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 The Long Road Back - Part Twenty-two - When the Fat Lady Sings - 12,300 words

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Cal

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PostSubject: The Long Road Back - Part Twenty-two - When the Fat Lady Sings - 12,300 words   Fri Feb 17, 2017 10:01 am

Yeh! the final chapter.... This is a long one so buckle in... it may have to go on into several comment boxes... And don't miss the Epilogue 
Thanks for staying for the long, long ride... hope you enjoy
Calx


---oooOOOooo---

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

---oooOOOooo---
Part Twenty-two
When the fat Lady sings
---oooOOOooo---


“When he sleeps …he’s mine” spat Haff into Red’s ear.

They were on the ground again, supposedly looking for tracks on the glass like surface, in the long shadows of early dusk.

“You will have to be quick …cause my sister will beat him to death with a rock …first chance she gets” mumbled Red darkly.

A bullet pinging off the rock between their feet and got their attention, and they stared back at the white man on the horse with loathing.

“You boys must think I’m stupid … Well let me tell you something …I ain’t stupid!” 

Weaver dug the pistol back into Flower’s ribs.  She bristled resentment.  Weaver looked over to Wheat, who’d been eying their captor warily for signs of tiredness.

“Well … looky here now … your friends over there … have found me a nice hole …for you to spend the night in…” sneered Weaver.  

“Step down, Carlson” he ordered, winding a coil of rope round his saddle horn and throwing the rest of the coil towards Wheat’s feet.   

He jerked his head towards the lip of a deep fissure. 

“I can see you been wondering … if’n I’m a might sleepy.  Well I got to admit … I am.  So it’s time fer you to inspect your overnight accommodation.  Of course, I’ll be staying up here …with the blankets … and the guns …and the woman …. While you’ll be down there … in the dark … with your Indian friends … and the snakes…”

Wheat’s eyes narrowed, looking over the edge of the fissure.  It was deep and sheer sided.  He bent slowly to pick up the coil of rope.

Haff, hearing Weaver’s words concerning Flower, flew across the gap between them his hand already searching for the knife. But Weaver had the pistol in his hand.  He shot at Haff’s feet, the bullet throwing up rock and scree, bringing Haff to a skidding, snarling stop only feet away from the horse.

“What you waiting for Carlson… an invitation“ shouted Weaver, never taking his eyes off Haff.  

“You’ve got two minutes to start climbing down that rope … or I’ll be helping your friend here down with a bullet.”

The pistol was waved just a little, as Weaver nodded towards Red.

“You next.”

Without a word, Red solemnly complied glaring at the white man as he descended the rope.  Finally, when Wheat and Red stood together at the base of the climb, Weaver moved the horse toward Haff, put a foot into his chest and kicked him backwards, down to join the others.  Wheat rapidly went up in Red’s estimations.  The big man tried his best to break Haff’s fall, by putting himself between the small Indian and the rock slab floor.  Unfortunately for Wheat, he managed to knock himself out in the process, and they all heard the sickening sound of Wheat’s arm breaking, as it folded up underneath the pair.

Red rushed over to untangle the two men, throwing Haff aside, and pulling and setting Wheat’s arm straight before he came around again.  He found a loose shard of rock to use as a rough splint, and bound the arm to it using bandages improvised from the ripped sleeves of Haff’s tunic.  

Haff himself, was only winded by the fall and otherwise unhurt.  

He stood up slowly from a rousing, groggy, moaning Wheat, and stared back to the rim searching for a way to climb out.  Without the rope, it was impossible.

“Sleep well boys” laughed Weaver nastily from the rim.  

“Don’t you let any of them snakes bite now...”

---oooOOOooo---
Lom had left the cave house to move the horses.  Truth be told, he was quite relieved to be outside again and away from all the groaning and the moaning inside.  

Kid’s headache was preventing him from falling asleep or even lying down flat.  He’d sat on his bedroll, moaning for hours, then ran to hurl most of the food he’d managed to put away earlier by the cave house door.  This hadn’t improved the ambience of the cave any, and Heyes wasn’t shy in sharing with Kid, his opinion of the new aroma.

Heyes’ arm had started to swell at the shoulder, and the tight skin was pulling uncomfortably at two the stiches Lom had managed to put in.  Heyes couldn’t help but point out that his shoulder had become a lot more painful, since Lom’s ministrations, and he also couldn’t help implying, that Lom had got through an awful lot of whiskey fixing up the Bounty Hunter.

For his part, the Bounty Hunter was very still and quiet.  Even that was unsettling though.  Asleep, it was easy to believe he was indeed dead, so pale and still did he lie in his blanket thick with blood.  It was a real temptation to walk over and kick a boot, just to see if he would rouse again.  Also, swelling was kicking in around his neck and face.  The pale white skin there gave way to blue black, with lurid pink and yellow edges.  

Not pleasant to look at.  

Lom had gotten used to having the man around.  

He liked the feeling of having someone to watch his back again.   He hadn’t had a partner since his last train robbery, all those years ago, back when he was an outlaw.  When his partner hadn’t made it back.  That loss had sent him from the Hole to seek first the bottle, then an amnesty, then eventually a new life on the right side of the law.  

If Lom was any judge of character, he saw that need again now, in this man with the hanging scar and coldblooded reputation for seeking a bloody form of justice.  

The need to change direction.  The need to start over.  The need to connect and trust again.  

They’d all noticed the change in the Bounty Hunter, though even Heyes, would have had difficulty putting it into words.  Lom recognised a fellow traveller and he wanted to help, and what’s more he realised, a trust had grown between them.  Harker was getting old.  Porterville could use a new deputy sheriff.

He’d got the horses settled, and was just debating whether to make the climb back to the cave house when he heard distant gun fire.  Two faint pistol shots, a long way off.  It was impossible to guess at the distance, or even the true direction they’d come from.  Sounds bounced around the high cliffs making accuracy impossible.  His gut told him the shots were from the North, not from back in the Outlaw hideout.  

Lom decided to stay with the horses and keep watch for a while longer.

---oooOOOooo---

Later that night

“So much for… he’s gotta sleep some time” whined Wheat, unable to sleep in the dark at the bottom of the hole because of the pain in his arm.  “Did you hear a snake? Think I heard a snake…”

Haff sat next to Wheat keeping watch, with the knife in his hands.  

He mumbled “No. No snake. Try to sleep.” 

But Haff was watching the rim, more than the dark shadows of the pit.  As far as he was concerned, the only snake to worry about was Weaver, and Flower was up there with him.

Weaver was sleeping, very lightly.  He had his hands on the rope that lead to the noose around Flowers neck.  Flower’s eyes were wide open.  She fought at the knots tying her arms and legs tightly, as she lay squirming on the hard rock floor.  

‘Just give me one chance’ she thought. ‘And I’ll make sure this white man gets a good long sleep!’  

She had heard the thud of Haff’s landing, and the sound of breaking bone.  It had sickened her stomach.  She’d come back to protect her new husband from the dangers of the Badlands, sudden crevasses and fissures like the one he was currently marooned in.  Her tribe knew every inch of this land.  This barren place was home.  She was determined to do better, if only she could free herself.

Below, in the hole, Red was lightly dozing.  He flicked his eyes open to see the other two still wide awake.

“We have entered the sacred lands of my people…” he said.  “These lands are walked by our ancestors… Many fierce warriors walk here …they will protect us….No harm can come to me … or my sister in the sacred lands…” he tried to reassure Haff. 

Haff said nothing.

“Can they protect us from snakes?” whined Wheat.  “Or shift this god-awful pain outta my arm?”

“You should try to sleep” answered Red, rather unhelpfully.

Wheat didn’t look impressed.

Haff sat and brooded.

---oooOOOooo---
Next morning at the cave house 

Lom had got things moving along, good and early.  

