The Long Ride
The elongating shadows of dusk helped to envelop the lone cowboy in the darkening surroundings. Normally he would welcome the cover of darkness, preferring to blend in with the elements. But tonight, it was not his main concern. The cowboy, head lowered, eyes closed tightly to stop the flow of tears cascading down his face, was kneeling beside a grave. For the last year he had come here, to spend some time with his best friend. The ground had grown over with grass with the passage of time. But that did nothing to lessen the pain in his heart. He always had to worry about being seen, which if captured would mean a prison sentence. But even the loss of his freedom could not keep him away. Several times in the past year he made his way here, and with each visit, the pain was just as intense as the first time.
For the past year he had had to learn how to live alone. No one across the campfire or across the poker table. No one to talk to, to complain to, to scheme with. No one to watch his back, to care about, to care about him. Life now was just one empty day after another, with no joy to be gleamed from the existence.
The cowboy looked up at the marker, engraved with only one word. Seeing his name made the knife twist in his heart. If his death had been from a riding accident, a sickness, or a posse’s bullet, he might have been able to deal with the aftermath. But the hurt was all the more intense because he himself was responsible for the death of the best friend he had ever had. And for that, he could not forgive himself. Closing his eyes, he was transported back to that fateful day.
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry had come to the town of Dry Gulch, Colorado hoping to find work. Lately, he and Kid had been snipping at each other, the consequence of too much time spent together blended with the never ending search for their amnesty. Small problems seemed to get blown up out of proportion, and they had almost come to blows several times recently. The tension inside the hotel room was thick, as another argument had erupted between the two long-time friends.
“Heyes, I just don’t understand why we shouldn’t go over to the saloon and try to talk to some of the men there. One of them is bound to know of some work in the area.”
Heyes shook his head. “No, Kid. Something tells me we should just saddle up and ride out tonight, no, ride out right now. Something just doesn’t feel right.”
Curry frowned and shook his head. “Well, I think everything is feeling fine, and I for one am tired of being in that saddle.”
Heyes stood, pacing the floor, eyes downward. Sometimes he wondered if he wouldn’t be better off by himself, instead of riding with a partner, it might make his life easier. Right now he had a feeling that something was not right, but just couldn’t place what. But a bell was ringing a warning in his head, and he learned a long time ago to not ignore those warnings. Now to convince Kid to leave. He stopped, and lifting his head, looked towards Kid Curry.
Kid had watched Heyes pacing the floor, and knew he only did that when he was really worried about something. When Heyes was scheming, he was quiet, rooted to one spot, and staring out into space. When he was happy, he smiled and talked a lot, sometimes droning into the night. When he was content, he was reading, long hours into the early morning. And when he knew what was wrong but not from where it was coming, he stalked, eyes constantly moving and watching. After so many years together, Kid could read Heyes very well, and this alone should have kept him in the room. But too many hours in the saddle, running from posses, and very little sleep was making Kid Curry cranky and less alert than normal. And the last thing he wanted to do was to stay in a closed room with a panther.
Kid was strapping on his gunbelt when Heyes looked in his direction. Watching him tie the leather strap to his right leg, Heyes had a choir of bells ringing in his head. Shaking his head, he walked to where Kid was standing.
“Kid, you can’t go out there. Stay here, please.”
“I’m going, Heyes, and that is all there is to it.”
Shaking his head, Heyes reached out his hands, placing each one on Kid’s shoulders. “Please Kid, I am asking you, no I am beggin’ you, don’t go. Something bad is going to happen to you if you walk out that door. I don’t know what, just something.”
Kid looked into the eyes of his best friend, and saw something he rarely ever saw reflected in those brown eyes, fear. Heyes was afraid of something. Kid was shaken for just a few seconds, before pulling himself out of Heyes’ grip and stepping back, reached down for his hat, settling it atop his head.
“Heyes, I can see you are upset. But everything will be fine. And I need a drink. You comin’?”
Heyes shook his head. “Kid, you have to stay here. Let’s get our gear together and head out of this town, now. We will find work somewhere else, but let’s leave this town.”
Kid shook his head, and stepping slightly to the side, walked around Heyes. Reaching the door, he paused after putting his hand on the doorknob. Turing his head back to where he could see Heyes, still standing with his back to the door, Kid said, “Heyes, I know you believe what you are saying, but sometimes you just have to let me make my own mistakes.” And he walked out the door, closing it silently behind him.
Heyes was rooted to the floor, unable to think of what to do next. The warnings in his head were louder now, but he knew from the sound of the closing of the door, that nothing he could say would stop Kid Curry. The hardest part of their friendship had always been the fact that each man was so stubborn in their own way. Each man alone was very independent, but together they had always made an opponent that most men seldom tried to battle. Each was the glue that kept the other together. But because each man was so fiercely independent, there were times when they would grate on each other’s nerves, and in those cases, it was best to part company, if even for a few hours. This is where they stood now. But Heyes knew that now was not the time to be apart. Heyes pivoted from where he stood on the floor, heading towards the door. Somehow, he would get Kid to understand, and head out of this town, before it was too late.
Heyes was out the door, and heading down the stairs when he heard the shot. The sound pierced his heart, just as if the bullet had actually struck him. Bounding down the stairs two steps at a time, he ran towards the door of the hotel, which was already open to the cool day. Outside, Heyes could see people standing around, each trying to see what had happened. Heyes tried to push his way through the throngs of people, but to little avail.
“They got him, they did,” he heard shouted, and a cheer went up among the people standing around.
Heyes looked to the man standing beside him. “Got who?” he asked.
“Why, they got Kid Curry.”
Heyes could feel his heart stop beating in his chest, and he renewed his efforts to push through the crowds. But the crowd was not budging, each wanting to see the outlaw who had been shot in the street. Heyes stopped pushing forward, and moved backwards instead, intending on trying from another side. But that effort was wasted as well, as no one was giving up his spot. Heyes stepped backwards onto the sidewalk, unable to decide how to get to where his friend was. He was finding his breathing hard, the burning in his chest spreading over his entire body. Willing himself to slow his breathing down, Heyes tried to listen to the crowd, to gather whatever information he could about his friend.
Snippets of conversation such as, “Is he dead yet,” or “What happened,” intermingled with “They said it was him” and “They were waiting” pounded Heyes’ mind. He knew the warning bells had meant something, and now he had no idea what was going to happen next.
Heyes watched as the crowd parted somewhat to allow a tall man to walk to where the fallen man lay. He was wearing a star pinned to his vest, and was followed by several other men, also wearing stars. He could see the head of the man disappear for a few seconds, reappearing to instruct his men to pick the man up and carry him to the doctor’s office. Heyes couldn’t get a look at the man they were carrying, although he noticed several men moving to do the sheriff’s bidding. The crowd moved along with them, each wanting to be around to see what happened next. Heyes tried to stay as close as he could, thinking of a way to get to see Kid, to see how he was doing. As the crowd moved forward Heyes looked down, catching a glimpse of a brown hat. Heyes moved towards the spot where the hat lay, trying to get a good look at it, but just as he closed in on it, someone picked up the hat, and keeping it in front of them, moved away. Heyes shook his head in frustration, as he was never able to get a good look at the hat. But he did see the stain, there in the dirt. His eyes were drawn to it, understanding of what caused the wet spot in the street. And he slowly shook his head. Kid was bleeding, he needed Heyes. Heyes tried to make himself think, think of a way to get to Kid, through this crowd. To get to his friend, see how he was doing, and get him out of this town that had tried to kill him.
Heyes lifted his gaze away from the ground to find the crowd had reached the house which was home to the doctor and his clinic. He watched over the top of the crowd as the door quickly opened, than after several men entered the house slowly closed, shutting out the crowd. The murmur of the crowd grew, until the sheriff came back out, waving his hands for silence. After several attempts, the crowd finally obliged and conversations ceased. Heyes waited to hear what was said along with the townspeople of Dry Gulch.
“Now, I want you all to go home now. The show’s over.”
“Is he dead? Is it Kid Curry?” could be heard shouted.
The sheriff motioned for silence again before answering any questions.
“The doctor has pronounced this man dead. And our eye witness has identified him as the Kid.”
Heyes stumbled backwards at the announcement, trying to catch his breath. Kid, dead? No, that can’t be. There must be some mistake. He had to think.
“What about his partner? Does anyone know anything about him?”
Heyes’ tried to pull back his attention to what was being said, but was not able to concentrate on anything except the word, ‘dead’. Heyes backed up until he was against a building, trying to pull in as much air as possible through lungs which were shutting down. He had to think but was finding that impossible.
“Mister, you don’t look so good. You alright?”
Heyes was able to pull his gaze down to a small boy of about ten, standing looking up at him. Heyes found he couldn’t talk, but managed a small nod in the boy’s direction. Looking back up, Heyes noticed that several eyes had been drawn in his direction with the question by the young boy, and knowing that attention wasn’t a good thing right now, Heyes slowly moved back in the direction of the hotel. Upon entry, Heyes retraced his steps, stumbling in his haste to climb the steps.
Heyes leaned back against the closed door of his room, closing his eyes, and trying to control his breathing. He knew that now was not the time to lose control, and forced himself to think. Normally thinking was easy for him. But now, all he could think of was the face of his friend when he last saw him. If only he could have stopped him. He should have stopped him from leaving this room.
Heyes was brought back into the present with the sound of his name being called. With a quick rotation of his body, Heyes rolled to the left, withdrawing his gun in one fluid motion. Even though Kid Curry had been the fastest gunman in the west, Heyes had learned a lot about gun handling from his friend, and most men of his time were no match for him. Heyes was looking into the face of a man, approximately 30 years of age, who was standing with his hands raised. Heyes slowly stood, keeping his gun pointed towards the man.
“Mr. Heyes. There is no need for the gun.”
Heyes was surprised that someone knew his name, but that information was not evident in his face. He maintained his silence, able to see the man even in the waning daylight.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
Heyes couldn’t hide the surprise in his face at this statement. “I don’t know what you are talking about, and you have the wrong man.”
The stranger shook his head, slowly lowering his hands. “No I don’t. You normally go by the name of Joshua Smith, but you are in fact Hannibal Heyes.”
Heyes kept the gun pointed towards the stranger, slowly stepping backwards towards his horse. “I don’t know what you are talking about, and I need to go now.”
“Please, stop. I just want to talk to you, to help ease some of your pain.”
Heyes continued to step backwards towards his horse, not taking his eyes off the stranger. He turned slightly to place his foot in the stirrup when he heard something which stopped him cold.
“Han, I just want to help.”
Heyes shook his head, and taking his foot out of the stirrup, retraced his steps to where the stranger was standing. “What did you say?”
The stranger crossed his hands in front of him, talking softly. “That is what he called you as a child. Back when you were both happier.”
Heyes’ face turned hard, stepping closer to the stranger. “You don’t know anything. Now leave me alone.”
“I know that you were not responsible for his death. You tried to stop him from leaving.”
“I said to leave me alone.” And Heyes stepped away, anxious to leave this place. Night was rapidly closing in, and Heyes wanted to be long gone before the sun was totally set in the sky.
“Hannibal, it was not your fault, and you need to let go of the guilt, before it kills you.”
Heyes spun and walked back to the stranger, putting his face within inches of the man, anger and hurt apparent in his face.
