Regrets – Part One – A Shared Past

Regrets – Part One – A Shared Past

“Scars are souvenirs you never lose.  The past is never far.” – J. Rzeznik

Wyoming 1890

Six shots cut through the early morning mist.  His draw was faster than ever, his aim, precise.  The gunman returned his meticulously polished weapon to its holster, the gun belt bearing the scars of frequent use.  He replaced six tin cans on the rotting fence post and prepared for another round of practice.

Moving into position, he removed his hat, running a work-worn hand through thick, blond curls and wiped sweat from his brow before he replaced it.  It was warm for early morning.  He lifted his eyes, blue as the Wyoming sky, to squint at the sunrise.  Red.  Storms would likely move in by late day.

He glanced toward the waiting targets and changed his mind, silently declaring the practice session over.  He mounted his waiting horse.  An early start was important if he wanted to beat the rain.  He’d make Porterville and meet with Sheriff Trevors, then, he’d wait.  No matter how long it took.  And when Kid Curry showed his face, he’d be waiting for him.  Ready.

Texas

“What’s Lom got to say?” a curious Curry asked, through a mouthful of potato.  “Can’t be about that blamed amnesty!”

Heyes agreed with the Kid’s thought, though his choice of words would have been harsher.

They had struggled for years toward amnesty, only to have it denied them time and time again by the governor.  It seemed the political atmosphere was always deemed too unfavorable.  Finally, the railroads and the banks had seen sense in removing all rewards on both Heyes and Curry.  Since their retirement, the two posed little threat to the now thriving businesses.  The once most successful outlaws in the history of the west, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, had simply disappeared, still wanted, but forgotten by everyone but the readers of history books and dime novels.

Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones had continued to wander the west, in search of odd jobs or a poker game. The absence of a price on their heads seemed to make the difference.  The two found they were now able to spend weeks or even months in a town before feeling the need to pack up and move on.

During recent months, they’d been calling a small town in Texas, just north of the Mexican border, home.  Jobs running the town’s lone gambling establishment had kept them in one place long enough for Lom’s letter to reach them.

Heyes squinted, moving the letter forward and back, before acknowledging his need for the pair of reading spectacles in his shirt pocket. With them perched on the end of his nose, he read.

“Well, I’ll be!  Seems Wyoming is about to become a full-fledged state, Kid!”  He raised his eyes above the spectacles and let the letter drop, a smile spreading slowly across his face.

“Yeah?  So what’s that got to do with us?”

“Seems the Governor of the brand new State of Wyoming wants to get a couple of old, retired outlaws off his books…or off his conscience,” Heyes mused.

“You sayin’ what I think you’re sayin’, Heyes?”  The Kid rose from his chair, picking the letter up from the table where it had fallen.

“I am, Kid!  It means, come July 10th of this year, we’re gonna be free men!”

“You sure, Heyes?  We been disappointed before.”

“See for yourself.”  He waited while the Kid examined the letter.

“Not wanted anymore?!” Curry exclaimed.

They were both laughing now.  Heyes reached toward the Kid, almost forgetting himself and hugging his partner right there in the restaurant, but changed his mind at the last moment and gave the Kid a hearty slap on the back instead.

“July 10th, huh?  That’s only…”  The Kid calculated.

Heyes reached in his pocket and threw more than enough money on the table to pay for two meals.  “C’mon, let’s go!”

“Where we goin’?”

“We got packing to do!”

“Packin’?”

“You wanna be in Porterville to celebrate with Lom, don’t ya?”

Porterville, Wyoming

Rumbles of thunder could be heard long before the steady rain began to fall.  The lone rider made his way down Porterville’s main street, avoiding the growing mud puddles as he headed toward the local livery.  He paid the owner and made sure his horse would be well cared for before walking out into the storm again, passing the hotel, moving purposefully toward the office of Sheriff Lom Trevors.

Lom looked up when the door blew open.  A young man stood, dripping, in the doorway.  “Come on in.  Close the door behind ya.”

The boy followed instructions, latching the door, swallowing hard as he prepared himself to deliver the speech he’d rehearsed over the previous months.  Ironically, with the amount of water outside, his mouth suddenly felt dry as a desert.

“Something I can do for you, son?”

He winced at the sheriff’s choice of words and moved toward a pitcher on a stand near the wall.  “May I?” he asked.  Lom nodded.  He poured himself a glass.

“What’s yer name, boy?”

“Morgan.  Will Morgan.”

Lom rose from his chair and introduced himself, shaking the boy’s hand.  Leaning back against the front of his desk, he crossed both arms in front of him and waited for the boy to state his business.

Will finished the water and hesitantly began, “I’m lookin’ for someone.”

Concern showed immediately on Trevors’ face.  “Someone’s missing?”

“No, sir.  I’m lookin’ for a man and I hear you can help me find him.”  He paused, meeting the sheriff’s eyes with a look of determination.  “I’m lookin’ for Kid Curry.”

Will didn’t need to be a Bannerman detective to read the shock in the lawman’s face, even if only for a fraction of a second.

“Curry?  What makes you think I can help you find him?”

“This note.”  Will held out a piece of paper, words facing toward the sheriff.

