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 Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.

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Keays

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

PostSubject: Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.   Sun Apr 13, 2014 2:29 pm

Everything was darkness and confusion.  Heyes didn't know where he was.  His whole body was shaking like a leaf and he was shivering with a cold sweat.  Every muscle he owned was aching, including his teeth that were reacting to a jaw that had been clenched tight.  He was exhausted to the point where he couldn't even push himself up into a sitting position.  His body was experiencing sensations he had never felt before, not even after those terrible nightmares.  And he was scared; he was back in prison--he knew it--back in the dark cell. Fogginess to his brain only added to the fear and the darkness. He didn't know what was happening.

Then, as consciousness fully returned to him he began to doubt that he was actually back in the dark cell. And then he gradually became aware of a point of light and he could sense the presence of another human being in there with him.  He didn't know what to make of that; was it friend or foe?  He tried to talk but his throat was constricted and nothing came out.  He could hear his own rapid breathing and the stirrings of the other person as the point of light gradually blossomed out into a soft illumination over the darkness.

“K...Kid...?”  Heyes was finally able to croak out.

“Jesus Heyes,”  came a strained voice that did not belong to his cousin,  “what the hell was that all about?  Ya' scared the crap outa me.”

“W...who...are....?”

“Its Wes.”

A ghostly face looking pale and scared drifted into Heyes' focus and he felt a hand touch his shoulder.  He gasped and shrank away; his mind fuzzy and confused.  What was happening?

“Where...?”

“We're in an Indian hole,”  Wes told him.  

Heyes finally had the strength to push himself to sit up and he shrank back even further against the dirt wall.

“No,”  he gasped.  “I gotta get outa' here.”

“What the hell is the matter with you?”  Wes asked again, a tremor of fear still controlling his voice.

Heyes felt a panic beginning to rise up in him and he tried to struggle to his feet.

“Get me out!”  He got to his knees but fell forward, his tied hands unable to support him.  His wrists burned where the thongs were cutting into the skin.  “I gotta get out! Get me out!”

“ALRIGHT!”  Wes' own panic was rising along with Heyes'.  He'd never seen anybody react like that and now Heyes' further panic was scaring the young bounty hunter even more.  “Alright, I'll get you out!  Just calm down!”

Heyes struggled to stand again, calming down being the opposite of what his mind and body were doing to him.  But he was still so weak and shaken himself that he ended up falling onto his face and laying there, gasping air into his lungs.  Wes stood up and and climbing the short ladder he cautiously peered around the barn, but all was still and quite.  All he could see were the hooves of his horse that was standing in that stall.

The gelding snorted in surprise and stepping away from the hole in his stall floor, he blew suspiciously at the head protruding from it as he cowered in the furthest corner of his stall.  Wes saw that  he was out of the way and slowly pushed the door up and over.  He listened intently for a moment but could hear nothing other than the nervous blowing of the horses.  Satisfied that they were still alone, he stepped back down to retrieve his prisoner.

Heyes was still shaking and had rolled himself into a ball.  He jumped and tried to shrink away again as Wes grabbed his arm to help him to his feet.

“C'mon Heyes, settle down,”  Wes was practically pleading with him.  He was totally at his wits end as to how to deal with this.  “You want outa' here don't ya'?”

“Yeah,”  Heyes breathed,  “Get me out.”

“Alright,”  Wes assured him.  “C'mon, let's go.”

Heyes allowed himself to be assisted to his feet this time and Wes hauled  him over to the short ladder.  Heyes looked longingly up at the open air above him and tried to climb the ladder but his body wouldn't co-operate.  His tied hands clutched at the rungs but his fingers wouldn't take hold and his feet refused to lift up off the ground  He started to panic again.

“Get me out!  I gotta get out!”

“Alright Heyes—just—just hang on a second.”

Heyes' teeth were chattering from cold and fear as Wes pulled him over and untied the thongs binding Heyes' hands together.  Getting Heyes out of the Indian hole had suddenly become first priority and with the state that Heyes was in Wes didn't think he was going to be going anywhere soon.

He pushed Heyes face first against the ladder and grabbing his ankle gave him a leg up like he was helping him onto a horse.

Heyes tried to grab hold, to help pull himself up but nothing was working the way it was suppose to be.  He was so weak that nothing co-operated and Wes had to give him a good heave to get him up out of the hole.  Heyes just lay there, half in and half out while Wes climbed up around him then grabbing him under the arms, he pulled Heyes the rest of the way out onto the stall floor.

He quickly shut the trap door and turned back to Heyes who was trying to get onto his feet.  Wes quickly wrapped Heyes' arm around his shoulders and pulled him up.

Heyes stumbled, leaning against Wes as the bounty hunter started to assist him out of the barn.

“The horses,”  Heyes told him.

“They're fine right where they are,” Wes commented.  “We gotta find a place to store you first, then I'll worry about the horses.”

They went to the door of the barn and Wes cautiously looked around.  Again all was quiet and spying another, smaller barn over to the right, he began to half carry half drag Heyes over in that direction.  Heyes was starting to do better, his strength returning but he was still extremely weak and exhausted—and scared. His brain was in such a fog that he couldn't think straight and that was not a sensation that Hannibal Heyes was accustomed to at all.

Wes kicked open the door of the second barn and went in, closing the door behind them.  He looked around and set Heyes down on a turned over barrel while he scouted out the barn to look for a new hiding place.  He hurried down the center isle, made a right turn and found another ladder leading up to the hay loft.  This would have to do so long as he could get Heyes up there.  He hurried back to the front alcove only to find the barn door wide open and no sign of Heyes.

“Dammit!”  Wes cursed under his breath and ran out the barn door in search of the escapee.

It as no contest actually.  Heyes was stumbling across the barn yard in a vain attempt to reach the first barn and his horse.  Wes ran up to him and grabbed him by the shoulder.  Heyes swung around with a punch that Wes easily ducked and then sent his own punch into Heyes' midriff.  Heyes gasped and doubling over, dropped to his knees.

“Goddammit Heyes!”  Wes cursed again.  “What do ya' think yer doin'?  You can hardly stand up, let alone ride a horse!”

“Let me go,”  Heyes gasped.  “He's gonna kill me and you know it.”

Wes didn't answer and grabbing Heyes by the shirt front, dragged him stumbling back into the second barn.  It took some doing, but Heyes was becoming strong enough now to haul himself up the ladder, but not strong enough to make another break for it.  He pulled himself into the loft and lay panting with exhaustion in amongst the loose hay while Wes climbed up beside him.  

The young bounty hunter didn't waste any time in re-tying Heyes' hands and then dragging him over to the wall, pushed him down to sit on the floor and tied his hands to an exposed structure beam.  Only then did Wes close the trap door to the loft and sit down himself to catch his breath and await his partner.  Heyes was sitting, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed.  His face was still pale and small beads of sweat glistened on his skin.

“Jeez Heyes, what the hell was that?”  Wes asked him again.  “I ain't never seen nothin' like that before.  Ya' scared the livin' bejezus outa me.”

“I just...”  Heyes panted, still trying to catch his breath.  “I can't go into dark holes like that anymore.  At the prison... for punishment they'd lock us up in a dark cell just like that.  No light....no sound.  Just left there...for days. You can't imagine what it's like.  I swear there were rats and spiders in there with me.  Then the warden there; he had me whipped and thrown into that cell and left me there to die.”  A shiver went through the captive and Wes felt the fear transferring over to him.  He'd had his own share of whippings and confinements in his younger days but he still felt no pleasure hearing about it happening to a white man.  

“Jezus,”  Wes cursed under his breath as the conflict within him grew.

“I must have panicked,”  Heyes continued in a whisper.  “I must have blacked out—I don't remember.”

“You did more than black out,”  Wes told him.  “I thought fer sure you was Devil possessed.  What was that?”

Heyes sent him a haunted look, still panting with the shock of what he had just experienced.  “I donno Wes, you tell me.”

“Well, you was fightin' me at first,”  Wes explained.  “I got ya' into the hole, and then all of a sudden ya' just went limp and dropped to the floor.  I thought you had simply accepted things and I started up the ladder when you began makin' noises like I ain't never heard from a man before.   Damn, Heyes.  I swear I pulled my gun and nearly shot ya'--I thought you'd gone rabid on me. Wes' complexion turned pale again.  “Crap!  You were still on the ground and I suppose you was unconscious, but you was twitchin' and groanin' like, well, like you was possessed.  Man, I thought you was gonna explode right there in front a' me.  What the hell was that?”

Heyes closed his eyes and groaned.  He had a pretty good idea what that was and a shiver of fear went through him.

Of all the ironies there could be; Heyes had the very medicine he needed to stop the seizure tucked right inside his breast pocket but no one there who would know how to use it.  In that instant he reconsidered David's advice and resolved to let his extended family know of his condition as soon as he got home again.  If he got home again.  He looked over towards the young man and saw the fear and concern there.  He swallowed and shook his head, not being at all prepared to explain his little secret to this man.  Instead he fell back onto an old argument.

“Let me go,”  he said again.  “You haven't done anything illegal—well except kidnapping and unlawful detainment, but aside from that.....you let me go, I'll make sure you get off.  You won't be charged with anything.  You're sentencing me to death if you let Gus have his way and you know it.”

“You used my colour against me,”  Wes sniped at him.  “I always thought you was a decent man for an outlaw, Heyes, but now I see that you're just as selfish and manipulative and cruel as any of them other low-life's out there.  You deserve nothin' better than what Gus has in store fer you.”

Heyes dropped his eyes and nodded.  “You're right Wes,”  he conceded honestly.  “I'm sorry about that—I truly am. Here Kid and me are tryin' to live down our pasts and I'm using yours against ya'.  But ya' gotta see this isn't right. This is murder, and I don't deserve...”

“You don't deserve it!?”  Wes snapped at him.  “What about them fella's you burned out up at the Hole?  I can understand ya' wantin' to clear out yer old hide out, but to set fire to them buildings to leave 'em to burn to death, or be shot down while tryin' to escape....”

“Whoa, whoa!”  Heyes sat up straighter and looked Wes in the eye.  “We didn't set those fires Wes.  Hell, I was trapped in one of those burning buildings myself!  I was lucky to get outa there alive—Ha!  Only to end up in this mess!”

“You didn't set those fires?”  Wes looked shocked.

“No, I give you my word,”  Heyes assured him, then paled himself and almost looked sick.  “I know what it sounds like, hearing someone burning to death.  I'll never forget that sound and believe me, I'd never set it up for it to happen to anybody else.”

“Well...”  Wes was confused,  “if you didn't set them then who did?”

Heyes shrugged.  “I donno.”  he said, though he was pretty sure he had a good idea who it was.   “It might have been an accident.”  

Suddenly Wes tensed and he looked towards the open barnyard even though he couldn't see it through the wall.

“What?”  Heyes asked quickly.


Wes smiled and getting to his feet he walked over to the window looking down over the yard.  


“What is it?”  Heyes asked a little louder, though he had a sinking feeling that he knew.

“Gus is here,”  Wes informed him feeling a sense of relief himself now that the decision had been taken out of his hands.  But then he tensed and instantly dropped down below the window and out of sight.  “Damn!”


Heyes instantly brightened up, despite his bone weariness.  “Who is it?  Let me see.”


“You just stay quiet Heyes,”  Wes told him.  “I'm not kidding; you start yellin' and I'll gag ya'.  Actually why wait?”


And Wes crawled back to Heyes, fully intending to put action to words.


“Ah, no—c'mon now!”  Heyes practically pleaded.  “You don't need to.....”


But the bandana was tired into place and Heyes glared angrily at his captor.


“Don't be lookin' at me like that Heyes,”  Wes told him.  “We're right back to square one.  Dammit!  What the hell is Gus thinkin': bringin' a sheriff out here with him?  What am I suppose ta do now?”


“...a....wig....eriph...?”  Heyes tried to articulate.


Wes frowned.  “What?”


Heyes slumped and sent the bounty hunter a dirty look.  


Wes untied the bandana.  “What?”  he repeated.


“A big sheriff?”  Heyes clarified.


“Yeah.  Christ, I ain't never seen a man that big.  I sure ain't goin' out there now until I know what's goin' on.  Maybe Gus has double-crossed me—I never did really trust him,”  Wes admitted.


It didn't take Heyes long to put 2 and 2 together.  There was only one lawman he could think of who was that big and who was also from a town not that far from their present location.  “I know him,”  Heyes announced,  “and believe me you don't want to mess with him.  But he's a fair man Wes.  Let me go and I'll make sure that.....”


The bandana was shoved back into place.

xxxxx


All that greeted Duncan was the fetid smell of damp earth and an empty hole in the ground.

“&#$%!  What the hell…” Duncan spun around to the two men tied at his feet, “Where are they?  Where’s Heyes?” he roared. 

Stainton’s shocked expression told Duncan all he needed to know.  That damned weasel had slipped through his fingers again.  Flinging the hatch door open until it slammed on the ground with a bang, he turned and grabbed the bounty hunter by his feet, dragging him to the hole.

“Wait!  Stop!  What are you doing?!” screamed Stainton.  He twisted and turned, but Duncan flung him over the edge and he dropped eight feet to the bottom of the pit.  “Duncan, dammit, you can’t leave me here.  I’ll help you.  I want Heyes, too.  I know someone willing to pay good money for him--we can make a deal.”

Mike Schomacher felt Duncan grab the back of his jacket and he, too, was dragged to the hole.  He didn’t protest, didn’t whine, he went limp and let the inevitable happen, but his mind was working overtime.  Mike hit the ground with a grunt and struggled upright next to Gus.

“Duncan, you can have the reward.  I don’t want it.  Just let me go.  You can have Heyes!”  Stainton’s eyes were wild, and his fear poured off him in an almost tangible reek of desperation.

“Give it up, Stainton.  Heyes is a free man.  There’s no reward on him.”  Mike glared up at Duncan, who was lifting the heavy hatch door.

“Lawman’s right, Stainton.  ‘Sides, I don’t need no help going after Heyes.”

“There is money on Heyes.  I’ve got a buyer, but….he wants him alive.  He’ll pay ten grand!”  Stainton saw Duncan begin to swing the door shut and he panicked.  “Stop!!  I can help.”

“Don’t you get it, Stainton?  He wants Heyes for himself,” said Mike, disgusted by Stainton’s admission.  He’d see the man put away for trafficking if they ever got out of here.

