The Heist

 

by Dawn Rice

 

 

 

            At a few minutes past eleven, on a Wednesday night, the alley behind the Scarbourough bank was dark and silent.  The town of Scarbourough was shut up tighter than the bank's safe.  No one lingered on the streets.  The sheriff's deputy didn't even bother to make rounds.  Nothing ever happened in Scarbourough.

            That is, until this night.

Five men dismounted behind the bank, their hats pushed low over their foreheads to shield their faces.  Four of the men approached the bank's back door while the fifth led their horses down the alley to wait.

            Kyle Murtry placed a spreader with a handle in the middle between the bars on the rear window and began to turn the crank.  After a few minutes, the bars began to bend in the middle, widening the gap far enough for a man's arm to pass through.  He then gestured for a small lantern to be brought up close to the door.

Wheat Carlson held up the lantern as Kyle wrapped a flour sack around the butt of his Colt .45 and tapped it gently, but firmly, against the glass in the window.  The lantern's glow caught Kyle's grin, full of tobacco-stained teeth as he knocked the broken glass out and pushed his hand through to open the lock from the inside.

            Hannibal Heyes, as leader of the Devil's Hole Gang, was first through the door, trailed by his cousin, Kid Curry.  Carlson eased the door shut, leaving Kyle outside to guard the alley.

            The Kid circled the room, his gun drawn, alert for  any signs of bank employees or suspicion from Scarbourough's residents.  He had cased the bank during working hours the day before, but in the dark it looked larger, emptier.  The shades on the front windows were down and there were no signs of alarm from the street.

            Carrying the shielded lantern, Heyes held it up in front of the safe.  It was an older model and he smiled, dimples deepening in his cheeks.  Not only had he studied the plans for this model, he'd had previous occasion to open one.  He was happy – very happy.

            "No problem," he said quietly, shedding his gloves and tucking them in the waistband of his pants.

            The Kid perched on the edge of a teller's desk, watching Heyes with interest.  He had only recently been reunited with his cousin after several years apart.  The last time he'd seen Heyes had been one of the very first times he had ever attempted to crack a safe by manipulating the tumblers.  It had taken quite a while, but he'd done it, only to have the sheriff waiting for them shortly after they'd left the bank.  The Kid forced himself not to remember the rest of it and concentrated on the current job.

            "Don't take all night," Wheat hissed impatiently as Heyes fingered the dial experimentally.  Turning away, he quickly began to fill a small valise with the contents of the tellers' drawers.

            "Keep your shirt on, Wheat."  Heyes gave a contented sigh, closed his eyes and leaned in close to the cold metal of the safe.  He gently turned the combination dial and was awarded immediately with the sound of a soft click as the first tumbler fell into place.  Memorizing that number, he turned the dial counter clockwise.  This took much longer, time stretching out so long that the Kid  felt himself beginning to sweat nervously.

Suddenly, Heyes gave a  quick grin and took a steadying breath.  "Don't worry, Kid, it's not as long as you think.  Time, Wheat?"

            "You've been at it fifteen minutes."

            "Only one more to go.  There's supposed to be more than eight thousand dollars in this safe."  Heyes turned back to his task.  Despite the vastly  illegal nature of safe cracking, it gave him immense satisfaction.  The pure sweet action of  turning the dial, listening for the tiny sounds of the tumblers, working out the delicate intricacies of a more complicated lock were exciting to him.  He was never happier than when he was cracking a safe.  The last number of the combination was eluding him, however.

He cautiously inched the dial around one more time, then gave a small grin of triumph as he heard the last tumbler drop into place.  With a little flourish, he pushed down the door handle and swung the safe open.

"Oh, my."  He admired the contents. 

            "Twenty three minutes, Heyes," Wheat grumbled.

            "But it was worth the wait."  Heyes held up a stack of bills, his brown eyes glowing.  "Open the bag, Kid."

            Curry did as instructed, holding out a carpet bag that grew heavier and heavier.  "There must be even more than you thought, Heyes."

            "You're right,"  he agreed, laughing, too.  It had to be one of the biggest hauls he'd ever caught and having the Kid back at his side made it all the better.

            Opening the door, Wheat motioned Kyle to alert Riggs.  Thirty minutes was as long as he wanted to be in the bank. 

            "How much did we get?" Kyle asked as he poked his head in to see.  "Glory be, Heyes, we's gonna be rich."

            "Shush," Wheat admonished.  "Someone could hear you."

Lobo had returned with the horses and some of the money was hastily redistributed into more satchels, since the first was now overly stuffed.