The horses waited patiently above in the meadow. Lom didn’t think any of his travelling companions wanted to tackle the rope down the cliff at the front of the cave house this morning, and besides, it was a lot easier to load up the horses with supplies, from the store cave, this way.

When he lifted the hides to re-enter the cave house, the aroma of sick and bad cigars, mixed with feet and strong coffee and worse, assaulted his nostrils. 

Kid was the personification of a bear with a sore head. He prowled around the cave, getting his bed roll together, glaring at anyone who even looked towards the smelly mess by the front door, to which, he had added during the night. 

He had only managed to utter one coherent word this morning, 

“Coffee.”

‘Good,’ thought Lom. ‘At least The Kid seems to be able to function this morning, even if he won’t make for an easy trail companion.’

Heyes, had been the last to wake.  

He’d finally managed to go to sleep in the early hours, still bitterly bemoaning the lack of whiskey. This morning, the barely warm, strong coffee, was eyed with a dark scowl and met with a tirade of how he couldn’t taste it anyhow, what with the smell of sick and cheap cigars!  His arm and shoulder were stiff.  His burnt fingers were even more sore than his leg.  The rough stitches at his shoulder were pulled tight against the swelling skin, and they hurt like billy-o if he as much as breathed, let alone attempted to move.  

‘Bad’ thought Lom.  ‘Very bad.  A bad tempered Heyes would be like travelling with a whole posse of wasps! I don’t know how Kid puts up with him when he’s like this.  At least our newly resurrected friend won’t be saying much.’

The Bounty Hunter was responsible for the cigar smell.  He was wafting it about to fight the stink of sick as he sipped his coffee, rather than having it clenched between his teeth as was his usual custom.  He looked extremely pale, except for his lower face and neck, which had swollen alarmingly overnight, the skin there turning a deeper shade of blue-black.  The contrast with the rest of the skin on his face, which looked paper white and drawn tight, gave the man even more of a cadaverous appearance.

‘Ugly’ thought Lom ‘That wound looks real ugly this morning.  He looks like he’s gonna need help getting to his feet, let alone getting up on a horse.’

Lom decided it was time to leave.

“Well …I got everything ready up top” said Lom, rubbing his hands together and sounding chipper.

“Huhrrrr” growled Kid, throwing Lom the look.

“Huhrrrr” moaned Heyes.  “You could at least let a man finish his coffee”

“Huhrrrr” groaned the Bounty Hunter in resignation, attempting to get to his feet clutching at his neck.

Lom wiped the smirk off his face and tried to replace it with his ‘Sheriff Trevors rousting a posse’ persona.  

“Right men … We ain’t in no hurry … no one’s chasing us… or waiting on us… so we can take our time …go our own speed.  (Maybe not a posse then)  We got plenty of supplies …there’s plenty of water …and I can get us some game as we go along… Kid knows the fastest way back to Flower of Morning’s trail … and Heyes there, can pick out them pebbles easily enough… So … let’s get going … …and we’ll just aim to get a couple of hours up the trail …then you can all get a chance to stop… and rest up if you need it…”

“Lom … quit yakkin … let’s just get movin’!” spat Good.

“Yeah just … go … get on yer hos will yer“ scowled Bad.

“Huhrrrrr” groaned Ugly, still struggling to stand.

---oooOOOooo---

Weaver was back on the horse, the rope dangling down the hole.  

“You … Indian brother … you get up here” he called.  “And bring Carlson with you …he’s worth $10,000, dead or alive.  Either way doesn’t bother me none.”

Haff watched, as Red braced his legs on the wall to try keep both him and Wheat from being scraped to shreds on the sharp rock, as above Weaver used the horse to pull them up.  The rope did not return when they finally disappeared over the edge, Wheat crying out in pain.

“Flower” he shouted.

Up above, Weaver watched Wheat.  If he couldn’t sit the pony, he’d put a bullet in him now and tie the body on.  Wheat, seeing the intent, tried to make light of his injury and climbed aboard the pony.

“Well now… We all know there’s a trail outta here don’t we … and we all know Heyes is following it with my money… so …today…you …” 

Weaver fixed Red with a glassy stare. 

“…are going to take me straight back to the trail… No… wait a minute … better …You’re gonna get me ahead of Heyes… you hear me boy …you get me in a nice ambush position … or your sister ain’t gonna live long enough to come rescue her boyfriend there…”

Weaver moved the horse to the edge of the fissure to look down at Haff.  

Haff was looking back at Flower, hands tied, noose around her neck, still she radiated defiance and hatred towards Weaver.  He felt very proud of her.  She was magnificent.  

Weaver was still talking to Red.

“…you better get us back on the right trail boy… or I can tell you now…I ain’t dying alone out here… if I die… you all die….one by one… you understand.”

Weaver pointed the pistol down the hole.  Haff, suddenly realising what Weaver was about to do dived for cover.  Weaver fired the pistol, managing to hit Haff in the leg.  

Flower screamed. 

Weaver looked very satisfied with himself.  ‘Good that’s got everyone’s attention’ he thought.

“…and you better be quick about it boy…” sneered Weaver to Red. “…or he’ll have bled to death before she can get back here to find him…..Hahahha….”

---oooOOOooo---
Kid had found the way to the Badlands, through the stream and up the correct creek bed this time, in record time.  He knew more than a few rat runs. 

Like the others, he was worried about the Bounty Hunter staying on the horse in the difficult climbs.  

Lom stayed at the Bounty hunter’s side, whenever it was possible, and pushed him back into the saddle if he seemed to have drifted off.  

They could all see a stop was necessary.

“Ahhh… there it is …look” said Heyes, pointing at the pebble marker as they crested the top of the creek.  

“Wait a minute …hold up everyone … stay where you are… there’s tracks.” 

He got down stiffly from Sally, and went ahead to scour the ground.

Kid looked sceptically at his partner, doubting the possibility of Heyes finding anything up here to track. But as his own eyesight was still fuzzy, and the suns glare on the rocks, was triggering shooting pains behind his eyes. He sat his horse and stayed quiet.

“There’s a good place … over here… to leave our horses while we make coffee…” called Heyes. 

“Someone’s already beaten us to it though …no fire…”

Lom assisted the Bounty Hunter to the floor.

“There’s been at least one shod horse here recently…” continued Heyes. “Looks like they went out that way, maybe …with a coupla ponies…unshod… strange … Flower’s trail marker definitely says that way…”

“Nothing but sharp rocks, sudden crevasses, and very deep fissures that way…” said Kid shaking his head at the upland trail.  

“A man could easy fall into one of them … never be seen again” he opined.

The others nodded.

“Well someone went that way… and not too long ago…” said Heyes, also shaking his head at the steep climb to nothing.  

He screwed up his face in thought, then turned and let his eyes follow the trail marker.  The trail they’d be following looked to be dropping to lower ground on the other side of this ridge.  Just a goat track really, but the marker was clear, and that was the way they’d be taking.

Kid helped Lom sit the Bounty Hunter down on a bed roll and saddle, then started to pull rocks into a circle for a fire to heat the coffee pot.  Lom had some wood behind his saddle, gathered from below.  The Bounty Hunter groaned lighting his cigar and reaching into his pack to pull out some papers.

“Huhrrrr” he said, waving the Heyes and Curry wanted posters.

The ex-outlaws looked a bit uncomfortable and perplexed.  The boys exchanged a mute conversation, then looked to Lom for explanation.

Lom had nothing.

The Bounty Hunter grunted and smiled.  He took his stub cigar, and lighted the corner of the posters, and used them under the brush to get the fire going.

“Huhrrrr” he chuckled closing his eyes, seemingly asleep in seconds.

“Will you look at that Heyes” smiled Kid gleefully.  “Ain’t that a beautiful sight?”

“Sure is” confirmed Heyes, with a huge dimpled smile.  “I like the way he’s beginning to think… right …. I’ll make the coffee…”

“No!” groaned Kid and Lom together.

“Huhrrrr” mumbled the Bounty hunter without even opening his eyes.

