A ragtag group of men burst into the town of Blackstone. Well known in the town, they entered boisterously, shouting and jostling and greeting acquaintances. Red Baker and Kyle Murtry were trying to push each other off their horses. At the back, a man rode alone, quiet and watchful. Though his hat was pulled low, his dark brown hair was visible. The dark brown eyes were narrowed, apparently because of the sun; only those who knew him well would have realised that he was annoyed by the group’s antics, but there was no one in the group, or in the town, who knew him that well or so he thought. In fact, on this day, it could only be said that there was no resident of the town who knew him that well. Standing at a first floor window, watching the group, there was one man who knew. A young drifter, of slight build, with blonde curly hair and piercing blue eyes, he had arrived in town the previous day.
Hannibal Heyes sighed inwardly as the group made their way to the livery. He had ‘suggested’ that they not draw attention to themselves and here they were, behaving like children. He was fed up with them and disliking more and more having been placed in the position of being their leader. Silently he cursed Jim Santana for getting caught and then reprimanded himself; things couldn’t get much worse for Jim. A faint prickle at the back of his neck caused his thoughts to focus and he looked around; despite his desire not to draw attention to them, it was unusual in this town to sense danger, generally Heyes felt safe enough here. At the hotel window, the blonde haired man saw Heyes was alerted and drew back.
Heyes couldn’t see anything amiss. He then realised that it wasn’t quite that there was danger. It was an odd feeling, a feeling he half remembered, a feeling he had had when a particular person was close by, but that person hadn’t been around for, how long was it? Heyes sighed as he realised it was around 4 years. He had been thinking about the Kid a lot lately, maybe that was the reason for the way he felt. He’d always missed the Kid being around, but now the vague feeling of loss had become a dull ache, constantly at the back of his mind. Pointlessly too as he had no idea where the Kid was or any way of finding him. Firmly pushing his thoughts away, Heyes found himself at the livery. He dismounted and joined the Devil’s Hole Gang. They were leaving their horses with the stable boy. Heyes decided he could get some time alone if he looked after his horse himself.
As the gang left, Kyle shouted across to him, “You coming, Heyes?”
Heyes winced at the reckless use of his name. He managed to keep his frustration out of his voice as he replied to Kyle, “Soon, just gonna see to my horse.”
Kyle nodded, Heyes often dealt with his animal himself, just another of his odd habits which the rest of the gang would laugh about, when Heyes wasn’t there. To Heyes, it made sense, he knew where everything was and everything was ready to make a quick getaway, if needed.
Calm descended in the stable. The silence was broken only by the sounds of horses moving and eating and of the creak of leather. Heyes lent his forehead against his saddle and sighed, listening to the quiet. He had begun to feel overwhelmed by his position, the constant quarrelling and fighting and horseplay got on his nerves. As did the repeated requests to sort out the disagreements, settle arguments and break up fights or stop gunplay. He felt as though he hadn’t had a moment’s peace and that he would soon be insane.
“Mister? Mister? You okay?”
Heyes looked up and saw the stable boy looking at him. “Fine, thanks”
“You want me to take your horse?”
Heyes shook his head, “No thanks. I’ll deal with her myself.”
The boy nodded and led the others away. Heyes took his animal into a nearby stall, removed the saddle and gave her a bucket of feed. He then began to brush her. While he did so, his mind wandered. He drifted between thoughts of the Kid; the way he’d left and the way he hadn’t come back, that had been the surprising thing; thoughts of the way Jim had been taken and thoughts of him leading the Devil’s Hole Gang.
Deciding on and planning a job was the easy part. He could plan it to the minute, telling each man exactly what, where and when. But the rest of the time, keeping them in check between jobs, was something he was struggling with. He could use his fists, but he preferred to use his tongue. But if that didn’t work, he didn’t have the size of Jim to fall back on, just speed and agility, not always impressive to the tough bunch of men he now led. And then there was Wheat’s sniping. Nothing direct, but it undermined him and it seemed to be getting worse, such that he had had to resort to gunplay. And he was uncomfortable with that. The biggest problem though was that he had no time to think and plan. He’d not come up with a single workable idea for weeks and they wouldn’t wait much longer.
Leaning against his horse, his head aching, Heyes felt a faint ripple through the air and stiffened. Someone had entered the stable behind his back. Outwardly calm, Heyes continued to brush his horse and work his way around to put it between him and the newcomer and get a good look at whoever it was. The click of a hammer being cocked froze him in his tracks.
