Originally published in You, Me and the Governor # 23
This story mentions original characters first found in 'Child's Play'
No moon shone in the night sky, the absence of any light making even familiar landmarks indistinct and insubstantial. Clouds scuttled across the stars, obscuring even those directional markers. The hoot of an owl echoed weirdly.
The two men stationed at the entrance to Devil's Hole strained their eyes, guarding against intruders. On a night like this, anything could happen. Even so, the dark clothed rider on the dark horse wasn't seen until he'd almost passed beneath them.
"Don't move." Lobo Riggs leveled his rifle at the rider. "Dismount." The man on the horse slowly swung his leg over the animal's withers and dropped limply to the ground. "What do you want?" Riggs asked, trying to see the man's face under his Stetson.
"T'see Heyes," the rider mumbled.
"'Bout what?" Riggs asked cautiously. Few riders even made is this far into the canyon.
"What's your name?"
The other guard, Kyle Murtrey, nearly fell off his rock perch above the path. "Kid?" he echoed. "Lobo, Ah'll take care of it." He climbed down to the trail. "Kid, it's me, Kyle."
"S'been a long time, Kyle," Kid Curry acknowledged weakly.
"Mount up, Ah'll take ya to Heyes." Kyle started to give Curry a leg up, for he seemed almost too weak to mount on his own, but Kid pushed him away. 'Where ya been, Kid, since…"
"Driftin'," Kid said shortly.
"How'd you find the entrance?" Kyle mounted his own nag, hidden out of sight from the trail, and lead the way.
"Been here before."
"When? Not since Heyes took charge."
"A long time ago, Kyle, a very long time," Kid's voice trembled, at the end of his strength. It was too dark for either man to see the other's face, so Kyle had no notion of how much the Kid had changed or why he sounded so tired.
They dismounted in front of a weathered cabin, the Devil's Hole headquarters, tethering their horses on a knurled hitching post. "Stay here, Kid, Ah'll get Heyes," Kyle said softly as he crossed the porch and entered the building.
"Heyes, kin Ah talk to you?" Kyle spoke, trying to adjust his eyes to the brightness of the kerosene lamp.
"What is it? Why aren't you out on guard?" Hannibal Heyes looked up from his detailed sketch of the Brooker 90-B safe.
"The Kid, Heyes. He's here."
"Here?" whispered Heyes, suddenly aware of a lump in his throat. It had been nearly three years since he'd seen his best friend and cousin, Kid Curry. Three years since the bungled, amateurish bank robbery gone wrong and the Sheriff who had lain in wait for them. They had been four boys, the eldest twenty-two, and Kid, the youngest, seventeen. The Sheriff and his deputy had opened fire, wounding the Kid and capturing him. Then, Coal Martin and Kyle Murtrey had held Heyes in the shadows of the trees, helplessly watching as the lawmen took the boy away.
"Kid?" Heyes repeated.
"Yeah, he's what we need, Heyes, a gun like his."
"I know." Heyes nodded. "Bring him in."
"Kid?" Kyle called out the door. "C'mere." When Curry walked in, Kyle slipped out, disappearing into the inky night.
Kid stood unmoving for a minute, blinking in the sudden light, then removed his Stetson, and the brightness of the flame caught his sun streaked blond hair.
Heyes stared. He hadn't been exactly sure what to expect, but Kid's appearance was a shock. A recent beating had left his handsome face bruised and cut. A healing gash curved over his right eye. The last time Heyes had seen his friend, he'd been a skinny, long haired seventeen year old, not even fully grown. Now, he was taller, sporting a scruffy, dirty blond beard and mustache, and looked skinnier, if that were possible. He also looked ready to drop. Yet, there was still the child like quality in his face that let him, at twenty, to pass for eighteen or younger.
"You feeling all right, Kid? You look bad." Heyes said, then regretted it. Kid had always been too proud to admit weakness.
"I came for of a job," Kid answered, "That's all." He gripped the edge of a rough wooden table. Things were happening a little too fast.
"All?" Heyes echoed, "Kid?"
"I got a good reputation with a gun." Kid fought the unconsciousness that threatened. "I can help with... security and I need the money…" He swayed, barely managing to stay standing.
"Kid, sit down. What happened?"
"I... was in a f-fight." Kid slipped slowly to the ground. Heyes dashed around the table to catch him before he hit his head.
"Kid," he whispered. "Please stay." He laid the back of his hand against his friend's cheek. He was feverish, but his eyes opened again.
"I'm fine, I just..." Kid took a deep breath, sitting up. "Had a long ride."
"You're not fine. Stay there," Heyes commanded, sprinting out the door and across the yard to the bunkhouse. Half a dozen men were sprawled around a table, an unending poker game in progress. "Doc," Heyes said. "I got a sick man at the house."
"Who is it?" Thomas Snow, known only as Doc to most of the
gang, gathered his meager winnings and stuffed them into his pockets.
"It's-" Heyes glanced around at the five other men. "Kid Curry."
"Kid Curry?" The one man Heyes had expected to speak up, did. "He's here?" Wheat Carlson demanded.
Heyes nodded, "Wheat, I'll wanna talk to you in about an hour."
"What if I don't wanna talk to you, Heyes?"
"Leave it be, Wheat." Heyes said levelly, beckoning the white haired man. "Let's go, Doc."
Snow finished his examination by bandaging the gash on Kid's head. "Exhaustion, malnutrition, a recent beating. You've had a rough time."
"He'll get better," Heyes stated, looking down at his cousin, wondering if he even knew him anymore.
"Food, rest-a few weeks worth." Snow poured a white powder into a glass of water, stirring. "Drink this, it'll help the head ache I know you have."
Kid obliged, begrudgingly. He didn't like Heyes taking over like this, treating him as if he didn't have any say in his own life. That had always been one of the troubles.
"Well, we got a few weeks before the next job," Heyes responded heartily into Curry's grumpy silence. "He'll fatten up."
"I have to tell you." Snow looked from one to the other. "I lived near Elmwood, Kansas in 1869 for a short while." He snagged an open bottle of whiskey off the side board, and three glasses. "I remember a small robbery that went wrong, pulled off by four kids. They caught the youngest, a little blond boy who wore a gun like a man."
"I'm not a boy any longer." Kid accepted a whiskey.
"No, you're not." Heyes stared at him.
"What happened after that?" Doc swallowed his liquor.
"Everybody knows that." Kid gestured with his glass. "Heyes joined Big Jim's gang, and here you are."
"Only Big Jim ain't around anymore, and it's mine," Heyes added. "What happened to you?"
"Ancient history." Kid shrugged. "You didn't stick around to find out."
A knife twisted in his belly, but Heyes tossed back his drink to cover his guilt. "Coal said they'd go easy on you, he made me stay away." Got him drunk and took him a whole state away, to be exact.
"And you did," Kid said tightly. "You never came back."
"Ah, Kid, Jesus..."
"But, hey, Coal was right. Sheriff's wife patched up my leg, she couldn't believe a little BOY like me could be mixed up in a bank robbery." Kid poured another drink. "She thought I was a damn fourteen year old."
"Sent you back to the orphanage," Heyes guessed softly, remembering how much Kid had hated the place.
"I healed fast and left." Kid wiped sweat off his feverish face. "I made it on my own."
"Your reputation precedes you." Snow toasted him. "Fastest
gun around, its said."
"He's dirty, sick and beat up," Heyes pointed out. "But I'll promise you that gun is spotless." He smiled fondly at the Kid. "It always was. He could take apart a pistol and put it together before he could read."
"And you'd sit there, playing poker with my brothers," Kid added. "And I could read."
"Your brothers." Heyes groaned. "Aaron, Sean and Michael."
"Don't forget Ian." Kid poured another shot.
"Taught us everything they knew. Stealing, cheating at cards, picking pockets . . .”
"How many brothers did you have?" Doc asked.
Kid held up four fingers before taking a drink. "And too many sisters." The liquor, combined with the powder Snow had given him were taking effect. He was drunk and didn't mind a bit.
"Colorful childhood," Snow observed dryly.
"Kid's mother was a crook." Heyes steadied the bottle over his glass, meeting Kid's angry eyes. "But we learned what we needed to know."
"And then they all died." Kid reached again for the bottle, but it was empty. "Most of 'em, anyway." He slumped in his chair, hardly able to move.
"Go to bed, Kid." Heyes pointed into the other room. "Take that one. Get some sleep."
"I second that." Doc helped Curry out of his chair and guided him towards the bedroom before shutting the door, "You feel responsible for him," he observed, sitting down at the table.
"Responsible." Heyes laughed mirthlessly. "For him? Yeah. I always thought Kid needed a chance, a chance he didn't have from the day he was born. And I just left him there, alone in Kansas."
"You can't go back and change that." Snow stood, shoving the chairs back under the table. "And neither one of you are boys anymore."
"I know." Heyes nodded. "Hey, Wheat," he greeted as his second in command came in.
"Boy, almighty cold out there. Ah sure hope we don't get a cold snap before the job." Wheat pulled a cigar out of his vest pocket and raked a matchhead across the rough tabletop. "What'd you wanna talk about?"
"What do you think, Wheat?" Heyes waved him to sit down. "Now that Curry's here, I think we're set. You an' me got to finish up the details."
"Kyle said Curry is sick." Wheat said bluntly, letting out a stream of blue cigar smoke.
"He'll heal," Doc spoke up. "I'm going to bed, call me if you need anything."
"Get to it, Heyes, I don't wanna be up all night." Wheat blew smoke rings.
"When did that bother you?" Heyes rifled through a pile of papers, plans for a bank, a safe and a train schedule. "I need precision for this to work, like a Swiss watch."
Kid came awake with a start, jerking out of a dream "Clementine?"
"She's not here." Heyes rubbed a kink in his neck, stretched out on the other side of the bed. "You're at Devil's Hole."
"Yeah." Kid scrubbed sleep out of his eyes. "You've fixed the place up nice." he said sarcastically, "Real homey."
"You don't have to stay," Heyes shot back and regretted it instantly. Kid hadn't been there twenty-four hours and they were back sniping at each other. "Breakfast?" he said brightly. "Jake makes mean flapjacks."
He stuck his head out the door into the main room. Jake Keeny was stirring a large bowl of batter, in front of the cook stove. "Got some made, Jake?"
"Be a few minutes," the nineteen year old called. As the youngest member of the gang, he was expected to do all the scut work. He was the only gang member who could cook and, secretly, rather liked it.
"Heyes." Dern looked up from his coffee, "Where's this Kid Curry?"
"Yeah, Kyle said he's sick," Jake said, flipping pancakes.
Kyle has a big mouth, Heyes thought privately.
"We don't need no in-valid up here." Lobo hunkered down at the table next to Dern. "Why'd you let him stay if he's sick?"
"Lobo, what the heck do you want me to do, leave him out in the cold?" Heyes groaned. "Look, we need a good gun. He's fast and never misses."
"Pancakes," Jake interjected, handing out heaping plates.
"Yeah, Lobo, you were sick last year." Kyle had come in time to hear the end of the conversation. "We didn't throw you out." He giggled maliciously.
Heyes grabbed a plate, carrying it into the bedroom. "Breakfast."
Kid ate swiftly and silently, wanting to preserve some sort of peace.
"When was the last time you ate?" Heyes grinned, his dimples deepening in his cheeks. "Did you even taste that?"
"Don't start, Heyes, I'm tired," Kid sighed. Heyes felt his forehead.
"You've still got a fever, too." Heyes said softly. "Kid, I..."
"Let's not." Kid shook his head, then regretted it when the room swam for a second. "We said things last night. It's done."
"Not all of it was bad," Heyes spoke wistfully. "We had some fun."
"And then we grew up."
"Yeah, we sure did." Heyes ran the back of his hand across Kid's chin whiskers. "You didn't used to need to shave."
Kid's blue eyes met Heyes' brown ones. "Is that all you're going to say?"
'How 'bout, welcome back, Jed Curry." Heyes stuck out a hand. "We didn't get properly introduced last night. I'm Hannibal Heyes."
"How do, Heyes." Kid grinned back in spite of himself, and shook his hand. "Now get outta here and let me sleep. Doctor's orders, remember?"
"You're gonna sleep for one hundred years like Cinderella." Heyes flicked the blankets over his feet. "I know your talent for sleep."
"It's Sleeping Beauty," Kid retorted into his pillow.
"You’re the expert," Heyes patted his shoulder fondly, then left to let him sleep.
Night had come again before Kid reawakened. He wandered into the main room where Heyes was bent over the table pondering five poker hands.
"Nothing really changes, does it?" He spoke into the silence.
"Gotta keep up my skills, Kid." Heyes shuffled the deck. "The gang has a continuous game going."
"As if you don't win every time." Kid investigated a covered pot on the stove, "Any food left?"
"Venison stew. Bowls are in the cupboard." Heyes waited until his friend had served up a bowl, sat down and started to eat. "Who beat you up?"
"Fell off my horse," Kid answered flatly, eating stew. "He went lame."
"Kid." Heyes grabbed the blond man's wrist. You came in on a horse."
"A different horse," Kid clarified. "A few days ago." He jerked his hand away, continuing to eat. "Heyes, what do you want me to say?"
"I think you came here for a reason. D'jou need help?" Heyes insisted, "Who beat you up?"
Kid examined his nearly empty bowl, pushing the spoon around in the broth. "Mike'l"
"Mike?" Heyes echoed.
"My supposedly dead elder brother," Kid said sarcastically.
"Mike isn't dead? Are you sure?"
