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 The Long Road Back - Part Four - Sharper Than a Serpents Tooth - 4200 words

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Cal

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PostSubject: The Long Road Back - Part Four - Sharper Than a Serpents Tooth - 4200 words   Mon Feb 13, 2017 10:14 am

---oooOOOooo---

The Long Road Back
(Haff & Wong seven)
By Cal

---oooOOOooo---
Part four
Sharper than a Serpents Tooth
---oooOOOooo---

A camp outside the very small Wyoming town of Bale

Kid draws the colt and stands “Who’s there?”

“It is I, Mr Curry” says a tired sounding Wong.  He’s dressed in a Western style suit, hat and glasses and is riding into their small camp on a horse that looks much too big for him.  Heyes and Haff nod a solemn greeting from the fire side.  They’re preparing food.  “I think you will find the answers to your telegrams most interesting Mr Heyes” says Wong, dismounting rather comically.  

Nobodies in the mood to laugh.  Kid holsters the Colt, and takes the reins from Wong, to go settle the horse.

“I’m afraid you were right, Mr Heyes.  Your sheriff friend left town to go to Louvides; and his Deputy, Harker, calls his mission …a manhunt” apologises Wong.

Heyes’ face crumples to a worried frown. “I guess we can expect a dangerous reception from Lom then …when he catches up to us Kid…”

“Yep …and he will” opines Kid.  “Lom always …gets his man …just never figured on it being us, he’d be gunning fer.”  Kid throws down the saddle for Wong and plonks himself down by the fire, using his own saddle for a backrest.  He growls in annoyance, smacking his own head in frustration. 

“We just … never catch a break …this could finish us …everything we’ve worked so hard fer!” He lies back, face behind his gloved hands, groaning.

Heyes looks skywards and digs deep to try and find a bright side.  He pulls out the newspaper clipping of Professor Tung’s miraculous rescue.  “He’s bound to have seen this by now Kid …and he might just buy it?  If we can just explain…”

“Or he might just shoot us on sight, Heyes!  He thinks we’re murderers. You know how Lom feels about murderers.” states Curry, without removing his hands or even opening his eyes.  Heyes can see the slump in Kids shoulders: He can almost see the defeat in the blue eyes, behind the hands and the closed lids.

“The other telegram …to your brother Daniel …is also sent.” Says Wong trying to lighten the mood a little.

“Well that decides it” says Heyes with more resolve than he’s feeling, trying to sound strong for Kid’s benefit. “We’re gonna meet with Wheat and Kyle at Yellow Dog Gulch …and then …well …I’ll just have to come up with something … that’ll sort this mess out …for all of our sakes.” That didn’t sound as good out loud as it had done in his head.

Curry however, seemed to rally at this call to action from Heyes, leaning forward and creasing his brow in thought.  “Why there Heyes? That’s in the Indian Country, North of the Hole …I mean the tribes never gave us any problems, when we were their neighbours …but then again …we never went near ‘em.” He isn’t ready to find a bright side yet then.

“Well this is Wyoming Kid …Half the country thinks we’re vicious killers …and we’re worth $20,000, dead or alive…. right now, I’d rather take my chances with the local tribes …than any of the local townsfolk.”

“Mmmm…” considered Curry with just the beginnings of a smile. “Luckily we know every isolated trail and high pass, deer track and rat run in this area.  Should be able to skirt round every town between here and Yellow Dog Gulch …no need for us to see another living soul till we get there.”  Ah, knew there’d be a bright side.

---oooOOOooo---

An abandoned Mine on the Outskirts of Harristown

“That you Wheat?” whispers Kyle.

“Who else were you expecting Kyle?” sneers Wheat, rhetorically.

“Well I don’t rightly know…” says Kyle thinking hard.  He feels he should try get an answer to one of Wheat’s questions right now and then.  

He gives up and asks, “Was there a telegram in Harristown …from Heyes ‘n’ K ...err … from your brother, Wheat?”  

“Heyes ain’t my brother, Kyle! We’re just using …our aliases, is all.” 

Wheat pulls a piece of yellow paper out of his jacket pocket and hands it to Kyle. 

“Here …Seeing as you asked …it was there waiting me…”  

He hands Kyle the paper and goes to fetch his mug to sit by the fire and pour himself a coffee.  Kyle looks at the paper, holding it upside down, looking a bit embarrassed. He takes a few bolstering chews of his bakky before addressing his proddy partner again.

“Urm… Well …what does it say Wheat? Did they find Mr Wong and Haff, coz we sure didn’t?”

Wheat closes his eyes with a huge sigh, covering his mouth with his hand.  He sets down his mug, stands and comes back to Kyle; grabs the paper, flattens it, straightens his neck and with the competency of a six-year-old, reads:

To Dan-iel Smith. Fam-ily will all be to-gether at Yel-low Dog Gulch for the hol-i-days. Your lov-ing bro-ther, Josh-ua Smith.

Wheat screws his face up in disgust that he’s said that out loud, it was bad enough when he’d read it the first time.

“Awww….” smiles Kyle at the sentiment.  

Then he screws his own face up in thought. 

“What’s it mean, Wheat?”

“It’s obvious ain’t it?” Wheats eyes go wide as he realises Kyle is clueless.  “Heyes ‘n’ The Kid have found Mr Wong and Haff …and they’re fixing on meeting us at Yellow Dog Gulch …on the 4th of July.” 

Kyle eyes go wide in wonder. He chews in slow motion.

His partner cannot only read, a thing that has long defeated Kyle, but he can also decipher coded messages.   

“You can tell all that? …just from what Heyes wrote …’bout your family an’ all…”  

Wheat smiles smugly, enjoying the awe and adoration of his partner and of course greatest fan, but Kyle’s face screws up again as he asks “Why in tarnation does he want to meet there? …That’s Indian country.”

Wheat’s face shows us he hasn’t got a clue, but he’s feeling the pressure to come up with something.  

“Well….”
---oooOOOooo---

On a high remote trail that is leading, tortuously, to Yellow Dog Gulch

“Read the part, where I get to draw on all three of them, again Heyes, the bit where I get all three of their guns in the air at the same time” enthused Kid. He seems a lot happier now they’re up in the high country and, as predicted, haven’t seen another living soul for days.

“But …Mr Curry …you have already heard it …again” says Wong wearily turning back to look at Kid.

“About six times already” smiles Haff quietly from the front.

Heyes smiles at the back of Kid’s head, and folds the clipping he’s been reading aloud, carefully, to put it back in his pocket.  

Kid looks back to his partner and sighs, then he turns back to the Chinaman ahead with a twinkle in his blue eyes. “You know Mr Wong; you could be a writer …with imagination like that.”

“Thank you” says Wong, doubtfully.

“You could …You could write dime novels …like the one I got one here in my pack …You can read it if you want.” 

Wong doesn’t look very enthusiastic about the prospect but Kid fishes in his saddle bags anyway, and triumphantly lofts the thin volume.

“It’s called …The De-vil’s Wit-ness …A Hannibal Heyes and Jed ‘Kid’ Curry ad-vent-ure, feat-ur-ing the di-a-boli-cal ex-ploits of Wheat Carlson and Moon-dance Mertry…” reads Kid aloud. His face contorts in a huge smirk, “Who gave Kyle a handle like that?” he laughs, shaking the curls.

“It was Wheat, Mr Curry” answers Wong, grateful for a change of subject.  “He believed a Leader …such as he …needed a lieutenant …with a memorable name.”

“Kyle …a lieutenant?” smirks Heyes quietly from the back of the procession.

“Moon-dance?” smirked Kid loudly. “More like Goon-dance…” he laughs.

“Oh,” smiles Haff, catching Kid’s good humour.  “The gang had a vote on it. You should’ve heard some of the other names they came up with: …Brown-tooth-Bow-deen …Spitting-Sid Mertry …The Tobakky Kid… The Devils Idiot….“ He’s also dissolved into a fit of the giggles. 

