The Unexpected Hero
By Storm Richards
Hannibal Heyes tossed and turned in a fruitless attempt to get comfortable and go back to sleep. He and his partner, Kid Curry, arrived in Porterville the night before, anticipating the arrival of the morning train with Laurie and Doris on it. The two checked into the hotel, took baths, and then had a late dinner with their old friend, Sheriff Lom Trevors, hoping he might have some good news for them. Lom was their contact and ambassador to the Governor in their attempt to obtain amnesty. Unfortunately, as had been the story since the first time they went to see Lom and he pleaded their case, the news was the same: stay out of trouble. After eating and catching up, the partners headed over to the saloon for some drinks and poker to pass the night.
As Heyes was having a hard time concentrating on the game - and not Laurie - it ended up being a drink and two hands of poker. This was the first time she had left him in Small Falls; usually it was Heyes who had to leave. Tomorrow would be sixteen days apart, and he was finding it difficult to be the one who was left waiting. Realizing his head really wasn't into the game - he didn't bother to raise when he held a full house, queens high - he figured it was time to call it a night. Since then, he had been tossing, turning and once in a while dozing off for a few minutes while his partner quietly and peacefully slept in the next bed. Lying on his back, he stared into the dark, wondering what time it was; he half-attempted to light a match so he could see his watch. Figuring he would probably get shot by Kid, he stared at the darkness and willed the sun to rise.
Laurie shifted in her seat, trying to get the kinks out of her very stiff body. She and Doris had been on the train for the past ten hours and still had over three to go. Laurie slowly wiggled in the attempt to get more comfortable without waking up her friend, who quietly slept next to her. Looking out the window, she could see the first rays of sun peaking out over the mountains. Raising her hand to her neck, she caressed the ever present heart necklace and then let her fingers find the ring that hung on a ribbon beneath her dress. She played with the ring through the cloth as she remembered Heyes telling her not to wear her wedding band on the train, to slip it on a ribbon and wear it under her clothes. He also told her not to wear the necklace, but she just couldn't bring herself to take it off. Smiling, she closed her eyes, thinking of all the instructions he gave her as she packed to leave, how concerned with her safety he was. How sweet she thought it was, though she did think he was being overly cautious - not every train was robbed and far fewer now that he and Kid were out of the business. Laurie left with her surrogate mother and friend, Doris, who went to help out her sister. She only went along because Walter, Doris's husband had asked; he didn't want his wife traveling alone. Although the trip would keep Laurie and Heyes apart for a couple of weeks, she couldn't tell Walter no; he was in effect, a father to her.
"Everything okay?" a quiet whisper interrupted her thoughts.
Turning, Laurie smiled as Doris opened one eye. "Yes, why do you ask?"
"I heard a sigh and couldn't tell if it was a good sigh or not."
Laurie giggled quietly, "A good sigh."
"Thinking of Joshua."
"What time is it?"
"About six- fifteen."
"Only a little while longer."
Laurie rubbed the heart as her eyes drifted out the window again. "I'm sorry I woke you; go back to sleep."
"I'm alright," Doris stated as she shifted in her chair. "Did you get any sleep?"
"Some." Laurie continued to gaze out the window.
Doris reached over and gently rubbed her friend's arm.
Turning, Laurie gave her a tight smile as unwanted tears welled in her eyes.
"Oh honey, I hope they are tears of happiness."
Half shrugging, Laurie closed her eyes, "I've missed him so much."
"What if he's not in Porterville?" Laurie opened her eyes and looked at Doris. "I only sent the telegram three days ago and we couldn't even wait for a response. What if he didn't get it? Or was too busy to drop everything and leave right away?"
Doris laughed, "Too busy?" She chuckled again. "If I know Joshua, there is NOTHING that would prevent him from getting to Porterville in time to meet our train. If by some chance the telegram didn't get to him, we'll send another one when we get to town, and wait for the response. I know that's not what you want to hear, but it would only be a couple more days until you saw him." Doris lightly patted Laurie's cheek. "I know it's been hard to be away, but look at it this way, now you both know how the other one feels when Joshua and Thaddeus have to leave town."
