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 Den of Thieves (part one)---the Sixth Haff and Wong Tale...9,200 words

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Cal

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Join date : 2016-10-21

PostSubject: Den of Thieves (part one)---the Sixth Haff and Wong Tale...9,200 words   Sun Feb 12, 2017 11:04 am

---ooooooOoooooo---

Den of Thieves
(The Sixth Haff and Wong Tale)
PART ONE

By Cal

---ooooooOoooooo---



Hannibal Heyes was nearly asleep in the saddle.  His head nodded, chin tucked into his winter coat, hat pulled low on his brow.  Curry had seen the signs; his cousin hadn’t slept properly for days.  Didn’t mean he was worrying about anything in particular; it was just Heyes’ way, to go days without proper sleep, then, rocked in a saddle in the fresh air, he’d drift off.  He’d even hit dirt a few times.  They’d been travelling most of the night, their trail lit by a big moon high in the sky. There were signs of dawn all around them, the sky pregnant with Sun.

Curry was out ahead; he’d have to go back and see Heyes stayed in his saddle.  Heyes was already feeling proddy about Kid choosing to use this high pass over the mountain instead of the easier trail along the valley bottom.  Kid didn’t want to risk giving Heyes another reason to be mad at him, by allowing him fall off his horse. 

A distant gunshot from the plane on the other side of the ridge pushed all other thoughts out of his head.  He urged the big black gelding up the final thirty or forty feet to the top of the ridge; jumped out of the saddle removing his hat, and letting just his head break the skyline, looked down on the unfolding drama below.  

The long shadow of the ridge reached out across the plain but in the warm first light of day towards the middle, Curry’s sharp eyes found a dust cloud that quickly resolved into a group of riders as it came on.

At least six riders were galloping across the plane heading away from the town of Tunnel Junction.  The town was a barely visible grey smudge, away off in the distance to his right. The riders were being pursued by a larger dust cloud, out of which wild rifle fire could be heard.

Kid turned to summon Heyes.  He watched, mouth ajar, as his cousin’s slumped form rolled forward out of the saddle and hit dirt with a sickening whomp.

‘Ooh… that’s gotta hurt’ winced Curry, screwing up his face.  

Heyes, now wide awake was swearing up a storm, loud enough to outdo the gunfire from the plane below, quickly rolled up in to a sitting position shaking dust out of his hair and searching for his beloved hat.  His chestnut mare was unfazed, she just stood quietly and watched the show, reins dangling.  

Kid bit back a smirk as Heyes looked up at him with grit ground into his nose and his face looking pretty beat up.  

“Heyes get up here, something’s happening down there” he shouted all business as though he hadn’t witnessed the tumble.  There would be repercussions, this would be his fault, but not yet, if he could get Heyes distracted. 

“There’s a gang riding up a storm out of Tunnel Junction, and a posse real close on their heels!”

Heyes rubbed at his face. That hurt.  He wanted to wallow a spell in ‘hard done by’, have a good moan at the Kid, but his curiosity got the better of him and he quickly scrambled up the last stretch of trail to the rise.  

Heyes fell to the ground beside Kid, he rubbed the grit out of his nose with a gloved hand and squinted up his eyes.  Using the same hand to cup over his eyes he got a good view of the play below.  

“That posse’s real close.  They haven’t given themselves enough time.”  Kid pursed his lips and shook his head in the way only an ex-outlaw and expert posse evader can criticise the current crop.

“They gotta split up…. Split up.... Come on… Split up!” Heyes shouted.  He couldn’t deal with others inability to see the blindingly obvious. It was like watching one of their past exploits from an eagle’s eye view. 

“Come on! A blind monkey could see you gotta split up!”

As if hearing Heyes’ words the riders fanned out across the plain and lit out in all different directions accompanied by ‘whoops’ and ‘Yeahs!’ from Heyes and Kid above.

“Now that’s more like it…Don’t look back …Get outta there!” ordered the ex-leader of the Devils Hole Gang.

One of the riders was arcing round to the left, on the flank of the approaching posse.  This near suicidal dash toward the near impenetrable cliffs to the right had Heyes and Curry baffled.

“What’s this idiot doing now?” Heyes sounded like a disappointed mentor.  

“He’s got no chance,” Kid opined, “Well…I guess at least he’s drawing most of that posse his way.” He looked at Heyes shaking his head for the incompetence of their successors.  “Is he being noble do you think, or just stupid?” 

“Stupid” Heyes confirmed nodding and waving to the bottom of the cliffs to his right. “He’s got nowhere to go…” Heyes turned to holler into the plain, “Nothing but rocks that way…that’s just real stupid.” 

Kid nodded his agreement.  In his expert opinion, the gang below were found wanting.  You don’t sacrifice one of your own for the getaway.  Wouldn’t have happened in their day.  

They were both lost in thoughts of how they would be leading this escape when their attention was drawn by the lone desperado who’d now reached the base of a very steep rocky incline.  Incredibly, urged on by its rider, the flashy paint pony was starting to climb.  Dust churning from its back legs as it leapt from place to place like a mountain goat, changing directions every few strides. 

“Sheesh…I’m seeing it, but I don’t believe it” whistled Curry. “That’s one clever pony.” 

Heyes ran to his mare to get the opera glasses from his saddlebag.  He quickly returned and focussed on the reckless rider below.  

“That’s Haff! That must have been Wheat and the boys down there!” 

“Well they should know better than to use Haff to throw a posse.”  Curry’s face was grim.

Heyes kept the glasses trained on the small Indian urging his paint higher and higher towards the ridge. 

“At least that posse can’t follow…No...” Curry sounded exasperated. 

“What?” Heyes asked without losing sight of Haff in the glasses. 

“They’re gonna….” 

A loud volley of rifle fire exploded from the bottom of the climb.  Heyes saw a bullet find Haff’s side just as he disappeared over the ridge and out of sight.  

