The Reluctant Posse by Penski December 12, 1887 Three heavily-armed men rode on horseback past a road sign – one arrow pointing to the west read ‘Stockton 20 miles’ and the other arrow pointing to the east read ‘Mokelumne Hill 25 miles.’ “Here is the stage stop and store, just like I said,” said a man with a heavy accent. He was in his mid-twenties with black hair and jagged facial features. The men rode up to the general mercantile, dismounted, and tied their horses to the hitching post. They looked in the window and saw a clerk in a well-stocked store and four other customers. They entered the building and separated, taking positions within. The clerk and customers fearfully watched the men. A young woman held her son close to her side. “Can… can I help you?” stuttered a nervous clerk behind the counter. “I am here to take it all, señor,” the man said. “T… Take it all?” the clerk stammered. “I… I don’t understand.” The black-haired man removed his pistol and aimed it at the clerk’s head. “I think you do.” Without warning, five shots rang out, filling the room with black smoke. ~*~*~*~ Heyes and Curry rode horseback past a sign that read ‘Welcome to Sterling, Colorado.’ They slowed the gait of the horses through the street as they glanced at the buildings and people milling around. “Looks like a nice town,” Heyes commented. “Friendly; three saloons to choose from.” The Kid nodded to the sheriff, who was sitting on a bench outside of the jail and playing chess with an older man. “Sheriff don’t look familiar and he don’t seem to be payin’ us any mind.” “And here’s a telegraph office. Probably should let Lom know we’re heading south for the winter.” Heyes reined his horse over to the side by the hitching post. “Why don’t you take the horses over to the livery while I send him a quick message?” “Sure. Meet you in the Silver Dollar Saloon.” The Kid dismounted, took the reins from Heyes and led the two horses to the livery. ~*~*~*~ Curry finished a beer and was ordering another when Heyes walked up beside him at the bar. “Make that two beers,” Heyes told the bartender as he held up two fingers. “What took you so long? I was about to send a posse out to look for ya.” “Very funny.” Heyes took one of the proffered glasses and had a long drink. “I was about to leave when a message came in from Lom and the clerk asked me to wait. Silky is looking for us.” “Silky? What’s he want with us?” “Guess we’ll find out soon enough. I sent him a message we’d be here overnight.” Heyes turned to watch the poker games going on. “Are they any good?” The Kid grinned. “They’re bettin’ on straights.” “What are we waiting for? Let’s join in on the fun.” The two men grabbed their beers and joined poker games at different tables. ~*~*~*~ Knock… knock… knock… “Mr. Smith! Mr. Smith!” The former outlaws both groaned as they awakened. “Mr. Smith! Mr. Smith!” “Heyes, whoever it is… Make them be quiet.” Curry turned over in bed, but removed his gun from the holster. Heyes slowly rose from the bed and rubbed his face. “I’m coming!” He went to the door and was about to unlock it when he glanced at his partner to see a gun, ready if needed. “Who is it?” “Edgar, from the telegraph office. Have an important telegram for you.” Heyes unlocked the door and opened it enough to receive the piece of paper. “Thanks, Edgar.” “Be seeing you later, sir.” The young man turned and ran down the stairs. “Seeing me later?” Heyes mumbled as he closed the door and sat on the bed reading the telegram. Curry glanced over his partner’s shoulder. “From Silky?” “Yeah.” “What’s it say?” “Smith and Jones. Stop. Come to SF now. Stop. Wired money for trip. Stop.” The Kid looked surprised. “Silky wants us to go to San Francisco and paid for the trip?” “Guess he really wants us there and figures if he sends us the money, we can’t give him any excuses.” The Kid shrugged his shoulders. “Well, we were leavin’ to go south, but...” “We may as well head west to get away from the snow and cold,” Heyes continued the thought. Curry grinned and nodded. “And it’s a free trip to California.” Heyes stood up and started pacing. “I don’t know, Kid. Something’s not right. Why does Silky want to see us? And he’s paying?! When’s the last time you knew Silky O’Sullivan to pay for anything, willingly?” "I don't know, Heyes, but, winter in San Francisco, 'stead of Colorado or New Mexico? And free train passage? I say we go." ~*~*~*~ Heyes and Curry stood in front of a mansion’s door with their bedrolls and saddlebags. “Ready to see what Silky wants?” As his partner nodded, Heyes knocked on the door. A butler opened the door a crack, then flung it wide with a smile of recognition. “Come in. Come in. Mr. O’Sullivan, they are finally here!” The Kid and Heyes looked at each other apprehensively before entering the house. Silky stormed out of a double-door into the entrance hallway. “It’s about time you two arrived. What took you so long? You’re almost too late.” “We took the next train,” the Kid hurriedly explained. “And almost too late for what?” Heyes scowled at his older friend. “Why did you bring us to San Francisco, Silky?” Silky sighed. “Follow me, boys. We have to talk.” “We sure do!” Heyes said as he and the Kid followed Silky through the double doors into a den. “Sit and let me pour you a drink.” Silky poured cognac from a crystal decanter into brandy snifters, handed one to each of the men sitting on a coach, and then sat in a winged-back chair. “Have you ever heard of Jesús Tejada?” Heyes and Curry glanced sideways at each other and shook their heads. “Should we have?” Heyes asked. “He’s a ruthless outlaw – he and his gang.” “What’s that have to do with us, Silky?” The Kid took a sip of cognac. “Why, you need to go bring him in – be part of the posse!” Heyes, taking a drink, almost choked. “Us? Part of a posse? Silky, you gotta be kidding!” Silky’s face turned red with anger and frustration. “I most certainly am not!” Curry cocked his head to one side. “Why are you so interested in this outlaw bein’ brought in?” “He and his gang have been murderous thieves for almost two years now.” “And?” Heyes asked. “And he robbed a general store at a stage stop. Shot the clerk in the face! Shot the four customers and then stacked the bodies in the corner… like a cord of wood!” Heyes and the Kid made a face and slightly shook their heads at the violence. “And?” Curry prompted the man to tell more. “And two of the victims were my niece’s daughter and grandson. Sally has been devastated since it happened.” Heyes’ eyes and voice softened as he addressed his elderly friend. “When and where did this happen, Silky?” “About a week ago – on December 12 – about twenty miles east of Stockton on the road heading to Mokelumne Hill.” The Kid leaned forward. “Where’s Stockton?” “It’s in the valley, south of Sacramento, about 85 miles away.” “The trail will be cold after a week, Silky. Don’t know what we can do. And we don’t know the layout of the land out here,” Heyes tried to reason. “That’s why I want you to join the posse. They’ll know the layout of the land and have been on the trail.” “Well,” Heyes looked at his partner before continuing, “If the law is already on the trail, why would you want us joining them?” “Haven’t you been listening? The law hasn’t managed to bring this Tejada outlaw to justice for two years! I can’t count on them to bring him in now.” Silky paused. “Besides, you boys owe me.” The Kid sat back. “Owe you?” “Yes!” Silky’s face began turning red again. “Why, didn’t I put on a dress and pretend to be Grandma Curry? And… and that sheriff was flirting with me. ME! And then I was thrown into jail! “Well, Silky…” “Don’t you ‘well Silky’ me, Heyes! You’d be in a bad place if it weren’t for me going to Montana and bailing you two outta trouble!” Heyes and Curry glanced sideways at each other. “But Silky, we just can’t ride up to a posse and tell the sheriff we want to join them. What if he recognizes us?” Silky smiled and took a sip of his cognac. “You two boys might be famous in Wyoming and the surrounding states, but we got our own outlaws to worry about here. No one is going to know you here in California. And it’s a prominent detective in San Francisco that is leading the posse – Harry Morse. I happen to know the man and that he’d welcome help from two “experienced” men from Denver.” Curry nearly choked on his drink this time. “You told him about us?” “Relax. I didn’t tell him you were Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. I just told him I had experienced friends in the Denver area who know about outlaws and how they think.” “You may as well have told him we’re Heyes and Curry,” the Kid mumbled. And then, in a louder voice, he asked, “What about horses and gear, Silky. We sold everything before we came out.” “Don’t you worry about that. I’ll get you what you need.” Heyes raked his hand through his hair. “Can we think about it?” When he saw Silky about to protest, he added, “Just overnight.” “What’s to think about? You owe me!” ~*~*~*~ Kid Curry tightened the cinch and turned the collar of his jacket up. “There might not be snow here, but it sure is cold.” Heyes finished tying his saddlebags on. “Yeah, and it’s a damp cold. Seems to go right through you. If I’d have known California was gonna be so cold…” Curry mounted his horse. “Do you know where we’re supposed to meet this Harry Morse?” “Silky said east of here, about 60 miles, at a station called Ellis. We’re supposed to take a ferry across the bay and follow the Central Pacific tracks over those hills. They’ve tracked this outlaw and his gang to the area.” Heyes adjusted the stirrups and climbed up on his horse. “And Morse knows we’re comin’?” “He’s waiting for us. Let’s go.” Heyes reined his horse out of the yard and into the street. ~*~*~*~ Heyes and Curry followed the train tracks down the coastal mountains to a station with the name Ellis painted on a board. Heyes looked around. “This is supposed to be the place. Not much here.” “Not a moment too soon. The clouds look like they’re about to drop.” Curry glanced up. Heyes dismounted. “I’m going into the station and ask some questions.” “Not without me, you ain’t.” Kid got off his horse and tied it to a rail. “It’s too cold and windy out here. Besides, someone’s gotta watch your back.” The men walked into the train station and approached the clerk behind the counter. The man looked up from his paperwork. “May I help you?” Heyes smiled. “I hope so. We’re looking for Harry Morse and his men.” When the clerk’s brows furrowed, he added, “He’s expecting us; we’re joining up with his posse.” The clerk smiled. “Well, in that case, Mr. Morse is in the barn across the street.” “In the barn?” the Kid asked. “No hotels in the area so he and his men are staying in the loft, I believe. Better than being out on the trail with that big storm rolling in. Gonna be a cold one!” The clerk went back to his paperwork. The partners walked back outside, untied their horses and started walking to the barn. A gust of wind made them hold on to their hats. “We definitely don’t owe Silky anything after this job!” Heyes exclaimed as he knocked on the barn door and slowly began to open it. “Hello? Mr. Morse?” A shorter gentleman, with a recessing hairline and mustache, greeted them with a gun. Click. “Who wants to know?” Heyes put his hands out away from his body, still holding on to his horse’s reins. “Silky O’Sullivan sent us – Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.” “In that case, I’m Harry Morse. Come in—get out of that wind!” Morse quickly holstered his gun and opened the door wider so the men and horses could enter. Once they were in, he quickly bolted the door shut. He held out his hand to Heyes. “Glad you could join us, Mr. Jones.” Heyes shook the man’s hand. “I’m Joshua Smith. This is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.” Curry nodded as he shook the proffered hand. “You gentlemen came in the nick of time. It’ll be pouring out there soon. There’s a large stall for your horses over there and we’re about to have some stew over here. You’re welcome to join us.” They noticed a group of three men huddled by a stove as they led their horses to the stall. Once they unloaded and brushed them down, they joined the rest with their saddlebags. Suddenly the rains came with a vengeance. “Sorry about the accommodations. Unfortunately, desperados don’t camp where there’s a nice hotel. At least we’ll remain dry in here. Coffee?” They nodded and Morse handed them steaming cups. “Let me introduce you to the rest of the posse. This here’s George and his brother, Floyd. And over there is Joe.” The men nodded as Harry said their names. “Why don’t you sit and tell us about yourselves. Mr. O’Sullivan said you were familiar with the ways of outlaws?” Curry gave a look to Heyes, welcoming him to field the questions as they sat down. “Well,” Heyes started, “I don’t know that we’re exactly familiar with the ways of outlaws, like Mr. O’Sullivan said. We’re from just about everywhere. Spent time in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana. Outlaws are everywhere, ya know. And, uh, we’ve been involved in, as victims of course, of some stagecoach robberies.” “Seen a few train robberies, too,” Curry chimed in. Heyes shot him a quick glance and then continued, “We tracked ‘em down and brought ‘em to justice. I was the champeen tracker in southern Utah.” Curry discreetly shook his head. “And, well, I guess we’re just lucky.” Heyes took a deep breath. “What about this outlaw? Why don’t you tell us about him?” “Jesús Tejada is as about as ruthless as they come. He not only robs, but murders many of his victims. And he’s a sly one. The law has tried numerous times to apprehend him and his gang, but without any success. According to my investigations, he was born in the big valley in 1864, making him in his mid-twenties, but folks say he looks about ten years older. His hands are scarred and his face has a chiseled-look, if ya know what I mean. From his name, you probably guessed he’s Mexican. Most of these desperados turn to a life of crime because they feel they can’t get legitimate work with all the white settlers in the region. This latest robbery and murders at the store,” Morse paused and shook his head in disbelief. “It terrified the people so they demanded the governor do something about Tejada.” “How many are in his gang?” Curry asked. “Depends. At the store there were only three of them, but there have been as many as ten. Last reports I had said there are seven with him now. Unfortunately, with Christmas coming up, Floyd and George will be going home to be with family.” “But we’ll be back shortly afterwards,” George spoke up. “I’m aimin’ to bring in that bandito before it’s my wife and child he kills.” Heyes took a sip of coffee. “Does he have a hideout near here?” Morse poured more coffee for those wanting some. “He doesn’t have a hideout like you’re familiar with—like the Devil’s Hole gang…” Heyes choked on his coffee and Curry patted him on the back. “Sorry, went down the wrong way.” “Well,” Morse continued when Heyes quit coughing, “Tejada stays on the run. Goes from one amigo’s shack to another. That’s why he’s so hard to find. It’s like finding a needle in the haystack out here in the coastal range. Lots of ravines and valleys for him to hide in.” The wind rattled the door and the rain came down in sheets. “Really stormin’ out there,” Curry noted. “Get storms like this often?” Morse chuckled. “Just during the winter months. If it isn’t raining, we have the darn fog to deal with. Sometimes it’s so thick you can’t see very far in front of your horse. In the summer, it’s just plain hot and dry, especially in the valley and mountains. Now San Francisco is different. You boys ever heard of Mark Twain?” When they nodded and smiled, Harry continued, “He says the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Heyes smiled. “Mark Twain does have a way with words.” “You boys have fish, I hope.” Heyes and Curry glanced at each other, puzzled. “Fish?” the Kid asked. “Not used in your parts, yet, I see.” Morse chuckled. “It’s a rain slicker, usually mustard color…” “Oh, that long jacket that smells fishy. Yep, Silky made sure we each had one.” Heyes paused a moment. “So what’s your plan to capture this outlaw?” “I thought we’d split up into groups and comb these hills, asking anyone we meet if they’ve seen Tejada or any of his gang. We’ll meet back here each night and mark on a map what areas we covered and any information we have to share. Hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow morning. Either way, we’ll be going out.” Morse stirred the stew. “Looks like dinner is ready. Are you boys up for a game of poker after dinner? The rest of us were planning on playing.” Heyes and the Kid smiled. “We’re always up for a game of poker,” Heyes replied. ~*~*~*~ Heyes and Curry held their heads down against the driving rain and wind. They wore their “fish” or slickers, over their jackets to stay relatively warm and dry. “Heyes, why are we out here?” the Kid asked in an irritated tone, loud enough to be heard over the storm. “To find that outlaw or anyone who’s seen him.” “Ya know there ain’t gonna be no tracks with this rain.” “I know.” “And no one, in their right mind, is gonna be out in this storm.” “I know that, too” “So why are we out here?” ~*~*~*~ Curry and Heyes led their horses into the barn and quickly closed the door from the raging wind and rain. They removed their hats and shook off the excess water from their hair. Then they removed the rain slickers and draped them over a stall railing. “See anything?” Harry Morse asked. “Not a thing,” Heyes replied. “We’ll be right over after we rub down the horses.” ~*~*~*~ Morse handed them mugs of coffee when they came near the stove. “I didn’t think we’d see anything, but you can’t be too sure. Weather like this is a good cover if an outlaw wants to move to a different location.” “Morse, I don’t think even an outlaw would’ve been out in that storm.” The Kid took a sip of his coffee. “How long before you think it’ll let up?” Morse shrugged. “Could be anytime. Those Pacific storms can stay for a week or leave as quick as they came in.” “Are George and Floyd still out there?” Heyes asked. “It sounds like it’s getting worse.” “Since you boys arrived, they decided to go home to their families.” Harry took a sip of coffee. “What about you two? Got family?” Heyes and Curry glanced sideways at each other. “No, only family we have now is each other,” Heyes answered. “How about you? Joe?” “Nah, all my family is on the east coast. I came out here to find gold and never went back,” Joe explained. Morse shook his head. “Just me and the missus and she knows she won’t see me until I have Jesús Tejada behind bars – an added incentive for me to get my man.” “Well, I guess we’re gonna have to look harder so Harry can go home to his wife,” Curry said with a smile. “Now if the weather would get better.” Joe threw a log in the stove. “So are we goin’ out tomorrow, Harry?” “Why wouldn’t we?” the Kid asked, puzzled. “Just that it’s Christmas Day,” Joe replied. Heyes chuckled. “Don’t know many outlaws that celebrate Christmas or any other holiday. If the weather is better, he might decide to move.” “Good point, Joshua. We better scout the hills tomorrow, too. Can’t be too careful with this bandito,” Morse said, as he stirred the pot. “Looks like we’re having pork ‘n beans tonight. Nice of the railroad clerk’s wife to leave us something on the stove each night.” ~*~*~*~ The next morning the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun warmed the earth. The coastal mountains were a bright green with streams of water flowing in the ravines and creeks from the storm. Curry opened the barn door, leading his saddled horse, and grinned. “Finally, a nice day for a ride.” “Sure is!” Heyes exclaimed, as he followed his partner out of the barn with his horse. He mounted the animal. “Ready to go?” “Yep. What direction is Morse sendin’ us?” “South. He and Joe are heading west.” “Maybe we’ll see somethin’ today.” The Kid kicked his gelding forward. They rode most of the day checking out ravines and valleys. Early afternoon, Curry stopped and stood up in his stirrups. “Heyes, there’s a cabin over there.” He pointed west to a large oak tree. “Let’s check it out.” Heyes reined his horse towards the tree. When they came close to the cabin, they dismounted so the oak hid them and pulled out their guns. Heyes crouched down. “Well, what do you think?” “Looks deserted to me.” The Kid joined his partner. The men cautiously made their way to the door. When both were on either side, Heyes nodded and they stormed inside. “Well, someone has been here recently, but looks like they left.” Heyes looked around the dark room with the only light coming from the door and a small window. “Looks like the roof leaks and there’s no glass in that window – wasn’t much protection from that storm.” The Kid checked ashes in the small stove. “They’re cold.” “Nothing else in here. Let’s check outside.” Heyes walked to the door. Curry followed him. “Not gonna be much out there with that rain.” They walked around the cabin and the surrounding area. “Looks like more than one horse with this amount of droppings,” Heyes called out. “Over there it looks like they were target shootin’. Lots of shells on the ground.” The Kid walked back under the oak tree where Heyes and the horses were. “No way to know if it was the outlaws or not, though.” Heyes took his horse’s reins and mounted the mare. “Yeah, but whoever was shootin’ is pretty good and practiced a lot. The cans have lots of holes in ‘em.” Heyes’ eyes roamed the surrounding area. “Morse is gonna want to know about this place and where it is. We’ll have to let him know how to get here.” Curry nodded as they reined their horses back to Ellis. ~*~*~*~ Heyes and the Kid led their horses into the barn as the night fell. Stars were seen in the hazy sky as fog began to blanket the hills. “There you are! Did you see anything?” Morse asked as he walked over to them. “Saw a cabin…” Curry began. “A deserted cabin,” Heyes added. “About ten miles southwest of here?” He looked at his partner for confirmation. After a nod from the Kid, Heyes continued. “Can’t be sure it was the outlaws, but there was evidence of more than one horse.” “How long since you figure they left?” Morse rubbed his chin. “Maybe a week ago?” Heyes again glanced at Curry. “That’s a good guess.” The Kid removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair. “Hmm…” Morse stood there for a moment in thought. “Why don’t you take care of your horses and join me and Joe. The clerk’s wife left us with a Christmas feast of ham, rolls, potatoes, and a pie.” “That sounds good – real good. We’ll be right there.” Curry grinned. “Ya know,” Heyes said as he took the bridle off his horse. “I think Silky put a Christmas present in my saddlebag.” “He did? Silky?” Curry began to brush his animal. “Feels like a bottle at the bottom of one of my bags. Think I’ll go up in the loft and check after dinner.” Later, the men relaxed around the fire from the stove, drinking coffee. Heyes got up and left the area, climbing the ladder into the loft. “Joshua going to bed already?” Morse asked. Curry shook his head. “Nah, he just needed somethin’ from his saddlebags.” A minute later, Heyes came down the ladder and smiled as he held up a bottle of fine brandy. “Good ol’ Silky! He did give us a bottle for Christmas.” Heyes took off the top. “Want some?” He poured generous portions in everyone’s cup. “How do you two know Mr. O’Sullivan?” Morse asked with an inquisitive look. Heyes and Curry quickly made eye contact. “We’ve been friends for a long time since he used to live in Denver,” Heyes replied and then quickly asked, “And how do you know Silky?” “Oh, I’m a private detective and he’s asked me to do a few jobs for him. Besides, everyone in San Francisco knows Silky!” Harry Morse grinned and then held up his cup. “Merry Christmas, Silky O’Sullivan!” Heyes, Curry and Joe joined in on the toast, “Merry Christmas, Silky!” “This is expensive brandy; he has good taste!” Joe commented after a few sips. “Ah, Christmas! One of my favorite times of the year.” Harry sat back and sipped his drink. “Mabel, that’s my wife, probably had a few friends over for a goose dinner and all of the fixings. And there’s the decorated tree and the caroling around the piano…” He sighed. “Yep, gotta love Christmas.” “Back home, when it snowed, we’d hitch up the sleigh and sing carols as we looked for the perfect tree. Once we got home, we had eggnog and hot cider as we decorated. Those are good memories.” Joe swished the brandy around in his mug and took another sip. “What about you, boys?” Harry asked. “You must have some special Christmas memories.” Both Heyes and Kid looked down as they shook their heads. “Nope,” Heyes said in a barely audible voice. Then he spoke up, “How about another round?” Morse looked puzzled for a moment and then replied. “Sure. One more and then I’m off to bed. Have more ground to cover tomorrow. He’s up there somewhere – we just have to find him.” “Seems like we’re lookin’ for a needle in the haystack to me,” mumbled Joe under his breath. Heyes smiled when he heard Joe’s comment and poured more brandy into his mug. “Even the smartest outlaw can make a mistake or two.” “That’s for sure.” Curry grinned at the look he received from Heyes. “Well,” Harry lifted up his cup, “Merry Christmas, boys!” The rest joined in on the toast. “Merry Christmas!” ~*~*~*~ Heyes and the Kid rode through the green coastal mountains at a leisurely pace. “This searching and sleeping in a hay loft is getting old,” Heyes commented. “We’ve been here almost a week. Why does Morse think he’s still in the area?” “I was wonderin’ that myself.” Curry took a drink from his canteen. “Think posses looked for us this way?” “Maybe. They’ve been looking for a way into Devil’s Hole without being noticed since I first got there.” “Hey, there’s a cabin.” Curry pointed. “Let’s go!” The Kid spurred his horse into a lope with Heyes right behind. ~*~*~*~ “¿Qué quieren?” a man with a rifle asked, as Heyes and Curry came near the dwelling. Heyes put his hands up, away from his gun, as did the Kid. “Speak English?” he asked, hopefully. “Sí. What do you want, hombres?” “We’re looking for an outlaw…” Heyes started. “Tejada?” the man asked. “That’s him.” “No.” The man shook his head. Curry furrowed his brow. “’No’ you don’t know him, or ‘no’ you won’t help us?” “No know him,” repeated the man. “Now go.” Kid leaned forward, resting his arm onto his saddle horn. “I think you do know him and you know where he is.” “No.” The man vehemently shook his head and pointed the rifle at them. “Go!” Heyes and Curry slowly reined their horses around and walked them away from the man who stood there watching them. “Heyes, he knows.” “I know.” “We’re goin’ back.” Curry grinned. Heyes smiled. “We are.” ~*~*~*~ The Mexican put down his rifle and went back to splitting wood. “Howdy,” Heyes startled the man as he appeared to come out of nowhere. The man was about to grab his rifle when… CLICK “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Curry said from behind the man. “I told you, I no know him.” “Thaddeus, why don’t I believe that?” The Kid kept his gun leveled at the man’s heart. “For the same reason I don’t.” “Look, you don’t want to be helping this outlaw,” Heyes reasoned with the man. “He’s a ruthless killer. Walked into a store and killed everyone – women and children included.” “Women and children?” He shook his head, removed his hat and quickly made the sign of the cross, muttering, “Madre de Dios.” “We’re part of a posse looking to bring him in.” “There is a posse? In these hills?” “Yep, led by Harry Morse.” “Sheriff Morse?” Heyes and Curry glanced at each other with this news. “Sheriff?” Heyes asked. “No, he’s a detective in San Francisco.” “Sí, Señor. Sheriff Morse was from Alameda. He always gets the bandito. He captured Juan Soto and Black Bart.” “You know Harry Morse?” the Kid asked, his gun still in his hand. “Sí.” “So will you come with us? Tell Morse what you know?” Heyes inquired. “Sí. If Sheriff Morse is after Tejada, I am not afraid. He will capture him.” ~*~*~*~ Curry and Heyes rode behind the Mexican. “Sheriff Harry Morse? Sheriff? I don’t remember Silky sayin’ anything about that!” Curry quietly voiced his frustration to his partner. “I know. And when I see Silky again…” Heyes shook his head. “And he always gets the bandito.” ~*~*~*~ At dusk, Heyes opened the door to the barn and led his horse in. “You two have been gone a long time. See anything?” Morse walked over to the door. “Sure did,” Heyes said as the Mexican came through the door. “Lew!” Morse exclaimed. “Hola, Señor Morse.” Curry entered the stable. "This fella said he knew you, Morse. Glad to see he was tellin' the truth." “Sure do. Lew used to ride with Tejada’s gang. Spent some time in my jail and we got to know each other,” Morse informed Heyes and Curry before addressing Lew. “You have been living a decent life now, haven’t you, Lew?” “Sí, Señor Morse. I have a little ranch north of here. I no longer am an outlaw.” “Good for you!” Morse patted him on the back and then became serious. “I’m after Jesús Tejada. Do you know where he is?” “Maybe.” His gaze flicked nervously to Heyes and the Kid. “But I no want others to know I say where he is.” “Of course, Lew. You just show us where he is.” He came by my place on his way to Jose Maria’s.” “Do you know where Jose Maria lives?” “Sí.” “This is just the lead we’re looking for, men. Good job finding Lew, Joshua and Thaddeus. I didn’t know he lived out this way. Why don’t you three take care of the horses and join me and Joe for dinner.” ~*~*~*~ The next day, when the sun was overhead, five men gathered around an oak tree, dismounted, tethered the horses, and walked cautiously up the remainder of the hill. When they reached the top, they crouched down, inching their way over to the edge, and laid down where they could see the valley below. “See, Señors, there is Jose Maria’s cabin.” Lew pointed to a distant shack near a creek with a lean-to and corral nearby. Morse took out his field glasses and looked down. “And it looks like Maria still has company. I see Tejada and about four of his men down there.” “Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. If we wait until early the next morning, we might surprise them,” Heyes commented. “There’s more of them than us. We’re gonna hafta surprise them,” Curry added. “We could get down there usin’ that ravine near the corral instead of goin’ down the hill where they’d see us.” “Good ideas; I like them. Hopefully they’ll celebrate the New Year and be sleeping off a hangover.” Morse passed the field glasses to the Kid. “There are dogs,” Lew warned them. “They will let the others know you are coming.” “We’ll just have to be quiet when we go in. And going in through the ravine, like Thaddeus said, will help so the dogs don’t see us.” Harry added, “Let’s hope the wind is blowing our scent away from them.” “Don’t worry about the dogs. Me and Joshua can take care of ‘em, if needed.” Curry passed the field glasses to Heyes after surveying the layout of the buildings. “How many live in the cabin?” Heyes asked. “Just Jose and his woman,” replied Lew. “So that’s Tejada and six others.” Heyes returned the field glasses to Morse. “How loyal is his gang? Will they defend him?” “Patricio is Tejada’s amigo. He may defend him. The others?” Lew shrugged his shoulders. “They stay with Tejada only because of the money.” “Patricio? Patrick Mencillos?” questioned Morse. “Sí, Señor Morse. While at my casa, Patricio guarded Tejada. He slept on the trail. He would warn Tejada if someone come.” “Well, the Mencillos I know isn’t that loyal to anyone, but we do need to be aware of him.” “Can horses go through the ravine?” the Kid asked. “No, no horses in the ravine. Too...” Lew put his hands close together. “Narrow?” Curry guessed. “Sí and too rough.” “What ‘bout the entrance of the ravine. Any place to leave the horses?” “Entrance of ravine…” Lew paused a moment. “There are a few willows, but nothing for horses.” “Guess we’ll need you to bring us in by wagon, Lew.” “Bring you back here? I no want to be involved, Señor Morse. You say I just show you where Tejada is and I did.” “Lew, we just need a ride to the ravine and then you can go home.” Morse looked around to the rest of the men. “Anything else? We probably don’t want to push our luck. Someone might spot us and he’ll be on the run again.” The men shook their heads and cautiously returned to their horses. As the men headed back to Ellis, Heyes and Curry stayed in the back, away from the others and talked. “Bring us in by wagon? That’s a dumb idea.” Heyes rolled his eyes. “How are we going to get back?” “I’m guessin’ we’re walkin’ in and outta there.” “Walking with seven prisoners? Back to Ellis? That’s crazy!” “Well,” the Kid responded, “Maybe Morse ain’t plannin’ to bring in Jose Maria and his woman. They aren’t part of the gang.” “Okay, but five men and walking?” “So it’s not a Heyes plan. It’s a Morse plan and I heard ‘he always gets his man’.” The Kid grinned. “So I’ve heard, but I can’t imagine how with plans like that,” Heyes mumbled. “How would you do it different, Heyes?” “Well, for one thing, I’d start and end at Lew’s ranch. It’s closer and less walking.” Heyes paused a moment. “Let’s catch up with the others. I’m gonna suggest that to Morse.” ~*~*~*~ The next day, the posse moved their belongings from the stable to Lew’s ranch. “Another good idea, Joshua,” Harry Morse stated as they entered the small shack. “Not much room, but we need to get to bed early. I want us up and leaving by 1:00 a.m.” “Up at 1:00 – I don’t usually go to sleep before then,” Heyes grumbled under his breath. Curry heard his partner, chuckled, and added quietly, “Just remember it’s not like the old days – don’t keep me awake with your tossin’ and turnin’ waitin’ to leave for a job.” ~*~*~*~ Just before 1:00 a.m., Harry Morse started some coffee and began to gently kick his small posse awake. “Come on; time to wake up!” Groans were heard from the three men on the floor and Lew in his bed. “You heard me – get up! Early bird catches the worm, or, in this case, catches the outlaw.” Curry sat up and ran his hand through his hair as he yawned. He stretched and looked over at his partner. “Joshua… Joshua!” He nudged Heyes, who had burrowed deeper into his blanket. “Time to wake up.” Blurry brown eyes looked up. “Wake up?” Heyes yawned and sat up. “Feel like I just finally got to sleep,” he mumbled under his breath so only Curry could hear. “Better wear your slickers with that wind and damp air,” Harry informed his small posse. After a quick cup of coffee, the men headed outside to a cold, dreary and blustery morning, as the wind swept down through the mountain pass. “Whew,” said Lew as he climbed into the wagon seat, “how the winds do blow.” The rest of the men got into the wagon bed and lay low to avoid the wind whipping the tree branches and blowing dirt into their eyes. ~*~*~*~ A late moon rose over the tops of the Sierras, giving light across the valleys and surrounding hills. Lew drew up at a bunch of willows near a canyon. “Here you are, Señor Morse. Here is where you can get to the ravine. It is just over this hill.” “Gracias, Lew. I appreciate all the help you’ve given us. You’re indeed a good man.” Morse shook hands with his Mexican friend. “If you don’t see us by noon, go tell the nearest sheriff.” “Good luck, mi amigo!” Lew turned the horses and wagon around and headed home. Curry took out his gun and checked the chamber before putting it back into the holster. “You know it’s clean and full of bullets and ready to shoot.” Heyes put the collar up on his jacket.” Don’t know why you bother checking it all the time.” “Can’t be too careful, Joshua. And it wouldn’t hurt you none if you checked your gun once in a while.” Curry glanced around. “Glad the moon came out to give some light. Now if the wind would go away.” Heyes shook his head. “No, it’s like Morse said yesterday – that wind is the best thing we could hope for. The dogs won’t hear us coming or smell us.” Morse started walking up a steep incline. “Are you two coming or just gonna stand there all night?” “We’re coming!” Heyes lowered his hat and kept his head down as he started up the hill, with the Kid following. ~*~*~*~ When they reached the top of the ridge, the men stopped and took a few deep breaths. “Phew… that was steeper than I thought!” exclaimed Morse, catching his breath. “Now about two miles that way.” He pointed to the left. “We gotta walk that far? We’ll be too tired to catch them outlaws by the time we get there,” Joe moaned as he followed Morse. “He’s got a good point there,” the Kid agreed. Heyes nodded. “Yeah, he does. And we’re probably gonna have to walk out, too.” ~*~*~*~ The posse of four made their way along the ridge until they were near Jose Maria’s and then crept slowly over the dry, rugged terrain, down a ravine towards the corral. SNAP! “Shhh…” Harry Morse stopped when he heard the twig crack under Joe’s boot. “Didn’t mean to,” Joe hissed in frustration. “I know. Just don’t want them to hear us approaching.” “Harry, if you stop every time a pebble slides loose or a twig snaps, we’ll get down there at noon,” Heyes whispered. “Then they’ll be awake and see us coming.” The men reached the end of the ravine and emerged into the main canyon. “Finally,” Curry mumbled under his breath. “Perfect. We’re just about 50 yards from the corral,” Morse whispered. “Make your way to the gate and we’ll form a plan from there.” “See anything yet?” Heyes asked the Kid. Curry drew his gun. “Nope. Seems like everyone’s still sleepin’.” “That’s what we should be doing.” Heyes faced the corral and quietly walked toward it with his gun out. The posse crouched down by the gate, out of sight from the house. “They must be all in the house. I didn’t see anyone,” Morse whispered. Heyes raised his eyebrows. “I saw one laying on the trail between here and that tree.” “Oh, I bet that’s Patrick Mencillos. Good eyes, Smith.” “And there’s four of ‘em sleepin’ under the oak tree,” Curry informed the group. “There is? How can you see that?” Harry asked. Heyes put his hand on Curry’s shoulder. “Thaddeus, here, has always had good eyes. And he’s pretty darn alert, most of the time, too.” The Kid rolled his eyes. “And I guess we can assume that Maria and his woman are in the cabin.” So that makes…” Harry paused for a moment. “All we saw the other day are accounted for. And no sign of the dogs. Let’s wait for the sun to rise so we can see what we’re doing and then here’s what we’ll do…” ~*~*~*~ A fiery red ball slowly rose in the eastern sky. Soon after the sun rose, the men checked their guns and ammunition one last time. “Ready?” Morse asked his men. “Just a moment.” The Kid began removing his slicker and Heyes followed suit. Joe looked puzzled. “What are you doin’ that fer?” “Can’t move fast in that thing,” the Kid stated. “And the color makes us easier to see – makes us a target,” Heyes added. “Another good idea! Glad you men are on my side.” Morse took his slicker off, too. The movement of the men caught the attention of two large dogs, which came running over to them growling. Heyes and Kid pulled some beef jerky from their pockets. “This better work, Thaddeus.” “It will.” Kid held out the jerky. “Hi, big fella. Want some of this jerky?” The dogs slowed down and sniffed at the offered food. “Come on.” As one of the dogs came closer, Kid let it smell his hand. “Good boy.” He slowly reached down and petted the dog, giving him a piece of jerky. “And there’s more where that came from.” Heyes followed his partner’s lead with the other dog. Soon both dogs were wagging their tails and allowing all the men to pet them. Harry Morse and Joe left first, going around to the back of the house. “Heyes, do you think this plan is gonna work?” Curry hissed. Heyes shrugged his shoulders. “Not how I would’ve done it and there’s a good chance someone is gonna get killed.” Kid closed his eyes. “What if Morse is killed – a former sheriff and a hero who always gets his man – while with us. How’d that look?” “Well, Kid, we’ll just hafta make sure Morse isn’t killed. Change the plans a little bit.” “Let’s go get Mencillos.” Curry stood up. Heyes put a hand on his partner. “That’s not Morse’s plan. I’m supposed to get Mencillos and you’re supposed to go by the oak tree.” “This is the first change of plans. I can’t watch your back if I’m by the tree and we don’t know how armed or dangerous that guy is. I’m goin’ with you.” “Then after we get him, we’re helping Harry and Joe with the Marias in the cabin. You stay outside and watch to make sure the others don’t wake up while I go in with them.” Curry nodded and they made their way cautiously down the trail. A few minutes later, Patrick Mencillos woke up with a start and sat up, staring into the muzzles of two six-shooters. A dark-haired man with dark eyes, holding one of the guns, hissed, “You understand English?” “Sí.” “If you make the slightest noise, I’m gonna blow your head off. Don’t move and you’ll be safe. Send out any alarm to the others and you’re a dead man. Understand?” “Sí.” “Now give me your guns – all of them,” Heyes demanded. Mencillos handed over his six-shooter and a rifle. Curry grabbed them. Heyes tied the man’s hands in front of him. “Now I want you to lay there and not move until I say.” “Bueno, Señor.” Heyes took Mencillos’ bandana off and tied it around his mouth. Patrick fell back into his blankets again and Curry covered up his head. “Not a very good friend or guard,” Heyes muttered as he took the guns from the Kid and they made their way to the cabin. “When we get to the cabin, you stay outside to watch the men under the tree and as backup.” “Got it!” Harry Morse and Joe were on either side of the door, about to burst into the cabin, when Heyes and Curry came up to the cabin. “What are…?” Morse whispered. Heyes interrupted him and hissed, “Change of plans. Let’s go in.” Morse looked at both them; his eyes narrowing in irritation. “Guess it’s too late to do anything about it now,” he whispered before he opened the door and the three men rushed in with Heyes shutting the door behind them. A startled couple in the bed sat up with alarmed expressions as they saw the three guns pointed at them. “Understand English?” Heyes took the lead. “Sí,” the man replied. “What…” “I want you to remain in bed and be quiet. Very quiet. If you alert the men outside that we are here, Joe will shoot you both. Understand?” “Sí.” “Joe, shoot if they so much as move.” Heyes went over to the bed and took away a gun from a table nearby. “Where are your other guns?” “No more guns.” Heyes glared at the man and put his gun to his temple. “Where are your other guns?” he hissed softly. The woman gasped. “Under mattress and pillow.” Heyes gathered up the weapons and handed them to Morse. “Hands where Joe can see them. All right, Harry, let’s join Thaddeus and get the others.” Heyes nodded to Curry as he and Morse exited the cabin and pointed to the tree. Curry returned the gesture and the three men surrounded the oak with guns out and ready to fire. Four outlaws snored loudly with a few empty bottles of liquor strewn about. Morse shouted to the men, “Wake up! ¡Despierta! Put your hands up! Levante los manos!” Two of the men complied by sitting up, putting their hands in the air. One man grabbed for his gun. Kid Curry was by the outlaw’s side in a moment. “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.” The outlaw looked up and saw the glacial blue eyes and the muzzle of a Colt .45 aimed at his chest. He carefully put his gun down on the ground and raised his hands. Curry kicked the gun out of reach. “I knew you’d make the right decision.” He pointed his gun towards the other two men Heyes had under his control. “Over there.” The outlaw glared, but did as he was told. “I got ‘em covered, Joshua. You look for weapons and tie ‘em up.” Kid took a stance and watched over the men with one dog at his side and the other near Heyes. Heyes holstered his gun and, one by one, searched the men for guns or knives and then tied their hands in front of them. Meanwhile, Morse had his rifle on the outlaw leaning against the tree trunk. “Tejada, put your weapons on the ground and get up.” The outlaw leader scowled at the lawman, but did not obey. “Pronto, pronto, Señor! Put your guns down and get up!” Morse pointed the rifle directly at his head. Tejada slowly put his weapons on the ground and stood up. Harry used the barrel of his rifle to indicate an area away from the rest of the gang. “Over there.” “Need help with him, Morse?” Heyes asked, as he continued to search and tie up the other men. “Looks like you two have your hands full with those three. I can handle Tejada by myself.” Morse searched the outlaw and then tied his hands in the front, finishing at the same time as Heyes and Curry. “What about the two Joe has in the house? What do you want to do with them,” Heyes asked as they rounded all the prisoners together and were heading toward the cabin. “They can stay,” Morse decided. “Jose Maria may have been in the gang, but he’s trying to go straight now, like Lew. He let them stay here, but who knows if he had a choice in the matter or not. I’ll go get Joe and let him know.” “What about the dogs?” Heyes asked. Morse walked onto the porch. “What about them?” “Well, Harry, they seem to be followin’ me and Joshua. Here’s the last of the jerky.” Kid handed Morse a few pieces of meat. “Take ‘em inside with you and leave ‘em there. Petting the dog, the Kid continued, “He has your treat. Follow Harry and he’ll give you it.” Heyes and Curry stayed outside with guns pointing at the prisoners while Morse went in the house with the dogs. “This wasn’t as hard as I thought,” the Kid commented. “Yeah, there could have been a gunfight, if they hadn’t all been celebrating all night.” Heyes smiled. “That’s why I didn’t let down our guard when I was the lead…” Morse and Joe coming out of the cabin interrupted Heyes. Kid rolled his eyes at his partner. “Let’s get these prisoners down to Bantas,” Harry Morse said as he pointed his rifle at the gang and started walking down the trail towards Patrick Mencillos and the corral. “Time to get up, Mencillos,” Heyes informed him as he nudged him with a boot and then helped the tied-up man stand. “How do you plan to get us down to Bantas?” Tejada sneered. “You have no horses.” “We’re walking,” Harry Morse informed them. Tejada stopped and turned around. “Walking? All the way to Bantas?” “Yep, you heard me.” Harry Morse informed them as he used his rifle barrel to move Tejada along in front of him. “But it is very far, señor.” “That’s right, it is. And the sooner we get going, the sooner we’ll get there. Let’s start walking.” At the corral, the posse collected their slickers. “I hope Silky lets us have these. I’m gettin’ use to the fish smell and like how they keep us dry.” The Kid put his slicker on to protect him from the heavy mist of a fog rolling in. Heyes put his “fish” on, too. “Don’t know why not. Seems he owes us now.” ~*~*~*~ Four men with guns led five men with their hands tied in front of them down a ravine, following a creek. “I see the main road up ahead,” Morse informed the men. “Only nine more miles until we’re at Lew’s ranch.” “Nine more miles,” complained Joe. “We’ve been up since 1:00 in the mornin’ and I’m plumb tuckered out.” “He’s right,” Heyes agreed. “We could spend the night here where this creek runs into that river.” “That’d be the San Joaquin River,” Harry informed them. “You feel the same way, Thaddeus?” “Can’t say I want to walk another nine miles. It’s been slow goin’ with their hands tied up.” Curry pushed one of the bandits along who stopped. “Makes sense, Harry, to rest before we finish the trip. We can take two hour shifts to stand guard. Heyes rubbed his face with his left hand. “A cup of coffee sounds real good about now.” “So does a dinner,” Curry added. “Too bad we don’t have either. Maybe we shouldn’t have given the dogs all the jerky.” “Maybe this wasn’t my best laid plan, but we did get our outlaws.” Morse looked around. “Over here looks like a safe place to rest up.” ~*~*~*~ In the middle of the night, Joe was fighting sleep on his watch. Heyes, Curry and Morse were sleeping by a fire while the bandits were sleeping in a group. Joe’s eyes closed and his head nodded forward and rested on his chest. Soft snoring emanated from the man. "Estupido gringos," Jesus Tejada sneered, as he glanced around finding every member of the posse asleep. With his hands only tied in front of him, he easily stood. Surveying the area, he smiled when he spotted a thick, sturdy tree branch. Quietly, carefully, he picked it up and moved toward the fire, and Harry Morse. “Adios, Harry Morse,” he whispered as he raised the stick over his head. “What?!” Opening his eyes, Morse was startled to see Tejada standing over him brandishing a large branch. BANG… BANG… The tree branch splintered in the air. “¡Ay dios mio!” Tejada brought his hands down and cradled them. Morse quickly looked around and saw Jones with a gun aimed at the bandit. “Did you…? How did you do that?” Curry shrugged. “Lucky shot.” “But… But you were sleepin’ a few minutes ago,” Joe stammered. “Who was on watch?” Morse demanded. “I was. Guess I fell asleep.” Joe looked sheepishly down. “So you weren’t on watch, but sleeping, and you made that shot?” Harry stood up. Kid kept his gun aimed at Tejada as he watched the other outlaws waking up. “I heard someone walkin’ this way and saw Tejada comin’ with that stick.” He quickly glanced at Heyes. “He’s a light sleeper. Always has been. Gotten us outta a few messes ‘cause of it,” Heyes explained as he leaned up on his elbows. “That was a good shot, Thaddeus. Usually you can’t hit what you aim for the first try. Is that why you took two shots?” Curry made a face at Heyes that the others could not read. “Guess so, Joshua. You know me and my shootin’ skills.” “No… No. I saw the branch splinter twice – once making it shorter and the other time just missing his fingers. That was not just a lucky shot. That takes skill… Plenty of skill. Never seen anything like it before in my life!” Morse looked over Tejada. “You aren’t hurt. And you’re not going to have another chance like that.” He slapped a handcuff on his left wrist and the other on Tejada’s right wrist. “Oww… hurts! He hit me!” “You’re not bleeding. Now lay down. I have to get some sleep. Jones, since you’re up and Joe is falling asleep, you can have guard duty next. Wake up Smith when you get tired.” Harry lay down, forcing Tejada to lie also. “Saved his life and I get sentry duty,” Curry mumbled under his breath. Heyes smiled and rolled over to sleep. ~*~*~*~ Early the next morning the group was walking down a main road. Several groups of people lined the road to watch the men pass. “What’s with the people comin’ by? What do they want?” Joe looked around nervous. “Word must have gotten around that we captured Jesús Tejada and they want to take a look at him.” Morse continued to walk. “Word got around fast,” Heyes commented. Curry glanced anxiously at the group ahead. “A little too fast for my likin’.” “Nothing to worry about men. Like I said, someone must have heard we captured Tejada and the news spread. Many have lived in fear because of him and are celebrating his arrest.” “What are you planning to do with these prisoners, Harry?” Heyes asked. “We’re heading to Lew’s ranch, right?” “That’s right. From there, Lew will take us by wagon the twenty miles to Bantas where we’ll catch a train to Stockton and deliver them to the law there.” “We’re spendin’ the night at Lew’s ranch?” Curry pushed Patrick Mencillos along the road. “That’s right.” “Good. After walkin’ nine miles today, I’m gonna want a good rest and to put my feet up.” The Kid smiled. “No rest, men. We’ll still have prisoners to watch until we get to the final destination of Stockton.” Harry Morse led the way down the road. ~*~*~*~ That evening at Lew’s ranch, Heyes and Curry walked outside in a heavy mist. “Heyes, we can’t go to the law in Stockton. Can’t chance them not knowin’ us.” “I know.” “What are we gonna do? Harry is expectin’ us to go with him all the way.” “I know that, too. I’ll come up with something, Kid. Don’t I always?” “Not always, Heyes. Not always.” Heyes gave a hurt look to Curry as they walked back towards the shed holding the prisoners. ~*~*~*~ At daybreak, Heyes and Curry helped load the prisoners into a wagon. “There’s not enough room for us all. Jones and Smith, you ride your horses.” Morse sat in the back of the wagon with the outlaws. “Joe, you ride up front with Lew. Everyone, keep alert! Twenty miles to the train station at Bantas and then on to Stockton.” Curry and Heyes saddled their horses. As they cinched the straps, the Kid asked, “Did you think of a way outta goin’ to Stockton yet, Heyes?” “Not yet. I’ll let you know when I do.” They mounted their animals and followed after the wagon. ~*~*~*~ The sun was dropping in the sky when the men arrived in the small town of Bantas and gathered at the Central Pacific Railroad station. Curry and Heyes dismounted and helped guard the prisoners, who remained in the wagon until the train arrived. “Train’s coming. Let’s get these men outta the wagon and ready to board,” Harry Morse ordered. The engine came to a stop near the water tower and the engineer began adding water to the tank. “We should have room in one of these baggage cars…” Morse opened a door and peered inside. “Ah yes, this one will do nicely. Bring them in here.” He threw the door open wide and jumped in. “You heard the man; let’s get goin’.” Kid Curry nudged the prisoners forward with his gun. Morse looked around inside. “There’s a railing on this end. We can tie their hands around it so they can’t escape.” One by one the prisoners jumped into the car with assistance from Heyes, while Joe helped Morse secure the prisoners to the rail. “That’s the last one.” Curry jumped into the car and held his gun on the outlaws while Heyes joined Joe and Morse in tying up the legs. “There! I’d like to see them escape now!” Harry beamed. Kid made eye contact with his partner and Heyes nodded. “Ah, Harry, we need to…” “Joshua and Thaddeus, I need to talk to you outside. Joe, stay with the men and make sure they aren’t going anywhere.” Morse, Heyes and Curry jumped down from the baggage car and walked a short distance from the train. Heyes began talking as they walked. “About going to Stockton…” “You two aren’t going to Stockton.” “We’re not?” Heyes looked puzzled and glanced sideways at his partner. “No, I don’t want you two to risk it.” Curry furrowed his eyebrows. “Risk it?” “As much as I appreciate your help apprehending Jesús Tejada and his gang, I think it’s better if we part company now. Joe and I can get them to Stockton and there will be lawmen there to help bring them in.” Heyes began to talk, but Harry held up his hand interrupting him. “Before I was a detective in San Francisco, I was the sheriff of Alameda County. I had, and still do have, a reputation for sniffing out outlaws.” Heyes’ and Curry’s eyes met. “Joshua, the way you led the operation when we were getting the gang showed me you’re used to be the leader. You’re very clever and have a way with your words. And Thaddeus, it’s obvious that you use your gun more than you’ve let on. You’re not only the fastest I’ve seen, but you’re accurate – deadly accurate. You’re both from the Denver area, the “wild west,” and, according to Silky, who has a shady past himself, you’re experts in the way of outlaws. And I have a feeling those aren’t your real names. In fact, I think it’s a safe bet that it’s alias Smith and Jones. Someday, when I have some free time, I just might go through a pile of wanted posters and see what your real names are.” Heyes removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair. “So you’re letting us go now so we don’t have to meet the law in Stockton.” “That’s right. And I’m encouraging you to go back where you came from. As long as you’re there, you’re no business of mine. If you stay in California, I have a feeling we might be on opposite sides someday. And after seeing how you two work together, I’d rather be working with you and not against you. Do you understand what I’m getting at?” “Yes sir,” Curry answered. “I think we’ll be leavin’ California, after sayin’ good-bye to our friend Silky.” “I think that’s a good idea. Well, the train’s about to leave so I better join Joe.” Morse held out his hand to shake. “Joshua, Thaddeus, it’s been a pleasure working with you. Hopefully, our paths won’t cross again.” “And it’s been a pleasure working with you, too, Harry.” Heyes shook his hand, followed by Curry. Morse turned, walked back to the baggage car and jumped inside as the train began to roll. He waved. “Have a safe trip back home.” The partners waved back before mounting their horses and riding out of Bantas. ~*~*~*~ Heyes and Curry rode horseback past a sign that read ‘Welcome to Cedar Creek, Texas.’ They slowed the gait of the horses through the street as they glanced at the buildings and people milling around. “Looks like a nice town,” Heyes commented. “Two saloons to choose from.” The Kid nodded to the sheriff standing outside the door of his office. “Sheriff don’t look familiar.” “And here’s a telegraph office. Probably should let Lom know we’re heading to Red Rock.” Heyes reined his horse over to the side by the hitching post. “Why don’t you take the horses over to the livery while I send him a quick message?” “Sure. Meet you in the Copper Penny Saloon.” The Kid dismounted, took the reins from Heyes and led the two horses to the livery. ~*~*~*~ Curry finished a whiskey and was ordering another when Heyes walked up beside him at the bar. “Make that two,” Heyes told the bartender, holding up two fingers. “What took you so long?” Heyes took one of the proffered glasses and swallowed the amber liquid. “I was about to leave when a message came in from Lom and the clerk asked me to wait. Silky is looking for us.” “You’re kidding! Again? What’s he want this time!?” “Guess we’ll find out soon enough. I sent him a message we’d be here overnight.” Heyes turned and leaned against the bar, watching the poker games. “Are they any good?” The Kid grinned. “Nope.” “What are we waiting for?” The two men grabbed their glasses and joined in on the poker game starting. ~*~*~*~ Knock… knock… knock… “Mr. Smith! Mr. Smith!” Curry was sitting at the table as he finished putting his gun back together from cleaning it and Heyes was stretched out on the bed reading. “Mr. Smith! Mr. Smith!” Heyes jumped up, glanced at his partner, who nodded, and the opened the door a crack. “Yes?” “A telegram for you, sir.” A hand held out a piece of paper. Heyes handed a coin to the young man and took the note. Curry glanced over his partner’s shoulder. “From Silky?” “Yeah.” “What’s it say?” “Smith and Jones. Stop. Tejada convicted of murder. Stop. Sentenced to be hung. Stop. Died of natural causes before he got to the gallows. Stop.” The Kid looked surprised. “Died of natural causes before they hung him?” “Yep. There’s more.” “No longer owe me. Stop. Silky.” “What? We no longer owe him?” The Kid scowled. “That’s what he says.” “Seems after bein’ wet an’ cold an’ miserable for a few weeks…” Heyes added, “Not to mention sending us to work with a sheriff and not warning us…” “He owes us!” they joined in unison. “I need a drink!” Curry grabbed his hat and gun. “Wait!” Heyes put on his hat and followed his partner out of the hotel door. “I’m coming with you.
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