---oooOOOooo---

Red had decided no white man’s life was worth his sister’s safety.  

If getting this white man back on the trail of Heyes and Curry, and on out of the tribes sacred lands and off their hands, was what it took to be rid of him, then so be it.  Haff had said the other white men followed Flower’s trail to the sacred valley.

He truly believed no harm could befall him or Flower while they crossed the sacred lands, and he knew for certain that when they had passed the sacred valley on into the tribal hunting grounds, the braves would see they needed rescue, and this white man would pay for his insult to his sister.

Red was a patient man.  It was just a matter of time.  Haff would have to take his chances.  

Red didn’t share his father’s assertion that Haff would become the tribes next Shaman after he had joined their ancestors walking these sacred lands.  He certainly didn’t share his sister’s infatuation with the strange little man either.  

If they should come across the other white men, the ones this one was looking for, well then, they could kill each other if they so wished, save the tribe the trouble.  What was it to him?

He pushed his pony to move just a little quicker over the difficult ground feeling he now had a plan, purpose.  Beside him, Wheat moaned, trying to hold his arm still as possible on the other bouncy pony as it struggled to keep up with Red’s.  

Red eyed Wheat carefully.  This white man had broken his arm, trying to save the neck of one of the people.  He sighed.  Haff may not be high up in Red’s estimation, but he was still of the people, and his sister’s husband, and his father’s chosen successor.  

He sighed heavily again.

He slowed the pace of the ponies, and took a little more care picking out their path, as he lead the party down towards lower terrain.

---oooOOOooo---

No trails were particularly easy or clear in the Badlands.  Not even for the ex-outlaws following an easily marked one.  Many times, it wasn’t apparent which way to go.  One of them would have to ride ahead and report back on the suitability of the footing for the horses.

For the Bounty Hunter, the journey was proving to be near impossible.  

He was weak and feeling faint.  His concentration floated in and out, often finding himself at dangerous angles in the saddle, looking down over long drops of sharp ragged rocks, when his mind eventually refocussed.  

He knew he was holding the others back too and that they were eager to make better progress.

“OK… that’s far enough for today” called Lom, rapidly putting his horse back on the downward side of the Bounty Hunter, and pushing him back up into the saddle for the umpteenth time.  

That had been too close.  The man needed rest.  

“Don’t think we should plan on going much further today Heyes…” called Lom at the back of the partners’ heads.  

“You might want to start looking for somewhere to spend the night.”

Heyes was quite a long way ahead, Kid on his heels.  

The partners exchanged a look.  They were traversing a low angled bank of rough scree, heading for a deer track, just visible in the scrubby vegetation.  There didn’t look to be anywhere close to camp, and there were hours of daylight left. 

Kid shrugged.

“Lom…” called Heyes.  

“We’ll find you somewhere to stop and make our friend there some more coffee and food… see if you can persuade him to burn more of them wanted dodgers…” he smiled.  

“Then Kid ‘n’ me … we’ll scout ahead … see which way the trail’s going … See if we can find easier route for the horses between trail markers … Think she’s marked the quickest way … but there may be an easier route for …for him … We won’t be more than a coupla hours…”

Lom was already off his horse, the Bounty Hunter slumped forwards on his, he may have lost consciousness.  The sheriff nodded his head, his hands full with holding the pale rider in his saddle while he guided both horses off the trail to the lea of some taller rocks.

“Come on Kid … I don’t know about you… but there a saloon and a hot bath just calling me … from that direction” smiled Heyes.

“In case you’ve forgotten Heyes…” said Kid looking back to Lom, and already turning his horses head to go back and help, “They want to hang us …out there …and we’re flat broke again.  Go on … I’ll just be a minute … Go find the next marker.”

---oooOOOooo---


Weaver rode with his back to the sun.  He was confident the Indian was taking him back to the trails North this time, and with the falling sun behind him and being on the higher ground, he felt confident he’d be able to spot Heyes and Curry if they were ahead.

“You keep your eyes ahead for that thieving outlaw Boy…” he called to the ponies ahead.  “Not only has he got my money …his hide is worth $10,000 …so’s his partner’s … That’s a lot of money Boy …enough for me to consider a sizable contribution to the tribe … if I was assured a safe passage out of here … You might want to think on that…”

Red lifted his eyes to Wheat.  

Wheat looked worried.  That was a temptation. Red was a bit of a hot head, and the $10,000 on his own hide alone, would buy an awful lot of guns for the tribe.  Guess being the successful leader, of a notorious outlaw gang, had its down sides.  He raised his eyebrows to Red in question.

Red’s face was inscrutable. He didn’t turn his head, let alone offer an answer to either of the white men. 

Suddenly, a distant movement ahead got his attention and he brought the pony to a standstill.   

His eyes scanned ahead.  

Two riders, were carefully picking their way through a boulder field below.  They were too distant to identify, but who else could they be.  A huge sigh from Wheat at his side, confirmed for Red that this must be Heyes and Curry.

“Oh …well looky here” said Weaver, riding up close behind the ponies.  

“Time for you to pick a side Boy …”

---oooOOOooo---

Down below a little while later

Heyes raised a hand to bring Kid to a stop.  

Up ahead, in the middle of the trail between two huge boulders, stood Red with a rifle pointed their way.

“Hi” smiled Heyes warily, slightly raising his palms.

He’d spent quite a lot of time in Red’s company back at the Indian camp, when he was fighting for his life, after the snake bite.  He was well aware, that this was the brother with, both the smattering of English though he hadn’t wanted to talk to Heyes much, and with a hot temper and short fuse.  He remembered too, that the temper had been directed mostly at his father, Lone Wolf and his elder brother, Tall Pines Sing.  

Heyes hadn’t been able to understand their language, but he didn’t need to be a genius to know that Red, had vociferously questioned the wisdom of helping the Big Chief of Devil’s Hole and his friends.  And Heyes had sneaked off in the middle of the night, on the eve of his intended marriage to this man’s sister…

“Hello Red …” said Heyes quietly.  “Its …erm …real good to see you again… I had to leave …. sudden like… last time I saw you … You might have been thinking …that was a might rude of me … but you see … I wasn’t in any position ….to go marrying your sister …”

Kid rolled his eyes, raising his hands just a tad, pushing his horse up the trail to come to a stop beside his partner.  He hadn’t had many dealings with the Indians, but he recognised Red, and could see there may be some difficulty brewing between Heyes’ prospective bride’s brother and the genius.  

He smiled a big friendly grin.

“Hi again …Red” he said.

Red’s face was unreadable.  He lifted the rifle barrel to cover both ex-outlaws.

“You should know … the Big Chief here …he did keep his word …about the tribes sacred lands…” tried Kid.

“That’s right …” Heyes smiled, grabbing the straw offered by his cousin.  “You can go see … I had that sky bridge blown up …to the South there … them outlaws down there…they got no way to get up here into your lands no more … you got all this… “ 

Heyes looked around at the unforgiving terrain, seeing it now, as not very much to be bestowing back to the tribe.  

“…erm … All this sacred …space … You got all this…. all to yourselves now … just like I said  …  I did it, didn’t I Kid?”

“Yeah …yeah …that’s right he did … just like he promised” joined in Curry, seeing Heyes wasn’t getting anywhere.  

“And your sister …she got herself a real good husband … much …much better than Heyes here….”

Heyes didn’t look like he thought Kid was helping, he nodded along though.

“Yeah ... yeah… that’s right, Kid” he agreed begrudgingly.  

“You didn’t want your sister … hitching her wagon to a white man now, did you?  …Haff … he was real taken with your sis… Errr …well …he made a much better match than… erm … and he knows all that medicine man stuff” enthused Heyes. 

“All that drummin’…and the singin’ …erm…and shaman …stuff…”

Kid sighed.

“Did Wong stay …and explain Red?   How we had to move on… sudden like…” 

None of the partner’s words seemed to be having any impact on the Indian at all.  Kid played his last card.

