They were tired and cold, and tired of being tired and cold. The two men
had been riding hard all day and had been on the verge of hoping that they
would indeed make it to the next town before their luck gave out and the
rain that had threatened all day came down with a vengeance. They had come
within ten miles of making it when the thunder crashed, the lightening
started breaking the darkness and they were instantly soaked by the icy
downpour. Neither man felt very friendly just now, and silence had reigned
for the last hour or so, broken only by the occasional monosyllabic moan
when a tipped hat caused icy rainwater to run down the back of a shirt.
They were as comfortable with each other’s silences as they were with their
The dark haired man in the lead was carefully reining his sorrel gelding
down the rocky slope with his partner in the rear when lightening broke
across the sky yet again and hit the top branches of a large oak tree
growing at the base of the mountain, splitting the ancient tree in two and
setting it on fire. Terrified, his horse reared wildly and lost it’s
footing on the mud-slick train, sliding sideways on it’s rear legs toward
the edge of the trail. The younger man yelled as the horse carrying his
partner disappeared over the edge of the cliff.
“HEYES!! Oh, God..HEYES!” Kid Curry was off of his horse and frantically
leaning over the edge of the cliff where Hannibal Heyes had just
disappeared. “Heyes, can you hear me?! Dammit, answer me!” There was no
moon and the stars were hidden behind clouds, so Kid was forced to wait for
the next lightening strike to be able to see anything. What he saw froze
his blood in his veins. Heyes’s horse was lying at the bottom of the cliff,
it’s head twisted back at an obscene angle that told of it’s fate. Of his
friend and partner, there was no sign at all. Just blackness. Praying that
Heyes was not, as he suspected; trapped under his mount, Curry dropped his
own bay’s reins and half slid, half ran down the trail toward where his
friend had disappeared. Reaching the bottom of the trail, he turned back
and ran to the spot where the dead horse was lying.
“Heyes, answer me! Where are you?” Curry didn’t try to hide the fear that
made his voice tremble. He soon found what he was looking for, and the
sight of his friends body, face down in the mud, unmoving sent a shaft of
terror straight through him. He bent down and shook his partner’s shoulder,
then cradled his head as he gently turned him over.
“Heyes? Can you hear me, partner?” A groan from the other man confirmed
that he was indeed alive, and Curry breathed a sign of relief.
“OOoohhhh. Kid? That you? What happened? Oh, man does my head hurt...”
Heyes reached up toward his right temple, where blood was trickling from a
large goose egg. Curry stopped him from touching it as he settled him a
little more comfortably on the wet ground.
“Easy now...don’t touch that, your hands muddy. Don’t move yet, I gotta
find out if you’re hurt anywhere else. Your horse went off the edge of the
cliff when the lightening struck. You fell almost thirty feet down the side
of the mountain, Heyes. You’re lucky to be alive.”
“Yeah, well right now I’m not so sure being alive is a good thing, partner.
My head feels like someone ran over it with a railroad car, and my stomach
isn’t doing too well just now, either.” To punctuate his statement, Heyes
promptly rolled over to one side and retched weakly for several moments, his
partner holding him as he lost the contents of his gut. Watching worriedly,
Kid was busy calculating how far it was into town and a doctor, and didn’t
see the shadow of a man standing by the edge of the cliff. Raising his head
dizzily just as lightening again raced across the sky, Heyes did.
“Kid, look out!” Kid’s gun was cocked and in his hand a half instant later,
pointed squarely at the man that his partner had pointed toward a few
“All right, whoever you are! Drop it or die!” Curry’s voice left no mistake
as to weither or not he was serious. The barrel of the gun he held didn’t
waver as he yelled the command. The other man’s response surprised him.
“Easy there, mister...I’m unarmed. Let’s get your friend in here out of the
As the man moved to one side, Kid saw that there was indeed no gun in his
hand, just a book of some kind. The man was motioning behind him toward an
outcropping of rock that hid a cave. That must have been where the man had
been before, and was why Kid hadn’t seen him at first. Glancing at his
again unconscious partner, Kid quickly holstered his gun and nodded at the
dark stranger. The other man bent down, gently grabbing Heyes around the
shoulders and cradling his head as Curry caught up his feet. Together, they
were able to move the injured man to the entrance to the cave. The rocks in
front of the cave had hidden the entrance, and as they moved quickly around
them and entered the cavern Curry noted the fire burning in the middle of
the cave toward the back. They carried Heyes toward it, lying him down with
his body between the cave wall and the fire. The other man quickly searched
a pack sitting on a rock and pulled out a blanket and a shirt, folding the
shirt and placing it under the unconscious man’s head and covering him with
the dry blanket. He looked up at Curry, who was dripping water into the
fire, making little hissing sounds as the drops hit the hot coals. Smiling
quickly, He nodded toward the cave entrance.
