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 Just What They Needed

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riders57

riders57

Posts : 554
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62

Just What They Needed Empty
PostSubject: Just What They Needed   Just What They Needed EmptyFri Aug 30, 2013 1:13 pm

Just What They Needed


Heyes lay on his bunk, engrossed in the book he was reading, ignoring the clamor throughout the bunkhouse.  While the gang had successfully stolen a payroll from a train ten days previously, they had lost two men in the process.  Big Jim had a strict rule about laying low for a time after a robbery to avoid any posses, and with their losses they were laying low longer than usual.  The men, however, were eager to get to town to spend the money they had taken, so cabin fever was running high, and the bunkhouse was even louder than normal.

Heyes had joined Big Jim about eight months earlier, and had to admit Big Jim seemed to run a gang better than the others he had experienced in his short life, but still these were not men who lived calm, sedate lives and their leisure time reflected this.  Over the last year or two, he’d become accustomed to the noise of gangs and did his best to fit in.  He was younger than the others and smarter – both traits made it difficult at times.  Generally he managed to get along with most anyone, but none of the men were what he would call a friend, and sometimes he was so lonely it hurt.

The door to the bunkhouse swung open and Big Jim strode in.  The clamor died down as the gang members waited to see what Big Jim had to say.  Heyes sat up.

“Men, enough time has passed since our last job, it’s time to go to town.”  Big Jim proclaimed.  Hurrahs arose after this announcement.  “Alright, alright, enough.  You men clear out of here; I need to talk to Wheat and Hannibal.”  He watched them leave, then closed the door and turned to face Wheat and Heyes.    

“Wheat, Hannibal, I need your assistance when we get to town,” Big Jim began.  Wheat puffed up at the knowledge that Big Jim still relied on him, even if he did have to share the relationship with that… with Heyes.  Heyes looked from Big Jim to Wheat, waiting to hear what Big Jim wanted.  “As you know we are short men at the moment, so we need to keep an eye out for likely candidates.”

“Well shoot, Jim, any of the boys can help with that,” said Wheat visibly deflated.

“Yes, normally,” replied Big Jim impatiently.  “But this time I’m looking for something special -- a gunnie.  Now hold on…” he stated, holding up a hand as the two appeared to be about to speak.  “You know I don’t hold with shooting during a job, just riles people up against us, but we lost two good men on that last train job when the guards started firing on us.  If we had us a gunnie who could hold his own, the guards wouldn’t dare fire.  But we need to be careful; most of those men are too hot to handle, and I want one that will listen to directions and not shoot first – and definitely not shoot to kill.”

“How we gonna find someone like that?” asked Wheat.

Heyes still said nothing, but possibilities began flickering in his brain as he listened.

“That’s why I’m raising it with you before we get to town.”  Big Jim looked around clearly ready to change the subject.  His eyes lighted on the book on the bed beside Heyes.  “Hannibal, you’re reading dime novels now?  Beneath you, isn’t it?”  He picked up the book, as Heyes made a grab for it.

Wheat took the book from Big Jim and smirked, glad to have something to torment Heyes about.  “Kid Curry and the Valley of Vengeance,” he read aloud, looking at it.  It was a paperback, illustrated with a drawing of a long-haired, handsome giant holding a scantily clad saloon girl in one arm while brandishing a gun at a horde of desperados.  “Hoowee, boy, this what you’re spending your time reading?  And here we all thought you was so smart an’ all.”  

Heyes turned red and glared, reaching for the book.

Big Jim gave a short laugh.  “Kid Curry, huh.  I’ve heard of him; if he’s anything like his reputation, maybe that’s who we should be looking for.”

“He’s a cold-blooded killer,” said Wheat.

“No he ain’t!” shouted Heyes.

Big Jim looked at the two of them.  “You two know him or you just fighting over nothing, as usual?”