Sheriff Lom Trevors.  Porterville, Wyoming.  The Kid had written it, Lom knew that much.  He’d seen Curry’s handwriting enough to recognize the unique style.

“That note must be twenty years old!” Lom countered, trying to dissuade the boy.

“Seventeen,” Morgan corrected, his voice steady.

“Look, even if I knew where to find Curry back then, that was a long time ago.”  He unintentionally moved toward two wanted posters, minus their previously offered ten thousand dollar rewards, displayed on his wall.

Morgan moved close behind him, with only a glance at the posters already burned into his memory.

“What do you want with him anyway?” Lom asked.  “And where’d you get that note?  It had to be written before you were even…”  Two blue eyes, met his.  Suddenly, the truth dawned.

“Got the note from my mother.  Guess Curry must’ve given it to her.  I hear the two of them were, uh… close.”

“Well, I’ll be!” Lom chuckled, still noting the similarities between Kid Curry and Will Morgan.  “How long since you seen the Kid?”

“Long time.  Real long.”  Will wondered if that counted as a lie.  After all, never was indeed a long time.

“You’re in luck, Will.  I sent a letter to Heyes and the Kid just a week or so ago.  I expect they’ll be showin’ up here in Porterville any time.”

“For what?”

“Governor wants to see ’em.”

“Governor?” the boy scoffed.  “He sure ain’t been much help to ’em.”

“What do you know about the governor?” Lom asked, surprised, then continued, “Never mind.  You got a place to stay?”

“Not yet, sir.  Guess I’ll book myself a room at the hotel if Heyes and Curry are gonna be here, quick as you think.”

“Nonsense!  You’ll stay with me!”

Denver

The road between Texas and Wyoming had been relatively easy and the carefree attitudes of the two nearly-free former outlaws added to their enjoyment of the trip.  Lighthearted feelings prevailed, until the Kid’s horse threw a shoe, making a stop in Denver necessary.

“Easy girl.  Gonna get that shoe fixed up fine in no time.”  Curry spoke softly to the mare, calming her with his voice.

Heyes listened, waiting for the blacksmith to finish with the customer ahead of them, knowing his partner’s words were as much for his own benefit as the animal’s.

He moved closer and whispered, “We won’t be here long, Kid.  Just one night.”

Curry would gladly have slept another night on the cold, damp ground outside of town. This part of Denver was filled with ghosts of the past lurking around every corner.  Memories he thought he’d buried long ago, rose to haunt him.

The blacksmith greeted his new customers.  “She’s limpin’ bad, huh?”

Heyes tipped his head toward the saloon and the Kid gratefully nodded his thanks.  Heyes would take care of their horses; Curry would get himself a much needed drink.

He didn’t know if it was habit or fate that guided his feet in the direction of the familiar saloon.  The fading paint on the weathered sign still proudly bore the name, ‘Louise’s Place.’  The Kid pushed through the doors.  The room seemed smaller than it had in days gone by and when he threw back his first whiskey, he noted it tasted cheaper than it used to.

“Howdy, stranger.”  The voice was warm and comforting, like a fire on a cold winter night.

“Louise!”  Curry stood, gathering the motherly figure into his arms.  “Didn’t think I’d find you here after all this time.”

“I could say the same.  How you been?  Where you been?”

“Still livin’.  Been everywhere, and nowhere.  Covered a lotta miles over the years.”

“You here alone, or you still ridin’ with that partner?”

Her question was answered when a second pair of arms wrapped around her from behind.  Louise was greeted with a warm chuckle and a hug from Heyes.

“Lan’ sakes!  Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes!  Can’t believe yer both a’standin’ here!”

“Uh, it’s Smith and Jones these days, Louise.”  Heyes glanced nervously around the room.

Louise covered her mouth and nodded.  “Sit!” she said, and Heyes pulled out a chair.  Louise sat between the two, waving toward the bartender to bring a bottle of the “good stuff.”

She poured.  “To good friends!”  She raised her glass high.  “And good memories.”

Curry hesitated.  Memories………….

1873

Louise’s Place was crowded, filled with activity since most of the local ranchers were in town looking for willing hands to work long hours for little pay.

Hannibal Heyes, Kid Curry, and the rest of the Devil’s Hole Gang rode in, planning to celebrate a recent successful train robbery.  Here on Second Street, they were considered legends, royalty.  They were among friends — usually.

The night began like so many others, Heyes playing cards, the gang telling stories.  The Kid held up the bar, one eye, ever watchful, on his partner, the other, on one of the working girls.

A woman’s scream somewhere in the back of the saloon, silenced the festive atmosphere.  It was clear the cowboy with her was intoxicated.  The pretty young waitress struggled to free her wrist from his grip.

In typical Curry fashion, the Kid stepped in, his voice calm and polite.  “Looks like the lady isn’t interested in your company right now, mister.  How about you let her go?”

“How ’bout ya mind yer own business?” the cowboy sneered, pulling the girl closer.

Chairs could be heard scraping against the floor as the crowd moved back and the sea of people seemed to part, until only Curry and the cowboy stood, with the girl between them, her dark eyes silently begging the Kid to do something.

“You’re drunk, mister.  And you’re scarin’ the lady.  I think it’s time you went home.”