“I heard your friend fall. Is your horse still out there?”
“Yeah. I should bring it down...” Curry glanced at his friend, unwilling to
leave him to fetch the other animal even though it was their only mount.
The man stood up and moved toward the entrance.
“You stay with your friend...I’ll bring your horse. By the way...my name is
VanLeer. Wayne VanLeer. Most folks call me Preacher.” The man offered his
hand, and Curry noticed for first time the clerical collar that he wore. He
reached for the outstretched hand, shaking it and releasing.
“Much abliged, Preacher. Don’t want to leave my partner just now.” The
other man nodded his agreement and moved off into the night, leaving Kid and
Heyes alone. The injured man was starting to mumble and move restlessly.
Kid moved to sit next to him, talking quietly.
“Easy, Heyes. I’m right here. Don’t move. You’ll be okay, partner.”
Curry wished he felt a little more sure of this, but didn’t share his
concerns just yet. Noticing the canteen lying next to Van Leer’s supplies,
he reached for it and offered some water to Heyes, who sipped gratefully.
Curry then took off his bandanna and poured some on it, gently cleaning the
vicious cut on Heye’s temple. Heyes winced.
“Ouch! That hurts, stop that! Kid, I swear...” Heyes stopped as Van Leer
returned, carrying Kid’s saddle and bag as well as the bag from his own
unfortunate mount. The two men traded glances and understanding passed
“I thought you might need this, so I cut it off of your horse. Sorry about
that, but I couldn’t pull it from under his body. Damned shame, losing a
good animal like that...” He trailed off as he saw both men staring at him
uncertainly. “Oh, sorry. I wasn’t always a preacher, you know. Sometimes I
ferget and my mouth says things it shouldn’t oughta. You feeling some
better, Mr....” VanLeer trailed off and looked at Heyes.
“Smith. Joshua Smith, Mr. VanLeer. My partner is Thaddeus Jones. We are
beholden for your help preacher, and not about to hold words against you.”
Heyes smiled up at VanLeer. Curry nodded.
“That’s right, Mr. VanLeer. Much abliged for the help and for sharing the
fire and shelter. Not a fit night out for man or beast, tonight. I’m not
quite sure what my partner and I would have done, if you hadn’t showed up
when you did.” This brought a smile to VanLeer’s features.
“There for a minute, I was sure I was dead, Thaddeus. I saw that gun leap
into your hand, and I knew I was headed across the Jordan tonight!” VanLeer
shook his head in awe as he glanced at Curry’s gun securely strapped at his
thigh. Curry grinned.
“I try not to make a habit out of gunning down preachers. Might have a
negative effect on my own trip “across the Jordan” when the time comes.”
Settling down after pulling his own blanket from the saddlebag and draping
it over a protesting Heyes, Curry just glared at his partner until the other
shrugged and accepted the blanket. His head hurt too much to argue, just
besides, there was something about the name VanLeer that was pulling at his
mind, something familiar that he couldn’t quite get a handle on just now.
Shortly after, he drifted into a fitful sleep. Curry watched him sleep,
resigned to staying awake himself to wake his friend periodically throughout
what was left of the night. His exhaustion must have shown on his face,
because VanLeer tossed him one of his shirts to use as a pillow.
“Friend, you go ahead and sleep for awhile. I’ll stay awake and keep an eye
on him. No, don’t argue...I don’t sleep well most nights anyway and I
already got a few hours more than you. Don’t worry. I’ll wake him in an
hour or so, just to be safe.”
Curry stared into the fire for a moment or so, his own exhaustion warring
with his need to protect his cousin. Maybe just a short nap...decision
made, he nodded thankfully and rested his chin down on his chest, determined
that he would be ready if his partner needed him. Glancing one last time at
the still form of his sleeping friend, Kid Curry closed his eyes and was
soon asleep. The fire crackled and cast shadows across the walls of the
cave, as well as across the features of the man sitting across from the two
retired outlaws. His eyes narrowed as he looked first at one man, then the
other. Although he was several years older that either man, something in
his eyes made him look older than he was. Something that you didn’t usually
see in the eyes of a preacher. But then again, as he had said earlier...he
hadn’t always been a preacher. He wondered what his new friends would
think, if they knew just what he HAD been. They didn’t look like the kind
of men who would hold to prejudice...but then you never really knew about
what a man might think, did you? Dark remembrances of his past overshadowed
the remainder of the evening, and as they often did they kept him from
sleep. Long into the night, the man kept watch, periodically reading from
the black book he kept close by his side. When he wasn’t reading, he prayed;
as he often did, that God would forgive him, even if he would never forgive
The early light of dawn found Preacher fixing coffee and bisquits at the
fire when Heyes painfully opened his eyes and looked around the cave, trying
to remember the events of the night before. Blinking blearily, he recalled
the instant his horse had gone over the edge of the cliff, and shivered in
spite of the warmth of his blanket. Preacher was smiling at him as he met
the older man’s gaze and nodded good morning. Kid was still asleep on the
other side of the fire.
