Okay first post here. Usually write about the boys lives post amnesty but this story came to suddenly so thought it might be a good one to start. Promise of a follow up as well. Hope you like it.
Easiest $500 Job
“Colonel Parker was right. We can’t ride across here,” the Kid said, as he and Heyes picked their slow and painful way across a wide shale drift on foot.
“No it would cut the horses’ hooves right up,” Heyes agreed.
“Which is what it’s doing to my feet!” the Kid protested.
“Awh! Quit complaining. We’re nearly there.”
The Kid stopped. He looked ahead and then back. It was marginal whether they were half way across or not. “Yeah, right!”
He plodded after his partner, slipping and sliding as he went.
“You do realise we have to come back across here loaded with full packs,” the Kid said, after a little while.
“Yep. An’ it’ll be worth it, Kid. We get ourselves $500. Easiest $500 we are ever gonna make,” Heyes said, looking back. He grinned broadly, one eye shut against the sun.
The Kid glared at him, slipping again. “Your definition of easy needs looking at,” he grumbled.
It took them another half an hour before they had reached the other side of the drift. Heyes sighed, in contentment at now being on flat, unmoving ground again. He stood hands on hips.
The Kid plonked himself down on a large boulder. He proceeded to take off first one boot and then the other. Rubbing his feet, he looked over at Heyes, who was stretching his back.
“How much further we got to go? It’ll be dark soon and I don’t fancy crossing that again in the dark.”
Heyes picked a folded paper from the top pocket of his shirt and unfolded it. He studied the map and then orientated it in the direction they should be going.
“Oh ‘bout half a mile. In that direction.” He indicated.
The Kid glared. “Great! Up! Wanna go on your own? I’ll wait here?”
“Now Kid. This is a two-man job. You’re the second man.” Heyes grinned at his partner. “They really hurt huh?”
“Yes! They really hurt.” The Kid was irritable. He put one boot back on. “Don’t your feet hurt?”
“Dunno,” Heyes sniffed, started off. “Can’t feel ‘em!”
The Kid stomped his other boot on. “What!”
He growled and followed Heyes.
Twenty minutes later, they had reached their destination. An isolated cabin in a large clearing of trees. They had seriously underestimated how long this jaunt would take them or how difficult it would be. It was almost dark now.
They were both out of breath and hot from the steep climb. They collapsed onto the porch.
“That’s a hard climb! Who would choose to live all the way up here?” the Kid panted.
“Scientist researching a book. Colonel Parker said it was a palaeontologist.”
“What’s one of them?”
“Somebody who studies long dead animals and stuff.”
“Like one of them archie-ol-ogists you had to guide into Devil’s Hole that time?”
“I hope not,” Heyes said, sharply. “They get ‘selves killed ‘afore they can pay ya!”
The Kid grinned and slapped Heyes on the shoulder. “Come on Heyes, let’s get what we came for and get going.”
Heyes shook his head. “Naw Kid you’re right. It’s too dangerous to get back over that drift in the dark. We’d break our legs an’ I don’t fancy carrying you! Best we leave it ‘till morning.”
“Stay the night?” The Kid looked doubtfully at the cabin behind them. “I dunno …”
“We’ve got food and water. Horses’ll be alright where we left ‘em.” He looked at the cabin as well. “Bet its real homely inside. Come on let’s get in and settled afore it gets too dark.”
Heyes got up and pulled the Kid to his feet. Heyes tried the door.
“Locked?” the Kid said, stating the obvious.
Heyes glared at him and struck a match. “Yes. Now let me see now.” He peered at the lock. “Ah ha! Ah ha! Yep.”
He straightened up. Reaching into his jacket, he brought out his lock picking kit.
“Hold that.” He passed the lit match to the Kid but it had burnt down.
The Kid shook his fingers and glared at Heyes.
Heyes took a deep breath of irritation through his teeth. He struck another match.
“Here! Don’t drop it this time. I need to see what I’m doing.”
The Kid frowned and held the match as Heyes wiggled the pick in the lock. They both heard the tell-tale click. Heyes’ wide grin confirmed it. He was about to go in when the Kid stopped him.
“Heyes, why would anybody look a cabin door way up here? Ain’t as if there’s a lot of passers-by,” the Kid whispered.
“Burglars!” Heyes whispered back.
“Up here?” the Kid was incredulous.
“Yeah! These scientist types get twitchy about their research. There’s a lot of koo-dos about being first wiv summit. They don’t want anybody stealing it.” He frowned. “Why are we whispering?”
The Kid glared and motioned for Heyes to open the door.
The door opened with an eerie creak. Heyes struck another match and stepped inside. On a shelf by the door was an oil lamp. He shook it. It still had oil in so he set the match to the wick.
Soon he was able to hold the lamp up so they could look round the cabin. To one side was a workbench. It was littered with slabs of rock of varying size. Books also lay open on it. Underneath were two stools and two wicker baskets. Straight ahead was a fireplace, a supply of wood neatly stacked at the side. On the floor in front was a thick rug and two easy chairs stared invitingly back at them. To the left was a small table and two chairs. Behind were two bunks, already made up with pillows and blankets.
