A TYPICAL ASJ HOTEL ROOM.
A disgruntled butt, firmly attached to a disgruntled, ex-outlaw, pushed shut the door. Arms filled by two sets of dusty saddlebags and a battered traveling bag, key chain clutched between his white teeth, Kid Curry checked out the cheap room. He had never been in this particular hotel before, but the décor looked depressingly familiar. Limping slightly, he moved to peer through the darned curtains. Yup. He had what he had asked for – a clear view of the street. The saddlebags and a mud-splattered hat were dumped, followed by a sweat-stained sheepskin coat desperately in need of a good brushing. Instinctively, the Kid locked the door. Another check outside – nothing to see. Visibly, he relaxed. He eyed the bed, longingly.
A second later, the previously mentioned disgruntled butt bounced on a thin mattress. A distressed spring squeaked in protest. Another, more assertive than its neighbor, gave a warning ‘Ping!’ and jabbed a sharp end into a denim-clad sensitive spot.
“$**$!” yelped Kid Curry. He had once claimed to be more a man of action than words. This did not mean he lacked a perfectly adequate vocabulary for all eventualities.
He eyed the second narrow bed. He had chosen the one closest to the window, but…
Curry stepped across and, tentatively, tested the springiness of the bed he had mentally allocated to Heyes. A subdued squawk. He applied a little more force. Then more. To be accurate, he applied the full 165 pounds. A whimpering groan from the bed, but no physical assault on the Kid’s posterior. A moment’s musing creased the brow beneath the blond curls. Another, still careful, bounce. Decision. Curry transferred his saddlebags and a floppy brown hat to the more forgiving bed. Heyes’ saddlebags were tossed onto the pillow beneath the curtains.
Kid Curry limped back to the favored mattress and sat, heavily, down. The key ‘who sleeps where’ assessment complete, he turned his attention to the source of the limp. A left foot was hoisted up on his right knee. A pair of tanned hands hauled at a grubby boot. No result.
“$**$,” repeated Curry. Hey! Even with a perfectly adequate vocabulary where’s the use in sweating to vary the dialogue when addressing inanimate objects? Anyhow, to ring the changes, this time he muttered it rather than yelping. With a deep sigh, he let himself roll back, left leg in the air. He tried pushing rather than pulling. He also tried a different word. Specifically “Ow!” A very tired ex-outlaw allowed his leg to fall, still booted, onto the bed. Three different words, “Dang dumb boot!”
Leg up. Considering whether to have another attempt. Still thinking. Nah! The leg went back down. It crossed over its right partner. A hand reached for the brown hat and lowered it over a weary face in which a pair of blue eyes was closing.
Silence. Almost. Breathing sounds getting a touch slower and a touch louder. Make that more than a touch louder.
The peace of Kid Curry was shattered by three sharp taps on the door.
A proddy “Sheesh!” mumbled from beneath the hat.
“Thaddeus!” Rat-ta-tat! “Thaddeus!”
The figure on the bed slumped, not an easy task when one is already prone.
“Ferpesay peedan log,” the one aching to remain in the arms of Morpheus grumbled into the depths of his sheltering headgear. Such were the muffling qualities of the brown leather, the groggy grousing did not reach its target beyond the door.
“Ferpesay peedan log!” moaned Curry, a shade louder but still using ‘sleep slurring’ rather than English (or even American).
Rat-ta-tat! “It’s me. Let me in.”
Kid Curry after a final ‘leave me alone’ quiver of frustration exploded from the bed, crossed the room, unlocked and yanked open the door in a single swift movement.
“For Pete’s sake!” he stormed at the annoyingly cheerful dimpled countenance facing him. “Are you deaf? I said, pick the dang lock! Look at it!” He smacked the admittedly flimsy looking security feature. “Even I could pick that!”
“What’s got you all riled up?” Heyes came in and shut the abused door behind him.
“How long you got?” The Kid’s hands went to his hips. “Is it being down to our last few dollars – AGAIN? Is it runnin’ into a lawman who knew us – AGAIN? Is it havin’ to jump a train – AGAIN? Or getting spotted ON that train – AGAIN – an’ havin’ to jump off – AGAIN? Is it havin’ walked ten miles in these dang boots ‘cos YOU insisted on comin’ here when Red Rock was closer? Or is it,” deep, deep intake of breath. “…That – AGAIN – YOU just woke me up?”
“No need to get proddy, Kid,” soothed Heyes. “I reckon you oughta get some rest.”
Curry gave his partner ‘the look’ with a little wince on the side as he stepped back to his bed and sat down, with a grunt. He stared at the offending boots and gathered himself for another effort. He pulled at the left boot with both hands.
“You checked out the Sheriff’s office?” he panted.