“Easy there, Joshua...you may find yourself more than a little dizzy from
that bump on the head. I do believe you have a rather severe concussion, and
if I’m right you shouldn’t move around more than you have to just yet.”
Preacher poured a cup of coffee from the pot on the fire and handed it to
Heyes, who gratefully accepted it with a nod.
“I’m inclined to believe you are right, sir. Feels sorta like that horse
fell ON my head!” Bending his head toward his coffee cup, he caught a whiff
of the brew inside, his rolling stomach instantly informing him that
drinking it would result in him once again being sick. He decided to
respect it, sitting the coffee down next to him. He still felt as weak as a
new born calf. Heyes grimaced as he thought about the telegram awaiting
them some ten miles down the road in the town of Bully, Missouri. He
suspected the sender was Lom Trevors, the sheriff from Porterville Wyoming
that he and Kid called friend; and he hoped that it contained news regarding
the status of their bid for amnesty from the state of Wyoming. It had been
almost two years since they had asked Lom to go to the Governor regarding
his amnesty program, and it was getting harder and harder for his partner
and he to stay upbeat and positive about their chances at a new life without
being outlaws. They were both ready to have a resolution to their
situation, one way or another. He had begun to sense a restlessness in his
cousin and worried that Kid had given up hope and would resign himself to a
life on the run from the law. They needed some good news from Lom, and
soon. Now, with his blasted head injury slowing them down once again, they
would have to wait until he could sit up behind his partner without falling
off the horse before they could even ride the rest of the way into Blueye
and retrieve their telegram. God, he hated riding double! Well, at least
they weren’t broke now, and could afford to replace the horse when they got
to town. He watched the man moving about the cave, packing food and
scrubbing out his pan with sand before he stowed it.
“So, Preacher...you headed into Blueye, or going farther east?” The other
man looked up, slightly surprised at the inquiry.
“Oh, farther, I’m afraid. Up into Kansas. I have some unfinished business
there. I’m preaching at the towns along my way, picking up donations for a
project I’ve been working on for the last several years. Kansas is the last
stop.” The man glanced at Heyes, then down at his feet. “Been a long time
since I seen Kansas. I was born in Pennsylvania, myself. You from around
here, Joshua?” Preacher knew that it wasn’t always a good thing to ask a
man about his past, but Heyes had started the conversation...
“No. Just passing through. Actually, we were both raised in Kansas, near a
place called Lawrence...haven’t been home in years, though.” Heyes was
looking at his partner, who had started to stir and he didn’t notice the
startled look from VanLeer when he mentioned the town that he and his cousin
had fled after losing their family in the border wars. He quickly turned
his back and busied himself with pouring coffee and fixing a plate for
Curry. No point in dwelling on things he couldn’t change he told himself
again for the umpteenth time. All he could do was go on living and try to
redeem himself before God...
Curry was up shortly and stumbled about the camp checking on his partner and
helping him outside to stand watch while he tended to the necessary business
of the morning. The sun had chased the clouds away and a soft mist that
drifted over the land was quickly disappearing. It was a glorious day.
Curry nodded toward the cave.
“Heyes, I know we need to get into Blueye and pick up that telegram, but I’m
not sure you should try to ride yet. Are you still dizzy?”
Shrugging away from the hand that supported him, Heyes shook his head and
then regretted the action, although he didn’t show it. “I’m ok,
Kid...besides, we need to find out what Lom has to say, and I need to buy a
replacement for that blasted spooky horse of mine. We can’t really make any
plans until we know what Lom wanted.” Pushing himself away from the tree he
had been leaning against for support, he stumbled a couple of feet as
darkness threatened the edges of his vision. Kid grabbed him before he
could fall, and strong hands guided him back inside the cave and down onto
his blanket. So much for riding, he thought. As his vision cleared, he
glanced up at Kid, who was trying to decide wither or not to smirk or be
“You obviously are not going anywhere yet, partner. You can’t even stand up
without falling down. We’ll just have to stay here until you are well
enough to be alone, and then I’ll ride on into Blueye, pick up the telegram
and buy you a horse. No, no point in arguing with me, Heyes...” Curry sat
down across the fire and looked at his friend with cool blue eyes that
offered no quarter. Heyes sighed. His cousin could be stubborn as hell,
sometimes! Usually his natural leadership ability allowed him to win these
little confrontations, but he just wasn’t up to snuff right now. He
wouldn’t care, except the need to know what that telegram said was becoming
overwhelming. Just then VanLeer came forward from the back of the cave
where he had been reading his bible and praying. Both men looked up as he
“Gentlemen, perhaps I can assist you. I will stay here with Joshua while
you ride on into Blueye, Mr. Jones. You can make better time than I would
anyway, and my plans are variable. I believe that Joshua could stand my
company for the day it would take you to reach Blueye, retrieve your message
and purchase a horse for your friend. You could stay overnight and reach
here by mid-afternoon the next day.” VanLeer laid out his plan quickly and
Heyes could see the benefits to it even if he didn’t exactly want to do so.
