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 Backwash

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Remuda

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Posts : 749
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 42

PostSubject: Backwash   Fri Aug 12, 2016 11:54 pm

Backwash

“That’ll be four bits per horse per day, board and feed, with the first day payable in advance.”

Jed “Kid” Curry fished a dollar coin out of his vest pocket and handed it to the stableman. “Appreciate ya makin’ sure they’re brushed real good. They’ve been on the trail for two weeks straight and deserve a good rest.”

The stableman replied, “Brushin’s not included in the price.  It’ll be an extra two bits per horse.”

“Per day?”

“Yup.

“That’s highway robbery!”  Curry shook his head in disgust.

“Call it what you want, son, but those’re the terms.”

“Also payable in advance, I suppose.”

“You suppose right, son.”

Kid sighed and rolled his eyes, but did not hesitate to flip a fifty-cent piece to the liveryman. “Suppose there’s a charge for exercisin’ them, too?”

“Ya mean other than havin’ them in the corral?”

“Yup.”

“That’ll be an extra two bits per horse ...”

Curry echoed the stableman in sing-song as he continued, “… Payable in advance.”

“Nothin’s free, son. You want that service, too?”

“No, thanks. I think we’ll take them out ourselves.”  Kid started to walk out of the livery stable, then turned. “I’m afraid to ask, but what about extra oats?”

“Oats are included in the board fee, extra or otherwise.”

“About time somethin’s not extra!” Kid said under his breath.

“What was that, son?”

“Uh … nothin’.  We’ll be in sometime tomorrow to take them out.”

“Suit yourself.”

Curry shook his head as he headed toward the hotel. The prices in this town would drain their meager funds after a week. He hoped Heyes had had more luck with the hotel room. At first glance, this town was somewhat nicer looking than some in which they had found themselves but was far from luxurious – luxury being relative after dusty trails, hard ground, and a steady diet of beans, biscuits, and the occasional squirrel or rabbit. Indeed, any place which was dilapidated and brown might seem an oasis after two weeks in the saddle in the middle of nowhere, thereby commanding an exorbitant price. 

Still, this burg looked like most they had passed through in the last two years, with buildings matching the tan or grey of the dirt road, their once bright gingerbread trim fashionable but incongruent in a sea of monotony.  Some were brick, the red faded from the sun and the grout dirty with age, while a few more seemed ready to collapse.  It bustled, so no ghost town this, though one might detect a pall over the place. 

The ex-outlaw quickened his pace.  His stomach rumbling, he smiled as he took note of the café, and the saloon opposite. Parched as he was, a beer would wait until after a bath and a meal. At least they had not lacked for good, cold stream water along the way, before it warmed in their canteens – but, even so, it was wet.

As Curry passed the general store, a small boy rushed out of the entrance and smack into Kid’s leg. The ex-outlaw stopped, looked down, and winked at his attacker.  “Whoa there, young fella.”

A tousled blond head and freckles met Kid’s gaze. “Sorry, mister.”

Curry chuckled. “No harm done.” But, upon second look, the small face looked almost familiar somehow.

“Jimmy, come back here!” a deep voice commanded.

“Okay, Pa!”

As the boy turned toward his father, Curry straightened to acknowledge the man. “No harm d-done …”

The words trailed off as his smile faded, blue eyes wide.  The resulting stare was not what most opponents feared; instead, it was solemn, studious, searching. The fellow mirrored Kid’s expression. For a long minute, the years retreated, the steady intensity of their gaze reaching their respective souls.

“Pa, don’t ya wanna go back inside?”

The man maintained eye contact with Curry. “Uh … sure, Jim … I’ll be right there ...”

Several more seconds passed.  Patience as a virtue did not apply to young boys.  Jimmy tugged on his father’s sleeve. “C’mon, Pa! Ma’s gonna have a fit if we’re late.”

The man finally broke the stare. “Okay, Jim …”

With one more look at Kid, he opened his mouth, attempting to speak.  Nothing came out.  Rueful, he turned to follow the youngster back inside.

~~oo00oo~~

Whistling softly, Hannibal Heyes unpacked his saddlebags. It would be nice to sleep in a real bed tonight and have his filthy clothes laundered.  On the trail, soap and cold water did not do the job, and heating water took too long when one was moving on each day.

He took in his surroundings as he moved toward the chipped wardrobe – the room was clean, but frayed, certainly serviceable. Filtered sunlight streaming through gossamer sheers danced off the opposite wall, not quite brightening the worn floral of the wallpaper. Shadows falling in a far corner almost overtook a coat rack, and Heyes’ black hat. They might have to light the wall sconces long before sunset.

He heard the signal knock at the door.  Un-holstering his Schofield, he walked to the entrance.  He asked in a low voice, “Kid?”

An even softer acknowledgement came from the hallway.

Heyes unlocked and opened the door, nodding a greeting to his partner.  He holstered his weapon and resumed his unpacking. “The horses all taken care of?”

