Backtrack Chapter five
Posts : 1467
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 63
Location : Camano Island Washington
|Subject: Backtrack Chapter five Sun Nov 24, 2013 9:35 pm|| |
Jed licked the envelope and sealed it shut, handing it to the postal clerk. Heyes had waited impatiently while he wrote a long, loving missive to Beth before enclosing the crude sketch of Karma’s tampered brand. “How long is that gonna take to get to where it’s going?” asked his dark-haired partner.
The clerk adjusted his thick glasses, peered down at a chart, harrumphed, and said, “Hmm, looks like a week or two.”
“A week or two? That’s ridiculous! I could walk to Brookswood faster than that,” growled Heyes.
“Well, why don’t you then?” snapped the irritated man, shoving the letter back over the counter. He was sick to death of disgruntled customers. Ever since Wells Fargo had stopped its mail service in 1890, he’d had to put up with people’s unrealistic expectations. Mail delivery was chaotic and unreliable in these parts. That’s just the way it was. Maybe those city folks got their mail twice a day, but not here. These two could like it or lump it as far as he was concerned.
“Heyes, take it easy. It ain’t gonna happen overnight. We don’t even know if Beth can track it down or how long it’s gonna take her once she gets this letter. She might not even be able to find it.” Jed pushed the letter back to the clerk, who happened to notice the name of the addressee, Beth Curry.
“Heyes and Curry?” the man stammered. Two pairs of eyes met his. He gulped hard. “Sorry, I...”
“Is there any way to get it there faster?” asked Jed. He was as anxious as Heyes to get to the bottom of this wild goose chase. His pregnant wife was waiting for him at home and he wanted to be with her, but there was still the problem of the Hole, too. He sighed as the clerk shook his head no. “All right then. Thanks much.” Heyes followed him out the door to where Joe was waiting with the horses.
“Where to now?” asked Joe.
Jed took the reins of Gov, mounting. “I guess we backtrack, but how’re we gonna do that when we don’t know where we’re backtrackin’ to?”
“We’re heading to Cheyenne,” said Heyes, swinging up onto Karma. She shook her head and snorted, ready for some exercise after the indignity she’d suffered. All three riders started down the dusty street.
“Cheyenne? Why’re we goin’ there?” Jed was confused as was Joe. “I thought we were steering clear of trouble these days. There ain’t been nothin’ but trouble in Cheyenne since the war broke out.”
“The range war’s been over since April. Besides, what’s that got to do with us?” asked Heyes.
“How can you ask that?” Jed was getting irritated. “I don’t get why we have to go there.”
Joe wanted to know what exactly Cheyenne and the Johnson County range war had to do with Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, but he didn’t want to kill the conversation so he kept his mouth shut and his ears open. He’d find out soon enough if they were riding that way.
“’Cause the only thing we have to go on is the name Cole Stockyards. Cheyenne’s the capital; somewhere there’ll be some record of Cole Stockyards. Tax rolls, business registration, you know,” said Heyes. “Besides, maybe we’ll run Cole to ground on the way. We can check the horse dealers and liveries as we cross Wyoming.”
“Not if it’s a fake name,” pointed out Joe, receiving a glare from both Heyes and Jed. “Well, just saying. It could be a dead end.”
“It’s all we’ve got unless you’ve got a better idea,” snapped Heyes, urging Karma into a lope and leaving the other two riders in the dust.
Joe frowned, but Jed just smiled back at him. “You’d be better off just smilin’ and noddin’. Once Heyes has a plan there’s no talkin’ him out of it.”
Karma was having the best year of her life. But then when you consider that she was only two years old that's not really saying too much. But to her, considering that the first six months spent with her dam were faded into distant memory, this past winter compared quite favourably to the previous summer and spring. She really was beginning to think that this was hers by right and humans were put into her world for the sole purpose of brushing her coat and feeding her hay and grain. She was quite content.
It had taken her a few months to relax in her new surroundings, but neither of the humans here ever treated her badly and slowly but surely she had begun to trust them a little bit. By the time the next spring had blossomed in their valley Karma had grown in height and width and at two years of age, she already towered above the four resident mustangs that were used by the wranglers.
The young colts who had been rounded up with Karma had been broken out and then sold the previous fall, but Karma had been held back because of her age and obvious trauma. Didn't matter that even as a yearling, the filly had out-grown the colts, a yearling was still a yearling and wasn't ready to be carrying the weight of a man on their backs. So she was held back through the winter months and allowed to grow and to heal both in body and in spirit.
Then, once again her privileged world was about to be stripped away. As soon as the snow was mostly melted and the ground no longer frozen underfoot, Karma-Lou was being put back to work. Josh had discovered early on that the filly had very fine ground manners and once she had settled down a little, was quite willing to accept a halter. She happily followed Josh from the corral over to the round pen in full anticipation of a currying and brushing out.
She did receive this attention, but then Josh began sacking her out with a saddle blanket. Karma was accustomed to being sacked out, but her last experience with this process held some terrifying memories for her and she planted her feet and blew indignantly at the human. He clucked softly to her as he continued to sack her and though at first she was tense and fidgety with it, she gradually tired of being afraid and began to settle down.
Within an hour Josh was rubbing the blanket all over her back, then around her chest. She jumped forward when she felt it slide down her backside, but the more Josh did it, the more she accepted it as no big deal. Soon he was able to rub it along her belly and then she even permitted it to come over her ears and down her face.
Well this was alright. The bad memories began to fade, and the pleasant memories of when this procedure was first introduced to her took precedence again. She was actually enjoying it. Then Josh dropped the blanket at her feet and she sniffed it, playfully pawing at it. Before she knew it he was wrapping it around her forelegs, then her hind legs and she didn't mind it at all. It was kind of fun, actually; walking over it and around it and ultimately picking it up in her teeth and tossing it around. Nothing here to be frightened of.
Then Sid came into the round pen carrying a saddle and Karma's head went up and her eyes rolled. Memories of sores on her back and spurs raking her sides came flooding back to her and she began to back-step. Nostrils flared and she blew out her anxiety, letting it be known that she didn't want that hunk of leather anywhere near her.
Sid put the saddle down and retreated to the other side of the fence. One of the colts from the previous group had fallen on him and broken his leg, so he was happy to let Josh handle this skittish filly until he lost his limp. He settled in behind the post to watch the show, even though he knew it could take all day to get this filly well started. He didn't mind. It was kind of nice being able to sit back and watch his partner do all the hard work for a change.
Josh soothed the filly, clucking to her and gently stroking her neck. He walked her around the pen, letting her eye the saddle and become comfortable with it being in the same vicinity as her. Gradually her head came down and though she kept her eye on it, and blew at it a few times; she soon came to accept it and began to relax.
Josh picked up the saddle blanket again and smoothed it out on her back, making sure there was no dirt or wrinkles in it that might cause irritation once the saddle was on. He gave her another pat and then slowly picked up the saddle. Again Karma's head went up and she backed away from him.
“Whoa, easy girl,” Josh soothed her as he gently held her in place with the lead shank. “It’s not gonna hurt ya' this time.”
Karma wasn't so sure about that and she stepped back some more as Josh approached her with the saddle. He backed off until she stopped and both horse and human stood quietly in that place of truce. Once Karma's head came down, Josh approached her again. Her head went up and he stopped but he didn't back off. He waited there until she stopped blowing and her head came down again.
He stepped in closer and Karma tensed, but she stood her ground and waited. Josh stopped and let her relax. Finally her curiosity took over and she stretched her nose out to sniff at the leather. Nothing happened. She sniffed it again and then took a bite at it. Still nothing happened. Josh moved in beside her and though her head went back up and her ears went back, Karma didn't move. Josh stroked her neck and spoke quietly to her until she relaxed again.
He lifted the saddle up over her back and she instantly crouched out from under it and hopped away. But she gave to the lead shank and followed the pressure to turn back around and face the human and the saddle again. She was tense and blowing, but she was watching and learning and gradually Josh won her over.
It took a good hour of approaching her with the saddle before she stood her ground and allowed him to place the contraption on her back. She tensed again and trembled, but she didn't move. Josh settled the saddle so that it was placed where it would be most comfortable and then stroked the sweat covered neck and congratulated her on being such a brave girl. Karma was dubious.
Josh then gently pulled the saddle off her back, the blanket following and began the procedure all over again. Two hours of putting the saddle on and taking it off again was what it took before Karma stopped tensing every time he lifted the saddle up. Only then did he slowly reach under her belly and grab hold of the cinch. He pulled it up, tightening and loosening it a number of times against her girth until she relaxed.
This part didn't take too long as she'd had all this done before and had become quite accustomed to having a saddle cinched up around her while she'd run with the mustang herd. Her fear was of the saddle itself hurting her and when that didn't happen, the rest was quite easy. She hardly flinched as Josh tightened the cinch for real. He unclipped the lead shank and sent her out to the fence line so she could buck it out if she wanted to, but she simply danced away from him and loped around the pen as though she had been doing this all her life. She had become used to the feel of the stirrups slapping against her sides and the sound of the leather creaking as she moved. None of this bothered her.
“She's lookin' good,” Sid commented from the peanut gallery. “Ya' ready ta' get on her?”
“Yup,” Josh responded with a smile. “I do believe it's time.”
Josh relaxed his stance and turned his shoulder away from the filly. Karma took note of the body language and trotted in to the center of the pen and stopped to stand quietly beside him. He smiled at her and gave her another patting on the neck and shoulders. He snapped the lead shank back on to the halter and gently tightened the cinch a little bit more. Sid came up to him and handed him the bosal. Josh quietly slid the hackamore over Karma's ears and then brought the reins up and over her head. Sid held on to the lead shank, stroking the filly's face while Josh quietly placed a foot in the stirrup.
Karma didn't move so Josh slowly put weight into the stirrup while both men continued to stroke her and speak quietly to her. But she tensed again as soon as she felt the weight on the one side. Memories of that last time a human had gotten on her back causing her to crouch and consider pulling away. But before she could react, Josh removed the pressure and stood beside her once again.
“That's alright Princess,” he assured her. “I know the last time you were ridden wasn't pleasant. We'll just take our time here.”
Both men stood quietly, continuing to pat her and scratch her neck until she relaxed. She finally lowered her head right down, blowing out her stress and licking her lips; a sure sign that she was feeling comfortable about these proceedings and was ready to move ahead.
Josh and Sid exchanged a look and a nod and Josh once again placed his foot in the stirrup and applied weight. Karma's head came up a bit, but she stood her ground and waited. Josh took hold of the saddle horn and slowly raised himself up until he was standing in the stirrup. Karma tensed a little, unsure about having this human above and behind her. That's where predators would be and she wasn't sure if she liked this.
Again, before she could decide to react to it, Josh lowered himself to the ground and stepped out of the stirrup. He did this many times, and on both sides, until finally Karma was comfortable with it. She was beginning to realize that what happened the last time a human got on her back wasn't going to happen this time. Nothing was hurting her and as soon as she became unsure, the pressure was removed until she decided that she was ready to move forward again.
It was mid-afternoon before Josh was finally able to throw his right leg over the cantle and settle himself into the saddle. By the time they had gotten to this point, Karma was no longer concerned about it. Both men spoke softly to her and continued to pat her and she was thinking that all this attention was pretty nice.
Josh dismounted and then mounted up again from the other side and all was well. He and his partner exchanged nods again and Sid unclipped the lead shank. He then sent the filly out to the fence line again, only this time Josh was on her back and coming along for the ride. Well, that was alright. Josh sat quietly up there; he didn't put his leg to her nor try to direct her with the reins, he just let her go where she wanted to and at her chosen gait.
She trotted around at first and was feeling pretty good, though it felt strange having that weight on her back. It was affecting her balance and she had to adjust to make up for it. But Josh sat quietly and didn't move or shift and just went with her, giving her time to get accustomed to having a person on her back. Finally she shook her head and transitioned up into a lope. It felt very strange at first and she gave a little buck in order to settle her balance and then she was fine.
Josh just let her go until she was ready to slow back down to a walk on her own. He patted her neck, picked up the reins gently, and gave her a direction to go in. She turned her head with the pressure and her feet just naturally followed. Josh sat deeper in the saddle and gave a gentle pull back on the bosal and at the same time said “Whoa.” With the shifting of his weight it just seemed the natural thing to do and Karma stopped.
Josh patted her again, leaned forward just a notch, gently pushed his lower leg against her sides, and clucked to her. Again, the shifting of the weight and the encouragement from the legs told her to move forward and she did. A little awkwardly at first but then gaining confidence and stretching out into a faster walk until Josh asked her to stop once more.
The partners smiled at each other. Sid stepped forward and snapped the lead shank back on to the halter and Josh dismounted. That was enough for today and everyone was tired.
After that Josh came out and rode Karma every day and the filly actually began to look forward to these sessions. She learned quickly and within a month she was walking, trotting and loping without hesitation. She was learning how to neck rein so that Josh could turn her with just one hand and to come to a stop even from a lope as soon as she felt her rider's weight shift. She was a fine filly and Josh knew that if she was broke out right, they'd get a decent price for her.
What irked him and Sid was the knowledge that if she were papered she'd bring an even better price. So, one evening after supper and chores the partners were relaxing on the front porch of their cabin and discussed this very circumstance while they sipped whiskey and smoked cigarettes.
“Do we still have any of those forged registration papers that Wayne made up for us?” Josh asked lazily.
“Ya' know we do,” Sid chided him. “He done a good job on them, so we kept 'em—just in case.”
“That's what I thought,” Josh commented. “What do you think? It's a risk, but we sure could use the extra money right now.”
“Yup,” Sid agreed. “It'd make up fer us havin' ta' feed her through last winter.”
“Yeah it would,” Josh second that statement. “We'd havta come up with a whole history for her. Where she was bred, what her lineage is. We'd havta come up with a name for her too—I mean something better than 'Princess'!”
“I know that!” Sid griped. “I done this afore ya' know.”
“I know,” Josh placated him. “Just making sure, that's all. It'd be a risk.”
“So ya' keep sayin',” Sid pointed out. “but I figure ifen anybody was gonna come lookin' fer her they'd a done it by now.”
Josh took a sip of whiskey. “True. What about the brand?”
Sid chuckled. “What brand?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. “I didn't see no brand. Besides lots of breeders ain't brandin' their horses no more. Says it ruins their looks.” He snorted. “Just makes it easier fer folks to steal 'em, far as I can tell.”
“Yeah,” Josh mused. “Still, it's a risk. We already know she's stolen. If she gets traced back to us with forged papers, well the law might think we stole her.”
