Luck of the Draw – Part One

Luck of the Draw

Luck of the Draw – Part One

Co-written by Lana Coombe and Grace R. Williams for Virtual Season

The town of Kingdom was a welcome sight for the two weary riders, who now approached. For the last couple of months, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry eked a meager living delivering supplies for a mining company.

They came across Kingdom more by luck than judgment but, as they rode in, they felt that fortune may be smiling on them for once. They rode down the main street, and were pleasantly surprised to find that the town appeared prosperous, well maintained and with enough bustle of activity to ensure that two strangers wouldn’t draw too much attention. There were two hotels, one a little more luxurious than the other and two saloons, one that advertised a gambling room with regular poker. There was a well stocked mercantile and a large livery. What pleased Heyes and Curry, more than anything else, was the lack of a sheriff’s office.

Giving his partner a cheerful, dimpled grin, Heyes commented, “looks like we’ve found ourselves a real nice little town!”

Curry returned the smile, his eyes creasing under his brown hat. “Think I’m gonna like it here, just fine,” he said, riding to the hitching post outside the nearest saloon, The Palace.

The saloon didn’t quite live up to its name but, although basic, offered a modicum of comfort, in its wooden chairs and worn tables, to what they had been used to in the last couple of months. It was quiet, save for a couple of men who lurked in the dark corner recesses.

Strolling to the bar, they were met by the bartender, Amos Riley, a soft faced man with a languid demeanor which contrasted sharply with the slyness in his eyes. “What’ll it be?” he asked gruffly.

“Whiskey, two,” replied Heyes, holding up appropriate number of fingers on his gloved, right hand.

He and Curry eased themselves forward to lean on the bar. They watched with eager anticipation as Riley placed a pair of shot glasses in front of them and poured the golden liquid, before snapping the cork back into the neck of the bottle with a purposeful smack.

In unison, they took the glasses and raised them in salutation to one another, then downed the whiskey in one swift movement.

The bartender shuffled forward and proffered the bottle. “Looks like you needed that.” he remarked.

Still savoring the taste from the first, Heyes indicated that a second was required, by tilting his glass in the bottle’s direction. One look at the other man’s intent blue eyes told Riley he needed a refill also and the bartender readily obliged.

Heyes straightened up, intending to savor the second drink a little more. He turned to look about the room, resting his elbow on the bar and sipping from the glass in his other hand. Curry remained where he was but wrapped his fingers about his own glass, taking small mouthfuls.

Sitting alone at a corner table, dark eyes watched from beneath a wide brimmed hat, pulled low.  The owner of these eyes listened intently as the two strangers made conversation with the bartender.

“Which of the hotels do you recommend?” asked Heyes, twisting his head towards the bartender.

“Either. They’re both owned by the same man, makes no real difference apart from the one has better food and softer beds.”

“Which one would that be?” was Heyes’ next question.

“That’d be The Jewel. You planning on staying in town a while then?” enquired the thin-faced man.

“Could be. Seems this town has quite a bit to offer. The poker here, is it straight?” Heyes turned to face the bartender now so that he could read his expression to see if he was being truthful.

“Sure is,” the man replied defensively, “and at The Crown. Both saloons are owned by the same man, so I should know. Same man as owns the hotels.”

Curry shot his partner a sideways glance, raising his eyebrows, at this new information.

“Seems this man must be mighty important around here,” Heyes commented.

“He sure is. Mr. King’s the Mayor too.”

Curry gave a snort, shook his head and standing up straight, and finished his drink. He slapped the glass on the bar.

“Think I’m about ready to get me a bath and somethin’ to eat now,” he stated.

Heyes nodded his head in agreement and drained his own glass.

Just as they were about to head off to book into a hotel, Riley asked, “You here for the contest then?”

Heyes and Curry looked at one another and then turned back to the bar.

“Contest?” Curry asked. “What contest?”

Riley looked slightly nervous. “It’s just the way you wear your guns tied down, I reckoned you were here for the quick draw contest.”

Another look passed between Heyes and Curry and both men’s shoulders visibly sank.

“No, we’re not here for the contest,” Heyes growled.

Curry’s natural curiosity prompted him ask, “What sort of quick draw we talkin’ about?”

Getting somewhat animated, the bartender enthusiastically replied, “Fast draw, one to one, man against man, last man standing sort!”

Curry instantly spun on his heel and walked towards the door, closely followed by his partner. Wordlessly they crossed the street, back towards their horses, unhitched them and reluctantly pulled themselves back into their saddles. With one last regretful look over their shoulders, they rode out of town.

The dark-eyed man, who had watched them so intently, slipped quietly out of the back door of the saloon and walked quickly up the boardwalk, towards a large and impressive house at the end of the street.

***

“Can you believe that,” Heyes said angrily as they rode back along the trail. “Of all the bad luck.  Sometimes I think if it weren’t for bad luck we wouldn’t have any luck at all.”

Curry rode patiently along, as Heyes complained long and loudly.

Eventually Heyes’ verbal rambling ran out and he lapsed into a sulky silence, alongside his equally reticent partner. The audible click of the hammer of a gun drawn back broke the silence. Heyes and Curry instantly reined their horses to a stop and peered about them in the gloom of the waning light of the dusk.

“Hold it right there,” commanded a voice from the cover of a nearby group of trees.

“What’s this all about?” Heyes called out, keeping his voice calm and friendly, turning to the direction from which the voice had come.

“Just take your guns from their holsters, by your fingertips and toss them on the ground and I’ll tell ya,’” came the reply.

“Now hold on a minute …” Heyes began.

“Just do it!”

A quick look passed between the partners as Curry sighed and drew his gun carefully from its holster, pausing for a second, as it dangled from his fingertips, before resentfully tossing it to the ground.

Heyes mirrored his action and then sat patiently waiting to see what would happen next.

There was a crashing in the surrounding area and five riders appeared from the undergrowth, all holding guns, pointed at Curry and Heyes.

“So, what’s this all about?” Heyes asked again.

One man edged his horse a little closer. “You’re to come back to town with us,” he commanded.

“But we just left town and haven’t got a reason to go back,” Heyes stated.

More guns were cocked.

“There’s your reason,” came the voice again.

“Look fellas,” Heyes said amiably, “I don’t know who you think we are but there seems to have been some sort of mistake. I don’t know why you think you need us to go back to town but …”

“I’ve just got my orders to bring you back.”

“And just who gives the orders?” Heyes questioned.

“Mr. King. Told me to bring you and your partner back to town. He wants to have a little chat with you, that’s all. So, if you don’t mind …” and he swung  the barrel of his rifle in the general direction of the town, suggesting that they should comply.

***

Heyes and Curry gazed about them, at the lavish surroundings they found themselves in. They had been escorted to the large house at the end of the street. It was not the most elegant building but it reeked of opulence, with its carved pillars and gilded metalwork. The two were then led under the high vaulted hallway and up an ornately carved staircase to a door on the next floor.
The man with them, the voice from the trail, knocked on the door and waited.

“Show them in,” came from within.

