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 The Long Road Back - Part Seven - Yeller dog - 4500 words

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Cal

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PostSubject: The Long Road Back - Part Seven - Yeller dog - 4500 words   Wed Feb 15, 2017 5:31 am

---oooOOOooo---

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

---oooOOOooo---
Part seven
Yeller Dog
---oooOOOooo---


The town of Yellow Dog Gulch lay in a small valley between high cliffs. The town buildings partially lining the cliffs on one side, making it seem impossible for them to have back yards or even rear doors.  Wong had passed a sign proclaiming the population to be Eighty-six, but he could see very few citizens in evidence.

He was dressed in the western suit, with the glasses and a false beard.  He could easily be mistaken for a traveling whiskey drummer or a seller of fine goods perhaps.  

He made his way slowly down the main drag between a saloon and a barber, a mercantile and a land office.  No Sheriff’s office he noted. The town’s only livery quickly came into view. 

Mercifully it had a raised mounting block.

Safely on the ground, he pulled the big mare into the barn out of the late morning sun.  He was happy to spot Kyle’s small dun mare stabled with a big roan, which Wong took to be Wheats.  

He smiled.  It was, after all, past the fourth of July, but it seemed the pair had stayed on in town to await them.  

Good.

Given the hour, Wong felt that Wheat and Kyle would probably be dozing over at the Hotel rather than in the saloon, so he crossed the street to a rather shabby two storey building, backing onto the cliff.  It was rather grandly called The Estoria. Wong thought ‘flea pit’ would have been more apt.  Never mind, he had no intension of sleeping between its, no doubt, grubby sheets.

“S’pose you’ll be wanting a room?” said the tall willowy clerk at the desk, looking wearily down at the top of Wong’s hat.

“Yes, and one for my man also, when he’s settled the wagon. I have had a long and eventful journey. When he comes, see he brings all my luggage up to my room immediately.  I’ll be taking dinner in my room promptly at Eight thirty.  Till then I have no wish to be disturbed.”

“Err…ok … Prof-es-sor…err..” the clerk couldn’t read the scrawl Wong had made in the register, but the waspish little man seemed the sort to make trouble, if not pacified.

“Will that be all?”

“Erm…A newspaper!” barked Wong seeing the newspaper the clerk was reading on the back table.

The clerk looked a little annoyed, but took the thin sheet from the table behind the desk and folded it rather deliberately, to pass it to his new guest along with the room key.

Wong was still studying the other names in the register, he had needed just a little more time.  Reading newsprint, he’d mastered: Writing in one swirling continuous line was beyond him, apart from a few practiced words.  Civilised writing was an art requiring a soft pointed brush and the blackest of flowing inks, in his opinion.  He also found reading the handwriting of other difficult, but he was almost sure, that Wheat’s hand wasn’t amongst those on the much blotted page.  ‘Perhaps they were camping out of town?’ he thought.

He turned on his heel, snapping the paper under one arm, and quickly mounted the stairs to find the room he taken for himself.  Once there, he transformed himself into Wong, the Professor’s man servant, carefully removing the beard and spectacles, and donning the grey robes that had been wound around his middle to fill out the professor’s generously waisted pants.  

He slipped out of a side door and worked his way systematically around the drinking and eating holes of Yellow Dog Gulch, looking for Wheat and Kyle.  They were nowhere to be found.  Finally, he went back to check that their horses were still at the livery. 

“She’s a beaut’ ain’t she?” said the old fella with the broom, seeing Wong’s interest in Kyle’s mare.  “Them outlaws sure know how to pick a good horse.”

“Outlaws?”

“Oh yes…them’s the horses of Moondance Murtry and Wheat Carlson…from the Devil’s Hole gang!” pronounced the old fella grandly.

“Really? fascinating.” Wong didn’t turn to face the man, the fewer people that saw his face, in any guise, the better. “Do outlaws drink in Yeller Dog often?”