Two intense blue eyes challenged those of the cowboy, conveying a message the Kid hoped the man was not too drunk to read.  Curry held his hand out to the girl and she took it.  Perceiving Curry’s unspoken threat, the cowboy released his grip on the girl’s other wrist.  His eyes dropped to the floor as snickers spread throughout the remaining crowd.  In humiliation, the cowboy left.

Two brown eyes fixed adoringly on her hero.  “I’m Laurel.”  She batted dark lashes.

“Curry,” he shared.

“I know who you are.  You’re Kid Curry.”  There was no small measure of admiration in her voice.  “Thank you for savin’ me from that, that…”  Her voice trailed off, not sure what to call the brute.

“I think most people would call him a customer, Laurel.  You’re gonna need to get used to people like him, if you’re gonna work in a saloon.”  His kind smile took the sting of truth from his words.

“He’s right, Laurel.”  Louise’s voice was firm.

“Yes, ma’am.”  Laurel hung her head and returned to her job, serving drinks.

“Evenin’, Louise.”  The Kid tipped his hat to the establishment’s owner.

“Hi, Kid.  ‘Preciate you not messin’ up the place with a brawl.”

Heyes joined the two.  “Hello, Louise.”  The older woman received a warm embrace from both before the three of them sat together at a table.

“That was Ike Gordon.  He’s a nasty cuss.  Glad you ran him outta here, Kid.”

“He been causing you problems?”  Heyes asked, before sipping the beer that had been set in front of him.

“A few,” she nodded.  “He’s an unpleasant sort.  Bunch’a second rate thieves, him and his buddies.   Not generous like you boys.”  She ran a calloused hand over the Kid’s cheek.  “An’ not near as sweet. They been pretty rough on a few’a the girls I got workin’ here, if ya know what I mean.”

After they’d visited for the better part of an hour, Heyes and Curry rose to leave.

“Good ta see you ag’in, boys.  Stop by just any time,” Louise offered.

“We’ll always be back.  You know that.  This place feels like home.”

They left the saloon and walked toward the hotel unaware of the men lurking in the shadows between the two buildings.

The thugs waited for their leader’s signal, then attacked.  Surprised by the ambush, both Heyes and Curry found their arms held firmly behind their backs as fists pummeled their faces and midsections.  Heyes was dumped to the ground and felt a boot strike the side of his head before everything went black.

The Kid heard Ike Gordon’s words just before he felt a sharp pain in his side.  “Maybe this’ll teach ya to mind yer own business, Curry!”

***

It was late that night when Heyes woke, sore and groggy, in the alley.  “Kid?”  He reached for his partner, who lay not too far from him.

Even in the darkness, Heyes could see the Kid’s shirt was covered in blood.  He struggled to stand, leaning on the side of the building for support as he staggered into Louise’s Place through the back door.

She gasped when she saw him, bruises covering his face, blood dripping from the side of his head.  “The Kid’s hurt bad,” he managed, before Louise caught him and lowered him gently to the floor.

“Laurel!” she called, “Go get Ann!”

Ann Morgan wasn’t really a nurse, but she had enough medical knowledge to be helpful in situations like these, which required discretion on the part of the person giving aid.   Louise knew there was no need to call on the town’s doctor for help, unless she wanted the sheriff involved too.  And she also knew that a sheriff’s help was the last help Heyes and Curry needed.

While Laurel ran to Ann’s rented room, not far from the saloon, Louise alerted Wheat and Kyle that Heyes and the Kid were in need of help.

“What’d you go and get yer nose stuck into this time, Kid?” Wheat chided under his breath as he bent near Curry in the alley.  He opened the Kid’s shirt, discovering the knife wound and pressed his hand over it to stop the flow of blood.

Inside, Kyle knelt near Heyes, tucking a coat under his head in hopes it might make the outlaw leader comfortable until more capable help arrived.

Louise met Ann as she came running with a bag she kept stocked with a variety of medical supplies.  “The one in the alley’s hurt worst.”  She directed Ann to Kid.

“Ain’t enough light here for me to see what needs doin’,” she stated, more to herself than to Louise or Wheat.

“I’ll carry him inside,” Wheat said, but Louise’s hand on his arm stopped him.

She shook her head.  “Sheriff’s bound to be checkin’ here when word’a this gets out.  Ain’t safe to take him in my place.”

“My place ain’t far,” Ann offered.

The Kid groaned as Wheat lifted him.  “Heyes.”

Ann spoke softly, while pressing a towel to his bleeding side.  “Rest easy.  Your friend’s gonna be just fine.”

They entered Ann’s room, followed by Kyle who was assisting Heyes.

“Put him on the bed.”

Wheat gently placed the Kid on Ann’s soft bed and turned to prepare a cot for Heyes on the floor.

“Extra blankets in there.”  Ann pointed to a chest of drawers.

“I gotta get back to the saloon in case the sheriff is makin’ his rounds,” Louise told Ann.  “Laurel, you stay here an’ help.”

The girl nodded and moved quickly to comply.  “Hold still, Mr. Heyes.  I can’t clean you up proper with you movin’ around like you are.”

“Gotta see to the Kid,” he told her.

