The Long Road – Part 2
Lom caught up to Heyes and Kid on the road to his house. "Boys," he said as he rode up along side them.
"Lom," they replied.
"Well?" Heyes asked.
"Went just like we planned. Sounded believable to me," Lom replied. "Took a few minutes to gather my things and look around. Didn't look like anyone moved and no one's been following me."
"Good," Heyes said. “We'll stop at your place so you can pick up your gear and then head off. I'd like to make it to the bend in the river by tonight. If we do that, we can get through Devil's mouth in the daylight."
"Never thought I would be going back through those trails again," Lom said.
"Know the feelin’," Kid stated. "Unfortunately for Heyes and me, we've been back a few times."
As the sun began to set Heyes pointed, "There's the bend in the river, let's set up camp here." After setting up camp and having some fish they had caught for dinner, the three sat around the fire. "So Lom," Heyes started. "Have you talked to the new governor recently?"
Lom took a sip of his coffee, "Been meaning too. He's just getting settled in again."
Kid shook his head, "Who'd a thought the President would appoint him again?" Turning to Lom he added, "At least we don't have to start from the beginnin' again."
"Or do we Lom?" Heyes asked sounding very serious. "Governor Warren started this and we've been through a couple more. Are we any closer to the amnesty? Lom, do we have a shot at this or should we just pack up and go to Mexico?"
Lom looked at his friend, "Heyes these things take time."
"How much time?" Heyes stood up and started to pace. "We've done everything and more. We've been model citizens. We can't do any more than they have already asked of us. We've given up outlawing and outlasted three governors. We need to know if we're gonna get a second chance or if we're just spitting in the wind."
Lom looked at both Heyes and Kid, "Well boys, didn't want to get your hopes up, but I had planned on going to see the governor once he got settled in. I think he needs to be reminded of the original deal and everything you've done since, including this job."
"You'll do that Lom?" Kid said sounding excited.
Heyes continued to pace.
Lom nodded his head towards Heyes.
"It's eatin' him up," Kid said. "He has Laurie, he has plans. He doesn't think he can take care of his family without a real job. He can't do that or open the saloon without amnesty."
Lom nodded. "What about you?" he asked Kid.
"I got Heyes to worry about things," Kid smiled. "He does enough for both of us. He's even worried ‘bout taking care of me." He chuckled and then got serious. "It's wearin’ thin. We still have to look over our shoulder. We've had to pick up and leave a few times. Hide out. We got a nice home in Small Falls and are pretty well settled in. It can still be taken away and there ain't nothin' more we can do to make it right. If Heyes hadn't agreed to go for amnesty we would still be in Devil's Hole. He's the one that's kept us on the straight and narrow many times."
"You can stop talking like I'm not here," Heyes said from the other side of the fire as he continued to pace.
"Still got those hawk ears," Lom said. "So what's the plan for tomorrow?"
Heyes turned and looked at Lom, "To get through Devil's Mouth." Heyes paused and then added, "It's getting late. We should get some rest. I'll take the first watch."
Kid got up to get his bedroll and get situated. "Heyes, if you take the first watch, you ain't gonna wake either of us up for the second watch. How ‘bout if I take the first watch and then Lom, then you?"
"Kid, you'll be asleep before your head hits the ground. I'm up, got my coffee. I'll take the first watch and then I'll get you up."
"Sounds good to me," Lom said as he lay down. "Means I'll make the coffee and not Heyes."
As the sun began to rise over the mountain the three got up with the plan to set off towards Devil's Mouth. Devil's Mouth got its name because it's the opening into the area of no return. You didn't go there if you didn't have to. From there all the trails that led through the mountains started, including the one that eventually took you to Devil's Hole. Not too many people ventured through this area without implicit knowledge of the trails. They were narrow, they were dangerous and they were the reason no lawman ever got into Devil's Hole. One wrong turn, one slip of a horse step and you would be dead.
Lom, Heyes and Kid were taking the trail on the left, the one that took you the furthest from Devil's Hole and up and over the other side of the mountain. It was a tricky trail but thankfully not as bad as some of the others that took you high up into the mountains.
Kid rolled over, "Coffee smells good, Lom." He said as he got up and got himself a cup. "Boy it sure don't feel like October out," he shivered. "Feels more like late November."
"Thinking the same thing, Kid," Lom said. "I have a feeling winter's gonna show up early this year."
"You been talkin' to Heyes," Kid chuckled as he walked over to Heyes and gave his sleeping partner a nudge with his foot. "He's worried about gettin' the barn roof done before the first snowfall. Said it's gonna be early this year." He nudged Heyes again, "Time to get movin' Heyes. Lom's got coffee, let's go."
Lom looked at Kid and Heyes and chuckled.
Kid looked curiously back at him.
"If my memory's correct, didn't it used to be Heyes getting you moving?"
"Yep, usually still is," Kid replied. "He didn't lie down until just before I woke you. Probably didn't go to sleep that long ago. Don't you remember he don't sleep much when we're doin' a job?"
"We're not robbin'g a bank or train. Just making a delivery," Lom stated.
"Don't matter. You should know he can't turn that brain of his off," Kid said.
"Will the two of you stop talking like I'm not here again," Heyes grumbled as he rolled over in his bedroll and sat up.
"Well, if you got up when I nudged ya the first time," Kid said as he went to get Heyes coffee. "We wouldn't be talkin' ‘bout ya. Since you're just lyin' there, what else do you expect?"