“He’s been hit!” Heyes’ eyes closed for just a second.  

He swung the glasses to focus on the posse.  There were ten of them at the base of the climb. A sheriff, an Indian scout, six cowboys and a couple of suits.  One of the cowboys was whooping to the others.  

‘Must have seen his bullet hit home’ thought Heyes with distaste. 

Curry was staring out over the plain, looking at the receding dust trails of the other gang members. Now he knew who they were, he felt he could take a pretty good guess at which trail was Wheat, Kyle, Preacher, Lobo and the rest. None were pursued.  Incredibly, the posse hadn’t split.  They’d all wheeled round after Haff.  

‘Why would they do that?’ thought the fastest gun in the West. ‘That don’t make sense.’

Heyes, still with the glasses pointed at the posse, was shocked to see one of the suits turn and look straight up into his lens.  The man was pointing straight to their vantage point.   Heyes dropped the glasses to stare down at the near indistinguishable men of the posse below and realised with relief that none of them could possibly actually see him and Kid up here.  There wasn’t really much likelihood of the Sun throwing up reflections on the glass as the Sun was behind him.  No, that posse was coming to join them because this pass was the only one to take, if they intended to continue their pursuit of the Indian.

“That posse’s headed our way Kid.” Heyes looked at his partner.  Curry leapt up and ran for the horses, grabbing the reins. 

“Well we gotta get outta here,” he shouted back over his shoulder as he threw himself into the saddle.  

Heyes grabbed his reins to prevent him from kicking his horse back down the trail.  “Why?  What did we do?”   

Heyes looked up at his younger cousin in full ‘let’s run from the posse mode.’  Fleeing from posses was second nature to them. It didn’t need thinking about, it was as much a reflex as sneezing.

“That posse ain’t looking for us Kid.” He’d got Curry’s attention.  “We got to get to Tunnel Junction before the tenth or we don’t get the bonus Colonel Harper promised us for delivering his letters.  We’re already close to the deadline with you insisting we take the scenic route.”  

Curry rolled his eyes, he’d been hearing this a lot but he didn’t think now was a good time to be bringing it up again.  There was a posse coming! 

“We can’t afford another detour Kid.  We should just walk on over the rim and meet that posse coming up the trail.” Heyes smiled as if this were the most reasonable thing in the World.

“Meet the posse!” Curry looks at his older cousin like he just grew a second head.  “What if they recognise us?  They may just think Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry are richer pickings than the Devil’s apache.  You’ll get a fast trip to Tunnel Junction alright Heyes; tied to your horse or worse slung over it, dead!  Come on there’s a posse coming!” Kids horse danced at the end of the rein catching his rider’s eagerness to move.

“I got a good look at that posse” frowned Heyes.  “Didn’t recognise a single one of them.  Here, you take a look.” He passed the glasses up to Curry.  

Kid blew out a breath in exasperation, better to comply and get this over with, quickly.  He walked the black back to the rim till he could get a view of the on-coming posse.  He studied each face.  He felt his heart pumping in his chest, their lives could literally depend on this.  He didn’t recognise any of them either.  Was that enough?  He still wasn’t convinced they should confront the posse on the downwards trail.  There was no cover for miles if they had to make a sudden break for it, and this posse had already proved they were willing to shoot a man in the back. Kid searched for other escape routes. 

From where he sat he had a good view of the lay of the land.  The ridge they were on seemed to extend and fall towards the distant town off to the right. There must be other trails up here that led in that direction.  Surely it made sense to get back down to the tree line below and look for a new trail skirting the ridge.  He put this to Heyes.  

Heyes took the glasses back to look at the posse, they were coming on at a very fast pace. “I don’t know Kid; we might not make it to the cover of the trees before they break over this rim.  They’d be sure to see us down there.”  Heyes pointed back to the scrubby trees they’d passed on the way up here.  “And what would it look like if we disappeared into the trees without a trail to follow?  Pretty suspicious.”

“Well come on then,” Curry was already pulling his horse round to retrace their steps.  “We’re wasting time.  Soon as we get going the better chance we got of getting to that cover.”

And with that he took off downhill at breakneck speed.  Heyes shook his head, that’s not what he meant, but the dice were already rolling so he quickly gathered his mare and in short order was on Curry’s heels.

---ooooooOoooooo---

“Do you think they saw us?” whispered Kid. 

Heyes shrugged.  “I didn’t look back…Maybe?” That is not what Curry wanted to hear.

As soon as the trees got tall enough they’d dived to the left, leaving the trail, working back into the scrubby trees until they figured they were no longer visible from the trail and pulled to a halt with their backs to a deep ravine.  They sat now on the puffing horses hoping to hear the posse thunder past, oblivious of their presence. 

A single rider walked down the trail, carefully looking to left and right.  He was dressed in an army jacket and hat, but he had long black plaited hair and a fine bead necklace.  He dismounted at the point where Heyes and Curry had left the trail and pointed into the trees. This was Red Cloud Rises, once army scout, now good friend of Deke Hodges, a former Texas Ranger, who was presently sheriff of Tunnel Junction.

Seeing Red Cloud’s signal the big sheriff brought the rest of his posse on.  They’d seen the dust hanging over the trail, showing the very recent passage of hooves.  As no one had passed them on their ascent, they could only conclude the dust was raised by horses running from the approaching posse.  Why?  

For Deke the answer was simple.  That darned Devils Apache must have an accomplice up here somewhere with fresh horses stashed ready for the flight back to Devils Hole.  He came to the place on the trail where Red Cloud stood. There was no way through there, nothing but a long drop.  They had to be sat back amongst the trees.

“You in the trees.  You got nowhere to go that way” he hollered. “I’m sheriff Deke Hodges out of Tunnel Junction.  Come on out here where I can see you, and keep your hands where I can get a good look at them.” 