“Would you mind telling me what you want, Mister?” Heyes asked coolly. “If you’re thinking of stealing from me, I’ve only got a few dollars…and my horse.”
“What about the reward on you?” a voice softly spoke.
A shiver ran down Heyes’ spine. Damn! “You must be mistaken, mister. I ain’t wanted. Just a poker player.”
He heard muffled footsteps approaching and then a gun barrel was pressed against his head behind his ear, a voice whispering in it, with just a hint of amusement, “Heyes, you never used to let yourself get caught like this, losing your touch? Tut, tut. That ain’t good for the leader of an outlaw gang!”
“Do I know you?”
There was a click and a small whoosh and then the creak of leather. The voice said, “A little!” It sounded like he was laughing now.
Cautiously, Heyes turned his head. A slightly taller, younger man, with blonde hair, was standing behind him, arms folded. Heyes locked eyes with a pair of sparkling blue ones, glistening with amusement.
“Kid?” Heyes whispered, incredulous.
Kid Curry made a small bow.
The sight of his cousin standing there brought a huge grin to Heyes’ face. “Kid!” he yelled, grabbing and hugging the younger man, who laughed and hugged him back.
“Good to see you too, Heyes.”
“What do you think you’re doing, giving me a fright like that?”
Curry was solemn, “Never let your guard down.” he said seriously and then grinned broadly, “Remember?”
Heyes smiled, “Sure do!”
“So, you wanna keep grooming this fine animal or you want to go to the saloon for a drink?”
“Hmm, difficult decision. Reckon it’ll havta be the saloon!”
Both smiling broadly, they walked out, in step, and crossed to the saloon.
Heyes bagged a table while the Kid obtained a bottle and glasses. He sat down opposite, put a glass in front of Heyes and poured a shot. Then did the same to his glass. Raising it, he said, “A toast, to reunions!” They sipped their drinks.
“So, how ya been Heyes?” Curry asked casually.
“Pretty good. You?”
“What you been doing?”
“This and that. Been pretty easy to see what you’ve been up to.”
“Ain’t you kinda young to be leading an outlaw gang?”
Heyes bristled, “Don’t see what age has to do with it.”
“Wonder to me how you done so well, if’n you’re the smartest!” Curry smiled gently at Heyes, until Heyes realised he was being teased.
“Yeah? Well, you still look too young to be shaving!”
Curry nodded solemnly, “Yeah, it’s a problem alright.”
Heyes smiled, “Been creating trouble for you?”
“Nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“Yeah? And what sort of trouble would that be?”
“Oh, you know.” The Kid trailed off and stared into his whiskey. The Kid’s evasiveness concerned Heyes, but he knew better than to push it. Instead he began telling the Kid about one of the gang’s robberies.
The two men spent the rest of the evening drinking and chatting amiably. Heyes continued to probe for details on how the Kid had been spending his time, but he refused to be drawn. Heyes wondered how bad things could be, Kid looked in good shape, he must have had some means. Still, he didn’t want to discuss it so Heyes recited stories about the Devil’s Hole Gang instead, frequently making Kid laugh; at one point he laughed so loud that everyone in the saloon looked over at him, making the two of them laugh louder!
Finally, Curry yawned heavily, “Heyes, I think I have just gotta go to bed.”
Heyes gave a wry smile, “Okay, guess I should too”, he replied, a little sadly.
Curry looked sharply at him, “Not been getting much fun lately, huh?”
“Well, been busy you know, leader and all that.”
“Poor Heyes, such a tough life.”
“You have no idea.” Heyes meant to be light, but his voice cracked a little.
The Kid decided to ignore it. He smiled, “I’ve had a good evening too. You wanna walk across with me?”
They left the saloon and began to walk across to the hotel. As they crossed the street, Red and Wheat tumbled out of another saloon, a full scale fight taking place. Heyes stopped and his heart sank.
“See ya later”, he called to Curry as he hurried over.
Curry watched while Heyes and several others tried to break the two up. This took some time and was not helped by other members of the gang laughing and urging the fighters on! When they were finally parted, Heyes took Wheat to one side and began talking heatedly with him, Wheat was obviously arguing. Curry walked slowly into the hotel, musing.
