Jed Curry woke with a groan. Damn, it was cold. He could even smell snow in the air.
Kid ached, just because the ground was hard, and the weather cold. He stretched his fingers and toes and winced as they cracked.
It had been a long eight years since he and Heyes had made the fateful decision to go straight. Yet another governor had been appointed and they were still no closer to amnesty. At times they talked about giving up and heading South, or even returning to outlawing, but somehow being honest had become too hard a habit to break.
Day hadn't really broken, but the discomfort that had woken him, made returning to sleep impossible. Curry shivered, walked off a few yards, and relieved himself.
He poked the fire, coaxing it back to life. Curry had never been one for deep thoughts or fretting, but in the last year, his thoughts had taken a turn toward the worrisome. Their lives often depended on his abilities with a gun. His skill might not be in question, but age was no friend to speed and accuracy. Ironically, Thaddeus Jones and Joshua Smith had become almost as big a target for people fixing to settle scores as Heyes and Curry. Different level of folks, but no less dangerous. It was probably time to switch aliases.
“Hey, Kid, You wool gatherin' agin ?”
Curry's hand twitched toward his gun, before his mind caught up with his body. Heyes still called him Kid, probably always would, that thought brought a smile.
“Somethin' like that,” he replied, his voice sombre.
Kid turned to meet his partner's concerned gaze.
Curry considered the easy road, but dismissed it as merely delaying the necessary.
“Just thinkin' 'bout the future. We both know amnesty ain't goin' to happen. So we got choices to make. My gun hand won't be the best for ever.” Heyes's automatic denial was waved away with a hand.
“C'mon Heyes, you know it.”
Heyes looked at him, shrugged and then answered uncomfortably, “ Guess so, but we ain't got many options. You know that.”
“We could go on the way we are, until my gun fails us, and one or both of us gets killed. We could go back to outlawing, but neither of us want that, or we could split up.” To try and forestall the expected argument, he held up his hand and talked quickly.
“Look Heyes, we've had this discussion more than once. I won't leave in anger, but you know as well as me, your chances of making it are better on your own. Amnesty or no. “ He paused and grinned, “Well as long as you choose who to play with, and don't annoy 'em by telling them where they're going wrong. You ain't bad with a gun, and your silver tongue means you'll probably not need it often.“
“You've thought about this a lot,” said Heyes, a slightly lost look on his face. “ We'd agreed.....”
“That was back when we believed.”
“I'm meant to do the thinkin', Kid. “
Curry shrugged, “C'mon Heyes, that's not been true for a while now.”
Of course Heyes had known that, but it'd been a comfortable lie they'd both held onto. If Curry was determined to tell that truth. Heyes's heart sank, Curry was mulish when his mind was set.
“Well maybe, I need the two of us thinkin', now I'm used to it. You think of that?”
“Heyes, don't. You know this is the only way.”
Kid reached out, and laid his hand on his cousin's arm, squeezing gently. They sat like that, for a little while, until Kid broke the heavy silence, his voice wistful.
“I wish it weren't the best way, but....” He let the sentence trail off.
Heyes met Kid's unhappy gaze, his eyes troubled.
“I know, Kid, it just don't seem right.”
“You never know, this new Governor could do things right, and we'll both make it. I'll find ya if that happens.”
Heyes tried to reply in the affirmative, but had no voice to form the words.
They ate a subdued breakfast, both thinking too much to talk. For most of their lives, save a few foolish years, they'd been together, a matched pair. It shouldn't need to end, especially not like this.
Heyes rode into Gunnison. It wasn't the first time he'd been there, but he'd never visited or robbed it as Hannibal Heyes. The town was peaceable, and the sheriff had no cause to wonder who he might be. Heyes had been on the receiving end of a good run of luck and his pockets were full. Life should have been good, but the empty space next to him was too large to be right. The whole town looked freshly painted, so it was obviously prosperous. Heyes intended to stay for a couple of days. He headed towards the nearer of the two restaurants, after stabling his horse. As he sat at a vacant table, and waited to be served, he picked up an abandoned newspaper.
KID CURRY SHOT DEAD
Jedediah 'Kid' Curry, alias Thaddeus Jones, shot and killed by Boulder Sheriff.
Ageing gunfighter Curry, angry after being asked to leave town by Sheriff Thompson had called him out. Curry was staying in town under his alias Jones, also known as a notorious troublemaker. His true identity was only discovered on his death. There was no sign of Curry's usual partner in crime Hannibal Heyes. Indeed this reporter has it on good authority, that Heyes and Curry had parted on poor terms, due to Heyes's desire to leave outlawing behind him. A man such as Curry would of course have had no such desire.
Heyes's throat constricted, and his anger flared at the unfair inaccuracy of the story It was pointless really, thought Heyes jaggedly, that the unjustness annoyed him. Wasn't like it really mattered. Nothing much mattered now. He re-read the article. The room began to spin and go fuzzy as the reality of what he'd read hit hard. He was glad he wasn't standing up.