Like most Texans, Deke didn’t make this sound like an invitation, he expected his instructions to be followed to the letter.  

The partners looked at each other.  Heyes dark eyes said ‘told you this wouldn’t work.’  Curry’s eyebrows shrugged, no point arguing that if they’d moved a lot sooner… He pushed the big black back towards the trail.  Heyes followed with a big sigh and a roll of his eyes.

“Sheriff.” Greeted Curry, hands loosely up, close to the brown floppy hat.  He managed a pleasant enough smile but couldn’t shake all the fear out of his face in confronting a whole posse.  

Heyes fared better, he managed a full dimpled smile for the sheriff that took in the whole posse, also with his hands in view and outwardly looking relaxed.

The sheriff sent Red Cloud into the wood to look for the fresh horses he expected to find, he didn’t need more than a glance to see the big black and the fine boned chestnut mare were still blowing and were anything but fresh.  

The Indian returned and said simply.  “Just these two.”

Deke looked at the two men in front of him.  They were a puzzle then.  They both looked trail worn.  They wore tied down guns.  The dark fella’s face was all beat up. They didn’t look like outlaws but they’d sure run from his posse. 

“Well gentlemen, do you want to explain to me why you high tailed it down here when you saw a posse coming?”

Curry deferred to Heyes, pulling the black round behind Heyes’ chestnut mare.  He hoped this distraction would give his partner time to loosen up that silver tongue of his.

“Well you see Sherriff, all we heard was the shooting, coming from over that ridge.  We didn’t know till now you was a posse. You see, I was attacked a little way back, down there” Heyes pointed back down the pass.  

“They knocked me off my horse, were set to rob me” He rubbed at his sore face. “Luckily for me, Mr Jones here came along, saw what they was doin’ and chased ‘em off.” 

Heyes looked earnestly over to Kid.  “I surely do owe my friend here a debt; you see, I’m carrying important documents to Tunnel Junction for Colonel Parker.  Would ‘a’ hated for any them to fall into the wrong hands.” 

Deke studied the young man, if he was lying, then he sure was a good liar.  The blond fella was smiling and nodding, not looking quite so convincing.  

“So why’d yer run?” he asked simply.  Straight questions usually got him straight answers.  Heyes looked straight into the big sheriff’s eyes. 

“If I’d ‘ve known it was the Sheriff shooting down their…Well… I’d a been feelin’ a whole lot safer.  We thought it might be another ambush” He looked back to Kid shrugging his shoulders.  

Curry nodded “Yeah we high tailed it sheriff.”

“Guess we’re just a bit cowardly” grinned Heyes. 

The sheriff laughed.  That had to be the truth of it.  These two were just hiding.

“We surely feel a lot safer now sheriff.” Kid said trying to sound sincere.

“Well we’re kinda busy gentlemen.  The Devils Hole gang have just busted $50,000 out of the First Municipal Bank back in Tunnel Junction.  We’re trailing that Devils Apache along this ridge, North.  He’s carrying the haul back to Devils Hole but, if you gentlemen would like to join us for a spell, for your safety, we can show you where the next pass is, nearer to the town.” 

There was a bit of sniggering from the other posse members, but Heyes turned a full beamed smile to the Sherriff and thanked him for the invitation.

“Much obliged.” Said Curry sounding anything but.

---ooooooOoooooo---

The partners drifted off the back of the pack as the posse strung out on the narrow ridge trail.  They’d both decided it had worked out well joining Red Cloud Rises and the posse, as they doubted they would have been able to find the ridge trail alone, it was far from obvious.

When they came to the top of the ridge where Heyes had watched Haff disappear earlier. Red Cloud found signs of blood.  He pronounced that it wasn’t much blood however and as the pony was unshod it would be difficult to track further on this terrain.  

“I knew I winged him!” whooped a gap-toothed scrawny cowboy. “You know, I heard tell that that Apache done scalped a drunk over in Torrents Gap, right in front of a deputy.  He was breaking Kyle Murphy outta jail.  Just gotta hope my bullet hit him good.  We may be looking for a body! Was that reward dead or alive Deke?” The sheriff nodded.

Kid reached up to run fingers through his curls, under his hat.  He’d ‘ve liked to put the smiling cowboy straight about a few things, but kept quiet with a sneer.

“Urm…Sherriff?” called Heyes from the back of the pack.  “If you know your tracking the Devils Apache, and you know where he’s headed …. Why do you need to track him? North’s that way.”  Heyes flung an arm at the mountains behind the town of Tunnel Junction.  

“Surely you just need to try and outrun this unshod pony the Indian’s riding, especially now you know he’s wounded.” Heyes’ face is a picture of innocence; he’s just trying to understand the workings of a posse.

The big sheriff looked annoyed to have his judgement questioned. “Well yes, he’s heading that way now, but the gang lit out of town South after the robbery…. Tried to put us off. We didn’t know it was Devils Hole gang till we saw that Apache.  Now we’re sure where he’s headed.  We can run him down.”

The rest of the posse took this as a call to action and rounded their horses back to the trail North along the ridge, hanging back just long enough for the sheriff to take the lead.

“I’m afraid gentlemen, we won’t be able to escort you any further.” Announced the Sheriff, sharing the joke with his posse members. “If you follow us North for another few miles, then take the left fork down to the flat, you can’t miss the trail.  Come on men, we’ll be taking the ridge on up over the mountains.” He smirked at the boys and turned to lead his men in a charge along the ridge.

“Good luck” beamed Heyes at their backs.

“Gee thanks” waved Curry sarcastically. 

“Can you believe that Heyes?” Kid turned a chagrined face to Heyes. “And why did you have to remind him he didn’t need to waste time tracking? They might catch Haff now and he’s taken a bullet, remember?”

“Yes, that’s why we better hurry too Kid” Heyes was looking after the posse, his voice had dropped to a low rasp, worry creased his brow. “What do we know about Wong and his methods that they don’t Kid?” 