            "Mount up, boys."  Heyes pulled the bank door shut, the only obvious  sign of a robbery being the broken window.  He prided himself on leaving a place looking neat and not calling much attention to the crime.  He didn't mind people discovering, after the fact, of course, that they'd been robbed by Hannibal Heyes.  He wanted them to see him in a good light – a gentleman thief, so to speak.  He only took ready cash, never jewelry, watches or anything readily identifiable.  When robbing a train, he was careful to take only what seemed like corporate money.  Few people really admired the officials from the railroads and the banks.  He sometimes equated himself with Robin Hood, an agent for the redistribution of wealth amongst the common people.

            "We'll rendezvous at the little cabin on Blackberry creek."  Wheat looked over at Heyes, who nodded.  "In two hours?"

            All five men mounted their horses, leaving the alley in ones and twos, spaced a few minutes apart.  There had been no outcry from the local populace, no sheriff lurking behind the jail.  It was one of the most perfect robberies Heyes had ever pulled.  He felt gloriously happy, as if a pinnacle had been reached – and he was only twenty-three years old.  The whole world stretched out in front of him, a world full of safes to be emptied, trains to be robbed, and money to be spent.

            He spurred his gelding forward, feeling more than seeing the Kid following him in the dark.  They rode more than five miles out of town before pulling up together.

            "That was perfect," Heyes grinned over at Curry.  "Happy Birthday, Kid."

            Laughing, the Kid liberated his canteen from the saddlebags and took a drink.  "You remembered?"

            "Hey, I was there when you were born, remember?"  Heyes reached for the canteen.

            "Actually, no."

            "To be truthful, neither do I."  Heyes shrugged.  "You're twenty-one now."

            "How much money did you get?"

            "I didn't count it all, but, oh, Kid, I think it's the most I've ever seen in one place."

            "Where do you want to go after this?" he asked eagerly.

            "I don't know, but I think you need a real nice birthday meal."  Heyes kneed his horse to a trot to increase the distance from Scarbourough.  "How 'bout Denver by Saturday night?"

            "Sounds fine.  Never been there."  The Kid spurred his horse after Heyes.

            "But first Blackberry creek and a can of beans," Heyes called.

 

 

                       *                                  *                                          *

 

            By two that morning, the Devil's Hole Gang had regrouped in a small ramshackle cabin.  Heyes and Wheat unloaded the bags, spreading piles of money across a warped table.

            "Oh, my-my," Kyle admired.

            "Wheat an' me'll count it and divvy up quickly," Heyes said, then sat down, picking up a stack.

            He counted silently, adding easily in his head.  Heyes had a good head for numbers and he could remember large amounts effortlessly.  Wheat counted more slowly, scratching marks on the table with the end of a match.

            "Well?" Lobo asked. 

            "Five thousand dollars," Heyes whispered.

            "Five thousand dollars," Wheat agreed.  "Me, too."

            "Ten thousand dollars all together?"  The Kid started to laugh again.

            "What's our share?" Lobo asked eagerly.

            "Wheat and I split five thousand.  The three of you get the other five."  Heyes separated the bundles.  "One thousand sixty-six dollars each."

"All right," Kyle nodded, stuffing some tobacco in his cheek.  "Now that we're movin' up in the world, I think we oughta get some aliases."

            "I like that," Wheat Carlson agreed.  "I think I'll be. . ."  He shuffled the currency Heyes had handed him into some semblance of order.  "Carl Wheatson."

            Heyes unsuccessfully hid a laugh while doling out cash to the others.

            "What?" Wheat groused.

            "Wheat, an alias is supposed to be different than your real name," Heyes explained.  "Maybe Carl Straw?"

            "Carl Rice," Lobo supplied.

            "I don't get that one," Kyle frowned,

            "Carl Corn," the Kid put in.  "They're all grains, Kyle."

            "You're making fun!" Wheat retorted furiously.  "That ain't right!"

            "No offense, Wheat," the Kid responded nonchalantly.  "What name do you want, Heyes?"

            "Well, I have to admit, Wheat has a point."

            "I do?"  Wheat paused in the act of lighting his cigar.  "I do!" he confirmed.

            "An alias should be different, but you have to be able to remember it," Heyes mused.  "So, something like your real name."

            "That's right," Wheat agreed, blowing out smoke.

            "So, Wheat isn't your real name."

            "Oh," Wheat nodded.  "I could be Carl Johnson."

            "Kyle Murtry is my real name," Kyle complained.

            "Kyle, you'll always be an enigma," Heyes shrugged.  "What's
 your real name, Lobo?"

            "Wolfgang."

            "That isn't a real name!" the Kid chuckled.

            "It's a famous musician or something," Lobo defended.  "Then I lived with a Mex girl and she used to call me Lobo."

            "So, what's that musician's other name?" Heyes asked.

            "Mozart.  My Ma liked his music."

            "Wolfgang Mozart?" the Kid protested.  "Everyone would know that's an alias!"

            "This ain't gettin' us nowhere," Wheat put in.  "Sides, I'm getting hungry."