Wheat had not taken kindly to Heyes’s arrival, or to the growing reliance Big Jim placed on him, consulting Heyes when developing his plans and generally watching over him.  Big Jim, moreover, did little to reduce the tension between them.  While he appreciated the usefulness of Heyes’s genius, he considered Heyes to be overly cocky, and felt that the rivalry between the two men would keep either from attempting to take over leadership of the gang successfully – at least as long as Big Jim was around.

“I met him once; don’t look much like that cover,” Wheat said.  

“When?” both Big Jim and Heyes asked together.  

Wheat looked a little embarrassed.  “Back about five, six months ago, in Texas.”  Big Jim and Heyes knew this must have been during the period when Wheat had left the gang, his nose out of joint because Big Jim had brought in Heyes and was listening to “that upstart” over Wheat who had been second-in-command.  Wheat had returned, but he hadn’t spoken much about his time away.

“I was riding from a town -- I’d had a bit of trouble there.”  He coughed.  “Anyway, I came upon a wagon being attacked by raiders.  As they came into sight, I could see a couple of men down, the father and son I learned later.  I watched this blond boy shooting it out with the raiders and saw him down two of them and injure another.  The raiders pulled out and took off.”  Wheat paused for a moment.  “I was too far away to help, but I came up after.”  Heyes looked at him, knowing that Wheat had probably held back until he saw the danger was over; Wheat wasn’t one to risk his skin over strangers.

“Well dang if that kid didn’t swing his gun on me, till I convinced him I wasn’t one of the raiders.  He was young, didn’t look more’n’ fifteen.”  

“He’s seventeen, no just turned eighteen,” Heyes blurted out, then stopped short.  Surprised, the other two looked at him, then, eyebrows raised, Big Jim indicated to Wheat to continue his story.

“As I said the father and son were dead.  So were two of the raiders – shot by this kid.   The woman was hysterical, weeping and wailing.  This boy just looked real mad, eyes like chips of ice, pulled her up and told her to get together what she could take on a horse; they were getting out of there.  She wanted to bury her family.  Coldest voice I ever heard -- that boy telling her that burying them wouldn’t make no difference, they’d be just as dead, and we had to go, the raiders would be back in bigger numbers, and he didn’t intend to stick around so she could either come with him to a town where she’d be safe or he’d shoot her on the spot, ‘cause that would be kinder than what the raiders would do to her when they came back.”  

Wheat shook his head.  “What he said was true, but it was cold, inhuman even.  Didn’t give her no time to grieve, just grabbed her and threw her up on the saddle of one of the dead men’s horses.  Then he looked at me and asked me did I have anything to say, or was I planning to hold off the raiders all by myself.  I decided to go with them – to see what I could do to comfort that poor woman and maybe protect her from this kid.  In the ride to town, I learned he was Kid Curry.  Well when we got to a town, he stopped at the outskirts, said it wasn’t safe for him in that town but that there was a railhead there and the woman could take a train back east where she’d come from.  Then he left.”  Wheat stared at the far wall, remembering. “That boy was cold and grim the whole way, barely spoke the entire time and no comfort at all to this woman -- seemed real angry with her and her family for traveling alone like that.  Course it was pretty stupid; just the sort of thing greenhorns do, likely to get them killed, and it did.  But I’m telling you, that boy is a killer.  We don’t want him in the gang.”

Big Jim thought for a moment, then turned to Heyes.  “Hannibal, you said he was seventeen or eighteen, not fifteen; how would you know that?  And why don’t you think he’s a killer like Wheat says?”

Heyes thought hard, considering his words before answering.  “We rode together when we were kids, first out on our own; he’s a couple of years younger’n me.  He was good with a gun even then, but he didn’t have a reputation.  We tried droving and hated it.  So we traveled together making money as best we could; he’d win some in shooting contests and I’d make some playing poker.  He’s pretty good at poker too – he can read a man better than anyone I’ve ever met.  But eventually we parted ways.  I joined the Plummer gang, then here, and I haven’t heard from him since.  The Kid Curry I know is no killer.  I don’t believe he’s changed that much.  He may have killed, but he’s no killer.  From what Wheat says, he was alone and trying to protect a family against a number of armed men – that don’t sound like a stone-cold killer to me.  Maybe he sounded angry because he was upset with the killing.”