“Wong gave you the whiskey, right? …and the cigars …and the bullets …he did, didn’t he? … Well all that stuff …that was from us… to say thank you … it’s kinda a white man thing…”

The partners looked at each other.  A mute conversation bouncing back and forth between them.  They didn’t understand what this was.  They questioned whether they’d got the right brother.  This was the one that understood some English, wasn’t it?

Heyes scowled at Red, wondering what to try next.  He took in a big lung full of air to try another tack, when a pistol cocked behind him, and he froze.

“Hannibal Heyes…” sneered Weaver.  

“And Jed ‘Kid’ Curry, wanted Dead or Alive and worth $10,000 apiece.  What did I tell you Boy …Now… you did good … git over there with Carlson … and remember …your sister here …is good and comfortable in my lap … Ain’t yer darlin’?”

Flower refused to make the desired flinching noise, as Weaver pulled her head back roughly.  She pushed her lips tightly together, eyes blazing towards Heyes and Curry.

The boys turned their heads in synchro to face Weaver, their hands lifting just a little higher.

“Now … throw them pistols over here …nice and slow like … “ 

The boys reluctantly complied, tossing the Colt and Schofield at Weaver’s horses feet.  

“Now …step down…both of you … And bring that saddle bag with you Heyes …You too Curry… I got me a hankering to see just what you’ve been stuffing them saddlebags with…”

Heyes grabbed up his saddlebag and shrugged at The Kid’s questioning eyebrows as he dismounted.

“Come on …” shouted Weaver, suddenly firing the pistol at Kid’s horse’s feet.  

“I said step down…and empty them saddlebags right here …I want to see what’s in them!”

“OK …OK….” Pacified Kid.  

“Guess if you want to see my dirty laundry …and my spare socks that bad… it’s fine by me … but I’m tellin’ yer …it ain’t very exciting… just calm down will yer, Weaver.”

“Just git moving!” spat Weaver, shooting at the ground by Heyes’ feet.

“Ok…OK!” shouted Heyes.  

“Jeez! Yer only had to ask…”

---oooOOOooo---

Lom looked up startled.  

The pistol shots had come from the direction Heyes and Curry had gone.  

He looked at the sleeping Bounty Hunter and made a decision.  There was plenty of daylight left and inactivity was making him twitchy anyway.  

He’d go investigate.

---oooOOOooo---

The Bounty Hunter woke.  He blinked away the crusts in his eyes and just caught a fleeting glance of Lom, on the chestnut mare, as he disappeared over the rim.

He wondered where the sheriff was headed, but didn’t feel overly concerned. 

He guessed he’d gone after some game.

He tried closing his eyes again, hoping to find sleep, but some screeching birds kept him from drifting back off to oblivion.  He pulled himself to sit up and looked back behind him.  Some large birds were riding the thermals there, circling and coming down towards the ground.  They weren’t landing though.

‘Must be waiting for some poor creature to drop.’ Thought the Bounty Hunter, a smile playing across his face. ‘It could be a deer.  What would the others think, if they came back to collect their lame duck, and found a big slab of meat cooking over the fire…’

He carefully pulled himself to his feet, and keeping very low, weaved his way to the top of the climb.  He let just his head break the skyline, and sat motionless, staring back into the low evening sun.  This was no way to approach game, but if the animal was near death…

As his eyes became accustomed to the glare, he searched the craggy landscape below him for signs of life.

Nothing.

One of the huge birds landed awkwardly and waddled up to the opening of a deep fissure.

‘If its fallen in there, it’s probably starved to death… won’t be worth eating’ thought the Bounty Hunter, disappointedly.

Then a rock hit the bird, smack in the middle of its chest, making it flap and move away from the edge in a squawking protest.  Faint shouting came from the hole in a mixture of Apache, Mexican and Chinese!

‘Someone’s trapped down there…’ thought the Bounty Hunter, narrowing his eyes to try and see more, ‘…and whoever it is, must be badly hurt or maybe starved and thirsty.’

With the strength borne of his recent conversion to the side of the good guys, the Bounty Hunter slid back down the slope to his horse, checked it for rope and pulled himself up into the saddle of the patient animal.

---oooOOOooo---
Heyes and Kid stood behind a huge pile of their belongings.  Kid was pulling his spare leather jacket out of the accommodating saddle bags, and Heyes was trying to save their best shirts, shaving gear and Derby’s from getting too dirty or crushed.

From behind Weaver, came a long whistle from Wheat, rocking back and forth on the little pony, clutching his arm. Through a tight grimace, he remarked,

“Jeez! How d’you get all that in your saddle bags!?! Ain’t you boys ever heard of travelling light?”

Heyes pulled out his tightly rolled Brown suit trousers with a scowl, adding them to the pile.  

Kid did the same with his spare boots, sharing a glance with Heyes before shrugging to Wheat.  

Wheat looked to be in a lot of pain.  This needed to be over.  

Quickly.  

Kid turned the saddlebag upside down and shook it onto the growing pile and stood up.  

Seeing Kid’s actions, Heyes followed suit.

“There! You satisfied…?” he spat at Weaver.

Weaver looked at the pile with incredulity written clear across his face.  He stared, searching the pile for signs of the money.  He grabbed Flower round the neck and dragged her off the horse with him, as he came around to kick through the pile.   

Heyes’ face winced as his best suit got trampled into the dust, and his brown Derby was kicked skywards.  

Why his? 

Kid’s was the one with the repair that would need replacing.

“Where is it? Where’s my money?” shouted Weaver, launching Kid’s blue Derby skywards. 

Kid groaned.

Heyes watched it fly with glee, then turned back to Weaver with a serious frown plastered across his face.  

“What money?” he asked.

Red, standing by Wheat’s side, heard the big man wince and cough.

“Wheat told him you switched saddle bags on him and his partner, and stole what was rightfully theirs” he explained, dropping the rifle to help Wheat from the pony.  

Wheat hit the ground heavily and complained about his pain loudly. He fixed Heyes with a look, then dropped his head.

“That’s right Heyes…” he breathed heavily to the ground.   

“I told him …how you stole our money… I thought you must have had hid it in that saddle bag  …You never let out of your sight… Guess I must have been wrong… Must have been that four flushing Bounty Hunter…”

“ENOUGH …ENOUGH!” screamed Weaver, his eyes squinting up independently making him look more than a little deranged.

He rushed over to the dropped guns and awkwardly picked them up, shoving them into his belt.  Unseen by Weaver, Flower got hold of quite a large rock as he pushed and pulled her around in front of himself.

“That’s it … I guess I’m just going to have to settle for the bounties on the three of you.   Suits me fine.   And as you’re all wanted dead or alive … I don’t need to hear no more of your yakkin’.”

He took Heyes’ gun from his belt and cocked it pointing it at Wheat.

Heyes threw up his hands, waving them and trying to get Weaver’s attention back on him.

“AAAhhhh… Weaver ….you know you can’t get away with turning us in …Even dead …Nobody’s going to pay you a bounty on us …You want money …We can understand that … Can’t we Kid?” started Heyes.

“Sure…” agreed Kid, nodding, but he sounded distracted.  

He was watching Weaver and Flower like a cat watching a mouse. Heyes glanced over at his partner, annoyed.  He desperately started grabbing at straws.

“… And there’s the Bounty’s on them Platts coming … that’s $15,000 … That’s a lot of money right there… And we got us a tame sheriff …to do all the paperwork.  That money’s as good as in the bag … well not in the bag …” smiled Heyes, trying to bring the mood back from the dangerous edge.

He pointed to the mountain of their belongings.  

“Could hardly fit anything else in the bag…” he laughed lamely.

“Quit your yakkin Heyes!”  Weaver had switched to quiet cold blooded killer.  