“Are you alright, Mister?” a pretty-eyed waitress had appeared at his table, her expression concerned.
“Fine, fine. Just tired from the ride in. “ He waved vaguely toward the street. She smiled and waited expectantly, but all thought of food was gone. With his mind spinning, he mechanically ordered coffee.
Boulder was probably a five day ride away. He had to find out what had happened, maybe even visit Kid's grave, if there was one of course.
Heyes drank the coffee, barely registering it, threw some money on the table, and went to reclaim his horse. The livery owner's boy, was still tending the horse, and was surprised at his sudden reappearance.
Heyes tipped him quite generously, explained something had come up. He needed to be out of town before his fragile composure shattered.
Heyes made camp when he and his horse could go no further. Ten hours in the saddle was more than enough for both him and his mount, despite his desire to go on.
Heyes angrily wiped his eyes as he picked at his supper. Tears were useless. However hard he tried to stop them, they kept coming, as heavy and painful as the memories that provoked them. Despite everything, complete exhaustion meant he slept. It was not a comfortable rest, he tossed and turned, waking often.
He woke before the sun, with just coffee for breakfast, he hit the trail. Curry would not have been impressed, he always insisted that a good breakfast was essential. Had insisted, Heyes thought bitterly. Busy berating himself that he should have tried harder to keep Kid from leaving, Heyes was a sitting duck for anyone hunting him. His luck however held.
Heyes made it to Boulder quicker then he'd imagined, due to pushing himself past exhaustion. It was the only way he could sleep. His poor horse was beyond tired.
Heyes stomped into Sheriff Thompson's office. Thompson was an older man, with strong features, and calm eyes. He looked up as Heyes slammed in, but didn't falter at the stony glare on his visitor's face. His unruffled demeanour wrong footed Heyes, and he numbly allowed the man to coax him to a chair.
“What brings you to Boulder, Mr?”
“Smith, Joshua Smith.”
Thompson met his gaze with a smile, his eyes warm. Heyes was puzzled, the reception not what he had expected at all.
“I've been waiting for you.”
Heyes considered going for his gun, but this man had outshot Kid, even at 100% capacity, beating him would have been impossible. He was barely at 10%
The Sheriff noticed his expression and his smile softened.
“I have a couple of items of interest to you, Mr Smith.” The drawl he gave the name left Heyes in no doubt the Sheriff knew exactly who he was. Heyes would not deny it. Twenty years in prison seemed a lot less daunting than it should. Oh Kid, he thought hopelessly.
Thompson held out two packages. Heyes took them suspiciously, and opened the top one. The words barely made sense.
Amnesty, awarded in full. It should have meant everything, but it was nothing more than a poison chalice. He dropped the paper heavily onto the desk, unwilling to touch it again.
“It'll mean a whole lot more, son, when you read the other one.”
I'm sorry it come to this, but I couldn't see another way.
“Don't make a spit of difference, Sheriff. He still ain't here.”
The Sheriff's smile broadened , and he indicated Heyes should carry on. Too worn to argue, Heyes continued to read.
Sheriff Thompson and I came up with a plan to kill The Kid and Thaddeus Jones. I'm so damn tired of running, Heyes.
Heyes shook his head hopelessly. Curry had agreed to this? Unshed tears burned his eyes so he could barely see, but he read on, blinking rapidly.
Two weeks after the Sheriff shot Kid Curry, Deke Simpson rode into town, his saddle bags full of gold dust. He bought a farm and settled in to wait for his new partner Hannibal Heyes.
Heyes finished the letter, then carefully unfolded the contract. Curry's untidy scrawl was easily recognisable despite the unfamiliar name.
“He's not dead?”
“Nope. He knew he'd be a target until the day he did die, so he came here for help. Lom's an old friend.”
“Kid really came to you for help with this?” Curry wasn't stupid, but Heyes hadn't figured him to be this imaginative.
Thompson laughed, before shaking his head. “ Kinda, but his plan probably involved actual dying. I wasn't real keen on that. I like him.“
Heyes snorted, Kid was alive, his world slipped back on its axis. He looked back at the contract and Thompson saw where his eyes settled.
“It isn't far from here. We'll go together. “
Heyes started to stand, ready for the ride, but Thompson put a firm hand on his shoulder pushing him back to sit.
“It'll wait till tomorrow.”
Heyes wanted to disagree, but he suddenly felt as weak as a day old kitten. His tangled emotions after so much stress, leaving him nothing except exhaustion.
The next morning, out in the street, looking for somewhere that served breakfast, he was suddenly aware of being watched. He looked up. Kid was there, his expression hard to read. Heyes froze, as emotion threatened to overspill. Curry started toward him, just as his own legs began to move. They met half way, in the middle of the street. Heyes gripped Curry's shoulders as his friend grasped his forearms. The grins blazoned across their faces said it all.