"Heyes," Kid grumbled as he rolled over in the bed, pulling the covers up over his head to shield his eyes from the bright sunlight streaming through the curtains Heyes held away from the window.
"Hey Kid, I didn't know you were awake," Heyes stated, oblivious to Kid's actions or mood.
"I'm not awake," Kid groaned. "Shut the curtain!"
Sounding somewhat dejected, Heyes released his grip on the curtain, letting it fall back into place, darkening the room. "I was just checking outside...."
"For signs of the train," Kid completed the sentence.
Heyes shrugged meekly.
Sighing, Kid propped himself up on his elbow to face his partner, "What time is it?"
"What time is Laurie's train due in?"
Kid rolled his eyes and fell back onto his pillow, "Since when has a train EVER been three hours early?"
Heyes opened his mouth to respond but thought better of it. Instead, he looked around the dark room until his eyes once again fell on the curtains. As slowly and carefully as he could, he parted the two panels so he could see out.
"HEYES!" Kid growled.
Undaunted, Heyes popped his head through the opening and tried to close the curtains around him.
"Hey, Kid, Lom's going to the jail."
"Well I'm gonna be goin' to the jail in handcuffs if you don't let me sleep."
Heyes backed out of the curtains and once again let them fall together. "Gee, Kid, no need getting all proddy. Maybe I'll go see Lom, can't be in a worse mood than you."
As Hannibal Heyes took a step towards the door, a pillow flew behind him.
"Hi Lom," Heyes enthusiastically called out as he opened the door and stepped into the jail.
"Heyes," Lom replied without turning around as he finished pouring one cup of coffee and then a second. As he turned, he held the cup out in Heyes' direction.
"What time does the train come in?"
"Nine-thirty," Heyes responded cheerfully and then skeptically asked, "Why?"
"Just curious," Lom deadpanned as he walked over and sat down at is his desk.
"First Kid and now you."
Lom raised his eyebrow, "Kid's up?"
"No, Kid's not up!" Heyes groused as he plopped in the seat in front of Lom's desk.
Lom looked at Heyes.
"What?" Heyes put his hands up in frustration.
He stared at the lawman.
"Okay, okay. I was just thinkin' it's gonna be a long three hours."
"Well, I'm sorry to intrude," Heyes quietly stated. Setting his coffee cup on the desk, he stood up. "The café should be open; I'll get some coffee there while I wait."
"Sit down," Lom insisted.
"I'm not gonna let you go over to the café and interrupt their morning."
Heyes glared at Lom.
Lom sighed as he pushed back from the desk. "You'll walk in, they'll ask what you're doing up so early. You'll tell them you're waiting for your wife to come in on the train. They will think that's wonderful since the train doesn't get in for... another...three hours." Heyes was about to correct him when Lom checked his watch. "Two hours and forty-five minutes."
Heyes gave Lom a nod.
"Then they'll ask if you're waiting alone, and you'll say your partner is still in bed and I kicked you out of the office. I'll get cold coffee and lousy food for at least a week! So I ain't lettin' you go to the café. Sit down and drink the coffee I made you." Lom picked up some papers on his desk and shuffled them around.
Heyes slowly sat back in the chair; lifting two fingers, he pushed the brim of his hat back and picked up the coffee cup. Slowly he lifted the steaming cup of dark liquid to his lips and took a sip. Sitting quietly in the chair, Heyes glanced around the room. As his eyes came back to the desk, he saw Lom staring at him. "What?" Heyes questioned the look.
Lom just quietly stared.
"I'm being quiet; I'm not bothering you..."
Lom put his hand up and motioned Heyes to stop. "Yeah, yeah, I know," he glumly replied.
Heyes waited for an explanation.
"It's not natural."
Heyes scrunched his face in confusion.
The lawman huffed as he stood up. "You don't just sit still, you don't stop talkin' when you're anxious, and before you deny it, you're anxious. It's understandable; Laurie and Doris have been gone for over two weeks. On top of that, I sent them to see the Governor. So you sittin' quietly ain't natural!"
"Kid kicked me out, you told me I couldn't leave, what else am I supposed to do?" Heyes instinctively replied, then stopped as the words Lom had just said sunk in. "You sent them to see the Governor?"