“Or the first bullet will be for you … Of course, then …I’d have to switch to Kid’s Colt.  You all think I’m so stupid …well like I been saying … I AIN’T STUPID … I shoot Carlson first … with your gun … then you get it …with the Colt … You caught up yet Heyes?  All I gotta say is … I come across the bodies … after you all shot each other…”

Lom watched the action from the rocks above.  

He’d worked his way around the group, to try to make a clean shot at Weaver.  Unfortunately, Weaver had hung on to the girl, and was stood with his back to the horse.  

Time was getting short.

Seeing Weaver, aim the Scofield at the wounded man on the floor by the Indian, and cock the pistol, Lom realised his time had run out.

“Weaver!” he shouted. 

“This is Sheriff Lom Trevors … Drop the weapon … and put your hands in the air.

Many things happened at once. 

Weaver turned to look for the sheriff, instinctively raising the Scofield to fire that way.  

Lom ducked, unable to get in a clear shot himself.

Heyes dived for the rifle dropped by Red. He fired at weaver’s hand.  With incredulity, he realised that the rifle was empty.  He shot a look Red’s way. 

Flower turned and kicked Weaver ‘s leg, pulling away from the man to get a good swing on the rock.

Kid spotted his chance.  He dove his hand into his sheepskin jacket pocket, and fired the small calibre derringer in Weaver’s direction.  His eyes wouldn’t allow him the benefit of accuracy, so he aimed for the middle of the chest of the nearest Weaver he could see.  Experience had taught him, this was likely to be the real one.  With satisfaction, he saw both Weavers merge, clutching at their single chest.  

Weaver lifted the Scofield weakly, pointing it back at Kid.

Flower slammed the rock into the side of Weaver’s head, using her tied hands and her total body wait along with the rocks momentum.

Weaver went down like a sack of spuds, dead before his knees had time to buckle. Didn’t stop Flower adding kicks and curses to the insult.  She was like a force of nature.

Kid looked on with awe.

Heyes stared at the derringer in Kids hand.

“You got any more surprises for me partner?” 

They both turned to watch Flower, their faces wincing up with every blow and curse.  Kid rolled his eyes at Heyes in a, ‘sure hope Haff never crosses her’ sort of way.

Red seeing his sister losing it, rushed to her side, to untie her hands and removed the noose around her neck.  He took her in his arms to console her.  But Flower pushed him away, and started screaming at him in their own language.  Seemed she wasn’t too impressed with her brother’s contribution to proceedings, and to be fair, she was terrified for Haff.  

She needn’t have worried.

As Heyes and Kid began the mammoth task of re-packing their saddle bags, the Bounty Hunter and a wounded, scraped looking Haff, rode into the clearing on the Bounty Hunter’s horse.  Haff fell into Flower’s open arms.

Up above, Lom broke his rifle over his arm and began the long climb down to join the others.

---oooOOOooo---
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Cal

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PostSubject: Re: The Long Road Back - Part Twenty-two - When the Fat Lady Sings - 12,300 words   Fri Feb 17, 2017 10:02 am

Later 

Back on the trail North Lom was ribbing his new partner, who seemed to have found new strength since rescuing Haff, about his latest exploits.

“You just can’t help yourself can you friend…” he laughed.  “I think you should concentrate on healing up a little more yourself …before you go off again and try save the lives of the rest of the Territory, don’t you?”

“Huhrrrr” grinned the Bounty Hunter.

Kid whistled, looking ahead.

“Will you look at that” he said.  

“Ain’t that something.”

Heyes followed Kid’s gaze to a huge pine tree in the middle of a clearing.  The tree was split into two huge branches near the base.  Each branch ran parallel to the ground for twelve feet or more, before shooting skywards to dizzying heights.  It was an impressive looking tree, but then again, it was just a tree.  

He eyed his younger cousin with concern.

“We gotta get you back to civilisation Kid … and SOON!”

“It’s their sacred valley” whispered Haff, catching their conversation.  

“And that’s a very important tree … It’s a tribal marker for their meeting place… We wait there for lone Wolf … He will purify us …before we travel on through the valley …and then we will be shown the way out …out to the tribal lands North of the Hole.”

Haff continued on towards the tree.  He was riding his own paint pony now, with Flower in his lap.  His looked drawn and battered.  His leg sported a bloody bandage, but he looked serenely happy.

“We’re gonna be purified…” smiled Kid at Heyes.  

“That could take some time” he laughed.

“I’ll wager you a huge steak dinner, Kid” answered Heyes watching Haff’s back as he rode on, “…its gonna involve a whole lot of smoking, singing and very loud drumming.”

Heyes smiled into Kid’s pain filled eyes knowingly.

“Drumming!” groaned Kid, “…and …. singing ….awww … noooo….”

---oooOOOooo---

Much later, after dark

Kid and Heyes were sitting on either side of the tribe’s marker tree.  

They’d been joined, as darkness fell, by the rest of Flower’s family and several important chiefs and other braves of high standing within the tribe. As predicted there had indeed been drumming, and singing aplenty, but there had also been drinking, eating and some ministrations to the trail party’s various ills.

Shade of morning had taken a particular interest in Heyes, checking on his leg, pulling at his shoulder, smearing something cool on his burnt fingers.  

This time he had Red to translate, and managed to keep a civil tongue in his head and even offered his thanks for her efforts.

“Huzzy!” she beamed, smiling into his face and pushing a big thumb into his dimple.  

“Tint proper!”

Red scowled at Heyes.  

Heyes looked a little worried, until Red had burst out laughing and offered him another drink.

Kid had retreated to the tree to try nurse his head.  Lone Wolf had given him some bark to chew and it was definitely helping.

“You know Kid … Lom says there will be bounties to collect on Platt and Weaver… He says he can do the paperwork confirming that, as a serving law officer, he’d identified the bodies.  The Bounty Hunter has bounties coming on the two older Platt brothers … But apparently … he thinks we … could …”

Heyes didn’t want to finish the sentence. Somehow it didn’t feel right to be discussing such things here.

“I don’t know Heyes …that kinda money … it don’t sit right with me somehow …” said Kid quietly, looking back at the fire and the tribe members enjoying the food and the stories being shared by Wheat and Red. “We don’t need that kinda money … I told Lom to give it to the widders ‘n orphans fund back in Porterville…”

Heyes looked a little shocked.  He swallowed looking skywards.

“Thing is Kid … we’re flat broke … and I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a bit of healing up time before I have to go find me another honest job.”

Kid set his jaw but said nothing.  Heyes moved a little further up the branch towards his partner, then jumped of and began pacing.

“Just give that a bit of thought Kid … You know you took a hell of a blow to the head … I think you’re not seeing all the possibilities here … That’s honest money …even if we did come by it ..via the bounty on a man’s head…. Which is distasteful…”

Heyes came to a stop in front of Kid and fixed him with dark-eyed sincerity.

“Just hear me out…” he said.

“Do I get a choice” quipped Kid.

“Well what do you think of this … What if …we drop by Porterville and kinda borrow the money from Lom… just for a little while …We take it for a little holiday with us Back East… to that big city we found Haff and Wong … We heal up … with soft beds and indoor plumbing, hot baths and warm willin’ women…  then after I invest our little nest egg … so to speak … and doubled it a few times in them swanky casinos… We go back to visit with our good ol’ friend Lom….and maybe make a sizable donation to the widders an’ orphans fund in Porterville. It’d be like we never accepted that tainted money ….Now …How does that sound? Huh?”

“Sounds like a Hannibal Heyes plan …is what it sounds like” said Kid with resignation.

He knew there was no point arguing.

“There …that’s settled then” smiled Heyes, patting Kid on the knee.  “And we should get one of them City doctors … to take a look at your eyes.”

Kid shot Heyes a look.

---oooOOOooo---

The following morning, Red and his father joined the white men at the fire where they are sat sipping coffee.  Lone wolf lifted Kid’s chin, staring into his eyes.  He moved the gunslingers head from side to side.  Kids eyes darkened and fixed on the older man’s face, he bristled chagrin at this unexpected man handling.  Lone Wolf reached up and felt the plates of Kid’s skull under his hat.  

Heyes watched in delight, mentally counting down Kid’s fuse.  His cousin was doing well, holding on to his temper.  Just as Heyes thought he should step in, Lone Wolf turned his attention to Heyes.  

Heyes scowled, as first his leg, then his shoulder and finally his burnt fingers were inspected by the shamans probing fingers.  

Kid’s turn to smile.

Lone Wolf kept up a near constant cometary to Red.  He smiled at Lom, but passed over him to examine Wheats arm that had been re-splinted and bound in clean cloth.  Finally, Lone Wolf crouched in front of the Bounty Hunter.  Much animated conversation ensued between father and son as the Bounty Hunters chin was lifted and the swollen scars inspected.

“Huhrrrrr” said the Bounty Hunter, holding the older man’s wrist and looking to Red for explanation.

“My father foresaw your coming here” said Red.  “He watched three men walk these lands, and he knew only one would leave.  That one, would leave here to make a new journey.  That one would be marked thus.”

The Bounty hunter looked up, eyes narrowing.  He held up three fingers, shrugging a question.

“Three killers.  You, Weaver and Platt” answered Red. “The sacred land is a proving path.  The fact that they are dead, and you are alive, shows that you have been chosen to walk a new path.  A better path.  My father will purify you of the bad deeds of your former life, and you will leave here a new man.  Your voice will remain here, you no longer need it.”

The words seemed to be having quite an impact on the Bounty Hunter.

“Kinda like being granted an amnesty” whispered Heyes to Kid.

“Don’t like the sound of being purified” sniggered Kid.  “And it ain’t like he can complain about it.”

Lom dug them in the ribs to shut them up.

“What’s he mean, three walked the sacred land … What about us?” grumped Heyes quietly, as Lone Wolf lit some sage brush, blew it out again and shook the resulting smoke towards the Bounty Hunter and began to chant.

Red turned to Heyes.

“This man has a name?” he asked.

“Errrm….” Heyes raised his eyebrows to Kid in question.  Kid turned to Lom. Lom turned to Wheat.

“What?” asked Wheat.

“You said you knew who he was… What’s his name?” Asked Lom.

Wheat looked deep in thought, screwing up his face in effort.  Red followed this pantomime in incredulity, informing his father that the white men didn’t know the man’s name.

“I just know him by reputation” whined Wheat a little embarrassed.  “As a killer …a cold-blooded killer … I heard him being called ‘Dollar’ once … ‘cause he’d kill anyone, on a wanted dodger, for a dollar … but I don’t recall hearing an actual  name…”

The Man with No Name was smiling at this conversation.  Lone Wolf finished the purifying ceremony and issued a proclamation.

“My father says it is fitting that this man should leave here with no name … He will find his name on his new path” translated red.

The boys looked slightly awkward.  Kid clapped his hands a few times and Heyes sort of lamely cheered.  

“That’s a very good idea” contributed Lom, wondering how he’d ridden in the man’s company for weeks without ever asking his name.
Lone Wolf was chanting again and waving the smoking sage brush towards Lom, Heyes and Curry.  This time the chanting stopped very quickly and the proclamation was addressed to Lom and Kid together.  

Heyes felt a bit left out.

“My father says, your battle is over… trust grows …where doubt once rooted.”

Kid and Lom exchanged a confused look but Lone Wolf had moved on to Heyes.

He stared into Heyes dark eyes and looked very stern.  Heyes swallowed, remembering the flight from the Indian camp in the middle of the night after this man had spent days helping him recover from that snake bite.  

“Errrm … Sir …” began Heyes apologetically but the Shaman began his proclamation, stopping Heyes in his tracks.

“My father thanks you for destroying the sky bridge South to the white man’s camp” translated Red.  “He says you walk a difficult path … and that you are troubled by doubt… He says …take courage…. when the road is long… and don’t forget…that you’re never alone.”

Those words echoed in Heyes’ head and deep down he found them a great comfort.  The smart words that had sprung to his lips unbidden, died, and he dropped his head to gather himself for just a second.  When he looked up again, his eyes glistened.

“Thank you” he smiled.

“Now you are purified.  You can cross the sacred valley and leave this place” pronounced Red.  “My father says Haff, Wheat and this man with no name, should remain here to rest and heal but that I should guide you out.  My mother will sing you a leaving song.”

Shade of Morning began a loud, guttural song that included a sweeping motion with her hands towards Lom, Kid and Heyes.  They took the hint and started gathering their things together to carry to their horses. 

Lom told the Bounty Hunter to come to Porterville as soon as he could, that he’d be working on getting him the bounties for the two older Platt brothers, and that he had hopes of persuading the man to become a deputy sheriff.  

The Bounty Hunter looked a little uncomfortable at talk of the bounties, I’m not sure how that sat with his new path, but he shook all their hands and smiled at the prospect of a new job.

Haff was nowhere to be seen.  No one had seen either him or Flower since they’d arrived at the marker tree.  Anyone would think they were newlyweds.

Wheat was gratified to hear from Lom, that Marshal Warwick Johnson had proclaimed both him and Kyle to be murdered by Weaver in his takeover of the Devils Hole Gang.  

“Guess you can retire quietly now Wheat …and keep a low profile … you shouldn’t need to worry about an amnesty like these two… posses don’t chase dead men” reassured Lom.

Kid threw Heyes an exasperated look of incredulity, he hadn’t thought of that.  Heyes shrugged.

“It’s all been part of a Wheat Carlson master plan, Lom” boasted Wheat, feeling he might as well take credit for his astonishingly good luck.  “Kyle ‘n’ me … we’re gonna be fronting a new enterprise … which you’ll be hearing about in due course …can’t say too much now of course… but it’s going to be really something … I can promise you that” he smiled.  “I’ll hang on a day or to here … rest up some … then I’ll be heading back East … start my new life as a business Emperor… sario.”

“Think you may mean impresario there, Wheat” smirked Heyes shaking the big man’s hand.

“Sounds real impressive Wheat … I hope it all works out for you ‘n’ Kyle” said Kid, side-stepping Shade of Morning to also shake Wheat’s hand.

Shade was still singing and wafting the boys towards their horses but she’d taken a particular interest in moving Kid along.

“It’s the blue eyes” explained Red.  “They’re unsettling.  She was the same with Kyle…”

“So long Wheat” called Heyes from the saddle.  “And thanks for coming back to try ‘n save us!”

“Anything for you brother…” called Wheat into their dust.

---oooOOOooo---

Several hours later

“Heyes … I see the valley ending … but I don’t see any way through that wall of rock … do you?” 

“Me neither” confirmed Lom.

Kid had been scanning the seemingly impenetrable cliff on the far side of the Indian’s sacred valley for the last hour.  There didn’t even seem to be goat paths to climb it, let alone a trail.  

Red smiled enigmatically enjoying their confusion.

“You just got to have a little faith Kid” smiled Heyes, obviously in on something.

They passed another huge marker tree, this time a single limb pointed their way towards the junction of the cliff wall with a high spit of land to their right.  

Red lead them closer and closer to the wall without a word.  Eventually, he dismounted and wrapped the blanket he’d been sitting on, around his pony’s ears.  It looked very comical and Kid and Lom, pulling up behind him, shook their heads and smiled at each other. Kid couldn’t help himself.

“You frightened he may hear the secret words that get the door to open?” 

“My money’s on … Open Sesame” laughed Lom.

Heyes drew up last and jumped down and quickly wrapped a spare shirt around Sally’s ears.  

She just looked ridiculous!

“What is this?” laughed Kid. “Some sort of ritual? Should I put a hat on Dingaling?”

“Can’t you hear it Kid?” asked Heyes, straight-faced.  “Hats no good …You gotta cover his ears …or he’s gonna spook.”