“They chose Moondance.” Wong states coldly, with a stern look that told Haff not to ridicule their good friend Kyle, but he’s also having to work hard to hold that stern look, a smile tugging at the side of his lips.  Heyes and Kid aren’t holding back, their belly laughs ring out. They’ve had precious little to laugh at recently. It feels good. 

Haff finds the laughter too infectious, but he tries to straighten his face.  “First robbery after that …it was all you could hear” he starts imitating Wheat.  “Moondance …bring up the dynamite … Moondance… blow up the safe … Moondance …Time to ride! …Hey Moondance …don’t forget …to mount up first…” No, he’s gone again, tears in his eyes.  They all dissolve into more laughter, Wong unable to fight it any longer.

Kid’s turn to fight the giggles.  “Well I sure hope ‘Moondance’ don’t bring any dynamite to Yellow Dog Gulch.  I’ve just about had all I can take of Kyle’s explosions for one lifetime” he says, fingering his still ringing ear.

“Amen to that” agrees Heyes, shaking his own head to mirror Kid.

They ride on in companionable silence.  

---oooOOOooo---

On another trail …not far from Harristown this time

“You seem to know this country …real well Sheriff” says the Bounty Hunter, breaking the silence that had lasted between them since breakfast; neither man being much of a talker.  Lom had covered the ground here like he knew just where Heyes and Curry would go.

Lom had been happy to follow the Bounty Hunter at first, but as their tracking, and their many enquires had lead them nearer and nearer to Devils Hole country, and especially now they were in the surrounds of Harris Town, he’d taken more and more of the lead.  This was his old stamping ground after all.  

‘How much does he know …or thinks he knows …about my past?’ Lom eyes his companion warily.   The closer they’d come to finding Heyes and Curry, the more Lom’s been feeling unease about his choice of trail partner.  

He knows nothing about this man, except that he’s very free with the bullets when it comes to men wanted dead or alive.  That and that he’d saved Lom’s life of course.  He could’ve just asked the Bounty Hunter where he’d last located Heyes and Curry’s trail: Could’ve gone on alone.  

Lom suspects he’s brought this man along because he can’t trust himself to pull the trigger on Heyes, if it comes to a showdown…

“I’ve tracked many an outlaw through here” he lies easily. “Devils Hole draws them in …it’s like moths to a flame.”

They’d lucked out.  One of the horses they’d been tracking, had thrown a shoe and the repair was easily identifiable in the hoof print.  They’d seen it clearly in a sand bar at the side of a small stream a couple of hours back.  Now, Lom was off his horse, looking at an abandoned track heading up from the trail.  He’d found that same mark in the first soft earth he’d come to.  

‘They must be holed up at the old Horsehead mine’ he thinks.

He’s just trying to decide whether to lead the Bounty Hunter off to Harristown now, and come back after dark on his own; when his companion blows out a low whistle just over his right shoulder.

“Looks like that’s them Sheriff.  Where’s this track lead?” says an enthusiastic Bounty Hunter.

“Abandoned mine …but we should lay low …go in after dark” says Lom rather tersely.

---oooOOOooo---
After dark

Lom sees the horses first, only two, then two sleeping forms by the glowing logs of a low fire.  

‘Both sleeping, they must feel secure this close to the Hole’ is his first thought but again doubt niggles at the back of Lom’s mind.  ‘Why are they here?  Why aren’t they heading straight back to the impenetrable fortress, Devils Hole itself?’ 

“I want to talk to them first” he whispers, eyeing the pistol in the Bounty Hunters hand.  He waves his companion round to the other side of the fire.

Kyle rolls over and snorts loudly.  

The Bounty Hunter cocks his pistol, alarming Lom, who walks swiftly forward and presses his own pistol to Wheats forehead, cocking the hammer

Lom loses the tight knot in his stomach as he realises this isn’t Heyes.  Wheat’s eyes fly open.  The Bounty Hunter has Kyle by the arm and is pulling him to his feet.  Lom assumes control to keep things calm.  

