As the wrought iron gate opened, the cautious head of Kid Curry peeped out. The world beyond was opaque and shimmering, impossible to see through.
Across the street, Heyes’ eyes flicked up and over the top of the newspaper he was reading. A wide grin spread across his face.
Heyes hurriedly folded the newspaper, uncrossed his legs and levered himself up.
Hearing his name called, the Kid looked round for the shout. His mouth fell open as Heyes crossed the street, suspiciously devoid of traffic. The Kid eased fully round the gate as a disembodied hand reached out, closing it firmly behind him. The loud clang, made him jump.
In a daze, the Kid stumbled into the street.
“Heyes?” he queried, totally confused at seeing his partner. Then a big grin as they met in the middle of the street. “HEYES!”
“Yeah, Kid it’s me. ‘Bout time you got here.”
“It was difficult to get away.”
The pair grinned at each other. A moment later, they were pounding each other on the back, as if they hadn’t seen each other in years.
“I don’t understand,” the Kid said, shaking his head. “Where are we?” He looked around at the nondescript western town.
Heyes grinned, patting his arm. “Over here and I’ll tell you.” He indicated the hotel porch, where he was sitting.
The Kid sank heavily into a chair.
“Where do you think we are?” Heyes asked. There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye. The Kid was immediately suspicious.
“Well you … . You’re … ?”
Heyes’ grin widened, waiting.
“Then that must mean that … I … am too.”
“So … .” The Kid looked round nervously. “Did we go … ?” The legendary trigger finger and eyes pointed up.
Heyes laughed and gave the Kid’s arm a slap. “Yes, Kid. We went up.”
Slowly the Kid grinned. “Well I sure didn’t expected to end up here.”
“Uh huh,” Heyes nodded. “I know. I was kinda surprised when I got here.”
The Kid snatched off his hat and gave his hair a fluff. He blew out his cheeks.
“How come?” he demanded, fearing a trick.
“We weren’t evil men, Kid. Just a little misguided in our youth. The other place only takes those who are without redemption. You’re on probation for now, just to be sure.”
“Probation?” The Kid frowned.
“Yes. It’s kinda like provisional amnesty,” he said, cheerfully.
The Kid groaned.
“You passed your probation?”
“Of course.” Heyes looked indignant. “Otherwise I wouldn’t still BE here.” Heyes shook his head. “Believe me, Kid. The stories I’ve heard about the other place. You don’t wanna go there.” Unconsciously he unfolded the newspaper.
“So erm when do I get fitted?” the Kid asked, softly, leaning over.
“Fitted?” Heyes frowned.
“Yeah, y’know for my wings?”
“Wings?” Then Heyes caught on. “No.” He shook his head. “We’re not angels Kid.”
“We’re not? I thought anyone who went up became an angel?”
“Nope. Only a very few get to be angels. There’s a strict limit on numbers. You can apply and there’s all sorta privileges. So worth doing.” He shook out his paper. “I did a while back. I was rejected.”
Heyes sniffed, sticking his nose in the air. “The egg trick.”
Heyes licked his lips. “Seems it counts as deception,” he mumbled, peering intensely at something in the newspaper.
“Sheesh! They’re tough.”
“Yes and I’d advise you not to keep using that word.”
Heyes mouthed the S word. “The big man doesn’t like it.”
“The … big … man? You’ve seen him?”
“Sure. Comes by all the time. Nice fella. Does a great Elvis impression,” Heyes said, casually turning a page.
“Elvis? Who’s Elvis?”
“Ah!” Heyes looked up. “Yes. He’s a singer but he was born after you died.”
With a certain satisfaction, the Kid gave Heyes the “look” for the first time in over twenty years.
“So, how does it work here?”
“Well.” Heyes folded up the newspaper. The title was The Heavenly Tribune. “So while you’re on probation for thirty days, I’m your mentor. Y’know here to show you around, tell you the rules … and penalties. Generally keep an eye out for you.”
The Kid grunted. “Well that’ll be easy. I’m an old man, in a wheelchair.”
Heyes shook his head. “No Kid not here. I see a young man, dressed in western gear, carrying a holster. The gun is missing of course.” The Kid immediately looked down at his right hip. All he could see was the side of his wheelchair. Then when he thought about it, Heyes had been at the same height when they greeted each other earlier. And there was a step to get onto the porch where they now sat. That had presented no problems.
“Sh … .” A dig in the ribs cut off his confusion. Heyes was still talking.
“You look to me like you did … .” Heyes pursed his lips and studied his partner thoughtfully. “Like you did, when we were going for amnesty I guess.”
The Kid frowned at him. Heyes looked serious and for once, he couldn’t detect any mirth about to spring up.
“How do you see me?” “’Bout the same I guess.”
Heyes smiled tight-lipped and nodded. “See … .” He moved in his chair, leaning over. “This is a funny ole place. Time and appearances are a little fluid. Takes a little getting used to. Mary sees me as about forty-five.”
“Mary’s here? Your wife, Mary?”
“Of course. Everyone’s here. Everyone who ever lived or will live, ‘cept those who go down. But you can only meet folks YOU knew who came before you. Until THEY arrive of course.” He paused and rolled his eyes. “Be interesting in the future, when Tulsee gets here.” He bit his bottom lip thoughtfully. “Not sure she and Mary will hit it off.”
“Wait a minute! So … Caroline’s here? An’ … Chris?”
“Yes. She told me to tell you hi.”
