Luck of the Draw – Part Two
Co-written by Lana Coombe and Grace R. Williams for Virtual Season
Hannibal Heyes checked his pocket watch again before shoving it back into his vest. “Three minutes,” he muttered, “7:03AM. Only three minutes have passed. The sun has to be up by now.” He paced across his windowless prison like a trapped bear.
He stopped and looked at the chair. This is where the Kid should be, cleaning his gun. “Darn it, Kid. We need to talk. I need you to help figure a plan out.” He smiled wryly to himself at the admission. “Well, I am the thinker,” he amended. “I need your input; you know, Kid, a grunt or two, maybe a nod.” He leaned on the wall. “Sheesh, now I’m talking to myself.”
He looked at the chair again. He decided if he stared long enough he could just make out the Kid’s outline.
“OK, you’re facing Lester Pickett today. Pickett’ll be lucky if you don’t kill him. I know you’re mad at him, Kid, for getting us into this mess, but if you kill him and word gets out, what’s the governor of Wyoming gonna think?”
He glared at the chair. “Stay calm and think, Kid. Don’t do that to us.”
He resumed his pacing. “Solomon is facing Jack Diamond,” he said to himself deciding talking to the chair was getting him nowhere. “Diamond will kill him. He’s ruthless.” He sighed. “And King will force Leah to watch.”
Heyes checked his watch again. 7:15AM. He scowled, and frowned as if his head hurt from thinking so hard. “I could really use some coffee.” He slumped into the chair.
Right on cue, there was a soft knock at the door.
“Mr. Heyes. I have your breakfast, may I come in?” Leah said as Coogan shoved the door open without waiting for any response.
Coogan watched as Leah set the tray on a small table. “Better enjoy the meal, Heyes. Could be your last.”
There was a smug grin on the man’s face and an evil spark in his eye, like a schoolyard bully. A bully who knew the teacher was about to nail you to the wall for something he’d done himself. “I wonder how Kid Curry, I mean Jones,” he said with sarcastic emphasis, “is enjoying his.” He gave a harsh laugh.
“What does that mean?” asked Heyes.
“It’s only a thought,” responded Coogan with a self-satisfied smile.
Heyes looked at him. He opened his mouth to ask another question, but halted, as if he was pushing any distracting thoughts aside.
“Thank you,” he stated simply, turning his full attention to Leah and brushing her hand with his fingers.
Leah moved closer, “You’re welcome, Mr. Heyes.”
Quickly, quietly, and undetected by Coogan, Heyes’ skilled fingers slipped a small, folded note into the pocket of Leah’s apron.
Shortly after 11:00, Coogan pushed open the door of Heyes’ room again. “Time to go, Heyes.” The smug grin was still evident on Coogan’s unpleasant face.
They descended the stairs and joined Leah in the entrance hall, as the rest of King’s entourage assembled.
“COOGAN!” King’s voice bellowed.
The office door opened and Dr. Grey emerged, nodding toward Leah before he made his way past her toward the front door.
Seizing the small window of opportunity, Leah spoke up quickly. “Dr. Grey, so nice to see you.” She took the older man’s arm joining him outside as she closed the front door behind her.
Her look changed to one of desperation. Whispering to him quickly, she shoved the note into the doctor’s hand. “You have to help us! Get this note to Mr. Jones!”
On his way to the office, Coogan’s smug look had disappeared and was replaced by a look Heyes could only describe as sheer terror. The burly man cringed and swallowed hard before the heavy door banged shut behind him.
King’s muffled voice could be heard, but it was not loud or clear enough to be heard by anyone outside the office.
Inside there was no need for King to raise his voice, as Coogan cowered with King’s softly spoken threats.
“…Had Curry beaten?! Who gives the orders here? You? Pickett? Or ME? This is my town, and my contest, or have you forgotten that? I say who shoots, and I even determine who wins. Let’s not forget that. If you and Pickett continue to spoil my plans, I’ll decide your future, or lack of it, as well. Don’t you ever have a man beaten again in this town without my say so. I need Curry, so you had better hope he can stand and shoot today.” His voice was low and cool, indicating an anger so overwhelming it was beyond reason.
“You didn’t answer my question, Coogan. Who gives the orders in Kingdom?”
“You Mr. King. Only you!” whimpered Coogan, pathetically.
“You’d do well to remember that next time, Coogan.” King’s voice was silky and deathly smooth. “You can go now.”
Coogan, relieved to discover that he would live to see a ‘next time’, exited the office, sweat beading his forehead.
King joined the group, straightening his tie. “Ahhh, Mr. Heyes.” He moved closer, inches from Heyes’ face now, and whispered, “By the way, just how good is that partner of yours?”
Heyes’ eyes darted from Coogan to King, questioningly.
“Well, never mind. We’ll find that out soon enough.” He put his good hand on Heyes’ shoulder.
Heyes shook it off. He cast a quick glance toward Leah, who had rejoined them in the entry.
King roughly grabbed her wrist. “Let’s go. We have a contest to attend,” he said, dragging her.
Curry squinted up at the sky as he came out of the hotel. He could not do much more, as he could barely open his left eye, due to the black and blue swelling that creased it closed. At the top of the steps, he paused, as if bracing himself in preparation for the pain that would come with each downward step. His boot awkwardly hit the first step and he clenched his lips together tightly. When he moved, he gasped air audibly between his teeth, an act he apparently could not repress. Sucking in his breath, he recomposed himself and carefully took the next two steps down to the street.
With stiff, deliberate movements, he made his way to the center of the street to take up his position. He focused his eyes directly in front of him, looking neither left nor right.
Heyes saw the bruised and battered figure emerge from the hotel and his expression clouded in fury.
“What is this, King?” he hissed through gritted teeth, to the man sitting in front of him.
King turned his head slightly towards Heyes. “This is none of my doing, I can assure you. I’m as unhappy about Mr. Jones’ condition as you are.”
“He can’t fight like that! Call it off!” Heyes demanded.
“Afraid I can’t do that as he’d have to withdraw from the contest, and if he loses, then you lose too,” King responded flatly.
“Well, he can’t fight in that state!” Heyes’ voice rose in anger, immediately provoking Peterson to press the barrel of his rifle into his side.
“If he’s as good as they say he is, then it shouldn’t be a problem. You ought to have a little more faith in your partner, Mr. Smith,” King stated, before turning his back on Heyes once more.
A low murmur went through the gathered crowd as Lester Pickett emerged from The Crown Saloon, smirking conceitedly. Hooking his thumbs in his gun belt, he walked towards Curry with an arrogant swagger and took up his position about twenty feet away.
“You’re not looking so good this morning, Mr. Jones,” Pickett jeered.
Curry did not respond. He remained steady and stared directly at his opponent, lids swollen but eyes cool.
King gave a nod to Riley indicating that the bell could be rung.
Heyes body subtly tensed as he watched his injured friend. His lips were set firmly as the proceedings evolved masking any emotion. Only his eyelids flickered nervously.
Curry stood stiffly, relaxing his arms at his sides, flexing his right hand. His left eye swollen, he turned his head marginally to make up for the disadvantage, lining up his sights. He looked at Pickett’s mean, pinched face and his countenance blackened. For all his injuries, he exuded a steely presence that impressed the crowd.
Pickett stretched his neck, flexed his fingers and grinned at Curry, overconfidence radiating from him.
Curry remained impassive.
Suddenly, the sharp clang of the bell echoed through the air. There was a crescendo of gunshots and then all fell silent.
Both men remained standing in the street; Curry’s gun still pointed at Pickett. The man, who only moments before was all cockiness, stared blankly his gun arm, which hung limply at his side dripping blood, gun hanging from his fingertips.
Instinctively he covered the wound with his left hand. He looked up in disbelief at Curry.
“How can you be that fast? No one’s that fast, not hurt like you are,” he whined. “You were supposed to die; this ain’t right. It ain’t fair.”
“You’re lucky, Pickett,” Curry said quietly, “I decided to hit your arm before firing. I aimed for your chest first.”
Curry’s hand started to tremble, as the exertion of his effort caught up with him and he let his gun hand fall to his side.
Seeing his opportunity, Pickett tentatively raised his own gun and aimed at Curry.
“We ain’t finished yet! It’s the rules!” he called out. He raised his right arm supporting it with his left hand and aimed it at Curry’s stomach.
Curry looked at Pickett tiredly. “Pickett, I’m done fighting for the day.”
Heyes jumped up and surged forward, intending to aid his partner in any way he could.
King snapped his fingers and Peterson ran in front of him. The bulky man pushed Heyes back and pinned him against the wall.
Heyes looked around desperately. His eyes met Leah’s but she seemed frozen with fear and she averted her face from his glare.
Curry sighed. “You really make me wish I hadn’t changed my mind, Lester. I’m really beginning to think you’re so stupid you deserve to die. I can’t fight you any more. I ain’t got no more bullets!” Curry said pointedly, glancing over in King’s direction.
