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Join date : 2016-10-21
|Subject: The Long Road Back - Part Nine - The Devils Witness - 4600 words Wed Feb 15, 2017 5:35 am|| |
(Haff & Wong seven)
The Devils Witness
---oooOOOooo---“Heyes,” Kid looked worried. “If my dime novel is so darn …banal… then how come you’re using it to help plan us a way out of this mess? You said it was …a ludicrous plot …that would never have worked!”“That’s right, Kid” smiled Heyes. “You see, The Devil’s Witness …relies on this uppity deputy sheriff …riding into Devils Hole …and fooling Hannibal Heyes and the other fella …into believing he’s gone bad …and wants to help the gang to rob a gold shipment …That’s just ludicrous. We’d never have fallen for something as obvious and stupid as that!”Kid looked sceptical. He was cleaning the gun again, this time it was very much in pieces, while Heyes slowly hobbled around the tent in a pale imitation of his usual pacing.“No …my plan’s completely different …It relies on known outlaws … known Devils Hole gang members …foolin’ Clint Weaver …into believing …they’re still bad …and greedy enough to ask fer help …to rob a gold shipment …It’s a completely different proposal …Even you might’ve fallen for that one… and …we know Weaver didn’t make any pay from that last shambles he planned… so he’s gonna have to come up with the goods again real soon... or face a lot o’ trouble.”Kid’s a tough audience, that’s why he’s been so useful to Heyes over the years, when he’s been making plans. He pursed his lips, deep in thought. “I don’t know Heyes, it’s asking an awful lot of Wheat and Kyle” he opined. “Weaver might just shoot them on sight when they go riding back into Devils Hole. There’s been plenty of other killings …You heard what Wheat said …Weaver’s already threatened to shoot Kyle once …and that was just fer calling him Squint!”Heyes narrowed his eyes, fixing Kid with that ‘I’ve already thought through all the angles’ look.“Kid …You read what the newspaper said, about that disaster on the 4th of July …Weaver made an absolute dogs dinner of blowing that safe… He killed two of the guards … flattened the baggage car … and left that safe unscratched!” Heyes shook his head at the waste and the stupidity. “No … you’ll see Kid; he’ll welcome ol’ Moondance Mertry, the ‘explosives expert’ and his case of the good stuff, back to Devils Hole with open arms. He knows he needs him!”“May be Heyes …but he don’t need Wheat. Wheat …he’s sure to shoot.” Kid looked up and smiled, he knew he was playing devil’s advocate.“Wheat?” Heyes gave this one a bit more thought searching his motives a second time. “Well …Wheat knows how to handle himself, Kid. I got every confidence that Wheat can do this.” Heyes returned Kid’s smile, for the irony in that statement. “Wheat can sell this gold shipment job to Weaver. I’ll make sure he can. And its Wheat who wants Weaver out of Devils Hole, remember? That’s why he came and got us out from Louvides in the first place, right? Looking for Mr Wong to help him plan how. He knows what’s at stake. If he wants to be leader again …I think he’ll do it.”Kid considered, carefully. After a while he raised his eyebrows in acceptance.“Well …guess all that leaves us to do …is go wait outside Yeller Dog, till Lom gets the word back from Wheat. Assuming you can sell any of this to any of the others.” Kid fixed Heyes with his steady blue eyed gaze. The eyes tightened just a fraction.Heyes stopped, hands on hips, anticipating the ‘but…’ “There’s one thing I’m still not sure about…” said Kid.Heyes rolled his eyes, Kid liked having all the details ironed out. “Not sure why you picked …that train, Heyes? …the Columbine train? Things didn’t go too well fer us last time we stopped that one, remember? …I wonder if the boys ever went back to drag that Brooker 202 out of the lake?”Heyes smiled. If that was all Kid had found to pick at, it must be a good plan.“Yeah …that didn’t go too well for us, did it …but this time, Kid …it won’t be us stopping the train, will it? …It’ll be Weaver’s gang …and … it was actually Wheat’s idea to choose that train. It still carries gold sometimes …so it’ll be believable. If you think about it, that’s actually real smart!”Heyes made a face like ‘I know, unbelievable right?’“Think about it Kid. If hearing they’re about to hit that train again don’t make any of our old gang members, still hanging on up at the Hole, light out of there, I don’t know what will.”Kid smiled one of those ‘Heyes you’re a genius‘ smiles.“And I sure hope the gang didn’t go back for that safe, Kid…’cause I can’t think of another place …where we’re going to find us a safe to use, can you?”Heyes beamed. Kid’s got the ‘WHAT?!’ face on.