“Why did you separate?”  

“I don’t know; we were teenagers, children really; these things happen.”

Big Jim turned at the door.  “It doesn’t matter, not likely to see him around and it doesn’t sound like someone we want to go looking for.  Keep an eye out in town next week and let me know if you see any candidates for the gang.”  He left with a brief wave of his hand, without looking at them again.  

Wheat looked at Heyes then stalked out.  

Heyes sighed sadly and lay back on his bed with his hands behind his head, remembering Kid Curry, worrying about his anger – or was it remorse and pain over the past -- the day Wheat met him, and wondering what Wheat would do if he found out they were cousins.

~~~oOo~~~

The gang rode in to Harlan’s Folly then split to spend their money in their own ways.  Harlan’s Folly was a “safe” town, making its money catering to the various gangs and outlaws in the area.  Bounty hunters knew to avoid the town; they weren’t welcome.  It could be downright dangerous for them and not just from the outlaws; the townsfolk didn’t take kindly to them, either.  Their presence was bad for business.  It was a rowdy town with a plentiful supply of gambling halls, brothels, and saloons.  The gang loved it – here they could kick back, relax, and take care of their bodily needs.

Most of the gang headed straight for the sporting houses.  Big Jim, Wheat, and Heyes checked in to one of the nicer hotels.  Wheat offered to stand Big Jim to a steak dinner, clearly not including Heyes in the invitation.  Heyes shrugged it off; he wanted time by himself anyhow.  After he bathed and changed, he headed out to find a good game of poker away from any of the gang members.

Heyes had been playing for several hours and was winning.  At first he’d played it safe, winning but not so much that the others would resent it.  As he got involved in the game though, he forgot to be cautious.  One man called Heyes a cheat, but when no one else at the table backed him, he swept up his remaining funds and left to go drown his sorrows at the bar.  Heyes bought the table a round and settled back into the game, though he was more cautious now and made sure to lose occasionally.

Finally, Heyes stood up to take a break.  As he headed to the door, the man who had called him a cheat grabbed his arm and swung him around.  “Think you’re so smart do you?” he growled.  “Well me and my friends have ways of dealing with cheats like you.”  With that three men joined him and helped hustle Heyes out the door and down the street to a convenient alley.

A young man coming from the upstairs rooms of the gambling hall paused at the top of the steps, watching the men exit.  His eyes narrowed, then with a quiet nod at the girl he’d been visiting and a final kiss, he came down the stairs.  At the bar, he stopped for a moment, thought, then paid his tab and exited turning the same way as the men he had watched leave.

Heyes knew he was in trouble; he looked desperately around for someone from the gang, but saw no one.  “Look, I wasn’t cheating; I was just lucky, but tell you what, I’ll give you back the fifty dollars you lost, and we’re even.”

“No, we’re not even till we teach you not to try to play a man’s game, boy.”  With that, two of the men held Heyes while the other two started swinging at him.  Heyes was getting weaker, not sure how much more he could endure, when he heard a voice, “Four on one don’t seem like very good odds to me.  Why don’t we even it up some?”

Heyes tried to see who had spoken but couldn’t focus through the blood running in his eyes.  A form stood at the end of the alley, looking in at the five of them.  The voice was familiar, but in his groggy state Heyes couldn’t tell which member of the gang it was.  

The men holding him laughed.  “Well look’a here, we got us another boy don’t know to mind his own business and not mess with men.  Four to two don’t seem like much better odds to me boy, so get going.”

“I count the odds differently.  There’s the two of us and my six bullets against the four of you.  NOW let him go and get out of here.”  

The four men looked at the interloper and dropped Heyes, who sank to the ground.  They laughed and started to pull their guns when, suddenly, two shots rang out and two of them dropped their guns, their hands stinging, while the other two found themselves staring into the business end of the same pistol before they could even draw.  

Heyes, who had regained his breath and his gun, stood up.  “You heard the man, leave, and maybe we’ll let you live.  Leave the guns where they are,” he added as the men bent to retrieve their weapons.  All four looked at the boys and hastened out of the alley.

Just then, Wheat and Big Jim, walked up.  They had caught the end of the confrontation and now looked at the two boys, who were staring at each other, grinning with delight, Heyes with blood running down his face, a split lip, and rapidly blackening eye.  Big Jim looked at Wheat – “He who I think he is?”

“Yeah, that’s Kid Curry.”

Big Jim looked him over.  Kid Curry looked back calmly, waiting to see what would happen next.  “Hannibal, get cleaned up, then you and Mr. Curry can join us at the Golconda Saloon,” Big Jim ordered.

“Come on, Heyes, you never could keep out of trouble.  You gotta stop winnin’ so much, it’s plumb annoyin’ to folks,” the Kid commented, swinging Heyes’s arm over his shoulder and helping him walk.  

“You gotta work on your timing.  You couldn’t have come a minute or two earlier?”  Heyes growled then he grinned painfully.  “Sure is good to see you, Kid.”