“Best you listen to your roommate, he’s right.  Why, I’d pay ten grand for the privilege of killing Heyes, but I’m gonna get him for free.”   With that, the oaken hatch slammed shut and the two imprisoned men where plunged into darkness.

Gus howled and spewed forth a stream of vile curses, but Mike began working the ropes holding his wrists.  They were tight, but he’d tightened his muscles as Duncan bound him and now, as he relaxed, he felt a small amount of play in the bindings.

Duncan could hear Stainton’s cussing as he took advantage of the situation and walked into the second stall where Karma was still standing tied to the manger.  She blew nervously and tensed up as this hated but persistent man walked up to her.
 
“Easy girl,”  he made the effort to sooth her and patted her on the neck.  She jumped and tried to sidle away from him.  “You may as well give it up old girl,”  he advised her.  “I keep telling you that you'll get used to me and you'll come to know your place, but you just don't want to believe it do you?”

He smirked again at her obvious discomfort and untying her reins, he led her out of the barn and into the sunlight. Wes' gelding sent an anxious nicker after her, not liking the idea of being left alone in this unfamiliar barn that was obviously haunted.  Voices coming up from under the floor boards indeed!  Nobody was going to tell him that was normal!

Unfortunately Karma kept going and disappeared.  Once outside Duncan stopped and considered the two horses that were tired to the hitching rail.  Even under present pressing circumstances he knew that riding the tall mare was just asking for trouble.  He'd have to wait until he got her to a secure place and then he'd let her know who was boss. But in the meantime, he needed a solid horse to ride.
 
The mare he’d been mounted on was spent.  She wouldn’t be going any further until she'd had some time to rest.  He also knew that trouble was most likely heading his way and the law weren't the only people on his trail this day so he had no time to waste.  As much as he wanted Heyes he knew he couldn't take the time to look for him.  On the other hand, he knew Heyes was around here somewhere as he would never leave his precious mare behind, and if Duncan played this right Heyes would come after him.  And Duncan would be ready for him.

 He walked over to the two horses tied to the hitching rail and gave them both a quick looking over.  The sheriff’s mount was a tall, solid bay who looked like he was still pretty fresh. Turning to the horses, he untied the bay and swung into the saddle,  He gathered up Karma's reins and got them organized, then shocked the sensitive bay with a brutal raking of spurs and plunged the animal into a wild-eyed gallop.  Dragging the reluctant liver mare behind him he made no efforts to cover his tracks.  

xxxxx

 Ames stuck close to Allie most of the day unsure of where he stood with Wheat and Kyle.  He knew they were angry with him.  They had every right to be; he’d almost killed their friend.  Had he ruined his own friendship with Kyle?  It pained him to think so.  He’d never had a real friend before and he hated to think he’d lost his first one already. 
Miz Medgar had been happy to ride along with him, trying to pull him from his fugue by chatting happily about her ranch and the ladies who inhabited it.  She seemed like a real nice lady and he was grateful for her attentions.  He was listening to her speak when he noticed Feeley casting his eyes back towards them.  He didn’t think much of it; just figured the man was wondering why such a fine lady would pay any attention to a misfit like himself.

'That little tramp was sucking up to the fire bug like her life depended on it,' thought Feeley.  'Who did she think she was?  She might be married to a decent man now, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t one of Heyes’ cast-off whores.  Look at her.  No respectable woman would give Ames the time of day, but she was laughing and teasing the boy like he was her new best friend.  What had Medgar been thinking, picking up Heyes’ sloppy seconds?'  He turned back in his saddle and let her laughter drift past him on the wind. 

Feeley wasn’t a bad-looking man.  He’d had more than his share of women, and had a healthy appetite when it came to fun in the sack.  Ever since Trevors recruited him, he’d been wishing he’d had the good sense to say no.  He was tired of sleeping on the hard ground and sick of eating trail food, but most of all, he missed the feminine company he could purchase in Porterville.  When he met Medgar’s woman and heard tell of her history with Heyes, he’d thought it might be kind of amusing to spark her some.  When the ex-outlaw and her husband left with the rest of the posse, he’d decided to try to get some bragging rights to Heyes’ leftovers.  That would be a story to take back to Porterville.
He’d tried to be friendly but she’d avoided him like the plague, making sure she was never alone with him for a minute.  He’d been irritated, but he’d figured she was married now and trying to be something she wasn’t; a lady.  At least he’d thought that until he caught her sneaking off with Ames. 


Kyle turned in his saddle and looked back at Allie and Ames laughing together.  He spit out a wad of chaw and watched it splatter on the dusty trail before turning back to Wheat.  “What’re we gonna do with Ames, Wheat?”

“Why you askin’ me?  You’re the one goin’ around pickin’ up strays.  He’s your responsibility and I can tell you Heyes’ll have a thing or two to say to you and that pup when he gets back.”

“That’s what I’m worried about.  Heyes is gonna kill 'im for startin’ that fire.  Hell, I kind'a want ta' kill 'im myself.”

“Yeah, me too.  I never would’ve come along on this job if I’d known we’d be burning out the Hole,” said Carlson.
“It was like watchin’ the family home burn to the ground, weren’t it?”

“Only home me and you’ve known for most our lives and now it’s gone and it’s our fault it is.  Sticks in my craw.  As long as the Hole was there, I thought we’d have a place to go home to if things went south for us.”

“Yeah, even when Duncan was runnin’ things, it felt like home.  Like I could walk around the corner and see Preacher and Lobo and the rest of them boys.  But they’s gone, too,” Kyle’s voice dropped to a wistful whisper.

Wheat was silent thinking of the old days when they’d been the Devil’s Hole Gang.  The most feared and revered outlaw gang the west had ever seen.  But his mind skipped forward to that fateful meeting with Marshal Morrison and the carnage that had been inflicted on the unsuspecting outlaws.  That had been the death of the gang.  Tom Duncan might’ve resurrected the name, but he could never restore the reputation.  Everyone knew that Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were the Devil’s Hole Gang.  Even he knew it.  He’d run the gang on and off for years after the boys left, but he’d never managed the success that Heyes had as leader.  No one could.  Too bad he hadn’t been able to admit that to himself sooner; it might’ve saved him a world of hurt and pain.  It might’ve saved his men’s lives.  Why had he ever thought he’d be able to keep them safe?  His throat tightened with unshed tears and he coughed into his fist.

“You okay, Wheat?” asked Kyle.  He was pretty sure he knew where Wheat’s thoughts had strayed.  It was plain by the flush of color in his ears, that Wheat was upset.  Kyle knew the signs.  Ever since, the day…well, that day; his big, burly friend had been a changed man.  The physical toll was something Wheat could cope with, the emotional pain was much harder for him to handle.

“I’m fine.”  Wheat cleared his throat and changed the subject abruptly.  “We’ll camp tonight at the old line shack on the side of Ward’s Hill.  We ought to be there in an hour or so.”

“Ain’t that kind'a early to be stoppin’?”

“It’s the best place to overnight.  Ain’t nowhere else as good.  We’ll get a good night’s sleep and get an early start in the morning.  That’ll put us in Porterville by midday.”

“What’re we gonna do ‘bout Ames, Wheat?” 

“I know what I’d like to do,” growled Wheat, but he quickly softened.  “Hell, I don’t know, Kyle.  He’s just a dumb kid; just like we was once.  But this fire thing, it’s real serious.  We can’t be havin’ that.”

“I’ll talk to 'im, Wheat.  If’n he stops, can he stay?” asked the smaller man. 

Wheat saw the pleading look on Kyle’s face.  Geez, it was like a kid askin’ for a puppy.  Well, hell, every one of them was a misfit in one way or another.  Ames wasn’t any different.

“He can stay, but he sets one more fire and he’s out.”

“You’re the boss, Wheat,” smiled Kyle, “I’ll go talk to 'im; let 'em know we’re stoppin’ soon.”  He missed the frown that crept onto his friend’s face. 

Wheat had no desire to be boss ever again.  He took the reins to the horses Kyle was leading and kept his eyes on the road ahead.  The prisoners sat their horses, trailing out behind him.  Occasionally, they chatted with each other, but mostly they rode along in an unhappy silence.  They’d just lost their home, their livelihood, and their freedom.  Carlson knew exactly how they felt and it depressed him to be on this side of the law; leading men he’d ridden with, shared meals with, off to prison.

Kyle galloped beyond Ames and Allie, slowed his horse as he turned, and jogged up alongside Ames.  The youngster had watched him ride by Feeley, who was riding behind the prisoners.  When he’d realized Kyle was going talk to him, he’d become silent, and now turned frightened eyes towards him.  Murtry was shocked at the haunted look on his face.  It was plain to see the boy understood what he’d done was wrong.  Softening a little, Kyle smiled at him. 

“Thought I’d better come back and see what was so funny.”

“Miz Allie’s been telling me some stories about when she rode with you all,” said Ames.

“She has, has she?  She tell ya' ‘bout the time Wheat got hisself shot by the Kid?”

The boy gave Kyle a genuine smile.  “She sure did and ‘bout how you saved his hide when Heyes was ready to kill him.”
Kyle shifted his eyes to Allie.  “She told ya' that, huh?  Weren’t nothin’.”

“It was somethin’.  Wheat’s a lucky man to have you as a partner,” mumbled Ames.

“Well, he’ll be a good partner to you, too, Ames, if’n you don’t start no more fires.”  Kyle saw his words hit home and Ames smiled broadly at him.

“You’re still willin’ to let me ride with you?  I thought…”

“Don’t matter what you thought.  You did somethin’ real stupid back there, but I reckon we’ve all done stupid things.  It’s what you do from here on out that counts with us.  But I’ll tell you this, Wheat ain’t gonna put up with you settin’ things on fire.  That’s got ta' stop, if’n you’re ridin’ with us.  Understood?”

Joy poured from Ames and he grinned and nodded his head like a chicken pecking at grasshoppers.  “Yessir.  Understood, sir.”

Kyle smiled.  “I ain’t no sir, Ames; I’m your friend.”  He looked past the boy and winked at Allie, who blew him a kiss.  “Wheat says we’ll be stopping early tonight.  Best we close ranks for the rest of the ride.  Ames, you bring up the rear with Feeley, Miss Allie’ll ride with us.”


xxxxx


Mike struggled, trying to free himself as Stainton’s curses subsided into sobs. 

“Stainton, pull yourself together!  We need to get out of here.”

“We ain’t gettin’ outta here.  No one knows we’re here,” said Gus, his voice rising with his fear.  “We’re gonna die here!”  He began moaning and rocking back and forth.  He hated small, dark places and he could feel the earthen walls closing in on him. 

xxxx


Up in the hay loft, Wes was careful to keep himself out of sight.  As much as he now feared Gus he feared Duncan even more.  That man was a killer and Wes wisely didn't want anything to do with him.  He waited and watched as the players arrived, disappeared into the structures only to emerge again and finally enter the main barn.  Seeing Duncan arrive on foot had been a surprise and Heyes noticed his captor shrink down even further behind his cover.

Heyes was battling with two emotions at this point.  He knew that something was going on out in the barnyard but he didn't know what.  This frustrated the dickens out of him as he didn't like feeling out of control.  On the other hand he was still struggling with a fatigue that he could not understand.  All his body and mind seemed to want to do was go to sleep.  It was taking all of his effort to remain not only awake, but focused on the situation at hand.

He struggled against his bindings but Wes had tied them too securely and he couldn't get free.  Finally he took the chance and removed the gag from his mouth.

“Wes...”  he called quietly.

“Shhh...”  Wes motioned him to stay quiet.

Heyes didn't listen.  “What's goin on?”

“Well, Gus and that big sheriff were exploring the house but now they've gone in to the barn where you were suppose to be.  But now, that Duncan fella has shown up....”

“Duncan?”  Heyes didn't sound to pleased about that, thoughts of his mare being in that barn instantly coming into his mind.  “Dammit.  What's he doing?”

“Just shuddup,”  Wes snarked back.  He was getting worried; there were too many people here who didn't like him much.

Heyes sat quiet for a minute, his jaw tightening in irritation.

“What's he doing?”  he finally asked again.

“Damn,” Wes whispered.  “he must 'a got a drop on Gus and that sheriff friend of yours cause now he's comin' outa the barn leading your mare.”

“Dammit!”  Heyes cursed.  “What about the horse he rode in on?”

“Will you keep your voice down?”  Wes snarked at him, totally forgetting about the gag that his prisoner was suppose to be wearing.  “He didn't ride in on any horse—he walked in.”

“Dammit!”  Heyes cursed again.  “If he rode that mare into the ground....”

“He's gettin' on that big gelding the sheriff was riding and he's....”  Wes ducked down again.  

Heyes didn't need Wes to tell him what happened next as he could hear the hoof beats of the galloping horses well enough for himself.

“I guess he put Gus and the sheriff into the Indian hole,”  Wes surmised as he turned from the window and sat back on the hay covered floor but then he sent a worried look over to Heyes.

Heyes picked up on that look right away and went for the advantage.

“You know you have to let me go,”  Heyes told the young man.  “That sheriff isn't going to stay down forever and he knows me.  If Gus hasn't already spilled the beans, Mike is going to figure this out.  He's big but he's not stupid.  He knows you have no right to hold me and there's nowhere you can go with me tied to a saddle.
“It's not like I'm still wanted Wes.  Too many people know who I am; you're never going to get me to wherever it is Gus was planning on taking me.  Either my friends are going to track you down or we'll simply be running into other people who know me.  I admit I used to curse the fact that I couldn't hide from my past but now it's kinda in my favour isn't it?”

Wes couldn't meet Heyes' eyes and the more Heyes talked the more it began to make sense.  Heyes had a knack for that.

“You let me go and I'll make sure the law doesn't hold you responsible,”  Heyes continued reasonably. “But if you insist on handing me over to some railroad baron, you know what he's gonna do to me.  It'd be murder—pure and simple. And he's not willing to pay out ten grand of his own money in order to play nice.  He's planning on taking his time and even the Kid won't be able to recognize me when he's done.  It'll be worse than murder.  Do you really think you'll be able to sleep nights if you  hand me over to that?
“Not to mention the fact that even if you do succeed in handing me over and collecting your 'blood money', you'll never get the chance to spend it.  Kid Curry will track you down and you can bet he won't hesitate to kill you, that is of course after he has persuaded you to tell him who you sold me to.  Still, he'll kill ya' faster than that baron is gonna kill me.
“He'll probably start by cutting out my tongue, well 'cause everybody knows what a good talker I am.  Then he'll start cutting off my fingers one at a time to get back at me for all the safe's I've opened and locks I've picked.  Who knows; then he might go after my toes.  Then gouge out my eyes—with a dull stick of course.  Why use a sharp knife.”  Heyes visibly swallowed as another thought came unbidden to him.  “Oh, I suppose he might castrate me after that—or maybe he'll do that first.  That wouldn't be nice....”