Kid waited, wanting to let Heyes express whatever he felt he had to.
Finally Heyes nodded.
“We would be in your debt once again, Preacher. Thaddeus, what do you
think? I’ll rest here, and by the time you get back I should be fit to ride
and we can be on our way.” Heyes didn’t really want the Kid to go without
him, but he also didn’t want to wait to find out what Lom had for them.
What if the amnesty had come through?
“I don’t like it Joshua. I don’t think we should impose further on Mr.
VanLeer, and I don’t like leaving you behind.” The no-nonsense tone of his
voice told Heyes that the Kid was going to be stubborn again, and if he
didn’t convince him otherwise, they were both going to be stuck here
waiting. He wasn’t good at waiting, and the Kid was even worse. Smiling
widely for the benefit of the third man, Heyes thought quickly. “Preacher,
would you give my partner and I a few moments to discuss your offer alone?”
VanLeer nodded and walked toward the cave entrance, canteen in hand. Heyes
waited until he was gone before returning his dark gaze toward the Kid, who
was standing glaring down at him, feet wide apart, arms folded. He looked
just like Grandpa Curry when he did that. Heyes sighed.
“Look, Kid. I don’t like this either. But to tell you the truth, I just
don’t think we should wait until we can get our hands on that message from
Lom. This could be IT, Kid. Amnesty. It could be ours...don’t you wanna
know fer sure?” Heyes watched the play of thoughts cross his partner’s face
as the impact of his words were shown. Kid was wavering, but his concern
was still for his partner first, and potential amnesty second. Heyes was
fighting something fierce, this loyalty of his partners...He would have to
pull out the heavy ammunition if he wanted to sway the Kid over to his way
“Besides, Kid. I’ll feel better if you go, cause you can get there faster
and bring the doc back with you.” At this point, Heyes was pretty sure
that he wouldn’t need the services of the local sawbones, but his partner
wasn’t so sure. It worked. Kid’s concerned gaze was directed toward the
bruised area above his temple.
“You sure you’ll be all right until I can get back, Heyes? I dunno...that
lump is mighty big, and with you still havin dizzy spells and all...” Kid
crouched down on his haunches in front of Heyes. “Besides, there’s somethin
about that VanLeer fella that I don’t like. I ain’t never met a preacher
quite like him before, Heyes. I dunno...it’s something about his eyes, I
think. He’s not no ordinary preacher, I’ll lay you odds on that. Last
night, while you were sleepin, he stayed awake watchin you for me awhile. He
thought I was asleep too, but I was watchin him. Heyes, I’m tellin you, he
ain’t just right, somehow.” Curry shook his head and glanced toward the
cave entrance. Heyes reached out and put his hand on his friends arm.
“I agree, Kid. VanLeer is more than just an itinerant preacher headed for
Kansas. I wish I could remember where I have heard that name before. But I
don’t think he’s a danger to us, Kid. And, it was good of him to postpone
his trip to stay here while you’re gone. I think we should take him up on
it, ok?” Heyes waited quietly while Curry looked him over again, trying to
find any evidence that would convince him that he shouldn’t leave his
partner for a day or so. Unable to find any, he slowly nodded.
“Ok, Heyes...if this is the way you wanna do it, I’ll leave as soon as I can
get ready. Should be back tomorrow before noon.” Curry rose and stamped
his way toward the cave entrance, headed toward his horse. He met VanLeer
outside the cave entrance as the other man started inside. His hand on the
man’s shoulder brought him to a stop, and he turned, watching Curry
expectantly. Curry dropped his voice so that only VanLeer heard him.
“Mr. VanLeer. I just wanted to make sure that we understand each other.
Joshua is the only family that I have left, and although I do appreciate
your offer to stay here with him until I can get to town and back, there is
something you should know. If anything happens to my cousin before my
return, I WILL find you. Hell wouldn’t be far enough away for you to hide.
Preacher or no. Do we understand each other, Mr. VanLeer?” The quiet, hard
voice had more impact than if he had yelled, and VanLeer pulled his arm away
as he met the ex-gunslingers eye.
