Sitting tight and low in the saddle Hannibal Heyes pulled so abruptly on the reins of the bay gelding that its hind quarters slid underneath its belly and iron-clad hooves scoured deep ruts in the dirt. Nostrils flaring, it threw its head about in protest. He then turned his mount in an inordinately tight circle and stared back across the flat, scrub-strewn plain. With a growl of irritation Heyes slapped his split reins sharply on the animal's rump hoping to elicit a little more speed but instead received a spirited buck in return.
Only having slowed a little, Kid Curry looked over his shoulder as his partner strove to catch up.
"They still back there?" he yelled.
Digging their spurs into the sweating equine flesh they galloped on toward the distant mountains.
Picking a safe route up the steep slope of loose rocks and large boulders was not easy. Both horses were fast reaching the point of collapse and stumbled constantly. When at last they arrived at the ridge the two outlaws realized that they faced yet another problem. As well as the posse behind them it appeared that they were now hemmed in on two sides by towering rocks and straight ahead was a sheer drop. They had ridden straight into a dead-end.
"Dammit, Heyes, we're trapped! That posse's gonna catch us now for sure."
Heyes jumped from his horse and cautiously looked over the edge. The gorge was deep and narrow and the river running through it fast-flowing. He stood, hands on hips, staring pensively at the far side while he considered their options.
Meanwhile, Kid Curry dismounted and quickly pulled his rifle from the saddle scabbard together with a full box of bullets from his saddlebags.
"Looks like we're gonna have to shoot our way outta this one," he stated as, with an expert eye, he scoured the surrounding area for a suitable place to make their stand.
"Hmmm. Maybe." A plan was beginning to form in the outlaw leader's nimble brain.
"What d' ya mean 'maybe'? You sayin' we should surrender?"
Heyes absently waved a gloved hand. "Just give me a minute," he said, getting down on his belly and wriggling forward to peer over the edge and into the chasm below.
"Heyes, what do you think you're doing? In case you ain't noticed, that posse was gettin' real close. We don't have time to waste lookin' at the scenery," complained Kid.
Scrambling to his feet Heyes straightened his brand new, but now very dusty, black beaver felt hat and shortened the stampede strings a little underneath his chin. He then untied the rope which bound two small canvas sacks to his saddle horn and hung them over his shoulder.
"Leave that rifle," he ordered.
"Are you crazy!?" Curry was aghast. "We're gonna need all the firepower we can muster."
"No, we won't. There isn't gonna be any shooting 'cause we're going down there."
A pair of blue eyes followed Heyes' finger as he pointed to the gorge.
"Well, it's decided. You really are crazy," Curry griped. "If you think I'm gonna jump—"
"Look, Kid, it's perfect. Grissom and his crew will find our abandoned horses and when they don't get their heads blowed off, or find any tracks leading away from here, they'll head on downstream hoping to find what's left of our bodies and turn them in for the reward. The Wanted posters now say 'Dead or Alive', remember?"
With most of his weight on his back foot Kid Curry was only half-listening as he slowly sidled toward the drop.
Shaking his head he stated, emphatically. "I still ain't gonna jump!"
Several members of the ten-man posse stood in a huddle as near to the edge as they dared.
"Musta gone over, Marshal," one said.
"Yeah. There's no place for 'em to go but over," said another. He indicating the lathered beasts. "Them's their horses. They wouldn't have gotten much further on 'em anyways; they're about to give out.
"Dagnabbit!" exclaimed a third, slamming his hat to the ground. "I really thought we had 'em; they musta took the money with 'em too."
"I dunno, boys." A frown creased Marshal Grissom's brow. "Something don't feel right to me. I heard those two are real smart and if they're as smart as folks say, I don't think they'd jump."
"But, now we got 'em cornered they'd be shootin' at us, wouldn't they?" asked the first.
"Kid Curry sure would. He's real ornery," opined the third.
"Can't find no tracks 'cept the ones over there at the edge, Marshal. They musta jumped."
Marshal Grissom let loose a frustrated curse. It had been a long hard chase and he didn't want to let his deputies down.
"Tell you what, boys. We'll head back down the trail, find our way down to the river and follow it along for a spell. A jump like that would kill you stone dead and, you never know, we may get lucky if one of their bodies happens to get snagged downstream."
Out of sight, roughly twenty feet below the edge, Hannibal Heyes listened intently to the sound of the departing posse. Once he was certain it was all clear he glanced sideways at a scowling Kid Curry who crouched, gripping a thick length of vine, at the opposite end of a narrow rocky ledge.
"Told you it would work," he said, a wide, satisfied grin spreading across his dimpled face.
"Heyes, as far as I'm concerned it ain't worked 'til we're back up top again without these vines snappin' and us fallin' to our deaths."
"You worry too much, Kid." Heyes gave his own cluster of twisted woody stems a testing tug. "Feels solid enough to me," he stated, confidently.
Knowing he was a little stronger than his rangy partner Kid adjusted his grip in preparation for the climb. "You stay right where you are. I'll go first then I can help you with that overhang."
"No need. It's simple. I just hafta—"
As Heyes once more let the vine take his full weight a section of it became detached from the myriad of crevices it clung to, liberally showering him with dirt and making him lose his already precarious footing.
Swinging away from the ledge he attempted to steady himself by scraping the toes of his boots across the rock and, for a few seconds, thought he had once more regained control. That was until the brim of his new hat collided awkwardly against a rock jutting out from the cliff face and tipped from his head. Instinctively, Heyes let go of the vine with one hand and made a wild grab for it. This sudden movement, however, together with the downward angle of his arm caused the two sacks to slip from his shoulder.
Having only just managed to catch his falling hat, Heyes resisted the temptation to make a second lunge knowing that it could be the last thing he ever did. He had to let the sacks go.
Horrified, the two outlaws watched as the entire contents of the safe in the Mercantile Bank of Cheyenne plummeted toward the roiling water below.
Curry heaved a sigh. "Y' know somethin'?"
"Now I wanna jump."
Holding tightly to the now barely oscillating vine Hannibal Heyes placed his hat firmly back on his head and looked sheepishly at his partner's grim face. "Sorry Kid, I just reached for the first thing...."
Ice blue eyes turned his way.
"Well, that thirty dollar hat just turned into a thirty thousand dollar one, Heyes, so you'd better be figurin' on keepin' it — for a very long time."