The door was opened and they could see a well dressed man in a dark suit, with an elaborately embroidered waistcoat, across the room. He was sitting in a large, high backed, leather chair, a cigar in his mouth, reading a newspaper.

Warily Heyes and Curry entered, the latter surreptitiously checking out the room, while Heyes studied the man before them.

Seeing his ‘guests’ the man put down his paper and got to his feet, smiled genially at them, and held out his left hand in greeting, without removing the cigar.

“Gentleman, so glad you could join me,” he said cheerfully.

“Didn’t really have much of a choice,” replied Heyes dryly, without offering his own hand.

Curry too remained stoic and expressionless.

Removing the cigar from his mouth, the man said, “I’m sorry about that, boys, I truly am. I was just so keen to speak to you: perhaps I was a little over zealous. I trust my men treated you well?” Again he gave them an affable smile, but there was no warmth in the expression.

“If you can call having a gun pointed at you, ‘well’, then I guess they did,” came Heyes’ satirical response.

The man let out a soft laugh and shook his head before saying, “I’ve not been the best of hosts have I? Please, gentlemen, let me introduce myself ….”

“I think we’ve probably worked out who you are, Mr. King. What we don’t know is what you want from us.”

Ignoring Heyes, King simply turned to a side table and after placing the cigar on the edge, picked up a cut glass decanter.

Both Heyes and Curry noted the man’s slightly awkward movements and how he did each task single-handedly, favoring his left hand. A querying look passed between them.

“Drink, gentlemen? I have a fine French brandy I think you’ll enjoy,” he said, pouring three generous glassfuls, without waiting for a response. He proffered them the drinks, and when they took the glasses, gestured towards a sofa. “Please, gentlemen, take a seat so we can talk more comfortably.”

Taking a cursory glance at his partner, Curry waited for Heyes’ reaction so that he could follow his lead.

Heyes sat in a relaxed stance, reclining back, stretching his arm across the back of the sofa, and Curry perched on the edge of the sofa in readiness.

“So, what was it you wanted to discuss with us, Mr. King?” Heyes asked politely, just a little intrigued now.

“Well, I have to admit, my business is really more with your friend here,” he said, looking across at Curry.

“Me?” Curry replied in surprise, raising his eyebrows and pointing at his own chest.

Shooting a sideways glance at his partner, equally taken by surprise, Heyes asked, “What do you want from him?”

“You might have heard we’re holding a shooting contest in this little town of mine and I’d like him to participate,” King replied, fixing Curry with hard, grey eyes.

“Now hold on, I ain’t interested in enterin’ no shootin’ contest,” Curry told him indignantly. “Don’t know why you’d ask me to enter. I ain’t much of a shot,” he continued, placing an amiable smile on his face.

“On the contrary, Mr. Curry. I hear you’re the best shot in these parts. You would be a real asset to our contest.”

There was stunned silence for a moment.

“I think there’s been some sort of mistake, Mr. King. My partner is not who you think he is. His name is Thaddeus Jones and I’m Joshua Smith. We’ve just finished a job with the Billings Mining Company and were looking for a little bit of peace and quiet. When we heard about the contest we decided that this probably wasn’t the best town to find it.”

Curry nodded his head, supportively of Heyes.

“Mr. Heyes, it’s no good trying to hide your identities. You see, holding a contest of this nature, shall we say, attracts a certain caliber of person, the sort that you and your partner here used to fraternize with on a regular basis. Unfortunately for you, one of those associates of yours, a Lester Pickett, was in The Palace Saloon earlier. He saw the potential value of having someone of your standing in the contest, Mr. Curry, and came to tell me you were in town. I was a bit disappointed to hear that you had decided to leave so soon but thought I might be able to persuade you to enter. It would be a privilege to have you participate.”

King eased himself back in his chair, resting his elbows on the arms.

“Lester Pickett?” inquired Heyes with a slight scowl. “We’ve met him. Remember him, partner? Lester Pickett, a liar and a cheat…”

“And a no good snake,” added Curry, nodding.

“He’s so low we even heard tell he was thrown out of Devil’s Hole for stealing from the other gang members. He tried to cheat us at cards and we called him on it,” continued Heyes. “He must be trying to get back at us.”

Curry nodded again.

“Lester Pickett does indeed have many undesirable qualities, but he is not a liar, Mr. Heyes. And if you do not mind, this discussion is with Mr. Curry.”

“Look, Mr. King, I appreciate your confidence in my abilities but I’m not interested.”

“Would, say, five thousand dollars make you interested?”  King replied.

The Kid shook his head.

“Plus the prize money of five thousand dollars, of course,” he added.

“I told you, I’m not interested, not at any price. I don‘t hire out my gun.” Curry’s eyes darkened, and his jaw was set, lips drawn in a hard line.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Curry. I find the thought of the two of you spending the next twenty years in the penitentiary a shame and a waste of your considerable talents. However, if that is what you prefer, I can arrange it.  I aim to have you in the contest, Mr. Curry.” King smiled, swirling his brandy about the bowl of the glass.

“I’m beginning to get the picture,” Curry replied resignedly.

“Shall we start again?” King said placidly. “I’m sure your partner thinks you should enter, isn’t that right, Mr. Heyes? I’d hate to think that Mr. Curry’s reluctance to participate would result in your incarceration.” He glanced significantly at his guards. “That is, providing you both reach Wyoming. I have heard the roads there are terribly treacherous at any time of the year.” He turned and stared hard at Heyes.

“Could I talk to my friend about this? ” Heyes asked mildly.

King gave a slight nod, and pushed himself out of his chair and stood, smiling down engagingly at the two men on his sofa.

“Of course, gentlemen. I have some business to attend to but I’ll leave you in Mr. Coogan’s capable hands,” he said.

Heyes and Curry turned their heads to look behind them, as the taller of the two guards, a broad shouldered, hard faced man, stepped forward, twirling his revolver before slipping it back into its holster and folding his arms. When the display finished, both turned forwards grimly once again.

“That’ll be fine,” Heyes said cordially.

Curry remained stony faced, glaring at King.

When King had left the room, they lowered their heads and their voices.

“What we gonna do, Heyes?”

“Well I think this one is up to you, Kid. I can’t ask you to go out there and shoot people. Then again, if you don’t do it we’ll be looking at twenty years in prison.”

“If we make it, you mean, and somehow I don’t think he means for us to make it there, or at least you,”

“What do you mean, ‘at least me’?”

“Well, he wants me alive for his contest He don’t need you, except to threaten me with.”

Heyes ran his hands over his face. “Look, maybe you can get away without hurtin’ anyone too bad, just shoot their guns away.”

“Heyes, have I ever told you, you are crazy? This is a shoot to kill contest. I mean, I know I probably am better than anyone else in the contest…”

Heyes shot a look at the Kid.

But I’m not sure I like the odds on taking that kind of a chance, partner.”

“Kid, you aren’t thinking clearly. If you shoot to kill and word gets out, you’ll be wanted for murder.” Heyes paused, and did a second take. “And maybe I’ll be wanted as accessory to murder. What happens to our amnesty then?”

“You’re right, Heyes but I don’t think there’s nothin’ we can do about that,” Curry replied, somberly.

