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 Winding Down. Chapter Fourteen

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Keays

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

PostSubject: Winding Down. Chapter Fourteen   Wed Apr 30, 2014 12:32 am

“Here, Miss Allie, drink this,” said Kyle, thrusting a tin mug half-filled with rotgut whiskey at her and sitting down next to her.  She took it and drank it down like a drunk breaking a dry spell.  She coughed as it burned down her throat and, finally, tears sprang to her eyes; but they were caused by the whiskey, not Feeley.  She hadn’t been frightened nor had she been hurt, she’d been too furious to feel any other emotions.  She’d wanted to kill him with her bare hands. 

Allie watched Wheat and Ames unceremoniously drag Feeley by his feet into the clearing and dump him next to the fire ring.  She was glad he was dead and he’d never harm another woman.  The man had been a pig.  Just like the men who had abused the girls she took in at the ranch.

“Ames, stir them coals and get that fire goin’ again,” snapped Wheat.  He didn’t want the boy to see the damage he’d done to the body stretched out before him.

The youngster did as he was told and picked up a branch to stir the coals, but his hands were shaking so badly he had to hold onto it with both of them.  Wheat watched Ames out of the corner of his eye as he pretended to examine the corpse.  He wanted to be sure that Ames, feeling the way he did right now, didn't fall back onto old habits.  Once Wheat was sure that the only thing the young man was putting into the fire was the branch and not his hands, he turned his full attention to the dead man.

The bullet had entered Feeley’s side at a sharp angle and exited in a spectacular fashion, blasting a hole in his back you could drive a train through.  He was probably dead before he hit the ground.  He glanced at Ames again.  The boy still looked like he was in shock.  Rocking back on his heels, Wheat said, “Fetch me Feeley’s bedroll and help me wrap him up.”  He knew keeping Ames busy was the best treatment for what ailed him.  “We have to haul his sorry ass back to Porterville.  It was a righteous shooting and I wanna be sure the law knows it.” Ames turned haunted eyes up to his boss, then nodded and hurried off to do as instructed.  Satisfied, Wheat turned his attention to Allie. 

“You okay, ma’am?”

Allie smiled tightly, “When did I become ma’am to you, Wheat?”  He nodded at her and waited patiently for her response.  “I’m fine.  I should’ve shot him myself.  Is Ames all right?”  She, too, had noticed the boy’s pallor and she worried that this might have been too much for the already frazzled young man.

“He’s pretty shaken up, but he’ll be all right.  I’ll have a word with him soon as I’m finished here.”

Her adrenaline had ebbed a while ago and now she felt bone-tired.  All she wanted was to crawl into her bedroll and close her eyes.  Kyle watched the fatigue settle on her face and said, “Boy, I sure am tired.  You mind if I settle down here next to you, Miss Allie?”

“Kyle, have I ever told you you’re one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known?”  She smiled as he blushed at her words.  “I’d feel so much safer if you stayed with me.”  He grinned and lay down, rolling over onto his side, looking away from her.  She snuggled down inside her warm bag. 

Ames and Wheat worked together to tightly bind up the body.  Once they were finished with their grisly task, they got up and sat down on the other side of the fire, washing their hands with the leftover hot water.  Ames’ color gradually improved as they’d worked together and Wheat knew it had been a good plan to have him help.

“Ya did just fine, Ames,” said Wheat, eying the disconsolate man.  “You saved Miss Allie.  Feeley would have killed her when he was through with her.  You know that, don’t you?  He’d of had to.”

“I know.  It’s just that I ain’t never shot no one before, Wheat.  It ain’t somethin’ I’m in a hurry to do again.” 
Ames stared into the fire watching the flames jumping and flickering as they consumed the dry wood.  He was so upset about the shooting that he wasn’t even aware the flames weren’t mesmerizing him as they usually did.

“That’s good,” said Wheat, “I’d think a whole lot less of you if you were.”

“Don’t know how you could think less of me than you already do,” mumbled Ames.

Carlson got up and glanced down at the boy.  Ames looked up at him miserably sure that the older man was anxious to leave his company.   He watched as Wheat fetched the half-empty whiskey bottle now tucked in Kyle’s arms.   The sleeping ex-outlaw grunted softly and rolled over as Wheat eased it from his arms, but had no idea his prized possession had just been hijacked.  Sitting back down next to Ames, Wheat uncorked the bottle with his teeth and passed it to the boy.  “I think you could use some of this; I know I could.” 

“Thanks, Wheat.”  Lifting the bottle, Ames took a long pull.

“You know, Ames, I wasn’t too sure about you when I met you, but I’m right proud to call you my friend.  Hell, we’re partners now, I guess.”

Ames gulped.  “You want to be partners with me?  But…but…I almost killed Heyes and  Feeley was  right;  he kept tellin’ me I’m a fire bug.”

Wheat growled, “Was, you was a fire bug.  You ain’t gonna do that no more, right?”

“I hope not.”

“You ain’t.  Just like I ain’t gonna be an outlaw no more.  Kyle neither.”  Wheat took the bottle from the boy and had a swallow.  “I’m gettin’ a second chance just like you and I ain’t plannin’ on lettin’ who I was interfere with who I am.  You hear what I’m sayin’, boy?”

“Yessir.”

“The fire’s been robbin’ you of all the good things you are and makin’ you somethin’ you’re ashamed of.  I reckon that makes fire your enemy and you’re gonna have to keep your eye on that backstabber the rest of your life.”  He saw the boy was considering his words carefully and he pressed on.  “It sweet talks you, tryin’ to lure you in, but it means to take you down, take all that is good from you.  You understand?”

Ames nodded, looking away from the fire and at the old outlaw.  “I reckon I do, sir, and she ain’t lookin’ near as pretty now.”

“Good.  And it’s Wheat.  Sir was my father and he was a sonovabitch,” said Wheat gruffly.

The young man laughed out loud.  “My pa was sir, too!”

“Some folks ain’t meant to be parents.”  Wheat took another slug of whiskey.  He’d been a lot like this boy at the same age.  Afraid, lonely, and feeling like the world owed him something.  It had made him an angry young man.  No wonder he’d turned to outlawing.  He wished someone had set him straight, but he reckoned he was too far gone by that point to hear it.  Ames wasn’t.  Despite a rough start, he was still a pretty good kid.

Ames looked back at the fire and felt its allure.  He wanted to stick his hand out over it, but he had a sudden vision of a wizened claw-like hand rising from the ashes and seizing his own, dragging him through the flames to Hell.  He held his right hand with his left to resist all temptations and looked at Wheat with near adoration.  “You’d make a great pa, Wheat.”

“I reckon that ship might’ve sailed, but who knows.  Could still happen,” said Wheat with a soft smile playing at the corners of his lips.  He liked the idea; a boy of his own or maybe a little gal.  He could do it, too.  He’d learned from those years of outlawing, hell, he’d learned from Heyes, that brutality didn’t lead men, loyalty did.  And that had to be earned by taking care of those you were responsible for; treat them well and they’d treat you well.  It had taken him a long time to put his pa out of his head, but he reckoned he finally had.   “You best get yourself on watch, Ames.  Kyle’s relieving you at midnight.  I’ll douse the fire before turnin’ in.” 

“Goodnight, Wheat, and thanks,” said Ames, patting Wheat’s shoulder as he passed by; wanting to hug him and tell him that he was grateful, that he’d make him proud; but he couldn’t, so he settled for a pat and Wheat understood all that it meant. 

That boy would be fine.  He’d see to it.  He chuckled to himself as he warmed his hands over the fire.  He finally had his true gang.  Men who looked up to him, wanted to ride with him.  Didn’t that beat all? 

His thoughts turned to the next day and his mood soured slightly.  He wasn’t at all sure how he felt about turning those men over to the law.  Jones, Keats, Hutch and Fergie were no different than he’d been.  It chafed him to be the one who brought them in.  He knew they hated him, thought he was a traitor, and that bothered him.  He guessed he was a little.  After all, he was getting something out of their misery: a chance at a new life, a free life.  But they’d chosen to follow Duncan and had turned a blind-eye to his cruelty and, if he let them go, they’d find someone else like Tom Duncan.  Men who’d choose a leader like that were bound for hell with no help from him. 

They’d crossed the line a long time ago.  When they’d derailed that train, knowing that people could be hurt or worse, he’d hated himself for going along with it, but he’d known it was the only way to get to Duncan and save more folks down the road.  He’d done all he could do to minimize the risks and he’d nearly ruined the mission because of it. 

Wheat made up his mind.  People had suffered, and he was going make damn sure that no one else did because of him.  Standing up, he knocked the dust from his pants.  He had to take his own advice and put the old Wheat behind him.  For the first time in his misbegotten life, he felt proud of his work and himself.  He’d be happy to work on this side of the law.

The next morning dawned clear.  Wheat rose early and put some oats on to cook for breakfast, fixed the coffee, grained the horses, and fetched fresh water for them before rousing the others.  Ames was the last one up and he rolled over, yawning. 

“Time to get up,” said Wheat.

Breaking camp took longer than expected.  Allie and Ames led the way out, Kyle led the string of prisoners, and Wheat followed behind leading Feeley’s horse, the body draped across the saddle.

Allie looked back at Wheat and his baggage.  Frowning, she turned forward again, an upset expression on her face which Ames misread.   “Miss Allie, he can’t ever hurt you again.”

Allie blushed.  She’d been thinking that she wished she done it and saved this poor boy the heartache he seemed to be feeling.   “You’re right.  He can’t.  I wonder how many other women have suffered because of him?”

“No way to know.  But it sure feels darn good that no more will, don’t it?” 

“Mr. Ames, you are a very smart man,” she said sincerely, drawing a huge smile from the boy, “and I don’t believe I’ve thanked you enough for saving me.  You were very brave.  I know it’s very difficult to shoot a man and I am so grateful you did.” 

She thought about her biological father and she could still see his eyes widening in shock as the bullet struck him.  Jed had tried to convince her that he’d fired the fatal shot, but she’d known in her heart that she’d killed the vile man.  It had taken her a long time to come to terms with it.  It really wasn’t until she was a parent herself that she understood just how unnatural and unredeemable Jack Slade had been.  She didn’t want this boy to question his actions for one second.

Ames glowed.  He’d never had anyone praise him like that and he soaked in the warm words, letting them feed his soul.  These people liked him; they found value in him.  He realized that for the first time in his short, miserable life he was beginning to feel good about himself.  He was going to be happy. 

xxxx
 
Evening was settling in over Murreyville as the posse members wound down after their adventures of the past few days.  After seeing Heyes to bed, Jed headed over to the cafe where he had no trouble spotting his party taking over the largest table in the place and not being particularly quiet about it either.   Steak dinners had already been ordered all around and Jed appreciatively sat down at the empty setting.  Wine had been poured and was waiting for him.  He picked up the glass and took a healthy swallow.

“How is he?”  Lom asked.

“Asleep.”

“Hmm,”  Lom still looked concerned.  “Maybe after supper you should get the town doctor to take a look at him.”

Jed shrugged, remembering that Heyes suggested he had a theory about his continued lethargy.  “I donno Lom.  Let's just wait and see how he is in the morning.”

“Yeah okay,”  Lom agreed though he still didn't look too happy about it.

“In the mean time,”  Jed quickly changed the subject,  “what's the game plan?”

“Gus is going to stay here for now,”  Lom informed him.  “If anyone can get the name of that railroader who offered up the bounty on you two, it'll be Morrison.  Then we'll see what kind of a case we have to deal with. Who's word is a judge going to accept?  A respected railroad baron or Hannibal Heyes?  No money actually changed hands so Gus may only get charged with unlawful detainment.  That lawyer friend of yours still has his license for Wyoming doesn't he?”

“Yeah,”  Jed agreed.

“He's pretty good,”  Lom commented.  “Maybe he'd be willing to take the case.”

Jed nodded.  “We can ask him.”

“In the mean time we still have three men on the loose,”  Lom grumbled.  “Wes may not be worth the bother, but I sure would like to know how Jack and Wayne slipped away from me.  I was right on their tail, I know I was and they just up and disappeared.”

Much to Jed's relief the steak dinners began to arrive at this point and everyone's attention went to their food.  Except for Joe who just sat quietly, sipping his wine.
Xxxx

Harker was standing on the boardwalk in front of the sheriff’s office watching them ride into town.  He’d been about to start his rounds when he’d seen a puff of dust rising in the air and realized a large group of riders were coming into Porterville.  When he’d seen that Lom wasn’t with them, he’d stopped in his tracks.  Neither were Heyes and Curry.  His heart dropped and he was rooted to the wooden planks.

Kyle pulled up first.  “Harker,”  he tipped his hat, “Lom sent us in with these here prisoners for ya’.  He and the Kid are runnin’ down Duncan.  He’s got Heyes.”

Exhaling his relief in one breath, the big deputy stifled a smile, knowing that Murtry was worried for his friend, and hurried off the sidewalk to take the leads from the smaller outlaw.  “Well, now, who do we have here?”

“That there’s Charlie Jones, Brian Keats, and Len Hutchinson.  I believe ya' already know who Fergie is.  You’ll find some paper on all of 'em.  They was in on that train wreck, too.”

“That so?  Well, lucky for you boys, we just happen to have a few empty jail cells.  Go ahead, drag your sorry butts outta those saddles.”  Harker’s attention suddenly shifted to Wheat riding up the street leading a horse.  He saw the body and did a rapid assessment of who was missing.  It was Feeley.  “What the hell?” 

“Feeley’s dead.  He tried to force Miss Allie last night.  Ames, here,” Wheat nodded to the young man, “caught him in the act but he wouldn’t stop; had to shoot him to get him to let up.”

“That so, Miss Allie?” asked Harker.

She gave him a steady gaze and, without blushing, calmly said, “Yes, it’s true.  Ames rescued me and he probably saved my life, too.”

