Lom looked up as Heyes walked into his office. Then he frowned when he recognised the man with him. He immediately pulled his gun.
“What’s this?” Lom asked, looking at Heyes for an explanation why he was in the company of Wheat Carlson, wanted outlaw.
“Lom, just listen for a moment will you? Wheat’s got something to say.” Heyes looked at Wheat, who was eyeing the gun in the sheriff’s hand nervously. “Lom, will you put that thing away!” You won’t need it.”
Lom wasn’t so sure. He looked back and forth between the two men. Heyes gestured irritably at him to holster the gun. Against his better judgement Lom did.
“What’s this about?” he asked, sitting down. “An’ it better be good!”
Heyes nudged Wheat and they took the chairs in front of the desk. Wheat lounged untidily in his, right hand staying close to his right thigh and the big weapon holstered there.
“Have you heard ‘bout what happened to the Devil’s Hole Gang? Over at Atkins?”
Lom sniffed, and then sighed. “I heard they robbed the Post Office there. What’s that got to do with why HE’S’s here?” He tossed his head in Wheat’s direction. “Come to tell me it wasn’t you Wheat?”
Wheat shook his head. “Naw! It were us, Trevors.” He did a double take at the look Heyes gave him. “Er … I mean … Sheriff Trevors,” he sniffed and smoothed his moustache nervously.
Lom gave him a doubtful look but decided to let it go. He turned to Heyes instead and raised an eyebrow.
“Something happened, Lom. After the job … to Kyle. There was an accident.” Heyes paused, glanced at Wheat and then looked back at Lom. “He’s dead, Lom.”
Lom shifted in his chair. He remembered Kyle Murtry from his own days in Devil’s Hole. He hadn’t ridden with the Gang for long but in the short time he had, he had grown to like the small scruffy man. He looked at Wheat, who had his head down.
“What happened?” Lom asked, softly. He could see what losing Kyle was having on Wheat. He had never seen him so quiet. It may also account for why he looked so on edge … so fragile. If that was a word that could be used to describe Wheat. Being willingly in a sheriff’s office might also account for it.
Heyes glanced at Wheat and saw that man wasn’t going to speak. So it was Heyes who told Lom what had happened to Kyle and the rest of the Gang. When Heyes had finished, Lom leant back in his chair.
“So, the Devil’s Hole Gang is no more. Is that it? So come to turn yourself in, Wheat?” He may have said it tongue in cheek. Only Heyes saw the faintly amused look on his face.
Wheat’s head went up in horror. “Sheesh! The hell I am.”
“Amnesty, Lom,” Heyes interrupted. “Wheat wants to know if the Governor would give him amnesty.”
Lom laughed. “You’re kidding me! Wheat, you’re a career criminal!” Privately he thought there was zero chance but he kept that thought to himself.
Wheat leapt to his feet and turned to Heyes. “See I told ya this was a waste a time! I’m outta here!”
“Now Wheat, just hold on.” Heyes and Lom were on their feet as well. Heyes put a restraining hand on Wheat’s shoulder. “Just have a little patience. There’s a bit more talking to do. C’mon sit down.” He patted his shoulder reassuringly.
With a glance at Lom, Wheat, persuaded by Heyes, sat down again. Heyes sat beside him again and they both looked at Lom, who was slower to retake his seat.
“I’ve got an awful feeling I’m not gonna like this,” He growled as he did so.
Heyes grinned, both dimples showing. “Lom, you did it afore. Me an’ the Kid were much bigger crooks than Wheat here. This’ll be a piece of cake.”
Lom looked doubtful. “You want ME to go talk to the Governor?”
Heyes shrugged. “Can’t think of anyone better,” Heyes said, triumphantly. “What d’you think?”
“I think I’d have more luck persuading the sun to shine at night!”
“Now Lom, you can’t go with an attitude like that. You’ll have to be more positive,” Heyes chided, with a grin.
“The way I see it Lom, the Devil’s Hole Gang has been a thorn in the side of the authorities for years.” Heyes gave a lopsided smirk. “’Course not as much as they used to be but an irritation all the same.”
“Hey!” Wheat protested.
Heyes winced and nodded at him. “You kinda are, Wheat. All those little jobs all over the place.”
Wheat grumbled and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Finally, he nodded in acquiescence.