No answer.

“Well?”  Heyes looked over his shoulder.  “You gonna come in or just stand there?”

Kid Curry stood in the threshold.  Out of breath, the usual ruddy cheeks devoid of color, the clear blue eyes haunted, he regarded his partner for several seconds before entering the room and closing the door.  His mind racing, he stared into space for a moment before splaying fingers across the bridge of his nose.

Heyes narrowed his eyes.  “You okay? Ya look like ya just seen a ghost.”

Kid opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He strode the few steps to the window and looked out to the main street below. He could see the partially loaded wagon, but neither Jimmy nor his father was outside.

Heyes rushed to Kid’s side and followed his partner’s gaze.

“I don’t see anything.  Kid?”

The blond man moved away from the window and stood in front of the wardrobe. The chipped paint stared at him like too many distant memories.

Heyes took another good look up and down the street, then faced Curry.  “Hey? What’s going on?”

Kid choked.  “Can’t.  Need some air.” Before Heyes could take in the words, his partner was at the door fumbling with the lock, and disappeared into the hallway.

Heyes grabbed his hat and the room key and hurried after him. He stopped at the entryway.  Curry stood in the corridor just steps outside the door.  Heyes squeezed his partner’s shoulder.  He spoke softly, “Kid?  What …?”

The blond man looked at Heyes and shrugged.

“You want to take a walk?”

Kid replied ruefully, “No.”

Heyes raised an eyebrow.  “Let’s go back inside.”  Once they reached the safety of the room, the dark-haired man checked the hallway and bolted the door. He studied his partner, who once more stood at the window. “Okay, talk to me.”

Kid let out a breath. “I saw somebody.”

“Who? The sheriff? Someone who knows us?”

Kid shook his head.  “No. Just somebody …”  He glanced at the floor before looking up.  “Is there a back entrance?”

Heyes’ countenance was awash in concern.  “For what?  It’s not something I asked about when I checked in.  Unless there’s a good reason, it might arouse suspicion.”

Curry processed what he had heard.  “I … We’ll be okay if we stick to the alleys.”

Heyes raised an eyebrow. “THAT will raise suspicion.”

“I don’t care, Heyes.  I’m goin’.”

Dumbfounded, Heyes followed Kid out the door.

~~oo00oo~~

The partners made their way to the rear of the hotel and found a door leading to a back alley. If the shadows in the room had fallen too soon, they were magnified here – spare light heralded a night still hours away.  Heyes noted there was almost enough cover to rob a bank from the rear – if only …

He smiled to himself, but just as quickly quashed the thought.  Keeping eyes ahead and ears attuned to his partner’s footsteps behind him, Heyes almost held his breath as his racing mind stumbled upon the universal antidote.  “How about a drink?”

“Okay.”

“Good.” The dark-haired man surveyed the labyrinth of passages. “I think the saloon’s over this way.”

They traversed tunnel-like channels, run of the mill yet atmospherically spectral. Gloom and shadow played off buildings long since new. Starkly weathered in most spots, here and there the wood grain protruded sharply, barb-like, as sentinels at attention, ready to advance.

Suddenly, light spilled forth. Leaving the gloaming for the brightness, they waited for their eyes to adjust. Getting his bearings on the main street, Heyes indicated they should go left.  Soon opposite the saloon, they stepped into the street.  Halfway across the road, they paused to let a wagon pass. Instead, it stopped.

Heyes waved a thank-you to the driver and the small boy beside him and continued to the saloon entrance.  He addressed his partner over his shoulder, “A beer’ll hit the spot.”

When no reply came, Heyes turned.  Curry stood in the middle of the street staring at the driver, who returned the gaze.  The little boy looked between his father and the stranger.  The man appeared to be searching for something to say, but he averted his eyes, looked down at his son, and eventually found Heyes. The dark-haired ex-outlaw’s eyes narrowed as he observed him. Finally, the man focused on his team and shook the reins. The wagon rolled past.

~~oo00oo~~

“All right – who was that?”

Kid stared at his whiskey, not acknowledging the question.

Heyes urged, “Drink it. It’ll help.”

Curry muttered an unconvincing reply, “I know.”

The saloon was noisy, but not enough to impede comfortable conversation, and the back table they shared offered them privacy.  Heyes felt his patience running thin.  “Kid?”

Curry lifted the glass to his lips and sipped. Swallowed. Returned the glass to the table. Regarded the shot glass again before lining up his partner in his sights. He sighed. “Remember I told ya about the day the soldiers came to talk to my pa? About a week before ...”

Heyes braced himself. This was not what he was expecting. “Uh huh.”

“That’s where I know him from.”

His countenance a jumble of confusion and surprise, Heyes swallowed hard. “He was there? And?”

“That’s it.”

Heyes spoke louder. “That’s it?! What do you mean?”