“Well, then, I’ll take care of takin’ the body to the undertaker; though it sounds to me like buryin’ might be too good for him.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wilkins,” said Allie.  “Now, if you’ll excuse me I would like to telegram my family and then find a hot bath and a clean room.”

“Yes ma’am,” replied the deputy. 

“Wheat, I’m booking rooms for all of us at the hotel and treating everyone to the biggest, juiciest steaks we can find.  I believe we’ve all earned it,” said Allie, backing her horse up.  “Meet me in the dining room of the Palace at seven p.m.”

“We’ll be there.”  Wheat watched her ride up the street, her back ramrod straight, and her chin lifted.  Not for the first time, he thought she was a hell of a woman.  Maybe someday, if he was lucky, he’d find a woman like her.

Once out of sight of her friends, Allie deflated.  Her shoulders rounded, her chin drooped, and she felt as though she would slip from the saddle at any second.  She was exhausted both physically and emotionally.  Feeley’s attack had stolen her confidence and left her more shaken than she wished to admit.  Her entire life she had only depended on her own abilities to ensure her well-being.  Even after so many years of marriage, she didn’t look to Scott to defend her; all she needed from him was his love and companionship.  But Feeley had shown her how very foolish she had been.  In a few minutes, he had shattered her illusion of strength and shown her how very vulnerable she was. 

She’d been a reckless fool.  She’d longed for adventure, craved it really, and had sought it out whenever and wherever she could.  That’s why she’d forced Heyes into letting her come along.  Not because of the horse, because she saw this as a wild adventure.  And what had her willfulness brought her over the years?  She’d robbed a bank, killed her own flesh and blood, and was nearly raped.  Nothing she could be proud of, nothing she’d ever want her children to know.

As she pulled her horse up outside of the telegraph office and slithered from the saddle, her only thought was how much she missed Libby and Carbon and how terribly worried she was for Scott’s safety.  Once this whole sordid mess was finished, she would be so incredibly grateful to go home.

xxxx

The next morning Heyes was back to his normal energetic self.  Kid had already shaven and was busy getting dressed while Heyes, standing at the mirror wearing just his trousers was preparing the lather for his own morning toilette.  Kid glanced over at his partner, relieved to see him happy and humming.  His blue eyes darkened just a touch as he noted the old scars again.  He would have thought by this time he'd be used to seeing them but the sight of the thin white lines criss-crossing over his partner's back always caused a sense of regret to pass over him.  Regret that they hadn't gotten Heyes out of that place sooner.

He sighed quietly then perked up as Heyes flicked open his straight razor and prepared to start scraping.

“Oh Heyes, wait a minute,”  Jed told him and he headed over to his own saddlebags.

“What?”

“Just a minute,”  Jed persisted as he rummaged through his bags until he found what he sought and he smiled as he handed the small box to his partner.

Heyes' dimples could be seen even through the shaving cream.  “Aw Kid, you found it.”

“Yeah,”  Jed shrugged like it was no big deal.  “It was in the ashes of the cabin.  I know the box is kinda' scorched but everything else is fine.”

Heyes put down the razor he had been preparing for use and opened the shaving kit to run his fingers lovingly along the pearl handle of the straight edge nestled in the box.

“Yeah,”  he said with a huge smile.  “Thanks Kid.  One thing I've learned from this trip; I'm going to be leaving this kit at home when I go travelling from now on.  I don't care how easy a job it appears to be, I'll be taking the old standby instead.”

Jed nodded and settled back on the bed to wait for his cousin to finish up his shave.  Heyes picked up the pearl handled utensil and got to work.  Jed watched him for a few minutes, listening to him humming an old favourite tune and was feeling reluctant to breech the subject that was bothering him.  But they had so little opportunity to discuss things alone these days and Jed decided it was now or never.

“What was wrong with you yesterday, Heyes?”  Kid finally asked him.  “It was like ya' just couldn't stay awake.”

Heyes stopped humming.  His hands froze in the shaving position, the blade barely a quarter inch from his bewhiskered cheek.  His eyes dropped and he couldn't look his partner in the face.  Now Kid was really worried.  He stood up and took a step forward.

“Heyes...?”

Heyes sighed and raising his eyes to look at himself in the mirror, he continued to shave.  Jed could also see his cousin's reflection and the dark eyes were suddenly haunted with the lips drawn tight.  Jed waited.  He knew it was coming but he had to wait until Heyes was ready himself.  Push him now and his cousin would simply go to ground and refuse to say anything.

Heyes finished shaving and taking the wet wash cloth he wiped away the remaining lather and with a quiet cough and a swallow, he turned to face his partner.  Their eyes met and Heyes gave just a flash of a sheepish smile.

“When Wes and I arrived at that ranch yesterday to wait for Gus, he pushed me into that Indian hole.”  Heyes quietly explained.  “Jeez Kid, I panicked.  It was just like the dark cell at the prison.  I was actually begging Wes not to put me in there.  It would have been degrading if I hadn't been so terrified.  I actually passed out; I don't even remember falling into it.
“Next thing I know Wes is down in that hole with me and he's scared to death.”

“He's scared?!”  Jed asked, feeling a rising anger towards the young bounty hunter. “Now I want ta' run him down and lock him in that thing himself and see how he feels!”

Heyes shook his head.  “No, that's not what scared him.”

“Well what then?”

“Me.  I scared him.”

“You?  You were passed out.”

“Yeah,”  Heyes nodded in agreement.  “But apparently....”

“What?”

“Dammit Kid!  I had one of those bloody seizures!”

Jed paled. “Oh.”

Heyes started to pace.  “I don't know what brought it on; maybe being so scared, finding myself facing that dark place again.  Maybe just exhaustion with all the other stuff I'd been dealing with.  The fire and Duncan kidnapping me.  Then Gus taking over.  Either way I knew I was dead if I couldn't get away from them.  I couldn't stop thinking about Miranda and Sally and how miserably I had failed them as a husband and a father.  I donno.  I guess everything just all came together and 'pow'!”  he stopped pacing and gave an ironic laugh.  “The most ridiculous thing about it all is that I had the medication on me but Wes didn't know anything about it.  He didn't know what was going on.  I scared him half to death.  But he got me out of the hole.”

The two cousins stood quietly for a few moments; Heyes slowly calming down from the emotion of finally admitting to the incident out loud, and Kid trying to take it all in.

“After that all I felt was exhausted,”  Heyes finally continued.  “I mean, with everything that was going on, I guess my adrenaline kicked in and kept me going, but I still felt like my body was fighting every move I tried to make.  Then when it was all over with, I suppose I just crashed.  I couldn't stay awake.  I would have been scared if I hadn't been so damned tired.”

Jed allowed himself a small laugh, then he walked over and put his hand on his cousin's shoulder.  Heyes looked up and their eyes met again.

“You're feeling okay today though?”  Jed asked.

“Yeah,”  Heyes confirmed.  “I feel fine; 100 %.”

“Okay.  I suppose you should probably talk to David about this when we get home though.”

“Oh yeah,”  Heyes nodded adamantly.  “And I'm beginning to think he mighta' been right about another thing too....”

“Really?”  Jed responded in mock surprise.  “You're actually conceding that David might be right about something?”

“Yeah, yeah,”  Heyes accepted the chiding with a smile, but then turned serious again.  “I need to tell more people about this.  What if I had a seizure in front of Belle, or one of the girls?  If it scared Wes that much it would be terrifying for them, not knowing what was going on or what to do about it. Although, Jesse knows about it so he's probably told everyone else in the family.  I should probably tell Sheriff Jacobs too.  I suppose he should know....”

Jed smiled and gave Heyes a gentle shake.  “Now you're thinkin' Heyes.  I knew you'd eventually come around to seeing things my way.”

“Oh you knew that did you?”

“Yeah, I did.  Now come on.  I'm hungry.”


Jed insisted on stopping at the telegrapher in order to check up on any responses to the message he had sent out the evening before.  Nothing had arrived yet but the day was still young.  Everyone else had already eaten by the time Heyes and Jed got down to the cafe.  Indeed, Heyes had slept so late is was almost lunch time and the place was quickly beginning to fill up for the second round of service for the day.  The cousins stopped in the entrance and looked around the busy establishment wondering if they would even find an empty table when Jed noticed a long arm of the law waving at them.

“Hey,”  he gave Heyes a slap on the arm,  “there's Mike.  C'mon, we can join him.”

“Oh...ummm...”   Heyes wasn't too sure about that, but Jed had already headed for the table.

“Morning Mike,”  Kid greeted the sheriff as he pulled up a chair.

“Morning?”  Mike questioned with a raised brow.  “Kinda expected you two over at the jailhouse before now.”

“Ahhh....”

“Morrison's headed out to talk with Rick about joining the posse,”   Mike informed them.

“Oh!”  Jed perked up.  “Yeah, we can head over there after breakfast.  We want ta' talk ta' Lom anyways.”

“Hey Mike.”

“Heyes.”  The sheriff stood up and the two men shook hands.  Heyes awkwardly sat down as Mike got the waitress's attention.  “Hey June!  Two more coffee's and lunch specials when ya' got a minute.”

“Comin' right up!”  came the distant response and Mike sat back down again.

“You finally woke up.”  Mike was nothing if not direct.

Heyes smiled, impishly.  “Yeah, I guess I was kinda tired.”

June showed up with the coffee pot and got them started on that.

“We got venison stew or rabbit stew,”  she informed the new customers.  “Which one would you like?”

The partners looked at each other and shared a smile.  They'd all had too much rabbit on the trail.

“Venison,”  said the Kid.

“Yeah,”  Heyes agreed.

“Comin' up,”  June smiled.  “That includes warm, fresh bread and berry pie for dessert.”

“Sounds good,”  Jed smiled, his blue eyes twinkling.

June almost blushed with the intensity of his look and quickly hurried away so as not to embarrass herself.  Heyes smiled quietly, knowing that the love-gleam in his partner's eye was more for the anticipation of berry pie than any romantic desires.  Thoughts along that nature were directed towards his wife and though he still liked to look at the scenery,  he was keeping other thoughts at home.

Heyes sipped his coffee, his small smile disappearing just as quickly as it had emerged.  He was feeling uncomfortable with the sheriff sitting in such close proximity.  The last time he had seen Mike, Heyes had been heading off to prison and that parting had been anything but congenial.  

“Umm, Mike,”  Heyes finally began quietly.  “Ahh, I'm real sorry about what happened when we parted company.  You always treated me fair and I shouldn't have done that.”

Mike sat and scrutinized the ex-con for a moment, making Heyes feel even more squirmy.

“You're not still mad at me, are ya'?”  Heyes was almost scared to ask.

“Heyes, you apologized for that yesterday,”  Mike informed him.

“I did?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, ya' did Heyes,”  Kid assured him.  “I heard ya'.”

Brows creased.  “Ya' did?”

Jed smiled and nodded.

“Oh.  Well...”  Heyes turned back to Mike.  “Did you accept the apology?”

“Yeah,”  Mike assured him.  “I even stopped bein' mad at ya' once I could eat solid foods again.”

Heyes' face fell.  “Oh.”

Mike gave Heyes a slap on the shoulder that nearly spilled his coffee.  “Don't worry about it,”  he assured the ex-con.  “all part of the job.”

“Well yeah, but...”

Two bowls of venison stew were set out on the table and a third plate of bread hit the center and all attention was instantly diverted from the conversation.  A large slab of berry pie got plunked down in front of the sheriff as well and Mike actually grinned.

“Aw June, you know me too well,”  he teased her.

“Of course!”  she agreed with the cheeky smile.  “You always have more than one!”

“You think Rick will be in town before we leave?”  Jed asked over a mouthful.  “I wouldn't mind sayin' 'howdy'.”

Mike shrugged.  “Maybe,”  he conceded.  “I'm willin' to bet he'll wanna be a part of that posse to go after the Mathisons'.  He's lost a lot of stock to that family.  He might even come back with Tom this afternoon to have a word with Gus, if you know what I mean.”

Two sets of eyes locked over stews and both men nodded.

“I gotta get some men together and see if I can run down that other fella too,”  Mike grumbled.  “What was his name?  Wesley?”

“Oh, ah...”  Heyes looked up from his lunch.  “No, let him go Mike.”  Mike cocked a brow.  “I kind'a made a deal with him.”

“You did?”  Mike asked dryly.  “You taken up law now Heyes?”

“No!”  Heyes snarked.  “But he's just a young kid, Mike.  Got caught up with the wrong kind of people and then got in too deep.  I told him that if he let me go then I'd let him go—no hard feelings and no charges pending.  He didn't really do anything except go along with Gus because he was scared not to.  We already got the bad guys.  Gus is in your jail, Duncan is dead and the rest of the phoney Devil's Hole gang is probably in Porterville by now.”

“All but two,”  Mike pointed out.  “It's my understanding that a couple of fellas from the Hole got away and your friend, Sheriff Trevors is real curious as to how they did that.”  Then before either partner could respond to that, Mike swallowed down his last bite of pie and swig of coffee and pushed himself away from the table.  “I best get back to work.  Finish up and come on over if you want, Trevors might have some questions for ya'.”

Both men nodded and waved forks and Mike swept away like a buffalo in a gopher colony.

The partners continued to eat in silence for a moment or at least until the stew was finished and the gravy cleaned up with more bread.  Then while awaiting the arrival of their pie and more coffee, Jed brought up another valid point.


“Should we tell him?”  he asked quietly.

Heyes frowned and pursed his lips in consternation; this was a tough one.  Finally he shrugged.  “I donno,”  he admitted.  “I don't really see why we should.”

“But ain't that lyin'?”  Jed pushed the point.

“I think it's only lying if he asks us,”  Heyes countered.

