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 Branded Chapter Six

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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Branded Chapter Six   Sat Dec 07, 2013 4:28 pm

Branded
 
Joe stopped outside the hotel room door and quietly removed his boots.  Holding them pinched together in his left hand, he used his other hand to open the door.  He didn’t want to wake Curry clomping around the room.  It was nearly two in the morning and he was sure Jed had been asleep for hours.
 
His long evening of making the rounds had produced nothing but the blisters on his feet and a sour stomach from too much beer and cheap whiskey.  He’d been in nearly every saloon in Cheyenne, and there were a lot of them, but he hadn’t managed to turn up any information on Cole Stockyards.  Not that he was surprised, ten years was a long time ago, and most folks had short memories.  He crept into the darkened room carefully, maneuvering around by the glow of light from under the adjoining door to Heyes’ room.  The man apparently never slept. 
Standing next to his bed, he put the boots by the nightstand and unbuttoned his shirt.  He slipped off his gunbelt and slung it over the bedpost then unbuckled his belt and slid off his pants.  He lifted the covers and sighed gratefully only to jump a mile as the door between the two rooms slammed open and light flooded over his long underwear-clad body.
 
“What the hell?” Joe spun around, his gun in hand.
 
Heyes stood in the doorway, smiling, and holding up a bottle of whiskey.   “Hey, Joe, come on and have a drink with us.  We’ve been waiting on you.”
 
“Until two a.m?”  
 
“Yep.  Wait till you hear what we found out.”  Heyes turned back into the room.
 
What did he mean they’d found out?  He was the one doing the looking.  Joe pulled on his pants and walked into Heyes’ room buttoning his fly.  Jed was lying on the bed smiling.  Spread across the comforter was a disheveled deck of cards and the remains of a meal littered the tray perched on the end table.  “Hey Joe, how’d it go?” said Curry.
 
“It didn’t.  No one’s heard of Cole.  It’s a dead end,” said Joe apologetically.
 
“Now, Joe, don’t go getting all down in the dumps.  Sit yourself down here,” Heyes pulled a chair out from the corner and patted its seat, “and let’s have a drink.”  Joe sat down, bewildered by the happy atmosphere in the room.  He’d expected disappointment and frustration, not this.  A full glass of whiskey was thrust into his hand and he drank without thinking about it.  What was going on?
 
The Kid sat up on the edge of the bed, facing him, and Heyes settled in next to him.  They were both grinning at Joe and he began to feel a familiar tightening in his stomach.  “What have you two been up to while I was out?”
 
“Funny you should ask that, Joe.  We found Cole!” said Heyes, looking like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary.
 
Joe, however, wasn’t smiling and coldly asked, “And how did you manage to do that, Heyes, when you were in the hotel?”
 
Heyes knew Joe wasn’t going to be pleased with them and he hoped to diffuse the situation by a verbal assault.  “Why, we went out for a little walk just to clear our heads and stretch our legs, you know.  Went on up the street past the Cheyenne Club and, wouldn’t you know it, the Wyoming Stock Growers were having a meeting.  Now it occurred to me, those cattle barons would know better than anyone if an outfit was operating in their neck of the woods.  So I insisted that Jed and I go in and ask around.  He didn’t want to go.  No, not at all, being as how you didn’t know we were out walking and might wonder where we’d gotten to, but I talked him into it.”
 
“I’m sure you did.”  He couldn’t be sure that it didn’t happen the way Heyes was saying it did, but his gut was skeptical.  “I’ve heard security is real tight in there.  How’d you get in without an invitation?”
 
“I just told them who we were, and they let us right in,” said Heyes, poker face firmly in place.  He had told them who they were; he’d lied and told them they were Scott Medgar and Monty Northrup, but Joe didn’t need to know that.  “I think they were real curious about meeting us.”
 
Joe’s eyes narrowed.  He was finding this hard to believe, but he hadn’t heard about any skirmishes in the neighborhood so they must’ve gotten in without a fight.  He was pretty sure he was being played, but he couldn’t spot the lie, so he nodded, “Go on.”  He took another big slug of whiskey.
 
Jed grinned even more widely.  He could see that Heyes’ web of half-truths was confusing Joe’s senses and the deputy was trying his damnedest to spot the lies.  Only he couldn’t, because Heyes wasn’t lying; he was massaging the truth.  It pleased Curry to see that his partner hadn’t lost his touch after everything he’d been through.  On one level, Jed knew how wrong it was that they were lying to the law again, but another, smaller, larcenous part of him was thrilled to see they could still pull it off.
 
“We met a fellow, name of Calhoun.  He’s part of the Association, but he agreed to meet us away from the club.  See, he was afraid to talk to us there.  Cole Stockyards is a fake name used by his nephew and another fellow to sell horses in Cheyenne.  Anyways, the two boys got themselves in big trouble with the Association by undercutting the prices and they vamoosed.  That’s why no one’s heard of them.”  Heyes refilled Joe’s now-empty glass.
 
“So they’re gone?” asked Joe.
 
Heyes knew he had him if he was asking questions.  “Not really gone.  The boy, Josh, went into hiding; changed his name to Josh Smith.  Can you believe it?” Heyes paused.
 
“No, Heyes, I can’t believe it,” said Joe flatly.
 
“He’s not kidding, that’s the name the boy goes by now,” said Jed.  Joe leveled a neutral stare at him, before turning his attention back to Heyes.
 
“The boys, Josh and Sid, have a horse-training business in Loveland; Smith’s Ranch.  We’re headed down there in the morning,” said Heyes, holding up three tickets.  “I got us space in a boxcar for the horses.  No need to wander around anymore.  We know where we’re headed.”
 
Joe said nothing, just stared at the two partners for a long while.  There wasn’t anything to be gained by making accusations; there simply wasn’t enough for him to go on.  He stood up.  “All right, we’ll head to Loveland, but I’m going to bed.”  He walked back into the other room, closing the door behind him. 
 
“That went well,” said Jed, standing up and pulling the door open, “Guess I’ll see you in the morning, too.”  Joe had lit the lamp on his end table and was pulling off his pants again.
 
Heyes followed him and stopped in the doorway.  “Joe?”
 
“What Heyes?” asked Joe, feeling tired.
 
“I found your badge lying on the floor earlier.  It’s on the bedstand.”  Turning, Heyes closed the door.
 
Joe spun around towards the end table and nearly stumbled as his pants tangled about his ankles.  There lying at the base of the lamp he’d just lit, was his shiny deputy’s badge.
 
The train ride heading south to Colorado was uneventful other than that it was even more uncomfortable than camping out on the hard ground.  It was summertime and many people were taking advantage of the warmer weather to travel.  The two passenger cars were almost full so the seating arrangements were a bit tight and sleeping was hard to accomplish when everyone was practically elbow to elbow.  For everyone but the Kid that is.

  While Jed pulled his hat over his eyes and snoozed, Joe sat quietly beside him, trying to read his book.  He was constantly getting stuck on the same page though because he still didn't feel right about what had gone on the
night before, but he just couldn't figure out what was wrong with it.  He'd find himself glancing over at Heyes who was sitting at the window seat, across from the Kid and he'd wonder.  What was going on behind those dark,
impenetrable eyes?

  Like many before him, Joe was just beginning to get an idea of the multi-layered  character of the ex-convict.  Far from the intimidation that he used to feel in this man's presence, Joe was often finding him to be irritating, frustrating, and yet demanding of respect all at the same time. Joe knew there was a lie in Heyes' story somewhere, but damned if he could figure out where it was.

  Heyes pulled his eyes away from the scenery and looked over at Joe watching him.  Heyes smiled, his warm eyes dancing and the dimples coming out to play and Joe believed everything he said, even though he had yet to
speak.  The deputy sighed and went back to trying to read his book.

   On the morning of the second day of train travel, everyone had settled into the boringness of it all.  Children cried in frustration while adults yawned and dozed and tried the pass the time as best they could.  Jed read
the local papers that always seemed to be available on board the passenger trains.  Joe  went back to the dime novel hoping to be able to read over what he had tried to read the day before.  Heyes sat and stared out the
window.

  Riding through Wyoming by train always brought with it a hint of anxiety. Even though they were quite a long distance from Laramie and the prison, Heyes would swear that he could smell it in the air; the oppression of that
time and place was constantly in the ever-present wind.  He felt a shiver go through him even though the passenger car was hot and stuffy.

  He shook it off; this was silly.  What was it that Martha had said?  Just send your mind someplace else?  Yeah.  He sighed and shifted position a little as though that subtle act could turn the page in his mind.  He thought of his wife and daughter and his eyes softened while a smile played about his lips.  He missed them terribly and though the challenges of this assignment did keep his mind active and engaged, he was still having to fight down the frustration of being away from them for this long.

  He glanced over at the Kid and thought that it must be even harder for him.  Beth was expecting their second and that in itself would make it hard for Jed to be away from his wife.  Add to that the concern over what had happened with her first pregnancy Heyes could only imagine what his partner was feeling about not being at home with her.  They'd have to get this job done and get Jed home in time, which was part of the reason why Heyes had arranged for them to take the train instead of ride to Loveland.  Hopefully it had been the right choice.

  Three loud whistles sounded from the engine and Heyes frowned.  Jed looked up from the paper and the partners locked eyes.  Joe glanced up from his reading, not too concerned until he saw the looks on the faces of his two companions.

  “Aw no, it can't be,”  Jed complained.  “Not again.  Just how many train robberies are there along this line?”

  Heyes shrugged.  “It can't be that Kid,”  he insisted.  “This is the worst place in the state to stop a train, there's not enough room.”

  “Yeah, but....”

  Another loud and desperate whistle from the engine and then the squealing of the brakes being applied in an emergency.  Everyone was jostled forward. Ladies and children screamed as people grabbed for  handholds.

  “Dammit!  What are they doing?”  Heyes asked no one in particular. “There's not enough room!”

  The steel wheels protested even louder as the engine tried to bring the train to a halt.  The passenger cars shook and rocked on the rails, the glass windows rattled their protest until the vibrations became too much for them and they started to shatter.  Ladies were screaming and somewhere in the confusion a baby was crying.

  A loud crashing exploded from the head of the train as it ploughed into an obstruction on the tracks and the shock wave raced backwards, knocking people off their feet and breaking what was left of the windows.  Everyone tried to protect themselves from flying glass while at the same time holding on to anything for dear life.

  “HANG ON!”  Jed yelled  “SHE'S GONNA DERAIL!”

  The high-pitched screeching of tortured metal set everyone's ears to screaming and then another loud crash as the car hit an immovable object in front of it.  The rear end of the car rose up off the tracks, sending people tumbling down the aisle way, then the whole car lurched forward again and began to tilt.  The second passenger car had come forward and ploughed into the rear of the first one, causing that whole section to lift up off the
tracks and roll over onto its side.

  The joint between the two passenger cars broke which saved the second car and the two freight cars from being pulled off the rails along with the first two cars and the engine.  But that didn't save the first passenger car from pandemonium and everyone was tossed around like peanuts in a jar.

  There was a brief moment of silence as the car held its breath, waiting for the inevitable.  There followed the screeching of metal on metal as the car tilted and gravity grabbed hold of it. The noise became deafening as metal was being torn apart and twisted in obscene shapes, effectively drowning out the sounds of the cries and screams from the people being lost in the pull.   The car crashed onto its side, grinding into the earth and ripping up yards of track as it went over.  Great bellows of dust and dirt and broken glass flew into the air as the car finally came to a shuddering stop and lay on its side like some prehistoric beast gasping out its last breath.
 
  The passengers were all thrown against seats and railings tumbling over one another despite efforts to hang on!  When the car finally came to a rest, all lay where they'd fallen for a moment as they came to the realization that they were still alive.  Mothers started calling for their children, children were crying, and others were moaning from their injuries. Everyone was coughing from the dust in the air.

  Heyes slowly came up to his hands and knees, feeling dizzy and seeing blood on his hands from the flying glass.  He put a hand up to his forehead and felt the sticky wetness there too.  His vision cleared and he looked over to his companions.  Jed was getting himself together as well, but he was also looking dishevelled and dazed.  His nose was bleeding and the side of his face was scraped.

  “Ya' alright?”  Heyes asked him.

  “Yeah,”  Kid answered, then reached over and shook Joe who appeared to be unconscious.  “Hey Joe, wake up.  Joe!”

  Joe groaned and his eyelids began to flutter.  He moved his head and groaned again, then brought a bloodied hand up to assess his forehead.

  “Hey Joe, take it easy,”  Jed cautioned him.  “Don't try to sit up right away.”

  “Yeah, no fooling.”

  Heyes took a look around and shook his head at the mess.  Those who could were on their feet, trying to help those who couldn't.  Passengers from the other car were climbing up on top of the fallen one and began calling down from the broken upper windows.  Efforts were organized to pull everybody out and to assess the injured.

  “What a pack of idiots,”  Heyes grumbled.  “There's nowhere along this section of track where you can lay down a blockade and expect a train to be able to stop in time.”

  “Unless it was their intention to derail her,”  Jed pointed out.

  Heyes groaned and rested his head in his hands.  He had a headache.  Then thoughts of the freight cars and the fate of his horse came to mind and he was instantly hit with a fear.

  “The horses,”  he said as he struggled to his feet.  “We better check on the horses.”

  Jed was helping Joe to sit up but he reached over and grabbed his partner's hand.

  “Wait Heyes,”  he cautioned him.  “You don't know who's out there.  I think we should all stick together.  Let's help these other folks get out just like we're regular passengers.  For once in your life Heyes, try to blend in.”

  Heyes stood and swayed as he considered his options.  Worry over his horse's fate tugged at him, but he could still see the wisdom of what Jed was saying.  Much to Jed's relief, Heyes nodded and leaving him to assist
Joe, he turned to help the other passengers get out of the car.

  It was a mess, that's for sure and Heyes' mouth tightened in anger at the stupidity of some people.  He stood under the broken windows and helped to hand children and women up to the people leaning through the window with hands outreached to grab them.  Children were scared and crying.  Some of them were bloodied, and others screamed in pain from being moved; broken bones making a simple transfer feel like agony.

  Heyes was as careful as could be with the younger or more injured passengers, though his thoughts were back at the freight car, worrying over the fate of the horses.  But he knew he couldn't just walk away and not help
these people; everyone needed to get out.

  Finally Jed came over with a dishevelled looking Joe beside him, wobbly but walking.  Jed put a hand on Heyes' arm and nodded.

  “I'll take over here,”  he said.  “Let me give ya' a leg up and you can go check on the horses.”

  “Yeah okay,”  Heyes was quick to agree.

  Next thing he knew, Kid had his lower leg and was hoisting him up like he was helping him onto a horse.  Heyes looked up and saw hands coming down towards him and he grabbed hold and was pulled up through the open window. He got out of the way and looked around to survey the damage from this vantage point and he cursed under his breath at the pandemonium that stretched out below him.

  Debris was scattered everywhere and on the one side of the tracks, passengers were being herded into a group by some of the outlaws in an effort to keep everyone together.  Many people, old, young and children were laying on the ground cradling their injuries while others knelt beside them trying to bring what comfort they could and worrying that it might not be enough.  An older man was making the rounds and checking on the injured and Heyes assumed that he was a medical man—that was one blessing; that there had actually been a doctor on board.  He just hoped there were no fatalities.  There was no need for people to get killed in a train robbery, not if it had been planned right.

  Heyes shook his head and looked around, towards the back of the train.  He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the second passenger car and the freight car were still upright and on the tracks.  He checked again on the whereabouts of the outlaws, and noted that they were still occupied with corralling the  passengers and the crew.  He quickly climbed down the off side of the car and began to make his way back towards the horses.

  “Hey you!”  came a gruff yell from behind the ex-outlaw as rough hands grabbed him by the shoulders.  “What are you doin' over here?”

  “Well I...”  Heyes started to say innocently but inwardly cursing himself.  How had he missed this one?

  “Get back over there with the rest of the passengers!”  came the order and Heyes felt himself being swung around and shoved in the direction of the other people.  “You wanna get yerself shot?”

  Heyes didn't feel inclined to answer, but he sent the man a scathing look before allowing himself to be herded back to the group.  No point in making a scene now.  The horses were alright and the last thing he wanted to do was draw attention to them.  He returned to helping people walk away from the train and find comfortable places to sit, or lay down while the outlaws went about their business.

  Half an hour later Heyes tracked down Jed and came over to stand by him. Joe was sitting down, holding his head and wishing the pounding would just go away.  Everyone in various stages of injury and confusion were assembled on the ground outside the line of broken cars, waiting for the doctor to
make his way to them.

  Jed shook his head and whistled softly.  “Geez, what a mess,”  he whispered.  “Were ya' able to check on the horses?”

  “No,”  Heyes admitted.  “One of the outlaws stopped me.  But the car they're in is still upright so I think they're okay.”

  “Good.”

  For the first time the passengers were able to view the damage done to the train through the incompetence of the outlaws and everyone seemed to be in a state of disbelief.  The first three vehicles including the engine, the first freight car, and the first passenger car were lying on their sides on the ground at varying angles of disarray.  Smoke was still wisping out from the stack on the engine and spilt water and hot coals were mixing to produce even more steam to help cloud the issue.

  The engineer and the coal-man were standing by the engine, shaking their heads and thanking the rail gods that they were still alive.  The conductor was in an argument with the apparent leader of the outlaw gang.  It would
seem that derailing the train had not been part of the plan and the way the first freight car had ended up on the ground was making it difficult to access it and get to the safe.  Heyes and Jed could overhear bits and pieces of the ensuing argument and simply shook their heads at the stupidity of the whole situation.

  Joe pulled himself to his feet, holding his bandana up to the gash on his forehead but at least he was focused now and his stomach no longer felt like it was going to roll over on him.  All three men discreetly eyed the
ruffians who were holding them up.

  “Do you recognize any of 'em?”  Kid asked his two companions.

  “Nope,”  Heyes answered.  “they're all new to me.”

  “That fella over there, arguing with the conductor is Tom Duncan,”  Joe informed them in a slightly tight voice.  “and the older one keeping an eye on the engineer is Ferguson; if he ever had a Christian name it's been long forgotten.”

  Heyes and Jed looked back at Joe in amazement.

  “How do you know them?”  Heyes asked him.  “I'd heard of the Duncan brothers but I've never seen either of them before.”

  Joe looked insulted.  “I am a lawman you know—that is how I make my living.”

  Both men cringed.

  “Geez Joe, keep it down,”  Jed warned him.  “that's somethin' these fellas don't need ta'...”

  “Joe!”  Heyes interrupted in a loud whisper.  “What the hell are you wearing your badge for?”

  “What...?”

  “Take it off!”  Heyes ordered him, “Hide it!”

  “Where?”

  Heyes shrugged.  “I donno—anywhere.  In your boot!”

  Both ex-outlaws glanced over towards the current outlaws and shifted so that they stood between them and the deputy.  Joe quickly removed his badge and slid it down into his boot, then stood back up and looked around.  Most of the other passengers were too wrapped up in their own concerns to notice what he had done and he breathed a sigh of relief.  All they'd need right now is for some curious youngster to give them all away.

  Things were starting to happen over by the first freight car and then Jed stiffened just a bit.  “Hey,” he whispered with a nod towards the group of men.  “isn't that Kyle?”

  Heyes followed the Kid's gesture.  “It sure is,”  he confirmed and started looking around.  “so that must mean that Wheat's around here somewhere.  I sure hope they're here officially and didn't just decide to join up.  Two bad things are going to happen if they've joined up with this band for  real.”

  Joe had yet to learn how to recognize a set up when he heard it.  “What's that?”  he asked.

  “First; they're gonna give us away,”  Heyes answered.  “and second; I'm gonna kill 'em.”

  As they watched Kyle climbed onto the freight car and was instantly joined up there by another much younger man.  Heyes sucked his teeth and appeared to be looking desperately around for a place to hide.

  “What's the matter?”  Jed queried looking very anxious himself now.

  “That other fella up there with Kyle,”  Heyes said in a strained whisper. “I know him.”

  Kid looked back to the toppled over freight car and at the two men busying themselves with their task.   “You sure?”  he asked.

  “Yeah, I'm sure!”  Heyes insisted.  “He was in prison the same time as Kyle.  The two of them buddied up.”

  “So....he's gonna recognize you,”  Jed stated rather than asked.

  “Yup,”  Heyes conceded ironically.  “There's a good chance that Wheat and Kyle are still working for us, but if young Mr. Ames there sees me, you can bet we're in trouble.”

  Both Jed and Joe sent worried looks over to the two men as Kyle who was squatting down on top of the car, reached up and Ames handed him something. Kyle went back to his work then struck a match and set it to light what appeared to be a fuse.

  Kid's eyes widened.  “Is he doing what I think he's doing?”

  There came a sputtering and a sparking of light as Kyle and Ames both made a run for the edge of the car and scampered down it.

  “Cover yer head folks!”  came Kyle's high-pitched yell.  “She's gonna blow!”

  Heyes instantly turned to the other passengers, waving his arms to get their attention.  “Turn around! Cover your heads!  They're blowing the freight car!”


  About all he succeeded in doing was getting the dazed and injured passengers to send him curious looks—until the stick of dynamite exploded. Suddenly everybody was taking Heyes' advice and amongst more screams and children's cries, they all turned away and ducked, trying to protect their heads from any flying debris.

  Fortunately Kyle's expertise with dynamite won out and the explosion only resulted in opening a large hole in the freight car in order to give the outlaws access to the safe.  What wood and debris was sent flying into the air, landed harmlessly beside the car and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.   Kyle's excited whoop could distinctly be heard as he scrambled back up the freight car and disappeared down the hole he'd just made.  Seems it was up to him to blow the safe cause Ames only followed him as far as the new hole in the 'roof' and there he sat, looking down into the car and waiting.

  Two more of the outlaws started making their way through the assembled passengers; presumably to relieve them of any valuables they might have on their person.   A twinge of fear hit both Heyes and the Kid when they recognized Wheat as being one of these individuals.  They could hear Wheat's distinctive voice ordering the men to hand over their pocketbooks and women to relinquish their jewelry.  The second outlaw came along beside Wheat, holding a rifle in plain sight so that the passengers wouldn't get any ideas about refusing to comply.  He also held out his hat as a convenient bowl to receive the the stolen wares.

  Heyes took a deep breath and gritted his teeth.  “He'll do the right thing,”  he mumbled.  “Even if he isn't here officially, he wouldn't turn on us, would he?”

  “I donno Heyes,”  Jed whispered back.  “Wheat always was tryin' to get one up on you.”

  Heyes looked worried.  “I hope he does the right thing.”

  The two outlaws were slowly making their way down the line while all Heyes and the Kid and Joe could do was watch them come, wondering if their former compatriot was going to sell them out.  Movement on top of the freight car caught their eyes as Kyle climbed back out on top and sat there with his friend waiting in anticipation.  A small explosion from inside the car sent a puff of dust out the hole and into the air.  Kyle grinned and disappeared back inside the car again apparently having successfully opened the safe.

  “Looks like Kyle's learned how to limit the amount of dynamite he needs to use,”  Kid commented.

  Heyes nodded agreement then turned to find himself looking into the dark brown eyes of Wheat Carlson.  Wheat almost did a double-take but he caught himself in time and glanced over at Joe and then at at the Kid.  Jed caught his eye for an instant, then looked away, denying recognition.  Wheat coughed, then to buy time he focused in on Joe.

  “Come 'eer,”  he ordered the young deputy.  “how much cash ya' carryin' on ya'?”

  Joe stepped forward, his hands up and Wheat opened his vest and checked through his pockets.

  “Ya' got nothin' on ya'!”  Wheat complained.  “Where's your wallet?”

  “I don't carry one when I'm travelling,”  Joe said, his throat feeling dry.  “all I got is some loose change in my pocket.”

  “Alright fine,”  Wheat told him.  “Hand over your gun—use your left hand and two fingers.”

  Joe brought his left hand over in front of the outlaw's eyes, showing him the bandaged digits.  “That's kinda hard with a broken finger,”  he informed the man.

  Wheat scowled, allowing his true nature to shine through his surprise at this encounter.  He then reached over and took the deputy's gun from its holster and commenced to empty out the bullets.  He snarled in irritation at the young man and then plunked the gun back where it came from.

  “Ya' got enough where-with-all ta' dig the change outa your pockets?”

  Using his right hand, Joe dug into his pocket and handed over what money he'd had on him.  Davis, the man holding the rifle, held out the hat for Joe to dump the money into.  Wheat grumbled at the piddly amount and then turned back to Heyes again.

  “How about you?”  he snarked.  “you leave your wallet at home too?”

  “No,”  Heyes answered with a smile.  “It's in my right breast pocket.”

  “Fine.  Hand me your gun, left hand, two fingers,”  came the curt order. “I don't see no bandages on you so don't give me no lip.”

  Heyes continued to smile and he reached over with his left hand and lifted his Schofield out of its holster.  Wheat took it, emptied the bullets out and returned it to its owner.  He then pulled open Heyes' vest and helped himself to the wallet that was there and flipped it open.  He took out a number of bills and scowled at his former boss.

  “You only got four dollars in here,”  he complained.  “Travelling kinda light, ain't ya'?”

  Heyes smiled again. “I learned a long time ago not to carry much money on me when travelling.  You never know who you might run into out here.”

  The two men locked eyes again for an instant, then Wheat dropped the billfold into the hat and began searching Heyes for real.  He stopped when he felt another holder inside Heyes' left breast pocket.  His brow creased as he opened Heyes' vest again and pulled out the small metal case.

  “What the hell is this?”  Wheat questioned for real this time.

  Heyes' jaw tightened.  Dammit anyways!  It had been bad enough having to admit this 'weakness' to his cousin, but to have to explain it to Wheat was just too much to ask.

  Wheat opened the case and looked at the items that were safely stored away inside it.  His brow creased even more as his jaw dropped open in wonderment.  He looked at the vial and syringe, looked up at Heyes and then looked back down at the vial.

  “What is this He......what is this?”  He looked back up in time to see Heyes' lips purse together in irritation and the dark brown eyes look away. Wheat sent a quick glance over to the Kid and Jed sent him a very subtle
shake of the head and since Davis was looking curiously at the case he totally missed the silent exchange between the two men.

  Wheat got the message and taking note again of Heyes' discomfort he snapped the case closed and returned to it to it's resting place in the left breast pocket.  To cover up the awkward moment, he continued to pat Heyes
down for any other surprises and instantly got one.  He stopped when he felt the money belt strapped around Heyes' waist and neatly concealed under his shirt.  Again the two men locked eyes for an instant, then Wheat stepped back and moved on to the Kid.

  Heyes tried not to let his relief show as Jed was being put through the same ordeal that Heyes and Joe had just been subjected to.  Obviously Wheat was there officially and still on their side.  If he and Kyle  had gone rogue on them, that money belt would have been considered the prize of the day.  As it was, Wheat took the few dollars that Jed had on him and left it at that.

  But just as Heyes was starting to relax, Gus Orrison came running up to his boss who was helping Kyle sort through the valuables that had been taken out of the safe.  Their conversation was easily over-heard and Heyes tensed up once again.

  “Hey, we got some horses ridin' in that other freight car,”  Gus told his boss.  “Ya' want us to get 'em outa there and take a look?  They might be worth somethin'.”

  Heyes' jaw tightened.  He already had a score to settle with Tom Duncan over the abuses towards his mare and he sure wasn't going to just set back and let that bastard take her again.  He felt Jed's hand on his arm, warning him not to make a move.  He was also aware of Joe stepping in closer to him, trying through sheer force of will to keep the ex-outlaw leader standing on the spot.

  Wheat had glanced around upon hearing that announcement, then turning back again took note of the look on Heyes' face.  The two locked eyes once again and Wheat instantly knew who's horses were in the boxcar and if he didn't stop this there was likely to be trouble.  Heyes didn't take kindly to anyone messing with his mare.  Wheat turned again and approached his new 'boss'.

  “We don't need no more horses,”  Wheat put in.  “Just more mouths ta' feed over the winter.”

  Duncan looked at him like he was an idiot.  “Nobody said anything about keepin' 'em Carlson.  We can take 'em and sell 'em.”

  “Still not a good idea,”  Wheat continued.  “I mean, Kyle and me didn't sign up here ta' start doin' stuff that we could get hanged for, ya' know what I mean?  Now I ain't concerned about myself; the laws probably gonna hang me anyways, if'n they ever catch me.  But now Kyle, he ain't done nothin' to warrant hangin'--least not yet.”

  Duncan sneered at him.  “You goin' yella on us Carlson?  I wouldn't 'a let ya' into this gang if I knew you was lily-livered.”