“Shh, lower your voice. Ya want the whole town to hear?” Kid remarked flatly.  He took another sip. “And, yeah, that’s it.”

Heyes started to rise.

Kid grabbed his arm. “Leave it.”

Incredulous, Heyes reseated himself. “Do you hear what you’re saying?”

“Yeah, I hear what I’m sayin’.” Kid downed the rest of his shot. “And right now I’m gonna get a bath.”  Curry rose.

Caught off-guard, Heyes gulped his whiskey and followed.

~~oo00oo~~

Kid Curry awoke with a start. “Argh!”

Hannibal Hayes spoke in the dark.  “A bad one, huh?”

“Yeah.  What’re you doin’ awake?”

Heyes yawned.  “Couldn’t sleep.”

Curry asked, “What time is it?”

“I don’t know. But too early to get up.”

“Heyes, I wanna leave first light.”

The dark-haired man sighed. “I was thinking the same thing. But, dang it, Kid, how could you remember this guy from that long ago?  You were little, and anybody there was a lot younger, too. And people change.”

“I know him, Heyes. And he knows me.”

Heyes sat up and trained his eyes on Kid. He could see him plainly in the spare illumination that wafted up from the gas lamps in the street below. “How? I barely remember what you said about that day – it was years ago. Didn’t your pa want ya to go inside?”

Curry stared straight ahead in the darkness, at a wall – or an ethereal reminiscence. He spoke with a quiet deliberation, “Yeah. But I didn’t go in. The one in charge took my pa aside to talk to him. And I started to go inside the house, but stopped when I heard a horse whinny. There was a boy on him. A blond-haired boy like me – only he had freckles. Couldn’t have been more than sixteen, seventeen … my older brothers’ ages. He looked real scared. And I looked at him, and him at me. We just stared at each other, for a real long time. Neither of us moved, or … I don’t think we did.”

Heyes listened.  “Go on …”

Kid cleared his throat. “That’s it, really. We just stared at each other. And I never forgot him. Figured I’d always know that face, those eyes. But I haven’t thought about him in years. Guess I forgot about it when I tried to make peace with it.  But when I saw him, it all came back.  I knew, and so did he.  It’s like we were back there in that yard.” Curry chuckled ruefully.  “Guess he remembered me all that time, too.”

Heyes offered, “I don’t remember you mentioning that part.”

Curry shrugged. “Maybe I didn’t.”

“Did you ever wonder what happened to him?”

“No. Told ya, I tried to forget it.”  Kid paused. “Not exactly something ya wanna be rememberin’ every day.”

“True.” Heyes looked at his cousin in the now half dark.  “Kid, what’re ya gonna do?”

Curry answered flatly.  “Nothin’.  Gonna leave town.”

Heyes considered.  “What about consequences for his actions?  Payback?”

“What about it?  Hell, Heyes, it was war. I’m just thankful we weren’t home when the soldiers came back.  What was it, a week later?”  Kid mused.  “Of all the days to play a little hookey and go fishin'.  It took a long time to put it all behind me.”  He regarded Heyes.  “I hope you have, too.”

Heyes pursed his lips.

Kid continued.  “Anyway, he was only a kid.  A real green kid.  And what about his little boy? You wanna take from him what we lost? He hasn’t done anything.”

Heyes’ eyes flashed.  “Neither did we ...”

~~oo00oo~~

The next morning, the partners checked out of the hotel and stopped for breakfast at the café.  Halfway through their meal, Jimmy’s father entered and approached their table. He appeared nervous, and contritely addressed Curry.  “Excuse me. Can we step outside and talk?”

The partners regarded the man and each other. Kid responded, “Sure.”

Both stood up. Heyes motioned to the waitress they would be back. The man looked questioningly at Curry.

Kid said, “Anything you have to say to me, you can say to my partner.”

The man nodded.

The trio walked the few steps to an alley beside the café. The man took note of the partners’ two tied-down guns. He speechlessly implored Curry, who glanced at his partner. Heyes moved a couple of yards away, out of direct eyesight but within clear earshot.

The man cleared his throat. “I … I just wanted to say … I’m sorry.”

Kid regarded him, poker-faced. This was too awkward.

The man continued. “I had a hard time living with myself after that day. I deserted.  Found solace in the bottle for a long time.  Was about to pull the trigger when I met my wife.  Then we had Jimmy. They’re my life, my salvation.”

Kid looked toward Heyes, then back at the man in front of him. Time almost stood still before Curry spoke.  “Take good care of them.”

Stunned, the man wiped his eyes with his sleeve.  “Thank you.”

He looked at Heyes. The dark-haired man averted his eyes.

He held Kid’s gaze again, extended his hand. Curry regarded it, looked away. The man dropped his head, nodded, and turned.

The partners watched him disappear down the street. Heyes squeezed Kid’s shoulder as they exchanged a glance.  Nodding ahead, Heyes led them back into the café.

_________________
Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. ~ Wyatt Earp
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