Lester Pickett laughed. “Well that’s too bad. I’ve got plenty.”
King spun round in his chair and grabbed Coogan’s jacket sleeve, pulling the man towards him. “Kill him!” he growled.
Coogan looked puzzled for a second and then replied, “Jones?”
“No, you idiot – Pickett! Shoot him before he shoots Jones!” cried King.
Pickett was beginning to relish being the center of attention and his moment of glory when a shot rang out. With a look of total surprise, he looked down at his chest, only to see an expanding patch of red. He looked up at Curry in bewilderment before falling to the ground.
“First round to Jones!” Riley shouted out. The crowd was in stunned silence but not one person would dare to speak out against King and his methods.
Curry looked over at the group on the hotel porch, and shrugged, remaining calm outwardly. He nodded at Heyes.
Curry re-holstered his gun and, with one last, parting look at his partner, made his way back to the hotel, albeit rather slowly and stiffly. Entering the saloon, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, slowly releasing the breath. Then, with feigned nonchalance, he leaned against the doorpost, to watch the round between Solomon and Diamond.
King remained sitting in his chair, gripping the arms, with a self-satisfied smile on his face. “Coogan, I commend you for following my orders. You may have redeemed yourself for your little mistake. Doctor Grey, please verify that Pickett is no longer with us so that my men may ‘tidy’ the street in preparation for the next round.”
The doctor grimly walked out to perform his duty, and the street was soon empty.
Jack Diamond took to the street, closely followed by Solomon. To the observer it looked a total mismatch. Diamond appeared to be the epitome of gunfighter, with his black, austere manner of dress, highlighted by flashes of ostentatious shiny silver.
Solomon, on the other hand, was dressed in a shabby cord jacket, fraying at the cuffs, with worn and scuffed boots.
Whereas Diamond took to the street with a narcissistic swagger, Solomon strode with a modesty, which belied his skill with a gun.
Leah, who was standing next to Heyes, let out a small cry like a tiny cat’s meow, but managed to check herself before King heard. Heyes felt her hand grip his arm for support. Discretely and gently, he covered her hand with his own, and gave it a slight squeeze.
“Come on! Let’s get on with it!” King called out impatiently, strumming the fingers of his left hand on the armrest of his chair.
“You both ready?” Riley shouted to both men, who nodded their answer. He gave the signal to the bell ringer and the crowd hushed in anticipation.
The seconds passed in long silence. The bell clanged, and Diamond and Solomon instantaneously drew their guns. There appeared to be only one shot, as they fired in unison.
Leah, unable to withstand the tension, cried out more loudly. She stifled herself by placing her hand over her mouth. Her grip tightened on Heyes’ arm, as Solomon staggered, a bullet ripping into his shoulder.
Diamond also stumbled before collapsing on the ground, staring blindly at the sky, with a clean shot through his heart. He was dead before Dr. Grey reached his side.
Grey, seeing his services were of no use to Diamond, turned his attentions to the boy. Solomon brushed him aside. He strode purposefully towards King and his group, directing his attention to his sister, giving her a small placating smile.
King stood up, placing himself between Solomon and Leah. “I see you’ve been practicing,” the older man said.
“Some,” Solomon replied flatly.
“We’ll see how good you really are tomorrow, when you face Jones,” King scornfully answered.
“I guess we will,” the boy assured him, looking at King’s right arm, with derision.
King’s expression hardened. “You won’t win, no matter what,” he told Solomon.
“We’ll see,” he retorted, calmly. “It ain’t over yet.” Solomon looked towards his sister once more before pivoting and walking away.
Solomon showed no fear in his eyes, just solid determination.
Heyes gave Leah’s hand another slight squeeze.
It was not over yet.
“I am here at the request of Mr. King. He has requested that I see Mr. Jones is fit for tomorrow’s round,” Dr. Grey told the hired man who stood guard outside Curry’s room.
“Well, OK then, I reckon it’ll be alright if I let you in.”
The guard unlocked the door, and ushered the older man into the room, and returned to the hallway, locking the door after him.
As Dr. Grey entered the darkened room, he heard a pistol cock.
“Mr. Jones, it’s me, Dr. Grey. You can put your weapon away. Mr. King has sent me to see how your injuries are mending.”
Curry slid his gun back into the holster hanging from the bedpost, and shrugged. “It ain’t loaded anyway,” he said sheepishly.
The doctor, who had finished lighting the lamp, turned and raised his eyebrows.