“I’m sorry to disturb you… err …gentlemen …my compatriot and I have been tracking a couple of notorious outlaws …we must have crossed their trail with yours.” Lom warns Wheat with his eyes to stay silent. “These here aren’t Heyes and Curry” he calls over to the Bounty Hunter, uncocking the pistol and letting the barrel drop into the holster.

The Bounty hunter pulls Kyle closer to the fire, his own pistol still covering both outlaws.  As Lom’s compatriot comes into the light, Wheat’s eyes go wide in recognition.

“No, they ain’t Heyes and Curry” agrees the Bounty Hunter “But …they’re sure to be Devils Hole Gang Sheriff …if I can just bring to mind …” He swings his gaze between Wheat and Kyle, the pistol steady on Kyles middle. 

“Yes” a slow smile comes to the Bounty Hunters lips. “Do you know who we got here Sheriff?”

Kyle’s not really awake yet, his eyes just starting to adjust to the gloom. 

Wheat sighs heavily.  Lom gives him a brief glance of resignation. He knows who they are all right, and he isn’t at all keen to be arresting men he’s rode with.  Call it honour amongst thieves, or just a healthy respect for not wanting a bullet in his back any time soon. Lom wants out of there, and quickly. 

“No” he says coldly.

“Well I do.  This here is…” 

Wheat closes his eyes, all but putting up his hands.  

“…Moondance Mertry …the gang’s explosives expert!”

Kyle’s face lights up with pride and he stands a little taller, grinning over at Lom and Wheat.  Wheat looks poleaxed that the Bounty Hunter hadn’t remembered his name, then seeing Kyle’s smug face starts to fume.

“Which means this other one gotta be in the gang also… I’ve studied all the dodgers on that gang, I should …Yes!” 

Wheat stands tall, smiles briefly at Kyle then glares across at the Bounty Hunter in defiance. 

“That there …is the Preacher …I’m sure of it!” pronounces the Bounty Hunter.

Kyle giggles. 

Lom rolls his eyes.  

Wheat resumes fuming.

“Well …you might be right …I suppose…” says Lom, thinking fast.  “Why don’t you …take their guns …and go settle our horses.  I’ll get these two tied up secure …and tomorrow …I’ll be taking them back to Porterville with me for formal identification.” 

“We’ll need to discuss the rewards Sheriff” says the Bounty Hunter, making it sound like a challenge. “Think I got their dodgers there in my saddlebags…I’ll take a look.” 

Taking the guns, he leaves for the horses.

“Lom, do you know who that is? Coz I sure do” spits Wheat as soon as the Bounty Hunter is out of sight.  “He never takes no one in alive.  He’s one of the worst killers I ever come across! … And you brung him here? …To us?”

“Hush down both of you” commands Lom, beginning to tie up Wheat. “You’re my prisoners. Not his.” 

Kyle’s still bathing in the Bounty Hunter’s use of the word expert, and hasn’t realised Lom isn’t even holding a gun on him.  

“I’ll take you back down the trail tomorrow.  Not all my prisoners reach jail.  Sometimes …I kinda lose them…” Lom sounds like he can hardly believe what he’s saying.

Wheat sighs out his relief.  Kyle sits down next to Wheat and offers his wrists. “That’s right kindly of you Lom” he smiles.  

Lom scowls back at him. “It’s Heyes and Curry I’m after.  If The Kid’s got trigger happy …killing passengers …I just may need me a killer on my side…” Lom says bitterly, more to himself than Wheat and Kyle.

“It ain’t The Kid doing the killing Lom” says Kyle a little too loudly.  “It’s Weaver’s two gun heads …calling their selves Heyes ‘n’ Curry.  Weaver done run Wheat ‘n’ me off.”

“Weaver’s gang is at Devil’s Hole now?” says Lom equally loudly.  