“I don’t want to hurt you, so it would be in your best interest to leave me alone.”
The stranger was not fazed, keeping an easy look on his face. “You have never killed anyone in your life, and you won’t start now. I just want to help you.”
Heyes gazed into the face of the stranger, seeing no signs of fear. “Than leave me alone. That is the best way to help me.” And with that, Heyes spun around and sprinted for his horse, leaping to its back in one fluid motion. With a quick glance back at the grave, and one towards the stranger who had not moved, Heyes put heels to hind quarters and galloped into the night, soon out of sight of the stranger.
Heyes’ only thought was to put as much distance between this place and himself, to give himself some time to think. He never thought to look back. If he had, he would have noticed that the stranger stayed where he was for a few minutes before slowly dissolving from view.
And neither man was around to see the rider top the hill several minutes later, who sat atop his horse gazing down in the dim light, surveying the graveyard and the surrounding area. Not seeing anyone there, the rider turned and headed back down the hill, in the opposite direction in which Heyes had headed.
Heyes found himself riding into another no name town. He sat on his horse, looking each direction down the street. Each town he rode into was just like the previous one. Just as each day was like the previous day, with no reason to believe tomorrow would be any different. It had been several months since his encounter with the stranger at Kid’s grave, and in some ways he had made himself believe it was only a dream, that it had never really happened. It was just easier to get through the day that way.
Dismounting, Heyes loosely tied his horse to a hitching rail. He entered the restaurant, taking a seat in the near empty establishment well away from the door and with his back to the wall. Some things never changed.
The waitress stood waiting to take Heyes’ order, and hoped to also gain his attention. She didn’t see cowboys this good looking very often, and didn’t want to pass up the chance to engage him in conversation. But Heyes had become adapt at ignoring people over the last year, and after ordering his supper, had dismissed the pretty waitress already out of his mind. With no other choice, the waitress went to relay his order, hurt that she was not able to at least gain a bit of attention from him.
The waitress placed his coffee in front of him, trying again to engage him in conversation. But Heyes ignored her and she finally left the table. Being alone was exactly what Heyes wanted.
Heyes was almost done with his meal when he felt the presence of another at his table. Looking up, he was startled to find, sitting in a chair across from him, the same stranger he had encountered at the grave several months prior. He looked around, but could not find anything else unusual, so turned his gaze back to the stranger.
“Mister, I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but you had better leave now.”
The man continued to sit in his chair, not making any motion to move.
“Joshua, I told you once before, I only want to help you.”
Heyes just shook his head. Either this guy was crazy or very brave, he just hadn’t figured out which one it was. “Mister, I plan to leave, and don’t follow me. Understand?”
Heyes started to stand when the stranger reached out and put his hand on Heyes’ arm, stopping him with the slightest touch. Heyes sat back down, making eye contact with the stranger. “I don’t understand what it is you want. I just want to be left alone.”
“You have been alone. For months now you have traveled around, moving from town to town, not staying in one place long enough to even be noticed. You avoid towns whenever possible. You are alone.”
Heyes frowned. How did this man know so much about him? “And how is that a problem? Or how is that any business of yours?”
“Joshua, I have been watching out over you, and it isn’t good the way you keep this all bottled up inside.”
Heyes stood rapidly, before he could be stopped again. “I don’t know what game you are playing, but I don’t want in on it.” And throwing down some money on the table, he walked out of the restaurant, leaving the man behind. Walking to his horse, he mounted and headed out of town. The stranger remained at the table for a short while. People didn’t remember him coming in nor did they remember him leaving. Most just didn’t remember him being there at all.
Standing at the edge of town, the stranger watched Heyes as he rode away, moving as if the devil himself was after him. But he guessed, in his own way, he was. The devil being guilt. And that can be a hard demon to run away from. He needed to find a way to get through to him before it was too late. And as before, he faded away into nothing.
The lone rider entered the town from the opposite direction, and slowly rode down the street. Not seeing the horse he was looking for, he rode over to the stables, checking the horses being stabled there. The search came up empty, causing the rider to head back out of town. He would keep searching until he found the person he was looking for. He just hoped he found him soon.
Heyes continued to move from place to place. He would pick up odd jobs when he needed money. But otherwise, he was content to stay away from people. People he cared about seemed to die, so the easiest way for him to deal with that was to not care. On occasion, he would send a wire to Lom, letting him know where he was. The idea of amnesty was no longer in his mind as he no longer cared. And he didn’t think he needed friends either, so wasn’t sure exactly why he let Lom know where he was. Just guessed it was keeping a hold on the past. In this town, he decided to send Lom a telegram, so finding the telegraph office, he entered. Picking up a piece of paper he wrote:
Sheriff Lom Trevors
Am in Arizona, safe.
After paying for the telegram to be sent, Heyes went to the mercantile store, replenishing his dwindling supplies. His business conducted, he remounted his horse and walked down the street and out of town. He never bothered to wait for an answer to any of his telegrams.
The telegraph operator opened the door, looking for Smith. In his hand he held a reply to the telegram sent earlier. Spying Heyes at the end of the street, he yelled out his name. But Heyes just continued to walk out of town, not concerned about anything that might be said to him. The telegraph operator, not able to get Smith’s attention, walked back into the office, depositing the telegram on the desk. He proceeded to notify the Porterville operator that the previous message could not be delivered. Glancing down at the desk, he reread the wire he had just received:
Smith, stay put.
Heyes moved around, watching the changing of the seasons, none of them bringing him any joy. He no longer frequented the saloons to play poker. Cards held no joy either. Everything reminded him of Kid, and the loss that he felt was overpowering.