            "Well, you got an alias, nobody else does."  Kyle opened the can of beans Heyes had produced from his saddle bag and passed it around the table.  Lobo brought out some pemmican and everyone began to eat.

            "I could be John Heyward," Heyes decided.  "That's my middle name.  And the Kid could be–"

            "Oh, no, Heyes."  Curry shook his head violently.  "Not my middle name."

            "Now, I'm curious."  Wheat knocked the ashes from his cigar onto the floor.

            "Wheat, be careful.  This place is a tinderbox waiting to go up."  Heyes pushed his stack of money away from the lighted end of the cigar.

            "What's your middle name, Kid?"

            "None of your business," Curry said in a quiet voice, locking eyes with Carlson.

            "Don't rile him up, Wheat."  Kyle ran his finger around the inside of the now empty bean can.

            "I think we should all get a little sleep," Heyes pacified.  "Or, ride out, whichever.  The Kid 'n' me won't be back to the Hole for a couple of weeks."  He flicked his glove against his cousin's shoulder. "Ready to ride out?"

            The Kid broke eye contact with Wheat, gathering up his money.  "Sure."

            "Y’all come back now," Wheat smirked as Heyes and Curry stepped outside.  "Can't have a gang without a leader."

            "See you in October, Wheat," Heyes said levelly.  He secured his saddlebags to the waiting gelding and mounted.

            "Why do you put up with that?" the Kid asked as he climbed into the saddle, kneeing his horse forward.

            "He's good at the details, Kid."

            "And you're good at the planning."  Curry nodded.  "That should be a good partnership."

            "Should be."

            "What about all those other guys back at Devil's Hole?  You do all the work in a bank job, you don't really need four people to stand around and watch.  I coulda done that by myself."

            "Everyone contributes, Kid," Heyes replied.  "You're right, but then a train job needs a lot of people.  Ever robbed a train before?"

            "Nope, did a stagecoach once."

            "Well, wait 'til next month.  I have a plan in mind for the transcontinental."

            "And Wheat does the detail."  The Kid laughed.  "Just no more details about my middle name, John."

            "Not even that it's a book of the Bible?" Heyes teased.  "There are sixty-six – it'll take him years to figure that out."

            "You obviously paid more attention in church than I did."  The Kid rubbed his eyes tiredly.  "Are we riding all night?"

            "Can't check into a hotel at four in the morning."  Heyes laughed.  "We're heading South, to Red Rock Junction."

 

 

                                   *                                    *                                      *

 

            Red Rock Junction was a bustling town, even at seven a.m. when the two outlaws rode in.  A weekly farmer's market was in full swing, farmers peddling their wares; the street nearly blocked by stalls of fruit, vegetables and baked good.  The local populace milled about, arms filled with purchases.  Unable to proceed very far down the main street, the Kid and Heyes stabled their horses at the overcrowded livery and, shouldering their money-filled saddlebags, walked into the throng.

            "Food, then bed," the Kid murmured, smelling freshly baked rolls.

            "Good plan," Heyes agreed.  He stopped at a stall overflowing with baked goods, paying for two yeast rolls dripping with butter and two slices of apple pie.  There was hot coffee for a nickel at the next booth.  Juggling the food, he followed the Kid through the crowd until they found a perch on the hotel's porch.

            "This is some of the best food I've had since my ma's–" Curry stopped, looking down at his pie.  "Since I was little."

            "Yeah."  Heyes bumped the Kid's knee with his own.  "Remember when we used to sneak in and take your ma's bread?"

 

"And your ma's cinnamon rolls," he said softly.  "I haven't had one since."

            "You can miss them, Kid.  You never let yourself mourn."

            "When did I ever have the time?  Between the war, the orphanage, robbing banks. . ."  Curry bristled.  "It's been ten years.  They're all dead.  I had brothers and sisters, and they're all dead."

            "You told me Michael was still around."  Heyes hesitated, his usual glib nature failing him.  "Maybe some of your sisters – or mine?  We didn't see–"

            "It's done, Heyes, nothing's left.  And Michael's in jail.  I hope."  The Kid tipped his unfinished pie into the dirt.

            Heyes swallowed the lump in his throat, and followed it with a last bite of pie, but it had lost its flavor.  He kept seeing two boys standing in front of a burning farmhouse, left alone in a war.

            "I'm-I'm tired.  I need some sleep," the Kid announced, standing.  "You coming?"

            "Yep."  Heyes followed him into the Red Rock Palace Hotel, wondering how he'd gone from giddy joy at midnight to gloom at eight.

            "Can I help you, gentlemen?" a mustachioed desk clerk asked.

            "One room, two beds."  Heyes put down a five dollar bill.  No need spending much money in Red Rock Junction when they'd be in Denver by the weekend.  "A bath this afternoon for each of us."

            "Certainly, Mister. . .?"

            "Heyward."  Heyes looked over at his cousin.  "And Cur-ruthers."  This brought a slight smile to the Kid's face.  "A room for one day."

            Neither man had much trouble sleeping after being up all night and were unconscious only shortly after they'd climbed into bed.  Despite the noise from the street below, Heyes and Curry slept soundly until early afternoon.

 

 

                             *                                     *                                      *

 

            Heyes opened his eyes, momentarily disoriented in the quiet.  He made sure the Kid was still sleeping in the other bed before getting up and walking across the room to the window.  The street was nearly deserted after the bustle of the morning.  Nearly all the stalls had been dismantled, only a few smashed apples left to show where they had stood.  That left the view of the street unencumbered.  He counted three saloons, that he could see, all on the same side of the street.  Now, that was more like it.  There had to be at least one game in town. 

 

 

                        *                            *                                       *

 

The Kid awoke nearly an hour later, enjoying the feel of the much more comfortable bed than he had at Devil's Hole.  He felt sheepish for having jumped all over Heyes at breakfast, and wanted to make it up somehow, but where was he?

Sitting up, he noticed a small note scribbled in Heyes' distinctive hand.  "Gone to play poker in saloon across the street."

            After dressing and going downstairs, the Kid wished Heyes' note had been a little less succinct.  There were three saloons across the street and one to the left of the hotel.  He had rarely seen a town with such an overabundance of whiskey emporiums.  Well, it didn't hurt to have a drink in each place until he found Heyes.

 

 

The first beer went down easily, but reminded the Kid he hadn't eaten anything since a roll and two bites of pie.  Heyes wasn't in the Lone Mountain Saloon.  Neither was anyone else.  He finished his beer and walked past the bored girl in a silver spangled dress.  Two, maybe three places more to go. 

            The Red Rock Saloon was swarming, as if most of the people from the farmer's market had dropped in for a drink.  The Kid had already ordered a beer as he surveyed the crowd.  He might never have noticed the man, had he not been engaged in a heated argument, shouting loudly at the other card players at his table.  None of them were Heyes, but the man who stood suddenly, pulling his gun, was Michael Curry.

            The beer roiled in his empty stomach.  The Kid took a slow breath and began to move away from the bar.  The last time he'd seen his brother, Michael had beaten him and the Kid had retaliated by telegraphing the local sheriff about him.  He'd hoped Michael would be in jail for a while; he had a laundry list of crimes on his wanted poster.

            "Hey, you!  Pay for the beer!" the bartender ordered.

            Dropping some change on the bar, Curry started for the door.  He needed to tell Heyes.  They had to get out of Red Rock Junction – fast.  The commotion from the poker table in the back continued, although no shots had been fired.  The Kid hoped that would keep Michael occupied so he wouldn't notice anyone leaving.

            "Honey, why are you going?"  A plump Negro girl reached out and laid her hand on his arm suggestively.  "We didn't even get to know each other."

            "Maybe next time," the Kid said as he patted her apologetically.  "I have to go meet a friend."  He had almost threaded his way through all the tables when he heard a familiar voice behind him.

            "Well, if it isn't my baby brother."

            Waiting a slow beat, the Kid turned slightly.  "Michael."  He didn't even fake a smile.  "Surprised to see you here."

            "I guess so."  Michael Curry grabbed his brother by the upper arm, his grip vise-like, then propelled him the rest of the way out of the saloon.  "Let's take this family reunion outside."

The Kid tried to pull away, but he was quickly flanked by Dalton and Hunter, Michael's followers.  Two rough looking men, they both towered over the younger man.

            "What do you want?" he asked, finally facing Michael, unsure what to expect.  His brother had taunted, bulled and beaten him since early childhood.  Whatever was going to happen, it wouldn't be good .  The Kid had a relatively forgiving nature, willing to see the good side of any person, but he had never seen anything good in Michael and it scared him. 

            "Just talk."  Michael grinned wolfishly at Jed.  There was a strong family resemblance – blond, curly hair and blue eyes .  Michael was taller, heavier and had a tougher, hawk-like appearance in comparison to Jed's sweet, baby face.  "Seems like there was some bad blood between us the last time we met.  Don't you think so, Caleb?" he asked the hulking, dark-haired man to his left.  "But, Kid, you're looking good; put on a little weight."

            "I have to be goin'."  The Kid forced his tense muscles to relax, letting his hands dangle loosely at his sides, near the pistol tied to his leg.

 

 

"Don't try it, baby brother.  You're not that fast," Michael said in a deadly voice.  "Take his gun, and the knife in his boot."  He instructed Caleb, then loosened his grip on Jed's arm. 

            As Caleb Hunter reached for the gun, the Kid swung his right arm as hard as he could into Hunter's chest.  Seeing the move, Mike grabbed his brother's shoulders, throwing him to the ground.  He managed to maneuver them into the alley between the two saloons, where any fighting would go unnoticed.  Hunter, recovering from the blow, relieved the younger Curry of his weapons.

            The Kid had already guessed that Heyes had to be in saloon number three,  the Jack of Spades.  As he climbed to his feet, he began to fervently hope that the man might step outside for some air, but didn't really expect that kind of luck.  He was even less surprised when Dalton pulled his hands roughly behind him, giving the elder Curry as easy target.  Alone, the two Currys might have had a hard, but closely matched fight, but Dalton and Hunter shifted the advantage heavily in Michael's favor.

            "You stole my horse . . . my gun . . . and put the sheriff onto me."  Michael punctuated each phrase with a fist into a different vulnerable part of the Kid's anatomy.

            "You stole the horse first," Jed said as he jerked his head away from a blow, jamming an elbow into Dalton's ribs.  Hunter retaliated by slamming him against the saloon wall hard enough to knock the Kid half-unconscious.

            Michael pulled him up, waiting until Jed's eyes fluttered open.  "You're damn lucky Caleb got me out of that jail, or I wouldn't leave you alive, baby brother."  He let go of the Kid's red shirt, letting him drop heavily into the dirt.  "I'm up for murder, but you knew that, didn't you?"

            "Yeah."  Jed rubbed his jaw cautiously.

            "I could hang.  So, I don't give a plug-nickel about you – maybe less."  He aimed a vicious kick at his brother's ribs, which the Kid partially rolled away from.  "Stay away from me, or I'll kill you."

            "Don't worry," Jed said as he managed to sit up, his head hanging down between his raised knees, "we're only passing through."  He didn't want this.  He'd never understood Michael's unbridled anger, or his violent need to be in control.  Maybe they were brothers, but they'd never be more than enemies.

            "We?"

            "Heyes 'n' me, we're leaving."

            "Cousin Hannibal . . . well, now, I haven't seen him in a coon's age."

            "Mike, we should get going," Hunter urged.  "We don't want the sheriff breathing down our necks."

            "Don't worry about me."  The Kid stood unsteadily.  "I don't plan on talking to the sheriff."

            "You do, and I will kill you."

            "C'mon, Mike," Hunter said again.  "Let's get outta here."  Dalton had already walked across the street toward the fourth saloon.

            "Nice seein' you, Kid," Mike sneered.  "Let's not do it again."

 

 

                       *                                      *                                           *

 

            Heyes admired the cards in his hand.  It had been a profitable afternoon.  He'd won several hundred dollars, and it was very likely he'd win this round, too.

 

"Two pair – sixes and sevens," the cowboy to Heyes' left said. 

            "I fold," the next player groaned.

            "Full house, jacks high," Heyes announced with a grin, pulling in the pile of money.

            "Mister, you win too much – I'm out," a dusty red-head declared.

            "I'm taking a break, boys."  Heyes stood, pocketing his winnings.  "Give someone else a chance."

            "Then, I'll deal," the cowboy said.

            Ordering a beer at the bar, Heyes felt a twinge halfway between guilt and worry.  Where was the Kid?  Sure, he'd been angry this morning, but he was never one to hold a grudge.  He had been sure that sleeping all day would restore the Kid's natural good nature.

            "Got the time?" Heyes asked the bartender before taking a swallow of beer.

            "Nearly five-thirty."

            "Thanks."  Heyes took a few more swallows.  He wasn't sure why he was more than a little nervous.  Maybe the Kid just ordered that bath and took a long, relaxing soak.  He'd always been the only man Heyes had ever known who'd rather have a bath than play poker, even as a child.  Feeling somewhat relieved, he finished his beer and left the Jack of Spades.

            Standing on the boardwalk in the gathering twilight, Heyes glimpsed a blond-haired man entering the saloon next to the hotel, flanked by two others.

"Kid–?" Heyes started, but the name stuck in his throat.  Even in the gloom he knew that wasn't the Kid, it was Michael Curry.  "Ohmygod," he whispered.

            "Heyes."  The voice came from nowhere.

Heyes spun around, seeing  the Kid leaning tiredly against the Red Rock's wall, one hand hugging his aching ribs.

            "Lord, Kid, what did he do?"

            "Same ol' Michael."  Curry tried to smile, but his lip was purple and swelling.  "I think I'll take that bath now."

            "We should ride out of here – now."  Heyes wrapped an arm around him.

            "What good will that do?"

            "It'll get you– us away from Michael," Heyes argued.  "But first, I'd like to smash his face in."

            "Don't."  The Kid sighed wearily.  "I want this to be over, Heyes.  I've been running from him for months.  He doesn't quit.  And I don't know why."

            "Michael was bad from the day he was born."  Heyes steered the Kid across the street.  "Up the front steps," he instructed, when the younger man stumbled.  After ordering a bath from the front desk clerk, he ushered the Kid into the hotel room and helped lower him down on the bed.

            Wincing, Curry pulled off his shirt, revealing a spectacular set of emerging bruises.  Heyes cupped his hand under his friend's upper arm, examining five long finger-sized bruises.  There were a matched set around his left arm.

            "They never even let you fight back."

            "Michael's been bigger 'n me since I was born."  The Kid sighed.  "Heyes, it's like I can't fight back.  In my head I keep hearin' my ma say 'play nice, boys.'"

            "Michael never played nice."

 

"He still doesn't."

            "This has got to stop, Kid.  I saw him go into the Silver Eagle–"

            "No," Curry cut him off.  "You're the one who wanted to ride out.  It's not the right time.  We've got . . . what?  Close to four thousand between us.  You don't want him to get that."

            "I won big this afternoon, too," Heyes told him.  He unloaded his pockets of the poker winnings.  "That'll get you a nice birthday dinner, and maybe a present."

            "A present, huh?"

            A knock at the door announced the arrival of the helper with the bath tub.  While the Kid was easing himself into the warm water, Heyes rummaged around in his saddlebags.  He extracted a bottle, pouring a little alcohol on his bandanna.  He pressed it up against the goose egg on the back of Curry's head.

            "Ow!" the Kid complained, rising up out of the water in protest.  "Tell me before you assault me from behind."

            "You're bleeding."

            "You're not helping any.  Give me a drink of that."

            "It'll put you right out."

            "Getting drunk sounds pretty good about now."

            "Wait until you're out of the bath," Heyes laughed.  "I'm not getting you dressed."

            "Heyes," Curry said, catching the man's arm.  "Don't go after Michael."

            "Who me?"  Heyes gave him a tight smile.  "I'm just a card player."

            "You're a gambler," Jed corrected, taking a sip of the whiskey.  "Don't gamble with him."

            As Heyes had predicted, the combination of a hot bath and a whiskey put the Kid to sleep.  He sat on the opposite bed watching his cousin snore.  What now?  Michael was a big obstacle, and if the Kid couldn't fight back, the man was going to continue to be a serious problem.

            He was planning a major train robbery in a month.  It would be folly to continue with his plans if Michael was going to beat the Kid up every chance he got.  Heyes had no doubt that the older Curry would eventually try to kill Jed.  Brotherly love had never been Michael's credo.  Something had to be done now, to prevent disaster in the future.  The fact that they were carrying a great deal of money also made him uneasy.  Michael had robbed the Kid more than once, and Heyes knew it could, and probably would, happen again.

 

 

                                      *                                *                                *

           

"Wake up, Curry."  Caleb Hunter threw the bi-weekly Red Rock Junction Gazette on the bed.

            "What're you doing?" Michael growled, rolling over.  He'd spent the night in a flop room above the saloon, half of it with a whore whose name he couldn't even remember.

            "Read the headline."

            "Scarbourough Bank robbed."  Michael sat up more comfortably.  "Authorities believe that the safe was opened by a local outlaw named–"

            "Hannibal Heyes," Caleb smirked.  "And we know where Kid Curry is.  Heyes can't be too far behind."

            "Ten thousand dollars."  Michael whistled.  "Baby brother didn't tell us the news." He folded the paper lengthwise and stuffed it in the back of his jeans.  "I have an urge to reminisce."

 

                       *                                        *                                             *

            "The train for Denver leaves at 10:15," the Kid said, reading the schedule carefully, running his finger along the column of numbers.  "Today, at least.  Good, we have time for breakfast."

            "You're in a remarkably good mood this morning," Heyes grumbled, pulling on his boots.

            "It's a new day, Heyes, and we're leavin'," he answered.  "You're the one who wanted to ride out last night.  I thought you'd be happy."

            "Getting out would make me happy."  Heyes stood and crossed to the window, looking out onto the street.  "But we need to deal with Michael, especially since he's coming here."  He grabbed the saddlebags, shoving them into his cousin's hands.  "Get out of here."

            "Heyes, no!"

            "Ride north five miles.  I'll meet you."

            "No."

            "Kid, you are not ten years old anymore.  You can't just steal his horse and make it stop."  Heyes grabbed the lapels of his cousin's vest.  "I'm afraid Michael is gonna kill you someday, and I don't want that to happen.  Go."

            Reluctantly, the Kid drew his gun, slid out the door and made his way down the hall to the back stairs.  He could hear the sounds of his brother's voice, and Caleb Hunter's echoing up from the front stairs.  Biting back the urge to go back, he forced himself on to the livery stable.

 

 

                         *                                  *                                             *

 

            Heyes sat as casually as possible on a chair, and opened a book.  He didn't want to look like he was waiting for Michael.  He still jumped when the knock came on the door.

"Cousin Hannibal," Michael greeted, pushing into the room.

            "Mike," Heyes responded.

            "Where's my brother?"

            "He's gone."  Heyes shrugged.  "Didn't exactly appreciate the reception you gave him."

            Michael held up the newspaper, showing Heyes the headline.  Behind him, Dalton and Hunter crowded into the room.  "You're famous, Han."            

            In any other circumstance, Heyes would have been interested and very eager to see his name in print.

            "Where's the money?" Caleb Hunter jeered.

            His poker face gave nothing away, but Heyes was surprised when he recognized the man.  Hunter had been a bully in his school days.  A mean-spirited boy who spoke mostly with his fists.  A little younger than Michael, he was otherwise the perfect companion for the older Curry.

            "Kid took it," Heyes answered flatly.  "I figure he expected you'd come by."

            "When did he leave?" Michael demanded, looming over Heyes threateningly.  "Kid always shares with me."

            "You mean you steal from him," Heyes retorted.

            "Where is he?" Hunter snarled, slamming a fist into Heyes' belly.

            "So nice to know you haven't changed, Caleb," Heyes gasped, holding onto the chair while he regained his equilibrium.  "The Kid's gone.  He took the money, but if you think he has ten thousand dollars, you're sadly mistaken."  He looked up at his cousin.  "We already split the take with the gang."

            "Family always come first," Michael corrected, leaning forward to pull Heyes' pistol out of its holster.  He pointed it at Heyes.  "Grandpa Curry pounded that into me."

            Heyes fervently wished he could pound a few things into Michael, but he refrained from comment.  He wanted the Kid to get as far away as possible.

            "When did he leave?" Hunter growled.

            "Last night."  Heyes stared down the barrel at Michael.  "Didn't want to stay around with you in town.  No love lost between you two."

            "And I really wanted to see him again."  He waved the pistol.  "Sit down.  You stay here.  We'll catch up with him.  Read your headlines."  He tossed the paper into Heyes' lap, then swung the pistol down against the man's head.

            Heyes slipped bonelessly off the chair, rolling onto the floor.

            "Dalton, search the room," Michael commanded, looking around, but there wasn't much to see – two beds, the chair, a dresser and a small table for the wash basin.  Dalton flipped both mattresses off the frames while Michael rifled Heyes' pockets.  He only found a handful of crumpled bills.  Dalton confiscated the nearly empty whiskey bottle off the bedside table, but neither man found the loot from the bank robbery.

            "If you want to catch your brother, we'd better leave now," Hunter urged.  "No way he left last night.  We worked him over too well."

            "See ya, Han." Michael laughed, dropping the pistol on top of him.

 

 

                    *                                             *                                              *

 

            The Kid reached the prearranged meeting spot without any difficulty, but he felt guilty for leaving Heyes.  Michael was mean and unpredictable.  What if he hurt Heyes, or even killed him?  He'd rather have Heyes around, as bossy as he was, than the stolen cash.

Even so, he hid the money in a tree they'd seen on their ride into Red Rock Junction and settled down to wait.  He still didn't feel one hundred percent, his head pounded and both of his arms ached where Michael's henchmen had held him.

He didn't relish starting anything with his brother.  Michael was a fastdraw.  Jed had never been in a contest with Michael to see who was faster, and he wasn't really interested in learning the answer.

            He knocked open his pistol, inspecting the chambers.  It was fully loaded.  He spun the revolver in his hand, feeling the familiar weight.  He'd held a gun most of his life.  He could remember Michael ribbing him as a child, telling him he'd never amount to anything.  Until the Kid had showed all his brothers how well he could shoot.  How accurately.  How quickly.  But he'd never killed a man.  He'd winged a few, but even those weren't premeditated.

            The sound of horses on the road alerted him.  He moved back into the trees, watching quietly.

            "The livery man said he took a black with a white foot," Hunter said.  "That's it over there."

            "Well, then little Kid must be here, too."  Michael dismounted.

            "I'm here," Jed said, raising his voice.  He emerged from the shadows, holding his pistol steady.  "Why are you here?  You said you never wanted to see me again."

            "I forgot to wish you a Happy Birthday." Michael laughed.  "Cousin Hannibal told us you'd ridden out."  He spread his hands.  "Kid, you don't need that gun."

            "I'd prefer to keep it, thanks."

            "Put it down, brother." Michael drew his own.  "Or Dalton will blow your brains out."

            The Kid felt the press of a cold barrel on the back of his neck and silently cursed his own stupidity.  "You do everything he tells you to?"

            Dalton didn't say anything, just prodded him until he dropped his sixgun to the ground.

            "That's more like it," Michael said.  "Makes it much more friendly.  Han said you had some money for me."

            "I don't know what you're talking about," the Kid protested, showing outward calm.

            "You were with Han when he robbed the Scarbourough bank of ten thousand dollars," Michael stated.  "Biggest heist ever in these parts."

"There were a lot of gang members."  The Kid shrugged.  "Heyes lets anyone in.  He parceled it out to all of 'em; there was hardly any left."

            "Well, at least the two of you have your stories straight," Michael growled.  "Where is it?"

            The Kid kept his expression bland, taking one step forward, but his insides were writhing like coiling snakes.  What had made Michael so angry, so cruel?  They had shared the same parents, the same home, and there was only five years difference in their ages.  Was Heyes right?  Had Michael just been born bad, or did the Curry family have bad blood running in their veins?

            "Damn it, Kid!" Michael shouted, squeezing the trigger.

            At the same instant, the Kid rammed his booted left foot backward, jamming it into Dalton's groin.  The man groaned in pain, his hand swinging up to shoot.  Jed dropped flat to the dirt, grabbing his Colt as gunshots blasted above his head.  A bullet from behind skimmed his right ear, leaving a bloody furrow.

            Michael completed his shot, jerking with shocked realization as a bullet ripped through his body.  His own gun discharged harmlessly into the tree behind the Kid.  Dropping to his knees, Michael stared uncomprehendingly at his brother.

"You didn't. . ."         

            Blood running down his cheek, Jed came up on all fours to face his brother.  Michael was bleeding copiously from a wound on his left side.  The elder Curry pitched forward, his empty hand reaching out for life.  Looking up, the Kid saw Heyes, his smoking gun gripped in his fist, his own forehead bruised and bleeding.

            Recovering from his surprise, Hunter went for his still holstered pistol.  The Kid hardly aimed, his bullet striking the gun fractions of an inch from Hunter's fingers.  It fell to the ground, the barrel bent.

            "Don't move, Dalton," Heyes cautioned the other outlaw.  "Lose the gun, real carefully."  He glanced down at the man he'd killed, his heart hammering double time.  "You all right, Kid?"

            "Yeah."  Curry settled back on his heels, wondering why he was still breathing.  He took a deep breath to confirm his own life.  "Get them out of here."

            "You heard the man."  Heyes motioned with his gun.  "I trust you two won't go to the law.  You couldn't take the risk.  Get out of here."

            "You'd better watch your back, Heyes," Hunter snarled.         

            "He was wanted for murder," the Kid said in a flat voice.  "Heyes just did what the law was going to do anyway.  Leave, Caleb."

            Dalton swung onto his horse awkwardly, his hand protecting his aching groin.

            Pausing to take a last look at Michael, Hunter mounted his gray.  "He was a bastard, but I liked him."

            "I don't want to see either of you near Devil's Hole," Heyes intoned after them.  He knelt down next to the body, holstering his weapon.  "Kid?"

            "He could've been me."

            "He was aiming straight at you."

            "No, I mean, I could've been just like him."

            "Never."

            "Why not?" Jed cried, tears on his face.  "We were brothers."  He placed his hand on Michael's chest, then lifted it.  His palm was covered in blood.  "We have the same blood.  We have the same looks.  We both sleep with a gun."

            "But you're not the same inside, and you never have been," Heyes argued.  "I have some of the same blood, too, we're all cousins, but that doesn't make us the same souls."

            "I don't know how–?  I don't know how he turned out like this."  The Kid wiped his bloody hand on a clump of grass.          

            "He was angry inside, Kid, you're not."  Heyes sighed.  "But it's over now."

            "He was the last Curry left," Jed said softly.

            "You're the last Curry left," Heyes corrected.

            "Yeah."  He touched his brother's face.  "Heyes, I never liked him, but he was my brother, I should bury him."

            "Yeah, I know."  Heyes went to find the small shovel he carried in his bedroll.  "Before the coyotes come back for their own," he muttered to himself.

 

 

                           *                                  *                                                    *

 

            Mounting his horse, the Kid sagged in the saddle.  All his aches and bruises were clamoring for attention and he hadn't eaten in most of a day.  Come to think of it, he hadn't eaten since the morning before.  Any decision on what to do next was harder work than he could even attempt at this point.

            "Still want to catch the train to Denver?" Heyes asked, pulling the stacks of greenbacks from the hiding place in the tree.

            "Aw, Heyes,"  the Kid said, rubbing his cracked ribs.  "Home."

            "Home?"

            "To Devil's Hole . . . Home."

            "Well, Wheat and the gang are gonna be surprised," Heyes said as he stowed the money in the empty valise.  He shook his head.  "Kid, you're the only person I know who would call the Hole home."

            A sweet smile transformed Curry's tired face, and his bright blue eyes glinted.  "My family lives there."