“They only give me one bullet a draw,” explained Curry.
“I see. Knowing Mr. King as I do, that doesn’t surprise me.” The doctor moved toward his patient who lay quietly on the bed.
He examined the bandages he had placed earlier on Curry’s ribs, and then turned his attention to the Kid’s bruised face. Finally he checked the eyes, especially Curry’s swollen left eye.
“Is your vision blurred, or are you seeing double at all?”
“I can see fine, Doc. Just don’t move too good.”
“You moved fine enough today, son.”
The doctor paused, and looked deeply into the gunslinger’s face as if trying to gauge the make of this man.
“There are rumours about who you really are. As a doctor that makes no difference to me, I have my Hippocratic Oath to uphold. As it concerns the people in this town I care about…” His voice trailed off. “I suppose I have no choice.”
Curry had no idea what the man was rambling on about, and stared at him uncomprehendingly.
“Here.” The doctor held out a folded, crumpled piece of paper toward him.
The Kid accepted it cautiously.
“Mrs. King slipped it to me this morning. Asked me to give it to you. This is the first chance I’ve had to get in here and see you. And I’m putting my neck out to do it.”
“Much obliged, Doctor. For the note and the doctorin’.”
Curry waited until the town was quiet for the night then, slipped from the hotel’s window. Instead of going down, he crawled up over the roof. He made his way to a tall tree at the back of the hotel. He leaned out and grasped the nearest branch, gritting his teeth and letting out an involuntary gasp.
Carefully, he made his way down the tree, and swung himself to the ground from the lowest branch. He stopped, doubled over, clutching his ribs, after hitting the ground. Crouched low, he scanned his surroundings for signs of movement. Not seeing anyone, he slowly straightened up.
Carefully, note in his pocket, he made his way out of town, toward Solomon’s camp. As he drew closer, he saw the young man, crouched beside the fire, knife in hand, preparing to remove a bullet from his own shoulder.
Curry crept up to the young man cautiously. When he was close enough he whispered to him. “Solomon, it’s me, Jones. We need to talk.” He raised his hands, hoping the gunman would know he posed no immediate threat.
“Does this look like the time for talkin’, Jones?” Solomon continued cleaning his knife, then, took a swig from a small flask before pouring some of the whiskey over his wound, closing his eyes and wincing with pain.
He opened his eyes at a light touch on his hand. “Give me the knife, Solomon.”
Solomon studied his opponent. “Why are you here? And why should I trust you?”
“Leah sent me.”
Solomon stared hard at Curry. Finally, he handed the knife to the older man.
Curry poured a little more of the whiskey over the knife’s blade before quickly and efficiently digging the bullet from Solomon’s shoulder.
“Not deep at all. Barely more’n a flesh wound,” he stated, taking a swallow from the flask himself before handing it back to Solomon who did likewise.
Curry cleaned and bandaged the wound. He sat back and waited, observing Solomon watching the fire in silence, eyes hard and cold.
Solomon turned and asked harshly, “You gonna stare at me all night, or get on with what you gotta say?”
“I got no reason to kill you, Solomon.”
“Leah didn’t send you to tell me that. Why are you here?”
Curry sighed. “I’m here because neither of us can win. You gotta know that. King isn’t plannin’ on lettin’ either one of us leave that street alive tomorrow,” Curry explained patiently as if talking to a child.
“You think I don’t know that?” Solomon was on his feet now and spat the words at Curry, grabbing the front of the Kid’s shirt. “Both of us are gonna die tomorrow. But I plan to take King with me.” Solomon released his grip on Curry’s shirt. “You don’t wanna draw? Leave,” he said contemptuously. “Ride outta here tonight.”
“It’s not that simple, Solomon. Look, I can’t leave because King is holding my partner prisoner. He claims he’ll kill him if I don’t do as he says, and I believe him.”
”So why didn’t you kill me earlier? I didn’t hear you creep up.”
“That wouldn’t exactly fulfill my bargain with King, would it? And anyway, I don’t wanna kill you. You wanna die?”
Solomon was quiet for a long time. “No, I don’t wanna die. But, I’m gonna anyway. Tomorrow. Right after I kill King.”
”You’re gonna shoot King instead of me?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Look Solomon, I can see you’re angry at him, but what’ll killin’ him get you? It can’t be worth losin’ your life!”
“I already lost it!” Solomon looked away from the house for a moment and Curry caught another glimpse of the boy’s pain. “King took it from me a long time ago.” He paused, sadness, pain and anger on his face.
Then he turned to Curry. “If Leah really sent you, you’d know.”
Curry looked seriously at the boy’s features and then it hit him. “You’re her brother.”
Curry waited for Solomon to go on.
“My sister,” Solomon’s voice filled with anger, “he took her!”
“Me and Leah were no more than a couple of kids. Our parents took sick and died. I was older so I tried to look out for both of us. Didn’t do a very good job of it. It was tougher than I thought.”
Solomon closed his eyes and let the memories pour through him.
“I was good with a gun. King took us in. Gave me a job of sorts, fetchin’ and carryin’. Got Leah to do his cookin’ and cleanin’. That was it at first. Later, he wanted more.” Solomon hung his head. “I was supposed to protect her. I promised our parents.” His voice broke.
“What happened?” the Kid asked quietly.
The boy composed himself and continued. “I tried to get her out. We left one night. King found out and stopped us. Said I was free to go, but Leah was stayin’. I drew on him. Gave him that useless arm he’s carryin’ now. Got us both outta there that night. I swore I’d kill King if he ever laid a hand on her again. I should’a killed him when I had the chance!”
“A few days later, King found us. We didn’t have a chance. Told us we were fools for runnin’. That he would’a got tired of Leah soon enough and let her go, but now he thought he’d just keep her. His men beat me half to death. King held a gun to my head, told Leah unless she wanted him to kill me right there, she’d go back with him for good. Of course she did. What else was she gonna do? So ever since, I been practicin’, gettin’ ready for the day when I’d make good on my promise.”
Solomon’s cold, hard gaze held Curry’s eyes. “Tomorrow’s the day. I kill King tomorrow. I got nothin’ against you, Jones, but if I gotta kill you to get to him, so be it.”
”Look Solomon, even if you do kill King, you’ll die. What happens to Leah then? She’d be alone. Is that what you want?” Curry put a hand gently on the younger man’s shoulder. “King took somethin’ from both of us. My partner, your sister. Seems to me we got us a choice. Either we both die tomorrow makin’ King pay, or we can work together. I got an idea that just might get us both what we want.”
Leah quietly turned the knob to King’s master bedroom, and slowly opened the door. King’s even breathing told her he was asleep. She released a sigh of relief and crept through the moonlit room to his chest of drawers.
She began to open the top drawer and flinched at the low sound it made. King rustled in the bed. She stopped and bit her lip in fear, heart pounding. Her ‘husband’ settled down again, and his snores became regular.
Leah closed her eyes, and opened them again turning back to the drawer. She put her hand in it and fumbled noiselessly for the box. Finally, she found it. Quietly, she opened it and removed a key. Her hand shaking, she placed it into the pocket of her robe.
Leah went out into the hall, and walked softly down the stairs to her husband’s study. She crept to the desk, took the key from her pocket and unlocked it. Still shaking, she quickly clutched the Colt in the desk, closed the desk and relocked it. Then she hurried back up the stairs, into King’s room and replaced the key.
She went to her own, much smaller room, put the gun in her top dresser drawer beneath her undergarments, and shut it. She collapsed on the bed and cried.
The next day dawned bright and clear. Kid Curry stared at the bare ceiling of his hotel room. His face was less swollen, and his left eye opened wider than on the prior day.
He sat up stiffly and slowly turned, placing his legs off the bed onto the floor. He gave an involuntary grunt of pain as he stood. He tried to stretch to loosen his limbs, and quickly gave up the effort.
Curry limped to the washstand and looked at his reflection in the mirror. He shook his head. He poured the contents from the jug into the bowl and splashed the cold water on his face. Eyes closed, he felt blindly for the towel.
He dried his face on the worn, rough towel, and then he struggled into his shirt and pants. He pulled on his leather vest, eased himself into the chair and pulled his gun from the holster hanging on the chair’s back. He examined the gun carefully.
The sun on the horizon indicated it was still early morning. He sat and waited.
“Open the door, please, Mr. Coogan.”
Heyes stopped pacing to listen to the conversation on the other side of the door.
“Can’t do that Mrs. King.”
“Of course you can. I need to deliver Mr. Heyes’ breakfast tray and my hands are full.” Her voice remained pleasant, but it shook slightly.
“Nope. Mr. King’s orders.”
“What do you mean, orders? Mr. Heyes needs to eat!”
“He’ll eat alright, but I’ll deliver the tray.” He drew close to Leah, and whispered in her ear, “Mr. King thinks Mr. Heyes is gettin’ a might too attached to you,” he chucked, “and he don’t like it.”
Leah pulled away in revulsion and cringed.
Coogan took the tray and Leah watched him enter the room, hands on her hips, disappointment on her face.
Leah went back the kitchen. She picked up an empty glass and wiped it repeatedly and uselessly. She put it down and felt her skirt pocket beneath her apron. She raised the apron, and pulled the gun out by its barrel and quickly dropped it in again. She straightened her shoulders, took a deep breath, and left the kitchen.
Without knocking, Leah boldly pushed open the door to King’s office, where he sat working, as if nothing of consequence would be happening within the hour.
“Let them go, Rex,” she begged.
King glanced up at his presumptuous young wife, surprised at her unusual display of courage, and smiled patronizingly.
“My dear? Let who go? Oh, you must mean Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Now why ever should I let them go? This is such a lovely day and that would only spoil it. I am looking forward to seeing that brother of yours shoot against Jones, aren’t you?” He picked up his pen and resumed working on his papers, seemingly uninterested in this discussion.
“But Rex, Smith and Jones have done nothing to you. They’re innocent. Why take your hatred of Solomon out on them?”
“I beg to differ, Leah. Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones are hardly innocent. Surely you’ve figured out by now, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones are not who they claim to be.” He smiled at Leah.
Leah sighed. “Yes, I know they are Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. But you are still using them against their will to kill Solomon, to hurt me. What you are doing is wrong, can’t you see that?”
King laughed quietly. “Oh my darling Leah, haven’t you learned anything since I brought you here? I judge what is right and what is wrong. You have no say in the matter.”
Leah ignored this insulting question and pressed forward. “Rex, let me talk to Mr. Smith. I can convince him to leave town with his friend and no one will be the wiser. No one will know what you have tried to do. That you are trying to use another man to commit murder for you. I give you my word; they won’t make trouble for you.”
“Commit murder? Leah, Solomon entered the contest of his own free will. It’s his choice.”
Leah took a deep breath, steeling her nerves. “I’ll talk to Solomon too. I’ll tell him I’ve decided to stay with you. My choice. And I’ll convince him to leave us alone. He’ll withdraw from the contest.”
“And be considered a coward? Oh no my dear, your brother won’t do that.” King smiled, but his eyes had no warmth in them. “And Mr. Curry will kill your brother today. He has no choice. He’ll do it to save his friend.”
King stood, crossing the room toward Leah. Placing his hand beneath her chin, he tilted it up. “Only, I have no plans to let the two of them live either.” He ran his fingers down her chin and throat. “Tell me my dearest wife, with the three of them gone; whatever shall I do with you?”
He traced a line across the base of her throat.
Curry turned as he heard the door to his room unlock. He stood and reached for his hat as Coogan entered.
“Glad to see you’re on your own this time,” Curry commented sourly.
Coogan sniffed and then leered at him, “Don’t make no difference now ‘cos you and that smart mouthed partner of yours will both be dead soon enough.”
Curry’s only reaction to the harsh comment was a raised eyebrow. Placing his hat on his head, he made his way out of the room.
“You’ll be needin’ this,” Coogan said as the Kid passed, tossing him a single bullet.
The Kid deftly caught it.
They reached the lobby, and Deke Winters rose from a chair and approached.
Coogan raised his rifle.
“No need for that, Coogan,” Winters told him. “Just wanted to wish Jones here ‘good luck’.”
The older gunslinger held out his hand, and grasped Curry’s firmly. He pressed his other hand to the back of it, and shook it vigorously.
“Thanks, Deke.” Curry tipped his hat with one finger. He nodded at Deke with a look of understanding. He put his hand in his pocket.
As Curry and Coogan left, Winters smiled to himself.
The street was as packed as it had been on previous days with people hanging over the balconies straining to see. It was unnervingly quiet, save for the low murmur of voices. It was eerily still with not a breath of wind.
Curry glanced to his right. He saw that King’s entourage, including Heyes, were assembled in the usual place. His eyes met his partner’s.
Heyes pursed his lips, and shook his head in a negative manner so subtly it was unreadable to anyone else.
“Not good,” Curry muttered under his breath. He walked to his position in the street.
The volume of the murmuring rose as Solomon appeared on the street. He gave Curry a cursory nod before looking towards his sister.
“I have to give you credit, boy!” King boomed at him. “You’re showing real nerve coming here. You must know who you’re really up against today.”
Solomon ignored King, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Leah. “You OK?” he asked gently.
Leah nodded in response but her eyes filled with tears.