“If you explain what’s happened to the rest of the Gang, Lom, I’m sure the Governor will consider Wheat for amnesty. Especially if ... .” Heyes licked his lips. “You tell him that Wheat has a law-abiding job all lined up.”
“I do?” Wheat looked at Heyes with a frown.
Heyes nodded. “Possibly.” He didn’t want to be drawn on the details right now. He hadn’t fully made up his mind yet. “That’s gotta be a good thing. Right?” He looked at Lom eagerly, wide-eyed.
Lom looked doubtful. He flicked his eyes back and forth between the two men.
“Amos Barber is only an Acting Governor, Heyes. I dunno how much authority he thinks he has. Granting amnesty is discretionary and he’s not long in office. I think the chances of him doing anything controversial like this is zero. ”
“Won’t know until you ask,” Heyes said, hopefully. “No harm in asking is there?” Then seeing Lom was still wavering. “Are you gonna make me beg?” he snapped.
“Not you, no,” Lom growled, not looking at Heyes. He was looking hard at Wheat instead. “I think I wanna hear Wheat ask,” he said, ominously quietly.
Heyes swallowed and looked at Wheat. This just may be a step too far. He knew how proud a man Wheat was.
Wheat shifted in his chair. “Well I … .” He cleared his throat. “Reckon … I’d be obliged sheriff if ya would … y’know see ya way clear to … having a word with this Governor. On … on my behalf like. Ya’ll be doin’ me a favour an’ I’d owe ya. If there’s anythin’ I can do for ya in the future you jus’ let me know.” Wheat couldn’t manage to look Lom in the eye while he spoke but he did for a second when he’d finished.
Lom sighed and looked back at Heyes. “You reckon he’s gotta a job? Working for you?”
Heyes licked his lips, aware that Wheat was looking at him intently. “Possibly,” he started, slowly.
“If … the Governor will give him amnesty. Or at least gives him the same deal me and the Kid had.”
Lom rubbed his cheek as he considered.
“Ya’d do it?” he snapped at Wheat. “Work for Heyes? Keep ya nose clean? Don’t drop HIM in a mess of trouble?” He pointed a finger at Heyes.
“Well I’s reckon … I could try.” Wheat looked at both men and saw both of them wanted more than that. “Well if’n Heyes here would look out for me, stop me from … y’know getting inta trouble, keep me on the straight an’ narrow like, I reckon’ll it’d work.” He shrugged. “Sure why not?”
Heyes rolled his eyes before looking back at Lom.
“This isn’t a game Wheat. If I do this … go into bat for ya with the Governor, ya’d better mean it. ‘Cos if ya don’t … then I’ll lock ya up an’ be glad to do it. An’ I reckon Heyes here will help me.”
Wheat looked at them and nodded. “I knows ya will. Both of yous.” He swallowed hard and frowned. “I’m grateful for the chance, Lom … er Sheriff Trevors.”
Lom looked at Heyes, who nodded.
“Alright,” Lom sighed. “I’ll go an’ see the Governor. Like ya say it never hurts to ask.”
Heyes grinned. Wheat looked relieved.
“When can you go?” Heyes asked eagerly.
Lom growled. “Well I gotta finish this paperwork so … I guess I can go this afternoon, fix up an appointment, for tomorrow.” He looked from one to the other. “In the meantime, I’m holding YOU … .” He pointed at Heyes. “Responsible for HIM.” He pointed at Wheat. “You stay outta my town and you stay outta trouble. Make sure he does, Heyes.”
Heyes and Wheat got to their feet.
Heyes nodded. “I will. Thanks Lom.”
“Yeah, thanks Sheriff.”
Lom waved a hand. “Go on get outta here. I’ll be back tomorrow night or early the day after.”
As Heyes closed the door behind him, Wheat turned to him. “What’s this here job ya were talkin’ ‘bout, Heyes?”
Heyes frowned and slapped him on the shoulder. “Shhh! I’m Joshua remember?” he said, quietly as he ushered Wheat along the boardwalk.
“Oh, yeah sorry. I forgot.”
“Yeah, well if you work for me you’d better not!” Heyes growled, grabbing Wheat’s arm and pulling him into an alley.
Wheat waited while Heyes took a last furtive look round. Turning to the bigger man, Heyes hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his pants and let his tongue explore the inside of his mouth as he considered Wheat.
“What’s up?” Wheat frowned.
“Can you do it, Wheat? Really?” he snapped.
“Ya asking me that now? After I done give that sheriff my word!” Wheat was indignant.
Heyes sniffed, the look on his face telling Wheat he might not have believed his word. Wheat drew himself up.
“I gave my word, Hey … Joshua. That means somethin’,” he said, indignantly.
“Ye..ah,” Heyes said, slowly. “It means something alright.”
“Now what do that mean?” Wheat demanded.
Heyes licked his lips. “It means yeah you gave your word.” He sighed. “Whether you can keep it is another matter. If I give you a job …” A slim index finger poked Wheat hard in the shoulder.
“You had better not let me down.” Heyes growled and winced, tight-lipped. He realised he had just told Wheat he had a job. Something he still wasn’t decided on.
“Heyes …” Wheat winced. “When have I ever let ya down?” he asked, innocently. “Joshua?” he added for good measure.
“Ha!” Heyes laughed, humorously. So many ways! But now was not the time to list them. “Listen, Lom wants you outta town until he gets back. Go get our horses from the livery and meet me outside The Hardware Store. You and me are gonna ride over to Salt River. There’s something there I want to show you.”
“We’ll discuss it on the way. We might be a night or two. Depending. We’ll stop and tell Mary on the way.”
In Salt River, Heyes and Wheat spent two days at the store Heyes had just leased for his new store. They cleared out most of the fittings from the previous tenant, smashed through a wall out back to create more stock room space and set about repainting. New shop fittings would arrive the following week and Heyes was satisfied that everything would be ready.
“Thanks, Wheat. You’ve been a big help,” Heyes said, slapping Wheat on the shoulder and giving
him a tight-lipped smile.
“S’right, Heyes. Glad to help. Takes my mind off … well y’know takes my mind off … a lot of things.”
“Yeah,” Heyes nodded.
“Say ya still ain’t told me what you wanted to show me.”
“We’ll er talk ‘bout it on the way back.”
Heyes had made up his mind. He’d give Wheat a chance. The big man had worked hard for him over the last two days. He didn’t mind admitting that it was good to spend time with Wheat again. He was surprised to realise that Wheat did know what he was thinking. That he did understand him. All the bluster and clashing of egos that had marked their time together in Devil’s Hole was gone. Well, not entirely but it would, give it time. Especially if Heyes had anything to do with it. He was beginning to think of Wheat as a “project”.
Heyes and Wheat rode back towards Porterville in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
“This sure is pretty country,” Wheat remarked suddenly. The silence had gotton to him and he wanted the distraction of talking.
“Yes. I think so too. I like it here.”
“Y’know Heyes you’ve sure got a good life these days.”
“Yep. I sure have,” Heyes smiled, pleasantly, dimples cracked slightly. “All thanks to the amnesty y’know.”
“Ya ever figure out why Hoyt gave you ya amnesty? I thought he was jus’ stringin’ ya along.”
“I can’t deny I thought that too, Wheat. It sure felt like it at the time. A year he said, then it was two, then it was “I’ll see”. Kid an’ me were seriously considering going to South America.”
“What stopped ya?”
“Aw,” Heyes considered. “Can’t speak South American for one,” he grinned briefly. “And we needed a stake to live off which we didn’t have.” He sniffed. “And we like living … here. There was a whole host of reasons Wheat. Somehow we just couldn’t bring ourselves to go.” He smiled.
“While we were still pontificating, the amnesty came through.”
“Seems strange that he would jus’ up an’ gives it to ya, just like that.”
“Yep,” Heyes nodded. “I thought so too until I got to thinking ‘bout it.” He smacked his lips.
“Then I thought ‘bout the timing. He signed the papers in mid July. He left office towards the end of that August but he wanted it kept quiet ‘till the end of the year. Went off to live in California for a little bit but I think he was hedging his bets. ‘Cos he returned to Wyoming in September of that year and do y’know what?”
Heyes looked smug. Wheat frowned then shook his head. “That supposed to mean somethin’?”
“Sure does. He became the first President of the University of Wyoming.”
“Remember the Merchant’s Bank in Denver, Wheat?”
Wheat blinked at the complete change of subject. “Ye-ah,” he said, doubtfully. Then grinned.
“That was the one where you were there all night and came away empty handed.” He chortled.
