(Author’s Note: this assumes that Heyes and Curry are not cousins and that when Kid Curry spoke about both of them running away from the Valparaiso Home for Waywards, he was so confused, he mistakenly said we!)
Hannibal Heyes cautiously approached the prone figure.
It was a fine day, with blue sky above. Heyes had been enjoying the scenery, when a riderless horse had galloped toward him, startling his. As it passed, Heyes had gone after it. He had soon caught it and he then headed in the direction it had come from.
Now, he saw a brown object lying on the ground ahead of him. He dismounted and approached, keeping a watch. He could sense nothing dangerous, but it was as well to be sure. As he got closer, he saw that the brown object was a sheepskin coat, wrapped round a body. He approached cautiously and prodded the figure with his foot, “Hey, hey you!” There was no response, not even a groan. He pushed harder, rolling the figure onto its back. This revealed a young man, with blond, curling hair, thin faced, pale and with dark circles under his eyes. Heyes was shocked by his appearance. Holstering his gun, he bent down and examined the boy. The skin felt cold and waxy, he was unconscious and breathing shallowly. He found a deep gash in the back of the boy’s head, bleeding heavily. Heyes figured his condition was so poor, there was little he could do for him but he tied the kid’s bandanna around his head and fastened his horse to a tree. Heyes then rode off.
Even as he did so, guilt gnawed at him. He was a stranger, sure, but the kid was dying, would he, Heyes, want to be left to die alone? Who would bury the kid? Heyes felt someone should, though he wasn’t sure why, it just seemed right. Then again, if he got help, the kid might survive. And what if he could survive, if he got help? On the other hand, Heyes sure didn’t want the boy to know his name and anyway, renegades didn’t help folks out, did they? Then again…he was so young, so sick.….Heyes sighed, wheeled his horse round and returned.
The kid’s condition hadn’t improved, but it hadn’t got worse. Heyes wiped at the wound to remove most of the blood and then bandaged the kid’s head. He made a comfortable spot and moved the kid, wrapping him in their blankets. The boy was much too light and thin. And he was still deathly cold and even paler. Heyes didn’t really expect him to make it, but, for now he was still breathing. Heyes made himself comfortable and sat down by the fire to wait.
The day slipped by into evening and the only change in the kid was that he moved slightly, every now and then, and would occasionally mumble incoherently. Heyes stayed up all night, drinking coffee and listening. Once in a while he would check on the kid. The bleeding had stopped, but he remained cold to the touch and unconscious. By a miracle, he remained alive. Heyes kept the fire burning, if the boy made it to morning, maybe he’d live.
By the time, dawn broke, grey and overcast, Heyes was chilled and cramped. He got up, stretched and walked around for a bit, then checked the boy. Incredibly, the young man was warmer, his skin colour had improved and he was breathing easily, almost as though asleep. Heyes made coffee and settled down. The day wore on and brightened. The sun came out. Heyes began to relax. It had been a while and the sun was so warm, Heyes began to feel sleepy……………
He woke with a start. Something had spooked him, just a little, a sense of danger. Looking around, he was startled to see a pair of bright blue but confused eyes staring at him. Heyes smiled reassuringly.
“Hello there. How you feelin?”
The kid gingerly touched the back of his head.
“Dunno. Sick. And my head hurts.”
“You were knocked out, cut your head pretty badly.”
The boy still looked confused.
“Who are you?” he asked bluntly.
“Ran into your horse, he’s over there by the way, and then you. You needed a bit of help”
“You bandaged me up?”
“Yep, is it okay?”
“Fine.” There was a pause. “Thanks. I guess you saved my life. But why? You don’t know me.”
Heyes appraised the kid. He was plain speaking, a little green, young, but not as young as he’d first thought. His eyes were wary. His hands were callused and his clothes were worn and thin and his saddle was well used. There was a little colour in his face, but he still looked gaunt and sick. Heyes wasn’t quite sure what to think of him.
He shrugged, “You needed help,” he said dismissively. “You want some coffee? Food?”
The kid nodded. “Both would be nice, but, just coffee. I feel too sick in my stomach to eat.”
Heyes handed over a cup. “So. Where you from? Or going to?”
“From Kansas. Not goin anyplace.”
“Aren’t you a little young to be travelling on your own? How old are you anyway?” Heyes asked, interested in learning more about the enigmatic youngster. However, the question irritated the boy.
“Everyone always wants to know how old I am!” he snapped. “I’m old enough!”
Heyes smiled gently, “You don’t look it.”
“Yeah, I know.”
