Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry walked out of the livery leading their horses. Curry was humming something under his breath quietly and Heyes glanced over.
“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear?” Heyes asked, surprised.
Kid gave him a sheepish smile. “It's gettin’ close to Christmas. And the carolers earlier got that tune goin’ through my head.”
“I’m just glad you aren’t singing ‘I’m a poor Lonesome Cowboy,’” Heyes said with a flash of his dimples.
Curry rolled his eyes as he hitched his horse outside the saloon.
They’d checked out of the hotel, but wanted a drink to warm them for the road. The crisp chill in the air indicated that they still had a long way to go.
Heyes tightened his grey coat around himself, thinking about how nice it would be to spend Christmas in San Francisco. He finished with his horse and he and his partner stepped up onto the boardwalk in tandem, though a voice behind them made them pause.
“You callin’ me out?” a self-satisfied voice rang out.
The partners turned to view a well-dressed gunman with a rich burgundy, floral patterned vest and shiny long riding boots. He was dandified, but his gun belt was well used and he stood loose and confident.
“I-I guess I am?” came the sluggish response of a middle-aged man in rumpled clothes who was obviously three sheets to the wind.
Heyes and Curry exchanged a glance. There was no contest. The smug gunman’s hand was near his hip by his shiny Colt in its’ worn holster. He was smiling, alert. Meanwhile, the drunk had an old revolver shoved in a brand new holster on a rope tied around his waist.
“Do NOT get involved,” Heyes said in a low, hurried voice. His words made clouds of vapor in the cold air, but they floated past the Kid without hitting their mark.
“What’s goin’ on?” Kid asked another bystander who was heading for the saloon, ignoring Heyes.
“Oh, Bryant Combs got himself another sucker,” the man said, adjusting his suspenders. “Bryant likes to push people, desperate people, until they make a bet they can’t afford to lose. Bob Goode and his wife have been scramblin’ to make ends meet. After drinkin’ with him, Bob bet the deed to their land and Bryant made sure it was witnessed. They have to be out before Christmas. I reckon Bob challenged him to a duel over it.”
“Combs ain’t the forgivin’ type?” Kid asked. “Not even this time of year?”
The other man laughed. “No. In a minute Bob’s wife will be a Christmas widow. His land’s right up against Combs’ land and Bob has prime water rights.”
“How about the sheriff?” Heyes asked the stranger.
“Combs’ brother in law. Ain’t nobody gonna stop this, ‘specially when Bob challenged the man. If you’ll excuse me, I’m gettin’ in off the street. Bryant’s men were tellin’ everyone to do it, so I advise you to do the same.”
Kid looked at Heyes, who was shaking his head.
“I said no, Thaddeus,” Heyes said, brown eyes serious. “Stop borrowin’ trouble, we got enough of our own.”
“Come on, Bob,” Combs said. “You challenged me, so you got to meet me in the middle of the street. Tell ya what, you manage to hit me, I’ll give you your deed back.”
“Excuse me,” Kid Curry said in an even, reasonable tone as he walked away from the saloon and out onto the street.
Heyes moved forward as well, letting Combs know his partner had backup. The dandy had two men next to him that were clearly his lackeys. Why does Kid have to try and save the world and all of the stupid, downtrodden, sad souls in it? Heyes wondered. Does he do it just to drive me crazy?!
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Kid continued in a placating tone, “But I figure there ain’t any need for violence. This here fella is fallin’ down drunk and I bet I can just lead him out of your way. “
Hannibal Heyes scanned the boardwalk again, annoyed and unhappy with the situation, but projecting nothing but confidence. The two men with Combs were the only people visible, but something didn’t feel right.
“You think this is your business, son?” Bryant Combs asked Kid, looking him up and down.
Heyes watched dreading—yes, there it was—the flicker of recognition between the two gunmen, each somehow identifying the stance or the aura of another fast draw.
“I’m outside,” Kid said with a side glance at Heyes. “A stray bullet could hit me or my partner, especially when your opponent’s that drunk. Besides, I figure it’s close to Christmas. Just seems neighborly to lend a hand and solve the problem.” Kid looked at Bob. “Mister, you let me buy you another beer?”
Bob hesitated, and then nodded, having had the chance to realize what he’d done. The strange thing was the man, who acted drunk, didn’t smell as strongly as his behavior would warrant. Heyes looked at Kid, who gave a slight nod indicating he noticed it too.
Maybe they’d drugged the poor guy and set him up? Or he wasn’t used to spirits. Whatever had happened, Heyes felt it wasn’t their business. It wasn't that he didn't care about people, he just cared about Kid more.
At Bob’s nod, Kid moved toward him.
“You take another step toward the man who challenged me and I’ll plug you,” Combs said to Kid.
Heyes made eye contact with his partner. Don’t antagonize him.
“Strange attitude to take,” Kid said in that offhand, seemingly surprised way. “If I’d been challenged and someone offered to get rid of the threat peaceably, seems to me like I’d be glad. You, you seem annoyed that I’m intervenin’. And what’s more, the man don’t act quite smell as drunk as he’s actin.’ Bob, you drink a lot?”
“Onny had a few drinks,” Bob slurred, managing to stagger while barely moving.
“Odd,” Kid said. “Somethin’ sure is funny about this situation.”
Great job not antagonizing him. Heyes readied himself for what was coming.
“How about we all just go our separate ways and call it a day? ‘On earth peace and goodwill toward men’ and all?” Heyes asked with a friendly smile. “It is Christmas time, like my partner said.”
He had to try at least. Heyes was confident in his cousin’s skills, but while he was immensely proud of him, watching him face off with someone was always nerve-wracking, nevertheless.
“You shut up,” Combs said to Heyes before refocusing on Kid. “And you, mister, I’ve decided to oblige you. Bob you can go on and head home to pack. Seems this fella is taking your place. That right?”
Kid inclined his head. “I figure that’s the only way you let him walk out of here alive.”
“You sure do a lot of figuring for someone who’s just passing through town,” Bryant Combs said.
Yeah he does, Heyes thought ruefully. But Kid Curry with a Cause wouldn’t be argued with…and Hannibal Heyes would back him up to the end.
Something was fishy about all of this. Heyes watched Kid and Combs square off in the street with the easy, confident grin he always had during these moments that covered up his underlying terror. The man hadn’t intended Bob Goode to leave alive. Neither of Combs’ flunkies carried a gun openly…but Combs wouldn’t chance it.
Kid Curry had his arms crossed casually while Combs’ hand was by his gun. The stare down began.
Combs wouldn’t risk losing…the streets had been cleared… Heyes’ brown eyes widened and he looked up on top of the buildings. There, behind Kid.
A silver glint. Heyes moved before the stare down was over, which was good, because he had his gun out when Kid Curry drew faster than Combs could clear leather.
No! Heyes fired and the man on top of the building cried out and dropped the gun that would have been used to shoot Kid Curry in the back. It dropped down off the side into the bushes.
Heyes, gun still in hand, walked up next to his partner, who gave him a grateful grin before narrowing his eyes at Combs.
“Reckon that set up was for Bob, but it didn’t work out so well. I’m gonna send a telegram to a sheriff friend of mine and I’m gonna let him know if anythin’ happens to Bob Goode or his family, to go lookin’ for you.”
“And I’m sending one that says if anything happens to my partner or I, to look for you in that case as well,” Heyes added.
Kid took Combs’ gun and tossed it in the trough and then they backed into the telegraph office.
“Thanks, partner,” Kid said. “You always have my back—sometimes literally.”
Heyes grinned at him in relief that they were both still alive and Kid grinned back. Then they sent the telegram and decided they’d better ride out of town without that drink.
Heyes rode behind his partner. Sometimes Kid drove him crazy and often before a gunfight, Heyes wanted to murder him himself, but at the end of the day they always ‘had each other’s backs.’ They were more than partners, they were family.
Despite the unplanned for departure, the dark haired man was in a good mood watching his partner ride ahead of him. Still safe. vAnd if Heyes had anything to do with it, he always would be, though of course he knew Kid felt the same about him. It was just how they worked.
“Heyes?” Kid asked.
“Reckon that’s about the only time you ever saved me in a gunfight,” Kid said, amused.
“I don’t know about that!”
“I do,” Kid called as he rode ahead. “Thanks for the early Christmas miracle!”
“If you ain’t careful, that so-called miracle is all you’ll be getting for Christmas!” Heyes called.
Kid glanced over his shoulder and grinned. “I’m a poor lonesome cowboy,” he began.
Rolling his eyes, Hannibal Heyes rode after his younger cousin who was trying hard to get on his nerves. But honestly, thinking of how the confrontation could have ended if he hadn't seen the second gunman, Heyes wouldn’t have it any other way.