“The one you couldn’t crack.”
Heyes scowled at being reminded. “Yes but … we DID go back and I DID open it. Remember how?”
Wheat pursed his lips as he thought. “That the one ya blew? With nitro?”
“That’s the one.”
Wheat shook his head and Heyes grinned. “Someone called Nial H Benshaye … wrote a scientific paper ‘bout how I done it. Said what an ingenious, clever and sophisticated method I used.”
Heyes bit his bottom lip and nodded, wide-eyed at Wheat.
“It was involved I’ll give ya that,” Wheat muttered, disgruntled.
“Ex-Governor of Wyoming John Hoyt is a Professor of Chemistry, Wheat. He saw it. He was impressed. THAT’s why the Kid and me got the amnesty when we did. Figured two men with those kinda smarts and who had been trying to stay outta trouble oughta get a second chance.” Heyes sniffed. “That an’ the possibility if he carried on saying no we might jus’ try something even more spectacular. Might jus’ backfire on him if word got out that he’d promised us an amnesty but hadn’t followed through. Guess he decided that GIVING us amnesty was the lesser of two evils.”
Wheat looked disbelievingly at him. “You telling me Heyes that you and the Kid got amnesty ‘cos of some paper printed in some high falutin’ book?”
Heyes smiled smugly. “Yep.”
Wheat shook his head. “An’ here ya are running a hardware store.” He said it bitterly. “Ain’t what I figured you for at all. I mean sheesh Heyes. Hardware.” Wheat chortled and shook his head.
Heyes shrugged. “Folks always need hardware, Wheat. Especially the way towns are growing. New people coming in, new businesses opening up. Lots of building work going on. It’s not like it used to be Wheat. These aren’t frontier towns anymore. We’re getting civilised.”
Wheat sighed. Heyes detected a note of regret and looked across at him.
“Something wrong, Wheat?”
“Naw!” he denied, a little too quickly and then growled when Heyes kept his eyes on him.
“Passing me by, Heyes. I guess I don’t feel too … comfortable with it.” He sighed again and twitched his head. “Perhaps … perhaps if Kyle …” He didn’t finish and looked away.
Heyes nodded in sympathy. The past two days had taken Wheat’s mind off thinking about Kyle but it was still raw. It would be for some time to come. Heyes took a deep breath. Here goes. Before he could speak, Wheat did.
“I dunno ‘bout this amnesty, Heyes.” He shook his head. “I mean, Trevors is right. Outlawing is all I’ve ever done. I don’t reckon I’ve got a chance. Nothing to recommend me like you an’ the Kid had. That Governor … Barber is it? He’s gonna take one look at my record and …”
“Now Wheat, we don’t know what he said yet. Lom is good negotiator. He talked Hoyt into the amnesty deal for the Kid and me. That wasn’t easy. He was highly sceptical. That’s why if we’d screwed up it was Lom’s head on the block.”
Wheat grunted, non-committedly. “Don’t figure Trevors will go that far for me,” he muttered.
“Besides you’ve got something the Kid and me didn’t have,” Heyes went on, ignoring him.
“Well …” Heyes swallowed. “Friends who are behind you, giving you support. You’re not on your own. The Kid and me were and it was hard.”
“You had each other.”
“Yeah, that’s true but sometimes it would have been nice to be able to talk to somebody else about it. Somebody who understood what we were going through.” Heyes cast a sideways glance at Wheat. “It’s only natural you’re feeling a little fragile right now. Your life’s been turned upside down in more ways than one. It’s a big adjustment. Y’know me, Wheat. I’m not gonna sugar coat it. It’ll be tough but I don’t believe you have zero chance.”
Wheat growled and looked away. It was a moment before he spoke and when he did, he couldn’t face Heyes. Heyes had to lean forward in the saddle so he could hear.
“It’s not that I don’t appreciate what ya trying to do, Heyes. I’m just wandering if I’m worth ya bother that’s all.”
“Awh, Wheat, stop feeling sorry for yourself,” Heyes said, more harshly than he intended. He licked his lips and continued in a softer voice. “You’ve got a lot to offer. You just don’t know it ‘cos it’s never come up before that’s all.”
Yeah he had to go and ask THAT question. Heyes rolled his eyes skyward as he thought.