“The money normally ends up in the mule cart?” ventured Curry.

Heyes nodded “Well, I think the money left town this time Kid, cause Haff had some bulging saddle bags over that paints neck, but I don’t think he’s heading for Devil’s Hole.  I’d lay evens he’ll have changed his appearance and is trying to get back into town, to Wong. And he won’t be on that flashy paint pony either, I think she can make her own way back to the Hole.  He’ll have those mules o’ his stashed somewhere” 

Kid nods, that made sense, that’s exactly what Haff would do. Seems everyone was beginning to know how the Devils Hole Gang were operating these days.  That could be real dangerous for Haff.  Kid would have to tell him.

They followed the ridge trail for a few more miles then took a left fork and followed a steep trail winding backwards and forwards across the face of the valley side eventually, coming out on a well-used and wheel-rutted track heading towards Tunnel Junction. 

After another couple of dusty miles Curry shook his empty canteen. “Heyes these horses need water, and I’m dry.  Think I heard a stream off to the right there.  I’m going to go take a look.” Curry pulled off the trail.  

Heyes patted his mare’s neck.  Her head had come up, ears forward.  She’d also heard water. “Go on then.” He dropped her reins so she could pick her own way after Curry.

“What the….?” Kid was staring ahead. “Will you look at that…”  

Ahead of them, a driverless mule cart was also making a bee line back to the water from further up the trail. A mute conversation and head shakes between the partners and they kicked on to catch it up.

Heyes took the horses while Kid jumped across onto the trundling cart’s seat.  He pulled up the mules, who were only a few feet from their goal and so only stopped reluctantly, and continued inching forward towards the stream.  

Kid looked back at the flatbed behind him and saw Haff, still in full war paint but loosely wrapped in a grey robe.  He was unconscious and bleeding from his side. A coolly hat lay beside his head where it must have landed when he fell back off the driver’s seat.

“Well, true to form so far” Heyes smiled shaking his head.  “He’s real lucky it’s us that found him.”

“Real lucky his mules wanted water too and brought him off the main trail when he fell unconscious.” Curry shook his head, watching the mules dip their heads to the water. “Wonder how long he had them waiting for him?” 

Curry was in the flat bed with Haff but he couldn’t get the Indian back to consciousness.

Heyes let the two horses drink and joined Kid in the wagon.  He took a look at the wound low on Haff’s side just above his hip.  The bullet had gone in through his back and out at the front.  At least it wasn’t still in there.  There was surprisingly little blood. He gave the wounds a cursory clean with some whiskey and bound some torn sacking tight around Haff’s body.

“We’d better get him back to Wong.” Heyes looked up into Kids concerned blue eyes. “If there’s one thing we know about that china man… We know he’s good with bullet wounds.”  

Curry rubbed the top of his right arm nodding agreement.  He covered the Indian with more sacks and got the mule team turned around and headed back towards the trail to town. Heyes gathered up the horses.

“Oh” Kid turned to look at Heyes, to fix him with a blue eyed stare “…and we’re just helping a friend whose sick. Nothing dishonest in that.  In fact, it’s almost noble” stated Curry flatly, nodding to himself to prove it was true.  

“That’s right.” Heyes has joined in the nodding.  “We don’t know nothing about no fifty… thousand… dollars...” Heyes looked dreamily at the box under Curry’s butt.

“Sheesh!” Curry saw the look in his older cousin’s eyes and shook his head. 

“Yah Mules!”

---ooooooOoooooo---

Approaching Tunnel Junction, Kid pulls the mule cart off the trail again.  He asks Heyes to see how Haff’s doing and takes his horse to go scout up ahead.  

In short order he’s back.  “Didn’t have te get real close to see there’s a kinda Chinese shanty town set up outside the real town, next to the tunnel side.  Its looks like it’s been there a long time.  I ain’t seen that many Chinese together in one place since Frisco.” 
Kid’s eyebrows shot skywards. “Wong won’t have to work so hard to be invisible in that town.  Trouble is, with that many Chinese around, how are we gonna find Wong?”

“He ain’t gonna tell us” Heyes rolled his eyes towards Haff.  He hadn’t been able to rouse him either so was throwing sacks back over the Indian.  “He’s still out cold.” 

“I been thinking Heyes…”

“I thought we had an arrangement about that Kid” smirked Heyes.  Kids eyebrows give us ‘the old ones are the best.’ 

“I been thinking it ain’t too smart for us to ride into a town that’s just been robbed by the Devils Hole gang.  Might make people a might jumpy. They just might start thinking they recognise us.” Heyes nods.

“Yeah, I been working on that.”  Heyes took off his coat and pulled on a long grey robe.  Throwing his beloved shabby black hat on top of the coat, he replaced it with the coolly hat.  

“What d’yer think? Works for him.” He jerked his head towards the prone Indian.

“Heyes, you make a good china man,” smiled Curry. 

Heyes looked a bit smug. 

“Long as you keep your head down and your mouth shut” finished Curry.  

Heyes frowned.  Maybe this wasn’t one of his better ideas as that would leave the Kid to do all the asking for Wong.  

“Maybe you should…” he started.

“Hah!” laughed Curry.  “When did you last see a china man with blond curly hair and blue eyes Heyes? Nah, if anyone’s playing invisible Chinaman it’s you.” Curry straightened the coolly hat to obscure Heyes’ face with a gleeful smile.

Heyes searched for an argument; he didn’t find one but another idea crossed his mind.  He grabbed the large black hat that Haff usually wore to cover his long hair.  “Well you can use this to cover your curly hair and blue eyes and maybe no one will recognise you either.”   

Heyes took great delight in removing Kids floppy brown hat, with the weighted be-jewelled metal band that kept it on his head in a gallop.  Kids eyes followed the hat. He really liked that hat.