The Bounty Hunter, who’s striding back to the fire with a sheaf of Devils Hole Gang dodgers, stops mid track.  

“Weaver? Clint Weaver?  I got his dodger too…” and with that he turns on his heels and heads back to the horses.

“Did Heyes put you up to this?” spits Lom into Kyles face as soon as they’re alone again.  He pulls the knots round Kyle’s wrists a bit too tight.  “I’ve had just about all I can take of Heyes’ hogwash scheming…”

“Kyle’s telling you the truth Lom …we got Heyes ‘n’ The Kid outta Louvides coz …well …he’s helping us …he’s trying to …sort things out …before the Governor hears about the killings …and he…”

“So,” Lom fixes Wheat with a triumphant stare. “You have been working with Heyes ‘n’ The Kid!”

“We ain’t” pleads Kyle, finally realising Lom must be very upset by the tightness of his bonds.  “It was just a telegram to say they’d found…” 

Wheat groaned, closing his eyes.  “Shut up Kyle!”

Lom smiles, searching Wheats pockets.  He finds the yellow slip of paper and quickly reads the message, stuffing it back in his own pocket.

“Yellow Dog Gulch …4th July …the whole family …how touching.  And he still using Smith.  Thinks it’s a joke now does he!  Looks like I got here just in time to prevent another train load of passengers from being threatened ...or even killed.  What is it to be this time. Payroll train, Silver, Gold?”  He didn’t get or expect answers; he’s got them both gagged with their own bandanas.  

The Bounty Hunter comes back, looking through Weaver Gang dodgers.

“Change of plan …I’m taking these two in now” Lom states matter of factly, pulling Wheat back to his feet.  “You can come by Porterville in a couple of weeks …if these are Moondance and The Preacher, I’ll organise the rewards for you…” 

And with that, he marches Wheat and Kyle to their horses. 

The Bounty Hunter looks mightily confused. ‘Didn’t make sense for the sheriff to want to start back in the dark.  There wasn’t any need for hurry.  Why would he risk the horses like that?’ 

He chewed at the cigar, then spat out the stub.  He’d made up his mind. 

To follow, 
                discretely.  
---oooOOOooo---

Many days later: Nearing the end of the trail to Yellow Dog Gulch 

“Should reach Yellow Dog Gulch sometime tomorrow” opines Kid.  “We could make an early camp, start out again first light.” 

Heyes is only too ready to get out of the saddle; he takes a look about them and agrees.  “Here seems as good a place as any” he says, leaping down from the saddle to a two footed landing. “$& %£ $$£%$£% %&?$£!” he swears loudly.  

The snake hadn’t taken kindly to Heyes landing on its tail. It had lunged reflexively, sinking its fangs into the butternut clad leg, just above the boot, off-loading all its full sacks of venom.

Kid’s off his horse, Colt in hand in seconds, but he daren’t try to shoot at the snake’s head.  He can’t get a decent shot in without shooting Heyes’ leg in the process.

Haff’s also off his horse, knife in hand, and the snake loses its grip on Heyes’ leg at the same time, as its head loses its grip on the rest of its body. Haff flings the writhing body away in disgust, kicking the head away for good measure.

Heyes, still swearing loudly, is starting to punctuate expletives with wails of pain.  He’s collapsed to the floor, Kid rushing to support his shoulders.

“Keep his head up!” barks Wong.  “His heart must remain higher than the wound.”

“That was a full load of venom Wong.  Got his leg, not the boot!” Kid sounds panicked.

Haff’s knife works up the trouser leg to reveal two deep puncture holes high up on Heyes’ calf.   Heyes’ breathing has already become rapid. Almost a pant. He’s groaning pathetically and begins to sweat profusely as his skin turns pale. Kid holds Heyes close, thinking his partner’s sure to pass out soon, but Heyes’ eyes suddenly shoot open again, a short scream of agony escaping his lips as he tries to wrench Kid’s arm off.  

Haff has inserted his blade between the puncture holes and has opened up the wound.  Heyes’ can’t form words, his jaw is set in the rictus of shock but his eyes plead with The Kid to ‘Get the mad man off me!’

“What did you do that for?!” demands Kid of Haff viciously.

“It needs to bleed out the venom” states Wong, placing a calming hand on Kid’s shoulder and nodding to Haff. 

“You have to suck it out now!” Haff shouts at Curry.

“What?!” Kid looks lost.  

Heyes isn’t letting go of his partner.  He’s lost in pain, his eyes starting to roll back in his head.

Haff rolls his own eyes in disgust at Heyes’ reticent partner …and kin …and grabs Heyes’ leg wrenching another scream of pain from his lips.  He sucks blood from the wound and spits it out dramatically; the lower half of his face quickly becoming covered in Heyes’ blood.  

Haff’s never looked more like a …savage.  

Heyes’ eyes roll forward; he’s clinging on to both Kids arms for grim death.  His eyes fill with disgust and incredulity as he follows Haff’s progress. He fights to get his breathing under control and seemingly by sheer force of will, finds a voice.  

“Get him off me!” he squeals pathetically, swaying his pleading gaze between Wong and Kid.

“He may have just saved your life Mr Heyes” reassures Wong.  “Try to remain calm.”

“You remain calm!  He ain’t chewing on your leg!” shouts Heyes finding his own voice at last. “Kid?!”

“Enough!” orders Kid, pushing Haff off Heyes.

Haff stands up, looking down at the two ex-outlaw cousins, and rubbing the blood off his face with a sleeve.  With a disappointed shake of his head, he turns to vomit profusely into the rocks at the side of the trail.

---oooOOOooo---

Not long after – they’ve made a very rudimentary camp – The quiet ambiance of the early evening is punctuated by Heyes’ rasping breaths

“What do you think?” asks Kid, kneeling at Heyes’ side looking up at Wong.

“It may be too early to tell yet …or it may be …that …as he isn’t dead already …he may yet survive” answered Wong rather unhelpfully.  “I’m not at all certain …how such a snake’s venom poisons a body …but I think we should take it as a hopeful sign …that he is after all …still breathing.”

Kid looks back to his cousin’s pale face.  Heyes’ eyes are open but look unfocused.  Kid feels more worried than ever, as he slowly realizes that the healer doesn’t know any more than he does himself.  

He narrows his eyes, trying to see some hope in what Wong had said. 

“Yeah …I’d say still breathing …is definitely a good sign…” he says quietly, squeezing Heyes’ arm.  Heyes’ grip on his partner is like a vice.  His knuckles white.

“He needs a shaman” states Haff firmly.  “Old enemies …require the old remedies.”

Heyes, who’s conscious, but having to bend his whole mind towards remembering to breath, closes his eyes with a heavy sigh.  He’s already had his fill of Indian …medicine… his leg feels like someone’s trying to brand him and the pain’s spreading.  The voices around him are getting further and further away.  Somewhere behind him, at the end of a long tunnel, Kid’s arguing with Mr Wong about taking his partner into Yellow Dog Gulch on the slim hope they may have a doctor.  

In the back of Heyes’ mind is the idea that there was more chance of finding a hang man’s rope for both of them in a town like Yellow Dog Gulch than a doctor.  “No …no..” he whispers through dry lips.  Well he thinks he’s saying it out loud.

Kid’s also realised taking Heyes into a town may just end badly for both of them.  He’s torn.  Gut wrenchingly worried and unsure what to do next.  Terrified that Heyes won’t make it through the night without help.

Haff is loudly giving Wong his opinion of the situation in a stream of their own Apache Chinese Mexican dialogue, whilst saddling Heyes horse and preparing his own.  

They’re ignoring Kid now.  

The conversation abruptly ends.  

“Kid!” calls Haff from the horses.

Kid looks up at Haff, and that’s when his whole World goes black.

---oooOOOooo---
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The Long Road Back - Part Four - Sharper Than a Serpents Tooth - 4200 words
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