“I’m telling ya, that town aint big enuf…”
“Wheat!” The voice that interrupted Wheat Carlson, erstwhile member (and wishful leader) of the Devil’s Hole Gang, was sharp and edged with anger. “Cut it out!”
“I’m jes sayin..”
“You’ve bin ‘jes saying’ for the last week! We’ve been over and over it. You say the bank won’t have anythin’ in it, Heyes says it will. I’m with Heyes. You can stay behind, if you want.” The man looked belligerently at the rest of the group, “Any of you can!”
Five of the men studiously avoided the gaze and stared at the ground. The sixth, at the front, continued to stare ahead, but raised his hand to his mouth and coughed, attracting a suspicious stare from the last speaker.
Kid Curry, joint leader of the aforementioned Devil’s Hole Gang, thought he detected a grin on the face of Hannibal Heyes, his partner and also leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang and the man riding at the front of the motley gang. Annoyed, Kid turned his attention back to Wheat.
“So?” he demanded.
“So what?”, Wheat retorted.
“So, you goin’ back?”
Heyes struggled to ignore the conversation and stop a grin emerging again. He knew, without looking, that Kid would be staring hard and Wheat and Wheat would eventually look away and back down. He always did. Wheat liked to push and he liked to grumble, but he also was fond of his own hide and would not push so hard that he faced the wrong end of Kid Curry’s gun.
The eight men were on their way to Scarboro, a small town in the hills. Wheat had been there once and claimed that it wasn’t big enough to hold a general store, let alone a bank with a substantial sum in its safe. Heyes knew differently. Despite Wheat’s complaints, the others had gone along, nothing better to do, Kyle had claimed.
Wheat had continued to moan, which accounted for the Kid’s mood.
“It’s fine with me if you want to waste time,” Wheat finally responded, petulantly.
“So, shut up!” Curry demanded, the frustration and irritation clear in his voice.
The crew continued in silence. The members of the Devil’s Hole Gang were not big on conversation, something that Heyes missed from the days with Big Jim. Generally, Kid listened to him and commented but Wheat had soured his mood so he was also silent and Heyes didn’t try to engage him. He sighed silently, it was another 48 hours to Scarboro!
The party finally crested a ridge and looked down onto the ‘small’ town of Scarboro. It now sprawled through the valley – a vast collection of ramshackle huts, tents, cabins and more substantial buildings – several saloons, a general store, a hardware store, stables and a new bank.
With a shiny, new safe. Heyes’ eyes glinted as he thought about the contents of that safe.
Wheat gave a low whistle. “Town sure has growed.”
Heyes glanced at him, “Yep.”
The gang stared at the town for several minutes. Fed up, Curry finally exploded, “Let’s get moving!”
Heyes shook his head silently, “Yep, split up and try to remember the plan!”
The men rode off in two’s and three’s so as to enter the town separately and from different directions, at different times.
Heyes and Curry rode in together, on the direct route. They pulled up outside a saloon, which just happened to be diagonally opposite the bank.
Inside, they took seats at a back corner table, with a couple of beers. Curry took a deep drink and then repeated an oft stated desire, “Do we really need to have Wheat with us?”
“Now, Kid, Wheat has the right to be with us, it’s really up to him to leave.”
“Which he won’t.”
“It is unlikely.”
Two of the gang came in and went up to the bar. They looked around and tried rather too hard to not recognise Heyes and Curry.
Heyes smiled, “Relax. No one’s paying any attention and remember, there’s no Sheriff or Marshall!”
“Yeah, why is that? There’s gotta be some sort of law.”
“In a town growing as fast as this? It’s every man for himself. Sure, the saloons got muscle, but that’s all. Six months ago the town was jus’ like Wheat remembers. Then they found silver. Guess they haven’t had time to appoint a Sheriff yet.” Heyes grinned and, finally, so did Kid Curry.
Some hours later, Harvey was turning the handle of a bar spreader. This implement was positioned between the bars of a small window at the rear of the bank.
Wheat was still complaining, “This is takin’ too long! It’ll be light soon.”
“There’s plenty of time. No one will be around at first light anyhow,” Heyes spoke soothingly.
“You’d better be right, Heyes. Even if there is no law, I don’t think the folk will take too kindly to their bank being emptied!”
Curry stared at Wheat, “You want this to go faster, why don’t you take over from Harvey?”
Harvey looked up hopefully.
Wheat shook his head, “He’s doin’ okay.”
Regretfully, Harvey returned to his task.
The men watched silently and anxiously. Finally, the gap was wide enough to allow the men through.
Curry went over to the front window, drew the blind down and then lit a lamp. This he placed in front of the safe. Heyes settled in front of the safe, his ear against the cool metal, and began to manipulate the dials.
It did not take long. Heyes grasped the handle, turned and pulled the door open.
“You sure is good at that!” Kyle opined.
The men stared at the mountain of cash, stacked up on the shelves.
From over at the window, Curry spoke. “You’d be better to start filling the sacks than staring at it. It ain’t gonna get in there by itself!”
A number of gunny sacks were produced and Wheat and Kyle began to fill them and pass them back through the window to the Harvey and the other men still outside. The sacks were then tied onto the saddles of the waiting horses.
The early morning light was filtering through the windows. Heyes blew out the lamp.