Lom blew out a breath, he was in trouble now. If he only had had a cup of coffee before Heyes arrived, he might not have blurted that out. Heyes wouldn't have found out until Laurie was there, or if there was no news, not at all. "I figured their train had to stop in Cheyenne so they might as well stop in to see the Governor."
The blood from Heyes' face drained.
Lom put his hand up, trying to defuse Heyes' concerns. "They were sent on my behalf, Heyes." Lom could tell by the expressions on Heyes' face that he was trying to figure out all the angles and scenarios that may have happened. "Laurie will be, IS," Lom corrected himself, "fine. I thought maybe if he met Laurie and Doris, he couldn't deny that you had changed your ways."
"But he already knew about Laurie."
"That's true, but it's not as easy to deny something when you're face to face with it. I figured it certainly couldn't hurt, and Laurie eagerly agreed."
"Why didn't you tell me this before she left?" anger flashed in Heyes' eyes. "Why didn't she?"
"Calm down, Heyes." Lom shifted uncomfortably under his glare. "We both agreed it would be best to wait until she returned before telling you." Heyes opened his mouth to interrupt, but Lom jumped in. "She wasn't in any danger."
Heyes practically tossed the cup of coffee back onto Lom's desk, sloshing the coffee up and over the rim, as he angrily stood up. "How do you know? He could have held her until she told him where we were. Made us turn ourselves in so he would let her go." Heyes ran his hand through his hair as he began to pace. "He could have arrested her for concealing an outlaw. He, he....." Heyes blew out hard in frustration.
Lom waited a beat, waiting for his friend to clear his head enough to listen. "Why?"
"Huh?" Heyes' breathing slowed as he thought of the confusing question.
"Why would he arrest Laurie?" Lom pushed back from the desk. "He knows where you are, and if he didn't, he knows I know. Why hold Laurie when all he has to do is ask me?" Lom sat patiently as Heyes visibly started to relax. "I know it's a secret, but you do have a deal with the Governor, and he's not gonna break that. He's enjoying not having to try to hunt you down. He's enjoying your retirement and doesn't want to do anything to spoil it."
Heyes walked back to the chair and sat down. Picking up his coffee cup, he looked for something to clean up the spill.
"Here," Lom handed him a rag.
"Thanks." Heyes cleaned up the desk and then took a sip of coffee.
Lom pulled himself back to the desk and began looking at the papers again.
"What did he say?" brown eyes anxiously looked on.
"The Governor...what did he say to Laurie?"
"Oh," Lom looked up at Heyes. "I don't know. It was a tight schedule, and she didn't have time to send a telegram."
"So she might not be on the train," Heyes began to raise his voice.
"She's on the train," Lom adamantly replied. "If she didn't make the train, she would have sent a telegram. If the Governor had detained her, he would have sent a telegram. I would have heard if she wasn't on the train. She is on the train. We will find out what happened when she gets here.....okay."
Lom nodded and looked back down at the papers.
After a few minutes Lom asked, "You just gonna sit there and watch me?"
"What else can I do?"
"I don't know...somethin'." Lom groaned as he thought of how long two hours was going to be. "You wanna open my safe?"
Raising his eyebrow in response, Heyes asked, "You think that's a good idea?"
"Fine," Lom grabbed his hat off the desk as he stood up. "Let's go to the café."
Standing up, Heyes chuckled, "I'm gonna let Kid know you're the one who suggested having breakfast without him.
Lom rolled his eyes and groaned; at least Kid wouldn't be cooking for him and would be leaving later that day.
Laurie sat staring at the book in front of her. She had been looking at the same page for at least a half hour. She would read a line, think about Heyes, forget the line, reread it, check the time, wonder if Heyes would be at the train station, look back at the words, and start all over again. Finally frustrated with her lack of progress, or more accurately the inability to make time go faster, Laurie closed the book and put it in her bag.
Doris glanced over her book at Laurie. "It won't be much longer," she assured as she too closed her book, having little luck concentrating with Laurie being so impatient.
"I know," Laurie sighed. "I just wish we were pulling into the station already. This last hour and a half has felt like a day and a half."
Doris smiled, "Young love."
Doris chuckled, "Nothing dear." Then noticing Laurie had taken interest in something out the window, she added, "What's wrong?"