---oooOOOooo---Devils Hole several days laterKyle pushed his little mare to a fast lope and waved his hat at the waiting century, as he approached the boundary rock. He smiled, bringing the dun to a stop in front of the rock. He didn’t recognise either of the men on duty, but he was recognised.“Moondance Mertry?!” gaped the younger man. “You back cos ol’ Squint ...I mean Clint …messed up the dynamite so bad on that last job? Well I’ll be …I never believed he’d be able to talk you into coming back, like he said he would …not after he threatened to shoot you an’ all…Wooheee! …Maybe next time …we’ll make us some pay!”Kyle looked a little confused, but knew enough just to nod and smile and start walking on through. Maybe Heyes was right, Weaver wasn’t mad at him. “Yeah I guess Ol’ …Clint… could sure use himself an’ explosives expert… about now…” he smiled. He took the time to say the name deliberately slowly so he wouldn’t make a mistake with it. He’d been practicing. Wheat and Heyes and Kid had made him.Having passed the first test, Kyle felt a little less on edge. “And…Woooheee! … I done brought me a whole case of the good stuff!” he called over his shoulder as he headed on for the Hole itself. He was cheered on his way with a lot of hollering and yipping from the two centuries.
---oooOOOooo---About a week after thatWheat had prickles on the back of his neck. Prickles between his shoulder blades. Prickles every damn where! How had he let Heyes talk him into this? He’d intended to return to the Hole …sure … but not like this; not riding straight down the Devils Throat, under Weaver’s guns. He took out his own gun and fired the three required shots in the air. Took a huge lung full of air, looking skywards to the lookouts he knew were up there, and pushed his big roan to a fast lope towards the century rock.“Wait right there!” called a familiar voice.“Kyle?!” squawked Wheat. He’d known Kyle would be there, but it was still shocking somehow to see his partner amongst the enemy.“Yeah …What’s it to you, Wheat!?” Kyle tried to sound casual, mean and a bit menacing, slowly chewing his baccy. He’d had to develop a cold bravado this last week, to keep an aura of menace about him. Keep anyone from asking too many questions. Kid had given him some tips. And he’d gotten good at it.The older man on duty with Kyle looked up at the tall, moustached outlaw with more interest. “Wheat? Wheat Carlson? Him that used to run the Hole ‘fore Weaver?” He looked at Kyle for confirmation. Kyle nodded, slowly. “You must have a death wish boy. I heard Ol’ Squint done run you off once already, same time as Moondance here. Squint may have need fer Moondance, but we sure don’t need no more leaders …we sure got ourselves enough leaders!” The shot gun came up to point at Wheat’s middle.Kyle was going to lift his too, till he saw the cussedness flash across his partner’s face. Wheat fixed the older man with his gang leaders stare, ignoring the barrel pointed right at him. “Well I got me …some information …and I think …Weaver’s …gonna want to hear it.” Wheat chewed at his moustache, letting this sink in. He saw it penetrate through the layers of dirt on the outlaw’s face. When he saw the slight crease in the brow, that showed that the thought had reached the brain, he continued.“Information’s worth a lot of money … and the information I gots …gonna mean good pay for anyone that’s in on it …Yeah, I think Ol’ …Clint …is going to be real interested …to hear what I got to say.”Wheat was very deliberate with the name also. He nodded to Kyle asking him, without words, to move this along. Kyle wasn’t concentrating, he was still working on acting surly. Then, he caught another look from Wheat and remembered his part. He turned to his fellow guard, and with a rather theatrical voice, proclaimed: “Well …I’ll just be taking your guns then Wheat …and …we’ll just go see if Ol’ …Clint …thinks yer information …is all you say it is.” He lifted the shot gun this time and held out a hand for Wheats rifle and six gun. “We’ll just have to go see …if’n you’ll be leaving here …alive …again” he sneered, releasing a long stream of baccy from his mouth, and remembering to put a mean look back on his face.Wheat rolled his eyes, giving up the guns, and all but ordering Kyle to get on with it.
