amazed at the detail that Heyes went to when he came up with a plan.  Train schedules, maps, and information on the law in the area.  No detail was too small when he sat down to create.  And every job had been more successful than the last.  Yes, this year had been the best ever for all of them and they were enjoying their newfound wealth.   

            There was food and a warm place to stay.  The old mining camp had been turned into an outlaw haven, with a bunkhouse for the men, a stable for the horses and even a chicken coop so they had fresh eggs every morning.  Game was plentiful and one of the previous cooks had planted a small garden that allowed them fresh vegetables on occasion.  They lived safe and happy and rich while their reputations grew and the banks and railroads began to fear the very mention of their name.

            It was early yet, not quite dawn, and they had all been celebrating their latest haul a little too much.  The whiskey had flowed and now most of the men were sleeping it off in whatever position they had passed out in.  Heyes and Curry had made it back to their cabin, though neither one would ever remember how.  But drunk or sober, sick or well, when rifle shots sounded it brought every man to his slightly swaying feet, guns drawn and ready to face the foe.

            They all staggered out into the yard, blood-shot eyes scanning the area and ready to take cover if necessary.  Heyes cracked open the door to the cabin and saw his men, standing like ducks in a gallery out in the yard.

            “Take cover you idiots!” he shouted then shook his head as they disbursed to safer quarters.  The Kid had rolled out of the bed with gun drawn and had slipped out the back to take a look around.  As he made it back to where his partner stood, Peavy, the lookout came into view.

            “What’s going on?” Heyes demanded as he hunched his shoulders against the coolness of the night air.  He had his pants on but his feet were bare and his long handles weren’t enough to keep out the chill.

            “There’s a bunch of boys shooting at stuff on the other side of the ridge.  I don’t think they know we’re up here or they wouldn’t be hunting so close.”

            “What are they after?” Heyes inquired, acknowledging the Kid with a glance as he stepped up beside him.

            “Looks like they’re tracking a wolf.”

            “A wolf?  Ain’t seen any around here in a while.” 

            “Me neither, boss.  But from what I could see these boys got one on the run.”

            “I’ll take care of it,” the Kid said tersely then went inside.

            “Go on back up there,” Heyes instructed, a frown on his face.  “The rest of you get on back to bed.”  He started to follow The Kid but Kyle’s whining voice stopped him.

            “Aw, Heyes.  Why can’t we go have a look?”  He hitched up his sagging underwear and moved his chaw from one cheek to the other.

            “Yeah,” Wheat chimed in, never the one to let anybody do anything without him.

            Heyes turned back and eyed them all.

            “I don’t care what you do, boys, but you get in the Kid’s way and there’s gonna be trouble.  You understand?”  His dark gaze swept over each one of them before he disappeared inside.

            Kid Curry was dressed and loading his rifle when Heyes came inside and went to the fire immediately.  He smiled as the flames The Kid had obviously stoked back to life warmed his hands and feet. 

            “You don’t need to go out there,” he said quietly.

            “I know, Heyes, but I need to check things out and see how close they are and if they’ve found a way to get to us.”

            “You also want to keep them from killing the wolf.”  He turned and his eyes met the Kid’s clear blue ones for the first time.

            “Yeah, Heyes, I want to keep them from killing that wolf if I can.”  He finished loading the gun and stood up.  “I can’t stand to see something hunted down like that.”

            “I know.  Just be careful.”

            “I will.  I’ll be back before sunrise.”

            “Some of the boys are going with you.”  Heyes grinned, unable to keep from it as he watched the scowl come to his partner’s face.

            “Great.”  He slapped his hat on his head and opened the door.

            “Just don’t shoot any of ‘em in the dark.  Okay?”

            “No promises.” 

            Heyes chuckled and headed back to his warm bed.

 

******

            They saddled up and rode out, the sound of gunfire leading them out of the Hole and down into the draws.  It was easy riding but the Kid was in a hurry so the other three who rode with him had to struggle to keep up.  The young men who were on the hunt never heard the riders approaching.  They were focussed on the prey that they had managed to bring down.

Reining up, the Kid watched as the three teen-age boys laughed in glee while they continued to shoot the dead carcass of the large wolf that lay thirty feet from them.  With practiced ease he pulled his rifle out of the scabbard and aimed it at them.

“That’s enough,” he growled, startling the boys, who lowered their weapons and took a few steps back in self-defense.

“W…we didn’t mean any harm, mister,” the one with stringy blond hair stammered.  “We’s just getting’ rid of a varmet.”

“Fellows who go hunting in the middle of the night ought to know where they are before they go shootin’ off their guns.”

“We on your property?” the short one asked, his eyes as big a saucers.

“You might say that.”  He smiled but the sentiment did not reach his eyes.  “I’m Kid Curry.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the Devil’s Hole Gang?  Well, we’re it.”

All three boys started backing up even further.  Then they turned and ran to their own horses, mounted up and galloped away into the darkness.  Kyle and Wheat got a big boost out of that but the Kid just dismounted and went over to the dead creature. 

It was a large female, painfully thin, her once beautiful coat covered in her own blood.  It sickened the Kid to see her and it made him angry that boys looking for fun brought about her death.  With a sigh he turned to go but a movement in the underbrush caught his eye.  He stepped away from her and shushed the men, waiting.  In a moment they all were witness to a heartbreaking scene.

A wolf pup came stealing out of hiding.  He was all feet and ears, shying at every sound but nothing stopped him from coming to her side.  They all watched as he smelled around her body, making small whimpering sounds when she didn’t respond.  Suddenly he sat down hard on his haunches, threw back his head and began to bay.  Not the full- throated howl of a full-grown wolf, but the sharp cry of an infant lost and in trouble.

The Kid removed his hat and coat, not looking to the men so he did not see the tears that filled Kyle’s eyes or the sudden attention that Wheat paid to his cinch.  Moving slowly he advanced towards the little guy until his movements caught the pup’s eye.  The sound stopped to be replaced by a fierce growl that did not deter the man in the least. 

He crouched down and slid one of his gloves off and tossed it towards the pup.  For a second their eyes met, and as he watched the pup crawled forward and gave the glove a sniff.  The Kid held his breath then suddenly was overtaken by a ball of silver fluff as the pup launched himself at his newfound friend and began to nuzzle and lick any surface on the Kid he could reach.

The Kid laughed and sat down, gathering the wiggling mass of fur to himself.  He was cold and more than likely hungry, but he was old enough to have been weaned.  Sharp milk teeth began to nibble at his hands and his shirt but he wasn’t scared at all when the others came over to see.  He leaped from the Kid’s lap and ran around in circles under their feet, carefully easing up to them when they put out a hand for him to get their scent.

“What you gonna do with him, Kid?” Kyle asked as his face was covered in kisses.

“I’m taking him back to the Hole.”  There was stunned silence for a few moments as the men digested this information

“Heyes ain’t gonna like it,” Wheat pronounced while watching him run back to the Kid’s glove, pick it up and bring it to him for a game of chase. 

“He’ll adjust,” the Kid said, snagging his glove and the pup before any damage could be done.  He handed him to Kyle while he put his hat, coat and glove back on and mounted up, then reached down and claimed his new little friend who was perfectly content to snuggle against him inside his coat.

“Let’s ride.”

Kyle and Wheat shook their heads and followed him.  Neither one wanted to miss the reaction of their leader when he was introduced to their newest member.

 

******

The sun was coming up as they rode back into camp.  The pup had gone to sleep in the crook of his arm but when they came to a halt he wiggled out and landed hard on the ground before the Kid could stop him.  His chin hit the dirt, snapping his teeth together smartly but he just shook his head a few times then bounded away to smell his new territory.

The boys dismounted and loitered around while the Kid unsaddled his horse and put him back into his stall.  He stepped out into the yard to see the pup struggling mightily with a piece of rope he had discovered in the flowerbed.  He had a death grip on it, growling madly and shaking it from side to side until the motion upset his balance and he keeled over in a tangle of legs and feet.  When he rolled over again he was covered in dirt but still hanging onto the rope.

“Not too graceful are you, buddy?” the Kid said as he reached for the rope only to get into a tugging match.  They played at this for a few minutes then the Kid reached down and picked him up intent on taking him inside to feed him. 

He shut the door to the cabin and set the pup down as Heyes came out of his room.  The smile on his face vanished when he saw the new inmate who saw him at the same time and made a scrambling dash towards him.

“What is that?” Heyes asked, his tone cool.  At his words the pup skidded to a halt and dropped down in a submissive posture on the floor.

“What does it look like, Heyes?  It’s a wolf pup.  They killed his mother but they didn’t get him.”

“So you decided to bring him here?  And just what are we gonna do with a wolf, Kid?  Have you lost your mind?” 

“I couldn’t leave him out there.  He’s not old enough to make it on his own.”

“We aren’t babysitters?  We’re outlaws, Kid.  We don’t have time to look out for a puppy.  You get him out of here.  Now.”  Heyes backed up a step and glanced down at the object of their conversation.  He hadn’t moved, but his tail was wagging ever so slightly and his golden eyes were watching intently.

“Half this cabin is mine, Heyes.  He stays.”  The Kid removed his coat and gloves and threw them onto the table.

“I’m the leader here and I say he goes.”

“You’re the leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang, Heyes…not me.”

“I’m the leader, period.  What I say goes and I’m saying he’s not staying in here.  Put him in the barn if you’ve got to keep him.”

“Fine,” the Kid snapped, reaching for his coat and gloves.  “The pup has to live in the barn…I’ll live in the barn with him.”  With that he reached down, scooped the pup up and walked out, slamming the door behind him.

 

******

The gang made themselves scarce when they figured out the way the wind was blowing between the Kid and their leader but everyone came out for an introduction to the puppy.  By late afternoon he had been introduced to everyone, fed and watered, allowed to play and was asleep in the hay in the stall with the Kid’s horse.  The Kid was keeping himself busy at any number of things.  His steady hands were soaping some bridles when he looked up to see Heyes standing in the doorway.

Cool blue eyes scanned his partner before dropping back to the task at hand.  Heyes walked over to the stall and looked down at the sleeping pup and he had to smile at the picture he made sprawled out on his back in the hay but when he turned to face his partner his eyes were flat and blank.

“He seems to have made himself right at home,” he remarked as he took a seat on an upturned barrel and watched the Kid work.

“Yep.”

“I saw you ride out earlier.  Did you go bury his mother?”

“Yep.”

Silence.

“You find him something to eat?”

“Yep.”

More silence.

“You given him a name?”

“Yep.”  The Kid hung one bridle up on a peg and reached for another one.

“Please tell me it isn’t Pal.”

The Kid’s eyes met Heyes’ and for an instant pain flashed in both sets.  They were little boys again and the memory of finding their beloved dog savaged by a pack of wild dogs came flooding back with a vengeance. 

They had begged their parents relentlessly for a dog when the Kid had turned six and their fathers had finally given in.   Pal was a mixed breed of shepherd and collie and had been their constant companion that summer.  He slept with them, ran with them, kept them out of trouble and was the best watchdog any of them had ever seen. 

Heyes still remembered coming upon his body after three days of looking for him.  He would never forget trying to take it in and keep his younger cousin from seeing what had happened.  But he couldn’t keep the Kid from wanting to see and that had been the first time he had held his cousin while he sobbed out his grief.  They had buried their faithful friend and had never again asked for a dog.

“No,” the Kid said slowly.  “I didn’t name him Pal.  He kind of named himself to be honest.”

“Oh?”  Heyes sat back and felt the knot in his stomach ease a little.  He hated being on the outs with the Kid.

“Yeah.  He trips over every rock, tree or bump in the road so the guys and I named him Clumsy.  He’s already answering to it.”  Summoned by his name and the sound of voices the object of their conversation came crawling out of the hay, stretching and yawning until he saw Heyes sitting there.  Immediately he slunk down on his belly and put his head down.

“I think he’s scared of me,” Heyes said, his voice a little rough.

“No,” the Kid said calmly.  “He knows you’re the leader so he’s showing you the proper respect.”

Heyes glanced at the Kid to see if he was being made sport of then turned his gaze back to Clumsy.  Gently he held out a hand and waited.  Clumsy crawled forward until he reached him then stuck his head under the outstretched hand and turned over on his back, his tail wagging furiously.

Heyes was lost.  He grinned and ruffled his silver fur then jerked back when sharp teeth latched onto his finger.

“Better be mindful of his teeth,” the Kid warned.  “They’re sharp little things.  Already put a rip in my coat.”   He sat back and watched as Heyes picked up the wriggling puppy and began to play with him.

“So, he knows I’m the leader, huh?  Wish everyone else was this easy to control.”

The Kid snorted and hung up another bridle.  Heyes laughed and set the pup back down before rising.

“He sleeps with you,” he said darkly as he turned and left the barn.

“You’re the boss,” the Kid responded, his grin wide as the pup loped off behind Heyes, tripping over everything in sight.

 

******

Spring had turned to summer at the Hole.  The jobs had been plentiful, the hauls had been large and the trains had been slow.  To their delight each member of the Devil’s Hole gang now had a price on their head and it was a matter of pride amongst them.  Heyes’ plans just kept getting better and better.

The fight over Clumsy had long been forgotten as they all began to think of him as their unofficial mascot.  Except for Cookie who had caught him in the chicken house with a mouthful of feathers or Heyes, who had lost a favored pair of boots to his juvenile teething pains.  But even though they all played with him and fed him and looked out for him, Clumsy belonged to the Kid.

It was an unspoken bond that found him at Kid Curry’s side when the day was over, lying patiently at his feet.  As he grew from all legs and ears to a full-grown wolf he still kept his gentle personality.  He would sit on the porch and watch the night, some-times going off to explore but always returning to his friend and mentor.  When he went off to hunt he always brought back his kill and laid it at Heyes’ feet, something that Heyes never got used to.

