The first rays of the sun were just hitting the roof of the cabin when, with a yawn and a stretch, Hannibal Heyes stepped out onto the porch and into the fresh spring air. He stood for a moment absent-mindedly scratching his back through his white henley while he surveyed the Devil's Hole hideout. As he looked about him his attention was drawn to a number of individuals standing in a huddle at the far end of the corral. Heyes frowned, considering what this could mean.
Leaning toward the cabin door he said, "Kid, you might want to come out here. Something's going on."
Kid Curry hastened onto the porch, his boots in one hand and his gun belt in the other. Standing beside his partner he followed Heyes' gaze while he strapped on his rig.
"Maybe Wheat has finally gotten up the guts to take you on," he said wryly, pulling on his boots.
Heyes frowned, dubiously. "Y' think?"
"No. But it probably ain't good, whatever it is."
"Let's go find out. C'mon."
The group were so intent on their conversation that they didn't notice the two men approaching.
"Oh...Oh....Mornin, Heyes, Kid," replied Wheat with a nod to the gunman who remained a few feet behind his partner, his weight hanging on one hip and both hands resting comfortably on the buckle of his gun belt. Kid's acknowledgement was a curt nod in return.
"What y'all doing out here?" asked Heyes, cheerily.
"We're having ourselves a confab," replied Wheat.
"In the corral?"
"You got some rule says we can't?"
Heyes was accustomed to Wheat's churlish attitude but sensed he was being a little more cagey than usual. Suspicion mounting, he narrowed his eyes. "A confab, huh - what about?"
"I don't reckon we's obligated to tell ya," replied Wheat, haughtily.
"Wheat." There was no mistaking the edge to Kid Curry's voice and his arms now hung loosely by his sides. This was the stance every gang member had seen many times before and which usually resulted in a demonstration of the gunman's fast draw. Every man, with the exception of Hannibal Heyes, unconsciously held his breath.
"Well, if you really wanna know, Kid... Y' see me and the boys here, we was talkin' 'bout Kyle."
"What about him?" asked Heyes, the intensity in his brown eyes increasing as he readied himself to defend the diminutive man in his absence. The group of men began to shift uncomfortably from foot to foot.
"Uh...", began Hank.
"It's just...," added Merkle.
"W.. w-we thought...," stuttered Mattson.
"Don't reckon it'll hurt him none," declared Lobo.
"What won't hurt? Tell me what the Sam Hill you're talking about," urged Heyes.
After taking a quick look around to make sure there was no sign of Kyle, Wheat pulled himself up to his full height and stuck out his chin. "The truth of it is, Heyes... Kyle needs a bath. He stinks."
With a loud burst of laughter, Heyes asked, "And you've only just noticed? Kyle has never smelt of roses, fellas."
"We know that, but Heyes you and the Kid don't have to share a bunkhouse with him. It's gettin' real bad and we was just workin' on a plan to do somethin' about it."
Heyes looked at each man in turn as he considered this. They didn't have a big job coming up anytime soon so a little high jinks wouldn't do the boys any harm. He flashed a conspiratorial grin over his shoulder at the Kid and said, "Okay, I'm in. What's the plan?"
"I'm in too." Kid Curry took a step forward. "But on one condition."
All eyes turned toward the gunman.
"Kyle cooks breakfast first."
The conversation around the large bunkhouse table was a little rowdy at times while the men happily tucked into fried bacon, scrambled eggs, a generous stack of flapjacks with sorghum syrup as well as a pile of freshly baked biscuits, all washed down with mugs of hot, strong, black coffee.
While the Kid ate his fill with the rest of them Heyes leaned back in his chair leisurely sipping his coffee. Now that they had brought it to his attention, he had to admit the bunkhouse did smell bad. The winter had been a long one and he was darned if he could remember the last time the place had been aired, let alone cleaned, or any of the bedding washed. He would add it to his list of things that needed to be done once the main job of the day had been dealt with, namely Kyle's bath.
When all the plates had been wiped clean with the last pieces of biscuit Heyes put down his mug with a thud and stared at the empty dishes.
"Oh, now will you look at that; all the flapjacks have gone and I didn't get any!"
Kyle Murtry stopped licking his plate, his blue eyes wide in astonishment at the notion that Heyes might actually want something other than coffee for breakfast.
"Ah can mek y' up a batch, Heyes. Won't tek me more'n a minute," he offered.
Heyes smiled genially. "Thank you, Kyle. I appreciate that."
Jumping to his feet Kyle quickly tossed a glob of grease into the frying pan and ladled in a helping of batter. Heyes began talking about his plans to repair the barn roof until at last he gave a nod and silently they all got to their feet.
Kyle, who was busy watching the pan, didn't notice anything unusual until the men were almost upon him. Turning, he threw up his hands in alarm, knocking the pan's contents onto the hot stove with an almighty sizzle.
"W...w-what y'all doin'?" he stammered.
"You're coming outside with us, Kyle," growled Wheat. Heyes rolled his eyes, there was no need to sound quite so menacing.
"What fer? What's goin' on?" Wide-eyed with panic Kyle stood on tip-toe endeavouring to get a glimpse of the dark-haired leader. "I ain't done nuthin' wrong, Heyes!" he cried, as several pairs of hands seized him and hoisted him aloft. Still unaware of his fate Kyle was then carried out of the bunkhouse kicking and yelling and cursing a blue streak.
It wasn't until they neared the corral that he suddenly realized what might be in store and began to struggle even more but, being of small stature he stood little chance against the combined might of his fellow outlaws.
And so, it was with an almighty splash that Kyle found himself unceremoniously dumped into the cold water of the waiting horse trough.
Coming up coughing and spluttering and gasping for air he made a valiant attempt to flee but his flailing limbs were held firmly. Then, his boots, shirt and pants were pulled off and a large bar of lye soap liberally applied all over, thereby washing his unsavoury union suit and extremely ripe socks at the same time.
Making sure he was out of reach of a soaking Hannibal Heyes stood watching nearby, while Kid leaned nonchalantly against the roughly hewn corral railing.
When at last Kyle was deemed suitably clean and sweeter-smelling the men stood back, breathing hard and shaking their wet shirtsleeves while allowing their victim to leap clear of the trough.
"Did ya see what they gone an' done t' me?" bellyached Kyle, squelching across the corral to stand in front of Heyes.
Brown eyes regarded the large puddle as it formed around Kyle's feet. "I did and, let's face it Kyle, it was well overdue."
"Why, I ain't no dirtier than the rest of 'em!"
"No, you ain't," agreed Heyes. "That's why the rest of 'em are gonna have a bath too. Right now."
Five damp and dishevelled outlaws turned five incredulous pairs of eyes his way.
"Ain't gonna happen," stated Wheat with conviction, shaking his head and striding menacingly toward Heyes. "That weren't part o' the plan."
Glaring at the grinning outlaw leader he took another step forward as the rest of the gang joined him. "I mighta known you'd double-cross us, you snake in the-."
The unmistakable sound of a Colt .45 being cocked made the moustachioed man stop in his tracks.
"Get in the trough." Kid Curry's voice was low and steady. "All of you."
"Now just a doggone minute!"
The first bullet buried itself in the dirt between Wheat's boots, the second took Lobo's hat from his head and the third whipped Mattson's cheroot out from between his teeth.
This was all the incentive the men needed to send them scrambling back to the horse trough, shedding clothes in all directions as they went.
With a satisfied smile Kid twirled his gun back into its holster then he, Heyes and Kyle watched five half-naked outlaws almost come to blows over who would be the first to use the soap.