“We done it afore,” Sid pointed out. “nothin' ever got traced back ta' us.”
“True,” Josh agreed.
“Chuck has taken papered horses offa us afore and taken up ta' the auction in Buffalo. No questions asked,” Sid continued and he chuckled. “Yeah, I kin just see his eyes light up when he gets a load 'a that filly. He's gonna see dollar signs and he ain't gonna care a hoot if the papers is legit or not.”
“True,” Josh agreed again. “He'll keep his mouth shut too.”
“Okay,” Josh settled. “I'll keep working with her, get her real soft. By the time we get the next batch of two year olds rounded up and broke, she'll be picture perfect. Give us a chance to work out a real fine heritage for her too. Make her sound like royalty.”
Sid smiled. “Yup.”
All of that spring, Josh worked her. By the time they'd rounded up the mustang colts for that year, Josh was riding her outside the pen and taking her for gallops out through the trails and meadows surrounding their valley. Life was pretty good. Karma liked having one person who always handled her, as long as he or she was nice to her. She needed to bond with that special someone in order to feel trusting and comfortable with them.
Josh had quickly turned into that someone. For her. Though Josh himself loved horses and had learned how to break them out gentle like, he had no intentions of keeping this fine filly. Not only knowing that she had been initially stolen made it wise for them to roll her over, but they were in the business of breaking out and selling horses. When a fine quality horse like Karma came into their grasp, they didn't see a 'keeper' they saw dollar signs.
Once again Karma found herself in changing circumstances. When Chuck swung by the spread to see what they had to offer, the prediction that his eyes would light up at the sight of the filly had not been far from the truth. In fact, he already had a buyer in mind. Agreements were reached, 'legitimate papers' were handed over and Karma, along with four of the six mustang colts, was on her way to new ownership.
The trek north east was a long and arduous one and Chuck kept the small herd going at quite a steady pace. He was smart though and he knew his route well and always made sure they stopped for the night in a place that had feed and water for the horses. He knew his business and if he let these animals degrade in condition before he got them to auction then he'd never make any return on them. He kept them going and he kept them fed too. If anything the young horses were in better condition when they arrived at their destination and Chuck anticipated a good profit; especially where that filly was concerned.
The trek took close to two weeks but mainly because Chuck kept to a zig-zagging pattern, making sure he stopped at the various mustang camps and small ranches that generally did business with him. He sold a few of the two years olds along the way and picked up about five or six new ones, either paying cash for them or trading his current stock. He got a lot of offers for the liver filly but he turned them all down. He knew he had a buyer for this one and he would pay a whole lot more for her than what these small time wranglers were offering. They were just out of luck. on them.
Once he arrived in Buffalo, he dropped off the colts at the stock yard that was quickly filling up with other horses that had been brought in for the auction. Once they were signed in he then took the filly and his own horse to stable them at the livery. This filly was not going through the auction, at least not until he got hold of his connection and see if the man was still interested. If that deal went through, he'd get a lot more for her in a private sale then he would out of some stock horse auction.
Chuck got the horses settled and headed straight over to the telegraph office. Even during that short walk, people were stopping him in the street, having noticed the filly he'd brought in to town. Most people knew Chuck and knew his business so naturally they assumed that the liver chestnut was for sale. By the time the wrangler reached his destination he was sick to death of saying 'No! She ain't for sale. At least not yet.'!
Once he arrived at the telegraph office he quickly set about wording his message.
'C Mackenzie, Gillette Wyoming. Got what you want at agreed price. C. Fellion.'
The next morning came the prompt reply;
'Fellion, Buffalo Wyoming. Still interested. On my way. Don't sell! C. Mackenzie'.
The next morning Chuck met the afternoon stage and smiled when a well-dressed gentleman disembarked and did his best to brush off his suit from the ride. Chuck shook his head; why do these wealthy bastards insist on wearing their fine duds on a stagecoach ride? It's like they have to let the whole world know that they're from money and don't even consider the risks their taking.
Mr. MacKenzie was damned lucky that the Devil's Hole Gang don't generally hold up stagecoaches or he could have found himself staring down the barrel of a Schofield in the hand the Hannibal Heyes. Buffalo was quite a distance from where the gang usually pulled their jobs, but ever since Heyes had taken it over there was no telling where they might show up. That outlaw was definitely expanding his territory and again; MacKenzie was just damned lucky.
Of course Chuck didn’t know that Heyes and Curry had left Devil’s Hole in their amnesty bid. He just knew that the gang was still active and that was enough for him to keep an eye open for trouble in the hills.
“Afternoon, Mr. MacKenzie,” Chuck stepped forward to greet his client. “how was your trip?”
“Dusty,” came the obvious response. “so where is this horse?”
“Sure ya' don't wanna freshen up some?” Chuck asked him. “I know it's a long ride from Gillette.”
“I'm fine,” MacKenzie countered him. “Mrs. MacKenzie is anxious to hear my decision. This is going to be her horse, you know.”
“Yes, Mr. MacKenzie I know,” Chuck mumbled as he rolled his eyes. “you've made that very clear. I think this filly will do nicely.”
“Uh huh,” came back the caustic remark. “She's got to be finely bred you know; not one of these rough and tumble mustang types. Finely bred! I want people to turn their heads when my wife rides by. She's a beautiful woman and needs to be mounted on a horse that will compliment her.”
“Yessir,” Chuck nodded as he led the way towards the livery. “Like I said; this filly oughta do just fine.”
They approached the livery and Chuck headed inside to get the horse. Mr. MacKenzie waited out on the yard, not wanting to bother with entering into this inferior stable. By the looks of it, there'd probably be horse droppings all over the floor and flies everywhere! He waited outside.
Within a few moments Chuck returned, leading Karma along beside him. She came out into the bright sunshine and practically sparkled with good health and a bright, interested eye. She focused in on the stranger instantly and was sizing him up at the same time that he was sizing her up. He liked what he saw. She didn't.
MacKenzie approached the filly and looked her in the eye. He smiled at the rim of white showing as she gazed back at him. He ran a hand down her neck and along her back, walking the length of her and looking over her conformation. Then he stepped back and looked her in the eye again.
“She's got fire,” he finally commented.
“Yessir,” Chuck agreed. “You did say your wife was an excellent rider and likes a horse with some spirit.”
“That she does Mr. Fellion,” MacKenzie confirmed. “That she does. How old is she?”
“She's two,” Chuck told him. “but I know the fella who broke her out and he always does a good job. Breaks 'em gentle you know. Not a mean bone in her body. But she is a handful.”
MacKenzie ignored his last comment. “How high does she stand?” he asked.
Chuck rubbed his chin and scrutinized the filly. “I'd say she's about 15.2 right now. But she is only two and will grow some yet. Likely to mature at 16 hands or more.”
“My thoughts exactly,” MacKenzie agreed. “She is papered?”
“Oh yes. I got her papers.”
MacKenzie nodded. “Put her in the pen, Mr. Fellion. I want to see her move.”
Chuck opened the gate to the small pen and turned the filly loose. He clucked to her and waved the lead shank and Karma danced away and showed off a nice extended trot. Chuck pressured her a little more and with a little buck she squealed and transitioned up into a lope. Chuck moved in front of her, forcing her to put on the brakes and she did a quick pivot and carried on in the other direction. MacKenzie smiled.
“Yes. I think she will do quite nicely,” he decided. “I'll meet you at the hotel restaurant at 5:00 and we can discuss the sale over supper.”
Chuck smiled. “Yessir.”
“And bring her papers.”
“Well here we are back in Wyoming,” Heyes grumbled.
“Yeah,” Kid's tone matched his partners. “Ya' know it might just be my imagination, but I get the feeling there's some folks in this state who don't like us much.”
Heyes snorted, "And most of 'em are wearing a tin star or working for a bank or a railroad."
“Where are we anyways?” asked Joe as he scanned the empty landscape. “Are we gonna make it to a town by nightfall?”
The partners exchanged glances. Kid shrugged, leaving the bad news up to Heyes.
“Ah, I expect we'll be camping out tonight,” Heyes informed the deputy. “Sheriff Willey made it very clear that he didn't want to see me again and there's a couple of others I'd rather not run into.”
“Yeah but, we need to hit some of the towns,” Joe pointed out. “How else are we going to talk to people.”
“I know, I know,” Heyes agreed. “but in the smaller towns. Sometimes the smaller towns have more information to offer anyways.”
“We're heading into Clearmont,” Jed informed the deputy. “That's a small enough town and maybe people there don't read newspapers.”
“Yeah,” Heyes agreed. “and it's on the way to the Buffalo horse auctions. The auctions are done on a regular basis and I'm betting people around these parts have bought horses there. Maybe they've heard of Cole Stockyards.”
Joe shook his head in frustration. “Why don't you fellas tell me anything?” he asked. “Last time I asked ya' where we were headed all I got was a dismissive 'thata way'! Now, apparently you both knew exactly where we were going and you just don't tell me!”
Heyes and Jed glanced at each other over Joe. They both looked a little contrite.
“Yeah, you're right Joe,” Heyes admitted. “Kid and I are just so used to riding together; we don't really need to explain things.”
“Yeah,” Jed added. “we'll try and keep ya' more in the loop from now on, how's that?”
Joe was slightly surprised. Usually his complaints about exclusion were ignored or belittled so having them both agree with him now left him momentarily speechless.
“Oh. Okay,” he finally got out. “That's fine.”
Unfortunately Clearmont turned out to be an even smaller town than Jed had anticipated. Riding down what must, by process of elimination be the main street the two seasoned travellers could not help but be reminded of Apache Springs. Just as with that once visited town, Clearmont had no sheriff's office and the rest of the structures, though still housing businesses were shabby and run-down. The few people who were on the street noticed the three strangers right away and even Joe began to feel uneasy.
“Maybe we should just ride on through,” the deputy suggested as he watched the townsfolk watching them.
“We don't have enough supplies to just ride on through,” Jed pointed out.
“We'll lay low and be discreet,” Heyes told him. “The place probably livens up a bit more on the weekend.”
“It is the weekend.”
The three men turned in at the livery stable and smiled a greeting at the dishevelled young man who obviously ran the place. He stood leaning against the barn door with a strand of straw sticking out from between his teeth and he smelled of manure.
“Good afternoon sir,” Heyes greeted the manager, his eyes watering at the pungent aroma wafting off the individual. “we would like to put our horses up for the night, if there's room.”
“Yea', there's room,” he drawled as he pushed himself off the door. “Two bits a horse, and another five cents if ya' want 'em grained and rubbed down.”
“That'll be fine,” Heyes agreed to the terms as they all dismounted.
“Ya' want 'em in a stall or out here in the corral?”
The three men went in to a silent conference. If the place smelled this bad on the outside none of them cared to speculate what the inside of the barn was like. Betty snorted with disgust and settled the question.
“Ah, I think they can stay outside,” Kid answered. “I don't think it's gonna rain tonight.”
The livery man strolled lazily over to the corral gate and swung it open. “Just take 'em on in and I'll get their feed ready.”
All three men smiled and nodded. They stood watching the livery man stride past them into the barn, taking note of the five flies that continually circled about his head and shoulders as his constant escort.
“You sure they're gonna be alright here?” Joe asked sceptically. “Doesn't seem like a very clean place to me.”
Heyes and Jed led their horses into the corral though their expressions suggested that they felt much the same way.
“I don't think we have much choice,” Heyes commented as he loosened Karma's girth. “The horses need rest and we need supplies.”
Joe's concerns were interrupted by the loft door sliding open from the second level, right above the corral. All three horses spooked and pivoted around to face the new menace.
“Heads up!” the stableman called down and then pushed half a bale of hay down into the corral.
The heavy hay landed with a thump and broke apart, sending dust and horses flying everywhere.
“Whoa, easy!” was the universal response as the men on the ground tried to settle the startled animals.
“Sorry!” the young man yelled down and slid the door shut before he could see the scowls that were sent up to him.
The horses settled and were finally relieved of their bridles, though none of them seemed in too big a hurry to check out the pile of hay that had tried to attack them. All three men went over to the feed and picking up handfuls of it, took tentative sniffs at the foliage.
“It's kinda dusty,” Jed commented.
“Yeah,” Heyes agreed. “But if we spread it out and dump a couple of buckets of water on it, it should be alright. At least it's not mouldy.”
The young man emerged from the barn, carrying three buckets of grain while the five flies continued to buzz around him. He seemed oblivious to them.
“Oh here, let me help you with that,” Heyes offered.
He stepped forward and took one of the buckets. He ran his hand through the oats and pellets and gave the grain a quick sniff just to be sure. The man looked at him, feeling insulted.
“What you think?” he snarked “I'm gonna give 'em bad grain?”
“Oh, no no!” Heyes assured him quickly. “It's just, well that chestnut over there, she's kinda touchy, ya' know. Colic's real easy. The grain looks fine but ah, on that note do you mind if we wet the hay down a bit? Any amount of dust, you know and I could have a real sick horse on my hands.”
“Go ahead,” the stableman agreed. “Well's at the back.
“Thank you,” Heyes smiled.
“Don't know why you'd bother with a horse like that,” the man gave his opinion. “More nuisance than its worth if it's gonna get sick on good hay.”
“Oh well,” Heyes shrugged. “I kinda got attached to her, you know.”
The man snorted as Heyes disappeared into the barn to get to the well at the back. He forgot to hold his breath before stepping into the building and just about passed out from the fumes before he made it to fresh air again.
“So, ah what's your name?” Kid asked the livery man.
“Barney,” Kid repeated, “we're lookin' ta' buy some horses to take back with us. Do you normally deal with anyone in particular?”
“What do ya' mean?” Barney asked as he spaced out the grain buckets.
The three horses recognized what those were and soon came in to help themselves to the offering.
“Does anyone come through here, sellin' horses on a regular basis?” Jed clarified.
“Oh no,” Barney answered and scratched his chin. “we don't do much horse dealin' here. Mostly just livery and boarding. We don't get many visitors so most folks have their own horses.
“You mean you actually have people pay you to keep their horses here?” Joe asked incredulously.
“Yeah!” Barney sounded insulted again. “What's the matter with the place?”
“No, nothin'!” Jed assured him with a big smile and pat on the shoulder which he instantly regretted. “Nothin' wrong with the place at all. You run a fine establishment.”
Heyes returned through the barn doors, lugging two buckets filled with water. His eyes were watering and he was choking and gasping for air as he made a bee line for the hay pile.