“Lord sakes…. they ain’t here drinkin’! That Texan, Sherriff Trevor’s got them roped down safer than a pair of hogs …over at the undertakers. That there big spotted brute belongs to him.” Laughed the old timer pointing his broom handle at Lom’s wary appaloosa.

“Moondance and Carlson are dead?!” Wong couldn’t keep the shock out of his voice. “I …didn’t know.”

“No …I see you’re a stranger to these parts Sonny …or you’d ‘ve known …undertaker’s nearest thing we got to a jail …here abouts.  That room where Deke stores the bodies ‘fore he buries them …its built straight into the cliff…might chilly …but makes a fine cell.  Even Moondance couldn’t dynamite himself outta there!  Sheriff Trevor’s there now, watchin’ his prisoners …and he’s payin’ me to watch them there horses for him.”  

The old man nodded over at his charges who seemed to realise they were being discussed.  The horses’ heads were up, ears forward looking back at the men. 

Wong hadn't missed the name. 'How many Sheriff Trevor's could there be in Wyoming?'

“I got to let him know …if any of them Devils Hole gang hootyowls come sneaking around looking fer …Carlson or Moondance” said the old timer with pride. “If I spot …Kid Curry or …Hannibal Heyes …I got to get me over to the undertakers real quick.”

“That sounds like a whole lot of responsibility to me, friend …and dangerous too.  I sure hope he’s paying you well.” 

Wong turned slightly to assess the elderly stable hand’s size and weight, he wasn’t much more than tobacco stains and bones. He fixed his new friend with a conspiratorial grin.  

“I’ve heard some terrible things about that pair.  You’d have to be mighty brave to face them.”  Wong took a flask out of his bag and pretended to drink like just the thought of facing Heyes and Curry required a bolstering swallow.  

He smiled, offering the flask to his companion.   

“I’m supposed to be brushing down that horse over there.  Luckily for me, my boss has no idea how long that should take” he confided with another smile.  “We could watch the horses together for a while if you like.  Toast your bravery…” he raised the flask in salute.

The Old timer grinned a single toothed grin, and took long pull on the offered flask.  Within three swigs, he was out cold, snoring up a storm in the corner of an empty stall.  Wong corked the flask with satisfaction, setting the old timers hat over his open mouth to muffle some of the raucous sound. 

He’d be out for hours.

Then Wong set about readying the horses, planning to take them, one at a time, to a water trough at the edge of town, just a stone’s throw from the undertakers. They had to be ready for a quick getaway after all. This was no mean feat for so diminutive a man, especially trying to saddle the sheriff’s ornery appaloosa, who didn’t want to cooperate at all.  

Wong took his time.  Haff had told him horses stayed calm if you stayed calm; easier said than done when facing those big teeth with a complicated bit.  Not for the first time this trip, Wong cursed their decision to be parted from their mules. Such quiet, cooperative, small animals. 

Mules he could understand.

At last he found himself walking the last horse slowly and quietly to join the others at the trough, not wanting to draw the least attention to it, or himself.  He gave his reticent charges a final withering look and admonished them to remain quiet and unobtrusive.  

And so it was quite a long time later, before Wong could return to the Hotel, to resume his role of the ornery Professor. He rewound the grey robes around his girth and threw the newspaper and his few personal possessions back into his bag.  He stomped down the wooden stairs and accosted the desk clerk.

“My man! I was robbed on my way to this god forsaken …what passes for a town in this back water …Where is your sheriff? …I will need to report the crime.”

“We don’t have no regular sheriff, Sir…but happen you’re in luck …we got us a visiting sheriff over at the undertakers …along the street there …just look for the coffins out front” shouted the clerk to Wong’s back as he exited the building.  

Wong wasted no time, he marched to the end of the street and pushed through the door of the undertakers.  

“Sheriff? Sheriff I have a complaint of the highest order, that will require your immediate attention!”

Lom looked up from his coffee, to the commotion over at the door.  The rectangle of light was filled with the shape of a be-suited, small, rotund figure, carrying a bag and waving a cane, shouting about a complaint.  