“Alright!”  Wes finally couldn't stand the images any longer.  “Alright—I'll let you go.  Just—shut  up!”

Heyes' dimples flashed as Wes got to his feet and came over to his captive.  He squatted down in front of him and looked him in the eye.

“You promise though,”  he told Heyes,  “you'll let the law know that I let you go.”

“Yeah yeah,”  Heyes nodded.  “I promise.  C'mon.”

“Yeah alright,”  Wes grumbled as he began to work the knots.  “Damn, I never heard a man go on and on the way you do.  I'm about ready to cut out your tongue myself. Geesh! No wonder Duncan had you gagged—and I shoulda kept ya' gagged!”

“Naw, you don't mean that Wes,”  Heyes told him as he got his hands unravelled.  “I've saved you from a whole lot of sleepless nights, believe me.”

“Uh huh,”  Wes didn't sound necessarily convinced.

Heyes grabbed the support beam and pulled himself to his feet.  He was still feeling unsteady but thoughts of that bastard being in possession of his mare yet again was driving him to get after it.  His adrenaline was beginning to pump and he was heading for the ladder before the final knots around his wrists had been released.

Wes was on his feet and following in an instant and the two men headed down to the ground floor with both of them now in a hurry to get away from this ranch.

Heyes ran straight over to the one horse still standing tied to the rail and began to get himself organized.  The little chestnut danced around with the infectious excitement as Heyes mounted up and pulled the rifle from the boot.  He was more than aware that he didn't have his schofield with him but he didn't want to take the time to look for another.  The rifle would have to do.

Muffled and complaining voices from inside the barn caught both their attentions.  

“You go let them out Wes,”  Heyes instructed.  “You tell Mike that you let me go.”

“What!?”  Wes suddenly felt fear creep up his spine.  “But you said you'd...”

“Don't have time!”  Heyes announced as he turned the flighty little horse on it's haunches and headed for open country.  “Don't worry; it'll be fine!”

And then he was gone, the little horse sending up puffs of dust from his hind feet as he powered into an energetic gallop.  Wes stood watching him go, feeling slightly shocky at this turn of events.  Listening to the muffled cursing from inside the Indian hole, he began to form his own idea of how to keep himself safe.  Letting a large sheriff and his now betrayed comrade out of that hole wasn't one of them.

Despite fear pounding his heart against his chest, he ran into the barn and untied his own nervous horse and led him out of the stall.  The horse was so happy to be leaving that haunted space that he very nearly ran over his saviour in the process and Wes had to lean a shoulder back into him to get him slow down.

Once out of the barn though, Wes wasted no time at swinging up into the saddle and giving his horse free rein.  He didn't care where they went just so long as it was away from this ranch, and not in the same direction that Heyes had gone in.  The horse reared in his excitement then lounged forward and kicking up their own little puffs of dust they left the scene of the drama and disappeared into the back country.

Inside the dark hole Gus was still fretting anxiously.  Mike could smell the fear wafting off him and the cracked voice continuing to complain just made the smaller man's panic all the more noticeable—and irritating.

“There is a way for us to get out of this you know,”  Mike stated what he thought was obvious.

“Yeah!?”  Gus quivered.  “How?  With our hands and feet tied how are we gonna get up that ladder!?”

“Easy,”  Mike stated calmly.  “You manoeuvre over towards my voice until we can get back to back and then you untie me.”

“You big stupid ox!  Do ya' think I'm an idiot!?”  Gus practically screamed in his panic.  “I untie you, you're just gonna get out and leave me in here by myself!  No way I'm trustin' you ta' let me outa here!  You untie me!”

“Nope,”  Mike stated plainly.  “After what I heard you telling Duncan there's no way I'm letting you loose.  Not only will you leave me in here, you won't even tell anyone I am here.  I ain't lettin' you go Gus, but I won't leave you down here either.  That's a promise.”

Gus snorted through his fear.  “Yeah, like I'm gonna believe some law-dog!  You untie me...shit!  What was that!?”

“What?”

“Somethin' just crawled over me!”  Gus declared, his voice rising a notch.

“I wouldn't worry too much about that,”  Mike commented.  “It's probably just a snake, or a rat, or a big spider.”

“What!?  Get me outa here!  Untie me!”  Silence met this hysterical demand and the smile that was sent in the direction of the quivering voice was totally hidden in the darkness.  “Answer me you stupid oaf!  Where are ya'?  Answer me!  Don't you leave me in here alone!  Answer me.....!”

xxxxx


Keats shifted away from Wheat as he leaned down to check the ropes binding the four imprisoned outlaws to the trunk of a tall fir tree.  Fergie kept his eyes down as his ropes were checked.  Grunting, Carlson stood up and checked the next man, Charlie Jones, and then Hutch, who stared challengingly at his former friend.

“So you and Kyle was workin’ for the law the whole time you was ridin’ with us?”

“Yep.”

“I shoulda known better than to think you two would ride with the likes of Tom Duncan,” said Keats.

“You all hungry?  Kyle’s re-heating last night’s meal,” said Wheat, refusing to be drawn in.

“We ain’t hungry,” growled Charlie.  “Gettin’ turned in by our ‘friends’ is sorta ruinin’ our appetites.”

“Shuddup, you damned fool!” snapped Fergie, glaring at Keats. 

“You turnin’ on us, too, Fergie?” challenged Jones.

Ignoring the baiting, Wheat grunted, “More for the rest of us, then,” and turned to go.

“Guess we was luckier than his last gang.  They all ended up dead,” said Keats, freezing Carlson mid-step as he walked away. 

“Yeah, was you workin’ for the law then, too, Wheat?” chuckled Hutch. 

The reaction was incredibly swift for such a large man.  Wheat spun and covered the few remaining feet between him and Hutch.  He grabbed the bound man by his shirt collar, but the ropes held the man tight to the tree.  Struggling, cursing, and growling like a rabid dog, Carlson tried to pull him free.  The ropes dug into Hutch’s chest and he yowled for help. 

Kyle had seen Wheat go for the man and, dropping the spoon he’d been using to stir the stew, he rushed over to restrain his partner.  Ames quickly joined him.  Together, they caught Wheat’s arms and yanked him off Hutch.  Feeley and Allie watched from where they were graining the horses, ready to jump in and help if needed.

“Wheat!  Cut it out!” cried Kyle.  “Can’t ya' see they’s messin’ with ya'?” He and Ames hung on grimly as Carlson tried to shake the two off. 

The smaller men were lifted off their feet several times, but refused to loosen their holds.  Eventually, Wheat slowed and then stopped, panting.

“Ames, get Wheat some 'a that stew and make sure the rest of it don’t burn,” snapped Kyle, pushing his big partner towards the food.  He stood watching with his hands on his hips as his younger friend led Wheat away, then he swung his attention to the three men at his feet.

“Damn, Kyle, your partner’s plumb crazy!” coughed Hutch. 

The other two said nothing, but watched the smaller man warily waiting to see what he was going to do.

“You got a death wish, Hutch?” Kyle glared down at the man.  “What the hell was you thinkin’?”

Hutch narrowed his eyes and scowled.  “I was thinkin’ that maybe you two have a long history of turnin’ on your friends.”

Murtry spit a stream of chaw at Hutch’s feet.  The brown, tarry juice splattered in an uneven pattern, coating the dusty boots.  “You weren’t never our friends.  Heyes and the Kid are.”

“Yeah, well, they’s good for nothin’ turncoats, too,” said Jones. 

Fergie was remaining quiet.  There was nothing to be gained by tormenting their captors except, maybe, a good beating.

“Don’t you say that!” yelled Kyle, curling his fists into hard, round balls.  “Heyes and the Kid would never turn their backs on their friends.”

“That so?  Don’t look that way to me,” said Keats.  “Guess you oughta tell that to your old gang buddies.  Oh, that’s right, you can’t.”

Kyle nearly went for him, but pulled himself up short.  “That’s right, Keats.  They’s all dead.  ‘Cept me and Wheat.  So you should listen up when we tell you Heyes and the Kid stand by their friends, ‘cause we know.  If’n it weren’t fer Heyes, I’d never have made it through prison alive.  He kept Ames alive, too, just ‘cause he was my friend.”

“And now you’re his bitch, right?” laughed Jones.

“Let’s see how you’re laughin’ after you spend a month or two in prison.  Ain’t many friends to be found there.  You thinkin’ these other two are gonna stand with you?” said Kyle.

Jones’ eyes widened and he turned to look speculatively at his two partners.

“Heyes stood by us, and he stood by Wheat, too.  Morrison damned near killed him and the law was after Wheat, but Heyes cut us a deal.  We got our pardons' so long as we help out Heyes when he needs us to, so yeah;  Damn straight, we’s workin’ for the law now.  But even at that, we'd 'a left you fellas alone if'n ya' hadn't taken over Devil's Hole.  That's our place and no two-bit low-life like Duncan is gonna sully our reputation.”

Young Mr. Jones looked sheepish, but Hutch sneered.  “What the hell did Heyes care about Devil's Hole?  He walked out on you fellas and Carlson's the one who dragged the Hole into the ground—not us!  We was gonna resurrect it back to it's old glory—Heyes had no call ta' bring the law after us, or after Duncan.”

“Duncan tried to kill Heyes; you saw it same as me.”

“I saw Duncan trying to kill a traitor.  Too bad he didn’t succeed.  Maybe the Hole’d still be there if he had.”

Kyle knew he was being baited and he drew a deep breath.  “Instead of pokin’ at Wheat, you should be thankin’ him.”

“What the hell for?”  Keats asked incredulously.

“’Cause you’re gettin’ outta Duncan’s gang alive.  Davis weren't so lucky—remember,” Kyle spit more tobacco juice into the dust then turned and walked away, leaving the men tied to the tree.  The three men watched his back retreat and then turned to Fergie.

“You really buy Duncan killin’ Davis, Ferg?” asked Jones.

Fergie stared at his three men and then gave a quick, sharp nod.

“But we all saw Duncan let him go,” said Hutch.

“Duncan just wanted you to think he’d let him go; he tracked down Davis and shot him in the back,” said Fergie.

“How can you be sure?  We didn’t see no body.  Tom let Ames go and that kid had crossed him.  Davis never done nothin’ wrong,” said Jones.  He hadn’t bought the story the first time he heard it, but now he was beginning to wonder, he was inclined to believe it if Fergie did.  They’d all felt the effects of Duncan’s temper.

“Duncan don’t kill for a reason, Charlie; he’s nuts.  He does it for fun…when the mood strikes him,” said Fergie. 

He felt responsible for Davis and Orrison and all the others who had disappeared over the time Duncan ruled the Hole.  He’d known all along that there was something terribly wrong with Tom Duncan; had suspected that Tom might even of had a falling out with Gerald and done him in, but he’d kept his doubts to himself.  And now more men were dead and the Hole was gone.  Because of him, because he hadn’t stood up to Duncan and taken the gang when he could have.  Dropping his head, Fergie stared at his feet, signaling to his men that the conversation was over.

The stunned prisoners spent the next few hours trying to absorb the truth now as they knew it.

 Xxxx

Feeley watched Allie through the flames of the fire. 

She poked at the coals with a small, stripped branch and seemed to let the idle conversation flow over her.  Her thoughts were on Scott and she wondered where her husband was and if he was safe.  It was awful being separated from him.  They’d hardly been apart since they’d been married being one of those couples who immensely enjoyed each other’s company.  Without him, she felt lost and off-balance.  She tried to wear a happy face for the others, especially Ames, but it was getting more and more difficult.  She wouldn’t be comfortable until she saw Scott again.  And Heyes.  She wanted them both safe and restored to her.

“Miss Allie?” asked Kyle, disturbing her thoughts.

“Hmm?” she replied.

“What are you plannin’ on doin’ after we get to Porterville?” said the small outlaw, repeating the question Wheat had voiced a moment before.

She looked over at him, distracted.  “Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.  I’ll wait for Scott and then we’ll go home—I hope, as long as everything goes well with Heyes.”

“Don’t you worry none, Heyes has more lives than an alley cat,” said Wheat.

“Perhaps, but even a cat will eventually run out of lives,” she said morosely. 

“Not Heyes.  Never seen a man with better luck.” 

Wheat tossed another log onto the fire and watched Allie poke at it.

“Funny, isn’t it?  When we rode together before, I never thought about what the next day would bring.  I was so busy living in the here and now; I never worried about the future.  Now I worry about it all the time.  Will my children grow up and lead good lives?  Will Scott and I be as contented as we are now?  Will he and Heyes return in one piece?  Everything is a question now.”

“Aw, they’ll be fine.  Just you wait.  Why, who knows, maybe they’ll even be waitin’ in Porterville for us to show up,” said Kyle.

Feeley snorted his derision.  “Fat chance.  It could take months to find Heyes; less’n he’s dead.”

“Shut up, Feeley,” snapped Ames, “Can’t you see you’re upsettin’ the lady?”

“Looks to me like the lady’s doing a fine job of that herself,” said Feeley.  “I’m turning in.”  He got up and dusted the dirt off his pants, walking out of the light.  The others heard him climbing into his sleeping bag and were pleased to be relieved of his company. 

“Guess I’d better go on watch,” said Ames.  He, too, stood up and drifted away from the fire.

Wheat studied the woman before him and gently said, “They’ll be fine.  Your husband’s no fool and he’s got Monty and the Kid backin’ him up.  Even if they don’t find Heyes, those two will see Scott home safely.”

Allie’s stricken eyes met his.  “Do you think it’s possible they won’t find Heyes?  Please, Wheat, be honest with me.”
He wondered how honest he could be, but he answered her as best he could.  “Tom Duncan has it in for Heyes.  If he’s got Heyes, there’s no tellin’ what he’s gonna do, but I sure wouldn’t want to be in his shoes if the Kid catches up with them.”

Her eyes filled with tears.  “I couldn’t stand it if something happened to him.”

“Now don’t go buyin’ trouble, Miss Allie,” said Kyle.

