This was written for Virtual Season last year.
The sun was high overhead as Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode past a sign swinging in the wind announcing they were entering the town of Westmount. Most of the people were out decorating. Men were hanging a banner across the street, women were setting up tables and hanging balloons, and children happily played nearby.
"What's all this about?" Curry asked.
"Don't rightly know. Maybe we can find out." Heyes looked around and saw a man in front of them that had just finished hanging his share of the balloons. "Hey mister. Maybe you can enlighten us. What's all the fanfare about?"
"Why, the big horse race of course!" the man answered. "Going on this weekend. Folks from all over come and compete for the grand prize."
"And what would that be?" Heyes asked intrigued.
"Five thousand dollars."
"Well, isn't that interesting," Heyes said. A glance was exchanged with Curry.
"It's an endurance race," the man continued. "Starts Friday afternoon and ends Sunday. Got a bunch of people signed up. You interested?"
Heyes smiled at the Kid. "Maybe. What would I need to do?"
"Just head over to the courthouse and talk to the clerk. He'll get ya fixed up to go."
"Courthouse huh?" A pause. "Thanks mister." Heyes turned his horse to continue down the street. Kid clicked to his gelding to catch up.
"Are you thinking of entering that race?" Curry asked.
"It crossed my mind. Five thousand dollars would set us up for quite a while."
"Yeah, it would. But do you really think you'd have a chance of winnin'? There could be a lot of people to compete with and I'd say some of them have raced more than once.
"I know. But just think about it. Who better to win a horse race than someone who spends a good amount of his time outrunning posses? I think ol' Whiskey here has proved he's one of the fastest horses around." Heyes patted the neck of his chestnut gelding.
Curry shook his head. "Whiskey? When did you name your horse Whiskey? I thought you'd settled on Clay?"
"Well, I had...until we stopped over in Piney Flatts. Remember that small celebration I had after winning that all day high stakes poker game?"
"How could I forget? I had to literally pull you out of the saloon before you started shoutin' my name to everybody within earshot. I told you before I went upstairs with Rosie not to drink so much on an empty stomach."
Heyes waved his hand in dismissal. "Anyway, the next morning when we went to saddle up to leave, I couldn't think of the name Clay to save my life. All I could think of was how much whiskey I had drunk that night. So I just decided to call him that. But, back to the race, we need to check out the local law first."
They rode nonchalantly past the sheriff's office. "Sheriff Joe Hatcher. Ring any bells for you Kid?"
"Nope. Sure don't."
Heyes smiled. "Let's go check into the hotel."
After checking in and cleaning off the trail dust, they casually asked the hotel clerk to find out who they might run into at the courthouse. They grinned when it was no one they'd ever heard of before. They left and walked over to the courthouse. Attached to a board outside the clerk's office was a list of the race participants. They looked it over to see if they recognized anybody.
"Howdy," Heyes said opening the door to the clerk's office.
A small round man looked up from his paperwork at his visitors over round glasses. "What can I do for you gentlemen?"
"We came to find out some details on the race this weekend." Heyes made himself comfortable in one of the chairs in front of the clerk's desk. Curry continued standing behind him.
"Well, I was getting ready to close the office for the day, but I guess it can wait a few more minutes. It's a one hundred mile race ending in the town of Blue Hole. Blue Hole is just twenty five miles away by the main road, but the race course takes another route over varying terrain. You'll get a map of the course on the day of the race one hour before the start."
"How will you be able to tell that somebody didn't cheat and just ride the main road?" Curry asked.
"The race officials have ridden the race course in preparation and left different colored markers with numbers on them that the racers will have to pick up to prove they rode the course. Nobody but the official will know where the markers are. They're located in a big marked box in five different locations along the way. If you cross the finish line without all the proper markers, you're disqualified. So even though there are shortcuts to different parts of the course, no one will be able to use them and collect all five markers."
Heyes glanced at the Kid who had come to sit beside him and he made his decision. "Well Thaddeus?" Curry gave a small nod of his head. "What do I need to do to sign up?"
"Due to a stroke of luck, in your case that is, there is one spot left open. It had been filled up until yesterday when one of the riders had to bow out due to a sickness." Heyes looked slightly confused and opened his mouth to ask a question, but before he could, the clerk continued. "Only twenty-five are allowed to participate." He retrieved some papers from his desk drawer and pushed them over to the ex-outlaw along with something to write with. "Just fill this out here."
Heyes started filling in information as the Kid looked over his shoulder patiently. When he finished, he handed it back to the clerk who looked them over. "Very good Mister Smith. Here is your number to attach to your saddle bags." He handed over two pieces of cloth with the number '25' printed on them. "You are allowed to carry two canteens of water and jerky for the duration of the race which you will receive from the race officials before the start. There will be watering troughs for your horse at each marker location. A sidearm will be allowed with one round of ammunition to be used only in emergencies, but no rifles. When you reach the halfway point sometime Saturday morning, you will be allowed to rest for no more than six hours. There will be some race officials there to mark you down arriving and departing. First one over the finish line in Blue Hole on Sunday wins. Be at the start line on Main Street at one o'clock tomorrow to get your supplies and map of the course. Good luck."
