Retribution and Redemption

Ann Stolfa

 

 

The noose swinging from the rafters of the run-down barn made eerie shadows in the lamplight.  Heyes struggled with ropes that bound his hands, but it was no use.  He watched the figure in black arrange a barrel, just the right height for a man to stand on and stick his head in the noose.  The figure turned and advanced on him menacingly.

 

“Time to join your partner in death Hannibal Heyes”

 

 

Two days earlier…

 

Heyes and Curry rode into town cautiously.  Even though they heard the town had a new sheriff since the Devil’s Hole gang had robbed the bank a couple of years before, they still weren’t sure someone wouldn’t recognize them.  They had split up from the gang after a job a week before and this was their designated meeting place.  They went into the saloon, trying to look inconspicuous. 

 

“Well, we got a whole day to wait on the rest of the boys, whatcha’ want to do to pass the time Heyes?”  Kid leaned back in his chair balancing it on two legs, enjoying the taste of the beer washing the trail dust out of his mouth.

 

“You mean after I’ve had a good meal, a bath and a long sleep, not necessarily in that order?”  Heyes grinned, pushing his hat back on his disheveled dark hair.  They had taken a payroll from a train and they were still riding the exhilaration of a successful job that left them with some money in their pockets.  “We could always rob the bank again, didn’t prove much of a challenge the first time.  The way we slipped in at night, I don’t even think they figured out it was us who robbed it.”

 

They laughed together, neither one noticing a dark figure watching them through the window. 

 

Later that evening, sleepy after a big meal, they wandered in the direction of the hotel, the streets of the small town dark and deserted.  Talking amicably and sharing a couple of cigars, they never saw who hit them from behind, knocking them both unconscious.

 

Kid woke up in a jail cell, alone and with a pounding headache.  He looked around trying to orient himself in the bright morning sunlight streaming through the bars on the window.

 

“So you’re finally awake.  I hope you enjoy our hospitality, at least for the short time you’ll be experiencing it.”  The sheriff got up from where he had been sitting at his desk watching Kid and walked over to the cell.  “We’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time.”

 

 

Kid gave him an icy look.  “Where’s my partner?”

 

“I’d be more worried about myself if I were you.  It’s too late for him anyway.”  The sheriff gave him an evil smile.

 

“What do you mean by that?”  Kid was starting to feel a little panicky.  He didn’t like it when he and Heyes were separated, much less when he didn’t know what might be happening to Heyes without Kid to watch his back.

 

“He’ll be getting what’s coming to him shortly, just like you will.”  The sheriff walked away, cutting off further conversation. 

 

Kid rattled the cell door violently.  “Come back here!!  Tell me what’s going on!!”  Getting no answer, he sat down on the bunk, frustration evident in his face.

 

Meanwhile, Heyes awoke in a run-down barn, sunlight streaming through the dusty air.  His head ached and his arms were cramping where they were tied tightly behind his back.  He jerked up, the movement sending pain shooting through his head and his arms.  He looked around trying to find out where he was.

 

“Kid, are you here?  Answer me!”  He got the feeling he wasn’t alone in the barn, but he didn’t think it was Kid he was sensing.

 

“It’s no use to struggle.”  A raspy voice came from the shadows.

 

“Who are you?  Where’s my partner?” Heyes anger overcame any fear he had.

 

“Don’t worry about him, the sheriff is taking good care of him.”  Heyes stomach clenched in fear at the tone of the voice.  “You would do better worrying about what’s going to happen to you.  You can spend the day thinking about the things you’ve done.”  The figure left the barn through the creaking door.

 

“Wait!  What do you mean?!”  Heyes struggled against his bonds, but it was useless.  He laid back in the old musty hay, his mind spinning between trying to figure out how to get out of this and fear for what might be happening to Kid.

 

Each one spent the day worrying about the other one.  Kid at least was able to get out of the sheriff that he was going to turn Kid in for the reward money.  He wouldn’t tell Kid what was happening to Heyes and why he wasn’t in the jail with him.  Kid grew more frustrated as day passed into darkness.  He about jumped out of his skin when he heard a voice from the window.

 

Psst!  Kid!”  A familiar face peeked through the bars.

 

“Wheat!  Am I glad to see you!  Kid looked over his shoulder at where the sheriff was napping at his desk. 

 

“Me and the boys are gonna get you out of here.  Just hang on.”  The door to the jail slowly cracked open and Kid watched as Lobo and Preacher crept in and quickly subdued the sleeping sheriff.  Kyle came in behind him and unlocked the cell with the keys he found on the desk.

 

“Where’s Heyes?”  He asked, looking behind Kid with a puzzled look.  “We heard tell that you both were caught.”

 

“I don’t know Kyle, but I aim to find out right now.”  Kid stalked out of the jail, meeting up with the rest of the gang outside.

 

Split up, part of you take the west end of town, and the rest take the east end and we’ll meet in the middle.  We’re going to tear this town apart until we find Heyes.”  Kid’s eyes burned with a determined fire. Even the Devil’s Hole gang were a little afraid of Kid when he looked like that.

 

Heyes’ eyes adjusted to the darkness falling over the barn.  A prickle of fear crept up the back of his neck when he heard the barn door creak open again and the dark figure returned.