Respite for the humans didn't turn out to be much better than it had for the horses. There was no cafe, so the travelling companions settled in at a table in the saloon and tried to relax. Heyes looked around, hoping to see a poker game going on but nothing was happening. He was slightly disappointed. It's not like he needed the money, not with Jesse's retainer but a low-stakes game could often settle his nerves and help his mind to focus. This job was turning out to be more discouraging and elusive than any of them had thought.
The barman came over to the table with a tray holding three mugs of beer. He plunked them all down in front of his patrons and then wiping his nose on his sleeve he looked expectantly at the three men. All three of those men were looking rather disgustedly at the beer mugs. Not only had they not ordered any beer, but there appeared to be unidentified objects floating around in it.
“We got beans and hocks,” the barman announced. “Four bits a plate.”
Heyes looked around at his two companions. “How hungry are you?”
Kid looked slightly pale. “I hate to admit it,” he commented. “but I'm real hungry.”
“Yeah,” Joe seconded with a frown. “me too.”
“Hmm,” Heyes nodded and dug into his pockets for the money. “Okay, three plates.”
The barman walked away hocking up a phlegmy cough as he went.
Heyes swallowed with a grimace.
“Well, look at it this way,” Jed suggested. “at least his other customers are still alive so the food can't be that bad.”
“Maybe that's why the town is so small,” Joe stated. “they're all dying off one by one from food poisoning.”
Heyes and Kid looked over at the deputy, feeling concerned that he might have a point. Heyes pulled his beer mug over closer to him and looked into the debris spattered liquid. Somehow he just couldn't bring himself to take a drink and pushed the glass away from him in disgust.
All in all their stay in Clearmont was anything but pleasant. They spread out their own bedrolls and slept on the floor, not wanting to take a chance on the beds and in the morning even Jed was willing to skip breakfast. They bought the items most needed from the small, under stocked mercantile and then got out of town just as quickly as they could get the horses saddled.
An hour later they pulled up, set the horses out to graze and built a cooking fire. Coffee was soon brewing, bacon was sliced up and set to frying and flapjack batter was mixed and waited its turn to be fried up in the bacon grease. Nothing needed to be discussed between the three men; they all set about with different chores of making breakfast and soon they were sitting back against their saddles and smiling contentedly. The coffee pot made the rounds for a top up and life was good again.
“Not very often do we come across a town that makes sleepin' and eatin' out on the trail preferable,” Jed commented. “I think from now on we should focus on the medium sized towns and leave the small towns alone.”
Heyes nodded as he took another sip of coffee. “I don't know what's happening to Wyoming; small towns used to be the way to go—for outlaws anyways.”
“You're not outlaws anymore,” Joe pointed out. “Maybe that's the problem; you've gotten used to a higher standard of living.”
The two ex-outlaws stared across the fire at each other.
“We didn't used to live like that, did we Heyes?” Jed asked his cousin, worried now at what they once might have considered acceptable.
Heyes' brows went up as he considered the possibility. “I donno Kid. I'm thinking maybe Joe has a point. Maybe it's not the small towns that are getting worse, but us who are expecting better.”
“Geesh!” Jed looked disgusted as he poured himself more coffee and snatched another piece of bacon out of the pan.
“Who's that coming?” Joe asked as he sat up straighter and shielded his eyes from the morning sun.
Heyes and Kid both turned to look in the indicated direction.
“I can't tell,” Heyes mumbled. “can you tell?”
“Nope,” Jed answered. “but they do seem to be headin' this way.”
Heyes sighed and looked perplexed.
“Looks like there's about six of 'em,” Joe continued, then became concerned. “Ahh, they're pullin' their rifles.”
“Shit!” Heyes cursed as they all stood up and made sure their own weapons were close at hand.
“What do we do?” Joe asked nervously.
“Nothin',” Heyes told him. “Just stand easy and hope they're only coming over to check us out.”
“But shouldn't we get behind some cover or something?” Joe didn't like this situation at all.
“What cover?” Jed asked. “Besides, we start to run and get to cover that'll for sure bring 'em in on us shootin'. We'll just greet 'em like we got nothin' ta' hide.”
“I don't like the look of this,” Heyes stated and then glanced anxiously over at Joe's shirt. “Where's your badge Joe?”
“It's on my other shirt, in the saddle bag.”
“You think I should get it?”
“They see you going for your saddle bags now they might think you're going for a gun and shoot ya'.”
The six riders approached looking like they meant business. Heyes and Kid put on their casual, happy, greeting faces and tried to look congenial. That is until Heyes got a closer look at the leader of the group. His smile dropped and he knew they could be in for some real trouble.
“Well, lookie who we have here,” the rancher snarked as the men all brought their horses to a dusty stop. “I thought we'd seen the last of you, Heyes.”
Heyes forced a smile. Dammit. This was the main reason they'd skirted around Sheridan.
“Mr. Williams,” he greeted the antagonist. “fancy meeting you way out here.”
“Yeah, fancy that,” came back the response. “and there ain't no lawman around for you to hide behind either.”
“I wouldn't be so sure about that,” Joe cautioned him. “Perhaps you need to take a closer look at who you're talking to here.”
“Oh now Joe,” Heyes told him. “I'm sure Mr. Williams isn't planning anything unsavoury considering who he'd be up against.”
“Now what's that supposed to mean?” Williams asked him. “The way I see it I got three vagabonds hanging around on my property—and there's six of us.”
“But Joe here is a bonafide deputy sheriff up from Colorado,” Kid pointed out as he settled his thumbs in his gunbelt. “so you can see we're not vagabonds. On top of that, if you recognized my partner from the newspaper articles then you might wanna take a closer look at me.” He smiled dangerously. “You might just wanna re-think what you're plannin' on doin' here.”
The five men sitting their horses behind Williams all took the Kid's advice and gave him a closer look. Instantly the demeanour of the group changed and nobody was feeling quite so confident. Williams felt the shift in the dynamics and made a play at holding things together.
“Kid Curry,” he stated in a tone of disgust. “I suppose I should have figured you'd be floating to the surface sooner or later. The thing is, I heard your shootin' arm ain't quite as good as it used to be so I'm thinkin' you're all bluff.”
“Well, maybe you should consult with your men before you volunteer them to put it to the test,” Jed advised him. “they ain't lookin' too pleased about the situation.”
Williams did a quick look around at his hired hands and every one of them was looking a little pale. They all dropped their eyes as soon as Williams looked at them and he knew he'd lost their support.
“You bunch of lily-livered sorry excuses for men,” he yelled at them. “we out-number them two to one!”
“I think you're forgetting that Joe here is a deputy,” Heyes spoke up. “and that my friend over there, well he may not be quite as fast as he used to be but he still has that magic gun.”
Williams glared at him. “What the hell are you talking about Heyes? Is this another one of your tricks?”
“No sir,” Heyes denied that. “Kid Curry's gun is real special. You see, it can shoot two bullets at one time. So that kind of evens up those odds, doesn't it?”
“Ah, Mr. Williams,” one of the hired hands spoke up nervously. “it's one thing to go up against one worn out old outlaw, but I didn't hire on to face down Kid Curry.”
“Yeah,” another one agreed. “and if that youngster really is a deputy then we'd be goin' up against the law. I don't care how green he looks, I ain't takin' on no lawman.”
Williams was seething while Heyes was doing his best to get over being referred to as a 'worn out old outlaw'. Heyes recovered first.
“Look Mr. Williams,” he placated the man. “obviously you've got some grudges against us and I can understand that. But I served my time and it wasn't easy time either, I can assure you. And the Kid here, well he's turned over a new leaf and we're both law-abiding citizens now. Why else would we have a deputy riding with us? So why don't you fellas climb down off your horses and come join us for a cup of coffee? We can get a fresh pot going here real soon...”
Williams snorted. “The day I'd sit down with the likes of you two is the day I'd turn my ranch over to my nephew and then curl up and die!”
“Oh, I'm sure there's no need to go to that extreme,” Heyes grinned innocently.
Jed continued to give each and every hired hand a taste of his evil eye and they in turn were becoming increasingly nervous.
“Ah, Mr. Williams sir,” his right hand man grumbled. “I think maybe we should just...”
“Goddammit!” Williams cursed as his men began to back their horses away. “Fine, go! Run back home to your mothers! I oughta fire the whole lot of ya'!” he turned back to face the three men on the ground. “I don't wanna see any of you on my property again. You hear me? I'll be lookin' for ya' and I'll have some men with me who ain't afraid of their own shadows!”
He swung his horse around and booted it into a gallop in order to catch up with his departing men.
The three men on the ground all breathed a sigh of relief and let their knees collapse out from under them as they sat back down around the fire.
“Oh man, I feel like I'm gonna throw up,” said Joe. “I thought we were done.”
“Oh no,” Heyes shrugged it off. “Kid woulda showed them his two bullets trick and that would have been the end of it.”
“What do ya' mean?” Joe asked. “How do ya' pull that one off?”
Jed had already slipped a bullet out of its holder on the belt and as soon as the words were out of Joe's mouth he tossed the bullet into the air, drew his gun and fired. A small mid-air explosion answered the question.
Joe's mouth dropped. “Geesh! Yeah, okay. I'm glad you're on our side.
Jed grinned, twirled his gun a couple of times and slipped it back into its holster.
Heyes smiled, always happy to show off his partner's skill. “Yup,” he said. “that little trick has convinced many a man that going up against Kid Curry just isn't worth the risk.” he put a hand on the deputy's shoulder. “But from now on Joe,” he added. “wear your badge.”
The three men entered Buffalo without so much as a notice from the local inhabitants going about their daily business. All six of them were tired and looking forward to a decent meal and a clean bed and the busy town looked like it could offer up all of those things for everyone.
Joe was busy watching the people passing by on the boardwalk while Heyes and the Kid were scanning the buildings. Each had their own agenda; Joe was a lawman and liked to get a feel for a town or a ranch or any kind of establishment by seeing the types of people that dwelt there so people watching was a big part of his job description. Jed was looking towards the hotel and the local watering hole. Heyes was looking for the bank and the sheriff's office. All six of them were looking for the livery.
Pulling in at that desired establishment brought with it a sense of relief at finding it clean and relatively odour free. They dismounted and Jed knocked on the open barn door to get the attention of the proprietor.
A middle-aged, pot-bellied gentleman put in an appearance and smiled openly at his customers.
“Afternoon gents,” he greeted them. “Lookin' ta' put yer horses up?”
“Yeah,” Jed answered him. “includin' the extras.”
“Okay. Two bits per horse per night and another ten cents for the extras.”
“That'll be fine,” Jed agreed and dug in his pockets for some money.
“We'd also like some information if you have a minute,” Heyes stepped up, all congenial.
The manager instantly looked sceptical. “What kinda information?”
“Oh no, nothing detrimental I assure you,” Heyes smiled winningly and then he looked behind him and presented his mare for scrutiny. “Just wondering if you recall seeing this horse before, say about ten years ago.”
“Ten years ago!?” Levi exclaimed. “Fella, I can't even remember the horses that come through here last week. Don't you realize we have horse auctions here on a regular basis? And a lot of them horses come through this barn. Most of 'em begin to look alike after a while. I ain't gonna remember no horse from ten years ago.”
Heyes nodded in complete understanding. “Oh I can certainly see your point,” he agreed. “Do you remember who you might have been doing business with back then? I understand there are fellas who would regularly make their way through Colorado and Wyoming to bring stock here for those auctions. Any recollection of who they might be?”
Levi rubbed his chin and contemplated. “Why do ya' wanna know?” he asked sceptically. “If'n ya' got a complaint about a horse ya' bought from 'em, it's kinda late to expect compensation.”
“Oh no no,” Heyes assured him. “Just the opposite in fact. You see this mare here, well a friend of ours wants to use one of her get as his new foundation sire so we're trying to trace her lineage so we can get her papered. I'm sure a smart business man like yourself can appreciate the difference in prices between an average, run of the mill broomtail and a finely bred, papered equine.”
“Hmm,” came back the response. “sorry, can't help ya'. Still wanna keep 'em here for the night?”
Heyes' smile dropped. “Yeah.”
Posts : 1467
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 63
Location : Camano Island Washington
|Subject: Backtrack Sun Nov 24, 2013 9:40 pm|| |
Since the hotel was conveniently situated half a block from the livery, the boys got settled into their rooms next and then made their way towards the business end of town. All of them were hungry and looking forward to a good meal, an evening beer or two and an early night. There was one more errand that had to be taken care of though, and Heyes didn't even think twice about it anymore. He simply accepted it as part of his penance.
“You coming with me Joe?” he asked the deputy. “or do ya' trust me to do it all on my own this time?”
Joe gave him a look but stood his ground. “It's not about trust Heyes—I know you'll do it. But don't you think that having me along with you makes it easier over all?”
“I suppose,” Heyes conceded.
“I'll be holding down the table right here at the cafe until you fellas are done,” Jed selflessly offered. “Don't be long.”
Heyes and Joe approached the sheriff’s office and Heyes cast a quick glance at the placard to see if he recognized the name or not. ‘William Angus’ was the name that came back to him and he smiled in relief; he didn’t know him.
The two men stepped into the office to see a middle-aged mustachioed man in the process of making a fresh pot of coffee. He glanced over at his visitors with an air that suggested he was not easily fooled and when his dark eyes settled onto Heyes' countenance, recognition was not far behind. His next glance took in Joe's deputy badge and a flicker of humour passed through his eyes.
“Now here's a sight I never would have thought I'd see,” he commented as he made his way back to the desk. “Hannibal Heyes walking into my office of his own free will with a lawman as his companion rather than his captor.”
Heyes and Joe exchanged glances. Joe quickly stepped forward and offered his hand for shaking. The offer was accepted.
“Sheriff, I'm Deputy Joe Morin from down in Colorado,” Joe introduced himself. “and as you have already discerned, this is Hannibal Heyes.”
The sheriff looked Heyes in the eye but then offered his hand to the ex-outlaw and nodded a greeting.
“Fine,” he accepted that. “I'm Red Angus, and as you've already discerned; I'm sheriff of Buffalo at least for now.”
“Red....Angus...?” Heyes asked, not quite believing his ears.
“Yeah, what of it?”
“No...nothing, Sheriff.” Heyes smiled. “I'm hardly one to make fun of anyone else's name. Red Angus is just fine.”
“Hmm. What are you doing here Heyes?” the sheriff asked him. “I thought you were land-locked in Colorado.”
“Oh, well we're just on an errand for a rancher down by Denver,” Heyes explained. “and part of the conditions of my parole is that I check in with the sheriff at every town I stop in, so that's what I'm doing.”
“Fine, yeah I know this routine,” the sheriff grumbled. “You sign a piece of paper stating why you're here and when you're leaving, right?”