"I'm not sure...the train has slowed down."
"You could have told me you were goin' to breakfast," Kid groused as he walked into the sheriff's office. "I got the cold shoulder and cold food because I wasn't there earlier with you."
"Lom's idea," Heyes quickly answered as he continued to toy with his lock pick and one of the jail doors.
"Heyes was drivin' me crazy," Lom shot back.
"Yeah well, one of ya could have gotten me up," Kid spat out as he thumped into a chair.
Smiling as he pulled the door open, Heyes turned towards Lom.
Lom half-heartedly smiled as he rolled his eyes.
"You were gonna shoot me if I didn't let ya sleep," Heyes said as he swung the door closed again before looking around for another distraction.
Kid looked knowingly at Lom with an unspoken "you're off the hook" gaze.
Lom looked back at Heyes who was now checking out the lock on the gun cabinet. Standing up, he announced, "Well I think it's time for my rounds."
Heyes quickly grabbed his watch and checked the time; it was almost nine o'clock. "Kid, how'd you let it get so late?"
Confusion spread across Kid's face.
"I have to get to the train."
"Heyes, the train isn't due in for another half hour and it will take you about three minutes to walk there."
"It could be early," Heyes replied as he put his lock pick away in his boot.
"Ya really think we would've been as successful if all the trains were as early as you keep sayin' it's gonna be?" Kid prodded Heyes.
"I always made sure we set up in plenty of time, early or not!" Heyes retorted.
"Yeah, but that's so we were out of sight. We can hear the train whistle blow as it enters town and still be on the platform before the train stops."
Heyes scowled at Kid.
Rolling his eyes, Kid fell into step with his partner, who was headed for the door.
Laurie sucked in a breath as she peered out the window. "The train's being robbed," she whispered. Turning to look at Doris, she placed her hand on her chest, feeling the shape of a ring underneath the cloth of her dress. "Hide your wedding ring on you, give them your purse if they ask for it and above all, don't look any of them in the eye."
Panic raced across Doris' face.
Placing her hands on Doris', Laurie continued in a very firm voice, "We'll be alright, just do as I tell you. They aren't interested in the passengers, just our money or the money the train is carrying. Now take your ring off or they may take it, and then we'll sit quietly and wait for any instruction they give us. DO what they say; just don't look at them. Oh, and we stick together. If they get us off the train, stay with me."
Nodding, Doris swallowed hard and then pulled herself together as she took her ring off; she quickly dropped it in the top of her boot as one of the gang stepped into the car.
"Howdy folks," the big, burly man yelled as he stood in the front of the passenger car, one hand on the support bar of the train and one hand holding a rifle that was propped up on his hip. He wore a beat up black cowboy hat that hung low in the front, stampede strings tight under his chin that didn't look like it had seen the sight of a razor or a drop of water in a very long time.
In fact, Laurie wasn't positive that this extremely scruffy looking person wasn't more dirt than human, a fact she took as those sitting near the front of the car turned their heads as far as possible to avoid the stench.
"Everyone do what they're told, and everyone will be alright." He paused as he took hold of the rifle in both hands, "If not," he glared at the occupants of the train, "I can't promise nothin'."
The passengers were so quiet, you could almost hear each of them swallow hard.
"Alright, folks, file out of the car up here. Men take out your money and drop it into this here bag." He held up a sack. "Any ya got a gun, ya best be holdin' it out in front of ya with jus two fingers. Drop it in the bag, too. Any funny stuff an some of ya ain't gonna be makin' it to the next stop." When no one immediately moved, he bellowed, "NOW."
Laurie and Doris stood up; Laurie motioned with her head for Doris to keep her eyes on the ground as they moved forward. The closer they got, Laurie realized how accurate her thoughts were on the outlaw as the fumes almost knocked her out the closer she got to him. Holding her breath, she passed the man and took the steps out of the train and into the fresh air. As she arrived at the last step, a hand reached out and grabbed her elbow. "Watch yer step."
Forgetting her own rule, Laurie stopped as her head spun towards the voice. Shocked eyes of both parties locked onto each other; Laurie began to open her mouth when she saw the curt shake of the head of the outlaw standing at the bottom of the stairs.
