Apparently this story is a little too long to post all at once. Many thanks to Remuda and Silverkelpie for their suggestions that enabled me to finish this.
Buffalo Hunter, Part I
The two men stood outside the Porterville sheriff’s office in the early evening. People hurrying home through the lengthening shadows ignored them.
“So, is he alone?”
Heyes leaned forward to look in the window of the sheriff’s office. “He’s alone. Sitting kind of funny though.”
Lom Trevors looked up from the papers he was examining, a grin illuminating his tired face. He sat with one leg splinted and propped up on a chair.
“Heyes. Kid. Good to see you. Glad you came so quickly.”
“Good to see you too, Lom. You have news for us?” Heyes’ dimples appeared as he asked.
“No, sorry, boys; no news from the Governor. But I do have a favor to ask you.”
The dimples disappeared and the partners glanced at each other.
Sighing, the Kid walked over and poured coffee for himself, holding up a cup to offer some to Heyes. “So, what happened to your leg?”
“Well, that’s part of the favor.”
Heyes narrowed his eyes. “We aren’t going to act as sheriff until you’re up and around, if that’s what you’re thinking. Too many people know us around here.”
“WHAT? You boys in this office? I don’t think so!”
“Well then, what is this favor of yours?” the Kid asked.
“Remember the Porterville bank?”
Lom snorted, “Yeah, I figured you would.”
“Saw it when we came in, Lom. Looked as good as new,” Heyes said. “What about it?”
“It got robbed almost two weeks ago.”
“We weren’t even in Wyomin’ then,” the Kid protested.
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t think you two had anything to do with the job this . . .”
The door opened. “Sheriff Trevors? You sent for me?” A pretty woman in her late twenties entered carrying a carpet bag. She saw the sheriff’s guests, dropped her bag, reached into a pocket, and extracted a gun. “Hands up, you two!” she exclaimed, pointing her gun at Heyes and Curry.
They looked at her in surprise, then shrugged and took sips of their coffee.
“Sheriff! These men are Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, and I’m claiming the reward.”
Heyes tisked, “Mel, Mel, Mel, and after all the fun we’ve had together, too.”
The Kid turned to Lom incredulously. “You asked Mel to come? What were you thinkin’?”
Mel stomped her foot. “Sheriff, I’m telling you …”
“Miss Duster, I assume. A pleasure meeting you,” Lom said. “Pardon me for not rising.” He indicated his bound leg. “I know who they are.”
Mel put away her gun but continued to frown.
“The reason I asked you three here…”
The Kid had been keeping an eye out the front window. “Company. Now you behave yourself, Mel.”
The door opened and a dark-haired young woman in a shawl entered, frowning. “Sheriff Trevors, I just …” She stopped and looked around the room, breaking into a wide smile. “Oh Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, how good to see you again. Have you come to help us? Now I know things will work out.” Her eyes focused on the Kid as she spoke.
Both Heyes and Curry removed their hats and smiled back.
“Miss Porter, good to see you again.”
“Ma’am, a pleasure.”
Lom cleared his throat. “How’s your father doing, Miss Porter?”
Instantly, her smile disappeared. “Daddy? We still don’t know if he’s going to make it.” She wiped the corner of her eye. “I’m so worried about him and trying to keep the bank running and all. Even though you recovered most of the cash for us, Sheriff, I just don’t know what will happen if Daddy … if Daddy …” She buried her face in her shawl. The men shifted uncomfortably. Mel watched, a bemused expression on her face.
“Now, Miss Porter, don’t you worry,” Lom soothed. “I’m sure your father will recover. These folks are all here to help bring the miscreants to justice and get the money back. Miss Duster here is a professional bounty-hunter, and you know Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. You just go on home and take care of your father.”
“Well … I do have to get back to the bank. The auditors are coming tomorrow, and I know Daddy is relying on me while he is incapacitated.” She smiled radiantly at Heyes and the Kid. “I’m sure I can count on you two to capture these awful bandits. I remember how you protected the bank’s money the last time.”
Miss Porter looked at Mel. “You can’t imagine how wonderful they were. Some terrible men had blown the bank to bits; there was money everywhere, but these two stood right in the square there driving those outlaws off and protecting that money as if it were their very own. Imagine!” She turned shining eyes on the two, who looked embarrassed.
Lom rolled his eyes and muttered, “Imagine.”
Mel looked at them through narrowed eyes. “Just as if it were their own, hmm. I can just picture it.”
Miss Porter looked at the watch pinned to her dress. “Oh, I must get back. Thank you so much for helping, gentlemen.” She beamed at them. “And of course, you too, Miss Duster.” She looked doubtfully at Mel then hurried back out the door.
There was a moment of silence after she left as all four watched the door. Finally, three sets of eyes turned back to Lom.
The Kid perched on the edge of the desk. “We aren’t bounty hunters; you know that, Lom.”
“Besides, we’re much too well known in these parts. You brought Mel here. Let her do it.” Heyes backed his partner.
Lom shifted in his seat, grimacing as he jostled his leg. “As you heard, the bank’s been robbed, again. This time though, the bank wasn’t destroyed …” He looked pointedly at the two, who returned his look with innocent gazes of their own. “But they did shoot Mr. Porter and made off with twenty-thousand dollars in cash, jewelry, and bonds.” “Harker and I …” He turned to Mel. “Harker’s my main deputy,” he explained. “Anyway, Harker and I took a posse out after them. I left my new deputy in charge here.” He stopped for a moment. “Heyes, could you get me a cup of coffee; I’m getting pretty dry here.”
Heyes poured the coffee and handed it to Lom. “So what happened? You get shot in the leg?”
“No, I didn’t get shot.” Lom looked down at the desk and muttered, “We had them in sight and were galloping to catch up when one of them dropped the bag containing most of the cash. My horse tripped over it. Went down tail-over-head taking me with him.”
Heyes choked on the coffee he was swallowing.
“Umm, that’s one way to get the money back. So, how’s your horse?” the Kid asked, amusement quivering in his voice.
Lom glared at him. “The horse is fine, but my leg’s busted in two places.”
“Sorry to hear that, Lom, but what has this got to do with us?”
“Look, I know you two aren’t bounty hunters, but these men need to be caught. They’re real bad ones. I remembered you two telling me about Miss Duster. So I asked her to come, too, because I figured you might have some problems bringing them in around here … And I needed a bounty hunter who wouldn’t turn you two in.” He looked at Mel and smiled. “Guess I figured wrong on that one. Should have known the boys’ charms wouldn’t work on you. But I’m hoping you’ll help anyway, and that requires forgetting who these two really are.”
“Sheriff, I can’t believe that you would let the two biggest outlaws in the west just wander in and out of your town at will!” Mel glared at all three men.
“Now, Mel …” Heyes started.
“Don’t ‘now Mel’ me! I’m grateful for your help in getting Jamie back, but I warned you that the next time I saw you I’d turn you in, and I don’t care if you have gone straight – you’re still wanted!”
“Miss Duster, if I may,” Lom began again. “I guess the boys didn’t tell you about the deal they have.”
“Lom,” Heyes warned.
Lom ignored him. “This is a secret so I’m asking you not to repeat it, but I need you three to work together, so … The Governor has granted Heyes and the Kid here a provisional amnesty. If they stay out of trouble long enough, he’ll give them a permanent amnesty.”
“Amnesty! For these two?” She stared at Heyes and the Kid, who nodded.
“How long is long enough?” she asked after a moment.
“That’s what we’d like to know,” groused the Kid. “It’s been nearly two years now.”
Lom looked at him sympathetically. “Look, boys, think how much bringing in these robbers would help…”
“And if these robbers happen to be friends of ours? Or know us?” Heyes interrupted, glaring.
“I don’t think you’d know them. They’re new to the area and pretty young. They came from Utah.” Lom ran his hands through his hair. “Look, I’m asking for a favor. I can’t go after them. Harker and the posse followed them, but, well, you’ve met Harker. And this crew is dangerous – too ready to use their guns. They killed a man in the last bank they robbed before here. They may yet kill a man here, if Mr. Porter doesn’t recover. They need to be stopped. The posse’s back now, but Harker stayed behind.”
Lom looked at Mel. “Miss Duster, the bank’s offering a thousand dollar reward for their capture, and the sheriff’s office will cover the expenses for the three of you.” He stopped and glared at Heyes. “Reasonable expenses, Heyes, reasonable.” He turned back to Mel. “So will you do it Miss Duster? Will you help?”
Mel thought for a moment, looking at the other three. “I suppose.”
“Wonderful,” Lom enthused. He glared at Heyes and the Kid, “You two owe me. I’ve put my own reputation on the line for you.”
Heyes and the Kid hesitated.
“And I’ve never looked too closely into that last robbery attempt. Just enough to know that there were two separate dynamite charges laid,” he finished, glaring at them.
Heyes and the Kid looked at each other. “Alright, Lom, we’ll help you,” Heyes replied. The Kid shrugged and nodded.
“So they’re headed up the Green River. Harker’s been sending me cables when he could. His last cable said he might have lost them somewhere north of Big Piney. There’s a settlement up that way, but they hadn’t seen the gang. He’s scouting around now to see if he can find a trace.” Lom pushed the papers on his desk to the side and opened a map and pointed. “You fellas know this area?”
“Good hunting there,” the Kid confirmed.
“Not many folks around, a few small settlements. It’d be pretty easy to hide.”
“Yeah, if you don’t mind the grizzlies and wolves,” the Kid commented.
Mel listened wide-eyed, then shook her head and looked at the map. She pointed, “Yellowstone. I’ve heard of that. Are they heading up into the park?”
Heyes and the Kid conferred silently.
“I doubt it,” Heyes answered. “There’d be a bigger chance of getting caught there – more people around, marshals and all that.”
Lom mused. “Utah has folks along the border passes to stop them if they come through. Seems they’re wanted for some shootings there as well. Idaho Territory also posted folks to stop ‘em. I’ll tell Harker to head up to Yellowstone. He can alert the marshals there then head south while you three head north from Big Piney."
Heyes and the Kid looked at each other and at Mel. “We’ll need lots of supplies if we’re going into that area. Can’t go as fast as we’d like.”
“Why?” Mel asked.
“Not many people, so we probably can’t restock once we’re past Big Piney,” Heyes explained.
“Surely we can hunt what we need.”
“Food ain’t the problem, plenty of game there. Plenty of water, too. It’s the cold, the bears, the cats, and the wolves. This isn’t Texas, Mel.” The Kid informed her.
“There aren’t many settlers there because the winters are too long and the snow too deep,” Heyes continued.
“But it’s summer…” Mel protested.
“Still gets cold.”
The three paused on a rise beneath a stand of trees looking across a broad, verdant valley, shadowed by snow-capped mountains in the distance.
“It’s beautiful here!” Mel exclaimed. “Why would you leave this?”
“It’s pretty hard to avoid all the would-be bounty hunters in this territory,” the Kid stated.
“I suppose, still…”
“Yeah, well we figure the Governor is a lot happier with us when we’re not here, and we want to keep the Governor happy,” Heyes explained. “Anyway, that’s the town down there.” He pointed to the tiny settlement nestled in the valley below them.
Mel looked at the hamlet, seeing one main street with no more than ten buildings on each side. Most of the buildings were large tents, some with wooden sides. Just beyond the hamlet there was a small farmhouse, with smoke rising from the chimney. The road leading into the town was heavily rutted, with large gullies carved into it by the spring rains and snow melt. Bushes and trees were encroaching on the land behind the buildings.
“It’s not much to look at. Does it have a hotel?” Mel asked looking at them.
“Not the last time we were here. We’ll probably have to bed down in someone’s barn.”
Mel stared at the Kid then rolled her eyes. “They do have baths, don’t they?”
The Kid grinned. “That they do.”
“Good. You two need a good wash.”
The Kid’s eyes narrowed. “You aren’t exactly a flower garden yourself.”
“I’m surprised it has a telegraph, but there’re the wires.” Heyes pointed to the poles leading into the town.
“Looks like the lines are down though.”
The mule accompanying them brayed.
Heyes looked where the Kid was pointing. He narrowed his eyes, looked at the dangling wires, then back at the town. He urged his horse towards the telegraph line, signaling the other two to follow quietly.
Heyes and the Kid examined the wires, frowning and talking quietly to each other.
Mel rode up, trailing the mule. “What’s the matter?”
The Kid held out the end of the wire to her. “It’s been cut.”
The three quickly returned to their vantage point, although this time they pulled back into the shadows made by the trees. From there they looked at the hamlet through their field glasses. The town was oddly still. Heyes looked at the other two. “There’s all sorts of reasons why the wires might’ve been cut. Let’s not leap to conclusions.”
The Kid snorted. “Still … Why don’t you enter the town from one end and I’ll enter from the other end.”
“And what about me?”
“I don’t suppose we could convince you to stay out here with the mule until we check it out, could we, Mel?” Heyes smiled quizzically at her.
“No, you cannot. If nothing else, I want a bath before I go any further. It’s been days since we left Big Piney. Besides you’ll be less threatening to anyone there if you have a woman with you.” She smiled. “One of my best weapons in my line of work is no one suspects me.”
Heyes and the Kid glanced at each other. “Let’s ride back a ways, make camp for the night, and discuss it.”
“Keep the fire small, just enough to cook.”
“Kid, we’re a good thirty, forty minute ride from the town.”
“No, he’s right, Joshua, we don’t know if there are patrols or anything.”
Heyes shrugged in acknowledgement of Mel’s comment. “We’ll come up with a plan after we eat.”
“You have somethin’ in mind?”
“I’m working on it.”
“I’m gonna find us some meat.” The Kid strode off into the woods, quickly disappearing from sight.
Mel cupped her hands around the steaming cup of coffee and shivered despite being wrapped in her blankets. In the early morning light she glared at Heyes and the Kid who sat on the other side of the fire wrapped in buffalo hides and looking comfortable.
“Aren’t you two cold at all?”
The Kid reached forward and poked at the bacon frying in the pan. “We told you you should have gotten a buffalo hide.”
“But they’re too heavy to handle easily.”
“Still, they’re warm.” The Kid smiled. “That counts for a lot around these parts.”
Heyes grinned at her. “And they have the added advantage of protecting us should a bear attack. Lot harder for the claws to go through buffalo hide than through those blankets you’re using, although I’d still prefer to avoid any close meetings with bears.”
“Now you tell me,” Mel muttered. She straightened up. “So what’s our plan?”
Heyes pondered for a moment. “You and I are going to go in with the mule. We’re husband and wife, doing a little prospecting, looking for a homestead.”
“But won’t they recognize you two.”
Heyes and Curry contemplated each other.
Finally, Heyes said. “I don’t think so. It’s been a while, and they never did know who we were.” He turned to his partner. “Kid, while they’re distracted with the two of us, do you think you can come in from the other side and nosy around?”
“Sure, it’ll take about an hour to get around to the other side of the town. Give me a couple of hours to get set, then go in.”
“That’s the entire plan?”
“We’re going to have to play it by ear. We don’t know what we’re heading into. You’ll be safer if you go in as my wife, so that’s that.”
Mel thought for a moment. “Yes, and if I’m in a family way, they’ll be even less suspicious.”
The Kid and Heyes looked at each other with raised eyebrows, but did not comment.
The three travelers divided the gear. Heyes slid a knife into his boot; Mel watched then tucked a Derringer into the padding that gave her the appearance of being pregnant.
“Heyes, give me the rifles and extra ammunition.”
Mel looked up. “Don’t we need some of that?”
“No. You two are just innocent homesteaders. If there’s a problem, you’ll just be handin’ them extra weapons.”
Mel nodded. Heyes unloaded a rifle from his horse and pulled some bags off the mule. “You won’t be able to ride if you’re carrying all this, Kid.”
The Kid took the items and tied them onto his saddle. “Don’t want to be ridin’ anyways. It’ll be quieter if I lead my horse around. She can carry the extra load. You two take the mule.”
He and Heyes exchanged long looks, then he nodded to the two of them and headed through the trees.
Heyes watched, frowning, and pulled out his watch. “We’ll wait here another hour and a half, then head on in.”
“He’ll be fine, Joshua.”
“Of course he will. I’m not worried.” Heyes flashed a quick grin at Mel, but his mouth turned down and he fell silent, staring at his watch.
Curry walked cautiously through the woods holding the reins with his left hand, leaving his right hand free.
Hearing a twig snap he swung around, gun out.
“Hee, hee … Hey, Johnny, where’s Paul?” A hairy spectacle walked into Curry’s sight. He was filthy, and his face was heavily scarred.
A smile lit the Kid’s face, and he holstered his weapon. “Bearclaw! It’s been a long time. I keep tellin’ you though, I’m not Johnny Appleseed.”
“Hee, hee. You sure? Remember the first time we met? You was gnawing at an apple from a sack you had. I figured you been leaving seeds everywhere you went.”
The Kid laughed. “Well, my partner sure is no Paul Bunyan.”
“I gotta have my jokes. Watcha doin’ here?”
“You been to town lately, Bearclaw?”
Bearclaw frowned, spit, and shook his head. “Too many people. There’s folks been there a few days don’t seem to want me around.” A toothless grin lit his face. “Hey, you ain’t looking to go there, are you? Could you get me some of them horehound drops? I sure do like ‘em.”
“What do you mean there’s been folks there a few days? New folks in town or just visitin’?”
“Oh, they’re new alrighty, but they sure ain’t settlers. Troublemakers is what they are. Don’t seem to like the law anymore’n you and Paul do. Carry guns like you, too. Only I ain’t never seen you use yours, ‘cept to go hunting. They been shooting up the town. Killed some folks – good people.” He frowned. “I don’t hold with that, so I figured I’d make myself scarce. Sure do miss not having any of them horehound drops though.”
“You think you could help me get into town, unseen?”
“What’s in it for me?”
“How about a big bag of horehound drops?”
“A big bag?”
“The biggest they have.”
Bearclaw fell silent except for an occasional mumble or quiet laugh. He looked at the Kid out of the corner of his eye then looked in the direction of the town. Finally, he nodded.
Heyes led the mule as he and Mel slowly rode their horses into town.
“Why look, Mabel, honey, looks like a real nice place. Maybe we can stay here a day or two so’s you can get your wind back. Then we’ll go find us a good homestead.”
Mel shot him a quick glance and frowned as he called her Mabel. “Now, Hiram, you know I’m just fine. Don’t you be fussing. Land sakes, you’d think no one had a child before me, the care you take.”
Heyes grimaced at “Hiram,” but grinned at her as she finished. His grin faded as he looked past her and saw two armed men walk out of the tent that stood in for the saloon. He quickly assumed a bovine expression as the men turned their way.
Mel, watching this, simpered at him then looked around the town in wide-eyed awe. “Hiram, maybe we can find a nice place that won’t be more than a day’s ride from here. I would so like to be near a town; after all in not too many years our young ones will need some schooling. Although anyplace you choose will be fine, darling.”
Heyes nodded at her. “Howdy,” he called out to the two armed strangers. “Anyplace around here my wife could set for a spell, get some rest? It’s been a rough ride.”
The men looked them up and down and stared at the mule, itemizing the contents of the packs as they did. Finally, they looked at each other. The older of the two, who didn’t look more than twenty-two or twenty-three, removed a pick from between his teeth and nodded at them. “Sure, go over to old man Giver’s there,” he ordered them, pointing with his chin to one of the few solid buildings on the street, a sign over the doorway proclaiming “Giver’s Fine Mercantile.”
His companion sauntered over to them. “I’ll take the mule,” he announced, grabbing the lead rope away from Heyes and walking off.
Heyes’ eyes flashed. As he turned to the remaining man, who grinned insolently at him, his face resumed its bovine placidity. “That sure is friendly of you two, stabling our mule like that for us.” He dismounted slowly, helped Mel down cautiously, then turned back and held out the reins of the two horses. “Do you want to take these fellas along with the mule? They just hate being parted.” He turned back and looked at Giver’s. “Come on, darling, let’s get you some rest.” He placed an arm solicitously around Mel and guided her over to Giver’s, without giving the man another glance.
“Is that wise to let them have our mounts?” Mel hissed as they walked towards the storefront.
“Didn’t have a choice; there was another fella with a shotgun lurking in the doorway back there,” Heyes whispered back.
“Besides, this way they can search our stuff and see that we’re no more than we say we are – a pair of homesteaders looking for land to claim.”
“Here, Johnny, rub some o’ this on you.”
The Kid, who had been studiously applying mud to his face and hands, looked at the odiferous handful of slime that Bearclaw held out to him. “I don’t think so.” He sniffed cautiously and drew back coughing. “What is that?”
“It’s my sick cure – just some bear and muskrat fat mixed with skunk cabbage. Go ahead, take it. Don’t want folks getting too close to you, might see you ain’t what you seem.”
The Kid groaned but took the grease and daubed it on his hair gingerly, before vigorously wiping his hands on the buffalo hide, torn trousers, and grimy shirt he had donned. His nose wrinkled and his eyes watered. “That’ll do it for sure. Hope my nose will deaden to the smell soon. Now, you have any furs I can use for tradin’?”
Bearclaw frowned and growled, “So that’s what this is about, you stinking …”
“Bearclaw, Bearclaw …” Curry raised his hands, palms up. “I’m just borrowin’ them.”
Bearclaw continued to glower and mutter.
“Fine. I don’t have time for this. How much?”
Bearclaw’s smile returned.
As the door opened, the men and women in Giver’s drew together and looked up fearfully.
Heyes smiled broadly. “Well, howdy folks, those kind men out there who took our horses said we could find a place for my wife to rest a spell in here.” He turned and made a show of helping Mel over the threshold, wrapped an arm around her, and looked expectantly at the crowd.
The townsfolk exchanged quick glances then looked them up and down. The silence grew strained. Finally, the oldest of the women gave a snort and walked over. “Why sure. You poor dear, let us get you seated over by the stove. Now don’t you worry. I’m Molly Giver and this here’s our store. You just set a spell. Imagine – you riding in your condition.” She took Mel’s hand and led her to the stove, settling her in a rocking chair and clucking as she did.
Mel looked stoically weary. “I’m fine,” she gasped and closed her eyes, reopened them, and offered a weak smile. “Hiram and I, Hiram’s my husband,” she murmured, indicating Heyes. “Anyway, Hiram and I were just so anxious to find a place to settle, and I couldn’t let him come alone …” she faded off.
The other women murmured, shot quick, hard looks at Heyes, and crowded around Mel, offering her a shawl, some water, and generally fussing over her.
