WHO’S THE FASTEST GUN?
Curry was anxious. He was sitting in what he’d thought was a very friendly saloon, playing a very friendly game of cards while he waited for Heyes to get into town. But now, suddenly things did not seem so friendly. They had again separated to take on two different jobs, something they only did when they were really desperate for money since Curry was convinced Heyes was totally incapable of staying out of trouble when left on his own. The man was just too much of a thinker; he was either talking incessantly or he became introverted and was totally unaware of what was going on around him. Both traits being highly detrimental to staying away from trouble.
This time around though, things seemed to be working out just fine. Both men had completed their jobs and better yet, both men had been paid and were planning to meet up in the town of Fleetwood and take some time for well earned rest and relaxation.
Unfortunately while Kid had been delivering the now empty buckboard back into town the pair of normally sedate draft-cross geldings who were hitched to the wagon had decided to spook at absolutely nothing on the road. The near-side animal had reared up and jumped to the right, banging into his team-mate who quite rightly took exception to such abuse. Both animals had then taken off down the road at a full gallop. The empty buckboard was being jostled and banged around so violently that it took Curry a few seconds to get himself organized and to bring the runaways back under control.
Once the dust had settled and everyone had taken a deep breath the geldings had been quite content to carry on at their normal jog-trot into town, and all at first seemed none the worse for wear. But in the half hour or so that it took to complete their journey Curry became increasingly aware of soreness in his right hand, and by the time he had dropped off the team at the livery and collected his pay, his right index finger was very sore and stiff and was beginning to swell up. He knew it wasn’t broken, but he knew it wasn’t right either.
Trying not to get too concerned over an apparently minor injury Curry went through the regular routine of settling in to a new town. After having gotten cleaned up and then something to eat he just kind of naturally drifted over to the saloon and had slid into a quiet, friendly game of cards to help pass the evening.
It was then, about an hour into the game that he became increasingly aware of two young fellas (surely no more than 20ish) repeatedly glancing over his way and whispering to one another. Naturally Curry was becoming more and more agitated with this unwanted attention.
Under the table he experimentally flexed his trigger finger only to find that it was so swollen that there would be no way for him to fire his gun even if his life depended on it. Having realized this he threw in the cards that he had been dealt without giving them so much as a glance. He was preparing to push himself away from the table when he suddenly found himself face to face with one of those youths who was all smiles and jitters, but determined to have his say.
"Excuse me mister," Tumbled out the words "but I’ve been trying to convince my friend over there that we’ve both seen you some-wheres before."
There it was. The cold dread started in the pit of Kid’s stomach and moved up into his throat. He forced himself to stay calm, after all this was just a boy. Then the thought came to him that he had been even younger than this 'boy' the first time he had….no, don’t go there. He smiled up at the lad, that open friendly smile that melted women’s hearts and made grown men forget the dangers within.
"Well, I don’t know who you think I am son, but I know I have that kind of face that some folk think they’ve seen before, but I don’t…"
"No, no. I’m sure it’s you. You even sound the same!" continued the lad, and by this time his friend had summoned up enough courage to leave the bar and join them, though he still hung back a bit. "Ain’t your name Jones? Thaddeus Jones?"
The Kid had to remind himself to shut his mouth. "Ahh, yep, yeah it is," he finally managed to respond. "Ah, who might you be?"
"YEAH-HOO!" The young man practically exploded out of his skin. "I knew it! I knew it was you!" He gave his friend a couple of enthusiastic slaps on the back, "Didn’t I tell yea, huh!? Didn’t I? I knew it!" Then suddenly remembering that he had been asked a question, he grabbed Curry’s right hand and began to vigorously shake it, causing the ex-outlaw to flinch with pain. It went totally unnoticed. "Oh, my name’s Matt Jaxton and this here’s my friend Geoffrey Milton, we was down in Matherville some time back and saw you take out Danny Bilson in the fastest gunfight in history! I bet you’re even faster than Kid Curry hisself!"
"Oh well, I don’t know about that." Commented the Kid with a self-deprecating smile while he stood up and slowly tried to extricate himself from the corner he was in. "I think that would be pretty near impossible for me to be faster than Kid Curry."
"Boy that was sure something!" Continued young Matt, "I ain’t ever going to forget that. It sure has been an honour to meet you Mr. Jones! Yes sir, you sure are fast."