With his horse tended and tethered, and a small fire providing some heat, Heyes sat holding his cup of coffee and staring into the flames. The sounds of the night were around him, but he wasn’t listening to them. He was remembering back to that afternoon of the shooting.
He had stayed in his room until he thought he would suffocate. He knew he needed to move, but each small movement brought pain. A physical pain from the loss of a part of him. How could Kid be dead? What could he do to change things? But Heyes knew he couldn’t change anything. And that was breaking him apart.
He gathered his belongings, slipping out the door and to the stables. He quickly saddled his horse, and heading out the door turned towards the doctor’s office. Tying his horse to a tree out back, Heyes slipped up to peer into a window, one which was closed but had the curtains open slightly. It was early afternoon, so light to see was not a problem. His gaze scanned inside the room, taking in every item visible. He was hoping for any indication that Kid was still alive, and formulating a plan to get him out of the house. He wouldn’t let himself think about the other possibility. It was just too much to consider.
Heyes allowed his eyes to scan the room, than scanned it again. This time his eyes settled on the one thing that was out of place in the room. Heyes focused his eyes on the pair of jeans draped over the chair. They were well worn, a soft blue from many days of wear. Dark splotches covered the legs of the jeans. Heyes eyes watered. Was that Kid’s blood? He shook his head to clear his vision. Now was not the time to loose his concentration. Pulling his gaze away from the jeans, Heyes continued to look inside the room. No other items were out of place. No other items reminded him of Kid.
He had to think what to do now. But what? Heyes was so deep in thought that he almost missed the doorknob turning, and was able to duck beneath the window just as the door to the room was opened.
“So is it really Kid Curry?”
“Martha, that is not our concern. Our only concern was trying to save that young man’s life. And unfortunately, I was not able to do that. So the only thing that matters is another person died well before their time.”
Heyes remained where he was, listening to the sound of footsteps inside the room. First one set faded away, as if the person had walked away. Finally Heyes heard the sound of a door closing, and another set of footsteps fading away. Knowing he needed to leave, Heyes quickly glanced into the open window one last time, and gathering his last bit of courage, turned away from the window and retraced his tracks to where his horse waited. Swinging himself onto his horse, Heyes did the hardest thing he ever had to do. He rode away, leaving his partner behind.
Heyes was drawn back to the present with the strange sense of being watched. He quietly eased his gun from its holster, and looked around. All he could see were the trees and brush, hearing the call of a bird, and the lonesome howl of a wolf. Even though he could not see anyone, his senses told him that there was someone out there. He silently eased himself from a sitting position, and keeping his gun trained in front of him, made a slow circle around his camp, looking as well as possible in the darkness for any signs of trouble. Not finding any, he returned to his camp, noting that everything was just the same as when he left. Heyes scanned the area once again before picking up his bedroll and moving it to the fringes of the circle of light. He would have no warmth this night, but the coldness didn’t bother him anymore. The hardness in his heart had already chilled his body to where the elements had no affect. And wrapping himself in his blanket, Heyes turned his back to the fire and settled in for another restless night of sleep.
The stranger eased up as much as he dared to where the young cowboy was sleeping. So far, all attempts to reach the man had been unsuccessful. He didn’t know how much longer he had to try to save the cowboy from what was a certain death. Not from a bullet or disease, or even a prison sentence. Shaking his head, he thought that even twenty years in prison would be better than the future this outlaw was facing, if he couldn’t get things to change, and soon. And stepping back, he once again disappeared into the night.
Heyes was awake without opening his eyes, but not hearing anything unusual, turned over, and pulling the blanket further up over his shoulders, returned to a fitful slumber.
December 24th found Heyes back in the town of Dry Gulch, Colorado. Heyes didn’t know why he was back again so soon. Colorado in winter was not his favorite place to be. But for some reason, he felt the need to be here with Kid for the holiday. Kid Curry loved Christmas, and everything associated with it. Even when there didn’t seem to be any reason to celebrate, Heyes would see Kid smiling like a child at the decorations and hustle and bustle of the season. Must have been a part of Kid that refused to grow up.
Looking around, Heyes could see the signs of the holiday, but otherwise the town had not changed over the past two years. Walking his horse down the center of town, Heyes’ eyes were drawn to the spot where he remembered the gathering crowd. Vivid memories erupted inside him, the sound of the shot, the dark stain in the street, the brown hat walking away, and he had to shake his head to clear them. Stopping outside the hotel, Heyes pondered getting a room. But knowing that it would be too much of a memory, instead decided to grab a quick meal before heading out to say hello to an old friend.
Sitting at a table, Heyes barely noticed the activity inside the restaurant. Couples were sitting together, talking in merry voices. Kids sat with their parents, laughter abounding. Everyone inside the building seemed to be happy, all except for a lone cowboy sitting with his back against the wall. Heyes didn’t know if he would ever find anything to be happy about again.
Pretty waitresses seemed to be in every town, and this one was no exception. The tall blonde girl noticed Heyes when he walked in, and was impressed with his rugged good looks. Picking up the coffee pot, she swayed her way to his table, gaining a few looks from other men in the restaurant. Pouring a cup of coffee for Heyes, she waited to take his order.
Heyes glanced quickly in the young lady’s direction, not seeing beyond the pot she carried in her hands. As she poured his coffee, Heyes was reminded of the many times that Kid had teased him about his coffee, about how bad it tasted. These days Heyes often drank without even tasting. Same as for food. The passage of time had chiseled any traces of excess weight from his already lean frame. His clothes now hung loosely, accentuating the loss of weight. But the thing most notable about him was his face. Hard was the word most would use. Fierce was another. This combination caused most men to cut him a clear path, something he was very grateful for. Most women saw him and decided he needed a good woman to turn his harshness into happiness. And these women were not even rewarded with a smile. Smiling was something he never did these days. And didn’t think he ever would.