"Thanks." Heyes looked excited.
The two partners left the courthouse and started making their way to the cafe.
Across the street, a man walked out of the saloon and stopped to light up a cigar. The pair walking down the boardwalk caught his attention. "Was that...?" he murmured to himself. "It has to be. There's no mistaking that hat." A smile creased his face as he extinguished a match. The small round man with round glasses emerged from the courthouse and crossed the street to stand beside him. "Henry," the first man said, "there's been a little change of plan..."
"Are you sure, Chuck?" Henry glanced once more across the restaurant at the subject of the conversation.
"Shh, not so loud," Chuck said as he sipped some coffee. "Of course I'm sure. Hard to forget somebody you watched rob a bank."
"He don't look like a notorious outlaw."
"It don't matter. I know for a fact that is Hannibal Heyes."
"But it's been years since you was in that bank the Plummer Gang robbed."
"He's older now but that's definitely him. I remember watching him open the bank's safe. I'd know that face and hat anywhere."
"Well, he just today registered for the race under the name of Joshua Smith. He called that guy with him Thaddeus."
"He's gonna be in the race?"
"Yeah. He was. But what are we waiting for? If that's really Heyes, let's go grab him and get that ten thousand on his head."
"Don't be in such a hurry Henry. If we grab him now, it'll cause such a ruckus, the race may be called off. You said he entered the race, right? Well, let him run it. And after you, Jeff, and Robby make sure I win, we'll get him as soon as he crosses the finish line and turn him in. Then, we'll have fifteen thousand to split."
Heyes sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Curry was seated at the room's table looking through the window at the town below. He noticed his partner stirring.
"'Bout time you got up. Don't want to be late for the race now do ya?"
Heyes yawned as he swung his legs over the bed. "I'm not going to be late. We got plenty of time to get down there." He got up, walked to the wash basin, and started to shave.
"Yeah, well I want breakfast first so get dressed." Curry saw Heyes roll his eyes in the mirror above the wash bowl.
"Quit rushing me. I like to eat too you know. We ain't going to miss breakfast." Heyes finished washing his face and inspected himself in the mirror.
"You're pretty, alright. Let's go." Curry stood up and threw his partner's pants at him.
"You act like you haven't eaten in a week. Calm down." Heyes took his time getting dressed.
Curry stood by the door with his arms crossed over his chest. "You're slower than a turtle stuck in molasses."
Heyes smiled at the Kid as he pulled his vest on, which caused a look to be thrown his way. "Be with you in a minute. Gotta take these bullets out of my gun belt, remember?"
"Welcome to the annual Westmount Endurance horse race!" a man announced from atop a podium. Cheers erupted from the crowd assembled near the starting line. "Now everyone should know the rules, but I'll go over them just in case we have some first timers here in the crowd."
The announcer continued his speech as Heyes readied his gelding for the race. He was having a little trouble attaching his number to his saddlebags.
Curry walked over to him holding some popcorn. "Havin' trouble?"
"No, I'm just playing around," Heyes snarked as he finally got the pin to go through the leather of his saddlebags. “I've got to make sure it's on good. This course goes through mountains and deserts. Don't want to lose it."
"You really think this is a good idea? I mean, aren't you the one always tellin' me we need to keep a low profile? What if you actually win? They're liable to want to take pictures and everything."
"This is different though. We're not getting noticed for your fast draw. And I'm not the only one people will be focused on. There's twenty-four other people in this race. As for winning, I don't plan on doing it. I saw in those papers I had to sign yesterday that second place gets $2500. So, I'll come in second and when the winner's getting all his accolades, I'll just go over and get the money from the race official, carefully avoiding any cameras that might be there, and be gone. That money'll set us up good for a long while. We can find us a place to lay low until the amnesty comes through."
"Your name, well Joshua Smith, will be in the newspaper as coming in second you
"I know. I'd thought of that. But it'll be for something harmless. Besides, the governor don't know our aliases."
"Lom'll bust a vein in his head if he sees your, that, name in the paper."
"Like I've always said, there's lots of Smiths in this world. One of them somewhere is probably named Joshua. Anyway, I already sent Lom a telegram this morning telling him what I was doing."
"And what was his reply?"
"I don't know. I didn't wait for one," Heyes smiled.
Curry rolled his eyes as the announcer raised his voice again. "Riders to the starting line!"
Heyes mounted up. "Well, see you in Blue Hole. Wish me luck!"
Curry snorted. "Good luck. And Joshua, be careful."
Heyes rode over and positioned his horse at the starting line. Race officials were in the process of checking saddlebags and handing out canteens of water and jerky. Heyes pulled out his map and looked it over once more.
Curry had relocated himself to stand at the edge of a building. He stood eating the last of his popcorn with a worried look on his face.
Heyes was the last one to get his saddlebags searched. Once the officials were through and had handed him his water and jerky, they nodded to the announcer.