Heyes stood up and started to pace. This action instantly alerted the guard, who had been silently standing at the door, seemingly disinterested, galvanizing him to step forward and point his gun at Heyes.

Curry stood and walked slowly towards the guard.

His face stern and his eyes intent, he looked the guard squarely in the eye, saying, “Easy now, we don’t want misunderstandings here. My partner just needs a little time to think and he does that much better when he’s standin’, is all!”

The guard returned Curry’s look before stepping back into position and relaxing a little. Heyes continued to pace, while his partner remained facing the guard, feet firmly planted on the ground and arms folded across his chest.

As Heyes was about to complete his fourth circuit of the rug on the floor, the door opened and King entered. Heyes came to stand alongside his partner, both men facing their host.

“I trust you’ve had time to think through my proposal?” King smiled at them, fingering the smoldering cigar he held in his hand, before drawing languidly on it and exhaling the smoke in a deliberate fashion.

Placing his hands on his hips, Heyes looked thoughtfully at the man before him and then glanced at the man standing beside him. He looked at the floor for a few moments, picking his words carefully, before looking King squarely in the eye.
.
“We don’t seem to have much choice in the situation but, if you agree to a few terms then my partner here will put on a good show on your behalf.”

Curry’s eyes flicked nervously at Heyes, but it was almost undetectable.

“Go on, Mr. Heyes. You’ve piqued my interest,” King replied, raising his eyebrows a little.

“First, I want you to agree that if he does this, we will both be free to leave at the end.”

“Certainly, if you’re both still alive,” King answered dispassionately.

“Secondly, my partner will not be expected to shoot to kill. He will be relying on the fact that he will be able to outdraw his opponent and will only shoot if there is no other choice.”

“Seems a bit of an unrealistic expectation in such a contest, Mr. Heyes but I admire your faith in Mr. Curry’s ability. If he can beat them to the draw and they concede, I am happy to go along with that. Anything else?”

“Yes. You may have noticed that we have kept quiet lately, and we’d like to keep it that way.  What I’m saying is, he’ll be in the contest but under an alias, not as Kid Curry.” Heyes straightened up and gazed unwaveringly at King, with dark, hard eyes.

Walking thoughtfully across the room, King poured himself another drink but did not offer seconds to his ‘guests’.

“Would you like him to wear a mask too? A man of mystery, so to speak,” King smirked sarcastically, raising his glass to them.

Curry’s temper suddenly flared and he took a step forward, gritting his teeth. “I ain’t no ….”

Heyes interjected and placed a placating hand on his arm to steady him, as Coogan cocked his pistol.

“That won’t be necessary,” Heyes replied flatly.

The Kid stood his ground for few seconds and then, with one last glare at King and Coogan, stepped back and let his partner handle the situation.

“The point is, Mr. King, if it gets out that Kid Curry is in town then you can be pretty sure that every lawman, bounty hunter and down on his luck risk taker will come to try and collect the reward on him … and me. Now, I think we can agree that isn’t going to be good for the contest, business or the town,” Heyes finished, confidently.

King clenched his teeth about the stub of the fat cigar in his mouth. Then he removed the cigar,and looked from Heyes to Curry.

“Alright gentlemen. I’ll agree to your terms but in return I expect you to fulfill your role to my specifications or there will be a penalty to pay. Do I make myself understood?” King asked meaningfully.

A quick look passed between Heyes and Curry, and they nodded.

King stubbed out his cigar, turned to them and cheerfully said, “Now that is settled I propose a drink to seal our deal.”

***

It was dark as they left the house and began to walk down the street. King took the lead, followed by Curry and Heyes, with Coogan and another man, Peterson, in the rear, cradling rifles in their arms. Curry wore his gun, to look the gunfighter at King’s insistence, although Coogan removed the bullets.

The townsfolk moved nervously out of their path, in fear of King and his men. It was obvious Rufus King was a powerful and ruthless man.

King led Heyes and Curry to The Palace Saloon. He approached the bat-wing doors, and a man scurried forward and held it open for him, tipping his hat as he did. King ignored him and strode assertively to the center of the room. There was a flurry of activity as the employees and clientele cleared a table for him and his guests.

The Palace was now busy with every table occupied, and a crowd of men at the bar. Saloon girls dotted the crowd, draped purposefully over patrons, in their gaudy silk dresses and feathers. From the back of the saloon came the clunking of a slightly off-key piano, as a plump, bald man bashed out a tuneless rendition of what might have been “Oh Susanna.”

Voices  hushed as King entered, except for the general chatter from the more inebriated who had not noticed his arrival. Amos Riley scuttled forward and wiped down ‘King’s’ table, placing three glasses on it and a bottle of good whiskey.

“Evening, Mr. King, sir,” he said, bobbing his head. “Nice to see you here this evening. We’re all ready,” he continued, indicating a large chalkboard positioned on the back wall of the saloon. King nodded his approval as he sat, indicating for Heyes and Curry to sit as well.

“What’s going on, King?” Heyes asked, not masking the irritation in his voice.

“I’m sorry, how neglectful of me. Did I forget to mention that we’ll be taking the entrants for the contest tonight and drawing participants for the first round?” King smiled as he single-handedly uncorked the whiskey and poured it into the glasses.

Curry looked around the room, studying individuals, trying to ascertain and evaluate them as gunslingers. There were a couple of obviously experienced gunfighters, complete with fancy guns, tied down and a certain look of arrogance and assurance that came with the profession.

“Under what name would you prefer to be entered?” asked King, slightly smirking.

“Jones, Thaddeus Jones,” Curry replied.

King snorted a laugh. “That isn’t very imaginative. Wouldn’t you prefer something a little more flamboyant?” he queried.

“Jones is just fine.”

Across the room, Lester Pickett watched the group with a pair of dark, beady, envious eyes.

A gunshot rang out, followed by a scream from one of the saloon girls.  Amos Riley stood in the middle of the room, gun in hand, a small wisp of smoke curling from the barrel.  “Time to start the proceedings!” he shouted. “Anyone wanting to enter this here contest step forward and give me your name.”

For a few moments no one spoke, then, a figure broke through the crowd and stepped into the empty space in the middle of the room.

“I’ll sign up. Name’s Jack Diamond,” the man called out self assuredly.

From the top of his black, silver trimmed hat to the toes of his silver tipped boots, Jack Diamond looked every inch a gunslinger. He was dressed almost entirely in black, save for his vest embroidered with silver threads. Even his gun belt had a large silver buckle and the handle of his Colt 45 was made of silver, with pearl inlay.

Standing confidently, smoothing his black, leather gloves on his hands, Diamond surveyed the room with a well-groomed air of arrogance, as if daring others to enter.

“Thank you, Mr. Diamond,” said Riley dramatically, enjoying his central role, as he scrawled Diamond’s name on the board. “Come on, gentlemen. Don’t be shy. A five thousand dollar prize is there for the taking; just add your name to the list.”

“Sean Ryder,” called another, with more than a hint of an Irish accent. Sean Ryder, a powerfully built man, with strong arms, looked used to heavy work.  His face looked as if it had seen more of life than it should at his age. Riley wrote Ryder’s name on the board.

“Mervyn Wayland.” A tall, slim man stood up from one of the tables. His eyes were cold and hard in his unshaven face, and his clothes, scruffy. Across his left cheek was a long scar, a reminder to all present of why guns were preferable to knives in a fight.

No sooner had Wayland sat down, than an older man stepped from behind a group of men, quietly giving his name to Riley, who wrote it on the board alongside the other names.

“Well, I’ll be,” said a surprised King, but in the general noise of the saloon, only Heyes and Curry heard him.

They looked at King and then at each other. The Kid tensed almost imperceptibly.

This man called himself Deke Winters. He appeared to be well dressed, in a well cut suit, made of good quality fabric, but closer inspection revealed  it was a little frayed, had been repaired, and was wearing a little thin. The gun, an older but more than serviceable model, was in a holster that had seen better days too.

Winters watched attentively as Riley scratched his name onto the board.

“Deke, you old dog!”  King was on his feet and extending his hand across the table towards the man, who responded with a slight nod of the head.
“Come and join us,” King called over, and raised his hand to for another glass, which one of the girls supplied, smiling broadly at Curry and Heyes. Heyes smiled back half heartedly.

Deke Winters strolled over and took the whiskey King held out to him, downing it in one swift movement. Placing the empty glass on the table, he nodded again and turned to walk away.

“Aren’t you going to join us, Deke?” King asked.

“I don’t think so. Got my mind on other things right now, if it’s all the same to you. Wouldn’t want folks to think I had some unfair advantage in this contest, or something,” he answered coolly, glancing at Curry, who remained passive.

“If that’s the way you feel, Deke,” King replied, linking his fingers together in front of him, in contemplation of a man who was evidently an old, but apparently not a friendly, acquaintance.

“I do,” Winters said simply, tipped his hat and walked away.

While they had been talking, Mik Johnson, half-Cherokee, and a formidable opponent, added his name to the list.

Lester Pickett watched keenly as the five men stepped forward, and entered the contest, a fine film of perspiration appearing on his forehead. He removed his hat, wiped his sleeve across his brow, and then stood up decisively.

“Lester Pickett!” he shouted loudly. Heads turned to look in his direction and he stood up straight, puffing out his chest and setting his jaw.

Curry locked eyes with Pickett, not hiding his contempt.

King looked on with smug satisfaction.  He observed the looks that had passed between Pickett and Curry. Animosity always added extra interest when two armed men faced each other.

There were now six names on the board.  The room waited to see if any others would step forward, murmuring and clinking glasses.

After moments of relative quiet, King abruptly called out, “Add Jones to that list.”  He slapped  Curry a couple of times on the shoulder.

Curry bristled visibly at his touch.

Pickett leaned towards the man sitting beside him and whispered something in his ear. The man jerked his head to look at Curry, and Pickett nodded his head.

Soon the name ‘Kid Curry’ was audible.

Heyes groaned under his breath

Riley had started to write ‘Jones’ on the board when he overheard the conversation behind him. He paused and turned towards King in puzzlement.

“Begging your pardon, Mr. King, but what was that name again?”

King smiled enigmatically at those gathered about him and then looked knowingly at Curry and Heyes.

“I said Jones, Riley.”

Curry poured himself another whiskey, which he drank straight down. Heyes stared grimly at King who seemed to be reveling in the upset he was causing.

“Well, gentlemen, if that’s all, then I guess we can get on with the draw for round one,” Riley said enthusiastically.

“It’s not quite all,” a voice from the doorway said distinctly.

The room turned in unison to stare at the man who had made this last minute entrance.  He was young, more of a boy really, about mid twenties, fair-haired and good-looking. Dressed in an understated cord jacket and jeans, essentially, he looked like a cowhand, but he wore his gun low and tied down.

The boy stared at King with unwavering intent. King looked decidedly uneasy and, if possible, a little afraid.

Heyes sat back thoughtfully.

“What’s your name, boy?” Riley called over.

“Solomon,” the boy responded.

“Solomon what?”

“Just Solomon!”

Having given his answer, the boy turned on his heel and walked out.

King still looked shaken but quickly composed himself, resuming his usual, arrogant posture as Riley approached with an upturned hat in his hand, containing eight folded pieces of paper. He shook the hat before offering it towards King.

“Could you do the honors, Mr. King, sir, of drawing for the first round?” he scraped.

“Of course,” King replied, dipping his hand into the hat, pulling out one of the slips and handing it to Riley.

“Diamond!” Riley shouted out.

King reached in again, pulling out the second name.

“Wayland!”

The process was repeated six more times until the hat was empty and the names listed on the board.
The first pair to duel would be Jack Diamond and Mervyn Wayland, who were already trying to size one another up, eyeing each other from the corners of their eyes. Lester Pickett was to face Sean Ryder, Solomon drew against Mik Johnson, leaving Curry with Deke Winters.

“Well, gentlemen, the scene is set and our youngest contender certainly adds a new dimension to our arrangement, doesn’t he?”  King smiled at his two captive guests, unable to disguise entirely his unease.

King raised his glass to the assembled mass of would-be spectators. “First round, tomorrow!  High noon!” he declared, throwing back the final glass of whiskey before he rose to leave. With his eyes, he signaled Coogan, who motioned for Heyes and Curry to follow King.

***

In a near-by alley, leaning against a wall, Solomon bent forward, hands resting on his knees.  He sucked in a lungful of cold, night air, pushed it out, and took in another deep breath.  He watched as King strutted back to his mansion, guarded by the group of hired guns.

***

“Mr. King, we’ve done everything you wanted.  You’ve taken our weapons; Kid has entered your contest, so I guess we’ll just be saying good night and see you at noon tomorrow.”

Heyes made a motion to walk toward the nearest hotel, but Coogan stopped him.

“I’m afraid our business isn’t finished yet, Mr. Heyes.”  King never stopped walking, continuing to lead the way toward his home.

Heyes followed, after Coogan gave him a resounding shove.  They entered King’s mansion, but this time Heyes and Curry weren’t invited to King’s office.  They stood instead, in the large entry.

“Leah! Get in here!” King boomed.

A woman dressed in elegant style appeared. At first glance she looked to be no more than a girl, but a deep sadness in her eyes made her look old and tired.

“Leah, Mr. Smith will be staying with us a while.  Show him to the guest quarters.  In addition, Mr. Jones will be joining us for dinner. Set an extra place.”

Leah looked from the man she assumed must be Mr. Jones to the other stranger then, questioningly at King.  “Shall I set two extra places?”

“I said one.”

The woman’s head dropped immediately. “Yes, sir.”  She turned to do as bidden.

Heyes followed the woman, after sending a brief,  ‘I trust you partner’ look toward the Kid.
They climbed a staircase to the upper floor of the mansion where she opened the door to a finely furnished room, conspicuously lacking any windows.  Coogan placed a chair next to the door and took up his post.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes with some water and towels.  You’ll want to wash before dinner.”

“I thought I wasn’t invited to dinner.”