Jed's thoughts instantly went back to the argument he'd had with David over the morphine.  He'd tried to use that reasoning then and David hadn't even come close to accepting it.  It'd didn't wash then and Jed highly doubted that it washed now.

“I donno Heyes....”

“Well I say we don't tell 'em,”  Heyes quickly cut him off.   “Hell, Wheat would be dead now if he hadn't known about that handy little canyon.  Morrison's posse would have run him down and put him in the dirt right then and there.  I see no good reason to tell the law about it if they don't ask.  Just because we aren't in the business anymore doesn't mean we should give away all our secrets.”


Jed remained sceptical.  “I donno,”  he repeated.  “It still seems like lyin' ta' me.   And last I looked we was workin' on the side of the law now, ya' know.  I mean, ain't that illegal?  Withholding information or somethin' like that?  Aidin' and abidin'?  We'd be helpin' two outlaws to escape.”

“We didn't help them to escape; they did that all on their own,”  Heyes quipped.  “And besides, we don't know for sure they actually went in there.  There's plenty of other places they could have holed up.”

Jed sent him the look, “C'mon Heyes,  Lom said those tracks just up and disappeared right around where the entrance to that canyon is.  Where else would they have gone?”

“All the more reason not to say anything'!”  Heyes argued, his tone rising in his frustration. “We got most of those boys—those two that got away weren't even worth anything.  I say leave em' be; they just aren't worth giving away the location of that canyon.”

“And I say you're still thinkin' like an outlaw,”  Jed pointed out.

Heyes looked insulted. “I just don't think it's lying if he don't ask!”  he snarked back.

“Well it is!”  Jed stood his ground.  “And I have a feelin' Lom would agree with me.  And you promised Heyes; you promised right there in front of all of us to keep Lom in the loop.  We both promised that Heyes; that we wouldn't shut him out again, that we'd tell him everything.”

“Concerning me!”  Heyes was becoming more defensive as he found himself losing this debate.  “I agreed to tell him everything concerning me.”

“Now you're splitin' hairs,”  Jed grumbled.  “And you're gettin' mad 'cause ya' know I'm right.”

“I don't know you're right!”  Heyes groused.  “I'm gettin' mad 'cause you're being unreasonable!”

The pie and coffee showed up but June put in a hasty retreat.  Dessert wasn't even noticed by the two arguing men.

Jed threw up his hands in exasperation.  “Okay, fine.  You're gonna insist on seein' it that way; It ain't lyin' if'n he don't ask.”

“Glad you're finally seeing reason, Kid.”

“It ain't reason!”  Jed snarked back at his cousin.  “I just recognize a brick wall when I see it.  But don't go blamin' me if trouble lands on your head again, 'cause right now I'd say you're asking for it!”  he pushed his chair back in preparation of leaving.  “I'm gonna check with the telegraph office again then
go get me a beer.”

And with that he stomped off in hopes of finding a note from his wife—at least she understood common sense.  Heyes grumbled to himself as he snatched over a plate of pie and began to devour it.


Ten minutes later Heyes had paid the bill at the cafe and headed over to the saloon himself.  He was already feeling contrite over the argument and wanted to apologize for getting angry.  He still didn't think Jed was right but they didn't have to be a odds with each other over it.  Heyes figured his friend was just getting jittery because he wanted to get home.  Hell, they both wanted to get home and just thinking about seeing his wife again made Heyes feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

He had a soft smile on his face as he walked into the saloon, but the smile soon dropped to a concerned frown when he didn't spot the Kid anywhere within the establishment.  Who he did spot was Joe.  He was sitting by himself over at one of the smaller tables and nursing a beer.  He had a distant look to his eyes and Heyes sighed with simpatico.  Ordering a beer himself he took a sip of the frothy liquid and made his way over to the quiet young man.

“Howdy Joe,”  Heyes greeted him softly.  “Mind if I sit?”

Some focus came back into Joe's eyes as he glanced up at the older man.  He shrugged and motioned over to the empty chair.  Heyes pulled it out and sat down.  He leaned forward, his elbows on the table and took a close look at his companion.

“I don't remember much of what happened after you saved my life,”  Heyes told him,  “but I sure remember what was going on before.”

“Yeah?”  Joe asked without looking up.

“Yeah,”  Heyes confirmed.  “He was going to kill me Joe.  If you hadn't shot him, he would have done it; of that I have no doubt.  You were the only one within range.”

“I know,” Joe agreed.  “I just wish....”

“That it could have been somebody else?”

Joe looked up and met those dark eyes that showed nothing but sympathy.  “Yeah.”

Heyes nodded.  “But sometimes we just gotta take what's handed to us and make the best of it.  I know it's not easy, but as a lawman you must have realized that sooner or later....”

“I know,”  Joe agreed.  “I just didn't think it would hit so hard.  I always thought that when I was eventually faced with that decision, it would be someone who was dangerous, who was going to kill me or someone else—or who had already killed....”

“Duncan was all that, and more,”  Heyes pointed out.

“So why do I feel so bad about it?”  Joe asked, almost sounding angry.  “He deserved killing; better him than you!”

Heyes chuckled, trying the lighten the mood just a little.  “I have to agree with you there.”  But then the smile dropped as Joe continued to look miserable.  “I've only killed once—that I know of,” he continued.  “and I hated that man Joe.  Hated him more than I have ever hated anyone before him.  Hated him for the misery he inflicted upon me, hated him for what he did to your uncle.  And hated him for thinking it was funny and that he was going to get away with it.  On top of that, well, there aren't many men whom I'm afraid of,” he chuckled ruefully.  “Certainly some I intentionally choose to stay away from, but not many I outright fear.  Not even Duncan, not until he had me pinned and even then it wasn't so much Duncan who I fear, but the knowledge that I was never going to see my wife and daughter again.  
“But I was afraid of Carson.  I suppose a lot of that fear was what drove my hatred of him.  I didn't just find myself in a position where I had to kill him, I wanted to kill him, I planned to kill him.  I went after him that night with a full and powerful murderous intent.  So you would think that once having succeeded in my endeavour that I would have felt triumphant.  I should have been over-joyed, relieved, ecstatic.”  Joe looked up to meet his eyes and Heyes smiled and shook his head.  “But I wasn't,”  he continued.  “I felt sick—nauseated.  Not so much because Carson was dead, but because what killing him had done to me.
“Killing a man is never anything to take lightly Joe.  Doesn't matter if he deserves it or not because once its done, its done and there's no going back.  It changes you.  It changes the way you see yourself and so changes the way you view the world around you.  Men like Carson, men like Duncan; killing just seems to change them for the worst.  It poisons them, turns them black inside and they lose sight of what's normal.
“That's not you Joe.  Like most of us; you're normal.  This is going to eat at you for a while; there's no denying that.  And if you ever need to talk well, you know where I live.  But you'll be alright.  Just you wait; once we get back home and you've got that pretty little gal you were sparkin' coming by and making a fuss over you!  That smile will be back on your face before you know it.”

A small ghost of a smile was already tugging at Joe's lips at the thought of pretty little Pansy MacAlistar cuddling up to him.  “Yeah, I suppose.”

“And I'll tell ya' one more thing Joe,”  Heyes continued.  “You've done a lot of growing up over this summer.  I know I treated you kind of badly at first, but I didn't mean anything by it—it's just my way.”

“Yeah I know,”  Joe assured him.  “Jed told me.”  

“Oh he did, did he?”

Joe smiled a little.  “Yeah.”

“Well, you took it well in any case.  And you stood up for yourself when you needed to.  I got over resenting you a long time ago.  In fact I don't think me and Jed would have been able to pull this whole thing off if it hadn't been for you.  Even before what happened yesterday I was proud to call you my friend and I hope that maybe you might feel the same way about me.”

Joe smiled back at Heyes.  “Yeah,”  he nodded.  “You really can be exasperating sometimes Heyes, but yeah; I think of you as a friend.”

Heyes grinned.  “Good!”  he exclaimed, and taking one last swallow of beer he stood and gave Joe a slap on the shoulder.  “C'mon, let's go see what Mike and Lom are cooking up.  I need to find my partner too, come to think of it.  He's kind of mad at me.”

“Really?”  Joe commented dryly as they headed for the door.  “I can't imagine what for.”



Back at the Sheriff's office, Heyes and Joe walked in on Lom, Mike and Jed sitting around the front desk making tentative plans.  All three looked up and Heyes sent a hopeful smile over to his partner.  Jed smiled back. Lom on the other hand, was not smiling.

“About time you got here Heyes,”  Lom chided him.  “Mike tells me that you made some sort of deal with that Wes fella.  I thought you'd want to see him tracked down after what they did to you.”

“Oh no, Lom,”  Heyes assured him.  “Like I told Mike, Wes is just a young kid who got mixed up with the wrong sort,”  Derisive snort from the cell.  “He saved my life just as surely as Joe did and I sure wouldn't feel right about turning him in to the law.”

“Uh huh,”  Lom grumbled.  “Fine.  But that still leaves us with the two who got away from the Hole.  Jack and Wayne.  I've had the night to think on this, and it just doesn't make sense, those boys just disappearing into thin air like that.  Now I didn't really have time then to search around for tracks or look for some place where they might'a turned off the trail.  But now I'm just wondering if there might'a been some place they could'a turned into.”

Jed looked over at Heyes but Heyes refused to look at him.   Lom also looked directly at Heyes, waiting for an answer.  When none was forthcoming Lom decided to encourage the ex-con to make the right choice.

“You two fellas know this country better than anybody,”  he continued casually.  “You know of any place where them fellas might'a turned off the trail and stayed hidden?”

Jed again sent a pointed look over to Heyes that was not lost on Lom.

“Well, hum...”  slight cough from Heyes to gain him some time and composure.  “Ahh, I suppose there could be a place in there they could'a used.”

“Uh huh,”  Lom responded.  “You suppose there 'could' be.”

“Well yeah, “  Heyes admitted, trying to sound nonchalant.  “There's a whole bunch of little hidden canyons over in that area.  Might be they found one.”

Lom finished his coffee and folded his arms as he sent an exasperated look over to his charge. “Are you tellin' me there is a hiding place over that way that you just didn't bother to mention earlier?”

“Well, humm...”  Heyes shuffled a little and sent a look over to his cousin.  Jed was smiling at him and didn't give any indications of support.  “I just didn't think of it Lom.  It's been so long since I needed to use anything like that, you know.  But now that you mention it....”

“Uh huh.”  Lom wasn't fooled and Heyes knew it.  “You're still thinkin' like an outlaw, Heyes.  And don't go thinkin' I don't know it.”

Heyes just swallowed guiltily and did his best to look innocent.  Again, Lom knew him too well to be fooled by his play of unintended non-compliance.

“Once Morrison gets after the Mathisons,  the four of us are gonna take a little ride over that way,”  Lom informed the parolee.  “Even if them boys are long gone by now, I want to know where this place is.”

Suddenly it was Jed's turn to be concerned.  “Aw, no Lom,”  he protested.  “I gotta get home; you know that.  Like you say; them boys are gonna be long gone by now.  Why don't you have Wheat and Kyle show you the place later on?”

“Yeah!”  Heyes showed his support.  “They're on the company payroll anyways.  I'm sure they wouldn't mind riding all the way back up here in order to show you around.”

Lom sent Heyes a dirty look.  “Fine!”  he snarked.  “But if it wasn't for the fact that Kid's got good reason to want to get home, you'd both be comin' back up there with me right now, just because you didn't tell me about it in the first place!”

With that Lom turned on his heels and stomped out of the office.

Heyes' expression turned from innocence to irritation.  He glanced over at his cousin and saw the look of smugness coming back at him.

“Shuddup.”

“I didn't say a thing.”
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Keays

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

PostSubject: Winding Down. Chapter Fourteen   Wed Apr 30, 2014 12:42 am

“Hey!'  came a complaint from the occupied cell.  “Am I ever going to get fed in here?  Ain't you under some legal obligation to feed your prisoners?”

“June will be over with your lunch just as soon as things quiet down over there,”  Mike assured him.  “Just be patient.”

“That's easy for you ta' say, ya' big ape!”  Gus griped.  “You've probably already eaten the cafe clean.  What about me?  I'm hungry too ya' know!”

Mike simply rolled his eyes sand ignored him but Heyes, who was already feeling a bit touchy ambled over to the the cell and motioned Gus to step up to the bars.  Gus hesitated, not sure if he could trust that situation, but curiosity over-came wisdom and he cautiously approached.

“A word of advice, Gus,”  Heyes whispered conspiratorially.  “You really don't want to be goading Sheriff Schomacher that way.  I know from personal experience that it takes quite a bit to rile him but I also know from personal experience that you don't want to be on the receiving end of one of his punches.  You know what I mean?”  Heyes smiled and gave the prisoner a friendly pat on the arm.  “Be smart and shut up.”

Gus snarled, but he did turn away from the bars and go sit down on his cot, apparently willing to await his lunch in silence.  Heyes turned when he heard the office door opening again, half expecting it to be Lom returning, but it was Morrison instead.  Heyes felt a touch of anxiety settle onto his shoulders and noted that Jed had also tensed up a little bit.  But then his cousin's countenance suddenly shifted and his blue eyes sparkled with an honest smile as Rick Layton stepped around the big marshal.

“Rick!”  Jed greeted him and stepped forward to shake his hand.

“Jed, how are you?”  Rick also seemed genuinely pleased to see his former charge.  “I hear you're a married man now.”

“Yeah,”  Jed smiled.  “And I hear you did a mite more than get married.”

Rick smiled.  “Yeah, I guess I did.”

“How's that going for ya'?”

“Good,”  Rick admitted.  “A little crazy sometimes, but it's good.”

“Listen, me and Heyes are going to be in town for a day or two,”  Kid commented.  “Why don't ya' come on over to the saloon and have a beer?”

Morrison turned away from the coffee pot with a freshly poured cup.