---oooOOOooo---Not long after, back at the Shaman’s camp, after dark The Bounty Hunter’s eyes went wide, then closed again in relief as he recognised the outline of the sheriff in the big white Stetson. He’d been moved to a small Indian encampment. He’d been tied to a tree, facing a rock face, and he wasn’t sure if any of the gang were even still here. He’d seen that Devils Apache the first day, but since then, only other Indians.Lom was working on the knots: He whispered “Keep low, keep your head down. When I get you loose …we got to get to the horses real quick …Be ready to move?”The Bounty Hunter was stiff, groggy and grateful for the rescue; he wasn’t about to argue. “Jones has gone to free Smith ...they’ll meet us at the horses …Come on!” urged Lom, pushing the swaying man before him, staying close to the edge of the rocks, and working their way back away from the tents towards the waiting horses.Lom felt a bit bad. This man had really saved his life. Now, here he was pretending to save his… ‘How had he let Heyes talk him into this?’
---oooOOOooo---Kid pushed Heyes into the saddle. He knew Heyes shouldn’t be on a horse yet.Heyes gritted his teeth to stop any groaning escaping into the night air. He didn’t want anyone up at the camp to know they were leaving. He was feeling floaty, again, but was still in sufficient pain to keep him focussed. Just.“You gonna be able to stay on, Heyes?” The high strung mare, that had been stood around for much too long recently, pranced and jogged at the end of the rein in Kid’s tightly held fist.“You worry ‘bout stayin’ …on your hos …an’ I’ll worry …’bout stayin’ on mine” winced Heyes, attempting a smile. His words came out sounding more than a little slurred and worse for wear. That surprised him. ‘How much had he drunk?’He beamed at the beautiful, fine ears of the mare. A vague memory stirred. He tugged the rein out of Kid’s hand, cooing and clucking at the mare, making her ears twitch delightfully. He smiled down at Kid with a silent giggle.“She won’t throw me …she loves me” he cooed confidently. The chestnut kicked out with both her back legs playfully and rolled her eyes at the moon, with a snort.“See? …she’s real pleased to see me” smiled Heyes dreamily, quickly grabbing the saddle horn, though he’d stuck to the saddle with his usual style and grace. “Come on girl …a li’le less dancing …I ain’ got my legs back yet.”Kid shook his head with a rueful smile at his more than slightly drugged, and even a little drunk, partner. But if that’s what it took. At least he was on the horse. That was a small miracle in itself. Lone Wolf certainly didn’t think Heyes was ready to ride: not for at least another week. After all he was planning to marry his only daughter off to the Big Chief of Devils Hole in just a few days’ time. That had been motivation enough to get Heyes moving his plan along. Kids face broke into a huge grin, remembering Heyes’ face when Haff had broken the news, about the ‘price’ of his cure, to him. Haff was devastated. Kid shook his head. “Shush down Heyes …here they come …and remember …its deputies …Smith and Jones.”“Smiff and Joes …got it!” mumbled Heyes. Kid rolled his eyes. “I think Wong gave you a little too much ...medicine, Heyes. I guess at least you won’t be hurting anytime soon, Huh?”“Shhhhh….” Heyes put a finger to his lips and tried to look serious but he was apparently shushing his horse.Kid waved a hand in Heyes face to get his attention again.“That’s right….Shhh …no more singing …and …remember …Deputies Smith and Jones…”
---oooOOOooo---When the Bounty Hunter reached the horses with the sheriff, Deputy Jones said that he’d managed to get Smith away from the gang too, but that he was in a bad way and possibly drugged. Smith looked dreadful, he was slumped over the neck of a fine boned chestnut mare, mumbling. God knows what the gang had put that man through!The Bounty Hunter felt bad that he’d not treated Smith that well himself when he had him prisoner. But he’d truly believed Smith was Hannibal Heyes. If there’d been a picture on the dodger, and Smith had really looked enough like Heyes… Well …Hopefully that would be forgotten now.Jones took the rein of his partner’s mare, and lead the way quietly out of the camp. The Bounty hunter put his own horse alongside Smith to try to steady the mare a little, she was dancing, eager to get going. Lom brought up the rear on the big appaloosa. Smith mumbled something unintelligible, it sounded like, “Beau’ful ears…mus’ be f’yin’”Jones looked back, worried.“Don’t worry Smith” reassured the Bounty Hunter, quietly “We’ve all had our fears …but no one’s gonna be dying.”Jones turned his head away quickly, and pushed his black gelding on a pace.