Heyes glanced around the room again, and seeing the happiness surrounding him caused him to be even sadder. He quickly swallowed his coffee, and throwing money onto the table, quickly left before the happiness encompassed him, making him feel ever worse. Food was long forgotten in his haste to leave. Stepping up to his horse, he stepped into the stirrup, swinging his leg over and into his saddle. He glanced one more time at the area outside the hotel, than shaking his head as if to clear it, headed his horse back out of town and towards a past he couldn’t outrun.
Heyes pulled his horse to a stop in front of a mound of grass. The passing months had seen the grass grow, than die out with winter’s assault. Heyes easily dismounted, and ground hitching his horse, slowly walked towards the lone headstone, bearing the single name, Kid. Removing his hat, he squatted down, watching himself nervously flipping his hat in his hands. Clearing his throat, he raised his eyes, looking at the name on the headstone.
“Hi Kid. Sorry, I haven’t been around for a while, but some things are just so hard….” Hearing his own voice break, Heyes halted, swallowing hard.
“I know how much you like this time of year, and I just, I don’t know, couldn’t let the season pass with you here alone.”
Heyes broke his gaze with the stone, looking away towards the skyline, tears glistening on his cheeks. The weather was cold enough to freeze them where they fell, a silent testament of the depth of feelings which still existed between this pair of friends. How unfair it all seemed to Heyes. That Kid was gone, and there was nothing that he could do. Pulling his look back, he continued.
“I hope you found the happiness we had both looked for for so long. I know that you are in a better place, but that just doesn’t help down here. I miss you so much Kid. And I wanted to let you know….”
Tears continued down Heyes’ face, stinging his cheeks.
“I am so sorry for what I did, or rather didn’t do. I didn’t keep you safe, and for that I will be forever to blame. I’m sorry, and I hope that someday you can forgive me.”
Heyes quickly stood, the stress of being here and the guilt he was feeling starting to close in on him, strangling his chest with an invisible band. Pivoting, he retraced his steps to his horse. He mounted and started to rein away, when he brought himself to a halt. Walking his horse as closely as possible to the stone, he looked on the headstone for a final time.
“I never really told you how I felt about you. I guess some things you feel stupid about saying, until it is too late to do so. Kid, you were the brother I never had. And the only friend that I could ever trust. And I miss you so very much. I’m sorry I never told you that earlier, now it is too late. I guess I have really messed up for both of us. I’m sorry.”
And he reined his horse, riding to put as many miles as possible between himself and the ghost which haunted him daily, his own inability to protect his best friend.
Seasons came and went, and for Heyes the memories continued, never lessening. If possible, he was feeling more guilt as each day passed. He often remembered the times he had shared with Kid. The days with the Devil’s Hole Gang, the days trying to get their amnesty. And the talks they had about what to do after it came through. Now, it was all for naught.
Heyes slowly rode down the dirt path, not knowing where he was going, only knowing he needed to get somewhere. He had stopped sending telegrams to Lom, since it just didn’t seem to matter any longer. He thought about going to Devil’s Hole, but slowly shaking his head, decided against that as well. He didn’t want to bring death to Kyle and Wheat, and since death seemed to follow him, didn’t want to take the chance.
Heyes slowed coming around the bend in the road, as he noticed a wagon and team pulled over to the side of the road. The wagon was empty, except for a canvas tarp. One wheel was at an awkward angle, indicating a broken axle. Heyes pondered the situation, but seeing no threat, decided to ride on down the road. Nearing the wagon, he saw a hat sitting on the seat, but no owner could be seen.
Heyes pulled his horse to a halt, eyes scanning all directions for signs of the driver of the team. The two horses hitched to the wagon seemed content to stand where they were. Heyes took in the condition of the pair, noting that neither looked abused or lathered, as if overworked from pulling the wagon. In fact, both horses looked well fed and well cared for. That in itself made Heyes wonder why their owner would leave them here unattended. But he guessed the reason was none of his business.
Heyes had started to ride past when a motion from the side of the road caught his attention. Easing the leather throng off his gun, Heyes slowly pivoted his horse towards that direction. He sat there, waiting. But for what he had no idea.
Heyes watched as a lone figure emerged from the trees, one he had seen several times before. One that seemed to be following him. Shaking his head, he waited for the man to come closer to his horse, retaining his hand on his pistol.
The young man walked towards Heyes’ horse, no sign of fear on his face. He stopped within a few feet of Heyes, and waited.
Heyes looked hard in the eyes of the young man he had first seen at the grave. Once again, he saw no fear in his eyes. Not seeing any signs of weapons, Heyes moved his hand to rest on his thigh, leaning forward slightly.
“Who are you? What is it you want? Why do you keep following me?”
The man crossed his hands in front of him and smiling slightly, replied.
“My name is James Jackson. I told you. I am here to try to help you.”
Heyes shook his head. “Yeah, you keep saying that. But I told you, I don’t need any help.”
The man nodded. “So you say. But the pain you feel is growing with each passing day, and until you learn to deal with it, it will continue to eat away at you until it is too late to recover from it.”
“Just how do you know so much about me?” Heyes asked, shaking his head.
“Let’s just say, I have connections. I get informed of what I need to know when I need to know it. And now they are telling me that you are close to the breaking point, and all for something you asked for.”
Heyes frowned hard into the eyes of the man.
“Asked for? What did I ask for?”
“You wondered if you would be better riding alone. And now you are. It’s just that, well, things weren’t suppose to turn out like this.”
“What do you mean?”
The young man shook his head, looking towards the ground. “I’m not sure. Something I am remembering, but can’t quite grasp. But I don’t think you were meant to be alone this long.”
