“Howdy, boys.” The whiny voice stopped Kid and Heyes in their tracks. With a what now? glance between them, they turned to see Kyle Murtree. At Heyes’ prompting, Kyle readily admitted he’d been seeking them out. “I got trouble, boys. Well, Wheat and Preacher and me, we all got trouble.”
Heyes and Curry waited for an explanation.
“Well, about a week ago we did a job in San Antonio. We robbed a freight office—” he stopped, acknowledging the disapproval on both his friends’ faces. “I know, I know, fellas, you allus said to stay away from freight offices on account of it bein’ too easy to send out telegrams from there. But the telegram sending feller was helping us.”
Kid was becoming impatient. “How did it go wrong, so that you’ve got such trouble now? And where are Wheat and Preacher?”
“I don’t know!” Kyle looked from one ex-outlaw to the other, his pain and fear downright palpable. Heyes’ sudden growl made him hasten to explain, “We got split up runnin’ from the posse. But I found this feller’s cabin – Rutledge is his name. It’s down on the Medina, like. But when I got there, they wasn’t there.”
“Then, Kyle,” reasoned Heyes, “maybe you were just the first one there after all.”
“Nope. They’d been somebody there afore me, Heyes. And they’d been a fight, too. Ever’thing was slung all around, coffeepot turned out on the floor, I even found some blood spots. Not a lot, but they was there and they was fresh. Maybe a day or so old.” Kid and Heyes exchanged an eloquent look, understanding Kyle’s turning to them. He dug inside his shirt. “And then I found this.”
It was a Bible. More, it was Preacher’s Bible. Kid fingered the torn place on the back cover, and Heyes nodded. Something bad had happened for Preacher to leave it behind. Looking closer, Heyes noticed a page torn, the jagged-edged piece tucked up like a bookmark. Kyle eagerly told him, “I saw that, too. Look at it, Heyes, it’s been marked. And it says somethin’ about Wheat, too.”
Kid’s incredulous response made Heyes laugh. “No, Kid, he’s right. It’s from Second Samuel: They would have fetched wheat, and they smote him.”
“I’m right, ain’t I? It’s Preacher tryin’ to tell us—” Kyle caught Heyes’ sharp look and amended that, “—to tell me, anyway, what happened.”
His former leaders nodded, convinced. “Then you gotta help me, fellers, I ain’t no good at this fancy stuff. I don’t even read all that good. And it’s been two days already, and it’s prob’ly rained out their trail, and – well, you just gotta help me find them.”
Heyes said just about what Kid expected he would. “I know, Kyle, we will. We can’t turn our backs on Preacher and Wheat, even if the big knothead was stupid enough to take on a partner he didn’t know anything about. Come first light, we’ll set out.”
They reached the cabin in the late afternoon of the second day and found it as empty as Kyle had described. There had been a struggle going on that left blood dripped in front of the unsightly, misaligned stone fireplace and, Curry noticed, on top of the mantel. In fact…
“Heyes, bring the Bible. I think maybe Preacher’s left us another scripture reading.”
Heyes gestured for Kyle to do the fetching and stepped around a broken chair to check Curry’s find. The blood had been smeared into letters and numbers: Nm 3 49. “What do you think it is, Heyes? Ain’t there a Nehemiah?”
“Could be that. Or Numbers.” He took the Bible from Kyle and began checking. “Not Nehemiah. There’s no verse 49. Numbers three…” He frowned, then read aloud. “And Moses took the redemption money of them that were over and above them that were redeemed by the Levites.”
“Moses? What Moses got to do with this here?”
“It don’t mean Moses himself, Kyle. It must mean this ‘partner’ you boys took on stole the money. Either he took Wheat and Preacher with him or they’re chasing after him of their own accord.”
Kid had picked up on one phrase. “Suppose this Rutledge has nosed out that you boys are wanted? ‘Redemption money’ sounds like he’s after the rewards.”
Kyle’s stricken expression made his answer unnecessary. “He knows. Wheat sorta mentioned it when they were planning out the job.”
As they approached the hitching rail on their exit, Heyes was the first to spot the mud-marked rock. Preacher was a sly one. “Kid? Look up First Kings 17, verse 3. Surely the 1 and the K mean First Kings.”
“How do you suppose Preacher’s doing this without this yahoo seeing him, Heyes? Okay, here it is: Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. Well, that’s clear enough.”
They mounted and got them hence, headed east. A little more than a mile east, they found a stream that obviously ran down into the Medina River eventually. “Behold the brook Cherith,” commented Heyes. With a little searching, they could see a fairly recent trail from two or three horses, and moved on. They were losing the light when they spotted a previous campsite. This time Kyle found the marked rock. There was definitely a D and a J scratched in, but no numbers.
“Heyes, do you reckon these little lines are something? There’s five under the D and seven under the J. The D has two, then three, and the J has two, then five.”
Heyes had noticed the spacing, too, and decided it had to be the chapter and verse. But what books? His Bible studies were a little sparse, but he remembered both Deuteronomy and Daniel, and that there were a passel of J books. Deciding to go in order, he tried Deuteronomy 2:3 first.
“Here’s our marching orders, fellows,” Heyes reported. “Ye have compassed this mountain long enough; turn you northward.” He checked the book of Daniel, too, but the passage about interpreting a dream didn’t seem to fit their situation. The first J book, Joshua, seemed to be the right one as well; at least, the last portion of it seemed directed at them. “And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.”
The ground became harder after they left the stream, and soon the trail was invisible. They fanned out for part of the afternoon, widening the area they could search, and Curry found another campsite. No stone ring this time, just a place with the scrubby autumn grass cleared and a fire mark.
Kyle found the clue this time. “That Preacher’s really something, ain’t he?” The messages, which appeared to have been scratched in some leaves with a fingernail, were J 5 26, L 11 21, and L 4 19.
It took a while, there being several possibilities for Js and Ls both, but eventually Heyes deciphered the verses to be
Jeremiah 5:26 -- For among my people are found wicked men: they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men.
Luke 11:21 -- When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace:
Lamentations 4:19 -- Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.
After some discussion, consensus eventually came to be that their quarry was armed and treacherous.
They found the cabin that afternoon and set up watching; it was not quite sundown when there was movement. “There’s Rutledge, going out to tend the horses. And I see ’em! Wheat and Preacher! Someone’s got a gun on ‘em, though, a rifle or a shotgun.”
“What are they doing, Kyle?” Heyes prompted.
“He’s guardin’ ‘em to and from the outhouse. Preacher looks fine, but Wheat’s kind of limping. Not too bad, though. Preacher said something to the feller guardin’ ‘em, and he’s shaking his head No. They’re headed back in now.”
Curry asked, “Do you still see Rutledge?”
Kyle did. “He and the other feller are jawin’ about something. Arguing, it looks like. Hear ‘em?”
Before dawn, the three took their places at the cabin, Kyle gathering the horses from the corral and the others at the back of the building, waiting for the next outhouse brigade. Three men soon emerged: Wheat, Preacher, and presumably Rutledge, holding a shotgun. As they reached the midway point between house and privy, Heyes stepped out, weapon drawn.
“Hold it right there, Rutledge.” Preacher and Wheat knew enough not to turn around but looked at each other with the silent question Heyes?
Rutledge called out, louder than he needed to, “Who’s that, then?” As he had intended, the man in the house came out hastily, pistol in hand, ordering Heyes to drop his gun. Before he finished the sentence, though, his own handgun flew from his grip. In his rush, he’d failed to see Kid Curry still in the shadow of the house.
Rutledge, Preacher, and Wheat had all hit the dirt at the shot, Wheat and Preacher both scrambling for Rutledge’s shotgun. Preacher held it when they stood, although Wheat would claim long afterward he’d laid hand to it first.
It didn’t take long for the Devils Hole boys to tie up Rutledge and the man who turned out to be his son-in-law.
Preacher explained, “Smith, Jones, this is Mr. Martin Prescott. You’ll be interested to know, boys, that Mr. Prescott is not what you’d call an accomplice at all. He heard about the robbery at Bent Creek, where he and Mrs. Prescott live, and lit out to find his daddy-in-law here. Seems Rutledge tried to get him to help with the same job some time back, and Mr. Prescott refused. They’ve been arguing for the last three days over what to do with the money.”
There was a long discussion, but Heyes prevailed over Wheat and Rutledge both. Mr. Prescott would take the money to the Bent Creek sheriff, leaving Rutledge behind as security for the others’ peace of mind. When he returned, Rutledge would be released and everybody would go home and shut up.
Waving a farewell to Prescott in the distance, Kyle asked his former gang leader, “Heyes? We really gonna stay here and wait for Prescott to come back?”
“Of course not, Kyle. Give him a couple of hours, make sure he doesn’t double back to check on us, and we’ll be making tracks. We’ll leave Rutledge tied so it’ll take him a day or so to get loose, and we’ll be long gone before either one of them can take out after us.”
Wheat, Preacher, and Kyle were headed north, back to Devil’s Hole eventually. Heyes and Curry had decided since they were so close, they’d drop in on McCreedy in case anything worthwhile was doing. They could still hear Rutledge cursing in the kitchen, mostly at and about his worthless son-in-law.
“Ah, well,” Preacher commented, “they do say children are always trouble.”
Kyle grinned suddenly. “ ’How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.’ ” He looked around, hurt, at all the stares. “I ain’t so ignorant.”
Heyes’ ears almost visibly pricked up. “What book’s that in, Preacher?”
Preacher patted his Bible, safely tucked in his coat pocket again. “That ain’t the Bible, Heyes, it’s Shakespeare.”
Curry groaned, “Oh, Heyes, don’t even start.” With a final adios to the Devil’s Hole friends, he kicked his horse into a canter, headed west. He knew Heyes would catch him up.