“We have things to discuss, Curry,”  the marshal told him.  “Layton didn't ride all the way in here to be socializing with the likes 'a you.”

“Oh lighten up Tom,”  Rick told him.  “we have all evening to discuss plans.  I've got time to have a beer with an old friend.”

Morrison rolled his eyes.  “Old friend?  You really have gone soft.  Fine, go have a beer.  I'll be here doin' my job.”

Rick smiled, being far too accustomed to the marshal's temperament to feel intimidated by him.

“Yeah, let's go have a beer,”  Jed agreed as he moved away from the marshal.  “C'mon Heyes.  You comin' Joe?”

“Ah, no,”  Joe declined.  “There's some things I want to do, so I'll see you fellas at dinner time.”

“Oh, okay.  Heyes?”

Heyes was still standing by the cells, feeling a little left out of this greeting party.  He really hadn't gotten the chance to get to know Rick very well and what memories he did have of the man were not pleasant.  He tried to put those events behind him, realizing that it had been a very stressful time for all involved and he really shouldn't take the beating he had received at the hands of the then deputy too much to heart.

“Heyes?”  Jed asked again, noticing his cousin's hesitation.  “You comin'?”

“Yeah, sure.”  Heyes made his way to the front door, strategically avoiding the marshal on the way.  He could feel Morrison's eyes boring into him trying to make him squirm just for the sake of it but Heyes refused to be squirmed.  It was tough but he made it out to the boardwalk without breaking into a run.

Entering in to the saloon, they found the establishment relatively quiet.  Lom was standing at the bar, nursing a beer when he heard the three men enter and his dark eyes bored into Heyes.  This time the ex-outlaw did squirm.

“Ah, listen,”  Heyes told his partner,  “why don't you two go on ahead.  I'm going to go over and talk to Lom.  We'll come over to join you in a few minutes.”

“Yeah, okay,”  Jed nodded, then smiled.  “Gonna apologize, ain't ya.”

Heyes silently waved him away then headed for the bar.  Lom barely glanced at Heyes as he ordered himself yet another beer for the day.  One of these times he might actually finish one of them.

“Hey Lom,”  Heyes started in, bringing forth his most innocent of tones.  “I kinda' get the feeling you're mad at me.”

Lom snorted.  “You picked up on that did ya'?”

Heyes' beer arrived and he quickly took a drink.

Lom let loose a frustrated sigh.  “I donno Heyes,”  he began.  “you really do piss me off sometimes.  Now the Kid, he's getting things straight in his mind about what's important.  I didn't bother askin' him for this information, 'cause I know he'd a given it to me—he was just sittin' back and waitin' to see if you would.”

“I just didn't think it mattered,”  Heyes mumbled starting to feel a little guilty now.  “I mean, c'mon Lom; this whole venture was about tracking down Karma's lineage—not go runnin' down a bunch 'a sorry wanna be outlaws.  Besides, we got the one's who mattered.  Serves Duncan right for trying to take over Devil's Hole AND thinking that he has some prior claim to my horse!  He's the one who mattered, not those two fellas who got away.”

“So all this was just about your own personal revenge, is that it?”  Lom asked with a tingle of anger still coming through.”

“No!”  Heyes was adamant.  “It was about taking out somebody who was dangerous.”  He sighed and became reflective.  “I've seen that look too many times, especially in the prison.  I learned to keep my distance.  Duncan was dangerous and anybody who came into contact with him was at risk.  Anybody.”  

“So you think that its up to you to decide who deserves to go free and who deserves to stand trial?”  Lom asked.  “You can pick and chose?”

Heyes' lips tightened in irritation.  “I just didn't think those two were worth going after.”

“And you decided that Wes wasn't worth it either,”  Lom pointed out.

“Oh c'mon Lom!”  Heyes protested.  “Wes is no more than a kid and besides I had to offer him something to let me go.  He was too afraid of Gus to just do it.  It was my life Lom.”

“You could have found another way out of that,”  Lom countered.  “You didn't need to start makin' unauthorized deals.”

“Well from where I was sittin' it didn't look like I was having much luck getting out of it!”  Heyes snarked.  “I did what I had to do to survive and you're ridin' me about it!”

“I'm ridin' ya' about decidin' for yourself who deserves to be arrested and who can go free!”  Lom corrected him.  “You're still sittin' on the fence Heyes.  It's not up to you to decide that.  When you go after a gang of outlaws, you bring 'em all in and let the judge decide who deserves what.  It ain't up ta' you to decide that!”

“You made that decision once Lom,”  Heyes quietly pointed out.  “Are you saying you regret that now?  That you shouldn't have done it?”

Lom calmed down a little and shook his head.  “No,”  he answered.  “No, I don't regret it.  I just wonder where you're at sometimes.  I sent a telegram to Governor Barber yesterday letting him know what a good job you had done here and that he should keep that in mind while considering your parole.  Now I'm wondering if I was a bit premature in my praise.”

Heyes hated admitting to a slight chill going down his spine.  “No, now Lom c'mon.   I see the point you're trying to make here and considering I got both you and the Kid mad at me over the same thing then maybe I was wrong not to tell you about that canyon.”

Lom pushed himself away from the bar and gave Heyes a wide-eyed look.  “Are you actually admitting to being wrong about something Heyes?”

“Well now, I said maybe,”  Heyes pointed out, then snarked, “besides, I've admitted to being wrong about things before!”

“When?”

“Well....I donno....jeez I can't come up with something right off the top of my head, but I know I have,”  Heyes was protesting.  “Just ask Kid!”

“Kid has told you you're wrong,”  Lom pointed out.  “but that's a far cry from you admitting it.”

“Fine!”  Heyes groused. “I'm admitting it now.  I donno, I guess I'm still not really recovered from yesterday yet.  I don't seem to be thinking too clearly today.”

“What was that all about Heyes?”  Lom asked him.  “You were actin' like you were drunker than a preacher on Monday morning.  I thought for sure Morrison was gonna kill ya'.”

Heyes cursed under his breath; he really wasn't in his top form to have let that one slip.  Now he could see no way out of it.  Damn.

“It's nothin',”  he insisted.  “Just....a medical condition...it's not important.”

“Medical condition,”  Lom repeated.  “What kind of medical condition?”

“Well, it's just....David says that I've had a few too many knocks on the head and that maybe....there's been some damage done,”  Heyes haltingly explained.  “It's nothing that can't be treated.  I'm fine.  It's just....I guess with all the stress over the last few days and then Wes forcing me into that Indian hole—damn!  I guess it all just got to be too much and I.....”

“You had a seizure?”  Lom asked incredulously.

It was Heyes' turn to push back from the bar and send his friend a wide-eyed look.  “What!?”

“You have epilepsy?”

Heyes blinked, his brows twitching together.  “How did you know that?  Hell, I'd never heard of it before David told me about it.”

“Oh well, one of my cousins was badly injured in the war,”  Lom explained.  “Got shot up pretty good and was unconscious for days.  I was still young and full 'a piss and vinegar so I didn't really pay much attention but even at that, I knew the family was worried about him.  Didn't think he was gonna make it.  But he did.  Seemed to heal up just fine.
“Then one evening he was sitting in his parlour reading the paper and drinking a glass of brandy when he got hit with one of those seizures.  He wasn't doin' anything; it just came on 'em real sudden like.  Scared his wife half to death.”

“Oh.”  Heyes wasn't sure if he should feel relieved or disappointed that Lom seemed to know more about the ailment then Heyes himself did.  

“Does Miranda know about this?”  Lom asked, suddenly concerned for her situation.

“Oh yeah,”  Heyes assured him in a slightly shaky voice.  “Yeah, both she and Sally know.”

“And ya' got the serum on ya'?”

“Yeah,”  Heyes nodded and patted his left breast pocket.  “Keep some on me all the time.  But Wes didn't know about it and I sure wasn't about to go explainin' it to him.”

“Yeah, well that does explain it then,”  Lom conceded with a nod.  “If you had a full fledged seizure and no serum then it would have left ya' beat up.  Kid knows about it, I take it.”

“Yeah,”  Heyes admitted.  “And after all this, I suppose I better let a few other folks know about it too.”

“Yep, good idea.”  Lom commented.  “But you better keep yourself out of trouble from now on Heyes.  If you've already done damage like that you don't want to be making it worse.”

“But it's not my fault!”  Heyes laid in the usual protest.  “I don't go out of my way to get beat up.  Jeez, people just seem to like pounding me on the head.  Even Kenny did it.”

“Yeah, well from what I understand of that incident, you did ask for that one,”  Lom pointed out.

Heyes grumbled into his beer but he had no legitimate come back.

“You got a family now Heyes,”  Lom continued to lecture.  “And you're not getting any younger either; ya' gotta start being more careful.”

“And yet you want me to come along and help clear out that rustler's nest,”  Heyes pointed out.  “How is that being more careful?”

“That was before I knew about your medical condition...”  Heyes cringed at the term.  “Given that situation,  I'm just as glad you're going home.  It's Morrison's problem now; he can deal with it.

The two men sat in companionable silence for a moment as they both focused on their beers.  Heyes could hear the Kid's laughter coming across the room over the voices of the few other patrons that were present.  He smiled slightly, for some reason feeling pleased and comforted by the fact that his best friend was enjoying himself.

“So,” Heyes began tentatively,  “has Gus given you a name yet?”

“Nope,”  Lom admitted.  “For a low down, slimy backstabber he knows how to keep his secrets safe.”

“Hmmm,”

“Not sure it would help us out much anyways,”  Lom continued.  “No money changed hands, there's nothing in writing.  It would just be the word of a respected railroad baron against that of a bounty hunter and an ex-outlaw.  An ex-outlaw who has no reason at all to like the railroad.  We wouldn't be able to touch him. We could get Gus for kidnapping and that ought to get him some time, but other than that....”

“No, you can't give up Lom,”  Heyes insisted, suddenly getting worried.  “At least if we knew who it was who was offering that bounty on us, you could go have a talk with him.  I mean, let 'em know that we know.  Maybe the knowledge that if me or the Kid suddenly go missing, he's going to be high on the suspect list.  Might just scare him off from even trying it.”

“Yeah, I know Heyes,”  Lom agreed.  “We'll keep working on him.  And Morrison hasn't even started in on him yet and you know what he can be like.”

Heyes choked on his beer.

“Yeah,”  he croaked as he tried to get his wind back.  “I have first hand knowledge of what Morrison can be like.”

“Uh huh.  I'm sure the law here will get to the bottom of this Heyes,”  Lom assured him.  “In the meantime, we need to get back to Porterville and deal with our own prisoners.  I suppose the Kid is going to insist on heading for home right away.”

Heyes smiled and turning around he leaned against the bar and sent his cousin an affectionate look.  “Yeah, I suppose he will.  I'm kinda looking forward to getting home myself.”

Lom chuckled.  “Yeah, me too.  I suppose we all got good reason now to want to be at home more.”

“Yeah.”  Heyes sent a sidelong glance to his mentor.  “So...we good now?  With the governor and all that.  It would sure mean a lot Lom, you giving him a good word for me.”

Lom grumbled.  “Yeah, I suppose so.  You both did a good job with all this; I can't fault ya' there.  Ya' just gotta start rememberin' who's side yer on now.”

“Yeah yeah, I know Lom,”  Heyes agreed.  “I will.

“Good!”  Lom stated adamantly then finished his beer.  “Now I better get back over to the sheriff's office and make sure Morrison isn't skinning our prisoner alive.”

Heyes nodded in support of that.  “We'll see ya' later Lom.”

Heyes then found himself alone at the bar and as he scanned the room in search of a possible poker game, the playful green eyes of one of the working girls locked seductively with his.  Heyes smiled and she practically melted into his dimples.  Getting her wits about her she gave him a lascivious smile and began her courting strut over in his direction.  

Heyes' smile instantly dropped and he quickly shook his head.  She stopped, mouth dropping slightly in a confused pout until Heyes raised up his left hand and pointed at his wedding ring.  She looked even more confused and shrugged her shoulders indicating a 'so what' attitude concerning his marital status. He smiled but shook his head again making it clear that it wasn't up for barter. She gave an irritated shrug and rolled her eyes as she broke off communication and went prowling for another mark.

Heyes' eyes then came to rest on his cousin again and picking up his beer, he headed over to join in on that conversation.

“Heyes,”  Jed smiled up as his partner approached.  “Everything good with Lom now?”

“Yeah, we're good.”

Rick stood up and shook Heyes' hand.  “Good to see ya' Heyes,”  he greeted the new-comer.  “You're looking better than the last time I saw ya'.”

Heyes nodded as he sat down at the table.  “Things are better.”

“Jed was telling me that you have a wife and daughter now,”  Rick continued.  “Seems that all of us have moved on to better things.”

“Yeah, seems so.”

Jed had sat back to watch this exchange between Rick and Heyes.  His cousin's discomfort was obvious though he was trying to over come it.  Jed smiled and decided he would help.

“Rick says he's lost at least a hundred head of cattle to rustlers just in the last couple of years alone,”  he explained.  “So that along with the bad winter of '87, it's nearly wiped him out.”

Heyes nodded.  “Yeah, I understand that winter was hard on a lot of ranchers.  Our friend Jesse just barely survived it.”

“So Jed was telling me,”  Rick agreed.  “It's been a tough go for sure but we'd have things up and in the black by now if it wasn't for the damn rustlers.  I swore I would never pick up a badge again after...well, you know...” Heyes nodded his understanding.  “but when Tom came out this morning to tell me that you fellas know where they're holed up, there was just no question about it.”

“Yeah, ole Ferguson gave us a pretty good description of the area,”  Jed contributed.  “You fellas already know this country so well, you won't have trouble finding them.”

“Our chances would still be improved greatly if you came with us,”  Rick pointed out.

“No, Rick. We've been over this...”  Jed protested.

