3. Part One, Chs 5 to 6

ABOUT TWO WEEKS LATER (ABOUT THREE WEEKS AFTER KID’S ACCIDENT) – NARRATED BY KID CURRY

“And then I thought – couldn’t I make the headline kinda – snappier?”

“Uh huh? It’s your deal, Joshua.”

Part of me is still worrying about being stuck in one place. But most of me is thinking – this is real nice. Dumb as it sounds, despite spending weeks feeling like a hundred horses had taken it in turns to kick me in the…

Um.

Despite feeling like a hundred horses had taken a kick at me, once I knew I was on the mend for sure, these few weeks in Arcadia have been some of the happiest I remember.

“So I pulled down the thesaurus and…”

Sheesh! I wish I’d never found out what a dang thesaurus was. No, strike that. I wish HEYES had never found out what a dang thesaurus was. Between that and ‘The Art of the Journalist’ he’s like a kid in a toyshop.

It’s evening. Usually the girls…Sorry! Hush my mouth. Usually the women come join Heyes and me in the parlour once they are done with work for the day.

Did you get that?

The PARLOUR.

First they shifted a table into my room and would come take supper and spend the evening to keep me company. But since last Wednesday I’ve walked the thirty-two steps to sit in the parlour. I’m on crutches so it’s my arms doing the work and I hafta sit on a soft cushion, but still. AND, yesterday I made it upstairs! Did my leg ache afterwards! But, it’s worth it because the water-closet is upstairs. I got a chunk of dignity back when I was allowed to let Heyes help me limp and shuffle to a commode. Another chunk when I could make the three or four paces without him, just clinging to the wall. A huge chunk more yesterday.

Er – you probably didn’t wanna hear all that.

Sorry.

But, you have no idea how good it feels to be able to go without needing your partner to cover it up, flush it away and scrub out the pan.

Sorry.

Anyhow, THIS evening Ann and Nell have not joined us yet; they’ve gone to a Ladies Committee meeting.

Their going to some good works Society makes sense. It’s what two ladies like them are doing working jobs, beats me. The one thing Ann don’t cover when she talks about her husband is how much money he’s got. But, you don’t hafta be a genius to work out from the rest of what she says that it’s enough for her to stay home embroidering baby clothes and picking out nursery furniture from fancy catalogues.

Instead she helps him run the local paper. Hush my mouth AGAIN. She does not HELP him – since that would suggest he is the senior partner. They run the local paper together. Except – he’s taken himself off to San Francisco to join his old mentor – whatever THAT is – doing something incredibly brave, principled and heroic – you do get that this is Ann’s version, huh? – to bring the shabby treatment of Chinese labour to the notice of the entire world. (It strikes me, most of the world knows how they’re treated already and don’t give a snap of its fingers, but that’s by the by.)

You MIGHT think Ann’d be like any normal gir…woman and feel put out at being left week after week to cope alone in her condition – but no. The only thing riling her is that because she has a baby on the way SHE’S not in ‘Frisco too, getting spat at, jostled, threatened and stonewalled by local employers on one side and the unions on the other. She thinks what Charles (that’s his name) is doing is wonderful. It’s pretty clear she thinks he’s wonderful too. This is, I guess, as it should be.

Once Heyes stopped clucking round me day and night like a mother hen with one chick, he got to worrying about us having no money. No. We’re used to having no money. Heyes started worrying about leeching on Nell Meredith. She was paying our livery bill (until he sold our horses, ‘cos it’ll be a good while before I ride again). She was paying our laundry bills – and I’m getting snowy white bed-linen three times a week and running through towels like they’re goin’ outta fashion. We were getting three squares a day at her expense – and I’m following Doctor’s orders and keeping my strength up, so these squares are pretty dang square! And I’m guessing those medicines she’s giving me aren’t the cheap stuff.

She’s never asked for a dime. Now, if I realise Nell Meredith can afford it, Heyes – who can smell money through three foot of tooled steel – sure does.

“That’s not the point, Kid,” he tells me.

I’m not completely sure what the point is, but I guess Heyes’ taste for going straight has reached some higher level, huh?

“I could hand over what’s left of the money from the horses.”

He says ‘what’s left’ because he’s bought a set of clothes and boots for me – since everything I owned except my hat and sheepskin was either stolen with my saddlebags or sheared off me. And he’s bought a change of clothes for himself – so he could hand back those tweedy things belonging to Charles Buchanan. ‘What’s left’ isn’t much.

“But, then…”

I know. If we part with the ‘what’s left’, we’ll have zip. Once the Coopers get back and I’m well enough, we really oughta move outta their place and into a hotel. I’ll still need to rest up and we’ll run up bills there too. The sheriff’s made it pretty dang clear he don’t want to see Heyes hangin’ around poker tables at the saloons – so the usual method of swelling ‘what’s left’ is off limits. If trouble shows up – and don’t it always – we’ll be heading for the train station or stage depot and need that ‘not much’ to exchange for two tickets.

Anyhow, Ann guessed what was bugging Heyes.

Nah. That’s a lie.

I told her.

We were just talking – she comes sits with me a lot – and I told her.

I really like her. Oh, I don’t mean – Not like that.

