“I just don’t like it, Heyes,” said Kid Curry, staring down the tracks.
Hannibal Heyes gave his partner a funny look. “Seriously? You’re not getting all superstitious on me, Kid, are you?” The two men were sitting on a bench at Rock Springs station, waiting for a train that should have arrived an hour ago. More accurately, Heyes was seated on the bench, trying to read a newspaper, while Curry was up and down, sitting and pacing, sitting and pacing.
“Don’t you ever wonder, sometimes, if there’s a reason folks feel that way?” The Kid turned to his partner and cracked a smile. “Anyhow, our bad luck’s started already. I’m wonderin’ how Lom roped us into this again. And why, after last year, we agreed.”
And Heyes smiled back, a rueful grin that indicated he understood the Kid’s feelings better than he wanted to admit. “Because when you come right down to it, we’re not as smart as I think we are. And also because we haven’t given up on the amnesty yet, and Lom’s doing the best he can by us.”
“Still and all, why it had to be Thursday the 12th that we’re meetin’ this train. Just seems a bit peculiar, that’s all, that we’ll be taking the stagecoach with Jimmy Trevors on Friday the 13th. Considering what happened last time we escorted him to Porterville.”
“So we got held up by Del Barton’s gang. There are outlaws in these parts. We scared ‘em off, didn’t we? And anyway, young Jimmy oughta like the present we got him.” Heyes gestured to the small stack of dime novels by his side. Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes and the Secret of Santa Clarita. Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes and the Bad Man of the Badlands. And Heyes’s personal favorite for its utter absurdity, Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes and the Lost Empire of Mars. Not that he’d brought himself to actually read them, but he figured Jimmy would insist on telling him the plots in excruciating detail, in any case, without having the slightest idea he was talking to one of the books’ supposed heroes.
Just as Heyes was lapsing into a boredom-generated reverie in which he wondered if Porterville was ever going to be getting train service of its own, he heard a whistle in the distance, and then the sound of a train coming down the tracks.
Several other passengers exited the train first, and then young Trevors. It looked as though he’d shot up a few more inches since last year, but hadn’t filled out correspondingly, not yet. The effect was as if he’d been stretched.
“’Lo, young Jimmy,” said Kid Curry, breaking into a friendly smile. “Good to see you again.”
“It’s just Jim, now,” came the reply. His voice was noticeably deeper than last year. “Jimmy makes me sound like a kid.”
“All right, Jim,” said Heyes. “Well, we got you some new reading material. I think these were your favorites.”
Jimmy took the proffered stack and glanced at them. “That’s awfully nice of you, Mister Smith, but honestly, I think I’ve outgrown this kind of thing.” He slipped them into his bag, and pulled out something in exchange, which he looked at fondly. “Miss Smithers, that’s my teacher, she’s shown me all about real literature.” He handed the book to Heyes.
“The Last Days of Pompeii, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.” Heyes flipped open to the beginning. “Ho, Diomed, well met! Do you sup with Glaucus tonight?” With as straight a face as he could manage, he said, “I can see your taste has certainly grown up.” Honestly, he couldn’t see much difference between that and Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes and the Ruthless Ravagers of Red Rock, but then, neither of them was much to his taste. “I’m guessing Miss Smithers is brand new, just done with school herself.”
“She has the prettiest green eyes,” said Jimmy, dreamily. “If I’m 16 and she’s 21, well . . . when I’m 21, she’ll still only be 27. I’d be old enough to ask her to marry me, then, wouldn’t I?”
Kid Curry, being the resident expert on women, took the moment to step in. “Well, now, that’s true, Jimmy, er, Jim. But if she’s as pretty as you say, chances are good she won’t still be a single lady by then.”
Jimmy looked unhappy. “Probably not. But you can’t blame a fellow for hoping, can you?”
The Kid shook his head. “No, you can’t. And . . . stranger things have happened. But you’re gonna meet a lot of pretty ladies along the way, and if Miss Smithers is Mrs. Something Else by then, well, you’ll meet someone who you’ll like just as well.”
“Impossible,” said Jimmy. “She’s a goddess among women.”
“Anyway,” Heyes broke in, “Let’s get you settled in the hotel. We thought you’d bunk with Thaddeus tonight, and I’ll be right next door.” One thing they’d insisted on with Lom is that they weren’t going to double up so that Jimmy could have his own bed, this year, and Lom had offered to pay for an extra room, as long as his nephew wasn’t left alone in it.
When they arrived at the hotel, Heyes picked up two keys from the receptionist. He handed one to his partner, and used the other to let himself into room 12.
A few minutes later, just as he was sitting down to put his feet up and finally finish that newspaper, there was a knock on his door. “Who is it?”
“Joshua,” came Curry’s voice. “Room 13? Really?”
Heyes groaned and a moment later, was in the hallway. He peered past his partner, who stood in the doorway of the other room, flanked by young Trevors. “Thaddeus, it’s a perfectly fine room. And more importantly, it has two beds. We agreed, since Jim—,“ he caught himself before the final –my came out of his mouth, “seems to prefer your company to mine, that the two of you should share. And room 12 has only one bed.”
Shaking his head, Kid Curry went in, followed by his gangly shadow.