It was in the autumn that word began to spread about a man called Lupo who had made it his business to find and bring in the Devil’s Hole Gang single handedly.  Heyes had not dismissed the rumors as the rest of them had and had begun doing a little research of his own and he did not like the information he was getting back.  As a consequence he put on extra lookouts and told the men to be very careful when they went into town.

But even his extra precautions did not keep one of his men from being caught.  When Peavy didn’t make it back from a job Heyes and Curry went looking for him.  They found what was left of him hanging in a tree with a note attached.

 

“Your men are very loyal.  He didn’t give you away but I won’t be far behind.

                                                                                                Lupo”

 

Heyes was furious.  Being an outlaw was one thing they all agreed on, as was the possibility of getting caught by the law, but being tortured to death for information was beyond anything he or the rest of them had seen in a long time.  It brought back nasty memories of their parent’s deaths and brought a hard edge to the leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang.  And there was nothing he could do about it, which made it even more intolerable.

Jobs were cancelled and the gang was ordered to stay in camp until things blew over.  All in all it wasn’t so bad, as they had supplies and a safe place to stay.  As winter wrapped itself around the mountains and settled into the area they stayed in their safe seclusion and let the problem hopefully fix itself. 

By spring they were all sick of being cooped up and tired of each other’s company.  Only Clumsy seemed to escape the bad moods and sharp words.  He was fully grown now, a half wild beast that stood waist high to the men.  His fur was a silvery cloak with a black stripe running down his back, his eyes a clear gold color.  He was gone now more than he was here as he roamed further and further into the wilderness. 

He and the Kid had forged a deep friendship.  They were inseparable most of the winter, taking long walks into the woods or just playing tug of war in the yard.  The snow did not bother him and he loved to frolic in it.  Early spring brought warmer temperatures and when the snow began to melt away the Kid knew their time together was fast coming to a close.  Soon Clumsy would go off to hunt and not return.

As March blustered it’s way in they all decided that it was time to go into town for some much-needed supplies and some even more needed contact with the outside world.  The Kid’s birthday was declared a holiday and everyone saddled up to ride into town.

As the Kid mounted up he saw Clumsy sitting at the edge of the yard, his all- knowing eyes on his friend.  Something inside the Kid knew that this would be the last time he would see him.  They stood quietly taking each other’s measure for a long moment just as they had the first time they had seen each other.  Then the Kid gave a barely perceivable nod.  Clumsy gave a short husky bark and leaped into the underbrush.

“Good-bye, old friend,” the Kid whispered, his eyes a little misty.  Then he turned his mount and followed the rest of the gang out of the Hole and into trouble.

 

******

 Heyes hung back as they all galloped into town and headed for the nearest saloon to wet their whistle.  Instinct told him that they were still being stalked and he wasn’t going to let them be caught unaware.  He headed over to the mercantile to purchase supplies and catch up on the latest gossip.  With his easy smile and heart stopping dark brown eyes the ladies of the shop were no match for his easy charm.

By the time he could join the group he knew for certain that Lupo was in the area and looking for them.  He was cautious and concerned but he didn’t want to spoil the birthday party so he reluctantly joined in, making sure he did not get too drunk to protect himself or his men.  Against his better judgement they spent the night but it was probably what saved their lives.

They all staggered out of the hotel by mid-morning the next day, all nursing sore heads and none of them hungry, not even the Kid.  Heyes herded them out of town none too gently and because his head didn’t hurt he spent a good amount of time talking and joking with them.  They moaned and groaned and finally got him to stop at a small creek where they could get a drink of cold water and soak their heads.  It was going to be a long trip back to the Hole.

 

******

Lupo just missed them both going and coming.  He had followed a trail up into the mountains that had played out and then decided to go into town to see if there was any sign of the Devil’s Hole gang.  He was frustrated and put out when he learned that they had been in town and even spent the night there.  But missed opportunities only whetted his appetite for them and he knew that if he had been this close today that tomorrow would be his.

 

******

One last blast of winter barreled down from Canada and buried the Hole in snow for a week.  The men took it in stride and didn’t grouse too much because it had given Heyes time to plan another job and they were all up for that.  A payroll train was scheduled to pass through their neck of the woods in a week’s time and Heyes spent the long cold nights plotting and planning.

The Kid spent his time in solitude and took Heyes’ good-natured teasing about brooding in stride.  He missed Clumsy and his easy companionship even though he knew that wild things needed to be just that…wild.  The men seemed to miss him too but being men they just kept themselves busy and didn’t talk about it.

The snow melted in short order and Heyes was pleased with his plan.  Everyone was briefed and ready by the time they all saddled up and rode out of the Hole.  It was going to be easy to stop the train using the natural rockslides that occurred along the route, and even easier to open the safe for someone with hands as good as Hannibal Heyes.  After a long safe winter they returned to outlawing with great success.

All through the spring and summer the Devil’s Hole Gang hit every train and bank they could get close to.  Heyes was a genius and by the late summer they had begun to wander farther and farther from the Hole.  It was now taking days and sometimes weeks to get back home after a job.  But as usual, Heyes always included a detailed plan on getting back without getting caught.  By September there were wanted posters with huge rewards on them for each and every member of the gang.

Lupo seemed to disappear from their lives.  Heyes kept a watch for him and an ear to the ground for any news but he seemed to have vanished with the cold weather.  Being a cautious man, Hannibal Heyes did not for one moment believe that they were rid of him, but by summers end he was beginning to relax somewhat.  It would prove to be a costly mistake.

The bank job at Colby, Colorado was going to be tricky but not hard to do.  Colby was a new town that had sprung up along the railroad route and was drawing lots of settlers because of the beautiful valley it sat in.  A main street had sprung up, built with lumber and brick and on that main street a brand new bank had been built boasting an unbeatable security system.  What the people of the town did not know was that the banker who boasted so loudly about security was quietly stealing them blind and using a very old and out of date safe to keep their money in.  When Heyes heard about both situations, he decided that they just couldn’t resist robbing from a bank that guaranteed that your money was safe.

They rode into town in pairs several days apart in order to keep suspicion to a minimum.  The saloon had plenty of rooms, as did the livery, so accommodations were not a problem and no one thought anything out of the ordinary about them.  They were going to do the job on Saturday night during the late evening hours, which would give them plenty of time to accomplish their task and no one would notice anything had happened until Monday morning and, by that time, they would be long gone.

With Kyle and Wheat in the front and Preacher and Lobo at the back, Heyes and the Kid used a standard lock pick to open the back door.  Heyes was amazed at how easy it was.  The glow from the streetlights gave them enough light to see by as they made their way into the cage and over to the safe.  Long tanned fingers efficiently worked the tumblers and with a flourish he turned the handle and swung open the door.

Both men stood in shock at what they saw.  It was empty.  Not a piece of paper nor a single coin graced its interior.  The Kid stepped back and let out a sharp whistle just before a pistol was brought down sharply at the base of his skull.  As he fell to his knees Heyes stepped forward to catch him before he hit the hard floor.  With a tight grip on his partner he looked up into the black eyes of their captor.

“Who are you?” he asked, as he helped his stunned partner sit down. 

“I’m someone you don’t want to mess with, Mr. Heyes.  My name is Lupo.  You’ve probably heard of me?”  With a wicked smile he aimed his pistol at both men.

“Yeah, I’ve heard the name before.  This was a set up, wasn’t it?” 

“Yes.  I’m glad you understand the situation so I won’t have to explain anything to you.  I’m here to take you in for the bounty on your heads and I can do it alive or dead, whichever you prefer.”  He swung the barrel of his gun back and forth trying to intimidate them.

“You’re not going to turn us in to the sheriff here in Colby?”

“Oh no, Mr. Heyes, that would be too easy and I’ve been chasing you two for far too long not to get some satisfaction out of you before I collect my money.  No…I’m taking you in to the marshal in Denver.  That will give me plenty of time to get my pound of flesh, so to speak.” 

At his evil laugh Heyes began to suspect that they might be in real trouble.  Hopefully the boys had heard the signal and had gotten away.  He knew the Kid was beginning to get his wits about him again even though he still sat on the floor with his head in his hands.  They would just have to make a break for it now, while Lupo thought he had the upper hand.

“I need you both to remove your guns…very slowly and very carefully.  I have no problem with shooting either or both of you, so don’t give me any trouble.”

Heyes straightened up and pulled his gun out of his holster with two fingers, his dark gaze never leaving Lupo’s.  He bent forward to set it on the floor then at the last minute he pitched it to the Kid, who rolled forward, caught the weapon and crashed into Lupo, taking the man down at the knees.

“Run, Heyes!” he shouted as they tumbled together over the floor, each one trying to get clear of the other but the Kid was faster and brought the butt of Heyes’ gun along side of Lupo’s head with wicked force.  Lupo staggered back, stunned by the blow but not beaten.  He roared with rage and rose up, his strong hands grabbing the gun the Kid held and driving it into his face.

