Pulling the saddles from their horses, they heaved them on the rail before the stalls. Above rain pounded the roof, dripping in steady streams here and there where the winds of long ago had carried away shingles.
“Think we outran them?”
Heyes ran a stiff brush down Clay’s hindquarters causing water to stream from the sorrel’s coat.
“Well, do you?” Curry asked for a second time, “as he rubbed Buck down.
“Not going to place any bets,” Heyes replied, coming through the stall gate. “But, these horses need a break as much as we do.” Walking over to where the Livery Man was leaning against his office door glowering at them, Heyes passed the man a lifeless smile handing him a dollar. “Give them each a good dose of sweet mash.”
The man squinted at the coin like he did not trust it, then deciding it must be all right; he pocketed it, grunting, “will do.”
As they stepped from the shabby barn lightning expanded across the sky illuminating a town that was not in much better shape.
Curry’s gaze strayed across the six or eight buildings on to the scattering of shacks, he supposed the dwellers inside referred to as homes. Another flash relit the town, and this time, he spotted a rough sign reading ‘Hotel,’ on a building down and across the ways. Jabbing an arm toward the glowing, shuttered windows, he saw Heyes’ nod in agreement.
Inside the slapdash building, they found five men not counting the old, bent barkeep. At the bar’s counter, was one wearing a greasy buckskin shirt with his head resting on his forearms.
Choosing the table near the door, the partners settled, gingerly, in the rickety chairs, Heyes, with a bit of a groan.
Passing him a lop-sided smile, Curry said, “Does feel good to be sitting still.”
“And, without rain running down our backs.”
As they spoke, a rasping noise drew their attention, and they looked to find a twisted woman coming toward them dragging her left foot.
Unbuttoning their coats, they watched her from the slant of their eyes, trying to appear as if they were not until, at length, she stood directly at their table.
When she spoke, her mouth pulled to the side, making her a bit hard to understand. “What would you gents like?”
Rolling out his warm, toothy smile, Curry replied, “a bottle of Rye, Ma’am, and some warm food to stick to my insides.”
She nodded, jerkily, her large grayish eyes rolling to Heyes.
“Sharing his bottle, Ma’am, but I will take some food, also.”
She gifted them with a smile that looked painful to give and shuffled toward the bar, her foot scraping along the warped floorboards.
The man in the greasy shirt, came alive, rising up from the bar, he stretched showing himself to be a mite smaller than a grizzly. When his close-set eyes landed on Curry and Heyes the corner of his mouth twitched and striding to a table, he growled. “Gimp! You bring me a beer and food first!”
The woman angled herself toward him and raising her chin, she precisely said, “After I help these, Gentlemen, I will.”
His face twisted, “you serve me first, or you will damn-well regret it.”
“Leave her alone.”
For a moment, no one moved an inch, it was like Curry’s barked order had set everyone back a notch.
Then the big man’s head pivoted, and in a voice filled with shocked awe, he asked, “What did you just say to me???”
“I said, leave her be. No reason to speak to a lady like that, let alone threaten her.”
The man smiled. Except it was not the sort to warm a person, more to make the skin on the back of their arms turn cold.
Under his breath, Heyes muttered, “we’re outnumbered here.” Knowing even as he spoke, his partner would not heed his words anyway.
About then, the big man raised his arms, waving them to include the others in the room. “Do not rightly know who you think you might be speaking up in such a way and all.” He rolled his neck, flexing his bulging shoulders, “but this is not your town. You are not from here, so I will let what you said pass. Although, from here on out, you would do yourself best to stay silent.”
Then before either Curry or Heyes saw it happening, the man had hold of the barmaid, shaking her, so her head jerked to and fro. “And, Priss, what the hell has gotten into you lipping off to me like that.”
Curry leapt to his feet, his chair pinwheeling off behind him like a tumbleweed on the high plains.
At the sound of it, the buckskinned man shoved Priss, to stumble like a drunkard, crashing to the wet, muddy floor. “Stranger, that was your second damn mistake, perhaps you do not realize my name is Jamison Lane.”
Curry’s nostrils flared, and he mockingly replied with an ‘I don’t give a damn grin,’ “Tell you what, you mind your manners from here on out, and I won’t include your name when I tell this story along the trail.”
Lane bristled like a guard dog whose tail has been tromped on, his hands balling into fists. “You went and gone a bit too far there.”
“Have I?” Curry’s gaze shifted meaningfully to Priss, who had picked herself up, to stand warily like a scared foal ready to bolt. “I’m not the one showing what a man he is by bruiting around a lady.”
Lane threw a look of pure scorn at Priss. “She is nothing but an ignorant cripple and she, sure as hell, is no lady. Hell, she is so twisted, she is not even worth a free ride on Saturday night.” Saying this, he reached to snag hold of Priss again.
Excepting while Lane had been keeping track of Curry, he had failed to keep an eye on his partner. Therefore, when he reached for Priss, Heyes slapped his hand away so fast and so unexpected, it spun Lane halfway around.
Not hesitating, Lane spun right on around, his hairy fist bunching with the intent of being driven into Heyes’ face. However, as he turned, there was a moment when one foot was off the floor.
It was the moment Heyes was watching for and hooking his boot toe under the man’s arch, he tripped, flipping Lane to fall with a thud on his backside.
Despite his size, Lane was up and fast, bellowing, “Rory, you keep watch on this first bastard.”
Curry’s gaze shifted to the redshirted Rory rising up from another table.
Fixing Heyes with a bloodthirsty grin, Lane barreled toward him, head bowed, shoulders up, fists ready for impact. Only, Heyes stepped to the side, flinging his chair into Lane’s path, entangling the big man, so he sprawled out across the chair.
Looking down on him, Heyes’ mouth twisted into a sneering smile, “something the matter?”
Seeing how fast this was going wrong, and knowing he would have to answer to Lane, Rory decided it was time to make his move. His choice being to reach for the pistol; he wore snug against his belly. Yet, before he had hardly moved, Curry’s Colt was barking, causing blood and pulverized bone to erupt from Rory’s destroyed hand.
Fanning the Colt’s barrel across the room, Curry calmly said, “this all has gone just ‘bout far enough.”
Lane was edging back, one meaty hand wrapped about a broken chair leg.
Curry’s eyes, colder than the night flicked to the man, “Drop it, Lane.”
Stepping closer to Priss, Heyes slipped her a handful of bills. “You got someplace else to be?”
“I do.” She looked at Lane, still sprawled on the floor. “I am not any of the things you ever called me. My Mama said I was a survivor, a strong survivor.” She clutched tight of the money in her hand, passing Heyes another one of her painful grimace smiles. “I’m going to take the next Coach to a better town. Thank you, Sir.”
Heyes covered her as she disappeared into the night, then began scootching toward the door himself. “Partner?”
“When you have the horses in front, let go a whistle.”
The room stank of sweat, hate, and tension as Curry kept the small-minded men covered. As the minutes drew out, he could feel them calculating moves against him and was grateful when he heard the whistle.
When he darted for the door, the men rushed him, but it did not matter for even as his boot hit the stirrup, Buck was running with Heyes unloading his Schofield into the rank room’s, glowing doorway.
A good ways from the town with the rain pouring down their backs again, Heyes let go a loud, braying hyena laugh. “Kid, the idea of this whole amnesty scheme is for us to get a fresh start.”
“Perhaps, you and I ought to discuss what each of our concepts of a fresh start might be.”
“You working up to lecturing me on how I shouldn’t have stood up for her?”
“Not at all. But, I am saying we might want to lay down a few guidelines now that you’re Thaddeus Jones, not Kid Curry.”
“Just a few words into that fiasco it came to me, I could not simply elaborate to those men the depths of their foolishness for baring their teeth at Kid Curry, ‘cause if I did, there went our chances for amnesty and our fresh start.”
Curry stared hard at his partner, just able to make out the rigid tightness in Heyes’ face. “I didn’t consider that either.”
“Good to know I wasn’t alone.” Heyes’ voice dropped a bit, “should have learned this lesson after your whole walk-off bit back in Porterville, but it didn’t sink in.” Heyes chuckled bitterly, “it has now.”
“This is going to take some getting used to, isn’t it Heyes?”
“More than we thought, more than we thought.