“Uh huh. Though, since you refused to wait before checkin’ in…”
“I told you Heyes. I am not walkin’ one more step. If the Sheriff knows us, if we run into another of the dozen Wade Sawyers roaming the West, I don’t care. He can carry me to jail! Not a problem. I just ain’t walkin’!”
“Well, you’re safe enough. It’s some fella calling himself Ulysses Jones. Never heard of him. ‘Course – a common name like Jones. Pfffttt! Could be an alias.”
The Kid took a break from ineffectual boot pulling to deliver another ‘look’. Heyes was shaking a little dust from his own hat before tossing it with a successful flourish onto a peg behind the door.
Curry took another try at the footwear. “I don’t know why I’m botherin’ to take these off…” Tug. Tug. “They’ll only hafta go back on when we go get supper.” Tug. Tug. “Still, maybe if I take a look at the blisters…” Tug. Tug. “I reckon fresh socks might help…” Tug. Tug. TUG.
“No need to worry about supper, Kid,” smiled Heyes. “I checked out the only restaurant too. It closes at six. Ten minutes ago.”
“Six! SIX! You mean,” a pair of blue eyes looked up, indignant at the total unfairness of life. “As well as bein’ fried like an egg in the sun all day, being practically crippled getting here AND havin’ to listen to you yappin’ on about ‘friends of friends’ and ‘bread upon the waters’ till my ears bled, NOW you tell me the only eatin’ place shuts in the middle of the afternoon…?”
“What kinda place has a restaurant that shuts at SIX? Who the Sam Hill lives here in Silver Lake? Hibernatin’ bears who don’t eat out ‘cos the gravy splashes ruin their fur?”
“AND the only reason we’re in this sad excuse for a town, is for some dang dumb wild goose chase…”
“After ALL that – NOW, you’re plannin’ to starve me…”
“Kid…” This time the appeasing tone was accompanied by Heyes fishing a roughly wrapped paper parcel from inside his coat and holding it out.
“It’s a couple of hot beef sandwiches.” A second parcel was extracted from the opposite pocket. “Each.”
A fleeting sheepish look in the blue eyes. Curry knew he shouldn’t take all this out on Heyes, but… Sheesh! Heyes was the only one he COULD take it out on. After all, what were partners for?
“Did you remember the mustard on mine?”
The truth of this was already confirmed by the first hungry bite. This was shortly followed by a second. Curry watched Heyes settle on the other bed. The springs protested. Would it…? Would it…? Nah. The Kid gave a rueful shrug. He guessed just as he had no luck with the coin toss, if a recalcitrant piece of metal was choosing a butt to pierce, it was always going to pick his NOT the other fella’s.
“You shouldn’t call this a wild goose chase, Kid,” reproved Heyes, mildly, beginning on his own sandwich. “It’s a genuine job offer AND a genuine chance to do a favor for…”
“Pfffttt!” Kid Curry was not completely unappreciative of the fact that his partner had remembered to deliver the necessities of life. Not completely. It was just that a hot beef sandwich – even WITH mustard – only made a small dent in the proddiness which had been growing and growling ever since yesterday.
“This friend of Colonel Harper…”
“It isn’t always a genuine job offer when we’re dealin’ direct with Harper,” in-articulated Curry, displaying hamster cheeks and a distressing disobedience to past maternal injunctions of ‘no talking with your mouth full’. “Remember that time at Arcadia? He never did show up! THIS…” A remaining crust was pointed at Heyes to emphasize a point. “THIS isn’t direct. This is you an’ Harper playin’ in some fancy poker game – him half-drunk, you only really listenin’ to the chinking of the chips – talkin’ about some fella Goddoe…”
“Godeau,” corrected Heyes.
“Godeau. Shorter vowel. Like in L’eau.”
Disbelieving stare from the Kid.
“It’s French for water.”
Another disbelieving stare. Well, to be accurate, not another. The same one.
“Goddoe’s French?” the disbelieving one scorned, as if it were bad enough being dragged there to wait for a fellow American. To be carted, foot sore and hungry, across country to wait for some Gallic, garlic guzzling, gesticulating…That would just be the last straw!
“Canadian,” corrected Heyes. With complete clarity of mouth movement, tongue and teeth designed to make things easy for a lip reader standing twenty yards away, he once again articulated, “And it’s Godeau. Eau. Eau.”
“Humph.” The quality of Curry’s grunt suggested that, while he might rank his Northern neighbors above those folk born on entirely the wrong continent, they still trailed ‘Kansan’ by a patriotic mile.
“Anyhow, you’ve got us here waiting for this fella, GODDOE,” The Kid kept his vowels deliberately the length they had always been. The correct length. The American length. The whole nine yards. “Who might not even exist…”
“Course he exists! You gotta have faith, Kid! You heard what Colonel Harper said…”
“No, I didn’t. I wasn’t there, remember? I was…” Curry hesitated.
“You were getting better acquainted with that little redhead.”
“I was stickin’ to low-stakes poker in the saloon,” amended the Kid. Both partners’ versions were true. Together they were close to ‘the whole truth’.
“I only heard what YOU told ME Harper told YOU HE would tell this fella Goddoe next time HE…” Curry lost the thread; he licked the last crumbs from his fingers. That felt better. Not good – he was still definitely in ‘proddy’ territory – but better.
Fortified, he braced himself for another boot battle. Wincing. A subdued cuss.
“Your feet hurt, huh?” sympathized Heyes.
“You’re a genius, Heyes. How d’ya figure that?” grunted Curry. Tug. Tug. Exasperated glower at a relaxed and smiling Heyes. “No, no! Don’t get up! You sit easy!”
The dark-haired ex-outlaw looked reproachful as he rose and, back to his partner, straddled the outstretched denim-clad leg and gingerly took a dusty boot in his hands. “Sarcasm is the lowest form of humor, Kid.”
“No it ain’t! The lowest form of humor would be me kickin’ you in the butt while I have the chance. Now pull! Pull! Pull! Pull! Harder! Harder! OWW! Sheesh, Heyes – whaddya tryin’ to do, rip my dang foot off?!”
Heyes glanced back over his shoulder. His expression suggested he was considering telling his proddy partner that when he DID get this boot off, he had a fair idea where he’d like to shove it.
“D’you want me to help or not?!”
“Yeah! I want you to HELP, not twist my dang…” The Kid abandoned criticism and switched to constructive…Oh. Rewind. The Kid did NOT abandon criticism; he simply added a constructive element to it. “You need to kinda nurse the heel in one hand and grip the leather NOT the leg inside. And you need to PULL!”
“I AM pulling! You pull the other way!”
“I AM pulling the other…” Curry broke off to wince as Heyes’ sudden success with the boot propelled him forward. “You okay?”
“Sure. I wasn’t using the skin on that knee anyhow.” Heyes dusted off his pants and reached for the Kid’s right foot.
“This one isn’t so tight …I could manage…”
“No, no!” interrupted Heyes. “I can’t have you saying I didn’t share your pain, Kid.” The second boot was tugged off without incident. “‘Course – if you hadn’t bought the dang things just because that pretty assistant was cooing how dashing they looked…”
“I needed new boots, Heyes! The old ones were…”
“You needed boots, sure. You needed THAT pair of monstrosities like you needed a hole in the…”
“Hey! These are top quality, fine chestnut leather with contrast stitchin’, shipped direct from Hyer Brothers and…”
“Fine…” Curry hesitated, having made the error of listening to himself, always a mistake when intending to maintain a tone of utter self-justification. “Fine chestnut leather,” he muttered.
“Since when did they start getting leather off chestnuts?”
“It’s a shade.” Defensively, the Kid added, “A real refined shade, appreciated by men of true dis…disser…”
“Discernment,” supplied Heyes
“Men of true discernment, who…”
“Who leave their brains on the boardwalk when some gal sits ’em down and relieves them of the contents of their wallets with nothing more than a smile and the biggest pile of hogwash since…” A smiling shake of the dark head. “Wish I’d had her in the gang when we were still on the wrong side of the law, Kid. She’d a real gift for daylight robbery.”
“These boots,” Curry declared, stubbornly, “are in the way of being an investment!”
“And you can’t walk in ’em.”
“They aren’t MEANT for walking! Not ten miles of walkin’ anyhow. They’re MEANT for ridin’! You remember ridin’? It’s what you do when your partner hasn’t traded your dang horse for a poker stake – AGAIN – before checkin’ out the law…”
“I DID check out the law. And YOU agreed on the horse-trading, Kid! You were all for it!”
“I know! That’s what’s makin’ me so darn mad, Heyes! I wanna blame you for everythin’ – and I can’t! It ain’t your fault. It’s MY fault. ‘Cos I was dumb enough to listen to ya!”
Heyes opened his mouth, decided he had nothing to say in response to that and shut it again.
Blue eyes met brown. Curry’s held a dash of humor – yeah he knew he was being just plumb ornery – and a dash of apology. Something else too. Something underneath.
“What’s really eating you, Kid?”
Silence. Curry dropped his gaze from his partner to his left foot from which he was gingerly peeling a sock. He opened his mouth, changed his mind, shut it. A scowl was directed at a blister. Heyes let the silence continue, not pushing his partner. Then, in a very off-hand tone, still poking at a sore toe, Curry asked, “D’you know what day it is today, Heyes?”
“Nah – I mean, what date?”
“Er…17th. Why?” Brown eyes looked guilty. “It’s not your birthday is it? Surely that’s …”
“Nah! It’s…” Curry scowled harder at the suffering digit to mask his self-consciousness at actually spitting out what WAS bugging him, aside from ‘the usual’. “It’s the anniversary of the day Lom came back with the deal from the Governor. Amnesty if we went straight for a year. That’s A year – singular.” Another prod at the toe. The voice became gruffer. “And this ain’t the FIRST anniversary. Is it? It ain’t even…” Finally, the blue eyes came up. “Just seems our whole life now is just waitin’ an’ waitin’ an’…” He stopped. Silence.
Tapered fingers squeezed Curry’s shoulder briefly. This time Heyes’ voice lacked any joshing note as, for the second time that evening he said, quietly, “You gotta have faith, Kid.”
Kid Curry gave himself a mental shake. Next time he spoke, he returned to a more usual grousing tone. Not full on, genuine, grousing. Just the regular prodding at Heyes to keep the silver-tongued one from dwelling too long on his own genius.
“So, you really reckon, unlike the amnesty, this Goddoe fella is gonna show up?”
“Wouldn’t ya think – if he was comin’ – he’d have beaten us here and we’d have found a message from him?”
Pause. Then an optimistic beam from the dimpled one. “Still plenty of time for him to ride in, Kid. It don’t get dark until near ten o’clock this time of year.” Heyes moved to the window. “Any minute now, he’s gonna ride up that street, call at the hotel, ask if Smith an’ Jones are in town – and offer us two real high paying jobs. HEY, this could be him!”
The now barefoot Kid Curry joined his partner at the window. Two pairs of eyes followed a rider trotting sedately into the small town. Two pairs of eyes moved in unison…following…following…following…Two ex-outlaws leaned over to keep the horseman in sight as his gray approached the hotel. Was he…? Was he…? Two sets of shoulders drooped. Nope. The dark and fair head, disconsolate now, watched the rider pass by without any change in pace and head down a side street.
“Ah well,” said Heyes, resolutely philosophical. “Next time lucky.”
“Uh huh.” Another pause. “So, whaddya wanna do to pass the time, Heyes? Maybe run a little wager on which one of us is stinkin’ worse after sweatin’ all day?”
“Nah.” Sad shake of the dark head. “We’d never find anyone dumb enough to bet on me, Kid. I passed two mice gagging and heading away from you when I came up the stairs.”
Curry balled up the removed socks to form a handy missile to launch at Heyes. The act of pulling back his hand to throw brought them within a foot of his nostrils. He paused. He took a tentative sniff. Turning his head towards the sweat-stained armpit, he took a second cautious inhalation. Sheesh! His shoulders drooped. The reeking socks dropped to the floor. The Kid kept a wary eye on them – just in case they were about to scurry into a corner and start breeding.
“Kid,” smiled Heyes, also keeping a weather eye on the abandoned socks for any sign of suspicious life. He reached out a dusty boot and pushed them a little further away. “Let me share a something with you. As well as bringing you back a sandwich, I got us something else that’ll cheer you up. AND something you sure need.”
“A nice hot tub!” supplied Heyes. “I asked ’em to bring up a bath. They said it’d be half an hour or so. Should be any time now.”
An answering smile from the Kid. It was true, he did like a good hot tub. And, sheesh! He sure needed one.
“As soon as I’M done soaking in the tub, you’ll be able to lie back an’…”
Curry broke in with an outraged, “HUH?”
“A bath costs the same as a room, Kid,” pointed out Heyes. “Just in case Godeau doesn’t show up – I mean, he WILL, but just in case he’s delayed – we have to be, y’know, thrifty.”
Kid Curry could see the sense in that. It was not as if he had led a life of luxury in the past where taking turns for bathwater was any kind of novelty. Not when he was a child, not in the home, not since. Never. But, taking turns was not the point at issue. The issue was, who got FIRST turn?
“As soon as I’m done,” Heyes repeated. “You can lie back, lather up, wallow and…” Heyes tailed off in the face of a truly classic version of ‘the look’. He tried another tack. “We just agreed, Kid, you seem to pick up the dirt more’n me. If I follow you, I may as well go thrash in a dust puddle…” ‘The look’ continued. The fair eyebrows rose. With a sigh, Heyes gave it up. He dug in his vest pocket for a coin.
“No!” forbad Kid Curry. “We use MY coin and I’M doin’ the flip!” He began to dig in his own vest pocket.
“Anyone ever tell you – you got a real cynical nature, Kid?”
The Kid was still digging. Lint. Fluff. Close examination of a small object. He had no idea what the Sam Hill THAT was. He gave up on the vest and stood to root in his pants.
A knock at the door. A call of “Your bath!”
“Settling this sometime today’d be ideal, Kid.”
Curry dug deeper. Finally, a nickel was produced.
“Call it!” he grunted, as the tiny piece of silver spun high in the air, with both sets of eyes following.
THE FOLLOWING SCENES ARE SHOT WITH SKILFUL CAMERA ANGLES, ANACHRONISTICALLY LUSH BUBBLES AND STRATEGIC FURNITURE PLACEMENT TO ENSURE NO HINT OF NAVEL TO KNEE MALE NUDITY – NEITHER FRONT NOR REAR ELEVATION – APPEARS ON SCREEN.
FADE IN. THE SAME HOTEL ROOM – TEN MINUTES LATER.
An exceedingly happy Hannibal Heyes luxuriated in the foam-filled tub. He had made himself a fine suds beard and was now reaching for a washcloth from the rickety chair at the foot of the bath with one dexterous toe.
Singing – cheerful, though unlikely to cause anyone to recommend Heyes to give up the day job – rose, sporadically, from the bubbles.
“Ain’t it hard to stumble
When you got no place to fall?”
From the bed a disgruntled Kid Curry – and by this I mean MORE disgruntled than the last time we saw him. He was disgruntled before. Since then, his gruntle had been further dissed. Possibly the correct adjective would be disdisgruntled. Except, that could count as a double negative leaving him – gruntled. And, if there was one thing Kid Curry was NOT, it was gruntled. Are we clear? Good, back to the plot.
From the bed a disgruntled Kid Curry, now stripped down to his longjohns, glowered alternately at his partner, the contents of his saddlebags and the insides of the shabby traveling bag.
“Every dang coin flip!”
“Ain’t it hard to stumble
When you got no place to fall?”
“Every DANG time!”
“Ain’t it hard to stumble
When you got no place to fall?”
“How d’ya DO it, Heyes.”
“In this whole wide world …It’s a gift, Kid.
I got no place at all.”
The sound of a carriage outside cut off any riposte Curry intended to make. It also cut off the singing from the brown-eyed bathing beauty. The hoof-beats stopped. The partners exchanged a glance. Kid Curry abandoned rummaging in his saddlebags and padded to the window.
“Could it be him?” asked Heyes.
A shrug from Curry. “Dunno. All I can see is one of the hotel fellas leadin’ the horses away to the livery. We missed whoever got down – the porch canopy blocks the view.”
The sound of doors opening and closing somewhere beneath the floorboards.
Two ex-outlaws listened hard. Heyes’ hand stopped lathering his chest to shush the gentle splashing of water. Listening…Listening…Footsteps on the stairs. Had he arrived? Was this…?
A voice beyond the door. “Room four, Mrs. Samuel. Room five Mrs. Beckett. Enjoy your stay, ladies.”
The shoulders of two ex-outlaws slumped momentarily. A ‘maybe next time’ smile and shrug from Heyes. The tapered hands once again began to soap up his chest.
“I’m a stranger here…”
Kid Curry returned to pulling item after item from his saddlebags. Aha! Socks! He unrolled them. Once again, his gruntle was further dissed.
“Why does every dang pair of socks I own have…” A proddy finger poked through the wool and waggled accusingly. “A gaping hole in ’em?”
“A stranger everywhere …Probably ‘cos every pair you own has had your rhinoceros horned toes in them, Kid… I could go home…” Frown. Another try for the correct note. “I could go home… home…home…” Satisfied smile. Close enough!
More glowering from the partner not filling the room with the gift of song. More rummaging. Another pair of socks found, unrolled. Another hole.
“But brother, I’m a…There’s a needle and thread in my bags, Kid… I’m a stranger there…. Wrapped up in my spare bandana… I’m a stranger thereeeeeee… Next to the chalk.”
Kid Curry continued to rummage amongst his own luggage. “I ain’t in the mood for sew…What the Sam Hill are you carryin’ CHALK for?”
A grin from Heyes. He blew a little foam from his upper lip and swatted it playfully. “You’d be surprised what I manage to fit in those saddlebags, Kid! …I’m a stranger hereeee.
“If I’m not relaxin’ in that tub in the next ten seconds while there’s still a few bubbles to pop, somebody’s gonna get flattened. Geddout! And, for Pete’s sake, quit with the singin’ – if that’s what you call it.”
Heyes heaved himself to his feet, stepped out and reached for a towel. “No need to get proddy,” he reproved.
FADE IN – TWO MINUTES LATER
“Ain’t it hard to stumble,
When you’ve got no place to fall?”
Heyes, barefoot, pants pulled over fresh longjohns, suspenders dangling loosely beside his legs, tossed aside the towel with which he had been vigorously rubbing his hair. He glanced over at the occupant of the tub.
It was now Kid Curry wearing an elegantly lush suds beard. The blond ex-outlaw held one foot in his hand (supple huh?) and was cheerfully soaping the sore spots. At intervals, he serenaded the pink foot with snatches of song.
“Ain’t it hard to stumble,
When you’ve got no place to fall?”
Quite clearly, after having been both fed AND watered, the Kid’s gruntle no longer felt dissed.
“I’m a stran… Uh huh?…a stranger here…”
“You know how you wanted the singing to quit?”
The blue eyes looked over, waiting for Heyes to finish. “I’m a stranger here…”
A serious nod from the dark ex-outlaw. “You convinced me, Kid. I want the singing to stop too.”
“A stranger everywhere … I only meant YOUR singing, Heyes! …I could go home…” The crooner interrupted himself to chase an escaping bar of soap around the base of the tub. Got it! “I’m a stranger here…. What are you grumbling about? You LIKE this song! …But brother…”
“Sure. I think of that song as an old friend. That’s why when someone’s roughin’ it up – I feel I ought to step in.” Heyes settled himself on the bed and dug out the carefully wrapped needle and thread from his saddlebags and picked up the Curry socks with the holes.
Not the socks that had spent the day being sweated into by a pair of sore feet during a ten-mile trudge! Not those socks! Sheesh! The boys might be close – but not that close. NO friendship is THAT close! It would take mother-love to pick up and mend THOSE socks! Mother-love for a child that had never, NEVER disappointed its parent. A child whose birth had been pain-free. A child who had consistently slept through the night since day one. AND the hypothetical mother would be expecting major payback! Big-time payback. AND, after tackling one sock, she would still be examining closely the sale or return options on the birth certificate.
No, Heyes picked up the CLEAN socks with the holes. The DIRTY socks continued to fester, ominously, where they had been dropped. Are we clear? In that case, once again, on with the show.
“I could go home,
But brother, I’m a stranger there.”
Kid Curry brought the song to a suitable crescendo and glanced over at his stitching partner. A mute conversation. A ‘Thanks’ grin from Curry. An answering ‘S’orright’ twitch of the shoulders from Heyes.
The Kid finished with the foot washing, let them dangle outside the tub and slid down to wet his hair before frothing it into a white wig.
A pause. Heyes sewed. The Kid dipped a little lower to wash off the suds. Back up. A spout of water arced through the air. Heyes bit off his thread, reached for the second sock. More pause. The damp feet swung thoughtfully.
“Do you reckon I oughta get a new hat?” asked the pondering one.
“You GOT a new hat.”
A blink from the blue eyes. “It’s hardly NEW, Heyes.”
“It’s a dang sight newer than MY hat.”
“There’s exhibits in museums a dang sight newer than YOUR hat.” Kid Curry bent his head to tap a little water out of his ear. “Some of us care how we look, Heyes. Not everyone likes to dress…” he searched.
“I call it, shabby chic,” supplied Heyes, throwing a fond glance at his trusty headgear. “You hafta be born with it, Kid.”
“Uh huh,” deadpanned Curry, allowing the disbelief to waft gently in his partner’s direction. “Well I reckon soon as we’re flush again, IF that day ever comes, I’m gonna get me a new hat.”
“Good idea,” nodded Heyes, finishing the second sock and sticking the needle tidily in the cotton reel. “Buy one that doesn’t fit. That way it’ll match your new boots.”
A ‘look’ from the Kid. A bland smile in return from the dimpled one.
Kid Curry heaved himself out of the tub. A vigorous rubbing was administered to the blond locks. Draping the towel around his shoulders, he reached for his ‘old’ hat and placed it on his head. Wet feet padded toward the mirror hung high over the chipped chest of drawers. “Y’see, I reckon the shape of this hat is just too…too…” The adjective failed to come. “I was thinkin’ maybe something with a curl to the brim.”
“Uh huh?” Heyes, his task completed, had stretched himself out on the bed, hands behind the still damp hair.
“And maybe darker.”
“You mind if I try your hat?”
“Nope. Knock yourself out, Kid.”
The brown hat was swapped for the black hat. The angle was adjusted. Back of the head? Sheesh, no! Curry hastily straightened it. Clearly, only Heyes could pull off THAT look. Maybe – a tilt to the right? Yeah.
Curry’s gaze shifted from himself to the reflection of his partner. Heyes had not moved and his eyes were… Hey! The Kid spun round, hands on hips.
“You’re not even looking, Heyes.”
With a sigh, Heyes lifted his head. With a second effort, he turned it. A third effort opened his eyes. He looked at the hat. A considering pursing of lips. “I dunno. Maybe I need to see it with another outfit.”
He returned the disturbed head to the pillow and the lids to ‘closed’ position.
The Kid looked down. Oh! Sheepishly, the towel draped around his shoulders was wrapped firmly around a slim waist. The black hat was removed. Another try with the brown. Maybe with one side turned up a touch…? Or…? This was dumb.
The blond ex-outlaw tossed his own hat onto the peg behind the door. Hey! Bull’s-eye! Heyes’ hat was spun onto the upward strut of the shabby wooden chair. Another bull’s-eye! He fetched the black hat back, spun it again. Yahay! Three out of three. And again…And again…
Over on the bed one lid opened. One brown eye watched the Heyes’ hat whirl onto an innocent piece of furniture and be retrieved by a puppy-like blond ex-outlaw.
“What the Sam Hill are you playing at?”
The Kid realized he had an audience. A sheepish shrug. “Just passin’ the time,” he offered.
“The time’s going to pass anyhow, Kid, even if you don’t use my stuff for pitching practice.” Heyes watched for just long enough to ensure his partner had stopped, the lid closed.
Curry shot a wary glance at the prone one. A considering look at the black hat. Airborne and…YES! Six outta six! He still had it!
A boyish beam wreathed the face of Kid Curry as he pulled on his pants.
Scooping a jug of water from the bath, he began to lather up to shave. A razor scraped. “Tell me again what Colonel Harper told you ’bout this fella, Goddoe?”
“For Pete’s sake I SAID Goddoe! Just tell me.”
“If Godeau’s business in Cheyenne goes to plan…”
“That’s a word I never like.”
“If his business in Cheyenne goes to plan, he’ll be here in Silver Lake on Wednesday the 19th and he’ll come ask for Smith and Jones…”
“THIS Silver Lake?” interrupted Curry.
“Wanting to offer them two high-paying jobs. That’s what Colonel Harper…” The Kid’s question registered. Heyes rolled and propped himself up on one elbow. “Whaddya mean THIS Silver Lake?”
“Towns called Silver Lake are near as common as towns called Red Rock.”
“There’s no town name near as common as Red Rock, Kid.”
“There’s a Silver Lake in Kansas.”
“There’s a Silver Lake in Oregon.”
“When were you ever in Silver Lake, Oregon?”
“I don’t hafta go to a place to know it exists, Heyes. I’ve never been to Australia, but I’d still offer fair odds it’s there.” Curry took a breath, “The point is – for all I know there’s half a dozen Silver Lake’s. Did he say ‘Silver Lake, Ma…” Curry’s speech was temporarily obscured by the need to keep his upper lip completely still as he removed the stubble. “…County?'”
A certain chagrined pucker to Heyes’ forehead suggested firstly that he could not recall Colonel Harper specifying anything of the kind, secondly that a tiny part of him worried the Kid had a point. Maybe. Did he? Nah!
“Nah!” dismissed Heyes. “He said, Godeau would call at the hotel on Main Street. The hotel with the Pinyon tree out front…That’s here!”
“IS this Main Street?”
“It’s dang near the only street, Kid. Like you said yourself, we’re not exactly visiting the bright metropolitan lights. AND you can’t deny there’s a Pinyon out front.”
A final stroke of the razor. The still bare feet padded to the window; the Kid took a look. Well…? A doubtful sniff. Curry toweled a dribble of stray lather from his neck. “I’d call that a bush.”
“Oh for Pete’s Sake!” Heyes breathed heavily through his nostrils and took a (metaphorical) grip on himself. “Kid, I’m not even gonna argue that one with you. You’ve clearly thought long an’ hard about how far from the ground the first branches have to be before a bush becomes a tree. I always knew you musta been pondering on something when you ride along with that dumb, blank look – now the mystery’s solved. It’s botany. Fine! It’s a bush. BUT, the real question is – does Colonel Harper appreciate the finer points of classification the way you do? I kinda doubt it. I reckon he’d see that – that,” Heyes chose his word carefully, “…foliage outside and, being a simple old soldier, might easily mistake it for a tree. In which case, my first contention stands. We’re in the RIGHT DANG PLACE!”
Kid Curry’s brows drew together as he tried to extract the gist from Heyes speech.
“Just assumin’ – to keep things civil – we’re in the right place. IF this Goddoe shows up, he’s gonna offer us real good jobs?”
“Yup. If Godeau – try pushing your tongue up behind your teeth more as you say it, Kid…”
“Suppose I try pushin’ YOUR teeth up against my fist as I say it? That work for you?”
A reproachful ‘look’.
“What kinda jobs?” asked Curry, more mildly.
“Well paid ones.”
“I got that, Heyes. Doin’ what?”
“Heyes! You have no idea what you’re getting us into, do ya?”
“What’s makin’ you so picky all of a sudden, Kid? It’ll be a job! We’ll get paid. You’ll be able to go pose in front of a full-length mirror in some fancy Denver hat store.”
“Pfffttt! Mosta the jobs you find for us end up with someone either spottin’ us or swindlin’ us.”
“Not MOST, Kid! Call it fifty-fifty. It just SEEMS more, ‘cos the jobs that go smoothly don’t stick in the memory.”
“If we don’t like the sound of it when Godeau shows up, we can bow out. No sense in not even coming to meet him, is there? He knows the Governor.”
Heyes looked at his partner. Yup. The anniversary of the amnesty offer was still eating at the Kid.
“If we weren’t waiting for Godeau here, Kid, we’d only be – well…”
“Waitin’ in some other cheap room, in some other two-bit town,” supplied his partner.
“Look Kid. This is gonna be good for us. Colonel Harper has the ear of the Governor, right? We do HIM a favor; it’s the next best thing to doing the Governor a favor. This fella Godeau is a friend of the Governor too. Harper really thinks this could make a difference. It’s all …”
“Bread on the waters,” finished Curry. “I got that bit too, Heyes. Seems to me we throw bread on the waters – and throw – and throw – and the ducks just eat it up and swim off. What do we get? Tired arms and no bread.”
“It …I mean HE isn’t coming, Heyes.”
“The day’s not over yet, Kid. He’s coming. I just know it. Call it ‘gambler’s gut’. Godeau is coming. If his business in Cheyenne goes to plan, he’ll be here. He’s aiming to get into town Wednesday the 19th and he’ll come ask for us…”
“Hold on!” Kid Curry held up a hand to silence his partner. Heyes had SAID all this before. Why hadn’t he spotted it before? Must have been too busy concentrating on his blisters. “It’s not Wednesday the 19th…”
“You’re just being ornery now, Kid. It IS Wednesday. All day. Oh!” Heyes saw the flaw. His face dropped. “It’s the 17th.” Frowning. Racking of a memory. “Harper definitely said Wednesday the 19th. AND, he meant this month. ‘Cos I remember him saying we’d have to start heading west soon to make it. He definitely SAID Wednesday the 19th. I can hear him saying it. Mind you, we were working our way down a bottle of some real fine straight Kentucky corn whiskey.”
Heyes pushed his damp bangs out of the dark brown eyes and indulged in a little more frowning.
“The question is – did he get the day wrong, or the date?”
Kid Curry assumed this was one of those rhetorical questions his partner had once briefed him on, so he made no answer. Well, unless you count a silent ‘search me’ delivered purely by eyebrow movement as an answer.
Instead, he asked, “So the plan is, we wait. AND, if he don’t show – we assume it’s ‘cos you didn’t check the date. So we wait some more. THEN, when he still don’t come…?”
“He WILL come! ‘Course, his business in Cheyenne might delay him. We might have to be patient.”
“So, IF this French fella…?”
“Whatever. If’n he DON’T deliver when the fella actin’ as a go-between promised, we carry on waiting.” A quizzical look. “Hey! Sounds familiar. Ain’t there some fancy word for that?”
“‘S’that Canadian too?”
Heyes rallied both his optimism and his dimples. “Listen, Kid. It’s much more likely he got the DAY right. Wednesday. That means Godeau’s aiming to come today.”
“Uh huh?” Kid Curry managed to load a surprising amount of cynicism into that grunt.
“He’s coming, Kid! You gotta have…”
Heyes stopped. Hoof beats in the street. A mute conversation. Was it…? Could it be…?
Curry was still closer to the window. He looked down. Heyes joined his partner.
“Tall fella. Dark suit. Horse looks like a thoroughbred,” breathed the former leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang.
The hoof beats stopped. A whicker.
“He’s coming here.” The deep voice was full of hope. “That’s the hotel fella takin’ his horse to the livery.”
“Say what you see, Heyes,” intoned Curry, deadpan.
“Lowest form of humor, Kid.” A moment’s silent watching of the street below. “This is him. Third time lucky. You’ll see!” The brown eyes narrowed, searchingly. “Does he look Canadian to you?”
A shrug. “He’s tall,” the Kid offered. “Are they tall?”
Two ex-outlaws rose onto tiptoes. Two necks craned into uncomfortable ‘up and over’ positions. Nah. The stranger was now out of sight.
Heyes strode over to the door and opened it, just a crack. Straining to hear. The voice of the hotel owner floated up.
“Good to see you, Frank. How’s trade over in Red Rock?”
“Same old, same old…”
No way did that accent sound French. Not even French Canadian. Once again the partners’ shoulders drooped.
A deep breath from Heyes. He shut the door, but did not move. Curry glanced down at the tapered fingers still clutching the handle. The knuckles shone white with the effort of hiding how much Heyes had banked on ‘third time lucky’. The dark eyes did not look up. Swallowing down his own disappointment, Curry briefly rested a comforting hand on his partner’s arm.
“You never were real sure it’d be today,” he pointed out.
“No need to look so down. Maybe he’ll show up tomorrow. Or the day after that.”
“We just have to wait a little longer, Heyes. Like you keep tellin’ me, you gotta have faith.”
“Sure. We’ll wait. As long as it takes, Kid.” The damp bangs nodded. A brown gaze met an understanding blue one. Heyes managed to summon a dimpled smile.
“Sounds like a plan,” smiled back the Kid.