"Alright, riders, get ready!" the announcer yelled. He lifted his arm in the air and fired a shot. "Go!"
The racers took off at a gallop. In no time, Heyes was taking the lead. His chestnut gelding was running for all he was worth. After a little bit, Heyes reined him back ever so much. "No use to go all out yet boy," he said. "We got a looong way to go."
Curry watched the horses run until he could no longer see his partner. He walked over to the cafe and sat down at a table beside a plant so he was partially hidden. A few customers were eating. The waitress walked over as soon as he sat down.
"What can I get you for lunch, handsome?" she smiled.
Curry returned the smile. "Well, what's your special today?"
"We got some good chicken pot pie just freshly made."
"That sounds good. I'll have that and some coffee."
The flirting waitress sashayed off to the kitchen. In no time, she was back with his lunch. "Here ya are, sweetie."
"Thanks." Curry couldn't help but wink at her. She blushed and walked away.
The cafe door opened and in walked three men. Curry gave them a passing glance then went back to eating.
The three didn't notice him when they sat down a couple of tables away. Henry ordered three coffees from the waitress. "Now, Jeff, you and Robby remember what to do, don't ya?" he asked when the waitress was gone.
"Of course we do," the burly one named Jeff said. "We make sure Chuck wins the race no matter what."
"Well, there's something extra now. That guy in the race with the number twenty-five is Hannibal Heyes."
"What?!" the other man, Robby, exclaimed.
Henry shushed him. "Shut up! We don't want everyone to know it."
But they had already gotten Curry's attention. He silently scooted his chair further behind the plant and leaned closer.
"If you and Chuck knew that, why didn't we just grab him and turn him in for the reward?" Jeff asked.
Henry waited for the coffee to be set down then continued. "Because Chuck was afraid that turning in such a famous outlaw could cause the race to be postponed and you know he has to get back to Colorado to get back to work in the mines. So, we grab Heyes during the race and just hold him until we make sure Chuck wins. Then we'll have fifteen thousand dollars to split."
Robby looked excited. "When do we get him?"
"Whenever we have a good chance to. I ain't worried about the first part of the race. It's the last part we have to take care of to make sure Chuck wins. So I figured we could just take the shortcuts and try to get Heyes alone any chance we get. Once we have him, I'll take him on to Blue Hole and hold him there until the race is over, then we'll turn him in."
"You're going to hold the leader of the Devil's Hole Gang by yourself? You'll need help. The law can't even keep hold of him long. And what if his gang's close by? You know Kid Curry rides with him," Jeff whispered.
"Well, come to think of it, he did have somebody he called Thaddeus with him yesterday when he signed up to race."
Curry quietly maneuvered his chair on around so his back was to the group. He kept his head down.
"That was probably Curry. Have you seen him today?" Robby asked.
Henry thought a moment. "No, I haven't seen him today. But I bet he'll be waiting for Heyes in Blue Hole. And if we've already got Heyes, Curry might come with us without much trouble. Ain't they supposed to always watch out for each other?"
"Yeah," Jeff said. "But still, shouldn't one of us help you with Heyes? You don't get to be the leader of a gang of outlaws by being nice."
"You remember the poster says 'dead or alive'," Henry smiled. "If he starts to give me any trouble, I'll just take care of it right quick with a bullet."
Jeff and Robby chuckled at that. "And we might just end up with twenty-five thousand to split!" They finished their coffee, then got up and left.
Curry's face had a look of intense anger on it. He dug in his pocket to leave some money on the table. Leaving the cafe, he looked left and right trying to locate the three that had been plotting against his partner. But they were nowhere to be seen.
Heyes had dropped to the middle of the pack. The riders were starting to get some space between them as a few ran their horses at top speed. Heyes looked ahead and saw a good-sized mountain looming. It just a few gallops, he started the ascent. Leaning forward in the saddle, Heyes let out the reins to help his gelding climb. The smooth trail had few rocks or crevices and Whiskey easily found his footing.
Another rider went by him a little too close, nudging him off the trail some. His horse stumbled slightly and Heyes pulled up to a stop. He dismounted and checked all the gelding's legs. With a look of satisfaction, he climbed back in the saddle and clicked Whiskey into a walk at first. Whiskey walked just fine so Heyes pushed him back into a canter. The further up the mountain he got, he started to pass some riders.
Curry was searching all over the town for the three he'd overheard in the cafe. He stopped to ask someone, "Have you seen the court clerk, I think his name was Henry, and a couple of men with him?"
"No sir, I haven't," said a bespectacled man.
He hurried over to one of the men helping to take down the podium. "You haven't seen Henry the court clerk have you?"
The man stopped working and thought a second. Then his brow went up. "Actually, I have. Seen him come out of the cafe with a couple of men and take off on their horses. Took off fast too. Must've been in some hurry to get somewhere."
"Did you see which way they went?"
"No. Just seen them take off like the devil himself was after them."
"Look, I need to know the shortcuts to the race route."
"Now, I can't tell you that. Can't have someone helping their buddy win the race."
