They were tired, thirsty, hungry and sore. Their horses were exhausted nearly in a state of total collapse. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were reaching the end of their endurance. They had been hunted now for nearly three days, stopping occasionally for a sip of water from their nearly empty canteens when they could. The terrain was difficult after days of heavy rain, making the ground soft and muddy. Intermittent showers still persisted. The horses were constantly slipping and had nearly gone down more than once, the competent riders managing to avoid what could be a fatal fall for both them and their mounts.
They were not sure whether it was a sheriff-led full-blown posse that was hunting them or just a group of men, possibly outlaws that had banded together for the rewards on their heads. They had counted seven. It really made little difference except that if it was a decent sheriff who had principles he might prefer to take them back alive--but reputable sheriffs were few and far between. Heyes knew that in all likelihood they would shoot to kill the gunman as they would be fearful of the Kid’s reputation. He also knew that if it wasn’t an official posse, then if they were caught alive it would be just a necktie party as their wanted posters were clearly marked dead or alive.
Kid Curry had been spotted in the saloon in Carbondale. They had just packed up and were ready to move on after a well paid delivery job. Kid had noticed the man slinking out of the doors and recognized him as a member of a gang he had joined briefly when he and Heyes had separated in their youth, a miserable time for both of them.
And now, after trying every way possible to shake their pursuers (and they knew every possible move available0, the decision to split was made. They shook hands and their eyes met, knowing that it could be the last time they would see the other. With trepidation and sadness, they spurred their horses in different directions.
‘Meet you in Glenwood Springs’ shouted Heyes as he disappeared in the murky distance.
Heyes eventually lost the three men that had veered from the rest of their pursuers to follow him. He had them travelling around in circles so in the end they were following their own tracks. He had made his way to higher firmer ground where tracking was difficult and then after resting and filling his canteen from a stream, started to proceed towards Glenwood Springs. He was desperately worried about the Kid, if he had been caught or even wounded or killed by the hunters. He kept telling himself that Kid Curry had the same abilities as him in respect of evading posses and that he was probably making his way to Glenwood Springs, but his instincts were telling him to go back to Carbondale for reasons he couldn’t understand. He wasn’t recognized there, so he felt it would be safe for him, but if his gut feeling was to go back to Carbondale then he had an uneasy feeling that Kid had been captured.
He arrived in Carbondale, checked into the hotel and ordered a bath. Luckily, due to the weather conditions the inhabitants of Carbondale all looked bedraggled and wet, so his appearance didn’t raise any questions. He soaked in his hot bath and worried.
Heyes’ mind covered all the scenarios that could have happened to his best friend, and planned his next moves based on each one. Kid was too intelligent to be caught; sometimes Heyes thought that Jed as the problem solver was the real genius of the pair, except for the times when his temper and hot headedness got the better of him or when a needy person required his help. The Kid could always make Heyes’ plans wor,k whether he thought they were good, bad or indifferent. He dressed in his suit, which he thought would offer some disguise, and then went to the Telegraph office and sent a telegram addressed to Thaddeus Jones in Glenwood Springs and one to Lom Trevors in Porteville.
He spent the next day sitting on the porch of the hotel, watching and waiting. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining. He had visited the restaurant the night before and although he had ordered the beef stew, a favourite of both partners, he failed to eat more than a few morsels. His stomach was churning with uneasiness. He gathered from overheard conversation that it was a sheriff-led posse and that the sheriff was a fair man. The general feeling seemed to be that if it was indeed Kid Curry they were pursuing, and especially if he was accompanied by his partner Hannibal Heyes, the chances were that they would either escape or be brought back dead.
And so he waited. Then late in the afternoon he watched the posse slowly return and his worst fears were confirmed. A body was lying over the saddle of one horse. Heyes slowly rose from his seat and with a nonchalance covering his inner turmoil, he walked at an unhurried pace towards the sheriff’s office. The group loitering outside looked fairly pleased with themselves, bantering and laughing with each other. As Heyes strolled nearer to them, he saw the Deputy walk out of the Sheriff’s office and ask if it was Kid Curry and if he was alive. Heyes was standing fairly close by now and could see that it was the Kid’s horse and his hat was tied to the saddle, but that Kid was covered head to toe in dark mud.
“Yes, he’s alive, just unconscious. We caught up with him being rescued out of Clayburn’s Slough by this here German fella. He must have rode straight into it not knowing that it is a muddy, stinking swamp at the best of times, even without all this rain we’ve had. He needs hosing down before we can put him behind bars.”
The Sheriff turned to shake hands with the additional posse member, who was covered in mud himself.
“Thanks, Mr. Schmitt, pop into my office in a couple of days and collect your share of the reward. Give my regards to your wife and if my wife or daughters need any dresses made I know where to send her.”
“My pleasure Sheriff, I am just grateful that I was able to rescue the man and that he is alive. No matter what he has done he didn’t deserve to die like that. Anyway, I am going to get myself cleaned up and take a long bath. Guten Abend.” The German turned, and as he did, he looked directly at Heyes.
Heyes extracted himself from the crowd who were waiting around to watch the hosing down of the captive. He quietly followed the German down the street, thinking that his partner really was a genius, a muddy one, but a genius nevertheless. The German turned again, and blue eyes met brown.