“I love him.  Not like I love Scott, but I love him.  I love you, too.  You’re all a part of me and I couldn’t bear losing any of you.”  She stood up and hurried away, disappearing into the bushes ringing the clearing.

Kyle glanced at Wheat and he could see a moistness spring into the bigger man’s eyes.  They both knew she was upset and needed time to sort out her feelings.  He felt all kinds of tangled up himself.  “Wheat, what’re we gonna do if…”

“There ain’t no 'if', Kyle.  The Kid’s gonna find Heyes and bring him home.  That’s all there is to it.”

“But…,” the words died on Kyle’s lips.  There was nothing more to say.  He got up and made to follow Allie, but Wheat growled, “Leave her be awhile.  Ames is out there.  He’ll keep an eye on her.”


Feeley rolled over onto his side and watched the Medgar woman walk into the forest.  She took a different direction than Ames had and he knew she was going off by herself to lick her wounds.  No one followed her.  He laid still for a long time, pretending to be asleep while listening to the sounds of Kyle dousing the fire, and Wheat checking the horses one last time before going to bed.  It wasn’t long before he heard a snore or two from the ex-outlaws’ sleeping bags.  Slowly and stealthily, he crawled out of his own bag and pulled on his boots.  He told himself that he was just going to make sure she was all right.  Trevors had made him a deputy and it was his job to see that she was safe.  He hurried into the forest taking the same direction she had.


Last edited by Keays on Sun Apr 13, 2014 3:06 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.   Sun Apr 13, 2014 2:30 pm

Allie sat on a stump by the small stream bisecting the valley.  Wheat had said that they would follow the water tomorrow and it would lead them to Porterville.  The moonlight cast a silvery glow that sparkled and undulated across the current and she was soothed by the sounds of the water cascading over the small rocks and debris that littered the watercourse.  She tried to erase all her thoughts and simply allow the night to envelope her.  It worked.  She didn’t hear Feeley creeping through the shrubs in her direction and was both surprised and alarmed when he emerged upstream from her perch.

“You followed me!” She jumped to her feet and faced him.

“Yes’m, I did; ain’t safe for a lady to be out here alone,” he sneered.  “You’re a lady, ain’t you?”

“What kind of question is that?” she snapped.

“A fair question, I’d say.”  Feeley drew nearer and she stood up.

“I’m fine.  Leave me alone.”

“No, ma’am.  I ain’t gonna do that.”  He was annoyed by her superior, commanding tone.  Who the hell did she think she was?  He’d show her.  Feeley took several more steps and stopped.  He wanted some of what she had given Ames.

Allie stared at him, but refused to back away or show any weakness.  She’d learned a long time ago that men didn’t expect a woman to stand up to them and were confused when they did.  That confusion could work in her favor.  She had no doubt that Feeley was a threat and she took him seriously.  She wasn’t taking any chances with him and slid her hand into her skirt pocket, reaching for the small derringer she had concealed in a holster strapped to her thigh.  Her mother, Ruth, had taught her the trick of cutting out a pocket so that she could easily reach the weapon.  She kept her eyes on Feeley and saw his glance shift to her hand as he jumped for her.  She clawed for her gun as he came on.

Feeley grabbed her arm with his right hand and pulled it away from the pocket, knocking the gun from her hand and tearing the fabric of her skirt.  He rabbit-punched her with his left fist and her head snapped back.  Dazed, she lolled sideways and he pulled her back hard up against him, one arm holding her arms pinned to her side, and the other wrapping across her mouth, preventing a scream.  She could feel his desire growing as she squirmed and it infuriated her.  She kicked back lifting her head and catching him on his chin as her stacked-heel boot came down hard on his instep.  He cursed loudly, but held on.

 “You bitch!”

Angry, Feeley tore at her blouse, popping buttons and exposing her chemise.  Allie knew he was going to rape her and she fought with everything she had.  She felt his left hand reached for her breasts and she screamed into his right hand and bit the palm.  Enraged, he hit her again and shoved her to the ground, climbing onto her and yanking at her skirt.

“Stop!”  Ames skidded to a halt, his gun drawn, and his hand shaking with nerves.  He had heard Feeley’s curses and had known immediately that Miz Medgar was in trouble.

“You had yours.  Now it’s my turn,” growled Feeley, releasing Allie’s mouth and pulling her blouse away.  She bit at him again and screamed at the top of her lungs.  Lifting a hand to strike her again, Feeley heard a nearby explosion, felt a searing pain in his chest, and fell forward onto Allie, writhing in agony. 

Scrambling with her nails, Allie dug her way out from under him as Ames reached down and pulled her up.  He blushed at the sight of her dishabille and looked away, but Allie stood over Feeley, panting, and spit on the wounded man.

Wheat and Kyle crashed through the forest, guns drawn, and stopped cold at the sight of Allie.  Her arms were crossed tightly about her chest and she was shaking with anger and fear.  Ames was kneeling next to Feeley.

“Are you all right?” roared Wheat.  He’d known the moment he’d seen her what had happened and he was furious.

Allie looked up, her eyes wide and shocked, but she nodded meekly. 

Kyle pulled off his jacket and hurried to drape it about her.  He pulled her into his arms and stroked her back soothingly.  “There, there, Miss Allie.  It’s all right.”  He spoke to her like he’d soothe a fearful horse and, when her shaking stopped, her tears started. 

Kyle towed her along with him towards camp, leaving Wheat standing over Ames.  He had a bottle of whiskey stashed in his saddle bag and he reckoned now was the time to pull it out.

The youngster looked up, white-faced, and more than a little shocked himself.  “He’s dead.  I kilt him, Wheat.  He was tryin’…tryin’....ta'...”

Carlson sighed and holstered his gun.  “I know.  You had to do it.  Man needed killing attacking a woman like that.”  He patted the boy on the back.  “She’s lucky you got here in time.”

Ames nodded his head numbly and stood up.  “I guess so.  I just wish…”

“Wish what?  That Feeley was a better man?  This ain’t your fault, Ames.  He brought this on, not you.”  Wheat rubbed his stubbly face and looked down at the corpse.  “Help me drag this piece of shit back to camp.”
 
xxxx


Lom and Scott jogged their horses down the main street of Murreyville.  They were both hot and thirsty but felt the pressure to find the Sheriff's office first before taking any respite for themselves.  Lom had never been in Murreyville before seeing that he and Morrison didn't really get along all that well, but business was business and Mike Schomacher seemed congenial enough.  Heyes never had a bad thing to say about him and that speaks volumes considering it was Schomacher who had kept him under lock and key.

The way the town was laid out, the Sheriff's office wasn't exactly an easy place to find.  Both men were scanning the buildings along the boardwalks and seemed to find everything but the local law office.  Lom had to concede that some towns were like that as those that survived tended to expand and grow out beyond the original boarders.  What once might have been a simple lay-out would lose its logic as streets and new intersections were added, businesses expanded and the residential quarter blossomed.  Still made trying to locate the sheriff's office down right frustrating.

Finally Lom turned his horse's head towards a group of men standing and smoking outside the mercantile.  “Excuse me,”  he called over to them.  “Can you tell us where the sheriff's office is?”

“Oh yeah, sure,”  one gentleman offered.  “Actually ya' passed it.  Go back the way ya' come, past the hotel then turn right at the next street.  Can't miss it.”

Lom tipped his hat.  “Thank you.”

The sheriff glanced over at Scott who rolled his eyes.  “They sure don't make it easy do they?”

“Nope.”

Ten minutes later the sheriff and the rancher stepped into the relative coolness of the required office and found themselves face to face with a rather youthful looking deputy.

“Howdy son,”  Lom greeted him.

The deputy scowled slightly at the informal 'son', irritated that nobody seemed to take him seriously.  He was an official deputy now and actually had to shave every single morning; the least they could do was show him a little respect.  But then he wisely decided that this very official looking lawman might deserve some respect of his own, and he stood up to shake hands.

“Sheriff,”  he said, then simply tipped his hat to Scott, not sure what official title he might hold.  “What can I do for ya'?”

“I'm Lom Travers out of Porterville,”  Lom introduced himself.  “And this is Scott Medgar, a rancher over by Denver.”

The deputy nodded, trying to look like he had some authority here.  “Good ta' meet ya'.  I'm Deputy Carter.  Sheriff Schomacher ain't in town right now but maybe I can help ya'.”

“The sheriff's not here?”  Lom was visibly disappointed.  “Will he be back soon?”

Carter shrugged.  “Donno.  We had a couple of big time outlaws in here—well one of 'em was big time, I suppose the other was just some hanger-on.  But he's dead now anyways, so don't matter....”

“Slow down Deputy,”  Lom instructed him.  “What outlaws did you have here and who's dead?”

“Oh hell, I can't remember his name,”  Carter admitted.  “I always did have a hard time with them foreigners.  It was somethin' Mexican though.”

Lom and Scott exchanged glances.  “Jose Yamis?”  Scott ventured.

Carter instantly brightened up.  “Yeah!  That was it.  Don't matter none now though; he's deader than a chicken in the pot.  Got his throat cut by his own buddy.  Geesh!  Honour among outlaws, huh?”

Lom sighed, beginning to feel irritated.  “And his buddy's name was...?”

“Oh now his I remember!”  Carter informed them triumphantly.  “Probably because I already heard a' him.  And I tell ya' he sure lived up ta' everything I'd heard too.  Real cold-blooded son-of-a....”

“Deputy Carter!” Lom was out of patience.  “His name!”

“Oh!  Ah, Tom Duncan.”

Both Lom and Scott groaned.

“You had Tom Duncan in this jailhouse and you let him get away?”  Lom needed confirmation.

“Oh well,”  Carter squirmed.  “I mean he's real slippery, Sheriff.  And like I said; he didn't seem to mind killin' his own partner in order to get away too.  Now who would go expectin' that?”

“And Sheriff Schomacher has gone after him?”  Lom asked.  “Alone?”

“Oh no, not alone,”  Carter assured them and they both felt a sense of relief until the deputy carried on.  “the bounty hunter what brought Duncan in went with 'em.  Ahh, what was his name now....?”

“Gus Stainton by any chance?”  Lom offered up.

“Yeah, that was it!”

“And no sign of Heyes?”

“Who?”

“Hannibal Heyes!”  Lom yelled at him.  “Did he come into town with Duncan!?”

“Oh, no—dagnabbit!”  the deputy complained.  “Now him I sure woulda' liked to have met.  That Duncan ain't got nothin' on Hannibal Heyes.”

“Dammit!”  Lom cursed.

“What the hell is goin' on here?”  Scott asked no one in particular.

“I donno,”  Lom sighed.  “Gus and Wes must have split up and Heyes must be with Wes.  But what are they up to?  I know Duncan has some kind of personal vendetta against Heyes but what are Wes and Gus thinkin'?  If they're after some bounty on Heyes they must know they're outa luck.  He ain't even wanted anymore.”

“I got a real bad feeling about all this,”  Scott admitted.  “If Wes and Gus are  up to no good, that sheriff could be heading into a whole lot of trouble.”

A ghost of a smile crossed Lom's face.  “You never met Mike Schomacher have ya'?”

“Well, no.  But what's that got...?”

“I'm thinkin' it's Gus who might come out the loser on this,”  Lom informed him.  “Duncan's the one I'm worried about.  If he's goin' after Heyes, that's where there'll be trouble.  Which way were they headed, Deputy?”

“Who?”

Lom sighed.  “Duncan!  And then your sheriff!”

“Oh!  Well, kinda'....north east.   Towards the old abandoned Fromer's spread.”

“Thank you Deputy,”  Lom told him.  “I can't tell ya' how much help you've been.”

Deputy Carter smiled at the 'compliment'.  Scott smiled at him as well, but his smile had a totally different meaning behind it.

“Deputy,”  Scott tipped his hat.  “Have a good afternoon.”

“Yeah.  Same ta' you fellas....”

Lom had just walked over to the office door and was reaching for the knob when both he and Scott had to jump back to avoid having said door slam into them.  A large man with a badge who needed no introduction stormed into the  office,  the hard look in his eyes turning to a full grimace when he saw the two visitors.

“Sheriff Trevors,”  he snarked.  “what the hell are you doin' here?”

“Nice to see you too Marshal,”  Lom greeted him and he glanced back at Scott who had noticeably paled at the sight of the imposing lawman.  “Mr. Medgar and I were just on our way to see if we can track down your sheriff. He might be headin' into a whole mess 'a trouble.”

“That's what I'm doin',”  Morrison informed them as he headed over to the gun cabinet to take out his best rifle. “What the hell Schomacher's thinkin' goin' after a bloody murderer all on his own....”

“He ain't on his own Marshal,”  Carter spoke up.  “That bounty hunter...”

“Shuddup!”  Morrison yelled at him.  “I've yet to meet a bounty hunter that's better than nothin'!”

“Yessir,”  Carter feebly agreed and sat back down at the desk.  “I'll just stay here and finish the paperwork.”

“You still haven't answered my question, Trevors,”  Morrison grumbled as he grabbed a box of cartridges.  “What are you doin' here?  You're a long way from home.”

“I can explain that to you on the way, Marshal,”  Lom told him.  “It's not only your sheriff who could be in trouble. I have a real bad feelin' about a friend of mine who's gotten himself caught up in all of this.”

“Fine,”  Morrison agreed as he headed for the door.  “So long as it ain't Heyes.”  The marshal walked past the two men then stopped with his hand on the door knob when no assurance was sent back to him.  He looked suspiciously back at the sheriff.  “Sxxt!”  he exclaimed.  “You tellin' me that damned reprobate is mixed up in all of this?”

“Right up to his neck,”  Lom informed him.  “I'm afraid he could be in some real trouble here.”

“Dammit!”  the marshal swore again as the three men headed outdoors.  “Why the hell doesn't that surprise me!” He slid his rifle into the saddle boot and everyone mounted up.  “When I wanted to find him, it took me a year and hell of a lot of hard work and expense to track him down.  Now that I don't want anything more to do with either one of em' they keep showin' up like a damned ex-wife!  You don't need to tell me that Curry is in on this too—wherever one goes the other follows!  Goddammit....!”

And so the gripping continued as the three men headed out of town at a hand gallop, pointing the horses' noses north east.

Xxxxx

Tom Duncan was having no problems at all with the big gelding he'd stolen but that damn mare was making life difficult.  If truth be known it was only his stubborn pride now that kept him desiring ownership of her.  He'd never been all that fond of mares, finding their attitudes and moodiness more nuisance than most of them were worth. But this particular mare had been different.