There was bitterness in the boy’s voice. The kid continued angrily, “Folks always think I can’t do anything. Always saying, you’re too young. Too young for saloons, or poker or a beer. Too young drive a wagon or punch cows, to young to wash dishes or clean stables or even load wagons! How can you be too young to wash dishes? Always too young to stay in town…” His voice died away and the angry gleam was replaced by sadness.
There was an uncomfortable silence. In these days of depression, work was hard to come by and the kid’s appearance gave folks an excuse. Heyes looked up at the kid, “More coffee?” and then filled the cup that was held out.
The kid broke the silence, “Guess you wanna move on? I’m okay now. You gotta have someplace to go?”
Heyes started. He’d been thinking about how to broach the subject of leaving and here the kid was raising it! And, if he left now, he’d make the next town by nightfall. So he replied, “Well, if you’re sure you’re gonna be okay?”
“Sure I’m sure. My head hurts some, but that’s all.”
“Can you stand?”
The young man sighed and tried to get up, but fell back, looking ill.
“I think maybe I should stick around…”
“No. Really. I’ll be okay. Good night’s rest is all I need. You don’t need to stay.”
Heyes, to his surprise, found himself torn. He felt he should leave before the kid learnt too much, but he also felt a strong pull to stay and make sure the kid was okay. The conflict raged for a minute as the kid hunched himself into his coat.
Self preservation won.
“I should be moving on. I’ll just take care of a few things first.”
Heyes built up the fire and left a pile of wood within the kid’s reach. He made a fresh pot of coffee, transferred some of his supplies to the kid’s saddlebags and checked on the kid’s horse. The kid watched all this without protest.
Satisfied he’d done as much as he was able, Heyes saddled his horse and mounted. He turned to the kid, “Well, Kid, take care of yourself.”
“Thanks. For everything. My name’s Jed, Jed Curry!”
Heyes nodded, “See ya, Jed!” and he rode off.
Jed watched and then had a sudden thought, “Hey, you got a name?” he called, but the dark haired stranger didn’t turn or answer, showed no sign of hearing. Jed shrugged and watched the man disappear, absurdly grateful for everything the dark stranger had done for him. Used to being on his own, as the sound of the hooves died away, Jed felt very cold, very ill and very alone. Miserably, he hunkered down inside his blanket and stared forlornly into the flames.
Hannibal Heyes heard the Kid call to him, but had no intention of answering. He hoped that the Kid would be okay, but it was no longer his concern. He doubted he would ever see him again.
Jed Curry had an uncomfortable night. His head pounded, making it difficult to sleep. But the fire burned all night, keeping him warm. In the morning, he made breakfast, his first meal in days. He was pleased when he managed to keep the food down. He tried to stand and was delighted when he could do so without feeling sick and dizzy. He did feel unsteady and his head still ached fiercely so he rode reluctantly for the nearest town, Black Pines. There, he was no more successful than in any other and he was back in the saddle within hours.
Cold, hungry and dispirited, his head throbbing unmercifully, feeling sick and tired, Jed simply stopped where he was. He made a halfhearted attempt to set up camp and built a small fire, on which he made some weak coffee. He then settled into his bedroll and brooded. No money meant no room and no food. No room plus his youth meant no one trusted him with a job. No job meant no money. Without money, he could not replace his weapon and no weapon meant no robbery. No robbery, no job, no money. He was going round in circles and it made his head hurt! No closer to any sort of solution, he drifted off to sleep.
The next day, he found a narrow side trail and followed it. He’d learnt the hard way how dangerous the main roads were to a young, lone man.
The trail wound through the rocks and rose up high over the main road. Jed found himself in a perfect position for an ambush, if he had a weapon. Wanting a break, he dismounted and climbed down aways to view the road. He thought about how he could rob someone from up here. There was a good view and he would be almost unseen, giving him the advantage of surprise. A bit of metal caught his eye. It was some sort of pole. A childish urge enveloped him. He crouched between the rocks and then he softly called out, “Hold it!”
The rider pulled up his horse and looked up. He saw the end of a rifle pointing at him.
“Take your gun out and toss it over here. Slowly, two fingers!” Jed instructed.
The man complied.
“Now, your money. Slowly.”
As the man reached into his pocket, Jed got up and jumped down the rocks, holding the rifle. He reached the man’s gun and picked it up, gave it a twirl and put it into his empty holster. He approached the man and took the cash.
“Thanks, “ he said and then he slapped the horse on its rear. It took off, the man grabbing to stay on. Jed watched him ride out of sight.