Heyes replaced it with the enormous black Stetson that fell almost to the Kids eyes.  Then taking a good look at his younger cousin, he pulled the collar of the sheepskin coat up round Kids ears to meet the hat, and stood back with a matching gleeful smile.

“Well I ain’t the only one that could get recognised” smirked Heyes.  Kid humphed but left the hat and collar as it obscured most of his face.

They pushed on towards town with Heyes driving the mule cart this time with the chestnut mare tied on the back and Kid following on the black.  

Just as they were passing the first shacks at the edge of the shanty township, groaning came from the flatbed. Heyes shook his head in disbelief.  ‘Now he wakes up!’ he thought.  

“Shhhh” he tried, but now the sacks are moving too.  

Heyes risks a look back and sees Curry has also seen the movement and is climbing into the wagon, tying his horse to the back and coming forward to sit beside the struggling lump under the sacks.  

“Haff, shut up and lie still.  Heyes find somewhere quiet and quick” hisses Kid. 

Kid finds Haff’s mouth under the sacks and clamps a hand firmly down on it.  The little Indian struggles but doesn’t have much fight left in him.  

Heyes hollers at the mules to quicken the pace through the narrow shanty trails, finally breaking out onto the wider trail between the two townships.  For the first time he gets a view of Tunnel Junction.

There’s an obvious Livery with barn and corrals on this side of the town.  He can feel the mule’s enthusiasm for rest and food and gives them their heads.  The mules head straight for a small corral, furthest away from the barn, and pull to a stop.  

As soon as the mule cart stopped, Heyes kept watch from under the round hat while Curry tried to get some sense from Haff.  They’d been true to form so far, normally Haff and Wong set themselves up at a bath house or a barber’s shop and stable the mules and the cart at the local livery.  Again Curry felt he would have to warn them that doing the same thing every time was real stupid. For now, though, they just needed to find Wong.

“Haff?” The Indian took a little time to recognise Kid as not much of Kid was visible to be recognised.  He smiled faintly.  “We’re in Tunnel Junction at the livery.   Where’s your partner at?” Kid hissed but the Indian’s eyes closed. 

Curry slapped Haff’s face a few times.  Haff was drifting in and out, Curry got some water in his mouth and tapped at his face again. 

“Come on Haff.  We just need to know where Wong is so he can get you fixed up.” 

Haff seemed to focus on Kids face for just long enough to whisper ‘barber shop’ before his eyes closed again and this time he lay still.

---ooooooOoooooo---

“Just do Chinese things for a minute while I go see if I can find a barber shop” growls Kid.  

Heyes looks perplexed. “What does that even mean?” He throws his hands wide.

“I don’t know, just move things around a bit, unsaddle the horses, just don’t unhitch the team till we know how far we gotta move Haff.”

And with that Kid, under the enormous black hat with his collar turned up, headed towards the main street.  He knew the sheriff and deputies were out of town but too often lately he’d been recognised by someone from a train they’d once robbed.  

They’d had to leave the last town in a hurry, because Kid had recognised that look people get on their faces when they can’t bring to mind the name of an acquaintance, on a man in the saloon last night.  You know the look.  That’s why he’d insisted on leaving and using the back trails over to Tunnel Junction. You never can tell what could happen when the penny finally drops and the name that comes to mind, is Kid Curry.

Today in Tunnel Junction everyone would be telling tales of Kid Curry and that other fella. Stories about their hold ups would be circulating round the town like wild fire. No one that knew what he looked like, would have the slightest difficulty bringing his name to mind today.  

He slunk along a narrow alley at the side of a saloon and looked up and down the main street.  There was a bathhouse right up at the top end of the street by the hotel.  It looked real busy, people going in and out.  He looked the other way.  Spotted the bank right off on this side of the street, workmen were hammering boards over the broken windows at the front.  Next to the bank was a pole sign for a barbers.  Kid headed that way.  

The little shop was no more than one narrow room and a barber’s chair, but the front was shuttered up and showed no signs of life.  Kid slunk down the alley on the far side of the shop.  When he reached the back, he could look over and see his partner busy doing nothing by the mule cart.  

Kid smiled, ‘that’s one tall Chinaman.’  Heyes wasn’t looking his way, he was keeping his head down.

The back of the shop had a storeroom attached.  Kid shouldered the door open.  A glance around the gloomy storeroom confirmed for Kid that this was where Haff and Wong were holed up.  The small smiling idol, the fine china tea set and Haff’s long tan coat were all present.  Wong wasn’t.  The small stove was cold.

Quickly returning to Heyes; it was simply a matter of making out they were delivering supplies to the barber’s store, to bundle Haff into the small building and onto a makeshift cot.  

Heyes lit a lamp and Kid took a look at the wound, using more of the whiskey.  He found some clean looking cloth and ripped it up to make bandages. When Heyes saw what Kid was doing, he didn’t stop him, but he did hide a smirk.  ‘Don’t think Wong’s going to be too happy when he sees what you did to his silk robes Kid’ he thought.

They got the stove lit, brewed coffee and prepared a meal from the supplies they had around them…with the addition of a hunk of bacon from Curry’s saddle bags. 

---ooooooOoooooo---

Heyes was back to looking like himself. Enough dressing up. They decided that separately, they could risk being seen by the owner of the livery and the recipients of the letters from Colonel Harper, but that they shouldn’t risk be seen together yet.  

So Kid had been out to settle his horse and mules over at the livery.  He reported back to Heyes that Wong had arranged to use the corral for the mules several weeks ago, and that he hadn’t said how long he would continue to need them for. 

On Kids return to watch over Haff, Heyes had taken his mare to deliver the closest letters and get paid.  He brought back more news.  

“Wong hasn’t opened the shop for days, and that’s not like him.” Heyes shook his head in thought.  “I’m surprised he didn’t have the town’s mayor in his barber chair when Kyle blew the safe!” 