She was a beauty for one thing.  Top breeding and gorgeous lines and when the sun shone on that deep liver coat she was enough to take your breath away.  And Tom always prided himself on having the best, even if it meant stealing it away from someone else.  Then when he realized that that someone else was Hannibal Heyes the mare became even more desirable.

Duncan remembered quite clearly when the name of 'Hannibal Heyes' began to have some significance in the territory; like that little up-start of a farmer's son actually thought he was somebody.  Now Big Jim Santana was a man to be respected; he'd paid his dues and worked his way up until he was in a position to demand and get respect.  But when Santana got taken down and that 'boy' had just stepped up from outa nowhere and taken control, well Wheat Carlson hadn't been the only one who'd resented that.

Then to add insult to injury, Hannibal Heyes had not only taken over Devil's Hole, he'd soon brought the gang up to a new infamy.  They became the best in the territory and beyond.  The name 'Hannibal Heyes' began to be spoken with reverence and admiration—or anger and spite, depending on your point of view.  Anyone lucky enough to get on with Devil's Hole was envied and the gang flourished to become the most successful and the most notorious.

The Duncan brothers seethed with resentment.  They'd been in the business since Hannibal Heyes and Jed Curry had been in grade school and their rustling and robbing ventures were putting them on the top of the list of criminals of the day.  But then Devil's Hole started to take off and soon the Duncan brothers were nickle and dimers compared with the 'great Hannibal Heyes'.  Duncan swore he was going to knock that youngster down a peg or two; let him know who top dog really was.

He'd actually been disappointed when word got out about the arrest of Heyes and Curry.  The fact that they had actually stayed around long enough to go to trial had been another disappointment.  When Heyes had been sent to prison Duncan had to admit defeat; the law had got to him first and they were going to have their pound of flesh.  By the time Heyes would get out of prison—if he ever did—Duncan would probably be dead himself.  So that was the end of it.
 
He could have gone after Curry as a round about way to get to Heyes, but Duncan's brain wasn't capable of grasping that method of revenge.  He didn't care about Curry and if he couldn't have Heyes he'd just have to settle for the law taking care of it.

Then he discovered that the liver mare he coveted was Heyes' pride and joy!  Finally everything was falling into place. Duncan had been presented with a way to make Heyes pay ten fold for his arrogance and his successes at the expense of other, more deserving outlaws!

But now, as he was galloping across the landscape and dragging that resisting mare along behind him he was beginning to wonder why he was even bothering.  Why doesn't he simply shoot the mare and get down to the business of setting a trap.  He knew Heyes was after him.  Didn't need to see or hear the ex-outlaw, Duncan just knew he was coming up behind—and coming up fast.

And yet, Duncan couldn't bring himself to shoot that mare.  His stubborn pride, and his desire to simply take whatever he wanted was too deeply ingrained in his personality, so he galloped on.  Karma dug in her hooves and resisted the human as much as her training would allow but Duncan had wrapped the reins around his saddle horn and her resistance was futile.  The mare found herself fighting against the strength of the big powerful gelding instead of just the grip of the weaker human.  She still made it difficult and slowed the gelding down to some degree, but those reins just refused to break and the mare had no choice but to be pulled along with this hated human.

Heyes was pushing his borrowed horse as hard as he could.  The chestnut was giving his best, but he was much smaller than Karma and no where near as fast.  Heyes could only hope that the horse Duncan was riding, though big and bulky, might not have the speed of a slender, long-legged racer and if Karma was resisting as well, he just might catch up to them.  

But then he had to consider other possibilities as well.  Heyes knew he was lacking in armoury.  He had the rifle that came with the horse, but his preferred schofield had been left behind ages ago.  He was also exhausted.  He couldn't fathom what was causing such fatigue and about the only thing keeping him going was his own determination and the adrenaline that was still charging through his body.  He also knew he had to be careful. Duncan could very well be setting a trap for him and he began to realize that coming out after the outlaw by himself might not have been such a good idea.


Duncan was finally getting tired of dragging that damned mare along behind him and he began to keep his eyes open for a convenient hiding place.  It didn't take long either, not in the typical Wyoming back country.  There were numerous gullies and rock falls that could hide a man and a horse or two in a pinch and Duncan was ready to take advantage of one of them.

He spotted a rock fall up ahead and aiming the big gelding's head towards it, they got in and around it fast enough.  Duncan quickly dismounted, pulling the rifle from the boot as he went.  He tied the gelding to a convenient bush and with the mare's reins still attached to the saddle horn he decided that both horses were adequately anchored.

He made sure the horses were safely hidden from view and then settled in himself behind a large boulder and waited for his intended victim to come galloping past.  He didn't want to kill Heyes outright.  Even now his mind-set was ignoring the danger that he was definitely in.  His mind had gone beyond what would be considered sane.  He'd worked so hard to get Devil's Hole up and running again.  He was going to take back what the law had taken and he was going to make it bigger and more infamous than anything that Hannibal Heyes had done. Duncan was going to show them that he was no pussy foot.  They'd remember Tom Duncan.

But then his men started turning against him. First it was that idiot Orrison who chose to be more loyal to a looser than he was to a leader.  Milton Price had been nobody; who cares if he'd been taken by the law?  Get over it and move on.  But Orrison just wouldn't let it go and Duncan had been forced to kill him.  And the gang blamed him for that?  Couldn't they see that he'd done them a favour?   What kind of loyalty had Orrison shown?  He would have turned on any one of them if it'd meant saving his own skin but nobody else seemed to understand that.

And that snivelling little wimp, Ames.  Served Duncan right for showing that kid mercy; should 'a shot him right outa the saddle along with his buddy Orri.  Would have saved the gang a whole lot of misery  Everybody had turned against Duncan and all he'd been trying to do was make the gang strong; weed out the weak and disloyal ones so the rest of them could work together to make Devil's Hole a gang to be reckoned with again.

But then even Ferguson had shown signs of turning against him.  Fergie—of all people!  He'd been like an uncle to the Duncan boys; had promised on their father's dying breath that he'd watch out for them, then he'd turned his back and walked away.  Nobody in the gang knew anything about loyalty and now here was Tom Duncan all on his lonesome and not liking it one little bit.

In his crumbling state of mind he had decided that all of this was Heyes' fault.  It didn't matter if that line of logic didn't make sense to anybody else; it made sense to Duncan, and Heyes was going to pay.  Not quickly though. Not with a sudden bullet to the chest or a clean head shot, no—that would be too good for the likes of Hannibal Heyes.  He had stolen all of Duncan's thunder back in the good old days and now he'd destroyed Duncan's gang and the Hole all in one swoop.  Now he had the audacity to claim the liver mare as his own as well—was there no limit to the man's insolence?

Duncan sat and waited, listening for the tell tail sounds of a horseman coming at the gallop.  It didn't take long before the thumping of hooves on the hard baked ground vibrated towards them and Duncan settled himself down with the rifle at the ready.  He knew he'd have a clean shot from where he sat and all he had to do was wait until Heyes had lined himself up and then take aim.

Heyes was coming; Duncan knew it.  He levelled the rifle and took aim along the sites, waiting for the horse to come into view.  A quick shot to the animal's lungs and it would crumple on the spot, leaving Heyes on foot and helpless.  All Duncan would have to do was run him down and exact his revenge.

The laboured breathing and struggling hoof beats came closer and soon the animal would line itself up in Duncan's sites.  The outlaw held his breath and cocking the hammer, steadied his rifle against the hot boulder and waited. Then there they were, galloping towards them and then just going past and Duncan had his perfect shot.  He bit his lower lip and put pressure on the trigger just as the liver mare let out a loud whinny.

xxxxx

Jed, Joe and Monty all pulled up at the same instant as the rifle shot broke through the afternoon heat.

“Where did that come from?”  Joe asked as he looked around with some concern.

“Hard to tell, the way it echoed around,”  Monty grumbled,  “but considering the lay of the land and the distance of the sound, I'd say it came from over that way.”

“I'm with you,”  Jed agreed. “C'mon, let's go.”

“Wait!”  Monty ordered, and Jed pulled Gov up without even thinking to question the other man's authority.  “I say we split up.  The shot came from that direction, but that's all we have.  It could be a running battle or a stand off. Or just a signal for that matter.  The best way to cover all the angles is to split up.”

Joe looked concerned.  “Is that such a good idea?”  he asked.  “What if we find trouble?”

“Then start shooting,”  Jed told him. “We won't be that far off and we'll come.”

“That's right, son,”  Monty second it.  “Keep your eyes open.  Move fast but be careful on this rocky landscape. See ya' both on the bottom.”

“Right,”  Jed nodded and turning Gov's head towards the rocky trail to the right, he disappeared into the foliage.

Joe and Monty exchanged glances and Joe shrugged.

“Okay,”  he accepted the older man's wisdom.   “See ya' down there.”  And Joe nudge Betty to trot on down the gully in front of them and then disappear down the rocky slope.

Monty sighed, hoping he had judged this situation correctly.  He pushed his horse onto the trail to the left and the three men worked their way down towards the lower ground where the shot had come from.

Xxxxx

Heyes jerked hard on the reins in reaction to the sudden whinny coming from the rock pile to his right.  The startled gelding instantly halted and reared just as the bullet zinged past his air-pawing hooves.  Then the horse was on all fours again and Heyes turned the gelding's head away from the shot and booted and hat-slapped the animal into a full gallop away from the assault.

Duncan cursed, knowing that now he was going to have to work twice as hard to bring down his man.  He scrambled to his feet and sent an accusing glare over to the smug mare.  Karma's head went up in alarm and she pulled back, expecting some type of reprimand but only slightly relaxed when the blow didn't hit.

Instead, Duncan swung aboard the big bay and booted him back out onto the flats, dragging the reluctant mare behind him.  Not liking the feel of the spurs against his flanks, the gelding tried to get a good gallop going but the mare attached to the saddle horn wasn't giving it up easily.

Karma fought and plunged against the reins until finally she'd had enough and really put her mind into getting away.  She galloped up to run along beside her captor giving Duncan a false sense of compliance and then snatched that sense away as she sat down on her hind quarters.  She dug in all four hooves and with a show of excellent timing, she jerked her head back just as the reins snapped taught against the saddle horn.  The buckle on the headstall gave to the pressure and pinged off the cheek strap to go bouncing onto the ground and getting lost in the dust.  The bridle came loose and with one final shake of her head she dropped the bit out of her mouth and flung the offensive rigging into the air.

Duncan cursed again as Karma swerved away from him, gave an exuberant buck and then took off in a shower of pebbles and dirt at a full triumphant gallop.

The infuriated outlaw very briefly considered changing his focus and shooting down that damned mare and be done with her, but he still couldn't quite give up his desire to possess her.  He let her go—for now—and carried on after his human target.

The big gelding, now free of his anchor powered ahead and finally had the chance to show off what he really had to give.  The powerful hind quarters dug in and pushed the bulky body forward into an amazing long and ground covering stride.  This horse was built for strength.  In a one on one race across the flats with Karma, he wouldn't have stood a chance but over uneven ground, galloping down into a gully and coming right back up the other side without loosing any speed, this horse could not be beat.

He came on like a freight train and was closing the ground between himself and the smaller gelding with every ground shaking stride he took.  Heyes could almost hear them running him down.  He yelled at his horse, slapping him over the rump with the reins trying to get every ounce of speed out of him, but to no avail.  The little fellow was doing the best he could but he was already beginning to fail.  Heyes knew it would only be a matter of moments before he was run down and trampled into the ground at their feet.

With the same sense of timing his mare had shown, Heyes suddenly sat back, deep in his saddle and pulled on the reins.  The little gelding put on the brakes, practically sitting down into the dirt himself and executed a perfect two footed skid that carried on for a good ten feet.  Just as Heyes had surmised, Duncan had been right behind him and powerful as that bigger gelding was, he had too much bulk to be able to stop that quickly and he shot on past the smaller horse.

Duncan hauled on the reins, trying to bring the gelding down and turn him around to face their adversary, but Heyes had his rifle level by then and let go a shot.  But his horse was stressed and dancing on the spot so Heyes' aim was off and the bullet went wide.  Duncan growled in rage and finally getting his horse turned around, he came at Heyes with murder in his eyes.

Heyes swung his horse around and booted him to get out of the way, but he didn't quite make it.  Duncan's horse ploughed into the other animal's hindquarters and sent him spinning around and almost going down in the effort to keep his balance.  Heyes hung on for dear life but lost the grip on his rifle.  The weapon flew from his grasp and clattered into the dirt well out of reach of the antagonists.

Heyes picked his horse up and got him organized again, but that big gelding was barreling towards them once more and this time he hit square on.  Heyes felt the impact and the shudder that went through his horse's body as the wind was knocked out of it's lungs and his legs crumpled beneath him.  Heyes scrambled to get out of the way as his horse went down but then Duncan's horse was onto him again, charging in and landing a solid blow against Heyes' shoulder.  Heyes spun around himself and went down, the air knocked out of him.

He wasn't giving up yet though and despite the struggle to breathe he scrambled to his horse that was just getting his own feet under him and pushing himself up.  Heyes grabbed the saddle horn and swung his right leg over the cantle just as the animal was coming up onto all fours.  Then the rifle cracked directly behind Heyes and his horse reared up, causing Heyes to come out of the saddle again.  He was still hanging on to the horn but then the horse fell over and came down directly on top of Heyes.  He tried to get out from under, tried to get clear but he couldn't do it.

The game little gelding was dead before he hit the ground.  Coming down hard he trapped Heyes underneath him, pinning his left leg under the saddle with the full weight of his body, that didn't seem quite so little anymore.

Heyes cursed as he choked on the dust and tried with all his might to pull himself out from under the dead weight. He could feel the girth ring and the stirrup buckles digging into his leg and catching on his boot, making it impossible for him to get clear.

Finally his growing fatigue forced him to stop struggling and he looked up to see his antagonist casually sitting his horse and watching his prize struggling to get free.  The smile that played about his lips was pure malice and  
Heyes glared up at him with eyes filled with hate and he growled at him like a trapped and injured beast.

“What are you waiting for?”  Heyes snarled at him through the dust and sweat.  “Why don't you finish what you came for?”