“Mr. Jones. While I do not doubt your loyalty to your cousin, there is one
thing that you should also know. I am not afraid of you, or anything you
might do to me. I am truly not afraid of anything this side Heaven or Hell.
I’ve never seen Heaven, sir...but I have resided in Hell for the greater
part of my life. There’s nothing you could do that would be worse than what
I have already experienced.” With that, the other man walked back inside
the cave as Curry stood at the entrance, watching. Finally, he moved to
ready his mount for the trip. There were few men who stood up to Kid Curry
without flinching, and the very fact that this one had somehow comforted
him. Heyes would be safe.
Heyes had napped most of the morning after his partner left, leaving
VanLeer to his own thoughts and tasks. When he woke up just before noon,
VanLeer had managed to procure and clean a large rabbit which along with a
can of beans and some corncakes that he had baking on the edge of the fire
made for a fine lunch. Heyes found VanLeer to be an educated man, not only
well versed in theology but also quite up on philosophy; and the two
conversed for hours on topics both varied and interesting to the two of
them. Heyes found himself telling VanLeer some of their more tame exploits,
and was soon enjoying himself far more than he had expected. VanLeer spoke
freely of his own travels, but steered away from the topic of his early
years or any further mention of his past. Heyes had begun to suspect that,
like himself, the man had at some point been on the wrong side of the law.
Knowing how much a man can change, given the right motivation, he found
himself impressed by the obvious devotion that the man had toward his
calling as a preacher. He didn’t “preach” to Heyes, but rather they
discussed various theological issues to the point that Heyes felt he had
finally met a man who could hold his own in a debate with him. He had found
the conversation they had held while eating about the biblical concept of
Grace to be particularly fascinating, lingering on the similarities between
it and amnesty. Amnesty was, after all just another form of grace; the
concept of unconditional forgiveness without the recipient deserving that
forgiveness. He had also discovered that while the man obviously believed
in the concept of grace from a biblical standpoint, he also believed that it
didn’t apply to him from a personal one. He found it an interesting
conflict of interest...a preacher who preached God’s grace, yet refused to
accept it for himself. Several times VanLeer had hinted at some dark issue
in his own past that he felt robbed him of any chance at redemption. It
wasn’t that he believed God would deny him that redemption; it seemed more
that he had denied it for himself. Heyes wondered again what awful sin this
man felt that he had committed that bound him to a profession while denying
him it’s benefits. At any rate, talking passed the time and by early
evening, he was surprised to discover that the day had gone by rather
quickly and that he had been able to ignore his pounding headache for the
last several hours. For that alone, he was grateful. The dizziness was
less severe, but sudden movement was still something he wanted to avoid at
all costs. Now, the headache was again making it difficult for Heyes to
concentrate on other things. He had tried once to go for a short walk
outside the cave, but found the sunlight slashed though his eyes painfully,
driving him back into the relative darkness of the cave. Resigning himself
to lying around the fire, he watched the other man as he cleared away the
dinner leavings and stowed away his camp, preparing for another night. He
had left earlier for firewood, and the small fire blazed brightly as the
chill of evening fell on the little encampment. As VanLeer settled down for
the night, Heyes met his eyes from across the fire. He had decided that he
liked this man. He was finding the forced inactivity less intolerable
largely due to VanLeer distracting him with his wit, his wisdom, and his
obvious talent at dissertation. He had actually begun to hope that Kid
would come back with the message that their amnesty had been granted not
only for obvious reasons, but also so that he could explain to VanLeer that
if the infamous Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry could be forgiven their past
that surely whatever sin held him firmly in it’s grip could be loosed as
well. Heyes was concerned that his obsession with it was eating him away
inside. Seemed a shame for such an interesting man.
“Wayne? It’s gettin late. No point in you staying up all night with me, or
watchin me sleep either. I’m feelin a mite better anyway, and you were up
most of last night. Why not get some shut-eye?”
VanLeer looked at him with something akin to fear in his eyes. Shaking his
head, he said “Joshua, I’d rather talk, if you don’t mind. As I said, I
don’t sleep much anyway...” He trailed off and looked at the other man
uncertainly. “That is, if you don’t mind.”
Heyes nodded. “Sure, fine by me. Just worried about you, is all. So, tell
me. What is so pressing for you in Kansas, anyway? What you gonna do when
you get there?”
Hesitating only a moment, the preacher seemed to make a decision and nodded
at his new friend. No harm in telling him some of it, anyway. He wouldn’t
risk the whole story, although something told him that this man wouldn’t
judge him any more harshly than he judged himself. He felt that Joshua
Smith had probably more patience with the failures of mankind than most.