Gun in hand, Curry was stood by the front window still, peering round the blind, watching the street. Even though none of the others expected trouble, no one had stopped him taking his usual place. Argument would have been pointless. He turned now to look at Heyes.
Heyes looked back at him.
“You said this town weren’t big enough for a sheriff?”
“So how come there’s a man walking toward the bank, with a star on his chest?”
Heyes shot over to the window and peered out. “Damn!”
“He don’t look like much…”
Heyes gave a slight shake of his head.
“Okay, that’s it. Everyone out, now!”
“What about the rest of the money?” Wheat complained.
“You rather lose the lot? Be followed by a posse?” As he spoke, Heyes was closing the safe door.
“Down!” Curry hissed.
The men remaining in the bank ducked down and held their breath. Footsteps echoed on the sidewalk and the door knob rattled.
The man with the star turned away from the bank. Curry signalled Heyes and Wheat and they crawled quickly to the rear window.
The front window blind suddenly shot up.
Wade turned back to the bank.
Heyes and Wheat froze.
Curry plastered himself against the wall under the window.
Wade peered in. The interior was dark and he could make out very little.
“Something wrong?” the second man asked.
The second man looked in. “Seems okay to me.”
“Yeah, looks quiet enough, jes seems like summat’s wrong.”
Both men peered in.
Curry prayed that none of the Devil’s Hole Gang appeared in the rear window and that the two men couldn’t see that the bars were no longer straight.
“Think I’ll check round the back.”
Curry swore softly under his breath.
Wade started down the street. The second man remained standing just outside the front door. Fortunately, he was looking the other way. Unfortunately, movement in the bank could still attract his attention. Curry felt trapped.
Across the other side of the room, Heyes’ mind raced through the options. He could get the men outside to high tail it out of town, past the “Sheriff”, as a distraction, but that would alert more people and cause a posse to head out after his men and the money. They could risk climbing out and hope neither man spotted them, but again, time was short and it would probably also result in a posse coming after them. Nope, what they needed to do was to quietly delay the alarm being sounded.
Heyes exchanged a look with Curry.
Heyes raised his head and poked it out of the rear window.
“Kyle, you and the boys ride out, quietly. That way.” He pointed in the opposite direction to the one he expected the “Sheriff”, Wade, to come in. “Leave our horses at the end of the alley and head for the meeting place.”
“What ‘bout you and Wheat and the Kid?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be right behind you. Get movin’!”
Heyes watched the men depart, no sign of Wade yet. He pulled back inside.
“Wheat, you stand against the wall, that side of the window.”
Heyes went over to the front door, keeping low. Curry kept an eye on the second man. Heyes looked at him and Curry shook his head. Heyes pulled a piece of think metal out of his boot, knelt in front of the door, by the lock and inserted the metal. He jiggled it around and in seconds heard it click open. He then returned to the rear window and stood against the wall on the other side to Wheat.
Curry moved to the front door and took hold of the handle.
It was so quiet inside the bank, you could’ve heard a fly land. The three men were barely breathing. A slight crunch outside alerted them to Wade’s arrival.
Wade came round the corner, seconds after the Devil’s Hole Gang disappeared at the far end. He walked down toward the bank. He was on top of the window when he noticed the bent bars.
A puzzled look came over his face, “What the…?” He stuck his head in through the window.
Wade was never clear about what happened next. One minute he was outside the bank looking in, the next he was inside, sat on the floor, tied up. Gagged and blindfolded. He never saw who grabbed him and trussed him up, just that they came out of nowhere and disappeared as quickly. For ever after, he maintained that they were more like ghosts than bank robbers, though afterwards, it was clear to Wade and the rest of the town, after Wade and Bert were found by the assistant bank manager on opening up the bank just before 9a.m., two hours later, that the bank had been robbed. Bartenders remembered a number of strangers in town, but couldn’t really describe them. The only clue was the way that the bank’s safe had been opened.
As Wade was hauled through the window by Heyes and Wheat, Curry opened the door of the bank and jabbed his gun into the small of the second man’s back.
“Don’t turn around and be quiet.”
The second man, Bert, froze.
“Now, back up, slowly.”
Bert walked backwards into the bank.
“Shut the door.”
Bert shut the front door.
“Pull your scarf up, over your eyes. Tie it real tight behind you.”
Bert pulled up his scarf, over his eyes and tied it tightly.
“Put your hands behind your back.”
Bert put his hands behind his back.
Heyes appeared by Curry’s side and tied Bert’s hands tightly. He then gagged the man and pulled him across the floor, near to where Wade was sitting.
Bert struggled to sit and was helped. His feet were then tied together.
Heyes went back to the front door and locked it as Curry and Wheat climbed out. He joined them and the three men ran down the alley.
Round the corner, Kyle was waiting with their horses.
“Thought I told you to get out of town.”
“Couldn’t leave without ya.”
“Well, let’s get out now.”
The four men hurried out of town.
Back out on the trail, and satisfied that no posse was chasing them, the men relaxed as they made their way to join up with the others.
“There’s one thing I gotta say,” Wheat began.
Curry looked at him, “Wheat,” he warned.
“It ain’t a complaint,” Wheat said hastily, “It’s a, it’s a, it’s an observation, yeah, that’s what it is.”
Intrigued, Heyes looked at him, “What observation?”
Wheat grinned, “That town may have growed, but it still ain’t big enough to hold the Devil’s Hole Gang!”