He threw Kid a look to convey that he didn’t think much of Wong’s leadership style.  Oh he knew Wheat thought he was the leader of the Devils Hole Gang now, but Heyes saw the puppet master.  

It was well known by the gang that when he, Hannibal Heyes, was leader, he’d never ask any one of them to do something he wouldn’t do himself.  He was always in the thick of it.  In fact, he and Kid would announce who they were to the robbed, to throw the heat off the other gang members.  Most witnesses were so in awe of Heyes and what’s his name, that they could barely describe any of the other outlaws in a raid. Wong’s way, to skulk about a town for weeks before a raid and disappear quietly a few weeks later with the haul, was distasteful to Heyes. Didn’t seem honest.

“Well it’s up to us then” said Kid with a sigh and a resigned nod of his head.

“What is?” asked Heyes incredulous.  He wasn’t going to take no $50,000 dollars to Devils Hole for no Wheat Carlson.

“We’ll have to make sure Haff’s Ok, if Wong’s already lit out for the Hole.” Curry thought this was obvious.

“Well yeah.  Of course” nodded Heyes like nothing else had occurred to him.  He screwed up his nose looking around the shabby room. ‘Can’t see me getting much sleep in here’ he thought.  “And it’ll save on hotel bills too…if we gotta be here to care for Haff that is.  Corse …it don’t take two of us to do that.” he opined.  “One of us could put up at the Hotel…”  

Curry just shook his head slowly, trust Heyes to cover all the angles. “Fine” he said.  

“We’ll toss for it.”

---ooooooOoooooo---
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PostSubject: Re: Den of Thieves (part one)---the Sixth Haff and Wong Tale...9,200 words   Sun Feb 12, 2017 11:04 am

That night

Curry rolled in his bed roll on the dusty floor of the storeroom trying to get comfortable.  He wasn’t going to get much sleep as Haff was doing a lot of groaning.  Haff wasn’t doing well.  He was in a lot of pain.  

There didn’t seem to be any opium around to mix with the whiskey which was probably just as well, because neither partner would have known how much to give Haff for the pain, without risk of killing him.

---ooooooOoooooo---

Next morning

Heyes is feeling quite well rested as he’d been sleeping over at the Hotel.  He’d been out after breakfast and finished all the other deliveries for Colonel Harper without a hitch.  He’d even earned to bonus.  It had been a very satisfying morning. 

He sat on his mare across the street from the bank and the barber shop.  People were looking at the barber shop and shaking their heads at the continued closed shutters

Heyes looked worried. They would soon start attracting notice.  

The sheriff and his deputies hadn’t returned to Tunnel Junction yet.  ‘Must have taken that posse right up to dead man’s point’ mused Heyes, ‘what a waste of time.’  But, it was only a matter of time until that sheriff rode back up the main street to the jailhouse. Kid and him should be clearing out.  Heyes’ eyes narrowed, thinking.  

He didn’t believe for a second that Wong would leave Haff here, with the money, and light out for the Hole.  So where was he?  The money still sat in the mule cart at the back of the barber shop.  He’d checked that.  No one else had paid it the least attention. 

Wheat and the boys would be up at the hole, awaiting Haff and Wong’s return to the cave house, when the heat had died down.  Probably, Wheat would send an urgent telegram, requesting that Wong attend a funeral or something in a few weeks’ time. 

It made no sense for Wong not to be here now:  Being seen as the barber, carrying on his trade after the robbery.  Being here to receive the haul from Haff.  

If he wasn’t here, its ‘cause he couldn’t be.  

Maybe he was sick? 

Maybe he was dead? 

Maybe he was kidnapped?  

Heyes shook his head…he’d been reading too many books. He rode on to the livery.

---ooooooOoooooo---

Back in the store room

“I been thinking…” 

Kid rode on over the usual response, “There’s plenty of china men in this town.  There’s bound to be an Opium Den or two in that ram shackle camp they got over there.  I think I should go and get Haff something for his pain.”  

Kid hadn’t got much sleep last night and he wasn’t looking forward to another one like that.  He didn’t rate his chances of getting Heyes into another coin toss for the hotel bed either.  

“He seems in a lot o’ pain and we can’t have anyone hearing him groaning like that.”

“That’s a good idea Kid” Heyes agreed, “You might be able to dig up some news about our missing Chinese friend too.”  

Heyes took up his turn at Haff watching, by opening a book and lying back on some flour sacks. “It might help and it can’t hurt.” 

---ooooooOoooooo---

Kid hurt all over.

He woke up face down in the dust.  He rubbed at his head then held his aching chest.  They’d given him a kicking too.  Damn.

He picked up his hat and checked the Colt was in his holster.  His horse was ground tied just a few feet away from him.  He hadn’t had much money on him and it was all still there.  A note was stuffed in the front of his coat along with the bottle he’d bought from the Opium Den earlier.  

Slowly and painfully, he pulled himself up into the saddle and headed back to town.

---ooooooOoooooo---

Early evening

“What happened to you?” Heyes had been pacing in the little storeroom, on the verge of going off to look for Kid.  Kid was hours overdue by his reckoning.

Kid lowered himself carefully onto a blanket thrown over some flour sacks.  

“Bushwhacked, coming out of that shanty town of theirs. Didn’t take my money though.”  He reached into his coat, “Here, give him this.  The fella at the den said he could drink this and it should stop him moaning.” 

Heyes took the bottle, pulled the cork and sniffed.  “Erh! …Smells like real gut rot!” he screwed up his face.  “Did he say how much to give him?”

“No, just said let him drink it.” Curry tried to find a comfortable position to sit, holding his ribs. Nothing worked. “I asked about Wong…well I remembered that was an alias…so I asked if they knew where I could find the barber that had set up next to the bank.  They were real friendly until then…” 

Kid groaned and winced as he investigated his ribs.  “Think they must have jumped me when I was leaving…I woke up on the edge the camp a little while back.” Kid rubbed his sore ribs.