I like them both. But, Ann is…

I reckon if my eldest sister hadn’t…

All that’s beside the point. Where I’m getting to is – after I told Ann, that evening she casually remarked that, though she was coping well enough with editing the paper and keeping up the regular features, where she was really missing Charles was in bringing in quirky news items and new advertisers. She was thinking of hiring someone – just temporary like. She didn’t ask Heyes, she let him offer. He gets paid a chunk of the money he brings in – so he don’t feel it is just her being charitable.

And, he loves it! He loves it ALL. From setting racks to give the best impact on the page, to getting folk talking, to coming up with five hundred words to make a Bake Sale sound thrilling. Seems he’s the best hire Ann’s ever made. He sold so much extra advertising space she’s having to add in…

Sheesh. I sound like him.

Maybe that’s the point. He’d found a job where you get paid for spinning tales and using that silver tongue.

“…finishing with a screamer. That’s what we call an ‘exclamation mark’ in the trade, Thaddeus…”

Oh for Pete’s sake!

“I’m opening for…tell me again what a full house beats, Joshua.”

Despite the ladies being out, Heyes and I are not alone. Fred Tammett’s here. He’s the grandson of the lady who comes in daily to keep house here…

She’s nice. Ever since I started taking an interest in my food again, she’s made it her mission to find out my favourite meals and feed me up.

Fred ALSO works at the paper – errand boy and general dogsbody. He thinks Heyes is great.

So, that’s two of them, huh?

Nah. He’s a good kid. He’s just turned fifteen and we are teaching him poker.

“A full house beats …what I got,” responds Heyes. “I fold.”

“Me too,” I say.

“So – I WON?” Utter delight. He drags our two nickels over.

“Yeah. Course if you’d waited ’til AFTER we’d placed a bet to tell us what you had – you’d have won more than our table stakes.”

Fred’s grin wavers. Heyes laughs.

“S’orright, kid. You can spend a lifetime learning this game. Let’s run through the hands again.”

We hear the front door click. Heyes head swivels round and his face lights up the way it used to looking at a safe. Maybe. Maybe it’s me imagining things. I hope so.

The parlour door swings open and Nell bounces in.

“That – that – that WOMAN!”

“The vote went against you, huh?” asks Heyes, pulling forward her favourite chair and setting Ann’s footstool and cushion in place – Nell says Ann should sit with her feet raised when she can.

Huh? What vote? Mind you, sometimes when she and Heyes are yakking ten to the dozen I stop listening. Half of the stuff they laugh at – well! It just ain’t funny! How can it be funny if only folk who’ve read the same book get the joke? Huh?

“Huh? What vote?” says Nell. Hey! Is she reading my mind? “Oh! That vote. No. That was fine. Good sense prevailed. Didn’t it Ann?”

“Yes, Good Sense,” smiles Ann, “You did.”

“AND,” goes on Nell, “part of the credit goes to YOU, Mister Smith. At least half a dozen of the committee had read your article and it swayed them…”

“Your article really, ma’am,” says Heyes, modestly. (Modestly? I dunno who he thinks he’s fooling!) “I only worked with what you gave me.”

“No. No. What I wrote was…” she searches.

“Full of polysyllables, multiple clause sentences and two thousand words too long,” grins Ann.

“Well maybe. Whereas what YOU turned it into, Mister Smith was …” Nell searches again. “Pithy,” she decides (whatever THAT is). “Pithy AND persuasive.”

“You did do an excellent piece, Mister Smith,” chimes in Ann.

“I wouldn’t say that…” purrs Heyes, like a cat with cream.

“That’s EXACTLY what you said, Joshua,” chips in Fred. “You said…”

“SO,” Heyes interrupts, “if you got your own way, why the ‘That Woman!’ exclamation.”

“Something else came up,” Ann explains. Or rather, don’t explain. A pause. Brightly changing the subject, “How has your evening been?”

“Joshua and Thaddeus are teaching me poker,” beams Fred.

I see Heyes flash a half-guilty, half ‘I’ve got nothing to be guilty about’ look at Nell.

“We’ve set a nickel limit, ma’am. Just playing for fun.”

She looks at him for a moment, then he gets the sweetest smile and she touches his hand. Ann and me – we exchange a glance. I reckon she suspects the same as me. I reckon she hopes SHE’S wrong too. I guess, though she likes Heyes fine, she worries a lady like Nell and one of a pair of penniless drifters who won’t talk about their past ain’t the best match. Someone, sometime, is gonna get hurt.

“Am I really that much of a dragon? I haven’t climbed so far up the moral high ground that I object to a little friendly wager to make a game interesting, Mister Smith.”

(Heyes once asked her to call him ‘Joshua’. She replied, “Why? Are we engaged and I have forgotten the proposal? Or are you my long-lost brother?” He blinked. She said, “Joke!” But still sticks strictly to ‘Mister Smith’, ‘Mister Jones’. I guess we both now know what first name terms mean for her though.)

“Friendly?” puts in Ann. “I don’t call the ‘Muhaha’ gloat of triumph every time you scoop my quarter off the backgammon board particularly friendly!”

“It’s not the way you play the game that matters,” grins Nell, “…It’s the winning that counts!” She pulls up her chair a touch. “May Ann and I join in?”

“Do you know the rules?” asks Heyes.

“No. But how hard can it be?”

-oooOOOooo-

“Remind me – a straight flush IS one of the strongest hands?” Nell is frowning away at her fan of cards, bottom lip thrust out. “In that case, I raise another nickel.”

“Fold.”

“Fold.”

“Fold.”

“Fold.”

Heyes picks up the cards she has discarded. “You had…you had NOTHING!” he objects, more than a touch of admiration in his voice.

“Not true. I had four suckers sitting at the table.”

-oooOOOooo-

“Are you bluffing, Mister Smith?”

“Do you THINK I’m bluffing, ma’am?” Heyes dimples at Ann. Since we other three folded she’s raised twice.

“You see THAT,” says Fred, who is thoroughly enjoying his evening, “…That is a real poker face! Am I getting any better at a poker face, Mister Jones?”

“Yeah,” I say. “But now every time you have a decent hand you twist your feet round the chair leg, son. You hafta stop with the tells. It’s no good just movin’ ’em down to the floor.”

“It IS a good poker face, Mister Smith,” muses Ann. “But I still think you’re bluffing.”

“Uh huh?” He draws in his breath. “Big pot, ma’am. How MUCH do you think I’m bluffing?”

“What you need, Ann,” says Nell, “…Is a stethoscope. Or,” wicked twinkle, “…A FRIEND with a stethoscope.”

“Why?”

“Cheat!” grins Heyes.

“BECAUSE,” carries on Nell, “Mister Smith discovered that when people are lying – and what else IS bluffing? – their heartbeat increases.”

I throw a surprised look at Heyes. When did he talk to her about that? What else has he been telling her?

“Is that true?” asks Ann.

“It would be, yes. I’d never really thought about it but, once he told me, I saw he was right.” Nell uncurls her feet from under her and darts over to her bag. A metal end-piece is applied to Heyes’ front. “Mister Smith, are you bluffing my dear and trusting friend? Are you trying to deprive her of the first decent pot she has had a chance of winning all evening?”

“Hey! I haven’t been doing SO badly!” protests Ann. She leans forward. “Is he bluffing?”

“Shush – I’m counting!”

If you ask me, the fact Nell’s hand is on his shirt front will have more to do with any pounding going on inside Heyes’ chest, but what do I know?! He certainly does not have a poker face any more. He is having difficulty keeping a straight face.

“Hmmmm. Normal. I still wouldn’t trust him an inch though! You try, Ann.” The earpieces are handed over.

“Are you bluffing me, Mister Smith?” Ann asks, listening hard.

“Would I? Would I bluff my boss?”

Frowning. Ann puts the stethoscope onto Fred. “For comparison,” she explains. Back to Heyes. “ARE you bluffing?”

“I’m hurt you can even ask!”

“I fold,” sighs Ann.

“Read ’em and weep!” gloats Heyes, scooping up the pot.

“You WERE bluffing!”

“A PRACTISED liar,” tuts Nell. “Fibs without turning a hair – or a pulse rate.”

She is only joshing, but I think I see a hint of colour come into Heyes’ cheeks. I reckon, being here – with nice folk – he wishes it WERE just a joke. Wishes it wasn’t so true. Me too. I wish that. Wish I wasn’t kinda lying every time I let them call me ‘Thaddeus Jones’, I mean.

-oooOOOooo-

“It really itches, ma’am.”

“That means it’s healing. NO scratching.”

My Ma always used to say that – if it itches, it’s healing.

Heyes and the doc are settling me down – she still checks the dressing each night.

“Is the wound throbbing?”

“No.”

Her eyebrows raise. I wriggle.

“Well – a bit. Not nearly so much as yesterday.”

She takes a close look. I hardly feel embarrassed any more.

The way she bounces around you’d think she was clumsy, but she isn’t. Got a real gentle touch. But confident. I’ve never had any doubt she knows what she’s doing. I’d say she’s the best doctor I’ve ever met – and, boy, have I met a few over the years. It still don’t make it right, does it? I’m with her Aunt on that one! I keep that opinion to myself now, though. No way do I want to set Heyes off again on THAT subject. Sheesh! I had to plead ‘wound pain’ to get him to drop the dang ‘how ungrateful can you be, Kid?’ lecture.

“I think a couple more days and I’ll let you go for a turn outside…”

“Is he ready?” asks Heyes, reverting to mother hen mode. “Just the stairs exhaust him, Doc.”

“Tomorrow?” I suggest, ignoring his fretting. I’m fine!

“Tomorrow is NOT a couple of days. Tomorrow is one day.” Another close look. “Bring your knee up for me.”

I do the best I can without the pain showing on my face. She pushes it just an inch further.

“On our scale of one to ten – how much is that hurting?”

“Three,” I say. Then, because I know me putting on a brave act is kinda dumb when she needs me to tell the truth, I change it to, “Nah. Five.”

“Uh huh?” She cups both her hands under my foot. “Push down. Push down until the pain is about a seven.”

Ow. OW! She cannot be THAT strong, so it must be me being weak as a kitten. Though she says, ‘Good’ as if I’d managed to push her hands away.

“Now push just with your heel. Good. Now push with the ball of your foot. Good.”

I’m glad she thinks it is good! Pathetic is the word I might pick.

“You can go out the day AFTER tomorrow, unless you take a turn for the worse. Don’t get excited. You’ll be tooling your crutches to the end of the street and back, then having a long sit down in the fresh air. Nothing more. Settle back now.”

Between them she and Heyes fix the basket arrangement over my middle to keep off the weight of the covers.

“That journal I ordered has come,” she remarks to him. “You know – with the article about fingerprints. I thought tomorrow night we might make an ink pad and do some experiments?”

“Uh huh,” nods Heyes, avoiding my eyes.

“Good night, Mister Jones. Good night, Mister Smith.” She leaves.

Silence. Heyes unfurls his bedroll with an expression of sterling innocence.

“First stethoscopes, now fingerprints?” I remark. “You two sure have a lot of interests in common.”

“She’s a doctor, Kid. It’s hardly surprising she has a stethoscope. And fingerprints…” He starts to unbutton his shirt. “They just came up. She’s interested in science – she’d been reading about them and…”

“And when you’d done telling her all about panning for gold, you filled her in about clearing Jim Stokely,” I finish. “Why don’t you just publish a ‘Life and Times of Heyes and Curry’ in that dang paper for her to read?”

“Sarcasm don’t suit you, Kid. Besides, I didn’t tell her ALL about that winter out at Clarence’s mine or ALL about the Henderson business. We were just…” Pause. “She knows I’ve touched a stethoscope before and found out something about heartbeats when folk lie. She knows I read ‘Life on the Mississippi’ and made a useful suggestion to a sheriff. Big deal. Hardly a full biography, is it?” He goes over to wash. His eyes meet mine in the mirror. “For Pete’s sake Kid, take that look off your face. It’s not as if I tattooed ‘wanted’ on our foreheads. I’ve just been enjoying some intelligent conversation with someone who…” Pause. “It’s not as if I meet many folk who…” Pause. “You can’t get to know someone without saying SOMETHING. You have to share SOMETHING.”

The very fact he hasn’t come back at me with some flip remark, the fact he is defending himself, deepens the worry I have had ever since I could worry about anything other than my hip.

I open my mouth to…

To say what? That there’s no point getting to know Nell Meredith?

Since I have confided a few childhood memories to a sympathetic Ann Buchanan, that would be kinda rich. Heyes is right. You can’t get to know anyone without sharing SOMETHING.

I know I only feel brotherly and…is ‘patiently’ a word?…’patiently’ towards these two women, though. Does he?

I shut my mouth. He finishes undressing, climbs into his bedroll, reaches over and turns down the last lamp.

I stare into the darkness, thinking.

Since his breathing does not grow heavier the way it does when he’s asleep, I suspect Heyes is doing the same.

After what seems like ages I ask, “You really like her, huh?”

No answer. Perhaps he IS asleep? Perhaps.

I decide to believe he is anyhow.

-oooOOOooo-

CHAPTER SIX

A WEEK LATER – NARRATTED BY KID CURRY

Heyes and me, we prop up the bar at one of the local saloons.

Sounds like old times, huh? Not quite. In fact, the bar is propping up both me and the crutches at my side. My leg aches after walking the four streets here. I made it though. A little further and a little more weight on the hip every day. Last night when Nell cupped my foot and ordered me to push, she went over. She brushed aside my apologies with a delighted grin, as Heyes helped her up.

I’m allowed two beers before we go back for supper. The chances of Heyes disobeying ‘doctor’s orders’ are zero, so I make this second one last. To be fair, she’s right. After weeks on milk and barley water, the first beer was exhilarating. This one is making me smile, goofily, at the world. A third might land me on my butt if a crutch hits a wet spot.

Quite a few folk have come up to talk to Heyes. He’s been making himself known – newspaper-wise – all over town. It is no surprise to me he seems to have become one popular fella. What DOES surprise me is that his eyes hardly even stray to the poker game going on in the corner.

“Don’tcha miss it, Heyes?” I nod over at what I mean.

“Nah. Well – not so much as you’d think. Guess I’ve been too busy. Besides, I’ve had other things to do in the evenings, huh?”

The evenings have been – nice. Quiet maybe, but – nice.

“Seems a shame we hafta move out,” I say.

The Coopers come back the day after tomorrow. So, next week, does the wonderful ‘Charles’. I musta heard everything there is to hear about Charles, including the non-sappy bits of his letters home. I know there ARE sappy bits because from pages and pages of writing all we hear is about two sheets worth and sometimes Ann sneaks them out when she thinks no one is looking and goes all pink.

“Yeah,” agrees Heyes.

“It’s been… Is it the beer talking, or have the four of us felt kinda like a family?”

“It’s partly the beer, but there’s a lotta truth in there, Kid.”

“Still, nothin’ lasts forever, huh?”

Pause. “Guess not.”

“I’ll rest up at the hotel for a couple more weeks, then we can leave.”

Pause. “Guess so.” He don’t sound too happy about it.

I take another drink. Neither am I.

“Though, this is good a place as any. We could stay. Don’t make much difference to the Governor where we are, so long as we stay outta trouble. We can see if this Charles fella is happy to keep you on. Why not if you’re sellin’ enough to earn your keep? Can’t believe he’s a mean type, huh? Ann’s bound to slow down, an’ – an’ all this talk about carryin’ on workin’…”

Yup. Two beers are definitely enough!

“That’s just her an’ Nell spoutin’ their ‘a woman can do anythin’ a man can’ guff. She’ll never stick to that once the baby comes. Nah! She’ll wanna stay home cooin’ over the cradle…HE’LL need someone takin’ up the slack same as she did! As for me – once I’m feelin’ strong again – why don’t I go see the mill foreman? I know we didn’t show any great talent for working with wood back in Wickenburg – but, sheesh – it’s gotta beat runnin’ from posses!” Another swallow of beer. “We could stay. Why not?”

He looks at me. If he IS sweet on Nell Meredith there’s an easy answer to ‘why not?’ If he’s not – or only ‘sweet but, ‘sheesh, she’s just a girl, I’ll get over it soon enough’ sweet’ – there’s no real answer to ‘why not stay?’

“Yup,” he says. “Why not stay?”

Okay.

“Et in Arcadia ego, huh, Kid?”

Huh?

“You gotta stop with the reading’, Heyes. Her books are makin’ you – weird.” I drain my glass. “Gimme a decent dime novel any day of the week! Least they gotta plot!”

I become aware of a stir in the saloon. Some sniggers. A call from some mill-hand who has taken one too many. “Don’t be shy, gorgeous! Come on in!”

I look over to the bat wing doors. It’s Ann! She must have been trying to attract our attention from outside and has now ventured in.

“C’mon, brown eyes! Come sit on my lap! We can talk ’bout what comes up!”

More sniggers.

“HEY!” I protest, glaring at him.

“Let’s go,” says Heyes.

“Did you hear what he…?”

“What you gonna do? Hit him with your crutch? C’mon, Sir Galahad.”

I give another glower at the loud mouth as I limp away. Heyes is right, though. I cannot swing a punch and there’s not much point being fast on the draw if you can’t reach without falling over.

“You shouldn’ta gone in there,” I grumble, as soon as we’re out in the street.

“Oh, I’m glad I’ve found you. It’s the third saloon I’ve tried and I’ve yet to hear anything approaching an original line! Something’s happened. Didn’t you hear the excitement?”

“No. Well – we heard some shoutin’.”

Once I’d propped myself against the bar, I wasn’t moving for a shout or two out in the street.

“You can’t go back to the Coopers – Nell has new patients. I wanted to save you the walk back, Mister Jones; because you’ll have to come have supper at my place and it’s in quite the opposite direction – I’ve brought your things – I just hope I’ve packed all you need – It was all so hurried – I’m not going too fast am I? I mean the pace – not the talking. I know I’m talking too fast. It’s so silly of me, but I feel so…”

“Er, no ma’am. Leastways – how far is it?”

“Just to the far corner and left. Mister Smith knows. You won’t mind a cold supper? Well frankly, it’s all the same if you do…”

“What’s happened?” Heyes interrupts her. “I mean – who’s sick?”

“Uncle Bill brought in two prisoners – outlaws – both injured. Oh, Mister Smith, I was there. It was SO awful. I wanted to help, but they wouldn’t let me stay. I wouldn’t have been much use anyhow. Nell pushed me out before I could really see – she knows I’m squeamish – and there’s the baby to…” She flushes, drops her voice, embarrassed. “There was so much blood.”

“Could I…?” starts Heyes, “I helped with…” He nods at my leg.

“They won’t let you in. They’ve got extra deputies drafted – not just on the doors, out in the street – stopping anyone going near. Since both the men they’ve caught are injured, I can’t imagine what all the precautions are for! The poor souls can hardly escape…”

“They’ll be thinkin’ other gang members might come spring ’em,” I say. Then, realising this makes me sound a touch too familiar with the ways of outlaws, I add, “‘Course I’m only guessin’.”

“No, that makes sense! How clever of you, Mister Jones.”

I avoid meeting Heyes’ eye.

“Uncle Bill might let someone go help Nell – but the other men wouldn’t – I daresay he’ll do what he can for her – THEY didn’t even want to be in the surgery – THEY wanted the doctor fetched to the jail – But, Uncle Bill says it doesn’t matter WHAT anyone has done, they’re still entitled to decent medical treatment to let them make it to a fair trial – and the equipment is at the surgery…”

“What other men?” interrupts Heyes.

“I’m not sure. It was all so confused and they hurried me out so fast. I suppose they must be other sheriffs – or if they’re out tracking down outlaws from town to town, would that make them Marshalls? I don’t know.”

Heyes and I exchange a glance. Other Sheriffs? Marshalls? He looks – I dunno. Guilty is the wrong word, but it’s not far off. Or maybe – reminded? We’ve both settled into a routine here and now he’s been reminded why we CAN’T settle. Anyhow, he don’t say another word about trying to help.

“Uncle Bill and they were arguing… I don’t know what about, but you could tell there was no love lost. And when they saw Nell! Well! They looked her up and down as if she had two heads, then one of them sneered – I can’t use ANY word except ‘sneered’ – at Uncle Bill – ‘What the Sam Hill do you call this?’ – and he drew himself right up and said ‘I call this Doctor Meredith and unless you want to find yourself dumped on your butt out of my town – so do you!'”

I hope nothing ever happens so we hafta go up against Sheriff Fraser, ‘cos after that I think Heyes might just be on his side, not ours.

We walk – or limp – on in silence for a pace or two.

“We’ll have to make a story of it, Mister Smith. But, I’m torn. It’s not really fair to exploit my connection to the Sheriff – is it? Or Nell.” Pause. “Can I leave it to you to gather what facts you can?

He gives her a quick smile which she can take as a ‘Yes’ if she wants. It will not be ‘yes’ though, will it? Not unless he gets a look at these strangers before they get a look at him.

“I wonder who they are?” she says, “…The outlaws, I mean.”

Yup. So do I!

“I’m sure tomorrow will do, Mister Smith. I didn’t get the impression anyone was going anywhere quickly – and the edition is three days away.” Pause. “We could pull it forward.” Pause. “I don’t sound heartless, do I? It is my job.” Pause. “Not tonight though.” Pause. Her voice wobbles. “There was so much blood – and I just left her.”

We are there. Her hand shakes as she tries to fit it in the lock. Heyes does what I want to do; he puts his arm round her shoulder and gives her a hug.

Then he takes the key from her. “One, you could never sound heartless. Two, you didn’t just leave her; you were thrown out, huh? Three, don’t fret over the Doc – she knows her job. Four, tell me where the kettle is because – forget the dang paper –the only thing you’re doing is putting your feet up and having some hot sweet tea. You’ve had a shock.”

She opens her mouth to protest, but I forestall her, “Do as you’re told, the way I hafta. Don’t forget – he’s naggin’ for two.”

-oooOOOooo-

There wasn’t even any cold supper. Not until Heyes went out and fetched it. Not that Ann or Heyes had much of an appetite. He’s worrying. Well, so am I, but I guess he’s worrying about Nell as well as ‘Has someone we know hit town?’ Well, again, so am I. Worrying about Nell that is.

It’s getting late. No, it IS late.

Ann thinks Nell will join us here once she’s done. WHY she thinks that is beyond me. I’m not saying she’s wrong. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’s right. I just don’t follow the feminine logic.

A knock. Heyes puts down his coffee cup and darts to the door. I see his face fall as soon as he reaches the spot where he can see who’s out on the porch. So I guess I know who it AIN’T, huh?

It’s Fred Tammett. He SAYS he’s come round ‘cos his grandmother says to bring over milk, bread and butter ‘cos it stands to reason there won’t be any for breakfast if Mrs. Buchanan expected to still be away. It’s pretty clear he’s a willing volunteer though and that’s why he didn’t wait ’til morning. What he’s REALLY come for is to find out all he can about the outlaws and to plead to be included in any excitement tomorrow.

“Are you gonna interview ’em, Joshua? Can I come?”

“That’d be an ‘almost certainly not’ and a ‘definitely not’.”

“Awww, why?”

“‘Cos even if the Sheriff said I could talk to them – which he won’t – and the doc said I could talk to them – which she won’t – why the Sam Hill would they want to talk to me?”

He does NOT add – ‘And ‘cos I won’t be going near them in case they look all too familiar.’

“They might wanna talk about their – their exploits!” The lad’s eyes are wide.

Heyes cannot help grinning at the word. “Exploits?”

“Ain’t you heard who they are?” To Ann, “Didn’t they tell you who they were, ma’am?”

We know, from her, the two fellas brought in were in no state to tell anyone anything. I guess she don’t wanna go into details again, ‘cos all she says is, “No. Nothing.”

“You ain’t HEARD?”

He’s itching for someone to ask and, like I said, he’s a good kid, so I oblige.

“Who are they?”

I reckon we both cross our fingers for a pair of unfamiliar names.

Fred swells up for the delivery. “This town – this VERY town is holding,” dramatic pause, “Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.”

Well, look on the bright side. Our pole-axed faces have made Fred one happy young news-giver.

“Oh,” says Ann, sounding very unsure (I TOLD you she was clever. Or – did I? I guess that’s part of what I meant when I said she reminded me of my sist…never mind.) “…Aren’t they very famous?”

“The most successful outlaws in the history of the West!”

“I can’t believe the pair I saw were – It sounds rather unlikely, Fred. Aren’t Heyes and Curry somewhere in Wyoming? From whom did you hear it was them?”

“I heard it from George an’ he heard it from…” George is about the same age as Fred. Where he heard it from is not convincing. Not that WE need convincing it ain’t true. “It’s all over town! It’s Heyes an’ Curry. They…”

Oh, sheesh. He is coming out with all kinds of stuff – making us sound like something out of a dime novel.

“I’m not sure you should sound so – so approving, Fred,” reproves Ann. “Being successful at robbery with violence is hardly something to be admired. And I still can’t believe it’s them. Though,” she sips her coffee, “…It would be a very good story if it were.”

“It MIGHT be them? Huh? It’s not impossible? They’ve deputies stoppin’ folk even goin’ near – they’ve gotta be SOMEONE! And, Heyes and Curry AIN’T violent! They never shot anyone…”

“Fred! You read too much cheap fiction!”

“They didn’t,” I chip in. I cannot help it; I want Ann to know. “They never shot anyone and they didn’t rob – well, they didn’t rob ordinary folk. It’s a fact.”

“It’s not IMPOSSIBLE it’s them,” repeats Fred, stubbornly. “Is it, Joshua?”

“Well, how could it be impossible?” Heyes muses. “‘Impossible’s kinda a big word. Not many things are ‘impossible’ in this world.”

Oh, Heyes.

Ann pours Fred some coffee and cuts him a slice – a very generous slice – of the cake Heyes fetched back as part of the supper shopping. Through mouthfuls of crumbs he tells us more about the ‘exploits’ of the most successful outlaws in the West. Ann lets him talk without further discouragement. Fred’s not dumb, nor is he a child. He knows – really – the ‘exploits’ are mainly fiction. He knows – really – the captured outlaws are – probably – not the famous Heyes and Curry. He’s just close enough to childhood to still hope for the most exciting outcome and, if it’s make-believe, to enjoy it while it lasts. He’s not thinking of the reality of captured men – injury – pain – fear – blood; he’s not thinking of prison – year after year after year after year of life slipping by in a cell; he’s not thinking of – of the noose.

And, that’s as it should be.

Someone who has just turned fifteen should not be thinking of that. If I’d been able to be more like…

When you’re fifteen you SHOULD be allowed to – to…

It’s the way WE were that’s wrong. Not Fred.

A long time passes before he says, “Are you tired, ma’am? Should I go?”

“No,” Ann smiles. “I’m fine. Cut yourself more cake.”

Another knock at the front door. This time it clicks opens before Heyes can get there. His face tells me who it is before she comes into the parlour. Sheesh, she must be dead beat. I glance at Heyes; his mouth tightens in concern.

“Nell!” exclaims Ann, “…Come in, the coffee’s hot. What…?”

Heyes pours it. She takes the cup. His hand and hers touch. Their eyes meet, hands still touching. She gives him a shaky smile as ‘thank you’. He releases the cup.

“I’m not stopping. I’ve done all I can for now. Half an hour won’t hurt. I’m going back then. I came for …At least I SAID I was coming here for a bath…” She opens her coat. You can kinda tell she’s been wearing a full apron, but around where it covered she’s – she’s splattered. Was it like that with me? She gives a wry smile. “There are SOME advantages to being female. The Sheriff didn’t like to say, ‘Go bathe upstairs’ with the house full of strange men. What I really wanted was a walk in the fresh air and to get away from…”

She’s …

I dunno. She’s not shaking and she’s not close to tears. But she’s…

“The men who brought them in. They were so, SO horrid!”

“The marshalls?” asks Ann.

“They AREN’T marshalls! They’re not lawmen at all. Not really. They’re bounty hunters…”

Great. Our favourite profession.

“Matt Ridley and – er – Somebody Bowen…”

The name means nothing to me. I shoot a glance at Heyes. Poker face, but a new gloom in the eyes. Whoever Matt Ridley is, Heyes knows him.

“They didn’t CARE! I mean, sure, one can argue criminals must be caught – one can even argue if they get hurt in the process, it goes with the territory. But, I don’t believe for a moment the injuries on those boys were self defence or – or the result of a ‘stop or I shoot’ warning – or anything like that! It was cruel – senseless! And, they just didn’t CARE! They sneered at Sheriff Fraser for bringing them to me! Why patch them up, just to swing from a rope’s end? Mind you…”

She’s pacing up and down, words tumbling out, voice rising in what sounds like anger.

“…THAT is a good question! I’ve been asking myself THAT! I asked the Sheriff if they were likely to hang – he says that’s for a judge to say, not him…”

“If it’s Heyes and Curry, they won’t hang ’em, ma’am. Just give ’em twenty years,” pipes up Fred.

I like the ‘just’!

“And he told Ridley that the wanted posters say ‘Dead or Alive’. You’re supposed to pick one! Not bring them in half and half!” Her brow furrows, she turns to Fred. “What?”

“The outlaws, ma’am. Was it Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?”

“Who? Oh, yes – I know who you mean. Why should it be them?”

“Because, that would be exciting,” says Ann, “A pair of outlaws; one dark, one fair. Fred and his friends have been adding two and two together and making an exciting five. .”

“You must know their names, ma’am, if you were treatin’ ’em.”

“One managed to tell me his name.” Her voice dips. She’s remembering whatever she’s just been through. “Jed.”

My mouthful of coffee goes down the wrong way. Spluttering and red in the face I am banged on the back by a helpful Fred.

That was kinda unexpected. Still, ‘Jed’ is not SO unusual. If one of ’em answered to ‘Hannibal’ that would be something to choke over!

“Jed is Kid Curry’s real name!” Fred informs us all, grinning in delight. “And you said bounty hunters brought ’em in. So – they must’ve had a price on their head, huh? There’s $10,000 apiece on Heyes and Curry.”

He looks, hopefully, at Nell. Silence. She’s not focused on us. She’s thinking about ‘Jed’ – who ‘managed’ to say his name and his partner who, I guess, didn’t. I think about them too. Poor saps.

“Was he blond and blue eyed, ma’am?”

She gives herself a shake. “Huh? Sorry?”

“Was he blond, ma’am? Like Kid Curry?”

“I think Doctor Meredith’s tired, Fred,” says Ann, mildly. “And, I’m sure your grandmother will wonder where you are.”

Seeing Fred’s face fall, as he gets up and reaches for his coat, Nell offers, “He was fair. Not so blond as Mister Jones – but, yes, fair-haired. I’m sure the man I treated was too young to be Kid Curry, though. Hasn’t he been an outlaw since the early 70s?”

“He must LOOK young, ma’am.” Fred is reluctant to let go. “Why else call him ‘Kid’, huh? What about the other fella? He WAS dark?”

“I think you should let the doc drink her coffee and go up for her bath, Fred,” says Heyes, firmly.

“DarkER. DarkISH. He couldn’t – didn’t tell me a name.” Her mouth twists. I’ve never seen her upset like this; upset and trying to hide it. She sees Fred about to deliver another question and her knuckles whiten. If she grips that cup any tighter it’ll crack. “If he WAS Hannibal Heyes, he isn’t now. He died. Died right there in front of me. While I was…” She stops.

“Oh, Nell!” sympathises Ann.

That shut Fred up. He starts to button his coat. But ‘just turned fifteen’ is not an age to stay shut up long. He tries one final question, “Did he say anything – I mean anything that might be a clue?”

“Yes.” Her face is bleak as winter. “He said, ‘Please don’t let me die. I don’t wanna die. Please. I’m scared. Please let me live. I’m so scared, ma’am. Please.” She puts down her cup and walks straight towards Heyes like a pin heading for a magnet. “Oh, Joshua…” Heyes steps forward, opens his arms and wraps them tight round her, as she leans against him, face buried on his chest. I don’t think either of them thinks about what they’re doing. It just comes natural as breathing. “He was squealing in pain. Terrified. Begging me to help. And I let him die. I hurt him and hurt him and hurt him – and then I let him die.”

Heyes makes soft shushing sounds. Holds her closer and closer. Rocking her like a child.

“I’ve lost patients before. But, not like that. Not right in front of my face. Not while I was working on them. He was hurt so bad. I should have – It wasn’t the injuries I could see. Couldn’t have been. They must have beaten him until – It must have been something internal. I should have…”

“You tried your best.” He’s talking to the top of her head. His lips are nearly in her hair. “No one could have done more. No one. None of us hafta have been there to know that.”

“Trying your best doesn’t count! There ARE no marks for trying! I should have…” Her nose burrows into Heyes’ shirt. The voice muffles. “There was nothing I could do. And, now – when I get back – once his partner comes round from the anaesthetic, I’ll have to tell him. It’s not fair to leave it to anyone else! I have to… I let him die!”

“You saved one life, huh? You saved ‘Jed’.”

A nod. “I’ll pull him through. He not use the arm again. Not properly. Not after what they did. But, I’ll pull him through. Then, while he’s still grief stricken – he can hang. Or rot in a cell. So, what’s the point?”

“That’s not your fault – is it? You can only…”

Her head comes up. She seems to take in that she’s being hugged and that it isn’t – well, in the circumstances I can’t see even her aunt could object – but all the same, she pulls away. Struggles. I don’t think Heyes realises how tight he’s holding her.

“No! Let me go!”

He releases her at once. “Sorry, I…”

“I mean don’t comfort me, Mister Smith. I don’t deserve it. This is part of my job, I should cope. Besides, believe me, you don’t want to get too close. Whoever they were – famous or not – they were filthy, crawling with lice. It’ll be a miracle if I haven’t picked them up. I’ll go bathe.”

“Leave the bathroom door unlocked,” says Ann, “I’ll bring you another coffee up. And I’ll bring you something of mine to change into.”

Nell nods. At the door, she pauses, “I’m so – SO angry! Angry with the men who did this! Angry we run our law on – on greed. Angry with myself for letting him… AND, angry with him! With both of them! If they hadn’t picked this life – he’d be alive now. Was the lure of easy money worth THIS? Throwing your life away at… He can’t have been much more than twenty-three, twenty-four!”

“They might not have exactly ‘picked’ the outlaw life,” I say. That’s not true though, is it? I’m not talking about THEM and it’s not true. It’s one of those almost half-truths I wanna believe.

She looks at me for a second, her eyes soften. I get a tired smile. “Well, Mister Jones, I won’t argue. I suppose I should follow your example and not be so ready to throw the first stone.” She goes.

-oooOOOooo-

It’s about half an hour later. Nell bathed, changed, and Heyes walked her back to the end of her street. We’ve told Ann we won’t impose on her – we’ll move into the hotel. After all, it’s only a day earlier than we planned.

“You know this Matt Ridley?” I ask, once the front door has shut behind us.

“Uh huh,” grunts Heyes.

“We’re not goin’ to the hotel, are we?”

“Can’t risk it. Where else can he stay? Besides – what am I gonna do tomorrow? Go nose around and find out all the facts for the paper? I can’t – can I? I can’t even go out once he’s walking around.” A pause. Heyes’ voice is – I dunno – empty, when he carries on. “I memorised all the trains, Kid, just in case. There’s one leaves at midnight heading West. We’ll take that.”

“Did you – did you say anythin’ to the doc? When you walked her back?”

“Yeah. I said I’d see her tomorrow. I tell lies, Kid. I’m a liar. You know that.”

“But…” I meet his eyes. He looks miserable.

More miserable than I’ve seen him for…

Forever.

I find I’ve nothing to say, I close my mouth.

What else could he tell her?

When Ann said ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ to me, I – Well, I already knew that wasn’t real likely and I didn’t say a word. I let it pass. I guess I even nodded.

What else can either of us do?

We can’t say we’ve been offered a job. Heyes HAS a job and I’m fit for nothing yet.

We can’t say we’ve had a telegram calling us away. When we arrived at Ann’s for supper we were planning to stay in Arcadia for at least a few more weeks. She knows that.

And we can’t tell the truth because…

No. No, I won’t gloss over it.

We can’t tell the truth because we’re both liars.

Lying is the life we picked.

-oooOOOooo-

END OF PART ONE

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