"Hey!" the man in the train bellowed, "what's the hold-up?"
"Nuttin'," the second outlaw nervously replied, still holding Laurie's elbow.
"Ha," came from another outlaw walking up beside the pair. He slapped the other man hard on the back. "She's a real looker ya got there." The third outlaw reached up his filthy hand and ran it along Laurie's cheek.
"Don't," squeaked the second outlaw.
"Who's the leader of this here gang?" the third outlaw snarled.
"That's right, me!" He puffed out his chest. "So if I want to run my hand down this pretty little thing's cheek or any place else, who's to say I can't?"
The second outlaw shrank under the piercing gaze. "Nnnooo one," he stammered.
Taggert grabbed Laurie's hand and pulled her towards him.
"Please don't," the second outlaw pleaded. "It's jest....it's jest.... Well....she...she...looks like mmmmy my sister."
"Ha!" the leader snorted. "How can someone that looks like this be related to you?"
"Uh, um, dddifferent ma?"
Taggert howled as he let go of Laurie before walking away.
Laurie's eyes drifted back to the outlaw who saved her. His eyes implored her to keep walking. With a slow blink of her lashes in thanks, Laurie continued to where the other passengers were gathering. As she got closer, the other passengers cautiously scooted away from her, not wanting her to draw attention to them.
Doris joined Laurie on the outskirt of the group. "Are you alright?" she reached up and caressed Laurie's arm. "Do you know him?" she whispered.
Laurie glanced around to see who was looking or listening to them, and then with a deliberate but brief movement, she nodded.
Doris' eyes widened.
Laurie gave a curt shake of head as Doris' eyes pleaded. Laurie turned to look at the other passengers, who were all very consciously ignoring her. "He knows Joshua," she quietly whispered.
Hannibal Heyes paced the Porterville train platform, every few steps checking his pocket watch. "It's nine-twenty five; we should have heard the train whistle by now."
Kid Curry rolled his eyes; he was propped up against the outside station wall, watching his partner pace. He knew enough to stay out of the way and to stay quiet. Any answer from him, when his partner was agitated, only came back at him in some scathing retort.
Heyes turned to look at Kid, "You know...you could at least try to make me feel better."
"Tell me the train could be late. Maybe my watch is early. Something...instead of just...just standing there!"
Kid took in a breath and slowly blew it out. "Heyes, you know your watch ain't early. You know the train can be late. What good is it me tellin' ya stuff ya already know. You're anxious to see Laurie, and nothin' I say is gonna change that."
"Hmpft." Heyes went back to pacing. Looking at his watch, it showed nine twenty-eight.
Lom stepped onto the platform and scanned the area. Spotting Kid he walked over to him.
"What?" Heyes anxiously asked.
"Nothin'," Lom replied. "Just came to greet Laurie."
Heyes stared at him.
"Curious if the Governor sent anything with her."
Heyes looked at his watch again. "It's nine-thirty, the train should be here!"
"Yep," Lom checked his watch, too. "The nine-thirty ain't been the nine-thirty since the old water tower burnt down. Been more like the nine-forty. Could be a few minutes later, too - we had some rough weather couple days back. Might be some debris on the tracks."
"Now ya tell me!" Heyes grumbled and then went back to pacing.
Lom watched Heyes and then looked at Kid, who gave him the slightest shrug.
Whipping around, Heyes shouted, "How long do we have to wait before we send out a posse?"
"You'd know better than anyone, Joshua."
Heyes glared at Lom. "If your wife was on the train, I bet you'd be ridin' out now!"
"Well, as you know, I ain't married. I also know it takes time to get the men ready, and still the train can be late." Lom gave a sympathetic pat to Kid's arm. "Thaddeus, Joshua, I'm gonna head back to the office and have Harker send word to get ready to ride out." Lom took a few steps then stopped, "I'll stop and send a telegram to Jefferson City to see what time it stopped for water."
Kid watched Heyes pace on the platform. He could see the other people waiting for loved ones to arrive were also getting anxious. Just as Kid pushed off the wall, Heyes stated, "I'm gonna go see Lom."
"Yep," Kid replied, "Think it's about time."
Throwing open the door to the jail, Heyes burst in, "Well what did the Sheriff in Jefferson City say?"