“That's right Sheriff.
“Fine,” he stated again. He rummaged around on the top of his desk until he came across the innocuous looking piece of paper, flattened it out and gave Heyes the pen. “sign here.”
Heyes gave him a quizzical smile and did as he was told. In the meantime, Sheriff Angus was giving Deputy Morin a once over.
“What's your story?” he asked the young man. “What are you doing hanging around with this reprobate?”
“Whenever Mr. Heyes is required to leave the state of Colorado a law officer must accompany him,” Joe explained. “It just helps to keep things running smoother.”
“Uh huh,” the sheriff nodded and then took a look at what Heyes had written down. “Tracking the lineage of your mare?” His tone was nothing if not incredulous. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Heyes nervously fingered his hat. “Well she's a fine mare, Sheriff,” he explained. “That rancher in Colorado wants to use her line in his breeding program so he hired me and my cousin to track it down.”
“Oh that's just great,” the sheriff complained. “I take it Kid Curry is in my town as well, is that right?”
“I assure you they won't be any trouble Sheriff,” Joe quickly interceded. “and we're only staying the night.”
“Uh huh,” the sheriff wasn't too impressed. “What's the name of this rancher fella?”
“Ah, Jesse Jordan,” Heyes informed him. “Got a big spread down there by Denver.”
“Hmm, never heard of him,” Angus admitted. “Still, all the better for him that he ain't a rancher in Wyoming these days.”
Heyes nodded but declined to comment.
“Say, Sheriff...” Joe began. “You keep track of the wranglers and horse dealers who come through here on a regular basis for the auctions?”
“Course I do,” Angus answered him, looking a touch insulted. “I keep a close eye on them fellas. Too easy for rustlers to bring horses in here to sell so I want to know who's coming and going.”
Heyes perked up, thinking Joe might be on to something here.
“Do you remember who the regulars were, say about ten years ago?” Heyes asked hopefully.
Angus thought about that just as the coffee started to boil. He went over to the stove and poured himself a cup and raised a questioning eyebrow at his visitors. They both declined, feeling that maybe they were hot on a scent here.
“Yeah, I remember the regulars,” he told them. “but I'm sure not gonna remember the horses they brought through here. We're talking quite a few animals.”
“Oh, yeah I suppose,” Heyes was deflated.
“We do keep records though,” Angus continued and Heyes perked up again. “Over in the town hall. You go talk to Mr. McGuire. Tell him what you're looking for and that I sent ya'. Every horse that's been through those auctions for the past twenty years will be listed in there. Too late now, Charlie will have gone home for his own supper, but you can catch him there in the morning...”
Heyes grinned until his dimples danced. He grabbed the sheriff's hand and began shaking it, almost spilling the man's coffee.
“Thank you, Sheriff Angus!” he was almost laughing. “That's the best lead we've had throughout this whole miserable trip!”
“Uh huh,” Angus was not impressed as he set his coffee cup down for safe keeping. “just see that you and your cousin stay outa trouble, alright? And let me know when you're leaving town.”
“Oh yessir,” Heyes agreed. “No problem sir, thank you.”
Joe smiled and nodded a good evening to the sheriff and then turned and followed an ecstatic Heyes out of the office. Heyes turned and gave Joe a hearty slap on the back.
“Hey hey, Joe!” he complimented the deputy. “Whenever I'm in there talking to a sheriff all I can think about is getting out alive! That was brilliant. I'm beginning to be happy we brought you along. Ha ha!”
Heyes picked up the pace, in a hurry now to meet back up with his cousin and tell him the good news—and to get something to eat. Joe followed along, a quiet smile playing about his lips.
9:05 a.m., Heyes was over at the town hall, sitting at a table and pouring over various ledgers in his efforts to track down the elusive sale. Joe figured he couldn't get into too much trouble in that endeavour so he and Jed had gone over to the mercantile to really get stocked up on supplies after the disappointing visit to Clearmont. After they dropped off the supplies at the livery they went over to the saloon to await the great detective's successful return from his endeavours.
Meanwhile, Heyes sat in the dusty library feeling frustrated. He had looked through every ledger from 1880 through to 1882 but could find no mention of a two-year old liver chestnut filly going through the auctions. He sighed in frustration and disappointment but decided to go through them again just in case he had missed something. Maybe she was just listed as a chestnut and they didn't bother to describe her markings. But every single horse, along with markings, brandings, colour and approximate age was listed in great detail; but no sign of a liver chestnut filly.
After a couple of hours had gone by old Mr. McGuire creaked into the room and check up on his visitor and to perhaps offer some suggestions. Heyes glanced up at him with discouraged eyes.
“Are these the only records you have of the auctions?” he asked, but without much hope.
“Of the auctions yes,” the elderly gentleman agreed. “I take it there's no sign of your horse in there?”
“No,” Heyes said with a sad smile. “there's not.”
“Well, we could always cross-reference,” he suggested as he shuffled slowly over to the shelves.
“Cross-reference?” Heyes asked, feeling a spark of hope again. “What do you mean?”
Mr. McGuire hummed softly to himself as he surveyed the ledgers that were stacked on the shelves. Finally he smiled and pulled out one that came down into his hands with a thump and a puffing of dust.
“Here we are,” he said as he shuffled back to the table and set the ledger down. “Sometimes horses that were brought in weren't sold through the auction,” he explained. “For whatever reason, they end up in a private sale so would not be listed in those ledgers. Well, no reason to is there? If they didn't go through the auction why write them down in there?”
“Yes, yes,” Heyes agreed impatiently. “Let me see!”
“Hmm,” the elderly gentleman ignored Heyes' request and slowly flipped through the pages, casually wiping dust away from the lines as he went. “Yes, here we are.”
“What? What's there?”
“Patience young man, patience.”
Heyes was gritting his teeth. It was all he could do to not snatch the ledger away from the old man and start going through it himself.
“What did the filly look like?” the curator asked.
“Liver chestnut,” Heyes described her. “she'd have been two years old. Ah, two white socks on the hind with a star and stripe and snip on her face.”
“Hmm,” the old man nodded as he used a finger to help him read the lines. “this might be it.”
Heyes couldn't hold back this time and dragged the ledger over to himself so he could read what it had to tell him. Mr. McGuire didn't seem to mind; he was apparently used to it.
“Here,” he said as he pointed out the appropriate passage.
Heyes put his finger on it and read it out loud. “June 19th, 1882. Owner: Chuck Fellion.”
“Yes,” the old man went back in memory. “he used to bring horses up here from Colorado and Southern Wyoming all the time for the auctions. Got run outta business by the Stockgrowers Association though. Don't know what happened to him, mighta got hanged as a rustler for all I know. That happened to a lot of them fellas.”
“Hmm,” Heyes nodded but he wasn't really listening. “Buyer: Charles MacKenzie, Gillette, Wyoming....”
“Yes,” the curator interrupted again. “Big rancher over in Gillette I do believe. Solid member of the Stockgrowers Association. Not a nice business that. I certainly hope it's all over and done with now. Of course, he took quite a hit in the winter of '07, just barely hung on. Serves him right actually. Serves 'em all right after all that nonsense.”
Again, Heyes wasn't listening; he was reading the description of the horse that had been purchased in a private sale instead of through the auction.
“Two-year old, papered filly. 15.2 hh. Liver chestnut. Two white socks. Star and thin blaze on face.”
“Hmm, does that sound like the horse you’re looking for young man?”
Heyes' face broke apart in a huge grin. “It sure does, Mr. McGuire. Thank you.”
He took the curators right hand in his and gave it such a shake that the whole frail body of the elderly gent was vibrated to the core.
“Oh, y-y-y-y-yes, of cour-r-r-s-e. Gla-a-a-d-d-d to be o-o-f-f servi-i-c-c-e-e.”
“Mr. MacKenzie, he's still over in Gillette?”
“I believe so, yes,” the curator confirmed as he shook out his hand.
And Heyes was gone while the curator was still shaking his head at the impatience of youth. He slowly began to return the various ledgers to their proper place on the shelves, humming quietly to himself as he worked.
It took them two days to ride over to Gillette, but as luck would have it, a family in a buckboard directed them out to the MacKenzie ranch without them having to ride all the way into the town. This helpful tip saved them close to four hours of travel time and a lot of wear and tear on the nerves of Heyes' two travelling companions.
As the three visitors approached the ranch house it became very apparent that this had once been a large and profitable outfit. But as with so many others, the disastrous winter of '06-'07 had taken its toll on the property and it reeked of a once wealthy family desperately trying to keep up appearances. They silently rode up to the main hitching rail by the front entrance and dismounted. A young man in his mid-twenties approached them and nodded a greeting.
“How can I help you gentlemen?” he asked politely.
“We're here to speak with Mr. MacKenzie,” Heyes informed him. “Is he available?”
“Sure, he's just up at the house. Who may I......” then a huge smile broke out over the young man's face as he took a closer look at Jed. “Are you....? No! What would he be doing up here? They're down in Colorado.” Jed almost rolled his eyes; he knew what was coming. “But you look just like him! I mean...are you?”
Kid decided to put the young man out of his misery. He smiled and extended a hand for shaking.
“Howdy, ah I'm Jed Curry.”
“Yeah! I knew it!” the young man exclaimed, all excited. “Man o' man! I was like; eighteen when you went to trial and I saved every newspaper article about you fellas that I could lay my hands on. Do you wanna see them?”
“No, that's alright,” Heyes declined. “we're actually here to see...”
The young man's sparkling blue eyes turned on Heyes and his grin got even bigger. “Hannibal Heyes! Ha ha! Wow! Well, I guess it stands to reason that you two would be together, but wow, it sure is a pleasure to meet you.” His gazed turned on Joe.
“Ah, no. I'm Joe Morin,” the deputy informed him. “I'm nobody.”
“Oh.” The young man stood and grinned back and forth between his two hero's, looking like he could stay like that all day.
“Ah, we're here to see Mr. MacKenzie?” Heyes reminded him.
“Oh! Yeah. Um, I'm his son, Percy. Come on in,” he dropped his voice and leaned in to Heyes as though whispering a secret. “Don't expect him to know who ya' are. He don't remember much these days.”
“Oh,” Heyes' voice showed his disappointment. Maybe this lead was going to be a dead end after all.
Percy glanced back to make sure the other two men were coming when he did an almost imperceptible double take on the liver chestnut mare standing there. It was just an instant, but Jed caught it and then the young man was facing forward again and leading the group into the front hall of his home. Jed smiled as they entered the foyer.
Percy led the guests down the hall and into a small parlour where a couple were sitting, enjoying an afternoon cup of tea. Mr. MacKenzie was an older man who appeared close to his sixtieth year but he was gruff and hard and obviously used to being in charge. He looked oddly out of place sitting in a parlour having a cup of tea. His wife was much younger, obviously too young to be Percy's mother, and she was still a very beautiful woman.
“Father, these men have come to see you,” Percy explained. “This is Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry, and Mr.....?”
“Morin.” Joe reminded him.
“Yes. Mr. Morin,” Percy introduced them. “This is my father, Charles MacKenzie and my step-mother.”
The woman smiled and standing, greeted her guests. “Good afternoon,” she smiled sweetly but showed no outward indication of recognizing the names. “My name is Mary. Percy still refuses to introduce me as his mother—he can be so rude sometimes.” She sent a reprimanding look over to her step-son. “Anyway, please gentlemen come and sit. Would you like some tea?”
“Oh um, no ma'am. Thank you,” Heyes smiled awkwardly. “we just wanted to talk to you and your husband about a horse that he bought some years ago.”
“I knew it!” Percy exclaimed. “That is Karma out there, isn't it?”
“Karma!” Mary echoed her step-son. “Karma's here!?”
“Yes ma'am,” Heyes assured her. “she's just out....”
“What the hell...!?” were the first words spoken by Mr. MacKenzie since the visitors had arrived. “why the hell you bring that damn mare back here for!? I'm not taking her back!”
“Oh no! No no,” Heyes assured him. “No, we're not trying to get rid of her.”
“Oh I must see her!” Mary declared. “Percy! Take me to her!”
“Yes! Be gone with you!” Charles yelled after his departing family members. “But we're not taking her back!”
The guests stood awkwardly in the middle of the room while they waited for the little family drama to settle down. Mr. MacKenzie humphed and then remembered his manners and standing up, shook the hands of all three men.
“So, you don't expect me to take her back?” he wanted to make sure of that.
“No!” Heyes assured him. “Definitely not. We're simply trying to track down her lineage.”
“Oh blast! Where are my manners? Sit down gentlemen, sit down,” MacKenzie offered. “How about something a little stronger than tea? A shot of brandy perhaps?”
“Oh,” Heyes and Jed both smiled.
“A brandy would be fine,” Jed accepted.
Brandies were poured and everyone settled into worn but comfortable chairs and the discussion began.
“The mare belongs to me,” Heyes explained. “but the gentleman we work for has a colt out of her and he wants to use her for his foundation sire. He hired us to track down her lineage in the hopes of getting her papered in order to increase the value of his herd.”
“The filly came with papers,” MacKenzie gruffly pointed out. “Did some idiot lose them?”
“No, we have the papers,” Heyes informed him. “But it's a strong possibility that those papers are forgeries.”
Mackenzie slammed his hand onto the side table, causing everyone else to jump. “Goddam that Fellion! He assured me that filly was a registered thoroughbred! If he hasn't already been hanged as a rustler I'll track him down and do it myself!”
“Actually we were hoping you might be able to put us in touch with Mr. Fellion,” Heyes continued. “Perhaps he could tell us where he purchased her from in the first place.”
“Can't help ya',” MacKenzie informed them. “I have no idea where that bastard is. Last time I buy a horse off'a him anyways.”
“I take it Karma didn't work out for you,” Heyes could be very observant when he wanted to me. Jed just sat back and smiled.
“You got that right,” the old rancher agreed. “You see gentlemen, my wife likes to ride. It became apparent that the horse we had at the time was getting a little long in the tooth and Mary was wanting something with a little more fire to it. I'd done dealings with Fellion before so I put the bug in his ear to be on the lookout for a horse that would fit the bill.
“We had an image to uphold so I told him, it had to be a papered animal! Not some scrub-tailed mongrel that he usually dealt with. We wanted something with class—something pretty that would show my wife off to her advantage. She's a pretty woman; she should have a classy horse.”
Heyes nodded, in total agreement. Jed continued to smile; he could already see what was coming.
“Dammit, Mary took to that filly right off,” MacKenzie continued. “Even gave her that silly name. Don't know where the hell she came up with that—probably from one of those silly romance novels she always reads! What the hell does that mean anyways; Karma-Lou?”