Pain exploded inside the Kid’s head as blood spurted out of his nose.   The blow stunned him, but not so much that he did not see his partner make a clean break.  Now they both had a chance was the only thought that went through his mind as he continued to fight.  He reached for his own gun but stopped when Lupo cocked the hammer on his own.

“Go ahead, Mr. Curry,” he ground out, furious that they had gotten the drop on him.  “I’d just as soon kill you as drag your sorry butt back to Denver.”

The Kid surrendered knowing that Heyes would come up with a way to help him.  He bent over and braced his hands on his knees as he dragged in air through his mouth.  His head was pounding from the blows but he knew he had to keep his wits about him if he was going to help Heyes get him out of this mess.  Lupo snatched up Heyes’ gun and drew the Kid’s from his holster. 

“You and your partner think you’re pretty smart, getting the drop on me and all,” he sneered as he tucked the extra pieces into his pants.  “But I’ve got other plans and you,” he poked the Kid’s chest with the short barrel of his pistol, “are going to help me.”

The Kid raised pain filled eyes to his captor and wiped at the blood on his upper lip.

“I have no intention of helping you do anything,” he stated calmly.

“We’ll see.”  Lupo grabbed him by the collar of his coat and pulled him upright.  “Let’s go, Mr. Curry.  We’ve got a long ride back to Devil’s Hole.”

 

******

Heyes and the boys met up at the agreed upon spot.  When everyone had been filled in on what had happened they split up into teams and went out to cover the routes to Denver from Colby.  By noon on Sunday they were tired, hungry and frustrated.  There had been no sign of them.  Heyes had slipped back into town and knew that Lupo was gone but when he joined the gang again for a lunch of hardtack and black coffee he was beginning to have an awful feeling.

“Where could they be, Heyes?” Kyle asked for what seemed like the thousandth time. 

“You’re sure he ain’t in jail?” Wheat asked.

“Yeah.  I’m sure.  The jail is the first place I checked.”  Heyes stood up and began to pace, his quick mind rolling over the possibilities and weighing each one in turn.

“Denver is the closest place with a Marshal,” Preacher said, looking up from his worn bible.  “Why would he go somewheres else, Heyes?  I just cain’t figure it.”

“I don’t know why we don’t just go on back to the Hole,” Lobo complained.  “He’s a bounty hunter.  He’s got the Kid.  It don’t look like there’s much we can do about it.”  He yelped when Heyes turned on him, his dark eyes blazing with anger.

“We don’t leave one of us behind,” he ground out.  “We all go or we all stay but we don’t leave anybody.  Ever.”

“I’m sorry Heyes.  I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.  I…”

“That’s it,” Heyes said, cutting off Lobo’s apology.  He turned to the rest of the men and smiled a lethal smile.  “He’s going to try to find the Hole.  He’s taking the Kid back to Wyoming.  Come on, boys.  Let’s ride.”

 

******

 

The Kid had been uncomfortable before in his life but he was hard pressed to remember a time worse than now.  His nose wasn’t broken but it throbbed in time to his heartbeat and made his entire body ache.  His hands were tied behind him so he had to concentrate very hard on staying balanced in the saddle as they galloped along the trail.  Two days of riding non-stop and very little food were making it more and more difficult to manage. 

He thought about Heyes and the gang and hoped that they were on their way to Denver on the wild goose chase instead of trying to beat this maniac back to Devil’s Hole.  If he found the way in there would be no way of stopping him from cleaning it out and wrecking the safe haven they had found.  Though he had no intentions of dying he was at least grateful that he had been able to get Heyes to safety before he was taken.  That gave him some comfort, though not much at the moment.

Lupo reined up and looked at his prisoner.  He was exhausted, hurting, hungry and angry and it wouldn’t be long before he would start talking.  It had been his experience with these kinds of people that a few days of mistreatment usually loosened their tongues, especially if they thought they were going to die.  Now was the time to plant that seed.

“You ready to talk yet?” he asked.

The Kid eyed him with cool interest but said nothing.

“I’m sure you’re friends have already given up on you.  You’d be smart to cooperate with me and tell me how to find the Devil’s Hole.  It will make it a lot easier on you in the long run.  If you are not going to talk I might as well kill you and drag your body back to Denver for the reward.”

“You’re gonna do what you’re gonna do and there is nothing I can do to stop you,” the Kid said softly.  “Kill me now or later.  I’ll still be dead and you still won’t know how to get into the Hole.”

“Brave words, Mr. Curry.  But it won’t take much more of this before your tongue is sufficiently loosened.”  He ran the butt of his rifle sharply into the Kid’s ribs, succeeding in knocking the breath out of him but not in unseating him.  Bent double over his horse’s neck he braced himself for another blow but it did not come. 

“I’ll leave you to wait for the next blow.  Let’s get going.”  He turned and they were off again, flying across the broken ground.

Night began to fall and Lupo slowed their pace but did not stop.  The temperature began to drop and the stars began to shine.  The landscape became gullies and washes that had been carved out of the rocks centuries ago.  They were close to the Hole but the Kid kept that little piece of information to himself. 

If he could just get his hands free this little adventure would have a totally different outcome.  Lupo had tied him up with rope instead of leather so he had been slowly working the knot loose every chance he got.  For now, his captor was unaware of it and the element of surprise would be his soon.

Three shots suddenly rang out in the cool night air.  The sound echoed down the canyons and it seemed as if they came from every direction at once.  Lupo jerked them to an abrupt halt and listened.

“I was this close before, but I couldn’t follow the sound.”  He turned dead eyes to the Kid and smiled.  “Now you’re going to show me where the hideout is.”

“No,” the Kid said, knowing full well he might be signing his own death warrant with his next words.  “I am not going to show you anything.”

“Brave to the end, huh?  Well…we’ll see about that.”  He dismounted and reached up to grab the Kid by the coat, pulling him out of the saddle and letting him hit the hard ground with a thump.  Pain shot up his arms and down his legs but the force of the fall loosened the last knot that held his hands.  Lupo drew back to give him a kick but the blow never fell as the Kid grabbed his foot and yanked, sending him sprawling onto his back.  He lost his grip on his rifle and it skittered away into the dark.

The Kid rolled away and tried to reach it first but he wasn’t fast enough.  Lupo pulled his revolver from his holster and fired it.  The bullet creased the Kid’s forehead and he saw stars as he went down and rolled away to lie still in the dirt.

Lupo climbed to his feet and retrieved the rifle from where it lay.  As his breathing evened out he holstered his pistol and went over to his prisoner.  He took his anger at almost being bested out by delivering a few good solid kicks to his opponent. Then he leaned down and turned him over to see if he was alive or dead.  To his delight he discovered that he was still breathing.  He moaned as he opened his unfocused eyes and looked up at his tormentor. 

“You almost had me, Curry.  But now I’m tired of messing with you.  I can collect my bounty on you dead or alive and you just proved to me it would be safer if you were dead.” 

He pulled his pistol out again and aimed it.  At this range there would be no way he could miss.  The Kid took a breath to shout or scream or something as he watched the barrel train on him.  He would not close his eyes, damn it!  He would not go to his death cowering like an animal.

Suddenly a silver flash appeared out of the dark.  It hit Lupo from the side and took him down, snarling and snapping and growling.  Lupo let out a startled shriek and dropped his weapon in a vain attempt to protect himself from this creature of the night that was savagely attacking him.  The Kid watched, unable to move, as the wolf cleanly and efficiently took out the mans throat.  Lupo was dead before he could make another sound.

Relief swept through him and he lost consciousness.

 

******

Something wet was touching his face.  It was warm and gentle and even though every part of his body hurt and he only wanted to sink back into unconsciousness he could not get away from it’s soft persistent urging.  He cautiously opened his eyes and met the calm golden stare of Clumsy.  His savior. 

“Hey, boy,” he whispered as he brought a hand up to tangle it in his thick fur.  “Thanks for saving my life.”  Clumsy just wagged his tail and grinned down at him.  “I guess we’re even now, huh?”  He sighed and closed his eyes again as another wave of pain and dizziness washed over him.  “Heyes will have heard that shot.  He’ll be on his way any time now.”

Clumsy gave a sharp bark that set explosions off inside his head.  With a low growl he reached down and took hold of the collar of his coat and began to pull on it.  The Kid groaned and sat up beginning to shake from cold and fatigue. 

“Okay…okay.  I’m up.”  He managed a lopsided smile as his friend continued to tug until he was up on his feet.  He swayed slightly as his legs suddenly took on the consistency of rubber.  “I’ll stay up as long as I can.”

Clumsy gave another bark and bounded off into the bushes.  He began to walk, though he didn’t know what direction he was headed in but he knew he needed to find shelter soon.  A man could die of exposure out here.

 

******

Hannibal Heyes reined up and listened.  His horse labored beneath him, his sides lathered, his breath a plume in the cool night air.  The sky was clear except for the full moon and the stars, which illuminated his path but made it dangerous to travel.  He knew the Devil’s Hole area by heart but he also knew his partner was in trouble and he was running out of time.  His dark eyes scanned the shadows willing there to be a sign of the Kid.  He looked up and his heart froze in his chest. 

On the edge of the rocks far above him was the silhouette of a wolf.  As he watched it lifted its head and sang out into the night, a long low mournful sound that turned his blood to ice.  A wolf pack could take a man down in nothing flat and make short work of him, especially if he were injured.  Please, he prayed to himself, don’t let the Kid be injured.  

As if sensing him the animal turned and gave him a level look, his eyes catching the reflective light of the moon and sending a shiver down his spine.  At that very moment he heard a rustle in the brush below where the animal stood.  He dismounted and drew his rifle.  Whatever was coming out of there he was taking no chances.  Part of the darkness separated itself from the rest and figure of his partner formed out of the mist.  Relieved beyond words he ran towards him in time to catch the Kid as he sank to the ground.

“Kid!” he barked, turning his wounded partner over and holding him close.  His hat was gone and his coat was covered with blood but he was still breathing.  He opened glazed blue eyes at the sound of his name and gave a crooked grin.

“Heyes,” he gasped.

“What happened?  How bad are you hurt?”

“Clumsy,” he said as the edges of his world began to fade.  He drifted away with a smile on his face.

“What?”  Heyes wasn’t sure he had heard right but he knew he needed to get his partner out of the cold and back to the Hole as soon as possible.

 

******

Warm.  That was all his muddled brain could think as he began to swim towards consciousness again.  He was laying on something soft and was wrapped in clouds.   How could you wrap someone in clouds he wondered idly?  His head was pounding and his throat was dry.  He cautiously opened his eyes and looked around and was surprised by two things.  First, he was in his room at the cabin.  Second, his partner was asleep in the chair beside his bed.  And he was wrapped in quilts up to his neck.  So much for clouds.

He tried to move and a groan escaped.  Everything hurt, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. 

Heyes’ eyes flew open and he was out of the chair in a heartbeat.  He slowed as he saw the sanity in his partner’s eyes and let out a sigh before dropping down on the bedside.  He put a hand to the Kid’s forehead and was pleased to find it cool.  It looked like the worst was over.

“Hey, cousin,” he said, relief in his voice.  “How do you feel?”

“A little rough,” he croaked.  “Could I have some water?”

“Sure.”  Heyes picked up the tin cup beside the bed and helped the Kid lift it to his lips.  “Take it easy.  It’s been three days since you had anything solid.” 

Weak from the chore the Kid laid his head down and frowned.

“Three days?  I’ve been sick for three day?”

“You’ve been shot for three days, Kid.”  At his puzzled look Heyes continued.  “What do you remember?”

“I don’t remember much right now.  You say I was shot?  Where?  How?”

“Luckily for us you were shot in the head.  I don’t think you would have survived if it had been any other place.”  Heyes grinned down at his partner and watched as the humor crept into his tired eyes then the memories of his ordeal started to come back to him.

“Lupo,” he gasped and tried to sit up.  Heyes put a restraining hand on his chest and had no trouble keeping him down.

“Yes, Kid.  Lupo.”

“Where is he?  Did you get him?”

“He’s dead, Kid.  But I didn’t kill him.  Is it coming back now?  Can you tell me what happened?”

The Kid sighed and closed his eyes for a moment.

“He decided to bring me up here instead of going to Denver.  He thought I would give away the hideout and help him.”

“We know that much, Kid.  Go on,” Heyes encouraged him.

“I wouldn’t tell him anything and he got rough.  I managed to work the ropes loose but he got the drop on me and then…” he paused and his eyes flew open.  “He shot me…in the head.  I thought I was dead but he must of just creased me.  But then he came after me again and I knew he was going to kill me this time.  Then…” he raised puzzled eyes to Heyes and grinned.  “Clumsy came flying out of no where.  He took Lupo down and that’s the last thing I remember.”

“Well, that certainly explains some things.  You were delirious for a while and all you talked about was Clumsy and how he was your savior.”

“He was Heyes.  I didn’t have a chance.  I was a goner when he showed up out of the night.”  He sighed again and shook his head, something he was immediately sorry for.  “I think I told him we were even.”

“Well, I guess you are, but I’ll be grateful to him for the rest of my life.  He helped me find you.”  They were silent for a few minutes, each lost in his own thoughts. 

“Well, you need to rest while I go see if I can find something for you to eat.  I’ll be right back.”  Heyes stood up and watched the Kid’s breathing even out again as he slipped back into sleep.  He shrugged into his coat and left the cabin, intent on filling in the guys and getting Cookie to dish him up some of the soup he had been preparing.

The night was another cool one and the stars were clear and bright.  He stopped for a moment to gather himself and heard the mournful howl of a wolf.  Another joined it until it seemed as if an entire chorus was up in the surrounding rocks.  This time it didn’t send a shiver up his spine and he suspected that it never would again. 

“Thanks, Clumsy,” he whispered into the night then went on his way.

 

 

The End