Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes were on the run once again. The posse had hunted them out of Wyoming, throughout Montana and close to the northern border. Finally, they decided to split up: Heyes riding due south, Kid Curry north.
The scenery didn’t change much. As the Kid crossed yet another river, he spotted no signs of his pursuers. Tired and running out of supplies he hoped to find a trace of human civilization soon.
Two days later his hopes were fulfilled. The town looked nice enough, small but quiet. A general store, blacksmith, doctor’s office and a Chinese laundry were lined up along what he had to call main street, for want of any better description since there was not enough town to call it a town square. He couldn’t even call it a one-horse-town, because the only animal in sight was a mule. What town began life without a saloon as the first permanent building anyway?
In the absence of alternatives, the Kid led his horse to the front of the general store and dismounted. With a groan he tried to get the kinks out of his back. Briefly, he smiled at the kids gathering at a safe distance, before he entered the building.
Inside he noticed two men standing behind the bar: one small and burley, the other tall and slim.
“What kinda place is this?” he asked somewhat confused as he tipped his hat.
“It’s the general store,” the slim man in the back answered.
“It’s the saloon,” declared the small one, occupying the part close to the entrance.
The blond outlaw’s brow furrowed. “You don’t seem to agree.”
“Well, it’s both,” the tall man started to explain. “See, mister, we’re just starting out here, and we decided to share this place until we can afford a second one. Which I regret painfully.”
“Which you regret? Which I regret!” the other chimed in. “Why don’t you come over mister and have a cup of tea?”
“Yes, due to prohibition I only have tea on offer. Best Kentucky tea in the whole territory!” With a smug smile he lifted a teapot emitting the distinctive scent of whisky.
“Where the hell am I?” Kid Curry asked, indicating a larger area with his hands as both vendors started to speak again. “I mean, all ... this.”
“Barcley’s Brush.” “In the Dominion of Canada,” the strange duet answered.
“That explains it,” Kid Curry murmured, glancing sideways at the teapot. “I need supplies and a place to rest.”
“No credit, sir,” the tall one replied quickly as he looked him up and down. “But you can pay in American currency. You are from south of the border, aren’t you?”
Kid Curry nodded and checked on his funds. “You know if there’s any kinda job on offer?”
“You mean ... gun jobs?” the small one asked, his eyes fixed on Kid Curry’s tied-down gun belt.
The blond smiled amicably. “No, sir. I’m kinda jack of all trades. Ranch work, cattle drivin’, any odd jobs. I don’t plan on stayin’ here long though.”
“No ranchers around here would hire hands this time of the year, mister, but there are a lot of repairs to do and I bet Sean could use some help.”
“Sean, Sean Lafferty.”
Curry tilted his head. “The Montana Kid?”
“That’s what they call him, yes.”
“So, he would be the common gunman in these parts, wouldn’t he?”
“What did you just call me?” a low and obviously displeased voice asked from behind him.
Kid Curry turned around slowly. In the doorway stood a man of about his size, a few years older than him, with broad shoulders and a long untamed mane of dark hair, with blue eyes watching him suspiciously.
“A gunman?” Kid Curry offered.
“No, before that!”
The look of his opposition was getting cold and hard. He squared his shoulders and dropped his hand to his belt. Kid Curry knew the stance well enough. He wasn’t sure what the problem was, but sure as hell he had just pissed off the local shootist.
He was totally fixed on the stranger, but he didn’t miss the blonde woman drawing up behind him. She was of slim build and beautiful as a summer day.
Curry was expecting an outburst of violence and prepared to get the woman out of the line of fire, but saw to his surprise how the stance of the other man relaxed immediately.
“I just heard about a stranger in town and you already got to know him?” She said softly. “Why don’t you introduce me to your friend, Sean?”
“That’s no friend of mine.”
The woman’s eyes sought her friend’s.
Kid Curry recognized the signs of a gathering storm. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he interrupted. “Name’s Thaddeus Jones. I came into this peaceable town looking for supplies and a place to rest. Seems I’ve got to add a few days of work to that list. The bartender just told me that a Sean Lafferty would be in need of a helper for repairs?”
“That would be him,” the woman said, indicating the dark-haired man. “And I’m Jane. You heard right. He is in need of help.”
“Am I?” Sean asked in surprise.
“You are,” the blonde replied with a mischievous smile. “If you want to get everything fixed before winter comes, that is.”
“But I can’t pay!”
“He can stay with us at the farm.” She offered, turning to Kid Curry. “If you would be willing to work for board and lodging, that is?”
“She is known for her cooking,” one of the bartenders threw in.
“Infamous,” murmured Sean.
The woman’s blue eyes threw daggers. “You’re still alive, aren’t you? You wanna do the cooking for a change?”
“I’m sure your cookin’ is much better than mine, ma’am,” Kid Curry offered.
“Don’t be so sure,” Sean muttered.
“I’m willin’ to take the risk, if you’ll have me.”
“Hm.” The dark-haired man wasn’t quite convinced. “You’ve ever done construction work?”
Curry sighed. “I’m not a professional, but I’ve got some past experience.” Involuntarily he rubbed the thumb of his left hand. He suppressed a smile when he noticed his movement mirrored by Sean’s hand.
“Alright, so if you’re gonna help me fix a few things - and wanna take the risk of food poisoning - we’ve got a deal.”
“Deal. I’d be glad to help you out, Sean. And I’m sure, I’ll appreciate your cookin’, ma’am. Thank you for your kind offer.”
Jane answered with a smile. “And I really appreciate good manners for a change.
Two days later Kid Curry had fallen into a new routine. He spent the days doing woodwork in town and chores at Jane’s Farm, which she rewarded with a simple but clean place to sleep and three square meals a day. Her cooking wasn’t exactly great, but it was nutritious and way better than the grub Heyes usually produced.
Sean was always near, always watching him cautiously. Obviously, he knew what the Kid was – a man with a past, a man on the run. But due to some unwritten code he never mentioned it.
Today they were fixing holes in the laundry wall. Pulling down the damaged boards was the easy part, and they both had a good sense of accuracy when it came to cutting replacements, but when it came to nailing it the true drama began. Every third time, their thumbs got in their way and colorful cursing would start, usually cut off by a passerby.
“This town looks quiet enough,” Curry stated. “How did they manage to get a hundred bullet holes into their walls?”
“A misunderstanding, mostly. Bounty hunters trying for the wrong man. Pretty mean guy. Scared the good folks here pretty good and took half of the town apart before he got stopped.”
“There’s often bounty hunters around here?”
“No,” Sean chuckled and beamed a smile. “They take independence seriously. No warrants in Canada, no sympathy for bounty hunters. Folks value their peace though. But if a man keeps a low profile, he’s welcome, as long as he fits in.”
“And you do?”
Sean stopped his work and lowered his voice. “You suggesting somethin’?”
“Nope. I see you’re new in these parts and folks kinda like you.”
Sean smiled again. “Yeah, well, I kinda like them, too. I’d say we’re growin’ on each other.”
“You’re gonna stay?”
“Maybe...” Sean’s look wandered into the middle distance.
The sound of hoofbeats pulled him back into the present and had both of them alert in no time. Simultaneously, the dropped their tools, grabbed their gun belts and strapped them on. Cautiously they spied around the corner. Four riders in rough clothing and well-armed, dominated the scene, while the town folks started gathering, curious but alert. Kid Curry noticed far more rifles than he’d ever seen before in this pleasant place.
“We’re looking for the Kid. Anyone seen ’em?” one of the strangers asked.
Both temporary woodworkers pressed up against the wall.
Only silence answered the speaker.
“We know, he’s been heading this way,” he tried again, panning the crowd.
Three guys standing at a corner exchanged glances, but kept quiet.
“Come on, we’ll protect you,” he addressed them. “Just tell us where you’ve seen ‘em. Nobody gets hurt. We’ll just take ‘em and be on our way.”
“You’re looking for the Kid?” one of the men asked.
Both of the hidden men choked, noticed the same reaction in the other and knit their brows.
“The Montana Kid?” the second man added.
“He’s a gunman. There’s an article about him in Canada Weekly.” The third of the trio pulled out a handful of paper, crinkled from intense reading.
The stranger laughed. “No, we’re not here for the Montana Kid. That guy got himself hung a few weeks back down in Montana. We’re looking for Kid Curry.”
“Kid Curry?” the trio started again. Obviously, it was impossible to get an answer from just one of them. “As in Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?”
“They’re in there, too!” The third flicked through the loose pages. “Here: Kid Curry, wanted for armed robbery, fastest gun of the West.” His eyes were sparkling with admiration as he continued, “$10,000 reward. Wanted dead or alive. Oh boy, he’s real famous!”
His comment launched hoots and cheering from his friends.
“He’s nothing special, he’s a goddamn outlaw! We already got his partner. Just need the gunman to complete the set.”
Sean noticed the color draining from Kid Curry’s face.
“You’ve got Hannibal Heyes?” the trio asked. “Dead or alive?” “Dead, I bet!”
“Alive. He’s gotta know where his partner is. We won’t give up that other $10,000.”
“TWENTY – THOUSAND ... oh my god, that’s a fortune!”
The hidden dark-haired man lifted his brow at this remark, and threw his companion a sideways glance. The blond man shrugged sheepishly.
“I’d love to see the guy!”
“I bet he went over the creek to Hamlin’s Brook! Oh dang, why do they always get all the excitement!?”
“Hamlin’s Brook? How do we get there?”
As the trio gave an incomprehensible description, Sean turned to the blond gunman. “I guess, your time’s up now.”
“You’re guessing right.”
“Getting your partner back?”
The curly-haired man smiled, all innocence.
“You keep on guessin’.”
“Folks will ask questions.”
“I planned on stayin’ just a few days anyway.”
Now the dark-haired man smiled, extending his hand. “Good luck. I hope he’s worth it.”
“Thanks. He is,” Kid Curry said, gathering his few belongings. “Kiss Jane goodbye for me.”
“That’s a thing I prefer doing myself anyway.”
“I thought so.” Kid Curry replied smiling, tipped his hat and went for his horse. A few minutes later only two vanishing dust clouds were the only evidence that reminded of strangers in town.
Kid Curry rode south at a breakneck speed. With him he took memories of new friends and ideas for a new life to start with the amnesty coming through or not. But for now, he intended to free his partner before the hunting party was reunited again.