“Ann’s helpin’ Kid.  She’s the best we got around here.  She’ll fix him up real good.”

Ann Morgan looked mighty young to Heyes, but as he watched her skilled hands stitching the Kid’s side and bandaging his wounds, he relaxed, his confidence in her growing.

***

The next time Heyes woke, sunlight was trying hard to stream through the tattered curtain covering the room’s one, small window.  He tried to lift his head, moaning when the room began to spin.

“Mornin’.”  Ann helped Heyes sit up and offered him some water.  “Don’t s’pose ya feel like eatin’ nothin’ just yet.”

“No.”  Heyes spoke softly, not daring to move his head again.  “How’s the Kid?”

“Doin’ real good, I think.  Got the bleedin’ stopped.  He lost a lotta blood though and we gotta watch for infection, but he’s strong.”

“Good.  Appreciate your help, ma’am.”

She checked the wound on Heyes’ head.  “Name’s Ann, not ma’am.  You’re lookin’ better this mornin’ too.  Your color’s comin’ back.”

“Sure don’t feel no better.”

“No, I don’t expect ya would.  Ike and his buddies worked ya over pretty good.”

“Heyes?”  The Kid’s weak voice interrupted them.

Heyes stood and crossed the room, with more than a little help from Ann.

“Hey, partner!  You gave me a real scare, bleedin’ all over this young lady’s bed the way you did.”

“Sorry about that, ma’am.”  The Kid seemed to suddenly take notice of the woman holding Heyes upright.  He smiled a half-conscious version of his inviting smile.

“Like I told your friend, name’s Ann, not ma’am.”  She moved to bring a chair close to the bed for Heyes.  “Think you could drink some if Heyes helped ya?”

“Maybe,” the Kid answered, tentatively.

With Heyes’ help, Curry was able to swallow a few sips of water before he again fell asleep.

“Sleep’s good for him,” Ann reassured.  “Every time he wakes, try’n get him to drink a little.  You too.  And get some rest yourself.”

“You leaving?” Heyes questioned.

“Gotta get to work.  Don’t want no one comin’ here, wonderin’ where I am, do ya?”

Heyes shook his head, then winced, immediately sorry.

“I’ll be back, soon as I can.  Use whatever ya need, for both you and him.”

Heyes’ eyes held hers before she left.  “Thank you.”

Ann smiled.  “Don’t mention it.”

***

Ann hadn’t been gone more than a few hours when a knock came at her door.  A pale and weakened Curry reached for his ever-present weapon, while Heyes slowly and quietly tip-toed toward the door.  Stopping next to the window, he leaned slightly forward, peering through a small hole in the curtain, his gun already drawn.

“It’s only Laurel,” he sighed, relieved.

Both he and Curry re-holstered their weapons and Heyes opened the door, allowing Laurel to enter.  He remained near the wall, out of sight of any passers by.

“I brought lunch,” she declared, turning sultry eyes toward, first one, then the other outlaw.

Neither felt much like eating, but not wanting to offend the pretty young visitor, each made an attempt.

“You made this, Laurel?” Heyes asked, sampling the soup.

“Mmm-hmm,” she replied, pulling her eyes away from the light-haired man and resting them again on Heyes.

The poor girl seemed at a loss in her attempts to determine which of the two famous outlaws was the more desirable.  Finally, declaring a toss up, she set her sights on the partner she decided would be more likely, at the moment anyway, of taking her up on her offer of goodwill.

“How ’bout payin’ me a visit over to Louise’s Place, Heyes?” she whispered.

“I’m trying to keep a low profile right now, Laurel.”

“But you’ll pay me a visit when ya can?”  She moved close, running a finger over the outer edge of Heyes’ ear.

He chuckled and moved his head away with a shiver.  “We’ll see, Miss Laurel.  We’ll see.”

***

Concern over the Devil’s Hole Gang’s prolonged presence in Denver had prompted Heyes to send for Wheat.

“You need to get everyone back to the Hole, Wheat.  Sheriff is gonna get suspicious with all of you hanging around.”

“Not a problem, Heyes.  You know you can count on me.”

The all too willing response gave Heyes cause for worry.  The subsequent days of waiting for Curry to heal only intensified Heyes’ reservations about having placed Wheat in charge.  Wheat Carlson’s eager leadership, plus the boys of the Devil’s Hole Gang, multiplied by too much time alone, equaled one thing.  Trouble.

Anxious to put his mind at ease, Heyes pressured Curry.  “You feel up to riding?”

“He can’t ride yet!” Ann burst in.  “You got any idea how much blood he lost?”

The Kid watched without a word while Heyes and Ann debated the pros and cons of his return to Devil’s Hole.  His smile grew wide when Heyes reluctantly agreed with Ann.

“You’re right.  He shouldn’t ride yet, but I gotta get back.  No telling what Wheat and the boys could come up with if I’m gone too long.”

“Then it’s decided.  Kid, you’re stayin’ here ’til Heyes comes back for ya,” Ann concluded.

***

As the days passed, the Kid grew accustomed to his new routine.  In the morning, Ann left for her job at the hotel, cleaning rooms, cooking and laundering.  She always made sure he had plenty of water within easy reach, so he didn’t have to do too much moving around on his own.

Laurel dropped by most days, bringing fresh wildflowers picked from a meadow not far from town and making sure he had something to eat.  If she was disappointed by Heyes’ absence, she concealed it well, flirting mercilessly with the remaining outlaw.

Curry was quickly growing tired of being confined to the one small room, but he was just as quickly regaining his strength under Ann’s diligent care.  He looked forward to the evenings, when Ann returned home, some days later than others.  Sometimes they would play a hand or two of cards or just talk over supper.

“You got family?” the Kid asked one evening, as they enjoyed another meal, prepared by Ann.

She shook her head.  “You?”

“No.”

Ann studied his eyes, hesitant to share, before deciding he was worth the risk.

“Never knew my father.  I had word my ma died a few years back.”

She checked to make sure the Kid wasn’t suffering boredom with her story.  He looked attentive enough.  She continued.

“Seemed my ma always had a steady stream’a men comin’ and goin’.  I never liked none of ’em.”  She decided not to divulge the part about the abuse she’d seen her mother suffer at the hand of some of those men, or the abuse she’d suffered herself.  “I left when I was fourteen.”

“And you been on your own since then?” the Kid asked, still interested.

“Yup.”

“So how’d you get so good at stitchin’ up knife wounds?” he wondered, thanking her again with his smile.

“I ain’t always lived the excitin’ life of a cook an’ maid.”  She laughed nervously, then hung her head, remembering some of the things she’d been desperate enough to do for money.

When she grew quiet and began clearing the dishes, the Kid seemed to understand and didn’t press further.

“My family died too.  Me and Heyes been on our own about as long as you.”

“An’ he’s your family now.”  She stated it as a fact, not a question.

“And Louise is yours.”

“Right.”

A bond was developing between them, a mutual trust, a friendship like neither had previously known.

Ann yawned.  “Come over here.  I gotta change your bandages ‘fore I fall asleep.”  She moved toward the bed and the Kid followed.

“I feel bad, takin’ your bed, Ann.  Why don’t I sleep on the cot tonight?”

“Don’t be silly.  You’re the patient, not me.  ‘Sides, Heyes’ll be here to take ya back to the Hole soon, maybe tomorrow.  I’ll get my bed back then.”

Since he couldn’t think of a way to convince her otherwise, Curry stayed quiet while she applied salve to his wound and wrapped a new bandage around him.

“Ya know, you took a awful chance steppin’ up for Laurel like ya did.  Some might even call what ya done, brave.”

“Brave?  I doubt it.”  Curry started to laugh, then winced as the stitches pulled.  “Maybe just plain stupid?”

“Don’t think Laurel thinks your stupid.  In fact, I think she’s feelin’ mighty grateful.”  She glanced at the flowers gracing the bedside table.

The Kid raised an eyebrow pondering just how “grateful” Laurel might be, but changed his mind when he saw Ann blush.  He changed the subject.

“You got nice hands, Ann.”  He caught one of them in his and inspected it further.

Now it was her turn to laugh.  “They ain’t nice!  They’re all chapped and calloused.”

He pressed their palms together, comparing his much larger hand to hers.

“Nope.  They’re nice.  Nothin’ wrong with hands that work for a livin’.  Remind me of my ma’s.  We lived on a farm.  Her hands were always rough, but when I was sick or hurt, they felt soft and comfortin’.”

Ann removed her hand, nervously busying herself with putting the lid back on the jar of salve.

The Kid pulled his shirt on carefully.

Ann averted her eyes, trying not to stare.  How often had she changed his bandages?  Why should the sight of him buttoning his shirt have this effect on her?

She thrust the jar toward him.  “You can take this with ya.  Put some on your wound mornin’ an’ night.  Keep a close watch for infection.”

Curry stood, nodding his thanks and placed the jar in his bag.  Removing a single wildflower from Laurel’s bouquet, he moved close to Ann, so close, she could hear her own heart pounding in her ears.  Holding the flower by its stem, the Kid gently brushed the bloom across her cheek, then across her lips.  His eyes held hers before he placed it in her trembling hand.

“G’night, Ann.”

“G’night, Kid.”

By the time Ann returned from work the next day, Kid Curry was gone.

***

Several weeks later, another knock roused Ann from sleep.  She checked the clock near her bed.  Definitely not morning yet.  She wrapped a robe around her shoulders and quickly made for the door.  Maybe it was Louise.  Maybe someone at the saloon needed help.

She opened the door, surprised by the smile that greeted her.  Ann stood staring for a moment before she regained her senses and pulled him inside, checking the alley and closing the door behind him.

“Hello, Ann.”  The Kid extended a single wildflower toward her, his smile matching hers as she accepted it.

“What are you doin’ here?”

“I missed you.”

For the first couple of weeks after he left, Ann had been lonely.  She found herself deliberately working late, in order to avoid too many hours at home, alone.  Finally, she’d been able to convince herself that Kid Curry was gone from her life for good.  He was a pleasant memory, nothing more.  But now, here he stood, in her room, in the middle of the night, telling her he’d missed her!

Her mind turned to practical matters.  “You hungry?”

“Starvin’!” he admitted, feeling only a little embarrassment at turning up hungry, at this hour.

Ann immediately went to her cupboard, rummaging for something, anything to feed him.

“Pancakes?”

He nodded.

They talked while he ate, him telling her about places he’d been since he’d last seen her, her telling him about things that happened in her daily life.

He was easy to talk to and had a way of looking at her that made it difficult to remember exactly who and what he was — Kid Curry, wanted outlaw.

“You stayin’ at the hotel?”

“Heyes is,” he nodded.  “He’s gettin’ a room.  Probably with Laurel.”  His eyes moved longingly over Ann as he spoke.

Uncomfortable at the sensations his look evoked, she rose and began clearing his dishes from the table, fighting for control.  Her brain scrambled to find the list of reasons she should push him out the door.

He moved close behind her, his hand on her back, his breath near her ear.  “I was hopin’ you’d let me stay with you.”

Ann squeezed her eyes shut, a battle raging between her head and her heart.

He’s an outlaw!  –  The scent of him was freedom and adventure!

He’s probably left a trail of broken hearts across the west!  –   He was as wild and untamed as the Colorado mountains.

He’s a gunman!  People fear him!  –  When he was with her, she’d never felt safer.

Ann’s head screamed, “Stop!”  –  Her heart ran to him, heedless.

The Kid turned her toward him, feeling her trembling as he did.  “You scared of me, Annie?”

Her eyes held his for a long moment.  “No,” she assured him with a steady voice.  She was definitely afraid, but not of him.

Before Curry’s lips met hers, Ann’s head conceded defeat.

***

The birds woke him early the next morning.  Before he opened his eyes, the Kid knew where he was.  He smiled, feeling Ann’s body, soft and warm next to his.  An undeniable sense of belonging surrounded him, a feeling he wouldn’t mind getting used to with this woman.

Ann stirred and he tightened his arm around her, not wanting her to move, not wanting the night to end.  It had been more than he’d hoped for, more than he thought one night could be.

“Mornin’!”  The single word, spoken softly near his neck was followed by tender kisses.

“Mornin’!” he replied, with a kiss of his own, not so tender.

No promises had been made between them.  None were expected.  Last night had been simply what it was.  Perfect.  If Ann never saw Kid Curry again, she’d still have no regrets.

“You hungry?” she asked, her own stomach growling.

“How come you always ask me that?”

“Don’t know.  Are ya?”

“Yeah,” he relented.

Ann shrugged, “Guess that’s why I ask.”

After breakfast, the Kid kissed her once more and gave her a wink and a smile.  Then he was gone.

1890

There was no telling how long Curry had sat there, with Heyes telling Louise their tale of attempts at amnesty, the repeated denials and finally, their new hope, Wyoming’s Statehood.  There was no telling how long the Kid had stared at his empty glass, or how many times it had been refilled.

That one perfect night with Ann had developed into a series of encounters, stretching over the better part of a year.  Each one special, perfect in its own way.  It hadn’t taken long before the Kid’s desire to see Ann had become an overwhelming need, and a point of contention between him and Heyes.  He was sure Ann’s need for him was just as strong, until that final, awful night.  It was the last time he’d seen her.

Heyes was standing, saying something, “…Wanna join me, Kid?” Heyes finished.

“Hmmm?”  Curry’s mind made a quick attempt to catch up to the present.

“I said, I feel like playing some poker.  You wanna join me?”

“Oh, no, no.  You go ahead, Heyes.  Don’t feel much like playin’ tonight.”

“Good to see you again, Louise,” Heyes told their old friend.

“You too.  Don’t stay away so long next time, ya hear?” she admonished.

After Heyes walked away, the Kid started to rise, planning to turn in for an early night.  Louise’s hand on his stopped him.

“Got some things I’d like to say to ya, Kid.”

A voice echoed from his past.  “There’s somethin’ I gotta tell ya before ya go.”

He sat back down, “I’m listenin’.”

“It ain’t gonna be easy to hear,” she warned.

Curry nodded.

“Ann was back here.  Not too long after you come lookin’ for her.”…………

Denver – 1874

“Not here!  Not tonight, it’s too soon!” Ann Morgan silently pleaded with the, as yet, unknown little person residing safe and warm inside her.

Conversations between mother and child had become as natural as breathing to Ann over the past few months.  She’d left Denver in a hurry, with just enough money to land in nearby Pine Ridge.  Not a bad place, she’d thought at the time, quiet, friendly and with a unique advantage. It was one place Kid Curry would never show his face, not after the shooting had taken place the previous year.

Yes, Pine Ridge had seemed a good place, a safe place, to make a life and raise her child, until the fire.

Ann had been working at the hotel and living in one of the rooms, when in one tragic blow, her home and livelihood had been destroyed. The hotel’s owner planned to rebuild, but that would take time. Time was one thing Ann didn’t have.

With a child on the way, no home, no job and little money, Ann found herself reluctantly taking the stage back to Denver, to the only friend she trusted, the one person she could count on.

Maybe it was the jostling of the stage, or maybe Ann had miscalculated the baby’s date of arrival.  Whatever the case, he, or she, seemed determined to meet his mama here, in Denver, tonight.

Ann knocked softly at the familiar door.  “Hello, Louise.”  Ann shared a tentative smile with the friend she’d so abruptly left behind.

“Lan’ sakes girl!  Where’d you up and disappear to?”  Louise pulled her into a warm, motherly embrace, giving a surprised gasp as the reason for Ann’s hasty departure from Denver became obvious.

“I’m truly sorry about leavin’ without sayin’ nothin’, Louise.”

Louise stood, hands on hips, her voice held an accusing tone.  “Curry know ’bout this?”

“No!” Ann informed her firmly.  “And he’s not gonna.”  Her eyes held determination until a contraction caused her to grab a chair for support.

Seeing help was needed, Louise took immediate action, hurrying Ann toward the bed.  She’d had experience with birthings before.  Most women in her line of work did.  She set herself to the task at hand.

“They was here, ya know, Curry and Heyes.”

Ann shook her head. She hadn’t known.

“A month or so after you was gone.  The Kid seemed real upset he couldn’t find ya.  Left me a note with the name of some sheriff friend’a his.”

“A sheriff, friend?”  Ann emphasized the word “friend.”  Kid Curry having a sheriff for a friend seemed unlikely.

Louise shrugged.  “Don’t ask me.  He just said to give ya the note if I ever saw ya and that this sheriff would know where to find him.”

Louise pulled a book from a drawer and opened it, producing the note.  Sheriff Lom Trevors – Porterville, Wyoming.

Only someone who knew Ann as well as Louise did could have detected Ann’s disappointment that the note hadn’t contained more.

“At least he come lookin’, honey.”  Louise rested a consoling hand on Ann’s shoulder.  Maybe the girl’s resolve wasn’t quite so firm after all.  “It ain’t too late to write him,” she suggested.

Ann dropped the note as another contraction seized her. She had no time to think about writing letters now.

Truth be told, Ann was scared, more fearful than she’d ever been in her life, and for just a moment, she regretted ever having left Denver in the first place.  If she’d have stayed, the Kid would be here with her now – maybe – if he wasn’t busy robbing a bank, or running from a posse or bleeding to death somewhere with a bullet in him.  Still, she heard her own voice call out his name, longing for the comfort his closeness would bring. Then, with the same breath, she cursed him, remembering their final parting.

The long night seemed to drag into eternity, but Louise was always there, calming, encouraging, instructing.  With one last push, Ann Morgan’s son entered the world.

“Wha’cha gonna call him?” Louise cooed, hovering close.

Her baby, this little boy, was perfect. “Will,” she stated, swallowing down the lump in her throat and fighting back tears.  Her son deserved a proper name, a family name, a name she couldn’t give him.  “Will Morgan.”

As Ann held her son for the first time, she was overcome with love for this tiny person, and at the same moment, overwhelmed at the monumental responsibility of caring for him – alone.

1890

“You’re tellin’ me I got a son nobody ever bothered to tell me about?!”  Curry’s eyes flashed, the anger in his voice drawing the attention of several saloon patrons, including Heyes who moved to rejoin the two.

“I’m tellin’ ya now, Kid.  Ann didn’t want ya knowin’ before.  Wasn’t like you was in a position to be doin’ much about it then anyways.”

The Kid’s shoulders sagged and he rubbed both hands over his face.  It must have been what she was trying to tell him the last time he’d seen her.  Had Ann told Louise the whole story?  How she tried to tell him and he’d hit her?

“‘Where are they?”

Louise poured another whiskey.  “Here.  Better drink this.”…………

Denver – 1882

Ann Morgan found herself standing, once again, at the familiar door of her friend Louise, this time with an eight year old son in tow.  Her independent streak, which could easily have been confused with stubbornness, had landed her here — homeless, jobless, almost penniless, save for the twenty-seven cents hidden in the toe of one shoe.  Her determination to make her own way in the world usually kept her from accepting charity, even the charity of friends.

“Ma?” Will roused his mother.  “Ain’t ya gonna knock?”

Ann shook off doubt and knocked.

Louise opened the door, recognizing immediately the hopelessness written on Ann’s face.  She greeted the pair with a warm embrace, followed by a hot meal.

Will had been tucked in for the night, on a cot near the cook stove.  When Ann was sure he slept soundly, she finally spoke.  “I need a job.” Her voice held no emotion.

“Somethin’ bad happened in Pine Ridge.  Ya wanna talk about it?”

Ann shrugged.  “Got fired.  The hotel’s owner found out the ‘Mrs.’ in front’a my name should’a been a ‘Miss.’ Said he didn’t want his hotel gettin’ a bad reputation.  An’ after he got done spreadin’ the word ’round town, I couldn’t even get a job shovelin’ out stalls at the livery.”

“What about your old job here in Denver?”

Ann’s dejected look served as her answer.  “I been everywhere, Louise.  There ain’t nothin’ else.”

“But Ann.”  The motherly woman tried to hide her disappointment.  “Ya worked so hard ta get yerself outta this life ten years ago.  Surely, ya don’t wanna get yerself back in!”

“‘Course I don’t want to!”  Ann’s frustration nearly gave way to anger.  “But I got a son over there,” she nodded Will’s direction, “who’s countin’ on me ta take care’a him!”  There was a long silence before Ann went on, almost pleading.  “I’ll do anything, Louise.”

Louise crossed the room and removed a small piece of paper from the pages of a book.  She held it out toward Ann.  “Write him!  Ask him for help, Ann.  Will’s his son too!”

Ann hung her head.

Louise placed a supportive hand on the younger woman’s shoulder.  “Ya still love him, honey.  I can hear it in yer voice.  I can see it in yer eyes.”

Ann met Louise’s eyes, unable to deny the truth.  “Maybe so.  But he’s gone, Louise.  Gone since before Will was born.”  Ann stood, turning away from the all-seeing wisdom of her friend.  “‘Sides, he prob’ly don’t even remember me.”

“You don’t believe that!”

“Don’t I?”  A momentary spark ignited Ann’s eyes, daring Louise to contradict the lie she’d told herself on a regular basis.  Maybe if she had been successful in convincing herself the lie was true, her life would have been easier.  Bitterness tainted Ann’s voice.  “Ya s’pose he’s been pinin’ for me all these years?  Livin’ the life of a saint?”

Louise was quiet, then tried once more.  “Write him.”

Pride cometh before the fall.  The words echoed inside Ann’s mind and she wondered for a moment where she’d heard them.  She shook her head.  “I said I’d do anything, Louise.  Anything but that.”

***

Two eyes stared back from the cracked glass of a mirror.  They looked old, worn out, used up, like the spirit of the woman who owned them.  Ann surveyed the dress she wore, if you could call it a dress.  It was barely more than a corset with a few feathers placed strategically here or there.  Her eyes fell to her hands, also worn.  Calloused, like her heart.  They were shaking now.  “You got nice hands, Ann.”  She closed her eyes, shutting his words out of her head, then poured some whiskey into a glass.  It burned as it made its way down her throat.

How much self-loathing would it take to walk down those stairs and do what she was about to do?  Ann studied the reflected eyes of a familiar stranger, searching for the answer.  None, she decided.  Only desperation.  The self-loathing came later.  That much, she remembered.

***

Spring reluctantly gave way to summer, and summer passed into fall.  Cattle-drive season was in full swing and Louise’s Place was packed.  The whiskey was flowing as freely as the tongues of tale-telling cowboys.  It was easy to miss him when he first walked in.  He and his friends cleared a table near the back of the room with a menacing glance.

“What can I get you boys?” Ann asked, the pleasant smile on her face disappearing as soon as recognition set in.

She tried to mask her shock at seeing him here after all this time.  Memories flooded back, bringing pain as fresh as a newly inflicted wound, and rage Ann thought was long dead and buried.

“Whiskey, three glasses,” he barked.

Ann stopped at the bar long enough to grab a bottle and three glasses, and send a fearful glance toward Louise, who nodded that she’d seen him enter.  Ike Gordon.  The man who stabbed the Kid!

Ann kept her distance, watching as the night progressed.  The more Ike drank, the more ornery he became.  The poker game he was involved in was going well, but not for Ike.  A smiling young stranger raked in an armful of Ike’s money.

Ike accused the stranger of cheating.  Ann heard the stranger’s denial.  When Ike went for his gun, a hush fell over the room.  The stranger already stood with his gun trained on Ike.  He didn’t fire.  Ann only knew of one man faster.

After Ike and his friends left, Ann brought the stranger a drink and leaned close to whisper, “A word to the wise, young fella, Ike an’ his buddies ain’t gonna take kindly to what ya done.  They’ll be waitin’ when ya leave.”

“Madam, your advice is deeply appreciated and have no doubt, I shall heed your words.” He flashed an eerie smile that made Ann shiver, then, downed the whiskey.

More than two hours later, the stranger threw in his cards and collected his winnings.  Just as he reached the bat wing doors, he turned and caught Ann’s eyes following him.  He tipped his hat in her direction before disappearing into the darkness.

Not thirty minutes passed before Ike’s body, wounded and bleeding, was being dragged in through the alley door of Louise’s Place.  Again, Ann was summoned for medical assistance.

Ike lay bleeding on the floor of a back room used for storage.  His buddies, Les and Luther Hanley, had run out on him, hadn’t stuck around to see if he lived or died.  Only Louise and Ann remained, Louise’s hand covering the stab wound in Ike’s chest.

“I’m gonna need my medical bag and some towels.”  Although Ann’s voice was calm, her eyes carried a look Louise didn’t recognize.

“Now!” Ann commanded.  “This man’s bleedin’ to death!”

Louise, who had been hesitant to remove her hand from Ike’s chest, jumped to obey.  Ann placed her own hand over the wound, Ike’s blood pumping between her fingers with each beat of his heart.

When she was sure they were alone Ann spoke, her voice low and cold.  “You remember Kid Curry?”

“Please, lady, you gotta help me!” Ike begged.

“I asked you a question!” Ann insisted.

Ike nodded.

“You remember what you done to him?  How ya left him to die in the alley?”

Ike was silent, except for his rasping breaths.

“Do you remember?” Ann asked again, more forcefully this time.

Ike nodded again.

“So do I!”

Ann let her hand fall away from Ike’s chest and watched as the dark pool of blood on the floor grew.

The story continues in Regrets – Part Two – A Daunting Present

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.

August 2009

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