Curry ran an aggravated hand over his face. "I don't want to help someone win. I think one the racers may be in trouble and I need to get to him."
"What kind of trouble?" The man looked skeptical.
"I don't have time to explain it. Just tell me where the shortcuts are." Curry started to look threatening, clenching his jaw. His icy stare made the man look over his shoulder and began to stammer as he rethought his previous decision.
"No, no need to get riled now. I'll tell ya, s'long as you ain't planning on helping anyone to win. There's four of them between here and Blue Hole. The first one goes..."
Heyes reached the summit of the mountain and found a crate sitting beside the trail along with a race official. He came to a stop, dismounted, and led his horse to the makeshift water trough. "Howdy. I take it I'm supposed to take something in that box there with me."
"Sure are," the official said getting up and rummaging through the crate. "Ah, here we are." He pulled out a small round rock with 25-1 painted on it. He handed it up to Heyes who put it in his saddlebags. "You're the eighth one through here. Good luck."
"Thank you sir," Heyes said as he mounted up and returned to the race. He continued riding but saw few other racers on this part of the course. Every so often, he'd pass another participant.
Henry turned to talk to his other two companions. "Alright, this shortcut takes us up to just past the second checkpoint. I doubt those guys racing will still be riding close together by then. We'll find a good place for an ambush and grab Heyes as he comes by. Then you two can go on closer to the end and make sure Chuck wins."
"We got it, we got it," Jeff said.
When they reached the race course, they immediately started looking for a good place to ambush their intended victim. Henry directed Jeff's attention to some large rocks on one side of the trail. "That'll be a perfect spot to get the drop on Heyes."
Robby pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. "Hey, we better hurry up before any of those riders come by. Probably won't be long now."
"Up here," Henry said pointing the way. "Here's a good place. Right beside the road."
The three rode up to the boulders and dismounted. They led their horses around the rocks out of sight. Then they lay down on top of the largest rock, watching the road, and waited.
Kid Curry rode out of town. “Alright, the shortcut I need is marked by a grove of trees," he mumbled to himself. He was riding at a gallop uphill on his mission to get to Heyes to warn him of the impending danger.
Heyes had settled into an easy gallop after he had left the first checkpoint. He was looking around, watching for other riders, but saw none. He pulled out his pocket watch and looked at it. "Be dark in about an hour boy," he said talking to his horse. "We'll have to slow down. Wonder how close we are to the second checkpoint?" As soon as he had asked that, he looked up ahead and saw a crate and trough just like the one at the first checkpoint. He slowed to a stop. "Howdy," he said to the man sitting nearby as he let his gelding drink.
"Hello there," the official said. He got up and dug in the crate. A different colored rock with 25-2 painted on it was produced.
Heyes took it and put it in his saddlebags next to the first one. "Thanks." His horse was still drinking. "So, how many ahead of me?"
"Just a couple. Guess the last one came through about ten minutes ago."
Whiskey raised his head from the trough and Heyes tipped his hat to the official as he left the second checkpoint.
Three men lay on top of a boulder. One of them had binoculars trained on the course in front of them. "Hey, somebody's coming," Jeff said.
"Let me see," Henry replied grabbing the binoculars out of Jeff's hand.
"Is it him?" Robby asked.
"I don't know yet. He'll have to get closer before I can be sure. But get ready in case it is."
Jeff and Robby checked to make sure their guns were fully loaded and mounted their horses. Henry kept looking down the road. After a couple of minutes, he smiled. "Well boys, here we go. We're about to catch us ten thousand dollars!" Henry climbed down off the boulder and climbed aboard his horse. "You all remember what to do?" Heads nodded. "And don't listen to a word he says. He ain't gonna just admit he's Hannibal Heyes."
"Don't worry Henry," Jeff said with a scowl.
Heyes was coming at a gallop. He looked up ahead and saw someone beside the road. "Now what's going on up there?" He slowed his horse down to a walk and stopped beside the man. A look of confusion quickly showed on his face. "Howdy. Surely, this isn't the third checkpoint already?"
"Oh, it's a checkpoint alright. The last one for you," Henry sneered.
Heyes put on his most disarming smile. "I don't understand."
He turned as he heard pistols being cocked and saw Jeff and Robby ride out from behind the rocks.
"Well, Mister Heyes, this is where you exit the race," Henry explained.
"Heyes? My name's not Heyes. It's Smith. You should know that. You're the guy at the courthouse that signed me up for this race."
"Shut up Heyes. I didn't know then that it was you. But a friend of mine identified you, and after he wins the race, we're gonna collect that reward on your head. And don't worry about your partner Curry coming to save you. We're gonna take care of him too in Blue Hole. I know he'll be there waiting for you to finish. Now, get off the horse."
Heyes stared at Henry and didn't move.
"Boys, why don't you help him down," Henry said. Jeff and Robby dismounted, all the time holding their guns on the ex-outlaw. Robby walked over and grabbed Heyes' revolver out of his holster while Jeff pulled him off to the ground. "Now don't move, unless you want a hole in your head," Henry continued. Jeff none too gently pulled Heyes' hands behind his back and tied them tightly.
