and every morning when he wakes
he thinks of you
The Preacher looked down at the restless young man lying in his hotel bed in the room he had checked into the day before. The on/off member of the Devil’s Hole Gang had ridden into the thriving town of Green River on a scouting mission for the gang’s leader.
Big Jim and his men were planning to rob the bank the day after Christmas. Hannibal Heyes, one of the newest recruits, had been tipped off about a large deposit to be made by the railway on Christmas Eve. Preacher really liked the young man, who was friendly and helpful and always showed initiative but it had crossed his mind how the greenhorn would have gained this information.
Heyes had not endeared himself to some of the gang who believed he was arrogant and big headed, but Preacher sensed that he was lonely and worried underneath it all – worried that his former partner was in trouble, jail or worse. From Preacher’s interpretation of the young man’s slurred words when he was drunk one night, it became apparent that he and his friend rode together but had split up acrimoniously, which Heyes now deeply regretted and for which he blamed himself.
Preacher had been sent into Green River to scout out the bank, checking that no changes to the procedures or safe had been made since Wheat had visited the town two weeks ago.
Preacher really savoured these scouting trips and always volunteered as a few days away from the Hole gave him the peace and tranquility he sometimes desperately needed. Big Jim always sent him off with a warning that he should lay off the liquor, but he knew how to pace himself and where his demons lay.
Late last night after leaving the saloon, he discreetly slipped into the alley way to check the back door of the bank and nearly stumbled over the body of the boy who now lay in his bed. The curly haired young man had been sprawled face down in the bitter cold weather, seemingly drunk. After turning him onto his back, Preacher realized that this wasn’t due to excess liquor but a brutal and sustained beating.
After checking for a heartbeat Preacher, hoisted the young cowboy onto his shoulder and carried him back to his hotel room. Then he removed the boy’s bloodied clothing including an empty gun belt and took stock of the injuries. He was experienced with doctoring the members of his gang and applied his self taught techniques to patch up the unconscious youngster as best as he was able. He would send for the doctor in the morning.
“How is he, Doc?” Preacher asked the tall young Doctor as finished his examination of the unknown boy. Albert Gordon had arrived in Green River over a year ago but was becoming quite accustomed to dealing with injuries sustained from bullets or fist fights especially on Saturday nights. However the young cowboy lying in the bed was of concern as the rope marks around his wrists indicated that he had been unable to defend himself.
“It is difficult to tell, very battered and bruised,” replied the medical man folding up his stethoscope and placing it back in his bag. “His injuries appear to be superficial and I don’t think any bones are broken but we can tell more when he wakes up. I doubt whether he has been eating regularly so when he wakes, try and get some food into him. Hopefully he is tougher than he looks but if you hadn’t found him last night though, Reverend, I doubt very much if he would have survived. It was pretty cold out there; he is a lucky young man.”
As the Doctor exited the room he stopped and looked back. “Have you informed the Sheriff?”
Preacher shook his head. “I understand that the Sheriff here has a reputation and I wasn’t sure if he had been involved. I will see what the boy has to say when he wakes.”
The Doctor departed advising he would return later and Preacher sat down in the armchair at the side of the bed. Riding out later to report back to Big Jim was now out of the question as in all conscience he couldn’t leave until he knew that the curly headed youth was recovering. Preacher sat back in his chair, took a sip from his bottle and slowly drifted off to sleep.
He was roused when his patient started mumbling incoherently in his sleep.
“You are in safe hands, now young man. Hold my hand and take comfort,” murmured the outlaw as he took another swig from the bottle held in his other hand.
Jed Curry’s eyelashes fluttered as he slowly regained consciousness. As awareness slowly returned, he struggled to open his eyes which felt sore and swollen. Managing to slightly open his right eye he began to take in and try to understand his surroundings. There was a man sitting at the side of the bed clutching his hand. Curry winced as he tried to ease himself up onto his elbow, everywhere hurt, and he decided to try again later or perhaps never, he would remain where he was, it was far too painful to move. And after settling back down, his eyes closed and he drifted back into a deep natural sleep.
Curry had ridden into Green River a few days ago. He had stabled his horse and ambled over to the saloon for a beer, the first for many weeks. He had been living a solitary existence on the trail for some months, hunting for food to feed his once insatiable appetite which now had virtually left him. At first he was quite happy with his own company and spending long hours practicing his fast draw, honing his intrinsic ability, but now loneliness seemed to be stalking his waking hours.
Jed found it hard to admit that he missed his cousin, but he felt his absence awfully bad. His best friend had abandoned him in favor of Tommy Baker, a drover they had met on their last drive on the Chisholm Trail. Heyes had seemed beguiled with Baker who spun a tale of a fortune in gold waiting to be found in lost mines in the nearby mountains. To be fair, Heyes had wanted Kid to go with them but the nearly nineteen year old resented this new friendship and resolved to set out alone. His partner just referred to his stubbornness, calling him ornery and moody expecting him to catch up. Curry now deeply regretted this first stride into independence.
“Can I have some water, please?”
“You’re awake, that’s good” uttered Preacher. Jed’s eyes met the kind brown eyes of the man who poured a cup of water from the pitcher on the washstand and proceeded to assist the boy whilst he took a few sips.
Over the last few days the Doctor had returned several times to examine the patient. Between the two healers they had managed to get the partly conscious young man to swallow water mixed with pain powders in his infrequent moments of lucidity, so Preacher was thankful that the blond was coming to wakefulness.
“Where am I?” asked Jed as he attempted to push himself up to a near sitting position with the help of the clergyman. “I remember you were holding my hand.”
“It seemed to comfort you, dear boy. Do you remember what happened to you?”
The curly head shook in a negative response. Leaning over to place the cup back on the washstand, Preacher explained that he had found the badly beaten cowboy and brought him back to the hotel.
Kid Curry’s last memory was leaving the saloon and heading to the restaurant for a steak dinner that he had been looking forward to after eating out on the trail for so long.
“What shall I call you?” the man leaned so close that Jed could smell the liquor on his breath.
“Water,” muttered Jed, turning his head away from the unpleasant odor.
“Right, Walter,” Preacher said mishearing. “I will arrange for some soup to be brought up as the doctor seems to think you need feeding but firstly let’s get some more fluid into you.”
Big Jim was not a patient man and expected his orders to be followed to the letter. He had waited an extra day for Preacher to return to the camp and after pacing back and forth for most of the day, decided to send the youngest member of the gang to find Preacher, most certainly slumped in a drunken state in the saloon. If that were case, there would be hell to pay.
Hannibal Heyes rode into Green River sporting his new black hat with the silver conches and his new black and silver gun belt. He’d paid for them with his share of the last very successful robbery. He dismounted outside the saloon and proceeded through the swing doors expecting to see his friend collapsed, pickled over a table. He sauntered to the bar, scanning the saloon but not seeing who he was looking for. He ordered a beer, which he sipped slowly while still observing the patrons, some of whom had stopped what they were doing to glance at this young man with his tied-down gun. But his disarming smile convinced them he was not a threat.
After draining the last drops in the glass, he collected his horse and made his way to the stable. He then proceeded to the Hotel, gleaning from the desk clerk and a quick scrutiny of the register that Reverend Michaels was in Room 5. On learning that the guest Room 4 next door was vacant, he took the key, paid in advance and made his way up to his room to stow away his gear.
Hearing the heavy knocking at the door Jed felt an inner jolt of fear and pulled the covers higher partly concealing his head in an attempt to hide. Preacher was fast asleep on the chair and lazily stood up approaching the door, looking over at Curry who unknown to him was feigning sleep. On opening the door and seeing Heyes, he moved forward pushing the young outlaw further back into the corridor as he partially closed the door behind him.
Curry could hear snippets of the conversation; someone called Jim wasn’t happy, something about the bank of Green River, someone was late and hitting the bottle was broached. He heard Walter mentioned a few times which he surmised was the Reverend explaining about his occupation of the room. The mutterings ceased and the door opened followed by footsteps drawing nearer. Then Jed was aware of someone leaning over him. He closed his eyes, well, the one he could open, and suddenly found a peace he had not experienced in a while. Then suddenly he was alone.
Some hours later Preacher returned with a bowl of soup to find Walter sitting up in bed, trying to read an old newspaper through his badly swollen eyes.
“How are you feeling, Walter? You look a lot brighter this evening.” The Preacher passed the tray over making sure that Curry was comfortable with feeding himself.
“Better, much better. Still sore and feeling so tired,” answered the blond spooning the hot soup into his mouth.
“You know tonight is Christmas Eve and I have to leave tomorrow, my brothers are expecting me to celebrate with them. I have paid for you to stay in this room for five more nights and arranged for meals to be brought up. The Doctor will visit to check that you are recovering as you should be. Your saddlebags are there in the corner with your clothes that have been freshly laundered. My advice, Walter, is to leave quietly as soon as you feel able.” The outlaw looked down at his patient taking in his bruised face and somehow knew that by saving this blessed boy, he was saving himself.
“Why are you doing this for me, you don’t know me? What can I do to thank you for your help and kindness? You saved my life.”
“I have a feeling that one day you will repay me. But in the meantime do you feel up to having a farewell whiskey with me?” asked the Preacher. He poured two small glasses from his bottle and passed one to Jed. He drank his own in one quick swallow before refilling the glass and sitting himself down on the armchair.
Jed lifted his glass and said quietly, “To you Heyes, Happy Christmas. I hope you are alive and happy and well. I miss you.” and then slowly sipped his drink.
Hannibal Heyes, after spending the night at the saloon returned to his room with a bottle of the good stuff. His head filled with memories of a young boy who had been his constant companion. He took a swig and whispered, “To you Jed, Happy Christmas. I miss you. I hope wherever you are, you are happy and safe.”
Hannibal Heyes and the Preacher rode out of Green River early on Christmas morning only to return in the first hour of the 27thof December to break into the bank escaping with over $20,000. No one except the occupant of Room 5 of the hotel had any suspicion that the Reverend was connected with the robbery.
Stay with me
Hanging around in the lost and found
Jed Curry, much recovered from his pummeling, rode out of Green River a few days later after purchasing a replacement gun and a box of bullets determined to find his missing cousin.
Six months later Hannibal Heyes left Devil’s Hole after securing Big Jim’s agreement to go find his missing cousin. It took him a few months but it wasn’t difficult, as trouble always found and followed Jed Curry (particularly when it involved the pretty daughter of a brutal sheriff).