~~~oOo~~~

The Kid sat on the bed, watching Heyes clean up, noting how he’d changed.  Heyes was a boy no more.  He had filled out some, though still lean, and hardened.  

“… so, after Plummer disappeared, I headed out and eventually met Big Jim.  He’s a good leader and a friend.”  Heyes had been talking non-stop since they entered the room.  There was so much he wanted to say to the Kid, but somehow couldn’t, so he talked about anything, everything, to delay the inevitable.  Finally, he straightened up and looked at the Kid.  

The Kid still looked young, but he’d changed too.   He was taller, about as tall as Heyes now, but it was his eyes that showed that he, too, had done a lot of growing up since Heyes had last seen him.  If even half the stories Heyes’d heard were true … but was Kid a killer now?  Heyes didn’t think so; he hadn’t hurt any of the men beating Heyes.  Of course, that could’ve been because he was still mad at Heyes.  He had to find out.

“Kid, I’ve sure missed you.  I don’t remember why we split, but if it was something I did, I’m sorry.”

The Kid stood and leaned against the wall.  “Heyes, I missed you too.  I ran into your buddy there, Wheat, a while back...”

“He’s not exactly my buddy.”  

The Kid smiled.  “Yeah, he made that real clear while we were ridin’.  Anyway, through Wheat I learned you were ridin’ for Devil’s Hole, so I worked my way up here to see how you were doin’.”

“I’m doing great, Kid.”  

“I could see that.”  

“No really, that was, that was … an exception.”  Heyes couldn’t stop grinning, even though it hurt.  Then he sobered and looked at the Kid.  “Guess we should go join Big Jim and Wheat.  You’ll like Jim, I think.  Big Jim’s a good leader, and he listens to me.”  He drew a deep breath, “we’re getting quite the name up here.  I got a three hundred dollar price on my head.  Guess that’s nothing to be proud of but… Look Big Jim is looking for someone special, maybe you could... That is if you want to?  If you don’t, I understand.”  He peered at the Kid, trying to gauge what he was thinking, but the Kid had always had a good poker face and was using it with Heyes now.

The Kid watched Heyes for a moment, considering, then exhaled slowly.  “What’s he looking for Heyes?  I don’t hire out my gun.”

“We lost some men in the last job, and Big Jim thinks if we had someone who was good with a gun and the guards knew it, we wouldn’t have problems with them anymore.  But Big Jim don’t hold with killing, so he don’t want a killer.”  Heyes paused and glanced sideways at Kid.

“You wonderin’ if I’m a killer?” the Kid asked sadly.

“No!  Honest, I’m not.  It’s just, Wheat told us how you met, said he watched you kill two men and leave them and the others lying there.  And there’s all those stories about you.”  He grinned for a moment.  “I can’t believe there’s a dime novel about you.”  Then he sobered.  “Anyway, I said you weren’t a killer, but I know things’ve been hard for you.  If you don’t want to try, I understand.  If you’d rather, I’ll leave with you instead.”  He paused a moment and looked away, not meeting Kid’s eyes.  “I don’t want to lose you again, Jed.”

“Heyes…” the Kid began, stopped, and started again.  “Heyes, I have killed.  You know those two weren’t the first, probably won’t be the last.  I’ve never started it, though.   If I can, I avoid shootin’, and I avoid killin’ when I have to shoot, but there were six of them and just me.  I didn’t have time to be that precise. As to leavin’ them lyin’ there, we didn’t have time to bury them.  I’ve learned to do what has to be done and move on.  I don’t think about it.”  

Heyes could tell that last sentence was a lie.

“Anyway, yeah I’d consider joinin’ if no one expects me to kill.  I…”  He looked away from Heyes.  “I don’t want to be apart anymore either, Heyes.”

“Aw, Kid,” Heyes began.  “Kid, let’s go talk to Big Jim and Wheat.  At least it’s a start.”

~~~oOo~~~

As they walked to the Golconda Saloon, Heyes tried to tell the Kid what the gang was like.

“… so that’s most of them.  I get along fine with them, though they’re a rowdy bunch, but it just ain’t the same.  Wheat, now, well Wheat was second-in-command when I joined.  He still is, more or less.”

The Kid looked at Heyes and raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, well -- I’m good at this, Kid.  You know me, I can plan anything, and I know locks.  I can open some safes without dynamite -- you remember, right?  Anyway, Big Jim has been listening to my plans more and more, and Wheat ain’t too happy about it.  But really Wheat’s a good guy, and he don’t give me too hard a time.  Now, I think you scared him when he met you, and maybe we can use that.”  

He stopped and turned to face the Kid.  “Are you really okay with joining a gang?  I know it’s not the way it used to be, not what we thought we’d be doing, but I eat regular now and have good clothes and money and a bed and a roof.  It’s a lot better now, and with you here by my side again, who knows how far we could go.”

“Yeah, I’m okay with the outlaw life.  I haven’t exactly been livin’ pure since we were apart, though I don’t have a price on my head.”  The Kid started walking again and grinned.  “I’ve got a dime novel instead.  I like the easy money too – sure is good to eat regular again - and I’m not surprised you’re good at it.  I’ve never met anyone like you for schemin’ and connivin’.”

“Well, gee thanks, Kid,” Heyes muttered sarcastically.

“Ya know what I mean, Heyes.”

“Yeah, I do.”

They had reached the Golconda.  They stopped for a moment, looked at each other, and shrugged slightly before heading inside together to convince Big Jim that the Kid was just what the gang needed.
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Tashmina

Tashmina

Posts : 124
Join date : 2013-08-24
Location : Toronto

Just What They Needed Empty
PostSubject: Re: Just What They Needed   Just What They Needed EmptyFri Aug 30, 2013 3:02 pm

Riders57 - I read this story the first time it was out and thought it was such a wonderful study of the dynamics of men playing with such a fluid concept of morality and how they resolve what constitutes going too far.  I am so glad you are posting on this site.  I think your work can really shine here as it deserves to..  I am sorry I didn't comment when I was lurking.  You just don't realize how important that can be to a writer when you start reading everything you can on the internet.
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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

Just What They Needed Empty
PostSubject: Re: Just What They Needed   Just What They Needed EmptyFri Aug 30, 2013 5:10 pm

I remember this story from the other site as well. Enjoyed it then and enjoyed reading it again. Poor old Wheat really did keep having the deck stacked against him. First that up-start of a genius comes into the gang and then his buddy the gunnie! How is a man suppose to get ahead with those kind of odds!?
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thewheatman



Posts : 22
Join date : 2013-09-14
Location : San Jose, CA

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PostSubject: Re: Just What They Needed   Just What They Needed EmptySat Oct 26, 2013 7:24 pm

I really enjoyed your story. I just wish you would have let us in on why they split up. I've read other stories where the boys get back together but I would like a story on just what happened to make them split and what happened to each while they were alone. Maybe you can write one. Anyway I did enjoy this story and I'm glad we got to see the strain between Wheat and Heyes. Keep up the good work.
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