"I'm telling you, you're making a big mistake. I get mistaken for that outlaw all the time. Why just last week,..."
"Shut him up," Henry ordered. Jeff took Heyes' own bandana off his neck and gagged him with it. "Now, get him back on his horse and tie him on." Jeff and Robby did as ordered.
"Now you two, get to the other location and make sure Chuck wins. I'm gonna take Heyes to that cave just outside of Blue Hole so when Chuck finishes, come get me. We'll turn Heyes in and go after Curry." Jeff and Robby nodded, then got on their horses and left. "Now you Heyes. I don't want no trouble out of you. You try anything and I'll put a bullet in you. Remember, the poster says 'dead or alive'."
As Curry neared the top of a mountain, he saw a small plateau. Sitting in the middle was a make-shift cabin, water troughs and a couple of race officials playing blackjack to pass the time. He pulled his black horse to a quick stop. The officials looked up, startled.
"Mister, you came from the wrong direction."
Curry shook his head. "I ain't in the race. I'm tryin' to catch up to my partner who is though. I think he may be in trouble. Anybody been through here yet?"
"No, nobody been by here yet, except you. What kind of trouble are you talking about? This is supposed to be a clean race. We won't tolerate no cheating."
"Well, I overheard that court clerk and a couple of his buddies sayin' they were gonna help their friend win. So I've got to get to my partner to warn him. Where does the race course go from here?"
"How do we know you're not the one trying to help his friend win?"
Curry's face turned angry. "Would I have come up here and told you somethin' like that and asked YOU where the course is if I was the one doin' the cheatin'? Don't make much sense now does it?"
The officials looked at each other and then to the angry young man. "Well, no, don't guess it does."
"Now, where's the course go from here?"
One of the officials dug in a bag beside him and handed Curry a piece of paper. "There's a map of the course. If you can do anything to help us keep this race clean, well then, I guess it might be worth a small reward."
Curry looked the map over. "I ain't worried about the race. I'm worried about my partner." He slapped the reins and galloped off down the course.
One official turned to the other. "You better ride on to Blue Hole and get a couple of men to try to find these 'friends' of that court clerk Henry who's gonna help somebody win. And I bet that somebody they want to win is Chuck Wilder. Every year at this time he's up here starting trouble. Looks like they'd just ban him from the race."
Henry was hurriedly leading Heyes' horse down off the mountain along a small trail. Heyes was struggling to get his hands untied. So far, Heyes had been unable to loosen the knots. He looked at Henry and then at Henry's gun belt. He worked hurriedly to get out of the ropes holding him.
Curry was racing down the course. He saw another rider coming towards him. He slowed a little, as did the man approaching him. When Curry saw it wasn't Heyes, he kicked his horse back into a gallop..
"Hey," the rider yelled as he passed Curry. '"You're going the wrong way!"
Curry ignored him. His eyes showed he was intent on one thing and one thing only.
He rode through a mountain pass and up another small hill. He passed a big boulder beside the road. He kept on going until he saw one of the checkpoints. He pulled his black gelding to a stop right at the official sitting on a rock.
"Can I help you with something?" the startled official asked.
"Yeah. One of the officials from the race asked me to come find #25, Joshua Smith. They think he may be in trouble. Has he been through here?"
"What kind of trouble?"
"Look, I ain't got time to explain. Just answer me." Curry's expression said not to ask any more questions.
The official looked shaken. His eyes wondered away from Curry's as he scratched his head. "Uh, yeah. He came through here already a while ago. He seemed fine then."
"I must've missed somethin'." Curry muttered. He nodded and touched his hat and took off back the way he had come.
Heyes was still working at the ropes wrapped around his now red wrists. Henry was looking straight ahead. They had just reached the bottom of the mountain when Heyes finally got his hands loose. But his legs were still tied together under his horse. He kept his hands behind his back while he rubbed the feeling back into them. Carefully watching Henry, he reached up and pulled his bandana out of his mouth and back down around his neck.
Heyes furrowed his brow and then, slowly reached forward, grabbed the rein Henry was leading him by, and quickly jerked it out of his hand. Heyes slapped the loose rein on his gelding's flank, turned his horse around, and took off back the way they had come.
Henry was stunned at first at the speed of what had just happened. "What the..." Then he came to his senses and pulled his revolver. He turned and shot at Heyes as he galloped away. His bullets flew past the fleeing ex-outlaw without hitting him.
"Dang it!" Henry yelled as he turned and kicked his horse into pursuit.
Kid Curry was busy carefully retracing his tracks. "Heyes had to have disappeared nearby." He was watching the road closely. He passed by the boulder again. Curry stopped and dismounted. He put one knee on the ground and searched. "Doesn't take the champeen tracker of southern Utah to see somebody's been on the ground here." There were also footprints there. "Looks like about four horses were here. Two left riding side by side. The other two left one in front of the other. And I bet I know why." Curry jumped back on his horse's back and galloped down the trail. "That has to be where Heyes is," he muttered to himself.