“I know,”  Rick agreed.  “and I suppose I can understand ya' wantin' to get home.  How about you Heyes?  You haven't got a young'un on the way.  Do this job up right and help us bring those bastards out into the light.”

Heyes finished swallowing his beer and shook his head.  “Nope,”  he declined.  “As Lom just said;  we all have good reason for wanting to get home.  I've been away far longer than planned as it is.”

“Yeah,”  Jed seconded.  “I'm sure you fellas here will be able to handle it.”

“I'm sure we will,”  Rick agreed as he finished his beer.  “And speaking of which, I better get back over to the jailhouse as well before Tom bursts his other lung.  Good to see ya' again Jed.”

“Yeah.”

“You too Heyes; take care of yourselves.”

“Rick.  Good to see you too.”

Heyes and Jed sat back in their chairs and nursed the last of their beers.  Heyes smiled as he viewed the green-eyed beauty making her way up the stairs with a willing patron following in her wake.  He almost felt envious of him, but then quickly realized that he didn't—not really.

“What do ya' wanna do for the rest of the afternoon Heyes?”  Jed asked him, breaking him out of his musings.  “See there's a poker game getting started over there.”

“No, I don't think so,”  Heyes declined.  “I'm actually feeling kind of tired.  I think I'll just head back to the hotel room and read for awhile.  But you stay and play some poker if you want.  I think we're pretty safe here.”

“Yeah,”  Jed agreed, but disappointment clouded his countenance.  “I was hopin'...oh well, never mind.  You feelin' alright though?”

“Yeah,”  Heyes was quick to reassure him.  “I think the events of yesterday just took more out of me than I thought.  Just tired.”

“Alright,”  Jed nodded.  “I wanna check with the telegrapher and see if there's anything waiting for me, then I just might come back and play some poker.”

Heyes grinned at his cousin.  “Check with the telegrapher again?”  he teased.  “What is that?  Three times today already?”

“Yeah well...somethin' could'a come in.”

Heyes chuckled.  “Alright,”  he agreed and finished his beer.  “I'll see ya' later.  Have fun and stay outa trouble.”

Jed smirked.  “Yeah, you too Heyes.”

The two friends stood and made their way out onto the boardwalk and then Jed stood and watched for a few moments as his friend casually walked back towards the hotel.  He was worried, just a little bit but enough for it to be niggling.  His cousin had recovered surprisingly well from his prison ordeal and on the surface seemed very much his same old self.  But to Jed, who of course knew him so well, there were small almost imperceptible changes in Heyes' demeanour.  

As Jed had pointed out to Joe a while back; Heyes was moodier now.  Oh he'd always had his moods and of course they'd both had to learn to be cautious and secretive, but Heyes was even more so now.  He had his good days; plenty of them, where the future was full of hope and promise but the dark moods still made their presence known. On top of that Heyes' health had suffered irretrievably and Jed could only hope that it would not continue to deteriorate as they got older.  Goodness knew, his own shoulder tended to give him trouble in the winter time. Nothing that kept him awake now, but he couldn't help but wonder how the passage of time might change that.

He watched his cousin's retreating back until it disappeared around the corner then turned and headed off in the opposite direction.  He reached the door to the telegraph office and stepped in just as the telegrapher was finishing writing down the clittety click message that was coming in over the wire.  He glanced up from his scribbling and smiled at his visitor.

“That was timing young man,”  he praised him.  “Just finished taking down the answer to your earlier enquiry.”  He stood up from his desk and walking to the counter, handed the piece of paper to a smiling Jed.  “Here ya' go.  Let me know if ya' want to respond.”

“Yeah, okay thanks,”  Jed nodded but headed out the door to read his message in private.  A smile spread across his face and then a disappointed look was sent unbidden towards the hotel.  He wanted to share this news with his cousin but he didn't want to disturb Heyes if he was actually sleeping instead of just reading.  Oh well; it would wait.  It would be supper time soon enough and the tidings could wait until then.

He nipped back into the office, sent a quick acknowledgement to his wife, along with the assurance that they would all be heading back to Denver soon.  Then he returned to the saloon in the hopes of finding something to occupy himself until it was time to eat again.  

He was not disappointed.  Stepping into the establishment he noted that the same small poker game was still going on, and Joe was already sitting in on it in hopes of a relaxing game.  Jed came over, asked to join and with permission given he pulled out a chair and sat down.

“Heyes not coming?”  Joe asked casually.

“Naw, he's tired,”  Jed told him.  “He's gone to the hotel to read.”

A slight tightening of the brow indicated Joe's curiosity but he chose not to comment and they settled in to an afternoon of playing cards and drinking even more beer.

Four hours later Lom showed up and came over to the poker game.

“We're all meeting over at the cafe for supper,”  he told his two posse members.  “If ya' wanna eat, ya' better get yourselves over there.”

Joe and Jed both perked up.

“Oh yeah, “  Jed agreed and then smiled around at the other players.  “Sorry fellas, supper calls.”

“Oh that's okay,”  Matt told him.  “I expect Maggie is expectin' me for supper right about now too.  Best we all call it a night, eh fellas?”

“Yeah.”

“Probably right.”

The game began to break up and winnings sorted out.

Lom looked around the group and creased his bow.   “Where's Heyes?  I thought he'd be in on this.”

“Oh, ah Heyes was kinda tired,”  Jed explained.  “He went back to the hotel to read, or take a nap.”

“Again?”  Lom was surprised.

Jed just shrugged.

“Okay,”  Lom commented.  “but if he wants ta' eat he better get over there.”

Jed nodded.  “I'll get him.”

xxxx

Knock knock knock.  “Heyes....you awake?”

Silence.

Knock knock!  “Heyes!”

“.....yeah....yeah....What?”

“C'mon Heyes, let me in.  It's supper time and Lom's buyin'”

“Oh....yeah.  Just....just a minute.”

Some effective rustling sounds from inside the room followed by the lock turning and finally the door opening.  Jed smiled in at a tussle-headed Heyes who stared back at him through bleary eyes.

“Ya' hungry?”  Kid asked as he pushed his way into the room.

Heyes yawned, scratching his head.  “I guess I am now.  What time is it?”

“A little after six.”  Jed looked around at the dishevelled bed.  The pillows had been fluffed up and set against the head board and the comforter thrown back to reveal wrinkled and disturbed sheets.  A copy of Little Women was laying face down on the floor.  Jed turned to smile at his partner who was pouring water into the basin for a quick washing up.  “Guess you were asleep, huh.”

Heyes just smiled.

“Got an answer from Beth,”  Jed informed him.

“Oh,”  Heyes sounded genuinely interested.  “Everything alright?”

“Yeah,”  Jed answered as he sat down on the edge of the bed while Heyes sat in the arm chair to pull his boots on.  “Bridget had her baby about five days ago.  Another girl.”

“Hmm,”  Heyes nodded then repeated.  “Everything alright?”

Jed shrugged.  “I suppose.  She didn't mention any problems.  But then its a telegram so can't expect too much detail.”

“No, suppose not.”

“Anyway, Belle's gone home but Beth is staying in Denver to help Bridget out until we arrive,”  Jed continued.  “If we have time she wants to have our baby at home with her mother there,”  Jed smiled broadly.  “She added one more word after that;  'David'.”

“Ah!”  Heyes grinned.  “Didn't care much for the doctor in Denver I take it.”

“Nope, don't appear so.  She wants David.

“I can understand that.”

“Yeah,”  Jed agreed.  “Listen Heyes, I know you want to get home.  You don't have to come all the way to Denver with me.  I won't mind if you just get off the train in Brookswood.”

“Oh no,”  Heyes assured him.  “I'd like to meet the new arrival too.  Besides,  Scott and Allie and Monty will be going on to Denver and it would be nice to carry on with them that far at least.  I'll send a telegram to Miranda from Porterville and let her know when to expect me then we can all head home together.  Besides, what if Beth can't make it home before hand?  I can't leave you to handle that all on your lonesome.”

“Oh, I think I could manage Heyes,”  Jed assured him, then smiled broadly.  “but a little moral support from the uncle would be much appreciated.”

Heyes grinned cheekily now that he was fully awake and the two cousins headed out the door to enjoy a good supper; one that Lom was paying for.

Xxx

Lom and the rest of his posse ignored the cheering crowds that were beginning to line the street as they rode deeper into Porterville.  No one felt like celebrating.  Not with the Hole burnt to the ground and the ugliness that had accompanied the aftermath of their invasion. 

Hoots and catcalls demanded to know more, curiosity climbed to new heights, but no one in the posse answered any of the questions thrown at them. Heyes and Jed brought up the rear, hanging back slightly from the others and glancing at each other and the crowds.  Neither of them enjoyed the press of men closing on them and following along in their wake.  Feeling penned in, Heyes added a subtle leg pressure to Karma causing her to swish her tail and slide her hind end from side to side, forcing a wider opening for them to ride through.

“Heyes!  Hey, Kid, did you get them?” yelled one man running alongside Karma despite her anxiety.  He pulled up short as a pair of stormy dark eyes glared down at him.  “Hey, hey, I’m a reporter for the Porterville Gazette.”

“You’ll get your story soon enough.  Now back off and let us do our jobs,” said Jed coldly. 

The man continued to follow them, though.  His editor wanted the scoop.  “Please just let me know if you got the gang,” he begged.

“We got ‘em; now git,” warned Jed.

The reporter ran back through the crowd as a cheer floated into the air and guns were fired.  Karma exploded in fury at the pressure she felt and let loose with a huge buck, causing her rider to wheel her around before getting her under control.  There was no holding the crowd back now.  'It’s a damned parade, thought Heyes; this is exactly how it was when they brought us in.'  A door opened inside his head, dark memories rushed out, and he felt his anger rise.

Jed saw the play of emotions on his partner’s face and sidled his horse closer.  “It’s to be expected, Heyes,” he said softly, capturing his attention, “The gang’s deviled this area for a damn long time.  People are only celebratin’ their relief.  That’s all.”

“I know.  It’s just strange; us sitting up here on the right side of the law and Fergie and the rest of them headed for prison.”

“This is where you belong now.  You got a right to be sittin’ where you are, you earned it.  You served your time, Heyes, and those boys are lucky you did; if it weren’t for you and the things you went through there, none of those changes would have been made.  They’d be facin’ the same troubles you did.”

Heyes sighed and let go of his irritation.  “It’ll take some getting used to, that’s all.  I still feel like a traitor.  Maybe that won’t ever go away.”

“And how would you be feelin’ if we hadn’t got the job done?  What if Duncan was still out there hurtin’ folks?”

Heyes nodded and smiled over at his cousin. “When did you get so damn smart, partner?”

"Like I told ya' before Heyes; I always have been. You're the one who's gettin' smarter cause you're finally beginning to listen to me.”  Jed’s comment drew a smile from his friend and the Kid chuckled, reaching over to slap Heyes on the back.  “C’mon.  Let’s get this over with and get home to our gals.”

“Now you’re talking!”
 
Harker had heard the fuss and was once again standing on the boardwalk watching riders come up the street.  He breathed a sigh of relief to see his old friend and boss in one piece.  Doing a rapid head count, he quickly determined that all the bounty hunters were missing.  But that hardly caused him concern.  He sent up a silent prayer of thanks that the losses hadn’t been greater and that his friends were fine, despite looking a bit rough and worn.  He hurried down the steps and into the street.

“Well, hey there, Lom.  Good to see you,” he said in his booming voice.

Lom pulled up to the hitching rail.  “Good to see you, too, Wilkins.  Do me a favor and keep the crowd back a bit, will you?  We’re all at the end of our ropes and I don’t want any trouble.”

“Will do, Boss.  Hey, Fin, get out here and give me a hand,” he yelled towards the office.  Another deputy stepped out and the two men waded into the crowd, pushing back the rising tide of folks as the remaining posse members dismounted and went into the sheriff’s office. 

Harker had just settled the crowd down when he saw Wheat and Kyle arriving.  They wore big, goofy grins on their faces as they pushed and elbowed their way through the crowd and stopped before him.

“Boys, go on in.  The rest of them are gettin’ settled.”

“Is it true?”  Wheat asked.  “They get Heyes alright?”

“Yeah, they got him and he looks fine.  See for yourself.”

The two men almost ran up the steps and pushed through the door as one.  Lom turned sharply at their entrance, but smiled when he saw who it was.  “Wheat, Kyle.  Come on in and shut the door.” 

Carlson nodded, but his attention was on the two men across the room and both he and Kyle hurried over to them.  “Heyes, damn, you look like hell, but it’s good to see ya',” he said softly.  Without warning, he seized Heyes and pulled him into a bear hug.  “I thought you was a goner for sure.  Kyle, too.”

“I didn’t!  I knew Heyes would get away.  He always does,” said Kyle with such firmness that both Jed and Heyes laughed. 

Pulling away from Wheat’s display of emotion, Heyes straightened his sleeves and cleared his throat.  “Everything go okay on your end?”  His heart jumped as he saw Wheat wince at the question.  “Wheat, what happened?  Is Allie okay?”

Scott, hearing his wife’s name, came over.  “What’s wrong?  Where’s Allie?” he demanded anxiously.

“She’s fine,” said Wheat, lowering his voice so that only the four men surrounding him could hear.  “We had some trouble on the trail.  Feeley’s dead.”

“Dead?  Why?” asked Jed.

Wheat glanced at Scott and then looked at his former bosses, trying to figure out the easiest way to say what happened.  “He went after Allie.”

“What?!” snarled Scott, loudly.  The other two men in the room turned towards him. 

Monty, sensing trouble, quickly joined them, putting his hand on Scott’s arm.  “What’s going on?” 

Scott couldn’t say it out loud, so Wheat stepped in.  “Feeley attacked Allie.  He tried to, well, you know.  Ames killed him before he could hurt her.”