The next morning, the three of them were up early in order to catch the stage to Porterville. It should only be a four-hour ride, though as Curry muttered darkly to Heyes, the way their luck was these days, it was highly unlikely that things would go according to plan. Especially not on Friday the 13th.
Surprisingly, the stagecoach ride went off without a hitch. Oh, Jim Trevors got restless, and Heyes told the boy more than once to stop tapping his foot against the stagecoach floor, before he realized that Jim honestly didn’t even realize he was doing it. There was only one other passenger, a quiet man who was utterly absorbed by something he was reading, so they weren’t squeezed in, which was a nice change from many of their stagecoach rides.
And, Heyes realized, their fellow-passenger wasn’t the only one reading. “Hey, Thaddeus, that’s not--?”
“Yup. Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes and the Bad Man of the Badlands. It’s really pretty . . . well, good ain’t the word. Entertaining, though maybe not in the way it’s s’posed to be.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” It wasn’t that Heyes wasn’t bored enough to try a dime novel, so much as that he’d found this particular series not so much to his taste. Kid Curry, with his shining golden curls and cerulean blue eyes, was the hero of the series, while Hannibal Heyes, with a scar running all up and down one side of his face, was Curry’s sidekick, mostly in awe of his partner’s deeds of derring do. Also, the fictional Heyes had a sweetheart patiently waiting for him down in Mexico, something which made the real Heyes surprisingly melancholy. And the newspaper he’d been reading the night before had been left behind at the hotel. He stared out the window, at the relentlessly spectacular scenery.
It wasn’t until they pulled into Porterville, right on time despite it being Friday the 13th, that something finally went wrong. They disembarked from the stage, the other passenger first, and then Jim Trevors, followed by Heyes and Curry and their mysteriously capacious saddlebags. Suddenly, they heard gunshots from the general direction of the Bank of Porterville.
“Stop, thief!” came a familiar female voice. “Thieves,” she corrected herself. A couple of men went racing past, with Miss Prudence Porter in pursuit, herself trailed by a teller in eyeshade and sleeve garters. Unfortunately, her high-heeled boots and voluminous skirts slowed her down and her quarry began to leave her in the dust. “Oh, someone, help! Lom?” she cried, as she stopped, finally, completely winded. The teller took another several moments to catch up with her, and meanwhile, Lom Trevors was nowhere to be seen.
Just as the pair of men approached the livery stables, Kid Curry pulled out his gun, and aimed at the sign. It came crashing down on the thieves beneath, and they fell over in a heap of confusion. Soon, Curry, Heyes, Jim, Miss Porter, and a number of other townsfolk gathered around them.
It was then that Heyes realized who the thieves were.
Lobo Riggs was so surprised he blurted out a couple of names; it was Kyle Murtry who, with surprising presence of mind, shushed him quickly. The two men submitted, silently, as Lom, who’d finally appeared, took them into custody.
Later, Curry and Heyes found time to have a private word with their former Devil’s Hole companions. “Since you dropped the money while you were running, Lom’s gonna let you go tomorrow. Nothing really to charge you with. But what on earth made you come back to Porterville, when we were all just here not even two years ago?” Heyes was genuinely curious.
“Sheriff seemed to know you both, so we figgered you weren’t likely to come back this way,” said Kyle. “And the town seemed wide open, from that last time. Won’t make that mistake again.”
“We were babysittin’ the sheriff’s nephew,” said Curry, looking again to make sure neither Lom nor his deputy, Harker Wilkins, had come into earshot.
“You stayin’ around for awhile?” asked Kyle.
The two ex-outlaws looked cautiously at each other. “Thinkin’ about it.”
“We’ll leave town the moment they let us out of here, so we’ll say goodbye now,” Lobo said.
“Sounds about right.” Curry and Heyes excused themselves.
Once they’d gotten clear of the sheriff’s office, Heyes turned to Curry. “Why do you think they’d be foolish enough to try a job on Friday the thirteenth?”
The Kid laughed, softly. “Thought you weren’t superstitious, Heyes.”
“I’m not, Kid. But Kyle surely is.”
Curry opened his mouth to reply, but they found Jimmy, er, Jim Trevors standing right in front of them.
“Wow, Mister Jones. That was pretty clever, what you did with shooting that sign just when you did. Just like a scene out of Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes and the Town at the Edge of the Wilderness.”
“Well, you know, Jim--, Jim, that Kid Curry’s pretty clever, and I’ve picked up some good tips from reading about him, over the years.”
“Didn’t realize you read them yourself, Mister Jones.”
“Well, a fella doesn’t like to give away all the sources for his best ideas, now does he?” The Kid turned to his partner and winked.
“And what about that Hannibal Heyes?” asked the man himself. “He’s pretty clever.”
Jim shrugged. “Smart enough to partner up with Kid Curry, anyway.” He brightened. “You know, you two remind me a lot of . . . well, that’s not possible. And that man said, but . . . No. Anyway, thanks for the books – I’ve realized I can like them and like The Last Days of Pompeii, too.”
When he’d gone, the pair looked at each other. “So, we leave town tomorrow? On the 14th.”
“Just what I was thinkin’, Kid.”