Heyes shook his head, frowning. “You are not making any sense.”
The young man raised his gaze to meet Heyes’ eyes. “Some day soon, it will all make sense to you. But for now, all I want to do is to try to help you. But you have to let me.”
“Well then, you should leave, cause I don’t want any help from you.
Heyes broke his gaze with the man, slowly shaking his head. He stared towards the trees trying to gather his thoughts. When he turned back, the man was gone. Heyes looked in all directions, but could not see the young man. And with no understanding at all, turned his horse and continued down the road.
Lom sat at his desk, cup of coffee growing cold in front of him. He was watching the young cowboy pace back and forth in his office, wearing a hole in the floor.
“Kid, would you please sit down? I don’t want to have to rebuild that floor just yet, and at the rate you are going, I will soon have to do just that.”
Kid Curry stopped his pacing to turn towards his friend. Not seeing any anger in his face, he pulled a chair from along the wall, seating himself in front of the desk.
“But what am I going to do? I have not been able to find him in all these months. It is like he fell off the face of the earth.”
Lom reached out to hold his coffee cup. “Have you been back to the Hole?”
Curry nodded his head, letting his head relax backwards as he talked. “Yeah, but the boys haven’t seen nor heard anything outta him. No one has.”
Curry let his head fall forward, making eye contact with Lom. “You?”
Lom shook his head. “Nah, all the feelers I have put out have come back empty. No one has spotted anyone even looking like him. Did you get ahold of McCreedy? Or Soapy?”
Curry raised his left hand to rub across his eyes. “Yeah, as well as Diamond Jim and Silky. None of them have heard from Heyes. And if he wouldn’t go to any of them, I just don’t know where else he would go.”
Lom took a sip of his coffee, frowning at the now cold brew. Raising, he walked to the pot belly stove, replenishing his supply. Turning towards Curry, Lom lifted the pot in his direction, but Kid waved it away. Lom sat the pot back down on the stove and returned to his chair behind the desk.
“And you had no luck in Kingman, where the last telegram came from?”
Curry shook his head. “No. No one even remembered seeing him there. Even the telegraph operator couldn’t remember what he looked like. And we all know how well Heyes can disguise himself when he wants to.”
“So Kid, why do you think he has stayed hidden for so long?”
Curry leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, covering his face with his hands. After a few minutes, he lifted his face to look at Lom.
“The only reason I can think of is he thinks I am dead, and that he is responsible.”
Lom nodded his head. “Why would he think that?”
Curry shook his head. “I don’t remember a lot of that day. But I do remember that Heyes tried to stop me from going out the door. I remember walking out into the sunshine and then someone ran into me, causing me to hit my head on the horse trough. Next thing I remember, I woke up at the doctor’s office.”
“But I still don’t understand?”
“Lom, someone was shot and killed that day. Apparently at first they were saying it was me. It took a few hours before the rumors died out, but my bet is that Heyes left that town before finding out that it wasn’t me that died that day.”
“Who was it?”
“I don’t know. Someone named James Jackson. Guess his nickname was Kid.”
“Well, why in tarnation did they shoot him?”
“They say that he looked a little like me. Someone started saying it was me, and well, one thing led to another. They started chasing him, he ran towards me at the same time someone shot at him. Knocked me down, and out. He never had a chance.”
Lom looked into his cup, searching for any answers. Not finding them, he lifted his eyes towards Kid.
“And I guess he hasn’t bothered to read the newspapers?”
Curry shook his head. “I guess not. He didn’t even bother to read the telegram I sent him. I have been out the Jackson’s grave several times, thinking he might show up there. But so far, nothing.”
“What are you going to do Kid?”
Curry looked at Lom for several minutes, before standing up and walking towards the door. Placing one hand on the doorknob, he looked around at Lom, who remained sitting at his desk.
“I’m gonna’ find him. Somehow. No matter how far I have to ride or for how long. Someday I will find him again.” And opening the door, he stepped outside. He looked up and down the street, hoping for a clue which direction to go. But finding no answer, he walked to the hitching post and, picking up the reins, smoothly mounted his horse. Maybe it was time to head back to Colorado. It was almost the anniversary of his “death” and if he knew Heyes, that is where he would go next. Pivoting his horse, he rode away praying that this time he would find his friend.
Heyes found himself once again kneeling beside a grave. Spring rains had been plentiful, causing the grass to grow in a carpet of green. Wildflowers were everywhere, bringing color to the landscape. Heyes was having trouble believing it had only been two years ago that his life had changed so drastically. Two years ago today he had been responsible for Kid’s death. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Time had not lessened the pain. If anything, it was worse.
Heyes sensed a presence, and looked up to find James standing there. He had long ago learned that he would show up at the strangest place and time, so to find him here, on the anniversary of Kid’s death was not a surprise. Heyes pulled his eyes away, once more looking at the stone.
“What do I have to do to get you to leave me alone?”
“Just talk to me,” James said.
Heyes pulled his eyes away and looked towards James. “About what?”
James held Heyes’ gaze for several seconds before moving his hand to indicate the stone.
Heyes followed James’ hand, and quickly stood, shooking his head. “No. I do not want to talk about him.”
“But you must.”
“Why must I?” Heyes was hurt and angry, the anger showing in his face.
“Because you weren’t responsible for his death.”
Heyes threw up his hands and stepping backwards turned around, looking at the ground in front of him. “But I am.”
James slowly walked around, standing in front of him, waiting.
Heyes slowly raised his eyes, looking into the face of the young man standing in front of him.
“I was there that day. You had nothing to do with his death.”
“You are wrong….what do you mean you were there?”
“Just that. And I know that you had nothing to do with the death of the young man buried beneath that stone.”