  “I ain't no coward,”  Wheat stood up for himself.  “but I've learned a thing or two about survivin' in these past few years, and stealin' horses right in front of a whole parcel of witnesses is just plain dumb.”

  Duncan made a point of glancing over at the numerous passengers who were all well within earshot of this conversation.  Some of them looked away before making eye contact with the outlaw, but it was clear that they knew what was going on.  Wheat could read what his leader was thinking even before the thought had finished crawling through his brain.

  “If you're thinkin' about killin' the witnesses, well let me remind ya' that that's a hangin' offence too; especially when it would be a massacre of women and kids along with the men folk.  I don't want no part a' that.”

  Duncan scowled over at the new gang member, not appreciating the fact that his thoughts had been read so easily.

  “How about the rest 'a you boys!”  Wheat called out.  “You willin' ta' hang at the end of a rope for three measly horses?”

  “Carlson's right,”  Fergie commented.  “I been outlawin' for a lot a' years, but ain't done nothin' I could be hanged fer.  C'mon Tom.  We got us a good haul.  Let's just skedaddle.”

  Duncan snarled at his second-in-command but had enough common sense to at least know that this was a clash of wills he was gonna lose.  He decided to save face by making the right decision.

  “Yeah, forget about it boys,”  he called out.  “We don't need the aggravation.  Let's mount up!”

  The outlaws all muttered and nodded agreement as they made their way over to where their horses were patiently waiting for them.  All but Wheat.  He hung back for an instant and then did a quick walk by, past his 'current employer'.

  “This guy's an idiot,”  he whispered to Heyes as he went by.  “we gotta stop 'em before he completely ruins our reputation.”

  Then he carried on, following after the gang.  Kyle came running up to him, all excited about the good haul and his expertise at blowing the safe. Then his jaw dropped and his blue eyes widened in surprised.  He pointed at his previous bosses.

  “Hey Wheat!  Lookie there....”

  Wheat grabbed him by the arm and spun him around, heading him back to the horses.

  “Shuddup Kyle.”


  There was a collective sigh of relief as the outlaws disappeared in a cloud of dust.

  “Why are you carrying around a syringe with you, Heyes?”  Joe asked before he could catch the warning glint in Jed's eyes.

  “It's nothin',”  Heyes dismissed it.  “It's for....just in case.”

  “In case of what?”

  But Heyes had shoved past the deputy and made his way over towards the group of injured passengers.  Knowing that he had some medical training to back him up he thought he might offer to help if it was needed.

  Jed gave Joe and punch on the arm.

  “What?”  Joe rubbed his arm, looking indignant.

  “Nothin', just....never mind.”

  The Kid and Joe came up to join Heyes and overheard the last part of the conversation.

  “No, that's alright young man,”  the doctor assured him.  “I have my assistant with me and we are very fortunate to have a number of others here who are willing and able to help out.  Most of the more serious injuries are being tended to.

  “Oh okay,”  Heyes accepted that.

  The doctor frowned as he took in Heyes' appearance.  “You look like you've had a nasty bump on the head there.  Did you pass out?”

  “No,”  Heyes assured him.  “Just dizzy and I have a headache.”

  “Hmm, here you best sit down and let me take a look at you.”

  “No, honest Doc, I'm fine,”  Heyes protested and he nodded towards Joe. “He's the one you should be taking a look at.  He was knocked out.”

  “Oh?”  the doctors brows went up as he looked at Joe.  “Come over here young man, let me take a look at you.”

  “Oh no, I'm fine,”  Joe protested.  “I was only out for a moment....”

  “Oh now, c'mon Joe,”  Kid said as he grabbed Joe's arm and hauled him over to the Doc.  “What's the harm of lettin' the Doc here take a look?”

  “Well yeah but.....”

  Joe was plunked down on a convenient log and the Doc began his examination.  Meanwhile the conductor walked over to them looking very concerned about his poor train.

  “It's you three fella's that own them horses, isn't it?”  he asked hopefully.

  “Yeah,”  Jed answered him.  “Is something wrong?  Were they injured?”

  “Oh no, they're fine,”  the trainman assured them.  “but we really need to get these people moved to a town.  This train obviously isn't going anywhere but we ain't due at our next stop for another three hours.  Then they're probably gonna wait another hour, thinkin' we just got delayed, so by the time they actually come lookin' for us it's gonna be dark...”

  “Yeah yeah,”  Jed nodded.  “so what do ya' want us to do about it?”

  “There is a town about an hour's hard ride south from here.  Carr, Colorado,”  the conductor explained.  “If you fellas could get there and let them know what's happened, hopefully they could send some help back.  They could also telegraph Greeley and maybe they'd send another train out here to help clean this mess up.”

  “Oh yeah,”  Jed nodded.  “we can do that.”

  Heyes nodded.  “Yeah.  Where's this town?”

  “About fifteen miles that 'a way,” and the conductor pointed off to the south-east, "just follow the tracks.  It's the next stop on the line.  We weren't due to stop there this trip so they wouldn't be expecting us but they'll know what to do once they get word. "

  Heyes smiled.  At least it was in the same direction they were wanting to go in anyways.  “Sure.  Let's go Kid.”

  “Wait!”  Joe called after them as he began batting the doctor's hands away.  “you're not goin' anywhere without me!”

  “No, you should stay put Joe!”  Heyes called back to him.  “After all you got knocked out!  Take it from one who knows; that can be dangerous.”

  Joe scrambled to his feet despite the doctor's protests.  “No you don't!” he responded as he ran after them.  “you're not ducking out on me that easy...!”

  Jed smiled and draped an arm across Joe's shoulders.  “C'mon Joe, would we do something like that to you?”

  “Yes!”

  “We're just looking out for your well-being,”  Heyes told him.

  “Uh huh,”  Joe was sceptical.  “I'm coming with you.”

  Suddenly the deputy yelped and started to limp and hop on one foot.  Heyes and Jed looked back at him in confusion.

  “What's the matter?”  Jed asked him.

  “Dammit!”  Joe sat down and pulled off his boot. “The pin on my badge just went into my foot!”

  “Aw jeez Joe,”  Curry sounded sympathetic.  “You're turning into the walking wounded.”

  “Yeah, you best stay here,”  Heyes suggested.  “We'll wait for ya' in town.”

  “No you don't!”  Joe yelled.  He brought his knee up and gingerly retracted the pin from the bottom of his foot.  He rubbed the area briefly, pulled his boot back on and limped after his companions.  “You're not leaving me behind!”

“Geesh,”  Jed grumbled.  “some people just never learn how to trust.”
 
The outlaws rode off at a gallop, heading north-west away from the train and in a round-about way, towards their refuge in Devil's Hole Basin.  Duncan kept them going at a hand gallop for a good twenty minutes just to make sure nobody from the train decided to play hero and come after them; especially when there were three horses conveniently on board.  But soon it became apparent that no one was following them and the leader slowed the group down.

  Duncan was in a foul mood.  The haul had been a good one; the safe on the train carrying about $7000 in cash and a collection of jewelry and stocks and bonds that could be turned into about another $10,000.  So nobody could really understand why the boss was pissed off.  Aside from the fact that they had derailed the train, the whole robbery had gone off without a hitch.

  But Duncan was fuming and most of the new hires tended to hang back and stay away from him while he was in this kind of mood.  Only Ole' Fergie rode along beside the gang leader and only because he had known Tom Duncan and his brother Gerald since they were knee high to a gopher and so the man's foul mood did not hold any fear for him.  Finally he gotten fed up with it though and started to question him.
 
  “What the hell's the matter with you?”  Fergie asked quietly so the other members wouldn't hear.   “That's gotta be one of the best haul's we done made this month.”
 
  “I don't like leaven nothin' behind,”  Duncan groused.  “That was stupid, lettin' Carlson take control like that.”
 
  “What do ya' mean?”  Fergie asked him.  “You still harpin' on them horses?  We don't need 'em.”
 
  “It's not about whether we need 'em or not!”  Duncan growled.  “It's about leavin' stuff behind.  They got horses, somebody's gonna be able to ride to the closest town and get help, maybe even send a posse after us.  Dammit!  I shoulda taken 'em.  Or if not take 'em, then shoot 'em.  I shouldna just left 'em there!”
 
  “Well, it's kinda late now, so....”
 
  “No it ain't!”  Duncan snapped back while at the same time hauling on his horse's mouth and pulling her around to face the gang coming along behind them.  Everyone halted and waited for what the boss had to say.  “I got some unfinished business to take care of,”  Duncan told the boys.  “Ames and Orrison, you're coming with me. The rest of you fellas carry on with Fergie—get that loot back to the Hole.”
 
  “This unfinished business don't have nothin' to do with them three horses, do it?”  Wheat asked from the sidelines.
 
  “None of your business Carlson,”  Duncan old him.  “You just worry about getting that loot safely back to the Hole.”
 
  “Well now, I think it is our business if you're thinkin' about goin' back fer them horses,”  Wheat persisted.  “Like I said, we didn't sign on ta'....”
 
  Suddenly Wheat found himself staring down the barrel of Duncan's '45 and Duncan's scowling face right behind it was giving no delusions of his intent to use it.
 
  “You got a problem with the way I'm running this gang?”  Duncan snarled at him.
 
  Wheat swallowed nervously.  “Well, heck no.  I'm just sayin'....”
 
  “Keep it to yourself,”  Duncan warned him.  “I ain't Hannibal Heyes and I don't put up with no bullshit from the ranks!  You got that?”
 
  “Sure, I got that,”  Wheat settled back in his saddle, not willing to push this dangerous man any further than he had already.
 
  “Good!”  Duncan uncocked his gun and slipped it back into its holster.  “Get movin'!  We'll meet back up at the Hole in a couple of days.”
 
  Duncan booted his mare forward then, pushing his way through the gang and then galloping back on their trail.  Ames and Orrison turned their horses and whipped them into a gallop in order to catch up with the boss.
  Wheat and Kyle exchanged looks.  This was not going well.
 
  Duncan kept the group going fast.  He angled them around the train wreck and pushed them onwards in a south-easterly direction.  He knew enough about the lay of the land to know that the nearest town was that way and he was willing to bet that as soon as they had been gone from the sight of the train, those three horses would have been put to good use, riding for help.
   He cursed his stupidity again at allowing pressure from some has-been outlaw to change one of his decisions.  He pushed the horses harder, knowing he had to get between the riders and that town in order to not only stop them from getting to help, but also to lay claim to those horses.  They were his by right being spoils from the robbery and he was gonna get 'em.
  Knowing the lay of the land was a great asset when planning to ambush somebody.  Duncan knew of a spot just five miles outside of Carr that would be the perfect hiding place for just what they had in mind.  The dirt road passed right in between a cluster of rocks and boulders that were high enough to hide a man on horseback.  It also gave a clear view of what was coming while at the same time, kept the ambushers safely hidden.  If they could get there in time, and be able to lay in wait this day might turn out to be an all-around success after all.
 
   Twenty minutes later the three outlaws were getting settled in behind cover up, in amongst the rockery.  Duncan was checking his rifle, making sure all was ready while Ames and Orrison exchanged anxious looks.
 
  “Ah, what is it exactly we're plannin' on doin' here?”  Orrison asked his boss.
 
  “What does it look like?”  Duncan answered him like he was an idiot.
 
  “Well, it looks like you're plannin' on shootin' three fellas from ambush,”  Orrison observed.
 
  Duncan smiled.  “You go to the head of the class,”  he smirked.  “I don't know why everybody says you're so stupid.”
 
  Orrison and Ames exchanged looks again.
 
  “I ain't never kilt nobody in my life,”  Orrison admitted.  “and I don't mean ta' be startin' now.”
 
  Duncan glared at him.  “You have got to be kidding me!”  he yelled, then deliberately lowered his tone in case their quarry was near.  “We don't stop these fellas, they'll be gettin' a posse together lickidy split and then we'd really be in a fine mess.  Is that what you want to have happen?”
 
  “Well, no,”  Orrison admitted.
 
  Duncan looked to the youngest member of the gang.  “What about you?”  he asked.  “You want to go back to prison?”
 
  “No sir,”  Ames answered nervously and he squared his shoulders and found his resolve.  “I'll do anything to avoid that.”
 
  “Now there's a real man,”  Duncan sneered at Orrison.  “You gonna let this 'youngster' get the better 'a you?  Ames here knows what matters.”
 
  Orrison shifted uncomfortably. “Well,”  he finally conceded. “I'll shoot ta' stop 'em, but I ain't shootin' ta' kill.”
 
  “Suit yourself,”  Duncan grumbled.  “as long as we stop 'em from getting to town, and I get those horses, I don't care what you do.”
 
 
  The three horsemen kept up a steady pace while on their mission of mercy.  They knew they had to get to town quickly in order to get help out to the train but they also didn't want to totally wear out the horses by running them hard in the heat of the day.  Helping the train passengers was one thing, but allowing it to interfere too much with their own plans was something else again.
  But all three horses were fresh and after the scare of the unexpected train stop, the chance to run off some of that stressful energy was greatly appreciated.  The three horses skimmed effortlessly over the landscape and the miles stretched out behind them in a dusty ribbon.  Even the dust they kicked up didn't mar the enjoyment of the gallop for horses and men alike and just to get away from the hectic scene of the train wreck all helped to make the day a little bit better.
 
  Up in the rocks, waiting for their new horses to arrive, the three outlaws were settling in behind the natural cover and continued checking their rifles and hand guns for the inevitable confrontation.  Duncan had set Orrison up with the spy glass to keep a look out for the riders and it wasn't long before he came running, doubled over to announce that a dust cloud was indeed coming their way.
  Duncan grabbed the spy glass and settled in to take a look himself while Orrison and Ames peered out from behind the rocks, hoping to be able to make out the forms in the dust.  Ames was nervous.  He didn't like the idea of bushwhacking anybody and despite his assurances that he would do whatever it took to avoid going back to prison actually killing another man was not high on his list of things to do.  Orrison had done enough misdeeds to not be too worried about one more and since he had no intentions of aiming to kill it was just another day on the job as far as he was concerned.
  They waited, one with anticipation the other with anxiety while their boss focused the glass and took a look at the approaching dust cloud.  Suddenly he tensed and swore under his breath.
 
  “What?” asked Orrison.  “What's wrong?”
 
  “Nothin's wrong,”  Duncan told him and a self-satisfied grin spread across his face.  “I don't know who that is ridin' her, but I'll spit on my grandma's grave if that ain't the mare I lost a few weeks back.”
 
  Orrison and Ames exchanged looks.
 
  “Can't be,”  Orrison claimed.  “I mean, what are the chances of that?”
 
  “Well, here!”  Duncan shoved the glass in Orrison's chest.  “You take a look, tell me what ya' see.”
 
  Orrison shifted himself and leaning on his elbows against the boulder he brought the glass up to his eye and focused in on the fast approaching riders.  Then he swore.
 
  “See!”  Duncan snarked at him.  “I told ya'!”  he laughed and actually rubbed his hands together.  “Oh this is gonna be even sweeter than I thought.  Don't know who's ridin' my horse but  he's about to bite the dust.”
 
  “Let me see,”  Ames insisted as he reached  up and grabbed the glass.  He was getting tired of being left out of everything that was interesting.  He copied Orrison by shifting around and leaning on his elbows.  The glass came up then he tensed and suddenly leaned forward as though that would make the vision before him come more into focus.
 
  “What's the matter?”  Duncan asked him.
 
  “Well...”  Ames shifted again and played with the focus on the spy glass.  “I don't know.  Just let them get a little bit closer....”
 
  “You recognize them?”  Duncan asked.
 
  “Not all of them,”  Ames admitted.  “but the one ridin' your mare—I'll be damned if that ain't Hannibal Heyes....”


Last edited by Keays on Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:36 am; edited 4 times in total
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Keays

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PostSubject: Branded   Sat Dec 07, 2013 4:29 pm

  “What!?”  Duncan snatched the glass from the young gang member and took a look again himself.  “Hannibal Heyes is ridin' my mare?  You sure?”
 
  “Yeah,”  Ames insisted.  “Ya' don't forget someone ya' done prison time with, and that's Heyes.”
 
  “Then chances are one of them others is Kid Curry,”  Duncan commented smugly. “Well, I'll be.  And here they are ridin' right into our trap.”
 
  “Oh no they ain't,”  said Orrison as he began gathering up his hardware.  “I ain't comin' up against Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, even if it is an ambush.  You want them horses, you can get 'em yourself.”
 
  “What the hell you talkin' about!?”  Duncan turned on his subordinate.  “This is a perfect set up!  They ain't got a clue we're here.  You ain't gonna go runnin' out on me!”
 
  “I ain't runnin' out on you, just this situation!”  Orrison snapped back.  “I'm not gettin' on the wrong side of them two just for the sake of a damn horse.  I'll see ya' back at the Hole.”
 
  “You walk out on me now Orrison then I don't want you in my gang!”  Duncan yelled at him.  “If I can't count on my men to back me up....”
 
  “Back you up!?”  Orrison was on his feet now and anger over past deeds was bubbling to the surface.  “You turned your back on Milt Price!  There was no talk at all of goin' back for him—nothin'!  You threw him to the wolves cause you were more interested in that damn mare!  You'd turn your back on all 'a us if it meant getting what you wanted!  I don't owe you a thing.”
 
  Duncan was furious and on his feet now as well.  “That's my horse!”  he yelled.  “and if you think I'm gonna let some old has-been get away with stealin' her from me....”
 
  “But she ain't yours,”  Ames quietly put in his humble opinion.  “Kyle was always talkin' about the real nice mare that Heyes had.  He's had her fer years, even before he went to prison.  So the way I see it, you'd be stealin' her from him not the other way around....”
 
  Ames' voice trailed off when he noticed the blank, distant look that settled over his boss's eyes.  Duncan wasn't listening to him.
 
  “Them two were passengers on that train,”  Duncan recalled.
 
  “Yeah,”  Orrison agreed.
 
  “Carlson and Murtry rode with Heyes and Curry,”  Duncan continued.  The other two were silent; all of a sudden realizing where this was going.   “They'd know them, so why didn't they say nothin'?”
 
  Silence followed this statement as the two other men considered the possibilities.  Was it just loyalty to their previous bosses that prevented Carlson from giving them away, or was something more going on here?
  Gus Orrison looked away from Duncan, not liking the hard edge that had come to his eye.   Then fear of another kind took hold of him and he pointed down to the empty road below them.
 
  “Hey, where'd they go?”  he questioned though he already realized their mistake.  Getting too caught up in their own argument, they had given away their position and now they were the ones who were in trouble.
 
  “What?”  Duncan spun around, grabbing the spy glass but there was no need for it.  One look over the landscape told him that their quarry was gone.  “Dammit!  Get to the horses!  Get outa here!”
 
  The other two didn't need any more encouragement.  They all scattered for the horses, running down the bank to where they were tethered and praying to the outlaw gods that there would be no rifle shots cutting off their retreat.  The gods must have been listening that day because all three outlaws made it to their horses and scrambling aboard, they hauled on the bits, turning the horses around and then booted them towards their escape route.
  Duncan spurred his mare forward, down the narrow trail and onto the road below.  He didn't care where the other two went; it was every man for himself now.  He dug his spurs in and the mare grunted in pain as she scrambled up the other side of the gully and took them deeper in amongst the rocks.  Once away from their old hiding place, Duncan hauled on her mouth, bringing her to a halt and looking back to see if he was being followed.
  He could see the trail of dust from his two gang members heading across open country at a full gallop.  He snorted in disgust at the stupidity of some people.  Last place you want to be when someone is looking for you is out in open country.  But as he watched, the two horsemen diminished to tiny specks and the dust trail blew away and no one was following them.
  Duncan cursed under his breath.  Dismounting he pulled the mare along with him to a vantage point where he could see the road below without being seen himself.  Nothing was moving.  All was quiet.  He peered among the rocks across the way, looking for anything.  And then he saw it.  Movement over where he and the boys had been sitting in ambush.  Once he caught that first glimmer then his eyes adjusted and he looked closer, making out the fractured segments of horses and men moving cautiously through the rockery.
  And he saw her.  His mare.  His lip curled in anger and he swore to himself that he wasn't going to leave this gully without her.  He sat back and he watched, and he waited.  His opportunity would come and he would be ready for it when it did.
 
 
  “How many do you think there were?”  Joe asked as they surveyed the hiding place of the outlaws.
 
  Jed was kneeling down behind the rock outcropping, looking at the scuff marks in the dirt and trying to figure it.
 
  “Two or three anyways,”  he said.  “What do you figure Heyes?”
 
  Heyes was checking out the brush where the horses had been tethered.
 
  “Looks  like three horses to me,”  he said then looked out over the open country to the north.  “but there was only two riding away.”
 
  Heyes made his way back up to the rocks, leading his mare behind him.
 
  “What could they have been up to?”  Joe asked.  “They got everything off the train, what else was there?”
 
  Jed looked over at Heyes as his partner came up to them.
 
  “What do ya' think, Heyes?”  he said.  “he did seem awful interested in the horses, or maybe he realized that we were gonna do exactly what we were doing and decided to try and cut us off.”
 
  “Maybe,”  Heyes agreed.  “seems kind of a long ways out of his way though.”
 
  “Could be Wheat or Kyle ratted us out after they left,”  Jed suggested.  “Or maybe Ames recognized ya' and Duncan put two and two together.”
 
  “Hmm,”  Heyes considered that.  “from what I heard about the Duncan brothers, even together two and two would still make three.  C'mon; all the tracks lead down to the road.  Let's get down there and see what we can find.”
 
  “Yeah okay,”  Jed nodded.
 
  The three men walked down the trail, leading their horses as they looked for signs.  Actually the signs of three horses being pushed to their  limit were pretty easy to follow and it wasn't until they got down to road level again that things got muddled up.  The two ex-outlaws walked around carefully eyeing the road while Joe simply tried to stay out of the way and not muddle things up even more.
 
  “Two of 'em definitely went this way,”  Jed announced.  “but I can't tell if we got a third one in there or not.”
 
  “Yeah,”  Heyes agreed.  “the dirt is just too dug up to tell.  Why don't you head back towards Joe and see if the third horse went in another direction.  I'll follow this track.  Once they turned off the road and spread out I should be able to see if there's two or three sets of prints.”
 
  Jed nodded and turned back to look for more prints.  Heyes carried on, leading Karma and looking for the spot where the riders had turned off.  It didn't take him long to find it.  There were obvious skid marks where the horses had been sharply turned and then booted into the gallop again across the open country.  Heyes stepped off the road and knelt down, viewing the tracks.  He stood up and walked over a couple of yards and found the other set of tracks.  He walked further but didn't see any more.  He smiled then, knowing that only two horses had gone this way, the third had split from them before they'd left the road and gone another direction.
  Karma spooked.  She snorted and pulled back looking wild-eyed.  Heyes went back with her, touching her neck.
 
  “Whoa, easy girl,”  he soothed her.  “what's the matter?”
 
  “HEYES!”
 
  Heyes spun back around and then everything was a blur.  He saw a horse coming straight at him and the angry contorted face of the man he'd just recently been informed was Tom Duncan.  Heyes went for his gun but even as he did so he knew he was too late.  He heard gunfire from more than one source but the only gun that registered with him was the one pointing directly at his chest.
  He heard the gun explode and the fire from the muzzle surrounded his senses.  Then he felt it; the bullet slamming into his chest and his life's breath blasting from his lungs like a billows stoking a fire.  He knew he was falling and the pain in his chest was choking the light from his mind and fleetingly, like a whisper on the wind, he thought; is this it?  And all was darkness.
 
  “HEYES!”  Kid had his gun out and was firing at the horseman but his anger and fear were distorting his aim and every shot missed.
 
  Joe was up on Betty and charging towards the outlaw hoping to run him down.  He dared not fire in case he hit Karma and the thought going through the back of his mind that Heyes would kill him if he shot his mare.  He booted Betty onwards, hoping that Jed didn't end up shooting him by mistake..
  Duncan was on the move.  He'd hit Heyes square, he knew it.  Now all he had to do was get hold of that mare.  Karma reared up in fright and pivoted away from the gun fire and the violence.  Fear had a hold of her mind and she took off at a full gallop across the open countryside.  Duncan grinned.  This could not be going any better.  He didn't need to catch up with the mare; she was already going in the desired direction.  All he had to do was keep her going that way—and get rid of this young fool who was coming after him.
 
  “HEYES!”  Jed ran to his cousin.
 
  He didn't care about Karma, he didn't care about Joe.  He didn't care about the derailed train or the injured passengers.  He ran to his cousin.   Fear clutched at him as he skidded to his knees beside the still body and grabbed hold of the tattered shirt.
 
  “Oh God, Heyes....”  it came out as a strangled prayer as Jed gazed upon his cousin's pale face and saw the bullet hole in the shirt, just left of the breast bone—right where the heart would be.  He saw the wetness spreading out.  “Oh God, no....Heyes....”
 
  He choked back a sob as he shook his cousin in his futile frustration and then he heard a noise that didn't quite fit the situation.  It was a clinking noise and even in his fear and anguish, Jed knew that something wasn't right.  He focused to calm the shaking in his hands and the dread in his heart and he looked closer at the bullet wound. 
  The wetness surrounding the hole wasn't right.  It didn't have that thick, sticky consistency that was the telltale indicator of blood.  It was light and fluid; like water.  Jed's brow creased, then he nearly jumped out of his skin when Heyes coughed.
 
  Jed's heart leapt.  “Heyes....?”
 
  Heyes groaned and coughed again.  Jed quickly pulled open the wet shirt and nearly fainted with relief.  The metal case that held the syringe and vial of medication was battered and bent out of shape.  There was a hole in the top where the bullet had gone through and the shattered vial had released the liquid medicine to spread out over the shirt.  Jed opened the case and flicking away the broken glass shards, found the bullet.  It had gone partly through the second layer of metal to imbed itself into Heyes' chest but only by an eighth of an inch.
  Heyes opened his eyes and tried to breathe.  He struggled, with short rasping gasps to get air back into his lungs.  His partially opened eyes looked confused and he grabbed hold of his cousin's arm.
 
  “Easy Heyes,”  Jed told him.  “Take it easy.  You're alive—but only because you're one lucky son of a bitch.”
 
 
  Joe galloped past Heyes, knowing that Jed would see to him.  Having been a lawman for a number of years now, Joe's first instinct was to go after the perpetrator and he did so now with a vengeance.  Not only did this man ahead of him cause a train wreck that injured a number of people, but he had planned to ambush them and might even have killed Heyes.  Joe's adrenaline was up and he went after the fleeing outlaw without giving much more thought to the situation.
  Black Betty was a fleet mare and she was fresh and eager, whereas Duncan's horse had already put in a full day in the summer heat.  She was giving it her best effort but what little speed was left in her was seeping out from the spur gouges in her side.  She was losing the race and Duncan knew it.
  He took his eyes off the object of his desire and pulling his rifle from its boot he hauled on his mare's mouth, turning her around and bringing her to a trembling stand still.  He raised the rifle, took quick but steady aim and pulled the trigger.  He'd been aiming for the horse in order to bring it down, but he missed and hit Joe instead.
 
 
  Karma galloped on.  Her initial fright would have long since dissipated if it hadn't been for the fact that she was being chased.  She wanted to turn around and get back to her human, but every time she angled her direction to make a circle that horse following her would cut her off and push her to head further and further away from her 'herd'.
  She didn't like this one little bit.  Her ears flattened and she powered into her gallop hoping to outrun this persistent shadow.  She was gaining distance on them when her determination to escape caused her own un-doing.  She stretched out her neck to gain more speed when she inadvertently stepped on her own reins.
  She felt the violent jarring of the bit against her lower jaw and her head went down.  Unable to save herself at the speed that she was going, her front end snapped to a sudden halt and her hindquarters kept on coming.  Her forehead ploughed into the ground and she somersaulted to land heavily in the dirt, sending up a cascading of dust and small rocks blocked her from the vision of her pursuer.
  She lay there, dazed for a moment with the wind knocked out of her.  By the time she had her wits partially about her again and was able to scramble to her feet, Duncan had reached her.  He pulled his horse up beside the disoriented chestnut and grabbed the reins before the mare could react.  One of the reins was broken up close to the bit, the other was intact and he had her.  With a grin of triumph, he got both horses going again and made a bee line back towards his home territory.
 
 
  “Easy Heyes,”  Jed was still cautioning his prone friend.  “Can ya' breathe yet?”
 
  “N...o...,”  came the strangled response as Heyes kept struggling to get air into his lungs.  He felt like his whole chest was in a vice and it was crushing his ribcage.
 
  Jed had removed the metal case and the bullet and was pressing his bandana against the wound in Heyes' chest.  It wasn't too bad; more of a punch that left an indent rather than a puncture.  It bled a little bit when Jed pulled the bullet out but it was pretty much stopped after a minute or two and Jed just kept the bandana pressing against it to convey assurance.
 
  “How's your head?”  Jed asked him.
 
  “Hurts.....”
 
  “Knocked yourself out again, didn't ya'.”
 
  “I..gotta stop...doin'...that...”  followed by another gasp to take in air but it was coming easier now and soon he was struggling to sit up.
 
  Jed grabbed his arm to help him and then sat with him, still holding onto his arm until he was sure Heyes could hold himself up.  He smiled and gave Heyes and pat on the shoulder.
 
  “Yeah, you're gonna be alright,”  he prophisized   “Sure scared the be-jesus outa me though—again.”
 
  Heyes gave him a weak smile and went back to holding his chest.
 
  Jed's expression changed as he looked over Heyes' shoulder and spied Joe coming back.  Something was wrong.  Betty was walking at her own pace, dragging her reins while Joe himself had his head down, his chin almost resting on his own chest.  His right hand was holding onto the saddle horn while his left was hanging limp by his side.
 
  “You gonna be alright for a minute?”  Jed asked his cousin.
 
  “Yeah, I'm okay.”
 
  “I'll be right back.”
 
  Jed stood up and approached the black mare, meeting her half way.  It had been tempting for him to run to her but he didn't want to take the chance of spooking her so he settled for a fast walk and then spoke quietly to her as he approached.  He needn't have worried though; Betty knew something was wrong and she was worried.  As Jed came to her, her ears went up and she nickered and walked right to him, relieved that someone was here to take charge.
 
  Jed picked up the reins and gave her a reassuring pat on the neck.  “There ya' are, good girl,”  then, “Joe, ya' with me there?”
 
  Joe shifted in the saddle and was able to look at Jed and then nodded.  “Yeah,”  he responded in barely above a whisper.  “I'm dizzy....feel like I'm gonna throw up.”
 
  “Yeah,”  Jed could sympathize.  “Just hold on till I get ya' back up on the road.”
 
  Jed gave Betty another pat and turned and led the mare back to where Heyes was finally getting his breathing back to normal.  He looked up as the horse approached him and groaned at the sight.
 
  “Oh no,”  he grumbled. 
 
  “Yeah,”  Jed agreed and he turned back to Joe.  “Okay Joe, I'm gonna help ya' down now.  Can ya' bring your right leg over the saddle?”
 
  “I'll try.”
 
  The deputy leaned forward; almost touching the mane then brought his right leg up and over his mare's rump.  Jed had him by the belt and as Joe pulled his left foot from the stirrup and began to slide to the ground, Jed supported him and made the transition from sitting in the saddle to sitting on the ground as easy as possible.
 
  “Okay, let me see here,”  Jed expanded on the tear that was already in the shirt sleeve and was able to get a good look at the injury.  “Oh it's not too bad, Joe,”  he said with relief in his own voice.  “It went right through the meat, doesn't look like anything's broken or nothin'.”
 
  Joe nodded as Jed stood up and went to Gov in order to grab some supplies.  One thing about riding the outlaw trail as long as they had, they knew how to keep basic medical supplies on hand.  He unbuckled one of the saddle bags and pulled out a small sack.  He gave Gov a pat of reassurance and returned to his two walking wounded companions.
 
  “I'm sorry, Heyes,”  Joe was mumbling as Jed sat down beside him again.
 
  “What about?”  Heyes asked with a frown.
 
  “Karma,”  Joe explained.  “Duncan went after her.  I don't know if he caught her, she is awfully fast.  I tried to stop him, but....”
 
  Heyes was instantly tense.  He swung around to gaze in the direction he assumed they would have gone in but saw nothing but blue sky and landscape.  He faced forward again and found Jed's stark blue eyes watching him.
 
  “Kid, we gotta go after them...”
 
  Jed shook his head as he carefully began to clean Joe's wound.  “Not the shape you're in Heyes,”  he pointed out.  “and Joe needs real medical attention.  Besides, we're down a horse, obviously. We also have to get help back to the train and send a telegram ahead to Greeley to let them know why it's late.  I got two wounded people and two horses.  The only place we're goin' right now is to Carr.  We'll rest up, re-group and decide what we're gonna do then.  Here Joe, hold this.”
 
  Joe reached around with his right hand and held the bandana in place while Jed wrapped gauze around
the arm to hold the padding in place.  He then took another strip of cloth and tying it in a long loop around Joe's neck, he settled his left arm into it, thereby making a temporary sling.  Silence settled over the group.  Jed did not meet Heyes' eyes and had expected an argument to come back to him from his cousin.  But Heyes kept his mouth shut. 
  As much as it galled him to know that his mare was once again in jeopardy, Heyes also knew that Jed was right.  There was nothing they could do about it right then and there.  Even he knew that he wouldn't get far in his current condition, and that's if he could persuade one of his friends to loan him a horse.  Heyes sat quietly, chewing his lower lip and massaging his chest.
 
  An hour later it was a sorry sight that entered the town of Carr.  Heyes was riding the smaller Black Betty while Joe had the front seat on Gov and Kid was sitting behind him, just in case he passed out and fell off.  Carr was a big enough town to have a telegraph office and probably a medical man too so they weren't entirely out of luck.
  Jed turned the group in to the hitching rail that appeared to have a decent amount of pedestrian traffic going by in the hopes of obtaining some directions.  He didn't have trouble getting attention since it seemed that everyone in town had been watching them ever since they'd put in an appearance.
 
  “It appears you might be lookin' for the Doc,”  a rather astute young man assumed.  “He's got a little office half way down the street.  It's on the left, shingle's out.  Ya' can't miss it.”
 
  Jed hated it when they said 'Ya' can't miss it.' cause that usually meant that he would miss it.  Most places were only obvious to those who knew where they were.  Still, he smiled and nodded his thanks.
 
  “Is there a telegraph office in town?”  he asked.
 
  “Yup, right side of the street just past the vet's.”
 
  “Vet?”
 
  “Well, doctor too,”  the young man looked insulted.  “He does a fine job.  Don't worry, he'll look after your friends.”
 
  “Okay,”  Jed sounded dubious but if that's all there was.  “Is there a sheriff in this town?”
 
  “Nope,”  the gentleman informed him.  “Ya' have ta' to too Greeley for that.”
 
  “Don't have time,”  Jed told him.  “Train goin' to Greeley got hit by outlaws and was derailed.  There's injuries.  Got to get some wagons out there and get 'em into town.” 
 
 A number of other people who had been casually listening to this exchange suddenly perked up and the talking started to spread.
 
  “Train to Greeley's been hit!”
 
  “Derailed!  Oh my!  Is everyone alright?”
 
  “My brother was on that train!  We gotta get help out to them!”
 
  “Who hit 'em, does anyone know?”
 
  “Probably that damned Devil's Hole gang again!  Thought we were finally done with that lot...just goes ta' show....”
 
  The young man who Jed had been questioning tried to quiet the crowd down, but giving up on that he stepped closer to the horsemen, feeling all important and full of himself to be able to give them information.
 
   “Oh well, for something like that we have a Union Pacific office just down the street.”  he told the Kid.  “They're kind of a police force and they handle any disputes that come up, but they specialize in issues involving the railroad!”
 
  Jed paled slightly and he and Heyes exchanged a silent grimace.
 
  “Railroad police?”  Jed reiterated.  “Ah, listen I gotta get my buddies here over to see the Doc.  Could one of you fellas go tell the 'railroad police' what happened?”
 
  “Sure!”  and the young man was off and running to full fill his mission.
 
  “Geesh,”  Jed grumbled as he turned the horses back into the street.  “as if a regular sheriff isn't bad enough to have to deal with, now we have the  'railroad police'.”
 
  “Yeah,”  Heyes conceded sulkily.  “Maybe we can just stay away from that end of town.”
 
  Jed nudged them all down the street towards the doctor's establishment.  All three men were keeping their eyes open for the telltale shingle and wouldn't you know, it was Joe who finally spotted it.  They again turned the horses in to the hitching rail and Jed slid down off of Gov's rump.
  Heyes was already slowly dismounting, obviously still in a lot of pain but managing to hold his own.  Joe had also recovered enough to be able to slide down to the ground without too much assistance from Jed.  Still keeping an eye on both his charges, Jed mounted the steps and rang the bell.  He glanced back at his partner and frowned, feeling slightly worried about his silent, sullen mood.  Usually Heyes would be the one talking a blue streak but not today.  Today he had other things on his mind.
  After a moment they heard the door opening and Kid tipped his hat to the young woman who answered.
 
  “Afternoon,”  he smiled.  “Is the doctor available?  As you can see, I have....”
 
  “Oh!”  the young woman exclaimed as she opened the door wider to allow them access.  “Oh dear, what in the world happened?  Yes, yes come in.  Dr. Murphy is just seeing a patient but he'll only be a few more minutes.  Come along.”
 
  “Thank you ma'am,”  Kid stepped aside and ushered the other two inside.
 
  “Howdy ma'am,”  Joe greeted her as he stepped past.
 
  Heyes just nodded.
 
  “You may wait in the parlour,”  she instructed them though her frown of concern over the state of their attire was obvious. 
 
  “Thank you ma'am,”  Jed said.  “I think everybody has stopped bleedin'.”
 
  She smiled with some embarrassment.  “Oh yes of course,”  she assured them.  “We do keep the furniture covered in here just so we don't get.....”  she stopped in mid-sentence, realizing that she was still being somewhat insensitive to the situation.  “Umm, yes.  Sorry.  Just have a seat.  I'll let my husband know you're here.”
 
  Both Heyes and Joe had already sat down, neither of them feeling up to standing around in the foyer and debating the matter.  Jed nodded as the lady departed to give the message, then shook his head as he joined his friends and took a seat himself.
 
  “Geesh,”  he complained.  “if she's worried about you two, wait until she has a room full of bleeding train passengers.”
 
  A few minutes later they heard a door open down the hallway followed by a man's voice over-lapping what sounded like something scraping on the wooden floors.
 
  “He'll be fine, Mrs Johnston,”  the male voice was saying.  “it's not poisonous and if you just give him that medication with his supper tonight, he ought to pass the tubing easily enough.”
 
  “Thank you Doctor Murphy,”  came the feminine reply and then the scraping sound on wood became louder and more frantic.
 
  A rather large tan and black, scruffy haired monstrosity of a dog came into view.  He was pulling with all his might in an effort to get away from this establishment as quickly as he could.  Mrs.  Murphy opened the front door and the dog, dragging a woman who couldn't have weighed any more than he did, scrambled through the escape route and down the stairs.
 
  “Good day Mrs. Johnston!”  Mrs. Murphy called after her.  “I'll see you at tea on Sunday, after services!”
 
  “Yes!”  came the distant response.  “See you then!”  
 
  “That damn dog is going to kill himself one of these days,”  the doctor grumbled.  “the stupid thing will eat anything that's not nailed down.”
 
  A middle-aged man then presented himself at the entrance to the parlour and smiled at his guests.
 
  “Good afternoon gentlemen...oh my!”  his brow creased.  “Dear, dear, what has happened to you two?”
 
  “Something seems to be going on down by the U.P. Office,”  Mrs Murphy called in from the front porch.  “there's people everywhere and—oh!  One of them is pointing back to here!”
 
  Dr. Murphy's brow went up in a quizzical fashion as he looked over the state of two of his visitors.
 
  “Would that have anything to do with you gentlemen by any chance?”
 
  Jed quickly stood up and took control.
 
  “Yessir Doc, it sure does,”  he informed the learned gentleman.  “We were all on the train headed for Greeley when we got hit by a gang of outlaws.  I don't believe there were any fatalities, but there were injuries.  Me and my friends had our horses in one of the freight cars so the conductor asked us to ride on in here and get help.  We ended up getting ambushed on our way here and that's how my two friends got hurt.”
 
  “Oh dear, dear,”  the doctor tutted again.  “I'd better get my medical bag together and go with them.  Some of those injuries could be very serious...”
 
  “Ah no Doc!”  Jed stopped him in mid-thought.  “as luck would have it, they had a doctor on board and he seemed to be managing for the time being.  And my two friends here need some help, so if you wouldn't mind....”
 
  “Oh yes of course,”  Dr. Murphy was brought back to the present.  “Why in the world would the outlaws want to ambush you?”
 
  Inside, Jed was about ready to start screaming at this man, but if he hadn't learned anything else in these last eight years or so, he'd learned patience and even some diplomacy.
 
  “Ah, maybe to stop us from getting into town and reporting it?”  he suggested.  “Give the gang more time to get away.”
 
  “Oh, of course.  That would make sense.  Yes.”  the doctor agreed while at the same time trying to do a quick assessment of the two men sitting in front of him. “You, young man,”  he indicated Joe.  “you appear to have the worst injury.  Come with me.  And you,”  he nodded to Heyes.  “you just sit quietly and I'll tend to your injuries in a moment.”
 
  Heyes simply nodded as Joe got carefully to his feet and followed the doctor down to the examination room.  Jed went and sat down beside his partner.
 
  “How ya' doin' Heyes?”  he asked.  “Ya' hangin' in alright?”
 
  “Yeah, I'm fine.  Just kinda hard to breathe that's all.”
 
  “Ya' mighta cracked a rib.”
 
  “Hmm.”  Heyes was off in another world.  “We gotta find a way to get Karma back—again.  Do ya' really think he just waylaid us to stop us from reporting the accident?  Seems more bother than it was worth if you ask me.”
 
  Kid shook his head.  “I donno.  It almost seemed to me like he came after you deliberately.  I mean, why didn't he take off with the other two once they realized we were on to them?  And he didn't come down out of that cover until you were off on your own, and when he did make his move he went directly towards you.  It's like he barely even acknowledged me or Joe; he went directly for you.  I don't get it; what's Tom Duncan got against you?”
 
  Heyes shrugged, then grimaced in pain; that hadn't been a good idea.  “I donno,”  he admitted while rubbing his chest.  “but I sure as hell have something against him.  We gotta get after him, Kid; or at least find Karma.  Dammit—what if she's back in his hands again?”
 
  “I know,”  Jed agreed.  “but again Heyes, we can't do it this instant.  You ain't up to it for one thing,”  Heyes snorted derisively then flinched.  “See?  And another thing; even if we started out right now we wouldn't be able to catch up to him before he gets back to the Hole.  Now you know as well as I do that Devil's Hole can't be taken by force.  If he has any brains at all he'll have blocked up that back entrance again and will sure as shootin' have it guarded.  I know it's hard on ya' but you're gonna havta hold tight while we try to come up with some kind of plan.
  “Maybe Wheat will get in touch and be able to give us some idea as to what we would be up against.  I mean, it's likely Duncan doesn't even have Karma.  All we know for sure is that she just took off runnin'.  I'd doubt very much that he'd 'a been able ta' catch her.”
 
  “Yeah, maybe,”  Heyes conceded.  “but I think if that were the case she would have circled around and got back to us.”
 
  “Yeah,”  Jed accepted the logic of that.  Most horses would have just kept on running but Karma's bond with Heyes was so strong that even Jed knew she would have come back if she'd been free to do so.  “Okay, so we go on the assumption that Karma is up in Devil's Hole.  We still can't just ride in there and demand her back.  Duncan's not an idiot...”  Jed stopped himself there and reconsidered.  “No, actually I guess he is but he's still gonna know that we've switched sides and he also knows now that Karma is your horse and you'll probably be wantin' her back.  He ain't too likely to welcome us home with open arms.”
 
   Heyes sat silently.  Again, he accepted the wisdom of what his partner was saying but that didn't make it any easier for him to just sit and wait.
  Joe put in an appearance then, closely followed by Mrs. Murphy who was laden down with a tray carrying tea and scones.  Jed stood up to help her with the offerings.
 
  “Here, ma'am let me take that,”  he said.  “it looks heavy.”
 
  “Oh my, thank you,”  she smiled sweetly at him.  Even a happily married lady could be easily drawn in to those blue eyes.  “Just some refreshments while you wait.”
 
  “Yes ma'am, thank you.”  Jed set the tray down on the coffee table and the lady left them in peace.  Jed started to pour out three cups of tea as Joe sat down again.  “You're lookin' better,” Jed continued.  “We're gonna havta get ya' a new shirt though.”
 
  “I got another one in my saddlebags,”  Joe assured him.  “Once we're settled I'll put it on.”
 
  The young deputy was indeed looking better.  The doctor had cleaned and disinfected the wound, wrapped it in fresh padding and gauze and set it all into a nice clean efficient sling.  The cut on his head from the train accident was cleaned up and covered with a pad.  It hadn't needed stitches and the doctor was confident that a good night's rest and a dose of laudanum would put his headache to rights.   He'd also examined and re-wrapped Joe's broken finger and was pleased with the progress that was making. Unfortunately Joe was beginning to look more and more like a casualty from the civil war but he was holding his own.
 
  “He even took a look at my foot,”  Joe commented.  “Disinfected the area and wrapped it up and told me to be sure to keep it clean.  He said that if even a small puncture wound like that becomes infected I could lose my whole foot.  Can you imagine?  Just from something tiny like that?”
 
  Both Heyes and Jed turned reflective.  They'd both seen enough fellas get into trouble through minor injuries that ended up turning into major infections.
 
  “He's right,”  Heyes told him.  “Best keep an eye on it.  If it gets really red and starts to hurt like hell, let us know and we'll get ya' to a doc.”
 
  “Oh.  Yeah okay,”  Joe glanced at Heyes, surprised at the seriousness of his tone.  “He gave me some stuff to take to fight infection anyways.”
 
  Heyes nodded.  “Good.”
 
  The doctor put in a brief appearance then and pointed his chin in Heyes' direction.  “Alright, your turn.  Come with me please.”
 
  Heyes sighed and put down the cup of tea he was just about to partake of. 
 
  “Don't worry Heyes,”  Jed assured him.  “me and Joe will save ya' some.”
 
  Heyes snorted derisively and followed the Doc down to the exam room.
 
  “Just have a seat on the bed there,”  the Doc told him as he pulled up a chair and sat down opposite him.  “Your injuries are not quite as apparent as your friends, but I can tell by your demeanour that you're in pain.  Can you tell me what happened?”
 
  Heyes reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the battered case.  The doctor's brows went up in surprise and he whistled softly.
 
 “Oh dear, oh dear,”  he commented as he took the case and flipped it a round.  His brows went up even further when he saw the spent bullet protruding out the back of it.  “Did this hit you?”
 
  Heyes unbuttoned his shirt and showed him the shallow puncture in his chest and the painful bruising that was already starting to blossom out.
 
  “Oh yes,”  the doctor leaned forward and began the typical poking and prodding that both ex-outlaws had grown accustomed to.  “any difficulty breathing?”
 
  “Yes.”
 
  “Sharp or dull?”
 
  “Both.”
 
  “Hmm.”
 
  Heyes smiled sadly as memories of Doc Morin can flooding back.
 
  “What's this dampness on your shirt?”  the doctor asked as he continued with his exam.  “This injury bled a little bit, but this isn't blood.”
 
  “No,”  Heyes agreed and he nodded towards the case.  “My own doctor insisted that I carry a serum with me in case of seizures.”
 
  “Seizures?”   The doctor sat back and scrutinized his patient.  “What kind of seizures?”
 
  Heyes sighed,  “It's just a precaution.  I haven't actually had any.”
 
  “Yes, but if your own doctor has given you this then he must suspect that you might,”  Dr. Murphy explained.  “I need to know what your condition is before I can give you any medications.  It could be dangerous.  Do you understand?”
 
  Heyes bit his lower lip, hesitating.  He didn't even like the feel of the word in his mouth so having to say it out loud was a real effort.
 
  Dr. Murphy  noticed his pause.  “Whatever you tell me will be held in confidence,”  he assured him.  “but I do need to know.”
 
  Heyes nodded.  “It's for epilepsy.”
 
  “Ah,”  the doctor nodded.  “I'm afraid I don't have any medication for that on hand to replace this vial.  Would you like me to get in touch with your doctor and have him send some for you?”
 
  “Oh no, that's alright, Doc,”  Heyes assured him with an easy smile.  “Like I said, I haven't had any seizures yet, and may never so I'm sure I'll be fine until I get back home.”
 
  “Hmm,”  Dr. Murphy was not so convinced.  “If you haven't had any seizures why would your doctor feel that you need to carry this case with you?”
 
  Heyes shrugged, trying not to get irritated with this line of questioning.  “Just in case I did.”
 
  “Yes, but why would he think that you might.”
 
  “Oh,”  Heyes shifted uncomfortably, a response that did not go un-noticed.  “Ah, I've suffered some head injuries in the past and I've noticed some problems with my memory, so....”
 
  “Ah!”  the doctor nodded again.  “Alright, that makes sense.  Did you hit your head when you fell this time?”
 
  Heyes' jaw tightened in irritation.  Why did these doctors all have to be so nosey!  Dr. Murphy again took note of his patient's reaction and decided not to wait for an answer.  He stood up and began a gentle inspection on the back of Heyes' head.  Heyes sucked his teeth as the fingers found the knot.
 
  “Hmm,”  Murphy said again.  “that's a nasty bump.  Were you knocked out?”
 
  “Just for a minute,”  Heyes admitted.  “Look, it's no big deal.  Just give me some laudanum for the pain and I'll be fine.”
 
  The doctor ignored him and sitting back down again took a closer look at Heyes' features.  “You have some bruising here on your forehead,  what's that from?”
 
  “The train wreck,”  Heyes answered.  “it didn't knock me out though.”
 
  “Uh huh,”  the Doc didn't seem convinced.  He took hold of Heyes' chin and held his finger up in front of the dark eyes.  “Keep your head still and follow my finger.”
 
  Heyes sighed.  This was getting old.  Still, he followed the directions and did as instructed.
 
  “Okay,”  the doc sat back again.  “You're a little slow in following me.  Is your headache bad--throbbing?”
 
  “Yes.”
 
  “Alright.  I'll give you some laudanum but let me clean up that wound in your chest first.  You probably have a cracked rib as well so you'll need to take it easy for the next couple of days.”  the doctor told him.  “Do you have a place to stay in town?”
 
  “No, not yet.”
 
  “Well, get a room,”  he was sternly directed.  “at least for tonight.  And I want to see you back here first thing in the morning.  You and your young friend, both.  If I don't see you here by 9:00 a.m., I'll come looking for you—understand?”
 
  Heavy sigh.  “Is that really necessary Doc?”
 
  “Yes!  Your own doctor has concerns—and rightly so.  Head trauma cannot be taken lightly.”  Murphy stood up and went over to his desk.  He picked up his pen and dipped it in the ink well.  “What is the name of your doctor, and where can I get in touch with him?”
 
  Now Heyes really bristled.  “Why!?”
 
  Dr. Murphy sent him a patient look.  “I need to inform him of what has happened and let him know how I have treated you.  It's important.”
 
  “I thought you said whatever I told you would be held in confidence!”  Heyes snarked.  He had already been feeling angry over the fate of his mare and now he was downright pissed.
 
  “Are you now going to try and tell me that your own doctor doesn't know about this condition?”
 
  Heyes grumbled.  “No.”
 
  “Then it's hardly breaking a confidence, is it?”  the doctor was met with stoic silence.  “Please, Mr...what is your name?”
 
  “Heyes.”
 
  “Mr. Heyes,”  the doctor continued without missing a beat.  “Whether you chose to believe it or not, epilepsy can be a very dangerous condition.  Fortunately we can control it but you still need to be aware and take precautions.  Keeping your own doctor informed of events such as these is simply part of being responsible.”
 
  “But he's such a mother hen!”  Heyes complained.
 
  Dr. Murphy almost laughed out loud at the petulant protest.  “Yes.  Well I'm sure it's only because he is concerned about your wellbeing.  Now, please...”  he dipped the pen into the ink again.  “...his name and location.”
 
  Heyes gave it up.  His head was pounding and he would do almost anything at this point to get some relief.  “David Gibson, Brookswood Colorado.”
 
  “Good.  Thank you.”  Murphy stood up and going to the cabinet took out a bottle of liquid and handed it over.  “Here's some laudanum.  You can take a spoonful right now if you like, and then two more when you go to bed.  And no alcohol.”
 
  “Yeah, okay Doc,”  Heyes agreed.  “I don't feel much like drinking tonight anyways.”
 
  “Good.”
 
  “What do we owe ya'?”
 
  “I'll make you up a bill,”  Murphy assured him.  “but I still expect to see you both back here in the morning.”
 
  “Yeah, alright.”
 
  Heyes stood up and taking the bottle of painkiller and his battered metal case, he strode from the room with the doctor coming along behind him.  He slowed a bit when he heard voices coming from the parlour—official sounding voices, asking official sounding questions.
  Heyes stepped into the room and found himself looking at two uniforms that were looking back at him.  A feeling of dread sank over him adding a sickening lump to his stomach to compete with the ache in his head.
 
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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Branded   Sat Dec 07, 2013 4:31 pm

“What's the meaning of this Calvin?”  Murphy asked one of the officers.  “I don't appreciate you coming in here and asking my patients questions while I'm in the middle of treating them.”
 
  Calvin looked a bit contrite.  “Sorry Doc, but we had to make sure these gentlemen didn't leave town before we could question them.  They're witnesses to a train robbery and we need to get the details.”
 
  “Right here in my parlour?”
 
  “No, of course not!”  Calvin sounded insulted.  “We came to escort them over to the station.”
 
  “Now?”  Heyes asked.  “Can't this wait until morning?”
 
  “I agree,”  Murphy seconded this.  “Both these men suffered injury and need to rest.  I believe they'll be much more useful to you after they've had a night's sleep.  Besides that, if I understand correctly you'll soon have more witnesses than you have questions once the rest of the passengers arrive in town.”
 
  “All the more reason to speak with these three now, before the rush.”  Calvin persisted.  “It won't take long, we just need your statements.”
 
  Heyes sighed and looked over at Jed.  Maybe they should have just carried on to Greeley.
 
 
  Both Gov and Betty perked their ears and looked up with hope shining in their eyes as the men exited the doctor's office.  They'd had a long day and despite the fact that it was still just early summer, it was hot out and they both would appreciate a drink and a nice cool barn to settle into for a while.  Unfortunately, though their humans sent them apologetic glances, the small herd of two legged beasties carried on past the hitching rail and headed down the street before crossing over and disappearing into another building.
  The two horses sighed in resignation and sitting back on a hind hoof they dropped their heads and settled in to wait.  At least they weren't anywhere near the saloon.
 
 
  “Alright,” the officer behind the counter began with a bored look and a poised pen.  “what's your name, occupation and county of origin?”
 
  “I'm Joe Morin,”  Joe spoke first, sensing that they'd be there for the rest of the day if he waited for either of his two companions to get things started.  “I'm a deputy sheriff out of Arapahoe County.”
 
  Officer Newman glanced up from his writing and sent a dubious look across the counter at the young man.  Apparently he wasn't too impressed with the credentials.  They must be pretty desperate down in that county if they were pinning badges on youngsters like this.  Joe's bandaged appendages made him appear younger and more pathetic than he actually was.
 
  “Alright,”  the officer finally wrote it down and glanced up at Kid.  “You?”
 
  Heyes and Curry exchanged looks and Heyes just shrugged.  They were both very nervous being in the Union Pacific Railway Police station.  Except for the newbie's, every officer in this building  had probably been hood-winkled to some degree or another by the Devil's Hole gang and now here they were, standing there plain as day having to declare themselves to everyone within ear shot.
 
  Even with Heyes' subtle gesture of resignation, Kid hesitated.  Newman looked up at him with a raised eyebrow.
 
  “Sir, your name?”
 
  “Ah, Jed Curry.”
 
  “And where do you reside Mr. Curry?”
 
  “Brookswood Colorado.”
 
  “And your occupation?”
 
  “Ah, well sometimes I'm a ranch hand for the Double J but I'm also a consultant.”
 
  “Consultant for what?”
 
  “Ah, mainly security.”
 
  “Hmm okay.”  he didn't look up as he continued writing.  “And you?”
 
  Heyes assumed it was his turn.  Another quick look between the partners.  This time Curry shrugged.
 
  “Name's Hannibal Heyes,”  Heyes told the bald patch.  “I'm also from Brookswood Colorado and like my friend here, we both work for a consulting.....”
 
  Heyes stopped talking was the officer stopped writing and with an open mouth and puzzled look he met the dark brown eyes of the ex-outlaw.
 
  “Hannibal Heyes?”  he questioned suspiciously.
 
  Heyes flashed his dimples, always a good cover for when he was nervous.  “Yessir.”
 
  The hardening eyes shifted over to the other gentleman.
 
  “Jed Curry?  As in 'Kid' Curry?”
 
  “Well, yeah....”
 
  Jed didn't have time to finish because Newman was instantly on his feet and waving over to the two young officers who had escorted the trio there from the doctor's office. 
 
  “Calvin, Wesley!  Get over here!”
 
  The two young men were instantly in attendance and standing behind the group of three.  They didn't actually have their guns pulled, but the tension in the air was more than noticeable.  Newman glared back at the two men standing in front of him.
 
  “The Devil's Hole gang has become very active again in the last few months,”  Newman snarled.  “We've been wondering who was behind all of that.”
 
  “Now, Officer Newman,”  Heyes tried to sound reasonable.  “my partner and I have not been associated with....”
 
  “Don't give me that bullshit!”  Newman was practically yelling now.  “Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry will always be associated with the Devil's Hole gang!  Now here we have an incident where one of our trains has again been stopped and robbed—and even derailed this time—and you two come waltzing in here acting like you had nothing to do with it!  You can't tell me that it was just coincidence that you two were on that train!  Calvin, Wesley, arrest these two men under suspicion of train robbery and to be held for further questioning.”
 
  The two officers stepped forward to do their duty but the three men in question were anything but co-operative.
 
  “What!?”  Heyes was instantly defensive.  “You can't just arrest us...”
 
  “Whoa, wait a minute....”  Jed wasn't too happy about it either.
 
  Joe was instantly on the move, stepping up to the counter to challenge the man in charge while Heyes and Jed were relieved of their firearms.
 
  “You can't legally do this!”  Joe insisted even though he wasn't too sure if he was right or not.  “These men are law abiding citizens and you can't detain them here simply based on who they used to be!”
 
  “Law abiding citizens!?”  Newman was outraged.  “We've been after these two for years and now here they are, acting like they own the place, right when their old gang is becoming active again?  You must take me for a fool!”
 
  “Both these men stood trial for their crimes,”  Joe desperately pointed out.  “Mr. Curry was granted his amnesty and has stayed true to the conditions.  Mr. Heyes served his time in prison and was granted a parole.  He has also stayed true to those conditions!  They came forward here to help the authorities with this investigation.  The men who have taken over The Devil's Hole Basis are not affiliated with Mr Heyes or Mr. Curry.  You have no right to hold them on that supposition!”
 
  Newman was turning red and his voice lowered as he glared at the young lawman.  “You might be a deputy down in Arapahoe County but you don't have any authority here. If you're not careful you'll find yourself in the same cell as these two.”
 
  “I may not have authority here in this county, but I am still an officer of the law and I am in a position to vouch for the credibility of these two gentlemen.”
 
  Newman snorted.  “Credibility!  They're credible as outlaws!  Take them away!”
 
  Calvin and Wesley each grabbed an arm but were met with definite passive resistance.  Heyes especially was not prepared to go without a fight.  It would have been a fight that he's lose though as more officers overheard the debate and moved in to surround the ex-outlaws.  The names of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry apparently still caused a certain amount of animosity within this circle.
 
  “Believe me Officer Newman,”  Joe persisted as the jostling behind him became more pronounced.  “you have no idea the trouble you will be bringing down upon yourself if you arrest these two men on the flimsy 'evidence' you are presenting here.  They are not without representation and their lawyer can and will be here in less than 24 hours if you persist with this.  I can also inform my superior Carl Jacobs who is the sheriff in Brookswood.  Also Lom Trevors, sheriff in Porterville Wyoming.  Not to mention Ken Reece, warden of the Wyoming State prison.  If they can't convince you there is also Mr. Ludlow, head of the Wyoming Penal Board, not to mention former governor Frances Warren and current governor, Amos Barber.  Any and all of these gentlemen can and will be informed of this situation if you persist—not to mention a few others who's names are slipping my mind right now because I am not feeling very well and I'm getting very irritated!”
 
  Everyone including Heyes and Jed were standing stock still and looking at Joe with a mixture of surprise and admiration.  Silence settled over the group as everyone tried to re-group and figure out the new ground rules.  Finally Officer Newman had time to digest the consequences of arresting the two men before him and he cleared his throat in preparation of doing a quick but honourable back step.
 
  “Fine!”  he agreed.  “but they will still submit a signed declaration of what happened and state UNDER OATH that they had nothing to do with the robbery.  They are also not to leave town until everyone on that train has been questioned and everyone's stories check out!  If anyone on that train even suggests that these two were pulling an inside job, I'll throw the book at them!  I'm holding you responsible for them DEPUTY Morin.  They will behave themselves while in this town and I will want to know where they are at all times!  If they up and disappear I'll have your badge!”
 
 
  Back out on the boardwalk, Heyes' headache had increased ten fold.  He could barely keep his eyes open against the sun that was finally beginning to set on this traumatic day.  Joe was weak in the knees with exhaustion, not only from his injuries but from his audacious declaration that had surprised even himself.
 
  Jed was grinning.  Life was good.  “Ho ho!”  he laughed as he clapped Joe on the back.  “You continue to amaze me Joe!  That was a work of art what you did in there!”
 
  “Yeah, thanks Joe,”  Heyes mumbled quietly as he gently rubbed his forehead.  “Last place I want to spend the night is in the custody of the U.P. Police.  Most of them have good reason not to like us much.”
 
  “I don't know where that came from,”  Joe admitted, still feeling shaky. “I was just no mad that he was jumping to all these conclusions and yet had no facts to base them on.  I hate it when I see lawmen behaving so unprofessionally.”
 
  Even Heyes wasn't feeling so bad that he couldn't share a smile with his cousin.
 
  “So,”  Kid was still smiling. “Can I buy ya' a beer Joe?  You fellas hungry?”
 
  This time it was Heyes and Joe who exchanged a quick look.
 
  “Aw Kid, I'm sorry.”  Heyes truly was regretful.  “but my head is pounding after all that.  I just want to take some laudanum and go to bed.”
 
  “Sounds like a good idea to me too,”  Joe agreed.  “Can I take a rain-cheque on the beer?”
 
  “Oh,”  Jed's smile dropped.  “Yeah okay, I suppose.”  But then his good spirits returned and he accepted the fact that his two friends were probably feeling pretty rough.  “If you fellas want to head over to the hotel and get us some rooms, I'll get the horses settled at the livery.  I'll see ya' over there.”
 
  “Yeah, okay Kid.  Thanks.”
 
  Joe nodded and the two walking wounded morally supported one another as they dragged themselves over to the hotel.  Jed watched them for a moment and his smile grew.  It seems all it took for Heyes to finally accept Joe into the fold was for him to be hurting and too exhausted to carry on with the pretence.  Joe stepping up and saving their bacon on more than one occasion now certainly didn't hurt.
  Jed stepped off the boardwalk and crossed the street in order to collect up the horses and finally tend to their needs.  He would then settle everything at the hotel, see his partner safely heading too bed and then go get some supper for himself.  He for one was not particularly tired and was looking forward to an entertaining evening on the town.  
 
 
 
Beth sat at her mother’s kitchen table shelling peas.  She had come down to the ranch to stay until Jed returned.  Her own home seemed far too empty to her without her husband and she had quickly grown tired of being alone.  Belle was upstairs struggling to hold J.J. still long enough to get him cleaned up and dressed.  She had no idea how unhappy her youngest daughter was these days.  Jed had been gone for several weeks and Beth was beginning to feel resentful of her forced idleness.  She had envisioned sharing all the small moments she experienced with her new husband and he had already missed so many.
 
When she had cheerfully encouraged Jed to help Hannibal trace Karma’s bloodlines, she’d thought they’d be gone a couple of weeks or so.  Now she was beginning to fear that he may not return before the baby’s birth.  Every letter he had sent had outlined the difficulties they were facing; the leads they were chasing, but nothing about when he’d be back.  A tiny, jealous part of her wondered if he was pleased to be free to ride along with his partner rather than stay at home with his expecting wife.  She knew her emotions were running wild with her, but her mother had assured her that it was perfectly normal and, after the baby came, she would begin to feel like herself again.  Maybe it was just as well that Jed wasn't here to witness her ill-humors.
 
Mangling the pea pod in her hand, Beth heard a rider coming into the yard.  She put aside her chore and awkwardly stood up.  In the past few weeks, her center of balance had changed dramatically.  She rubbed her lower back as she walked over to open the kitchen door.  Sam was coming up the outside steps, a sheaf of mail in his hand.
 
“Morning, Beth,” he said cheerfully. 
 
“Hi Sam, is there anything there for me?” 
 
“Yes ma’am, this big one’s for you.  It’s from Jed.”  Sam held out a large, yellow envelope with a grin.  He knew Beth was missing her new husband terribly.  The normally sweet girl had been on edge for weeks and everyone was stepping lightly around her.
 
Beth took it eagerly, tearing it open.  “Help yourself to some coffee, Sam.  It’s still hot.”  She turned her back on him without a further glance and sat back down in her chair.  Pulling out the contents of the envelope, she let a crude drawing fall to the table.  Her attention was on the folded sheet of stationery covered with Jed’s scrawled handwriting.   She soaked up the many endearments laced throughout the letter and then went back to the beginning and read it again.  Jed missed her.  He said so, and he said he couldn’t wait to get home.  She held the letter clasp tightly to her chest and sighed. 
 
“What’s that?” asked Sam, pointing at the drawing.  He was standing with his back leaning against the still warm stove holding a cup of coffee.
 
“I don’t know.”  Beth picked it up and studied the rough picture.  It was a brand.  She flipped the paper over and there was another note from Jed; this one asking for her help.  Finally, she had something to do beside cooking and cleaning.  Jed was asking her to go to Denver and see if she could trace the brand.  This was perfect!  She’d already planned a trip to see Bridget.
 
Her first seven months had passed without incident and when she had asked David about taking a short train ride to Denver to visit her sister for a few days, he had told her that she had no reason not to expect a normal pregnancy this time and that as long as she got enough rest and didn’t stress herself, she should go and have fun.  With David’s blessing, Beth had promptly telegraphed Bridget and had begged to come see her; claiming that she was about to perish from boredom.  It was her last chance to have a small measure of freedom before the baby came.  Her dear sister had quickly issued an invitation.
 
She was leaving tomorrow.  As Hannibal would say, what were the odds? 
 
Sam sipped his coffee and watched the play of emotions crossing Beth’s face.  Beth was high-strung and sensitive like the horses she favored and he knew from Maribelle’s all-too-brief experiences that she was being ruled by her pregnancy.   He felt for her.  “Looks like a brand.”
 
Beth had forgotten Sam was in the room, and glanced up at him.  “It is.  It’s Karma’s brand.”
 
“Karma doesn’t have a brand,” said Sam.
 
“She does.  According to Jed, her brand had been damaged by rustlers.  He and Hannibal met the man Hannibal bought her from.  He helped them decipher this brand from that old scar on her thigh.  He wants me to track down the owners of the brand!”
 
“Well I’ll be.  I’ve looked at that scar a hundred times and never saw anything.”  Sam shook his head and rinsed his cup in the sink, drying it with the muslin towel hanging on a peg.  “Guess I better get back to work.  Good luck with that, Beth.”
 
“Thank you,” Beth was positively beaming gratitude to him and he couldn’t help but smile back.  Whistling a happy tune, he went out in the yard to put away his horse and start his workday.
 
Belle and J.J. drove Beth into town the next day and, after a quick stop at the telegraph office where Beth had a short telegram from Jed telling her his whereabouts, they saw her onto the train to Denver. Her baggage safely stowed with the expressman, she stepped up into the car carrying a large satchel laden with gifts for the Granger family from the Double J.  There were several jars of raw honey, bread and butter pickles, canned cherries and, for Bridget, a lovely new apron Belle had worked many long hours on.  Beth had included a pot of the hand cream she’d mixed this spring using the beeswax from Belle’s hives, milk from her own dairy cow, and dried herbs she’d picked herself last fall while she could still bend over easily.  She sat down on her bench seat and rested her hand on her stomach.  The gesture was becoming a habit.  She could feel the baby moving and it gave her comfort.
 
The trip into town was swift and uneventful.  As the train pulled into Union Station, Beth could see Bridget standing on the platform, straining on her tiptoes to see into each car as it passed her.  Waving, Beth caught her sister’s eye, and the smile that greeted her infused her with a warm glow.  Feeling better than she had since Jed had left, she hurried off the car, and into the arms of Bridget.
 
“Beth, I’ve missed you so much!  I’m so glad you wanted to come,” said Bridget, laughing delightedly as their swollen bellies collided. 
 
Beth pulled back and smiled, “We can hardly hug; we’re both so round!”
 
“Yes, isn’t this fun, getting to share our pregnancies?”
 
Beth promptly burst into tears, thinking about Jed was missing this time.   Bridget held onto her tightly as she cried and, soon, the tears turned to laughter.  Lifting her head, Beth wiped her eyes with a handkerchief she’d had concealed in the sleeve of her traveling suit.
 
“My, my little sister, you really are pregnant, aren’t you?” chuckled Bridget, rubbing her hand up and down Beth’s arm to steady her. 
 
“Bridget, shh!  What if someone heard you?” admonished a shocked Beth.
 
“When did you become someone who worried about what other people said?  Besides, I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone looking at us,” Bridget said as she pulled out a coin to tip the man who was just now arriving with the baggage.  “Can you please put it in the back of that surrey?” she asked the man while pointing out her carriage.
 
Beth blinked for a second and then began to giggle, “You’re right!  I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately.” 
 
Bridget waited until the man had picked up the bags and was out of hearing.  “I know exactly what got into you,” she whispered and the two sisters dissolved into laughter.
 
Chattering happily, the girls rode along in the surrey.  Bridget pointed out the new hotel going up on 17th Street.  The imposing structure was nearly completed and the brown brick edifice towered over its neighbors while running along the entire length of a city block and coming to a tapered end before turning up the corner and stretching along Broadway. 
 
“Oh my, it’s enormous.  How on earth can they expect to fill all those rooms?” said Beth.
 
“Once it’s done, the Brown Palace will be one of the finest hotels in the West.  I’ve been inside.  Stephen’s done some work for the owners and we got a private tour.  Beth, there’s an atrium inside that rises the entire height of the hotel!”
 
