Originally published in You, Me and the Governor #21

 

Kidnapped

By Dawnwind

 

            “Two pair.” Kid Curry lay down his winning hand. “Jacks and tens.”

 

            “I’mout,” a gray haired miner groaned.

 

            “Take the pot.” The third player dropped his hand.

 

            “Another game?” The dealer shuffled, his brown fingers flashing over the cards. “Changing to stud now, gents.”

 

            “I’min.” Kid arranged the five dollars he’d just won in a pile of silver coins and surveyed the room.

 

            It was mid-afternoon on a blisteringly hot Nevada day.  There were four patrons in the room.  Nobody in their right minds was doing much more than nursing a few beers and languidly playing poker.  The saloon was low ceilinged, dark and moderately cool.  In contrast to a boisterous Saturday night, Tuesday, 3pm was slow, quiet and sleepy.

 

            Kid was winning. Not that the pot ever went over ten dollars, but he was content.  He’d just finished a job guarding a delivery of old Italian paintings to a brand new Silver Baron and had five thousand dollars in the back pocket of his Levis.  Even if he lost this next hand, it wouldn’t make much of a dent.

 

            Hannibal Heyes was due on the evening stage, which according to the hotel desk clerk was notoriously late.  Therefore, Kid had no compunction to move for several hours.  Not at least until his stomach demanded more than warm beer.

 

            “Three of a kind,” the miner declared, breaking Kid’s reverie. “Three fives.”

 

            “Three eights.” Kid grinned laying out his hand.

 

            “You’re under a lucky star, boy.”  The miner tossed his cards back to the dealer good naturedly. “You don’t seem to be able to lose.”

 

            “Don’t get them very often, old man.” Kid pointed to the empty glasses on the table. “Can I buy a round for everybody?”

 

            “No need to ask me twice,” the formerly silent gentleman with the abundant sideburns spoke up.  “The winner’s always right.”

 

            Kid signaled the bartender to bring over a bottle and the five men went back to their cards.

 

            Across the room, the owner of the saloon, Jake Boggs, stood in the shadow of the staircase watching the poker game. The dealer was a local, the next player, a cowhand from a nearby ranch.  He’d seen the old miner on and off for years and the hirsute gentleman was Pixley’s banker.  But that curly haired blond, who wore his gun tied down...

 

            Boggs slipped back into his office, pulling open a desk drawer.  He hauled out a pile of wanted posters, flipping quickly through til he found a certain one. 

 

Kid Curry

Worth  $10,000.00

Dead or Alive

 

            A smile crept across Bogg’s leathery face. It would be the biggest bounty he’d ever taken.  Kid Curry.

 

            Bogg’s had been hunting down outlaws for the last six years, starting only two years after he’d robbed his last bank. He recognized Kid Curry without any difficulty.  The wanted poster’s description wouldn’t have helped in the least if Boggs hadn’t actually been in on a heist with Curry.  Unfortunately, Hannibal Heyes wasn’t in evidence.  Twenty thousand dollars would have really looked good in his office safe, but half that amount would make him quite happy.

 

            After instructing the bartender to keep his eye on Curry --and an eye out for Heyes--Boggs left the saloon to prepare. The heat in the street was oppressive, like a living thing weighing down on the back of the neck.  Even with his mind whirling with plans and ideas for the capture, Boggs moved slowly.  The heat demanded it.  The heat ruled Pixley, punishing anyone who stayed out too long with sunburn, heat stroke, and even death.  It didn’t pay to exert oneself at five o’clock in the afternoon.

 

            The poker game just petered out after four hours and Kid parted on friendly terms with the other players, wandering across the street to Pixley House Restaurant in early evening gloom.  No one was apparently surprised that the stage had yet to arrive.  Therefore, after a steak, potato, and a cigar, Kid returned to the saloon to enjoy a fairly bad chanteuse.  Her singing was off key, but her spangly gold dress showed enough skin to distract every man in the room.  It had, altogether, been a thoroughly enjoyable, if dull, day.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

           

 

By late evening Kid crossed back over to the hotel, mildly inebriated, ready for bed.

            “Did my friend ever arrive?” Kid picked up a key from the desk clerk.

 

            “Just a little while ago, the stage pulled in.” The ginger haired man nodded.  “I gave him a key to your room like you said.”

 

            “Thanks.” 

 

            Kid climbed the stairs.  Even this late, the hotel was stifling inside. He wondered if he could sleep in this heat.

 

            “You finally got here.” Kid grinned at his cousin lying full length on the bed.  “What took you so long?”

 

            “The worst stage driver I’ve ever had the misfortune to ride with.” Heyes rubbed his back with a grimace.  “I feel jostled to pieces.  I may have to stay in bed for a day or two just to recover.”

 

            “Over the hill,” Kid teased. “The Great Hannibal Heyes is past his prime.  If you can’t endure a stagecoach, what’ll you be like in the saddle?”

 

            “A respected former leader of the most successful gang in Wyoming.” Heyes pushed his pillow up under his aching spine, dimples slicing both his cheeks.  “How were the Italian masterpieces?”

 

            “Nothing I ever heard of.  Painted by a guy with a girl’s name...Raphael?”  Kid undressed, filling his partner in on the last few days and his winning streak at poker.

 

            Not a breath of wind came through the open windows the entire night.  Kid shifted restlessly, sweating, wearing only long john bottoms. Heyes snored, curled over on his side of the bed, his long arm hanging down over the edge of the mattress.

 

            Sunrise was still half hour away when Kid gave up the attempt at sleep and pulled on his jeans.  He felt bleary eyed, out of sorts, thirsty, and in great need to relieve himself.  Debating whether to pour a glass of water before or after a trip to the privy, he pulled on a blue shirt and stepped into boots.

 

            “Whatsa matter?” Heyes muttered, barely opening his eyes.

 

            “Gotta go out back,” Kid whispered.  “Go back to sleep.”

 

            “Use the jug,” Heyes murmured, pulling his pillow closer.

 

            Kid wrinkled his nose fastidiously, closing the door.  He had a distaste for chamber pots and preferred going outside even when it meant a long walk. Probably due to being snowbound with other men for long months in single room cabins.

            The predawn air felt fresh after the stale dry hotel and Kid was refreshed.  He paused a few moments to admire the thin gold line on the horizon, a sliver of sun gilding the edges of the night sky.

 

            With nothing much on his mind besides a glass of water back in the hotel room, Kid finished his business and swung open the door of the outhouse.

 

            “Don’t even breathe.”  

 

            The cold steel butt of a .45 pressed against Kid’s neck.  Even as his brain processed the memory that he’d left the hotel room without a gun, Kid’s hand began towards his hip.

 

            “Hands behind your head,” commanded the voice and he felt a rope slipped around his neck and cinched up tight.

 

            “Heye-” Kid shouted up towards the open second floor window seconds before a fist doubled him over, the noose tightening painfully around his neck.

 

            “Apparently you don’t listen very well,” the voice continued in his ear. “I meant don’t breathe.  Don’t move. Don’t think anybody’s gonna help you.”

 

            Kid’s hands were roughly pulled behind him, tied tightly with the same rope looped around his neck.

 

            “What d’you wa -” Kid began but his captor pushed a dirty bandanna in his mouth, securing it with a second one tied behind his head.

 

            “You’re Kid Curry,” Boggs finally allowed his prisoner to see him, “and I got me ten thousand dollars.”

 

            Recognizing Boggs, Kid stared at him with fury in his eyes.

 

            “Now, stand up.”  Jake used the length of the rope between Kid’s neck and hands to haul him to his feet, nearly cutting off what was left of Curry’s air. “The horses are over in the alley. We’ve got more’n half a days ride.”

 

            Trying to take short shallow breaths, Kid stumbled after Boggs.  He didn’t have any faith that his single outburst had awakened Heyes, meaning that Boggs would have him several hours outside Pixley before there was any notice of his disappearance.  He didn’t doubt Heyes would come after them, but wearily hoped it would be sooner than later.

 

            ShovingKid up onto a skittish black, Boggs checked the ropes binding his wrists.

 

            “I’ve always been kinda proud of this knot,” he sneered.  “You try to wiggle your hands or untie the ropes it just tightens up the loop around your neck then you can’t breathe.”  He mounted his horse, leading both animals out behind the building on Main Street.  “Looks like a fine day.  Real hot.  Time for the games to begin.”

 

            After only a short time in the saddle, Kid already understood the deviousness of Boggs’ knots.  If he tried to hold on to the back of the saddle, he pulled his hands down too far, tightening the noose and constricting his airway. In order to keep enough slack to breathe comfortably, he had to pull his hands up towards the middle of his back, putting incredible strain on his arms and shoulders.  The black mare was a rough ride, threatening to pitch Kid off every few steps.  He tightened his thighs on the horse’s saddle, cramping his knees.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

           

 

Heyes stretched out, savoring the luxury of an entire double bed to himself, still half in a dream. He worked the kinks out of his spine and shoulders before opening his eyes.  “Kid,” he called softly.

 

            Receiving no answer, Heyes sat up completely, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.  The room was empty.  He shrugged to himself, figuring Kid went out for some ham and eggs and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

 

            It was eight-thirty a.m. by Heyes’ pocket watch and he felt ravenous.  He leaned over to snag his butternut pants off the floor and bumped the gunbelt hanging over the footboard of the bed.  Heyes stomach folded in on itself, all thoughts of food forgotten. Kid’s gunbelt.  His own lay across the room on the bureau where he’d left it the night before.  This was The Kid’s .45 and Kid never went anywhere without six pounds of steel tied to his leg.  Why was it still here?

 

            Reconstructing the morning while dressing hurriedly, Heyes very vaguely remembered Curry getting up before light to go outside. That had to be three or more hours earlier.  Where was he? On close inspection of the room, Heyes realized his cousin had also left behind his hat and saddlebags.  Well, he certainly couldn’t have gone very far.  Heyes tried to bolster his flagging spirits by attempting to convince himself that Kid was turning over a new leaf. Maybe he was putting the gun slinging days behind him by leaving the gun in the room.  Heyes didn’t believe it for one minute, and buckled on his own gun belt with a nervous heart.

 

            Stepping outside the hotel was akin to moving from a flatiron into the fire.  The intensity of the heat, even before nine in the morning, took the breath away.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

           

 

Kid slumped in the saddle, his chest aching from the effort to breathe past noose and gag.  His throat felt desiccated.  The horse skittered at a rock in the trail, nearly pitching him from the saddle.  Boggs had to make a hasty grab at his prisoner’s arm to prevent him from going headfirst onto the ground.  The mare neighed sharply, not appreciating the bay horse’s close proximity.  Unable to steady both horses and Kid’s weight, Boggs shifted his hold and pulled Curry off the horse, dumping him onto the trail.

 

Landing hard on his back, Kid nearly let consciousness go, but Boggs wasn’t about to let that happen.  He dragged Kid up into a sitting position by the rope on his neck.  “Sit up.  I ain’t finished with the games yet.”  He jerked the noose tighter while untying the gag.  “Spit it out.”

 

His vision darkening, Kid struggled for the tiniest breath, his jaw hanging slackly.  The wadded bandanna fell out onto the dirt giving Curry a gasp of air. 

 

Boggs loosened his grip on the rope, laughing.  “You look a little blue, Kid.  Thirsty?”  He tipped his head back, drinking loudly from a canteen.

 

Kid nodded, barely enough saliva in his mouth to move his tongue.  He kept his hands up in the middle of his back to maximize breathing space, drawing in dusty, seared oxygen through parched lips.

 

“I don’t know if I brought enough for both of us.”  Boggs shook the canteen, sloshing the water inside. “Maybe I can spare a little.”  He held the canteen towards Kid, pouring a stream of water in his general direction, splashing his face and shirt more than getting any into his mouth. “Well, better save some for later.  It’s gonna get hot.”

 

Greedily sucking the few droplets off his lips and tongue, Kid contemplated his fate. Yesterday, he’d been under a lucky star; today he was literally in Hell, begging for water.  Heyes had better come soon, Kid realized Boggs wasn’t particularly picky about the dead or alive part on the wanted poster.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Heyes had checked the restaurants, two nearest saloons, and even the livery stable in the chance Kid had gone on an early trail ride.  He drummed his fingers nervously on the hotel desk, panic seeping in.  What the hell had happened?

 

“Mr. Jones?” the desk clerk greeted him.  “What can I do for you?”

 

“I’m Smith.  My friend is Jones,” Heyes corrected. “He left the room this morning and I was just wondered if there was any kind of message for me?”

 

The clerk checked the cubbyholes without enthusiasm.  All twelve were completely empty.  “Nope.”

 

“Where’s the night clerk?  The red haired guy?” Heyes persisted.  “Maybe he’d know?”

 

“O’Malley’s gone to bed.  He worked all night.”

 

“Did he mention seeing my friend leave maybe?”

 

“Why would he do that?” the clerk shrugged.  He pointed to the ledger.  “You were the last one in last night.”

 

“I know.  I just …I’m a little worried about my friend.”  Heyes thought fast. “He’s addle-pated. Wanders.”

 

“Seemed all right to me.”  Starting to turn away, the clerk frowned slightly.  “O’Malley did say he saw Jake Boggs this morning.”

 

“Jake Boggs?” Heyes echoed.  Couldn’t be. Had to be someone else with the same name.

 

“He owns the Four Aces Saloon across the street.”

 

“I know where it is.” Heyes thanked him dazedly.  What would Jake Boggs be doing here in Pixley and why would Kid have anything to do with him?  The last time Heyes remembered seeing the sadistic bastard was after the Victorburg Bank job in ‘74.  Heyes preferred a nice quiet middle of the night bank with a safe he could open. The Victorburg robbery had been cursed from the beginning and they’d entered the bank only a few hours after closing time to find two employees still inside.  Heyes had managed to open the safe despite the distractions. Boggs had dealt with the prisoners, deriving far too much pleasure in the tying up and taunting of them for Heyes’ taste.  Even going so far as to cut the teller’s face with a knife.  Kid had been livid.  He’d vowed never to let the outlaw near Devil’s Hole again.  It was one of Heyes’ least favorite memories of a bank job and he feared Boggs sudden reappearance in his life.

 

The batwing doors creaked eerily in the quiet morning as Heyes slipped inside the saloon. After the white-hot light of the street he could barely see in the gloom.

 

“We’re not open yet,” a voice called.

 

“That’s okay. Don’t want a drink anyway.” Heyes peered towards the bar, making out a tall, thinning man.  “Looking for Jake.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Old friend. Got into town last night, knew I had to look Old Jake up right away.”

 

“S’not here,” the bartender answered shortly.  “Gone to Cottonwood.”

 

“Oh.  Too bad.” Heyes sounded as disappointed as he could possibly manage.  “Saloon business?”

 

“Nope.” The bartender opened a crate of whiskey and began to line the bottles up on the counter. “He’s friends to the sheriff.”

 

Heyes fought down the urge to wring the information out of the man, but didn’t want to appear desperate.  “Jake’s real friendly. My friend was in here yesterday. Won at poker.  Said this was a real friendly saloon.”

 

“Blond haired guy?” the bartender nodded.  “Saw him.  Didn’t win much, but Jake was sure interested in him.”

 

“They talked?” Heyes gulped.

 

“No, Jake just asked after him.  Then, told me he was going to Cottonwood.”

 

“To visit the Sheriff.”  Heyes nodded, closing his eyes.

 

“Care for a shot?” The bartender flipped two little glasses onto the bar.

 

“I thought you weren’t open.”  Heyes smiled weakly.

 

“You look like you could use one.”  He poured. “Your blond friend ain’t wanted, is he?”

 

“Thaddeus?” Heyes laughed tightly. “He’s not even all that good at poker.”

 

“He said it was his lucky day,” the other agreed.  “It’s just that Jake’s a bounty hunter.”

 

Heyes choked on the fiery liquid in his throat.  “S-strong,” he coughed.  “Thanks. I’ll try again when he’s back.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Jake grumbled to himself, leading Curry’s skittery horse was taking longer than he’d expected. The sun was brutal and he was beginning to wonder if his prisoner would survive the ride.  It was nearing midday, the heat enervating, even to Boggs wearing a hat and sipping from his canteen.  He calculated another two or three hours on the trail before Cottonwood and he didn’t want the sun finishing Curry off before he had the fun of doing it himself.

 

“Git along.” Jake jerked on the black’s lead rope, pulling him forward.  The horse danced nervously, pulling away with a squealing neigh.

 

Kid wobbled limply in the saddle, slumping forward as the horse shied.  Unexpectedly the black broke into a frantic gallop to get away from the Bay.  It lasted only a few seconds before she stumbled in a snake hole, her slender foreleg snapping like a twig.  With a scream, the mare dropped heavily to her knees, pitching the rider forward like a sack of flour.  Kid landed headfirst in the rocks, loosing the slender strand of consciousness he’d been clutching.

 

“Damn,” Boggs swore, quickly dismounting.  The Sheriff of Cottonwood was a friend and usually disregarded the battered appearance of Jake’s prisoners, but they were rarely bloodied or dead. “Curry.”  He flipped the man over, assessing his head wound. Blood smeared across his forehead, but wasn’t a deep or life threatening injury.  Boggs tossed the contents of one of the canteens in Kid’s face. “Wake up, damn it!”

 

Kid opened bleary eyes to find Boggs’ face peering too closely at his.  It wasn’t a sight he’d ever liked to see, but under the circumstances, it proved to Kid he hadn’t died yet.  He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or bad thing.  On the plus side, he was wet now and it felt better than anything else had so far.

 

“Your horse broke his leg,” Boggs informed the prisoner. “I paid good money for that nag.  I better get the whole ten thousand dollars for you.”

 

Unable to do much more than stare murderously back, Kid didn’t move.  His options were slipping away quickly and it was scaring him.  Where was Heyes?

 

Boggs tossed the empty canteen to the ground, unhooking a full one from his saddle.  The bay, now terrified at the still living Black’s struggles, protested, baring his teeth.  “You’re going to have to walk,” Jake informed Kid.  “This old horse won’t take two,” he laughed, swigging water from the canteen.  “I guess you’ll need a little drink, huh, or I’ll have to put a bullet in your brain, too.”  He leaned down to where Kid still lay in the dark holding the water just out of reach.  “Thirsty?”

 

Wishing fervently he didn’t have to respond to such an absurd question, Kid barely inclined his aching head.  Boggs helped him sit up, gently easing him against a rock.  Kid was suspicious, but knew he’d never survive the walk without the fluid.  His throat was swollen, tongue dry and caked in his mouth.  It was increasingly difficult to breathe, even without the constriction of the noose.

 

Leaning forward, Kid opened his mouth for the water and was rewarded with several mouthfuls. Cool, wet, filling his mouth with liquid heaven.  Just beginning to accept that this was a real kindness, Kid suddenly gagged, the rope around his neck tightening painfully.

 

Boggs pushed the knot up under Curry’s ear, increasing the tension until Kid’s eyes rolled back. Kid could feel his lungs struggling to draw in air, but the rest of his body felt curiously light and tingly, unattached to his head in any way.

 

“I can give it and I can take it away,” Boggs sneered into Curry’s ear.  “You’re under my control now.  No Heyes, no six gun to make like you’re the big man.”

 

Curry’s lips were bluish purple when Boggs finally loosened his grip, letting the prisoner slide bonelessly into the dirt.

 

Concentrating on just taking enough breaths to survive, Kid began to lose hope.  He wasn’t going to survive Boggs’ version of fun and games.  He wasn’t even going to live Ôtil Cottonwood.  Yet, deep down inside the last glimmer of trust still flickered.  That Heyes was already following, that Heyes would arrive and make everything all right, just like he had when they were children.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Heyes dug his spurs into his horse unmercifully, knowing full well it could cost him the animal’s life in the end.  Under normal circumstances, he would have never run a horse in one hundred-degree heat, but panic urged him on.  Boggs had a three or more hour head start on him.  Hopefully, he wasn’t going above a slow trot on a horse, if he was leading a prisoner.  If Heyes could just shorten the miles between them by galloping, he was willing to risk the horse’s life to save Kid’s.

 

Back in Pixley, he’d emptied the hotel room, bought a horse and a few supplies in record speed. The restaurant had kindly supplied several sausage biscuits and filled four canteens for him before his race out of town.

 

After many miles of flagging the horse until his sides were caked with sweat and heaving, Heyes slowed down, letting his mount walk to cool off.  It wouldn’t do any good to kill the animal before he found Kid.  He refused to think if.  There was only one road between Pixley and Cottonwood, a six-hour journey by a fresh trotting horse.  Even longer having to lead an animal behind, carrying a tied up man.  Heyes had ridden a horse with his hands tied a few times and it wasn’t easy to do.  Even a fast walk could unseat the rider.  He convinced himself that he could overtake Boggs before he ever reached the Sheriff of Cottonwood.

 

Every so often Heyes could make out shoed horse prints and fresh droppings.  Two horses had passed this way earlier in the day. Pixley wasn’t big enough to have frequent traffic along this desert road.  It had to be them.

 

He’d slung Kid’s gunbelt over the saddlehorn.  It bumped his leg, reminding him just how defenseless his cousin was.

 

Squinting in the glaring light, Heyes thought he saw a body in the road, and for a split second he was chilled to the bone.  No, it wasn’t a human body, it was a horse.

 

Dismounting, Heyes surveyed the dead animal critically.  No doubt about it, the shoes had the same nail pattern he’d been following since Pixley.  He scanned the surrounding area nervously, in case he’d just missed another body, but the flat arid land was empty.  Boggs had shot the horse, assumably after it had broken a foreleg. They had to be going slower now, doubled up on a single horse.

 

A trifle encouraged, Heyes led his own mount in a wide berth around the dead animal, then stopped abruptly.  In the rocky outcropping on the right side of the road there were brownish, rusty stains. Blood.  He could tell by the churned up dirt that someone had lain on the ground, head probably in the rocks, bleeding.  ‘Oh, Kid, I’m coming for you.’

 

Two sets of footprints were clearly visible a few feet away from the rocks, so Kid had at least gotten up and was mobile.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Just put one foot in front of the other.  Right foot, then left.  Kid forced his feet to continue, just focusing on the act of walking.  He stared down at his dusty boots, but his vision was fading.

 

Boggs swore continuously.  He’d never had a capture go so badly.  The heat was too intense, the horse breaking its leg, Curry had faded faster than most.  Ten thousand dollars dead or alive, claimed the wanted poster, luckily, but Boggs had a certain pride that all his other prisoners had survived the games.

 

Stumbling, Kid fell forward against the horse’s rump, praying he wouldn’t hit the ground.

 

“Stay on your feet,” Jake snarled.  “We’re behind schedule, and you already had a rest break.”  He tightened the lead rope around his saddle horn, Kid immediately feeling the impact around his neck.  The rope had rubbed his skin raw, even the slightest pressure was agony.

 

“Y’know, Kid, you should never have forced me to leave after the Victorburg.”  Boggs slapped the reins against the Bay’s flanks, urging the horse forward.  It was too quick, too sudden.  Kid couldn’t match the horse’s speed.  He went down hard, his right foot twisting at an unnatural angle.  He couldn’t brace his fall, couldn’t stop the noose from cinching up around his throat as the lead rope stretched taunt.

 

Hauling hard against the bridle, Boggs jerked the horse to a stop and dismounted.  Kid lay unmoving on the trail, still as death. “Get up.”  He pushed Curry’s hand with the toe of his boot, getting no response.  “Thought Heyes would rescue you, didn’t you?  Thought you were the big man, forcing me out…look at you now.”  He un tied the lead rope from the saddle, planning to throw Curry over the back of the horse for the last hour before Cottonwood.  They’d make much better time, and he could already taste a good bottle of rye.

 

Not having any whiskey just yet, Jake sat down to have a swallow of water.  He leaned back, hands behind him to brace himself for a good stretch.  “Only a little bit longer, Kid.”

 

Needle sharp stabbing pains shot up his arm.  Jake whipped around, his right hand fumbling for his gun.  The snake struck again, sharp fangs slicing into the soft muscle of Boggs’ hand.  He shot the reptile in half, the rattler end skittering across the dirt. The head end stayed imbedded in his hand, venom already traveling swiftly through his bloodstream.

 

Hearing the gunshot, Kid opened his eyes.  Even if he’d wanted to, there was no way he could try to help Boggs.  He watched dispassionately as the bounty hunter pried the viper off his bleeding hand.  Boggs’ arm was already swelling and unless he got medical attention soon there was nothing anyone could do.

 

Instead, Kid focused on the now abandoned canteen lying between he and Boggs.  Water.  So close.  Disregarding the gripping pain in his foot, Kid tried to inch forward, but every movement tightened the noose around his neck.  Well, there was a dilemma.  What did he want more?  Water or to breathe?

 

“Curry, get over here,” Boggs commanded irrationally, “I’ll cut you loose.  You gotta ride for help.”  He crawled painfully forward on his knees.  “Here’s th ecanteen.  Just ride for help.”  He collapsed, holding his swollen left arm awkwardly.

Ignoring him, Kid continued to exist, just breathing quietly.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Approximately five miles after he’d passed the horse, Heyes saw the bodies.  Heat shimmers flickered over the desert floor, but this time there was no doubt.  There were two men lying on the trail.  A horse stood limply nearby, as if too drained to graze.

 

Heyes covered the last few hundred yards without memory, clearing the saddle before his horse stopped moving.

 

Kid lay curled, bound hands nearly up behind his neck, so that Heyes didn’t see the noose at first. Boggs lay a few feet away, his eyes glazed, left arm hugely swollen.

 

“Kid?”  Heyes felt for a pulse and touched the rope. “That bastard Boggs.”  With a gentle hand he sliced the rope connecting Kid’s hands apart, then loosened the noose.  “Can you hear me?”

 

Nodding almost imperceptibly, Kid managed a ghost of a grin for his cousin.  Heyes finished freeing Kid’s hands and eased him upright.  “Hey, hey…you gonna be all right?”  Heyes balanced Curry against his shoulder and snagged the canteen out of the sand.

 

Drawing up his knees, Kid balanced the canteen against his legs and drank greedily, taking huge gulps.  The water was hot enough to brew tea with, and he grimaced as it passed painfully down his aching, swollen throat, but it was water.  He tried to grip the canteen tighter but his hands were useless, all tingly pins and needles.  He coughed painfully.

 

“Slow down.” Heyes took the canteen back with a smile.  “You’ll get a belly ache going that fast.” 

 

Kid grabbed for the canteen again but Heyes poured some water onto a bandanna. 

 

“Kid, calm down. I’ve got some more.  Lemme see your head.”

 

Kid glared at Heyes for a second before letting him wash the dirt and blood off his forehead. “That gash’ll heal clean, I think,” Heyes mused. “But you’ve gotta hell of a shiner.”  He tipped Kid’s face towards him.  “You all right?” he asked more seriously.

 

“Water,” Kid managed to croak, his first words since early that morning.

 

Heyes handed back the canteen, waiting while Kid emptied it.  He shifted his gaze to the prostate form of Boggs.  “Snakebite," Heyes stated the obvious. “He’s dying.”

 

Kid held onto the empty canteen, feeling the water fill his body.  He still felt dry to the bone, like a skeleton left to bleach in the sun but he was alive and there were four more canteens of water.  Maybe more if Boggs still had some.

 

“You finally got here,” Kid whispered.  “What took you so long?”  He unconsciously echoed phrases he’d used less than twenty-four hours ago.

 

Momentarily stung by the accusations, Heyes swung around to see his friend smiling tiredly at him. “Well, I overslept, y’see. But if you needed more help you coulda just yelled.”

 

“I did,”  Kid frowned remembering Boggs’ fist in his belly.  “But you got here all the same.”

 

“He grabbed you behind the hotel?”  Heyes questioned softly.

 

“Uh-huh.”  Kid felt strangely like crying but he didn’t have enough fluid in his whole body to make tears.  He rubbed his still tingly hands together to hide the emotion. “I shoulda had my gun.”

 

“You have the right to go out to the privy without a gun on.”  Heyes handed him a second canteen, just grateful to see him alive, if dehydrated.  “But next time, Kid…”

 

            “Yeah?”  Kid sipped water more slowly.

 

            “Use the jug.”

 

            “Stinky.”  He wrinkled his nose.

 

            “In your case, much safer,” Heyes grinned.