Heyes shook his head. The guilt which was present all the time was more pronounced now, gnawing at him where his heart used to be.
“Just go away and leave me alone.”
The young man waited a few more minutes, than looking up to the sky for a few seconds, returned his eyes to make contact with Heyes.
“I will. If you will just listen to me for a few minutes.”
Heyes didn’t understand, but wanting to get rid of this person, nodded his head in agreement.
James slowly walked over to the stone, stopping beside it, placing his hand on the top of the stone.
“I told you I was there that day. But I didn’t tell you the entire story. I am an angel.”
Heyes shook his head and started to turn away, to have his progression halted by a single word. “Please.” Heyes looked towards the young man, and not being exactly sure what to do, stayed where he was.
Seeing Heyes standing there, James continued.
“When I first saw you here, I didn’t know all the details. Only that I was to come to you and to try to lessen your burden. See, the Heavenly Father didn’t want to see you harm yourself, especially for something that you didn’t do. So he gave me some insight into that day, but not all. It was only recently, very recently, that I received a total understanding.”
James walked slowly around Heyes, staying in front of the stone, keeping his eyes turned towards Heyes.
“See, that day you were wondering if you should be alone. Split up from Kid Curry. You thought that might make your life easier.”
“So this was a way of showing me how my life would be alone?”
“Something like that. But even the Heavenly Father never imagined how losing your best friend would affect you. So he sent me to try to help you through things. He gave me what information he thought best, to help me accomplish my task. But today he shared the rest with me, and now I want to share the rest with you.”
Heyes stood looking at the young man, trying to decide if he was going to stay and listen, or ride out now. But Heyes figured he didn’t have anything else to loose, so he raised his hand to indicate that the young man should continue.
James took a deep breath before continuing.
“Your friend walked out of the hotel that day, and into the path of, well me.”
Heyes frowned. “You?”
The young man nodded. “Yep, me. I had come to town earlier in the day. And well, let’s just say that when they started calling me Kid Curry I didn’t mind. Not until they started to chase me, with guns.”
Heyes continued to watch the man, not understanding what he was hearing.
“But you look nothing like Kid.”
James nodded. “Not in this form, but in my previous earthly form I did resemble him somewhat. They even called me Kid as a nickname.”
Heyes reached up to push his hat back on his head. “So just what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that….the deputies started to chase me, and I ran. I was scared. I wasn’t thinking straight, and I just ran. I remember seeing your friend walking into the street.” James gaze turned down towards the ground, transported back to that fateful day, remembering all the details which had been denied to him for so long. He moved his hand up towards his chest.
“I remember feeling a burning in my back, one which traveled all along my body. I remember reaching back, feeling something sticky on my shirt. I stumbled, falling forward.”
James raised his eyes to meet Heyes’. “He was right in front of me. I fell into him, hard, knocking him down. He hit his head on the hitching rack. His eyes were closed. I reached out to try to wake him, grabbing ahold of his pants. But he didn’t answer me. I didn’t want to die looking at the dirt, so I managed to turn myself over. The sun looked so pretty, before everything got dark.”
Heyes felt himself grow numb. “So let me get this straight. You are dead.”
“And Jed is alive?”
“As far as I know.”
Heyes pointed towards the stone. “Who is buried there?”
James turned to gaze at the stone. “I am.”
Heyes covered his face with his hands. “I just don’t understand. Was this a way of punishing me for what I had done?”
“God doesn’t punish. He allows us free will. But sometimes, he gives us the chance to see things in a different light. You were so convinced that apart was a better life. He was going to give you a chance to see what that would be like.”
Heyes dropped his hands from his face.“Why would He do that?”
James walked towards where Heyes was standing. “Because He has greatness planned for you. But a greatness which depends on your partnership. And you were so close to breaking up that partnership. You had been fighting so much, and that wasn’t getting any better. So He thought it best to give you a glimpse of a life without Kid Curry.”
“So what went wrong?”
“Even God didn’t understand completely how important he was to you. And with free will and all,” James shrugged his shoulders, tipping his head to the side.
“None of this makes any sense to me!” Heyes raised his voice.
James reached out to place his hand on Heyes’ shoulder. “Listen to me. I died that day, not your friend.”
“So how did you, you know, get sent to me?”
James smiled. “I never really lived a bad life, so after I died, I was able to be rejoined with my family in Heaven. When God needed me to help him out, how could I refuse?”
“And you didn’t know this all along?”
“No. God allows you to remember what He wants you to. That saves you from remembering the bad that you did in your life, and allows you to celebrate all the good. My short gunman life wasn’t good, so He erased that for me. Today He allowed me to remember it all.”
Heyes started towards his horse.
Heyes halted, turning once again towards James.
“You will find him, and soon. But I want you to remember that life isn’t always easy. But it will always be easier when you have someone here on earth to be with you. And remember that God is always there for you.”
“Is there anything that you are getting out of this?”
James smiled. “Yes.”
James stepped back slightly. “You will see, and soon.”
Heyes watched the young man. “Look, I am sorry that you died. And am sorry that you have been chasing after me for all these months. But now I have to go find my partner.”
James was shaking his head. “No you don’t.”
Heyes frowned, “What do you me I don’t?”
James smiled and pointed up over Heyes’ shoulder. And he said only one word, “Look.”
Heyes rotated his head over his left shoulder and froze at the sight which was before him. Coming down the hill towards the grave was a blonde headed man wearing a brown hat.
Heyes spun around and ran to meet the oncoming rider, who jumped from his horse before it came to a halt. James watched as the cowboys hugged each other with all they were worth.
Heyes pushed away from Kid, keeping his hands on Kid’s shoulder. “Where have you been?”
“Lookin’ for you Heyes. But I always seemed to be just behind you, when I could find you at all.”