"Quiet," Heyes groaned and then added, "thanks," as Kid handed him the coffee.
"Mornin' Heyes," Lom said.
"Morning Lom," he replied.
Lom shook his head and chuckled, "If people didn't know ya better, they'd think ya didn't like each other." Lom chuckled a little more, "Reminds me of an old married couple you do."
Heyes twisted his face and snorted as he stood up giving Lom a look out of the corner of his eyes.
Lom chuckled more.
Heyes pulled out his watch and checked the time, "We should get moving". Got a long day ahead of us. If the captain stays on schedule, they should be getting ready to board the train in ‘bout half an hour. I want to keep moving just in case Mad Dog decides to go for the money in the transfer and finds out it ain't there. Also want as much daylight as possible going into Devil's Mouth just in case anyone's around. I want them to see us and that we're taking the trail over the side. Once we get through there, it should be fairly easy going into Lewistown."
At six forty-five Captain Turner and his trusted right hand man Sergeant Stevens went to check the private train that had just arrived. Upon checking the train, Captain Turner carefully loosened the couplings between the last two cars per Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones instructions, making sure Sergeant Stevens blocked any curious eyes. Exactly at seven fifteen Captain Turner had Mr. Porter open the safe. He and his men got the lockbox and headed for the private train. "Put the box in the last car," the Captain instructed. "I want two men on the back of the car, two inside and two on the front. The Sergeant and I will be in the first car watching for anything out the windows."
About fifteen minutes out of Porterville Captain Turner turned to Stevens. "Sergeant," he said, "Time to pull all the men into this car."
The Sergeant looked at him.
"Nothing happened out of Porterville, nothings going to happen for a while. Might as well give the men a rest and let them sit. They can still watch out the windows for any activity."
The train chugged along without incident. The men were relaxed and getting more comfortable. About halfway to Freightown, the train started up the long steep incline. As the first car started up the hill, it slowed and then suddenly jerked forward, jostling those in the car. "What was that?'' Sergeant Stevens yelled.
"Look out the windows, anyone see anything?" Captain Turner instructed over the commotion.
"Hey," one of the men bellowed, "the train's come undone. We lost the payroll!"
Shouts of ‘stop the train' could be heard as the men ran to the back of the train and onto the platform then watched the detached train car come to a stop at the bottom of the hill. From the trees on the side, they could see a group of riders heading towards the stopped car as the moving train continued to take them further away. "Stop the train!" they yelled towards the engine. "Stop the train." Captain Turner watched as twelve men surrounded and then entered the stopped train car. "Let's jump from the train," someone yelled.
Captain Turner shot his gun once in the air to get the men's attention, "Halt!" he ordered. "Everyone stays on the train. They are too far away and you'll be sitting ducks if you leave the train."
"But Captain," the men stated. "The payroll," they pleaded.
The Captain held up his hand, "Stay on the train and try to shoot them from here." On cue, the men turned towards the train car and began to shoot. Because of the distance between the still moving train and the stopped car it really wasn't a surprise they didn't hit anything.
Mad Dog appeared from the stopped car with the lock box and the gang of twelve quickly returned to the trees they came from.
As they watched the gang ride into the trees the men were rather dejected. Captain Turner turned to them and said, "We did all we could. I already lost one man. I wasn't sending any of you to your death over the payroll. Besides that, they got the box. The payroll isn't in there. It was switched back in Porterville.
Porterville?" one of the men asked. "So it's still safe."
"I certainly hope so Private, I certainly hope so," Captain Turner said. "Now let's go back into the car and relax. We still need to get to Lewistown and once they find out they don't have the money, Mad Dog and his men might be back."
Captain Turner sat staring out the window of the train. He was amazed at how accurate Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones had been. He wondered how they had become such experts. The men sat back and relaxed.
Heyes rode slightly ahead of Kid and Lom as they approached the area known as Devil's Mouth. He stopped and looked down the slope and into the mouth. Kid and Lom rode up next to him and stopped. "Well, we made it before night fall," Heyes said. "Now all we have to do is get to the bridge and cross it and we should be able to camp for the night." Turning to Lom, "You sure you want to do this?"
"Having second thoughts about your plan?" Lom replied.
"No," Heyes shook his head. "Just you're law and law ain't exactly welcome in these parts."
"Heyes has a point," Kid said drawing out the words a little. "Might just want to take that big tin star off your chest ‘til we get to the other side."
Lom looked down at his chest and nodded as he removed the star and put it in his pocket.
"Well," Kid said, "Now that that's done, might as well get going."
Heyes nodded and clicked his tongue, lightly tapping the side of his horse with his heel to get him to move forward. As they crossed into the area and rode towards the left, whether it was just perception or reality, the surrounding area was different. Less vegetation, what was there wasn't as green. Less wildlife and what was there was far more skittish. The three were quiet as they kept an eye out on all directions, checking to see if they were being watched. As the horses climbed the mountain, the trail became narrower and narrower and more and more treacherous, and this was one of the easier paths. They rode in silence until they came to a slight widening in the path.
"Bridge should be up ahead," Heyes said quietly pointing ahead.
As they went around a bend a fox darted out from one of the bushes. Startled, all three men had their guns in their hands in flash. Taking a deep breath and holstering his gun Kid said, "I don't remember being so jumpy the last time we were through here."
"That's cause you owned the place then," Lom said. "No one up here was gonna mess with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry."
"Lom's gotta a point, Kid," Heyes said. "We're not part of this any more. We may not be sporting a tin star like Lom, but we're riding with him. In their eyes," Heyes motioned his hand in the air, "we're just the same." Heyes paused, "Now if I knew for sure it was Wheat, Kyle and the boys, I wouldn't worry as much. It's been a while since we've been here or run into any of the boys so we don't know who's running things. Just the same," Heyes said sounding more confident, "Don't think many would mess with the likes of Kid Curry. Now let's get across the bridge and find a place for the night. I don't want to be stuck out on these trails when the sun goes down."
"I'll second that," Lom stated.
"Can't believe we could fly through these hills with our eyes closed," Kid said shaking his head. "We could've been killed!"
"I believe the posses on our tail could have done the same thing, Kid," Heyes stated.
"Yeah, but still," Kid said.
Lom chuckled, "Getting soft in your old age Kid?"
Kid turned and glared at Lom, then laughed, "Could be Lom, could be."
Heyes pulled his horse to a stop at the beginning of the rickety old bridge that crossed the gorge below. Heyes carefully peered over the side, looking all the way down to the bottom. He sat up and turned to Lom and Kid, "Should we flip to see who goes first?"
"There's three of us, how's that gonna work?"
"Hmm," Heyes thought for a minute. "Actually, since you and I got the payroll on our horses, Lom should check the bridge out."
"If the bridge breaks and I fall," Lom said, "It's not gonna look good for you two."
"Why?" Kid asked.
"Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry live but the sheriff they're traveling with dies. Think they'll think the worst of you."
"Lom that's just not fair," Kid huffed. "Why would we do anything to hurt you?"
"I'm the law Kid," Lom said.
"We're friends!" Kid protest.
"Kid, Lom has a point," Heyes jumped in. "Friends or not, we got our reputation and Lom is the law. We're still outlaws and we are still wanted. We're up here in the Devil's playground, what would they think? So, guess we should flip to see which one of us goes first."
"Whose coin?" Kid asked. "Wait, this was your idea and you been leadin' us here. As Kyle always said," Kid got a huge smile on his face.
Heyes glowered at Kid.
Trying to do his best impression of Kyle, Kid continued, "What makes you such a good leader, Heyes, is you wouldn't ask no one to do nutin' you wouldn't do yourself."
"I ain't no leader, we're partners," Heyes snorted at Kid then turned his horse towards the bridge. He carefully maneuvered his horse to the bridge and nudged it slowly forward. As Heyes held his breath, he began to cross the bridge. "If I fall," Heyes yelled over his shoulder, "You'll have lots of explaining to do to Laurie!" The bridge creaked and Heyes urged his horse to go a little faster. Getting to the other side Heyes turned and yelled back, "Piece of cake!"
Lom was the next to go. He slowly crossed without incident. Then Kid. When Kid got about half way across he heard a snap. One of the boards the horse stepped on cracked and went cascading all the way down to the bottom of the gorge. At first the horse stood frozen and then started to back up.
"No," Heyes yelled from the far side.
Kid frantically tried to control the horse which was getting more and more nervous as it looked for a way to turn around. Another loud crack was heard and the bridge began to sway.
"Kid!" Heyes yelled in a panic, as he was helpless to do anything. If he tried to go out on the bridge, the weight of the two horses and two men most certainly would cause the worn and weathered ropes on the bridge to snap, sending them plummeting to their death.
Kid pulled on the reigns and gave a swift kick to the side of the horse. The horse took off towards the end of the bridge.
Reaching solid ground, Kid turned and looked at the bridge, "Heyes, you better have another way of goin’ home. I'm not crossin’ that bridge again!"
"We'll take the long way," Heyes chuckled. Turning to Kid, "How ‘bout a whiskey?"
"Good, this looks as good as any place to stay the night."
Night turned into morning and they continued up over the side of the mountain and down towards Lewistown. The trails on this side of the mountain were nothing compared to the previous day. They made good time and they approached the town just as the sun was beginning to set. "Perfect timing, Kid, perfect," Heyes said with a smile. "Two and a half days."
"That was a lot easier than I expected," Lom stated.
"Lom," Kid whined. "You know you don't say nothin’ until the job is done. The job ain't done!"
"Kid, the town is just ahead," Lom started but was cut off.
"Don't say it!" Kid exclaimed. "It's bad enough you said it was easier, don't say nothin’ else until we turn the money over!" Lom opened his mouth to say something, Kid's hand shot up to stop him as he frantically shook his head.
"Kid has a point, Lom," Heyes stated. "No sense jinxing anything." Lom looked at Heyes and was about to speak when Heyes cut him off. "Lom, the strangest things happen to Kid and me when all looks good. I'll be happy to turn the money over to the army and then you can say anything you want."
Lom finally nodded in agreement.
"Now I wonder where Captain Turner is and that army division that's supposed to get the money." As if on cue, a group of men started to ride towards them. "Ah," Heyes said. There they are." Riding up to meet them, "Captain," Heyes tipped his hat. "I believe we have a delivery for you."
"Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, Sheriff Trevors," Captain Turner said. "You made it! I'd like you to meet Major Johnson. He'll be taking the delivery."
"Major," they all responded. "Would you like the packages here?" Heyes asked.
"Let's head to the train station, we have a lock box onboard," the Major stated.
"Train! You're takin' this by train through this area?" Kid exclaimed.
"That's the plan," the Major replied.
"We just went through the mountains to keep this safe and you're gonna put it back on the train?" Kid exclaimed in total disbelief.
"If I had been in charge, I wouldn't have let you take it through the mountains. We have an army division and a private train. We are fully capable of guarding the payroll."
Heyes could see Kid opening his mouth to argue with the Major and jumped in, "Thaddeus, we did our job, now let's let the Major do his. Let's get to the train and make the transfer." Kid looked at Heyes who returned the gaze with an 'it's not worth it' look.
Kid nodded and they headed to the train.
Being relieved of the payroll, the three left the train station. "How ‘bout a drink?" Lom asked. "I'm buying."
"Well, if you're buyin’," Kid said enthusiastically, "I'm drinkin’."
"I said a drink," Lom said almost wishing he hadn't offered.
"I'll meet you at the saloon. I'm gonna send a telegram to Laurie saying we'll be heading home tomorrow," Heyes said. "Oh and maybe some poker later."
Heyes, Kid and Lom had a great night in the saloon. They drank, they played poker, they won, they drank some more and they headed to the hotel very late. Rolling over with the sun streaming in the window Heyes raised his hand to block it from his eyes, he groaned. "Kid, you alive over there?" he asked not wanting to open his eyes in the bright room to find out. An indiscernible noise came from the direction of Kid's bed. "Kid," Heyes said a little louder and then moaned at the sound of his own voice, "You alive?"
"Yeah and you won't be if you keep yellin’!" Kid grumbled back.
"Okay," Heyes said more quietly, "Just checking."
Trying to open his eyes and focus them, Kid said, "My head's gonna explode. We've done worse and haven't felt like this."
"Out of practice," Heyes whispered trying not to move too much.
"Huh?" Kid responded still trying to focus his eyes.
"When was the last time we've been out all night drinking? We've settled into a normal life Kid. We don't do this anymore."
"Ya think Lom feels as bad as we do?"
"He's more out of practice then us," Heyes sighed and then rolled over and put his feet on the floor. "Guess we should go check."
"I'm not that concerned," Kid moaned.
"No, but you know the only way we're gonna feel better is to get up and move around. Maybe get some food. I also want to start home. Told Laurie we would be leaving today."
"I'm not goin' over that bridge again."
"I'd prefer to stay off the mountain too. No reason to tempt fate going through the Devil's playground again. It will take us an extra day, but it's worth it." Heyes stood up and walked over to Kid, "Come on, get up." He said as he swatted at his arm then walked over and splashed water on his face. The knock on the door finally got Kid to roll over and sit up. Reaching for his gun he nodded at Heyes who opened the door.
"Mornin' boys," Lom said cheerfully as he walked into the room.
Heyes and Kid snarled at him.
"What?" Lom asked defensively.
"You're too noisy to begin with," Kid said holstering his gun. "And too cheery."
Lom slumped his shoulders and sighed. "Oh good," he said. "You feel as bad as I do."
Heyes and Kid looked at him totally confused.
"I figured you both would be up and ready to go. Thought I'd get grief from you. Didn't know how long I could keep up the act."
Heyes chuckled and then moaned.
"Guess we're all a little out of practice," Kid said standing up and splashing water on his face. "But it sure was fun last night!"
"Yeah it was," Heyes said. "Let's get some coffee and food."
As the three men walked out of the hotel into the bright sunlight, the commotion over towards the sheriff's office immediately caught their attention. Heyes reached out and tapped a young boy running by, "What's going on?"
"A private train was ambushed last night. They's tryin' to get a posse together to go after the gang," he replied as he continued running past.
The three looked at each other suddenly sobering up. Kid shook his head, "I told that Major he shouldn't be puttin’ the payroll back on a train. Now he probably got him or his men all shot up."
"We're assuming that's the train," Lom said.
Heyes and Kid tilted their heads at him.
"Okay, we know that's the train, let's go see what we can find out."
"Lom," Heyes said. "If it's all the same to you, Kid and me will hang back here."
Lom looked at the two and nodded then turned and walked towards the commotion.
"Damn it Heyes, can't we ever get a break?" Kid asked.
Brown eyes looked at blue ones waiting for an explanation.
"The payroll was stolen, and Devil's Hole isn't that far away. They'll probably blame it on us."
"Kid," Heyes said placing his hand on Kid's back. "This is one time we are in the clear. We were with Lom. And anyway, they know that Mad Dog was after the money." Heyes stood there for a moment then puffed out his chest a little, "Didn't get it on our watch neither. Maybe we got a future for us when we get amnesty. Out smartin' the crooks."
Kid rolled his eyes at Heyes. He knew his partner was enjoying the fact that his plan worked and the army's didn't. "Heyes, how many jobs you gonna set us up with after the amnesty? We got the ranch and the horses you want, the saloon, and now helpin’ to outsmart the crooks. For someone who don't like to work, you certainly are thinkin’ lots about it."
"Well, just as long as none of ‘em are too hard on the back," Heyes smiled and his eyes twinkled. "Gotta keep the mind working Kid."
"You do that Heyes, you do that," Kid chuckled.
Noise from the edge of town got their attention as well as those in front of the sheriff's office. People scattered and ran towards the group of men on horseback apparently bringing in the injured and dead from the ambushed train. Heyes and Kid recognized Captain Turner as being the one in the lead. Lom walked over to the Captain and then headed back their way.
Heyes and Kid were now seated on the hotel porch watching everything but keeping their distance. Too many people, too many unknown faces. Lom approached the steps of the hotel and they leaned forward in their chairs. Stopping at the top of the steps Lom stated, "It was the train. The payroll's gone."
Motioning towards the group carrying the wounded and lining up the dead bodies, Heyes asked solemnly, "How many?"
"Not sure," Lom replied. "Both sides were hit pretty bad."
"The Major?" Kid asked.
"Alive but shot up real bad," Lom replied.
The three sat on the porch watching as people rushed here and there, bodies being carried to the doctor or to the undertaker. As Captain Turner directed the commotion, the sheriff continued to try to get a posse together. Having everyone that could be attended to and all of the dead at the undertakers, Captain Turner looked around the town. He searched the area and finally spotting what he was looking for, headed over to the hotel porch. The three men watched as he urgently crossed the town.
"Sheriff, Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones," the Captain said as he reached the porch.
"Captain," they responded.
He stood there staring at the three.
Heyes thought he looked lost. "Captain," Heyes said. "You want something?"
"I need your help," the Captain began.
"Sorry," Heyes replied. "We did our job and got the payroll here. Thaddeus even told the Major not to put the payroll back on the train. We'll be heading home in a little while."
The three watched as the Captain's face became red with rage. His knuckles turned white as he gripped the banister so hard they thought it might snap. His breathing became snorts as his lips pressed tightly together. Finally he said in a tight and controlled voice, "If the Major hadn't been so arrogant, none of this would have happened. Twelve men dead, eight of them ours, ten wounded, seven of them ours, and the payroll my small division worked so hard at keeping safe wouldn't be gone! And believe it or not, that's not the worst of it. The Major decided that commandeering a private train would be a good cover. So to get away Mad Dog took hostages from the train. That's right," the Captain seethed as his anger was getting the best of him and his voice became louder. "He kept the people on the train when he took it over. A mother and her two young children! Mad Dog grabbed the three of them to get away."
The three men shot up in their seats, "What?" Kid asked horrified. "He let the people stay on the train?"
"He explained it would be a good cover. No one would think the army stupid enough to put the payroll on the train with a mother and her two children!" Captain Turner turned and slammed his first onto the banister. He stared out at the town trying to control his breathing and control his rage. Turning back towards them he looked them up and down. Calmly he said, "I need your help." Putting up his hand to stop them from responding he continued. "I need your expertise. I may only be a Captain, but I'm smart enough to know that you two aren't normal deputies. You knew exactly what Mad Dog would do. You knew how to crack a safe and how to get into the bank in broad daylight. And you knew how to get through the Devil's playground." He stopped and looked at them. "I don't know who you are Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, and I don't care. I just know that you're the best chance they have of surviving."
Heyes got up and started to pace.
Kid looked at the Captain and then at Lom, "I'll talk to him."
"In the meantime," Lom said standing up. "I'd like to talk to some of the survivors, to see what they can tell us." The Captain and Lom left heading to the makeshift hospital.
Kid looked at Heyes, "He's right you know."
"I know Kid," Heyes said solemnly. "It's just I got a bad feeling." He paused then added, "Winter's in the air. When we left Laurie was still sick, it just feels wrong."
"I thought Laurie was better."
"She just didn't want me to worry. She was trying to hide it but I knew." Heyes frowned, "Damn it, Kid, feel the air. It's October and the sun is out but we can still see our breaths. Something is wrong. I can feel it."
Kid just looked at Heyes.
"I know," Heyes shot back at Kid's glare, "I know it's a mother and her two young children. If they're up in the playground, we're their only hope."
"Why not send a telegram to Laurie and see how she is before we decide?"
Heyes looked at Kid and nodded.
Laurie and Sarah were walking towards the General Store. Laurie wanted to pick up some supplies before Joshua and Thaddeus came home. The women had become very close since Thaddeus had started to court Sarah. They were laughing at Sam who was dragging a huge bone behind him. Seems he had made good friends with the butcher. Mr. Quimby stuck his head out of the telegraph office. Spotting Laurie, he shouted out, "Laurie, Laurie." She turned at the sound of her name. Mr. Quimby waved the telegram in the air, "Telegram from Joshua. It said urgent!"
Laurie quickly turned and hurried over to retrieve the telegram. Upon looking at it her heart skipped a few beats. Just by the length of the telegram she knew something was wrong. As she read it tears formed in her eyes. Sarah looked at Laurie, "Everything okay?"
"Yes," she replied. "Just Joshua and Thaddeus will be delayed a little while longer. I'll be right back; I have to reply.” Knowing the ramifications, she sent her response.
Heyes and Kid were still outside the telegraph office when the response came back. The telegraph operator handed it to Heyes.
To: Joshua Smith, Lewistown
You're their only hope. Be safe. Know that I love you with all my heart.
Love always, Laurie
Heyes read the telegram then folded it and put it in his right breast pocket. He turned to Kid and frowned, "You know if they have a private train, they have money and they'll have all the best detectives on this."
Kid looked at Heyes. "Yep," he replied. "And they'll do everything wrong, get the woman and her kids killed and probably themselves." Kid and Heyes stood silently looking at the town. "Heyes if..." Kid started but was cut off by Heyes.
"I'm not letting you go alone Kid," Heyes said. "I know we're the only hope if they've gone into the mountains. Hell we're probably the only hope if they're in town, they've already bumbled this so much." Heyes turned to Kid and with a very serious expression said, "Just have a feeling something isn't right." Heyes shook his head. "If nothing else, there's gonna be a posse and probably some Bannerman men looking. We don't need to be caught cause we're helping out."
Kid nodded. "I know Heyes. When you got a feelin' you know I listen. It's just that it's a mother and her children."
"I just can't do nothin', knowin’ I might be able to help. I'll watch our backs."
Heyes nodded then seeing Lom and the Captain walking their way he said, "Let's go see what they found out."
The four men met up and headed to the café to sit down and talk. "What'd you find out?" Heyes asked as they took seats in the back of the nearly empty café. Most residents were still out milling around town, talking to each other about the horror that had happened. Others were busy helping the wounded or the dead. The sheriff was still working on getting a posse together.
"Mad Dog ambushed the train about five miles from town. The train slowed to go around a bend and he and his men were just sitting there waiting to pounce. The men on the train did their best, but half were dead or wounded before they even had a chance to return fire," Captain Turner explained.
"They sure it was Mad Dog?" Kid asked.
The Captain nodded. "Some of the wounded men confirmed it. They recognized him."
The Captain paused as the young waitress walked over to the table.
"Can I get you gentlemen anything?" she asked holding a pot of coffee in her hand.
"Just coffee," Lom responded and the waitress filled their cups.
Kid stared at him incredulously, "We were on our way over here for breakfast when we saw the commotion. Now I don't know 'bout you but I always think better with a full stomach."
"Well in that case," Lom said smiling as he turned to the waitress. "We'll have four breakfast specials."
She nodded and walked away.
"Back to Mad Dog," Heyes said quietly taking a sip of his coffee.
"There was a gun fight and then Mad Dog boarded the train," Turner continued. "He killed everyone in his path until he got to the Major." He paused, wrapping his hands around the coffee cup for warmth, he stared into the dark liquid. Lifting his eyes to the men looking at him, he said, "He shot the Major in both knees and broke his arms. He told him he wasn't gonna kill him outright. He was gonna let him suffer, bleed to death or let him die from the infection he most certainly would get. He wanted him to know what he had done. That his men were dead, and it was all his fault. That's when one of his men brought in," he paused and took out a piece of paper, "Mrs. Brewster and her two children, a boy and a girl. One of the men thought he had heard her say they were three and four years old." His eyes drifted back to the coffee as he continued to talk, "Mad Dog laughed when he saw them. Then looked back at the Major and told him he would have to suffer knowing they were leaving with him. The Major pleaded but Mad Dog just laughed. He said you can still hear the gun fighting at the front of the train. They had some of the army pinned down by the engine. He's takin' hostages so he knows they won't follow. Then they grabbed the box and disappeared into the woods."
"How many?" Heyes asked.
"By the accounts of the wounded, Mad Dog had twelve men to start with," the Captain replied. "Four are dead and three were wounded badly enough to leave them behind, so that leaves five."
Kid shook his head, "He left his own men behind, and takes a woman and her children hostage. What kind of animal is he?"
"That's exactly what he is Mr. Jones," the Captain said. "Now can I count on the two of you to help me and my men out?"
It was silent for a moment as Heyes and Kid looked at each other. "Captain," Heyes said as he turned to look at him. "I don't think you understand. My partner and I work alone. We are not going after Mad Dog or anyone else with you and your men."
"But," Captain Turner began.
"We will go after him, but on our terms. Not being part of a posse," Kid stated. "It's how we work and how we'll get the hostages back."
"Thaddeus is right Captain," Heyes said. "It's the way we work. We know our way around the area. We don't need other people complicating matters and letting Mad Dog know we are on his trail."
"My men and I won't get in your way," the Captain protested. "We are professionals and can track him down."
"I'm sure you can but you're not going to do it with us," Heyes stated matter-of-factly
"Captain," Lom interjected, "Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones know what they are talking about. They've worked with each other for so long that they know by instinct what the other is thinking and doing. But rest assured, I will be with them every step of the way."
Heyes and Kid turned and stared at Lom.
"That's right boys," he said. "It's slightly out of my jurisdiction but close enough for me to go along with you."
Heyes and Kid exchanged glances. "Alright Lom," Heyes said, "You can ride with us."
"Then I'm coming too," Captain Turner stated. "I won't take no for an answer. I feel responsible for the lady and her children. She was with the army when all of this happened. I can't sit back and do nothing."
Once again Heyes and Kid looked at each other. Realizing it helped even the odds Kid said, "Just you. Not your men."
The Captain nodded.
"Now that that's settled," Lom said. "What's the plan?"
The door to the café opened and in walked Sergeant Stevens. Captain Turner turned around and got up to walk over to him. The two stood by the door having a conversation then the Sergeant left and the Captain returned to the table. "The Sheriff and posse are heading out now. I told the Sergeant to take the men and go with him, I was staying with you, trying to cover more ground." The three men nodded. "So what's the plan?"
"Before we get into that," Lom stated, "Like you to know one of the dead men is Crazy Eyes."
"Crazy Eyes?" the Captain asked. "Who's that?"
"He's an outlaw. Name's Ezra Monahan, nickname Crazy Eyes cause of a trick he can do with them," Lom said.
"He still riding with the Dobbs gang?" Kid asked.
"Don't know. Haven't heard much about him in a while," Lom said.
"Why's he important?" Turner asked.
"Cause he knows his way around here. The Dobbs gang's taken refuge in Devil's Hole more than once," Heyes responded. "If more of the gang are with Mad Dog, they know their way around here too and it's gonna make it even tougher on the posse. We need to make a map of where the train was ambushed and where they saw Mad Dog go when he left." Heyes turned to the Captain, "The Sergeant say which way the posse was going?"
"Yeah," Turner responded and then took a piece of folded paper out of his pocket and a pencil. He opened the paper and started to draw a map. "From what I saw when I went to the train, it was stopped just as it went around the bend. The bodies of the dead and injured were scattered around. Most of the army was killed on the train. We found two just outside the tree line here." He made a mark on the map. "We found one of their dead just inside the line of trees." He made another mark on the map. "The Sergeant said the posse was going to follow the path from there and see if they could pick up anything."
Heyes studied the drawing, "Hairpin turn."
"If you were to rob a train on hairpin turn Thaddeus and had knowledge of the area, where would you go?"
Kid thought for a minute and said, "To the top and over."
Heyes nodded as he started to add to the map.
Lom and the Captain watched.
After a minute Kid added, "They're gonna double back and cross the tracks, go up through the woods about two miles out of town so they can slip in through the back of the trail." Turning to the Captain, "When was the train ambushed?"
"Early this morning," he responded.
Kid stared at him waiting for more.
"My guess, ‘bout four a.m."
Kid nodded. "They got a good head start on the posse; a good seven hours. The posse is never gonna get close or find them once they're up in the Devil's Playground."
Heyes turned the map to show it to Kid.
Kid smiled, Lom and the Captain looked at the additions Heyes had made.
"If we start on the trail we rode in on and then cut back here," Heyes said explaining his drawings. "We should be able to pick up Mad Dog's trail around here," Heyes made a mark on the map. "That is, if he's thinking the way Thaddeus is."
"What happens if they get to Devil's Hole?" the Captain asked.
"They won't be allowed in. Woman aren't allowed and certainly not a kidnapped woman and her children," Kid stated. "The gang there would shoot Mad Dog and return the woman."
"So when do we leave?" the Captain asked.
"Now," Heyes stated as he stood up. "Let's grab our gear and meet in front of the hotel in ten minutes." Heyes paused then added, "Captain, see if you can borrow some extra blankets. I'm sure Mad Dog didn't take his hostages into consideration when he packed his gear. It's cold out already. Once they get to the mountains the temperature is really going to drop."
"You think they'll have to stay overnight?" the Captain questioned.
"Hope not, but best be prepared," Heyes stated.
"Well need to grab some supplies from the General Store too," Kid said as he made his way to the door. "They already have a big head start on us so we better move as quick as possible."
The four men packed their gear, and got supplies from the general store. Captain Turner borrowed some extra blankets from the hotel and the four men headed out of town. They rode as fast as they could through the winding trail. As they got about a mile from town, they left the original trail and headed west on a trail that would hopefully intercept Mad Dog and his men. They rode for hours without any sign of Mad Dog or the posse. As they continued in the direction of the train and up into the mountains, something caught Heyes' eye and he pulled his horse up. Still sitting on his horse, he surveyed the area.
"Joshua?" Kid said.
Heyes put his hand up indicating to wait for a minute, then said, "Thought I saw something."
"What?" Lom asked.
"Don't know," Heyes said as he continued to look around. "Thaddeus, does something look different?"
The men continued to look around as they maneuvered their horses slowly around.
"What are ya thinkin’ Joshua?" Kid asked.
"Something's different," he responded. "Can't put my finger on it."
"There are some freshly broken branches," Lom stated.
As Heyes continued to look around, he caught a glimpse of it again. Dismounting, he walked over to the object. Moving some branches that had been placed there, he bent down and picked up a doll; his heart sunk. Turning towards the others he showed what he had found. "They've been here," he said glumly. Turning back around he said, "Thaddeus, come here. This is what's different. They've covered the trail up through the Needle with this brush." Heyes carefully tucked the doll in the inside pocket of his coat.
"Well that's a good sign. It must mean they still have them," Captain Turner stated.
"They might still have them but its not good news if they're heading up through the Needle," Kid stated as all four men worked at moving the brush off the trail.
"But we have to have almost caught up to them. We haven't run into the posse and Joshua said this trail should lead right to them. He was right again. I don't know why it wouldn't be good news," he continued.
"Because if they went up through the Needle, there is only one way in and out. They can be sitting ready to ambush us as soon as we get to the other side," Heyes stated matter-of-factly. Heyes stood up and looked around, then walked down the path a little ways. He bent down and looked at the ground. Standing up he turned around to face the others, "Fresh tracks, they came this way not long ago."
"So what are we waiting for?" the Captain said as he went back to his horse.
"Waiting to decide if we really think we can save them," Heyes said. "I'm not going through the Needle just for the money. It's too risky and I'm not getting shot at or stuck on the mountain for just the money."
"Stuck?" Turner asked.
"See those clouds," Heyes said pointing towards the top of the mountain. "They're snow clouds. If it snows and you're on the other side of the Needle, you're stuck there until you freeze to death."
"It's only late October, it's not going to snow," Turner with disgust.
"It might only be late October but they're snow clouds," Heyes stated again. "Might not snow today or tonight. Might not snow until tomorrow night or next but it is going to snow soon and when it does you don't want to be on the other side."
"Other side of what?" Turner asked. "What is the Needle and why do they call it that?"
"The Needle is a very narrow path along the gorge. The rock walls go straight up and there is barely enough room for a single horse to make it through. Once through, it's easy to hold your ground because it's the only passage into that area of the mountain," Kid stated.
"No other way?" the Captain asked.
"There used to be bridges across the ravine but they haven't been used for years," Kid replied. "Too old and worn.Way too dangerous."
"No one kept them up?" the Captain asked.
"No one has used this area for a long time," Heyes said. "You can get in and be safe, but the pass is only open half the year. Unless you bring in a lot of supplies, you aren't going to make it through a winter. It got too hard and too isolated so people stopped using it and taking care of the bridges."
"Joshua, Thaddeus, can I have a word with you before you decide?" Lom asked. They nodded and walked over to Lom and away from the Captain. "Look," he said, "I think you are the only ones that can save the hostages but if you really think they're waiting to ambush us or the snow is coming in, well, it's not worth risking your lives. You did the job I asked you to do and I can't ask you to go any further. This has to be your decision."
Kid looked at Heyes, staring at him and having a silent conversation. "Heyes," Kid said quietly, "They're three and four years old. How can I abandon them? You have Laurie and she needs you. Go home, I'll keep goin’."
Heyes stared at Kid and lightly shook his head, "Kid, I can't let you go by yourself." Kid opened his mouth to say something but was stopped by Heyes, "If you're going I'm going." Heyes paused for a moment, "Do you think you can get us through the Needle
Heyes shook his head and said, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but let's go."
The three men turned and walked back to their horses. "What's the plan?" Lom asked as they stopped next to the Captain who was already on his horse.
The three men looked intently at Kid. "Well we have no choice but to ride in one at a time." Looking up at the Captain he said, "The ledge is just a little wider than your horse. The one side is the gorge and it's about a two hundred foot drop. The other side is solid rock, straight up about twenty feet. The ledge loops around like...."
"The eye of a needle," the Captain interjected.
"Exactly," Kid acknowledged. "No cover, but really no place for them to get the drop on us either when we're inside."
"What about from the top?" the Captain asked.
"It's too steep on the other side to get up there," Heyes said. "Anyway, no need. We're sitting ducks as soon as we get to the other side. The Needle's opening is only about five feet on the other side. If they know we're coming through, they can be on the other side and pick us off as we come out. Once we're in, we have no choice but to go through. No room to turn around and too dangerous to try to back the horses up."
The Captain nodded.
"Do you think we should leave space between us as we exit?" Lom asked.
"Been thinkin’ about that," Kid said. "We need to leave space between us as we go through. Just in case one of the horses stumbles or somethin’. Then I say we all stop right before we leave the eye and burst out all at once. We'll separate as soon as we are clear, headin’ for the trees and cover. Figure, we might surprise them with the initial burst of the four horses and it will hopefully allow us to get cover before they start shootin’. In any case, I'd much rather be a movin’ target."
The men nodded their heads in agreement.
"Of course, if they don't know we're here, they might not be there waitin’."
"We can hope," Heyes said as he mounted his horse.
"I'll go first, Captain you can follow, then Lom and Joshua," Kid stated. "Let's go."
With that the Captain, kicked his horse and took off for the opening into the Needle.
"Damn," Kid cursed and kicked his horse to follow with Heyes and Lom close behind. "Captain," Kid called out.
Captain Turner continued to ride, never looking over his shoulder until he got to the entrance. Slowing down, he entered the eye of the Needle and stopped. Kid followed, with Lom and then Heyes. "What the hell was that?" Kid called out as he caught up.
"The hostages were taken from the army, this is my job," Captain Turner stated. "If anyone is going to be a sitting duck and be picked off as they get out of here, it will be me."
Kid sighed, "You could have said somethin’ instead of runnin’ off like a damn fool. If you kept goin’ like that you would have been dead in another minute. This is real tricky but you are stuck being in the lead. Take it slow and let's go." He turned his head to shout back at Lom and Heyes, "Keep at least five feet between the horses. Watch for any sudden stops." Turning back to face the Captain he continued, "Okay, Captain. Take it slow and stop about five feet before the end."
The Captain started out and the rest followed as they wound their way around the gorge in virtual silence concentrating on the trail. Lom's horse stepped on a rock and stumbled slightly. "Whoa," Lom said quietly pulling his horse to a stop. Looking over the edge he watched as the rock fell and then crashed at the bottom of the gorge. His eyes widened and he took a deep breath in and puffing his cheeks he blew it out.
"You okay Lom?" Heyes called out quietly waiting behind him.
Lom nodded, "Yep, just a little scare." Looking forward he said to the Captain and Kid who had stopped their horses with the sound, "We can start moving again."
The Captain waved his hand and started slowly again.
As Captain Turner reached the end of the path, he put his hand up indicating he was stopping. Kid, Lom and Heyes caught up and stopped right behind one another.