Heyes shrugged, shaking his head.
“Ahh! Doesn't matter. Damned horse nearly killed my wife!” MacKenzie continued. “Didn't have her more than two weeks when Mary took her out for a ride and that horse came galloping back without her. When we finally found Mary, she had a broken leg, a broken collar bone and three broken ribs!”
“Ohh,” Heyes grimaced.
Jed rolled his eyes.
“After we got Mary back home and tended to, she said the mare had been fine, a really nice ride. Then the idiot spooked at something—a branch on the ground or some such nonsense and just went crazy. Started bucking and rearing, then she took off at a full gallop and Mary couldn't stop her. Bloody thing! Eventually that filly put on the brakes and swerved, sending Mary headlong into a tree. Coulda killed her!
“I don't mind telling you, I was all set to shoot that filly right then and there! But Mary, she talked me out of it. Damn, that woman sure knows how to get her way. At least she agreed that we had to get rid of her. Mary said she'd feel too afraid to ride her after that.
“So that's what I did. I coulda just shot her and told Mary that I'd found a buyer,” he grinned conspiratorially, “that's what I do with all the horses she grows tired of, especially if they're old and won't get a good price. I just take them into the hills and shoot them. Don't tell Mary though, she thinks they're all living happily ever after in one of her little romances.” Snort. “Women, huh?”
All three men paled slightly, but nodded just to agree with this old tyrant.
“Anyway, I figured I could still get some of my money back on that filly, so I sold her,” MacKenzie stated.
“Who did you sell her to?” Heyes asked.
The old man grinned wickedly. “That no good bastard of a neighbour of mine. Name of Henry Tobian. He always did have more money than sense—and an eye for a good-looking horse. Don't think he had her for long though. About ten days after I sold her to him, I spotted her in town at the livery. She didn't stick around there for long either. Couldn't have been more than a week and she was gone again.”
“Oh,” Heyes found it hard to hide his disappointment. “Is the same person running the livery now?”
“Yup,” MacKenzie informed him. “Old Johnny Barker. That old coot. He's the next one to ask if ya still want to track her down. Don't know if he'll remember her though.”
“Well, we're kind of going in the other direction,” Heyes pointed out. “We're more interested in where Mr. Fellion got her from than where she went from here. But still, he might be worth having a chat with. You never know what he might know.”
“Fine, just so long as you don't leave that mare here,” MacKenzie grumbled. “More brandy?”
The two partners were about to accept but Joe intercepted them. “No thank you, Mr. MacKenzie,” he said. “we still have a two hour ride into town. We better be on our way.”
“Fine,” MacKenzie nodded and standing up he showed his guests to the door.
Coming out on the porch, he snarled at the sight that met his eyes. His son and his wife were feeding carrots to all three of the horses but Mary was showing extra attention to the dark chestnut mare and Karma was soaking it all in. The mare didn't remember this woman but she obviously had good taste.
“Goddammit!” the husband grumbled as he turned and headed back indoors.
Heyes grinned and headed down the steps towards them. Joe and Jed exchanged looks and rolled their eyes. It might be a while yet before they got headed into town.
“Is she what you remember?” Heyes asked as he approached the group.
Mary smiled as she patted the mare. “No, no really,” she admitted. “She much taller now, and seems more confident somehow—more mature. And I must say; even more beautiful.”
“How long have you had her?” Mary asked.
“Oh, about ten years now,” Heyes told her. He smiled and stroked Karma's nose. “She's the best horse I've ever had.”
Mary smiled with pleasure. “I'm so glad. She was too much horse for me but I knew that if she could just find the right owner then she would be fine. Apparently she did.”
Heyes nodded. “Your husband said that you named her.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Where does it come from?”
She smiled, almost embarrassed. “Well I do get into those romance stories...” Percy snorted. Mary ignored him. “...I came across that word in one of the stories—can't remember which one now, but as soon as I saw her I knew that was her name. It means, oh...not good luck, but ohhh...what's meant to be? Like, things that we bring on to ourselves through our own choices and behavior. Does that make any sense? It can be 'good karma' or 'bad karma'. I always like to think that she was good karma. Perhaps not for me, but for you?”
Heyes nodded, a thoughtful expression passing through his brown eyes. “Yes,” he told her. “definitely good karma. And you're right; it does suit her.”
“I always thought so.”
“And the 'Lou'?”
Mary laughed and rolled her eyes. “The name on her papers was something so dreadful. Princess Lou Lou? Something like that.”
“Well it was half right,” Jed commented from the side lines. “She is a princess.”
Heyes and Mary chose to ignore him. Joe snickered.
“I wanted to keep something of her old name,” Mary continued to explain. “so I carried over the one 'Lou'. Karma-Lou.”
“Thank you,” Heyes said to her, and meant it. “It's nice to know a little bit more of her background. And I'm also thankful that you talked your husband out of shooting her.”
“Yes,” Mary agreed. “He thinks I don't know what he does with the older horses. I love my husband dearly, but that is one thing we will never agree on. I suppose it's all just money to him. Why feed a horse that is no longer productive? I'm glad Karma found a good home. I'm sure you won't shoot her when she gets to be old and gray.”
“Oh no ma'am!” Heyes assured her. “She'll be retired at the ranch where her foals are.”
Mary smiled and nodded her approval. Then she frowned as she ran a hand along the mare's shoulder. “What happened here?” she asked. “That's a nasty scar.”
“Oh,” Heyes was a little sheepish. “I'm afraid that was my fault. We were at a full out gallop and we had a fall. She's lucky she didn't break her neck.”
“You're lucky you didn't break your neck,” Jed felt inclined to add. “I like to think that both of you are a little smarter now.”
Heyes gave a lopsided grin. “Yeah, okay.”
“Well, it was awfully nice to meet you,” she said. “I often wondered what had become of her and now I know. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Heyes tipped his hat and the three men mounted up in preparation of leaving. Finally. But then Heyes remembered something else and stopped the forward motion. Joe and Jed both groaned. “Oh by the way,” he began. “do you know how she learned to untie knots?”
Both Mary and Percy broke up laughing.
“I'm afraid I did that, Mr. Heyes,” Percy admitted. “I was only fourteen and thought it was funny. I hope it hasn't caused you too much grief.”
Heyes smiled again. “No,” he assured the young man. “In fact, that little trick has saved my skin on more than one occasion. Thank you.”
Percy beamed with pleasure. “No problem at all Mr. Heyes.”
Everybody was tired once again by the time they rode up to the livery barn in Gillette. They had to stop here anyways to put the horses up so Heyes didn't see the harm in asking a few questions. Stopping in at the sheriff's office could wait a few minutes this time and besides, they were all curious as to what happened after MacKenzie sold Karma to his neighbour.
Old Mr. Barker stepped out of the barn with a twinkle in his eyes and a friendly smile for his new customers.
“Howdy fellas, what can I do ya' fer?”
“Couple of things,” Heyes told him. “For one we want to put our horses up here for the night, and for another I'd like to ask you a couple of questions if that's alright.”
“Well, it depends on the questions, don't it sonny?” came back the blunt response, but a smile came with it so Heyes smiled back.
“Do you recognize this mare?” he asked the man.
The livery man took a look at Karma and rubbed his chin.
“No, not really,” he admitted. “Should I?”
“Name's Karma-Lou,” Jed put in, getting tired of being left out of these conversations. “She was sold to you by a Mr. Tobian, about ten years ago.”
A light of recognition came into old man Barker's eyes and he instantly broke out laughing.
“Oh hell yeah! Karma-Lou. Yeah, I remember that filly,” he stopped and took a look at the tall mare standing behind the dark-haired gentleman. “You telling me, this is her?”
Barker whistled. “Grew into a mighty fine horse, didn't she? Hmm, too bad about that scar though.” He smiled up at Heyes. “Ya' looking to sell her?”
“No!” Heyes told him. “We were just wondering how you came to own her in the first place and if there's anything you can tell us about her lineage.”
“Oh,” Barker nodded. “Well, she had papers and if I recall the name of her breeders was on them.”
Jed nodded, “Yeah, we know about those already.”
“Oh. Other than that, I bought her off'a Tobian after he got suckered into buying her off'a old man MacKenzie. Got her for a real good price too,” Barker started to chuckle and shake his head at the memory. “I recall right after he bought her he came stomping in here first thing in the morning looking like something a rat a drug in. He was cursin' to beat the band I can tell you. Seems he'd rode into the town the night before and tied that mare up outside the saloon. He musta been in there about five hours and when he come back out that mare was gone.
“Everything was closing down for the night by then. I sure weren't open at that time a night so old Tobian, he had to sleep on a park bench. He were lucky it was summer! But he was pissin' mad when he showed up here. He didn't know if that horse had been stole on him or what had happened, but he was fumin'.
“Anyways, he rented hisself a horse from here and got home,” he started laughin' again. “I found out later that his horse had beat him to it. Apparently she got fed up with waitin' fer him ta' come outa that saloon and she done took herself home! Man, he beat the livin' daylights outa her too, he was so mad.
“Next time he come into town he made sure he tied her up real good, but dang if she didn't go and do it again! Seems somebody taught that mare how to untie knots and she just didn't see the sense of standing around for hours waitin' on that joker. Tobian though, he didn't see the joke. No sense 'a humour, that man. He took a buggy whip to her that time.
“Then he come ridin' in here on my rental and leadin' that mare along behind him. Says he wants ta' trade; that mare for my rental. Well I had to think about that. I'd knowed about the trouble he'd had with her and I didn't see how she could be much use to me. But she sure was a fine lookin' animal so I figured I could get a good price for her from some sucker who was just riding through town. Anybody who didn't know her history would be thinking they was getting a good deal.”
“Hmm,” Heyes nodded. Barker hadn't noticed how the man's jaw had set in anger at the abuse his mare had endured. “Where does this Mr. Tobian live?”
“Heyes,” Joe warned. “It was a long time ago. We don't want trouble here.”
Heyes glanced over at the deputy, his mouth a hard line.
“Better listen to him Heyes,” Jed added. “It's past history. It don't matter.”
“It sure don't,” Barker agreed. “That old bugger died five years ago. Horse kicked 'em in the head.”
Heyes grinned. “Oh.” he smothered his smug. “So, who did you sell her to?”
“Oh, some wrangler,” Barker told him. “These transients come through here, buyin', sellin' tradin', you know. He didn't care one iota about her manners. He just saw dollar signs. He bought her and took her up into Montana with the rest of his string. Don't know what happened to her after that.”
“I would say that it was soon after that when I got her,” Heyes stated. “Got her in a trade at a livery stable in Montana.”
Barker nodded. “You've had her that long?”
“Well, I guess she worked out for ya' then,” he observed. “I'd a bought her off'a ya' if ya'd wanted cause I know I could always get a good price for her. Although that scar would kinda bring it down a bit. Pity about that. Still, I take it she ain't for sale anyways.”
“That's right,” Heyes confirmed again. “No now, not ever.”
“Fine. Bring 'em on in. They can at least stay the night.”
Later that evening the three tired men sat in consultation over their supper.
“Well,” Jed commented. “we've filled in most of the blanks goin' in the wrong direction. But if we can't find this Fellion fella then we're at kind of a dead end.”
“Yeah,” Heyes agreed. “Do you think Beth will have received that drawing yet? That might be something to go on.”
Jed shrugged. “It hasn't been two weeks since we sent it,” he pointed out. “But if we want to hang around here for a couple of days, I could send a telegram.”
Heyes thought about that more a moment. “No,” he finally decided. “You're right, she probably doesn't even have it yet. Then it's going to take time for her to track it down. If she can.”
“Yeah, that's what I figure,” Jed agreed.
“So, what now?” Joe asked. “We just keep on riding down until we get to Cheyenne?”
Heyes sighed. He and Jed exchanged a look.
Jed shrugged. “I think we're gotten most of what we can get talkin' ta' these folks,” he said. “Those that know, say that Fellion came up from Colorado. I say we head to Cheyenne now, check out Cole Stockyards and go from there. If nothing else maybe we can start at the beginning of Fellion's route rather than tryin' ta' backtrack 'em from up here.”
Heyes thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, I think you're probably right Kid. How about we ride to the next train depot and travel in comfort down to Cheyenne. I think we could all use a rest anyways.”
Jed grinned. “I told ya' you were gettin' smarter Heyes.”
It was dark when the train finally pulled into Cheyenne and the three men were very happy to be able to get off the box on wheels. It didn’t seem to matter which mode of transportation they used, it all seemed to be tiring and hard on the bones if they were at it long enough. As they unloaded their tired horses from the box car Heyes noted that the Elephant Corral was nearly empty. There must’ve been a recent shipment going out by train. Usually, the sturdy pens were filled with unhappy steers and other livestock.
The stockyard office had closed for the night so they mounted up and rode down Capitol Avenue away the Union Pacific Depot. Jed could see that the big clock on the tower atop the grand stone building was barely illuminated by the gas lanterns far below. It was nearly two in the morning! The three exhausted men continued on into the red-light district on Eddy Street. Businesses were opened all hours of the day and night along this thoroughfare and the boys were intimately familiar with many of the seedy establishments, having frequented them during their outlaw days.
Heyes pulled up in front of the infamous Frenchy’s Saloon and dismounted, tying Karma to the hitching rail in front. She looked at Heyes unhappily and he stroked her glossy neck. The liveries were all closed at this hour and the horses would have to wait until morning for a warm stall and a place to rest that wasn’t on wheels. Heyes felt himself flinch as the memory of Logan accusing him of neglecting his horses hit him and he turned to his companions.
“Go on in. I’ll take the horses and head over to the Dyer. I’ll get us a couple of rooms and board the horses in the hotel’s stable. Order up a steak for me and I’ll be back as quick as I can.” He untied Karma and took the reins for Gov and Betty, wearily starting off down the street.
Joe watched him go wondering if he was up to something volunteering to settle the horses. So far he’d observed that Heyes handed off most of the menial tasks. Jed stepped up onto the sidewalk, pushed open the batwing door and glanced at Joe. “You coming?”
Thoughts of Heyes were pushed aside and Joe hurried into the crowded bar.
A half an hour later, Heyes came in and sat down at the corner table where Jed and Joe were having a couple of beers. “Where’s the food?”
“It’s not ready yet. They’re kind of busy tonight,” said Jed. He and Joe had stood at the bar trying to elicit what small tidbits of information that they could from the inebriated patrons. After twenty minutes or so of listening to rambling, drunken men, they’d retreated to this table and ordered dinner.
“What’d you learn?” asked an eager Heyes. He looked around the saloon. There were several intense poker games going on and he felt tempted to join one.
“Nothin’. It’s too late and folks are too drunk to make much sense. Let’s eat and we’ll get started in the mornin’,” Jed smiled at the sight of his late-night dinner appearing next to him.
“I was thinking I might sit in on a game, see what I could find out,” said Heyes, tucking his napkin through a shirt buttonhole and picking up his knife and fork. He was starved.
“No,” was the muffled answer through a mouthful of Curry’s steak.
A stubborn look crossed Heyes’ face. Joe chewed contentedly watching the clash of wills developing between the two long-time friends.
“Last I knew, partner, it wasn’t your job to tell me what I could or couldn’t do,” snapped Heyes.
“Wipe that mulish look off your face, Heyes. You know as well as I do, that if you sit in on a game tonight I’m gonna have sit around watchin’ your back ‘cause there’s too many people here who might take exception to you walkin’ around a free man. And Joe here is gonna have to stay ‘cause it’s his job to know what you’re doing,” explained Jed patiently, “I’m too damn tired for that. I just want to go to bed and I’m guessing Joe does, too.” Joe nodded his agreement, still eating.
Looking contrite, Heyes relaxed, “Sorry, you’re right. I’m tired, too; so tired I just don’t know if I’ll be able to fall asleep.”
“Joe and I will take one room and you can have the other. Read, stay up all night if you want to, just stay put, will ya?”
Grinning at his commanding partner, Heyes turned his attention to food. “Sure, Kid.”
“Not tonight, it isn’t.”
A light tap on the hotel room door woke Jed and he sat up, listening.
“Room service, Mr. Curry; breakfast is served,” said a heavily-accented male voice.
Joe stirred in bed and emerged from under the covers. He saw Jed pull his gun from his holster crossing to the door and standing off to the side with his back to the wall.
“Just a second, I’m not dressed.” He said loudly before he whispered to Joe, “I didn’t order breakfast, did you?”
The sleepy deputy shook his head no and crawled from bed, pulling on his pants and walking to the door. He looked at Curry, who nodded, and Joe opened it cautiously.
“Heyes!” said Joe, not amused at the dimpled face grinning like an idiot at him.
Jed leaned around the door and growled, “Quit foolin’ around, I’m not awake enough for your games.”
Heyes pushed a laden room service cart into the room and pulled the silver cover off a platter piled high with eggs, sausages, and toast. “Breakfast’ll wake you,” he said, grabbing the coffee pot and pouring three mugs. He handed one to Joe, who mumbled something under his breath, and the other to Curry, who grouchily snatched his and returned to lie on the rumpled bed. “Nice. I bring breakfast and this is the thanks I get.”
“I’d be a whole lot more thankful if it was a couple of hours later,” grumbled Jed.
“We need to get a move on; it’s already eight o’clock and traffic’s getting heavy,” was the cheerful reply. “I want to get down to the stockyard before the next train goes out. I saw some drovers from a big outfit bringing in a herd a while ago and they might know something.”
Joe groaned, “Does he ever sleep?”
“Not when he’s working a lead, he don’t. Get used to it.” Jed finished his coffee and left the bed to load up a plate of food. He shoveled on some eggs, speared several sausages, tossed a few slices of bread on top of the heap, and returned to the bed. “Heyes, we’ve got a problem.”
Consternation from Heyes, “How could we have a problem? We just woke up.”
“I didn’t want to tell it to you last night or you would’ve spent the rest of the night letting it eat at you.”
“Did you know about this?” Heyes asked Joe.
“Yeah, I agreed with Jed that it could wait until morning.”
“What is it?” asked Heyes coldly. He was beginning to feel ganged up on.
“Remember our old friends at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association?” Jed didn’t wait for an answer, he knew his partner remembered. “Well, seems they didn’t learn they’re lesson the last time around and they’re still causing trouble. I saw some familiar faces last night; they didn’t see me. Trouble, Heyes; like we’re supposed to avoid.”
This time Joe spoke up. “What do you two have to do with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association?”
Two faces turned to him simultaneously and, as one, blandly said, “Nothing.”
“Dammit, I am sick and tired of being the odd man out here! I can pull the plug on this little adventure any time I want and there isn’t anything either of you can do to stop me. Is that what you want?” Stunned at Joe’s outburst, Heyes and Jed shook their heads mutely. “Good. Tell me about the Stock Growers.”
Jed nodded and Heyes sat down on the edge of the bed. “We got blackmailed a few years back into going up against the Association. It was back in 1884 right at the time the Maverick Law was enacted.”
“Blackmailed? You two? How were you blackmailed?” Joe remembered reading about the Maverick Law in school. The law made it illegal for anyone to steal unbranded calves, a growing problem that the cattle barons had been fighting for a long time. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association had managed to get an additional bill in place that essentially made it illegal for cowboys to own cattle and prohibited the members of the SGA from hiring any men who violated this rule. This gave the Association the opportunity to declare many small ranchers to be rustlers and lit off the fuse that ultimately exploded early last April as the Johnson County war.
“Maybe blackmailed is too strong a word; more like we were fooled into it,” sighed Jed. He leaned back against his pillow and rubbed his eyes remembering that time vividly. He could still see his partner lying on the ground. He’d thought at the time that Heyes was dead.
“We were nearly bushwhacked by a couple of gunnies for the Association. They’d recognized us in the last town we’d been in and decided to bring us in, dead,” said Heyes. “A small rancher working his herd shot them before they could kill us. We thought he saved our lives and we owed him; but it turns out he killed the two shooters in cold blood because they were Association men; only we didn’t know that until a lot later.”
“The Association had seized his cattle and had mingled them with a larger herd. He corralled us into helping him cut out his steers; caused us to have a run-in with some of the Association’s regulators,” said Jed.
“What kind of run-in?” asked Joe; he was starting to get a very bad feeling that this was something he was going to be sorry he learned.
“They tried to kill us; shot Heyes in the head.”
Joe knew the story of how Heyes got the scar he carried on his forehead, but the man survived being shot in the head twice? He really was a lucky sonovabitch.
“It was just a graze, but it knocked me out cold. The Kid thought they’d killed me,” Heyes smiled fondly at his partner, who was looking peaked and no longer enjoying his breakfast. “He got a little crazy and decided to take on the whole bunch of them by himself. Grabbed my gun and the rancher’s; charged up the hill straight at those back-shooters. Shot up a few and ran the rest of them off,” he finished proudly.
“You kill anyone, Jed?” Joe hated asking, but he had to know.
“I don’t kill people unless I mean to, Joe,” growled Jed. “I reckon a few of ‘em wished they were dead, but no one died; at least not by my hand.”
“Marty, the rancher, was killed in the shootout,” said Jed flatly.
Joe started walking back and forth at the foot of the bed. “So you only defended yourselves. I can live with that.” He stopped talking to himself and looked at the two ex-outlaws. “All right, thanks for telling me. I think this one’s going to be our little secret.”
“Problem is, Joe, those gunnies got a real close look at the Kid and I’m betting some of those boys might still be around working for the Association,” explained Heyes. “Hell, they probably still have nightmares about him.”
“So we’ll stick together when we go out. They aren’t going to tangle with a lawman to get at you. You aren’t wanted anymore,” said Joe.
“Might be best,” agreed Heyes. Jed raised his eyebrows surprised that his partner had capitulated so easily. “That was a long time ago and we’re not here to stir up trouble.”
“Glad to hear it,” smiled Joe. He’d expected Heyes to resist the idea, if for no other reason than to give him a hard time. “You check in at the sheriff’s office yet?”
“Yeah,” Heyes assured him, looking insulted. “I went and said ‘howdy’ to Sheriff Turner while our breakfast was cooking. We’re good. I think he likes me.” Before Joe or Jed could comment on that over-statement Heyes changed the subject. “You done, partner?” he asked, looking at the plate of congealed eggs on Jed’s lap. He hoped Jed had enough to eat. He didn’t want to run into any of those WSGA boys with a grumpy Kid Curry by his side.
Posts : 1467
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 63
Location : Camano Island Washington
|Subject: Backtrack Sun Nov 24, 2013 9:43 pm|| |
Jed jumped off the bed and grabbed his hat ready to start tracking down leads.
“Seth Gardener, sir, and this here’s my younger brother, Joe, and my business partner, Mortimer Fontaine,” said Heyes, extending a hand to the bewildered clerk for shaking. The poor man was still trying to recover from the barrage of words that had come at him when these three men burst into his quiet office tucked into the far corner of the Elephant Corral.
Heyes continued rapidly, “Like I said, we’re looking for the folks who run Cole Stockyards. Got some real fine horses off them a few years back, and now we need more. We got us such a good deal on those nags; I’m hoping to buy twice as many. You help us run Cole to ground and there could be a big commission in it for you.”
Heyes paused to wink. “Problem is, though, I’m having some trouble finding Cole stockyards. The papers I have from the last go-round don’t have any contact information on them. I’m hoping you might be able to point me in the right direction. Maybe you know of them?”
The clerk stared at him blankly for a minute, not realizing Heyes had finally finished. “Uh…not that I recollect, Mister; I can take a look at my books but it’s gonna be a little while.”
“Thank you, we’ll just wait over there,” said Heyes, gesturing to a row of empty chairs in the waiting area.
As they sat down, Jed leaned towards him and hissed, “Mortimer?”
Heyes grinned, “Has a nice ring to it, don’t it?” Joe couldn’t help chuckling.
Twenty minutes later, the clerk reappeared in the front office. Heyes stood up and walked to the counter, “Any luck?”
“Sorry, sir, I don’t see any paperwork for a Cole Stockyards. Do you remember what the men looked like? I been here twenty some years, reckon I know most of the regulars by sight if not by name.”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” said Heyes, thinking fast, “I used an agent to secure the deal.” He pulled a silver dollar from his pocket and plunked it down on the counter. “Thanks for trying.” Jed and Joe had gotten to their feet and he joined them. Outside the stockyard office, Joe went to get the horses. They were tied to the top rail of the largest pen across the yard.
“What now? You want to ask around town?” asked Jed.
Heyes shook his head, watching Joe untying the three animals from the corral fencing. “We have to get a look at the tax rolls. If Cole is a legitimate business they’ll have paid taxes.”
“The Assessor ain’t gonna just show us his books.” Jed knew that look in his partner’s eyes and was pretty sure he knew where this was going.
“Maybe with enough money he could be persuaded,” suggested Heyes.
“Bribing a federal official?”
Heyes grinned evilly, “Won’t be a bribe until he accepts it.”
“True. All right, I guess we can swing by there on our way into town.”
“Where do we go next?” asked Joe as he returned, handing Karma’s reins to Heyes and Gov’s to Jed. Betty snorted and rubbed her nose up and down his leg until he gently pushed her away.
“Tax Office; see if they’ve got any record of Cole Stockyards,” said Heyes, mounting up and patting Karma’s neck. She preened, pleased with the attention. Being tied to a fence wasn’t her idea of a good time.
“That’s a longshot. Tax records aren’t public information,” said Joe, grabbing Betty’s mane and swinging into his saddle.
“I know, but we aren’t asking what they earned, just how to find Cole Stockyards,” countered Jed, bringing Gov around and pulling up next to his partner.
“All right, I’ll buy that. Where is it?” Joe nudged Betty into a slow jog as Gov and Karma picked up the pace.
“It’s on Capitol Street just down from the Depot,” said Heyes.
A short time later, they were standing in line waiting to speak with the tax man. He was a short, balding man with thick glasses who had a nasty, officious nature. The three had watched him brutalize the customers ahead of them and by the time they reached the front of the line Heyes was not in the mood to be messed with.
“Next,” called the clerk despite them being right across the counter from him.
Heyes pasted a friendly smile on his face and cleared his throat. “Good morning, sir, my name’s Seth Gardener. I’m trying to get an address for Cole Stockyards. I bou…”
“I can’t help you,” snapped the man. “Tax records are confidential. Next!”
“I just need an address!” Heyes was indignant at being dismissed so swiftly.
“I don’t care what you need; you aren’t getting any information out of me. Federal law,” The odious man leaned past Heyes and nearly yelled, “Next!”
“Now hold on a minute,” said Jed, a coldness creeping into his voice.
“I don’t have one more minute to waste on you or your friends, young man; and you don’t intimidate me. I’m an employee of the government. Good day to you all.” He waved the woman standing behind Joe to come forwards. She walked past the boys with an apologetic nod. The three companions turned and walked out the door and onto the sidewalk.
“That little weasel! It was all I could do not to yank him across that counter and wring his scrawny little neck,” growled Heyes.
“It ain’t like the old days, Heyes. We’ve lost our credibility,” said Jed.
As another government employee, Joe was incensed at the man’s ill manners and was fuming over being all but literally kicked out of the office. “Wait for me. I’ve got an idea.” He left Heyes and Jed standing on the sidewalk and walked back inside; getting in line again.
“So what do we do now? Bribin’ him ain’t gonna work,” said Jed. He was leaning against the jamb of the window so that he could keep an eye on Joe and Heyes at the same time. His partner was all too capable of doing something impulsive when he was angry.
“I know, that’s why you’re gonna help get Joe outta the way so I can break into the Tax Assessor’s office. We’ll take him to the saloon two doors down tonight. Get him good and drunk.”
“I ain’t helping you do that, Heyes. If we got caught, both of us could land our asses in jail!” whispered Jed, while watching Joe through the window. He was moving up in the line.
“You aren’t coming with me and I’m not getting caught.”
“No, I ain’t letting you do it.”
“C’mon, it’s an easy in and out job. It’s not like there’s armed guards watching the place. The books are probably laying around for anyone to see.” Heyes’s eyes gleamed with a larcenous twinkle. “Besides, who breaks into a tax office? What can they charge me with; illegal perusing of ledgers? I’ll pick the lock, if someone happens by, I can claim I noticed it was unlocked. No one will believe there’s anything worth stealing in there.”
“Hannibal Heyes a concerned citizen? What do you plan on telling Joe if you’re caught?”
“I was taking a leak and noticed the unlocked door.”
“Hey, look!” smiled Jed, “Joe’s yelling at the guy.” Heyes leaned forward so that he could look into the window. Sure enough, Joe had his badge in his arm and was waving it under the clerk’s nose. The two partners slipped back into the office so they could hear what was being said.
“Shut your mouth and listen to me, I am a Deputy of the Law in pursuit of a suspect and you, sir, are obstructing justice. I’ll have you thrown into jail if you say one more word.”
“That’s two, c’mon, let’s go,” Joe reached across the counter and seized the little man by his upper arm dragging him to the end of the counter.
“Wait! Wait, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand you were government men! I can get the information for you! Please don’t take me to jail.”
Letting go of the man’s arm, Joe crossed his own. “Well, get going I don’t have all day.”
The smaller man gave a frightened squeak and hurried over to his ledgers, pulling several down and putting them on the large table between racks. He flipped frantically through each of them. Heyes and Jed stood next to Joe watching the man with angry scowls. The three men made the clerk so nervous he actually tore several pages in his haste to turn them over. Finally, he looked up close to panic. “They’re not here.”
“What? You mean they haven’t paid taxes?” snapped Heyes.
“I mean they don’t exist. I cross-referenced everything, property taxes, business taxes, sales taxes. There’s nothing anywhere about Cole Stockyards.”
“Thank you. It’s just as I suspected. Men, we’re chasing a false trail. Good day to you, sir,” said Joe, mimicking the man’s earlier dismissal and walking out the door with the partners following behind.
Outside, Heyes and the Kid nearly doubled over with laughter. Joe joined in and Heyes slapped him hard on the back. “Joe you just might have the makings of an outlaw. I never would’ve guessed!”
Joe beamed. He knew that was high praise from Heyes. The three men started walking back towards their hotel.
“So where to now, Heyes?” asked Jed.
“I guess we start working our way through the commercial district.”
An afternoon spent wandering in and out of Cheyenne’s Merchantiles and General Stores had the boys completely demoralized. No one had done any business with Cole Stockyards. Jed was beginning to wonder if they were canvassing the wrong state. Heyes didn’t seem upset, though, and he walked along the sidewalk, whistling as though he hadn’t a care in the world. The sun had gone down a half an hour ago and the gaslights were springing to life as the three men strolled along.
Joe yawned. Being a private detective was a lot more boring than being a deputy. “I’m ready to call it a day and get some supper. What about you?”
“Dinner sounds great and then maybe some poker. What do you say, Heyes?” asked Jed.
Heyes paused and looked at them. “Hmmm. What?”
“Joe and me are getting something to eat. Are you coming?”
“Sure.” Heyes resumed his whistling and began strolling again alongside his two friends.
Jed could see that Heyes was preoccupied with something, but he had no idea what it could be. “So, do we hit the saloons tonight?”
“That might be kind of risky considering all those WSGA men wandering about. I know it’s been almost ten years, but I’m betting those boys have long memories and our pictures have been all over the local papers. I’m betting they know by now exactly who it was they went up against.” Heyes stopped, turning to his friends, and smiled widely. “I’ve got an idea! Joe, you want us to avoid trouble, right?”
“Er…right,” hesitated Joe, “why?”
“The best way for us to avoid trouble is to stay out of the saloons in Cheyenne, right? But those are also the best places to pick up gossip, right?”
“Right. What are you getting at?” asked Joe suspiciously.
“What if you did the asking around?” Heyes waited.
“My job is to keep an eye on you, Heyes.”
“Jed can keep an eye on me. Believe me; he isn’t going to let me screw up. Ain’t that right, partner?” An unspoken request for cooperation leapt from Heyes’s eyes as he looked at Jed.
Not knowing where this was going, Jed gave in to his instinct. He would back his partner. “I wouldn’t let Heyes do anything illegal, Joe, you ought to know that.”
“I do, but…” began Joe.
“We can’t do it ourselves or we would. We’re asking for your help here, Joe,” said Heyes, persuasively.
Joe looked from one open, earnest face to the other and wondered what he wasn’t seeing. He finally sighed, “All right. Let’s go have some dinner. I’ll go nosing around for you if you two go back to the hotel after we eat. Agreed?” He spit on his hand and held it out to Jed and then Heyes. Both men shook it, smiling broadly.
“Thanks, Joe. I owe you for this,” said Heyes, patting the deputy on the chest and bidding him farewell before closing the hotel room door. He turned around and found Jed lying on the bed preparing to get comfortable. “What are you doing?!” he hissed.
“I’m gettin’ ready for bed; what do you think I’m doin’?”
“Get up,” Heyes crossed the room and pulled back the shade, watching the street intently. Joe emerged from the front of the hotel and crossed the street before turning south. Heyes dropped the shade, turned back to his partner, and growled, “Quit taking your shirt off. We’re going out.”
“Out? Why?” Jed sat up, frowning. “What are you plannin’? We just promised Joe we’d stay put.”
“No, we didn’t. We promised that you’d keep an eye on me and we’d go back to the hotel. I never promised to stay here. I’ve got one more place to check out and, if you go with me, I’m not breaking my word to Joe.” Heyes pulled open his carpetbag, yanking out his good suit and his new hat.
“Why are you getting all dressed up?”
“Because we’ve got to blend in, that’s why.” Heyes pulled off his vest and started to unbutton his shirt.
“Blend into what? A convention of bankers?” Jed leaned down picking his old sheepskin jacket off the floor, but Heyes reached out and knocked it from his hand.
“Put on your suit. I know you brought one.”
“How do you know I brought one? Were you snooping through my stuff?” Jed leaned back against the pillows again and crossed his arms obstinately. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere until you tell me where we’re goin’.”
Heyes was knotting his necktie now and looking into the mirror on top of the small dresser. “Are you listening to yourself? Sheesh, you sound like you’re ten. What’re we doing, playing twenty questions?”
“Sure, if that’s what it’ll take to get some answers from you.”
Heyes glared at him stonily and then threw up his hands in submission. “Fine! We’re getting dressed up and we’re going to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association meeting tonight. If Cole Stockyards exists, one of those cattle barons is going to know something about it. Anymore questions?”
“I thought we were avoidin’ them; now you want to waltz into their meeting?” Jed jumped up and started dressing. No way was Heyes going into the lion’s den without him by his side. He felt sort of relieved in an odd way. He’d been worried Heyes was going to do something that would send him back to prison. This would only get the shit kicked out of them or get them killed; just your average Hannibal Heyes plan.
“I do. There’s rich, powerful people attending that meeting and they don’t like being caught up in controversy. No one’s going to lay a hand on us while we’re there; it’s when we leave that we’re gonna have to worry.” Heyes grinned, pleased that Jed seemed to be taking this well.
“Is all this worth it to find out who bred a horse?”
“She’s not just a horse!” Heyes crossed to the bed and sat down to put on his shoes. “I’m not doing it for me, Jed. Think of what it’s going to mean to Jesse. He’ll get top dollar for Ned’s stud fee. He wants to use him for his new foundation sire. How can he do that if he can’t trace Ned’s lineage?”
Thinking of his father-in-law, Jed remembered all the things that Jesse had done for both of them over the years. Heyes was right; they had to do this for Jesse. It was too important to the ranch to give up. Curry stood up and dug into his saddlebag, pulling out his suit and laying it on the bed. “What are we gonna tell Joe if he comes back before we do?”
“We’ll tell him the truth. It’s not like we’re doing anything illegal or harmful to someone. Well, maybe harmful to us.”
“You know, truth be told, I wouldn’t mind meeting up with a couple of those WSGA gunnies again. Don’t seem to me that lot’s learned their lesson; still pushing around the little guys like they do.”
“Don’t get your hopes up, partner. This is going to be a long, boring evening.”
Heyes trotted up the steps to the WSGA offices, and smiled at the man at the door. Jed was right behind him and they were both brought up short as the tough-looking doorman flung out his arm. “Where do you think you two are going?”
Heyes sized the man up quickly. Rough, big and suitably intimidating; all in all, in keeping with the other WSGA employees he’d run into in the past. He hadn’t expected a warm welcome, not with the current struggles the ranchers had recently endured.
Wyoming had proven an Eden for cattlemen and had attracted the fortune-seeking sons of many wealthy landowners from other parts of the cattle-raising world. These men had arrived in droves, seizing the best land by luck, force, or deceit. Many of them had flourished, building their own dynasties. Mansions sprung up and the money flowed. As homesteaders and small ranchers flocked to the area seeking their own fortunes, the cattlemen had banded together in 1873 and formed the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Over the ensuing years, the WSGA dealt roughly with anyone who roused their displeasure; branding small ranchers and homesteaders as rustlers and enacting legislations that allowed them to drive folks from their homes.
Wyoming was held in a stranglehold by the WSGA until the blizzards of ’86-87 decimated the herds of ranchers large and small, causing heavy livestock losses. As profits dried up, the tensions escalated. Another bad winter in 1890 and the WSGA found itself in disarray, losing many of its members to bankruptcy.
Last winter, members of the WSGA drew up a ‘Death List’ of over seventy people including the Johnson County Sheriff, his deputies, county commissioners, newspapermen, merchants, and the head of the Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stockgrowers Association. The harassment of small ranchers and homesteaders continued with renewed vigor.
April 2nd, a special Pullman car had arrived in Cheyenne. On it were Frank Wolcott and twenty-two men hired near Paris, Texas, to ‘serve warrants’ on the rustlers and outlaws that plagued the area; there’d been no warrants and the rustlers and outlaws turned out to be the enemies of the Association. The gunmen were paid five dollars a day plus food and bullets and an additional fifty dollar bonus for every ‘rustler or outlaw’ killed. Heyes’ and Jed’s old acquaintance, Frank Canton, had assembled the men, hired more, and ridden out of Cheyenne at the head of an ersatz army of fifty-two hired guns. After eleven bloody days, Acting Governor Amos Barber had called in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort McKinney to squash the violence and put an end to the war.
News of the bounty had focused Heyes’ attention on the war. He’d read everything he could find on the subject and watched the Association’s actions with the same horror and fascination as the rest of the civilized world. The WSGA was an old enemy of the Devil’s Hole Gang. It had contributed heavily to the bounty on his head and the heads of his men over the years, joining forces with the railroads and the banks. The cattlemen had kept their monies in those same banks that Heyes had so enjoyed robbing. He knew that he had no friends among the cattle barons he was about to confront.
Heyes smiled coldly at the man barring his way. “I’m going inside.”
“Not until I know who you are and why you’re here.”
“I’m Scott Medgar of the Rocking M, Golden, CO, and this is my foreman, Monty Northrup. I’ve been working for the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and we’ve got a proposal that may interest your organization.”
The doorman knew that the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association was the oldest, most exclusive cattle baron’s club in the country. He was impressed. “Wait here a second and I’ll check this out,” he nodded to another man who was further down the hall.
The second muscular man walked towards them. Jed and Heyes watched as the man’s bulk filled the doorway. “Have a seat, gentlemen,” said the man mountain, gesturing to a bench at the far end of the porch. They did.
“Why’d you give him Scott’s and Monty’s names?” hissed Jed.
“Because Scott’s the only member of the CCA that I know,” whispered Heyes.
A short time later, the doorman returned and said, “Gentlemen, welcome to the Wyoming’s Stock Growers Association. Right this way, sirs.” He bowed to them as they walked through the double doors. His boss had, upon hearing of the visitors, picked up the new telephone on his desk and within a few minutes had spoken with the secretary of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, verifying Mr. Medgar’s membership.
Jed surreptitiously unbuttoned his suit jacket, leaving open his access to his Colt. He followed Heyes’ broad back down the burnished wood-paneled hallway and through the double doors on the left. The two partners were ushered into a cavernous room containing heavy leather furniture. Two roaring fireplaces on either end cast a flickering light onto the crystal chandeliers adorning the ceiling. More than a dozen men, obviously gunmen and bodyguards, lounged about the room, several reading newspapers or engaging in quiet conversation. All of them looked up as the newcomers arrived.
An excessively long table ran along the wall in the southeastern corner of the room and another two dozen men were seated about it. One of the elegantly-dressed men rose from the head of the table, coming over and smiling. It was plain that he’d been informed of their arrival.
“Mr. Medgar, welcome! I’m Wilfred Mannington of the Slash Bar M,” he said with a pronounced English accent. “What brings you to our little corner of wilderness?”
Several other men rose and clustered around Jed and Heyes. Jed took several steps away from Heyes and kept his eyes on the armed men in the room. He wanted to be able to move freely should it prove necessary.
His partner quickly slipped into character. Heyes smiled, introduced himself, and clasped hands all around, exuding such an air of bonhomie, that the cattlemen were put at ease. After several minutes of casual conversation, he was ushered to a seat at the foot of the table. The barons settled into empty seats around him, curious and ready to talk business. Jed remained standing just behind Heyes. He wanted everyone in that room to know that he was there for the sole purpose of ensuring his friend’s safety.
“Forgive me, Scott, for repeating myself. What exactly is it that can we do for you?” Mannington cut to the chase swiftly. He and the others may put on a friendly face but none of them appreciated a potential rival in their midst. He wanted to know who these two men were and why they were here.
Heyes leaned back and smiled broadly. “I need your help tracking down a business.”
Mannington frowned and tensed. “It was my understanding that you had a business proposal, perhaps I was mistaken,” he said frowning. “I’m not sure how you expect us to aid you.”
“Mr. Mannington, I am looking for information on Cole Stockyards.”
Jed noticed one of the men at the table twitch at the name. A gray-haired, mutton-chopped man was suddenly terribly interested in his whiskey glass and kept his head down.
Heyes continued, “I bought some horses from them here in Cheyenne about ten years ago. One fine mare, in particular, and I ended up breeding her to my foundation sire several times. She’s thrown exceptional foals and I want to use one of her stallions as a new sire.” Soapy had always told him that the more truth he wove into his scams the easier the sell. “Surely you can all appreciate the higher price I could ask for his get if I succeed in tracing his lineage? I will certainly make it worth the Association’s time if you can help me.”
Mannington relaxed and smiled, “Of course, we would be delighted to help you if we can. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of such a business. Do any of you?” He glanced around the table. No one spoke up. “Well, Mr. Medgar, it appears that we will not be able to be of assistance to you; perhaps, you should try the county and state offices.”
“I will, but perhaps you might be able to ask around for me. The Association is known for its numerous, ah, contacts in the industry. Surely someone within your long grasp will have information,” he rather snidely said. Heyes was enjoying himself. He’d taken an instant, visceral dislike of Mannington the moment he’d clasped the man’s hand and seen the avaricious gleam in his eye.
“We are not a detective agency, sir. Good luck to you. James, please show Mr. Medgar and Mr. Northrup out.” One of the armed men pushed himself off the wall where he’d been leaning and came over, gesturing for Heyes to follow.
The dark-haired ex-outlaw rose. “Gentlemen, thank you for your time. If I can ever not be of help to you in Colorado, don’t hesitate to call on me.” Absent and dismissive nods swept around the table.