The woman never raised her eyes.  “I know, I mean,” she rubbed her hands nervously against her gown, “I’ll bring you something here.”

When the door shut behind her, Heyes angrily raked his hands through his hair and began pacing.

Leah returned several moments later with the promised towels, and she also carried the saddlebags from Heyes’ horse, obviously already searched through by King’s men.

She set the items on a nightstand.  “I’ll give you a few minutes to wash before I return with your dinner.  Is there anything else I can bring you?”

Heyes began roughly repacking the contents of his bags.  “My gun, for starters!” he snapped, “and maybe my lock pick?”  He stood, hands on hips, giving the woman a frustrated look.

“I thought you might like a book to read, to pass the time,” she answered softly, seemingly unaffected by his outburst.

Coogan popped his head around the doorframe. “Better hurry, Mrs. King.  Mr. King’ll be right angry if ya make him wait.”

Heyes stared nonplussed.  “Mrs. King?” he questioned.

The woman briefly raised defiant eyes to meet Heyes’, before quickly lowering them again.  She nodded. “Mr. King is my… husband,” she replied bitterly.

He sighed.  “Sure. A book would be fine.” Puzzled, he watched her leave.

***

Dinner was served in the formal dining room of King’s mansion. King’s wife sat mutely at one far end of the table, speaking only when spoken to, and even then, answering with only a word or two.

Curry thought she looked far too young for King.  Innocent.  Not the kind of woman he would have expected to marry an arrogant swine like King. The one time she had dared to look directly at him, Curry felt she was trying to convey a message to him.

When dinner was finished, King rose from the table and lifted a humidor filled with expensive cigars from the mantel.  He offered one to Curry, who refused.  King slammed the lid shut and returned the box to its place. As he lit his Cuban, puffs of smoke encircling his head, King sat back down at the table and waved his hand in his wife’s direction. “Leave us, Leah.”

The woman immediately rose and obeyed.

“Our agreement has changed, Mr. Curry.”

Hard eyes fixed on King.  “What are you talking about?”

“Our agreement regarding your participation in my contest.”  He exhaled another breath of smoke.  “There has been a slight adjustment to our,” King paused searching for the right word, “contract.”

“What adjustment would that be, Mr. King?”

“You’ll need to kill Solomon.  The rules remain the same for the rest of the contestants, but Solomon must die.”

“I’m not killin’ a man for you, King!”

“Certainly you will, Mr. Curry.”  King smiled conspiratorially and leaned closer, emphasizing his words.  “Let me make myself perfectly clear.  Mr. Heyes will remain a ‘guest’ in my home.  You will participate in my contest.  You’ll face each contestant according to the draw, but when you face Solomon,” he gave a sardonic laugh, “and, Mr. Curry, I’m sure it will come down to you and Solomon – you will kill him!”

Curry’s cold glare met King’s amused, evil grin.

“If you fail to shoot, choose only to injure Solomon, or lose, Coogan and his men escort Heyes to Wyoming. I believe I already made myself clear that the route is treacherous.” He sighed. “Coogan and his men are so unreliable.”

***

Running. Out of breath.  Branches slapping at his face, thorns cutting through his flesh.  They needed to keep moving, get as far away as they could.

“Solomon!  I know you’re out there!”

One foot continued in front of the other.  They struggled on.

“Only a matter of time, till I find you!”

His own lungs were on fire.  How much longer could she keep moving?

“Keep runnin’, Lance!  I can’t keep up!”

“I’m not leavin’ you!”

At the snap of a twig, his head jerked up, his gun instantly in his hand.  Solomon let out a deep breath.  Only a squirrel.

Solomon banked his campfire, and wrapped a thin blanket around his shoulders. He shivered and poured himself a cup of coffee. He rose and walked to the edge of the woods.  Light glowed from the windows of the distant mansion.

“I’ll get you out of there, Leah.  If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get you out!”, he swore his oath out loud.

***

Heyes stretched out on the large, soft bed.  A book lay open, but unread, upon his chest.  A dinner tray sat, mostly untouched, on the nightstand beside him.

“King and Solomon,” he muttered.

A soft knock at the door disturbed his thinking.  “Come in,” he answered.

Mrs. King opened the door.  “I’m glad I didn’t wake you, Mr. Smith.”

“No. I’m a light sleeper,” he stated sarcastically, “especially when my life’s been threatened and I’m being held against my will.”

“I’ve just come for your dinner dishes.  I’ll take them and leave you alone.”

He touched her arm lightly as she turned to leave. “Please!  Don’t go.”

He gave her his best smile.  “Thank you for the dinner and the book, Mrs. King.”

“Don’t call me that!”  There was a spark of fire in her words, but then she hung her head.

“I’m sorry.  What would you like me to call you?”

“Leah.  Just call me Leah.”

“Unless my… unless Mr. King’s around, then you’ll have to call me Mrs.”  She nervously smoothed her skirt with a shaky hand. “I better go, before he wonders where I am.”

Heyes nodded and smiled.  “Allright… Leah.”

Again, he stared after her as she left.

***

The first rays of sun crept up on Kingdom. Curry sat by the window of his room, looking out onto the street, where he would face Deke Winters, in a few hours’ time.

He had spent the night cleaning his Colt, and it lay ready for use on a nearby table. He stared at it for a few minutes, displaying no emotion, and then turned back to the window.

He watched as a couple of people appeared on the street and began going about their daily duties, sweeping the boardwalk, opening shutters and the like. It was a scene of perfect domesticity.  In a few hours that would all change.

He heard movement in the rest of the house. A short while later, the door to his room was unlocked and Peterson appeared with a breakfast tray.

“Mr. King said to make sure you get a good breakfast as you’ll need your strength. Personally, I think you should eat it as it might be your last,” he sneered, sliding the tray on the table next to Curry’s gun.

Peterson picked up the gun and straightened his arm in aim. Spinning it in his hand, he nodded in appreciation of its delicate and perfect balance.

“That there’s a real nice gun. Might ask Mr. King if I can have it when all this is over.”

Placing the weapon back on the table, Peterson left the room but not before smirking over his shoulder at Curry, and locking the door again on his way out.

Curry heard the man’s laughter as he walked down the hallway.

The sun was rising to its highest point before Curry saw anyone else. Once again, he heard the lock turn and this time Coogan stood in the doorway, cradling his rifle in his arms.

“You’re to come with me,” the burly man said gruffly, “and bring your gun.”

Reluctantly Curry did as Coogan asked. He walked before Coogan, along the hallway and down the stairs to the lobby, where King stood, a look of eager anticipation on his face.

“Good day, Mr. Curry. I trust you slept well?”

Curry did not bother to respond but stood stony faced.

King merely smiled as one would when indulging a child.  “Thought you might like to watch the other contestants, to size them up, so to speak!”

“What I’d like, is to see my partner,” Curry replied pointedly.

“All in good time,” King answered cheerily, before turning on his heel and walking smartly to the door.

A nudge in the back from Coogan’s rifle told Curry to follow.

The boardwalks were beginning to fill with spectators now. Curry was led to The Palace through the growing throng, hearing the whispers, averting his eyes from the stares and pointing fingers, while all the time scanning for the familiar face of his partner.