It was late morning when Kid Curry awoke. The sun was streaming in and he’d managed to toss all the bedclothes off. The room was stifling and he felt muzzy headed and thirsty. Stumbling to the washstand, he washed up, dressed and headed to the restaurant. He ordered breakfast and coffee and got a jug of water.
Feeling considerably better after this meal, he headed out. The saloons were quiet and Curry spent the day lounging on the hotel porch, reading the local paper and smoking a cigar. It was evening before he saw Heyes again, storming out of a saloon.
Heyes was furious. He had had yet another argument with Wheat over the fight, an argument that had segued into another over their next job. Wheat had insisted that he had a plan, but refused to discuss it. Heyes didn’t believe that it would be a workable one, if it existed. He had ended up threatening to leave. The others weren’t yet ready to go with Wheat, but Heyes had seen that they were close to changing sides. He marched out and down the street, ending up behind the livery, where it was quiet. He flung himself down on a small stack of hay bales. He felt like yelling with frustration and anger. Restless, he stood and began pacing.
Walking back and forth and muttering to himself, Heyes again failed to notice the approach of a man.
Curry leaned against the stable and watched.
“You still talking to yourself?” he asked eventually.
Heyes started and turned to look at him. “Do you have to creep up on a body like that?” he said crossly.
“Your temper’s not improved then. Given the amount of noise you was makin’, an elephant could’ve gone unnoticed.”
“Yeah? And what would you know about elephants?”
“Seen one. What’s your problem Heyes?”
“Why’d you want to know?” Heyes was angry and bitter.
Kid looked hurt. “Heyes, we’re family and we were friends.”
“That’s right, were! You left!”
Kid was calm. “You wanna keep yelling at me, go ahead. But I ain’t your problem.”
Heyes opened his mouth and then suddenly sank down onto the hay and dropped his head into his hands, exhausted.
Curry walked over and sat next to him. He spoke gently, “It’s not going well, is it?”
Heyes raised his head and looked at Curry. “I trust him,” Heyes thought, suddenly, “Of everyone, I trust him.” He shook his head. “Nothing’s under control. And I can’t think, I always seem to be running after the others. And, I feel bad about Jim. I shoulda done more. It was okay when Jim was around. I had time to think, to plan. He had no problem dealing with their squabbles. They irritate me! And, I’m sure that they think I should’ve done more to rescue Jim.”
“We were on a job, I thought that we had the backdoor covered, the guy went off to the saloon! A deputy spotted the horses and all hell broke loose! Getting out was a fiasco, it was every man for himself. I tried to stay close to Jim, but we got separated and while getting out, I was shot. Not bad, but it bled heavily and I was laid up for a while. By the time I found out Jim was took, he’d been sentenced and was on his way to the State Jail. I headed there, but he was inside and, have you seen that place?”
Heyes continued, “It’d take an army to get someone out. I just didn’t get chance.” He tailed off.
“Heyes, I’m sure you didn’t leave Jim on purpose. Don’t beat yourself up!”
Heyes sighed and stared down at his feet. Curry sat quietly, waiting.
In a small voice, Heyes said, “I don’t think I can do this.”
Curry was reassuring, “Course you can Heyes, you’re a genius! Remember?”
Heyes was still staring at the ground. “Kid” He paused, then went on “If there was someone who could corral them…?”
Curry didn’t reply immediately. He waited and finally said, “I dunno, Heyes.”
Heyes heart sank. He wanted, no, needed someone to help him. He stopped his thoughts. That was true, of course, but it wasn’t what he really wanted from the Kid. Now was not the time to hold back. If he trusted Kid, then he had to tell him the whole truth, show him that he was trusted. Heyes took a deep breath and began again, “Working with Jim was okay, but, I missed you. I’m sorry Kid. I don’t understand how things got so bad between us, but I’m sorry that it did. I always missed you, but now, I really notice it. I need someone to watch my back, like you always did. I need someone I can talk my plans through with and who will tell me where I’m going wrong, without worrying about what I’ll say or do, I need someone I can rely on to get everything I need together and to keep the others under control. Most of all, I need a friend, Kid. Someone I can trust, someone I do trust. A partner.” Heyes looked earnestly at the Kid, “I need you.”
Kid Curry smiled. “I know.”
Heyes blinked and stared at him. “You know! What do you mean, you know?”