---oooOOOooo---Haff and Wong watched the four mounted shadows walk quietly out of camp into the night. Wong worried that Heyes looked unsteady and followed his slumped form keenly. Haff also focussed on Heyes’ swaying form. He was really hoping Heyes would stay with the horse, and leave successfully. He hadn’t been too happy learning that Flower of Morning was betrothed to the great Chief of Devils Hole.They waited till the riders were out of sight, then they turned back to the small encampment. Everything was still and tranquil. The prisoner would not be missed. He had been the visitor’s affair.Wong and Haff shared a worried look. Heyes would definitely be missed. They’d have to face Lone Wolf and his family in the morning with his absence. Negotiating Heyes’ compromise deal was going to be tricky. ‘How had let him talk them into this?’ Wong promised liquor from his pack, maybe even some opium too. Kid had put in some boxes of rifle ammunition, Lom some cigars; that should help. But he’d still have to negotiate Heyes’ compromise deal on the second part of the bargain; the sacred lands and the husband. It was by no means certain that Lone Wolf and his sons would agree to the bargain, but Haff was resolved to face the family: Not run. So Wong knew he must also face Haff’s choice. Here, it seemed, Haff had found his destiny. So be it. Mediation was, after all, one of the talents that Wong counted amongst his best. That, it seemed, was going to be tested. He wished that he hadn’t left so many of his finer possessions locked in the secret compartment of the mule wagon, at the livery where they’d stabled the mules. Maybe some fine cloth and some well-crafted trinkets would sweeten the deal.Haff watched the sky as the moon passed across it. He wouldn’t be getting any sleep. He was just so incredibly nervous. His whole future depended on his partner’s negotiation skills. A tomorrow had never seemed so important.
Hours later, on the trail back towards Yellow Dog Gulch“How you doing, err…Smith?” asked Lom. “Think you’ll hold up till Yeller Dog.”“Mmmmm? …Yeah..” Heyes’ eyes were closed. His medication was wearing off and he had to concentrate just to stay in the saddle, not slide off into comatose sleep. Kid was still leading the mare, his big black gelding confidently picking out the trail ahead. “We could stop now” he opined. “Don’t think anyone’s following us. They won’t even know we’re gone till morning. We had a camp …not far ahead …a few weeks back…”“Or we could push on into Yeller Dog itself,” cut in Lom. “Get a doctor to look at you… Smith?” Now he truly believed Heyes had nothing to do with the killings, he felt he owed him something … his loyalty maybe? Well… he felt he owed him something.(Yes, it’s called an apology Lom.)“No…” Heyes breathed deeply, opening his eyes. “Not a good idea this close to Devils Hole, Lom. Not unless you want to get me and Thaddeus lynched.”Lom winced. Heyes took a minute to collect his thoughts, remembering the Bounty Hunter’s presence. They were Smith and Jones.“You and the Governor were absolutely right, Lom. I look enough like Hannibal Heyes to even fool some of the gang …from a distance. Thaddeus looks enough like ‘that other fella’ to fool a professional Bounty Hunter, like our friend here.”Heyes wearily smiled at the Bounty Hunter.“We’ll have to be real careful. Camp outside Yeller Dog …let just the two of you go in …for supplies …and wait on word from the Hole.”The Bounty Hunter nodded agreement for both him and Lom. “You sure had me fooled, Smith” he said, pulling his horse up besides Heyes’ again. “But what word are you hoping to hear …from the Hole?”“Heyes and ‘whatshisname’…” explained Heyes, wearily.“Jedediah ‘Kid’ Curry” supplied Kid loud and clear from the front.“Yeah …him…” smiled Heyes weakly. “They lit out for Mexico …about a year ago. Thaddeus and I …we work for the Governor…We been mistaken for them two plenty of times before …so we came up here …to help Lom flush out these new killers … at Devils Hole. Governor’s been taking a lot of heat…”Heyes blew out his pain slowly, then continued.“Weaver thinks …by using the old gang names …no one’s looking at his men for these murders. We were trying to get ourselves taken into the stronghold …as Heyes and …that other fella …but well …doesn’t matter now, coz it didn’t work. Moondance and Preacher were at Devils Hole before Weaver, they knew we was ringers. Thought they could sell us to Weaver as decoys.”Heyes was feeling awful, but he ploughed on.“…Now we got a new plan …We can’t get into Devils Hole …no one can …so we’re gonna draw them out. …and thanks to the Sheriff here, we got some new insiders to help us do it…”“Insiders?” The Bounty Hunter was lapping this up.“Mmmm…” Heyes needed to stop talking and just concentrate on breathing; he looked at Lom to continue. Lom coughed, looking reticent.“Err …yes …like Smith said …We persuaded Moondance Mertry and the Preacher to help us out …in return for immunity from arrest in an upcoming train robbery. They’ve never had killers at the Hole before, and they don’t like the idea of hanging fer someone else’s crime. They helped us escape back there.Preacher’s gone to sell a gold shipment job to Weaver … on a train to Columbine next month … its worked before …to draw outlaws out of Devils Hole. We’re hoping that Moondance and his dynamite will be welcomed back, in the light of that shambles they made with the dynamite during the 4th of July robbery.”The Bounty Hunter looked confused, again. “What shambles?”“Here …read it for yerself” said Lom handing over Wong’s newspaper with an inward smile. About time he got to use that line. “Well, read it when we get some light, in an hour or two.”
---oooOOOooo---Outside the Leaders Hut at Devils HoleWeaver stood on the front porch of the leader’s cabin, leaning casually over the rail looking at an ancient time piece, the knotted stampede strings of his battered hat resting on his chin. Off to his right a tall, thin gangly youth, carrying his left shoulder kind of low, with dark blond curly hair and blue eyes, spun the Colt at his side with practiced ease. Wheat and Kyle rode slowly into the clearing.The bunk house door opened and a stream of dirty, scurrilous looking outlaws flowed out. Kyle joined them leaving Wheat facing Weaver alone.“Well …Looky who we got here boys… Wheat Carlson. Well now …I’d ‘ve laid good money …that I’d seen the last of you. Seems to me, you ain’t showin’ a lot of sense Carlson …Just couldn’t stay away from the place, Huh?” Weaver waved his head back and forth, addressing the gathered outlaws as much as Wheat. “Weaver. We need to talk” said Wheat firmly, equally addressing the gathered crowd.“I don’t know if I’m minded to hear anything you got to say, boy,” sneered Weaver. “But I’ll give you two minutes …to convince me I shouldn’t have Maggot here …just blow your head off.” He opened his watch to note the time. “So start talking, boy …or you could …just start saying your prayers … save me the wait.” Wheat looked nervously over to the youthful looking gunslinger staring back at him hungrily. ‘He ain’t fooling anyone he’s The Kid’ thought Wheat. ‘Even if he can handle that gun.’ The lowlife had a real hard face. From a distance, a long distance, there was a passing resemblance to the Kid. But the Kid had an honesty about him. He’d always impressed Wheat with his obvious loyalty to Heyes. This fella had killer writ clear to his bones. He didn’t owe allegiance to nobody but himself. Weaver was playing a very dangerous game.“Well now …Clint…” Wheat stood down from his horse and walked, with more confidence than he felt, towards Weaver. “It’d sure be a waste of all our time …if I didn’t get the chance …to tell you about the job I’ve been piping… It’s a doozy … a lotta money …in GOLD …and all I need, is a gang willing to back me … we’ll make fine pay fer everyone there.”Some of the outlaws followed Kyle’s lead and cheered. Weaver scowled.