“There are bones!”
“They’ve dug up bones.”
“Are you listening?”
“So what did I say?”
“So what do you want to do?”
A dark haired man was situated comfortably in a worn out wing back armchair, one long slender leg slung over an arm. A book was open in his lap and his dark brown eyes slid back and forth as he read. As he muttered responses, he turned the page.
“Heyes, you’re not listening!”
The person so concerned about bones was the only other person in the room. He was standing close by, almost leaning over Heyes, his brow furrowed with frustration. Curry was a similar build but his hair was light and his eyes blue. Two years younger, he was well aware of how distracted Heyes became when he stuck his nose into a new book but he had figured that talk of bones might catch his interest. Not so. Heyes remained intent on the page in front of him.
Curry sighed and rubbed a hand over his face.
“There are bones up where they were digging the new latrine pit. A skeleton. Bones – a head”
“You said”, Heyes interrupted. Although he hadn’t taken his eyes of the book, in truth, he was beginning to listen to the younger man. Interruptions by the Kid were not infrequent but not usually with such urgency in his voice.
“A head”, repeated Kid Curry, “legs, ribcage, arms.”
Heyes looked up. “Probably a racoon or squirrel.”
“A deer then, the remains of someone’s supper.”
“Heyes, I know deer bones.”
“A bear then or cougar. Fell over the edge.”
The men were in a cabin set in a draw, at the head of a long steep path in an area known as Devil’s Hole. The path led into a reasonably broad, flat area, with a small lake and steep, high rock walls. At the far end was a wild, wooded area. The cabin stood against a wall, in the open, flat area, within a complex which resembled a very badly kept ranch – with a corral, barn and ramshackle bunk house/cookhouse. Unlike ranches, there was also an equally ramshackle saloon. The cabin was, however, a well maintained building. Heyes and Curry slept in there and they made sure it was dry, warm and comfortable. The rest of the Devil’s Hole Gang had the bunkhouse, though they spent most of their time in the saloon. Obviously, somewhere was needed for waste and it was while digging out a new latrine area that a couple of the gang members had unearthed the skeletal bones with which Kid Curry was now trying to get Heyes’ attention.
“Its not a bear or a cougar. Will you just put the darned book down and come look?”
Heyes frowned. “Why do I need to…” He paused. Something Kid had said. Head, legs, arms. That was it, arms. Arms? What the? Heyes put the book, opened face down, on a small table to the side of his armchair and stood.
“Okay, let’s take a look at this bear skeleton.”
Heyes followed Curry, out of the cabin, past the corral, which, he noted, was in urgent need of repair, and the bunkhouse and out into the wooded area. It was the end of summer and the trees were just beginning to show signs of turning. For now, the sun was still high, strong and hot, making it pleasant under the shade of the trees. Heyes didn’t particularly notice. He would have preferred to have remained indoors, with his book. If this was some kind of prank…Things had been quiet for a while and the boys probably did need a distraction, but over an animal? No doubt the Kid had been joshing him when he mentioned arms, trying to get a rise out of him, which had clearly worked since here he was, walking up into the back of the canyon! Well, he’d play along and plan his revenge!
All of the Devil’s Hole Gang members were stood staring into a hole, a six foot long hole, in the ground. At the approach of Heyes and Kid, they parted slightly so Heyes could get a look.
In the hole was a skeleton. A human skeleton. With a head, ribcage, legs, feet and arms. Heyes pushed his hat back, folded his arms and stared down at it. Hard. As though that might get it to talk. Especially about why there were no hands apparent. And the hole in the head. A hole which looked suspiciously like a bullet hole.
An eon of silence passed until, suddenly, Wheat Carlson coughed and said “It’s a skeleton.”
Heyes slowly raised his head and looked at Wheat. His brown eyes bored into the man who shuffled his feet nervously.
“I can see that.” Heyes said, slowly enunciating every word. His eyes scanned round the other men, who either flinched or looked away as the eyes rested on them.
Kyle spoke up. “What’s it doing ‘ere though?”
“Well, I guess he was resting in peace, ‘til you dug him up.” Heyes paused, “Anyone know anything about him?”
If anyone did, they weren’t about to admit it.
“Where are his hands?”
Most simply shrugged.
“Beats me” said Wheat.
Kyle’s response was, “How’d it get ‘ere?”
“Someone buried him.”
“But who?” Kyle persisted, “and when?”
Heyes stared down into the hole, no, grave he amended to himself, equally irritated and intrigued by the remains.
Heyes sighed. “I dunno, Kyle, you’ve been here longer than I have!” He knelt down to take a closer look.
Curry, who had remained off to one side, stood up straight and spoke.
“Well, we still need a new waste pit. Kyle, you and Lobo better get started on that on the other side.”
The two unfortunate men groaned, picked up shovels and trudged off.
“The rest of you can head back, for now!”
Curry waited until the other men had gone. “So, Heyes, what do we do with him?”
Heyes collected an object from the grave, straightened and brushed the dirt off his pants. “I guess we rebury him. Mark the grave so he doesn’t get dug up again. Sure would be nice to know who he is and where his hands are!”
“Probably in there,” Curry indicated a pile of dirt over to one side, “or taken by animals. What name?”
“What name on the marker?”
“I dunno, unknown? “
Curry stared at him, “Unknown? Really?” Curry’s voice was filled with disdain.
“Okay, okay,” Heyes placated, “how about John Smith?”
Curry raised an eyebrow.
Another raised eyebrow.
Curry frowned and then shook his head.
“Well, you come up with a name then!” Heyes snapped. “I’m going back to the cabin.” With that, he marched off.
Curry stared down at the skeleton. “Well,” he murmured, “Just who are you then?”
Heyes looked up when the cabin door opened. Kid Curry entered. He hung his hat up and sat down in the armchair opposite Heyes. He slipped his gun out of his holster and began to clean it.
Heyes waited until his patience ran out. It didn’t take long. “Well?” he demanded.
“Fine, thanks.” Kid replied.
“KID!” Heyes exploded.
Kid Curry grinned and held up his hands to placate his partner. “Okay, we’ve covered up the skeleton. Put rocks around the grave and put a marker up. Kyle and Lobo also finished digging the new pit. Kyle’s started on supper while the rest of ‘em are in there, bellyaching about the work they’ve done today!”
“Well, tomorrow they need to fix that corral. Did you see it?”
“Yep, but I reckon it would be better to tell ‘em after supper, or even tomorrow!”
Kid continued to clean his gun, his fingers and hands moving without conscious thought, so familiar was he with the process. Heyes picked up his book. He tried to read but the words wouldn’t go in. He had to know, but he knew Kid knew he had to know and was deliberately being silent. And he really didn’t want to let the Kid know that he was so keen to know and that Kid’s tactic was working. He frowned and attempted to concentrate. Once he realised he’d read the same paragraph five times, he sighed and put the book down again.
“Alright, I give. What name did you put on the marker?”
Curry looked up and smiled, “U N Owen.”
Heyes threw his book at him.