Clear blue eyes narrowed as Kid Curry stared at the outlaw approaching the porch of the leader’s cabin. “Heyes, is it just me or does he look kinda weird?”
The gang leader strode through the door and stopped in his tracks. “What the…!?”
A smile twitched at the fair man’s lips. “Yeah, I didn’t think it was just me.”
Heyes’ nemesis stomped up to them, seemingly blissfully unaware of his gawping colleagues. “Right, all the livestock’s been fed, watered, and cleaned out. Kyle cleaned the latrines, just like you told us to do. We’re headin’ out in about half an hour. We should be in town by nightfall and I’m sure lookin’ forward to it. We’ve earned this. I sure hope Bella’s available, I got a bit of a thing for her.”
“Is that thing you’ve got black?” chuckled Heyes.
The barrel chest puffed indignantly. “Huh?”
“What’s with the hair and the eyebrows?” a laughing Kid demanded. “They’re as black as the devil’s waistcoat; and you never had hair that color in your life.”
“Not to mention the moustache. It looks like you’re balancing an eel on your top lip,” sniggered Heyes.
The eel twitched nervously. “Nothin’… leave me alone.”
“Aw, come on. You ain’t gone prematurely black. You look ridiculous.”
Wheat thrust out his bottom lip and idly shuffled his feet. “It’s just a little thing I got in the barber’s the last time I was in town.”
“What? Coal?” The Kid glanced at his smirking cousin. “Ink maybe?”
Wheat’s blue eyes blazed from a reddening face. “Bella made a comment about how grey I was gettin’, so I asked the barber for somethin’ to help out. He gave me this stuff.” He produced a box from his pocket. “It’s called kohl. He said men use it all over Europe to keep them lookin’ young for the ladies. Most all the men in Italy use it he says, and they have at least thirteen little ‘uns each. He uses it and he got eleven sons. T’ain’t nuthin’ to be ashamed of. It’s manly.”
“Are you sure about that?” The grin widened into dimpled delight. “You aren’t seeing it from our side.”
“Ain’t most of the men in Italy real dark,” sniggered the Kid. “You ain’t got the colorin’ for it. You look like you’re goin’ to foreclose on an orphanage, like the villain from some cheap melodrama. It’s ridiculous.”
“The barber said it suited me,” Wheat protested.
Heyes folded his arms. “Did he say that as you handed over money?”
“Ya gotta pay the barber, Heyes. Ain’t nobody ever got a shave and a haircut at gunpoint.”
“You’re the one who got robbed, Wheat. You can’t put black coloring on brown hair without looking like some desperate old man,” the smile softened. “And you don’t need it. You don’t look old. You look mature.”
Heyes leaned on the handrail. “Sure, like a man, not a boy. Good things mature, like fine wine.”
The gunman dropped his head to conceal his burgeoning laughter. “Yeah, and cheese,” he muttered.
“What’s he sayin’?” demanded Wheat.
“Ignore him,” Heyes glared at his next in command. “Have any of the men seen this?”
“No, I just put it on in the latrines.”
“Take it off. They’ll only laugh at you. Seriously, Wheat. It’s not a good look.”
Wheat stared into the warm brown eyes expecting a challenge but seeing only the worst possible response - pity. He spluttered into the black moustache; pity was even more annoying than superiority. Heyes was right. The Kid’s reaction was nothing on the hooting and roasting he’d get from the gang. He nodded curtly, realization settling like mud filtering to the bottom of a puddle on a rainy day. “I’ll go wash it off.”
“It’s for the best. I promise you…,” but Heyes was already speaking to the stiff back of the man who strode over to the well and hoisted a bucket of water over his head before rubbing furiously at his face. “I’m still goin’ to town, Heyes!” Wheat bellowed, before heading back to the latrines.
The Kid shook his head, watching the man wash the color from his hair. “Sheesh, who’da thought Wheat’d do somethin’ so stupid for a woman?”
“I guess we’re all those kinda fools at times, Kid.” He arched a wry brow in the gunman’s direction. “Some more than others.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. I ain’t done anythin’ that dumb though.”
“One word, Kid. Moustache.”
“Hey! I like to wear one every so often. It suits me.”
“It looked like your eyebrows had come down for a drink. All you attracted was crumbs.”
The Kid opened his mouth to retort, but he was cut off by the shattering blast which cut through peace, scattering splintering chards of the wooden latrine in the air. “Wheat!” The Kid leaped down from the porch and started running towards the devastation followed by Heyes. “Someone get buckets. Bring water. Wheat was in there.”
A disheveled figure staggered from the bonfire, a small plume of smoke rising from the tangled mass of wild straw-like hair which stood on end. The red-streaked blue blinked through hairless lids beneath a forehead as devoid of hair as the newly-bald upper lip as the shocked man staggered into the sunlight, coughing up acrid soot.
“Wheat? Are you alright? Was anyone else in there?” Hannibal Heyes dodged the charred embers still falling around them. “What happened?”
Wheat beat out a smoldering patch of sleeve. “I dunno...I still got all my fingers.”
“Preacher, Kyle, Hank…,” the Kid counted off the gang members. “Yeah, we’re all here, Heyes. Wheat must’ve been the only one in there.”
Wheat was obviously still dazed. “I only went in for a…”
“Yeah, I know what you went in there for. How can a latrine blow up? I mean it’s only a hole in the ground.” Heyes brows gathered. “Where’s Kyle?”
“Me? I’m right here,” the voice echoed with outraged innocence.
Heyes swung around. “What did you do?”
“Me?” Kyle’s mobile features rose to the challenge before falling like sand in an hourglass against the cold, hard stare. “I weren’t even there. I was in the bunkhouse. Tell him, Hank. I was in the bunkhouse."