Duncan didn't answer but his smile broadened as he casually stepped down off the big gelding.  Slowly and deliberately he returned his rifle to the boot and then approached Heyes once again.  He stopped when he got up to the barrel of the fallen horse and putting a foot up on the saddle he gazed down at the trapped man.  Heyes felt fear take hold of him as he saw the madness flare up like fire in the outlaw's eyes.  It was the same look he had seen in Boeman's eyes and he'd never wanted to see that look again. Despite knowing the futility of it, Heyes fought against his situation but he was trapped, he couldn't get away.

Duncan reached down to his boot that was setting up on the barrel of the dead horse and slipping his fingers into the hidden sheath he slowly pulled out a heavy hunting knife.  He smiled at it, running his thumb along the fine edge until a small trickle of blood dripped down to soak into Heyes' pant leg.  Heyes' throat tightened and the old scar began to tingle.  He struggled and wanted to cry out for help but no sound came.

“Finally,”  Duncan whispered.  “I am going to enjoy taking my time with you, Heyes.  You're about to pay for your transgressions.”

“Are you mad?”  Heyes croaked, the irony of that question instantly dawning on him.  “We're not alone out here you know!  Others will have heard those shots and they'll be coming.”

Duncan grinned and nodded.  “Yeah, they will,”  he agreed.  “But all they're gonna find of you is what I decide to leave 'em.”

Almost on cue, two rifle shots sounded from the hills that rose up behind the two men.  Duncan didn't even flinch; he turned and casually looked back towards the sound.  He laughed and it sent a chill down Heyes' spine. Then those calm eyes that sparked with growing madness returned to his victim and Heyes thought of his wife and daughter and nearly cried with heartbreak.

“There's your friends now Heyes,”  Duncan chided him.  “but they're too far away; we're out of range.  They think they're gonna scare me off with a few aimless shots in the air?  Ha!  Well, at least now they'll know what happened to ya'.”

xxxx

Jed Curry pushed his horse harder than what was safe on this steep rocky trail.  He knew he was taking an awful chance of breaking both their necks but a panic was on him.  He knew from that instinct—that connection between him and his cousin, that he was in a battle against time.  Heyes was down there at the bottom of this hill and he was in trouble.

Gov sensed the urgency in his task and put his full focus on the job at hand.  He scrambled over boulders, jumped dead fall and clattered down steep and sliding shale in order to perform his task and get him and his human down safely.  Jed did his part with legs and hands to help his horse stay on his feet but there had still been more than one heart stopping incident when he was sure they were both going to end up tumbling the rest of the way down.

A second rifle shot bounced around the rocks and Jed felt a cold sweat trickle down his back.  He pushed on, occasionally taking his eyes off the ground  in front of them to send a quick searching look over the open range below them.  The first couple of looks brought him no reward, but the third time he glanced out, he saw them. Then real fear grabbed his heart and he pushed his horse even harder.
 
They finally made it to level ground, but with his heart sinking, he knew he would never get to his cousin in time. He could see Heyes trapped underneath the horse, and he watched helplessly as Duncan stood over him, the knife in his hand reflecting the sunlight like a beacon.  Jed yelled and fired two shots into the air in the desperate hope that it might run Duncan off.  If the outlaw knew his pursuers were close at hand maybe, just maybe he'd leave Heyes and hightail it outa' there.

Jed's heart sank as he found that his ruse didn't work. Even from that distance, he could see that Duncan was giving no indication of being scared off.  Jed desperately dismounted and using a large boulder to steady his rifle, he lined it up and set the sites.  Even before he fired the shot he knew he was out of range, he knew it wouldn't do anything but he had to try anyways.  His mind and heart were screaming silently inside of him because he knew he was about to witness his partner's grisly demise and there wasn't a single thing he could to do stop it.


Duncan stepped around the dead horse and moved in on his fallen enemy.  Heyes struggled desperately and grabbed out with his left hand trying to get hold of Duncan's ankle and trip him up.  The outlaw simply laughed as he easily dodged the attempt.  He dropped down onto his knees and Heyes felt his left arm being crushed under the weight of his adversary.  Heyes squirmed and yelled his defiance and he grabbed a handful of dirt and flung it in Duncan's face.

Duncan recoiled slightly with the surprise, but recovered quickly then brought the handle of his knife down hard against Heyes' temple.  Heyes went limp as his senses began to buzz and he thought;  'Oh great, another blow to the head. This is all I need.'.  Time slowed down and his thoughts focused on his current situation.  Why was he having to repeat these same terrible moments in his life? This was just a repeat of Boeman coming at him with the intention of cutting his throat.  Why were the fates forcing him to live through these events again?  Was it to get it right this time?  Was he missing some point?

So what was he suppose to be learning here?  Or was he simply destined to re-live his old nightmares until they eventually drove him to madness?  He felt a great sorrow wash over him and he knew his heart was breaking with the anguish and he could hear Duncan laughing at him.  The great Hannibal Heyes facing the knowledge of his own demise.  He felt a stirring of anger at the injustice of going through so much only to die in the dirt at the
hands of someone like Tom Duncan.  But Heyes wasn't angry for himself.  He was angry for his wife and for his daughters.  He was angry for Abi. And he was angry for Jed.  He was heartbroken for all his extended family and his friends who had sacrificed so much to save him and now he was going to die anyways at the hands of this lunatic.

He felt himself being crushed into the dirt at his back as Duncan pinned him in place.  Again Heyes tried to resist him, but his strength was gone from his body and he felt himself giving up.  That is until he heard a small voice inside his head, cajoling him.  A beloved voice and one that he thought he would never hear again.

'What the fxxk do ya' think you're doin'?'  the voice demanded.  'You're not giving up!  C'mon Heyes, use your brain—what do ya' think it's sitting between your ears for?'

Heyes smiled, 'Hey Doc, how are ya'?'

'A sight better than you.  Think; ya' young idiot!'

'But what can I do?'  Heyes protested.  'He's got me pinned.'

'You were on the right track before,' Doc told him.  'Think!  If all this is a repeat of what happened with Boeman then what is going to happen next?'

'Duncan's going to cut my throat.'

'NO!  I swear Heyes; you're getting stupider as you get older!'

'I believe you mean 'more stupid...'

'Shuddup!  Think!  What happened after Boeman cut your throat?'

'After?'

'Yeah, after!  Ya' didn't die did ya'!  So what happened after?'

'What happened after....'  Heyes thought about it and a small glimmer of hope came through his mourning.  'Boeman got shot, so if this is all a repeat of that episode then somebody should be shooting Duncan.  C'mon Kid, where are ya'?  Somebody needs to shoot Duncan.  SHOOT DUNCAN!'

Heyes came back from his trance to see the manic look of blood lust in his attacker's eyes.  He still couldn't move; he still couldn't stop this from happening.  What the hell had Doc been going on about?  How was Heyes suppose to...?

And a rifle shot rang out.  It was loud and clear indicating its closeness of proximity.  The look in Duncan's eyes didn't change, but a hole erupted in the front of his chest as the bullet crashed into his back and exploded out the other side, sending blood and bone splattering into the air.  A small trickle of blood showed in the corner of his mouth and he slumped forward, landing across Heyes' chest, his eyes still staring with a manic light but seeing nothing now in death.

Heyes' senses came rushing back to him.  His lungs felt crushed and he was gasping to breathe, not just because of the dead weight across his torso, but because of the anger controlling him.  Great sobs of stress and unequivocal relief forced their way up his throat and out of his mouth.  He tried to swallow, he tried to move, he tried to see through the dust and the tears to what lay beyond the bulk of the dead horse.

He could hear another horse coming towards him at a gallop, then the animal slid to a halt followed by the unmistakable sounds of a man dismounting and hurrying towards him.

“KID!”  Heyes was finally able to call out.  “Kid!  Is that you?”

“No Heyes,”  said another familiar voice.  “it's me, Joe.”

And sure enough, Joe's face, looking a little green around the gills, came into view as the young man came over and knelt down beside his friend.

“Oh God, Joe!”  Heyes gasped as he fought for emotional control.  “You killed Duncan...”

“Yeah, I guess I did,”  Joe quietly agreed.

“You killed Duncan.  Oh God, thank you.  You killed Duncan....”

Joe dragged the offending corpse off his friend as a second horse could be heard approaching and coming to a stiff legged halt by the scene of the action.  Then Jed was on his knees by his partner's side and grabbed hold of his hand.

“Jeez Heyes!”  Jed was almost beside himself.  “You alright?  Dammit!  I was too far away.  You alright?”

“Joe killed Duncan,”  Heyes gasped almost in disbelief.  “Joe killed Duncan.”

“Yeah, I can see that,”  Jed grinned with relief.  “C'mon Partner, let's get this horse offa ya'.”

“Yeah.”

Monty was next to show up.  He'd been too far away to even see what had been going on, but he followed the sound of the rifle shots until he had the group in view and headed to them at a gallop.

“Hey there son, what ya' doin' underneath that horse?”  he asked with a grin.  “You're suppose ta' keep yerself on top of the horse, not the other way around.”

Heyes sent him an exhausted smile as his ragged breathing slowly began to settle.  He was still shaking heavily and felt like all he wanted to do was go to sleep.  Odd that; after everything that had gone on here, all he wanted to do was sleep.

Jed gave him a pat on the shoulder and then returned to his own horse.  He took down his lariat and settling the loop over the horn on the dead gelding, he handed the other end of it to Monty.

“Here,”  he said.  “you pull the horse up just a bit and I'll pull Heyes out from under.”

Monty nodded agreement and waited until Jed got around to his partner's head again.  

Jed took hold of Heyes under his armpits and gave Monty the go ahead.  It didn't take much really.  Monty asked his horse to slowly step back, the rope tightened and the dead weight of the unfortunate chestnut was lifted off Heyes' pinned leg.  Jed pulled him out and got him in the clear while Monty eased the carcass back down again.

“There ya' go Heyes,”  Jed gave him another pat on the shoulder.  “Anything broken?”

“No, I don't think so,”  Heyes mumbled, feeling totally out of sync.  “Just...flattened.”

“Yeah.  C'mon.  See if you can stand up.”

Heyes nodded and using the Kid as a support, and with Kid's help, Heyes slowly got his feet under him and straightened up.  He didn't let go of Jed though, not while his legs were still shaking and his body was still swaying.

“Don't go anywhere, Kid.”

“I won't Heyes.”

Monty had flicked the rope off the saddle horn and was reeling in the lariat while at the same time taking a look around.

“Where's Joe?”  he asked.

“Ahhh,”  Jed looked a little sheepish.  “I think he's behind those boulders over there.  Throwing up.”

Monty glanced over towards the mound of rocks and nodded knowingly.  “Hmm,”  he muttered.  “First time, huh?”

“Yep,”  Jed confirmed.  “It don't matter none that he deserved killin', I think we all know that the first time hits hard.”

“Yeah,”  Heyes agreed quietly.  “but I'm sure glad he did it.”

“Yeah,”  Jed agreed.  “you ain't the only one.”

Heyes took a deep breath and was able to stand up on his own and Jed let go of his arm.

“You okay now?”  he asked his cousin.

“Yeah,”  Heyes smiled shakily.  “We best get to the ranch house.  Mike and Gus are locked up in an Indian hole and you know; I'm not so sure that Wes would have taken the time to let them out.”

“How did you get away from them Heyes?”  Monty asked from the back of his horse.  “We weren't sure who had ya', but we sure didn't expect to see ya' again so soon.”

Heyes' brows went up.  “Yeah, me too.  I'll tell you all about it on the way.”

“Well, I suppose you can ride this big fella here,”  Jed suggested as he nodded towards the patiently waiting gelding.
“I don't recall seeing him up at the Hole.  Who's is he?”

“That's Mike's horse,”  Heyes told him.

“Mike?”

“Schomacher.”

Jed looked at Heyes then back at the powerhouse gelding.  “Ohh,”  he said as understanding dawned.  “Well, he shouldn't have any trouble carrying you then.  We can send somebody else back here for Duncan.”

“No, Karma's out here somewhere,”  Heyes informed his cousin.  “Duncan had her with him.  Actually I think she might have saved my life back there when Duncan was going to shoot me in ambush.  She let me know he was there.”

“It's a good thing you like cats, Heyes.”

“What?”

“Nothin'.”

Heyes creased his brow, exhaustion still clouding his thinking.  He stepped away from the group and scanning the landscape around him, he put two fingers to his lips and blew out a long loud whistle.  Every horse head in the group went up but that was about it.  At first.  Then a distant, shrill whinny floated back to them and all eyes were turned towards the sound.

Within seconds a horse could be seen emerging from around a distant rock mound and a great cloud of dust and dirt was shovelled up into the air as the big mare geared up into high speed and made a bee line straight towards them. Then Heyes' smile broadened into one of relief and wonderment as a second copper mare, not quite as big as the first, also came into sight and headed towards them.

“Well what do ya' know?”  Monty grinned.  “It's Fannie.  Where the hell did she come from?”

“I donno,”  Heyes admitted as the two mares were fast approaching.  “Duncan was riding her, but he showed up at the ranch on foot.  I thought for sure the bastard had run her into the ground.  Ahh....”  Heyes said in understanding as the two horses danced to a halt, bringing the cloud of dust with them.


Last edited by Keays on Mon Apr 14, 2014 1:19 am; edited 1 time in total
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Keays

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PostSubject: Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.   Sun Apr 13, 2014 2:31 pm

A couple of long leaf covered branches were dangling from Fannie's reins.  Apparently Duncan had tied her to some bushes and had left her behind.  But clearly Fannie was definitely Karma's mother and if she didn't want to stayed tied, she wasn't going to.  Duncan had left the ranch on the same track he'd come in on and having all those horses charging past her parking space had been too much for her to resist.  As tired as she had been, herding instinct had over-come fatigue and the mare had pulled back on the reins until a good portion of the bush had broken free and came along with her.

Heyes chuckled and gave both mares a welcome greeting.  He rubbed their heads and spoke appreciatively to them and then quickly untangled the branches from Fannie's bridle.  Taking note that Karma wasn't wearing her bridle, Heyes approached Fannie on her near side and prepared to mount up.  Everyone was taken by surprise when Karma snorted in disgust and with ears laid back, she charged at her mother causing the older mare to jump back in order to avoid losing some skin.

“Whoa!”  Heyes stepped back in order to avoid being run into.  “What's that all about now?”

Jed and Monty chuckled at the display of jealousy.  Karma quickly stepped forward putting herself between her mother and her human.  Her ears came up and she rubbed her head affectionately against his torso.  When Fannie stepped forward again, Karma's ears went back and she nodded her threat to the other mare.  Fannie put her head down and stood where she was.  She was tired and hungry and thirsty and wasn't much in the mood to challenge the bigger mare right then anyways.