“I want to see it!” begged Beth.
 
“Not until your next visit.  It won’t open until August,” said Bridget. 
 
Beth linked her arm through her sister’s and leaned against her.  “Then Jed and I’ll just have to come back.  Maybe we can have a romantic night at the Palace.”
 
“Believe me, darling, you won’t feel at all romantic by August, so you might want to aim for dinner instead,” said Bridget, taking one hand off the reins and patting her sister’s hand.
 
Beth sat up again and watched the buildings roll by.  Denver seemed to grow larger with every visit she made.  “Jed sent me a letter.  He wants me to track down a brand, Karma’s brand.”
 
“Karma has a brand?”
 
“Yes, apparently she was stolen at some point and the rustlers ruined her brand.  He wants me to go the the Brand Board and see if I can find her original owners.”
 
Bridget looked at her worriedly.  “Have they given any thought at all to what’s going to happen when they find the owners?  Those people will have a legal right to Karma.  What if they want her back?”
 
“Hannibal has had her for ten years.  I doubt anyone could claim ownership over him.”
 
“They could and they might.  Legally, the people who had her stolen from them would have a right to her.  I would hope, after all this time, they’d be satisfied with being compensated, but you never know what some people might do.”
 
“Oh, Bridget, now I’m frightened.  It would kill Hannibal to lose Karma!”
 
“Yes, but you know he won’t give up until he’s traced her all the way back to her breeders.  He’s doing it for Papa.”
 
The rest of the ride passed in silence, all the fun had gone out of the day as the women sat thinking about their dear friend suffering yet another undeserved loss.  Bridget pulled up in front of her home, and put the brake on her surrey.  She climbed down and came around to help her sister down.  “Please forget I said anything.  It will work out, just wait and see.”
 
The next morning, Beth and Bridget rose early.  Bridget had made arrangements with Clementine to come and care for Rose so that they could have the day all to themselves.  Stephen was still asleep as was their daughter.  She had deliberately kept her daughter up late so she would sleep in until her friend arrived for babysitting duties and this morning the house was eerily quiet.  Clementine would arrive before Stephen had to leave for the office.  It was a glorious morning, but neither sister felt particularly eager to begin the hunt.  Instead, Bridget proposed that they walk downtown and have a late breakfast at one of her favorite cafes.  She knew from her own pregnancy that her sister would function better on a full stomach.
 
It was almost mid-day before they stood in front of the Brand Board Offices.  Since branding had caught on around 1869, it had become standard operating procedure for modern-day ranchers.  The invention of barbed wire and its subsequent closing off of the open range had pushed cattlemen into tighter and tighter proximity and brands were essential to prevent the loss of property and bloody disputes.   Nearly every horse breeder, cattle rancher, and pig farmer had a registered brand.  There were thousands to sift through and the girls felt momentarily daunted by their task.
 
Squaring their shoulders and smiling as charmingly as they could, the two Jordan sisters marched bravely into the all-male bastion of the Brand Board.  A balding, tall, thin man sat behind a large desk just inside the front window.  He barely acknowledged their present until the floral aroma of their perfume reached him.  He looked up sharply, saw the two expecting women, and smiled a warm welcome.  “Ladies, are you lost?”
 
“I don’t believe so.  This is the Brand Board offices, is it not?” said Bridget.
 
“Yes, ma’am, it is.  I’m the clerk, Gus Haller.  What can I do for you?” asked the man, rising to his feet.   He was surprised to have female customers, but his mama raised him right and he would be respectful.
 
Beth stepped forward smiling.  She reached into her reticule and pulled out the neatly folded drawing, spreading it out on a corner of the man’s desk, “Mister Haller, my husband has asked me to find the owner of this brand.  We have a horse with a damaged brand and we believe that she might have been stolen.”
 
Mr. Haller’s eyes widened at the mention of a possible theft.  The members of the Board took rustling very, very seriously.  “I’d be happy to help you, Mrs…”
 
“Mrs. Curry and this is my sister, Mrs. Granger.”  The mention of the name Curry aroused no curiosity without the accompanying mention of the name Heyes and the man ushered them into the back room.  Several book cases filled with ledger books lined one wall and two desks had been pushed together end to end along the opposite wall forming a long work surface.
 
“I’m afraid I don’t have any refreshments to offer you ladies.  Would you like me to run down the street and get you some tea?” he asked.
 
“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Haller, but it is terribly kind of you to offer.  We are more interested in getting started on our task at hand,” said Bridget. 
 
Gus cleared his throat, “Yes, well then, how old is the horse?  Do you know when she was foaled?”
 
“We do not,” said Beth, “but we’ve had her for ten years.  I think she’s around twelve or fourteen years old.  She had her central incisors coming in when we got her.”
 
The clerk frowned slightly and gave them a different sort of glance.  “And you’re just now looking for the brand?” he said disapprovingly.
 
Beth bristled and frowned back at him, but then realized that, of course, he would be upset to hear of stolen livestock.  She calmed her temper.  “We have recently learned that what we thought was scar is really a damaged brand.  This drawing is only an interpretation of what my husband believes is the true brand.”
 
“I see,” Gus smiled again, mollified by her explanation, “Well, these are the ledgers for 1878, 1879, 1880, and 1881; just in case we’re wrong about her age.”  He got up and crossed to the bookshelves, pulling off four large ledger books and placing them on the desks.  He offered each of the woman a chair then leaned between them and opened the first ledger dated 1878.  “Now, are you ladies familiar with how to read a brand?”
 
Beth and Bridget were a rancher’s daughters and they could read a brand as well as any Colorado livestock grower, but they also understood that men enjoyed helping women and they were more likely to get help from this man if they allowed him to underestimate their abilities.  They said nothing and he went on assuming they did not.  “See the one?” he said, pointing at a random brand in the middle of the ledger. 
 
Beth and Bridget both leaned in towards him and looked at the neat, painstaking drawings of brands that lined the facing pages.  Across from the drawings was the owner’s name and beyond that, an address.  They smiled at each other; this was going to be too easy.  
 
“That’s the Y Double Quarter.  See these two quarter circles under the Y?  If the Y was touching them, it would be the Y Double Rocking.”  He flipped back a few pages, warming to his task, “This one here is the Tumbling R Ranch.  See how the R is leaning forward?  And that one is the Lazy S Bar Ranch.  The S is lying down so it’s being lazy and the bar is easy enough.”  He smiled, proud to be able to share his knowledge. 
 
Beth smiled up at him appealingly and said, “What about the one I brought.  Can you read it?”  She held out the paper to him and he studied it again.
 
“Well, the horseshoe shape usually stands for lucky when it’s open on the top.  That’s because the luck won’t pour out of it that way.  I guess that’s a two or a Z inside it, or maybe even a backwards S.”  He pulled up another chair and squeezed it in between the two women, sitting down.
 
 Three quarters of an hour later, Gus smiled triumphantly, “Here it is.  Lucky 2 Brand belongs to the Second Chance Ranch, State Highway 93, Golden, Colorado.  Let me write that down for you.”  He reached for a piece of scrap paper and a pencil to jot down the address.
 
Beth was so excited she clapped her hands.  “Well done, Mr. Haller, thank you so much!”
 
Handing Beth the note, he stood up and ushered them to the front room, “Ladies, it has been my pleasure.  Is there anything else I can do for you today?”
 
“No sir, thank you, you’ve been very helpful,” said Beth.
 
“Yes, we are in your debt, Mr. Haller,” added Bridget.  The name of the ranch was familiar to her, but she didn’t want to mention it to Beth until they were back in the carriage, heading home.
 
“I can’t believe how easy that was,” said a slightly disappointed Beth, “I really thought it was going to take much longer.”  She was silent for a few moments and then spoke up again. “I wonder what Hannibal plans to do.”
 
“We could send him a telegram, but we really don’t know where they are?  Did Jed give you any idea where they were going next?”
 
“Yes, there was a brief telegram waiting for me at the telegraph office yesterday morning.  He said that they were just about to get on the train from Cheyenne and head to Greeley.  They were planning to stay there last night and go to Loveland the next day.   I can send them a telegram there.”  Beth saw Bridget stiffen up and asked “What’s wrong?” as Bridget steered the surrey to the side of the street.  “Bridget, why are you stopping?”  Fear began to clutch at her heart.
 
Bridget gripped her sister’s hand.  “Honey, there was a terrible train accident yesterday.  Stephen told me about it.  The train from Cheyenne to Greeley derailed outside of Carr.”
 
Beth’s hand flew to her open mouth and she couldn’t breathe.  She turned ashen and then she began to cry, “We have to go to the Police Department.  Please Bridget, I have to know if he’s all right.  They’ll have a list of the injured and…,” she trailed to a halt as she realized what she was about to say.  She felt nauseous.
 
“Yes, that’s an excellent idea.  There should be news by now,” Bridget clucked to the old mare in harness and expertly guided her back into the flow of traffic.  Thank goodness they were only a few blocks from the City Jail.
 
She pulled up the mare in front of the grim, stone building and carefully lowered herself to the ground.  A young boy appeared out of nowhere and offered to hold the horse while they were inside.  Bridget nodded and handed him a quarter as he held out his grubby hand and smiled a gap-toothed grin at her.  Hurrying around to help Beth down, she steadied her younger sister for a moment and, together, they rushed into the Denver Police Department and turned into the first door; the booking office.   The large room was in chaos.  There were men everywhere.  Some were sober, but most were drunk and aggressive.  Rough language flew through the air.  An officer, seeing the two of them standing in the hallway, rushed over. 
 
“Ma’ams, you shouldn’t be here,” he said harshly, opening his arms and shooing them back out into the hallway.  Bridget and Beth retreated, but stood their ground just inside the double front doors.
 
“Please!  I need to know about the Carr train wreck,” begged Beth.  “My husband was on that train with his two friends.”  She unconsciously rubbed her tummy and the officer, being the father of a large brood, noted that both of these genteel ladies were ‘in the family way’. 
 
He took pity on the young lassies and softened completely, “Yes, ma’am, please have a seat; you too, Missus.  I’ll see what I can find out for you.”  He showed them into a small seating area and, once they were settled, left, closing the solid door behind him.
 
Bridget put her arm around her sister and drew her near, holding her close until the officer returned.  He was holding a piece of paper in his hand and Beth rose as he came in.  Bridget stood with her, held her arm tightly, and said, “Is that a list of the casualties?  May I see it, please?”  She knew if the news was bad, she didn’t want her sister to see it first.  The man nodded and handed her the list.  She scanned it quickly before releasing her held breath.  “They’re not on here!  Is this list accurate?”
 
“Yes, Missus, that came in this morning.  All passengers have been accounted for,” he looked at Beth’s pale face.  “If their names ain’t on the list, they should be just fine.  Passengers have already been sent on to Greeley this morning, ma’am.  You can get word to them there.”
 
“Thank you,” babbled Beth, still shaken by the fright.  She rose shakily and Bridget helped her back to the surrey.  “I want to send a telegram to Greeley.  Is that all right?”
 
Bridget smiled at her gently, “Of course.  We’ll stop there next.”
 
 
To Be Continued
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Silverkelpie

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PostSubject: Re: Branded Chapter Six   Sat Dec 28, 2013 12:27 pm

Lots going on in this chapter and so vividly written!  What a good thing Joe was there to look after the boys.  You weave fact and fiction seamlessly in this story and have come up with a terrific read.  All the information on branding was a great way to build a connection and tension.  Great last line.

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PostSubject: Re: Branded Chapter Six   Sun Aug 10, 2014 2:51 pm

Oh my, that was a lot of excitement in one chapter.
A funny beginning, but then the action really started. I loved the scene with Joe trying to sneak into bed so as not to wake the others and they were celebrating next door. It was adorable how Heyes verbally ran circles around Joe while Jed enjoyed the show. Poor Joe - he doesn't stand a chance against Heyes in a good mood. Pointing out the badge was the cherry on top.
How often has Jed been in a train robbery - as a passenger? Must be the 3rd time. But you made this one especially scary because the boys know what is about to happen and also know that there is not enough room for the train to stop. An accident feels worse when you can see it coming but are unable to do anything about it. The description was very well done and scary.
Nice to meet Kyle and Wheat again. I loved how Wheat protects his friends/bosses but still manages to get a few digs in. He just can't resist needling Heyes, can he? And quick thinking regarding the horses. I am just worried that he and Kyle are in big trouble now, their cover basically blown and they don't know it. Hopefully Ames will get back to the Hole before Duncan and warn Kyle.
This Duncan is really a nasty piece of .... work. Of all gang members he could chose to take along for the ambush he had to pick the one who would blow Heyes' cover. And you had me really worried after the shot at Heyes! Poor Karma is in the hands of her tormentor again and he has the audacity to think of her as "his" horse. I hope she "houdinies" away or maybe Kyle and Wheat can help.
Poor Joe really doesn't have luck going after members of this gang, but at least the doctor seems competent. The encounter with the railroad police was scary, I was afraid that Heyes might get pushed into doing something stupid or might even get a seizure (now that he has no serum). But Joe really rose to the occasion, defending the partners. Is it really just annoyance at incompetent officials or loyalty to his friends and indignity at the treatment they receive? They really have grown together and the boys are definitely accepting him now.
In a way it is funny how Joe is always upset about incompetent or petty officials/lawmen and Heyes and Kid are indignant at stupid/incompetent outlaws.
Just as Heyes and Kid were the most successful outlaws, Joe will be an extraordinary sheriff, once this trip is over.
The letter with Karma's brand finally arrives and the brand can be identified. And then you had me laughing out loud once more. So, I assume the male human who chased after the rustlers in the first chapter was a certain Texan named Monty? And am I correct in assuming that the humans called Karma's mother "Fanny"?
I never saw this coming! What a fantastic way to bring your stories together and what a lovely idea for Karma's lineage. And Karma is indeed an ideal name. I am so glad now I read InOut's "Moving On" before starting with "The Lineage". When I read about Fanny I felt occasionally reminded of Karma.
At least Heyes should have no trouble with the breeders about keeping Karma, even if it could get tricky getting her back from Duncan.
And again you managed to sneak in information to make everything feel anchored in history and real without turning it into a history lesson; this time in form of the Brand Board office and information how to read brands.
I really do enjoy this story and I am looking forward to where you will take it next.

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For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
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Branded Chapter Six
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