“So …you heard we had a little trouble last time huh? …come here looking to challenge me … Is that it Carlson?” Weaver jerked his head at the blond gunslinger. He languidly came to stand next to Weaver’s right shoulder, glaring at Wheat throughout. A dark haired, Hannibal Heyes wannabe, came out of the Leaders cabin and stood at Weaver’s other shoulder, also glaring. He was a might shorter than Heyes himself, and apart from his dark hair, and perhaps a look of cunning in his dark eyes, bared no resemblance to Hannibal Heyes at all. He had a scar under his chin though, and a gold tooth, just like the Heyes description at the Bannerman Detective Agency. Weaver had added the scar and tooth, for authenticity, same way he insisted Maggot carry his left shoulder low.“What makes you think I’d be interested in any job you’d planned …Carlson?” Weaver said a little louder, standing taller now he had his wing men.Murmuring went around the other outlaws. Sounded like quite a few of them were interested in any job involving gold, whoever planned it. Wheat heard, and felt a little less intimidated.“Well I guess if you boys ain’t interested …in a gold shipment …practically under your noses …Well I gots to say …that’s a real shame.” Wheat took a deep breath and made sure his words were loud and clear, for all to hear. “Ain’t as if I can stop a gold train …single handed is it?… gonna need me some help … thought just maybe …we’d be able to help each other…is all ...Clint… thought we might …work together on it.” Wheat did a fine job of sounding calm. He just hoped his growling guts wouldn’t give him away. Kyle was stood with the crowd, hearing the other outlaws openly discussing the odds of his partner leaving the clearing alive. There was even more argument whether it would be ‘Heyes’ or ‘Kid’ Weaver would order to pull the trigger. It was strange for Kyle, hearing these two murderers being called Heyes and Kid. Even more confusing, when someone suggested, Weaver should just let Crease have Carlson, to get the details of the gold shipment out of him, before killing him. ‘Who was Crease?’ Kyle watched and worried. He wasn’t the natural heroic type, but he had his rifle in his hands. If it came to it, he could dispatch Weaver …before… ‘How had he let Heyes talk him into this?’Kyle shuddered, his mouth frozen mid chew.Clint Weaver was far from stupid. He looked at this former Devils Hole Leader with interest. ‘Carlson had nerve’ he thought. He’d been surprised how easy it had been to run this man off. ‘Surly the gang should have backed him up more than they did; after all he’d planned, and executed, some spectacularly successful robberies over the last coupla years. If anyone would know about a gold shipment on a train, it would be Carlson. He just might be telling the truth, about having planned a job.’The outlaws had gone quiet, seeing Weaver thinking. ‘On the other hand, his own leadership at the Hole was slipping from his grasp. The boys had openly laughed at him for failing to blow that safe. The Heyes and Curry lookalikes he’d dragged out of the gutter, were getting too big for their boots. Giving orders and throwing their weight, and their bullets around without his say so. The newer recruits were actually looking to them for orders’ Weaver glanced left then right, sneering. The outlaws jeered a little, thinking he was trying to decide who would dispatch Wheat.‘Any day now, Brake and Maggot would start insisting on being called Heyes and The Kid …even by him …even here at the Hole. They’d almost got themselves convinced they were Heyes and Curry for Christ’s sakes! Yes. A show of violence now could be just the ticket to put him back on top. Show everyone who was boss. In charge.’Weaver had very nearly made up his mind to order the killing there and then. But a small niggle of doubt crept into his mind.‘A Gold shipment …was mighty tempting, and they hadn’t made any pay for some time...’