 

“The time for retribution has come for you.  Say a prayer to whatever god you worship – you’ll be meeting face-to-face soon.”  The figure lit a lamp and proceeded to throw a rope over one of the rafters of the barn, fashioning a noose at one end.

 

“Don’t I even deserve to know what I’m dying for?”  Heyes challenged angrily.

 

The person whirled on him.  “Deserve?!  You’re getting what you deserve you murderer!”

 

“I’ve never killed anyone!  This is a mistake!”

 

“Maybe you haven’t killed anyone directly, but your actions caused the death of my husband sure as if your hand had held the murder weapon!”  She pulled the hat off her head to reveal a woman’s face that had once been pretty, but was now ravaged with the lines of a hard life and deep anger.

 

“What do you mean?  I’ve never even met you or your husband.  I sure as hell didn’t kill him.”  Heyes struggled again against the ropes that held him, sure he was in the custody of a madwoman.

 

“No you didn’t meet him.  You would have remembered him if you had, everyone loved him.  He was a kind, gentle man who was my whole world.  When you and your gang robbed the bank two years ago, you took our life savings.  Of course the bank wouldn’t reimburse us, saying it wasn’t their fault, but they sure didn’t have a problem foreclosing when we didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage.  My husband couldn’t take the feeling that he was a failure so he hung himself one night in this barn from the same rafter that you’re going to swing from now.”  She pointed up at the noose, tears streaming down her cheeks.

 

“I never thought… I’m sorry, I know that doesn’t begin to make up for it…” Heyes was stunned, he didn’t know how to react to this information.

 

“Sorry?!  You’re sorry?!  Do you know what I’ve gone through since he died?  I had no other family to go to and there’s no work for a decent woman in this town.  I ended up at the saloon sleeping with men for money!  Do you have any idea how many lives you ruined?  I just wish I could make you suffer like I have.”  She pulled out a gun, pointed it at him and motioned towards the noose above her head. 

 

“Time to join your partner in death Hannibal Heyes”

 

Heyes bunched his muscles, readying himself to fight her when the barn door burst open.  The woman whirled startled and a shot rang out.  Kid stood in the doorway, gun smoking, the rest of the gang behind him.  The woman looked at the neat hole in her shoulder oozing blood and pitched forward unconscious to the ground.

 

“Heyes!” Kid breathed a sigh of relief.  “Are you ok?”  He untied Heyes and helped him up.

 

“I’m fine.  Boy am I glad to see you.” 

 

“Let’s get out of this crazy town as fast as we can. Our horses are outside.”  Kid started for the door.

 

“Wait a minute Kid.” Heyes went over to the woman lying on the ground.  He took off his bandanna and pressed it against the gunshot wound.  “We need to get her a doctor.”

 

“Heyes, have you gone insane?  She was going to kill you!”  Kid looked at him incredulously.

 

“You don’t understand Kid.  I’ll explain later.  Send someone for the doctor and bring me my share of the money we got from the train.”  Kid shook his head, sure that Heyes had some sort of head injury, but he did as Heyes asked. 

 

Heyes took the money from Kid with a silent plea for understanding in his eyes.  He laid the money down next to the prone woman, hoping it would in some small way help her and also salve his guilt a bit.  They went outside to the horses and rode off a short distance, waiting until they saw the doctor go in the barn.  Then they rode hell bent for leather for Devil’s Hole.

 

Kid didn’t ask Heyes what had happened in the barn, sensing that he wasn’t ready to talk about it.  A couple of weeks later he walked in Heyes’ cabin to find him staring into the fire, a faraway look in his eyes.  He sat down silently in the other chair, knowing Heyes would talk when he was ready.

 

“Kid, you ever think about the people whose lives we affect by stealing their money?”  He looked at Kid, his expression unreadable.

 

Kid paused, a little taken aback at the subject of the conversation. “Well, honestly Heyes, I hadn’t given it much thought, but now that you mention it, I guess we probably have hurt a few people, not intentionally, except for the bankers and the railroad men of course.”  Kid smiled, trying to lighten the mood.

 

“I’m serious Kid.  We’ve hurt some people who didn’t deserve it, people like our folks.  I’m thinking of quitting.  I don’t like the way this feels anymore.”  Heyes sighed deeply, the weight of the world on his shoulders.

 

“Well, you know I’m with you Heyes, whatever you want.  How do you just ‘quit’ being an outlaw though?”  Kid leaned back in his chair and gave Heyes a measuring look.

 

“I haven’t gotten that part figured out yet.”  Heyes put his head down into his hands, his elbows resting on his knees.  The only sound in the silence of the room was the crackling of the fire. After what seemed like an eternity, Heyes startled Kid by suddenly standing up.

 

“Kid, you’re in charge for the next couple of days.  I’ve got to go send a telegram.”  He turned, grabbed his hat and coat and walked out the door.  Kid just watched him go, wondering why it felt like, in that very moment, their world had just changed.  He did know that for good or bad, he’d back Heyes no matter what happened.  He leaned back into the overstuffed chair, enjoying the warmth of the fire as he listened to the hoof beats of Heyes’ horse disappearing into the night.