“You been looking for me Kid?”
Curry nodded, “Yep. Every since I woke up in the doctor’s office.”
Heyes released his hold on Curry, confident now that he was not a dream and was not going to disappear.
“I just don’t understand what happened.”
“Well, Heyes, it was like this. I was walking towards the saloon when I heard a shot. I had seen this young cowboy headed towards me, and heard yelling. At the same time as I heard the shot, this young man falls totally into me, knocking me down. I hit my head on the hitching post, out slicker than a whistle. Next thing I know, I’m wakin’ up in the doctor’s office. Its night outside, and my pants are gone. Took me a little while to find them.”
Heyes smiled at the image of Kid looking for his pants, the ones that he had last seen with blood on them. Heyes turned to look towards James, some of the story starting to make sense now.
Kid waited until Heyes turned back around towards him before continuing his story.
“Well, once I found my pants, I walked into the living room. I couldn’t find my hat. The doctor was there, and after examining me again, told me to be careful. He also had no idea where my hat was. I wandered over to the saloon, and wouldn’t ya know it, there was my hat, hanging above the bar. Well, people were all talkin’ and makin’ noise. But I understood the meaning behind their words. I finally got the barkeep convinced that the hat was mine, and headed back to the hotel. But you had already gone.”
Heyes shook his head. “I thought you were dead Kid. They all kept saying it, and I couldn’t find you. And I saw your pants covered with blood. I didn’t know what else to do, so I left.”
“Heyes, I know that. I tried to find you. I even sent you a telegram once, but you didn’t get the answer.”
“Kid, I have been so miserable these last two years.”
“I know it Heyes. All I could think of was finding you, letting you know I was alive. But nothing we seemed to do worked.”
Heyes frowned. “We?”
Kid nodded. “Yeah, me and Lom.”
“Well, I had someone trying to help me understand, but nothing seemed to matter, so I pushed him away. Guess I should have listened.”
“Well, Heyes, if I had listened, none of this would have happened.”
Heyes smiled, “Guess we both learned a lesson.”
“Oh, what was yours?”
“That life is better NOT on your own.”
“And how did you come to that conclusion?”
“With a little help. Come on. There is someone I want you to meet.” And Heyes turned back towards the grave, leaving Curry to follow him.
Curry stood quietly looking at the marker which bore the single name. How it must have hurt Heyes to look at it, thinking that he was buried there. Kid reached out and placed one hand on Heyes’ shoulder, words passing between the friends without anything being spoken.
Heyes turned towards Kid. “I want you to meet someone.” And indicated the direction where James stood.
Curry turned in the direction that Heyes pointed, surprised to find someone standing there. Funny, he had not noticed anyone there when he rode up.
“Kid, this is James Jackson.”
Curry started to extend a hand, when he halted, and turning towards Heyes asked, “Did you say James Jackson?”
“Heyes, that can’t be. Jackson is dead. He was killed that day in Dry Gulch.”
Heyes nodded. “I know that.”
“Heyes, you are starting to scare me. How can that be?”
“Let’s just say, he had some help from a higher being.” And Heyes pointed heavenly. Curry turned his head towards the heavens, understanding dawning on him. He looked again at Heyes, before turning his gaze towards James, who smiled and nodded. Returning his look towards Heyes, Curry shook his head. All Heyes could do was smile and nod.
Heyes looked towards James. “What will you do now?”
James smiled. “Oh don’t worry about me. I have tons of family to see. And some good memories to remember. The nice thing is I have a long time to remember them. And now you have time to make new ones for yourself. I hope that you will do that.”
Heyes stepped over to James and extended his hand. “That my friend, I will do. And thank you.”
“I am just glad that I was able to help. There is a lot of good in your future, now that your past is finally behind you. Live it to the fullest, and I will see you again some day.”
Heyes shook hands with James, finally feeling as if the weight of the world was lifted from his shoulders. Where coldness had once been, happiness returned. Where bitterness had resided, now lived the promise of a bright future. And the knowledge that all the tomorrows would be better now that he was rejoined with Kid. And never again would he wonder if he would be better alone. He had that answer, absolutely not!
Heyes turned back towards Kid, retracing his steps to once again stand beside his partner.
“Well, think we should go celebrate your not being dead?’
“That sounds good. And maybe, while you are at it, you can explain some of this to me?”
Slapping Curry on the back, Heyes laughed. “I’ll try Kid, I’ll try.”
Heyes turned towards the horses and started in that direction, with Curry walking along beside him. Heyes got the feeling that he needed to turn back around. For what, he didn’t know. But knowing to follow his instincts, he stopped, and pivoting, turned back around towards the grave. He wasn’t surprised to find that James was no longer standing there, he had stopped being surprised at that young man’s comings and goings. But when he looked towards the grave, where he had spent many hours, he saw something which did surprise him. Curry had stopped and turned around to watch Heyes. Kid could not see James, looking where they had left him standing. He turned towards Heyes to ask him about that when he saw Heyes nodding towards the grave. Kid turned to look in that direction.
A beam of bright light was shining down from the heavens to illuminate the marker. Where it had once said only Kid, now the writing had changed.
Both men stood there for a few minutes, each saying a prayer and word of thanks. Heyes now knew what James was getting out of this, a rightful marking of his resting place. The pair of outlaws looked at each other before as one they turned around and walked towards their horses. Mounting, each knew that this was the beginning of a new phase in their friendship, one that neither of them would ever turn from again.
Heyes stopped before mounting his horse to turn towards Kid.
“Kid, I just want to let you know, that…”
Each man looked at the other, before breaking out into smiles. No matter what happened next, each knew that they were better together, forever.
And the riders turned their horses to the west, ready for the next big adventure.