Henry was trying to reload his pistol while chasing his bounty, but the bullets fell to the ground instead of going in the gun's chamber. He gave up and put his gun back in his holster. "I'll just have to run him down." But Heyes was gaining ground on him. Henry beat his hat on his horse's flank, urging it to go faster. Heyes started the ascent on the mountain and had to slow just a little. Henry smiled as he gained a little ground.
Heyes looked behind him. "Dang it."
Henry reached down to get his rifle and almost lost his balance, but remained in his saddle. He tried to get a bead on his target. "Dang it," he yelled trying to keep his rifle from bouncing up and down.
Heyes looked back and saw the rifle pointed in his direction. "C'mon boy. Just a little faster. H'yah! C'mon!"
Henry almost lost hold of his reins, but finally got control of both his horse and his rifle. He held the weapon steady as his horse galloped over a smooth stretch of the trail and fired.
Curry was flying down the mountain when he heard a rifle shot. He yelled at his horse to go faster. Off in the distance, further down the trail, he saw a rider coming at him fast followed by another. He pulled his Colt out of his holster.
Heyes lay low on his horse's neck as the shot rang out. It whizzed by him. He looked up and saw someone riding toward him at a gallop. "Sure hope that's not one of Henry's men."
Henry almost lost the grip on his rifle when he shot. His face turned into a scowl as he saw that he had missed.
As Curry got closer, he could see it was Heyes being chased. He called out to him as loud as he could, "Joshua!"
Heyes heard him. He looked up and smiled.
Curry thundered past Heyes, gun drawn and pointed at Henry. "Put down that rifle," he yelled as he positioned his horse sideways in the middle of the trail.
Henry jerked his horse to a stop and had started to turn when Curry reached him. "Stop where you are and I might not put a bullet in you," the Kid commanded. Henry complied with obvious reluctance. "Now throw that rifle and revolver on the ground slowly, one at a time."
Henry frowned at the gunslinger, but did as he was told. "I take it your name is really Kid Curry."
"No, it's Thaddeus, but you don't need to worry about what my name is. You just worry about doin' what I tell you." Henry sighed heavily. "Now, get off your horse and lie on the ground."
Henry obeyed the order and Curry dismounted. "Joshua," the Kid said to his partner, who had ridden back and was now catching his breath while still seated on his horse, "would you do the honor of tying this varmint up."
Heyes smiled as he untied his legs and he too dismounted. He took some rawhide thongs out of Curry's saddlebag and tied Henry's hands behind his back, just as Henry had previously done to him. "Doesn't feel too comfortable does it?" Heyes asked sarcastically as he hauled Henry to his feet. "Now, what in the world gave you the idea that I was Hannibal Heyes?"
Henry looked disgustedly at him. "Chuck, a good friend of mine told me. Said he watched you rob a bank once with the Plummer Gang."
"Well, your friend is mistaken. My name is Joshua Smith, like I told you in the courthouse. If I was Hannibal Heyes, why on earth would I be entering a horse race? That would be too much exposure for a notorious outlaw, don't you think?"
Henry didn't reply, his eyes wandering as he pondered the question. He looked at Heyes with a hint of doubt in his eyes.
"Now, we're gonna take you back to the race officials at the halfway point and tell them about you and your buddies' little plan. They can deal with you. You've probably already cost me the win." Heyes said as he roughly helped Henry back on his horse.
They reached the third and halfway checkpoint after nightfall and rode right up to the officials.
"What have we got here?" one of the officials asked.
Heyes got down and shook the official's hand. "Well sir, my name is Joshua Smith and what we got here is a cheater. This is Henry, the clerk at the courthouse back in Westmount."
"Yeah, I know Henry," the official said.
"Henry here and a couple of his buddies are trying to sabotage the race so their friend Chuck can win. He's already taken me out, but luckily, my partner overheard their plans and showed up in time to put a stop to it."
"I took him out because he's Hannibal Heyes ... I think," Henry said.
The official looked at Heyes. "Hannibal Heyes, huh? That right? You that outlaw?"
Heyes looked downright offended as he pointed his finger at his chest. "Do you realize how crazy that is? Of course I'm not that thieving outlaw. Would an outlaw chance being seen in a horse race?"
The official looked skeptical, then started to laugh. "No, I have to say I can't see a big time outlaw like Heyes entering a horse race." He motioned to the other official to join him. "Alright now, what do we do with you Henry?"
"If I may," Heyes interjected, "why don't you keep Henry here with you until the race is over. I'm sure with a little provoking, Henry will tell us where his friends are located. Then my partner here and your co-official can go take care of the other two cheaters out to wreck the race. What do you say Henry? I'm sure the law will go easier on you if you cooperate."
Curry eyed Henry until the man looked down at the ground. He nudged some dirt with the toe of his boot. "Alright. I'll tell you."
"Good," the first official said. "And we can stop Chuck and take him out of the race right now. He's here somewhere, taking a nap before going on."