“Do you think they broke anything?” Heyes looked concerned.  Haff and Curry groaned simultaneously. Heyes rolled his eyes.

“No I think it was just a warning. Found this.” Kid pulled a piece of paper out of his coat.  “This was wrapped round that bottle.”

The paper had one symbol pressed into a blob of wax in the centre and the number 20,000 under it in a shaky hand, in what looked like brown dried blood.  

Heyes revised his previous thought.  Perhaps he hadn’t read enough books!

---ooooooOoooooo---

Late that night

Kid had had some food and some coffee and was feeling less sore.  He was looking at Heyes, eyebrows raised in question.  Heyes had been studying the paper.  

“I think it’s more of a threat than a warning Kid.  This here wax looks like a seal, you know like on the letters I been delivering.  Colonel Harper uses a heavy thing that looks like a candle stick, but this here could be a ring pushed into the wax.  Do you remember if Wong wore a ring?”  

Kid shook his head. 

“Me neither.  The number could be dollars I guess…$20,000…That’s worrisome too.” Heyes looked up into Kids concerned blue eyes.  “What if they recognised you and know we’re worth $10,000 apiece?”

“Why would they let me ride back here?” Curry’s brow creased.  “To find you?” He pulled himself to standing with some difficulty and went to the door to look out. “Don’t think I was followed.”

“No.” Heyes shook his head.  “I don’t think this has got anything to do with us Kid.”

Heyes lifted the paper to the lamp as if it might reveal more.

“Let me see.” Came a weak voice from the corner.  Haff was trying and failing to sit up.  They took the paper over to him.  He held it in front of his face, studied it for all of a second, and let it drop to his chest. He swore loudly.  He pointed to a shelf above the cot and Kid fished up there till he brought down a second piece of paper.  

The same seal and the number 10,000, again in what might be brown dried blood. Haff was exhausted, he was going to speak again but instead gasped in pain.  

Curry saw Haff’s eyes begin to roll back in his head.  He reached for the ‘medicine’ and gave the bottle to Heyes.  

“Give him some of this Heyes.”  Heyes caught himself just before pouring some of the ‘medicine’ into Haff’s open mouth.  

“Wait a minute, didn’t you say that that note was wrapped around this… If that was a threat, this could be poison?” 

Kid stared at the bottle; he couldn’t be sure it was exactly the same bottle he’d bought at the Opium Den.  

“It might be the right one. The one I got at the Den before I’d even mentioned Wong…it could be OK…it might be the good stuff.”

They both stared at Haff.  Should they risk it? 

“Can you remember what it tasted like, when they had you on it that time at the Cave house?” Heyes asked Curry handing him back the bottle.  

“No!” said the Kid, acting like he’d been handed a live snake. “By the time I was remembering anything, I was off the stuff” he said passing the bottle back to Heyes.  

Heyes waved it about for a bit as if looking for someone else to pass it to and in the end settled on putting it back on the high shelf.  Haff was out cold again anyway.  

Heyes studied the two pieces of paper. The seal was the same on both…What could it mean?

---ooooooOoooooo---

Next morning

Heyes has brought breakfast.

“We’re gonna have to stay till we can move Haff again or until Wheat an’ Kyle come looking for the haul.” argued Curry. “Maybe we should try find out what happened to Wong while we wait?” 

“Wheat an’ Kyle can’t show their faces round here for months yet Kid, for the same reason we shouldn’t be here, and that sheriff’s bound to be back soon.” Heyes wasn’t really arguing with Kid, he was just rehearsing all the possibilities in his own head.  In fact, the mystery of Wong’s disappearance and the strange notes had got him curious.   “That Sheriff didn’t strike me as stupid.  Unless he’s decided to lay siege to Devils Hole, he’ll be back in town by the end of the week and he’s bound to start asking questions about the barber shop being shut up and Wong missing.” 

Heyes frowned, thinking.  

“Of course I guess we could open the shop…” 

“Hah! You want to get murder added to armed robbery on your wanted posters Heyes?  You can’t use a cutthroat razor… Not on someone else’ neck!” Curry laughed, which hurt his still bruised ribs.

Heyes looked chagrined but saved face, “Didn’t mean me.  Maybe we could find someone else to do it…” 

Heyes shook his head why was he was trying to solve problems they didn’t even have yet.

“Where?” Curry eyes are wide in disbelief.

“Huh? They haven’t seen me in that shanty town yet Kid…I think it’s time I stepped up and did some investigating.”  

Heyes looked happier, that was a better idea, positive action.  Looking for a replacement barber would be one ruse to get nosey in that shanty town…but maybe he could think of a better one.

“Sure…can’t hurt…” opined Curry with a wry grin, rubbing his sore ribs.

---ooooooOoooooo---

Early evening.

Kid was bored. 

Sitting in the storeroom with a prone, groaning Indian wasn’t much fun.  He looked around for something to do.  He’d already cleaned his gun, twice.  He’d thrown cards into a jar.  He could darn his socks.  He didn’t think much of that idea.  He picked up the little smiling idle by the stove and hefted it in his palm.

“Don’t break another one Kid” rasped a quiet voice from the corner. 

Kid fumbled with the idol nearly dropping it but managing to get it safely back on the shelf by the stove. 

“Sheesh… that was close” Kid smiled “I nearly earned myself another shopping trip back to Frisco.” 

“What happened to you?” Haff squinted up at Kids battered face. “Oh I ran into some unfriendly types getting you some [url=http://www.puritan.com/health-star-brand-0462/acetaminophen-500-mg-night-time-pain-medicine-072837?scid=4150&cmp=ls-_-datafeed-_-Medicine Cabinet-_-acetaminophen-500-mg-night-time-pain-medicine-_-072837]pain medicine[/url] from an Opium Den in that ramshackle shanty town.  How you doin?”