“I was born in Pennsylvania, Joshua. Raised in private schools, studied
literature, theology, and philosophy. My father believed in a man educating
himself. We moved to Kansas when I was in my early teens. We farmed a
small place that pa had bought with money that he had made teaching. I was
learning things. Then war came, and my pa went to fight. Life was harder
then, and I had to work the farm alone. I knew that the war couldn’t last
forever, but it sure felt like it did. I prayed for my pa to come home
alive. I got the idea for a memorial statue that would commemorate the
soldiers who were dying in battle, and I started preaching on Sundays and
collecting offerings. I planned to go back east some day and build that
memorial on some great battlefield of the war. And I waited for my pa. I
just knew he would be so proud of me, for what I had done, planning and
preachin and collecting money for my cause. Then everything changed,
After the war when my pa came home, he was a changed man. Angry. Distant.
He laughed at me when I told him about my plans, and he took the money I had
collected. Not content any longer to work the farm, he started spending
more time out riding with men he had met during the war. I tried to keep
the farm going, as best I could. Most nights, I fell into my bed exhausted
from a day of farming that would have worn down a grown man. I quit my
studies. I worked hard, praying often that my pa would come home and our
lives would settle down to what they had been before the war tore us apart.
And he did come home once in awhile, but always left us again. Finally, he
came home for a couple of days, and when he left he took me with him. Told
me that it was time I learned how to be a man. I was proud to think that pa
wanted me to ride at his side, that he was going to teach me what I needed
to know to survive on my own. Well, he taught me, all right. He taught me
what happened to him in the war. He brought me into that group of men that
he called friends, and I had to ride with them, too. We rode against the
men he had fought against. We rode against their families and their towns.
The other men didn’t trust me, so I didn’t know what they were planning.
Dammit, Joshua, I should have known! I should have put a stop to it. At
the very least, I should have stopped my pa!” VanLeer looked at Heyes, his
eyes clearly showing the anguish and dispair he had been keeping to himself
for far too long. Heyes was pretty sure by this time that he didn’t want to
know the rest. He was pretty sure where VanLeer was going with his story,
and he could feel every muscle in the back of his neck tightening into a
knot. His head was pounding. His gut was tight. This conversation had to
stop now, before VanLeer confirmed what he now suspected. Desperately
trying to change the subject, he remembered the memorial.
“So, Wayne. You are going back to Kansas to build the war memorial that you
had been working on as a kid? You collected the money and now you want to
go back and build it, huh?”
VanLeer watched Heyes for a moment, then relaxing slightly, he nodded.
“Yeah. Something like that. I’m going back to build the memorial. Ah,
Joshua; I am feeling a little tired now, maybe I will try to sleep for
awhile. If you think you’re ok, that is...”
Heyes nodded slowly. “I’m fine, Wayne. Might try a little shut-eye myself.
“Goodnight, Joshua. God bless you.” VanLeer turned his back and pulled his
blanket over him.
Heyes took turns staring at the depth of the fire and the flash of shadows
across the cave ceiling, thinking. Grateful that his partner had not been
here to hear VanLeer’s story. Fearful of what might happen if he did.
It was an hour before dawn when something woke Heyes from a troubled sleep.
Years of living dangerously had taught him not to move until he was well
aware of what was going on around him, and he barely opened his eyes to see
what had roused him from sleep. On the other side of the fire, VanLeer was
tossing and murmuring something in his sleep. Obviously tortured by some
nightmare, the man was sweat-slick and breathing heavily. Heyes sat up on
one arm, reaching around the fire to rouse the other man when something he
said froze him, arm outstretched. Slowly, he brought it back and listened.
“No! No, Pa! Please, let’s just go home! It’s not right, Pa! Those men,
their bad men, pa. Please, pa...don’t use my memorial money like this! Oh,
God please...no, Colonel Quantrill! Pa!”
VanLeer’s thrashing had moved him dangerously close to the embers of the
dying fire, and Heyes called out to him.
“Wayne! Wayne, wake up, your dreaming. Wake up, man; before you end up
burning yourself.” Heyes shook VanLeer and found himself looking down at
the eyes of a man reliving his worst memories. No wonder the man said he
didn’t sleep well! He sat up, rubbing the sweat out of his eyes, hands
trembling violently as he attempted to return to the reality of morning and
leave the hell behind. Finally, he met Heyes’s eyes and nodded.
“I’m awake, Joshua, thank you. I’m sorry, friend. Now you understand what
I mean when I say I don’t often sleep well...” Attempting to smile, failing
miserably, VanLeer sat up and leaned against the cave wall, hands on his
knees, staring up at the ceiling. “How much...”
Heyes answered the question before he could ask it. “A lot, I think.
