Hannibal Heyes was young to be leader of this gang of ruffians—just barely twenty, and Jed was even younger—he learned a lot about gang management from his predecessor, Big Jim Santana. He stayed with many of Santana’s methods, but others, he kicked to the wayside. Giving everyone their full share, right after a successful robbery, was one of those traditions that got the boot.
There was a lot of grumbling at first, especially from Wheat. He had been Big Jim’s second in command and nothing was sticking in his craw more than the fact that this little up-start had slipped into the leadership role, without so much as a by your leave. At first, it had been Jed Curry’s reputation that had kept the crotchety outlaw in line, but what had truly sealed his fate was the lack of support from his fellows.
Big Jim had been a good leader, and the gang members respected him. Well, until one of them turned him in for the reward, that is. But none could deny the increase of the payload once Hannibal Heyes had taken over. He was young, but he was experienced and intelligent. The jobs he planned were meticulous in their detail and generally went smooth as silk.
Wheat was well liked, and he’d been round for ages, but even the dimmest of the gang members knew they wouldn’t be haulin’ in the kind of loot with him, as they were with Heyes.
That first summer with Heyes in command had been the gang’s most profitable to date. Heyes might not hand out all the cash at one time, but he didn’t mind spreading the wealth when a special occasion cropped up.
The 4th of July was always a great excuse to get rowdy, but this year was different. Mid-way through ‘hunting season’ and the gang was doing well. Too well, in fact, since their most recent robbery made it dangerous for anyone to leave Devil’s Hole. It was one of those irritating conundrums when there was plenty of money in the party fund to have some fun, but nowhere to go to find that fun.
The day started out with the gang members in grouchy moods. Heyes decided he’d better do something about it. He took his partner aside and, after a conspiratorial meeting, Curry rode away with a smile on his face and a bag of coins in his saddle bags.
“Where’s he goin’?” Kyle asked, as he flung a fork full of manure into the wheelbarrow. “I thought we was all confined ta’ the hideout.”
“How the hell should I know?” Lobo spread fresh straw over a patch of urine-soaked bedding. “I ain’t his damned keeper.”
Two hours later, Hank sent up a shot to let the gang know someone was coming. It was one shot, not two, so those who heard it at all simply shrugged and went back to playing cards. It was just the Kid coming back from wherever he’d gone. So what?
Then interests were piqued as the sound of a rattling coach was soon replaced by the coach itself, with Kid Curry up on the drivers’ seat. Sitting beside him was a young woman, all dolled up in her frilly best, with black stocking-clad ankles and calves hanging off the coach for all to see.
The gang members stood around and gaped at the spectacle.
It wasn’t just one woman either, the whole dang coach was loaded with them. Hands waving handkerchiefs sprouted out of every window while infectious feminine laughter reverberated around the yard.
Nobody moved. Women weren’t allowed in Devil’s Hole. This was a hard and dry rule. At least it was when Big Jim had been in charge.
All eyes turned to their great leader.
Heyes strutted down the steps of the cabin, a grin pinning down his dimples. “Have at it, boys! Happy 4th of July!”
A wild whoop went up and the gang charged the coach.
It was all Curry could do to keep the horses under control, because seeing that horde of predators descending upon them, sent the equines into an escalated state of panic. They reared and plunged, trying to escape their traces. But then the avalanche thundered past them and, instead of attaching the horses, the men descended upon the coach, each helping themselves to a giggling, accommodating young lady. Of course, it helped that Heyes has given the Kid enough money to pay them all up front, and very handsomely as well.
Curry sighed as he put up the harness horses for the afternoon. Why is it that he did all the work, yet ended up tending to the animals instead of a fetching wench? Life just weren’t fair sometimes.
He put the horses in the corral, threw them some hay and headed for the leader’s cabin. The yard was deserted.
“Where’d everybody go?”
Heyes grinned as Curry joined him on the porch. “Oh, I think they’re occupied with something else, right now.”
“Hmm. Yeah, I suppose.”
He turned around and surveyed the yard. His smile returned as a pretty little thing in a bright green, lacey dress stepped out from behind the outhouse. She sent Curry a disarming smile, as she sashayed her way toward the outlaw leaders.
“Haidy, Mr. Curry.”
“Well, how do, Miss Ella. Why ain’t you picked yourself a fella and gone ta’ have some fun?”
“I already done picked my fella.” She batted her eyelashes at him. “You up for it, cowboy?”
Curry giggled and he slapped Heyes on the back.
“Oh, yes ma’am. Why don’t you step on up here, and we’ll have ourselves a mighty good time.”
“I was hopin’ you’d say that.”
Heyes grinned like a fool as Miss Ella came up the steps and slipped her hand through Curry’s arm.
Curry sent his partner a beaming smile, then the couple disappeared into the cabin.
Heyes stood on the porch, giggling to himself over the success of his plan, until he realized that he was the only one standing out there, all by himself.
Heyes and Curry sat comfortably on the porch, leaning back, with legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, each nursing their fourth . . . or fifth mug of beer. The fire pit by the bunkhouse had a slow burn going, with venison steaks, a large pot of beans and another of boiling potatoes laid out across the rack. The air filled with enticing aromas and savory anticipation.
Everyone was hungry.
Good spirits and beer flowed. Hank had his guitar out and sang every outlaw-friendly song that came to mind. Some joined in, despite not knowing the words, while others whooped and hollered, or picked a lady and danced to their own tunes. It had been a good day, and with the continued leadership of the ‘boy genius’, it promised to be a great season.
“I had a bit of a surprise in town today,” Curry commented after a lengthy stretch of silence.
“Hmm. Words gotten around. It seems passengers from our last train robbery knew who we are.”
“Really?” Heyes perked up. “Well, it’s about time.”
“Apparently, we’re worth five thousand a piece.”
“Is that all? I alone, being leader, ought to be worth at least two thousand more than you.”
“Oh, I donno,” Curry said. “You might have the brains, Heyes, but I got the gun. That counts for a lot.”
Heyes puffed. “Maybe once you out-grow that baby face. Ever think of growing a moustache? You’d be intimidating enough then—maybe. You’re not even twenty yet.”
“So what? I can still pull the trigger. I got a reputation, ya’ know. Folks are scared ‘a me.”
“Yeah? Like who?”
“Wheat, fer one.”
“Yeah, well . . . Wheat. Who else?”
“I don’t know ‘em by name, but . . . folks.”
“Right. Well, I tell ya’, Kid—.”
“I’ve told ya’ before, Heyes; don’t call me ‘Kid’. I don’t like it.”
“But that’s your gunny handle.”
“It ain’t. I’m Jed Curry. That’s my handle.”
“Yeah, but Kid, on every wanted poster I’ve seen on you, it says Jedidiah ‘Kid’ Curry. And, it makes sense. Your last name is Curry and you are still just a kid. Let’s face it, you’ve been saddled with that handle, so you better own it.”
“It don’t make no sense,” Curry argued. “You’re just a kid, too, dagnabbit. You ain’t much older ‘n me. I don’t see ‘Kid Curry’ stamped on your wanted posters.”
“Well, the name’s already taken, Kid. We can’t have two Kid Curry’s out there. Besides, every gunman worth his salt is ‘Kid’ something: Kid Shalane, Billy the Kid, The Apache Kid, The Sundance Kid . . . I’m afraid it’s a fate you can’t avoid.”
Curry harrumphed. “It might help if you stopped callin’ me ‘Kid’.”
“Hey, Heyes, Kid!” Charlie called from the fire pit. “Steaks is done!”
“See?” Heyes commented. “I’m afraid there’s no avoiding it.”