Jed stared down the road as the image faded from his mind, suddenly feeling foolish. Then, his stomach cramped and he doubled up, dropping the pole and holding his belly. He was reminded how hungry he was and how depressing his situation was. There was no money or gun. He stood up slowly and walked over to the side of the road, taking the pole with him.
Hannibal Heyes was watching all of this, first with amusement at the charade and then with some concern.
Heyes had made his camp by a small waterhole, not far from the road. It was perfect – hidden from view of the road, but near enough to hear any traffic on it. He had been relaxing when he had heard a voice, though he couldn’t quite make out what was said. Making his way to the rim of the hollow, he peered out and was astounded to see the blond haired kid hopping down the rocks, holding a stick of sorts like a rifle. He listened and watched as the Kid pretended to rob someone and nearly laughed out loud when the Kid obviously slapped an invisible horse’s rear. His amusement turned to concern when he saw the boy, young man, he reminded himself, double over. He started to go toward him, but paused when he saw the other stand up and cross to the rocks at the side of the road. Heyes felt embarrassed for watching and knew that the young man would feel foolish if Heyes revealed himself, so he stayed there, unwilling to move away, in case a sound should alert the Kid. He watched as the Kid drew something in the dirt of the road with the end of the stick.
Jed Curry was still feeling miserable and hungry. He sat on the roadside, not sure why he didn’t return to his horse. Aimlessly, he began to drag the pole through the dirt as his imagination ran wild again.
The table was covered in a red checked tablecloth, the waitress was ready to take his order.
“Hello Ma’am. I’ll start with the soup.”
Jed drew a soup bowl in the dirt.
“Next, a steak, as big as you’ve got, with a mound of mash potato and corn,”
A plate appeared next to the bowl, with some uneven shapes on it,
“Finally, apple pie – a big slice.”
He drew a quarter circle in the sandy ground.
A sound drew Jed’s attention and he looked down the road. Heyes also turned to look in the same direction. Jed began to climb back up the rocks and hid.
The shout was loud and sharp and the man reined in his horse. He looked around and saw the end of something that resembled a rifle. The man laughed.
“You gonna hold me up?”
Jed was annoyed. “Nope, just stopping you for a chat! Course I’m holding you up. Throw you gun onto the ground.”
The man laughed again, “I’m not armed.”
Jed knew that wasn’t true. “I said throw your gun onto the ground.”
“And I’m telling ya, you ain’t.”
“Why don’t you come down here and search me then?”
Jed grimaced. Stalemate. Jed was puzzling over what to do next when a shot rang out, startling both men. The rider’s horse shied a little.
A third voice spoke out, cold and hard, “My partner told you to throw your gun down. I suggest you do as he said.”
The rider moved his hand toward his inside pocket.
“Very carefully,” the voice added, meaningfully. The man slowed and drew out a small pocket gun, which he tossed into the edge of the road.
Hannibal Heyes stepped out onto the road and approached the man.
Jed was stunned and watched as Heyes holstered his gun and patted the man down. He withdrew a bundle and scanned it. His brown eyes darkened with anger and he drew his gun again.
“I’ll be keeping these. Now get movin!”
The man protested, “Those are mine! What would a robber need with them?”
Heyes stared at him, until the man backed down.
Up in the rocks, Jed wondered what the fuss was about.
The man glared at Heyes and then suddenly spurred his horse away. Jed saw the dark haired stranger holster his gun. The man looked up into the rocks.
“You wanna come down from there?”
“Not particularly”, thought Jed, but it was more of a command than a question. Jed sighed and made his way back down to the road.
Heyes watched him stepping confidently down through the jumble of rocks.
“You made that look easy”, he said as Jed landed on the road.
“Huh?” Jed looked at him, puzzled. “Where did you come from anyway?”
Heyes gestured behind him and then pointed at the pole Jed was still carrying. “What’s that? You expect to rob a man with a stick?”
Jed looked down at the pole. He’d forgotten he had it and he now flung it away, embarrassed. He stared at his feet. The dark haired man was so full of confidence, so sure of himself, that Jed felt awkward and wary.
Heyes smiled, “You sure look better than when I last saw ya. Had any more luck since then?”
When Jed didn’t answer, Heyes wandered over to the drawings in the ground, curious about what the Kid had been doing. Jed suddenly shot in front of him and rubbed his foot along, removing the marks. His face was red as he realised that Heyes must have been watching.
“How long were you there?” he muttered, mostly to himself.
Heyes shrugged his shoulders. “Long enough. It wasn’t a bad idea, that thing looked a lot like a rifle, but you were unlucky with your mark. You picked a gambler and a cheating one at that. He was bound to call your bluff.”
“How’d ya know he cheats?”
“I took a pack of cards from him, see?” Heyes showed the Kid the bundle. “They’re marked.”
“How’d ya know that?”
“I know marked cards, don’t you?” Heyes showed him.
Jed took the cards and examined them. He could hardly tell and certainly not at a glance. He looked at Heyes, “You a gambler as well?”
“Nope. But I do play poker and I don’t like cheats. It was a pleasure to rob him!” Heyes grinned, boyishly and suddenly looked a lot younger.
Jed felt more at ease and grinned broadly back at him.
Heyes then counted the bills he’d taken and handed some over. “Here, this is your share.”
Jed shook his head. “Nope, you got it from him, you keep it.”
Heyes’ jaw dropped. “What?! C’mon, that’s stupid, turning down money. We pulled it off together, you get your share.”
“I wouldn’t have got anything if you’d not come along.”
“Maybe, but you stopped him.”
“Yeah, because you’re not stupid.”
Heyes shook his head, “That’s not it, generally I rob banks and trains, not passers by.”
Jed stared in awe at the man. “You rob banks and trains?”
“Most of the time. The rest, I play poker. Here, take a share. It was your idea. A man should get paid for his ideas.”
Feeling foolish, Jed took the money and stuffed it in his pocket.
“I’m camped over there, supper’s on.” Heyes offered.
Jed began to back away, “No, I, that is, I think that I ought.” His voice dried up and he looked up the hillside.
He looks scared, thought Heyes. Heyes liked the young man and didn’t want the Kid to be scared of him.
“Look, I’m not gonna rob you.”
Stung, Jed swung round, “I didn’t think you were!”
“Then why you leaving in such a hurry?”
“You rob banks, and trains!”
“Well, that’s, that’s, that’s something.” Jed ended lamely.
Heyes grinned, “Yeah, an outlaw!”
“I know that! I mean, well, I mean, I don’t really know what I mean. I just…”
“Come and get some supper, I could do with the company!”
“What about it?”
“I ought to fetch him.”
Heyes nodded. “Okay.”
And Heyes walked back and disappeared over the edge.
Jed stood on the road. He wanted to eat, but he was still unsure about the stranger, whose name he didn’t know. One minute, he was friendly and putting him at ease, the next, he was cold and hard and it frightened Jed a little. Slowly, he made his way up the hillside to his horse. He then guided it down and onto the road. By the time he reached it, he’d made up his mind.
The stars were out when Jed Curry leaned back against the rock behind him and sighed contentedly.
Heyes laughed. “Feel better?”
Jed smiled at him, his eyes twinkling, “It’ll do for now.”
Heyes poured them both coffee and settled back himself. There was a comfortable silence. They hadn’t known each other long, and they knew little about each other, but they had both decided that they liked each other. Jed hadn’t had any friendly company for months and Heyes was enjoying being with someone his age, instead of the older and measurably duller outlaws he usually ran with. Besides, Jed had obviously enjoyed listening to Heyes’ stories of the outlaw life and he had a sense of humour that Heyes appreciated.
Jed broke the silence. Keeping his voice neutral, he asked “Where you headed tomorrow?”
“Devil’s Hole. That’s the gang I’m running with right now. Got some plans.”
Jed was quiet. Eventually, he said, “What would you have done?”
Heyes looked at the young man. “Well, Kid, first thing, you gotta sound like you believe the lie. You believe it, they believe it. Then, you can’t argue with ‘em. They have to do what you say, immediately. If they don’t, tell ‘em! Don’t argue. But,” Heyes grinned, “I wouldn’t have lost my gun in the first place!”
Jed grimaced. “You had to mention that! I got bushwhacked.” He held up his hand, “Before you ask, there were three of them. One knocked me out of my saddle. They took everything, ‘cept the clothes I had on – my horse, saddle, money – all of $5 – and my gun.”
Heyes shook his head. “You sure ain’t lucky.”
Jed stared into the fire. He tried to work out his choices. He wanted to stay with the dark haired man, what was his name anyway? After months on the road, he was lonely. Besides, he was more likely to have regular meals with this guy! “But he won’t ask me to stay, he must think I’m an idiot,” thought Jed. “Can’t get work, can’t rob someone, lose my gun, can’t even tell a gambler and a deck of marked cards. What have I got to offer? He hasn’t even told me his name.” Jed sighed sadly.
Heyes looked across at him, noting the hint of despair on his face. Heyes wanted to help, but was sure that this young man would not be accepted into the Devil’s Hole Gang, he was just too young and unskilled.
Jed wrapped his blanket around him and lay down. “Night”, he called.
“Night Kid,” Heyes responded.