He’d stepped over to the stove for a coffee not five minutes before, in an effort to stay awake; now he berated himself for the weakness.  

He’d been keeping a constant …well near constant …vigil on the road approaching the town, expecting Heyes and Curry to come riding in, bold as brass, to meet Kyle and Wheat on the fourth of July.  Well that was day or two ago now.  

This shouting citizen was a distraction he didn’t need.

“Sir…I’m not the sheriff here …I’m just passing through…”

“I beg to differ Sir. That is a Sheriff’s badge you wearing, is it not?  And …you are most certainly NOT just passing through.  You appear to be drinking coffee!”  Wong shook the thin cane at Lom’s steaming mug.  

Lom saw that there was no gun belt slung around the rather rotund middle of his visitor, and he could see no other threat.  Best to deal with the man as quickly as possible, and move him along.  These self-important business types could usually be assuaged with just a little attention. 

He took a swig from his coffee with a deep sigh, put down the mug and walked over to the desk at the back of the room, to look for some writing materials.  

“If you’d like to give me some details, Mr…erm?” he began, but he got no further.

Despite his apparent bulk, Lom’s visitor had crossed the gap between them with lightning speed and had cracked the sheriff on the head, whirling the slim cane with practiced skill.  

Wong rapidly located the keys to the rear room in the desk drawer and got the door opened.  

The room beyond was pitch black.  He found Wheat and Kyle, shivering in their blankets on low cots, squinting up at him against the glare from the office door.

“I’m going to need you two gentlemen, to help me get your sheriff friend here, aboard his horse” smiled Wong in greeting.

“Mr Wong! Are you a sight for sore eyes!” smiled Wheat. 

Kyle smiled weakly but looked a bit traumatised by his nights in the dark, with the coffins.

---oooOOOooo---

The Bounty Hunter, well-hidden across the street, watched with interest as Moondance Murtry, The Preacher and a diminutive accomplice, threw the apparently ‘dead’ body of Sheriff Trevors over his horse and quietly left town.  

‘That’s gotta be The Chinaman.  Not Heyes and Curry themselves?’ he thought.

He’d been right to follow the Sheriff.  The first night out he’d realised Lom wasn’t headed for Porterville, but he’d kept his prisoners tied up and under close guard, finally depositing them at the undertakers here in Yellow Dog Gulch; a very defendable jailhouse. Bait?  The Bounty Hunter had used that storeroom himself. Of course his prisoners had always been dead. 

Shame he’d not been able to save the Sheriff this time, but then again, the sheriff hadn’t levelled with him.  He’d tried to lure Heyes and Curry in alone.  Take all the reward for himself.

‘Very foolish.’

He’d had the horses staked out for over an hour, waiting for the gang’s play.  That Chinaman must be one ornery cuss to get the drop on the big Sheriff.  He looked at the small figure on the large boned mare and saw another $2000, wanted alive, unfortunately.  

He’d already banked the $10,000 for the brothers Platt in his head, though he was yet to collect on it, and could easily add the rewards for the three across the street to the pot. A very acceptable haul. He blessed the day he decided to try his luck in Wyoming.  

And, he still may yet get a chance, at Heyes and Curry. Then a new thought occurred to him.  He wondered if the rewards on these three would be increased, once the murder of a serving law officer was added to their warrants.  

‘And then it would be Dead or Alive’ he sneered.  ‘Best just to watch for a while. After all, wherever they’re headed next, everywhere was a few days ride away from Yellow Dog Gulch.  I can bring them back in dead, after the news gets out about the sheriff and the rewards go up.’ 

He faded back to collect his own horse.

---oooOOOooo---

Kid had started out for Yellow Dog Gulch straight away.  

He knew every inch of this wild country.  He stuck to lone trails shared only with rabbits and a few wild horses, alert for any sounds that would indicate he was in company.  

