Mercifully, for Heyes, the leather soon broke on the stirrup. He and the horse parted company, and he avoided a trampling by a hair’s breadth. He lay on his front, only vaguely aware that his world had stopped spinning and all was still. Wheat pulled up beside him and dismounted in a leap. Leaving his horse to fend for itself – he knew it wouldn’t stray too far - he only briefly look at the spooked horse galloping away.
Finding itself free of the irritation of dragging something along, that horse slowed and came to a snorting stop. It gave itself a shake, put it’s head down and began to graze.
“Sheesh!” Wheat started, growled and turned his attention back to the motionless Heyes.
Wheat leaning over him, a hand on his shoulder.
“Heyes!” If Heyes had been more aware, he would have been flattered by the panic in Wheat’s voice. “Heyes!”
Instead, Heyes just groaned. Wheat swallowed the lump in his throat. At least a groan meant he was alive.
“Heyes, you alright?”
With surprising gentleness, Wheat rolled Heyes over. Heyes cried out as Wheat pulled on the arm that hurt so much. Heyes opened his eyes and lay on his back, panting hard. Adrenaline to still coursed through his body. He looked wide-eyed up at Wheat who leaned over him anxiously.
Wheat looked down at the man who used to be his boss and who soon might be again. His clothes were dirty and torn, his left cheek was bloody, he was holding his right arm protectively and he was looking up at Wheat, uncomprehending what he was seeing.
Wheat smiled. Not that pretty a sight.
“Are you alright?”
“No,” Heyes groaned. “I … don’t know.”
“Can you sit up?”
“Dunno. Am I all here?”
Wheat grinned. “Yeah, you’re all here, Heyes.”
“Good, ‘cos it sure don’t feel like it.”
“Here, I’ll help ya.” Wheat went to touch Heyes’ arm but the sharp intake of breath told him to make other plans. Instead, he eased him into a sitting position by the shoulders and held him there as he swayed.
“There. How’s that?”
“I think I’ve busted my arm,” Heyes gasped. He cradled it against his body and groaned again. “Ow! Ribs too by the feel of it. Ow! Sheesh! That was some ride.”
Wheat nodded. “Yeah, looked pretty exciting to me.”
Heyes let out a gasped laugh. “Wouldn’t recommend it.”
“Oh here. Ya smashed ya face up too.” Wheat removed his bandana, padded it up and pressed it to Heyes’ cheek.
“Hold it there while I gets some water to clean ya up a bit.”
Wheat turned and went back to his horse. Heyes’ horse had returned to be with it’s fellow equine and both were grazing peacefully a few yards away, without a care as to what had just happened. Wheat took the opportunity to secure both horses. He returned with a canteen and a cloth that didn’t look too clean. Heyes was beyond caring. He hurt too much.
Wheat started to clean up the wound on Heyes’ cheek.
“Well ya still bleedin’ but it don’t look too bad. Don’t reckon ya’ll need stitches but I hope that wife of your’n ain’t too squeamish. I reckon ya’ll have a nice scar.”
Heyes glared at him. “Thanks Wheat.” For cleaning him up? Or for saying he’d have a scar?
“How d’ya feel now?”
“D’ya think ya can get up?”
“Wheat, I dunno,” Heyes gasped. “Could you …” He swallowed hard and fumbled for the canteen. He tilted his head back to drink but the sudden movement caused the world to spin. He groaned and swayed. Wheat took the canteen from him before he dropped it. Then Heyes lurched sideways and retched. Wheat wrinkled up his nose in disgust.
Heyes pushed himself up right when he had finished and wiped his mouth on the back of his left hand.
“Wheat could you undo my bandana and try and make a sling? For my arm?”
Wheat handed Heyes the canteen. This time he took a smaller sip and spat it out, trying to get rid of the horrid taste in his mouth. Wheat unknotted the bandana and carefully they fashioned a sling to cradle the injured arm.
“D’ya think ya can get up now?” Wheat asked when done.
Heyes just looked at him, panting in pain. “I dunno, Wheat,” he gasped. “I don’t know what hurts and what doesn’t right now.”
Wheat smiled. Again not a pretty sight. This time Heyes found the strength to smile back, albeit faintly.
“Guess I look a sight, huh?”
“Well I’ve seen ya look better, Heyes. C’mon I’ll help ya up. Ya can’t sit here all day. Times a wastin’.”
“When did you get so bossy?” He sighed. “Yeah okay.”
With a lot of groaning and crying out, not just from Heyes, Wheat helped him to his feet. As Heyes put his weight on his right foot, he yelled, jerked it back up and doubled over. Where he stayed, balancing precariously on one foot. He had found out the hard way he couldn’t put weight on his right foot. The whole of that leg from the knee down, felt like it was on fire. Hardly surprising considering the punishment it had taken, he reasoned. His other leg felt sore and wobbly but no broken bones. After a moment he tried to straighten up, he yelled. He would have fallen if Wheat hadn’t been there to steady him. He remained doubled up.
“Wheat, we’ll never get me on a horse like this,” he gasped at the ground. “Don’t reckon I’ll be able to ride anyway. You’ll have to leave me.”
“Well Heyes, I dunno …”
“You’ll have to! Go get help Wheat. There’s no way I can ride. Leave me under those trees.” He gestured vaguely in the direction of a small group of trees, a few yards away. “I’ll be fine.”
Wheat looked doubtful but he helped a hobbling Heyes over to the trees. He could just about use the heel of his right foot to struggle along but it was difficult and he was leaning most of his weight on Wheat. It took them a while to lower Heyes gingerly to the ground, his back resting against a tree. Heyes felt down his right leg. He didn’t think it was broken. He took that as a good sign. Although he had a suspicion that his knee would be a problem later.
Wheat retrieved Heyes’ jacket from his horse and picked his hat up from the ground. He walked back, slapping it against his leg.
“I think Porterville’s nearer Wheat.”
Wheat placed Heyes’ hat on his head and draped his jacket round his shoulders, careful of his injured arm.
“Leave me a canteen.”
“Sure.” Wheat placed a canteen by his side.
“No. Jus’ … hurry.”
Wheat nodded and turned away. He wasn’t too happy about leaving Heyes. It would be dark in a couple of hours and he wasn’t sure he could get to Porterville and back with help before then.
Wheat looked back.
“Leave me your gun.”
Wheat looked shocked. “Ya ain’t hurt that bad!”
Heyes found the energy to smile. “No. It’ll be dark afore you get back. Just in case some wild animal comes sniffing around.”
Wheat looked relieved and then a little foolish that he had thought what he had.
“Oh yeah. Sure.”
He took his gun out of its holster and dropped it by Heyes’ left side.
“Sure ya’ll be alright?”
“No choice. I’ll be here when you get back.”
Heyes watched Wheat mount up and ride off.
“That’s the wrong way!” Heyes slapped his good hand over his eyes. “Sheesh! I’m gonna die out here after all.”
Sighing, he closed his eyes and rested his head back against the tree. A moment later, he heard a horse thunder passed in the opposite direction. Heyes nodded and smacked his lips.
He tried to concentrate on a part of his body that didn’t hurt. He wasn’t sure there was one. He was pretty sure even his hair hurt. Yet somehow, he manage to fall into a restless doze.
Wheat rode into Porterville just as it was getting dark. He’d taken a wrong turn on the trail and had to double back, adding several extra miles and costing him an hour. Out of habit, his eyes flicked from side to side, looking to see if there were any familiar faces. He had no idea where the doctor’s office was located so he came to a stop outside the jail.
Lom might be back from Cheyenne by now. He might have news for him. But that wasn’t why he was here. He had to get help for Heyes. A glance up told him the darkening of the sky wasn’t just night falling. Rain was on its way too. He took a deep breath and walked into the office.
The young deputy looked up and frowned.
“Yeah, is the sheriff about?”
“Not right now. Is there a problem?”
Wheat rubbed his chin. “Then I’m looking for the doc. Just got in from Salt River and the man I was travelling with had an accident on the road. Came off his horse. Hurt pretty bad.”
“Oh, um, doubt if you’ll get the doc afore the morning. He’s gone to a birthing.”
Wheat sniffed. “Is the sheriff back from Cheyenne yet? He’s a friend and he’ll wanna help go get him.”
Deputy Bart frowned. He knew he wasn’t supposed to give out the sheriff’s whereabouts and certainly not to someone he didn’t know. And this man looked kind of familiar. The sort of familiar that brought to mind something he had read not so long ago. In his profession it paid to keep up with events in the world and Deputy Bart prided himself on being professional.
“Ye-ah he’s back,” he started slowly.
“So where is he?” Wheat demanded, looming over the sitting deputy.
“Er … can’t tell you that.”
“Dammit man! There’s a man hurt out there! I need Lom to help me go get him.”
Deputy Bart swallowed nervously as Wheat leaned over the desk.
“I’m sorry I can’t tell you where Lom … I mean Sheriff Trevors is,” Bart said. “It’s policy. I’m not allowed to divulge the whereabouts of the … lawfully elected sheriff when … he is off duty,” Bart said, hoping he was remembering the exact wording of the policy. “And that’s what he is right now. Off duty.” Bart blinked and stammered. “I’m in charge,” he added, lamely.
“Yeah? You wanna be in charge if his friend dies!” Wheat said, drawing the spare gun he always kept in his saddlebags and pointing it at Bart.
Bart swallowed audibly. With more bravery than he felt, Bart eyed the business end of the Colt .45. Yet his hands, not feeling quite so brave, slowly raised themselves.
“Threatening me … isn’t gonna … make me tell you where …”
At that moment, the man of the moment walked in. Seeing Bart held up, Lom drew his gun.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded. Then he realised the man doing the holding up was Wheat. “What ya doing, Carlson?”
“It’s Heyes. He’s hurt bad. Had to leave him on the trail. I was jus’ trying to get … this here … .”
He waved his gun in Bart’s direction. Bart looked wide-eyed and gulped. “Deputy,” Wheat spat, making his feelings known about the occupation and the man doing it. “To tell me where you’re at. We’s gotta go get him. Now!”
“Well, jus’ hold on now! Put that thing away afore ya hurt someone!”
Wheat holstered the gun he forgot he held. Bart let out an audible sigh of relief.
“I didn’t tell him sheriff! He came in-‘bout-two-minutes-ago-wanting-the-doc-first-then-asked-for you. I wasn’t gonna tell, I swear,” he cried, words rolling into one and desperate for Lom to understand.
“Alright, Bart. It’s okay. You did good.” Lom put a reassuringly hand on the younger man. “I know this man. He’s a friend of Joshua’s.” Lom still held his gun and he turned to Wheat.
“Where’d ya leave him?”
“’Bout … ten miles up the road to Salt River, I reckon. Lom, he’s hurt real bad. He couldn’t ride. He made me leave him there an’ come an’ get help for him.”
Lom was still considering whether he believed him and if so what to do about it, when Mary burst in.
“Lom! Thank goodness you’re here. Janet said you had come back. It’s Josh …!”
Mary was distraught and Lom took her arm, holstering his gun as he did so.
“Mary, what’s wrong?”
“Josh …” Mary swallowed hard and caught her breath. “He telegrammed me this morning to tell me that he’d be home by four … Something is wrong, I know it is.” She stopped when she saw Wheat. “What are YOU doing here? What have you done with my husband?” she demanded, shrugging off Lom’s hand and advancing on Wheat.
Wheat took an involuntary step back.
“Um,” he began. He wasn’t liking the dangerous glint in her eye.
Mary directed all her worry and concern at him. She wasn’t about to be reasonable. He wasn’t supposed to be here.
Behind her, Lom grinned ruefully. Wheat Carlson in fear of his life was something to see.
“Where’s Josh?” she cried. Wheat was supposed to be with her husband but he wasn’t. He was here. Alone.
“His horse threw him, ma’am. Dragged him a fair bit. I came to get help,” Wheat explained and then seeing her horrified face. “But he’s okay ma’am. Busted an arm and a few ribs. Got a cut …” He felt his cheek.
“Busted an arm! And a few ribs! And you left him!” Mary shrilled. “How could you?”
Before Lom could stop her, Mary slapped Wheat hard. Wheat blinked in surprise and backed away. And she kept slapping him and punching him, giving vent to all her worry onto Wheat. Lom pulled her back just as a foot shot out aimed at Wheat’s shins. Hell hard no fury like a woman’s … something or other, Wheat thought as he backed into the desk. He had taken a fighter’s protective stance and only lowered his arms when he was sure Lom had hold of her.
Bart sat open-mouthed, eyes wide and fearful that she would turn on him. He had never seen a lady milliner so enraged before.
“Mary! Enough now!” Lom had to be his best tough lawman. “We’ll go get him. He’ll … he’ll be fine,” Lom said, struggling with her. He shook her gently until she calmed.
She rounded on Lom. “Then I’m coming too!”
“Mary … ,” Lom started. “The weather is …your kids … .”
“Try and stop me! We can get him in the buggy. It’s right outside.” With that, she turned and stalked out. Lom and Wheat swapped glances. Wheat rubbed his shoulder and winced.
“Ole Heyes sure has his work cut out with her,” he muttered.
“Show us where he is huh?” Lom snapped.
“I ain’t sitting in the buggy with her. That’s a crazy woman,” Wheat grumbled, as he followed Lom.
“She’s worried about her husband, Wheat. I’ll drive the buggy. You lead the way. Now c’mon. Afore she goes without us!”
Lom grabbed Wheat’s arm and roughly steered him through the door.
It took Bart a while to get over the shock. When he had, he got to thinking about what had taken place and what had been said. What had Sheriff Trevors called the man? Carlton? Carson? No! Carlson. Bart recognised the name. So Lom knew him. He was also a friend of … oh! Friend of Joshua’s?
Bart got up quickly and went to the filing cabinet where he knew he’d find the wanted posters. Sheriff Trevors was orderly and they were in alphabetical order. Bart flicked through the C’s and there. Right there in front of him. Wheat Carlson. Yep and the description was good. This was the man who had just held him up. And who had just walked out with the sheriff. Now what would Sheriff Trevors be doing with a wanted outlaw and not arresting him? Bart frowned and read the flyer again. Mmmm, Devil’s Hole Gang.
Bart took it back to the desk, sat down and rubbed his chin as he puzzled over it. Then it came to him. It was common knowledge that Sheriff Trevors had briefly ridden with an outlaw gang for a time in his younger days. Now which one was it? Bart wracked his brain. He got up and poured himself a coffee. He sipped it slowly as he pondered some more. He knew he wasn’t the brightest lawman in the posse but he had his moments. And he had a moment right then. Could … Sheriff Trevors had ridden with the Devil’s Hole Gang?
Bart sat down. There was another puzzle. Sheriff Trevors had said Carlson was a friend of Joshua’s. So how would Joshua Smith, the popular Hardware Store owner, know a man like Wheat Carlson? Joshua and his friend, whose name escaped him, had appeared in Porterville a number of years ago, friends of … Oh! Friends of the sheriff. Bart snatched up the wanted poster of Wheat again. Devil’s Hole Gang! Synonymous with … Oh! Oh! Oh!
Bart dashed back to the filing cabinet. This time he looked in the bottom drawer where he knew he would find posters for outlaws confirmed dead or captured. It was all coming back to him to him now. There had been two posters in an envelope tucked away at the back. Yet the next time he had looked for them they had gone. Now they were here again.
With trembling hands, Bart pulled the folded posters from the envelope. He had never really looked in detail at them before. Now he stared at them, open-mouthed. No! He couldn’t be. Bart let out a moan. Oh, but it all fitted. Carlson had said … Heyes! Hell! No! Joshua couldn’t be Hannibal Heyes! There was no way! Joshua was a nice, law-abiding, popular, businessman and devoted family man. He couldn’t be … one of the most successful outlaws that ever rampaged through the West!
Bart swallowed hard. His hand shook as he stared at the poster. It wasn’t helping any. Although out of date of course, the description matched. He glanced at the other poster. The description on there, matched … . It came to him in a flash. His name had been Jones. Thaddeus Jones. He had worked in the livery. Smith and Jones. Bart went cold and he let out another groan.
He collapsed into his chair, wondering what he should do. Then he remembered. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry had been given amnesty a few years back by the then Governor. Neither of them were wanted anymore. It was even rumoured that Kid Curry had gone back East to live and … Jones had gone to … Boston. Bart sat with his head in his hands.
So that was it. Hannibal Heyes had been living here for …? How many years? Quite a few years, anyway. Living amongst honest, decent, hardworking men and women. How dare he? Bart frowned. He like Joshua. He always smiled and said hallo. Asked after Bart’s wife and baby. And he had his own wife and family. HIS wife was the daughter of the previous sheriff! Did she know who he was? Bart gulped. Did Luke Fletcher know who his son-in-law was? Bart groaned and dropped his forehead to the desk. Oh, this was all too much!
Wheat was right about the rain. Heyes woke to the sound of heavy drops bouncing off the foliage above him. It was almost dark. He was cold and he pulled his jacket around him. He looked up and received a cold drop right in the eye. He jerked away, rubbing at his eye.
He blinked the cold water away and cradled his arm. He was uncomfortable. The ground was hard. The tree behind him was pressing into his back. It was dark and cold now it was raining. And he hurt. Boy did he hurt.
“Well if it doesn’t get any worse …” he muttered to himself, just as the rain increased and started to find its way more forcefully through the branches above. “Great! I sure jinxed that!” He groaned. “What’s the time?” He fumbled with his good hand for his pocket watch, skilfully flipped it open and peered at the dial. There was barely enough light but he thought he made out the time. “Where’s Wheat? He should be back by now!”
He pressed his hat more firmly to his head and tugged his jacket round him again. He pulled up his knees and discovered the right was swollen and wouldn’t bend. He gave it a tentative feel. Not good. He sighed and leant back against the tree, presenting a forlorn figure. A few minutes later, he looked even more forlorn when the heavens opened and dumped gallons upon gallons of cold, wet water on him.
“AWH! C’MON! GIVE ME A BREAK!” he yelled at the sky, then wished he hadn’t as he doubled over from the pain in his ribs. As if in answer lightening flashed, almost blinding him. There was nothing for it. He just had to sit tight and hope that help came soon.
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname