Posse-tively Wonderful!

by

Sue Kite

 

 

Alias Smith and Jones tv show photo

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry-- Alias Smith and Jones

 

 

The horse stumbled and Jedediah Curry would have fallen off if his partner, Hannibal Heyes, hadn’t grabbed his arm.

“Don’t go to sleep, Kid!” Heyes shouted in his ear. “If you do, you’ll die!”

“Heyes, you tell me what difference it makes if I freeze to death in the saddle or in one of those snow drifts,” Curry shouted back. He shivered and tried to pull his hat farther over his ears. It didn’t do any good. The wind snuck under the brim with all the subtlety of a cannonball.

“We’ll find something soon,” Heyes reassured him.

The wind intermittently spat snow and sleet. If not for the accursed posse, they’d be sitting snug and cozy in Evansdale. Warm, dry, safe; stomachs filled with tasty dinner. But no, they managed to get caught in front of a blizzard in a town where one of the old gang had also found refuge. There was no loyalty in a whisky bottle, Curry thought.

His horse stumbled again. Curry leaned over and tapped Heyes on the leg. “Think my horse is going lame.”

There was a muffled curse from his companion. “Check it out. I’ll stand watch.”

Curry dismounted and checked his mount’s legs. He didn’t even have to pick up the right rear to know the horse’s trouble. There was blood in the snow. The horse pulled his leg away with a snort. A deep cut ran down the leg, across the hock almost to the hoof.  He pulled off the saddlebags and then removed the gelding’s bridle and saddle. The saddle remained in the snow where it dropped, while he looped the bridle over his shoulder. With a sigh, he patted him on the withers. Maybe the poor beast would help confuse those following.

“Come on up,” Heyes told him, extending a hand. He didn’t look at the Kid; his eyes were flicking back and forth, trying to see into the dark corners of the narrow valley floor.

Curry hesitated a moment and then took the proffered hand. What else could he do? If he told Heyes to leave him, his cousin twice removed would just give a derisive laugh and tell him sixteen reasons why it wouldn’t be a good idea. They had been together for years. Guess when the time came, they’d go out together.

His horse walked about ten feet and stopped, head hanging down. No help there. The Kid swung up behind his darker-haired cousin and clamped his knees high against the horse’s flanks. Curry felt the steamy heat from the sweaty mount and knew it wouldn’t be long before this horse gave out, too. They had to find some kind of shelter soon.

Shots rang out. One smacked a limb just above Heyes’ head, causing it to explode in a shower of splinters and snow. Another whistled past his ear. Heyes kicked the horse. It squealed and shot forward, clattering near the bottom of the narrow valley. There were several more shots before trees and brush gave promise of sheltering them from their ambushers. Curry felt something slam into his thigh and down his leg toward the knee. The pain followed, making him gasp in surprise and shock.

“You okay, Kid?”

No need to give Heyes anything else to worry about. “No. I’m frozen, tired and hungry,” he snapped. The last was a lie, but the first two weren’t.

“Quit griping. It could be worse,” Heyes countered.

“How?”

“We could be in jail.”

“Where it’s warm and out of the snow and they feed you at least two squares a day.”

“Shut up and keep an eye out for a way out of here,” Heyes told him.

The horse struggled, crunching through ice and occasionally slipping on the rocks. Curry winced with each step the horse took. He felt the cold of wet cloth and knew the wound was bleeding pretty badly. “Heyes, look up there.” Curry pointed. There was a track; probably a deer trail leading up the side of the slope.

“Too easy for them to follow, but we don’t have much choice.”

Curry clamped his hand over his wound. He saw blood clotting down the horse’s side. It was only a matter of time before he would lose consciousness. “Absolutely no choice.”

“Hey, Kid, you smell something?”

Curry was in too much pain to joke around. He tried to pay closer attention to what was around him. “No.”

“Wood smoke.”

Curry tested the air again and smelled a very faint current. “Yeah, I do now.” They had started up the slope. “But I think it’s below us now. In the valley.”

Heyes stopped the horse and tested Curry’s summation. “You’re right, but if there’s no other way out….”

That thought and several others flitted through his mind. “Send the horse on and we double back?” Even as he said it, Kid was sure he couldn’t be able to do something like that.

“We saw how successful that was with your horse,” Heyes commented with deep sarcasm.

“It was lame,” Curry responded wearily. He felt his lethargy beginning to press down on him like a thick fog.

He heard Hannibal sigh. “It’s getting colder and the wind’s picking up. Even if they track us, they wouldn’t be able to take us out in this. It’s getting worse, believe it or not.”

“Yeah. And I don’t know how much farther we can go either, Heyes.”

As though on cue, the horse stumbled and fell, pitching both men off. Heyes grabbed a branch and swung clear. Curry wasn’t so lucky. He missed being rolled on by the floundering animal, but felt ravaged muscles in his leg protest when he hit the ground. He sat up where he had fallen, too tired to get to his feet.

The horse scrambled to his feet, took several steps and pitched forward. He groaned, tried to raise his head and then was still.

“What the hell?” Heyes choked out. He examined the horse and cursed in earnest. “Dead!” He studied his glove, and wiped it on the snow. “He must have taken a hit.”

“Yeah, so did I.”

Heyes eyes widened. “What?” He wallowed through a snow drift to get to the Kid. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Curry was too tired and cold to say anything snappy. “Wouldn’t have made any difference.  Couldn’t take the time….”

“Says you!” It was approaching dusk. It didn’t help that the clouds were lowering as well. “Where?”

“Leg.” He pointed.

Heyes gently felt his partner’s leg.

“Ahh!” Curry cried out, then bit his lip.

“Let me find something to bind your wound.”

“Just get out of here,” Curry told him.

“Uh, uh, Kid. Doesn’t work that way.”

Curry felt his mind clearing a bit. “Sure it does, if you go on up the slope. They might think we’d gone out of the ravine.” He thought hard. “Then you double back and we look for that cabin or whatever it is we’re smelling the smoke from.”

Heyes stared at him. “Kid, you’ve come up with a winner!” He was silent as he dug through his saddle bag, but Curry knew he was thinking at the same time. “Storm’s going to get worse. They’ll have to hunker down, too.” He quickly got to work, over the Kid’s protests. “Quit griping. I don’t have a snowball’s chance of helping ya if that leg isn’t taken care of. Gotta stop the bleeding.”

Knowing it was useless to argue, Curry asked, “What do you want me to do?”

In answer, Heyes broke off a five foot stick from a nearby tree and thrust it in the Kid’s hand. “Best I can do until I get back to help you. Now sit still and let me finish.” He worked swiftly, jerking a shirt from his saddle bag and ripping it up.

“Wait a minute! Isn’t that the good shirt you bought in Rock Springs?”

“Yeah, it is.” Heyes continued working. “Read in a book not long ago about things you can only see in a microscope….”

His leg was throbbing and Curry was ready for any kind of a distraction. “A micro-what?”

“Microscope.   It’s a little like a magnifying glass, but better and it lets you see things that are too tiny for the eye to see. Germs.”

“What does that have to do with your good shirt?”

“It’s the cleanest one I have. Germs are in dirty things and if they get in a wound, they can make you sick.”

“I know that, but you didn’t have to tear up your….” Heyes tied the strips tight around his leg. Curry gasped at the spiked pain.

“Believe it or not, most of the time I like your company, Kid. So if the book says to keep a wound clean, then I do what I have to do to keep it clean.” Heyes tied a knot to hold the makeshift bandage tight.

Curry winced.

“So shut up and let me finish.”

Curry did as he was told.

Heyes finished and sat back for a moment. His breath puffed out in the chill evening like steam from a train engine. Kid realized in that few seconds just how precarious everything was. This was nothing they could talk their way out of, charm away or work a scam. As though to emphasize the point, the wind gusted. Snow fell more earnestly, mostly sideways. “Get on up the path. Hand me your saddle bag.”

Heyes shook his head. “You have enough to worry about with your leg. Go on and I’ll hide your tracks.”

“Don’t have to work hard to do that.” Indeed the snow was cold and dry enough that even the dead horse had snow drifted against its back.

“I’ll take the saddlebag, Kid. You just concentrate on finding that warm, dry place.”

Curry couldn’t argue. He never could, even under good circumstances. He limped off through a copse of trees, trying hard not to make an obvious path. He knew he wasn’t succeeding. The bandage constricted his movement, but not enough to stop the pain that radiated to below his knee and up through his hip. In all their years together, he had never stopped a bullet like this. Yeah, he’d been hurt; he’d stopped bullets. Glancing down, he saw the bandage was already showing blood. He looked ahead; gauged the path, wanting to avoid anything that would trip him up. Hard to tell with all the snow, but in the remaining light, he could only hope for the best. He had to look at the bright side; at least he didn’t have a broken leg.

Curry worked his way down the slope toward the floor of the valley. It had widened out until it actually deserved the name of valley. A creek flowed on one side fed by half-frozen rivulets between boulders and rocks. He was wary of the well defined path that meandered alongside the stream, but there was little he could do about it. Exhaustion was setting in and the Kid knew he couldn’t keep dodging roots and rocks much longer. Pain waned into the deep corners of his being, but so too did his will. Even the cold didn’t bother him anymore.

The wind rose again and one gust almost knocked him into a drift. He clutched onto the staff as though it was a lifeline. The valley widened until he was unable to see where the valley walls rose on either side.  There was only the path and only the directive by Heyes to find the source of the wood smoke they had detected.

Just when Curry thought he couldn’t go any further, he saw it. It seemed to be a part of the rocks and brush on one side of the slope. When he stopped and looked closer through the murky darkness, he could see that the cabin had been built butt up against the rock wall. Icicles hung from an out-hanging porch. Some were almost long enough to touch the ground.

There were no animals in sight, but there was a small pile of bones on one side of the porch, half-covered with snow. Most likely from a recent deer kill. Curry saw no windows but there were a couple of boards over what might be spy slits. All this he took in as he hobbled the last few steps to the door. He had to stoop down to get under the overhanging porch.

He thought he could smell roasting meat. Kid felt dizzy and nauseated. The door seemed to waver and tilt. Curry reached forward to knock and lost his balance. As he fell, everything seemed to lose definition and grow dark. He was not conscious when he hit the ground.

 

Inside the cabin, the back of which was partly cave, the smell of venison stew warred with the earthy smell of horse and cow manure, sweat and wood smoke. Mandy Woodburn used the iron hook to move a heavy lid from the top of a large cast iron pot. The two men seated near the fireplace made her nervous, but Daniel had been certain of their credentials. They were from some detective agency, she remembered them saying. She had been busy and had not paid as much attention as she ought. That there were two wanted criminals in the area frightened her even more than these two strangers. The older detective had barely come in, warning them that they’d have company pretty soon.

Daniel was in the cave seeing to the animals and their stores. Between him and the two detectives, no harm would come to her and the unborn child she knew was coming soon. She rubbed her swollen belly, trying to relieve the tightness that caused her skin to itch.

There was the sound of something dropping or falling outside the porch. Icicles? In an instant the two men were on their feet, their guns drawn. Mandy froze for several heartbeats, then she dared to push aside a strand of light brown hair that had fallen in front of her eyes.

The two men continued at ready, their eyes hard in concentration. Finally the older one motioned to the other and the younger, light-haired, almost blond lawman stole to the door.  The other man followed.

Medium height, heavily muscled with almost black hair, the older of the two men stood against the wall. “Open it,” he ordered his companion, his voice almost inaudible.

With a quick motion, the young man pulled the bar and jerked the heavy plank door open.

Mandy saw two men there; one with his hand upraised as though he had been about ready to knock on the door. The other was slumped on the ground. Stained white material on the unconscious man’s leg stood out starkly. He fell across the threshold as the door opened.

“Put your hands up, Heyes, and come in slowly,” the older detective said.

Mandy noticed Daniel was by her side now. He had an ax in his free hand. The other was around her waist, holding her close to him.

“I’m bringing my friend in with me,” Heyes said.

“No, you’re not.”

Mandy remembered the older one’s name now. It was Jackson. Carter Jackson.

“Not until we relieve you of your guns.”

Heyes stood quietly while the younger detective, whose name she had not caught, took his and the unconscious man’s pistols.

“Now haul in the Kid,” Jackson ordered.

Heyes did as he was told, dragging his friend in close to the fire. He knelt down to take care of the injured man.

“No, you don’t,” Jackson repeated.

“He’ll bleed to death if he’s not taken care of,” Heyes protested.

“That poster says dead or alive, so your concerns don’t mean a thing to us,” the younger lawman barked.

“Jacob, you know what our orders were. They’re to be taken alive.”

Jacob looked like he had just eaten a Mexican chili, but he didn’t argue.

“Let me take care of my friend,” Heyes said softly.

Mandy saw a great deal in the outlaw’s face. What she saw the most was a deep kinship with the injured man. If these two weren’t related in blood, she thought, their brotherhood had been forged in their trials. 

In the fire and lamplight, Jackson peered at the injured man sprawled on the smooth dirt floor. “Appears he’s been tended to already,” Jackson replied, but he nodded.

Before Heyes could do anything, Mandy said, “I’ll take care of him.” Despite the fact these two were wanted criminals; she couldn’t let this man bleed to death in her house. “Daniel, get me some hot water and clean cloths.”

“But Mandy,” Daniel protested. “The baby…”

“Will be well cared for and we’ll have plenty for him,” Mandy countered. “Right now this man has greater need.” He looked young. Too young to be a hardened criminal. “What’s his name?” she asked without looking up.

“Kid Curry,” Jackson said.

“Thaddeus Jones,” Heyes said at the same time.

The two lawmen laughed in derision. “Heyes, I know who you two are,” Jackson said.

Heyes ignored the two men, fixing his dark eyes on Mandy. “I’m Joshua Smith, ma’am.”

“Just keep your friend as quiet as you can. Thaddeus, you said?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Smith/Heyes answered.

Jackson started to say something, but Mandy cut him off. “Right now it doesn’t matter what their names are. That can all be straightened out later.” Thankfully, the two detectives didn’t argue with her. “Mr. Smith.”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Did you tend to him earlier or did he do this himself?”

“Yes, ma’am, as soon as I knew he’d been hurt, I put a bandage on. It wasn’t much. Just tried to bind his leg to keep it from bleeding any more. It had bled pretty badly even before he told me.”

Mandy began removing the stained bandage as Daniel brought her clean cloth. “You did a good job. I can reckon it wasn’t easy out there in that weather.”

“No, ma’am, it wasn’t. We appreciate the hospitality,” Smith said.

“Get his boots off.” Mandy began tossing out orders and didn’t care which one of the men followed them. She hadn’t worked with her mid-wife mother for seven years before her first marriage without learning something about doctoring in general. “I’ll need a couple of blankets. I need a sharp knife. It will be easier to cut away the material of his trousers then to remove them. It will be quicker if someone goes out and gathers snow to melt.”

“Here, ma’am,” Jackson said, holding a large skinning knife in his outstretched hand. His gun was in his holster, but loose. Mandy was grateful. It was distracting when the men-folk all acted like they were in the middle of a war. She cut the material, then untied the soaked bandage. The wound was still oozing blood. That wasn’t good, but at least the bleeding wasn’t profuse.

There was a blast of cold air as someone went out the door. Curry/Jones shivered and moaned softly. “Wrap him as best you can without moving him,” she directed Smith, pointing to a blanket by the injured man’s head.

“Joshua?” Jones asked, his voice no more than a whisper.

“You’re going to be all right, Thaddeus.”

“But you have to keep as still as you can,” Mandy added. She gazed into the blue eyes and saw youth and age in their depths. “Are you feeling a lot of pain?”

He shook his head, then winced. “Mostly cold.”

“We’ll soon take care of that. I am going to examine your wound, Mr. Jones. It will most likely be painful.”

He nodded.

Her hands were quick and sure as she washed the area and tried to determine the path of the bullet. Jones had been on horseback and shot from behind, maybe a little below, she figured. It had gone in the bottom of his upper thigh and traveled toward his knee, probably near the bone. “Were you able to walk on this?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am, about a quarter mile to your cabin.”            

Mandy motioned to Daniel to give the injured man a drink of water. He would need much more before long. “I think I should get the bullet out soon. This storm will prevent any traveling for several days. Not that the nearest town is within reasonable distance.” She shot a meaningful glance at her husband. “I don’t want any infection to set in.”

“You a doctor, ma’am?” Jones asked, his voice tight set against the pain of her prodding. “Not that it matters. You know what you’re doing.” He closed his eyes as though this little bit of talking had worn him out.

Daniel handed Smith a mug filled with cold spring water.

“Thaddeus, here’s something to drink.” He lifted Jones’ head up.

The injured man drank several swallows, then shivered. “Cold.”

“We’ll get some water warmed up in a minute, Mr. Jones,” Mandy said with a slight smile. “And then you’ll need to drink as much as you can. You’ve lost a lot of blood.”

“Yes’m, but my name is Thaddeus, ma’am.”

“And my name is Mandy.” She couldn’t help it; she was warming to these two men, despite what Jackson had told her about them. It seemed ludicrous that these two could be killers or vicious robbers. Then she remembered Martin. He was as cold-hearted as they came, his evil soul lodged behind the friendly smile and cheerful blue-gray eyes. She steeled herself against these two men’s obvious charm and friendliness. “I don’t have anything to dull the pain, uh, Thaddeus. Still I think it would be unwise to leave the bullet in much longer. And no, I’m not a doctor. I did help my mother a great deal, though. She was a midwife and we often had things other than birthing babies to deal with.”

Jones gave a tired sigh. “Do what you need to do.”

“It will be a short while before I have everything ready.” She left the injured man in his friend’s care and walked to the fire where Daniel had a large pot of snow melting.

“Fire’s hot. Should be boiling shortly.” He peered at her as she leaned forward. “You feel up to doing that, Mandy?”

“I was just rememberin’, Daniel.” She dug a large tin can from off a shelf and pried off the lid. It contained a leather pouch with several implements she had inherited from her mother.

He didn’t answer with anything more than a nod, but she knew he understood. This had been a difficult and terrifying time and she truly wished these four strangers had not come into their life now. She and Daniel had just begun to get comfortable. She had begun to think Martin and the terror was over. “Yes, I can do this. It has to be done.” She clutched her mother’s bag above her stomach. “How long do you think it would be before they could get Jones into town for treatment? How long will this storm last?”

“But it’s only his leg! You don’t have to do this, Mandy,” Daniel argued.

“My mother spent her life doing what needed to be done. This needs to be done. Otherwise he’ll bleed to death. Doesn’t matter that it’s in his leg. You can bleed to death if it’s a scratch, if it’s in the right place. I can’t let him suffer like that.” She saw the look on Daniel’s face.  “And it doesn’t matter what he’s done or who he is. I have to try.”

When she had assembled everything, Mandy returned to Jones’ side. His friend had not left his side. “I don’t have anything to give you for the pain, Thaddeus,” she repeated. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“I trust you, Mandy.”

She nodded. “Daniel, is the water boiling yet?” she asked over her shoulder. At his affirmative, she took her implements and dropped them into the pot of water. She handed her sewing scissors to Smith. “Cut his pants up a little higher.”

Thaddeus glared at his companion. “Just take them off,” he growled. “And get it over with.”

“Do me a favor and don’t take off the long johns; cut them away from the wound,” Mandy returned.

Despite the gravity of the situation, Smith smirked and choked back a chuckle. Even Thaddeus gave a weak smile.

“Ma’am?” Jackson asked.

Mandy was happy enough for the distraction from what was going on with her patient. “Yes?”

“I, uh, have a bottle, a small bottle of . . .”

She frowned. “I thought my husband said we would tolerate no spirits in our house.”

“That’s true, ma’am, so I left it in the saddlebag, but if it would help Curry there tolerate you diggin’ that bullet out.”

Jackson reminded her of a little boy who had been caught stuffing a frog down a girl’s dress. Despite her disapproval of alcohol, his offer might be of great benefit to the young man. Ultimately, it would also help her. “Mr. Jones, do you want to take up Mr. Jackson’s offer?”

“Yes, ma’am, I would.” His eyes met hers. “I would just as soon be a little numb when you start cutting on me.”

“Get it, Mr. Jackson. The sooner, the better.”

Jackson went back into the cave where the stock was being kept and was soon back with a fist-sized flask. He unscrewed the cap and handed it to Jones, who wasted no time taking a drink. Thaddeus gasped, coughed and then took another swallow.

“You only pack the good stuff,” Jones stated before taking another couple of swallows.

Jackson made a sour face. “Yeah, Curry, you’re drinking the last of my good Tennessee whiskey.”

Jones finished what was in the flask and handed it back to the detective. “Thanks, Mr. Jackson. I appreciate your, uh, sacrifice.”

Jackson grunted. “Had to have a bullet dug outta me once. Hurt like hell and I didn’t have anything at all.”

Daniel had cut and rolled material for bandages. Mandy watched him fish out her instruments and laid them on a clean strip of cloth near her patient. Jacob watched from his seat in the corner, his eyes almost predatory.  He’s enjoying this, she thought.

It didn’t take too long for the whiskey to begin working on the injured man. On an empty stomach, it usually didn’t, Mandy thought, remembering Martin. Still, she didn’t take much stock in the numbing effect of liquor. She waited a while longer before kneeling down next to Jones. At least he was a happy drunk. Thaddeus had been joking with his friend for the past few minutes. She wondered if he was really this outlaw Kid Curry. If so, he had become adept at his alter identity. Never once had he called his friend anything other than Joshua. Regardless…. “How are you feeling, Thaddeus?” she asked when he turned his attention to her.

He smiled. “Not too bad, Mandy. I want to thank you for doing this for me.”

“This is what my mama taught me to do . . . to help those in need. Besides,” she said with a smile of her own. “You might want to wait until I am finished and see if you still feel thankful.”

The smile was gone. “Want to thank you now, in case….”

“You’ll be fine, Thaddeus. With God’s help, you’ll be up and about before this snow melts.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Then in a softer voice, “I’m ready whenever you are.”

Thaddeus asked his friend for a handkerchief and Smith handed him one.

“I can’t get the bullet out the way it went in,” Mandy explained. “It traveled somewhat parallel to the bone. You were on horseback, weren’t you?”

He nodded. “Riding behind Joshua. My horse went lame.”

Several things occurred to her at once. There had to have been more men than these two. “Mr. Jackson, are there any other men out there?” In this weather, that was unthinkable.

“Why would you think that, Mrs. Woodburn?”

“Just a feeling I have. Jacob here arrived around noon, warning me about these two desperate criminals. And yet he didn’t go out to help you after he had warned me. In this weather, given the reputation of these men, why would your agency send out only one man to catch two experienced outlaws like these?”

Jackson made no answer. When Jacob-- Ford, she remembered now, started to say something, Jackson motioned to him to keep quiet.

“Who shot Mr. Jones?” she asked

“I did. Wasn’t trying to. Only wanted to shoot the horse.” Jackson pulled out a pouch and began to roll a cigarette. “We sent the others back to town. They were mostly a quickly deputized posse. A couple more of our men were with them and we didn’t need them possibly gettin’ lost or frost bit.” He paused. “And you sure didn’t need more mouths to feed.”

While Mandy did appreciate that little consideration, she felt Jackson was trying to take her off the track she was heading down. “Of course, after you had incapacitated these two and Mr. Ford was situated here,” Mandy continued, her anxiety rising. “So you were here to catch these two men. What was Mr. Ford here to do? He claimed he came upon our cabin by chance. Did he, Mr. Jackson? Or had some of your men been looking for it, too?” Icy fear began to creep up and down her spine. She cursed Martin for her newly found paranoia. There couldn’t be any more to this than a manhunt for two outlaws. Could there?

Jackson sighed and then licked the cigarette paper. He put the cigarette between his lips without lighting it.

“You already knew we were here, didn’t you?”

He nodded as he lit a twig in the fireplace and then used it to light his cigarette. “Knew it day before yesterday.”

“So you all weren’t here just to catch these two,” Mandy confirmed.

“Jacob and his partner were here to find you and your . . . husband.”

“Who sent you,” Daniel demanded.

“I can’t tell you. That is privileged client information,” Jacob Ford drawled. He had bit off a plug and was chewing lustily.

“Someone hires you to track me and it’s confidential? It concerns me!” Mandy’s voice rose and she felt her hands tremble. “If Martin Crenshaw hired you to find me then you need to know that Daniel and I are out here in this hole in the ground because of him! He beat me and used me like a common slut after he married me. I filed for divorce, but the judge wouldn’t grant it. I tried to have him arrested after he broke my arm, but the judge just laughed and handed me back to my ‘husband’.” She laughed bitterly. “Husband! Ha! Daniel is more of a husband than Martin could ever conceive of being. The preacher who married us signed an annulment decree and said he’d file it.”

“I don’t know the details, only the assignment. I am a senior detective in the agency so I sent Ford and Bingham out to find you. The paper from the court stated you had deserted your husband.”

Mandy shuddered but got control when she felt Daniel’s hand on her shoulder.

“It’ll be all right, Mandy. We’ll fight it.”

Mandy squeezed her eyes shut and took a shuddering breath. There was nothing to be done about it now. The storm had taken care of that. It was then the baby kicked hard and moved and then kicked again. Everything was at a standstill except for the baby and Mr. Jones’ injury. She opened her eyes and looked down at Thaddeus.

He was watching her with sympathetic eyes. “Are you all right, Mandy?”

She nodded and then shook her head. “I, uh, I can sympathize with you. Always looking over your shoulder, always wondering when someone is….” Mandy stopped. “I’m sorry, you need your wound taken care of.”

“Please, Mandy, you don’t have to. I’ll be all right until we get to town.”

“Nonsense,” she replied with a half smile. She took the knife and cut away more of his long johns. She had to get her mind back on this task. Stop thinking about Martin. Her hands weren’t shaking now. That was good. “I need you to help hold Thaddeus still,” she said to Smith.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

She shot him a quick look. “Mandy.”

“Yes, ma’am, Mandy. And I’m Joshua.”

“Touché, Joshua. Daniel, would you hold his legs?”

Daniel got in position as Mandy cleaned the wound again.

Thaddeus sucked in a deep breath when she began working on him. She studied the position of the bullet, remembered what she knew of physiology and then said a quick prayer. She heard Daniel murmur at Jones’ feet and knew he was doing the same.

When she began cutting, Thaddeus stuffed part of the handkerchief in his mouth. Still she could hear his cries of pain through the cloth. Joshua was talking to him, reassuring his friend. Even so, she was relieved when he passed out.

“Take that out of his mouth. I don’t want him choking to death before I’m done,” Mandy ordered. It didn’t take very long to dig the bullet out. There was more blood than she would have liked, but not unexpected. Again, she washed the area around the wound and bound his leg up, making sure to bind up the entry wound as well as the place where she had extracted the bullet. Finally she was done.

“I’ll clean up, Mandy, why’nt you go lay down a while,” Daniel said softly, massaging her stiff shoulders.

“No, I’ll rest in the rocker and watch him for a few minutes,” she replied. Her back ached fiercely and her feet were numb.

“I’ll dish you up some stew,” Daniel told her. His eyes were troubled.

She nodded. “The others are probably hungry, too.”

 

 Heyes sat near the Kid, listening and watching but not saying anything. It seemed they had managed to get themselves into a royal maelstrom this time, but there was nothing to be done about it now. From the way the storm was developing, they’d probably be here for at least a week. He wondered if the Woodburn’s had enough to feed four other people. Daniel handed him a bowl of savory smelling stew and a spoon.

“We normally have some bread to go with this, but we’re kind of low on flour,” Daniel told him, partially answering Heyes’ unasked question.

“Thanks, I appreciate you sharing what you have.” Heyes lowered his voice. “Do you have enough for all of us?” Woodburn hesitated. Heyes noticed that he was a little younger than he was; maybe middle twenties. His face seemed openly honest and without any kind of deviousness.  It was obvious he was very much in love with his wife.

“I’m only asking because with four extra mouths to feed for however long this storm lasts, you’ll need extra food.”

“Well, we have some grub set aside; what’s left of a couple of deer I shot, bags of beans and rice, one bag of flour, few cans of that new fangled milk.” He looked uncertain.

“If you want more meat, there’s my horse that was shot out from under me about a quarter mile back. And my friend’s horse was lame; it’s probably not much further. May even be dead by now, too. No need for the coyotes to get it all.”

Daniel looked toward the door and then to Mandy. “Can’t leave Mandy. She’s due anytime.”

Heyes nodded, but didn’t say anything. He knew Jackson had been listening and realized of the two detectives, he was the smartest. He was also the one who didn’t have a mean streak like the other one. Dedicated, yes; mean, no.

“You know, Mr. Woodburn, Heyes is right. You all are goin’ to be needin’ more meat, with all of us holed up here for a while. One of us could go out and get what we can tomorrow, while the other stands guard.” Jackson paused. “Course, needs to be two men out there.” He looked meaningfully at Heyes. “And you know where the horses are.”

“Yes, I do. If the snow hasn’t drifted too much to find the dead one. The live one?” He shrugged. “If he’s still alive, shouldn’t be hard to find. Don’t think he was moving around much.”

“By morning, might be debatable, but it’s worth a try. Meat’s meat,” Jackson said. “Now that you’ve eaten, I think I need to let you know that you’ll be tied up during the night, Heyes.”

“Smith,” Heyes insisted.

Jackson just chuckled. “If you insist.”

“You think I’d run out on my friend? In this weather?”

Now Jackson shrugged. “I have a job, Heyes” As Heyes began to protest the detective waved him off. “Smith. Regardless, I have a job to do and I’m going to do it.”

Heyes just sighed.  If he had a nickel for every time he and the Kid had been tied up in the past couple of years, they could have been living high in Mexico right now. Where it was warm. “You don’t take much stock in my loyalty to my friend, do you?”

“I think you’re loyal, all right, but I take more stock in my orders. Allowed me to keep my job all these years. So I’d suggest you take care of any needs before you sack out.”

Heyes didn’t say anything. He turned his attention to the Kid. Curry seemed to be fairly comfortable right now. His breathing was even. The bandage only showed a small amount of blood. Heyes had to hand it to Mandy, she was good. Glancing up, he saw that Mandy was watching him. “He seems to be doing good, Mandy,” he told her.

“He’ll need something to drink during the night any time he’s awake. Some of the broth from the stew, if he can stomach it.”

Heyes smiled. “I can almost guarantee his appetite will be the first thing to recover. I can sleep here, if it won’t be in the way,” he suggested. “And take care of Thaddeus.” She looked ready to protest. “You need your sleep, Mandy. For the baby.”

She finally nodded. “We can set up a pallet for you.”

“I brought my bed roll. That will be enough. I can stoke the fire through the night.” Even though he meant every word in an unaltruistic way, Heyes didn’t think there was harm in making himself temporarily indispensable to the family. So it was that he carried in firewood from the porch under the watchful eye of Jacob Ford. It was during the last load the Kid finally began waking up. Hannibal finished stacking the wood, while Mandy sat on the hearth, watching.

Heyes filled a mug with water and sat down beside his partner. Curry continued his journey to awareness. “Bout time you came back to life, Thaddeus.”

“You raised in a barn?” Curry muttered, not opening his eyes.

“As a matter of fact, mmm, yes. At least part of the time. So were you.”

The Kid appraised him. He didn’t say anything, but his gaze locked on the mug Heyes was holding. “Any chance…?” With Hannibal helping, he almost drained the mug before lying back down with a contented sigh. “Thanks.”

Somehow, Heyes figured it could have been bathwater and it would have tasted good.  “How are you feeling?”

“Sore as hell, but better. Feel weaker than a newborn kitten.” He was having trouble keeping his eyes open. He yawned. Before drifting off again, he murmured, “Mandy did a bang up job.”

“Why thank you, Thaddeus,” Mandy replied, smiling tiredly.

Curry cracked open one eye and returned the smile. Then he was asleep.

“Not to be bossy, Mandy, but I think you should follow his example,” Heyes suggested.

“And I think you’re right.” She got up stiffly and made her way to the bedroom. Daniel followed her, closing the door behind them.

Heyes placed another log on the fireplace and spread out his blanket. 

Jackson came over with a length of rope.

“You know, it’s going to be hard to tend the fire if I’m all trussed up,” Heyes pointed out.

“Not going to tie your feet. And we’ll be taking turns keeping an eye on you two, so we can stoke up the fire occasionally,” Jackson pointed out.

“You truss me up at all and I hope it’s more than occasionally.”

Jackson just chuckled. “Quit your jawing. At least you’re closer to the fire.”

Heyes wasn’t going to point out that Jackson and his partner had heavier bedrolls than he did. He just held out his hands, wrists together. The detective tied his hands in such a way that he would be able to put a log on the fire, but not much else. Resigned to his fate, he lay down near the Kid and tried to get warm.

 

Heyes woke up feeling chilled, but knew instantly that the cold wasn’t the reason for his wakefulness. The room was lit only by the light of the fire. He sat up, looking around, first at the Kid, then the rest of the room. That was when he noticed the line of light under Mandy and Daniel’s room. It was from there he heard moaning, soft at first and then louder. That was what had awakened him, thinking the Kid was having problems. Realization dawned on him now. Mandy was having her baby.  An icy chill raced through him and his mind reverted to the past.

He remembered his cousin, Sarah, his mother’s sister’s daughter.  She and her husband, Samuel had taken him in when no one else could or would. That was where he had bonded with Jedediah.  He was their only son, third child in a family of four, but he was the closest in age to Hannibal.  For a year, they had been inseparable.  Even then, he had been the one with the plans, and he and the Kid carried them out. Heyes was the one who had begun calling Jedediah, Kid. Looking several years younger than his actual age, gangly and only semi-coordinated, Kid had been the perfect lackey for his schemes at first.  That quickly changed, though, and even to this day, Heyes couldn’t pin-point what the change was or how it came about. The Kid became his partner, confidant . . . and friend. They fought like brothers, loved each other like brothers and played pranks on each other and on the rest of the family.  Life was idyllic for that year. Heyes thought it would last forever.

Long before she should have, Sarah was gone, dying having a baby the midwives said was too big for her. Just like his mother had been jerked out of his life when he was eight.  It had been a blow to the fourteen-year that had been difficult to overcome. It had been even worse for the Kid.

Cousin Samuel had changed after that. He was moody and easily angered. Thankfully, he hadn’t taken to the bottle like Hannibal’s father had, but he was either working or sleeping. There was less time for pranks, no time for school except in the dead of winter. The girls kept the house going and took care of the youngest child. Heyes and the Kid worked the stock and in the fields.  When there wasn’t work on his farm, Samuel hired them out to other ranchers. It was during that time Kid realized he had an excellent eye, especially with a gun.

When Heyes was eighteen and the Kid sixteen, they left, deciding if they were old enough to be hired out for pay, they were old enough to get that pay for themselves.  There had only been a few times they had not worked together. One of those was when Heyes had learned the monetary benefits of robbing banks and holding up trains with Plummer. When Hannibal had formed his own gang, Kid eagerly joined him, becoming his right hand man. Big boy games where you played for keeps….

A loud cry brought Heyes back from his memories. He sat up against the hearth and stared at the door.

“Joshua,” Kid whispered. “It’s all right. She’ll be all right.” There was a painful hiss of breath and Curry was sitting next to him.

“How are you feeling?” Heyes whispered back.

“Felt a hell of a lot better.”

“You thirsty?”

“Yeah.”

Heyes reached around for the mug he had refilled and then jerked up short when his bound hands restricted him. With a soft curse, he maneuvered his body and got the mug.

“You tied up?” Curry asked as he took the mug.

“What do you think?”

There was no answer, only the sound of the mug being drained.

“Can’t refill it until it gets light,” Heyes muttered.  “And when my hands are untied.”

“That’s all right. This helped a lot.”

They sat in silence, listening to the sounds in the bedroom for a long time. The moaning came more often now, but no louder. Heyes felt the Kid tense next to him, but he still said nothing. They heard Mandy giving instructions to Daniel in between her labor pains; they heard him reassuring her. Heyes felt Curry lean against him, relaxing a little.

“She’s going to be all right,” Curry murmured sleepily.

“Yeah, I think she is, too.”

As Kid’s head lolled on his shoulder, Heyes heard the soft crying of a baby.

 Curry jerked awake. “Did you hear that?”

“Yep. Mandy and Daniel have a baby. Wonder what it is?”

“They’ll tell us soon enough,” Jackson growled. “Shut up so we can sleep.”

“Any way you could get my friend something to drink?” Heyes asked.  “I’m a little tied up at the moment.”

“Very funny,” Jackson snapped.

 The plank door burst open and light silhouetted Daniel. “It’s a boy!” he cried. “We have a little boy!”

“Is Mandy all right?” Heyes asked, hoping for a break from his depressing recollections.

“Tired, but fine. I have to get some water and clean cloths.”

“Would you like some help, Daniel?” Heyes asked. Woodburn looked hesitant. “Gathering what you need, that is.”

Daniel nodded, then noticed Hannibal’s hands. “How?”

Heyes bit off a caustic answer. “Sorry, forgot.”

“I can help you, Mr. Woodburn,” Jackson offered.  “What do you want me to get for you?”

Daniel told him and Jackson gathered the supplies.  He handed them to the new father and the bedroom door closed again. Jackson grunted and filled the mug with water from a wooden bucket sitting near the door. He also threw another log on the fire.

“Thanks,” Heyes said. The Kid was back on his bedroll, curled up asleep, but he’d want the water when he woke up.

 Jackson set down a bowl near Heyes’ leg. “He might want some stew when he wakes up.”

“Appreciate it, Mr. Jackson.”

 Jackson muttered again and then chuckled. “Now you have your water. Go to sleep.”

Heyes grinned. To the backdrop of small sounds from the bedroom, he lay back down, curled up in his blanket. His back was to his partner’s and he felt the warmth of Curry’s body.  It wasn’t the warmth of fever, thank goodness. After listening to Jacob’s intermittent snoring for a while, Heyes drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, the happy father showed off his new son. He seemed too tiny to Heyes, but he knew the baby really wasn’t. The infant sighed, blinked in the light and made little baby sounds. “What are you naming him?” Heyes asked.

Daniel shrugged. “We haven’t decided on a name yet. When Mandy is rested.” Daniel took the baby back into the bedroom.

Jackson made breakfast. After his hands were untied, Heyes made coffee and set the table. The Kid woke up with a groan. He sat up carefully, favoring his injured leg, and rubbed his eyes. “I had the most realistic dream,” he began.

“Wasn’t a dream,” Heyes said, pouring another cup of coffee. “Want a cup?”

Kid Curry nodded.  “How do you know?”

“Know what?”

“What my dream was about.”

“You dreamed you heard a baby.”  Heyes looked smug as he handed his partner the mug. “You actually did hear a baby. Mandy had a baby boy. You missed Daniel bringing him out and showing him off.”

“What did they name him?”

Heyes shrugged as he lay out the mismatched plates. “Didn’t say.” He filled a plate at the stove and brought it to Curry. “Enjoy. Not as good as Mandy’s I’ll wager, but better than what I could have cooked.”

The Kid grinned but didn’t say anything. He studied the plate in his lap, and then tried the meat and gravy. Apparently, they were satisfactory, because Curry ate a couple more bites in quick succession. Although he didn’t finish all that was on his plate, Curry ate enough to verify Heyes’ statement about his friend’s appetite. The Kid was yawning by the time he had eaten all he wanted.

Jackson didn’t waste any time going out for the horses. Reluctantly, Heyes pulled on his coat and gloves.

“You try anything, I’ll shoot ya before you get two steps,” Jackson warned him.

Heyes shot him a disgusted look. “You already know my disposition on that. I don’t abandon my friends.”

Jackson shrugged. “Like I said, doin’ my job. Let’s see if we can get that meat in here.”

The snow had eased up to a few flurries, although the wind kicked up from time to time, blowing dry powder into their faces and down their necks. Heyes didn’t think he’d ever be warm again. It took them two hours to cover the ground to Heyes’ dead animal, part of that time spent digging through drifts trying to find the carcass. It was a set of tracks that finally told them where the horse was. Probably coyote, thought Heyes. Regardless, the carcass was too heavy and frozen for them to drag to the cabin.

“Well,” Jackson mused. “Let’s mark this one and find the Kid’s horse.”

“Thaddeus’ horse,” Heyes corrected.

Jackson snorted. From the look on Jackson’s face, he realized the detective figured it to be a game and was willing to play along. “Let’s get going.” He looked toward the sky. “Looks like the sun might actually come out later.”

It was mid-afternoon before they located the lame horse. It had traveled down to the valley floor before collapsing and dying. Heyes stuck his hands under his armpits and tried to coax some warmth into them. Nothing but more cold seeped through his coat to his stiff, gloved hands. They marked that horse as the wind began to pick up. Jackson made sure the stick was tall enough to show even through a drift. He didn’t say anything but motioned for Heyes to follow him back to the cabin. When they got back, Daniel and Ford had prepared a hot meal. For several moments he could only hold the bowl of soup, letting its heat thaw half-frozen fingers.

The next day Jackson took an ax and they managed to hack off a haunch from each horse. They were back at the cabin by mid-afternoon.  The Kid was more alert, and Heyes knew he was chafing over his confinement.

“Even though it’s not snowing anymore, it’s colder than . . . uh, well, it’s cold,” Jackson declared. “Still don’t know how long we’re going to be here. At least until Jones is well enough to ride. That means we need that horse meat out there.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I know you want to stay with your wife, Mr. Woodburn, but it’s going to take all four of us to get those carcasses back here.”

Daniel blanched and shook his head. He glanced meaningfully at the Kid, sitting on the hearth.

“I’ll make sure he’s tied up before we leave, and with four of us, we shouldn’t be out all day.”

Daniel shook his head. “I know you need the help, but….”

“Your wife is gettin’ around pretty good now; the baby’s doing good, too.”

“I’ll be all right, Daniel,” Mandy assured him. She was sitting in the rocking chair with the baby. “We have to have the meat—for all of us.”

He sighed and nodded.

So it was the next morning, Curry sat in front of the fireplace, his hands bound in front of him. He watched the others as they trudged out the door. The cold wind that had blown in reminded him that he was the lucky one, but the dull throbbing in his leg had him reconsidering.

“If you can, bar the door when we leave,” Daniel reminded him.

Heyes came back and helped the Kid to his feet. “You make it there and back all right?”

Curry nodded. “I walked more’n a quarter of a mile with a bullet in me. Think I can do this.” After he had barred the door, he looked around restlessly. His leg ached fiercely, but it was getting better. He was still abominably tired and always thirsty, but he ignored both as he slowly made his way back to the fireplace. It seemed too cold. Mandy had told him that was another sign he had lost a great deal of blood. He pushed the chairs in and looked at the dishes left on the table. Daniel had made sure everything had been cleaned up and put away yesterday, but had rushed everyone out of the cabin this morning. Guess it would be hard to leave a newborn son, the Kid thought.

He picked up several dishes and took them to the sideboard. The utensils followed. By then his leg muscles were twitching in exhaustion.  His body craved rest. Disgusted, Curry headed back to the hearth. Just as he was sitting down, he heard the creak of a door and he saw Mandy come out of the bedroom. Her son was in her arms. She gazed around the room, first at the barred door and then at him. Mandy seemed very nervous. Probably she was worried about Daniel being away. Then it dawned on him. She was afraid of him!

“Mandy, I won’t hurt you.” He held up his bound hands. “I couldn’t if I wanted to, which I don’t.”

“I know, Thaddeus; that’s not it.” Her eyes settled on the stack of dishes on the sideboard.

He followed her gaze. “I’m sorry. I’m going to do them, but I had to take a break.

She shook her head. “No, you aren’t. I didn’t say too much at the time, but you were in pretty rough shape when I took that bullet out. I almost didn’t do it because I knew you had already lost a lot of blood.”

“I’m better now, thanks to you. But you just had a baby!” he tried to argue, but her soft laugh cut him off.

“Thaddeus, we are a fine pair, aren’t we?”

He had to grin in agreement.

“I believe I am in better shape than you are. The baby came easy and Daniel’s been waiting on me hand and foot the past couple of days.” She shook her head as she considered the mess. “Lord bless him, but I don’t know how he made out the year after his wife died.”

“I’d still like to help you if I could.” He studied his tied hands.  “I swear I won’t try to get away or hurt you or the baby.”

“I thought there was no honor among thieves.” There was no smile now.

“You’d be surprised,” he blurted and realized his blunder. He mentally kicked himself.

Mandy walked over to the sideboard and with her free hand, dug through a deep drawer. When she straightened up she held a carving knife. “Hold out your hands, Thaddeus.”

She sawed through the ropes and he rubbed his wrists. She was showing a great deal of trust putting away the knife where he could see it. She couldn’t know if he would keep his word or not. Somehow, he thought she did. “Thanks.”

“Thaddeus, will you answer a question for me?”

“If I can.”

“Why would someone want to rob a bank?”

He mentally kicked himself with the other leg. What could he say? It had been glorious those first months and years. Success after success after success. “I guess it’s to prove you’re smarter or quicker. Maybe more….”

“Powerful?”

He shrugged and almost said he wouldn’t know, but he couldn’t lie to Mandy. The blue eyes reminded him of his older sister’s and ultimately, his mother’s.  “I guess.” He was still trying to define how he had felt all those years ago—how they had felt. He and Heyes had exulted in their ability to take down the rich big wigs. It had been equally exulting to outsmart, outride and just plain get one over on those who had always been telling them what to do.

“Thaddeus?”

“Yes?”

“Are you the outlaw Kid Curry?”

Again it would have been easier to lie to her, but just like before, he could not do it.  Not only did he feel she trusted him, but he trusted her as well. He and Heyes had seen so much and gone through so many situations in the past two years that he knew he wasn’t the same carefree and egotistical kid he had been when they had ridden out of Kansas.  He nodded. “My name is Jedediah Curry.”

“Thank you for your confidence, Thaddeus.” She was sitting in the rocker, gently rocking the baby. He began fussing and she threw her shawl over her shoulder. “Will this bother you? I can go in the bedroom to feed him.”

He did feel a little uncomfortable, but he wasn’t about to inconvenience her. “No, Mandy, you go right ahead.” He leaned back against the stone fireplace. He noticed that Mandy continued to call him Thaddeus. “For what it’s worth, I never killed a man except in self-defense.”

“But why rob a bank at all? Why do something where you might have to kill someone?”

Curry remembered Hannibal’s comment some time back. “Banks are where the money is.”

“Didn’t you think about the people who might have had their money there?”

“No, I guess we didn’t; at least not until after we decided it was too dangerous to keep robbing them.” He wondered if Mandy had had money in a bank that was robbed. That thought gave him a pang of guilt and he realized how self-centered his statement was. Of course, that was exactly why he and Heyes had decided to go for amnesty.

“So you haven’t robbed anyone lately?”

He shook his head. “Not for almost two years. We really are trying to go straight.”

She concentrated on feeding the baby, while Kid thought about what she had said. What about all those they had robbed? Was there total amnesty when someone’s life savings might have been wiped out in one night’s work? They had given some of the money to those who were worse off, but they had also lived high at times, too. In the end, they hadn’t had anything to live on except what they had earned during their amnesty. Near the end, there just hadn’t seemed to be enough.

“You can help me, Thaddeus,” Mandy broke into his reverie.

Curry was glad to leave his thoughts behind. That kind of introspection had come more often lately and it wasn’t comfortable. When he looked up, he saw Mandy holding out the baby for him to take. He gaped at her in surprise. After what he had told her….

“You have held a baby before, haven’t you?” The question was asked seriously, but her eyes were crinkled with humor.

“You want me . . . I mean, you trust me to . . . take care of . . . to hold your baby?”

“Just make sure you support his head,” Mandy instructed him.

And with that Curry had a baby in his arms. He gazed into the new, pink face. The baby opened his eyes and looked sleepily at him. “What did you decide to name him?”

“I want to name him Daniel, but Daniel doesn’t want to.”

Little Daniel, if the name held, stuck a fist into his mouth. He sucked on it noisily and then waved his slobbery fingers in the air. Curry thought his little sister might have a baby this age by now. He had no idea how many nieces and nephews he had. The last time he had made contact, a bounty hunter tried to use that to trap him. So other than a hasty note to each sister at Christmas, he had simply stopped any contact at all.

Christmas! It was close to Christmas and he hadn’t sent anything. He saw Mandy setting dishes in a washtub on the sideboard. She poured bacon grease into a tin can and wiped crumbs off the counter.

 “What day is it?” he asked.

Mandy stopped and thought a moment. “Why, I believe it’s only a few days before Christmas.”

“Maybe they’ll bring in a Christmas tree on the way back,” Curry suggested facetiously. He ran a finger gently down one cheek, under his chin and up the other side of the baby’s face. The infant gurgled and yawned again. Kid brushed the feather light hair to one side. The baby’s hand reached for his finger. He hung on for a minute and then let go. “You’re a strong little rascal, aren’t you?” he murmured with a smile. The baby hiccupped and then settled down. Soon he was sound asleep.

“Do you have children of your own, Thaddeus?”

“No. How can I have children when I’m always on the run?” Curry suddenly felt as though he was deprived of something special. He squelched a sudden pang of jealousy for Daniel.

“I always feel as though I’m looking over my shoulder. I sometimes wonder about the little one and how unfair I have been to bring him into a world of fear.”

“Martin?” Curry asked, leaning back against the hearth with the baby still sleeping in his arms.

“Yes.”

Curry decided to ask a question of his own. It was something that had bothered him since Mandy’s outburst the first night. “Why would someone beat up a woman?” It was almost totally unheard of.

“I don’t know and he didn’t before we were married.”

“Why would he hire Bannerman detectives to find you?”

“And Daniel?” she added. “Most likely for revenge.”

“Revenge? Against you or Daniel?”

“Probably both. You don’t know Martin, Thaddeus. He can be so smooth he can charm the spots off a leopard and the leopard would thank him. When we met I thought him the most wonderful man on earth. We married in Ft. Collins and he took me to his ranch across the border. It wasn’t what I had expected, but he promised he’d fix it up, make it a palace.”

She shook her head. “When I asked about cleaning out the well, I got the first lesson in what a monster he is. I stopped asking about anything, but that didn’t stop his ‘punishments.’ If I didn’t cook the meat enough or I cooked it too much. I couldn’t satisfy him in anything.” She wiped her eyes with her apron.

“Mandy….” Curry began.

She shook her head. “We’ve been hiding for eight months. Daniel has done his best to try and protect me and the baby. It’s all for nothing. I’ll have to go back to him.”

Curry looked around, wishing he had his gun. His leg might be bummed up, but he could still shoot. “Mandy, something will work out.”

It was as though she hadn’t heard him. “He’ll find out the baby is his and he’ll be even more furious.”

The Kid’s mind was reeling. He looked down at the baby and then back at her.

“That’s what makes Daniel’s sacrifice so wonderful. He not only is willing to try and protect me, but the baby, too. He wants to raise him as his own son. And what’s most remarkable is that Daniel’s something of a pacifist.”

“How did he come into the picture?” Curry bit his lip. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t pry like that.”

“No, that’s all right, Thaddeus. It’s only right. I’ve asked you personal questions.” She took a deep breath. “Daniel had paid for some land out west of Evansdale and was coming out to see what he’d paid for. He was staying with a cousin of his just outside of town. I finally had enough with Martin. I knew I was pregnant.” She laughed. “I knew because I was sick enough to die, but I was afraid to tell him. It became unbearable, trying to keep him happy, or at least happy enough to leave me alone. I snuck out one night and walked toward town. I was going to see the sheriff. I was going to try and find someone to take me home—anything to get away. I think it was near dawn. I don’t remember much of that night, except walking, being sick and walking some more.

“Didn’t have any shoes, but I quit feeling my feet, too. I found Daniel’s cousin’s barn and collapsed in an empty stall. Daniel found me in the morning. He thought I was dead at first but I woke up enough to beg him not to take me to the doctor. As it turned out the doctor was tending to people up north anyway. He and his cousin and his cousin’s wife took care of me that first week when I didn’t know if it was day or night.” She looked up alarmed. “I hope they’re all right. I hope he hasn’t done anything to them.”

Curry couldn’t offer much of anything about the cousin. “I’m sure his cousin’s fine. Forewarned is forearmed, I think the saying goes. But, it’s too bad you weren’t able to see the doctor. He probably could have helped verify your case.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think even that would have mattered.”

“Why not?” Curry looked down at the baby who was making tiny sucking noises in his sleep.

“Because the circuit judge was an old drinking buddy of Martin’s. They had served together in the Indian wars and had even known each other before then.”

Kid groaned. “So that’s why he wouldn’t grant your divorce.”

“He ordered me to go back to Martin like a good wife. Basically, he said I belonged to my husband. By then Daniel had fallen in love with me and I was beginning to fall in love with him, even though I knew it would be dangerous. He finally talked me into going to the preacher who married Martin and me.” A single tear slid down her cheek. “Preacher Thomas believed me. Some of my bruises were still evident, even after a month, and my arm and ribs were still not completely healed. He signed a paper of annulment and sent a copy to Evansdale courthouse and to the state capital. Then he married us. Bless him, he said it would probably have to be done again after everything was straightened out, but he felt it was the right thing to do, especially me carrying a baby. We knew we were going to have to go into hiding.”

“I know someone who might be able to help,” Curry ventured. It was a long shot.

Hope gleamed in Mandy’s eyes. “Who?”

“A U.S. marshal named Lom Trevors. He’s the one who’s been helping us try for amnesty.”

“Will he be able to get you and your partner out of this mess?” she asked, as though ready to change the subject.

Curry shook his head. “As long as we stayed out of trouble and weren’t caught, there was hope. But since we’ve been caught….  At least he can try to help you.”

It had gotten cold all of a sudden and the Kid glanced at the fire. There was no flame. Curry felt a draft coming down the chimney. There were only a few more small logs to go on the fire. “Mandy, you take the baby. I’ll go get some more wood.”

“I can.” She started to get up.

“No, this time I can do it. You rest. I want to get rid of a little of this stiffness anyway.”

“Just enough to get by until the others get back. You need to stay off that leg as much as you can for a couple more days,” Mandy admonished him.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a grin as she took the baby. “He sure is a good baby. Takes after his mama.”

Mandy blushed and blinked away more tears. “That is kind of you, Thaddeus.”

He pushed to his feet and felt the muscles in his leg pull. The pain wasn’t too bad and he slowly limped to the door. He shoved on his boots and put his coat on. The hat and gloves stayed. He wouldn’t be out there long anyway. Curry slid back the bar and opened the door just enough to slip out. Wood was stacked to the roof on one side of the porch and halfway up on the other side. He pulled a few smaller logs off the shorter stack and limped back into the cabin. He set them on the hearth and headed out to get another armful. Kid felt the wind blow a few flakes of dry snow in his face. It may not have snowed in the past two days, but it was still cold enough to freeze your fingers to a pump handle.

He had several sticks of wood in his arms when he felt something nearby. Before he could turn to look, the hard muzzle of a gun poked hard against his side. A harsh voice growled in his ear. “Inside, Woodburn.”

Curry’s mind raced. This could only be Martin Crenshaw and he had mistaken him for Daniel. He was sure as soon as Crenshaw saw his face, he’d know. If he only had his pistol. But he didn’t. Kid thought furiously. Crenshaw had waited until his arms had been full. Did he know the others were gone?

“Go inside, sissy boy,” Crenshaw growled. “And don’t try to tell me there’s more’n you and that slut in there.”

Throw him off, Kid thought. “But there is,” he said matter-of-factly.

The gun poked harder. “I counted them on the trail. Two lawmen and those outlaws. Ain’t no more’n you and her. Git in there!”

Limping, Curry got in.

Mandy was standing in the doorway to the bedroom, white-faced. Her eyes showed abject terror. Thankfully, she had put the baby to bed.

Curry mouthed the word ‘gun’. Her eyes showed understanding but she shook her head, a movement so slight he almost missed it. She had said Daniel was a pacifist so there wouldn’t be anything other than the rifle he shot game with. He had taken that with him.

“Dump the wood and turn around. I want to look at you as I kill you.”

“No!” Mandy cried out. “No, Martin, please!”

“Shut up, you whore. I’ll take care of you later.”

Curry felt his aching leg begin a drum-like cadence that went all the way to his head. He dumped the wood and turned to face Mandy’s tormentor.  Time to try another tactic. “Hello, Mr. Crenshaw. Glad to meet you!” Curry thrust out his hand. He succeeded in surprising the man but only for the space of a few heartbeats.

“You’re not Woodburn!”

“No, sir, I’m not. Name’s Kid Curry.”

Crenshaw didn’t take his hand; he exploded. With lightning speed, he swung his free hand and almost slapped the Kid off his feet. Curry had been waiting for such a move, even if Crenshaw was faster than he expected. Kid grabbed Martin’s gun hand and shoved it down. The pistol went off and a slug hit the plank floor a couple of inches from his foot. Crenshaw’s arm seemed as though it was made of iron. He slammed a fist in Kid’s ribs and the pistol hand flew toward his head. Crenshaw almost connected but Kid’s instincts were intact enough for him to duck. He received only a glancing blow. Now if the hunting party was close enough to hear the shot….

Crenshaw lashed out with his foot. It connected with Curry’s injured leg. The pain was intense and he almost went down. There was another heavy blow to his ribs and this time Curry did fall. The world seemed to turn inside out and then it cleared a little. Kid grabbed Crenshaw around his knees and tried to pull him down. With little effort, Crenshaw wrenched out of his grasp and grabbed Curry by the front of his shirt. He hauled the Kid to his feet and threw him halfway across the room against a wooden cabinet. The doors caved in. Broken wood dug into his already aching body as he slid to the floor. Darkness flooded over him and Curry tried desperately to cling to consciousness.

A kick to his side drove shock waves through his body, but instead of sending him further into unconsciousness, it jolted him awake. Curry was aware of pain that ran up and down his body but he was more aware of something hard under his shoulder; something that had a familiar feel and shape. He was also aware of Crenshaw’s voice. “I’ll come back for you later, Curry, after I take care of my darling wife.” He laughed. “There’s no more to you than there is to that sissy boy who stole Mandy from me!”  There was the thumping of his boots away from him.

The Kid took a chance and cracked open an eye. Crenshaw was standing at the sideboard, holding up the knife Mandy had used to cut his ropes and muttering to himself. Curry only caught snippets of his words. “Much better . . . than a bullet. Make her pay….” Crenshaw started toward the bedroom.

“Please, Martin. Don’t do this!” Mandy cried out.

There was the sound of a slap on the other side of the room. As carefully as he could, Kid rolled over. He bit his lip against the pain. There were more sounds of slapping, hitting and punching. Crenshaw had dragged Mandy into the bedroom. It sounded like he had thrown her against something, too. She screamed. Curry reached beneath him and found what he had been looking for. It was his gun. He checked and saw that there were three bullets in the chamber. Good.

His leg was bleeding again, but he ignored it. He tasted blood in his mouth. Curry tried to speed his body up, but he felt like he was wading through molasses.  Crenshaw was slapping Mandy again. Damn, why can’t I move faster? Some other piece of furniture crashed apart. More hitting sounds and Mandy cried out for him to stop. The baby began to cry.

There was a short silence and then Crenshaw’s cursing redoubled in ferocity. “That sissy mama didn’t waste no time!” he roared.

“Don’t hurt him, Martin. For the love of God, don’t hurt him.” More scuffling.

Curry wasn’t all the way to his feet; he couldn’t make it to his feet, but he called out anyway. “Crenshaw, you sorry excuse for a man. Get out here and dish it out to someone a little closer to your size!” He thumbed the safety off and aimed where he felt the bigger man would appear. Mandy screamed again.

Crenshaw appeared in the doorway, his arm around Mandy’s neck, holding her in front of him.  He had a leering grin on his face. His gun was in its holster, but the knife was near the base of Mandy’s throat. She was bleeding from numerous cuts on her face and torso. There were bruises already showing on her arms. Mandy mouthed two words.

Curry knew what she was saying but he had never taken a shot like this before. What if he missed? What if he killed her instead? He dropped the muzzle slightly.

‘Do it!’ she mouthed again.  ‘Do it.’

Crenshaw laughed hysterically, sure of his triumph. “Watch me kill my slut of a wife, Curry and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it!”

Everything that happened next occurred in the space of only a few heartbeats.  The knife moved up her throat as though in preparation for Mandy’s execution. Curry fired. Mandy jerked away from Crenshaw, the knife scoring a thin line across her throat. He was still standing, still brandishing the knife, still snarling invectives, despite the fact that one side of his face was a gory mess. When Mandy was totally clear of him, Curry fired again, a clean shot to the heart. This time Crenshaw collapsed into a bloody heap.

Mandy staggered back against the doorway, her eyes fixed on Crenshaw’s body. The baby was no longer screaming.

Curry was able to hold on to a chair as he pulled himself up. “Go take care of him, Mandy. Close the door so you don’t have to see any more,” he said softly.

She rushed into the bedroom but didn’t close the door.

The Kid started shaking and he sat down on the chair that had held him up for those few seconds. The gun was still clutched in his hand. When the others came . . . couldn’t have it in his hand.  He willed his fingers to relax enough for it to drop to the floor. He had made the shot….  .  Less than an inch from her face. What if? But he hadn’t….  He had done it….Mandy . . . the baby.

 

Mandy couldn’t hear anything at first and her heart clutched at the thought that Martin might have killed her son when he kicked the cradle over. Her head felt as though someone was bouncing up and down on it. The pain in her wrist told her it was at least sprained, but that wasn’t important. The baby; he was important. She heard whimpering and carefully pulled back the blankets. As soon as he was uncovered, he began crying. She picked him up and held him close to her chest with her good hand. He seemed all right.

Mandy took in a shuddering breath. How could Martin have gotten here with all that snow and cold? He had traveled on a path of pure hate. He had come here to kill Daniel and her, too. If he had gotten his way, he’d have killed the baby as well. She realized that was the only reason he had paid detectives to find her. So he could come after her. Thaddeus had saved them. Thaddeus!

At that moment, she heard the door crash open and Daniel calling for her. “I’m in the bedroom. We’re safe.”

 

Jackson and Ford had tried to get through the door first, but Woodburn and then Heyes were faster. The Kid was in a chair facing a corpse on the floor. There was a gun laying at his feet.  “Thaddeus? You all right?”

The two detectives had their guns out, one pointed at him, but Heyes made no move for the Kid’s pistol. Woodburn was already in the bedroom.

“How the hell did he get that gun?” Ford asked.

“Thaddeus! Can you hear me?” Heyes saw that the Kid’s leg was bleeding again. Blood trickled down one side of his face.  To put it bluntly, he looked like he’d been in a stampede.

Curry shuddered and stirred. He focused on his cousin’s eyes. “He cut her up. He was going to kill her. I couldn’t . . . let him . . . kill her.” There was sobbing in the bedroom that was almost as loud as the baby’s crying had been.

“Thaddeus? Thaddeus!” Heyes called out as Curry slumped into his arms. 

“I’d still like to know how he got the gun!” Ford insisted as he picked up the weapon.

Heyes eased the Kid to the floor and began an examination, hoping he would find nothing serious. Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any evidence of gunshot wounds. When he pulled off Curry’s coat and shirt, he could see bruises forming. 

Jackson examined the body and the knife that was still clutched in Crenshaw’s dead fingers. He turned and studied the rest of the room before his eyes rested on Curry. “Find anything, Smith?”

Heyes nodded. “I think Crenshaw worked him over.”

“Pretty sure he did. Suspect he shoved him into the cabinet. That’s how Jones got his gun.”

“How in the devil could Crenshaw have gotten here through this snow?” Heyes asked.

“Hasn’t actually snowed in the past couple of days. The others must’ve told him in Evansdale what we had found. If he rode a horse into the ground to get here, it’s possible,” Jackson surmised. “Can get here in a day. You and your partner did.”

“True. And we killed two horses doing it.”

“Injuries?”

“Can’t tell for sure, but think he may have cracked ribs. And his leg’s bleeding again. Other than that, I don’t know.”  Heyes became aware of the noises in the back room again. “How’s Mrs. Woodburn?”

Almost on cue, Daniel appeared at the door and stared down at Crenshaw’s body. “It’s a good thing your friend killed him,” he said to Heyes. “Because I would have if he hadn’t.”

There was a fierce look in Daniel’s eyes that made Heyes really glad Woodburn was on his side. “Is Mandy all right?”

“He beat her as bad as the first time I saw her. Worse. Wrist might be broken.” Daniel’s hands were clenched. He looked at the two detectives. “I’m going to need your help. One of you will have to fix supper and another tend to the baby while I take care of Mandy. He cut her up and she’s bleeding.”

“Ford can cook. I’ll look after the baby. Smith, you take care of your friend,” Jackson ordered.

 

Curry sat at the table, nursing a cup of hot coffee and smelling fresh biscuits just out of the oven and ham frying on the stove. This was the first morning since Crenshaw’s attack he had awakened without a headache. He didn’t even know how many days had passed since Crenshaw’s appearance. His ribs were still sore and his leg ached, but he didn’t feel like a punching bag anymore.

“How are you feeling, pal?” Heyes asked.

“Like I might live.”

Heyes snorted and grinned. “Take more than a hardwood cabinet to cave in that thick skull of yours.”

Jackson sat down with him. “You feel up to telling me your version of what happened now?”

Curry nodded. “As long as breakfast doesn’t get cold.”

“Ford’s giving me the eye,” Heyes commented. “Guess I’d better go help him finish gettin’ the grub fixed. What I wouldn’t give for a fresh egg.”

“Be happy you’re getting ham and not horsemeat,” Jackson replied.

“Special occasion. Merry Christmas,” Heyes countered as he got up.

“It’s Christmas?” Curry asked.

“Yup, now your report?” Jackson prompted.

Curry told him everything, just exactly as he remembered it, only leaving out where he had told Crenshaw his name. He drained the mug of coffee when he finished. It had gotten cold during their conversation, but it was wet.

“Pretty much goes along with Mrs. Woodburn’s report,” Jackson said, finishing his mug. He held out his hand for Curry’s mug and refilled both.

Curry noticed a slight difference in the demeanor of the man and couldn’t tell what it was. He held the refilled mug to his forehead and let its warmth dispel the cold he always seemed to be feeling these days. He wondered how much longer they’d be holed up together and then decided it didn’t matter. In the end they’d be riding back to Evansdale and from there to Cheyenne to stand trial. Somehow, he couldn’t elicit deep feelings about that, either.

“You do know what my conclusion to all this is, don’t you?” Jackson asked softly, breaking into the Kid’s reverie.

Curry shrugged.

“There aren’t many who could make a shot like you did.” Jackson rolled a cigarette nonchalantly.  “Enough to count on one hand, I’d reckon. Heard tell of a girl back east who can shoot a cigarette out of her husband’s fingers.”

“I was lucky,” Kid replied, not really caring about the conversation anymore, especially the direction it seemed to be going. The smell of redeye gravy began to assail his senses and his stomach growled fiercely.

Jackson chuckled. “Luck had nothing to do with it. It only proves what I have known all along.”

Curry didn’t say anything, but he noticed Heyes glancing his way and moving closer.

“Proves you’re Kid Curry.” Jackson licked the cigarette paper and pressed the ends together.  He leaned back to light his cigarette in the fire. “And I’ll be damned sorry to take you two in,” he muttered around the cigarette. Only he and Heyes were close enough to hear.  Ford continued stirring the gravy, seemingly oblivious.

Curry could only stare at the detective in surprise.

“Think the clear weather’s going to hold for a couple more days,” Jackson continued, a bit louder this time. “I’m going to send you back, Jacob, with the body and my report. You can give yours in person.”  Ford gazed at him in disbelief, but didn’t say anything.

At that moment, Daniel and Mandy came in, he carrying the baby. She still looked like death warmed over. Her bruises were all shades, her cuts a map of half-healed scabs on her neck, face and arms. Her wrist was bandaged and her arm in a sling. She walked slowly and deliberately, much like the Kid did when he had moved around the past couple of days.  He suspected she would carry some of the scars to her grave. Curry didn’t feel the least bit sorry for having killed Crenshaw.

The Kid started to stand up, but Daniel motioned him to keep seated. Jackson did get up though and offered Mandy his seat.

She sat down and Daniel handed Curry the baby. This was the first time he had held him since the attack. Mandy had not let the baby out of her sight or reach. Kid wasn’t sure how he was supposed to respond, but his eyes were drawn to the child’s. Like before he ran a finger down one cheek and as before the baby grabbed it. Curry smiled softly, relaxing.

“Daniel and I have decided on our baby’s name,” Mandy said, touching his knee.

Curry looked up and saw her emotion filled eyes locked on his. “I thought you wanted to name him Daniel,” he reminded her.

“We weren’t unanimous about that. We are about this one. We decided to call him Thaddeus,” she announced, her eyes glistening, a soft smile on her lips. “We haven’t quite settled on a middle name, but we’re sure of the first name. His name is Thaddeus Woodburn, in honor of the man who saved our lives.”

“But….”

“Shut up and enjoy the honor,” Heyes interjected from just behind him. Kid glanced up and saw Hannibal had a big grin on his face.

“I knew from the moment Martin appeared that all you wanted to do was to protect me and the baby,” Mandy said.  “It amazes me how many honorable men I’ve met in this short time.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “And I want you to know that I will be at your trial and tell everyone what kind of a person you really are.” She looked up at Heyes. “You, too.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Heyes murmured.

Ford cleared his throat. “Food’s ready.”

After dinner, Daniel Woodburn read the Christmas story from his Bible. It only served to remind Curry of his days back home when his mother was still alive. Looking into Hannibal’s face, he could see the same thing mirrored there.

The next day, Ford rode out, leading a packhorse draped with the half frozen body of Martin Crenshaw. The detective didn’t look happy, but Curry was glad to see him go. He much preferred the company of the older man.

Getting rid of Ford didn’t give the pair more opportunity to plan an escape, though. Jackson was a naturally vigilant man and didn’t leave anything to chance. New Year’s Eve found them both back in the cave mucking out stalls and feeding the livestock. Of course, Jackson had made sure the exit was secure.

Heyes pitched manure on a pile near the outer door. Curry filled a trough with hay. “We need to figure out how to get out of here,” Heyes muttered, only loud enough for the Kid, the cow and horses to hear.

“I gave my word, Heyes.”

Heyes gaped at him. “When was this and are you crazy?”

“It was when you all went out to bring in the dead horses. It was so Mandy would cut me free to help her around the house.”

Heyes chuckled. “A promise to Mandy does not constitute a certified all around promise. You know that!”

Curry didn’t say anything. The silence stretched and lengthened and still Kid kept his thoughts inside.

“Okay, Kid, out with it. What’s eating you? You want to spend the next 20 years in a prison?”

“Of course I don’t,” Curry snapped. “It’s just that….”

“What?” More silence. “Come on, talk to me. You’ve been moping around for the past week.”

“I don’t know, Heyes. It’s confusing. I thought it was all just about staying out of trouble.”

“Huh? Now I’m confused.”

“Staying out of trouble and then we’d get amnesty.”

“Yeah, and your point is, Kid?” Heyes prompted.

“What about all those people that we took money from?”

“Who, the railroad bosses and the bankers?”

“No, the ones who put their money in the banks. Average people like Mandy and Daniel.”

Heyes had nothing to say for a long time. He savagely attacked the pungent pile in front of him. “How the hell do you propose paying all those people back?”

“I don’t know, Heyes. I really don’t.” He paused.

“It wasn’t like we took that money and lived like kings or anything, unlike some of those bank presidents.”

“We enjoyed a great deal of that money, as I recall. But I know what you’re saying.” Curry paused, leaning on his pitchfork. “I miss home, too.” His voice had barely risen above a whisper.

“And how were you going to get there if you’re in a prison? Tell me that!” Heyes caught his voice rising and he brought himself under control. “You are going to drive me crazy, Kid, you know that?” he hissed.

Curry didn’t say anything.

What frustrated Heyes most was the fact that he did understand what the Kid was saying, or at least part of it. But how could someone go back and change what had already happened? Even if they got amnesty, how could they know who had been hurt by their actions? And not everyone had been hurt by the robberies. “Look, Kid, just promise me you haven’t given up on me. Just keep an open mind.”

Curry threw the last pile of hay into the enclosure where the animals placidly ate. “Heyes, you know I have never casually shot anyone.”

Heyes stared at his partner. The Kid was on several tangents. It had happened before. He knew where this was coming from, too. “You didn’t casually shoot Crenshaw. You were saving Mandy and her family.”

“I shot him in the head and he stood there with that knife in his hand cursing. I shot him in the chest and I was glad.”

“Why were you glad, Kid? Personal vendetta? He cheated you at cards and you wanted to get even?”

Curry snorted. “Don’t be funny, Heyes.”

“I’m not. I’m serious. He did something horrifying. He beat up on a kind and gentle woman and was ready to kill her, her husband and her baby. If I had been there and had the skill, I’d have killed him faster than you can breathe. If I understood your statement to Jackson, he was going to kill you, too.” Heyes put away his pitchfork. He walked over to his cousin and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Look, I don’t have all the answers. We did stuff we aren’t happy we did. We made some choices that weren’t good back when we were young and foolish. At the time it all seemed right. I don’t think everything we did was bad, just between you and me.” Curry didn’t respond. “All we can do is try to do the best we can from here on out. Just like we have tried to do for the past couple of years.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“We aren’t going to do anything to hurt Mandy or her family to get out of this.”

“We aren’t going to do anything to hurt Jackson, either,” Curry added.

“Huh?”

“He’s given us a fair shake, too, Heyes.”

“He’s going to take us in, Kid.” He felt his frustration rising again. “I’m not saying we shoot him or anything, only that we see what happens when the weather breaks and you’re completely well. Maybe I can talk him into giving us a head start or something.”

“You can talk a rabbit into a snake’s gullet, but I don’t think you’re going to talk Jackson into letting us go, for all that he sympathizes with us.”

“Maybe not, but don’t give up on me.”

“I won’t. You drive me crazy, too, but I’ve never given up on you, Heyes.”

Hannibal slapped him on the back as they turned to go back into the house. He matched his stride with the Kid’s limping pace.

Jackson slipped out of the shadows and back into the house before the boys saw him. He smiled and shook his head.

 

Late the next afternoon, as lowering clouds heralded the coming of another storm on the first day of the new year, Heyes and the Kid went out to bring in wood. They were getting their second load when Heyes heard the crackle of something approaching through the crusted over snow of the valley floor.

“Who’d be out in this?” Curry asked.

“Someone who didn’t celebrate on New Year’s Eve?” Heyes suggested.

They waited, each with a stick of wood in his hand, both feeling foolish. What, after all, could a sixteen inch piece of wood do against a gun? Then they heard movement at the gun slit and knew they were being watched. “Someone’s coming,” Curry called out.

Before anyone could come out of the house a lone rider appeared down the trail, hands on the saddle horn, totally relaxed. Heyes peered into the deepening gloom, feeling he should know the rider. The man came closer and he realized he did. “Lom.”

The Kid stepped closer to the edge of the porch and sucked in a cold breath. “Well, I’ll be….” He glanced at Heyes. “Why do you think he came all the way out here? How did he know?”

Heyes could think of one reason for Lom’s presence, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up too high.

Lom Trevors rode up to the front porch and looked the two men over. “I heard a rumor the detective might be inclined to let you two escape,” he drawled.

Heyes pointed to his stockinged feet. “What do you think, Lom?”

Lom threw back his head and laughed. “I figured Carter Jackson was too dedicated to allow anyone to escape from him, even you two.”

“Then why’d you come out here, Lom,” Curry asked, shivering. “And can we continue this conversation inside?”

“Need to shelter my horse. He’s a bit worn.”

“I’ll go in and open the door to the stable,” Heyes said, pointing to the large door leading directly into the cave.

Curry grabbed an armful of wood and headed in behind Heyes.

Soon the four men were sitting around the table, holding steaming cups of coffee. Lom studied Mrs. Woodburn, who in turn studied him with a hopeful expression on her face. The bruises were slowly disappearing, mostly yellow and pale green, but the knife wounds were still very evident.

“What brings you out here, Marshal?” Jackson asked.

“These two, mainly. There is a judge in Evansdale who wants the Kid here brought in on murder charges.”

Heyes noticed that Lom said Kid instead of Thaddeus. For once he didn’t have a clue what was up.

“Crenshaw?” Jackson asked.

Lom nodded.

“Didn’t Ford tell that it was self-defense?” Jackson asked indignantly.

“Yeah.”

“They were buddies,” Curry said. “Crenshaw and the judge.”

“Got that impression. But we all know it’ll be tossed out, especially in another city.  Anyway, that wasn’t the reason for me coming all the way out here in that hellacious cold.”

“Why did you come out here, Lom?” Heyes asked.

“Well, heard the Kid got pretty banged up. Wanted to see how you all were.” He glanced up at Mandy. “Apparently it was true what Crenshaw did to you, too, ma’am.”

She nodded. “I’m on the mend, thanks to everyone here.”

“I’m glad.” He turned back to Curry. “Figured it’d be a shame for you to be too busted up to enjoy your amnesty,” Lom replied with a sudden grin.

Heyes and Curry gaped at each other then back at Lom. They looked at each other again and hollered out a cry of triumph that woke little Thaddeus. Mandy rushed back into the bedroom to comfort the frightened baby.

“Figured that might be why there was a stipulation to bring you two back alive,” Jackson said.

“You almost blew that one,” Heyes shot back. He saw Jackson’s face. “You knew didn’t you?”

“Nope. Heard enough rumor to guess. Figured you two were ready for it after being around you for a few days.” He pulled out his almost flat pouch. “Well, guess this calls for my last cigarette.”

“There is one condition,” Lom continued after everything had calmed down.

Both faces fell. “Condition?” Heyes asked. “Another one? Aw, Lom, what more does the governor want?”

Lom brought out an envelope from inside his coat and handed it to Heyes. Curry leaned over as Heyes pulled out an official looking letter and unfolded it. After a moment, Hannibal looked up at his cousin in shock.

“What?” Curry demanded, reaching for the letter. “You’re hiding it. I can’t see it.”

“Our amnesty is in effect if we’ll work for the railroad and the Wyoming Banker’s and Cattlemen’s Association.” Heyes looked as though he had been shot.

“What?” Curry repeated. He grabbed the letter and read it. “It’s a minimum six year contract. About the same time period we were so successful robbing them,” he mused. He read some more. “What’s a security consultant?”

“You’d basically be under contract to help the banks and railroad be more secure from the likes of you,” Lom explained.

Again the pair stared at one another. Suddenly, Heyes grinned, slapped the Kid on the shoulder and laughed. Everyone was congratulating them. Heyes sobered suddenly. “How quickly will this get around to sheriffs and bounty hunters? We wouldn’t want to be shot trying to do our job.”

“Probably wouldn’t hurt if you continue with your aliases, boys. At least for a while.” Lom shrugged. “And you’ll have papers from your employers, too.”

“And the governor?” Heyes asked, suddenly suspicious.

“He figured it to be a safe way out of a possible political maelstrom,” Lom explained. “This way, you’re doing something to pay back the people of Wyoming, to earn that freedom you’re getting.”

Heyes shot a meaningful glance to his cousin. Curry had a look of relief that was almost heartbreaking.

“I want to go back home and visit my kin. Think our bosses will let me….” He saw the look on Heyes’ face. “Us do that?”

Lom nodded. “Don’t know why not. You can talk to them when we’re able to get out of here.”

“I want to go home, too,” Mandy said, the baby in her arms. “Home with Daniel and little Thaddeus Jedediah.”

“Once this weather breaks and you feel the baby can handle it, we can all go,” Lom said.

The Kid’s face broke into a great smile. “Happy New Year!” he crowed, thumping the table.

“If you hadn’t finished off my last whiskey….” Jackson began.

“Coffee will do,” Heyes said hastily when he saw Daniel’s frown. “It’s going to be a great year!”

 

 

Spring had come to the prairie. Wildflowers bloomed in a profusion of colors that made the blue sky overhead seem even more brilliant. The two riders had come from a nearby town that hadn’t been more than a couple of buildings ten years before. They rode on a well-traveled wagon trail along fields ready for the plow. Neither spoke a word as they turned up a track that was familiar and strange at the same time.  They paused before a wooden gate that had recently been whitewashed. Inside the picket fence several wagons and horses were standing. A large barn stood behind the two-story house. Some of the new barbed wired fencing kept in a small herd of cattle and horses in a field out back.

Inside the house the two men heard the chatter and laughter of a large group of people.

One of the horsemen coughed nervously and they both rode through the open gate. A child’s voice broke into the chatter and conversation lulled. Several pre-teen boys clattered out the door and across the porch. They stopped several yards in front of the horsemen, the shade of whose hats were hiding their features.

The horsemen were dressed in fairly new clothes, but were dusty from the road that hadn’t seen rain for a week and a half.

“How do, stranger,” the oldest boy said politely.  It was obvious he was waiting for the two men to say something.

The stranger coughed nervously again and said in a quiet voice. “I’m your Uncle Jedediah, this is your cousin Hannibal. We thought we’d come visit, if your maw and paw will have us.”

The boy’s eyes grew large and he turned to the adults gathered on the porch. “It’s Uncle Jed!” he hollered. “It’s Uncle Jed and Cousin Hannibal!”

The women on the porch gasped in shock and then two of them came flying toward Curry. He dismounted just in time to be enveloped by his sisters. The children gathered as Hannibal Heyes got off his horse.

“Oh, Jed, it’s been so long. You look wonderful. You both do. Oh, God, it’s been so long. Is it safe? We didn’t think we’d ever see you again,” a cacophony of voice enveloped him.

“It’s been more than long. It’s been forever.”

The youngest of the women pulled back, tears streaking her face. “Jed, is it safe for you to be here?”

Curry pulled out a wallet from his vest and opened it, handing her a small paper and card. “I think so, Emily.” His mouth was quirked in a smile.

She read it, put her hand to her mouth and then began laughing. “Amnesty! You’ve been pardoned. Oh, Jed! You’re free.” She looked at Hannibal, something flashing and then gone in her eyes. “You both are.”

Heyes nodded. “It’s good to be home, Cousin Emily.” He nodded greetings to the others.

“Yes,” Curry agreed. “And good to be free.”

“How fitting, it being Easter and all,” Emily said.

Curry and Heyes looked at one another in shock. “Easter?” they both asked at the same time.

“Yes, silly. Easter is tomorrow. Come in and celebrate with us. We have enough to feed an Army.”

Heyes slapped Curry on the back. “Coming up in the world, Kid. A baby named after you on Christmas, amnesty on New Year’s Day and home on Easter.” The others looked at him in confusion. “A long story,” was all he said.

“Then come in and tell it,” one of the family told them.

And they did.

 

(I got the idea for this story from something Glen Larson had said about an historical event that gave him the idea for the Alias Smith and Jones series. It only seemed natural that when the boys were finally given their amnesty, they would be hired by the bankers and railroad men to increase security in their companies/facilities.  I did some research to get my general dates/time frames correct. I figure the series to have taken place in the mid 1880’s. I don’t recall any exact time frame given. Barbed wire was invented and began being widely used in the mid 80’s.  The girl referred to was Annie Oakley, who toured with her husband before being hired by Buffalo Bill in 1885. Canned milk was really popular after the turn of the century but it was around in the late 1800’s. I tried not to use any modern vernacular but may have messed up on that….. Let me know anything that I have gotten wrong, whether continuity, grammar or cannon based on the episodes. )

 

 

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