Like a deflated balloon, Scott sagged, “Good.  I’d of torn that sonova….”

“Easy now, son, it’s all right.  She’s fine,” said Monty.

“Ames killed him?” asked Jed.  Heyes said nothing, he was listening.

“That’s right.  The boy saved her, but he’s real tore up about it,” said Wheat.  “Heyes, Ames is real sorry for the fire, too.  I learned some things and, well, I don’t think it’s gonna happen again.”

“Where is Ames?” asked Heyes, softly.

“Right now, I’d say he’s hidin' from you, Heyes,” grinned Kyle.

Xxx

Her bath abandoned long after the water had cooled, Allie was attempting to do up the back buttons of the creased cotton dress she’d pulled from her saddlebags when she heard a commotion out in the street.  Mildly cursing, she turned and looked out the open window, her hands still trying to work the small shell buttons as she focused on what was happening outside.  The noise was getting louder and there were mounted men shooting off their guns as they galloped their horses up the street.  Allie craned her neck waiting to see what was happening in Porterville that would receive such attention.  She was grateful her own arrival with Wheat, and Feeley’s dead body, had gone unnoticed; she never would have been able to handle this kind of fuss.

“They’re back!  Trevors got the Devil’s Hole Gang!!!  Wooo Hoooo…he got ‘em!” shouted one particularly vocal man.

Allie didn’t wait any longer.  She managed the next to the last button, grabbed a woolen shawl and draped it over her shoulders to hide her disarray and hurried out the door.  They were back!  Scott was back!  But, were they all safe?  She ran down the stairs, apologizing to the other guests who were climbing them and being inadvertently bumped in to.  She finally reached the lobby without knocking anyone over and lifting her skirts, began running for her life.

By the time Allie got to the street, the crowd was starting to disperse.  She saw Harker and another deputy urging people to go home and she crossed the dusty street until she stood in the shadow of the large man.  He turned to go back to the office and nearly ran into her.

“Miz Medgar, I expect your lookin’ for that husband of yours,” he said, while tipping his hat to her.

“Yes, Mr. Wilkins, I am.  Is he inside the office?”

“Yes ma’am.  They all are.”  He chuckled to himself; he was already speaking to empty air.  Allie had the door open and was hurrying through it.

“Scott!” she nearly yelled, throwing herself into her husband’s arms.  “Thank god, you’re all right!”

Scott squeezed her tightly, but then held her out at arm’s length.  “I’m fine.  Allie, Wheat told us what happened with Feeley.  Are you all right?”

“I am now that you’re here,” she once again snuggled into his chest.  “Take me home, Scott.  I’m done with silly adventures.  I just want to go home and I never want to leave again.”  Realizing that she had completely ignored everyone else in the room, she surfaced from the shelter of his arms, and had the good grace to blush at her rudeness.  “Oh, I’m so sorry.  It’s good to see all of you safe and sound.”  Allie gave Heyes a hug.  “I’m so glad you’re here.  You gave us all quite a scare; especially Jed.”

“Allie, are you sure you’re all right?” asked Jed softly.

Fussing with her hair with one hand and smoothing her creased skirt with the other, she avoided his eyes as she answered, “I’m just fine.  It was nothing.  Mr. Ames came to my rescue and there was no harm done.”

Joe had flopped down behind Lom’s desk, too tired to stand on ceremony or any other way, but he felt uncomfortable being witness to such a personal conversation.  Wearily, he stood again and announced, “I’ll take the horses over to the livery.”  No one noticed as he left. 

Heyes could see that Allie was lying to herself.  She appeared more shaken than he’d ever seen her; worse than when Bill Decker had beaten her.  “Scott, why don’t you take Allie over to the hotel and settle in?  Kid and I can finish up here.”

“Heyes, I’m fine.  Oh,” she said, suddenly remembering, “what about Karma?  Did you find her?   Is she all right?  Can I see her?”

Heyes said, “Yes, yes, yes, and yes.  She was right outside.  Didn’t you see her?”  Despite appearing pleased with her questions, he felt his heart drop.  He knew that, legally, Karma belonged to Allie and he wondered if once she saw the beautiful mare, she’d want her back.  The Allie he’d known wouldn’t do that, but did he really know who she was anymore?  He hoped he did.

“No, all I could think about was finding Scott.”

“Well, then why we go on over to the livery and I’ll introduce you ladies,” said the dark-haired ex-outlaw.
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Keays

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

PostSubject: Winding Down. Chapter Fourteen   Wed Apr 30, 2014 12:54 am

“Kyle and me are goin’ to get a bite to eat.  Hanging around a sheriff’s office still gives me the willies,” said Carlson. 

“I’ll be wanting a statement from the two of you before you set one foot out of this office,” said Lom, his expression emphasizing his words.  Murtry and Carlson frowned, but stayed where they were.

“I’m heading over to the telegrapher’s and lettin’ Beth know we’re okay.  I’ll meet you at the hotel,” said Jed.

“Good idea.  I need to let Miranda know, too.”

“Better hurry, partner.  Randa won’t be happy if she’s the last to know,” said Jed, leaving to run his errand.

Heyes nodded and pulled the door open for Allie to walk through.  Monty and Scott trailed along behind the two.  They’d already met the lady in question, but wanted to enjoy the introduction.

The stable hand was rubbing down Fannie as the foursome entered the barn.  The small mare was tied to a post and she turned her head, nickering at her humans.  Allie went to her and stroked her gently.  “Oh, Fannie, I was worried about you, too.” 

“She had a rough time of it.  Duncan took her, but I got her back as quickly as I could,” said Heyes, joining Allie and patting the glossy neck.

Karma, having heard her person’s voice, neighed loudly and shoved her head out of the end stall.  Imperiously, she glared at the four humans clustered about Fannie and demanded their attention.

Allie looked at the beautiful face and glanced at Heyes, “Is that....?”

“Yes, that’s the princess,” said Heyes, proudly.

Walking over to the stall, Allie talked softly to the high strung mare; cooing and whispering words of appreciation.  Karma eyed her haughtily at first, but hearing the proper tone of respect, she deigned to drop her head and allow the woman to touch her.  “Oh, Heyes, she’s just beautiful!  Why, she’s far and away our prettiest horse yet.”

Heyes noted her use of the word ‘our’.  With difficulty, he kept smiling as he walked over.  “Yes, and she knows she’s a pretty gal.  Don’t give her a swelled head.”

“Scott, look at her!  She’s just lovely.”  Allie opened the door, so that she could see the entire mare.  “And big.  She’s so tall!  She’s got her sire’s build.  She’s just what we’ve been breeding for.”

Scott knew that Allie was disturbing Heyes and he stepped into the stall.  “Yes, sweetheart, but look how well conditioned she is, too.  Heyes has spent years giving her the right kind of work to build those muscles.”

“Of course.  You’ve really taken excellent care of her,” she said, looking at Heyes.  “But, Darling, he pampers all his horses and we all know Karma is his special love.  I’m so glad you have her back!”

A huge, dimpled smile creased Heyes’ face.  “You mean you don’t want her back?”

Allie punched him in the arm.  “How could you think that of me?  I wouldn’t dream of taking her from you!”

“Well, you did threaten to when I refused to let you join us,” Heyes pointed out.

“You ought to know better than anyone that I hate to hear the word 'no'.”  She stopped giggling and looked solemnly at her husband and her dear friend.  “You were both right.  I should never have gone along with you and I apologize for blackmailing you into letting me come.  My insistence resulted in a man’s death and I truly regret it.”

“Sweetheart, Feeley was the cause of his own death, not you,” reassured Monty, who was leaning over the stall door.

Allie turned to him.  “But I was the catalyst and I know it.  I’m done acting like a spoil child only concerned with getting my own way.”

Heyes and Scott looked at each other and laughed out loud.  Allie frowned at them both, but soon joined in, chuckling, “Well, at least for now.” 

Karma flipped her head up and down as though agreeing with her.

“Heyes, there is one favor I will ask of you in return for giving you Karma,” said Allie, teasingly.

“What’s that?” chuckled Heyes.

“That you take Fannie as well.  She belongs with you, too.”

Heyes froze and then swept her up in his arms, kissing her cheeks and hugging her tightly.  How had he ever doubted her?  She was the same irritating, headstrong, good-hearted, brave girl she’d always been!  He swung her around before setting her back on her feet.  “Thank you.  You have no idea what that means to me.  Scott, are you all right with this?”

“Allie told me her plan before we even left Denver.  I agree with her, Heyes, the mares belong to you.  But, I’m hoping that maybe Jesse will see fit to consider some cross-breeding with the Second Chance line.  I think between the two ranches we could establish a very fine line of quarter horses.”

“I’m sure Jesse will jump at the chance.  Scott, thank you,” said Heyes, shaking his hand, “for everything.  It’ll mean so much to the Double J to have Ned’s parentage all straightened out.”

Monty piped in, “Heyes, Karma there, is by that good-lookin’ bay stallion I had with me that time we ran into each other up Fort Collins way.  He’s a half-brother to Spendthrift.  Your mare’s got some fine bloodlines.  It’d be a shame not to get a few more foals out of her.”

“Yes, let her make some babies for you, Heyes,” said Allie, slyly referring to his parting words to her when they ended their relationship.  For years, she had mourned his departure and she had fantasized what her life might have been like had they managed to have found a way to stay together.  Even while married, she had found it hard to let go of her dashing image of Heyes, and the idea of him reared its ugly head every time she and Scott were at odds.  That was finally finished.  She loved Heyes as a dear, dear friend, but she no longer wanted to be the woman she had been.  She was completely happy with who and what she was right now.  “Scott and I will make more of our own,” she said, entwining her hand in her husband’s and smiling shyly up at him.

 xxxx

Ames decided a quick drink or two before dinner sounded good to him.  He was terrified at having to sit at the same table as Hannibal Heyes and he needed the liquid courage to see him through what he knew was going to be a difficult evening.   He wasn’t at all sure he was ready to face the ex-outlaw leader.  Heyes was going to take him to task for the fire he’d set and he was still trying to come to terms with having to kill Feeley.  He didn’t want to think about either man.  He didn’t want to think at all.

He was bone-tired when he stepped into the smoky, noisy interior of the saloon.   Leaning up against the bar, he waited to catch the bartender’s attention.  It finally took him laying down a dollar before the balding man behind the wooden counter noticed him.  Wiping his hands on the grimy gray towel tossed over one shoulder, the man took his order with a grunt and quickly produced a bottle of indefinable origin and a cloudy glass to go with it. 

Ames carried his purchase over towards a small table and two chairs nestled in the corner.   It was a busy night and these were the only empty seats in the house.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Joe Morin at the end of the bar.  Joe was hunched over a half-finished bottle of his own and the empty shot glasses in front of it told their own story.  With a nod, Ames acknowledged Joe and invited him to join him.  Joe shrugged, picked up his bottle and glass, and came over to sit across from the younger man.

“Ames.  Thought Wheat and Kyle’d be in here with you.  Guess they’re off with Heyes and Jed,” said Joe.  His voice held a soft burr to it as though he had to think hard to form the words.  “How come you ain’t with ‘em?”

“They were still talkin’ things over with Sheriff Trevors and I needed a drink.  How ‘bout you?”

“Same.  What do you got there?” asked Joe, gazing at the full bottle.

“Don’t know.  It ain’t got a label,” said Ames.  He lifted the bottle and sniffed it.  “Phew, smells like they made it this mornin’; could be whiskey.  What say we try some?”

“Sounds good; fill me up.”  Joe pushed his glass forward and watched Ames pour him a generous three fingers.  He picked the drink up and knocked it back in one gulp before slamming the glass back down on the scarred wooden table and growling as the harsh fluid scorched his throat. 

Ames raised his eyebrows, but he re-filled the glass and poured himself one.  Putting down the bottle and picking up his glass, he said, “So, you got Heyes back safe and sound.  I heard you killed Duncan.”

Joe’s eyes glittered dangerously and he stopped his drink mid-way to his mouth.  “I ain’t interested in talking about it.”

“Don’t worry.  I ain’t askin’, just sayin’ what I heard.”  Ames frowned deeply and stared down at his right hand clutching the glass; the hand that had pulled the trigger and killed a man.

“Sorry, Ames.  It’s just that I never killed anyone before and I’m not feeling real good about it.”

Ames’ eyes widened and he stared at Joe in astonishment. He wasn’t the only one nursing a sore heart; Morin was too! “I killed Feeley, Deputy.  He was trying to rape Miss Allie.”

It was Joe’s turned to be surprised and he sat back in his chair studying the man across from him.  Ames was pale and visibly upset.  He didn’t look at all like a stone cold killer, but looks could be deceiving.  “That so?  You ever shot anyone before?” he casually asked.

The younger man shook his head mutely. 

Joe rubbed his face and sighed.  “Well, ain’t we a pair?”

“I never thought it would be so… I mean I wanted to stop him and I tried to call him off, but he just wouldn’t.  Stop, that is.  I wanted to wing him, I aimed for it, but my hand was shakin’.  I don’t even remember pullin’ the trigger.  It was terrible.”

“I know what you mean, Ames,” said Joe, softly.  “Tom Duncan was a god-awful man, and he was going to kill Heyes, but still…I didn’t want to kill him.”

Tears started coursing down Ames’ face and he quickly wiped them away, embarrassed by his breakdown.  “Why didn’t he stop?  He saw I had the drop on him.  He looked me in the eye, but he kept…Oh, God, why didn’t he stop?”

Joe lifted the bottle and refilled Ames’ glass and his own.  “Drink up.  You ain’t ever gonna know the answer to that one.  Least I knew that Duncan wouldn’t stop.  It was plain he meant to kill Heyes.”

“But Feeley was a deputy.  Why’d he go after Miss Allie like that?”

“I can’t tell you.  But being a deputy don’t mean you’re a decent man.”