“He was in the bunkhouse,” Hank dutifully replied.
“See? I was in the bunkhouse.”
Heyes rolled his eyes. “You’re the explosives man, and the latrine just blew up. Who else do you think I’m going to question first?”
“I never dun nuthin’.”
“Where’s the dynamite?” The leader demanded.
“It’s in the shed. I ain’t keepin’ it under my bunk no more. Not since that last time.”
“Preacher, come and help me get Wheat over to the bunkhouse so we can check him over,” called the Kid, stretching an arm around the dazed man. “You don’t look hurt.”
“I ain’t so much hurt as, well…what’s the word?”
“Yeah, I think you missed the worst. You’re just stunned.”
“Not as stunned as he’s gonna be when he looks in a mirror,” chortled Preacher. “That explosion done gone and blasted the moustache clean off his face.”
“Huh?” Wheat turned a depilated face on his cohorts. “My moustache?”
“And your eyebrows,” added the gunman.
Wheat stopped dead in his tracks, trailing fingers over his face. “Nooo! I ain’t been barefaced since I was fourteen. What am I gonna do?”
“Well, you could paint in your eyebrows like them women at Bella’s cathouse,” snickered Hank. “You could keep changin’ them to match your mood. Arched for surprise, straight for angry…”
“You ain’t helpin’,” snapped the Kid. “Come on, Wheat. You need a seat. Are you sure you don’t hurt anywhere?”
“Not that I can feel. Maybe when my senses catch up with me I might notice it.”
“See, Heyes. I dun told ya that I didn’t leave no dynamite in there. There ain’t none missin’.”
“So, what caused this? Sabotage?” The leader’s brows knotted in concern. “How do you know there’s none missing? I don’t see the chart I told you to mark off.”
“I just knows.”
Heyes gave a huff of exasperation. “What am I always telling you, Kyle?”
The little man shrugged. “To get my finger out of there?”
“To keep an inventory if the explosives! Sheesh, how else are we to know if anyone took any.” The brown eyes rolled. “Who was in the latrines last, before Wheat?”
“I guess that’d be me. I cleaned the place.”
“Cleaned it?” Heyes eyes glittered with doubt. He avoided the place for good reason.
“Yeah I threw that store bought disinfectant you got for us everywhere. Loads of it. It’s nearly all gone.”
“I bought enough to last six months,” Heyes scowled. “You used nearly all of it?”
“Well, it was real smelly.”
“Yeah, I know.” Heyes scratched his chin suspiciously. “I think we need to speak to Wheat.”
Outrage exploded over Kyle’s disorganized face. “Wheat ain’t no sabatoor .”
“I never said he was,” Heyes replied smoothly. “He might have seen something. Relax, Kyle. I don’t suspect either of you, but when he’s feeling better can you ask him to come over to the leader’s cabin?
Heyes looked up from his book. “How are you, Wheat?”
“I’ve been better, growled the red-faced, hairless outlaw. “You think it was sabotage? By someone here?”
“I did, and then I started reading. The disinfectant I bought, mostly because that place was like a zoo and needed taking in hand was something called potassium chlorate. They use it for most disinfectants. Now, I’ve gotta ask what you did when you went in there.”
One eye bulged. “It’s a latrine. What do you think I did when I went in there?”
“Not that. Anything else.”
“Well I did sit there and light a cigar, now I was thinkin’ that it could be some kinda gas. You know, like swamp gas. I’ve heard tell of folks blown to kingdom come with swamp gas.”
“Yeah, lighting’ a cigar ain’t what I’d have done,” the Kid shook his head. “It ain’t the most relaxin’ place to be.”
“Sometimes a man’s just got to sit and think. I do my best thinkin’ in there.”
“Then no wonder half your ideas stink,” grinned the Kid.
“The kohl,” Heyes interjected. “That black stuff. What did you do with it?”
“I tossed it,” Wheat scowled. “I made a big enough laughin’ stock in front of you two, I wasn’t gonna give the rest of ‘em the chance to rip me a new one, was I?”
Heyes slowly closed his eyes and sighed heavily. “Yup. That’s what I was afraid of.”
“What? I toss all kindsa rubbish down there,” Wheat retorted. “So do the rest of the men.”
“Well maybe this’ll make them think a bit more carefully about what they throw away, especially before they add a naked flame. I take it you threw the match down there when you lit the cigar?”
“Sure I did. There ain’t no ashtrays in there. What’s the problem?”
Heyes lifted his copy of Dobson's Encyclopedia and flicked it open. “I looked up your kohl in here. It used as a cosmetic, mainly in India and Arabia. More importantly it’s made up of antimony sulfide.”
“So?” the Kid and Wheat spoke in unison.
The disinfectant is potassium chlorate, you add antimony sulfide to that and you have the ingredients of the stuff they make matches out of. Add a naked flame to that and…,” Heyes made an exploding gesture with his hand, “poof!”
“Poof?” The two outlaws spoke in unison once more.
“It goes up in a minor explosion. If there was any methane there too,” Heyes nodded towards Wheat, “that’s your ‘swamp gas’; you’ll be lucky to walk away from that with your life.”
“Matches?” Wheat’s bald brow furrowed. “How the Sam Hill was I supposed to know you’d bought some kind of explosive to clean the place?”
“How was I to know you’d throw your beauty products down there?” countered Heyes.
‘Tweren’t beauty products. It were pomade. T’ain’t no different from when you slick your hair back.”
“I don’t do it to change the color.”
“The smell ain’t foolin’ nobody either. Bella uses less perfume,” Wheat muttered.
“Yeah, well just remember when you go to see Bella, you won’t have those grey eyebrows or moustache,” Heyes slapped the book back on the table with a bang, “because you met your match in here this morning. You just turned the latrines into the biggest match in the West.”
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb