31st December Cheyenne - 1885
Two figures trudged through the crunching Cheyenne snow, hunching into the turned-up collars defending them against the sinus-burning, bone-numbing, teeth-chattering cold. They walked away from the imposing house which cast trapezoids of light over the twinkling snow, dotted with the shadows of the party guests whose silhouetted forms raised glasses and danced in celebration of a New Year and a new start.
The pair soon found a saloon, heaving with unsteady, wild-eyed inebriates, who swung and sung in time to the rowdy ballads assaulting the eardrums. The pair elbowed their way to a corner table and huddled over their drinks.
Heyes raised a glass. “Happy New Year...” his face dimpled into a grin, “and a happy amnesty.”
The Kid dropped his head and chuckled. “Yeah, happy amnesty. This really is a new year, and a fresh start. It kinda feels like there should be more fuss.”
Heyes shook his head. “The last thing we want is fuss.” He pulled out the document and examined it. “Yup, amnesty, all fully signed and witnessed.”
“Yup, the governor was real busy. That was genius of you to get him to pose for a photograph with us too.”
Heyes shook his head slowly. “It’s gonna be real hard for him to deny giving us amnesty. He signed it, his secretary witnessed it, and then he posed for a photograph. Try telling anyone who arrests us now that we should go to jail for twenty years.”
“How are we gonna explain there bein’ no announcement in the newspapers?” the Kid asked.
Heyes tilted his head. “Not our problem, Kid. It’s up to him to deal with that, and we could argue that he didn’t want to draw attention to it for his own political reasons. As far as he knows he signed the paperwork for the inauguration of the new library, and posed with some local worthies; it’s just that he signed another document slipped in amongst them. We’ve been strung along for years. It’s time we made new lives for ourselves, under new names.” Heyes carefully folded the document and put it in his breast pocket. “All he’ll know is that those criminals who’ve been bothering him for amnesty just gave up and went away. I’m not doing another of his dodgy jobs for him. It’s about time we put our energy into building our own futures, not looking after his dopey friends.”
Bright-blue eyes glistened in the light of the oil lamp. “And this is our insurance in case we get caught? He signed it, and it’s not our fault he didn’t get it all filed properly? It’s better than nothin’, and maybe nobody’ll ever find us. Hopefully, if they do, we’ll have a whole lot of respectable life behind us by that time to add to our case. Like that philosopher fella said - few things are harder to put up with than a good example. I sure hope this works.”
They both drained their glasses.
“Look on the bright side, Kid, this sure beats some New Years’ Eves all hollow. Remember the last winter with the gang…?”
Five Years Earlier
A scrawny, dead-behind-the-eyes saloon girl scuttled out of the building, the tawdry headdress and the gaudy outfit hanging from her rake-thin frame marking her out as either a professional escort or a gifted amateur. The glowing light through the darkness told of her anxious draws at her cigarette.
Kid Curry stood in the shadows, his hand darting to his gun at the movement in the darkness beside him.
“Hey, it’s me,” murmured a familiar voice.
The partners stood in the shadows the sound of hooraying and whooping coming from the crowded bar.
“Quite a night, huh?”
Heyes shrugged. “The boys are celebrating. It is New Year.”
“The barkeeper has a brother in Calvary. You know the bank manager had a wife and four children. They’re on their own now.”
“Some would say that he’s irresponsible leaving them like that.” Heyes glanced up into the expansive darkness, supposedly examining the pinpricks of light working through the midnight velvet. “Anyway, I thought barmen were supposed to listen to the drunks, not the other way around.”
“Well, some drunks are just plain borin’. Take Kyle, for instance. All he can talk about is his new lady friend,” the Kid paused, “despite the fact that the less money he’s, got the surlier she gets. She doesn’t strike me as the loyal type.”
“She should do, Kid. She’s got the face of an angry bloodhound. I guess appearances can be deceptive.”
Gunshots rip into the night, the shouts and hollering indicating the start of a new year.
“We gotta get outta this business, Heyes.”
“Either that or we need to get a better gang. If it rained soup, Wheat and Kyle would run outside with forks. That damned bank manager... how did he manage to switch the bags at the last minute?”
Five Years Earlier
Jed Curry stares at the – object - ten feet away, in the beer sodden sawdust.
The room was now silent, the chatter and hullabaloo forgotten, as were the last few remaining, scurrying moments of the year.
All eyes looked down at the head and wondered who he had been. Did it matter? He was now stone-cold and dead.
The crowd parted to make way for a grim faced sheriff. “What’s been goin’ on here?”
The voices clamoured in an ever helpful cacophony:
“Howie was shootin’ his mouth off. “
“This fella, Jed, is it? He moved like light’nin’.”
“It was a fair fight.”
“Howie shouted and reached, but the kid moved like a bat out of hell. He never stood a chance.”
The saloon girl tugged on the sheriff’s arm. “Jed told him to git, but Howie wouldn’t let it go. He just kept on and on, until... I guess Howie thought his chances were good, the kid bein’ so much younger than him an’ all. He just reached for it.”
The sheriff looked at the blood seeping into the saw dust and shook his head in anger. “I don’t wanna see you in my town come sunup. You got that, kid? My town don’t need this sorta stupid violence in it. And think hard on your New Years’ resolutions. You just ain’t headin’ the right way to make a success ‘o your life.”
Jed wandered over to the poker table and scooped up his winnings, before bending and reaching out to touch the cold face. “I’m sorry, Howie. It’s only a bust of an ugly ol’ Roman. The man who paid me to bring it to him swore blind it was his,” Jed looked over at his opponent, propped up against the bar, blood trickling from his mouth. “When you reached for it, I just swung the sack. I didn’t realise it was so heavy. I hope I ain’t done too much damage.” He bent and picked something up from the sawdust. “Here, I think this is your tooth, at least, I hope it’s yours.”
He picked up the bust from the floor, dusting sawdust off the head before he headed for the door, clutching the prize and muttering under his breath. “I gotta meet up with Heyes, and stop doin’ these stupid two-bit courier jobs. It’ll take a real silver tongue to get me to do anythin’ like this again. If I never lay my eyes on another old Roman bust it’ll be a hundred years too soon. ”
Five Years Earlier
Heyes strains forward, clutching at the bars.
“What’re ya doin’?"
“Go back to sleep.”
“I’m tryin’. But you’re climbin’ all over me, and you wouldn’t be my first choice for that, even if you are called Hannah,” he paused, admiring his own wit. “I need three things to give me a good night’s sleep. I guess you only need two, food and a comfortable bed.”
Hannibal shifted position and scraped at the lock again.
“Do you want a broken jaw, boy?” His companion muttered irritably under his breath.
A pair of dark eyes flicked over to the man lying on the bunk. “There’s no right answer to that.”
“What’re you doing, boy!?” The man dragged his blanket over his head and turned back to face the wall.
“It’s New Year. I can’t be locked up at New Year.” The boy’s hand jerked before he stopped his face dimpling into a smile. “Gottcha!”
The cell door swung open silently. Heyes glanced over, but all he could see was a butt protruding from the blanket.
He crept out staring at the clock hands tick up to wards twelve. “Midnight! And I’m free to enjoy it,” he whispered under his breath. “Happy New Year, Jed. Where ever you are.”
His dark eyes darted over to the window, and the huge, swirling feathers of snow. His head then dropped down to his bare feet. “I guess you’re not a prisoner if you choose to go back. It’d be stupid to head off in this.”
He padded quietly back to his cell and closed the door behind him. His companion started awake again at the clang of the cell door. “For cryin’ out loud, boy. Will ya leave that be and get to bed? You’re driving me nuts. It’s like tryin’ to sleep with a mosquito.”
The man rolled onto his back. “Ya know, if you ever get any good at that lock pickin’, like you were sayin’, there’s some gangs out there who’d watch your back for ya. I’m goin’ ta find ma brother, he runs with the Plummer gang.”
“A gang? Me? When I get outta here, I’m going straight. A gang’s not gonna look after me. A man called Silky offered me a job, and I’m goin’ to see him. He’s dead keen to teach me all kinds of things, and at least he’ll appreciate me. Even a mosquito gets a slap on the back when he starts working.”
Five Years Earlier
Heyes pulled back the curtain, staring out at the winter night, his breath clouding the cheap, flawed glass. A pair of bleary blue eyes flickered open. “Whatcha doin’, Han?”
“I’m waiting for the chimes. You can hear the town clock if you listen real hard. It’s New Year.”
Jed propped himself up on his thin little arms and propped a thin, lumpy pillow behind him to protect his bony back from the bedstead. “What did Jenkins want to see ya for?” he asked.
Heyes gave a smile pregnant with secrets. “He never found out. ‘Tweren’t that.”
“What then?” the younger boy persisted.
The dark eyes became downcast. “I get out soon.”
“How!? They ain’t told me anythin’.”
Heyes thrust out his bottom lip. “They got me a ‘prenticeship.”
“They have? Doin’ what?”
“A cousin of his is a pharmacist.”
“A farm!” Jed exclaimed. “That ain’t too bad. Maybe they’ll have a place for me?”
Heyes shook his head. “You’re too young. They won’t take you yet, but that’s not the worst of it. It’s in New York.”
“New York!” Jed blinked hopelessly. “But that’s the other side of the world.”
Heyes nodded reluctantly. “He says I’m his best student, the only one smart enough.” He shrugged, “and that beggars can’t be choosers. We are in a home for waywards, after all.”
“But we ain’t criminals, Han.”
“We ain’t exactly angels either, Jed. Jenkins told me our reports get shown to folks we’ll get sent to.”
A single tear ran down Jed’s face. He back handed it away, hoping that he could pass it off as something manly, like clearing snot. “I’ll never see you again, Han.”
Heyes looked around surreptitiously. “I got a plan...”
“I’m not going to New York. I wanna be a locksmith like my pa.”
They both smiled at the sound of distant chimes. The boys hugged. “Happy New Year,” whispered Heyes. I got a plan if you’re interested?”
“They ain’t splittin’ us up. We’re gonna run away.”
Jed’s eyes widened to great globes of curiosity. “How?”
“I know where they keep the keys, and the cashbox.”
“Han! We can’t.”
“We can, they’re the ones who called us waywards! C’mon, I’ve made a resolution - if I’m gonna be a wayward, I’ll be the best one they ever had.”
Five Years Earlier
“What’re you two doin’ up,” demanded the dark dimpled man.
Two pairs of eyes, one set blue, the other dark, blinked back innocently. “We heard ya talkin’, pa. Why’re ya up so late?”
“It’s New Year’s eve, Han,” the fair man replied.
“What’s whiskey taste like, pa?” asked Jed.
“Have a sip – you tell me.”
Jed tentatively allowed the amber liquid to tip down towards his mouth. “BLEEUACH!”
“What’s it like?” demanded Hannibal, excitedly. He supped at the glass, his face puckering to a lemon-sucking gurn.
“Don’t you like it?” The two fathers exchanged a glance of amusement at the pair of young heads rattling from side to side.
Hannibal sniffed at his father’s pipe before wrinkling his nose with distaste. “What else do you do at New Year, Pa?”
“When it’s midnight we give your mothers a good kiss and then we have a drink or two to celebrate,” Hannibal’s father replied.
Both boys shared dark looks, indicating that this was not going to be a contender to oust Christmas from their memorable annual events.
“We make resolutions too,” Jed’s father added.
“What’s a revolution?” queried Jed.
“Resolution, Jed,” the blond man replied. “The word is resolution. It’s when we decide what we’re goin’ to do in the year ahead.”
Hannibal nodded sagely. “What’s yours, pa?”
“I’m gonna keep my family safe from these border wars, Hannibal.”
Mr. Curry ran his hand through his son’s tousled head. “It doesn’t have to just be the year ahead. It could be about what you want to do when you grow up.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Hannibal declared. “When I grow up I ain’t gonna drink whiskey or smoke. They’re horrible!”
“And girls,” squeaked little Jed. “Don’t forget kissin’ girls. That’s just nasty!”
Both men sat back on their chairs and chuckled. “So you two ain’t gonna drink, smoke or kiss girls?”
The little heads nodded in unison. “Yup.”
Mr. Heyes shook his head. “In that case you too are probably gonna be complete angels, or you’re just practicin’ at being fantastic liars.”
“We’re not liars, pa!” Hannibal protested.
“Nah, you’re just normal kids – and maybe you’re gonna be a whole lot like your folks.” Hannibal’s father sat back on his chair and patted his knee to invite his son to join him. “As Grandpa Curry would say, a wild goose never reared a tame gosling, but whatever you become, I’m sure you’ll be the best at it.”
Mr. Curry raised a hand. “…Four, three, two, ONE!”
“Happy New Year!” The fathers’ glasses clink.
“Happy New Year, Jed!”
“Happy New Year, Han!”