Curry nodded to Heyes. "If you'll excuse us gentlemen, I'd like to talk to my partner here in private while you get the information you need." The officials nodded their agreement and Curry led Heyes over to a vacated spot. "Heyes, are you gonna stay in this race?"
"Of course I am. Even third place pays $500."
"But what if somebody starts to believe Henry? They'd be waitin' for you at the finish line."
"Kid, you saw how that official responded. Nobody in their right mind is gonna believe Hannibal Heyes would chance being seen in a horse race. And besides, we need the money."
"I know we need the money. It just seems too risky to me, that's all."
"It'll be okay. The guys that know who I am are in trouble for cheating. I'll be fine. I'll go finish at least third, hopefully, and we'll be set for a while. Quit worrying."
"Alright, Heyes. I hope you know what you're doin'." The two walked back over to the officials.
"Gentlemen, Henry's told us exactly where his friends should be at," the first official said. "And we've decided that a couple of our volunteers who were helping with the lunches here can take Henry and Chuck back to Westmount to jail. Cheating in this race is taken seriously and will not be tolerated. And if you don't mind Mister...?"
"Mister Jones. If you don't mind helping my partner Bill here find those other two cheating scoundrels, it would be a big help."
"Don't mind at all."
"Good. You two can get started immediately. Henry said their names were Jeff and Robby. And if they're the two I'm thinking of, they ain't worth much. Been in and out of jail I don't know how many times. Can't believe a thing they say. Mister Smith, the marker for this checkpoint is over there in the box. Yours will have 25-3 on it. Don't forget to get it before you take off again."
"Yes sir. Thanks. Thaddeus, be careful. I'm going to grab a bite to eat while Whiskey rests a little. I'll meet you in Blue Hole."
Heyes crossed through the desert part of the course. The sky was clear and the sun beat mercilessly down. He slowed Whiskey and wiped the sweat from his brow. He took a drink from the second of his canteens. He heard hoofbeats behind him. Looking around, he saw one of his competitors closing on him. He slapped the reins and resumed a gallop.
Kid Curry and the official named Bill were alertly looking around as they rode. "I think we're getting close to the first place Henry told us about," Curry said. They slowed their horses to a stop.
"See anything?" Bill asked.
"No, not yet," Curry answered, squinting in the sun. He scanned his surroundings, and his eyes wandered up to an outcropping of rocks and boulders. The sun glinted off something. "I think I've found what we're lookin' for."
"What is it?"
"Up there, in the rocks. Someone's up there with a gun." Curry jumped off his horse and twisted the reins around a nearby tree. "Better get down. Whoever's up there might start shootin' if he hears horses comin'."
Bill got down. They started the climb up to the rocks, staying close to the trees and bushes along the way.
Heyes was gaining ground on the rider behind him. He looked around to check on his competitor and saw the rider's horse stumble, then fall as a hoof caught a loose rock the wrong way.
"Ahhh, dang it," he said as he stopped his horse. Heyes looked forward but then looked behind him. He turned and galloped back to the fallen man to offer assistance. Heyes reached the man within a minute. "Howdy there. Saw your horse go down. You alright?"
The man was picking himself up off the ground. "Yeah, I'm fine," he answered as he dusted himself off. "Don't know about my horse though."
Heyes got down and helped the man check his horse over. The animal limped as it tried to walk away. Heyes grabbed the reins as the man examined the last leg. "Acts like he mighta sprained his ankle or something."
"Yeah," the man said standing back up. "Sure can't ride him limping like that." He wiped his brow with a dirty bandana.
"Well, I think we're close to the fourth checkpoint. Guess we could ride double and lead your horse there, try to get him some help."
The man shook his head. "I hate to burden you mister, but that does look to be the only thing to do, besides walk that is."
"C'mon then. We better be going." Heyes mounted his horse and the man climbed up behind him. He reached out and took his horse's reins and they took off at a slow pace "We'll take it easy since your horse is injured."
Curry and Bill had almost reached the top of the outcropping. Curry motioned for his companion to be quiet and to go in the opposite direction from him. Bill did so and Curry started his approach behind the gunman. He pulled his .45 from his holster as he got into position. "Don't move less'n you want a hole in you."
Robby turned around wide-eyed. "What are you doing mister? I ain't got nothing to steal."
"This ain't a hold-up. This is catchin' a man doin' some cheatin'. Now throw down that rifle."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Bill stepped out of his hiding spot. "Yeah you do Robby. Henry told us all about the plan you all cooked up."
Curry stepped over and unholstered Robby's pistol. He stuck it in the back of his pants then picked up the rifle. "Tie him up Bill."
"Why'd he go and do a thing like that? We was gonna get a lot of money." Robby sighed as he angrily furrowed his brow.
Bill finished tying Robby's hands. "Well, now you get nothing except a trip to jail."
Heyes and his passenger reached the fourth checkpoint. The man hopped down. "Much obliged Mister Smith." He led his limp horse over to the shade.
"No problem," Heyes said. He started walking around, looking for the crate with the markers. As he located it, an official came over. "Howdy," Heyes said. "This man's horse is limping. Can you help him?"