In the morning, the two men ate breakfast, cooked by Jed, and then broke up the camp. Neither said much. Heyes felt Kid would stick around if asked but there was little point. Jed was too embarrassed to ask for more help.
They rode together for several hours, until the road forked. One led in the direction of a town. Jed pulled up. “Think I’ll head for Silver Springs. Maybe they got work there.”
Heyes nodded. “I gotta go on this way,” he indicated the other road. “Take care Kid, try to get a gun soon!”
“Thanks mister… What is your name?” Heyes gave the young man a cheery wave and rode off, still not answering that question. Jed watched him leave and once more felt very alone.
In Silver Springs, Jed went through the motions but he knew that there was no chance of work. He had decided that robbery was his only option and all he really wanted to do was re-arm himself. He also took a hotel room; one night of relative luxury would do no harm! In the morning, feeling much better now he had a gun in his holster, he once more hit the trail.
Heyes had run into trouble, more precisely a group of men who seemed to know who he was. He was trying to convince them otherwise, when he was clubbed from behind. He woke with a throbbing head and found himself bound and gagged. The men were asleep and Heyes began to work at his bonds, but they were well tied and he made little progress. By morning, Heyes’ throat was dry and he wanted a drink, but he remained impassive as they threw him roughly over his horse and headed back
Jed arrived at the fork in the road and took the path taken by Heyes. At the sound of horses, he pulled off the trail, wary of groups from past encounters. When he saw the party, he gaped.
At the fork, the four men began to argue. Two wanted to go to Silver Springs with their prisoner, as it was closer. The others wanted to go on, to a town with a smarter, tougher sheriff and a stronger jail. The argument raged and Heyes was getting annoyed. A shot silenced them. A voice, harsh and commanding, demanded that they remove their gun belts. The order was followed by another two shots, in quick succession. One knocked a hat off; the other blew a holster away. The men hastily undid their belts and threw them onto the ground. Jed ordered them off their horses and then, that one of them untie his partner. Heyes groaned as he moved his stiffened shoulders and rubbed his sore wrists.
“You wanna tie them up?”
Heyes looked up at the Kid and shook his head, “I’ll watch ‘em, I feel like killing ‘em, if they move.”
The Kid nodded at him and, after Heyes had recovered his weapon, dismounted and firmly tied the four men together. The four men had not moved a muscle.
Jed mounted and surveyed his handiwork. “That’ll keep ‘em for a while.” Heyes nodded and both men spurred their horses away.
Heyes was mulling things over. If Kid was skilled with a gun and not just lucky…A skill like that would be useful and the others would have to accept him. A skilled gunsmith that he could trust…
Heyes pulled up. “That was some shooting. I sure am glad that you got your gun back. Thanks.”
Jed grinned at him. “I owed ya.”
“Can you shoot that way all the time, or was it luck?”
The Kid looked hurt. “I may not be very good at robbery, but I can shoot.”
“How fast are you?”
“How fast is that?”
“No one’s beaten me yet.”
Heyes dismounted and walked over to some rocks. Setting up a target, he said, “Show me.”
Jed looked perplexed. “Why?”
“Just show me.”
Jed shrugged and dismounted. He pulled the glove off his right hand and folded his arms. “Say when.”
“Yep. Say when.”
Jed stared at Heyes. Finally, Heyes said “Whey..”
The gun jumped into the Kid’s hand and the little pebble bounced onto the floor before Heyes had finished the word. Heyes’ jaw dropped. “Wha!”
Jed looked at him.
“I’ve never seen anyone so fast.”
Jed looked pleased.
Thoughtful, Heyes returned to his horse and climbed on. Jed followed, once again perplexed by the older man.
They rode on for a while and then Heyes pulled up again. Jed stopped his horse and leaned on the saddlehorn.
Heyes held out his hand, “Hannibal Heyes. Just Heyes will do fine.”
Jed took the outstretched hand. “Jed Curry, but I’ve kinda gotten used to Kid!”
“Yeah, I’ve kinda gotten used to that too. You know, we sure seem to work together well.”
“Could use a good man, who’s not afraid to be a renegade. You want to ride with me?”
Kid Curry stared down at the ground, chewing his lip, unwilling to seem too eager.
Deciding that the Kid needed further persuasion, Heyes said, “ We’d be partners. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry – the two most wanted outlaws in the West!”
There was a pause the length of a heartbeat and then Kid looked up and grinned, “I always wanted to be the best!”
“Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the two most wanted outlaws in the history of the West and in all the banks and trains they robbed, they never shot anyone. This made our two latter day robin hoods very popular with everyone but the railroads and the banks…”