Kid concentrated. Lom too.  

He heard a faint rumble.  He looked to Lom for confirmation he wasn’t imagining it.  It must have been there for some time because it had sneaked up on him.  Wasn’t till he stopped to listen he picked it up.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Wait and see” said Heyes enigmatically.  “I guess we’re on foot for a while …Huh Red?”

“Yep” answered the Indian leading his pony behind a huge boulder.  

The cave entrance wasn’t very big, and entirely hidden by the boulder. Almost immediately the cave mouth turned to the right and the path seemed to follow the directing of the cliff wall towards the large spit of land that made up the valley’s right hand border.  The cave wasn’t that dark.  Gaps in the sides and the ceiling let in daylight.  Soon the gaps were more on their left-hand side, too high up the wall to look out of, then there was no ceiling at all, just a thin strip of ragged blue sky.

All the time, the rumbling was getting louder and louder.  The footing and the walls were getting wetter and wetter and the animals had to be coaxed to go further. 

The thundering water of the waterfall fell to their left, but the animals took all their attention.  Kid and Lom had improvised hoods for their horses and were gently pulling them along in Heyes and Red’s wake.  

The wet slippery path angled out from under the fall to a steep track suitable to ride down, so they all mounted again, but it was impossible to talk till they reached the bottom on the other side of more large boulders.  Looking back there was hardly a trace of the path they’d come.

“Imagine Heyes… if the Law had known there was a back door into Devils Hole…” shouted Kid in wonder.

“I know!” shouted back Heyes.  “If the Law ever discovered that Hole in the Wall…”

“I’m right here!” shouted Lom, incredulously.

---oooOOOooo---

Several days later, around a small cook fire lit on the outskirts of a small Wyoming Town

“Lom’s sure been a long time” complained Heyes.

He was anxious for news, and fresh coffee, and something to eat other than trail rations.

Kid’s hand went to the Colt, it was pointing out into the dark in seconds.

“Who’s there?” he asked, pulse racing.

The last they knew they were top billing for any lynching parties to be held in this neck of the woods.  Heyes stood, pistol drawn facing in the other direction.

“Its OK boys … it’s just me” stated Lom riding into the camp.  “And you can relax. I got some good news … Remember that Marshal at the train … Johnson … Well he’s been in Porterville looking for me … and he wants to see you two again…”

The partners look at each other in panic.  In who’s book is this supposed to be good news?!?

“That’s terrible Lom,” said a whiny sounding Heyes.  “I think he knows who we are!”

“He wants us to ride into Porterville to meet him?!” Kid joined in, sounding equally whiny.

“I KNOW he knows who you are” said Lom, confused by their panicked faces.  “Don’t you see.  Warwick Johnson has the ear of the Governor… Don’t you see … this could be it … this could be really good news… about the amnesty!”

The partners exchanged a look of worry and confusion, I think they’re going to take a lot more convincing than that.

---oooOOOooo---

A dingy Hotel Room in Trappers Rest … 

“This is over …right?” asked Kid from his vigil, staring out of the Hotel window. “Weaver’s dead, and the Governor’s gotta know, it wasn’t us doing the killing.”

“That’s right Kid” said Heyes, pacing the floor.  “You know what they say …It ain’t over till the fat lady sings … well you heard Shade of morning singing …same as me … It’s over.  We’re back in Trappers rest and the Governor’s sure to let it be known that it wasn’t us did all them killings…”

Heyes’ mind was racing with possibilities.  Why did the Marshall want to meet with them again? To give them the amnesty? He doubted that.  To arrest them?  Hang them?  Make the Governor look good?  He slapped a hand through his hair and kept pacing.  Why had they agreed to this?  Why had he let Lom talk him into agreeing to meet the Marshall?

“Yeah that’s right” said Kid without taking his eyes off the street below.

“Huh?” questioned Heyes.

“We’re back where we started from.  Flat broke in Trappers Rest.” 

Kid gave a hollow laugh.

“Wheat and Kyle get to retire and start some sort of business with Wong back East.  Haff gets married and joins a tribe.  Even that Bounty Hunter gets a chance at a new way of life.  Come to think on it … Them boys … Sam and Zeb …they gotta new chance with Wong … whatever he’s up to, it’s gotta be better for them than hanging around with the Weaver Gang… They all get a chance to start over… and what do we get Heyes? What do we ever get?  Do y’ever think we weren’t supposed to be happy… maybe we should just give ourselves up to the Marshal … and get it done with…” 

Heyes had come to a standstill staring at the back of Kid’s hunched shoulders.  He hadn’t realised Kid had been feeling it too.  The feeling that no matter what they tried they couldn’t move on with their lives. He desperately sought for something uplifting to say.

“Lom was right there with us this time Kid… He didn’t come out of this no different neither … He’s still just Sheriff of Porterville.”

A polite knock on the door made them both jump.

Kid moved to stand behind the door, pistol drawn and Heyes opened it just a crack.

“Oh …” he said “Come in Lom.  That’s quite a Hogs head of a badge you’re sporting there…”

Lom strutted into the room proudly wearing a gleaming new badge of the Marshall’s office on his chest.  

Kid rolled his eyes at Heyes.

“I see congratulations are in order …Lom…” he smiled tightly, coming to a shaky stop, as Lom was followed into the room by a second Marshall, Marshall Warwick Johnson.

The boys backed up against the furniture and lamely greeted the new visitor.

“Gentlemen … I’m glad to see you both made it out of Devils Hole alive.  Sheriff … oh …I suppose that should be Marshall ….Trevors here …has filled me in with the way you chased Weaver back to his hole and routed the rest of his gang … very commendable … gentlemen … very commendable indeed.”

He came up close to them and repeated his earlier uncomfortable inspection of these two curiosities.  Then he took something out of his pocket and threw it onto the nearest bed.

“And in the light of that…” he said, pointing at what the boys recognised to be a Dime Novel.  “In the light of that…. I don’t think you’ll be waiting much longer for that which you seek… the time may soon be upon us for a popular political gesture … one that half the territory will be crying out for.”

“What is it?” ventured Heyes, thinking he was sure it was just another dumb Dime novel.  He wasn’t about to circumvent the Marshall to go pick it up.

“This?” asked the Marshall theatrically, picking up the thin volume and waving it at him.  “This my dear boy is your salvation.”

He cleared his throat and began to read from the cover.

“Imagine a train robbery, thwarted by two famous, reformed outlaws.  Two outlaws that hadn’t held with killing.  Read how they saved, not only a shipment full of gold, but also a train full of passengers from certain death.  And all because the Governor had promised them an amnesty…. in return for their help in ridding the Territory of the scurrilous, cold-blooded killers that had replaced them.”

“Let me see that” said Kid taking the thin novel and flicking through it’s pages.

“With some dramatic license, I shouldn’t think anyone that was on the Columbine Train that day, could fail to notice the similarities in the story to actual events that day” opined the Marshall.  “This is going to get talked about.  Talked about a lot.  All you have to do gentlemen, is give it time …to build up a good head of steam in the mind of the populous.  Then the Governor can step in …and do something really popular for a change.”

“That’s …amazing…” said Heyes stunned.

Lom came over to shake his hand and slap him on the back.

“Hey …they got my ‘three in the air at the same time’ in here” said Kid happily engrossed in the novel.

The others laughed.

“Of course … you’re gonna have to lay low for a little while yet” reminded Lom.

“Sure …sure…” smiled Heyes, taking both the Marshalls back to the door and ushering them through it.

“I’ll let you know as soon as the money’s through Heyes, and you can come by Porterville and pick it up.  You and the Kid could may be …head South for a few months … but you be sure to let me know where you are”  said Lom quietly turning in the doorway.

“Sure …sure …Lom” said Heyes shutting the door and standing with his back to it till his heart rate returned to normal.

“Kid?” he asked.  “Just who wrote that there story.