Ames sighed.  “Just like bein’ an outlaw don’t mean you’re all bad.”

Joe laughed, “I guess you’re right about that.  Look at the Kid and Heyes.  They were the worst outlaws the West had ever seen and now they’re my friends.  I’m sworn to uphold the law and my friends are thieves; don’t that beat all?”

“I wish I’d never laid eyes on Devil’s Hole.  I ain’t ever outlawin’ again,” said Ames.

“You’re a lucky man, you’re gettin’ a second chance.  Don’t blow it.”

“That’s what Wheat told me.”  Ames smiled slightly thinking about his new friends.  “Don’t worry, I won’t, Deputy Morin.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Joe.  He was starting to get more than a little drunk and it was making him feel expansive. On top of that, it made him feel good that he could be the older man, giving advice and support to the younger one.  Throughout this whole summer, he'd been the newbie, he'd been the inexperienced 'boy'.  Now, with a little help from the whiskey, he finally felt like he was a man who had something to offer.  He slung his arm across Ames’ shoulder and punched his arm.  “Call me Joe and pour me another drink.”   
 
xxxx

The dining room of the hotel was doing brisk business when the friends gathered for dinner.  Ames and Joe showed up late and in a bit worse shape because of their stop at the saloon, but it didn’t matter.  They had time to sober up. The party of ten had to wait for nearly twenty minutes until their reservation could be honored, but then the hostess quickly ushered them across the room and sat them at a large, circular table in the corner.  Allie, knowing her friends’ rule of keeping their backs to the wall, had specially requested it as well as the three bottles of champagne chilling in the silver ice buckets arrayed about the table.  This was a celebration!

Allie was seated first by her husband and quickly surrounded by her male friends.  She laughed gaily and picked up her champagne glass when she saw the two women at the next table look at her disapprovingly.  She nodded at them, but they harrumphed and turned away, whispering together.  Lifting her glass higher, she loudly said, “To Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the two best friends a girl could have.”  Two shocked, gray heads swiveled back and glared at her and her guests before picking up their purses and hurrying away.

“To old friends and new friends,” Scott laughed and everyone clinked glasses. 

Ames looked down at his lap, feeling as though he didn’t belong here, but Monty noticed and leaned towards the young man to his left.  “Son, I don’t think I’ve thanked you properly for what you done for my little girl.  I owe you.”

“Miss Allie’s your daughter?”

“In every way that’s important,” said the older man.  “And I can tell you that any man who does for her what you did can count on me as a friend.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Wheat, who’d been listening to Monty from the other side of Ames, spoke up.  “See Ames, you made a lot of friends; the right kind of friends who will watch your back and not try to stab you in it.”

Ames smiled, but he couldn’t help wondering if Heyes or the Kid saw it that way.  He risked a glance at the two partners, but they were busy talking to Mr. Medgar.  He did see Sheriff Trevors looking at him from across the table and it made him very nervous.  Nothing had been said about his role in the Devil’s Hole Gang and he still wondered if he would be arrested after the meal was over and the Medgars were gone.
 
As though he read the boy’s thought, Lom cleared his throat, “So, Ames, what are you planning to do now that Devil’s Hole is gone?”

“Sir?”

“I’m asking what you plan to do now.”

“Er, I ain’t goin’ back to outlawin’ if that’s what you want to know.  I wish I’d never fallen in with them in the first place.”

Lom leaned in across the table slightly, straining to hear the boy.  “How did you end up in Duncan’s gang?”

Ames’ ears turned red, betraying his discomfort, but he steadied his voice and lifted his chin.  “After I got outta prison, I couldn’t find a job, sir.  No one wants to hire an ex-con, not when there’re so many folks lookin’ for work.  So I drifted around.  Begged a lot and ended up stealin’ food wherever I could.”

“Stealing?” Lom frowned.  “So you’re admitting to thieving?”

Ames gulped.  He hadn’t planned on confessing, but somehow he just had.  He’d freely admitted to a lawman that he was a crook.  “Yessir.  It was that or starvin’.  Anyways, Duncan saw me tryin’ to steal a ham from a butcher shop right around the same time as the storekeeper did.  The man came outta his store screamin’ bloody murder at me, but Duncan laughed and told him I was his son and he’d pay for my theft.  He did, too, but then he told me I would have to work off the money or he’d give me to the shopkeeper to turn over to the law.”

Kyle whistled.  “Over a ham? That don’t seem right.”  Heyes and the Kid had finished their conversation with Scott and everyone at the table was listening to Ames. 

“Maybe not, but it would’ve been enough to send me back to prison.  You all know the law’s just lookin’ for an excuse to lock you away again,” he said, but then apologetically added, “Sorry, Sheriff.”

“Just get on with your story,” growled Lom.

“Ain’t much more.  Duncan robbed the Western Union office that night and made me hold the horses.  I been with him ever since.”

“So you freely admit that you’ve been robbing?” asked Lom. 

Joe looked alarmed at Lom’s expression and cut in.

“He didn’t participate in the actual robberies!  Duncan saw him as a raw kid so he had him doing the grunt work; holding horses, carrying the dynamite, that kind of stuff.  He never hurt anyone before Feeley and I know for a fact how cut up about it he is; and the man had it coming.”  Joe was angry at the turn the evening was taking and he made no effort to hide it; the hell with Trevors if he was going to try to railroad Ames back to prison.  “He could’ve taken off, left Mrs. Medgar to her fate, and run.  Is that what you would’ve preferred?”

“No, damn it!  I wouldn’t.  But,” Lom never took his eyes off Ames as he said, “he was still was a member of the gang.  He helped with the robberies.  Don’t matter how.”

Ames knew it was all over.  Trevors was sending him back to prison.  He would die if he went back.  He’d only survived the first time thanks to Heyes and Kyle looking out for him.  He was a dead man.

“What choice did he have?” said Heyes.  “C’mon Lom, he’s just a kid.  We both know Duncan wouldn’t have thought twice about killing him if he tried to bow out of a job.”

Ames dared to risk a glance at Heyes and was amazed to see the anger on the man’s face.  Heyes was standing up for him!  Despite the circumstances, he felt joy leap into his heart.  Heyes was trying to help him even after everything he’d done!

“Yeah, Heyes and me have been in his shoes.  It ain’t that simple.  When we fell into thievin’ it wasn’t about the money, it was about survivin’,” said Jed.  “This boy’s smarter than we was, he’s gettin’ out before he’s too far in.  Who else does that remind you of?  You got a second chance, didn’t you, Lom?”

“So what are you all saying?  You think I should just let him go?  You think I can explain that away to the governor when he asks?”  Lom sat back and crossed his arms, apparently furious with his friends.

Allie signaled the waiter to bring more champagne.  She wasn’t about to order dinner while this was being sorted out.  Better the men kept drinking.  Turning her attention back to Lom, she said, “Sheriff Trevors, doesn’t Mr. Ames saving me count for anything?  He could’ve pretended he didn’t know what was going on.  It would have been far easier for him to walk away than it was for him to shoot someone, let alone kill them, for the first time.  Scott and I are more than willing to vouch for him to the governor.  We will give you a written statement outlining Mr. Ames’ heroic actions on my behalf and our gratitude.”

Wheat stepped in before Lom could respond.  “Ames is comin’ to work for me.  Ain’t that right?” 

Ames nodded in agreement.  They really hadn’t gotten that far in discussing it, but he’d grasp at any straw he could.

Heyes sat back smiling.  “If Ames works for Wheat, he works for me.  I’m willing to vouch for him, too.”

“Me, too,” said Jed.

“Hell, me too,” said Kyle.  “We’re his gang now.  We’ll see that he stays straight, just like the rest of us.”

“Sheriff Trevors, I’m willing to keep tabs on him,” offered Joe.

Scott chuckled.  “Looks like you’re surrounded, Sheriff.  Prudent thing to do would be to give up.”

Lom glared at them all.  “Fine, I won’t charge him, but let me tell you I’ll be watching every move he makes and if he so much as steps a toe over the line, I’m personally going to take him in and see him behind bars.  Is that clear?”

“Yessir,” said Ames, grinning now.  “I won’t give you no trouble.  I swear it.  I know where I belong and it’s with my friends.  I won’t never throw that away.”

“See that you don’t!” snapped Lom.  “Now, let’s eat.  I’m starving.”

No one noticed when five minutes later Monty leaned over to whisper to the sheriff.  “I don’t reckon that boy will ever be on the wrong side of the law after the scare you threw into him.  Good job.”

“It was a good plan,” Lom smiled.  “I just hope the rest of them bought it.  Heyes knows, better than anyone, what a soft touch I am.”

“Don’t worry, son.  They bought it.  They’ll make sure he gets the kind of help he needs.  We all will,” said Monty.
“I hope so.  The last thing I want is to see another boy ruin his life.”

Monty patted him on his back, “You’re a good man, Lom Trevors.”

“Only because I got a chance to be,” answered Lom.

The meal was thoroughly enjoyed and, at the end of it, Scott, Monty, and Allie said goodbye to their friends.  They were leaving first thing in the morning.  She was anxious to get home and see her children and didn’t want to delay another moment.  They would ship Scott’s stallion and Swift on the train with them and pick Patches up in Greeley for the ride home. 

Taking Jed and Heyes aside, Allie held their hands and kissed their cheeks.  “I’m going to miss you two.  I want you to bring your families and visit us at the Second Chance as soon as you can.  I’m not letting another ten years go by without having you in our lives.  Now promise you’ll come or I won’t let you go.”

“We’ll come soon; after the baby arrives.  We’ll bring Jesse and Belle, too.  He’s gonna want to talk over a breedin’ program with you and Scott.  My guess is that we’re gonna all be seeing a lot of each other from here on out,” said Jed.  He kissed her cheek again and left Heyes alone with her to say his goodbyes.

Allie gazed deeply into his soft, brown eyes and spoke first.  “Heyes, there’s something I want to say to you, but I haven’t been at all sure how to say it.  Thank you.”

“What for?”

“For being a good man first and an outlaw second; for not taking advantage of a stupid girl who fantasized about being swept off her feet by a dashing young man who would rescue her from an unhappy life; for showing me what I already had and for setting me free to find Scott.”

“Believe me, I wanted to take advantage,” he grinned.

“But you didn’t and I will be eternally grateful for that.  Scott’s the love of my life and I am his and only his.  Make no mistake, I will always love you.  You and Jed are my family and always will be,” she stroked the side of his face with her hand and smiled teasingly at him, “You know I always wanted to have brothers!”

Heyes hugged her to him as he felt his throat constrict.  “Allie, I’d be proud to have you for a sister.”  He held her away slightly and kissed the tip of her nose.  “Jed and I have been looking our whole lives for a place to belong.  We aren’t looking anymore.  We have our family.”

The two old friends returned to the others holding hands and smiling happily.  It was time to part company.  
 
xxxx

The breakfast gathering up at the Trevors' household seemed a bit sparse now that the Medgar group had boarded the early train that morning and were heading for home.  Since 'good-byes' had been exchanged the previous evening no one had wanted to prolong the parting any longer than necessary.  With just a few appropriately placed handshakes and kisses the friends parted company and the train pulled away from the station, heading south.

Both Heyes and Jed were already missing Allie but Heyes still had a foolish grin on his face left over from the day before.  He had been so worried that Allie was going to try and take Karma back that when instead, she had given both Karma and Fannie to him free and clear he had been caught totally flat footed.  He was still finding it hard to believe, but on the other hand he already had plans for the copper mare so he was feeling a certain amount of satisfaction at the way things had turned out.

Jed was also feeling less anxious now that he had been able to contact his wife.  Her few words to him in the telegram had been all he needed to be reassured that all was going well.  He still felt the need to get home, but it wasn't the stressful, heavy weight of concern that it had been.  They could enjoy Martha's fine home cooking at least this one time and then decide what their travel plans would be.

“There you are, young man,”  Martha hovered over Ames like a mother hen with an orphaned chick added to her brood.  “Help yourself to more bacon.”

“Yes ma'am,”  Ames smiled up at her with love in his eyes.  He had definitely latched on to a 'mother figure' and Martha was loving every minute of it.

“And you too Joe,”  Martha smiled as she moved around the table and offered more bacon to the young deputy. “You two young men look like your best friend just died.  I thought everyone would be happy considering this rather extended excursion is finally over and done with.”

“Oh, sorry ma'am,”  Joe sat up straighter, not realizing that he'd been still moping.  “You're right; it is good to be done with the job.  I'm ready to go home.”

“This is a fine breakfast ma'am,”  Ames caught her attention again.  “It's real kind of you to be feedin' us like this. Why all you know about me is that I met Heyes and Kyle and prison, which means that I done time too.  But you been nothin' but kind.”

Martha smiled and piled more bacon into his plate.

Lom just sighed and accepted the inevitable; his wife was always taking in the underdog, feeding him up, boosting his confidence and then sending him on his way.  Kyle still beamed with pleasure whenever he was in the company of the sheriff's wife and now it seemed that young Mr. Ames had fallen under that same spell.

“So,”  Lom brought the conversation back to the matter at hand.  “what are you boys plannin' on doin' now that you're done with this assignment?”

“Ah, well,”  Wheat answered over a mouthful of scrambled eggs.   “me and Kyle and I suppose Ames was gonna hang out here until that reward money comes in, then head down to California.”

Ames' eyes turned into saucers as his name was included in on this trip.  “California?”

“Yeah,”  Kyle grinned.  “We always try ta' head down to Californie in the Fall when we can, due ta' Wheat's constitution an' all.”

“Constitution?”  Ames asked looking confused.

Wheat coughed and shifted uncomfortably.  “Yeah well—it's just nicer down there, ain't it?  Why spend the winters up here freezin' yer butt off when you can be someplace where it's warm and dry?”

“Have you ever been to California, Mr. Ames?”  Martha asked as she sat back down at the table.

