The Christmas Promise

By Penski

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry urged their horses onward to trudge through the deepening snow while the blizzard raged around them.

“Can’t last much longer!” Heyes shouted above the storm.

Curry nodded, showing he heard and agreed, then adjusted the worn Sherpa collar up around his neck. He glanced around, always vigilant, and squinted his eyes towards the east. “Heyes, you see that?” The Kid pointed.

Heyes turned toward his partner and followed the arm to what he pointed at. “Is that a town?”

The Kid nodded. I sure hope so!”

They reined their horses towards the east.

“Almost there, boy.” The Kid patted his gelding’s neck.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The horses plowed a path down the middle of a small, dilapidated town of only eight buildings, heading for the livery barn.

“This is Silver Creek? Not much of a town anymore,” Heyes commented and involuntarily shivered.

“Good enough if we can get us and the horses outta this storm before we all freeze to death.” The Kid sneezed and wiped his nose with a sleeve.

The barn door was unlocked, and they walked their horses inside. Both men and beasts were glad to be out of the stinging wind.

“Hello? Anybody here?” the Kid asked in a loud, raspy voice.

Heyes tapped his partner on the arm and pointed to a piece of paper tacked to a post. “Says, ‘I’m gone for the night, folks, so you can put your own horse in a stall. There’re bags of oats in the back. Merry Christmas, Ralph Whitman, owner.’”

“Friendly to keep it unlocked for travelers.” Kid Curry removed the saddle and bridle from his horse and began brushing it down. “It’s cold in here so I’m gonna keep the blanket on his back tonight.”

When both animals were cared for, fed, and in stalls, the weary and cold former outlaws picked up their belongings and headed back outside towards the hotel.

The wind threw the door wide open as they entered, and they quickly shut it behind them. They wiped their boots and shook off the snow on the rug by the door before entering the room. The lobby was as dilapidated as the town. The rugs were worn and the two wooden chairs stood on legs that were wobbly. The small counter was clean, but had seen better days. Heyes looked at the Kid, who shrugged his shoulders, and then rang a bell.

Just before ringing it a second time, a man wiping his mouth with a napkin came out from behind a curtain covering the presence of a back room. “Didn’t think we’d get anyone seeing how tonight is Christmas Eve and with the blizzard. One room?”

“How much?” Heyes asked, pulling a few coins from his pocket.

“It’s two dollars a night.”

“Oh.” The dark-haired man counted his coins. “Looks like we can only stay one night since we need to have money for the livery. Hope the storm’s gone.”

“I’m feeling charitable with it being Christmas and all. How about two nights for two dollars and we’ll negotiate if the weather’s still bad?” The man smiled and turned the registration book towards them.

“We appreciate the kindness, sir.” Heyes wrote his name and handed the pen to the Kid.

“It’s James – James Williamson.” The clerk glanced down at the names. “Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones.”

“I’m just Thaddeus and he’s Joshua, James.” The Kid handed the pen back to the hotel owner. “Thanks, again, for your generosity. Is there someplace we can get something to eat?”

“Well, the saloon is closed because of the weather and Sam wantin’ to be home with his family tonight. My missus made more food than we can eat, so you can join us. Take your stuff up and come on down. Rooms aren’t much, but it’s a clean bed with plenty of blankets so you’ll be warm.”

“We’d hate to be a bother…” Heyes began.

An older woman poked her head around the curtain. “No bother at all, gentlemen. Please, do as James says and come down. We just started and I did cook too much for the two of us. Besides, it’s Christmas Eve.”

“And this, gentlemen, is my loving wife, Gertrude.” James smiled lovingly at her. “You heard her.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Curry nodded and picked up his things, along with the key.

Heyes and Curry made their way up a creaking staircase to their room and dropped their things on the floor. The room was drafty and cold but protected them from the wind and snow. The furniture was old, the wallpaper beginning to peel, and the water bowl cracked. The bed was layered with numerous blankets for warmth.

“Well, it’s not the nicest room we’ve ever stayed in,” Heyes commented.

“But we did get a dinner invitation,” Curry reminded him. “Let’s get back downstairs.”

Joshua and Thaddeus joined James and Gertrude in eating a meal consisting of ham, sweet potatoes, rolls, canned green beans, and apple pie for dessert.

“Ma’am – Gertrude – that was delicious.” Heyes pushed his chair from the table and sipped his cup of coffee. “Appreciate you inviting us to share your meal.”

“Can’t let our guests starve, especially this evening when our Lord was born.” Gertrude began removing the dirty plates and leftover food from the table. “Looks like we have enough for tomorrow, too.”

“I told you my wife cooked too much for the two of us.” James looked adoringly at his partner.

“Couldn’t help but notice that the town don’t seem to be doin’ well,” the Kid commented. “Seems we were here about five years ago and it looked more prosperous.”

“That it was. But the silver strike ended as quick as it started. There’s just over a dozen of us still left here at Silver Creek and we’ll all be probably leaving in the spring.” James’ face clouded over. “Sad, very sad how it all happened. However…” He paused and forced a smile. “It’s a holy night and we can’t complain. The Lord gave us food, clothing, and lodging.”

The Kid yawned. “Speakin’ of night, I’m exhausted from ridin’ in that storm and now havin’ a full belly. Think I’ll turn in.”

“Me, too.” Heyes set down his empty cup.

“I know it’ll be cold in your room so why don’t you take up some hot water to wash up and get another cup of coffee.” James glanced towards the kitchen and noticed Gertrude busy cleaning while singing Christmas carols. He pulled a bottle of brandy out of a high cabinet. “We’ll put a little of this in with the coffee for some warm Christmas cheer.”

“That sounds good, James. Thank you!” Heyes and Curry held out their cups for a shot of liquor and then filled the rest with coffee.

“I’ll carry up the hot water for you and have some ready in the morning, too.” James disappeared into the kitchen, gave his wife a quick kiss, and took a large pot of water from the stove. “I’ll be right back.”

The three men climbed the stairs to the room and James poured the hot water into the chipped bowl. He then lit the two lamps in the room.

“Sorry about the cold room. You could stay in the lobby until you go to bed.”

“Nah, I think we’ll be crawling under those covers and getting some shut-eye

“Have a good night!” James closed the door behind himself as he left.

The Kid sat on the bed and began removing his boots. “Looks like I’m gettin’ a hole in the bottom of my right boot. Was hopin’ it would last longer.”

“We can resole it in the next bigger town since there’s no money for new ones.” Heyes began removing his boots. “I sure could use a warmer jacket. I about froze today.”

“Yeah, and my jacket’s about worn out, too. Now there's a hole where that tree branch snagged it today.” The Kid sighed. “Remember when we had so much money that we didn’t know what to do with it all?”

Heyes nodded. “I sure do. Almost makes me wanna go back to robbing again.”

“Can’t say I haven’t been tempted myself.” Curry quickly washed himself and removed his pants and shirt, leaving on his socks and longjohns. He crawled under the covers and shivered. “Brrr…”

“I’ll be in there soon and it’ll be warm with both our body heat. Of course, we won’t wanna get outta bed in the morning.” Heyes washed up and removed his clothes. He dug in his saddle bag and pulled out a blue bandana wrapped gift. “Merry Christmas, Kid!” He threw it over to his partner.

Curry’s fast reflexes allowed him to catch the package. “I thought we didn’t have money to buy gifts for each other this year?”

“It’s not much. Just a little something.”

Kid Curry jumped out of bed and rummaged through his bags until he pulled out a red bandana wrapped gift. “I got you a little something, too. Merry Christmas, Heyes!”

The two men crawled under the blankets and leaned against the bed’s head frame with their coffee nearby.

Heyes opened his gift – a new package of playing cards. “Thanks! Seems you used my last ace of clubs as a target.”

The Kid laughed. “I sure showed that guy in Butte that he'd better leave us alone.”

Curry opened his gift – a box of bullets. “Thanks, Heyes. I was gettin’ real low.”

“I know. We can’t have Kid Curry run outta bullets.”

The men set down their gifts and sipped the brandy-laced coffee.

“Heyes, I don’t know that I can keep goin’ on like this. We don’t have no money and have to travel from one place to another all the time.”

“I know what you mean. Going for amnesty is a whole lot harder than we both thought it would be.”

“I knew it’d be hard but didn’t think it’d be almost three years and we’re nowhere closer to gettin’ it.”

“Kid, let’s make a promise – a Christmas promise.” Heyes took a sip. “If we don’t have amnesty by next fall, say October 1, we’re gonna switch to a new plan.”

“What kind of plan do you have in mind?”

“I say we stop trying for amnesty…”

“And start robbin’ again? Curry frowned. I don’t know about that. This bein’ honest is rubbin’ off on me.”

“No, not start robbing. Maybe just disappear. The world is a big place. Heck, the West is a big place. The two of us can just vanish. New names. Settle down in some obscure place like Silver Creek. Live our lives normal with no thought of the governor or amnesty. Don’t even tell Lom or contact him again.”

Kid Curry smiled. “I love that plan. Do we have to wait until October 1?”

“Well, getting amnesty would be the best all the way around.”

“True,” the Kid agreed.

“We’ll go south and see if Mac has any work for us. Start saving money so whether we get amnesty or not, we have money put away to buy our own place.”

“I like that.” Curry yawned. “Let’s drink on it and get some sleep.”

The two friends toasted to their Christmas promise and swallowed the last of the laced coffee. Heyes blew out the lamp on his side of the bed and Curry did the same to the one on a table by his side. They burrowed deep into the blankets with their backs touching each other.

“Merry Christmas, Heyes.”

“Merry Christmas, Kid.”