Enough. Let me see if I have this right. Your father was Anthony Wayne
VanLeer. Now I remember where I had heard your name before. He fought the
war and then afterwards rode with the James and Younger boys and Quantrill’s
Raiders. That gang raped and pillaged their way across the borders after
the war.” Heyes dark eyes were black and hard as he looked at VanLeer
across the fire. The other man found himself unable to meet that gaze
squarely any longer. His eyes dropped and he nodded. Heyes continued.
“They raided and killed men, women and children all across the south. Worst
hit was the farming town of Lawrence, Kansas. MY hometown, Wayne. My
family and my cousins were wiped out except for the two of us, and as I now
understand it, YOU were there. Tell me, Wayne. What part, exactly, did you
have in that raid? Tell me, so that I’ll know. You see, my cousin and I
were hiding in our barn at the time, so we didn’t see the whole thing. We
didn’t see our mothers taken and then gunned down. My cousin didn’t see our
Grandfather run down by Quantrill’s horse and then shot in the street. We
didn’t see the James and the Youngers playing with the young girls and then
leaving them lying face down in a barn which they set fire to. Tell me,
VanLeer..were you there then?”
Heyes voice has risen to the point of yelling as he questioned the other
man. VanLeer sat silently, staring at the ground, unable or unwilling to
defend himself. Heyes was livid. His hand itched as he rested it on the
gunbelt rolled up and waiting by the shirt he had used as a pillow.
Finally, VanLeer raised his head and met Heyes angry gaze. His own eyes
were shadowed with anguish and shame. No fear showed in them, even though he
knew that his life at this moment was probably not worth a plugged nickel.
He was grateful, in a way. Better this than to spend the rest of his life
reliving the nightmare. Besides, perhaps this was fate, this man had been
one of the many that his father and the other men had robbed of their
families that night. Who better to dole out his penance. Signing deeply,
“All right. I’ll tell you the rest of it. My pa had insisted that I ride
with them to Lawrence that day. He wanted it to be my “initiation” as a
man. The money I had saved for the war memorial had been used by Quantrill
in the planning of this raid, and he wanted me to be there to see it to the
end. I refused. I told him that I would rather he just shot me himself if
he intended that I die, because I wouldn’t live out the night if he made me
go with them. For a moment, I thought he was going to take me up on it.
Then, with some comment to Quantrill about how a sissy baby shouldn’t ride
with men anyway, he sent me off. Alone. I didn’t go home. I couldn’t bear
to look at my ma, so I just left. I went west. I couldn’t bear the thought
of what was going to happen, so I didn’t look at a newspaper for almost a
month. Then I learned that Quantrill had been shot at Lawrence and was
dying. The James and Younger brothers had taken up bank robbing and my
father had returned home and taken the family away from the farm. I have no
idea where they went, I never saw any of them again. I started preaching.
It’s taken me almost fifteen years, but now I have enough money to go back
to Lawrence. The war memorial won’t be for the north or the south, Joshua.
It was going to be a memorial for the families that died at the hands of
Quantrill’s Raiders. I can’t do less than that, and I can’t do more. God,
how I wish I had been man enough to warn the town what my pa was going to
do! I wish I had had the guts to stand him down myself. I could have shot
Quantrill in his sleep, I could have let someone know...” Again the
self-condemnation was evident in every movement the man made. Heyes was
“I oughta kill you where you sit, you know.”
“I kinda figure you will. But you gotta promise me something, first.”
VanLeer started to stand up, Heyes scrambled to do the same. No dizziness
remained. The third voice startled them both.
“No, he won’t. But I will.” The gun was pointed squarely at VanLeer’s
heart. The barrel didn’t waver in Kid’s hand, and the expression in his ice
blue eyes would have stopped many a man’s heart from continuing it’s normal
pattern. VanLeer just stared at him. “I’ll promise to send you straight to
hell where you belong, mister.” Heyes started toward the other man as he
turned squarely to face his partner.
“Wait, Kid!” “How did you get back so fast, right straight through? Where’s
“No doc in that town, partner. And yeah, I rode straight through. After I
picked up the message from Lom, I figgered I needed to get back here as
quick as I could. Looks like I got here just in time, too.” Turning his
gaze back toward VanLeer, Curry glared at the other man.
“Hell, huh, Mr. Curry? Sorry, I’ve lived in Hell for longer than I care to
remember. You can’t possibly make death worse for me than life has been. I
was sixteen years old at the time of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence. Old
enough to remember far better than I want to. Old enough to have done more
than I did. I have no excuses, except that I’m human and I was young and
scared. I should remind you, however that shooting an unarmed preacher will
probably get you hung.”
“Heyes, give him your gun.”
“No, Kid.” Heyes moved toward his partner, one arm on his gunarm. Kid’s
gaze never moved away from VanLeer.
“Give him your gun, Heyes; before I shoot him where he stands.” Kid was
serious, Heyes could see that. He had to think quickly.
