“He wants us ta what?”
Heyes flicked the telegram with his index finger. “That’s what it says. He wants to meet us in Cheyenne two weeks from now.”
“He do know what the weather is like in Wyoming this time a year, don’t he?”
Heyes sent him a smirk. “He lives there, Thaddeus, of course he knows. It must be important.”
Kid turned and leaned back against the counter, groaning his discontent.
The telegrapher figured he’d waited long enough. “Would you like to send a reply?”
Dark eyes flicked up to meet his. “Okay.”
The telegrapher snatched up pencil and paper. “All right. What would you like it to say?”
Heyes smiled. “That’s it: Okay.”
Kid glanced over his shoulder at the telegrapher. “It ain’t okay with me.”
The telegrapher hesitated, glancing from one partner to the other.
Heyes sighed. “Just send it.”
“Come on, Kid, it won’t be so bad. We have money for hotels. I figure we can ride north until the weather turns cold, then we’ll sell the horses and take the train the rest of the way. Maybe we can spend Christmas with Lom.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
The two men strolled along the boardwalk toward the café.
“Don’t be so sour apple. It might be about our amnesty. Why else would Lom ask us to come to Cheyenne in the middle of December?”
“I can think of a couple a reasons. None a which is good.”
“Aww, come on, Kid. You’ll feel better after a hot supper. We’ll get in a few hands of poker, have a good night’s sleep and head north in the morning. It’ll be fine.”
The partners stopped at the edge of a river bank. Both were anxious about crossing the waterway as it would have them out in the open for the duration.
Finally, Kid nudged his horse forward to enter the slow-moving flow.
Heyes hesitated. “Wait!”
Kid pulled up, causing his horse to grunt with surprise.
Heyes frowned as he scrutinized the far bank. “Maybe we should carry on to the next crossing.”
“The next crossing?” Kid was incredulous. “We won’t get there before nightfall. On top a that, the river changes course up there so it will be takin’ us out of our way.”
“Yeah, I know. But—”
Kid nudged his horse onward.
The animal moved forward, feeling its way along the bottom so as not to take a mis-step in the murky water.
Heyes sat his horse and harumphed, then shook his head and followed in his partner’s wake.
The river deepened as they approached the half-way point, causing both riders to hoist their knees up to avoid getting their feet wet.
Both men constantly surveyed their surroundings, expecting to be bushwhacked at any moment.
An eternity later, they splashed out onto the far bank, water cascading off the horses’ shoulders and flanks.
As soon as they were on dry ground, Heyes jumped down and handed his reins to the Kid.
Kid snatched them but frowned at him. “What are ya doin’?”
“Covering our tracks. What do you think?”
“I just don’t see the point. This is the only safe crossing for miles, so they wouldn’t even need ta look for tracks. Let’s go. I’m ready for a beer and a hotel room.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Heyes finished scraping away their wet trail with a convenient shrub, then remounted.
Kid chuckled. “You satisfied now?”
“Yup.” Heyes grinned at him. “Let’s go.”
Cutting through Utah on their way to Colorado, the temperatures dropped to an uncomfortable level. Usually associating Utah with red rock, towering natural monuments, and heat, riding through hard, red dirt covered in a layer of snow seemed surreal.
“Just our luck,” Kid griped. “It ain’t supposed ta snow here.”
Heyes nodded. “I didn’t expect to run into this stuff until we hit Colorado. How about we head for Thompson Springs and catch the train there.”
“Sounds like a plan. But we ain’t gonna get there today.”
“C’mon, Kid. It’ll be like old times. Scraping away the snow, sleeping on the hard, cold ground. Just think how good that fire is going to feel. There’s no shortage of water so we can make plenty of coffee. We’ve even got enough fixin’s for a decent supper and left-overs for breakfast. What are ya gripin’ about?”
“Yeah, uh huh.”
Then Kid pulled up and looked over his shoulder at their back trail.
“What is it?” Heyes frowned and followed Kid’s gaze.
“I donno. I just felt a shiver go down my spine.”
“That could be from the cold, ya know.”
Kid shook his head. “It weren’t that kinda shiver.”
“I don’t see anything, and there aren’t too many places out here for someone to hide.”
“Yeah, but our tracks are pretty easy ta follow in this snow. It ain’t like they need ta keep us in sight.”
“Well, let’s find a place to shelter for the night. It’s getting late anyway. We can still put up a small fire and we’ll take turns keeping watch.”
“I’m regrettin’ this journey more and more,” Kid complained. “I don’t know why Lom couldn’t just meet us half-way or somethin’.”
“If it’s about our amnesty, then I don’t think the Governor would be willing to meet us half-way.”
Years of practice came in handy in their search for a cozy hide-a-way. A slope into a gulley with high rocks around it and even an undercut into the rock face made for the perfect spot to spend a chilly night outside.
There was no snow on the ground, and the enclosed space kept the heat and the light from the fire inside their room. There was even enough space for the horses, although grazing was limited.
Curry sat down by the fire where Heyes was cooking bacon and biscuits. He pulled off his gloves and rubbed his hands together over the fire.
“I split up the last of the grain so they’ll have somethin’ ta eat in the morning too. It ain’t much, but it’ll see ‘em until we get into Thompson Springs.”
“Yeah. Good. Coffee’s ready, if you want some.”
“Oh, that ain’t even a question.” Kid put a glove back on and took the coffee pot off the heated stones. He poured the steaming brown liquid into a pre-heated tin cup, then cocked a brow at the chef. “How about you?”
“Oh yeah. You got any whiskey left in your saddle bag?”
Kid grinned. “Yup. It’s for medicinal, but if this situation don’t count as that, I don’t know what will.” He reached for his saddlebag and dug out the small bottle along with his eating fork. “Here ya go. We about ready?”
“Yeah.” Heyes took his laced coffee and indulged in a sip. He closed his eyes as the liquid burned down his throat. “Ohh, that’s good.” He then set his cup aside and took the frying pan off the fire and set it onto the stones alongside the coffee pot. He handed Kid a warm biscuit and the two of them tucked into the panful of fried bacon, dipping the bread into the grease with every opportunity.
Within minutes the pan was wiped clean and the last mouthful of biscuit was chased down with a swallow of hot laced coffee.
Curry wrapped his saddle blanket around his shoulders and sighed with contentment.
“That was a mighty fine supper.”
Heyes grinned. “More coffee?”
“Which watch do you want?” Heyes asked as he poured out two more laced coffees.
“I’ll take the first one. I’ll give ya a nudge around two.”
It was still dark when the enticing aroma of more frying bacon awoke the Kid from his slumber. He stretched and yawned then somehow managed to maneuver into his coat and boots, and wrap the saddle blanket around his shoulders while in the process of emerging from his bedroll.
Heyes poured him a cup of coffee. “Cold?”
“Yeah. What time is it?”
“Around 6, I’d say. I figure we should be on the move by first light.”
“Uh huh. Hold the coffee. I’ll be right back.”
Heyes nodded, then dropped two biscuits into the hot bacon grease to get them warmed up. By the time Kid returned, breakfast was ready.
“Quiet night, I take it.”
Heyes shrugged. “On the most part. A pack of coyotes spent most of the night serenading the stars. I’m surprised they didn’t wake you up.”
To prove his statement, a chorus of yapping greeted the coming morning and it soon escalated into the high-pitched singing associated with the band of hunters.
One of the horses paused in his munching of grain just long enough to ascertain that the pack was of no danger to him, then returned to his breakfast.
Kid tucked into his bacon and biscuits. “As long as they are the only hunters on the prowl this mornin’.”
Kid hesitated over his mouthful and squinted at his partner. “What?”
“Hmm? No, nothing.”
“C’mon, Heyes. What’s botherin’ ya?”
“Well, I can’t be sure, mind you . . .”
Kid sighed. “What?”
“Well, I might have heard a rifle shot around 3 o’clock. It shut the coyotes up for a while.”
“You what?” Kid’s jaw dropped. “And you didn’t wake me?”
“It was just once, and like I said, I can’t even be sure I heard right. If it was a rifle shot, it was probably just someone shooting at the coyotes.”
“At 3 o’clock in the morning?”
“It’s not likely a posse member would be shooting at anything then either, is it?” Heyes grinned. “So, I figure if we get on the move before dawn, we’ll be fine.”
Kid grumbled as he looked down at the frying pan. “Damn. Now you put me off my breakfast.”
“You’d best eat up anyway. That’s the last of the grub and the grain.”
Kid considered this fact, then shrugged and went back to eating.
Heyes stood up, stretched, then poured the last of the coffee over the fire to douse it.
“Hey!” Kid snarked over a mouthful. “I wanted more a that. Not ta mention the light.”
“No ya didn’t. We gotta move fast so we won’t have time for any bush breaks. I’ll get the horses saddled if you wanna break camp. We don’t need much light for that.”
“Now you’re concerned that we gotta get movin’? What happened to It’s just somebody shootin’ at coyotes?”
Heyes ignored him as he walked away.
Kid rolled his eyes, sopped up the last of the bacon grease with a biscuit, then set about breaking camp as quickly as he could in the semi-darkness.
They’d been on the trail about two hours before the rising sun began to brighten the landscape. It was still unseasonably chilly for the area though, and they kept the horses moving in an effort to warm themselves up. Everything but their cold feet responded to the endeavor.
“How much further to Thompson Springs?”
Heyes shrugged. “Another ten miles I guess.”
“Good. I need a hot bath and a shave. Then a warm train for the rest of the trip.”
“Yeah. I—dammit! Did you see that?”
“I sure did.”
The two men pulled their horses to a halt and gazed at the distant rock cliff. Sunlight hit the higher edge, causing the hardened show to sparkle and dazzle the eyes.
Heyes squinted. “It could have just been the sun on the snow.”
“Yeah, it could. But—There!” Kid pointed toward the spot where a bright flash of light exploded from atop the cliff. “That weren’t snow.”
“It sure wasn’t.”
Both men looked behind them. A series of bright flashes sending out a message caused the blood to chill in their veins. They turned forward again and saw the flicking response.
Without a word, they booted the horses into a gallop even though they knew they could already be trapped.
[To Be Continued]