Heyes shook his head and resumed his look of bovine stolidity. “Sure hope we’re not bothering you folks.” He looked around the room, making sure that all the people in the room were gathered before him. His gaze rested briefly on the closed door to the side with the sign, “Telegraph Office,” hanging above it.
The men stared at them before a tall, grey-haired man forced a smile and held out his hand. “No, not at all. I’m Mac, Henry MacArthur Giver. Welcome.” The other men muttered greetings as well.
“That’s mighty friendly of you. I’m Hiram.” A slight spasm crossed Heyes’ face as he said the name. “Hiram Randall, and this here’s my wife, Mabel.”
Mac looked closely at Heyes. “You look mighty familiar. Do I know you?”
Heyes gave him a wide-eyed look and answered slowly. “No, don’t think so. You ever been in Missouri?”
“No, but I’m sure I know you.”
“Well, I don’t rightly see where we could have met.” He smiled innocently at the man, who continued to regard him through narrowed eyes.
Mel spoke up. “Hiram, darling, maybe this man knows Zeke.”
Heyes looked at her, as did everyone else in the room.
Mel looked around. “Zeke’s Hiram’s older brother. Much older. He came out west, oh ten or fifteen years ago.” She sighed and looked down. “They never heard from him again.”
Heyes picked up the cue. “Say, you sure you didn’t meet my brother Zeke?” he asked eagerly. He held a hand up. “He’s short, a lot shorter’n me, and his hair’s red, and he has green eyes of course, and bandy legs. Everyone back home says we look just alike.” He sighed, “I sure would like to know what became of him; Ma’s worried herself to the bone ever since he left.”
Mac stared at him, a frown gathering, then shook his head and turned away. The room fell silent.
Everyone looked up, and the women clustered together, backing into the shadows, as the door to the store was flung open and two of the young gunmen sauntered in.
“You there!” the leader growled, pointing at Heyes. “What did you say your name was?”
Heyes stepped forward. “Hiram, Hiram Randall.”
“Well, Hiram, look what we found in your bags.” He spit a stream of tobacco juice at Heyes’ feet and grinned when Heyes side-stepped it.
The other gunman held up the hunting knives that had been tucked in the pack.
“This is a peaceable town and we aim to keep it that way. No weapons allowed,” the leader announced placing his hand on his holster. “Now we gotta search you two. Get over here. You too, missy,” he ordered Mel.
The townspeople stepped back.
Heyes’ eyes flashed and his hand dropped to his side before he sighed, turned, and helped Mel rise. Together they walked slowly to the two gunmen. The leader grabbed Mel, pinning her to his side, and pointed his gun at Heyes.
“Check him out, Stan.”
Stan grinned and roughly patted Heyes down, knocking him to and fro as he did. As he started checking Heyes’ pants, Heyes sputtered and stepped back coughing. “Ya know, fella, you check me any closer and we’d have to get married.”
A laugh quickly turned into a cough sounded from the cluster of townspeople. Stan’s eyes narrowed, and he shoved Heyes hard into the counter, knocking him to the ground. “He’s clean.”
Heyes lay panting on the ground, a hand clasping his ribs where they’d collided with the counter, until his breath slowed. As the gunmen laughed, he slowly pulled himself up, first checking that his hidden knife was still in his boot.
The two gunmen turned to Mel. “Well, now, this is gonna be fun. Here, Stan, you hold the gun on him while I make sure the Missus here don’t have any weapons concealed anywhere.” He began to fondle Mel’s hair and neck, slowly moving his hands down.
Mel shivered but stood stoically, enduring his touch.
“Hey, Lars, that ain’t fair. I want a turn with the pretty one, too.”
The door to the store swung wide and a hairy, greasy spectacle shambled in. He didn’t seem to notice the two men and one woman standing there but pushed past Lars and Mel, accidentally knocking Lars away from Mel and into Stan.
Mel used the opportunity to faint, falling carefully to the floor and lying with her eyes half shut.
Heyes glanced quickly at Mel, saw her wink, and focused on the stranger.
The stranger reached into his bag and pulled out a fox pelt. He looked at Mac. “Got furs to trade,” he mumbled.
Lars grabbed the man by the shoulder, spinning him around to face the guns pointed at him.
The stranger’s eyes widened and he flung his hands in the air, launching his grimy bag of pelts at the two gunmen, who flinched and ducked, Stan dropping his gun. Heyes examined the stranger, saw the guileless gaze of his blue eyes, and turned away, his shoulders shaking as he helped Mel up and over to the stove.
Stan’s gun slid across the floor, landing at the stranger’s feet. The stranger stumbled over it, in the process kicking it under the counter and grabbing Lars to stay upright.
Lars shoved him into the counter. “Get away from me, fool!” Lars wrinkled his nose and looked in disgust at the greasy stains covering his shirt from his encounter with the newcomer.
The stranger mumbled apologies and bent down, reaching under the counter, his buffalo-skin wrap falling around him.
He straightened up with Stan’s gun and reached into a pocket to pull out a filthy rag. “Sorry,” he muttered as he began fumbling with the gun, wiping it and leaving mud, grease, and fur wherever he plied the rag.
Stan and Lars stared at him. Suddenly, Stan pulled out of his stupor. “Give me that, you idiot!” He reached for the gun.
“Gee, didn’t mean nothin’, Mister,” the stranger said holding out the gun to Stan. As he did so, he accidentally spun the cylinder, causing the bullets to drop out and roll away on the floor. Stan uttered an oath and grabbed the gun from him, flinching in disgust at the now filthy condition of the firearm.
Heyes and Mel watched this performance with fascination, not daring to look at each other.
“Freeze!” Lars barked, pointing his gun at the buffalo-clad man and cocking it.
The stranger froze, his mouth forming an “O.”
“Seems odd a town this remote should have three strangers come to town on the same day,” Lars said. “You there, storekeeper, who are these people, and remember the Tanner place.”
Mac looked at the strangers and at the gun in Lars’ hand. He turned and stared at his fellow townsmen before turning back to Lars. “Don’t know that couple there,” he spoke slowly and pointed at Heyes and Mel. “They’re just a young couple come homesteading. You can see she’s in a family way, no harm to anybody. This man here …” He gulped then lifted his chin. “He’s just Fred Bixby, old Bearclaw’s nephew; you remember the trapper you saw the day you kil … Well, before. He won’t harm anyone; he’s a little simple is all.”
Molly Giver backed her husband. “No reason to be frightening poor Fred. He wouldn’t harm a soul.” She turned to the stranger. “It’s all right, Fred. You just go collect those furs of yours, hand them to Mr. Giver, and get yourself a drink.”
She walked over and patted the stranger’s shoulder.
The stranger threw her a grateful look and slowly shuffled over to pick up his bag of furs before turning to the storekeeper. He handed the bag across the counter.
“Wait!” Lars commanded. “Stan, check that there’s nothing hidden in that bag, and check Fred here, make sure he’s not armed.”
“Because I said so.”
Grumbling, Stan dumped the contents of the bag on the counter and turned over the few furs inside. He then turned to Fred. “Arms up and don’t move,” he growled.
Fred complied. Stan gingerly patted his coat then his sides, his eyes watering and his head turned away as he tried to breathe shallowly through his mouth. “Jeez, Lars, you got no idea how bad this smells.”
“Just get on with it, and quit your bellyaching.”
Suddenly, Stan focused. “What’s this in your pocket?”
“George?” Stan reached in and pulled out a dead mouse by the tail. He uttered an exclamation and threw it into a corner in disgust. “Why are you carrying a dead mouse?”
“George is my friend,” was the slow reply. “He’s not dead. He’s just sleepin’. Bearclaw said he was real tired and maybe I should leave him behind.” He paused, “But George always comes with me.” The stranger lapsed into silence.
Stan and Lars stared at each other. Finally, Lars gave a short laugh. “Okay, Fred, go get that drink of yours.”
Fred shambled over and picked up “George” then exited the store, and, after a quick look around, Stan and Lars followed him.
Posts : 554 Join date : 2013-08-24 Age : 63
Subject: Re: Buffalo Hunter Fri Mar 21, 2014 8:26 am
Buffalo Hunter, Part II
All in the store watched the door close silently. There was a collective release of held breaths, then, as one, the townsfolk turned to Heyes and Mel.
“Now then,” Mac began slowly. “You’re no homesteaders, and you didn’t just happen to come here. I saw you reach for a gun that wasn’t there when those two came in. Who are you? And, that fella that just left, is he with you?”
Mel spoke, “We told you, we’re just homesteaders. We don’t want any trouble ...” She smiled and spread her hands, but her smile dimmed as Molly Giver spoke.
“Mac’s right; you’re no homesteaders, and you’re not in the family way either. Your padding is slipping, my dear.”
Mel looked down quickly, sighed, and adjusted the padding.
Heyes rolled his eyes. “I’m Joshua Smith and that other gentleman is my partner, Thaddeus Jones. We’re working for Sheriff Trevors, out of Porterville, looking for an outlaw gang that’s been robbing banks and killing folks in this part of the territory.” He looked around the room, dimples showing. “I’d say we found them.”
“And I’m a bounty hunter,” said Mel. “We joined forces to track this gang down and bring them in.” She slipped the Derringer from her padding into a concealed pocket in her dress as she spoke.
Heyes walked over to the counter, reached down, and pulled out the package Curry had placed there. He grunted with satisfaction as he opened it and found his gun inside. After quickly checking that it was loaded, he replaced the small roll of leather in the trigger guard, and tucked it in the small of his back, under his coat, dropping the extra bullets into his pocket. He looked around the room. “Thanks for not exposing my partner back there.”
“Still,” said one of the other men. “How do we know you’re here to help us? Mac was right, you’ve been here a few times before, some years ago – you and that partner of yours. I never got the impression that you were exactly friendly with the law. And your names weren’t Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones back then, neither.”
“Heck, Jonah, if they can help us, I wouldn’t care if they were Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry,” Giver stated, as he stared at Heyes.
Heyes looked blandly back. Finally, Giver nodded and looked away.
“At least those outlaws don’t shoot common folks like us, unlike this gang” one of the other townsmen affirmed.
“Yeah, and you two never gave us any trouble, I guess,” Jonah acknowledged. “If you can help, I have no problem with you, whoever you are.”
Heyes smiled. “Did a Deputy Harker come through here a while ago?”
“Yes, a day or so before the telegraph lines were cut and these fellas showed up. We decided he worked for them.”
“No, he’s the deputy in Porterville, where their last robbery occurred. Because they shot the owner of the bank, the sheriff’s determined to catch them.” He sighed. “The gang must have doubled back and lost Harker.” He took a deep breath. “Are you ready to take back your town?” Heyes looked around the room, assessing its inhabitants.
They looked back and nodded, unified.
“Alright then, Mac, what’s the situation? How many are there, and where are they? Anyone injured?”
“There’s nine of them, and they’re trouble. They shot up the place when they first came – killed Charley. He owned the bar; his wife died, too – drowned trying to get away from them. Haven’t shot anyone since, but if you go stirring up trouble who knows what’ll happen.”
Heyes looked somberly at the group. “You folks the only ones left?”
Molly Giver spoke. “No, that’s the problem. If it was just us … But the young women and the children are holed up at the Tanner place, on the edge of town.”
Mac Giver continued. “Our boy and Jonah’s boy are down there, too. Both have shotguns and the Tanners had one or two, but while the gang can’t get in, our young’uns can’t get out either. You start trouble up here and they’ll burn the place down.”
“So, I’ll come up with a plan to avoid that.” Heyes thought a moment. “I think I need a drink. Why don’t you stay here?” He gave Mel his gun, took the package Giver handed him, and walked out the door.
Mel frowned, stood, and glared at the closed door, before sinking back into the chair and sighing. “So, tell me everything you know about this gang.”
Mel held up a hand to quiet the townsfolk. “So as I understand it, you folks stay here, and they have the rest of the town, right?”
The townsfolk nodded. “But we womenfolk have to cook for them as well as for ourselves,” Molly Giver said. Mel wandered around the aisles of the mercantile while she pondered. She idly picked up merchandise then put it back down. “Do you have any weapons?”
“No, they took everything and they control the other buildings. When we cook, there’s always one standing there with a gun on us while we use the knives. When we’re done, the knives go back.”
Mel frowned and looked at the bottle in her hand turning it over and over as she thought. Suddenly, she focused on the bottle and a slow smile lit her face. “I have an idea.”
Heyes stepped into the tent that served as the town’s bar and looked at Lars. “I brought Fred there his package.” He nodded at the shaggy lump in the corner nursing a beer. “Do you mind if I get myself a drink while I’m here? It’s been a long ride.”
Lars looked at him narrowly then smiled. “As long as you can pay, it’s fine with me. Give me the package.” He turned his head and looked at Curry. “You there, dummy. Pour this man a drink and make sure to make him pay.”
Curry stood up and shambled over to the makeshift bar, he slowly grabbed a glass and began to pour.
Heyes handed the package to Lars then walked to the bar. Once there he leaned against it and gave Lars one last look over his shoulder before turning his attention to his partner. “You okay?” he murmured.
“Fine. Town’s pretty sewn up though.”
“Yeah, the young women and children are holed up in the farmhouse just outside of town. Three of the gang are guarding them. We cause trouble here, and they’ll burn it down.”
Curry saw Lars looking at them and pulled out his dead mouse. “See, this is George. He’s my friend.” Lars shook his head and resumed examining the items in the package Heyes had brought. “So what do we do?” the Kid murmured.
“We’ll have to take them out separately, in ways they don’t recognize.”
“I’ll try leaving now, check out the farmhouse then come back in after dark.”
“Here’s your coins, and one for you.” Heyes lifted the mug and drank deeply. He turned his back against the bar, swiped his hand across his mouth, and smiled at Lars. “Thanks, I really needed that drink. Guess I better go see how the missus is doing.” He turned and strode out of the bar.
The Kid shambled over and stood close to Lars, crowding him. “Can I have my things?”
Lars’ eyes began to water. “Jeez.” He thrust the bag at Curry. “Just take it and get out of here,” he gasped trying to avoid breathing in the noxious fumes emanating from Curry’s clothes.
As the Kid wandered out of the saloon, one of the other poker players turned to Lars. “You think that’s a good idea to just let him go like that? What if he sends for help?”
Lars laughed. “That lump? He’s too dumb. No, he’s not someone we need to worry about.” He picked up his cards. “Let’s play.”
“. . . So we can eliminate one or two that way, but too many would be suspicious,” Mel concluded.
Heyes smiled. “Use it down at the Tanner place.” He looked at the clutch of townsfolk gathered around them. “What else do we have? Any way to get a message out? I know the telegraph line is cut.”
Jonah said, “If only we could get in the telegraph office. I have equipment in there I could use to send a message if I could make it past the cut line.” He looked at Heyes and Mel. “I run the telegraph, but they locked the door and, if we break it down, they’ll see it before we can get a message out,” he explained.
Heyes' smile deepened. “Well, now. I may be able to fix that problem.”
“Alright, ladies, you know what to do. They’ll be here soon. Mel, you and Mrs. Giver take the food down to the Tanner place. Thaddeus is down there somewhere; see if you can get a message to him. He’ll take care of the third guard then we need him in town to help with the rest.”
“Hey… Joshua, don’t worry, we can manage this. But what about you?”
“I’m going to help Jonah send a message then I’ll meet you back here.”
“How do you plan to deal with the six here in town?”
“We’ll just keep picking them off. I have a few ideas. Now, don’t let them find that bottle or things could go badly.”
Giver wavered. “I don’t know if this is such a good idea, Molly and Miss Duster here could get hurt if the gang figures out what they’re up to.”
“Now, Mac,” Molly Giver scolded. “Don’t be a worrywart. It’s about time we took our town back.”
“Yes, don’t worry. I’m really very good at dealing with outlaws. Why I captured Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry once.” Mel smiled sweetly.
“Of course, they got away,” Heyes said.
As the guards arrived to escort them to the group kitchen, the women took deep breaths and accompanied their escort.
Mel and Molly looked at each other and finished ladling stew into the cauldron to be carried down to the Tanner place.
“Why don’t we do it now?” hissed Molly Giver.
“Too dangerous. That would make all three sick and they might get suspicious, but if only two get sick and one’s fine after eating the same food, they can’t blame the food. When we get there you distract them, and I’ll add it to the bowls.”
Molly sighed and nodded slowly. She turned to the men lounging nearby. “We’re ready, which one of you … men,” she spoke scathingly, “is going to accompany us?”
The men looked at each other and stood. Stan said, “Let’s go, the sooner we get back, the sooner we get to eat. Get a move on it.”
Mel laughed, “Really, two men to guard two poor little women? Just how dangerous are you, Molly?”
Mrs. Giver looked closely at her and gave a brief shrug. “That’s right, boys, you better be careful. We’re dangerous we are, an old woman and one in the family way. You sure two of you are enough to guard us?”
The men’s faces darkened and they muttered. Stan took a quick step forward and struck Molly across the face. She fell back against Mel.
Stan laughed. “I’ll take them.” He glared at the two women. “Get moving, I’m hungry.” He looked Mel up and down,
“Hungry for a lot of things.”
The Kid opened his eyes as he heard footsteps and the clink of metal against metal. He stepped more deeply into the shadows of the trees and watched Mel walk down the road carrying a metal cauldron with another woman, trailed by Stan. His eyes narrowed, and he followed silently, slipping from tree to tree.
The townsfolk watched Mel and Molly Giver leave then all eyes turned to Heyes.
Heyes continued to stare at the closed door, a slight frown on his face. Finally, he shook himself. “Okay, let’s get this equipment.” He strode over to the door to the telegraph office, reached into his boot, pulled out the knife and his pick and set to work.
Heyes looked at Jonah who was putting his equipment in a sack. “Are you ready, Jonah?”
“I don’t know. What if they see us?”
“They won’t. Besides I’ll be with you.” Heyes carefully buckled on the gun belt he’d found in the mercantile’s stores and placed his six-shooter into the holster before tying the thongs around his leg.
“It’s dusk and the men are eating. Now’s the time to go. We’ll be back before they notice we’re missing.”
He looked around at the others in the room. “Remember, if anyone asks, something we ate is making us sick, and we’re out taking care of that.”
Mac nodded. “We’ll do our part; you do yours.”
Jonah and Heyes walked to the back door. Heyes pulled his gun and opened the door. He looked around then signaled to Jonah to run for the trees. Jonah hesitated a moment, gulped, and ran. Heyes picked up a coil of thin rope, stepped through the door, and followed silently.
“Come on, hurry up, will you?” Stan urged his companions to finish eating. The other outlaws grunted but gave no other sign of having heard him as they continued wolfing down the stew.
“How long do you think it’s been since they started eating?” Mel asked Molly Giver.
“Fifteen or twenty minutes,” she muttered back. “I hope they finish soon; I want to be gone before the symptoms start.”
Mel nodded in agreement. She began to pick up the utensils and cauldron to hurry their departure.
The men finished their meal. As the women snatched up the plates, one of the men began to rub his stomach.
“What was in that? It ain’t sitting too well.”
“Just, just normal stew,” Molly stuttered.
“Tasted okay to me.”
Stan prodded Mel. “Come on, come on, get moving.”
She stood up, grabbed her things, and headed out, carefully dropping the small bottle and kicking it into the bushes.
She looked around but couldn’t see the Kid.
The women headed up the road, ignoring Stan who, once again, trailed behind.
“Ooh, gonna be sick!”
“Well, don’t do it here, get over to the side of the house,” one gunman urged the other. The third man suddenly looked thoughtful and dashed for the outhouse.
“Jeez.” The gunman stood nervously looking after his afflicted companions as they dashed off. Suddenly, he heard a click in his ear.
“Why don’t you just raise your hands real slow like,” the Kid whispered in his ear.
As the Kid finished tying and gagging the first gunman, the one who had dashed off to be sick came around the corner of the house. He was wiping his mouth as he walked, head down. “Them women can’t cook worth a da …” He broke off as he realized the Kid was standing there with a gun pointed at his head.
He raised his hands, turned green, and dropped to the ground retching. With an expression of distaste, the Kid waited until he was done then took the man’s gun and tied his hands behind his back.
The Kid held out a gag, but the man looked up at him. “You gag me, and I’ll choke to death.”
Curry frowned and studied him. “Sit there and keep quiet.”
The man nodded miserably.
The Kid walked over to the outhouse and banged on the door.
“Jeez, hold your horses,” came the muffled reply. Finally, the door began to open. The Kid pulled it hard and the outlaw inside came flying out to land on the ground, where he promptly curled into the fetal position. “I think I’m dying.”
Hearing a noise from the house behind him, the Kid whirled around to see several heads being poked cautiously out the door, along with a shotgun.
He smiled. “The coast is clear, come on out.”
An older man and two youngsters came out cautiously, guns clutched, staring at the men on the ground.
“I’m Thaddeus Jones, working with Sheriff Trevors. Can you keep an eye on these three, while I go help my partner with the rest?”
The three on the porch nodded. The older man gulped but came down and helped the Kid finish tying the third man.
“Thank you. I don’t know what just happened, but thank you. We’ll take it from here. Wonder what made those two so sick.”
“Don’t know, but it sure helped,” the Kid responded. “Then again, Mel is one terrible cook.”
“You all need help in town?” the older man asked.
“I think you’ve got plenty to do here. Get them outta sight and keep them here.”
The three from the house nodded and tightened their grips on the shotguns.
Heyes pulled out his pocket watch and looked at Jonah at the top of the telegraph pole. “Is it going to take much longer?”
“No. I’m just about ready to send. This’ll go to Big Piney, and they can relay the request for help. Sure hope they send someone themselves, or it’ll be weeks before help comes.”
“Make sure they track down Deputy Harker – he’s going to need to take these men back to Porterville.”
“Okay, okay. Let me work, will you?” was Jonah’s cranky reply.
Heyes moved back to the trees and began circling the area, checking for signs of the outlaws.
“Don’t know why we have to patrol. Stupidest thing I ever heard. Don’t see Lars out here. No, he’s sitting pretty in town. Them townsfolk ain’t going anywhere,” the outlaw continued muttering to himself as he tromped noisily through the woods outside of town.
Heyes looked up as he heard the noise. He heard the crack of a branch and quickly stepped into the shadows, taking care to make no sound.
“What the…” the outlaw muttered an oath and drew his gun. “You there, you up there. Just what do you think you’re doing? Get down here before I shoot you down.”
Jonah, intent on his work, startled at the voice. He looked fearfully down. “I… I’m not doing anything, just checking the line is all.” He began to scramble down, looking around frantically.
When he reached the bottom of the pole, the outlaw thundered towards him.
Heyes, from his vantage point behind a bush, managed a grim smile and pulled the cord in his hand.
The outlaw’s foot caught against the taut cord and he crashed, face forward, to the ground.
He sputtered a moment then began to pull himself up. “Why you, little…” He stopped short as the sound of a gun clicked in his ear.
“Now, now, none of that. You never know when ladies might be present,” Heyes said as he removed the man’s gun.
“Here, Jonah, think you can handle this? If he moves, shoot him.”
“Okay, sit up. Now we just need to think what to do with you.” Heyes looked around as he began retrieving the coil of rope. “Maybe that tree would be a good place to tie you.”
“You can’t leave me out here. There’re bears.”
“And coyotes and wolves,” Jonah commented with satisfaction as he heard a howl in the distance. “Leaving you here seems fitting.”
The outlaw began to jibber.
Heyes looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Tell you what. If you can be real quiet and not give us any trouble, we’ll take you back with us. You give us any trouble or make a sound and we’ll leave you out here, tied up and covered in honey.”
The outlaw looked back and forth at the grim faces before him, then around the clearing and back to Heyes’ dark eyes, and shuddered. “Okay, not a sound, just don’t leave me here.”
Molly Giver, Mel, and Stan reached the blacksmith’s shop at the edge of town.
“Hold up. That’s far enough.”
The women looked at each other but stopped and turned to face Stan.
Stan stood a moment, a smirk on his face as he looked Mel up and down. He took a quick look up at the town then turned to the older woman. “Go on back, Ma, and don’t make no trouble. Me and her have some unfinished business. Never did search her; it’s about time.”
Mel shivered and Molly stepped closer to her. “You know the agreement; you leave us alone or your boss isn’t going to be too happy,” she said, putting an arm around Mel.
Stan’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t have no boss. Lars leads the gang, but he don’t tell me what to do, got it.” He spit a stream of tobacco juice at the hem of her dress. “Now, that agreement is about the townsfolk, and this one here ain’t from the town. So this don’t concern you. Get going or you’ll regret it.”
“Go on, Molly, I’ll be fine.” Mel gave Mrs. Giver a slight push away then turned to Stan, her face pale.
Mrs. Giver lingered a moment longer. “Don’t you hurt her, or we’ll make you pay.” She hurried up the path.
Stan laughed, grabbed Mel, and hauled her into the blacksmith’s shop.
The Kid pulled his buffalo hide around him to conceal his gun and headed towards town. As he passed the bush where he’d seen Mel throw something he stooped down. He straightened up, bottle in hand. “Syrup of Ipecac” said the label. Curry’s eyes widened as he read it and he began laughing. Still chortling, he slipped into the shadows and continued to town.
He reached the edge of the town and began to slide past the blacksmith’s shop. Suddenly he stopped, put his ear to the opening. His eyes turned to ice. He dropped the hide, pulled his gun, and slipped inside.
Jonah, Heyes, and their captive entered the rear of the store, after Jonah had checked to ensure only the townspeople were present.
“What have you got there?” Giver demanded, glaring at the captive. As the other townspeople crowded around, glaring with fists clenched, muttering about the opportunity to show “them,” the man shrank back in his bonds casting an imploring glance at Heyes.
“Back up,” Heyes ordered. “We’re not savages here; we don’t rough up men who can’t defend themselves.” He stared first at Giver then at each of the townspeople in turn until their eyes turned away and they shuffled back, unclenching their fists.
Giver cleared his throat and turned to Jonah. “Did it work? Did you get through?”
“Yes, I got acknowledgement from Big Piney just before we were interrupted. They’ll send help as soon as they can.”
An excited murmuring broke out among the assembled men and women. Silence descended, and they turned as one as the front door opened. Heyes quickly gestured for the captive to sit behind some shelves silently, before turning to meet the new menace.
Molly entered, wringing her hands, her face distressed. “Oh, Mac!” she exclaimed.
Giver hurried over to her. “What is it, Molly? What’s wrong? Where’s Miss Duster?”
“Stan, Stan took her and sent me on. I’m so worried about her. You have to do something. The ipecac worked, just as she planned it, but now she’s in trouble.”
Heyes stepped forward. “Mel’s good at taking care of herself.” His eyes betrayed the worry he was trying not to show. “Where did this happen?”
“Just as we got to town. By the blacksmith’s.”
“Take this. Use it only if you have to.” Heyes handed their captive’s gun to Giver. He checked that his own was loaded and settled it back into his holster before quickly slipping out of the store.
“Let me go,” Mel demanded, struggling as Stan grabbed her around the shoulders and pulled her to him.
“Don’t be like that. What you need is a real man. That husband of yours is a fool.” He leaned in to kiss her, and Mel leaned away. Getting one hand free, she hit him as hard as she could.
He reeled back, and Mel managed to break free. He laughed and reached out to grab her, tripping her and knocking her to the ground. As she struggled to pull her Derringer, he fell upon her, pinning her to the ground.
“I’m with child, what’s wrong with you?” she panted, continuing to try to pull her gun from her pocket. She turned her head back and forth to avoid the man’s kisses. She kicked out at him as he laughed.
Suddenly, the pressure lifted. The Kid, his face granite hard, yanked the hapless outlaw from Mel with one pull sending him flying. As Stan recovered and, with a roar of outrage, came at the Kid, Curry laid into him with two quick, hard jabs to the jaw and stomach. Stan groaned and fell to his knees. The Kid picked him up and hit him, knocking him down again. He reached down once more.
Heyes slipped into the blacksmith’s shop, pulling his gun as he did. He looked at the tableau and a slight grin lit his grim face. He watched Curry for a moment, before walking over and offering Mel a hand. “You alright?”
“I’m fine. Thanks.” Mel tried ineffectually to tuck in the hair that had come loose in the struggle.
Heyes called over his shoulder. “Thaddeus, that’s enough. You don’t want to injure your shooting hand.”
Curry gave a short laugh and dropped Stan, who collapsed on the ground, blood streaming from his nose. Stan groaned and clutched his stomach. “You fools know each other?” Stan retched.
“Gee, Stan, how long did it take you to figure that out?” Heyes smiled at him although his eyes remained hard.
“Lars’ll kill you all. You better start running,” Stan managed to choke out.
The others laughed.
Mel reached over and picked up Stan’s gun. She turned to Heyes. “Joshua, let me tie him up, will you?” She turned and smiled at Stan. “Don’t worry, I’ll treat you better than you tried to treat me. You’ll live.”
“Mighty big talk from someone in your position there, Stan.” The Kid looked down, eyebrows raised. “What’ll we do with him? If we gag him, he won’t be able to breath. If we don’t gag him, he’ll warn what’s left of his friends.” He turned to Heyes and grinned, then turned back to Stan. “I suppose I could keep beating him until he’s unconscious. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to use my left, not my right.”
Heyes considered this. “Well, that is a possibility.”
Stan looked worried.
“Nah, you’d have a sore hand for days.” He looked at Mel. “You about done?”
“Almost.” She pulled the thong tighter before knotting it. “That should hold him.”
“Hey, that’s too tight,” Stan whined.
“Be quiet and be glad you’re alive.” Heyes paused, “Although I don’t know. Armed robbery’s twenty years in the territorial prison. Then there’s Mr. Porter.” He shuddered. “I don’t know, if Porter lives, it’ll still be life. Maybe hanging would be better.”
“No,” Curry stated, “it wouldn’t.”
Heyes shrugged. “True.” He turned to Curry and Mel and smiled. “Let’s take him back to the mercantile. He can join his friend there.”
“Oh, you got one, did you?”
“Sent a telegraph message to Big Piney, too.”
“You have been busy. Mel, here, did a good job on a couple of the boys over at the farmhouse. The folks in the house have it under control, so I figured I’d come back here to see what was happenin’.”
“And I’m glad you did.” Mel smiled at him then turned serious. “I owe you, Thaddeus. I won’t forget it.” She smiled again. “Don’t forget your buffalo skin.”
“I have the perfect place for it.” The Kid walked quickly to the front of the shop, reached out and snagged the buffalo hide from where he’d dropped it. As Heyes hauled Stan to his feet, the Kid walked over and dropped the hide over Stan’s head, wrapping him thoroughly in it.
Stan began to choke and sputter.
“Be happy I broke your nose so you can’t smell the worst of it. Now quiet down and get movin’.”
The group headed the back way towards the mercantile, keeping a close lookout for the remaining members of the gang.
Heyes motioned the other three into the back of the store. The Kid shoved Stan in, then unwrapped the hide from around his body and deposited it outside the door, with a grimace.
Stan took several deep breaths through his mouth and looked around wildly. “What …” he started.
“Don’t you know when it’s a good idea to just keep quiet?” The Kid shook his head. “Now would be a good time, and pray these folks let you stay here for a while.” He gestured with his gun for Stan to join his fellow captive on the floor behind the shelves.
“What’s your next move, Mr. Smith?” Mac’s gun did not waver from his aim at the two captives.
Heyes looked up from the cup of coffee he had poured upon entering the store. He looked around and turned to the Kid, who had walked over to stand with him. “Well, let’s see, we have five of them, that leaves four, right?” Mac and the townsfolk nodded.
Heyes mused, “So four against the two of us.” He turned to his partner. “Sounds like a fair enough fight. Let’s get this over with.”
The Kid’s smile did not relieve the ice in his eyes. “About time. Then I can get a bath and get out of these rags.”
The two headed for the front door of the mercantile. With his hand on the knob, Heyes paused. “You know, I never did believe in a fair fight.”
“True,” Curry laughed, following him out the back door.
“Hey, Lars, look what wandered in again.”
Lars looked up from where he was lounging, cards in his hand and a bottle of whiskey and glass before him. “Jeez, he’s back?” He looked the Kid up and down and shook his head “Fool.” Lars turned back to his cards. “I’ll see you and raise you five.”
Curry stood quietly inside the entrance, wrapped in the buffalo hide.
Finally, Lars looked up again. “What? Why are you just standing there, dummy?” He turned to his companions. “Might as well be one of those cigar store Indians.” He shook his head and ignored the immobile Curry.
The other three looked curiously at the silent man then resumed their game.
The Kid watched the back tent corner part slightly and smiled. He threw off the robe and said, “Lars, how on earth does someone as dumb as you manage to lead a gang?”
One of the poker players snickered as all looked up quickly. The snickers died away as they saw not the foolish, shambling Fred Bixby but a confident, battle-hardened Kid Curry standing, his right hand hovering over his six-shooter.
The saloon fell silent. Lars stood. His chair, thrust abruptly backwards, fell to the ground. Eyes blazing, Lars reached for his gun but stopped short staring at the gun that had materialized in the Kid’s hand.
“I don’t think so,” Heyes said, stepping into the tent and speaking to Lars’ companions, who had belatedly begun to react.
The four men looked at the guns in Heyes’ and the Kid’s hands, groaned, and raised their arms. As they did, Giver and two of the townsmen entered the tent, carrying clubs.
“Looks as if you two have it all under control,” Mac said with satisfaction.
Molly Giver beamed at the three. “We can’t thank you enough. Miss Duster, you two, you’ll always be welcome here. You’ve given us back our town, our lives.”
Heyes, Curry, and Mel, freshly washed and in clean clothes, looked around at the townsfolk beaming at them.
“Well, ma’am, we appreciate that.” Heyes turned to Giver. “Mac, are you sure you all can handle this until help arrives? It’ll take a couple of days even coming from Big Piney.”
“Well I’m not,” declared Mel. “I’m not going anywhere without this gang. I’m staying right here.
“Don’t you be ‘Mel’ing me. Sheriff Trevors promised me a reward for bringing these men in and I intend to keep them in sight until I can claim that reward.” She smiled at Heyes and Curry. “But don’t let me keep you. I’m sure you two have other places to be.”
Heyes and Curry looked at each other.
“Well, now, I’m not so sure we should leave you here on your own. Never know what type of trouble you might get into if Thaddeus and I aren’t here to watch out for you.” Heyes grinned broadly at her.
“Could I speak to you two for a minute?” Mac looked from Heyes to Curry, drawing them aside.
The two looked at each other then back at Mac. “What’s the matter?” Heyes asked, cautiously.
Mac looked at a spot over their shoulders. “You know, it’s been a few years since you two have been around. Been a lot of changes around here in that time. Lots of new folks in the area.” He looked gravely at them. “Some of those folks coming from Big Piney, if it’s who I expect it to be, are among the new ones. Some of them have even talked about criminals they’ve seen.” He looked away again. “Why I bet they’ve even seen Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.”
The partners stiffened, their faces blank.
Mac smiled slightly. “Now, me, I don’t rightly care what folks do so long as they pay their way and leave me in peace.” He turned back to the crowd and spoke over his shoulder. “We’ve kept you too long. I’m sure you have business to attend to elsewhere. Don’t feel you need to stick around for us. We’ll manage just fine here with Miss Mel until help arrives.”
“You know, Joshua, Mel’s right, don’t we have that thing down in Colorado?”
“Yes, Thaddeus, we do. We’ve delayed as long as we can. But it’s Nevada, not Colorado.”
The two shrugged and gathered their gear to leave. The Kid did not take his buffalo skin with him.
Melanie (“Mel”) Duster is a female bounty-hunter first encountered in the 2013 VS story “The Toadsuck Ransom.” She got the drop on the boys and exchanged their freedom for their help in recovering her kidnapped nephew.
Syrup of Ipecac is a rhizome that irritates the stomach causing the person ingesting it to vomit. It has been used for centuries to induce vomiting in the case of accidental poisoning, etc. Nowadays, modern medicine strongly argues against its use, but many homes still contain a bottle or two. Side effects of the ipecac can include abdominal cramping and diarrhea.
Cattayl likes this post
Posts : 96 Join date : 2013-08-28
Subject: Re: Buffalo Hunter Wed Apr 16, 2014 11:55 am
Nicely done. Gotta love a plan when it comes together. Love the names and hope to read more adventures with Mel and the boys!
Posts : 8723 Join date : 2013-08-24
Subject: Re: Buffalo Hunter Sun Apr 20, 2014 7:46 am
Riders - This is such an action-packed romp from start to finish with loads of wonderful lines and very believable baddies. I loved the planning and the interplay between Mel and the boys. She is such a great character and I hope you have more adventures planned for her (hint, hint) Sometimes you read a story that makes you think the writers must be kicking themselves that they never made this themselves, and this is one of those. Absolutely loved it!
Posts : 268 Join date : 2014-01-04
Subject: Re: Buffalo Hunter Thu Apr 24, 2014 10:55 am
Riders - I absolutely loved this! There's another one in the series? Can you tell me where it is or post it here? Mel is a wonderful character, spunky and well able to give the boys a run for their money. The plot was superb and you built the suspense in the cut-off town perfectly as well as giving the boys worthy opponents. I can't wait to read a lot more from you.
Storm/SK Admin/Moonpie -- thanks for the kind comments.
Moonpie I post over on fanfiction.net under the name NoraWinters -- the previous story with Mel is there (The Toadsuck Ransom) -- it's also over on the site that has the VS stories on it (I forget the name of the site) -- it was one of last year's VS (the first one I think).