Kid turned to the front cover and read.

“Millic… cent Prend..er..ghast .. Hey …isn’t she the fat lady from the train?” 

“Yes… she sure is … dear old Ms Millicent herself … is a writer of Dime Novels…  I guess the fat lady really has sung now Kid.. and I like this ending better, don’t you? … Maybe that was a bit disingenuous of you Kid… to call our saviour fat.”

“Well … you didn’t have to lift her off the train…”

Kid went back to his reading.

“Hey … look at this … Millicent has dedicated the novel to her good friends Professor Tung and Miss Gabrielle Stannesforth… without whose wise council ….this account could never have been written.” 

“Who is Gabrielle Stannesforth?” asked Heyes, narrowing his eyes at his smiling cousin.

“Oh …a blue-eyed blond, with a dangerous line in accessories” smirked Kid enigmatically. “I sure hope I get the chance to thank her for the loan of her derringer one day.”

Heyes laughed, nodding.  Another little bit of the puzzle falling into place.  He let out a long sigh.

“I for one Kid, am glad that’s all over…we may not be rich …yet… but we’re the nearest we’ve ever been to that amnesty….”

Kid looked up from the book to smile at his partner.

“Like they say Heyes …..it’s over when the fat lady sings…. AND THANK YOU… Millicent Prendergast… I think I may be just a little bit in love with you… “

Kid kissed the book and waved it at his giggling cousin.

“…you sure sang us a beautiful future!”

---oooOOOooo---

Epilogue



“And we’re just borrowing the money?”

“Yes Kid … how many more times … as soon as I’ve doubled …or trebled it … we’ll go back to Porterville and give a sizable chunk back to Lom… fer the widders ‘n’ orphans, OK?”

“Well … I ain’t ever going to get used to seeing Deputy Sheriff Dollar’s name up on that door instead of Lom’s….” mumbled Kid, brushing crumbs from dinner off the arms of his blue suit.

“Hush up… this has got to be it!”

Heyes spread his arms wide, beaming at the gaudy edifice across the street.  

They were stood in front of a gaudy, yes, but never the less an impressive building, on the same street as the Rapid City First National Bank.  It stood roughly where a Tea Shoppe had once stood.  It was now an emporium of entertainment, a music hall in the very latest style, called the Golden Palace.

A large banner was slung across the front, proclaiming wonders to behold… Live every night… brought to you by Messrs. D Smith and M Jones of Smith and Jones enterprises. OPENING NIGHT TONIGHT!

“I see your brother’s in town” smirked Kid.

“Yours too” retorted Heyes.  “Shall we?” 

He swept an arm in an after you gesture, and the two handsome ex-outlaws crossed the street to join the happy throng gathering at the front of the building.

---oooOOOooo---

“I wasn’t expecting a box.  I wonder who the other chairs are for?” asked Kid quietly, looking over the gilded balcony, to the packed full house below.

“I think Wheat’s afraid we might frighten his crowd off if we mingled” laughed Heyes as the door behind him swung open.  “Marshall Trevors … and Miss Porter … How lovely to see you again.”

Both boys stood.

Lom smiled tightly and held out a chair for Miss Porter.

“Mr Smith, Mr Jones” he greeted.

“Oh … Are you related to the owners …Mr Smith and Mr jones?” asked Miss Porter gauchely.

“Distantly…”  said Kid holding his new blue Derby to his chest.

“Ohh … only very … very distantly….” babbled Heyes.

A small angelic face with an enormous cheeky grin, topped by a red pill box hat,  peeked in at the door.  

“Curtain up in five minutes.” Shouted the lad. “Can I get you anything …else?”

“No thank you Sam …Here!” 

Kid flipped the youngster a whole dollar. 

“Share that with your brother … you hear! And don’t be giving Mr Wong any more of your cheek!” he called as the giggling youngster ran off.

“Yes Sir!” 

The lights in the house dimmed and the orchestra started some tuning noises.  The audience quieted to a low mummer and a lot of coughing.  The door at the back of the box opened again.  Wheat and Kyle came in looking very scrubbed and presentable.  They wore top quality, loud suits.  Wheats moustache was waxed to a fine curl and Kyle face looked like someone may have polished it.

“Hey…” began Kyle.

“Hey! You made it …little brother!” greeted Wheat seeing Miss Porter sat in the box.

He grabbed Heyes by the shoulders and muzzed up his hair a little, making Heyes’ long floppy fringe hide the shocked ex-gang leader’s eyes.

“We weren’t sure you’d be able to make it.  Sure is fitting for us to have our law-abiding little brothers, come and help us celebrate our big first night now isn’t it Matthias?” Wheat said pointedly to Kyle, tucking Heyes under one arm.  “Wouldn’t have wanted them to miss it … seeing as it was them helped us find the money … to invest … in such a proper …and honest… sort of business…”

Wheat’s eyes had fixed on Lom’s shiny new Marshall’s badge.  Kyle followed the look. His eyes widened, and he instinctively grabbed Kid round the waist, smiling up into the gunslinger’s perplexed face.

“Sure is …Wh …errr… Daniel.  Wouldn’t have wanted my law-abiding little brother to miss this…” Kyle held on to Kid but couldn’t hold his gaze, he meekly stared over to Miss Porter.  “Howdy Ma’am…”

“Thaddeus ….you’ve been teasing me…” said Miss Porter, standing up to greet the new comers.  “I was just thinking that I must have met these gentlemen before … they looked so familiar … but I see it now …the family resemblance is uncanny!” 

She stared pointedly from Heyes to Wheat, then Kid down to Kyle.

“Really quite remarkable.”

The four ex-outlaws extracted themselves from each other’s grasps, straightening collars and pushing fingers through hair, looking like they knew they’d been called on their play acting.

Lom stepped up to formally introduce his companion and they settled down to enjoy the show. 

There were dance acts and singing acts and a small Chinese man called MIZMO entertained by reading the mind of a tall red headed man from the audience, that looked very familiar to Heyes and Curry.  He then hypnotised a drunk, into a Preacher, spouting whole passages from the bible, and back to a drunk. 

The audience went wild and Heyes and Curry laughed heartily at Preachers antics. 

There were variety acts of all sorts, including some authentic looking ‘savages’ that nearly caused a large proportioned lady in the front row to faint.  Her equally well-proportioned companion called out dramatically for smelling salts.

“Isn’t that…?” whispered Kid.

“Sure is!” smiled Heyes.

Kid immediately began to scan the audience for Gabrielle and Charlotte.  His search ended at an eye-rolling beauty, who looked like she had a pain in the neck from craning her head up to the box above to catch someone’s attention.  She waved and smiled demurely, pointing him out to her sister and then didn’t look that way again for the rest of the show.

Kid smiled broadly and Heyes rolled his eyes.

As the show came to a climax, Kyle leaned further over the rail, his eyes glued to the stage.

“This is the best bit” he said dreamily.

“She ain’t ever going to agree to be your girl Ky … Matt” whispered Wheat, as the curtain swung open again and the orchestra began a very rousing introduction. “Brunilda is a sophisticated lady…” 

“Well that’s where you’re wrong Wh… Dan.  She’s asked me to join her …in her dressing room …after the show …” 

Kyle looked like he was almost afraid to take up the invitation.  The others laughed.  On the stage a stately soprano, bedecked in an awful lot of glistening gold cloth and shining jewellery, opened her luxuriant red lips and blew the audience away with the power of her lungs.  

Lom and Heyes looked like they were in pain. Kid’s eyes widened in shock, then turned to Kyle with incredulity.  The little ex-outlaw wasn’t looking his way though, he was leaning over the balcony, hanging on every note.

Miss Porter turned to smile at Kid.  He leaned in close to her ear.

“I think she’s the last act …” he opined.  “Normally … the fat lady sings at the end.”

THE END
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The Long Road Back - Part Twenty-two - When the Fat Lady Sings - 12,300 words
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