His chin was covered in a week’s growth of wispy red curls and he hadn’t bathed in a while so his face was covered in trail dust, but there were still just too many people around here that would know him on sight. Better to be over cautious.  Yellow Dog Gulch was only a half day’s ride away by the main trail, closer to a day this way. 

He snaked across the main trail from time to time looking to see if three riders had passed recently.  He didn’t want to miss Wong, Wheat and Kyle coming back to their small camp.  

Kid’s objective was clear, find Wong, find Heyes.  

Nothing else mattered.

After about six hours in the saddle, he decided to stop and brew coffee, fry some bacon. His stomach felt bottomless and had been groaning loudly.  Someone might hear.  He was getting the fixings out of his pack when he heard the jangle of harness, hooves passing at the gallop, one loan rider.  

He dropped everything, took up his rifle and went to investigate.

---oooOOOooo---

“I think we should have left Lom in Yeller Dog” opined Kyle.  

Mr Wong had given Lom a drink from his flask, and the big sheriff had remained unconscious ever since.  Kyle hadn’t liked the way Lom had kept them trussed up and then put them in that cold dark cave room.  Lom had said he was going to let them get away.  Well now they had got away, they should be high tailing it.

“Mr Heyes… well that is to say … Mr Curry will need to speak with his friend.” said Wong patiently.

“FRIEND?! You know Lom set that trap for Heyes and The Kid” stated Wheat. “And I don’t think he was fixing on doing any talking.  He thinks they’re murderers!”

“Yes.” 

Wong looked at the unconscious Sheriff, who had manned the undertaker’s office in Yeller Dog for days like it was the last days of the Alamo. Thought about the near dead ex-gang leader fighting for his life at an Indian encampment somewhere and the near uncontrollably angry gunslinger he’d left untied back at the camp, and wondered how he was ever going to get anybody to talk to each other without bloodshed.  

It’d taken days to pacify Curry sufficiently, to hypnotise him, and there was no guarantee he’d wait at the camp as instructed.  There’d been no news from Haff about Heyes.  If Heyes was dead? Well, Curry might just prove Trevors right, by murdering Wong.  

“But we must try” he stated simply, more to himself than the others.

“So …we’re going back to your camp …to find Haff?” asked Kyle.

‘And …an extremely agitated gunslinger…’ thought Wong nervously.

“Correct, Mr Kyle.  Then with Mr Wheat’s help, I will be seeking solutions for your problems” confirmed Wong cheerfully.

Wheat sat taller in the saddle and smiled.  He knew Mr Wong would appreciate his help with the planning. 

Kyle beamed back at his clever partner. Things seemed to be working out just fine. 

Back on track.

---oooOOOooo---

The Bounty Hunter watched closely as the three below pulled off the trail to brew coffee in the early evening gloom.  The sheriffs body still hung limp over his saddle.  They didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get anywhere, tonight.  

He rested the rifle against the rock and got himself comfortable to keep watch.

---oooOOOooo---

Kid recognised the man immediately, the Mexican blanket, the wide brimmed round black hat.  If he was another kind of man, a bullet in the back from here would be a mercy to the World.  Kid sited his rifle on the hat, then let the barrel fall.  He sighed deeply. This was a complication.  

He’d skirt around, see who the Bounty hunter was fixing to bushwhack this time.  

One thing he knew for certain, if there had been any pictures of Heyes and himself on their wanted dodgers, this man would have shot them dead the day he’d bushwhacked them.  

He’d taken great delight in telling them that himself.  

It was only Heyes’ silver tongue that had set doubts in the man’s mind, kept them both alive for that uncomfortable journey from Trappers rest to Louvides.

Kid rubbed at his sore wrists. Strangely anger didn’t come.  He felt calm.  

He moved around some tall rocks to look down into the basin where three men were starting a fire to brew coffee. There was Wong. He’d found Wong.  He knew where Heyes was.  He needed to find Heyes next. Kid smiled with satisfaction.

That was Wheat and Kyle too …and was Lom …dead?!  Wong had a lot of questions to answer. Kid felt his anger rise briefly, followed just as quickly by calm, clear thinking and cold resignation.  

He could see his path clearly.  

He removed his boots and un-holstered the Colt.  Apache like he approached the Bounty Hunter till he was close enough to reach out and grab that hat if he so chose.  What he actually did was cock the Colt, as it’s muzzle pressed into the Bounty Hunter’s temple.  

The Bounty Hunters eyes went wide as he recognised Kid.  

“Well …this here’s sure a surprise” he said “Wasn’t thinkin’ to be meeting you again just yet …Mr Jones …or is it Kid Curry?”

Kid smiled inwardly, seemed Heyes’ ruse with the alibi hadn’t gone unnoticed.  There were four of them down there, including Lom.  Kid wasn’t prepared to believe the sheriff was dead till he’d seen it for himself.  Wheat and Kyle wouldn’t take kindly to him interrogating Wong to find out where Heyes was.  Things could get a bit heated. 

Kid saw an opportunity clearly.

“Oh …its Jones.  Deputy Thaddeus Jones.  That’s my boss down there slung over his horse. I’m sorry we had to leave you in the dark about that, but we had to make it look good to lure the gang to Louvides. The marshal’s plan went wrong. Didn’t think they’d use that much dynamite.  Lucky for me, seems I look just enough like Kid Curry to be taken for him, even by his gang, when I’m covered in soot and dust from an explosion.  You remember my partner Smith, the talker?”

The Bounty Hunter nodded.  Heyes had dam near talked his ears off till he’d gagged him.

“Well I got away but he wasn’t so lucky.  He looks an awful lot like Hannibal Heyes.  I think the gang are planning to use him to fake Heyes’ death in the next robbery. Take the heat off.  The Chinaman down there …he knows where the Devil’s apache’s taken my partner …so you see …I need them alive …all of them …you understand …you’re gonna help me …but remember…no killing.”

Kid holstered the gun.  

The Bounty Hunter looked poleaxed.  

“You’re really not Kid Curry? Well I’ll be …when I saw you just now …I thought I was dead fer sure…You’re really not Kid Curry?”

“No …like I said …Deputy Jones …are you gonna help me or not? I’m going to need you down there to cover…”

“Moondance and The Preacher…”

“Err …yes.  While I question The Chinaman about my partner …and check on Lom of course.”

“Oh he’s dead.  Sorry Deputy Jones, The Chinaman killed your boss in Yeller Dog.  My guess is they’re out here to dump the body.”

---oooOOOooo---
Lom had been forgotten about.  

His head felt heavy and he was sorely tempted to lift it and relieve his neck muscles.  Nobody knew he was conscious again and that was the only advantage he could see that he had. So he’d wait his time.

He heard new voices hailing the party. One he recognised.  So, The Kid was here, was he?  Come to crow…

“Wong? We’ve got some unfinished business …Where’s my partner?”

‘Kid doesn’t know where Heyes is’ thought Lom ‘Maybe that’s why he’s gone off the rails …power struggles inside the gang.  He’s been killing passengers to show…’

“Now wait a minute there K..” Wheat started, seeing the rifle in Kids hands pointing at Wong.

“Preacher!” called the Bounty Hunter “You and Moondance just get your hands up where I can see them.

‘I know that voice’ thought Lom, though his head was pounding and he felt nauseous. ‘Could be Weaver?’

“You’re working with him!” squealed Kyle “He’s a killer!”

‘Got to be Weaver’ confirmed Lom to himself.

Kid ignored the outlaws, pulling Wong over towards Lom.  Kid felt for a pulse in Lom’s neck and found a warm neck and a strong pulse.  

“Drugged …huh, Wong?” sneered Curry “You like playing games with people don’t you.  Drugging them.  Get them to …think things.  Where’s Haff taken my partner? And no more games, this time I need real answers.” 

Kid lifted the small man by the scruff of his jacket, glaring.

There was a scuffle behind. Both Kid and Wong turned to look. 

Wheat had thrown his considerable weight at the Bounty Hunter and was wrestling him on the ground; the gun was still in the Bounty Hunters hand. 