On reaching the saloon, he was ushered inside where King turned to face him.

“You will wait here. You will not leave. You will speak to no one. You’ll have a good view of the other rounds from the doorway. When it is your turn Coogan will give you your ammunition. I wish you good luck. Don’t disappoint me, Mr. Curry.”

With that veiled threat, King left.

Curry shot a look at Coogan, who merely glowered back at him. Letting out a deep sigh, Curry turned his attention back to the street, where King was strolling nonchalantly across, tipping his hat at various ladies and nodding at some of the men, holding court. Then Curry noticed a group of people gathering outside one of the hotels. He saw Heyes, and nodded to himself.

At five minutes before noon, Rex King took his place, seating himself in a throne-like chair on the porch of The Jewel Hotel.  The Jewel, being located at the center of town, would provide optimal viewing pleasure for his contests’ first round.  He had Heyes stand beside him, appearing to the townsfolk as one of his hired men.

Leah King, looking every bit the part of a rich, dutiful wife, placed herself humbly behind her husband, standing with her chin proudly lifted – just as King had schooled her.

Groups of people cluttered the boardwalks as the last few stragglers cleared the street, leaving it bare. A hush fell over the street and people peered nervously about, in anticipation of the event to take place.

In the midst of this tense quiet, King rose, looking every inch the sovereign of all that he surveyed. A wry smile creased his lips at the sight of the anxious faces that surrounded him.

With a smooth, deft movement, he hooked a gold pocket watch from his waistcoat pocket and flicked it open. Both hands were nearing the top of the face. Two figures emerged from the crowd, from opposite ends of the street and strode into its cleared center.

Jack Diamond stood at one end, while Merv Wayland stood at the other. The former of the two looked calm and confident. Wayland had a more nervous air about him and his cheek seemed to twitch slightly as he faced his opponent.

Amos Riley moved to the steps at the front of The Jewel Hotel and looked to King for endorsement. A small nod of the head from King signaled his approval and Riley turned to face the crowd.

“At the sound of the first strike of the bell, contestants are free to fire at will. May the best man win!” he added, with an exuberant flourish.

Diamond stretched his neck and then fixed his eyes on Wayland, his hands hanging loosely by his side.

Small beads of perspiration were forming on Wayland’s forehead and he licked his lips as he flexed his fingers.

The sharp peel of the school bell jolted the crowd, some of whom gasped in surprise. Two sharp cracks of gunfire echoed about the street before the spectators recovered.

Diamond stood, smoking gun in hand looking at Mervyn Wayland’s crumpled body, lying on the ground. With a sharp in take of air through his nose, Diamond twirled his gun and slipped it backing into its holster, before heading towards The Palace Saloon.

A lone figure had walked across to the body on the ground. Dr. Grey verified Wayland’s death in a disapproving and disgusted tone.

Curry watched as Diamond sauntered towards him across the street, people moving to the side to let him through. There was not a trace of regret in the man’s face as to what he had just done, just one of acceptance.

As Diamond pushed his way through the saloon doors, his and Curry’s eyes met briefly, before he went to the bar and ordered a whiskey.

Heyes had watched as the doctor bent over Wayland’s body and looked over his shoulder at King, with a look of repugnance and shook his head slowly. He continued to watch as two men came approached the body, and lifted and carried it away.

King was sitting but a foot in front of him. Heyes made a slight movement forward reflexively. He stopped when he felt a hard object pressed against his back, and  reclined back into position. The object was removed.

Leah had caught the movement and risked a quick look in his direction. The young girl looked with loathing at King.

“First match to Jack Diamond!” Riley announced.

“Next two contenders; you are up!”

Lester Pickett snaked his way out from the crowd and took his place on the street. Sean Ryder did likewise. At the sound of the bell, they both drew their guns and fired at almost the exact same time.

Pickett proved to be the more accurate shot and his bullet caused Ryder to spin sideways, clasping a hand to his side, gripping his gun in his other hand. He struggled to raise and aim it on Pickett’s chest, but his blood was flowing too quickly and his hand shook. He conceded defeat, letting the gun fall to the ground and sank to his knees.

When he was sure it was safe to do so, Dr. Grey stepped forward once again. After examining Ryder he instructed the men to take him to his surgery to see what could be done.

The next round was called, and King shifted uncomfortably in his seat, craning his neck, searching for the contestants – Mik and Solomon.

The two young men appeared from the crowd, murmurs spread, but above the whispers, Heyes heard a small gasp from Leah.

“Lance!”

Heyes turned and saw her emotion, and observed the grin that played at one corner of King’s mouth.
Almost imperceptibly, Heyes touched Leah’s arm, offering some small measure of comfort and support.

She moved her head only slightly and Heyes caught her fearful glance.  Her eyes then returned to Solomon before they closed in apparent silent prayer.

Solomon witnessed the quiet exchange between Leah and Heyes before turning back to focus on his opponent.  Both of the young men on the street wore looks of deep concentration, each totally focused on the other.

The bell rang out, and both men instantly went for their guns, but no shots were fired. The Colt 45 was in Solomon’s hand before Mik barely touched the handle of his own gun. A stunned silence fell on the crowd at the sheer speed of the fair-haired man’s draw.

For a few moments Solomon remained where he stood, staring at the other man who stared back at him in total bewilderment. Seeing that his opponent still held his gun leveled at him, Mik raised his hands in surrender.
With a small nod of his head, Solomon began to re-holster his gun but halted as a voice cried out, “No shots have been fired – so both contestants are disqualified!”

All heads turned in the direction of this the shout. King had risen to his feet and stood at the edge of the porch, his face like thunder. His eyes were narrowed, his jaw set and his fists clenched.
“It’s a rule that a shot must be fired to show the round is completed,” he spewed, angrily.

Many of the crowd exchanged perplexed looks, indicating that this rule was news to them.

Solomon’s eyes flicked to Leah who stood anxiously behind King. He noticed that the dark-haired man had a hand on her elbow, in what appeared to be a supportive, rather than a restraining gesture.

He took a breath, and turned his attention back to Mik, who was still standing in the street with him. The fear the man felt was evident in his face.

Wrapping his fingers more firmly about the butt of his gun, Solomon straightened his arm and brought it up level, aiming at Mik’s chest. His trigger finger moved into position and slowly he began to squeeze.

A small cry came from the other man and gasps about the crowd.

At the last moment, Solomon jerked his hand upwards, sending the bullet harmlessly into the sky and then looked defiantly at King.

The look of fury was all too clear on King’s face but before he could say another word, Riley stepped forward and announced Solomon the winner.

Solomon nonchalantly slipped his gun back into its holster and, with one last mutinous look in King’s direction, began to walk away.

Mik Johnson had stood the whole time, mouth gaping in disbelief at his lucky break and, as the crowd’s attention followed Solomon’s dignified exit, he took the opportunity to scurry away and slip out of town, before King changed the rules again.

Heyes had watched this series of events, keenly. His thoughts were interrupted by Riley declaring the next round – Jones versus Winters.

Inside The Palace Saloon, Coogan approached Curry, a single bullet held between his thumb and index finger, which he tossed to him.

With appropriately quick reactions, Curry caught it and looked at Coogan questioningly.

“You’re going to have to shoot so you’ll be needing that!” Coogan explained, sarcastically.

“Just the one, huh?” Curry queried.

“Iffin’ you’re as good as they say you are, that’s all it’ll take,” Coogan sneered back.

Curry let out a snort and then loaded the first chamber of his gun, and spun it back into his holster. Taking one last deep breath, he pushed his way out of the saloon doors.

The crowd hushed once more and Heyes scanned the area for his partner. Movement of the crowd drew his eye towards the saloon across the street. He saw Curry emerge, and noted that Coogan was a few paces behind, his rifle still cradled in his arms.

Curry calmly moved into the street but never once took his eyes from the group gathered in front of the hotel, until his gaze met Heyes’, who gave an only just perceivable twitch of a smile. Curry returned the greeting by questioningly narrowing his eyes.

Heyes was about to give a nod of reassurance when Peterson moved closer behind him and he caught the glint of a knife blade out of the corner of his eye.

Curry saw the knife too and his expression instantly hardened.

A self-satisfied look on his face, King reclined further into his seat.

Winters joined Curry on the street, and a stillness of anticipation fell over the crowd. Heyes could hear the name ‘Curry’ whispered in the quietness.

Winters acted every inch the professional gunfighter he had apparently once been, standing in a relaxed and composed posture.

Curry took up his usual stance, feet slightly apart, arms hanging loosely by his sides, his full attention focused on the man in front of him.

Without warning, the school bell suddenly rang out, instantly followed by a single shot.

Deke Winters remained standing, a look of complete astonishment on his face. His gun remained in its holster but was now lying two feet away on the ground.

Curry coolly re-holstered his own gun and hooked his thumbs in his gun belt and looked across at King with unconcealed rancor.

“Nicely done, Mr. C… Jones,” King commented, as he rose out of his seat and came across to shake Curry’s hand in a show of solidarity.

Curry reluctantly took the man’s hand and shook it unenthusiastically.

“Time to celebrate a successful first round!” King commanded, raising his hand in the air and slapping Curry on the back, before ushering his group towards the hotel, and leaving Curry on his own.

Taking the opportunity of this solitary moment, Curry lowered his head and closed his eyes, struggling to keep his temper in check. When he opened them again, he found Deke Winters standing in front of him, with a congenial smile on his face.

“Wanted to thank you for what you did back there. You had every right to kill me flat. Have to say, I’ve never witnessed shooting like that before and it was a real pleasure to see!” Winters held out his hand and Curry took it gladly.

“I’m sorry if I damaged your gun. Looks a real fine piece,” Curry said quietly, pressing his lips together.

Winters laughed and held up the holster and gun for inspection. “Well, it was! Ain’t no more but I reckon my shooting days are over! Guess it’s time to hang this up anyways. Don’t know why I bothered to come up here for this dang contest, truth be known.”

Curry let out a soft laugh. “Yeah,” he agreed, noncommittally, looking for his partner.

“Look,” Winters continued, “this may be none of my business, but I’ve known King a long time. It seems to me you’re not in this contest of your own choice. Am I right? King has a way of getting people to do what he wants and I reckon he wouldn’t be able to get someone, who can shoot like you, to act for him unless he had some hold over him. I’m guessing that dark-haired fella, that his heavies were keeping such a close eye on, is your partner.”

Curry looked at Winters with renewed interest now. “Go on.”

“What I’m trying to say is, I’m mighty obliged to you for today and if there’s anything I can do in return you just let me know!” Winters tipped his hat and began to move away.

Curry was about to call out to him when Coogan appeared on the top step of the hotel.

“Mr. King wants to buy you a drink and he don’t like to be kept waiting,” he snarled.

Grudgingly, Curry made his way over to the hotel.

It was a somber crowd that greeted him – apart from an animated King, who had evidently participated in a number of whiskies before his arrival.

Heyes was pinned in a corner between Coogan and Peterson, languidly sipping his own drink.

Mrs. King sat close by at a table, hands in lap, head down, clearly wishing she were somewhere else.

As Curry entered, King strode towards him, arms spread wide with an inane grin on his face.
“Aah – the man of the hour,” he said cheerily, raising his glass into the air in appreciative salutation.

Curry had a glass thrust into his hand and Riley appeared, filling it to near overflowing.

“A toast to Mr. Jones!” called King, as he waved his own glass in the air, spilling some of the contents onto his wife, who immediately jumped to her feet, attempting to brush the spillage from her dress.

King, who by now was getting fairly inebriated, spun around on her.  “And where d’you think you’re going?” he yelled.

Leah froze and the color drained from her face. “N… nowhere! I was just …”

“Sit down and have a drink!” he commanded.

“But my dress…it’s wet and I…” Leah started to say. Without warning King struck out with the back of his hand, catching her on the cheek.

Instantly Heyes got to his feet, only to find himself restrained by Coogan’s firm grip and Peterson leveled his rifle at him.

Curry too took a step forward.

King regarded them confrontationally, daring them to make a move. The disdain both his ‘guests’ felt for him was evident, by the look on their faces.
Sneering contemptuously, King grabbed Leah by the wrist, holding her firmly.

“Think it’s time to go home – I’ve had enough of this party,” he said.

A look of consternation crossed Heyes’ face. He felt Coogan’s ever-present rifle pressed against his back, pushing him towards the door. He chanced a glance at his partner and a few words.

“Good shooting out there, Mr. Jones, although I thought your aim was a little off!” he quipped, making a gesture with his eyes towards King.

Curry smirked his response but then the serious expression returned and he replied, “Next time I’ll try to be a little more accurate.”

King glared at both men uneasily, not fully understanding the content of their conversation.

“You will be staying here at the hotel tonight, Mr. Jones. Wouldn’t want your partner here distracting you from preparing for tomorrow’s round now, would we?” he asked, with more than a hint of sarcasm and intimidation.

“Mr. Smith, will continue to be my guest at my home. I’m sure you’ll be comfortable and will want to ensure his comfort also. You will remember that you have entered this contest on my behalf and will act accordingly. There will always be someone close by to guarantee your…cooperation, shall we say.” King’s veiled threat was evident.

Curry merely nodded his understanding of King’s words and gave his partner one last reassuring, tight-lipped smile before Heyes was ushered out the door, followed closely by Coogan.

King went next, still firmly gripping Leah’s wrist, while she shot a quick look of pleading in Curry’s direction.

Curry gave an apologetic look in reply.

After the group had left, Curry sank down into the nearest chair and closed his eyes in frustration. The sound of someone approaching made him open his eyes instantly and he looked up to see Deke Winters.

“Mind if I join you?” the man asked.

Curry shook his head and gestured towards a nearby chair.

“Mind if I ask you something?” Winters prompted.

“No, go ahead,” Curry replied wearily.

“You really who they’re saying you are?”

“Depends who they say I am, don’t it?”  Curry eyed Winters warily.

Winters chuckled softly, “Guess it does, ‘Kid’,” he tested.

It was Curry’s turn to smile now. “Well, I’m not sayin’ I am and I’m not sayin’ I ain’t. It makes no difference in how this contest turns out, does it?”

“So, was I right about your not being in this contest by your own choice?” Winters queried. “I mean, a man of your caliber has nothing to prove, unless it’s the money you’re after, which is something I can understand only too well,” he said resignedly. “You took away my chance of that, you know.”

Curry pasted on his best poker face, aware that King’s men were probably watching. Easing himself forward he reached out for a bottle on a nearby table and began to pour two large glasses of whiskey. He spoke in a low voice.  “What you said earlier about if there was anything you could do for me, does that still stand?”

Taking the drink from Curry, he replied in an equally low voice, “Sure. Would be good to get one over on old Rex!”

“Do you think you could find out where they’re holding my friend?” Curry asked.

“I can try but you do know that even if I found out, the likelihood of you being able to get to him with all the men King has working for him, is doubtful.”

“I know, but I gotta do somethin’.” Curry ran his hand through his hair and then, remembering he was being watched forced an amiable smile on his face, trying to make it look like he and Winters were just passing the time of day.

“There may be another way,” Winters said thoughtfully. “Who you up against tomorrow?”

“Lester Pickett!” Curry spat.

“Hmmm! He shouldn’t give you any trouble. That man’s all talk and not a lot else! That’ll give me a little more time to work something out. If I don’t get a chance to see you before, look out for me in the last round. Should be able to come up with something by then.”

Winters drained his drink and glanced over Curry’s shoulder, warning him with his eyes that one of King’s men was approaching.

“I appreciate that,” Curry quickly replied, taking Winter’s hand.

“Yep, it was a real pleasure to be outdrawn by someone who can shoot as good as you!” Winters said, disguising the content of their conversation.

Tipping his hat at King’s man, who now stood closely behind Curry, he made a discreet exit.

“Want to tell me what you were talking about?” the man asked gruffly.

“Nope!” Curry said cheerily and raised his glass to the man, before taking a large swig.

***

“Could you open the door, Mr. Coogan?  My hands are rather full right now.”

Heyes heard Leah’s voice in the hall before the key turned in the lock. He sat up and smiled in anticipation.

Leah shyly smiled back.  “Mr. Coogan, there’s a plate set for you in the kitchen.  And blueberry pie for dessert.”

“I don’t know if Mr. King would like my leavin’ you here with him alone, Mrs. King.”  Coogan looked doubtful, but hungry.

“Nonsense. You’re a working man.  You need your supper.  Besides,” she whispered, “Mr. King doesn’t need to know.  Just lock the door after I’m inside and everything will be fine.”

“I’m pretty hungry.  You sure you’ll be alright here by yourself, Mrs. King?”

“Certain,” Leah answered before pushing the door shut with her foot.

“We’ll need to talk quickly…Mr. Heyes.”  Leah studied the man before her, waiting for his reaction to her use of his real name.

Heyes dropped his eyes then, nodded.  “No use denying it, Leah.  Yes.  I’m Hannibal Heyes.”

“That would make your partner…Kid Curry,” she almost shuddered as she spoke the name.  “Is he here to kill Solomon?”

“Solomon? You know this Solomon?”

Leah paused, uncertainty on her face.

“Leah, unless I miss my guess you want out of here, away from King?”

Leah unconsciously touched the bruise on her cheek then, nodded.

“What’s Solomon got to do with all this?”

Leah found her courage and her voice, “You didn’t answer my question, Mr. Heyes.  Did King hire your partner to kill Solomon?”

“My partner doesn’t hire out his gun,” Heyes answered with a measure of pride.  “But I wouldn’t doubt it’s what King expects of him.”

She sank down on a nearby chair. “King has a way of getting what he wants from people, Mr. Heyes.” Her voice was fearful.  “And he wants Solomon dead.”

“Solomon’s just a boy.  What could he have done to make King hate him that much?”

“King hates him, I’m sure of that, but it’s revenge he’s after.”

Heyes was quiet and waited for the young woman to continue.

“King uses people to get what he wants.”  Her voice was no more than a whisper, but filled with rage.  “You’ve seen that!  He’s using you to get your friend to participate in his contest!”  She raised her eyes and held Heyes’ with a long, meaningful look.  “Keeping me here is King’s revenge.  Revenge against my brother.  My brother took King’s arm.  King took me!”

“Solomon’s your brother?”  Heyes had been pacing but he stopped so suddenly, Leah almost jumped in surprise. “Leah, we all want the same thing, right?  Seems to me if we work together…” he never finished his sentence, but Leah saw the light of a plan dawning in the man’s dark eyes.  “We’ll have to trust each other, Leah.  Can you do that?”

Leah looked unsure. She briefly considered then, agreed.

“I’m going to need your help, Leah.  King’s men will kill both your brother and my partner if WE don’t do something about it!  I’ll need my gun.  And something to write with.  You’ll need to get a note to my friend.”

There was fear on her face, but Heyes saw determination as well. Leah simply nodded.

They heard Coogan’s heavy footfall on the stairs, so Leah quickly collected the dishes before he could open the door.

“I’ll bring you another book later, Mr. Heyes,” she said more loudly as she neared the door.

***

Curry had stayed in the hotel bar for a while, nursing the same drink, but eventually made his way to his allocated room. Curry climbed the stairs, and  another of King’s men was behind him, not attempting to hide the fact that he was following. When Curry reached the door of his room, the man positioned himself in a chair across the hallway. Curry merely gave him a withering look and went into the solitude of his room.

Shutting the door behind him, Curry wedged a chair beneath the handle of the door, as protection from any unwanted intruders, and dropped on the bed.

The rattle of the door handle being turned, followed by a sharp rapping, interrupted his thoughts.

“Who is it?” he called out tiredly.

“Coogan,” was the gruff reply. “Mr. King asked me to check on you.”

“Well, you’ve done that!” Curry called back, through the closed door.

“’Fraid I need to see that everything’s alright, so I’ll be glad if you’ll open the door so as I don’t have to kick it in. Mr. King sure would be disappointed if you caused any damage in his hotel.”
With a deep sigh, Curry pushed himself off the bed and removed the chair from the door, which instantly flew open. Three men entered the room rapidly, pushing Curry in front of them. Before he had time to realize what was happening, two of them held him firmly by the arms while another stood before him, calmly pushing his shirtsleeves up his strong arms. Curry could see Coogan standing in the doorway with a look of eager anticipation on his face.

“What’s this all about, fellas?” the Kid asked, trying to sound unconcerned.

“We’ve got a little wager on a friend of ours tomorrow and we sure would be disappointed if he lost,” the man in front of him answered.

“Who’s to say he ain’t gonna win?” Curry replied.

“That don’t seem likely iffen he’s gonna face you, so we thought we’d give him a little help!”

A wicked grin flicked across the man’s face and, before Curry could respond, the man thrust a firm fist into his belly. The punch drove the air out of his body; Curry doubled over, the grip of the man’s associates preventing him from falling to the ground.

The story continues in Luck of the Draw – Part Two

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

January 2009

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