"Yeah," the official said. "After the last rider comes through, I'll help him to town through a shortcut." He dug around in the crate and pulled out another rock. This one had 25-4 on it. Here you go."
Heyes took the rock and placed it next to the others in his saddlebag. "How many ahead of me?"
"Thanks." Heyes slapped the reins and was off to the fifth and last checkpoint.
It didn't take long for Curry to find Henry's other partner in crime. Jeff was perched in a grove of trees right next to the road. But he had seen them coming and started to shoot. Curry returned fire as Bill led Robby around a rock so he'd be safe. Jeff ducked down on his branch and shot again. The Kid had flattened himself behind a rock and shot back, hitting the branch above Jeff's head. Curry called out, "You might as well give up. We ain't in the race. We're here to prevent you from ruinin' it."
"Who told you I was?" Jeff called.
"Your pal Henry told us all about it. Now throw down your gun and get out of that tree."
"Why don't you make me?" Jeff yelled as he shot yet again.
"Alright," Curry muttered. He took careful aim and grazed Jeff's arm just enough to make him lose his balance.
"Ow!" Jeff yelled as he hit the ground.
Curry ran up to him and took his weapons. "I told you to get down."
"Howdy. Welcome to the fifth and last checkpoint," the official said standing up and handing him his final marker. "You got four ahead of you."
"Thank you," Heyes said putting the rock in his saddlebag. He slapped the reins and galloped off. He looked and saw the four riders ahead of him. The rider directly in front of him was laying the reins to his horse's flanks. The road narrowed as it went through a mountain pass. It was wide enough for only two horses running side by side. Heyes caught up to the fourth place rider in the middle of the pass. Every time Heyes tried to pass, his path would be blocked. He tried time and time again to go around his competitor, but to no avail.
Finally, Heyes faked a move to the left and when the rider moved his horse over to block him, he quickly went to the right. In no time, he was riding side by side with fourth place in the tight space. The rider looked over at him angrily and urged his horse into Whiskey. Heyes' leg was scraped against the rough rock wall and he was forced to slow down and fall behind once again. He bit his lip to keep from crying out in pain. He furrowed his brow and tried to pass again. The pass started to widen as they came to the end of it and Heyes was able to pass the dirty rider without incident.
Heyes could now see the third place rider further ahead of him. But he could also see the town of Blue Hole coming up. "C'mon boy! We won't make second but we can at least get third. Let's go!" His hat flew from his head and was bouncing behind him as the stampede string held it around his neck.
The third place rider kept looking behind him nervously as Heyes approached him. He was catching up to him, but the town was coming up faster every second. Heyes gave Whiskey his head and let him run flat out.
Heyes and the third place rider entered the town neck and neck. Heyes smiled as he felt Whiskey catch an extra burst of speed. He passed third place just as they neared the finish line. He galloped over the line and slowed Whiskey through his paces until he came to a stop. People were cheering and already had the winner surrounded. All attention was on the first place finisher and no one paid Heyes any mind. Right before he dismounted, he caught a glimpse of a familiar brown hat coming toward him.
"Thaddeus! How'd you get here so quick? I thought you were helping catch those cheaters." Heyes smiled as he spoke.
"Well, I did help get them. But Bill, that was the official with me, said he'd take them back to Westmount by himself so I could be here to see you finish the race. Even gave me $20 for helping him."
As Curry spoke, another familiar hat showed up, with a familiar sheriff underneath it.
Heyes saw him first. "Lom! What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question." He grabbed Heyes by the arm and led him away from the crowd. Curry followed. "Have you lost your mind?"
Heyes smiled at him. "Nope. Just getting us some money to do us a little while."
"You took a big risk. Anybody could've been around to identify you!"
Heyes looked at Curry and smiled. Lom saw it also. "Alright boys. I can tell something went on here. What was it?"
"Nothing Lom," Heyes lied smoothly. "Nothing at all. Did you just come to see me race."
"No, I came because of that telegraph you sent me. I figured there'd be trouble since you two were involved."
"Well, since you're here, have you heard anything from our mutual friend?" Heyes asked.
Lom sighed. "No, I haven't. Sorry boys."
Heyes smirked. "Well, I'm gonna go collect my money and get out of here before the pictures start flashing. Thaddeus, I told you nobody would pay me any mind." He walked over to where the officials stood. Kid sighed as he rolled his eyes.
Lom turned to Kid. "Alright Kid. Spill it. What went on? Nothing ever goes smoothly with you two."
"Everything's fine Lom. Just fine." Lom just sighed in exasperation. A few moments later, Heyes returned.
"Look at this Thaddeus. $500 big ones and we actually get to keep it."
"Lom, can we treat you to a drink?"
"No, I got to be getting back to Porterville. You boys go lay low somewhere for a while, please."
"Maybe we'll go to Porterville," Heyes smiled.
"NO. You ain't coming to Porterville. Now I got to be going. See you boys."
Lom turned to go when Heyes called out, "Hey Lom, wanna race?"
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