Heyes grinned over his shoulder at the Kid. “There you are. Told you it would be homely inside.”
The Kid grunted. Heyes was lucky.
Heyes set the lamp on the table and looked around some more in pleasure.
“We’ll be real cosy here tonight, Kid. There’s plenty of wood. We’ll get a fire going. Make some coffee. You can go shoot us a couple o’ rabbits. We’ll have a good meal. Nice comfy beds. There’s even something to read!”
“There’s just one thing wrong with your plan, Heyes.” The Kid pursed his lips as he slowly pulled on his gloves.
“What’s that?” Heyes spun round. He had his hands on his hips, marvelling at the prospect of pleasant night ahead.
“I ain’t got the rifle.”
Heyes’ face fell. “Oh. Well … you’ll just have to improvise. Shoot ‘em with your Colt.” He smiled pleasantly.
“You wanna do the hunting? If it’s that easy?”
“I’ll make a start on the fire,” Heyes said, hurrying over. He crouched down and started to arrange the wood in the grate. “Get some coffee going,” he mumbled. He heard the Kid’s sharp intake of breath as he stomped away. Only then did Heyes look up with a grin.
Heyes soon had the fire going and set the coffee on to brew. Then he turned to look at what was on the workbench. Many slabs had things embedded in them, skeletons of small mammals, birds, insects and plants. He climbed onto one of the stools and inspected them with interest. Frowning he picked up one of the open books. Right in front of him was a drawing that looked like something he had seen earlier.
He grinned. Now he knew what these were. Fossils! One of the wicker baskets underneath the bench contained rocks with fossils in. This was what they were here to collect. The other contained split open slabs that revealed nothing.
He set about comparing the pictures in the books to what he could see. He identified several but couldn’t begin to pronounce the names. Big long names ending in –ians or –teris. He spent several more minutes making up names for the fossils he could see.
“Smaller insecteris!” he chuckled. “Oh! Clawus Terrifienus!, Rodenti Exterminatians!”
He chuckled gently, amused at his little game.
Then he yawned. He was tired. What was taking the Kid so long? Perhaps he would sit by the fire for a while. Taking one of the books to read he moved to sit in the easy chair by the fire.
Whether it was the warmth from the fire. Whether he was tired. Whether it was the book, he started to read. In a few minutes, his hat had fallen from his tilted back head and he was asleep, head on his hand, mouth open.
He didn’t wake when rain started to pound on the roof. Nor did he wake when thunder rumbled overhead. Or when lightning lit up the cabin. Heyes slumbered on. However, he did wake when the door crashed back on its hinges. The book fell from his knee as he started. The Kid stood in the doorway.
“Well that’s just great Heyes! I’m out there huntin’ and getting rained on! And you’re sitting here all nice and cosy, asleep!” the Kid grumbled, as he stomped in and closed the door.
He threw two rabbits onto the floor in front of Heyes.
“Skin those and get cooking. I’m hungry”
Heyes picked up the rabbits and looked at them in disgust. “This all you can get? Look a bit mangy to me.”
“Heyes d’you know what rabbits do when it rains? They go home. To their nice warm, cosy burrows.”
In devilment, he shook water from his hat close to Heyes.
The Kid’s bad mood didn’t last long. Once he had got rid of his wet clothes and was warm again, his mood lightened considerably. For once, he drank Heyes’ coffee without complaining. Nor could he find fault with the way the rabbit was cooked. It was stringy but he generously conceded that wasn’t Heyes’ fault.
“What are all these? The Kid asked, later, frowning at one of slabs. “Some of these have little pictures in ‘em.”
“They’re not pictures, Kid. They’re fossils.”
The Kid turned to look at Heyes wanting more information. Heyes came over.
“I was reading all about ‘em earlier.” He gave the Kid a look and cleared his throat.
“Before you fell asleep?” the Kid queried.
Heyes nodded reluctantly and opened one of the books. “See look at this. It’s called Helio-bat-is Rad-ians. It’s a fish from way back and looky here it’s right here in this slab of rock!”
The Kid took the slab and peered at it.
“What’s it doing in the rock? And how did it get there?”
“Ah! There used to be a big lake all round here and Heeli swam in it. ‘Till he died and then his body sank to the lakebed and got stuck in the mud. Over time, a lot of time, more and more stuff got piled up on top of Heeli, pressing down on him real hard. ‘Course his bones decayed but before they went, they left this here impression in the rock. That’s what this is.” Heyes took the slab of rock and smiled at it. “Poor little Heeli.”
The Kid glared at him. He looked at the other slabs on the bench. “There’s all sorts of things. That’s a plant. This looks like a bird. Another sorta fish.”
Heyes nodded and stood hands on hips. “All sorts of things.”
“And folks study these?” The Kid looked incredulous, waving a slab.
Heyes nodded again. “Yep.”
“To learn about what lived here a long time ago. It ain’t the same things as now. Some critters have died out; others have evolved. It’s fascinating!”
“So fascinating you fell asleep?”