“Feelin’ like I never got no pain medicine.” Grunted Haff struggling to sit up. 

“Easy, you still got a hole in your side…Heyes ain’t much for sewing up wounds…and we didn’t have nothing clean enough to do it anyway…just lie still.”

Kid brought down the bottle of ‘medicine’.  

“We ain’t sure what this is…seeing as that note was wrapped round it when I came round” explained Curry.  

Haff opened the bottle and put his tongue to the top.  He screwed up his face.   “Got any whiskey?” he asked.

“Not much left, most of it got poured in that bullet hole.  I guess now you’re awake, I could risk go getting us some more.” Kid waved the quarter of a bottle they had stashed by the stove at Haff. 

“Give” Haff reached with his left hand. “Get that bag…Uhum!” Haff pulled up his shirt, “…from over there.”  Kid obliged.  

Haff poured some of the ‘medicine’ into the whiskey bottle, just a few drops really, and sipped.  “Woah!” Haff’s face contorted. “You bought enough opium to kill a buffalo!” he accused Kid.  Then he swigged a bit from the doctored whiskey bottle.  Feeling stronger, he poured some of the whiskey over the wound in his side and fumbling in the bag, found a needle already holding some thread.  He wetted the thread between his whiskey soaked lips and took a final swig from the dregs of the bottle.  Pinching the wound together with a gasp, he took a deep breath.

“Wait…wait…” Curry, wide eyed could hardly believe Haff was going to stitch his own wound. “I can do that.” 

Was he trying to convince himself?  

“I was going to do some darning tonight anyway.” He tried to make it sound light.  “I’ll get us some more whiskey.  You’re gonna be needing some more medicine, that bullet went straight through.   You got another hole in your back.”  

---ooooooOoooooo---

An hour later

Haff’s breathing is back under control. They’ve both had a stiff drink.  Curry doesn’t like to push Haff but, Heyes has gone to the shanty town, asking around about Wong, and Kid needs to know what sort of danger his partner might be in.

“What’s going on Haff?  Where’s your partner?  Why isn’t he here?”

“He’s been taken by the Hip Sing Tong.  They know who he is.  He was gone and they left me that note, a coupla days before the gang came in to rob the bank.  I needed the money to pay off the highbinders so I took the money out of town this time so the Tong would know I could pay them.” Haff looked guilty but enthused “The gang all got away.”

“I don’t need to know nothing about the robbery Haff.  Just these ‘who sing long sidewinder’ people” Curry wanted Haff to just tell him who Heyes was facing in that shanty town before the Indian succumbed to the opium and the whiskey.

“Highbinders Kid.  I couldn’t …let Wheat an’ Kyle… get involved… its too dangerous… but I’ve got to give them... money… or they’ll kill Wong.” 

Haff made to get up, but couldn’t and fell back to the cot.

“Who are these highbinders?  And just how dangerous are they?” Curry is starting to think his partner has walked in to a den of vipers.

“Wong’s Chief from China… will pay lotta money… for his head….  But these highbinders…they’ll sell Wong to me… long as I pay more than Chief.  Price goes up if I don’t hurry.” 

“You think Wong’s still alive?” asks Kid quietly. 

Haff nods.  His eyes are closing.  Curry needs to hurry this along. 

“What sort of danger is Heyes in over there Haff?” Curry stands over the prone Indian, looking close at his sleepy face to spot any lie. “He’s over there asking questions about your partner?”

Haff dropped his head back to the cot.  “Bad…They’re very dangerous people Kid.”  He’s losing his fight to stay awake.

Kid threw Haff a canteen, “Here, I’ll be back soon as I can.” 

---ooooooOoooooo---

Back to earlier that evening

As Heyes walked from the town to the shanty, he manipulated the shells in his jacket pocket with ease, limbering up his long tapered fingers.  

As he suspected the little shanty township that had sprung up no doubt with the influx of Chinese workers when the railroad had been constructing the tunnels and embankments North of the town, had a centre thriving with opium dens and gambling joints.  

He wasn’t the only white face, seemed an awful lot of the townsfolk had got a liking for opium and a little recreational gambling. He watched a while and when an opportunity opened up he began the banter of a practiced shell game host.  “Follow that little pea, what could be simpler.  All you gotta do is tell me where it is and I’ll double your money.”

At first he let quite a few low stakes wagers win, gathering him a nice size of crowd.  Not so many he had to work constantly, and not so few he’d be too conspicuously nosey.  A couple of times he moved pitch.  

Eventually, he felt eyes on him, prickles on the back of his neck.  ‘Ah, the big boys have started to take notice’ he thought. ‘Time to up the ante.’  

Heyes started taking more money off the punters, by subtly changing his spiel and getting people to take greater risks with their hard earned cash. 

Heyes saw the movement in his peripheral vision and noticed the way the punters drew back as the punks came forward.  

‘Here we go’ he thought ‘I do hope this won’t prove to be too painful.’

“You will come with us now” said a calm oriental voice, and with that Heyes was grabbed by the arms, by a henchman either side of him, and pushed off towards the back of the camp.

Kid Curry, watched as Heyes was marched away.  

There was little he could do in such a crowd.  He’d obviously arrived just too late to help Heyes. Frustration showed on his face as he pushed through the crowd in an attempt to keep Heyes in sight.  All he could do now was follow, but the crowd seemed to part in front of those holding Heyes and his way seemed to be hindered by the crowd closing around him.  

He saw the building Heyes had been taken into, and so quietly, positioned himself in the shadows across the other side of the trail to watch it. Moments later, a sharp point dug into his back and a sharper voice said “Move.”  

He was marched, at knife point, to the same building as Heyes.

---ooooooOoooooo---

END OF PART ONE
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Den of Thieves (part one)---the Sixth Haff and Wong Tale...9,200 words
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