“Kid, he called you “Curry. He knows who you are. You don’t have to prove
anything. Besides, we have business to take care of... the telegram from
Lom?” Kid glanced at Heyes and back to his target.
“Yeah, I got it. Lom says he needs to see us as soon as possible in
Porterville. Said he has information about “The Program” that we need to
hear. What about it?”
“What about it? Well, Kid; I’m not certain but I sure think that murder
might effect our chances of gettin that amnesty, don’t you?” Heyes put both
hands on his hips and glared at his friend. Kid didn’t move. VanLeer
“How did he know who we are anyway, you tell him?” Kid asked.
VanLeer answered for Heyes.
“I’ve known from the first moment I met you two. When he fell of the edge
of the cliff, you yelled ‘Heyes!” loud enough to wake the dead. I just put
two and two together. And, as you now know, I’m hardly the man to judge any
man, let alone the two of you. When I heard you were from around Lawrence,
I wanted to do something to help you, if I could.”
Kid continued to stare at the other man, thinking. “I don’t think you
staying here with Heyes while I was gone to town is going to even the scales
up here, VanLeer. I do admit that it makes this more difficult, though.”
VanLeer shook his head.
“Mr. Curry, I didn’t plan for you or your friend to ever know who I was or
what I had done. Do you think I was trying to curry favor with you? I
wasn’t. I simply needed to try to make a small dent in my debt. That’s
all.” VanLeer glanced at Heyes, who smiled thinly at the unintended play on
words. He was reminded of the extended conversations he had with this man.
VanLeer probably knew more about him that anyone around save his cousin.
Life was just full of interesting twists, sometimes. He remembered the
request the other man had made just a few minutes before.
“Mr. VanLeer..Wayne. You mentioned a promise. What could you possibly feel
that we owe you?”
“Other than a bullet, that is..” Kid interjected.
“VanLeer turned quickly, reaching for his saddlebag. Kid’s gun was cocked
and trained on him when he stood up again.
“Easy, Mr. Curry. I’ve told you I am unarmed, and I am indeed. I don’t
even own a gun. I just wanted to show you this.” From the depths of his
saddlebag he had pulled a large leather pouch, which he tossed at the
ex-outlaw’s feet. Curry didn’t flinch, didn’t look at the pouch, didn’t
lower the gun. Heyes reached down and picked up the pouch and looked
inside, his eyes widening.
“Kid, take a look at this..there must be thousands in gold coin here!”
Pulling one out to show his cousin, Heyes held up the gold $20.00 piece.
There were dozens of them in the pouch. Curious, Heyes looked at VanLeer.
“Wayne, you aren’t making the mistake of trying to buy us off, now are you?”
Heyes face was enough to show the other man that this would, indeed be a
“Oh course not, Joshua. It obviously wouldn’t do me any good to try, even
if I was of a mind to. No, I simply want you and your partner to promise me
that you’ll take this money after you shoot me, and go to Lawrence and make
sure that the memorial gets built. I won’t beg for my life, but I’m not by
any means a proud man and I will beg this of you. Please, Joshua. Perhaps,
this way, I’ll finally be able to sleep in peace. Let me redeem myself this
much, at least before I die.”
Heyes watched his partner. “Kid? Whats it gonna be? We have pressing
business in Porterville, do you wanna have to go all the way to Kansas
Moments passed as two men waited for the third to decide both of their
fates. Finally, decision made, Kid Curry uncocked his gun, spun it and
holstered it all in one smooth flowing motion. Without saying a word, he
turned and stalked out of the cave toward the stream. Heyes and VanLeer
both let out the breaths they had been holding. Heyes tossed the leather
pouch toward VanLeer, who caught it mid-air, question plain upon his face.
“Perhaps you should reconsider the concept of Grace, Wayne. Apparently
Jedidiah Curry just extended some your way. I suggest you accept what’s
offered and continue on your way to Kansas.” Hannibal Heye’s eyes once again
became dark and cold as he met the other’s astonished gaze. “I might make
it back to Hannibal some time, VanLeer. I better find a memorial there when
A promise was offered in VanLeer’s eyes as he nodded slowly. “Joshua, you
have my word. It’ll be there.”
Moving toward the other man, VanLeer offered his hand. Heyes looked at the
hand, then up at the man’s hopeful face. “Wayne, under other circumstances,
I think I could have called you friend. As it is, I think the best I can
offer is what has been offered to me. A clean start.” And with that, he
turned and walked out of the cave to where his partner was waiting, holding
the reins to a stocky buckskin quarterhorse mare. Carefully pulling himself
into the saddle, he reined the mare around and glanced once more at the man
standing in the shadow of the cliff, then toward his unsmiling partner.
“Porterville. Lets get the hell outta here, Heyes.”