Forget Me Not
Their feet sank into the plush depths of the midnight-blue carpet and a smell of – what was that hitting their nostrils like a bat in the face? Was it mothballs, lavender, or old-lady moths? It didn’t matter. As Heyes and Curry walked towards the gargantuan desk they both felt the flutter of nerves in their bellies. Was this it? Were they finally going to get what they wanted after all these years?
Lom cleared his throat behind them, urging the ex-outlaws to step forward by raising his eyebrows. Heyes stared straight ahead with an air of contrived confidence but the Kid glanced around and gave a slight nod to their old friend.
“Gentlemen; Mr. Heyes, Mr Curry,” the stick-thin secretary indicated to the patch of darker blue just in front of the desk where shifting feet had previously stood to hear a decree of some kind. Some visitors clearly didn’t merit the offer of a seat and it didn’t escape anyone’s notice that neither ex-criminal were granted the same epithet as the other visitors. “The Governor is ready for you now.”
The middle-aged man shuffled his papers before glancing up at the two men whose hands twitched nervously next to their empty holsters. “Heyes and Curry?” One bushy eyebrow flicked up dismissively. “Nine years living honestly?”
“Ten years next month,” Heyes replied, tersely.
The Governor’s head dropped to examine the papers, leaving Heyes glowering at a sweaty pate bedecked by a few strands of hair which looked like they had been purloined from a passing squirrel. “Yeah, one of my predecessors made a rash promise.” The Governor sat back and swivelled on his leather chair. “Still, a promise is a promise and I intend to stand by it. You have finally been granted amnesty.”
The partners shuffled uneasily and watched the gold nib plunge into the inkwell before it headed towards the papers.
The pen stopped, placed back in the stand as the secretary rushed forward to mop up the splodge of ink which had landed on the blotter. “Let me place this paper on top, sir. We don’t want to mess your sleeves. Do we?”
Heyes and Curry shuffled uncomfortably while the blot was covered and the pen was returned to the inkwell to be re-charged. A huge fly settled on the papers taking off at the crash of the Governor’s left hand on the desk. It buzzed around, waving its disrespectful blue butt in the face of the man who had dared to disturb it, always magically inches ahead of the flapping hands and flailing papers while Kid Curry’s jaw hardened and Hannibal Heyes rolled his eyes.
The Kid stepped forward. His hand shot out like quicksilver and he caught the little hellion in a gloved clutch.
“There,” he headed over to the window and released it into the sunshine. “There ain’t anything to stop you signin’ that amnesty now,” an impatient scowl was masked by a rictus smile, “is there?”
The Governor’s eyes narrowed but his veined hand reached out to the inkwell for a third time. The pen returned to the ever-watched papers and headed down to the foot of the page.
The sharp knock at the door shot through the ex-outlaws and jangled the already fraught nerves.
“Come in,” called the Governor.
“In the name of...” The Kid muttered under his breath and cast irritated eyes at the pencil thin man who thrust a pale face around the door. Did one have to be skeletal to do clerical work or did they gravitate towards an office job because they only had the strength to push a pen?
“Your eleven o’clock is here, sir.”
“I’ll be right out. I’m nearly finished here.” The hand dropped to the paperwork and scrawled a flourishing signature, before lifting each sheet and repeating the process over and over again. He blew the ink dry and handed one to Heyes and Curry in turn. “Your amnesty.” A pair of gimlet, blue eyes fixed each of the ex-criminals in turn. “If you two let me down I’ll hunt ya myself, got that?”
The partners stared at their future and glanced at Lom. “Is that it?” Heyes asked.
“What’d ya expect?” growled the Governor heading for the door, “an inaugural ball?”
“That’s it?” the Kid demanded. “We’re free? We’re not wanted.”
“Definitely not,” sniffed the secretary looking at them down a hooked nose. “I’ll see you out.”
“I’ll look after them,” grinned Lom. “Come on, boys. I think this calls for a drink.”
The trio stepped out onto the granite steps, the caustic sunlight casting deep shadows in Heyes dimples. The sound of hammering and sawing filled the air; the Capitol was still under construction but promised to be a show of power and grandeur when completed. The Kid shook his head incredulously. “That’s it? This is what we’ve waited ten years for? A signature on a piece of paper?”
“Yup,” Lom nodded. “Great isn’t it? You did it boys. You’re free men,” he let out a breath which sounded almost like a low whistle, “and they said it couldn’t be done.”
“Who did?” Heyes demanded with a scowl.
“What folks?” Heyes persisted. “We always knew we’d do it. We do everything we put our minds to.”
“Just a bit of paper,” mused the Kid, “and then it’s all over. All that runnin’ and hidin’ and...”
“Just give me a clue,” Heyes continued, waving his amnesty in Lom’s face. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to go back there and rub their noses in this.”
“It was just casual talk, Heyes,” Lom sighed. “Leave it be. Can’t you think of anything better to do right now? Come on, let’s celebrate.”
“Yeah, I guess. A drink as a free man. You must know what it’s like to suddenly be a free citizen, Lom. Does it taste better?”
A wry smile played around Lom’s lips. “Nope, it tastes exactly the same but it’s harder earned and that makes it all the more satisfying.”
“We know enough about hard work, Lom,” the Kid sighed. “We’ve done more than our fair share of that over the last ten...”
Nobody saw it coming. The first gunshot blasted from behind and Kid Curry hit the dirt face first, a huge pool of dark blood spreading out from under his fallen body, the second made the Kid’s body jerk with the momentum of the bullet.
Both Heyes and Lom drew, firing at the gaunt dark-eyed gunman who ran for cover behind the stacked granite blocks and disappeared into the building site.
Heyes made to go after the gunman, but paused, looking down at his fallen cousin; this was serious. No, he couldn’t leave him. Not now. Not like this. He had to leave Lom to go after the man.
Heyes almost fell to the ground beside his cousin and turned the Kid over, grimacing at the scarlet spreading over his chest. His heart sunk at the sight of the light flickering in the blue eyes. “Stay with us, Kid. We’re fetching a doctor.”
A young woman ran over and dropped to her knees, ignoring the gore seeping into her dress and placed the Kid’s head on her lap. “No! Fetch a doctor, go get him!” she implored the gathering bystanders.
“Why... now?” the Kid groaned weakly, blood seeping from his chest.
Heyes shook his head, a frown gathering amongst the blood splattered on his face. “We’ll find out.” He watched his cousin’s eyes close, the acrid taste of tears filling his mouth. “No, look at me, Kid.”
A rasping, guttural rattle was the only response.
“No! You can’t die. Not now, not after all we’ve been through,” Heyes felt his eyes sting, the grip of partners’ fingers loosening. “Kid? No, Kid!”
Heyes felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. “The doctor’s here, son. Let him look at your friend.” He looked up into the worn face of one of the builders.
“A doc?” Heyes shook his dazed head.
“Yeah. There was one visitin’ somebody inside.”
Heyes looked down at the body, a corrosive knot forming in his gullet. This scene was all too real; the body of the only man who had known him his entire life lying in the dirt in an ever-growing pool of blood. This should never be how it should end.
“He’s too late,” he murmured in a daze of unreality. “He’s gone.”
The sobbing of the young woman played in the background, cutting through the mutterings and the chattering of the people crowding around.
“I saw it! There was a tall, dark fella with a rifle; he made off that-a-way.”
“Did anyone call for the law?”
“Officials from the Capitol Building took off after him. So did some fella who was with these two,” another stranger replied.
Heyes shook his head distractedly. “He’s a lawman. The Sheriff of Porterville. ”
“Ah, that’ll explain it,” a gruff, uniformed figure draped a coat over the Kid’s face. “Some kind of criminal with a grudge.”
The man with the leather bag shook his head, the grizzled, receding, white hair catching the sunlight. “I need a wagon to remove the body. Anybody willing to hire one out?”
“Sure, doc,” a toothy man squinted into the sun before turning his head and gobbing unceremoniously out to the side.
“Ah’ll rent ya. What’s the poor soul’s name anyways?”
“Jedidiah Curry.” Heyes stood rubbing his face distractedly.
The wagon driver let out a long, low whistle. “Kid Curry! Well, the shooter’s either likely to be an enemy or some crackpot wantin’ to make a name for hisself as the man who killed the fastest gun in the West.”
There was a yell from the street corner where a bricklayer waved from his vantage point on the scaffolding. “He got ‘im! Your friend who went after the shooter? Got him cold. He ain’t gonna be hurtin’ nobody no more.”
The doctor turned questioning eyes on the crowd. “Well? Who’s going to help me get him into the wagon. The undertaker can collect the body from my office once you know who’s gonna be burying the poor soul.”
Heyes’ pale face stood out against his dark suit as he stared down at the coffin from the following vehicle.
“Are you sure you want him buried here?” Lom asked, gently.
“We don’t belong anywhere,” Heyes shrugged. “I guess the place where all the running ended is as good as anywhere.”
“And you?” Lom laid a hand on his old comrade’s arm. “Will you stay here?”
Heyes shook his head, gazing into nowhere with lost, dark eyes. “Nope. There’s nothing here for me, certainly not the Kid. Once this is over I’ll head out.”
“Where?” pressed Lom.
“Somewhere. Anywhere. Moving on is easy, it’s belonging that’s the hard part.” Heyes nodded to the undertaker who stepped in front of the wagon bearing the simple coffin. “Thanks, Lom. From both of us. You’ve been a good friend.”
“Been? I’m not done with you yet, Heyes.”
“I want you to know I’m real grateful; for the support, for the amnesty,” Heyes threw out an arm, “or help with all this. I’ll pay you back. You know I will.”
“There’s no hurry, Heyes,” Lom gave the reins a chuck to get the cortege moving behind the coffin, “besides, this isn’t the time. You have the rest of your life, Heyes.”
“Yeah, the rest of my life. Just what will that look like, I wonder?” Heyes released a long rasping sigh. “I thought more folks would come, Lom. I don’t know any of these people.”
“I guess most can’t make it,” Lom grimaced, “or show their face.”
“Vultures!” Heyes snapped. “They’re only here to make sure Kid Curry is really dead.”
“He’s famous, Heyes. You know that. At least he’ll never be forgotten. Folks will visit his grave here for years to come. Focus on the positives. ”
“Positives!?” growled Heyes. “I don’t like people telling me what to think. Why couldn’t we just walk away like any other criminal who got amnesty?”
“Because you weren’t normal criminals,” Lom muttered, “There’s a whole set of dime novels built around you two, you know.”
“All we wanted was a fresh start,” Heyes rumbled to nobody in particular. “What kind of town would have wanted us?”
“How about Porterville? It could be the kinda place where you’ll learn the hindsight to know where you’ve been,” Lom stared firmly ahead. “Use that to teach you when you’ve gone too far and you’ll be just fine.”
The train chugged on through the night with Heyes existing in the half-life of semi-consciousness which allowed him to flick between Lom snoring softly beside him and the memories of the thud of the damp earth hitting the coffin lid. It had been a final and jolting end to life lived at full tilt.
The gawkers had annoyed him beyond endurance; his hackles rising at the curious eyes examining the surviving ex-criminal with the kind of open scrutiny usually reserved for young children. He had scowled back, holding their gaze until they finally had the grace to drop their eyes either through embarrassment or cowardice.
The young woman who had held the Kid’s head in his last minutes had come too. Heyes had managed a smile for her, especially when she had placed a small bunch of forget-me-nots on the grave. Typical men; nobody had thought to arrange any flowers . He had been pleased to see these little blooms, echoing the blue of his cousin’s eyes on the grave. It seemed fitting.
Nobody was going to be allowed to forget that Kid Curry lay in that grave; not if he had anything to do with it.
Heyes walked down the hotel corridor, the dark shadows under his eyes betraying the deep fatigue weighing down his soul. He was finally alone. Lom had taken a connecting train to Porterville and he had travelled on to his next destination.
He raised his head examining the numbers on the door. Yup, room 326. This was the right place. He knocked.
It was opened by a young woman whose wide smile brightened her dancing eyes. “Heyes!”
She hurled herself at him, clutching him in a wild embrace.
“Hey, hey. Let me breathe, Clem!” Heyes grasped her wrists, but smiled in spite of his spiralling emotions. “Is he here?”
“Sure. We’ve been celebrating.” She grabbed his hand and led her friend into the room. “Heyes is here, at long last.”
Heyes’ gaze drifted around the various people in the room before his smile widened and his dimples deepened. “Kid? It’s great to see you.”
“Aw, come on, Heyes,” grinned the Kid. “Don’t look at me like that. It ain’t like I was really killed. Where’s Lom?”
“He had to go back, he sends his regards.”
“I guess he didn’t want to take the risk of bein’ caught with a bunch of outlaws like us,” chortled Wheat raising his beer bottle.
“Yeah,” Kyle nodded, “it ain’t like we broke the law or nuthin’.”
“I’m not so sure; we did fire shots in public.” Heyes accepted a glass of something amber from Clem, “and I’m pretty sure they’ll be a law against burying a coffin full of soil.”
“Why?” laughed Kyle. “Ain’t there supposed to be soil in a churchyard?”
“Not when it’s supposed to be a famous gunman, it’s not.” Heyes slumped on a chair. “It’s good to see ya, Kid. That funeral got a bit too real for my taste.”
Preacher’s gaunt face stretched into an unsavoury grin. “Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal.”
Heyes fixed his cousin with a sigh. “A time to heal. Now everyone thinks you’re dead and we have an amnesty, we have a chance. Every hothead in the country would have been keen to be the one who outdrew Kid Curry. But you’re now dead and buried, so there’s no point anymore.”
“I owe Lom,” Kid scanned the room. “A lawman going after the ‘killer’ helped to stop folks questioning things.”
“And I owe him too,” Preacher raised a glass, “because when I took a potshot at the Kid, he pretended to kill me, so folks would stop shootin’ at me. A few bladders of fake blood gave folks what they expected to see.”
“And nobody questioned the weighted coffin being sent off to be buried elsewhere,” laughed Heyes. “Not when Soapy pretended to be a doctor and whisked both bodies off to his ‘office.’”
“And Wheat and me got the bodies on our wagon.”
“After I took the victim’s head in my lap,” smiled Clem. “We didn’t want anyone looking too closely at him did we? They’d see he was still breathing. ”
The Kid’s eyes burned over to the delighted looking woman who glowed with pride. “I can think of worse places to lay my head. I’m sorry I ruined your dress though.”
“It was worth it to let you live as a free man without looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life,” Clem replied. “What’s the point of getting amnesty if you’re likely to be gunned down at any time?”
“Yeah, we needed Lom’s help to keep the authorities from looking too deeply at this,” grinned the Kid. “They got a dead ex-outlaw and a dead shooter. Case solved.”
“It’s a good job Lom didn’t know about our other plan,” snickered Wheat.
“Lom’s a good friend,” Heyes settled back in his chair, “but he doesn’t have to know everything.” Heyes’ face lit up with a bright smile which almost masked the glimmer of darkness in his eyes. “As far as he was concerned we were there for our amnesty. It just made good sense to have back-up in case the Governor double-crossed us.”