“Looks like you're riding Karma, Heyes,”  Monty needlessly pointed out.  “Unless ya' wanna ride the gelding.”

“No, no,”  Heyes told him.  “I can switch bridles. Karma would probably just go after him too.  Looks like we can take Duncan with us now though.   I'd rather not put him up on Fannie—I think she's had about enough of him.  Is there a tarp or a bedroll we can wrap the body in?  I don't think Mike would appreciate us getting blood all over his saddle.”

xxxx

Lom, Scott and Morrison trotted into the yard of the deserted ranch feeling like they were riding into a ghost town. The frequent Wyoming wind was casually swirling little dust devils around the open yard and though there were still plenty of signs remaining that told of horses in the vicinity, there were now none in attendance.

The three men carried on until they came up to the crumbling ranch house and there they dismounted.

“Well, I suppose we could search the premises building by building,”  Lom suggested.  “See if anybody's...”

Lom and Scott jumped and all three horses did a little dance as Morrison pulled his revolver and fired two shots into the air.

“It's too damned hot to be searching round this dump,”  Morrison answered to their silent query.  “If someone's here they'll let us know.”

Scott was about to mumbled a complaint when sure enough they all stopped in their tracks and looked over towards the bigger of the two barns.  Was that a muffled yell coming from inside the structure?  They waited, listening for more and another just barely audible yell followed the first.  

Morrison snorted and shook his head at the idiocy of certain lawmen as they all headed over to the barn.  Entering in to the dusty abandoned building it still looked as though the three men were alone.  A few small birds chirped in alarm and fluttered their way out the door or through a gaping hole in the roof but other than that the barn appeared empty.

“Horses have been in here recently,”  Scott mentioned as they approached the stalls and noticed fresh droppings.

“Hmmm.”  Morrison hadn't thought the obvious worth mentioning.

Scott jumped back in alarm as another yell came from beneath his feet.  “What the hell!”

“Ah,”  Morrison commented casually.  “He's in the Indian hole.”

The Marshal stepped into the stall and brushed dirt and straw away from the trap door and standing up, he took hold of the edge and heaved the heavy door up and open.  All three men peered down into the dusky semi-darkness and the first thing they saw was Mike's smiling face looking back up at them.

“Howdy Tom,”  Mike greeted him.  “Good to see ya'.”

“Mmm hmm,” came the response. The marshal turned to his companions and waved them into the hole.  “Get down there and get him untied.  Looks like we got some fugitives to round up.”

Lom and Scott exchanged looks, not really appreciating the marshal's attitude but then Lom shrugged and climbed down into the hole.  Simply by job title, Morrison was senior lawman and had every right to take charge and give orders but his abrasive manner still had a tendency to rub the wrong way.

Lom stepped down into the darkness, the only light being what came down through the open trap door.  But it was enough to see by.  He frowned and peered deeper into the small space as the sounds of pathetic whimpering met his ears.

“Who's that over there?”  he asked as he untied Mike's hands.

“That's just Gus Stainton,”  Mike informed him.  “Appears he's afraid of the dark.”

“Oh.”  

Lom finished untying Mike and leaving him to untie his own feet, Lom turned to the other occupant of the dark enclosure. He touched Gus' leg in order to position him easier to untie his feet but Gus shrank away from him.

“What's that!?”  he practically screamed.  “What's that touching me!?”

“Calm down Gus,”  Lom told him.  “It's just me, Lom Trevors.  Let me untie your feet and we'll get you outa' here.”

“Trevors?”

“Yeah,”

“Oh thank God!”  Gus was whimpering in his relief.  “Get me outa here!  Get me away from that moron!  The man's such an idiot; he doesn't have enough brain cells to be afraid of this place!”

Lom never did care much for Gus Stainton, but now he was disliking him even more.  “Best watch who you're calling an idiot Stainton.  I have a feeling you're gonna be locked up in his jail for some time.  You don't want to make him mad now, do ya'?”

“What do ya' mean locked up?”  Gus complained as Lom helped him to his feet.  “I ain't done nothin'...”

Mike snorted as he helped himself up to his own feet and began to stamp them to get the circulation happening again.

“I think Heyes is going to have a thing or two to say about that,”  the big sheriff commented.

“If we find him alive,”  Lom grumbled.

“I think we will,”  Mike commented.  “Heyes always seems to find a way to land on his feet.”

“What are you doin' down there?  Havin' a tea party!?”  Morrison's bellow came down through the door.

“We're coming Tom,”  Mike called back.  “Just gettin' the feet to work again.”

“How am I going to get up that ladder with my hands still tied behind me?”  Gus complained.  “Ya' gotta untie me—you can't leave me in here!”

“I told ya' I wouldn't leave ya' in here,”  Mike reminded the shaking bounty hunter.  “Ain't my fault ya' didn't believe me.”

“But how am I gonna get up with my hands tied!?”

Mike sent him a look that instantly shut his mouth.  Then when the big sheriff moved towards him, Gus really panicked and tried to scrambled away from him.  Unfortunately in such confined quarters, there was no where for him to go.

“No, no!  What are you gonna do....NO!”

Mike  leaned down and pushing his shoulder  into Gus' midriff, hoisted the complaining man up onto his back.  Gus' eyes widened in fear as he hung upside down and the sheriff moved back to the ladder and began to climb up to ground level.

“No!  Put me down you big oaf!  Goddammit!  Put me down!”

Lom followed behind and poked his head out of the hole just in time to see Mike unceremoniously dump his complaining passenger into the manure covered straw of the stall.

“There,”  he said.  “I put ya' down.   Now stop yer bellyachin'.”

“You goddam fxxkin' imbecile....”

Mike turned on him and giving him a hard stare took one step back towards him.  Gus yelped and scrambled further back against the stall wall.

“Stay away from me!”  Gus whined.  “Stay away!”

“You gonna keep yer mouth shut?”

“Yeah...”

Mike turned back to the three other men and smiled at them.  “Thank you,”  he said to them all.  “It was gettin' a might wearisome being stuck in there with that.”

“I can imagine.”  Lom agreed.

“What the hell's been goin' on out here?”  Morrison demanded to know.  “And what's the idea of taking off after that killer on your own!”

“Didn't have much choice Tom,”  Mike explained.  “Duncan already had a good head start and I didn't want to take the time to put a posse together.  Now in hindsight, I guess I did kinda blow it.  Duncan got the jump on us and put us in that hole.  He took one of the horses from in here and lit off for the hills.  After that I don't rightly know what was goin' on.  Somebody came in here and took the other horse but they didn't bother to stop and let us out.”

“That damn Wes!”  came further complaint from inside the stall.  “Just wait until I get my hands on that little...”

“Just what the hell were you thinkin'!?”  Mike's voice rose to an unusual volume and Gus whimpered as he tried to disappear into the woodwork.  “Just how far did you think you were gonna get with Hannibal Heyes tied to a saddle?”  

“And just how did Stainton end up in a position to turn Duncan and Yamis in to the law?”  Lom inquired, curiosity taking over.

Mike shrugged, his tone dropping back down to his normal, quieter volume.  “I guess Gus and his partner ambushed Duncan and Yamis out on the trail and Gus here brought them into the jail for the reward.  There was something fishy about the whole thing.  Duncan insisting that these two hadn't released Heyes but instead were plannin' on turnin' him over to some railroad kingpin who was willin' to pay good money to get Heyes and Curry into his hands.
“Gus denied the truth of it, but he sure couldn't come up with a good reason as to why Heyes wasn't with him.  So when Duncan got loose I decided to let Gus show me where he might be headed, and hopefully find Heyes in the process.  I knew Gus was up to no good, I just wasn't expecting Duncan to walk in on us.  I figured he was still somewhere ahead of us.”

“Dammit,”  Morrison complained.  “So we got Duncan and this Wes fella on the run and Heyes mixed up right in the middle of it.  Not to mention we've got one worthless prisoner here—and no extra horses.”

“What?”  Mike perked up.  “Isn't Boxcar still out front?”

All three men shook their heads.

“There were no horses around anywhere when we rode up,”  Lom informed him.  “The place looked totally deserted.”

“Aw damn,”  Mike cursed with disappointment.  “He's a good horse too.  Sure hope I can get 'em back.”

Then all four men turned their attention to the yard outside as they heard a number of horses coming up to halt out by the door to the barn.  Everyone perked up with hope and headed outside, leaving Gus to sit alone and stew about his unfortunate circumstance.

xxxx

“C'mon Heyes, wake up!”  Kid nudged his partner yet again in order to prevent him from falling out of the saddle. “What's the matter with you?”

Heyes jerked himself awake and opened his eyes.  He was swaying dangerously with the movement of his horse and Karma wasn't sure at all about what was going on up there.  More than once she had felt her human shift and she had moved along with him to keep him in the saddle but even she wouldn't be able to keep him up there if he insisted on falling off.

“I donno Kid,”  Heyes mumbled.   “I just don't seem to be able to stay awake.”

“Yeah?  Maybe its just the shock of damn near gettin' killed—again.”

“Naw, even before that I was feeling really tired. Ever since....”

“What?”

Heyes glanced around at the other people riding in their group.  Monty was focused on following the tracks that would take them back to the ranch Heyes had told them about.  But Joe was riding close by and though he looked lost in his own distant thoughts, Heyes wasn't comfortable.  “Nothin',”  he mumbled.  “I'll tell ya' later.”

“Okay,”  Kid agreed.  “but try to stay in the saddle will ya'?”

“Yeah.”  He looked up to check the landscape and sighed.  “We're almost there anyways.”

The small group carried on at a jog and it didn't take long before they could see the ranch buildings on the horizon and then the tracks, and Heyes' blurry directions weren't really needed anymore.  Heyes hung onto the horn as they picked up into a hand gallop and arrived at the yard to find that the other half of their group was already there.

“Well howdy boys!”  a relieved Lom greeted them as they all met up in the yard.  “Good to see ya' all in one piece Heyes.”

“Hey Lom!”  Heyes greeted his friend in the high pitched tone that usually indicated drunkenness.

Lom creased his brow.

Curry quickly jumped down from Gov and came over to Karma to assist his partner to dismount before he fell off.

“Hey Lom,”  Curry returned the greeting.  “Sure is good to see ya'.”

Curry grabbed his partner as Heyes slid down to the ground and would have slid all the way down if Jed hadn't been ready for it and kept him on his feet.  He pulled one of Heyes' arms over his shoulders and was about to lead him over to an overturned water trough to set him on when they both spotted Marshal Morrison at the same time.  Curry tried to get Heyes out of the lawman's way but Heyes was having none of it.

He grinned stupidly and gave the imposing man a sloppy slap on the shoulder.

“Hey Morri!”  the ex-con slurred his greeting.  “How's the lung?”

A dreaded silence instantly settled over the group and the only one who appeared oblivious to it was Heyes himself. Red would be the only colour to describe the complexion that slowly took over the marshal's face.  He snarled at the smaller man and if it had been possible, steam would have been rising from out of his ears and from under his hat.

“What the hell is the matter with you Heyes?”  the marshal demanded.  “Are you drunk!?”

“That's a good idea!”  Heyes grinned and began to scrutinize his surroundings.  “There's gotta be a saloon around here someplace.  What kinda' town is this anyway—no saloon!”

“No, no Marshal,”  Jed assured him as he stepped Heyes back and out of reach.  “He's just had a stressful day is all. He's kinda tired.”

“Tired!?”  Morrison snapped in disbelief.  “What the hell....?

“Heeyyy—Mike!”  Heyes slurred his greeting to the big sheriff.  “How ya' doin'?  I haven't seen you in a coon's age.....”

“Kid, get 'em outa here!”  Lom ordered, confusion and anger competing for dominion on his face.

“Yeah, yeah,”  Jed agreed.  “I'll just take him into the barn here...”

“Gus is in there,”  Mike informed him.

“Oh.”  Kid stopped in his tracks.  “Ahh....I'll just set him down on the steps over here.”

“What the hell's the matter with him?”  Lom asked Monty as the older man dismounted.

Monty shrugged.  “I suppose it could be shock,”  he surmised.  “Duncan had him darn near gutted and skinned by the time we got to them.  Or perhaps I should say;  by the time Joe got to them.”

“Joe?”  Lom asked and all heads turned to the young deputy who was still sitting placidly on his horse.

“Yup,”  Monty agreed.  “Joe saved Heyes' life, sure as shootin'.”

“Really...”  Morrison grumbled as he sent the young man a withering look.

“Is that right Joe?”  Lom asked him.  “You save Heyes' life?”

Joe sent a sickened look over to the tarp covered corpse draped across Mike's gelding.  “Yeah,”  he mumbled.  “I suppose I did.”

“Well....ya' alright?”  Lom continued with some concern.

Joe straightened up and swallowed.  “Yeah.  Why shouldn't I be?”

“You look a little peaked is all,”  Lom explained.  “You did good son, nothin' to feel bad about.”

Joe dropped his eyes and nodded.  Mike stepped forward as he noted his horse standing quietly in the back of the pack.  He went up to the animal and Boxcar lifted his head and his ears in recognition.

“Well now it sure is nice to see you,”  Mike greeted the gelding.  “But if that's Duncan under that tarp I'd sure appreciate him gettin' off my horse.”

“Not much choice, Sheriff,”  Monty explained.  “Either that or we leave the body there.”  He noticed Mike's eyes drift over to the empty saddle on Fannie.  “That bastard damn near ran that mare into the ground.  We didn't think it right to burden her with him again.”

“Huh hu,”  Mike commented sourly.  “You think she'd be happier carryin' me?”

Monty grinned.  “Nope, probably not.”

“Seems to me we got a bit of a problem,”  Scott pointed out.  “We've got one corpse and one prisoner but only one spare horse.  Since the corpse can't walk....”

Mike grinned.  “I'm sure Gus won't mind walkin' back to town.”

“Well if we wanna get back there before dark, we best get goin',”  Morrison ordered.  “You can fill us in on what went on while we ride.  Mount up and let's go.”

Mike nodded and turned towards the barn to collect his prisoner, then he stopped short and looked around rather perplexed.  “Where's Heyes?”

Jed jumped and swung around.  Sure enough Heyes was not where Kid had left him.

“What...?”  Kid looked around in bewilderment.  “Where the hell did he go?  HEYES!”