"Heyes, I KNOW what my own brother looks like," Kid retorted. He and Michael Curry bore a striking resemblance, but then all the Currys had. "I'm sorry, but I've been running for months. I joined a gang last spring, an' didn't know Mike'l was a member, too. But hey, I can be peaceable..."
Heyes gave a snort of laughter, covering it by drinking coffee.
"Maybe he can’t, but I can. He's family. I was surprised he hadn't died in Dodge like we'd heard." Kid frowned. "He said it was Ian."
"You all looked alike."
"Yeah. I stayed out of his way 'til the job, figurin' I'd take my share and leave," Kid sighed. "He and his friends, a bunch of unforgiving Confederate deserters decided little brother didn't deserve a cut. So, after I left, they followed." He closed his eyes tiredly. "They jumped me once, but I knew better'n to carry the money on me. Found me again..."
"I get the picture." Heyes picked up the deck, wanting to lighten the mood. He shuffled the card deck. "Blackjack, anyone?"
Kid took a shaky breath, rubbing his tight jaw muscle. "Only if you don't cheat."
"You know I never cheat." Heyes dealt a card each. "Besides, you could always catch me when I tried."
"Taught you how to count off a deck of cards." Heyes continued dealing two more cards. He had seven and a nine, sixteen. "Never could figure how you learned to spot cheating."
"Mike'l used to." Kid had a jack and a two, thirteen. "Didn't take long to realize one of you was doin' something different. I decided his way was wrong--Hit me--and it has been ever since."
"Twenty one," Heyes proclaimed, laying down a five of hearts for himself. Kid had a ten, which made twenty three for him.
"Least ways, you didn't cheat."
"How'd you get away from Mike the last time?"
Kid pushed the cards back. "Are we playing for any stakes?"
"Whatever you've got." Heyes swiftly shuffled, then dealt.
"Nothing anymore." Kid caught an ace. "Mike'l took the money."
"Then a few more answers." Heyes pushed a card across the table.
"Only if you win."
"I just did." Heyes flipped over his ten and jack, making twenty one.
Kid stiffened, as if barricading himself against anything that might be too personal.
"Just as an opener, why did you come back?" Heyes started, bridging the deck with his fingers. "I know this isn't your first visit, an' most people can't find that pass into Devil's Hole in the daylight, in good health."
"So I've been here before."
"Why would you want to come back?" Heyes asked seriously, dealing another round for blackjack.
"To find some peace." Kid closed his eyes against the nagging fear that Michael would come after him again.
"I rode with Big Jim for a couple months, but McGregor--Hit me--his second, got the impression that I didn't fit in, so I lit out for awhile." Kid checked his cards, he had nineteen. "But I heard there was a new management."
"McGregor told me you were a hot head." Heyes hid a grin, passing him another card.
"Calling the kettle black." Kid grinned suddenly. "Twenty one."
"Feels like old times." Heyes collected up the deck. "I never liked McGregor, I threw him out after Big Jim went to prison."
"Shame." Kid shook his head. "Big Jim was a good man."
"With McGregor gone, there's an empty bed in the bunkhouse." Heyes' nimble fingers fanned the cards, shuffled and shuffled again. "We could use a good gun around here, permanent."
"You think I qualify?"
"You're the only one in the room." Heyes caught Kid's eyes. "I've been waiting for you, Kid."
"One razor, one towel--more or less clean, and your saddlebags," Heyes listed as handed the toilet articles over to Curry. "Soap, etcetera is right there." He pointed out a chipped basin of water with a dish of acid smelling, yellow soap. "Are you sure you want to face the gang so soon?"
"Heyes, if I don't, I may get lynched." Kid inspected his dirty beard in the cracked and discolored mirror. "I take it they're not too pleased to have a boarder."
"It's only been two days. Complaining is what Wheat does best." Heyes finished his own morning ablutions. "But take it easy."
"Think I look good with a beard?" Kid asked, fingering the razor.
"Why not? Gives me character." He lathered up the soap and gave his arms, chest and face a quick wash.
"It makes you look like a little kid playing grown up." Heyes made up shaving cream in a cup. "Shave it off."
"I gave up doing what you told me to do a long time ago, Heyes," Kid flared. "I don't have to join this half-assed gang."
"You came to me, remember?" Heyes raised his hands defensively. "Other than what I already said, I need you young looking."
His hand with the lather covered shaving brush stopped in midair, "What do you have in mind?"
"A plan, Kid, a plan to rob a bank." Heyes grinned, his dimples deep. "I want you to check out the bank, during working hours. Who'd suspect a blond haired kid?"
"Heyes, I just may not shave it off because of that," Kid groaned. "What makes you think I'd do that?"
"Cause I'm asking you to."
"Shut up, huh? Shave it off!" Heyes growled.
Kid lathered up his face, and started to scrape off the beard. "Just wanted to get your dander up, Heyes."
"I KNOW." Heyes crossed his eyes in perplexion, making the other laugh.
"Heyes, you cause me to cut my throat an' I'll cut yours before I die." Kid rinsed the foamy razor.
"Which is worse, getting your neck cut by a relative or having it stretched by a total stranger?"
"How 'bout getting beat up by a brother?" Kid said morosely. "I don't think I can take his hounding much longer, Heyes."
"You don't have to, you're at Devil's Hole." Heyes used the towel to wipe the lather off Kid's face. "We're back together. We used to stand up to Mike."
"Tough guy," Kid chided. "And now you want me to defend you against your gang?" He dressed in his slightly wrinkled extra clothes from the saddlebags, combed his curly hair and strapped on his holster.
"Now, there's the Kid Curry I remember." Heyes nodded approvingly. "New gun?"
"Yep." Kid hefted the shiny Colt proudly. " Mike'l gave it to me."
"Oh, this has to be good."
"He beat me up, took the money." Kid's voice was tight and hard. "So, I waited 'til him and those Johnny Reb friends got flat out drunk. And I took his gun and his horse and rode out fast." He smiled tensely at Heyes.
"Kid! Now, he'll come after you for sure. Horse theft is a hanging offense!"
"He stole it first. Let him hang," Kid said. "And I may have sent a telegram to the Sheriff mentioning that." He opened the bedroom door. "Let's go meet my new friends."
"Some friends," Heyes muttered, wishing he could slam Michael Curry in the mouth. Nobody deserved a brother like The Kid's.
Most of the Devil's Hole Gang lounged around the corral in the morning sun, angry and discontent at having to wait for their leader.
"Well, well, well, the Great Kid Curry," Wheat said under his breath. The remark was heard only by Lobo and Kyle, who laughed.
"He does know a thang or two 'bout six guns," Kyle said. "At least when he was younger."
"You know him?" Wheat asked curiously.
"Went on a job with him." Kyle nodded.
"Now, Boys. I called y'all together to have a little parley about the next job and to introduce the Kid," Heyes announced, "Kid is gonna be sort of like the law around here. I’m tired of all the grousing. So, he's gonna back me up--the fatal way." Heyes knew Kid had never shot a human being in his life, but he liked the gruesome sound of the threat. He shoved his hands under his gun belt, glancing over at Curry. "Wheat is still my second and you all know your own jobs. But I need a lot more respect," he growled. "Any questions?"
"Yeah," Dern called out. "If he's so good, prove it. I ain't taking orders from nobody."
Heyes gritted his teeth. Of all the men, Dern was the worst rebel. He was Wheat’s conspirator and always had some complaint.
"I, for one, have observed Curry previously," Doc Snow claimed, "He's well known for deadly accuracy, if nothing else."
"Well, Curry?" Dern taunted.
His hand faster than any of the men had ever seen, Kid drew his brand new gun. He did a couple road agent spins, twirls and flips, then dropped the revolver back into the leather holster.
There wasn't a sound from the gang except for a communal sigh. Heyes repressed a satisfied smile, flicking his eyes at his friend, but Kid's face was calm and deadly impartial. He knew he was on trial and wasn't about to do anything to influence the gang's wariness of him.
"Yeah, but kin he shoot?" Wheat finally broke the silence. "All that stuff's real nice for a wild west show or somethin', but not for real life."
"Wheat, he kin!" Kyle hissed. "Don't you…"
Without responding verbally to the challenge, Kid walked slowly off the porch. He picked up scattered trash from the yard and set them up on the corral fence. A small bottle, a knot of wood, two rocks and a crumpled playing card balanced along the rail. Then, with speed, precision and astonishingly accurate aim, he plugged holes in each item, including a perfect bullseye in the Ace of Diamonds.
"Now, Boys," Kid drawled, turning to face the visibly impressed gang. "I put on this show for only one reason, so you'll know what I can do. Me, I don't hanker to go 'round shooting holes in everybody's midsections, but if any of you gets out of step with Heyes ..." He let the statement dangle with a question mark.
"Welcome to Devil's Hole, Kid." Kyle grinned, as Jake offered Kid his hand. "Ah, for one, am glad to have you around."
"Here, here." Doc patted Kid on the back.
"Now, I'd like to get to a discussion of the next hold up," Heyes began, his face wreathed in smiles. "I've got a plan."