Heyes glared. “I was … resting my eyes!” he said, defensively. “The prints small!” He frowned. Had he got away with that one?
“So why are we taking these back?”
“’Cos the scientist broke his leg and is laid up. I told you he’s researching a book and there’s a time limit to get it written by. He can still do that with a broken leg but he needed his research. Colonel Parker suggested us to come get it.” Heyes nodded and turned away. “That’s why we’re here, earning $500 dollars. For a bit of a walk and a night in a comfy bed!”
“How do we know what to bring back?”
“Colonel Parker said the wicker basket underneath the bench and whatever we can find on the bench.”
“Both these baskets?” The Kid looked underneath with a grimace.
“No just this one.” Heyes touched the nearest one. The one with the most in it. The Kid looked at Heyes, who smiled pleasantly.
“Rocks are heavy Heyes.”
“That’s why we bought us a mule.”
“Doris is three miles away! Across that slidey stuff that hurt my feet!”
“Doris? You named our mule, Doris!” Heyes widened his eyes.
“Yeah! I always name my horses!”
Heyes rolled his eyes and taking a deep breath walked away. “I thought she was more a Gladys myself!” he sniffed, taking a seat in the chair by the fire and picking up the book from earlier.
The Kid joined him frowning. “We won’t be able to take ‘em all Heyes.”
“I know that. We’ll just have to do what we can,” he nodded. “Figger it out in the morning, huh? I wanna read some more about our cargo!”
The next morning, after breakfast and not before, they sorted out what they could manage. Heyes decided they should empty all the discarded rocks out of that wicker basket. Then they divided the fossils over the two baskets. Managing one basket each, they could then bring all the good stuff back. Heyes collected up a couple of the books as well.
Getting the baskets over the shale drift meant two trips, carrying one basket between them.
Finally, they were back at the horses. Heyes stood hands on hips looking at the baskets and then at Doris. The Kid was stroking Doris’ nose. He had decided she had looked pleased to see him.
“How are we gonna do this Heyes?”
“Well I reckon if we stuff our saddlebags, that’ll lighten the load. Then Doris …” He rolled his eyes, skyward. “… can carry the baskets one each side. Get a rope and let’s try.”
They lightened the baskets until Doris looked happy, and then stuffed their saddlebags with the rest. As the Kid picked up his to threw it over his horse’s back, a rock tumbled out. He picked it up. Putting it in the pocket of his jacket, he continued to fasten the saddlebag.
Much later that evening Heyes and the Kid were in the nearest saloon to where Colonel Parker lived. They were celebrating a successful job and the easiest $500 job ever. Heyes excused himself for a moment and the Kid was left sitting on his own. He absently dug into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the rock. He had forgotten all about it. Ah well too late now.
He was still looking at it when Heyes came back.
“What you got there?” Heyes asked, craning his neck to see.
“Oh one of them fossils. It fell out as we was packing up. I must of jus’ put it in my pocket,” the Kid mused. “Think its a little fish. Gonna call it Percy. Might bring us some good luck.” He stuffed it back in his pocket.
Heyes grunted and took a sip of beer.
“It’ll be a souvenir,” the Kid grinned. “Of the easiest $500 job ever!” He picked up his beer and saluted Heyes with it.
“I’ll drink to that,” Heyes agreed, saluting back.
“Something wrong, Walter?” Colonel Parker, seeing Walter Stringer, looking at each fossil in turn.
Walter growled. “I’m not sure.” He sat back in the wheelchair, one leg outstretched in front of him. “Those two men you hired to go get all this stuff. What do you know about them?”
“Smith and Jones? They’ve done a few jobs for me in the past. I’ve always found them resourceful and reliable men. Why?”
Walter growled again. “Do they know the value of things?”
“What are you getting at?”
“All these samples are destined for a museum when I’ve finished with them. However, there are private collectors who will pay a pretty penny for some of the rarer examples. Take this one for example; it’s Heliobatis Radians, an extinct freshwater stingray. It’s quite rare. And this is a juvenile example, even rarer. I guess on the open market this would be worth oh seven or eight hundred dollars.”
Colonel Parker whistled.
“Some are even rarer and we’re talking thousands!” Walter looked at the Colonel. “I had something rarer and it don’t look as though it’s here. It was on the bench. I had just identified it. Went outside to tell Miles and this happened.” He pointed to his leg. “Fell off the porch,” he added, rolling his eyes.
“Well maybe they just didn’t have room for it,” the Colonel shrugged.
“Are they still around?”
The Colonel shook his head. “Naw, lit out a couple of days ago. They’re a couple of drifters. They drift. Get back in touch with me every once in a while. See if I’ve got a job for them.” He looked at Walter. “What’s this thing look like?”
“It’s a small fish about this big.” Walter indicated about four inches. “It’s called Amphiplaga Brachyptera.” He paused. “Probably worth about two, three thousand dollars.”
The Colonel pursed his lips and shook his head. “They ain’t the sort of fellas who would know that Walter. Smith likes to read a bit but all they would see is a pile of rocks with things in them. No, I expect it’s still on the bench. It’ll be there when you’re healed up and get back up there.”