Seems the bounty Hunter hadn’t had much experience with live prisoners, his preferred method being to shoot from distance. 

Kyle was stamping and kicking the hand, while Wheat shouted “Get the gun!” In the end, Kyle decided to just pistol whip the Bounty Hunter on the back of his head the first time he rolled on top.  Kyle reached to help his partner stand.

Both outlaws adjusted their weapons and stood as one to face down Kid Curry.

“Put Mr Wong down Kid” menaced Wheat.

“Yeah Kid …if’n you got a fight with Mr Wong …well then you’re gonna have to come through us!” snarled Kyle. 

Kid looked at the unconscious Bounty Hunter with disgust, he’d only given him a simple job.  Then he eyed his former gang members with disdain. 

“What? He knows where Heyes is.  I got to find Heyes …and he’s going to tell me…” Kid turned back to Wong his mind fully on the task ahead.

“Kid!” Wheat took up the gunnie stance chewing his moustache.  “Mr Wong stand aside …if I have to draw on you Kid …I will…” 

Wheat was sweating, but he stood firm.  Mr Wong had long ago earned his respect and his loyalty.  Mr Wong had treated him with respect, listened to his ideas, no one was going to man handle him, not even …Kid Curry.

“Gentlemen there is no need…” began Wong, circling away from Kid.

“Wheat …you know I could out draw you left handed…” drawled Kid incredulously, almost smiling, putting down the rifle and straightening up to face Wheat.

“But there’s two of us” gulped Kyle.

“You can all hold it right there…” came a shaky voice from behind all of them.  Lom stood swaying, holding Kids rifle, by the appaloosa.  “Mr Wong, is it? I’m guessing as you came to break these two out of Yeller Dog, you want to keep them alive.  Well just go round up all the guns and bring them over here, to me.”

Wong walked behind Wheat and Kyle taking their guns, then approached Kid.  He stopped in his tracks seeing Kids cold glare. Kid looked at Lom.

Lom’s eyes were squinted up against the falling sun.  Kid watched, recognising the look and remembered how awful he’d felt when he’d woken from one of Mr Wong’s drugged sleeps.

“Lom, you can’t even see straight …never mind shoot straight.  Which one of me are you fixing to aim at, I bet you see three of me.  You’re feeling nauseous too …huh?  You can barely stand.  And look at your hands …they’re all swollen …don’t think you could even squeeze a trigger …if you wanted to.” 

He was very calm and clear headed as he walked slowly towards the Sheriff.

“You finally turned murderer Kid…” said Lom with a gasp, biting his teeth together less he hurl.  “I’m not surprised Heyes has left you… You couldn’t wait for the amnesty …”

Kid saw the hand twitch, his eyes wide in surprise that Lom would try to pull the trigger on him.  He moved like lightning lifting the barrel to the sky.  But, as Kid had hoped, Lom’s hands were swollen from hanging down from the saddle all day, the fingers a mass of pins and needles, useless.

Kid stared into Lom’s hate filled eyes …calmly …and sighed.  “Lom …I’ve had to kill …but then, so have you … I’ve never murdered …would never murder …you should know that.” 

He pulled the rifle from Lom’s numb grasp.  Lom finally released the bravado he’d fought to maintain, and collapsed to his knees, retching his stomach up. 

Kid turned to the others, still feeling remarkably calm even though Wong had returned Wheat and Kyle’s guns.  

“Wong if you don’t tell me where Haff’s taken Heyes …so help me …” 

“I think we are all about to find out, how Mr Heyes has fared” said Wong quietly, pointing to the top of the rim above them.  “Haff, it seems, has found us.”

Kid looked up at the familiar silhouette of Wong’s partner and felt his stomach lurch into his throat, his blood start to rush through his veins like a runaway train as his heart began to pound against the wall of his chest.  No longer feeling calm or in control, he wondered if he was ready to hear Heyes’ fate.

---oooOOOooo---
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