Last virtual season you will recall I experimented with what an almost zero budget BBC episode of our boys might look like. For reasons which elude even moi, this time I am having a crack at that cost saving device beloved of the networks, though not always of the fans, the bottle show with clips. Frugality abounds as we discover…
What’s In the Box?
A dark-haired ex-outlaw stands at the window of a railway car staring out into… Well, it is pretty much pitch black out there. Maybe he is staring at his own reflection in the glass?
Silence, except for the ubiquitous clickety clack of a train on a track.
A deep sigh.
Heyes pulls his watch from his vest pocket and checks the time – two o’clock.
Heyes breathes on the window and draws – what is that? A box. A dial is added. It is a safe! A faint dimpled smile at his own artistry. Now he is drawing a stick of dynamite. The tip of a slim finger squiggles down what would be the fuse.
“Kah-boom!” he whispers, flattening his palm against the glass and scrubbing out the image. The dimples deepen – then fade.
Sigh. The brown eyes turn from the window and wander.
We see what Heyes sees. This is not a typical railway car. The stove for heating and cooking, desk for paperwork and bunks for sleeping indicate this is a typical crew’s living quarters during their time away from home. Anyone who has both visited a railway museum AND paid attention to the exhibit labels will recognise that at least one of our two favorite ex-outlaws is riding in a caboose.
Heyes’ eyes settle on five foot eleven lump in one of the bunks. The light – cast by a couple of oil lamps – is dim, but enough to make out a tuft of blond curls emerging from one end of a grey blanket and a bare foot from the other. So, not one but both of the fellas on our most wanted list are loose in a caboose. The lump stirs, turns over, resettles with a grunt. A gentle snore.
“Sheesh, I thought I was finally on a train NOT hauling livestock!” Despite the proddy words Heyes keeps his voice considerately low and steps towards the bunk to twitch an edge of blanket over the exposed toes.
Back to the window. He checks his watch. Not surprisingly, given the time elapsed, it is now a few minutes past two. This appears to disappoint Heyes. Sigh.
His eyes move to a small crate about two feet from the stove. “I sure hope you’re dang well worth it.” The crate, as one might expect, makes no response.
Heyes sits in a tipped back chair, booted feet up on the desk, legs crossed at the ankles. He deftly shuffles and repeatedly cuts a deck of cards.
“Ace of spades…” One-handed shuffle. Cut. “And – hearts.” Riffle. “And – diamonds.” Spring flourish. “And clubs.” Sigh.
He puts the deck aside, checks his watch. It is now quarter past two. This time Heyes’ sigh segues into a mighty yawn.
His lids flicker shut. With an evident effort he shakes himself awake. The tired gaze roams the caboose and again rests on the occupied and gently snoring bunk. A certain Heyesian deviousness lights the dark eyes. Out comes the watch, but this time it is not checked but altered. Round goes the long hand until – a satisfied smile. The boots reconnect with the floor, Heyes strides over and shakes the shoulder of the slumberer.
Groan. The fluff of tousled blond curls moves. A hand emerges and pushes down the blankets an inch or so revealing a sleep-crumpled face.
“Three o’clock. Time for your watch.” The timepiece is exhibited as evidence.
“Ah-urry?” Although he possibly means already?
Long john clad legs reluctantly swing out of the bunk. Bare feet reluctantly make contact with the floor. A hand reluctantly reaches for… Okay, point made. The body language makes it clear not one single inch of Kid Curry wants to leave that nice, snug nest. Grudgingly he pulls on his jeans.
By contrast, Heyes, rapidly divesting himself of boots, pants and shirt is all eagerness to climb into the vacated spot so kindly warmed up by his human hot-water bottle of a partner.
“I dunno why we hafta guard it round the clock anyhow,” grumbles Curry, fetching a resentful look at the crate close – but not too close – to the stove.
“It’s what we signed up for.” Heyes gives the dented pillow a few preparatory thumps. “Ah – mustn’t forget to wind my watch.” With a wary eye on his partner Heyes winds his deceptive timepiece back to the correct time and tucks it into his vest pocket, that vest then being hung on a peg.
“Not like anyone’d be dumb enough to wanna steal it.” Curry is still grousing crate-wards.
“Dunno. That fella back in Kentucky said, if it works, it’s going to be more valuable, ounce for ounce, than gold.”
Curry snorts in derision.
“Besides, we gave Mrs. Hanley our word.”
This wins an acknowledging shrug from the Kid.
“And…” A slim body tunnels beneath blankets. “Whatever you think about this job, she did pay us up front. Don’t knock it, Kid.”
Another mute acceptance from the fella on the three (!) till dawn watch. He steps over to the window, peers into the blackness. “Please tell me we ain’t still in Kansas?”
“I’d like to, but I got no idea.” The voice muffles as he burrows down. “That book I picked up is on the desk – you might like it. Anyhow, it’ll help keep you awake.” The last recognisable part of Heyes – unless you count the crown of his head – disappears from view.
Curry leans his forehead against the glass, stares out, then squints. “Sure is flat enough for Kansas.”
A gentle snore issues from the bunk; Curry throws it an envious glance then digs into his saddlebags for a bottle of oil and a rag and settles in the desk chair to clean his gun.
After a final buff to the barrel Curry holds the gun close to the lamp. That Colt now bears a sheen he can see his face in. Literally. Half reluctantly he returns the pristine weapon to its holster.
He walks over to where Heyes’ clothes hang, fishes for the watch. Ten past three. His expression mutely conveys his reaction to the apparent treacle-like slowness of the passage of time. Broad shoulders slump. Blue eyes roam – alight on an object on the desk. Back across the caboose he goes, picks up a book – presumably the one referred to by Heyes – and scrutinises the cover. “Frankenstein or the modern prome…Promethe…Sheesh.”
He sits, pulls the lamp nearer and begins to read.
“This is gonna send me to sleep not keep me awake, Heyes. What’s wrong with a decent dime novel?” Rolling his eyes Curry flicks through then turns over several pages. Reading.
Sigh. Another dozen pages are skipped. Reading.
A subtle change in Curry’s expression indicates his interest is caught. He settles back in the chair, a crease of concentration appearing between his brows.
The view from the window of the caboose is no longer sheer blackness. The grey is streaked with the merest hint of pink suggesting dawn is near.
Kid Curry reads avidly. We note his gun now rests upon the desk. A coal pops behind him. The ex-outlaw catches up his weapon and spins to aim at the stove in one seamless movement. Narrow-eyed he searches the shadows. Nothing.
“Keep me awake? Gimme nightmares more like. Soon as you wake up, Heyes – I’m gonna flatten ya!”
Nevertheless, he returns to the novel, eyes eagerly racing over the pages.
The light shows it is now shortly after dawn.
Kid Curry is stationed at the window, clutching a mug of coffee.
“Is this where we pick up the relief crew?” Heyes, still barefoot, pants pulled over his long-johns, braces dangling, pads over to join his partner.
“I reckon so,” says Curry.
The train rocks and judders as it pulls to a final stop.
“Not that we’ll miss the foursome we’re setting down. Hardly put a foot outside the front crew caboose.”
“Not everyone enjoys handin’ over their wages to you and callin’ it friendly poker, Heyes.”
“Not everyone, but you never know,” Heyes’ smile is optimistic, “…These new fellas might.”
The sounds of a train in motion have been replaced with the noise of shouted instructions and multiple shovels shifting coal which rattles echoingly into the tender.
Both ex-outlaws stretch as if trying to catch an early glimpse of something just out of sight. Reaction on both faces then relaxation. Whatever they were looking for – they can now see.
“The front pair don’t look like gamblers,” mulls Heyes.
“How the Sam Hill can you tell?”
“It’s a gift. Those two walking up now, dunno. Doubt it. That young fella, though, he looks green enough to be shown a few tricks, huh?”
“I thought we were only pickin’ up four. Two engineers, two firemen. Twelve hour shifts.”
“I’m guessing the youngster’s a bonus,” grins Heyes.
Curry reaches for his hat. “You comin’? This is our only chance today to stretch our legs outside. And it’ll be only ten minutes, at the most. IF it takes ‘em that long to take on fuel.”
“Well, y’know what that fella told us,” Heyes, now pulling on his boots, nods at the crate, as he reacts to the grousing, “this is – what did he call it? – time sensitive.”
He looks up as the second boot is tugged home. The Kid already has the door open and is jumping down to the platform.
Our boys are both at the caboose window. Curry polishes an already gleaming gun. Heyes watches the scenery flow past. He checks his watch. A sigh.
“Was Colorado always this dang big?”
Nothing but a shrug from the Kid.
Silence, aside from the incessant clickety clack. Then, a knock. The door at the front of the caboose opens and an eager, youthful face appears.
“Can I come in?”
“Yeah, come on in, Artie,” says Heyes. “It’ll give me a break from Thaddeus’ constant yapping.”
A mild version of the look.
“That’s why I’ve come,” beams Artie.
“To give me a break from Thaddeus?”
“No. Pa’s takin’ first shift drivin’, an’ Mister Clarke said my yappin’ was gettin’ on his nerves, so Mister Andrews said maybe I’d better come…”
“Come get on our nerves?” supplies Curry.
“Well, come see if you needed anythin’ doin’.”
“What DO you do, Artie?” asks Heyes. “I mean, you don’t look old enough to be an engineer like your Pa…?” He pauses, eyebrows raised.
“Nah,” confirms the cheery one.
“And, no offence, but you’re not exactly built to shovel coal…?”
“I’m a gopher. Pa’s brings me along to – y’know – go for this, go for that. But one day, if I can,” he holds up crossed fingers, “I’m gonna be drivin’ the train.”
“You want to be an engineer?” Curry’s tone indicates he has warmed to the youngster.
“I’ve wanted to be an engineer since I was eight years old.”
“An’ before that?”
Voice full of yearning, “I wanted to be a train.”
The partners exchange a glance.
Artie’s eyes wander the caboose alighting on the book on the desk.
“Hey, Frankenstein! I read that!”
“Really? You read that?” Curry’s expression registers that maybe his disbelieving tone came out a tad more insulting than he intended. “I only meant – it’s kinda wordy.”
“Well, Thaddeus, most books are kinda wordy, that being a way of filling up the pages,” puts in Heyes. Then, to Artie, “’Course, Thaddeus usually favors books with pictures – so it don’t always apply.”
Heyes receives the look.
“My copy has pictures.” Artie pulls a much-thumbed Richmond sensation novel from his pocket and displays it.
“’Frankenstein’s Monster and the Fair Maid of Montana, or, Peril Among the Pine
Trees,’” reads Curry. Sotto voce, “Wish I’d had that one last night.”
“You can borrow it, Mister Jones.” It is handed over.
“Might not spook you so much, huh?” says Heyes.
“I was not spooked.” Lower tone, “You made me jump, that’s all.”
A cynical dark eyebrow rises. Curry’s cheeks display a faint flush.
Heyes turns, dimples engagingly and produces a pack of cards. “Artie, do you play poker?”
“Would you like to learn?” The cards arc through the air in a tempting waterfall flourish.
“Er…” Confidingly, “I’m not at my best with card games. I get the shovels mixed up with – with them clover leaf things.”
“What are you at your best with?” Kid Curry is genuinely curious.
A freckled face registers mulling. “Maybe I-Spy?”
“Okay.” Heyes’ expression is that of a philosophic man who will work with what he is given. “You start, and I’ll bet you a dollar, I can guess in less than ten tries.”
Artie’s face falls. “I ain’t allowed to bet, Mister Smith. Not with money anyhow. Not since Wichita.”
Another glance is exchanged.
Heyes rallies, “Not for money then. We’ll play for – for chores.”
“I’ll do your chores anyhow, Mister Smith. Happy to.”
“It’s Joshua and Thaddeus, Artie. And, work with me here on the betting, just to make the game interesting.”
“Okay, Mister Smith. I spy with my little eye somethin’ beginning with…” Pause. “With…” His gaze roams the caboose.
“Let me know when the int’restin’ part starts,” deadpans the Kid.
Artie’s eyes light on the box. They linger. A satisfied smile. “Somethin’ beginnin’ with K.”
Heyes and Curry look at the box. Faint puzzlement on both faces. Brief pause.
Enlightenment dawns on Heyes. “Crate,” he declares.
“Wow, Mister Smith – I mean, Joshua. You’re a genius!”
“It takes a wise man to spot it, Artie.”
Curry’s eyes roll.
“Season?” queries Heyes.
“Out the window! You can see what season we’re in. Spring! Spring starts with an S! Oh! Sun! Sun! Sun! Spring! Early Summer! Sun!”
“It’s somethin’ to wear,” says Curry, evidently unable to let the eager guesses circle indefinitely.
“Shirt! Skirt! Skir-skir-Scarf!”
“On your feet.”
“No, Artie,” sighs Heyes. “Something to wear on your feet beginning with S is NOT boot. Rhymes with lock.”
“For Pete’s sake, it’s sock!” snaps Curry.
“Oh, well done, Thaddeus. Your turn.”
“No! Any more an’ I’m changin’ the game to I black your little eye!”
Artie’s face falls. “Have I gotta go back to the other caboose?”
Mute conversation. This is a puppy dog our boys are too just too dang good-natured to kick out.
“Of course not,” says Heyes.
“I thought you were gonna warm us up somethin’ for lunch,” says Curry.
Artie brightens at once. He moves down the caboose to the stove and rattles those pots and pans.
The point of view moves back to our boys, who chat quietly.
“What are we having?” asks Heyes.
“You remember those pasties we tried in Butte? When we were checkin’ out payroll delivery on that copper mine…”
“Beans and stuff one end, maybe apple the other – pastry between them?” checks Heyes.
“Uh huh. Crust so thick you can eat it in your hand,” finishes Curry. “I reckon engineer’s pasty is pretty much the same. Artie made a batch and brung them along with him.”
“Artie made them?”
Heyes mulls on this. “I don’t know when I’ve looked forward to a meal more.”
Curry gives a brief laugh of rueful agreement.
Artie returns to their end of the caboose, wiping newly greasy hands on his pants. He stares out of the window. A happy sigh.
“This is real excitin’, huh?”
“Colorado? Not from in here,” says Curry.
“Nah – I mean bein’ on train and travellin’ places. All the way to ‘Frisco. Wow.”
The enthusiasm of Artie’s companions appears underwhelming.
“Y’know I was sayin’ I wanted to be an engineer?”
“If’n I couldn’t do that, I could still do train jobs – like you two.”
A hint of wariness on the ex-outlaw faces.
“Though I guess you’ve done jobs in banks too?”
A cagey glance is exchanged.
“Workin’ as security guards,” clarifies Artie.
Our boys relax.
“We’ve done a few bank jobs in our time,” says Heyes.
Curry throws him a warning look.
“Any bank robberies?” Artie is all wide-eyed eagerness.
“What? Oh! You mean have we stopped any bank robberies?” Heyes gives his most nonchalant smile. “Sure. Only last year…”
SEPIA FLASHBACK TO PILOT EPISODE – LOM’S OFFICE
Lom is speaking, forcefully, to our boys.
Instead of the original dialogue we hear Heyes’ voiceover:
“We’d been called in by the sherriff. He was begging us to stay because he’d a tip off trouble was on its way. Then the bank manager arrived…”
Enter Miss Porter.
Artie voice over:
“She was standing in while her father was away.”
“Was she purdy?”
A smitten Heyes reacts to his first sight of Miss Porter.
“I didn’t notice…”
Curry voice over:
“You see, Artie, a professional – like me – is immune to feminine charms while he’s on a job…”
The scene changes to in the bank. Heyes is gazing at Miss Porter and confiding his interest to the Kid.
“The trouble was, we’d hardly been in the bank an hour when it became obvious SHE was infatuated with me…”
Miss Porter approaches Kid Curry, asks him to dinner.
“No matter how much I try and show I’m not interested, it seems I’m irresistible to women…”
Miss Porter’s reaction displays only too clearly that she considers dinner with Heyes a poor substitute to an evening with Kid Curry.
“Wow. Irresistible to women.”
Curry (audibly rolling his eyes):
“Hard to believe, huh?”
“Of course, I had more important things to think about than another poor gal pining for me. A real mean bunch had arrived in town…”
The scene changes to the street. The Devil’s Hole Gang has arrived.
“My instincts told me they were trouble…”
The camera pans from face to unshaven face.
“Not only that, they were smart, real smart…”
The camera lingers on Kyle’s vacant features.
“I knew I could run them outta town, but I wanted to catch them red-handed.”
The scene changes to the interview with Deputy Harker Wilkins.
“My investigations indicated they were tunnelling. I gave the deputy my proof…”
Harker reads the telegram.
“He was real grateful…”
“Treated me like a hero…”
The cell door clangs behind our boys.
“But, like I said to Thaddeus, I don’t want thanks, anything I can do for a lawman, no matter how dangerous…”
Heyes is in full flow lamenting Lom’s apparent betrayal.
“After all, they don’t call me Stout-hearted Smith for nothing…”
“That’s right. They don’t.”
The scene changes to the boys’ robbery preparation.
“I wanted to lull the gang into a false sense of security, so I rigged up wires so me and Thaddeus could cross the street fifteen feet up and head into the bank via the roof…”
“It musta been like flyin’!”
A not too heavy package of dynamite crosses the street on the wire. A combined 300 lb package of outlaw crosses, much less excitingly, on its feet.
“Just like flying. The wind whistling though our hair. Then…”
The explosion scene.
“Just like I planned, we’d thrown their own tunnel back on them. They came running out, not knowing what the Sam Hill had happened…”
Wheat and the gang emerge blinking and confused.
“We rounded them up, guns blazing, yelling for them to drop their loot…”
Indeed, this time words and pictures pretty much match. Miss Porter runs up, full of gratitude and praising our boys to Lom.
“That pretty bank manager…”
“I thought you didn’t notice.”
“Said: ‘Mister Smith,’ she said, ‘you’re my hero. I’ve never seen anything so brave…’”
Close up on Miss Porter, wreathed in smiles, eyes glowing.
“I’ve never met a man like you before. How can I ever thank you?”
Zoom in on Miss Porter’s lips.
Heyes’ voice becomes husky:
“I’d do anything…” Breathily, lower, “Anything…”
Curry clears his throat, warningly.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
Artie and Curry both stare at the silver-tongued raconteur. One in wide-eyed admiration, one in resigned disbelief.
“Did you actually…?” Artie flushes. “Y’know. This gal – did you…?” He breaks off in adolescent embarrassment.
“Artie,” reproves Heyes. “A gentleman don’t kiss and te…”
“You did! You kissed her!”
Heyes and Curry exchange a glance indicative of the fact that, while for men of their age, the first verb in the phrase ‘kiss and tell’ is often a euphemism, this is evidently not the case for Artie.
“Have you – y’know – kissed many gals?”
“More than you can possibly imagine,” says Heyes.
“Well, that ain’t so,” declares Artie. “I can imagine a – a hundred gals.”
“And your point is?”
The implications of this sink in.
“Wow,” breathes Artie. His eyes drink in the wonder of a man irresistible to women. Gathering his courage he opens his mouth to question the oracle. “Joshua. Y’know – women…?”
“Artie,” interrupts Curry, “weren’t you workin’ on some lunch?
“Oh, yeah.” Off Artie trots.
Kid Curry eyes his partner. Sotto voce, “Irresistible to women?”
“What can I say?” Heyes’ eyes and tone emanate noble resignation. “It’s a gift – and a curse.”
“I hear with my little ear – somethin’ beginnin’ with BS!”
Artie returns, three mugs clasped in his hands. “You ain’t startin’ a new game without me?”
“Would we?” says Heyes.
Artie beams at the reassurance. “There you go.” One mug is handed to Heyes, a second to Curry. “A nice hot mug of coffee.”
Heyes takes a sip, reacts. “It’s tepid!”
“Nice mug of coffee.”
Curry’s turn to sip. His face says it all.
“Mug of coffee.” No one could accuse Artie of not being amenable.
“I’m not even sure it is coffee,” says the Kid.
“Mug.” Artie makes to set down his own dubious beverage.
“Careful! Don’t put it on that.” Curry motions the youth away from the crate.
“Sorry, Thaddeus. Why? What’s so special about that?”
“That’s the cargo,” says Heyes. “The whole reason we’re all here.”
“Wow!” Artie stares at the box. “What is it?”
Kid Curry opens his mouth to answer.
Heyes forestalls his partner. “Guess.”
“This could take a while,” warns Curry.
“If there’s one thing we’ve got, it’s a while. Go on, Artie, twenty questions.”
“Great! I love twenty questions. Or,” temptingly, “…More I-Spy?”
In unison: “No!”
Artie sighs at the refusal, then studies the box. He sips his ‘Mug.’
“Is it a diamond?”
“Nope,” says Curry. “Nineteen.”
“Is it a ruby?”
“You might want to start with more general questions, Artie,” says Heyes.
“Okay. Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“Right.” Pause. Artie surveys the crate for a moment, lips pursed. “Is it bigger than a sheep?”
A set of blue and a set of brown eyes blink. A mute conversation is exchanged.
“Artie, look at the size of the box,” says Heyes.
“Oh, yeah.” Pause. “Is it bigger than the box?”
“Is what’s inside the box bigger than the box …?” Heyes visibly searches for a way to answer that.
Kid Curry cuts to the chase. “No, it’s not. Fifteen.”
“Is it alive?”
“Ah, interesting,” says Heyes. “What’d you say, Thaddeus?”
“Dunno. I guess – yes. But…” A shrug.
“That one’s debatable, Artie. Fourteen.”
“Is it valuable?”
“Nah,” says Heyes. “Someone hired a train, two cabooses, two shifts of engineers and a pair of security guards to haul a two-bit tin plate halfway across the country.”
“Is it a two-bit tin…?” Light dawns on a freckled face. The face falls. “Aww – I get it, Joshua. Sorry.” His head hangs.
“Artie…” Although the words are not an apology, something about the tone indicates Heyes wants Artie to know he is sorry for drawing the sarcasm weapon on such an evidently unarmed opponent. “You remember how Thaddeus asked you to go check on lunch…?”
“Did you go check on lunch?
“Er – no. Now I think back, I got distracted and made coffee.”
“How about giving it another try?”
“Sure.” Off he goes.
Curry moves to the window, watches the scenery pass. “You know what? I reckon we might – just might – have crossed the border.”
“Come see what you think.”
“I can see from here,” says Heyes. “Grass, scrub, rocks.”
“Yeah but, if we have crossed outta Colorado, you’d be able to spot it right off, huh?”
A questioning look from the brown eyes.
“What with you once being champeen tracker of all Southern Utah,” deadpans Curry.
Back Artie comes. He overhears this.
“Joshua is a champeen tracker!” he exclaims.
“Lunch?” checks Curry.
“They were kinda singein’ one end and still raw the other, so I turned ‘em round.” To Heyes, “Is that true, Joshua, you’re a champeen tracker?”
“Of Southern Utah. It’s as true as my name’s Joshua Smith.”
Curry rolls his eyes. A moment later he rolls not just his eyes but his whole head forward into his hands as Heyes says, “Let me tell you about the time me and Thaddeus were hired to track mountain lions…”
A FLASHBACK TO ‘THE FIFTH VICTIM’ IS IN PROGRESS
We see familiar stock shots of feline agility, followed by Kid Curry crouching to examine paw prints.
“Thaddeus tried to tell me the tracks were two days old, but I knew better. I didn’t get to be champeen tracker of Southern Utah without knowing when tracks are one hour fresh.”
Curry voiceover (deadpan):
“True. He didn’t.”
“I knew those cats were still close. Real close.”
A sleek cougar pads across a ridge.
“Weren’t ya scared?”
“Stout-hearted Smith, scared? Never! That don’t mean I wasn’t cautious though. I checked my gun, checked my rifle…”
Heyes leans against a tree smiling as Kid Curry prepares his weapons.
“And, good thing I did because, suddenly, from nowhere, he sprang!”
The cougar co-star bares his fangs in an impressive display of ivory.
“Two hundred and forty pounds of howling, screaming, mountain cat flew straight at Thaddeus.”
The big cat leaps at Heyes.
“What did you do, Thaddeus?”
“Oh, he froze…”
Panic sweeps across Heyes’ face.
“He was rooted to the spot in terror. And no wonder. Claws like razors hovered inches from his neck. He musta felt the hot breath searing his skin. I had to act like lightning. I levelled my rifle and…”
Kid Curry shoots the lion.
“I got that cat straight between the eyes seconds before his fangs – the sunlight, glinting off them as is they were steel blades, saliva dripping from the needle-sharp points – just before they ripped the throat out of Thaddeus there.”
Kid Curry lays a reassuring hand on a shaken Heyes.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
Artie, knees hugged to his chest, is wide-eyed and rapt. “Sheesh!”
“It was nothing,” dismisses a suddenly humble Heyes.
“Nothin’?! You saved Thaddeus’ life!”
A modest dark head shakes.
“You’re wonderful, Joshua!”
The dimpled one manages to epitomise the phrase, self-deprecating smile.
“Leave Joshua be, now,” says Curry. “You can see he don’t like to talk about it.”
Brown eyes shoot a sideways glance at the suspiciously deadpan Kid Curry.
“You’re just like a hero in a book.” Artie’s admiration visibly swells. “They never like to talk about themselves neither.”
Heyes refuses to meet his partners’ cynical eye.
A pause. All three watch the telegraph poles whoop past. Heads bob in rhythm. Clickety clack.
Artie breaks the silence. He gazes first at the box, then at Heyes, who still stares through the glass. “Is it human?
Heyes turns back, momentarily confused.
“Yeah, I reckon so,” mock-mulls Curry. “Joshua may be kinda above the rest of us, stout-hearted, irresistible to women, able to wrestle mountain lions with his bare hands and all the rest – but I reckon he still counts as human.”
He receives the look.
Artie grins. “No. I mean the thing in the box. Is it human, like a part of the body?” He touches his sensation novel. “Y’know, for some evil scientist to use for his unholy schemes.”
“Inventive – but no,” says Heyes. “Twelve.”
“Okay. So it’s animal, not human, valuable, smaller than the box it’s in, and may or may not be alive.”
“Is it an animal? I mean, not just animal, but a whole animal?”
“No, animal but not an animal. Ten.”
“And, it might be alive?”
“Well…” Curry is tentative, “…Kinda.”
“Yes,” Heyes is firm. “Nine.”
Artie’s brow crinkles in ingenuous confusion. “Is it magic?”
Both ex-outlaws grin and shake their heads.
A thatch of ginger hair is scratched to stimulate thought.
Kid Curry sniffs. “Artie, what’s that smell?”
“Sorry! I forgot the pasties.” Artie scrambles to his feet, heads for the stove. He wheels around, comes back, face lit by inspiration. “Is it manmade?”
“What?” Curry’s eyes flick down the length of the caboose to the stove. “I thought you made…?”
“Not them – the thing in the box. Is it made by a man?
“Is it made by an animal?”
A mute exchange. Two shrugs.
“The thing is, Artie,” says Heyes, “though that’s a real dumb question, you just happened to have struck lucky. Yes, it is.”
“Great! How many questions have I got left?
“Okay. Is it made by bees?”
“Cats? BIG cats?”
“Nope. Five. Are you sure this line of questioning is the best plan you can come up with?”
“Er, Joshua,” Curry interjects into the rapid crossfire.
Heyes blinks. “Oh, yes. It is made by horses.”
“Great!” triumphs Artie. “Now, what do horses make?”
“While you’re thinkin’ on that…” Kid Curry’s head indicates the far end of the caboose. “Pasties.”
“Sure! Sorry. I got…”
“Distracted. Yeah, we noticed.”
A FEW MINUTES LATER
All three men now hold plates which in turn hold… Well, let us be generous, let us call them pasties.
Artie munches, cheerfully. Kid Curry’s chewing has a certain resigned quality. Heyes is not yet eating. He pries open a section of pastry with his fork and peers. He sniffs.
“Sometimes, ‘cos I use whatever leftovers I’ve got so they never turn out the same twice runnin’…” Artie treats our boys to an endearing, though hardly elegant, display of semi-masticated pastry. “Instead of calling ‘em engineer’s pasties, I call ‘em surprise pies.” A freckled grin. “D’you see? ‘Cos it rhymes.”
“Almost,” says Heyes. His fork is still exploring. “What are – those bits?”
“If you don’t mind me sayin’, Joshua…” Brown eyes look up to meet earnest grey-green ones. “…That question kinda misses the whole point of eatin’ a surprise pie.”
Heyes blinks. Then a rueful grin acknowledges that Artie does have a point. He takes a hesitant mouthful. Once Artie’s attention has once again diverted to the scenery passing the window, Heyes leans in to murmur, sotto voce, to his partner, “These engineers – I guess they’re not fussy eaters, huh?”
“They got the right idea,” says Curry, sending another mouthful south.
Snubbed, Heyes subsides.
A sigh from their youthful companion attracts their attention.
“Don’t tell me the excitement of travel is finally wearing off,” says Heyes.
“No. I’m just thinkin’ about that bank robbery story you told.”
“I reckon that’s enough to bring anyone down,” says Curry.
“Don’tcha wish a gang of outlaws like that would hold up this train.”
Kid Curry stares at the youthful wish maker. “Nope.”
“No, nor do I – not really. I only meant, it’d be excitin’.”
“I’m not arguin’ with it being excitin’,” says Curry.
“I reckon Thaddeus has had his fill of train hold ups over the years,” explains Heyes.
“You got that dang straight,” mutters the Kid, sotto voce.
“Thaddeus isn’t like me and you, Artie. He don’t need excitement. Especially now he’s getting kinda middle-aged…”
Heyes receives the look.
“And carrying those extra pounds…”
The look is joined by the voice. “Hey!”
“Whereas me – I still yearn for adventure. That’s why they call me Dauntless Smith…”
“Is this when they’re not callin’ you Stout-hearted?” puts in Dauntless Smith’s partner.
“I remember this one time, me and Thaddeus foiled a hold-up on the Columbine train…”
SEPIA FLASHBACK TO PILOT EPISODE – HOLD UP SCENE
The camera pans over golden wheat fields to a railway bridge.
Heyes voice over:
“Me and Thaddeus were guarding a payroll heading for Columbine…”
The bridge blows. The Devil’s Hole Gang gallop down towards the train.
“We knew something was wrong as soon as we heard the brakes squealing to a halt in the middle of nowhere…”
The camera zooms in on the slowing wheels.
“We could see the engineer being held at gunpoint…”
We can, indeed, see exactly that.
“There seemed to be two outlaws leading the gang. One, well, he was kinda tall, slim, dark, handsome…”
Well, who could that be?
“As for the other fella…”
An audible intake of Heyesian breath as the camera pans to Kid Curry.
“Never have I seen so much desperate villainy on a human face before! It made my blood run cold.”
Artie voice over:
“Did he make your blood run cold, Thaddeus?”
Curry voice over (dead pan):
“Just listenin’ to Joshua talk about him now scares me.”
Faintly bored looking extras troop off the train. A pretty young girl is helped down.
“The gang were marshalling the terrified passengers off the train. I knew the outlaws outnumbered me and Thaddeus eight to one…”
“There were…” (sotto voce) “One eight is eight, two eights are…” (normal tone) “…Sixteen of them?”
“At least. All big muscled fellas – and armed to the teeth.”
Once again the camera lingers on Kyle. Armed, sure – but hardly to the crooked teeth, which are, as ever, framed by the open-hanging, fly-catching mouth.
“So I decided the best thing to do was to lie low…”
We watch the boys race away from the train and leap behind a rock.
“…And to keep quiet. Biding our time, you see.”
“That plan of yours to keep quiet, Joshua, I don’t recall that.” Pause. “Sounds a good plan.”
A trail of gunpowder fizzes.
“To my horror, I saw they were using dynamite. Not only that, I could see they’d used far, far too much…”
Kyle is confiding he used all the dynamite. Heyes reacts.
“Innocent lives were in danger. Some of them – women and children.”
“Not to mention two of them – us.”
On screen, Kid Curry pulls Miss Birdie Pickett down beside him.
“When I looked into the face of the young woman I’d carried to safety and was now clinging to me in terror…”
“Was she purdy?”
We see Miss Birdie sheltering with our boys and Kyle.
“The loveliest creature you ever saw. Can’t have been more than eighteen years old, hair of gold, slim as a reed. She clung so tight I could feel her…”
Artie (adolescent eagerness):
“Feel her – what?”
Kid Curry coughs, warningly.
Heyes (with dignity):
“Feel her heart, racing like that of a frightened bird.”
The fuse to the dynamite fizzles, closer and closer. Behind the rock fingers are placed in ears and brown eyes squeeze shut in anticipation.
“I knew when that dynamite blew, we were all in danger.”
The fuse fizzles and dies.
“With every second that passed, the peril mounted. The tension was unbearable.”
It gradually dawns on our heroic pair that nothing is happening. We see, although do not hear, Miss Birdie Pickett ask Heyes the cause of the delay and him plead ignorance.
“The little lady at my side was begging me to save her – to save them all. I knew someone had to do something.”
On screen Heyes attempts to duck his fuse checking responsibilities.
“Other men might flinch – but not Dauntless Smith. I knew that someone had to be me. I told Thaddeus to cover me…”
Kid Curry makes his ‘after you’ gesture. Heyes cautiously walks towards the train.
“I raced back toward the train, dodging the hail of bullets from the outlaws all the way.”
“And – none of them hit you?”
“Nothing but grazes. Not the kinda thing to slow me down.”
Heyes visibly slows as he cautiously covers the final few steps to the train.
“Think of that, sixteen of them, all firin’, and none of them hit you.” Meditatively. “They musta been some awful bad shots.”
“Well, this gang, it wasn’t exactly havin’ it’s best day.”
An adorable dimpled face peeps, tentatively, into the car and reacts to the defunct fuse dangling ineffectually from six sticks of explosive.
“Once I leapt, like a cougar, inside the car, I could see there wasn’t a moment to lose. Any second now – twenty sticks of dynamite…”
“You sure it wasn’t thirty?”
“Thirty sticks of dynamite were about to blow not just the train, but everything and everyone for yards around sky high. This was no time for debating what to do…”
On screen, Wheat, Kyle, Kid Curry and ‘Dauntless Smith’ debate what to do.
“Like lightning I grabbed the sticks and dived outta that car, rolling down the bank away from the passengers – using my own body as a shield in case the dynamite blew…”
“Sheesh! And – were the bad guys still mad at you?”
Wheat delivers a derisive ‘pfffttt’ indicative of his opinion of Heyes.
“Well, yeah – but I couldn’t let that bother me.”
We watch Heyes being – quite evidently – bothered.
“I raced away from that train, faster than… Er…”
“Faster than a speedin’ train?”
Heyes presses his cheek against the safe.
“Then, I realized, even though I was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for all those innocent women and children…”
“And the purdy gal!”
“Who? Oh, yes, and her. No way could I cover enough distance in the time left.”
Heyes slumps, disconsolate as the tumblers clearly refuse to co-operate with his deft fingers.
“I had to think fast. Then, I saw the solution. I stripped off my jacket, placed the dynamite inside, picked it up by the sleeves and began to whirl it round my head. Round and round. Faster and faster…”
Miss Birdy is talking to Kid Curry.
“Round and round. Faster and faster…”
Curry’s fingers make the circling gesture indicative of tumblers as Heyes reaches the repeat of ‘round and round’. A frustrated Heyes leans back into the safe.
“A slingshot! You’d made a slingshot.”
“I sure had. When I let go I’d built up so much momentum I reckon I flung that dynamite clear into the next county. It exploded so high above us – I reckon we saw eagle feathers raining down.”
“Rainin’ down in the next county, that is.”
Miss Birdy is delivering her wise advice to Kid Curry.
“And the gal – well – she was real grateful. She could hardly keep her hands off me.”
Kid Curry receives a motherly pat.
Miss Birdy produces her tract.
“She wanted me to change my whole way of life…”
Kid Curry, all suspicion, scans the document.
“Because she insisted I take a letter from her – and when I read it, guess what it was?”
The safe, tied to the horses of the Devils’ Hole Gang, bounces through the dust.
ONCE AGAIN – BACK TO THE PRESENT
“Can you guess what it was?” repeats Heyes to an enthralled Artie.
“A love letter? Mushy stuff?”
“More than just a love letter. Guess again.”
“I dunno. Maybe…?” Artie looks appealingly at Kid Curry.
“Search me,” says Curry. Deadpan, “I don’t recall things the way Joshua does.”
“It was a marriage proposal,” says Heyes.
“Hard to believe, huh?” says Curry.
“She woulda married you! After just meetin’ you once?”
“Yup. Then, because Joshua Smith can never be tied down to just one woman, I had to break that little lady’s heart.” Heyes heaves a deep sigh. “Like I said before, I have a gift – and a curse.”
“Sheesh,” says Artie.
“Sheesh about covers it,” agrees the Kid.
Artie takes a forkful of pasty and ruminates both literally and figuratively. Confusion plays across the freckled face. “But – you woulda had to come back to the train to get this letter. What were the outlaws doin’? Weren’t they still shootin’ at you? What happened to the outlaws anyhow?”
“Yeah, Joshua.” Kid Curry joins Artie in a little more pasty ingestion. “Remind me what happened to all those armed to the teeth outlaws.” The Kid meets brown-eyed reproach with mock-innocent enquiry.
“Oh, they rode off hell for leather,” said Heyes, frowning at his partner. “You remember, Thaddeus, they’d had enough of Joshua Smith for one day.”
“I do seem to recall somethin’ about them havin’ had enough of you that day.”
“But, when you came back to the train…” Artie is still wrestling with the gapping plot holes.
“It’s perfectly simple…” Heyes begins. “You see…” His face registers sudden diversion. “Artie, we’re passing a town. Run see if you can see anything to figure out where we are.”
Artie scrambles, obediently, for the window. Straining to see. His shoulders slump.
“I don’t reckon it was a town, Joshua. Just a big ranch in the distance, y’know, outbuildings and stuff.”
“Never mind,” says Heyes. Mendaciously, “This surprise pie’s growing on me.”
Again Artie is first to break the silence. “The thing in the box, was it made by a lot of horses or just one?”
“Just one” says Curry.
“Three,” says Heyes.
“One horse. Three questions left,” clarifies Heyes.
“Was it a famous horse?”
The two ex-outlaws exchange a mute conversation. Questioning look from Curry. Shrug, mainly delivered via the lift of an eyebrow, from Heyes.
“As horses go – I guess you could say it’s a famous horse,” says Curry.
“Folk in horse circles, they’d know the name,” nods Heyes.
Artie leans forward in concentration. “This horse, is it famous for the things he makes?”
“Well, sort of…” says Curry. “Not in the way you’re thinkin’ though.”
“He’s not a famous Horse Sculptor or Horse Portrait Painter, or anything like that,” says Heyes. “One, last question.” With a smile, he adds, “Don’t waste it.”
A pause. Kid Curry watches Artie think. Think hard. It appears to involve enough effort to turn the tips of the ears pink. The Kid’s expression softens. He glances a mute appeal to Heyes. After an almost imperceptible roll of the eyes, Heyes nods agreement.
“He’s famous for makin’ other horses.” After delivering this clue, Curry smiles encouragingly at Artie.
“Wow!” says Artie. His eyes widen. “WOW!”
“And now,” says Heyes, “you’re thinking of a horse Frankenstein, aren’t you?”
“There’s nothing like having an imagination.”
“For Pete’s sake,” says Curry. “No. Artie, he makes horses in the usual way horses make other horses.”
Pause. Thinking. More thinking. A tad more. The eyes turn to Curry and widen like saucers. The tips of the cogitating ears glow. “Oh!”
Curry to Heyes: “I think he’s got it.”
“Is it…? The thing in the box, is it…?” Artie wrinkles his nose. “Euw!”
Heyes to Curry: “Yup, I think he’s got it.”
“Oh, no!” Artie pushes away his plate. “Think I’m gonna be sick.”
The ex-outlaws laugh.
Kid Curry gives the youth a friendly smile. “Never mind, Artie, it’s probably a good thing you’re not impressed.”
“’Cos, whenever you’re thinkin’ over all those stories Joshua told you, and you start to get dazzled by his sheer…” Curry searches.
“Glamor,” suggest Heyes.
Accepting purse-lipped nod from Curry. “Whenever you’re feelin’ dazzled by the sheer glamor of Stout-heart Smith’s life as a security guard, you can think: Yeah, but him and his pal Jones did spend more than two days straight in a caboose travellin’ halfway across the country just to play nursemaids to a bottle of horse sp…”
It is Stout-hearted Smith’s turn to deliver a warning cough.
“I guess,” mulls Artie.
Pause. More pause. Clickety clack.
“So are we nearly there now?”
Heyes checks his watch. “Nope, nowhere near. We still got the thrill of crossing Nevada to go.”
A dimpled sigh. “What are we going to do now?”
Artie, temptingly, “I’ve got an idea, and it’s really a good one.”
In unison: “No!”
“Aw, why not?”
“Because, Artie,” Heyes’ tone is patient, “neither one of us will soon forget the misery of spending twenty five minutes trying to guess acetylene lamp head light when first off, you can’t spy them…”
“You can if you lean out the window on a bend!”
“…And you changed your mind every minute about head light bein’ one or two words,” chips in Kid Curry.
“…And if you knew any of the letters in acetylene, I’d eat my hat!” finishes Heyes.
A boot tip draws an appealing squiggle on the floor. A disconsolate head hangs. “But, I got a real good one.”
Kid Curry relents. “Go on then. One turn.”
“Great,” grins Artie. He stares at the no longer mysterious box, rubs his hands together eagerly. “I spy, with my little eye, some’n beginnin’ with – with H S!”
HALF A SECOND LATER
Artie is stunned with admiration. “Joshua, you’re a genius! How did you know?”
Man has experimented with artificial insemination for hundreds of years, and that the first recorded experiments were on dogs in the 1700s. Given that ASJ took one or two liberties of its own with historical timelines, an unofficial and unrecorded horse breeding experiment during its timeframe seems fair fanfic fodder!