“Well … you’ve done a lot of living …” Wheat’s snort of derision interrupted. “Hear me out, will you? You’re nobody’s fool Wheat. You know what’s what ‘cos you’ve been there. You just have to apply what you know to the situation you find yourself in. Some things will be unfamiliar but you just have to take a step back before you go jumping in.”
“Be more like you, y’mean?”
Heyes smiled. “Naw! Don’t want the competition.”
A ghost of a smile appeared on Wheat’s face.
“Just think ‘bout what I said, huh?”
Wheat nodded and Heyes left it there. The two continued on their way in silence.
“How are your letters and numbers, Wheat?” Heyes asked suddenly, jolting Wheat out of his thoughts.
Wheat frowned at him. “I know ‘em. Y’know I know ‘em.”
Heyes smiled. “Yeah, but how well d’you know ‘em? Ever read a book? Newspaper?”
Wheat grunted. “Well I can’t say I read a lot. Books! Why they’re for folks with too much time on their hands! That’s what …” He broke off when he saw the look Heyes was giving him. “I guess they have their place and no I don’t read books. Not that there’s anythin’ wrong with folks who do.” He added the last bit quickly just in case. Had he got away with it?
Heyes looked away smiling.
“Would you improve ‘em if you needed to?”
“I’ve got along jus’ fine up to now. Why would I need to?”
Heyes chewed his lip. “You might have to if you had a job where reading, writing and adding numbers was a part of it.”
Wheat stopped his horse. “What ya trying to say, Heyes?”
Heyes stopped too and looked at him. “I need a manager in the Salt River store. How’d you feel ‘bout that if I offered it to you?”
Wheat looked stunned. He had figured that Heyes just might find him something but not that.
“Sheesh! Heyes. I think that’s beyond me.” He started his horse forward, shaking his head.
Heyes shrugged and followed. “Well it was just a thought. I mean you’ve gotta do something when you get amnesty and I did kinda tell Lom I had a job for you. You wanna make me out to be a liar?”
“If, Heyes. The word is if.”
Heyes rolled his eyes and nodded his head from side to side, accepting the correction.
“Okay, if.” He paused. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all but it was too late to back out now. He had made the offer and he needed an answer “Just give it some thought huh?” He paused and grinned. “’Specially, IF you get amnesty or at least the promise of one?”
If Wheat was chewing on an answer, he didn’t get a chance to give it voice. Heyes’ horse, which had been skittish for a while, suddenly reared up. It pranced back a few steps.
“Whoa, easy fella,” Heyes said, patting the horse’s neck reassuringly. His eyes scanned the ground in front looking for danger. Whatever had spooked the horse, Heyes couldn’t see what it was. Then the horse reared again. Something was really frightening it. “Easy! Easy!” But the horse was wide eyed in fear and prancing back and side to side. Suddenly the horse took off in a flat out run. Heyes sawed on the reins but to no avail. “Whoa!”
The rapid injection of speed took Heyes unawares. He slipped in the saddle, couldn’t right himself before the horse veered around a boulder. The sudden change of direction did for him. He was off. Yet his right foot failed to slip out of its stirrup and he found himself bouncing along the ground, arms flailing wildly.
All too aware that a similar accident had so recently killed Kyle, Wheat took off after the spooked horse.
Heyes was under the horse and desperately trying to avoid two pairs of galloping hooves. He was yelling, further terrifying the poor creature. He could do nothing to stop it as he flipped, rolled and bumped along. Caught in the stirrup, his right foot, twisted this way and that, shrieking in protest. His flailing right arm hit a rock. Intense pain. Ribs collided with the hard ground, knocking the wind from him. Hooves struck him a glancing blow to his cheek. A myriad of thoughts went through his mind, none of them good. The thought foremost in his mind; he was gonna die!
John Wesley Hoyt was Governor of the Territory of Wyoming between 1878 – 1882
Before appointed Governor, he had been Professor of Chemistry at Antioch College and had founded the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Art and Letters, becoming its first president. During his tenure of Governor of Wyoming, he founded and presided over a similar organisation in that state. He later became the first president of the newly formed University of Wyoming.
Although Amos Barber was elected Secretary of State in 1890, his term was interrupted when Francis Warren, resigned as Governor of the newly constituted State of Wyoming. Barber served as Acting Governor between 1890 – 1893.
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname