To misquote Robert Burns - the best laid plans often go awry - especially of mice and outlaw leaders!
The Devil’s Hole Gang had experienced a very lucrative year and now in a December that was exceptionally mild Hannibal Heyes and his partner Kid Curry were about to lead the gang on one last raid. Silver Gorge lay almost a day’s ride from Devil’s Hole and it was the town the gang favored when they had money to spend. Sheriff Bill Talent was a good natured drunk and the town was prosperous enough to have three saloons, a clean hotel and a well run whore house thus providing all that an outlaw gang could want. There was also a bank, a train and stagecoach stop. The Devil’s Hole Gang had never robbed the bank so they were always welcomed in the town. Tomorrow the 8th December Caleb Montgomery the third was due to overnight there. Heyes had heard, on good authority that the young Caleb liked to pass his evenings in the company of working girls and that he always travelled with very large amounts of cash, most of which he deposited in the local bank of whichever town he was visiting. It appeared that he was escorted by two bodyguards who accompanied their charge even when he spent the evenings in establishments of ill repute. Caleb was the heir to a vast fortune made by his father and grandfather in mines and railroads but he liked to travel in the ‘wild’ west gaining experiences for the stories he intended to write. The ‘good authority’ that had furnished Heyes with this information was Betsy Clarke, the proprietor of the whore house mentioned earlier. In both Heyes’s and Curry’s experience Betsy and her ilk were the best authorities on events in towns and so it was that Heyes concocted a scheme aided and abetted by Curry.
The previous Christmas the gang had been snowed in for the holidays and so Heyes and Curry had made the decision to spend this Christmas away from it. They had managed to set aside some money to ensure a trip to San Francisco and after the bank raid planned for tomorrow their holiday kitty would be even larger allowing both men to indulge themselves in the city. The rest of the gang had also made plans so it looked like the Hole would be deserted for Christmas and the gang would meet up again there in the new year.
11pm and the plan was going well. Heyes and Curry were in the bank, they didn’t expect the robbery to be discovered until the morning, allowing them a clean getaway. Hank was watching Sheriff Talent drink heavily in the The Golden Horseshoe saloon. Lobo was watching Betsy’s place to make sure Caleb and his protectors stayed there. Wheat and Kyle were positioned at each end of the town as lookouts and Preacher was positioned in the alley where the back entrance to the bank lay. Heyes opened the safe easily it was an early Pierce and Hamilton and both he and Curry laughed when they saw the neat piles of dollar bills tied together with a note ‘Montgomery Money’. Curry whistled softly as Heyes did a quick calculation $36,000 and nodded his agreement as his partner pocketed one thousand saying “Brother Kevin’s Boys?” then they quickly split the remaining piles into two saddlebags, turned down the oil lamp, relocked the back door,emerged into the alley and mounted their horses that Preacher had been holding.
Young deputy Burt Galbraith had stopped for a quick call of nature at the opposite end of the alley from Preacher and just as he buttoned his flies the moon came out from behind a cloud showing clearly two men emerge from the rear door of the bank. For a moment Burt was stunned as the the men mounted horses held by a third; but as the riders headed for the main street he reached for his gun and shouted. “Stop” firing at the retreating figures.
Curry felt an explosion of pain in his left shoulder as he followed his companions on to the main street.
“Damn” Heyes cursed under his breath as he and the rest of the gang headed out of town but he had heard only one shot so maybe their luck would hold.
Dawn was breaking as Heyes lead the gang into familiar territory. Half an hour later he tied his horse to the hitching post outside the leader’s cabin and began giving orders to the men as they arrived back. Curry, as usual was last to arrive. Heyes looked up and knew immediately that something was terribly wrong. His partner was slumped over the the neck of his horse. Heyes rushed forward, grabbed the reins and reached for his friend. Curry tried to smile but his eyes closed as Heyes eased him from the saddle. Preacher was beside him in an instant and the chatter of the outlaws stopped as they realized what was happening. Preacher and Heyes carried Curry between them into the cabin.
A week; seven days, had never felt so long to Heyes as he watched his best fiend fight for his life. Preacher had got the bullet out of Curry’s shoulder but Heyes, anytime he managed to close his eyes, still dreamt about the blood staining his partners plaid jacket, so much blood; too much blood.
So far Curry had run three high fevers, each time one broke Heyes’s spirits lifted but each time the sweating had returned and Curry’s strength was failing.
Three days later and Curry’s fever hadn’t returned. He still looked deathly pale but he was drinking water and managing to keep down some stew.
Preacher was leaving, he had offered to stay but Heyes had insisted that he go and meet his sister in Mexico. Heyes slipped him $1000 as he left and asked him to drop it into Brother Kevin who ran an orphanage for boys just south of Silver Gorge.
Curry continued making slow progress back to health. He was lethargic as a result of his blood loss and his legendary appetite was almost non existent. He slept a lot and said very little as if just staying alive took all the energy he could muster.
Curry sat wrapped in the quilt from his bed beside the fire in the main room of the cabin. Heyes sat down opposite him. “Think you could manage a little whisky, Kid? It’s Christmas eve and we should celebrate.”
“I’m sorry, Heyes.” Kid spoke softly.
“For what, Kid?”
“For messin’ up our plans for Christmas.”
Heyes ran his fingers through his hair. “Do you think I care where we spend Christmas? San Francisco will always be there but I nearly lost you.” Heyes rose from his seat and walked to the window. He reached for a candle lying on the sill and returned to the fire where he lit it, sheltering the flame with his hand he returned to the window and put the candle in a small brass holder. He turned back towards his companion. “It’s snowing, Kid.”
Curry winced as he attempted to stand up. Heyes was there in an instant, reaching out to steady his swaying partner. “Whoa, Kid, just take it easy.”
Curry shot him a defiant look. Heyes spoke loudly while he helped Kid from the chair . “Jedediah Curry you are the most stubborn son...man I know.” his voice was full of emotion.
They stood at the window looking at the snow falling gently outside. “You lit it.” Curry whispered.
“We always do, Kid. I don’t know about you but I don’t want grandpa’s ghost haunting me. He’d be harder to shake than a posse of Indian scouts.”
Curry smiled sadly. “Yeah! He always said you had to leave a candle burning on Christmas Eve to show Jesus he was welcome. I wonder what Christ would make of an outlaw cabin?”
Heyes discreetly helped his partner back to his seat. “I think Grandpa would say he’d be more comfortable among thieves than hypocrites.”
Heyes tucked the blanket around his partner and poked at the fire. Both of them were lost for a few moments in a childhood Christmas. Heyes broke the spell. Looking at his watch he spoke. “It’s midnight, Kid, happy Christmas.” Then he disappeared into his room emerging with a large bundle but before he could hand it to his friend Curry said.
“I got something for you too, go to the chest under my bed and you’ll find a small sack.”
Heyes fetched it and sat opposite Curry.
Curry’s eyes beamed as he pulled out a sheepskin jacket. “Heyes, it’s the one I saw in town but it was gone when I went back to buy it. Thank you.”
Heyes opened the sack and lifted a gold embossed leather bound book from it and read the title aloud. “ A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.” Thank you, Kid.” He opened it and began to read -
“Marley was dead, to begin with.”