Regrets – Part Three – An Unwritten Future
“You could hide beside me maybe for a while and I won’t tell no one your name.” – J. Rzeznik
“They’re dead?” Heyes ran a worried hand through his hair, his hopes for clearing Ann Morgan withering in the morning sun.
“Heard the sheriff say it himself,” Will answered, trying to catch his breath.
“What else did he say, Will. I need to know everything.”
Will sat down at the table with Heyes, the Kid and Louise, their breakfast growing cold as the boy repeated everything he had heard.
“…Killed with a knife, just like Ike Gordon was. An’ then one’a the deputies said it was prob’ly that crazy Morgan woman, come back to take her revenge on ol’ Les an’ Luther.”
“Ridiculous!” Louise piped in, “Who’d ever believe Ann could do such a thing, let alone get the jump on the both of ’em?”
Heyes rubbed both hands across his face in frustration. “Well, she’s already confessed to murder once.”
“And she’s proven herself physically capable,” Curry added. “The warden said she attacked those prison guards and the two men from the asylum.”
Anger darkened Will’s eyes. “I can’t believe what I’m hearin’!”
“Easy, Will,” Heyes tried to calm him. “We’re not sayin’ that’s what we think happened, just pointin’ out why the sheriff is gonna believe it.”
The Kid looked at Will with concern. “We’re not givin’ up, Will. This just makes things a little more complicated, is all.”
“Who you think done it then?” Will wondered.
“Bentley?” Louise asked.
“Maybe, but I doubt it. He’s not the type to get his hands dirty,” Heyes thought out loud.
“The same man that killed Ike Gordon,” the Kid answered, his eyes cold and hard.
“Right. And whoever killed Gordon, I don’t suppose he likes us asking questions, seeing as how Les and Luther’s testimonies left him in the clear. And Bentley’s gotta know who the real killer is!” Heyes pounded his fist, determined.
“So what are we waitin’ for?” Will suggested, “Let’s go see Bentley again.”
The Kid’s hat was already on his head and he was heading for the door. “Let’s just hope the killer hasn’t gotten to Bentley yet. With the Hanleys dead, we’re gonna need him alive in order to clear Ann.”
“Good evening, Uncle!”
Rayford Bentley nearly dropped the glass of brandy he’d been nursing when his nephew entered the office. “Gavin! What are you doing here?”
“Is that any greeting for your favorite nephew?” Gavin Jessup closed his uncle’s office door behind him, even though the outer offices had already been vacated for the evening. “Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Of course. It’s good to see you, Gavin. How have you been?”
“I’ve been well, Uncle. And it appears you’ve been well also.” Jessup crossed the room and helped himself to a glass of brandy. “To family,” he raised his glass and added, cryptically, “the… blood, which binds us.”
“When did you arrive in Denver, Gavin? If you’d told me you were coming, I could have had my driver meet you.”
“That is so kind of you, but it was unnecessary. I had other important business to attend to before paying you a visit.”
While they talked, Jessup moved toward a set of French doors, which opened onto a balcony. He leaned on the edge of the rail and surveyed the busy streets of Denver far below.
“You’ve done well for yourself, Uncle,” Jessup complimented. “And to think you nearly lost everything several years ago, with the expense of my mother’s medical care and the added burden of my law school tuition.” He turned to face his uncle, meeting his eyes, assuring his message would not be missed. “Not to mention the expense of covering for my… indiscretion with Mr. Gordon, by buying the silence of Les and Luther Hanley.” He turned away, sipping his brandy. “By the way, I’ve secured the continued silence of both brothers Hanley.”
“You killed them?” Bentley dared to whisper.
“Did I say that? If they’re dead, it must have been Ike Gordon’s escaped murderer, back to seek her revenge.” His smile turned into a wicked laugh.
“Gavin, I told you I’d see to it you were never implicated in Mr. Gordon’s death and you haven’t been. I took care of everything! There was no need for you to step in and…”
“Don’t worry, Uncle. I’ve made sure that all evidence points only to the deranged, Mrs. Morgan. She’s been so helpful, with her recent escape from prison.”
Jessup began to pace the balcony as he talked. “Your plan really was ingenious! Pinning Ike Gordon’s murder on that woman. Convincing poor Mrs. Morgan to confess. Tell me, what did you offer her in exchange for her false confession. The leniency of the courts?” Then, looking menacingly into his uncle’s eyes, “Or perhaps, the continued well-being of her son?” Jessup’s anger was rising along with his voice. “The son of the man who killed my father?”
Bentley put his drink down and tried to appear calm.
“You told me Kid Curry had paid for my father’s death!”
“Gavin,” Bentley spoke softly, as if to a child. “Kid Curry was elusive. Believe me, I searched. And he never returned to Pine Ridge after your father was killed. When Mrs. Morgan fell into her unfortunate situation with Mr. Gordon, I seized the opportunity, as any loving uncle would. I obtained recompense for you father’s death through the imprisonment of the mother of Curry’s child.”
“But Kid Curry is still alive, Uncle.” Jessup moved closer. “And now he and Hannibal Heyes are asking questions. Questions that could put both of us in danger.”
“Let them ask all the questions they want! They won’t find proof! I’ve gone over everything too carefully. There is no evidence pointing to either one of us! Even if they attempted to accuse us, who would the authorities believe? Hannibal Heyes? An outlaw, known for elaborate plans and a silver tongue? Ann Morgan? That insane, murderous harlot? Kid Curry? Her gunman, lover? Or Will Morgan, their illegitimate child, who wants only to see his mother acquitted?”
“Perhaps you are right. The revenge may be sweeter with Curry alive to watch his son lose a mother, as I lost mine, to insanity.”
Bentley turned to his nephew. “Gavin, we’re safe.”
“You’re sure, Uncle?”
“Very sure. No one could ever connect you to Ike Gordon’s murder.”
“No, Uncle.” Jessup moved closer and placed his arm around his uncle’s shoulder. “Only you.”
With one hard shove, Rayford Bentley fell to his death from the balcony.
From more than a block away, Heyes, the Kid, and Will could see a small crowd assembled on the street outside of Bentley’s office building.
“Wha’d’ya s’pose all the excitement’s about?” Will wondered.
Heyes and the Kid exchanged a worried glance, expecting the worst.
“Mr. Smith! Oh, Mr. Smith, thank heaven you’re here!”
Heyes was nearly bowled over when a shadow darted out from an alley and flung two trembling arms around his neck.
“Miss Tucker? What’s wrong? Were you hiding?”
Helena Tucker, looking distraught and disheveled, clung to Heyes as if her life depended on it.
“Oh, Mr. Smith, it was awful!” Helena’s lower lip began to quiver and tears welled up in her eyes.
“It’s alright.” Heyes did his best to soothe the terrified woman. “Just try to calm down and tell me what’s got you so upset.”
Helena took a deep breath, attempting to settle her nerves. “It’s terrible, Mr. Smith! Mr. Bentley… he’s dead!”
Will had been watching his father as Miss Tucker spoke. The blue eyes had closed momentarily, as if mourning a loss. When they opened again, Will saw an intensity, a resolve. This was Kid Curry, gunfighter. The look sent fear coursing through Will’s veins.
Miss Tucker was talking again. “…And then I realized I must have dropped it, so I went back to my desk to check. When I opened the office door, I heard voices. Mr. Bentley was talking with his nephew, Mr. Jessup. I couldn’t understand everything they were saying, but they were talking about murders. The Hanleys, a Mr. Gordon, and something about convincing Mrs. Morgan to confess. It’s all rather sketchy, but then…” Helena swallowed down a sob and continued, “then Mr. Jessup pushed Mr. Bentley from the balcony! It was horrible! I was afraid, so I ran and hid here in the alley.”
“Did Jessup see you, Helena? Does he know you heard him?” Heyes’ concern for this new witness was obvious, especially with a killer as ruthless as Gavin Jessup on the loose.
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. When he left the building, he walked right past my hiding spot. He didn’t appear to be looking for me. In fact, I’d say he seemed quite calm, considering he’d just murdered his own uncle!” she finished with a shudder.
Heyes nodded. “That’s good, Helena. Can you tell all of this to the sheriff, just like you told me?”
Helena nodded. “But will you stay with me? I’m so frightened!”
With an instantaneous, silent conversation, it was decided. Heyes would stay with Miss Tucker and get all the information he could while she talked to the sheriff. Curry would set out after Gavin Jessup.
A full moon and a cloudless night made for easy travel as the Kid followed the trail left by Gavin Jessup. It was easy, too easy, as if Curry could read the mind of this crazed killer, as if Gavin Jessup had willed him to read it. Jessup would want to finish this nightmare in Pine Ridge, the same place it had begun seventeen years earlier, and Curry was more than willing to oblige him. He quickened his horse’s pace toward his destination, or his destiny.
Two miles outside of Pine Ridge, Curry rounded a bend in the road. Before he knew what was happening, a body came crashing into him from a low-hanging branch. He tumbled backward from his horse, striking his head on the hard, rocky ground. Struggling to remain conscious, he was only vaguely aware of a hand slipping his Colt from its holster.
“Tsk, tsk. Oh dear, Mr. Curry. You do need to be more careful when riding alone at night. You never know what manner of evil might be lurking around the next bend,” Jessup gloated.
The Kid fought nausea as he strained, unsuccessfully, to pull himself upright.
“Is this it? The gun that killed my father?” Jessup inspected the piece, admiring its balance before holstering his own gun and training Curry’s weapon on its owner. “Seems only fitting it should kill his murderer as well.”
“I never wanted to kill your father, Jessup,” Curry began, out of breath.
“But you did.”
The Kid nodded, resigned to his fate. “So that’s your plan, kill me to make things even?”
“It’s true, I do plan to kill you, Mr. Curry. But we will never be even. Never!”
“What is it you want?”
Jessup laughed. “I already have everything I want! Do I really have to spell it out for you?”
The Kid said nothing.
Jessup raised his voice. “Your son, Will Morgan, will be doomed to the same fate I am forced to endure. A father, killed by a gunman’s bullet. A mother, locked away from reality by the confines of her own mind. Your son will be alone, Mr. Curry. Utterly alone. And perhaps his loneliness will drive him to the same extreme my bitterness has driven me. Murder! Revenge!” Jessup’s eyes were wild, but his voice quieted as he continued. “He’ll come looking for me, of that I have no doubt. And when he does,” he smiled, “I’ll be waiting.” Jessup pulled back the hammer of Curry’s Colt. “I assume your weapon is loaded, Mr. Curry. After all, you did come here to kill me, did you not?”
The Kid’s eyes stayed focused on Jessup, but his mind’s eye saw only Will, Heyes, and Ann. Even in his last moment, the Kid was grateful for the safe harbor they offered from his life’s stormy sea of regret.
One shot fired.
Curry’s body jerked, and he looked down at his chest, expecting death’s process to be more painful. To his surprise, he saw no blood. He lifted his eyes again to Jessup, who dropped the gun and stumbled backward before he fell. A sound caused Curry to turn.
Will stood, gun in hand, still aimed at the place where Gavin Jessup had been standing. He seemed frozen, unaware as the Kid lifted himself off the ground and approached. Will felt a gentle touch on his arm, then felt his father remove the weapon from his hand. “He was gonna kill you.”
“I know, Will.” The Kid meant the words to be a comfort, but he knew they lacked conviction. Shooting a man, even a murderer like Jessup, wouldn’t come without a lifetime of guilt and regret for Will Morgan. It was a fate Curry wouldn’t have wished on anyone, especially his son.
Together they moved toward the fallen Jessup, who lifted his eyes toward Will. “Following in a proud family tradition I see, Mr. Morgan.”
Even gasping for breath, Jessup found enough air to mock the man he hated. He looked at Curry. “The boy’s from poor stock. A bad seed.” He tried to laugh, but coughed instead. “I hear his parents are murderers, both of th…..”
Gavin Jessup was dead before he could finish his sentence, and, in one of life’s odd twists of irony, Will Morgan, who had initially set out to kill his father, had killed to save his father’s life.
Cheyenne, Wyoming – July 10, 1890
“Please welcome, on this tenth day of July, eighteen hundred and ninety, our distinguished Governor of the Territory of Wyoming, who will in a matter of moments, become the first Governor of the State of Wyoming.”
Loud applause erupted from the streets of Cheyenne as the governor stepped onto the stage. He raised his hands, silencing the crowd.
“Before we begin, I would like to make amends in a matter which has for too long, encumbered this office. Before I, as a governor, can move forward, I must make good on the promises of my past.”
The crowd was quiet, not knowing what to expect.
“Late last night, in a meeting at an undisclosed location, I signed letters of pardon for the two, notorious, former outlaws, Hannibal Heyes and Jedediah Curry, also known as ‘Kid’ Curry.”
A mixture of shouts of approval and gasps of surprise spread throughout the crowd.
“These men have waited far too long. A promise was made to them long ago, by one of my predecessors, ‘Stay out of trouble for one year and you will be granted amnesty.’ It was a promise that was reneged upon time and again by the holders of this office, myself included.” He hung his head, signifying great shame. “But to their credit, Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry have remained faithful in their fulfillment of the agreement. Last night, I, and the Office of the Governor of the Territory of Wyoming, finally made good on that promise!”
As the governor paused for the appropriate amount of applause, two anonymous gentlemen at the back of the crowd tipped their hats in his direction before turning their horses toward Porterville.
“Thought you might want to keep this.” Lom tossed a newspaper on the table where Heyes, Curry and Will sat.
“What’s this?” Heyes asked.
Heyes glanced at Curry and began to read out loud. “Statehood for Wyoming. No mention of our pardon?”
“Page three,” Lom informed.
“Page three? News about us used to be headline material,” Heyes huffed, but leaned closer to Curry who sat next to him. “We did it, Kid!”
Lom pulled a bottle of expensive brandy from the cupboard along with several glasses. “A drink to celebrate?”
Curry pushed back from the table and patted his partner on the back. “Have one for me, Heyes. I’m goin’ for a walk.”
He stood on the porch, looking up at the millions of stars dotting the heavens. It was clear tonight, and crisp. Too cool for early July, the evening held the chill of November. He pulled his coat tighter and walked toward the edge of the woods.
A pair of eyes watched cautiously from the cover of trees, not surprised when he seemed to sense her presence and turned to look directly at her.
Her shy smile warmed him. “Hello, Kid. Thought I might find you here.”
“You must be freezin’.”
As the Kid wrapped his warm coat around her, Ann shivered, more from his nearness than from the cold. After all this time, after everything that had happened, she had been totally unprepared for the depth of feelings that flooded back upon seeing him.
The Kid studied her face, looking deep into her eyes. Ann didn’t need to be a doctor to decide he was looking for signs of insanity.
“I ain’t crazy. But if I hadn’t got outta that place, it could’a happened easy enough.”
Curry nodded and let out a huge sigh of relief, unaware he had been holding his breath. Ann looked normal enough to him. She was thinner than he remembered though, and seventeen unkind years had clearly taken their toll.
Bruises were visible on her face, possibly from her fight for escape or her struggle to survive in the days since. Still, as she stood there, with the moonlight shining on her hair and lighting her eyes, the Kid decided he’d never seen a woman more beautiful.
“Come inside. Will is gonna be so happy to see you!” He took her hand, but her feet refused to budge.
“I can’t.” Her eyes darted nervously toward Lom’s house.
“It’s alright, Ann. Lom’s a friend.”
She shook her head. “I only came to see you. To make sure Will’s alright. Then, I gotta go.”
He recognized the desperation in her eyes. Instead of insisting, he led her to a fallen log and sat, leaving his arm around her as they talked.
“Heard you’re a free man now. Congratulations.”
“Governor finally decided to grant us a pardon,“ the Kid explained, then shook his head at yet another irony. He was finally free. Ann wasn’t. Most likely, never would be. There would be no amnesty, no governor’s pardon for Ann Morgan.
“Heyes is buildin’ a case for your appeal.” He tried to sound hopeful.
“He’s lookin’ into Ike Gordon’s murder. Talkin’ to the witnesses, tryin’ to figure out why you’d confess to a murder you didn’t commit.”
“Why would he do that?”
“He’s hoping to get the judge to re-try your case. Why did you say you did it, Ann?”
“That lawyer, Bentley, said I’d likely get a shorter sentence that way. There wasn’t no way I was walkin’ free, I could tell that much. Not with Ike’s buddies pointin’ the finger my way. Bentley said he knew I always hated Ike, and why. Even knew ’bout Will bein’ your son. Don’t know how, but he did. Said if word got out where to find Kid Curry’s son, I’d probably get both’a you killed. I didn’t see as I had no options. Anyways, I let Ike die. Didn’t even try to save him. I am guilty.”
The weight of guilt was something Curry fully understood. He had killed Gavin Jessup‘s father, and how many others? Even in self defense, the killing didn’t come guilt free.
“Bentley’s dead, Ann. Les and Luther Hanley too.”
“Gavin Jessup killed ’em. Tried to make it look like you did it.”
“You sayin’ I’m wanted for three more murders now?” Ann was standing, panic heavy in her voice. “An’ who’s Gavin Jessup?”
“Ma!” Both turned toward the excited voice behind them.
Seeing a sheriff standing alongside Will, Ann looked as if she might bolt. The Kid held her arm firmly, protectively.
“You must be Ann Morgan. I’m Sheriff Lom Trevors,” Lom introduced himself. “It’s cold out here. Come inside, where we can talk.”
Will had moved closer and the two hugged as if they hadn’t seen each other for years. They hadn’t.
“Look at ya, Will! You grown into a man while I been gone!” Ann declared. Turning toward the Kid with thankful eyes, she added, “An’ I see your father found ya.”
“More like Will found me, but we can talk about that later. Right now, let’s get outta this cold,” the Kid encouraged.
Ann still looked hesitant, but followed him into Lom’s house, arm around her son.
Over steaming cups of coffee, Heyes explained the facts of Ann’s case as he knew them, to her nods of understanding and agreement.
“This woman, what’s her name… Tucker? She’s willin’ to testify at a trial for me? Why?”
“She just wants to do the right thing, Ann. She doesn’t want anything from you or us,” Heyes explained.
Ann was skeptical. After so many years with no one to trust, it seemed incomprehensible that someone simply wanted to “do the right thing.” “But she didn’t actually see nothin’. An’ she didn’t exactly hear Jessup admit to killin’ Ike, or the Hanleys neither. An’ what if Jessup gets to her like he got to the Hanleys an’…”
“Jessup’s dead,” Will whispered. “I killed him.”
Ann’s eyes sought the Kid’s for confirmation. She received a slight nod in reply.
Her heart went out to her son, but seeing his inner struggle for control, she kept her silence.
“You’re right, Ann. Miss Tucker didn’t actually see Bentley’s murder or exactly hear Jessup confess to killing the Hanleys or Ike Gordon. But what she did hear might be close enough for a judge to decide there is reasonable doubt in your conviction.”
“Might be.” That’s a real important word, might.” She stood and crossed the room to the window and wrapped her arms around herself.
The Kid watched her, partially hearing the conversation, but mostly taking note of the way Ann moved. Slow deliberate movements, indicating she was masking some kind of pain. What had she been through during the past few days, or the past seventeen years for that matter? He saw the scars on her wrists, where prison shackles had defiled her once flawless skin. How many injuries were covered, invisible to his attentive eyes? How many emotional wounds lay hidden below the surface? How many had been inflicted by him?
Ann looked to Lom asking the question that had been nagging at the back of her mind since Heyes began. “I’d have to go back to prison to wait for this re-trial?”
“That’s true. An escaped convict would never be granted a new trial.”
Ann began to pace, nervously. “How long?”
“Hard to say. Best case scenario, six months.”
“And the worst?”
Lom was quiet a long time. “I won’t lie to you, Ann. It could take years. And even then, there’s no guarantee you’d even be granted a new trial, let alone an acquittal.”
Ann nodded her thanks for Lom’s honesty.
“Heyes, you’re a man of odds. What do you s’pose my chances are?”
Heyes looked from Will to the Kid, then, his eyes rested on Ann’s. “Most of the testimony would be based on our word, Ann, and the hopes that the judge will accept the little bits Miss Tucker heard as fact. Louise will testify that Jessup had an altercation with Ike in the saloon the night Ike was killed. But, without the Hanley brothers to recant their testimonies… I just don’t know. It’s a long shot. Slim. Maybe none.”
She nodded again and looked out across the moonlit meadow before she turned toward Curry. “What would you do, in my place?”
With his arms crossed in front of him, the Kid continued leaning against the hearth, watching the flames. It was the question he had hoped she wouldn’t ask. He knew without a doubt what he would do. He’d high-tail it to Mexico and never look back. But he didn’t want to tell her that, not in front of a sheriff. Not in front of their son. He avoided her eyes. “I can’t answer that, Ann. You’re the one who’s gotta live with whatever you decide.”
“Ma?” Will’s voice cut in. “It’s a chance. A chance to be free. Really free. Maybe even a chance for the three of us to be together.”
She saw the light of hope in her son’s eyes, so like his father’s. Without a word, she gave a single nod.
Comfortable a decision had been made, Lom retired to his room for the night. In the morning, they’d all go back to Colorado, where Ann Morgan would turn herself in to await a new trial.
It wasn’t long before Heyes stood to follow suit, wanting to give the Kid some time alone with Will and Ann.
Before he left, Ann caught Heyes’ hand. Her eyes looked deeply into his. “Thank you. For everything. For what you’re tryin’ to do. For lookin’ after Will.” Her eyes were sending him a silent message. “For watchin’ out for the Kid.”
“Don’t mention it. We’re family.” He pulled her into a long hug, then kissed her forehead.
Not long afterward, Will excused himself with a yawn. He said good night to the Kid and hugged his mother again. “G’night, Ma. See ya in the mornin’.” Just as he reached the stairs, he turned. “Ya know, my whole life I never seen my ma and pa together. Never. Not ’til tonight.”
Ann hugged Will again then, reluctantly let go, kissing his cheek.
The Kid smiled, not missing Will’s use of the term, “Pa.”
“He’s a fine young man, Ann.” The Kid stooped down, adding a log to the fire.
Nervously, she nodded and looked away. “He is. Guess he done okay in spite’a me.”
The natural rapport they had shared so long ago seemed lost to an awkward silence.
Her back was toward him, but he moved to her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You were tryin’ to tell me about Will, that night back in Denver, weren’t you?”
Ann felt like a scared little girl being called to account for her actions. She stepped away from his touch. “I know sayin’ I’m sorry don’t fix nothin’, but I am.”
“I’m the one who’s sorry, Ann. For not bein’ there, for hurtin’ you.” He turned her face toward him. “Ann, if I could take just one thing back, I never would’a hit you!”
He hadn’t been the first man to hit her, or the last. Just the only one that mattered. “Don’t!” She pressed her fingers against his lips, while a flood of nameless faces rushed in around her. Had Louise told him what kind of woman she was, the kind of life she’d lived while he was gone?
He pushed her fingers away. “Just let me finish, would ya?”
“Please!” She shut her eyes. “There’s things I don’t want to remember. Not tonight.” Tears were forming in her eyes and she didn’t want to let them fall. “Just hold me.”
The Kid felt the need to make Ann listen; make her understand how sorry he was and clear his conscience of the act that had haunted him for seventeen years. But Ann needed something more. His silence. Sighing, he relented, and wrapped his arms more tightly around her.
Ann surrendered to the safety his arms offered. “When you hold me, I know everything’s gonna be alright.”
After endless days of running, looking over her shoulder every minute, Ann’s body finally succumbed to exhaustion. She relaxed against him, seeming to melt into him, leaning more heavily on him with each passing moment.
“You smell good.” Her voice sounded far-away and sleepy. Her eyes were already closed and it wasn’t long before the Kid supported her entire weight. “I’m so tired, Kid.”
He kissed the top of her head. “We should get you upstairs, so you can get some sleep.”
“If we go upstairs,” she chuckled drowsily, “you know we ain’t gonna sleep.”
He leaned to kiss her, laughing through his words. “So we’ll sleep later.”
He took Ann’s hand and led her up the stairs. The door of his room clicked shut behind them.
“Ann?” He was sure she was asleep, her head resting gently against his shoulder.
A voice seemed to call to her from somewhere deep within the fog of her dream.
“There’s something I gotta tell you, Ann. Somethin’ I should’a told you a long time ago.”
She was so tired. Though Ann’s heart heard his voice and longed to respond, her body refused to cooperate.
“I love you, Ann. Always did. Still do. I never said it then, but I’m sayin’ it now.”
Ann’s hand rested on the chest of the man she loved. Lost in a beautiful dream, she’d never felt so safe, so accepted. So loved.
The Kid placed his hand over Ann’s and pressed it to his heart.
Ann jolted awake, unsure of where she was in the darkness. The room was quiet, except for the familiar rhythmic breathing beside her. She sighed, relieved. He was really here.
She rolled to face him, memorizing every detail of this man she loved. As if she could ever forget him. She fought the urge to touch him one more time, fearing she would wake him if she did.
Silently, Ann rose and pulled on her clothes. She paused at the door wishing, praying… It didn’t matter. She had to leave, now, before she didn’t have the strength.
The Kid stood in the shadows of the barn, twisting the stem of a single wildflower nervously between his fingers while he watched Ann lead his horse from its warm, comfortable stall and saddle it. Memories of more than a dozen partings flashed through his mind, but this time, it was Ann Morgan who was leaving — just like he’d left her, so many times before.
“Leavin’ without sayin’ goodbye?”
Ann jumped when he spoke. How long he’d been standing there, watching as she prepared to steal his horse and ride out of his life forever? She swallowed down more guilt. “Your horse…” she began.
“It’s yours,” he finished.
“I can’t go back, Kid. I’m sorry. Not even for six months. Judge sentenced me to life. Should’a called it death. That’s what that place is. Slow, painful, death.”
He remembered the prison, the tomb. Death was a good word to describe it.
“They ain’t never gonna believe I’m innocent. An’ even if they did, they still think I’m crazy. They’d have me committed.”
“So you’re leavin’.” His statement fell with a thud of finality, or was that his heart?
Ann nodded, unable to voice the words.
“Where you headed?”
“Don’t know for sure yet. South America. Mexico. Maybe, Canada.”
The Kid grinned, remembering the tactic from his own days of running. Throw out a few details, commit to nothing, shake them off your trail. “I’m not gonna send a posse after you, Annie.”
Her face was serious. “No, but Will would get it outta ya.”
She was right. And if the law found out Will knew where Ann was, their son would be guilty of aiding an escaped convict.
He pulled her into his arms. “Then we’ll go together. You and me. Wherever you want! I know how to do this, Ann. I’m good at it!” He made a move toward Heyes’ horse, intending to saddle it.
The idea was so tempting, so… impossible. Ann stopped him, looking toward the house. “What about Will? You gonna turn your back on him, now that ya found him?”
The sound of a prison door slammed shut on any hopes he might have had. Ann already knew he wouldn’t leave Will. She wouldn’t have let him even if he tried.
“What am I supposed to tell him?” he asked, feeling lost.
Ann bit her lip. “Just, make him understand that…” What reason could she give, that could ever justify walking away from her son? She gave up. “You’ll find the right words. I trust you, Kid.”
He exhaled, leaning his forehead against hers. He brushed his hand across her cheek, “What are we gonna do, Annie?”
“Well, you…you’re gonna start a new life, a free life, with your son an’ your partner. An’ me…” She ran her finger over his lips and kissed him once more. “I’m gonna say goodbye.”
He held her, not wanting to let her go.
“I’m not gonna give up, Ann. I’m gonna find a way to get you cleared.”
Ann nodded, accepting his promise, knowing at the same time the odds were against him ever being able to keep it. Slim. Maybe none. Heyes had said so himself.
She mounted the horse, which now belonged to her.
“You might wanna think about usin’ an alias, Ann. Jones always worked pretty good for me.”
Ann smiled, figuring his words were the closest she would ever come to hearing a marriage proposal. It seemed they’d always shared a bond. They shared a son. Now, he offered to share his name. An alias, yes, but still, the name had been his.
Tears were filling her eyes when she reached to touch his face. She couldn’t seem to push words past the lump in her throat. Ann gave the Kid a wink and a smile, then, she was gone.
Heyes watched from an upper floor window as a horse rode from the yard. He had seen the look in Ann’s eyes and had been sure. Before the sun rose, Ann Morgan would be gone.
Continue to Regrets – Postscript – added January 2011
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