“Well I need to see her.” The Kid started out of his chair. “Now.”
“Ah Kid, I’m afraid you can’t ‘till you passed your probation. If you think ‘bout it, it’s a good incentive.”
The Kid sat back. “But I get to see you?”
“Like I said, I’m your mentor.”
The Kid groaned, rubbing his forehead. “Heyes, I wanna see Caroline again. I need to pass.”
“And you will,” Heyes said, insistent, patting his arm. “With me helping, you can’t fail.”
The Kid had occasion to throw the look again.
“Are our folks here?”
“How do they look?”
“Like they did the last time we saw ‘em.”
“D’ya see ‘em much?”
“Sure for family celebrations an’ that. Now that Ma and Mary get on better, things are fine.”
Heyes pursed his lips. “Not at first no.” He licked his lips. “Ma still sees me as a twelve year old boy. Finding out I have a wife was kinda hard on her.”
The Kid frowned. “Complicated ain’t it?” he muttered.
“You’ll soon get used to it.”
“Not if Ma sees me as a ten year old I won’t,” the Kid muttered, rolling his eyes.
“So what happens now?” he said after a few moments of contemplation.
“For now we just sit here and let you take it all in. There’s a lot to get your head around.”
“You’re telling me,” the Kid, puffed.
“I am,” Heyes nodded and returned to his newspaper. “Let me know when you have a question.”
For several minutes, the Kid turned things over in his mind.
“What about eatin’ and drinkin’? Do you do that here?”
Heyes pulled aside the paper and grinned. “Trust you to ask ‘bout that straight off.” He took a deep breath. “We don’t HAVE to but a lot of folks, like you, find that they need to go through the process. So there’s ambrosia and nectar that does the job.”
The Kid wrinkled up his nose. “Don’t think I like the sound of either of those. So no steak?”
“Not even tinned peaches?”
Heyes grinned. “No, just ambrosia and nectar.”
“So what are they like?”
It was Heyes’ turn to wrinkle his nose. “Ambrosia is okay. It’s a little like a creamy rice pudding. Nectar is far too sweet.” He shook his head. “But … .” He raised a finger and tapped it on the Kid’s arm. “You can collect points if you can guess the type of flower the bee used to collect the pollen. Save up for all kinda things.”
Heyes shrugged. “Whatever you want.” He winced. “Thing is we don’t NEED anything. Heaven is all-inclusive.”
The Kid puffed, thinking some more.
“Do we sleep?”
“We can but most folks don’t.”
“I bet you’re one of ‘em,” the Kid muttered, under his breath.
Heyes grinned but declined to comment. “The hotel here has beds you can use while you’re settling in,” he said, pointing behind him.
“Is there any way of seeing what’s going on? Y’know, down there in the world?”
Heyes’ face took on a pained expression. “Yes. If you really want to,” he said, slowly.
“I really want to.”
Heyes sighed, and levered himself out of his chair.
“I thought you might have waited but come on then,” he sighed. “There’s a thing called Celestial Cinematic True Vision. Bit of a mouthful so folks mostly call it CCTV,” Heyes grinned. “As you’re on probation, you get ten minutes a day. After that your time gradually reduces.”
“You don’t think this is a good idea do you?” the Kid said, as they walked, realising that Heyes was reluctant.
“Well its not that Kid. When I first got here, I kept an eye on Tulsee. It was hard watching the beautiful young woman I fell in love with, turn into a miserable sharp tongued, chain smoking old drunk. There’s nothing we can do from up here, so I … well I gave up watching.”
The Kid nodded. “I can see why you would find that upsetting but I have to tell ya Heyes, in the last couple of years, she’s really turned herself around. Doesn’t drink anymore. Got a job. She even married again last year. She looks how a woman of her age should look and she’s happy.”
“Yeah?” Heyes grinned and his stride noticeably became quicker.
Before they could walk much further, an apparition shimmered into being in front of them. The Kid started. His body instinctively protective of Heyes, who grinned at the sentiment.
“Good afternoon sir,” Heyes greeted the coalesced figure, curiously resembling Billy Connelly nowadays.
“Joshua,” Billy-like greeted, without a Glaswegian accent. His eyes settled on the Kid. “So this must be the Kid!” Was he slightly in awe? The Kid found his hand pumped enthusiastically.
The Kid, a mixture of confusion and disbelief, was lost for words. He reasoned who the figure was but how DO you greet a deity politely? All he could come up with was a pained smile.
“Joshua has told me so much about you,” Billy-like gushed. “I’m so glad you’re here at last.”
“T-thank you,” the Kid stammered. “Sir,” he added as an afterthought.
“Time for a game of poker?” Billy-like said eagerly.
The Kid glanced disbelievingly at Heyes, who shrugged.
“We’re on our way up to CCTV right now sir,” he explained.
Billy-like seemed disappointed. “Yes of course. On the way back, why don’t you stop by?”
“Yes sir, we’ll do that.”
The three went their separate ways. Well two did, the third kinda vanished.
The Kid turned to Heyes. “You … taught … how to play poker?” he spluttered.
Heyes shrugged innocently. “He wanted to learn!” he protested. “I couldn’t say NO!”
For a moment, the Kid just stared then began to grin, and then laugh. “Heyes, I have missed you SOO much.”
Heyes grinned. “I’ve missed you too Kid,” he said and slapped his best friend in the whole world, or worlds, on the shoulder.