“Great bunch of guys,” said Heyes as he and his partner strolled away from the Cheyenne Club. It was a dark night, and they quickly disappeared into the gloom.
Jed chuckled. “You know, it never ceases to amaze how quickly you can get yourself thrown out of a place. You see that mutton-chopped fellow? I’d bet my last dollar he knew something about Cole.”
“Let’s hang out for a while and wait for the meeting to break up. Maybe we can get him alone.”
Joe emerged from his fifth bar, stepped off the boardwalk, and onto the street. He’d asked every cowpoke, wino, and saloon gal he’d come into contact with about Cole Stockyards and had come up empty-handed. This whole job was a wild goose chase. He glanced down the street, wondering where to go next. There was no shortage of saloons in this part of town, but it seemed like business was slow for a Friday night. He heard tinny piano music pouring from the place three doors up the street and decided to try his luck there. As he walked in that direction, he noticed two men loitering outside the Cheyenne Club. There wasn’t enough light to see them clearly, but there was something about them that drew his attention. Must be some of the WSGA’s men, he thought.
“That’s Joe,” hissed Jed. He yanked Heyes back into the shadows and waited. Their deputy friend walked towards them as they watched.
“Did he see us?” whispered Heyes. The last thing he wanted was a confrontation that could send him back to Brookswood. He knew he hadn’t done anything illegal, but he doubted that would matter to Joe. He’d still feel duped if he found out what they were up to. Geez, he hated developing a conscience!
“Naw, he’s headin’ into a saloon.”
“Good.” They both turned in the direction of the Club. Several carriages were coming up the street and parking. A white-haired man emerged, hurried down the steps, and climbed into the first carriage. Soon, the rest of the men came out and stood on the sidewalk bidding each other farewell. The mutton-chopped man shook hands with Mannington and began strolling down the street in the opposite direction with a gunman at his side. “He’s on foot. Let’s circle around and head him off before he gets to the corner of 18th Street. You take the gunnie; I’ll handle our friend,” said Heyes.
Several minutes later, the cattleman and his bodyguard passed by a closed storefront and crossed the darkened maw of an alley. Jed slipped in behind them, swiftly drawing his gun and jamming it into the back of the gunnie, while disarming him. “Hold up there, fellas, my partner just wants to have a word with you.”
Heyes melted out of the shadows. “Sir, may I have a moment of your time?”
The cattle baron bristled, “Medgar! What is the meaning of this?”
“Ah, ah,” said Jed warningly, as the gunman involuntarily took a step towards Heyes.
“Sir, please, I apologize for waylaying you this way, but I need to speak with you. Alone, if possible,” added Heyes.
“Do I have a choice?” A frown deepened in the man’s face as he glared at the dark-haired man in front of him. He’d liked this man immediately, but he had obviously seriously misjudged him. Still, he was a man used to relying on his instincts and his instincts told him that he was in no real danger. “Watkins, wait here.”
The gunman looked at his employer and then down at the gun in his side. He didn’t argue; he’d be happy to wait.
Heyes and the older man strolled up the sidewalk a ways keeping Jed and Watkins in sight. Once he was sure they were well out of earshot of the bodyguard, Heyes stopped.
“Calhoun. Jacob Calhoun,” said the man.
“Mr. Calhoun, it was obvious to both me and Mr. Northrup that you do know Cole Stockyards.” The man started to protest, but Heyes held up a hand to stop him. “What I’m wondering is why you didn’t speak up in front of your fellow Association members. Could it be that you don’t want them to know that you know Cole; perhaps your friends might find that a conflict of interests?” Mr. Calhoun paled as Heyes spoke and stared at the ex-outlaw thoughtfully. Heyes got the feeling that he was being sized up and softly added, “I really don’t mean them any harm. I’m only trying to paper that mare.”
Calhoun smiled slightly at that, “These are desperate means you’ve chosen to get your information, Medgar, but I suppose the Association’s recent reputation warrants such actions. All right, I’ll talk to you, but not here. It’s too likely we’ll be seen. My man is loyal, but others are not. Do you know the Lakeview Cemetery, sir?”
“I know it,” said Heyes.
“I’ll meet you by the gate in fifteen minutes. Alone.” Calhoun turned and walked back towards Jed and his man.
Heyes followed alongside quietly until they reached his partner. He held out his hand to Calhoun, who hesitated, surprised, before clasping it. “Mr. Calhoun, I’m sorry for the dramatics. Thank you for your time.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you, Medgar.” Calhoun nodded to his man.
Jed slipped the gun back into the man’s holster and backed away. He kept his gun drawn but he smiled as the man turned to him. “Sorry, partner, I couldn’t take the chance on startling you and eating a bullet.” The man didn’t smile but he nodded his understanding and hurried after his employer.
“So, another dead end?” asked Jed as Heyes stood next to him.
“Funny you should use those words,” chuckled Heyes, “Calhoun’s meeting me at the cemetery in fifteen minutes.”
“We’d better hurry.”
“You’ll have to stay out of sight. He’s expecting me to come alone.”
“All right, should be easy to hide what with all those vaults and headstones. Let’s get going, so I can settle in before he arrives.”
“Medgar? Are you here?” whispered Calhoun. He had changed into dark clothing and crept amongst the headstones carefully. He passed Jed crouched behind a vault but failed to see him in the darkness.
Heyes stepped out from his hiding place on the other side of the path and halted the whiskered man where his partner could hear the conversation. “Right here, Mr. Calhoun.”
Relieved, Calhoun smiled. “The last time I wandered this place at night I was fifteen and up to no good. I guess my friends would say I’m up to no good now.”
“Believe me; I understand the risks you’re taking. Thank you for meeting me.”
“We’re not all like Mannington, Mr. Medgar. Some of us are ashamed of the Assocation’s more recent actions, but it’s simply too dangerous to step down at this time,” Calhoun explained bitterly.
Heyes kept his opinion to himself. It was weak men like Calhoun who allowed the Association and the railroads to run roughshod over the common man. “What can you tell me about Cole Stockyards?”
“It’s a fake name. There is no Cole Stockyards.”
“So why didn’t you just say so at the Club?”
“The WSGA not only believes Cole exists, they branded it a long time ago as an undesirable entity for undercutting some of our members.”
“So the Association calls them rustlers and then they’re free to deal with them as they see fit. You didn’t want to tell me they don’t exist because you didn’t want to explain how you knew they didn’t.”
“So who is it you’re trying to protect?” Heyes saw his question hit a nerve and he pressed harder. “Mr. Calhoun, my name is not Scott Medgar and I am not with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. I used that name to get into the Club. My real name is Rembacker and I’m a deputy sheriff.” Heyes pulled his jacket open revealing the badge he’d lifted from Joe’s shirt pocket as he’d sent him out the door.
Dismay flooded Calhoun’s face. “You lied!”
“Yes, I lied. Cole Stockyards has come up in connection with a crime we are investigating and I need you to give me whatever information you have or, I promise you, you will be taken to court for obstruction of justice!” Heyes recalled how effective that threat had been for Joe and was pleased to see the fear leap into Calhoun’s eyes.
The idea of being called into court to testify in public crumbled Calhoun’s resistance. He wilted under Heyes’s gaze and looked away, “All right. I am protecting someone.”
“My brother’s boy and his friend; they’re Cole Stockyards.”
“You said it didn’t exist.”
“It doesn’t. Look, Josh was a good kid, but he was always getting in trouble; nothing real big, just stupid kid things. My brother and his wife had sold their ranch and moved into town with Josh and their two other boys when Josh was about thirteen. It didn’t take long before he started acting up; city life didn’t suit him. The boy had spent his entire childhood on a ranch and he missed it. You should see him with a horse. He has the touch.
“ Anyway, pretty soon my brother and sister-in-law were at their wit’s end with Josh, so they sent him out to my ranch. They wanted me to put him to work and straighten him out. I put him on as a hand and he did fine for a while, but then he started hanging around with Sid, my foreman’s son, and before I knew it, I had double the trouble. My foreman did his best to rein them in, but one day they up and disappeared without a word to anyone; took two of my best cow horses, too.”
“Did you go after them?” prompted Heyes gently.
“Tried to, but the trail went cold quickly. I didn’t see those two again until about ten years ago. They drove a herd of mustangs into town brazen as all get out. My foreman spotted them on the way through town, but he didn’t do anything about it. That was his boy, you see, and he didn’t want to see him hung as a horse thief. He came to me a couple of days later, ashamed, and told me that he’d seen them. He offered to go get the money for the horses they’d stolen from me. I didn’t give a damn about those horses, I wanted Josh. That boy’s my blood. I’ve never married and I always reckoned Josh would be my heir someday; carry on the Calhoun bloodline.”
“What about your other two nephews?”
“Harrumph, worthless! His brothers are city boys. They’d run my place into the ground in no time.”
“Mr. Calhoun, where can I find Josh now? I don’t care about what they’ve done in the past. Your nephew isn’t in trouble with me, but he and his friend may have information about the men we are after. I promise you, on my badge, that no harm will come to them.”
“Why would I take your word for anything?” snapped Calhoun. Rembacker’s, if that was really his name, story changed faster than the phony smile on his face, “I can’t tell you where they are,”
“Can’t or won’t?” pressed Heyes.
“I don’t know where they are. By the time we caught up to them, the sale was over and they’d undercut half the members of the Association with their prices. People were screaming for their heads, but the only thing anyone had on them was the name Cole Stockyards.”
“So how did you find them?”
“We knew where to look. The boys had a favorite canyon they used to hole up in as kids; liked to get away on their own and play at being men. That’s where we found them.”
“And what? We told them the WSGA was after them. Let me tell you; that scared the hell out of those two. I gave them money to get away and never come back and they haven’t. Neither I nor my foreman have seen them since.”
“So how do I find them?”
“Weren’t you listening?! I don’t know where they are,” said Calhoun. He jumped at the sight of Jed rising from behind the crypt. “You were supposed to be alone!” he accused.
“Mr. Calhoun, I reckon you’re lying,” stated Jed.
“How dare you?”
“Oh, I dare. Man like you, all worried about his legacy, isn’t going to let the boy just up and walk away. You keep in touch.” Jed regarded the man with an icy challenge.
“Where are they, Calhoun?” Heyes, too, had dropped his friendly demeanor and he crowded in with his partner.
Shrinking from the unexpectedly intimidating men, Calhoun quickly caved. “All right! The boys bought themselves a small bit of land near Loveland, opened up a legitimate business, breaking and training saddle mounts for the Denver folks.”
“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” said Jed.
“Thank you, Mr. Calhoun,” said Heyes.
Calhoun started to stalk away as quickly as he could, but he stopped as he heard Heyes call out, “Mr. Calhoun, what name does your nephew go by now?”
“Smith. Smith’s Ranch,” growled the man before hurrying away.
Jed grinned, “Joshua Smith? What are the odds his partner’s name is Jones?”
“Lots of folks are named Smith and Jones,” smiled Heyes.
To Be Continued.
Thanks goes to InsideOutlaw for all the information relating to the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association and the events leading up to the Johnston County war.
Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Location : Over the rainbow
|Subject: Re: Backtrack Chapter five Sat Dec 28, 2013 8:19 am|| |
I do love a historical edge to a story and the wonderful research certainly pays off here. It adds real veracity to the tale. The relationship with Joe is building nicely and I think that he's going to be a much better lawman for everything he learns from them. Love the idea of a horse getting tired and going home! Another great chapter.
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb
Posts : 5114
Join date : 2014-07-12
Age : 52
Location : Scotland
|Subject: Re: Backtrack Chapter five Sun Aug 10, 2014 7:34 am|| |
I agree with SK, another great chapter. And I loved the way you managed to insert historical information, like problems with mail service after Wells Fargo stopped and of course the Johnson County War (including its roots, legislation, etc.).
Nice comic scenes interspersed with serious ones. While I doubt the boys would ever have stooped so low as to accept conditions in Clearmont as ok, it still is a reminder of how much their circumstances have changed. Loved the details like the 5 circling flies, eye-watering stench, attacking hay-pile, disgusting barkeep,...
The most poignant encounter for me was with the bully rancher who wants to kill Heyes. This is a true eye-opener for Joe who never had reason to truly fear for his life before and finally sees first hand just how capable the partners are - wit, silver tongue, reputation, icy stare and gun skill.
Karma's story seems to come together in this chapter. We get Karma's side from how things developed with Josh (very gentle, understanding training to become a ridden horse), how she gets finally sold to MacKenzie. And Heyes and co. discover what happened afterwards. Lovely to see that some more people remember this remarkable horse. From the first time I read a story about her, I always wondered about the name, and finally the secret is revealed. Thank you. And we learn how she became a horsey Houdini. Very understandable that she would not put up with an owner who "parks" her for ages in front of a saloon. Sensible girl.
The more success Heyes has with tracing Karma's story, the more confident and cheeky he seems to become. I love to see him like that. Was laughing out loud at the room service scene.
Joe proves his worth by handling an obnoxious official. The former unimaginative deputy is now not above a little playacting and bending the truth, but the boys still feel the need to dodge him for a more dangerous mission. I loved how unquestioningly Kid backs up Heyes, as long as the plan is "only" dangerous, but not criminal. Heyes is right - here Jed is Kid.
A successful Heyes-plan earns them the name and location of Josh. I guess it was just too tempting not to go there - but really, another Joshua Smith in Karma's life? I do wonder now what alias Sid has chosen. At least Sid can't be short for Thaddeus...
So many great lines - but I think my favourite is:
“Joe you just might have the makings of an outlaw. I never would’ve guessed!”
Joe beamed. He knew that was high praise from Heyes.
It shows how much their relationship has changed.
"I can resist everything - except temptation" Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
Posts : 1467
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 63
Location : Camano Island Washington
|Subject: Re: Backtrack Chapter five Sun Aug 10, 2014 7:59 am|| |
Yes, lots of stuff going on in this chapter and it really propelled the story forward, keeping them on track. Joe is finding his nitch no only as a law officer but also within his relationship with his two companions. Jacobs may have found him to be too caught up in the 'letter' of the law and using it too much as a safety net. Spending some time with Heyes and Jed is teaching how to look outside the box and find solutions that may not be totally within those boundaries, but do get the job done.
All three of them are learning and growing quite a bit on this trip.
I'm heading off for a week long practicum today. Apparently wifi is hit and miss at the location so not sure if I'll be able to comment. If you don't hear from me, no worries as I will get caught up as soon as I get home next weekend. Enjoy! At the rate you read you'll probably be finished the trilogy by then!
|Subject: Re: Backtrack Chapter five || |
Backtrack Chapter five