“I know is all. But I wanted you to know it.”
“Of all the. You are the most difficult, stubborn, obstinate, hardhearted…”
“I missed you too, Heyes.”
Heyes stopped midflow, an amazing event in itself, Curry thought. He looked at the Kid and then he began to laugh. It bubbled up and grew, infectiously, until both of them were roaring with laughter and clapping each other on their backs.
Slowly, their laughter subsided. Curry groaned, “My sides ache!” he complained. Heyes laughed again, joyously, his eyes twinkling and alight with delight.
“Stop laughing Heyes. This is a serious matter. I need you to understand something!”
Heyes was still grinning.
“Okay, okay! I’m listening, really I am.”
“Yeah. Well, get your genius brain round this. I’m only gonna stick around so long as you remember that we are partners. You start ordering me around, taking me for granted, not listening to me… You ARE listening, Heyes?”
Heyes nodded, he was no longer smiling, though his eyes were still shining.
“You stop listening to me, then I am gone! I mean it! An’ that’s why I wanted you to know that you need me.” Curry stopped, as though he’d suddenly run out of air.
Heyes stared at him, it was one heck of a speech for the Kid. He was very serious about this, Heyes realised. Heyes also realised that he was getting a second chance and, if he screwed it up, he probably wouldn’t get a third. Heyes’ expression became very serious. “I understand Kid. I really do and I won’t forget. Partners?” He was sincere.
Kid Curry looked at him for a moment and then stuck out his hand, “Okay Heyes. Partners.”
In that moment, Heyes felt reborn, his love of the adventure revived, along with the partnership. He shook the outstretched hand and grinned again, a grin that reached up to his eyes, a grin he hadn’t expressed in years, the sort of grin that only Kid Curry got the benefit of, “Good to have you back!”
Curry grinned back, “Good to be back!”
“Wanna go celebrate?”
The two men walked to a saloon. As they walked in, they saw the Devil’s Hole boys drinking and laughing with some of the girls. As they noticed Heyes, they quietened, until Wheat turned round and saw him.
“You’re back. Me and the boys bin talkin’. Figure mebbe we need a leader who knows what he’s doing…”
Curry’s eyes narrowed and turned cold. He stepped forward, his voice like ice, he said “I figure that you’ve got ‘bout the best leader you could have. You wanna argue that?”
Wheat looked at him. “What’s it to do with you? This is none of your business.”
Kyle was looking at Curry, “Huh Wheat,” he said, tugging at Wheat’s sleeve, “Wheat….”
Wheat brushed him away, “Not now, Kyle.”
“Yeah, but Wheat…”
Wheat ignored him and spoke again to Curry, “Well?”
“I’m making it my business.”
The two men stared at each other.
“You gonna back that up?” Wheat asked the Kid.
Kid Curry folded his arms across his chest, “Any time,” he said.
For a moment, the two men stood facing each other, then, in a heartbeat, a gun appeared in the Kid’s hand, as Wheat reached down toward his holster. Wheat froze. Kid didn’t shoot, he simply twirled his gun, replaced it in his holster and then drew again, so fast that to the men it appeared to just jump into his hand on command. Holding it casually, Kid looked at Wheat, “So, do I get a say over who’s leader?”
Wheat nodded, wordlessly.
Kid twirled the gun again and replaced it.
Kyle stepped forward. “I tried to tell ya, Wheat. This ‘ere’s Kid Curry. And he’s fast.”
There was a small ripple around the men, most had heard of the Kid.
Kyle walked up and extended a hand, “Welcome Kid.”
“Thanks, Kyle wasn’t it?”
Kyle nodded and introduced the others to him. That done, Kid ordered drinks all round.
Wheat came up, “Er, no offence Kid, Heyes.”
Kid stared hard at him, until Wheat wanted to turn and run, but he finally said, “None taken Wheat. Just remember, me and Heyes are partners.” He raised his voice, “Heyes’ll fill you all in when he’s good and ready, till then I figure you should leave him alone. You got any problem, see me. That goes for all of you,” he added, his hand resting on his gun butt. There was a chorus of agreement and nods. Satisfied, he turned back to the bar and took a drink. Next to him, Heyes was trying not to smile. In the bar mirror, Curry caught Heyes’ eye and raised his glass in a toast and winked! Heyes did smile then and raised his own. Yep, it was good to have the Kid back!