“No ma'am,”  Ames admitted.  “Sure do sound nice though.”

“Well yer gonna see it soon,”  Wheat told him.  “'Cause we're goin'....”

“A little early for California, isn't it?”  Lom asked.  “It's still summer.  No need to head south yet.”

Wheat shrugged.  “Yeah but there ain't nothin' else goin' on so what's the harm of goin' a bit early?”

“I need you boys here for a while longer,”  Lom told him.  “It has come to my attention that there is a hidden canyon up there at Devil's Hole and I need you fellas ta' show me where it is.  After that I expect Gus is gonna need transporting to Cheyenne.  I was hopin' you fellas would do that for me.”

At the mention of the hidden canyon Wheat's brown eyes flashed over to his two bosses.  “What's he talkin' about Heyes?”

Heyes, who had been hoping to stay out of this conversation, quickly swallowed his mouthful of bacon then took a sip of coffee.

“Ah, well....”

“You went and told the law about that canyon?”  Wheat was feeling betrayed.  “You know that canyon saved my sorry life and it saved your skin more'n once too.”

“Well, I....”

“Geesh, I can't believe you actually told the law about that place...”

“I am actually sitting right here,”  Lom snarked.  “and it seems that all 'a ya', except the Kid have forgotten that you're workin' on the side of the law now!  We lost two outlaws outa Devil's Hole this time around.  Now if there's a hidden canyon up there that's been used as a safety net for outlaws, then I wanna know where it is!”  he turned an accusing glare over to Heyes.  “And why the hell didn't I know about it when I was runnin' with the Hole myself!?”

“Well we didn't know about it then Lom,”  Heyes was quick to point out.  “Some of the boys were out hunting one day and came across it, is all.”  He grinned wickedly.  “It sure has come in handy on occasion.”

“All the more reason to not be tellin' the law about it,”  Wheat griped.

“Wheat,”  Kid finally spoke up.  “Like Lom says; we're workin' for the law now.  Besides, it's still not gonna become common knowledge.  I'm thinkin' it's still gonna come in handy for those of us what do know about it.”

“Yeah,”  Heyes nodded emphatically.  “You and Kyle can show Lom where it is, then on your way to California you can drop Gus off in Cheyenne.  Sounds like a great plan.”

“And just what are you and the Kid gonna be doin' while we're trapsin' all over Wyoming again?”  Wheat grumbled.  “I don't see why you two can't deal with this.  Besides, wouldn't you like to have some 'alone time' with old Gus out there on the trail, in the middle of nowhere, Heyes?”

Heyes adopted a reflective look at that thought and Lom, not liking where Heyes' mind might be going with that suggestion quickly intervened.

“Heyes and the Kid need ta' get home,”  he reminded the others.  “They both got families now and Kid at least has good reason to want ta' get back.”

“Oh yeah,”  Kyle grinned a toothy grin while chewing on some toast.  “I fergot about that.”

“More coffee anyone?”  Martha piped in, hoping to ease the tension.  And it worked.

“Oh yes, ma'am,”  Kyle was quick to respond and then everyone else fell in line.

“Thank you ma'ma,”  Joe smiled at her and she gave him a warm smile back and a gentle squeeze on his shoulder.  Martha always seemed to know when her young men were troubled.

“Yeah well,”  Wheat grumbled as he held out his cup for a re-fill.  “I suppose California can wait another couple a' weeks.”

xxxx

After breakfast everyone thanked Martha for putting on yet another fine meal and then headed back into town to get on with their day.  Wheat was still grumbling about having to ride back up to Devil's Hole territory again but nobody was paying him any mind.  All Ames could think about was what a fine lady the sheriff's wife was and those home made biscuits with the cured ham was going to taste mighty fine come lunch time.

Reaching the main drag, the whole gang of ex-outlaws was preparing to head for the saloon for an afternoon of poker and beer, but Lom stopped them in their tracks.

“Heyes, Kid, there's something I need ta' discuss with you boys over in my office,”  the sheriff told them.

“Right now Lom?”  Heyes asked, the poker chips calling to him.  “I mean, we got all day in town and....”

“No,”  Lom insisted.  “I think it's something we need to discuss right now, if you don't mind.  In my office.”

Heyes and Jed both hesitated and getting a smirk back from Wheat didn't help.

“Yeah, yer workin' for the law now, boys,”  Wheat rubbed it in.  “We'll be seein' ya' later over at the saloon—when ya' got a minute.”

Kyle chuckled but Ames looked unsure.  Wasn't it kinda' dangerous to be prodding Heyes and Curry like that?  Even if they were all law-abiding now.  He knew what Heyes could do when he got mad; he'd seen it for himself in prison and got just a hint of it again after setting that fire.  He'd also received a real good taste of Kid Curry's anger after that fire too and he sure didn't want to incur the wrath of both of these men at any time—let alone when they were together!  Yet here was Wheat deliberately poking at them—at both of them!

It made Ames nervous and the looks of daggers that were directed at Wheat after his comment would have made most men quake in their boots.  But Wheat just snorted.  He'd come to respect Heyes a hell of a lot more than he used to but he still couldn't resist puttin' him in his place once in awhile.  He started to laugh at the looks both men sent him and then began herding his two subordinates over towards the saloon.

“We'll see you boys in a bit,”  he told them.  “We'll even try to save ya' some beer!”

“C'mon Heyes,”  Kid said with a hand on his partner's shoulder.  “Wheat's just eggin' ya—as usual.  You know that.”

“Yeah,”  Heyes agreed.  “I just wish his timing could be better.”

“I donno,”  Kid countered.  “Seems to me his timing is just fine.”

“Come on boys,”  Lom called to them.  “This won't take long.”

xxx

“Okay Lom,”  Heyes asked as soon as they had entered the sheriff's office.  “What's so important that we couldn't discuss it over breakfast?”

Lom sighed as he sat down at his desk.  “Well, like I said Heyes, this mainly concerns you but I thought you would want the Kid in on it anyways.  Sit down why don't you.  Ya' want some more coffee?”

Heyes had gone from being irritated to being worried and now Jed was right in line with him.  Lom did not look pleased and  he was being far to congenial.  Something was up and it was apparent that it wasn't something good. They pulled out chairs to sit, but having just finished breakfast neither was inclined for more coffee.

“What's up Lom?”  Heyes asked again with more than a little apprehension.

Lom sighed again, looking like he didn't want to say but knew that he had to so may as well get it over with.

“I received a telegram from the Governor's office just before breakfast,”  Lom informed them quietly.

Heyes forced a smile but the Kid simply looked suspicious.

“From the governor you say,”  Heyes responded.  “What's he want?”

“You,”  Lom answered point blank.

Heyes felt a tingle of fear hit his heart.  He swallowed nervously.  “Why?”

“He doesn't say,”  Lom admitted as he sat back in his chair and scrutinized his two friends.  “Just says he wants to see you Heyes.  In his office, as soon as possible.  He also suggests you bring your lawyer.”

Both ex-outlaws reacted defensively.

“Aw, c'mon!”  Kid complained.  “'Bring your lawyer'?  What is this?  After everything we've done for that man and this is how he thanks us?  Heyes, ya' can't go.  This is a set up if ever I'd seen one.”

“Now Kid, don't go jumping to conclusions,”  Lom told him.  “You don't know what this is about.  I'd say that him suggesting Heyes bring his lawyer is a good thing.  If the governor was up to something underhanded he sure wouldn't want Heyes to have representation right there with 'im.”

“I donno,”  Kid was still dubious.  “sounds suspicious ta' me.”

“Ya' havta go see him Heyes,”  Lom told the uncharacteristicly quiet man.  “You make a run for it now then you really will be heading back to prison.  Now you ain't done nothin' wrong so he's got no legal right to send ya' back now.  I've already sent a telegram to Mr. Granger to meet you in Cheyenne tomorrow morning.  You fellas can catch the evening train tonight and be there in plenty of time.  You be there Heyes, you hear me?”

Heyes had been quietly staring at his hands on his lap but now he raised his eyes up to look directly at the sheriff.

“Yeah,”  was his simple response.

“Aw Heyes,”  Kid complained.  “what if it's a trap?  What if....?

“Naw Kid, Lom's right,”  Heyes responded.  “I havta' go.  If I don't it'll just bring more trouble down on us, no matter what.”  he forced a smile and brightened up.  “Besides, we don't know it's bad news.  Like Lom says; if the gov was up to no good, he sure wouldn't be wanting Steven along.  He probably just wants to congratulate us on a job well done.”

“He could'a done that in a letter,”  Kid grumbled.  “But if yer gonna insist on goin' then I'm goin' with ya'.  He tries ta' send you back ta' prison he's gonna find it a might harder than he expected.”

Heyes grinned.   “Always watchin' my back, eh Kid?”

“Well yeah,”  Jed sounded insulted.  

Lom and Heyes exchanged a quick look.

“I can come along too,”  Joe offered, feeling like he should be of some support here.

“That won't be necessary Joe,”  Heyes told him.  “Why don't you stay on board the train and make sure the horses all get home safe and sound.  I have a feeling we won't be needing them in Cheyenne.”

“Oh.  Well okay,”  Joe agreed.  He didn't want to admit it but he was actually relieved.  He was tired and ready to go home.  “As long as you don't think you'll be needing me.”

“I doubt it,”  Heyes grumbled.  “And besides, if this is a trap I'd rather my horses were home safe and sound.”

“Relax Heyes,”  Lom told him.  “I'm sure it's not a trap.”

Heyes' expression was anything but sure and when he looked over at his cousin, the eyes that met his conveyed the same message.  This could be trouble.



To Be Continued
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Silverkelpie

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PostSubject: Re: Winding Down. Chapter Fourteen   Sat May 03, 2014 9:14 am

You are still the mistresses of the cliff-hanger, ladies.  I do hope that this is going to be good news.  I do admire the way you have taken the character development to give every player in the story the interplay of frailties and strength which brings them to life.  I think this line summed up the whole theme of this chapter, 'I ain’t plannin’ on lettin’ who I was interfere with who I am.' 

Everyone is showing personal growth and maturity and it is handled so delicately that it seems a very realistic take on the change.  Loved it!   applause

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Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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Stepha3nie

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PostSubject: Re: Winding Down. Chapter Fourteen   Wed Aug 13, 2014 7:43 am

Another great chapter. After all the action and drama of the last few chapters, you took the time to to explore in more detail how everybody is handling the past events. Mistakes are admitted (if only to themselves), progress is made and support is offered.
Allie realises how dangerous her desire for adventure can be and vows to not take such risks in the future. It would be sad to see her indomitable spirit dampened by fear - I hope she will remain adventurous and independent (as Heyes and Scott seem to expect), but maybe listen to warnings a little more. Loved the idea that she gives Fanny back to Heyes. The copper mare has come full circle now. It was a touching reminder of how Heyes gave Fanny to her. Both have truly moved on and become different people, there is no more heartbreak in their parting this time: they have become family.
It was heartwarming to see how much support Ames is getting. He has every chance now to turn his life around. And it is sad to see just how much a kind word or the offer of friendship means to him. The bonding with Joe over the shared experience of having to kill someone might be the beginning of another friendship. Loved the lines: "But being a deputy don’t mean you’re a decent man.”
Ames sighed.  “Just like bein’ an outlaw don’t mean you’re all bad.”
Joe has made a last step on his journey. He set out as a green kid and he returns as a mature man who is now in a position to help someone else along their way. My musings about him in my last comment are all proven right.
Even good old Wheat is doing some growing by (at least temporarily) embracing his new role and being proud of his achievements. In this universe he had wanted to be the gang leader, but once in that role he did let things slide and helped the destruction of Devil's Hole along. He was plagued by remorse and guilt over it. But finally has come to realise that he can still be a good leader, if he looks out for people and gives them a chance to be loyal to him. And he does not even resent Heyes for having taught him that lesson by example. Just like SK I liked the line "I’m gettin’ a second chance just like you and I ain’t plannin’ on lettin’ who I was interfere with who I am." which is true for many of the characters.
Heyes has to come to terms with the aftermath of his seizure. On top of everything he went through, his partner and Lom are giving him a hard time for letting Wes go and not revealing the existence of the hidden canyon. I think they are too hard on him. The decision about the bounty hunter was Heyes' to make. Wes had not killed anyone, only kept Heyes tied up a little longer than necessary. If Heyes is willing to forgive it, there is no crime, so Lom is out of bounds when he accuses Heyes about it. As for the canyon - my initial (and continued) reaction was exactly like Heyes'. If Lom wants to go after the escapees, he can still do so and look for the canyon he already suspects is there. Knowing of it before would not have changed anything - they would not have had men to spare to go there.
I am disappointed in Jed. He could have let Heyes at least finish shaving before ruining his good mood. I don't understand why he is so hard on him about the canyon, especially after he just learned how much his cousin had to endure. And he does not seem the least bit concerned that it was partly his own fault Heyes was in this situation. If he truly had had his back none of it would have happened. Before, epilepsy was a possibility, thanks to the events it is now a reality - in part thanks to the Kid. He seems to be happy to find the smallest bits of fault in Heyes, but in my opinion should begin with himself. There is also still the little matter of beating Ames to a pulp. Understandable at the time, but if it had been Heyes doing the beating, he would by now be beating himself up for it.
I am also a little confused why all of a sudden he is no longer pressing to go home. I would have expected Heyes and Jed to be on the same train as the Second Chance team, if not on an earlier one. But frequent visits to the telegraph office seem to be sufficient.
At the end you present us with another possible disaster - the ominous summoning of Heyes to the Governor. Glad to see that the Kid at least decides to stay at Heyes' side. I hope it will be good news. Surely you would not end this story on more grief and anguish for Heyes?
Need to find out.

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"I can resist everything - except temptation"  Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
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Winding Down. Chapter Fourteen
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