“Oh for Christ's sake,”  Morrison rolled his eyes.  “FIND HIM!  Or we'll be leaving him here for coyote bait!”

Kid and Mike both hurried into the barn where only Gus could be seen sitting forlornly in the stall.

“Where's Heyes?”  Kid demanded.

“How the hell should I know?”  Gus whined.  “Ya' all just leave me sittin' in here with the bloody rats....”

Mike did a quick search of the other stalls but came out shrugging his shoulders.  Kid shook his head and they both headed outdoors again. The other posse members were getting the horses re-organized so Jed and Mike continued on with their search.  They looked around the side of the big barn and then behind it and saw nothing there so they headed over to the smaller barn.

“Heyes!”  Jed yelled again.  “Where are ya'?”

There was no response and Jed was actually starting to get worried.  Damn that man was going to put him in his grave before he even got to see his own child.   Where the hell had he got to?  They entered the second barn and at first saw nothing out of place.  They were about to turn around and leave when the sound of snoring came to them from the open hatch leading up to the hay loft.  Jed and Mike exchanged looks and Jed headed over to the ladder and made his way up to the second floor.

Jed poked his head up and sure enough, there was his cousin stretched out in the loose hay, sound asleep.

“Ah jeez Heyes,”  Jed mumbled.  “How the hell did you get all the way over here without us seein' ya'?”

“Is he there?”  Mike called from down below.

“Yeah!”  Jed answered him.  “He's asleep.”

“Oh brother,”  Mike grumbled and then Jed heard the sheriff turn and leave the barn.

“C'mon Heyes, wake up!”  Jed called to his cousin and gave him a rough shake on the shoulder.  

Heyes groaned and snarked as he became partially awake.  “Go  'way.”

“No Heyes, c'mon,”  Jed insisted.  “You can sleep when we get to town.  Right now we gotta go.”

“Leave me 'lone,”  came the mumbled response.

“What the hell's the matter with you?  Get up!”

Jed roughly shook him again and Heyes swung his hat at him.  He missed his mark by a long shot and just ended up face first in the hay again but since that was what he wanted anyways, he was fine with that.  Muffled snores began to rise from floor.  Kid stood up and stared down at his cousin, totally bewildered with this uncharacteristic behaviour.

Then Mike poked his head up through the hatch and seeing the situation, came all the way through and stood beside Curry.  They both looked down at the snoring man and Mike held out the full canteen of water and up-ended it over the ex-con's head.  Heyes came up spluttering and swearing like a bear roused out of hibernation and without an instant of hesitation came at the sheriff with fists swinging.

Mike reached a hand out and caught hold of Heyes' shirt front and just held him there.  Heyes continued to swing but all he did was spray water around and disrupt the air pressure.  Jed stepped out of the way and watched his cousin fighting with nothing while Mike stood quietly, easily holding Heyes at bay.  Finally a panting and dishevelled Heyes stopped swinging and leaning into the hand on his chest, he stood dripping and gasping for air as he acknowledged the fact that some indisputable force was holding him in place.

His bleary eyes focused for an instant and he grinned, loose hay framing his face and water dripping off his nose. “Mike!” he greeted the sheriff.  “Heeyyy!  Good to see ya'!  Ya' know;  I al'ays wanna't ta' tell ya' how sorry I am 'bout yer jaw.”

“Uh huh.”

“Uw was always real good ta' me....”  Heyes continued to slur as Mike hoisted him up over his shoulder just as he had done earlier with Gus.  “I re'ly fel' bad 'bout that...”

“Uh huh.”

Mike turned and started to climb back down the ladder, easily taking Heyes down with him.

“Oh hey Kid!”  Heyes suddenly noticed his partner.  “Wher'd you come from?”

“Been here all along Heyes.”

“Oh yeah?”

Returning to the group, they could see that Duncan had been switched over to a disappointed Fannie while Gus stood in the center of the posse looking just as forlorn as the copper mare.

Morrison took one look at Heyes and rolled his eyes.  “Oh crap.  Get him on his horse.  Let's go.”

Lom just looked at his friend with a concerned frown but let the matter lie for the time being.  Mike hoisted Heyes up on Karma's back and then Jed mounted up behind him.

“I'm gonna ride with Heyes,”  he announced the obvious.  “Make sure he stays on board.  I suppose Gus can ride my horse.”

“Oh thank goodness!”  Gus responded.  “You think I was gonna be walkin' all the way back to town...”

“Shuddup!”  Morrison snarked at him.  “If we weren't already pressed for time I'd make ya' walk it anyways!  I don't wanna hear another sound outa you, you understand?”

Gus seemed to have a hard time processing new information.  “Well how am I suppose to get up on him with my hands tied....oh crap!”

Mike grabbed him by the back of his collar and his belt and easily hoisted him up onto Gov's back.  A little bit of shifting and the prisoner was settled in the saddle and the sheriff turned to mount up on his own horse.

“Anybody ever tell you that you have no regard for a man's dignity?”  Gus snarked after him.  Mike ignored the comment.

The posse finally headed out and with everyone mounted, they made short work of the ride back to town.  Jed kept busy keeping his cousin upright and awake, all the while wondering what in the world was wrong with him.  He was still very much aware of the conversations circulating the group though and found them interesting to say the least.  They also filled him with some concern; along with worry for his partner's current state, all Jed really had on his mind was getting back to his very pregnant wife.  Everybody else seemed to be forgetting about this minor detail.

“The Mathisons' are still hanging out in Devil's Hole territory?”  Morrison was incredulous.  “Dammit anyways! We've scoured that whole area and haven't seen any sign of 'em anywhere.”

“That's what our sources have told us,”  Lom assured the marshal.  “We know they're still in operation, so they have to have a home base somewhere.”

“The ranchers in the area sure haven't stopped complaining about rustlers,”  Mike commented quietly.  “We were inclined to think there was more than one group just making random hits, but I know Rick Layton has had a different opinion about that.  If the Mathisons' are still in operation, Rick just might be proved right.”

Morrison scowled even more than usual. Apparently this had been an on-going argument between the marshal and the rancher and Morrison didn't appreciate the suggestion that he might have been wrong. “So you have a reliable description on how to find their place?”  Morrison asked Lom.

“I think so,”  Lom agreed.  “We get back to town, I can draw out a map for you.”

“You can just come with us,”  Morrison ordered.  “Don't waste time drawing some stupid map.  We'll get a posse together and you can just lead us there.”  He sent a disgusted look over to the partners riding double.  “Even Curry might come in handy on this.  Leave Heyes at home though; last thing I need is some smart-ass trying to take control.  Keep those two apart and you save yourself a lot of misery.”

Jed felt a twinge if irritation rising.  He kept his comments to himself for the time being, but if Lom agreed to this the sheriff would definitely be getting an ear full of them.

“My men are pretty tired,”  Lom pointed out.  “And I'm concerned about Heyes; I don't know what the hell's the matter with him.”  Derogatory snort from the marshal.  “I think it best we head back to Porterville and leave the Mathisons' to you fellas.  I have my own prisoners to deal with and I'm sure that you and your sheriff are quite capable of dealing with a band of rustlers without our assistance.”

Jed breathed a sigh of relief.  'Thank you Lom!'  but Morrison bristled at the apparent put down.

“Fine!”  the marshal snarked.  “I'm well aware of the fact that we don't 'need' you.  Just you being a lawman, I figured you'd want to be a part of it.  If not; you're welcome to run on home.”

Lom refused to rise to the bait.  “Fine.”  then added as an after thought.  “I might have dealings with the governor to tend to as well.  If you don't mind, we'll rest up in Murreyville for a couple of days and then head for home.”

The conversation ended on that sour note, but Lom couldn't help smiling at the marshal's irritation.  It was good for that bully to not get his own way all the time and Lom marvelled at Mike Schomacher being able to put up with the man's attitude the way he did.  But Mike was a force of nature in himself and though quiet in temperament he had his size in his favour.  Other men just naturally felt intimidated and backed off.  Except for Gus, but then Gus was an idiot.

Wasn't long before the town of Murreyville came into view and everyone was relieved to be coming to a temporary conclusion to their journey.  Credit had to be given to Fannie who had already been exhausted and yet managed to rally enough energy after just the briefest of rests in order to keep up with the others.  Once back in town, Scott made sure their prize mare was given top shelf.

Hotel rooms were secured and while everyone else headed either to the jailhouse or the cafe for supper, Jed assisted his partner up to their room.  He pulled the covers back on one of the beds and set Heyes down on the edge in order to get his clothes off and even this turned out to be a bit of a challenge.  Heyes kept trying to lie down and Kid had to hold him in place while he got his upper half striped down.  Then he let Heyes settle over into the pillow and pulled off his boots and then his trousers before lifting his legs up onto the bed and pulling the covers over him.  Heyes was snoring before Jed had reached the door.


To Be Continued
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Javabee

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PostSubject: Re: Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.   Tue Apr 15, 2014 4:54 pm

Sorry I have not been making comments, however I have been reading everything you post. You had me fooled, I thought for sure it would be the Kid that saved Heyes somehow even though you made it clear he was too far away. I thought getting advice from Doc was a thing of the past, but here he is again when Heyes needs him most. Looks like the seizures may begin to play a more serious role in the future. Can't wait for Kid's baby to be born. 

I know this series is winding down and quickly coming to an end, and I am going to miss it. You've done an amazing job of keeping the characters true, while still exploring them with so much more depth than the show ever dreamed of. There is never a dull moment, with plenty of action and mystery that keeps us all reading. I know it isn't over yet, but I don't know if I'll have time to comment again, so I will say thanks for such a great read. Great job, you two!

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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.   Tue Apr 15, 2014 8:47 pm

Thanks JavaBee. Your comments here are greatly appreciated. You are right in that the series is winding down for now but that doesn't mean I won't re-visit this special universe again later on when time is not quite as pressing. So many stories to tell!

Happy reading. See you in chat.
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PostSubject: Re: Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.   Thu May 01, 2014 12:14 am

Thanks Javabee.  It's so great knowing you enjoyed reading it as much as we did writing it!--IO

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PostSubject: Re: Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.   Fri May 02, 2014 6:59 pm

I too thought that the Doc's visits were a thing of the past, but I do like the way you are taking this, with Heyes having to examine parts of himself he had been shutting out. As always, so much action, captured expertly. The characters are moving on and you play them perfectly, with the fear, reality and the possibility of potential loss informing their development. Very clever!
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PostSubject: Re: Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.   Tue Aug 12, 2014 10:22 pm

You sure don't take the easy or eagerly wished for way out to bring the story towards its conclusion.
Poor Heyes (I seem to say that quite a lot) - having his first seizure. I guess you had to have it happen, after introducing the serum kit. Still, it is hard to read.
No wonder Wes is scared. But at least he finally lets Heyes go and makes his exit. Is this the last we see of him?
Poor Fanny and Karma. You got me scared and fearing for the lives of both Heyes' girls, but having them both come to his whistling made more than up for it.
When Heyes raced after Duncan, it reminded me vividly of him racing after Beth's would-be-killer. He never learns, does he? The only excuse is that he is still not quite himself after the seizure. Great job Karma, for saving Heyes and finally getting away from Duncan. The showdown between Heyes and Duncan was horribly vivid action and incredibly frustrating to read. I tend to agree with Heyes - why does he have to live through the same nightmare again? Is it just so that he can be angry this time for his family and friends instead just at the indignity for himself? I am not sure this horror was necessary for this. Heyes has already changed so much.
You surprised me with Doc's reappearance. A reminder of another time when Heyes had given up and was basically dying. And after giving Heyes and the reader the advice to just give it a moment, Duncan gets (finally) killed.
I had no idea who it could have been. As glad as I am, that Duncan is dead, I was disappointed that Heyes did not get the satisfaction to do it, but instead had to be rescued once more. And I am sorry that the Kid did not get to be the one - it must eat at him that he not only did not have his partner's back, but also could not safe him. You had me surprised that it was Joe. I guess this firmly cements him as a close friend.
But thinking about it, it should have been obvious: you do not do the easy or expected thing, but you challenge your characters (and readers). It would have been bad for Heyes to kill Duncan, because it would have been pure revenge, and a repeat of him killing Carson. Very much what your reader(s) wanted, but causing Heyes lots of anguish in the long run. Jed, the changed family man, might also have had problems with another killing on his hands, especially now that his child is about to be born. Due to the "revenge factor" someone like Morrison could also have tried to make legal trouble for the boys. Joe, as a lawman, doesn't have to fear anything in this regard and it is hard for him to come to terms with having taken a life. It will probably have a big impact on his personality, and your stories are very much about developing characters. In this case developing Joe from a complacent young man who expected respect because of his job to a young man who has learned that respect needs to be earned, good men come in all kinds of guises, occasionally it is more important to get something done than to worry too much about the means, to judge people by their actions not reputation, to take responsibility seriously and see things through to the (bitter) end. He had taken responsibility for Heyes, and he got to rescue him.
I knew Morrison would make an entry and he is as unpleasant as always. Couldn't you get some two-bit would-be outlaw to kill him? Or maybe have him bitten by a rabid dog? Now, that would be poetic justice. Sorry, my nasty side just hates this guy! You did a too good job to evoke emotions with this character.
Hopefully Heyes will get quickly over the aftermath of the seizure, adrenaline rush and shock of nearly dying.
In the other group, traveling to Porterville, things go dramatically wrong. Allie should have known better than to run off alone and Kyle and Wheat should have had more sense and one of them should have kept an eye on her. She is very lucky she did not get raped. Ames to the rescue. I hope that killing a man will not further unbalance the guy and aggravate his condition. Things just seemed to look better for him, after Wheat agrees to Kyle's pleading to give him one more chance.
I felt sorry for Wheat, having to endure the baiting from the prisoners. He does not like to have people see what he feels, and we get a glimpse of a lot of guilt and anguish inside of him.
Looking back, the search for Karma's lineage started out comparatively lighthearted, but everything has now turned really dark. I hope you will give us a bit more light for the ending.
Plotwise I have two questions: How come that Jed, Joe and Monty managed to completely miss the farm? Monty and Jed are good trackers and were following the trail of Wes and Heyes. Duncan followed the trail left by Jed&co. and managed to arrive at the farm.
And why did you explicitly mention Heyes being armed with sharp pick locks in the last chapter, when afterwards he never even seems to think of them. Could he maybe have reached one during his struggle with Duncan?
Got to find out how this continues.

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Out of The Fire Chapter thirteen.
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