“You’ve got to know you can’t win!” King continued to taunt the youth. “And you won’t free your sister. She’ll stay with me until I’ve no further use for her. By that time no one else will want her,” he said maliciously.
While this altercation took place, Curry put his hand in his pocket and then removed it. He took his gun out of his holster and checked it. When he finished this, with a neat twirl, he returned it to his holster and patiently crossed his arms over his chest.
He turned to Heyes and caught his eyes, smiling at the puzzled look on Heyes’ countenance.
King turned from Solomon to Riley and shouted, “Let’s get this over with so I can celebrate.”
Solomon took his position on the street, opposite Curry. Both men studied each other for a moment, as if trying to decide whether each could trust the other.
Leah saw the look on Heyes’ face. “What?” she mouthed.
He turned to her and whispered in her ear, “I dunno. My friend would have checked his gun before coming out here. He’s up to something.”
Heyes smiled and said, “I was wishing her luck, I was wishing us both luck.”
The bell sounded, and King turned back.
Time passed and nothing happened. Then Curry turned and faced in the direction of King. Solomon turned as well. Neither man fired. Both stood resolute, Solomon trained his gun on King. Curry fixed his aim on the hired man, Peterson.
Seeing ‘Kid Curry’s’ weapon aimed at him, Peterson panicked. His trembling hands fired off an errant shot.
Curry’s aim held true. Peterson fell to the ground, blood oozing from his injured side.
Nearby onlookers began to scatter, some ducking back into buildings, others running away to a safer distance. The group on the porch remained motionless.
An evil smile contorted Coogan’s face. “Now that was foolish, Curry, using up your bullet like that!” he jeered.
“What makes you so sure that was my only bullet,” Curry said evenly, now pointing his gun at Coogan.
Coogan wavered, uncertainly.
“I wouldn’t shoot if I were you Coogan.” Deke Winters walked to the end of the porch. “When you two walked through the hotel lobby I evened things up a little.”
Coogan turned to look at Deke and sucked in his breath.
“Just how good a shot do you think you are Coogan?” Deke raised his gun and pointed it at Coogan.
Coogan looked at King for assistance.
“What the devil do you mean by this, Deke? I thought you and I were friends,” King protested.
“Nope, don’t ever think we were that,” was Deke’s response.
King deliberately pulled a gun out of his pocket and aimed it at Deke. “Deke, this isn’t any of your business. Why don’t you put your gun away? That way you won’t get hurt.”
“Maybe you’re the one who’s going to get hurt,” said Heyes in a reasonable voice.
King glanced sideways at him.
“Look, as it is right now it’s stalemate. You’re pointing at Deke, Solomon’s pointing at you, Deke’s pointing at Coogan, and my friend, well he’s pointing at Coogan who’s pointing at him, but he’s fast enough to hit both of you before Coogan gets off a shot. Maybe everyone should put their guns away and we should talk this over.”
Coogan, who had been turning red with anger as Deke Winters and then Heyes spoke, burst out, “You’re bluffing, and your friend’s bluffing.” He pivoted from the Kid to Winters, and cocked his pistol, but before he got a shot off, he stumbled to his knees with a bullet in his arm and another in his shoulder.
Deke shook his head sadly. “You should never underestimate a man ‘cause of his age, Coogan.”
Solomon strode in the direction of King, arm raised forward. In response, King grabbed Leah and tried to place her between him and the boy.
Heyes stepped between the two to protect Leah, but this motion also blocked the Kid’s clear shot at King.
King shrugged his shoulders and simply changed his choice of victim. He pointed his gun directly at Heyes’ chest.
Curry swore under his breath.
Solomon too came to a halt. He looked from Heyes to King to Leah, and moved his arm, hesitating.
Curry spoke, “Take it easy, Solomon. That’s my partner standing there, with a gun pointing at him and, at the moment, he’s the only thing between King and your sister. If you try and shoot King now then he’s liable to shoot my friend, and maybe her as well.”
Solomon swallowed hard. He kept his gaze on the group in front of him.
“What if we shot together? You shoot the gun from his hand and I’ll shoot him? Nothing would give me greater pleasure.”
“Could work but we’d still be risking my partner or your sister being hurt – or worse.”
“Think it’s time to give up, Rex.” Deke Winters stood at King’s back.
“Thought you knew me better than that, Deke. That boy has given me nothing but trouble since the day I met him. This is my game and I intend to win.”
King stood firm, keeping constant eye contact with Heyes, who returned the stare.
Heyes spoke lowly. “King, be reasonable. You’re out gunned and I know for a fact that my partner isn’t going to let you walk away from this if anything happens to me. Is this really worth all this trouble? Solomon is just a kid.”
“Oh yes it’s worth it. That ‘kid’ took my arm and ruined my life. Well, now I’m going to ruin his. Step out of the way Heyes. That little tramp isn’t worth losing your life over.”
“Can’t do that, King. So what’ll it be? You want my friend to shoot you?”
King smiled at Heyes. “At this range no matter how fast your partner is, his bullet can’t reach me before mine goes through you. And Leah’s right behind you.”
However, here King was wrong. Leah had edged herself to Heyes’ and King’s side. She raised her hand to King’s temple, and a shot rang out.
King fell to the ground without a cry. He lay flat, eyes wide open.
A small whimper beside him drew Heyes’ attention and he turned to see Leah, her face ashen white in shock at what she had just done, Heyes’ gun held aloft in her trembling hand. Slowly and carefully, Heyes wrapped his fingers around her hand and pried the gun from her grip.
Solomon rushed to his sister’s side, and wrapped his arms around her protectively. He looked around, daring anyone to approach or arrest her.
Deke neared them. Seeing the look on the boy’s face he said, “I don’t think I’d worry son. No one’s gonna hurt her, now. They’re all probably grateful.”
Dr. Grey bent over King’s body.
“Is he really dead, Doc?” someone asked as the people of the town gathered.
“He’s really dead.”
“Praise God for that!” a woman said loudly, “we’re free!”
The Kid walked over to Heyes and put a hand on his shoulder.
Heyes looked back at him. “We’re free,” he repeated, softly.
Curry pulled the cinch on his saddle tight and unhooked the stirrup from the saddle horn, bringing it back down into place. Next, he firmly secured his bedroll.
Heyes mirrored his actions. Both men were tight-lipped, keen to be away from this town as soon as possible.
Solomon and Leah stood watching them from the hotel porch, the boy’s arm draped protectively across the girl’s shoulders.
“You ready?” Heyes asked his partner.
“Yep,” replied Curry.
As they were about to mount their horses, Deke Winters crossed the street.
“Glad I caught you,” he said. “I wanted to wish you well and say ‘thanks’ again.” He smiled at them.
“It’s us who should be thankin’ you, Deke,” Curry told him somberly.
“Let’s just say it was a pleasure to fight alongside you and leave it at that,” the older man replied.
The sunlight hit something metal on Winter’s vest, and although partly covered by his jacket that ‘something’ flashed.
“What’s that?” Heyes inquired warily.
“Oh, that? Townsfolk asked me to be sheriff. Ain’t got nowhere else to go so I thought I’d take the job.”
Heyes and Curry exchanged an uncertain look.
“Well boys, I’d better be getting along; I suppose there must be some real criminals out there to capture somewhere.” Sheriff Winters touched the brim of his hat, a playful grin on his face.
Heyes and Curry smirked back and watched the man walk away. Heyes let out a low laugh and shook his head.
Gathering their reins, they pulled themselves into their saddles in unison.
“Do you really have to go?” Leah asked, plaintively.
“I think it’s for the best,” Heyes told her. “Too many people know who we really are around here.”
Solomon met Curry’s gaze, and gave him an almost unperceivable nod of thanks before he could wheel his horse about and ride down the street.
With one last dimpled smile and a touch of his hat brim, Heyes followed.
On the outskirts of the town, they came across two men, dismantling the sign that read ‘Kingdom’.
Lying on the ground nearby was a newly painted sign – ‘Freedom’.
They rode a good ways, in relative silence, each lost in his own thoughts, both thankful to be alive. After a while, as the sun was touching the horizon, Curry pulled up his horse and twisted in his saddle towards his partner.
“Exactly which part of what just happened back there was part of your plan?”
Heyes gave his partner an injured look. “I’m surprised at you, Kid. Thought you had more faith in me.”
“Oh, I got faith in you alright, but I didn’t see nothin’ that looked like a great Hannibal Heyes plan to me.”
“I had faith in YOU, Kid.” Heyes turned his head away from Curry, to hide a sheepish grin. “And a good partner has got to let the other partner stand on his own every now and then, right?”
The Kid was almost yelling now. “Heyes, you’re tellin’ me, the plan was – there wasn’t no plan!?”
Heyes gave a wink, “‘Course there was, Kid. My plan was to have a little faith in my partner. Worked out pretty good, didn’t it?”
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.