Leaving Sanity Behind
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry slowly dismounted, stretching and twisting their backs as they watched their horses drink from the stream. The day was hot. There was no breeze. Although the sky was cloudless, a haze hovered in the air, flattening the landscape and hindering depth perception.
“How much do we have?” Curry tried to slap some of the dust off his clothes, inhaled the resulting cloud, and gave up.
“You know how much, Kid. The same amount we had the last time you asked, and the time before that.”
“This bank panic sure is makin’ it hard to eat these days.” Curry looked at his horse now munching the grass by the stream. “At least he’s eatin’. That grass is startin’ to look good to me, too.”
“The banks’d be happy to see us fed.” Heyes paused before resuming, “For about twenty years, courtesy of the territory of Wyoming.”
The Kid rolled his eyes, took a deep gulp from his canteen, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “No thanks. That drink left me full. Real full.”
Heyes laughed. “Come on, we won’t find any food or work standing here. That sign we passed said some town called Sanity was in ten miles. I figure we’ve done about eight. Maybe we can find something there. At least we can get a drink, and who knows, maybe they’ll have free eggs with that drink.”
“Maybe. But you know, Heyes, we have to take any job they have, no matter how little it pays…”
As he swung into his saddle, Heyes groaned. “I know. …Or how hard it is on the back.”
They were the only customers in the bar. Heyes took a long swig of beer while gazing mournfully at the empty bowl beside him. A sign propped against the bowl read: “While they last, free egg with a beer.”
The bartender wiped glasses before placing them within reach under the counter. “You two new to the area?”
“Yeah,” the Kid answered. “You wouldn’t happen to know if anyone’s hirin’, would you?”
The bartender looked them up and down. “What sort of work you looking for?”
“Anythin’ that’s honest and pays.”
“Well, I hear Gus needs a couple of men.”
“Who’s Gus?” Heyes asked.
“The undertaker. He’s across the street there.” The bartender pointed out the batwing doors. “You two want another drink? It’ll be twenty cents more.”
“Not right now, thanks.” Heyes and Curry looked outside, then looked at each other. They simultaneously drained their glasses, squared their shoulders, and pushed their way out the door.
The undertaker’s front room was empty as they entered. They looked around. The room hosted a small settee and two chairs, but no other furniture, unless the coffin displayed in the window counted.
“Hello? Anyone here?”
“Be right with you,” a voice called from the back room.
The Kid walked over and cautiously lifted the lid of the coffin. “It’s empty.” He grinned at Heyes.
A man entered, wiping his hands on his apron.
“Well, hello there. Can I help you, gentlemen? Perhaps you have a friend to be interred. We offer the finest funerals in the county.” He glanced at their tied-down guns and shivered. “Or perhaps you’re thinking ahead…”
“Are you Gus?” Heyes asked, ignoring the comments, although Curry’s eyebrows quirked at the last one.
“Sure am. Gus Enderby at your service.”
“I’m Thaddeus Jones and my friend here is Joshua Smith. Bartender said you’re lookin’ for a couple of men for some work.”
Gus looked them up and down. “Well, you’re not the usual type, but I guess you’ll do.”
The Kid narrowed his eyes. “Do what?”
“Dig a grave.”
Heyes and Curry groaned. “Don’t you already have men for that?”
“I did -- Bill and Bob Grandison -- but they left two days ago, said they wanted to try mining.”
Big sighs were heard from the boys. “So how much?”
The Kid leaned towards Heyes. “With four dollars we could get somethin’ to eat and a room for the night.”
“No, no. Not four dollars, two dollars.”
“Right.” Heyes agreed. “Two dollars apiece, that’s four dollars total.”
“Nope. One dollar a piece; two dollars.”
“Excuse us a minute.” Heyes put his arm around the Kid’s shoulders and pulled him to a corner. “With two dollars we’d have to choose between eating and a bed. I say we give it a pass.”
The Kid stared steadily at him. “We’ve got three cents left after those beers. At least this way we’d have a choice. It’s more than we have now, and I don’t hear you comin’ up with any bright ideas lately. We could at least afford nice steak dinners then maybe we can bed down in the livery stable.” He turned to Gus. “We’ll take it.”
“Wonderful.” Gus held out his hand, peered at it closely and pulled it back, wiping it on his apron before extending it again. Heyes and the Kid shook it gingerly.
“Listen, fellas, I couldn’t help overhearing. You might want to talk to Ma Ferguson. She lets rooms. I think you could get a room and board for the night and still have a little left over for a drink or something. Just tell her I sent you, and I’ll guarantee payment.”
“Thanks, Gus, we’ll do that then come back here.” The Kid grabbed Heyes and propelled him towards the door. “By the way, who are we buryin’?”
Heyes and the Kid paused for a moment. “You know, Thaddeus, this may just work out,” Heyes whispered.
As they exited, two men joined Gus from the back room. Still watching Heyes and Curry leave, he spoke to them, “I think I’ve found a solution to our little problem. You see the way those two have their guns tied down? And I think they’re just desperate enough to take the job.”
Gus smiled at the two men, who studied the partners’ backs through the window and began to smile.
A filthy Heyes and Curry pushed their way through the gate of the whitewashed picket fence into the yard of a charming home with a sign in the window reading: “Rooms to let.”
Heyes placed a hand against his back and groaned. “I may never be able to straighten up again.”
The Kid groaned as well. “I’m not sure if I could eat for a month, or if I’m too tired to eat anythin’.”
As they clumped to the front steps, a plump older woman hurried out the front door to meet them, smiling broadly. “Goodness mercy me, just look at you two, you poor dears. Now you go right around to the back. I’ve set up a nice bath in the shed by the back door, fresh towels and everything. Let me just put in the water I’ve been heating, and you can get cleaned up before supper.”
“Ma’am, that sounds wonderful.” Heyes beamed. “A hot bath is just what we need.”
“Oh go on with you, and, please, call me Ma. Everyone does.”
“Ma’am, Ma, we sure appreciate this.”
Heyes and the Kid hurried off.
Ma Ferguson stayed on the porch watching them go. As they disappeared around the side of her house, two men exited it and joined her on the porch. They were the same men who had joined Gus in the funeral parlor earlier. The three smiled grimly and nodded, before the men hurried down the path and out the gate.
Heyes and the Kid entered the back door, carrying their boots, their hair still wet, and the worst of the dirt brushed off their clothes.
“Ah, boys, just in time. Supper’ll be ready in about fifteen minutes.”
The Kid inhaled deeply. “That sure smells good, ma’am, Ma.”
Ma Ferguson smiled and looked them up and down. “Land sakes! That’s just a crying shame, young man.”
Heyes, startled, looked down and saw his big toe peeking out of a hole in his socks. He blushed.
“No need to be embarrassed. What you two need are some good women to look after you. Never you mind, you just leave your socks and anything else needing mending outside your room, and I’ll fix them after supper.”
“We couldn’t ask you to do that, Ma.”
“You’re not asking, I’m insisting.”
“Well, we surely appreciate the kindness.”
The three sat around the dining table, the remains of a substantial meal in evidence. Both men were eating, and half a pie was on the table by Ma Ferguson’s place. “Have another slice, Joshua.”
“Oh, I couldn’t, Ma. But that’s gotta be the best shoofly pie I’ve ever had. I’m surprised you don’t have other borders, seeing how good this food is, and how kind you are.”
“Why thank you, Joshua. It has been quiet around here lately, ever since… Do you boys really need to leave after the funeral? It’s been so nice having two such pleasant young men about the place this evening.”
The Kid pushed back his plate and smiled regretfully. “I wish we could stay, Ma, but we just have enough money for the one night.”
“Oh dear. Let me think… Well maybe if you did some repairs around here, I could let you stay another night. It would surely help me, and I do like having such two such fine young men around, I declare.”
The partners communed silently. Heyes dimpled at Ma. “We’d be happy to help you out for another day.”
“Yes, ma’am, anythin’ we can do to repay the hospitality, you let us know.”
“Well, I’m glad that’s settled. Now, you two young‘uns get to bed. I’ll have your clothes all washed and mended when you wake up.”
“Really, you don’t need to do that, Ma, but we sure do appreciate it.”
“… Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
The small group of mourners murmured, “Amen,” and hurried away after dropping handfuls of earth on the grave. Heyes and the Kid stood to the side, hats in hand, until only Gus, the minister, and the same two men from the funeral parlor remained talking quietly amongst themselves. Then the partners removed their jackets and began to fill in the grave.
They were nearly done when the minister walked up to them.
“Reverend.” They stopped and leaned on their shovels.
“Gentlemen. I must thank you for your fine work. The family wanted me to give you this, before they leave town.” He reached out to hand them some coins.
Heyes took the money. “Thank the family for us, Reverend, and please convey our condolences.”
“They’re leavin’ so quickly?” the Kid asked.
“Yes. They want to leave today, but I will give them your condolences before they go. Gentlemen.” The minister nodded and walked away.
The Kid looked at Heyes. “Do families normally tip the gravediggers?”
“How would I know, but at least we have enough to get some drinks.”
The Kid smiled and resumed filling in the hole.
The bar was busier than when they had been there previously, although still sparsely populated. A game of poker was going at one of the tables.
Heyes and the Kid walked to the bar. “How much for two whiskeys?”
The bartender reached behind him for the bottle and poured them each a good shot. “The first one is on the house.”
The two stared at the bartender, looked at each other, and shrugged. “Mighty friendly of you, thanks.” They took their glasses and leaned their backs against the bar as they surveyed the game.
“This sure is a friendly town. Ma washed and mended our clothes, we got a tip, and the first whiskey is free. A man could get to like this place.”
“Yeah, seems kind of strange though, especially since we had to pay for the beers yesterday. How much do we have left, Joshua?”
“Well there’s fifty cents after paying for the room and board and the seventy-five cents the family gave us and the three cents we already had, so a dollar, twenty-eight, I make it.”
“Better than we started, but still not enough to eat and find a place to sleep. Guess we have to move on tomorrow, but we need some supplies. How are we gonna pay for them?”
“Think that’s enough to buy into that game? That fella there just stayed on a pair of tens.”
“If it is, you can’t win much playin’ penny-ante.”
“More than we have now.”
The Kid shrugged. “True, but it’s not gonna be much of a challenge for you. Can’t hurt to ask, I guess.”
They walked over to the table, which had one empty chair. “What’s the buy-in fellas?” Heyes asked, smiling.
The players looked up then one nudged the dealer. “Oh, no buy-in, but we’re playing chicken stakes here. Just a friendly game.”
“Well, nothing I like better than a friendly game of poker. Mind if I sit in?”
The players waived him in; the Kid walked back to the bar and nodded absently as the bartender poured him another drink on the house.
The crowd had grown watching the players. Heyes raked in a pot and smiled broadly. “Well fellas it’s been great, but I think I’ll call it a night.” Groans from the other players and the pile of bills and coins in front of Heyes indicated that he had improved his investment.
He gathered up the money and walked over to the table where the Kid was sitting.
“How much you win?”
Heyes carefully counted. “I make it eight dollars and sixty-seven cents.”
They smiled at each other.
“Great, now we can buy a few supplies before we head out in the mornin’.”
“Yeah, or maybe send a few wires to see if anyone has a job for us and spend another day…”
“Joshua, Thaddeus, I’m glad to see you’re still here.”
They looked up smiling. Curry pushed out a chair. “We’re plannin’ on leavin’ in the mornin’, Gus. Sit down and let us buy you a drink.”
“No, no, I insist. I’ll buy.”
The partners shrugged and nodded their acceptance of the offer.
Gus signaled the bartender and the two men who were watching the table in the mirror above the bar. The bartender came over with five glasses and a bottle. The two men followed.
Heyes’ eyes narrowed as the men came up, and the Kid’s right hand dropped to his side, but both smiled and nodded in greeting.
“Mind if we join you?”
“Not at all.”
The two men looked at each other, then at Gus, and finally sat.
“Joshua, Thaddeus, let me introduce you. This gentleman is Horace, Horace Wampole, and with him is Josiah Lane.”
“Mr. Wampole, Mr. Lane,” Heyes acknowledged quietly.
“Gentlemen.” The Kid smiled, although his eyes remained watchful and his right hand remained below the table.
“I believe we saw you talking with Gus here, after the funeral. What can we do for you?” Heyes asked.
Gus looked closely at them. “I hope you’ve been enjoying your stay in our town. It’s important to us that you like the town.”
“Yeah, it’s a real nice place, lots of friendly folks. What do you three want?” the Kid asked.
The three men looked at each other, then at Heyes and Curry. Horace Wampole cleared his throat. “As you know, our sheriff died the other day.”
“We know, seein’ as we dug his grave.”
“Yes, well, of course, of course.” Horace looked at Josiah, who looked back. Gus looked over Heyes’ left shoulder at the wall.
“Well, well, we -- the three of us, that is -- we’re the town council, you see.”
“And, and the marshal’s office is sending someone out to replace old Henry, but he won’t be here for another two weeks or more.”
Heyes and the Kid looked at each other and around the bar. Other activity had stopped as all in the bar listened to the conversation at their table. “What’s this got to do with us?”
“We were wondering. We’ve had time to watch you; you seem to be honest folks, and seeing as you’re looking for work and all... And, and you wear those guns like you know how to use them…” Horace paused and gulped.
Heyes’ and Curry’s eyes narrowed. “Go on…”
Gus huffed and jumped in, “Oh for goodness sakes, Horace. Joshua, Thaddeus, we were wondering if you would be willing to act as temporary sheriffs until the marshal arrives.”
“We’d pay you, of course,” Josiah spoke up. “And Ma Ferguson says you can stay with her. She’ll even give you a special rate.”
Heyes frowned. “This town needs a sheriff so badly you can’t wait until the marshal arrives?”
“No, no, we’re a peaceable little place.” Horace ran a finger around his collar and gave an unconvincing laugh. “It’s just, you know, some of the ladies are nervous without protection. Not that there’s any need for protection, of course. Hah, hah.”
“Of course.” Heyes gave a quick smile that did not reach his eyes.
“So you’re not expectin’ any trouble?” the Kid probed.
“Trouble? Hah, ha. Why, what trouble could we be expecting?” Josiah responded feebly.
“How much?” Heyes asked abruptly.
“How much what?”
“How much would you pay us?”
“Oh.” Horace, Josiah, and Gus coordinated silently. “Well, I think we could manage fifty dollars for ten day’s work. Say, sixty if it takes two weeks for the marshal to arrive,” Horace proposed.
“Each and the town pays for our mid-day meal,” the Kid said.
“Each?” The council looked at each other, and then shoulders drooped. “Yes, of course, fifty or sixty dollars each and one meal a day. Will you do it?”
“And just how did the old sheriff die?” Heyes asked.
“Oh, heart attack,” Gus responded quickly, then his eyes shifted away from the two of them, and he licked his lips.
“Mind if we discuss it alone?”
“What? Oh, sure, sure. Come on Horace, Josiah.” Gus sprang up. “We’ll be over by the bar when you’ve decided.”
Heyes and the Kid watched the three men walk away. They looked around the room. The others in the room quickly resumed their activities as the boys’ glances fell on them.
“Somethin’s wrong. I think we should leave tonight,” the Kid stated.
“Now, not so fast, Kid. I agree there’s something they’re not telling us, but what kind of trouble could a quiet town like this have? Why, there’s not even anything worth stealing here. We wouldn’t have given a town like this another thought when we were with the gang.”
The Kid glared. “It don’t matter; there’s trouble, and trouble’s what we try to avoid.”
“Yeah, but it’s a lot of money.” Heyes glared back. “And we need money.”
“That’s another thing. That’s too much money. Somethin’s wrong. And what if we stay and it turns out we know the marshal when he gets here? Or, more to the point, he knows us?”
“Yeah, yeah, but still… It’s a lot of money. Don’t you want to know what’s going on?”
“I do, but we’re not goin’ to, right?”
“But, Kid, these’re some of the worst poker players I’ve ever seen. We could make a lot more than they’re paying us. You know how hard it’s been to get money lately. This is a chance to build up a reserve. We could say we can only stay ten, twelve days tops -- that we had to leave a couple of days before the marshal arrives -- that we have to meet some folks who are expecting us.”
The Kid stared at him. “I say we leave tonight.”
“Tell you what, let’s flip a coin…”
Horace, Gus, and Josiah watched the two confer.
“Think they’ll take it?” Horace asked, looking worried.
Gus studied the two over Josiah’s shoulder. “I think they’re just desperate enough for the money that they might.”
“Why’d you tell them the sheriff died of a heart attack?”
“He did. He had a heart attack right after he realized he’d killed one of the Claggett brothers. Especially once Dance Claggett shot his foot then threatened to come back with the whole gang and wipe out the town.”
All three men shuddered.
“What do you think the Claggetts will do when they realize the sheriff is dead? Any chance they’d just leave again?” Josiah asked hopefully.
The other two looked at him and slowly shook their heads no. All three sighed and returned to their scrutiny of the two partners.
“…And here’s the office. As I said, Henry never kept the sheriff’s office open past six o’clock at night, unless there was someone in the cells; then he usually slept on that cot over there.” Gus pointed to the neatly made up cot in the corner of the sheriff’s office. “On Saturdays he spent his evening at the saloon, keeping the peace, so to speak. Now, if there’re no other questions, I’ll just head on back to my shop.” Gus hustled out the door without waiting to see if the two had any questions.
Heyes and the Kid looked at each other and grinned ruefully at the stars on their vests.
“Gives me chills just to see that.”
Heyes laughed. “Yeah, at least we’re on this side of the cell doors.” He reached into his pocket. “And I have the keys.”
The Kid chuckled. “So, now what do we do? Why don’t we get somethin’ to eat, then do a walk around town, checkin’ on things?”
“You want to eat first? Why don’t we do the walk around first, work up an appetite?” Heyes was rummaging through the papers on the desk as he spoke. With a grin he held up their wanted posters.
The Kid grabbed them and placed them on the fire in the wood stove. “Don’t need to walk to work that up. The appetite’s still there from the slim pickin’s the past few weeks, even with all of Ma’s good cookin’. You lock up and I’ll get us a table at the café.” The Kid clapped his hat on his head and strode out the door before Heyes had risen from the chair behind the sheriff’s desk.
The café was cheerful, but empty. Gingham curtains on the sides of the window did not obscure the view. The Kid chose a table by the window and seated himself.
A young woman, really a child, peered out the kitchen door but ducked back as the Kid spotted her and smiled.
As soon as Heyes walked in and sat, she reappeared to take their orders.
The Kid smiled at her and got a shy smile in return. “Hello. What’s your name?”
“I’m Molly, Molly Fleming. My pa runs this café.”
“Nice to meet you, Molly. I’m Thaddeus Jones and he’s Joshua Smith; we’re the new sheriffs for now.”
“I know.” She smiled. “Everyone knows.”
“So, Molly, what do you recommend?”
“Oh, well, Pa has fried chicken or meatloaf today. That comes with potatoes, cornbread, and some greens.”
“Which do you prefer?”
“I, I don’t know. The chicken, maybe?”
“You don’t sound too sure, but I’ll chance it and take the chicken.”
“Me too.” Heyes also smiled at her.
She grinned back and returned to the kitchen.
Molly and an older man, obviously her father, returned with the dishes. As they piled the plates on the table, her father spoke. “So you two are the new sheriffs?”
“Well, we’re sure happy to see you.”
Molly spoke. “Especially if those…”
“Molly!” her father spoke sharply. “I need you back in the kitchen.”
Molly blushed and hurried into the back.
“Don’t mind Molly, she tends to babble on.”
“She wasn’t botherin’ us,” the Kid reassured him.
“No, not at all. We’re happy to talk with her,” Heyes affirmed.
“Well I’m glad to hear that. I’m a little short-handed, so if you’ll excuse me, Sheriffs, I’ll be heading back now.” He hurried away.
“Well, that was a little strange,” Heyes commented. “It’s not as if there’s so many customers it would be hard to keep up. It’s just us.”
The Kid glanced at the kitchen door with narrowed eyes. “Her pa sure seems to work her hard.”
“Maybe he just doesn’t want her getting too friendly with strangers.”
Heyes and the Kid walked out of the café and nodded pleasantly at the passersby, who beamed at them. A chorus of, “Afternoon, Sheriffs, pleasant day isn’t it?” followed them as they strolled.
“Never felt so welcome before. I could really get to like this, Kid.”
The two turned left and sauntered along the boardwalk.
The first two storefronts had closed signs. One said, “Gone on Holiday;” the next did not give a reason for its closure.
“A lot of closed stores around here, Heyes.”
Heyes stopped and looked around the town. About half the stores and businesses they could see appeared shuttered and deserted. “Yeah. I guess the town’s been hard hit by that depression.”
The sheriffs entered the dry goods store.
The clerk looked up fearfully at the sound of the door opening, then, seeing their badges, smiled broadly. “Morning, Gentlemen, what can I do for you? You’re the new sheriffs, aren’t you?”
“Yes we are. I’m Joshua Smith, and my partner here is Thaddeus Jones.”
“I’m Burt Cornwallis. Do you need anything?”
The Kid smiled at him. “No, we’re just tryin’ to meet folks, see if there’s anythin’ you need from us.”
“Oh, goodness. Can’t think of anything.” He looked them up and down. “I have some wonderful shirts back here you might be interested in. I could let you have them at cost -- just to be friendly-like.”
“Sure is a friendly town. We’ll think about the shirts. We should continue our rounds. Come on, Thaddeus.” Heyes smiled quickly and urged the Kid out the door.
As they walked down the street, the Kid commented. “What’s the matter, Heyes? Seemed like a good offer.”
“Yeah it’s good all right, too good. It bother you how friendly everyone’s being?”
“There’s somethin’ strange here, but ….” Curry’s voice trailed off as he indicated the grocer’s across the street. “Wasn’t that place open yesterday?”
“Yeah, and didn’t seem like business was so bad they had to close up.”
They looked at each other, frowning. A wagon heading down the street, filled with a family and what looked to be all their possessions, passed them. Heyes and Curry watched it drive around the corner, shrugged, and continued their patrol.
“Those may just be the best apple fritters I ever had, Ma. I’m gonna have to let out my belt if we stick around enjoyin’ all your fine cookin’ much longer.” The Kid pushed back in his chair and took a final swig of coffee.
“Oh, go on with you.” Ma Ferguson laughed. “It’s a real pleasure cooking for folks who enjoy it so. I just wish you weren’t leaving so soon.”
“Say, Ma, there seem to be an awful lot of people leaving town. How come? It seems like a nice, pleasant, friendly place.”
“Oh, it is, Joshua, it is, very pleasant. Now as to people leaving….” Suddenly Ma Ferguson jumped up and began bustling about clearing the table. “Goodness me, look at the time. Now, I know you young men want to go to the saloon, so scoot. I’m going to be late for my meeting if we all don’t hurry.” She grabbed the plates and hustled into the kitchen.
Heyes and the Kid exchanged puzzled glances then turned to look at the kitchen door, before getting up.
Under a cloudy sky, the two men stood in the alley beside the sheriff’s office. Their backs were to the street.
“Look, just focus on the target; don’t glance at your gun.” Heyes rolled his eyes, but complied with the Kid’s instructions. He watched as the Kid tossed the can in the air, quickly pulled his weapon without looking at it, and shot. The can jerked as he hit it and jerked again as the second shot reached it.
“I was already doing that. Anyway, I’ve practiced enough -- your turn.” Heyes walked over and sat on a stump at the end of the alley where they were practicing and began to read a newspaper.
The Kid reached down and tossed another can, hitting it twice in the air and sending it dancing down the alley with his other shots.
“You could be as fast and accurate as me, if you’d just practice more.”
“And if I was, what would you do in this partnership of ours?”
The Kid turned and looked at him, grinning. “Come up with better plans?”
Heyes laughed. Both turned at a sound from the street behind them and watched another family in a loaded wagon head out of town. After the wagon had passed, they exchanged puzzled glances.
Curry holstered his gun and frowned. “That does it. Today we find out what is goin’ on in this town.”
Heyes and the Kid were the only ones in the café. Molly smiled when she looked in the room and saw them. She came running over to take their order.
“Mr. Jones, Mr. Smith, there’s a pot pie today. It’s lovely; I had some myself.”
“Thanks, Molly, sounds good. I’ll have that,” the Kid said smiling back at her.
“Same here,” echoed Heyes.
Molly brought the two plates, set them before the two men, and started to turn away.
“Molly,” Curry smiled at her. “We’re the only ones here, why don’t you sit a minute and rest?”
Molly frowned slightly and took a quick glance at the kitchen door before sitting in the chair Heyes pulled out for her. “Thank you.”
“Must be tirin’ workin’ here all day. Don’t you have school?”
“Teacher left last week, Mr. Jones.”
“Sure seems like a lot of folks have left here lately.”
Molly nodded. She spoke quietly, “We would’ve left too, but then mama got sick, and we couldn’t.”
She looked up guiltily at her father, who was frowning and hurrying over to their table. “Get in the kitchen, girl!”
Molly jumped up, her face flaming, and fled to the back.
“Sorry she was bothering you,” Mr. Fleming said stiffly.
“No bother. We asked her to sit and chat with us,” Heyes replied. “She works very hard.”
“Yes, she does.” Mr. Fleming said softly.
“She told us your wife was sick. Sorry to hear that.”
“Yes, well, I have to go. Anything else? Pleasure as always, gentlemen.” Mr. Fleming hurried after his daughter without waiting for their replies.
The two men frowned at each other and began to eat.
“Ma, that was a wonderful supper as always. I can’t think how much I’ll miss your cookin’ when we leave here. While I think about it, anythin’ else you need doin’ around the house?”
“Oh, Thaddeus, you sweet boy. You two have fixed everything there is. It’s been such a pleasure having you two around. I wish you’d consider staying after the marshal comes. Surely there’d still be some work for you here.” Thunder rumbled overhead. “And it’s going to rain. I can feel it in my bones. When they get to feeling this way, we’re in for days of rain. Really you won’t want to ride out in it.”
“Sorry, Ma,” Heyes replied, smiling. “We really need to be going in a couple of days, even if it is raining. We will miss this though; this is one of the friendliest towns we’ve ever been in. But that raises a question: if this town is so friendly, why are so many folks leaving?”
Ma appeared stricken for a moment, then looked down at her lap and began to fuss with her napkin. “I can’t think what you mean, Joshua.”
“What he means, Ma, is that somethin’ is goin’ on in this town that no one’s tellin’ us. There’s plenty of work here, no mine has closed -- never was one -- there’s no more drought than usual that we can see. We can’t figure out why folks are leavin’, and that makes us wonder.”
“Well, I’m sure you’re both just being silly. Now I really must get started on the dishes.” Ma Ferguson stood up and began to gather the plates and serving ware.
Curry also stood and firmly took them out of her hands, while Heyes pulled her seat out for her.
Once she was reseated, the Kid fixed her with a cold stare. “The dishes can wait. We want some answers, and we want them now. Why was this town so anxious to get a new sheriff or two, and why are folks leavin’?”
Ma looked back and forth at the two men standing before her and sighed. “I really think you need to ask Gus that. It’s not for me to say.” She stood up and reached for the dishes again. “And that is all I’m going to say about it.” She marched into the kitchen and closed the door behind her.
Heyes and Curry pushed their way through the doors of the saloon and walked to the bar. They ordered whiskeys and looked around, focusing on the only table with anyone at it.
“There they are, all three of them,” Heyes commented grimly. “Now, we get some answers.”
He and the Kid walked slowly up to the table, grabbed two chairs and sat down.
“Mind if we join you?” the Kid asked after they had seated themselves.
Gus, Horace, and Josiah looked at each other and then at the two men seated before them. Heyes and Curry stared grimly back, their eyes hard.
“So, how are things going? Folks treating you well?” Gus asked tentatively.
“Fine, just fine,” the Kid answered. He and Heyes continued to look at the men without moving, and waited.
The men glanced at each other again. Horace ran a finger around his collar. Josiah made a slight noise and took out a handkerchief to wipe his forehead.
Gus opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. “Did, did you want something?”
Heyes slammed a hand on the table. The three men jumped. “What we want to know, gentlemen, is exactly what is going on around here.”
“Why are so many people leavin’ town? Why does her father shut Molly down every time she tries to tell us about why folks are leavin’ town?” the Kid continued.
Again, Gus, Horace, and Josiah looked at each other and back at the implacable stares before them. Gus sighed. “Okay, okay. You’re right; we should have told you before. The sheriff didn’t exactly have a heart attack. Well, actually he did, but…”
“But what?” Heyes insisted.
“We really are a peaceable town. You have to understand. Henry was nearly sixty for goodness sake! Sheriffs don’t live that long unless it is a quiet town.”
“But somehow it’s about to get a lot less quiet, ain’t it? And ‘Henry’ knew, right?” the Kid prodded.
“The whole town knows,” Heyes corrected.
Josiah sighed. “Go ahead, Gus. They have the right to know – and to leave.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” He cleared his throat. “About ten days ago, two men came to town, tried to hold up the general store -- the one that’s closed now. There wasn’t a lot of money, but still... Anyway, Henry stopped the robbery. The men started shooting. Well, Henry killed one and winged the other, although he got winged too -- shot in the foot, if you can believe it. The other man pulled out and threatened to come back with his gang and make the whole town pay for killing his brother.” Gus finally stopped and drew breath.
“Continue,” Heyes demanded.
Horace cleared his throat. “It’s the Claggett Gang,” he whispered. “When Henry realized he’d killed one of the Claggetts… Between that and his injury it was just too much for him. He had a heart attack like Gus said. Leaving us to face the wrath of the Claggetts,” he concluded bitterly.
“So now you know. You’re going to leave too, right?” Josiah asked.
Heyes and Curry looked at each other, then at the three men, and finally at the bartender, who had given up all pretense of tending bar and was standing behind them. “Which Claggett?” Heyes asked.
“Billy, Billy Claggett’s dead and it was Dance Claggett said they’d be back,” the bartender answered.
The two finished their whiskies in one gulp and stood up. They turned and walked out of the bar. The four men remaining poured more shots and drank them down, pouring another round almost before they completed the first.
“Nice quiet town, huh?” the Kid commented bitterly.
“Of course, it would be the Claggetts.”
“Yeah, and the only one of them who’s not crazy is dead. Now what? They hate you, Heyes.”
“No, Kid. It’s you they hate. Me they despise.”
“Oh, well, glad we cleared that up.”
They paused at the gate outside Ma Ferguson’s house. “So we’re packin’ up and leavin’, I guess. After all, we don’t owe these folks anythin’ and they ain’t exactly been honest with us.” The Kid paused and looked at Heyes.
“True. It’s none of our business if the town gets shot up some.”
“Yeah, most of them’ll just lay low anyway, come back out when the Claggetts leave.” The Kid turned to Heyes. “I mean Ma will be fine, and Molly, and, and…” He trailed off.
“Course they will. Why would Dance or Bozer want to hurt an old woman or a little girl like Molly?”
“Well, maybe ‘cos they’re a few horses shy of a herd and mean to boot. But, nah. It’s none of our business anyhow.”
“And if we stay, everyone will find out who we are.”
The thunder that had been grumbling as they spoke suddenly clashed. Lightning rent the dark sky till it was as bright as noon, and rain fell in torrents.
Heyes and the Kid ran for the porch and stopped once they reached its cover.
“You know, Heyes, this is no weather to be out on the trail in.”
“Yeah, soaking wet at best. Might even be tornado weather.”
The two looked at Ma’s front door then back at the curtains of rain.
“Maybe we should wait just until the rain stops and the creeks dry up some,” Heyes said.
“Just what I was thinkin’. Shouldn’t take more ‘n a day or two, and we were plannin’ to leave then anyways,” the Kid agreed.
They looked at each other, sheepish half grins on their faces, and went into the house.
Heyes and Curry entered the café, taking their usual seats by the window.
Molly flew out of the back room and hugged the Kid around the shoulders, then Heyes. “Oh! You’re here! You’re still here!”
Mr. Fleming joined her beside the table. “Gentlemen, I’m surprised you haven’t left, but I sure am glad you haven’t. I have some fine steaks I could make, if you’d like.” When they nodded, he headed back to the kitchen, pausing at the door. “I am sorry no one told you sooner, but we were desperate. Come on, Molly, let’s cook up a feast.” He went into the kitchen, Molly following. The girl stopped and beamed at them before disappearing behind the door.
The Kid took a bite of his steak and chewed contentedly. Heyes was gazing out the window as he ate; suddenly, he tapped the Kid’s hand. “Here they come.” Nodding at the window, he indicated the five men on horseback who had just ridden up.
As the Kid turned to watch, the men dismounted in front of the saloon. One grabbed his shotgun from its saddle holster -- all wore their six-shooters tied down.
Heyes and the Kid looked at each other, grimaced, and pushed their chairs back. Molly peeked out the kitchen door.
“Stay in there, Molly, with your pa,” the Kid said, smiling at her. “We’ll be back for extra big slices of your fine pie in no time.”
Heyes and Curry stood, checked their guns, and headed out the door.
As the partners stepped up on the sidewalk by the saloon, the sound of a shotgun blast and the tinkling of broken glass roared out the batwing doors. They quickly pulled their guns and stepped inside.
“That’s enough! Put up your weapons!” Heyes ordered.
The bartender peered from behind the bar where he’d been cowering. The mirror behind it was shattered. Dance and Bozer Claggett looked at the reflections of the two sheriffs in the remaining shards and their eyebrows shot up.
Dance swung around. “You two?” he exclaimed.
“You’re the new sheriffs?” Bozer asked, beginning to laugh.
“That’s, that’s right,” the bartender gasped. “Sheriffs Smith and Jones will stop you.”
“Smith and Jones? My, my, how original, boys.” Dance laughed. “Now go away; we have business to finish with this town.”
The Kid remained standing just inside the door, gun in hand. “I don’t think so, Dance, Bozer, boys.” He nodded to the gang members.
They nodded back, keeping wary eyes on the Kid’s gun hand.
“You have no business in this town, Dance,” Heyes declared. “From what I hear it was a fair shoot. If you leave now, we won’t arrest you. Just get out of here.”
Dance and Bozer stared at Heyes, glanced at each other, and started laughing.
“You won’t arrest us, huh? I’m sure you won’t. What would you do with us, once you did?” Dance choked out. “Look, Sheriff… are you Smith, or are you Jones? No matter. We just came in for a drink before finishing our business. Now you leave us alone, we’re busy.”
“He told you to leave, boys, and I’m tellin’ you, too,” the Kid stated. “So here’s the deal, you get ten minutes to have a drink.” He turned to the bartender. “Pour them each one shot on us.” He turned back to the Claggetts. “One drink, then you’re gone within ten minutes. We’ll be outside. Don’t make us come get you.”
Heyes gave them one last glare and strode out the door. The Kid stared until Dance looked away, then he turned, and followed Heyes.
The partners waited in the street.
“Think they’ll just leave?”
“No,” stated Curry baldly.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.”
The two men looked at each other. The Kid squinted up at the sun. “You know, maybe ridin’ in that storm wouldn’t have been so bad. A little rain never hurt us.”
“Now you tell me. Anyway, don’t make a difference to me whether I’m washed down a raging river or shot dead in the street.”
“Cheer up. Maybe we’ll survive long enough for the town to lock us up for the reward.”
“I knew I could count on you, Kid, to look at the bright side.”
Bozer Claggett and his three men sauntered out of the saloon, laughing and talking. As they reached the street, they stopped at the sight of Heyes and Curry standing there, waiting for them. No one else was visible, and the town was otherwise quiet as a tomb.
“I said get out of this town and I meant it.” Heyes declared, gun drawn, his eyes hard. The Kid stood beside him, his gun also drawn and no emotion showing on his face.
“And if we don’t, Heyes? We know you won’t shoot; you’re too chicken. Always letting the Kid do your dirty work for you -- but he won’t shoot anyone either. After all everyone knows, ‘in all the banks and trains you’ve robbed, you two have never shot anyone.’” Bozer Claggett laughed. “So, seems to me you two better be putting down those guns, and we might let you live -- for old time’s sake. But, you’re worth twenty-thousand dollars dead or alive, and dead works for us,” he sneered.
“Yeah, and just in case you get any fancy ideas, Kid, I got me a little insurance you might say,” Dance Claggett called from behind them.
Heyes’ attention didn’t waver from Bozer. The Kid swung around, moving so he was back to back with Heyes, facing the new threat. Dance Claggett stood there, arm around Molly, holding a gun to her head.
“Don’t move, girly, and this’ll be over in just a minute. The Kid there ain’t likely to shoot while I’ve got you.”
Curry looked at Molly’s terrified face, his eyes holding hers. “Molly, it’ll be alright. You trust me, don’t you?”
Eyes huge, Molly nodded slightly.
“Okay, Molly, just do exactly what he says, and you’ll be fine. What do you want, Dance?”
“Put your gun on the ground slowly. You, too, Heyes,” he called, a triumphant look on his face. Molly moaned and tried to pull away. He tightened his hold, causing her to gasp as she struggled to breathe. “I said hold still, girl!”
His eyes focused on Dance and Molly, the Kid slowly bent to place his weapon on the ground, Heyes mirroring his moves behind him. “Do exactly what he said, Molly, hold absolutely still,” he said softly.
As Curry moved to follow Dance’s instructions, Dance’s hand holding the gun to Molly’s head relaxed slightly. Without warning, the Kid fired from his crouch, hitting Dance between the eyes. Curry spun around, but Heyes had already dropped Bozer with a shot through the heart and was holding his gun on the other gang members.
“Put them down, boys,” Heyes called.
The Kid shifted his gun, reinforcing the order. “You okay, Molly?” he called, his eyes focused on the remaining gang members.
They dropped their weapons and raised their hands as the townspeople rushed out, several with shotguns in hand. Gus and Horace began to move them towards the jail.
The Kid hurried over to Molly, who was huddled on the street by Dance’s body, moaning. “Are you hurt?”
“No, no!” she gasped, clutching him and shivering. Ma Ferguson knelt beside her, gently taking her by the arm and enfolding her in an embrace, joined by Mr. Fleming. Molly burst into tears.
Heyes and the Kid stood silently together, looking where the bodies had lain. They exchanged glances and sighed quietly, faces blank. The townspeople clustered together in small groups, talking amongst themselves, staring at the two, then quickly looking away.
Gus and Josiah exited the sheriff’s office and walked towards them. Horace stood in the doorway looking at them for a moment, grimaced, turned, went inside, and shut the door. Ma Ferguson came up and joined the little group.
“You two really Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?” Gus asked. Then he shook his head. “Guess that was a stupid question.”
Heyes and the Kid looked at each other. “Don’t see how we can deny it at this point. I’m Hannibal Heyes, and he’s Kid Curry.”
“Why’d you stay once you knew the Claggetts were coming? You could have ridden off and we’d never have found out who you were.”
Heyes and the Kid looked at each other again and shrugged. “We said we’d stay, and I guess we needed the money,” the Kid answered.
“You could have taken all you needed at any time,” Josiah protested.
“Well, we went straight a while ago, and being honest just gets habit forming. Stealing what we needed never really occurred to us,” Heyes said.
“But that still doesn’t answer why you stayed once you knew.” Gus looked at them, his brow creased. “But I guess you’re used to all this shooting.”
“Not really,” Heyes replied quietly, frowning.
“And I guess the question is, what happens now?” the Kid said.
Gus, Josiah, and Ma Ferguson looked at each other. “What happens now is you two leave. Now. Before that marshal gets here,” Ma declared.
Heyes and the Kid stared at the three.
“Yeah, get going. The men in this town can handle it from here.” Gus held out the money owed them, and Josiah nodded.
Heyes and the Kid looked at the clusters of people standing around; all were smiling at them. Molly and her father brought up their horses, which had been saddled and loaded with their gear.
Without another word, Heyes and Curry mounted. The Kid looked down at Molly, who had put a hand on his knee.
“Thank you. Thank both of you.”
They lifted their hats in farewell and cantered out of town.
It was dark and the two men were lying in their bedrolls before a small fire. Heyes lay with his arms behind his head, staring at the night sky; the Kid was stretched out against his saddle, staring at the fire.
“We aren’t like them, Kid. We aren’t killers.”
“There’s two bodies back in Sanity that say otherwise, Heyes.”
“It’s different; we didn’t have a choice. We’re not like them,” Heyes insisted. “We aren’t,” he whispered to himself.
“Sure, Heyes, sure. Sometimes you don’t get a choice.” Curry rolled away from Heyes and whispered, “There’s always a choice.”
The two fell silent.