"Well, it’s been a pleasure to meet you too," the Kid smiled as he lied. Damn that Bilson, over a year in his grave and he was still causing trouble. "Ah, but if you fellas don’t mind I’m going to ah, I’ll be, well…going." Curry turned to leave only to find just about every set of eyes in the place were staring right at him. So much for remaining discreet. He was going to have to come up with an alias to cover his alias!
He headed out the bat-wing doors of the saloon and took a deep calming breath of the cooling evening air. He then made a bee line for the hotel and hoped he could spend a quiet night there, with no more surprises. Then he came around a corner and darn near ploughed into the Sheriff.
"Ah, evening Sheriff."
"I have been keeping my eye on you, Mr. Jones."
"Is that so Sheriff?" Asked the Kid, feeling the dread spreading through him all over again. "I don’t really understand why…"
"It seems you are developing a small reputation which has preceded you to our quiet little town here."
"Well, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean Sheriff. I’m not looking for any trouble"
"Uh huh. Like most officers of the law, I don’t like gunslingers Mr. Jones, and I don’t abide killing in the streets. I don’t care who starts it and I don’t care who draws first, but whoever is left standing will be spending time with me, over in the jailhouse. Do we have an understanding Mr. Jones?"
"Ah, yes sir Sheriff." Answered the Kid, "Like I said, I’m not looking for any trouble and I’m sure not looking to build a reputation as a gunslinger, not here or anywhere else for that matter. I’m just in town waiting on a friend and just as soon as he gets here, we’ll be on our way. We won’t be causing you any problems at all."
"Uh huh. See that you don’t. Good night Mr. Jones."
"Yeah, good night Sheriff."
The Sheriff moved off into the evening and Curry leaned against the side of the building and took another deep breath of the cool night air. He just stood there for a few moments waiting for his heart rate to slow down and for his legs to stop shaking. This was just crazy. What was going on? Finally Kid took another deep breath, pushed himself off the wall and continued on his way to the hotel. C'mon Heyes, you better get here sooner rather than later.
Next morning Curry was down in the café, trying to eat breakfast but his index finger just wasn’t cooperating. He hadn’t realized how many mundane tasks depended on that finger working properly until he had tried to do them. Normal activities like unbuttoning his shirt, pulling off his boots, cleaning his gun and holding a coffee cup became clumsy and painful.
An experimental fast draw up in his room the previous night had proved frustrating and almost dangerous as his hand refused to grasp the handle. His six-shooter had gone flying across the room, crashing into the wall, knocking a picture off its hook then bounced down onto the night stand, just missing the lamp and finally clattering onto the floor.
For the first times since arriving in town Curry was glad that Heyes had not yet arrived. If Heyes had witnessed that sorry excuse for a fast draw his older cousin would never have let him live it down. Curry sighed. He gratefully accepted a re-fill on his coffee, hoping he could actually drink it this time before it got cold.
The rest of the morning went by quietly enough. Kid was almost getting bored and he wished Heyes would hurry up. His partner wasn’t exactly running late yet, but he really should be getting into town soon if all was going well.
To try to ease his anxiety Curry had swung by the livery stables a couple of times to see if anyone had dropped off a horse there, but no new animals were apparent. He cast a curious eye over the geldings that were available for sale and noted that there were some promising animals in attendance. He didn’t really give the mares much of a look as he knew his partner didn’t really care for mares as riding horses. 'Too moody' he’d say, 'give me a good steady gelding anytime.' Curry smiled at the memory, then sighed with boredom again and headed for the saloon.
Having decided that even holding a hand of cards would be too painful and awkward Curry avoided the poker table and just went to the bar for his beer. He was there, elbows on the bar, holding his beer in his left hand and lost in his own thoughts when a small commotion between one of the saloon girls and a patron started to tug at his attention.
"C'mon Penny..." the poker players was saying. "....Come sit on my lap and change my luck."
"No, now Charlie, let go. I got work to do and you always want more than you’re willing to pay for."
"I said, come here...." and the poker player grabbed Penny by the wrist and yanked her over to him.. Penny lost her balance and fell into the poker table knocking over chips and Charlie’s beer which splattered liquid all over his shirt front and onto the floor. Charlie jumped up with a curse and knocked Penny all the way down to the boards where she scrambled to get on her feet and away from him.
“Why you little bitch, I oughta…"
"What is it you oughta be doing mister?" Came Curry’s question from across the room. Yup, even when at a disadvantage, the Kid just couldn’t stand by and let a lady be abused, much to Heyes’ chagrin.
Charlie straightened up and turned to face the Kid, then he sneered, "You again." He said, "You’re that no account drifter that everyone’s all gossiping about. Gunslinger! Faster than Kid Curry! I’m sick of hearing about it. I bet you can’t even hit the inside of your own gun barrel."
"Well now, I’m not interested in drawing down on you Charlie," responded the Kid, "I just think you should treat a lady with a bit more respect."
"Yeah, I bet you don’t want to draw down on me, cause you know you can’t live up to all that hoopla about you. You’re just all show." Charlie positioned himself into the ‘gunslinger’ stance. "Or maybe you believe what everyone is sayin' about ya', and you think you are just as fast as Kid Curry and it’s time someone put you back in your place."
Curry groaned inwardly. Heyes was right; he really had to learn to keep his mouth shut sometimes. Now he had got himself into a confrontation with this doorknob and he couldn’t back it up. Time to think fast because goodness knows, his gun wasn’t going to be. Then suddenly, he was hit with inspiration.
Curry took a deep breath to steady his heart and let his hands drop down to hook onto his gun belt, the right one close to the butt of his gun.
"Well now, how do you know I ain’t Kid Curry hisself?" Asked the Kid.
Charlie laughed. "What!? You ain’t Curry, you’re crazy!"
"Well how do you know?" Asked the Kid again. "Everyone says I’m just as fast as he is, maybe even faster. If you pay any attention to the wanted posters, you’d know that I fit the description of Curry real close."
"Come off it!" responded Charlie, "Those are just basic descriptions, loads of people fit it. That’s one reason them two ain’t never been caught!"
"That’s true," admitted the Kid. "But Danny Bilson was fast, almost as fast as Kid Curry. And I put him into the ground."
Charlie licked his lips and his eyes wavered for an instant, just enough for Kid to know he was starting to have doubts. Time to push it home and get himself out of this mess.
"Are you willing to bet your life that I’m not Kid Curry? Because if you’re wrong and you attempt to draw down on me, I will not hesitate to kill you."
And then Kid gave Charlie that deathly cold stare that had turned braver men than Charlie into weak kneed children just hoping for a place to hide.
The atmosphere in the saloon was electric, silence prevailed and all eyes were fixed on the two adversaries. No one dared draw a breath. Curry didn’t move, he just stared, every aspect of him projecting lethal menace.
Charlie quailed and his nerve broke, he just couldn’t stand those eyes boring into him and he started to back away.
"I don’t need to waste my time on you," Charlie mumbled, searching for a way to back out gracefully. "You’re crazy, it’d be like shootin' fish in a barrel and I got better things to do…." All of this being sputtered out while Charlie made his way towards the door and then finally slipping out into the street.
The whole saloon breathed a sigh of relief.
Then everyone started talking at once. Next thing Kid knew he was surrounded by the on-lookers, everybody offering to buy him a drink and slapping him on the back and shaking his hand, much to his discomfort.
Kid found himself up against the bar again, with the bartender coming his way with a bottle of his finest whiskey.
"Here you are son, drinks on the house."
"Well, thank you sir, that’s very kind of you." answered the Kid.
"Think nothin' of it." answered the bar keep, "I’ve had gun fights in here before, and they end up costing me a whole lot more than a bottle of whiskey and besides, that was the dangist thing I ever saw. Young Charlie can be quite a hot head, but you handled him like a pro. Kid Curry indeed, ha ha, that’s a good one!"
"Sure was!" Agreed the young Matt who was standing beside Curry, waiting to share his whiskey. "Ain’t you the least bit curious?"
"About what?" Asked the Kid.
"Well, who’s the fastest gun, Thaddeus Jones...." slapping the Kid on the back, "....or Kid Curry? Now that would really be a gun fight worth seein'!"
"Sure would." Curry agreed with a touch of irony and then downed his shot of whiskey.
Just then Penny sidled up to the Kid and let him know in no uncertain terms just how grateful she was for his assistance. "Howdy Kid. How would you like to spend some private time with me?" She purred into his ear.
Curry smiled, put down his shot glass and gave Penny his full attention. "Well now, I’d like that fine. But the name’s Jones. Thaddeus Jones."
Penny pouted "Oh now, can’t you let a girl have her fantasies? I could make a fantasy about Kid Curry last allll night long."
Curry beamed. "Well now, who am I to deny a lady her fantasies?"
They discreetly headed towards the stairs leading up to the rooms, leaving the whiskey bottle on the bar to keep the other patrons occupied and chattering.
A very short time later Curry became aware of yet another task his index finger was generally used for, but was no longer capable of performing. However, our hero is nothing if not resourceful, and in no time at all he had adapted his profound ability from the injured digit onto his left handed alternate. Penny’s repeated responses indicated his success in this manoeuvre. He was no longer worrying about Heyes.
It should come as no surprise that Curry finally crawled out of bed quite late the following morning. Actually it was closer to noon than morning. Penny had long since departed the sheets as she had a job to go to, though she had enjoyed the night’s activities immensely. Curry marveled at her stamina as he dragged himself out of bed and prepared to face the day. Everything ached, but it was a good ache.
First thing on the agenda was to get something to eat, he was famished. The young woman who served him in the café blushed and smiled sweetly.
"Good day Mr. Jones."
"Ma’am." He responded, she giggled and quickly headed back to the kitchen.
Curry was thinking this was odd, until it happened to him everywhere he went that afternoon. Ladies passing him in the street would sweetly gaze at him from under lowered lashes and giggle when he met their eyes. Men would pass him with a polite tip of their hats and wish him a pleasant afternoon. This was certainly better than how he was usually treated in a new town, he could get used to this.
The afternoon went by pleasantly and it wasn’t until close on supper time that he again became worried about his partner. He really should have been here by now. He checked at the livery again, but again, there was nothing new there, so he headed back to the saloon, thinking maybe Heyes had stopped in there first for a quick drink. And then Curry spotted him, riding down the other side of the street, looking tired and dirty and ready for a meal.
"Hey Joshua!" Curry called out to him, "About time you showed up."
Heyes shifted his gaze and saw Curry. Both men smiled, happy and relieved to see each other again.
Forty minutes later, Heyes was down at the mercantile holding onto his mare and trying to be reasonable to the owner of the establishment, even with the Sheriff standing by to make sure there was no more trouble.
"Oh now, sir" Heyes was saying, "Surely she couldn’t have caused that much damage in the short time she was in there…."
"Well now... " He answered, pen and paper in hand. "She got into the molasses and broke the containers and then did the same thing to the oatmeal barrels and then she…." Suddenly the shopkeeper’s eyes shifted focus and he grinned from ear to ear. "Well now, if it isn’t Kid Curry! How are you doing today Mr. Curry?"
Heyes went cold and he suddenly felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him. He swiveled around and locked in to the Kid’s laughing blue eyes.
"Howdy Sam, Sheriff." Answered the Kid. "Is my friend here causing problems?"
"Oh no sir. Forget it. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine."
"What?!" Said Heyes. "What?! What about the damages…?"
"Never you mind about that young fella. No harm done."
"So, is this the friend you were waiting for?" Asked the Sheriff.
"Yes sir, Sheriff." The Kid answered with a smile. "A little late, but here he is."
The Sheriff shook Heyes’ hand. "Don’t tell me, your name must be Hannibal Heyes, right? Ha ha."
"What….what…" Heyes turned to the Kid again, but Curry simply laughed along with the Sheriff and Sam while those two worthy gentlemen slapped each other on the back, enjoying their joke. Heyes was totally baffled. To get Heyes into a situation where he was flabbergasted and speechless was a rare treat indeed, and Curry intended to enjoy it to its limit.
"Good to meet you young man." Said the Sheriff with a smile. "Sure glad I didn’t have to shoot your horse. I don’t like killing animals, especially when they’re as pretty as this one." The Sheriff then looked a little concerned, "Not that I can say the same for you son, looks like you took quite a beating. I hope the other fella was at least bigger than you."
"Oh yeah, Sheriff." Heyes finally sort of found his voice. "Ah….. a lot bigger."
"I have quite a nice selection of hats in the back." mentioned the shop keeper. "If you'd like to take a look later."
Heyes responded with a weak laugh, still very unsure of his footing.
The partners finally broke away and headed towards the livery. This was none too soon for Heyes, whose knees were weak. This was just surreal. After the last couple of days he had just put in his head was spinning. He must have passed out on the trail and this was all a weird dream. Curry just smiled at him
"But….what’s going on?!"
Curry sighed and being a naturally kind person, decided that he had kept Heyes in misery long enough; after all he had looked the worse for wear even before he got into town. So he put a hand across Heyes’ shoulders and began at the beginning. "Joshua, my old friend. We have to talk."