"The train left on time, no problems with the tracks up his way," Lom responded.
"Are the men ready?"
"It's not time yet," the lawman answered.
"The train is almost an hour late," Heyes anxiously retorted.
"I know how late the train is," Lom calmly replied. "Can't..."
"Or WON'T," Heyes interrupted.
Lom took a short cleansing breath before speaking again. "Yellin' at me ain't gonna make the train appear." He paused and looked at his friend; panic and worry evident on his face. "What I was gonna say was, can't get overanxious, ride out for no reason. We'll wait another fifteen and if the train's not in, head out." Lom glanced at Kid. "Oh hell, what's fifteen minutes," he mumbled, then called over his shoulder, "Harker, get the men ready, we're movin' out."
"They still got fifteen minutes," Harker shouted back.
"Yeah, well today, we head out fifteen minutes early," the lawman said as he grabbed a rifle off the rack.
"Here, I'll take that," Heyes stretched out his hand.
"You're not goin'," Lom stated.
With a piercing look that would make just about anyone shrink away and one Lom knew Heyes had used many times during his outlaw days, Heyes starred into Lom's eyes. "I'm going."
The glare intensified so much that, Lom had trouble breaking it. "Heyes..."
Kid stepped between the two and gently pushed Heyes' arm down. "Give us a minute, will ya, Lom?"
Lom gratefully nodded and walked out to the porch to await the arrival of the other men.
"Heyes," Kid began what he knew was a futile attempt to reason with his partner.
"I'm going," Heyes stated calmly and quietly but with ice in his voice. "Not you, not Lom, not anybody is gonna stop me from going."
"Did ya think that Lom might have a little more to worry about than protecting you out there? He has no idea who else will be out there. Maybe Jefferson City is sending lawmen, too. What happens if someone recognizes you? Huh? You gonna do any good for Laurie then?"
"I'm hoping that riding with Lom, no one will take interest at who's with him."
"And if they do?"
"I'll worry about that when I know Laurie is safe."
Years being partners with Heyes, Kid knew he was talking to a brick wall. He put his hand out towards Heyes. "Might as well hand me one," he stated as he motioned with his head towards the rifle rack on the wall.
"I ain't gonna talk ya out of goin'. And you ain't gonna talk me out of watchin' your back."
Heyes grabbed two rifles from the rack, handing one to Kid as they walked out onto the porch.
Lom looked at the door as it opened and lightly shook his head. "Harker's gettin' your horses. We'll be joined by the rest of the men at the livery."
"Guess you didn't think I'd have any luck," Kid said, sounding slightly dejected.
Lom chuckled lightly. "Don't feel bad, Kid," he gave him a light slap on the back, "I saw the look in Heyes' eyes. Knew there was nothin' gonna stop him from comin'."
"Figured you'd come along to watch his back."
"Now that that's set," Heyes jumped in, "What's the plan?"
As Harker arrived with the horses, the three men mounted. "We meet up with the rest of the men at the livery and head out along the train tracks." Lom paused a moment, "Hope to find the train just broken down a little ways up the track."
"You don't believe that," Heyes stated.
"One can hope," Lom replied. "Hold down the fort, Harker. If we get to Jefferson City, we'll send a telegram."
They tipped their hats and headed towards the livery.
"Do you know all the gang?" Doris asked, shock registering in her voice.
"No," Laurie solemnly replied, regretting telling Doris she even knew the one. Shame swept through her body as she could see and hear the dismay in Doris' voice. She wondered if she, Heyes and Kid would be welcomed back at the hotel when they returned home. "Just the one."
"He helped out Joshua, Thaddeus and myself a few times. He's really nice."
"Nice!" Upset, Doris replied a little too loud. Quieter, she continued, "He's an outlaw."
Laurie smiled meekly at her friend, wanting to say that technically so were Joshua and Thaddeus, but really didn't think it was the time or the place to remind her good friend. Laurie's eyes drifted through the crowd of passengers, not one looking their way, though she had the uncomfortable feeling she was being watch. Her eyes continued to search until they fell up the gang leader. Taggert was staring right at her. Sucking in her lips, she turned away.
"What's wrong?" Doris asked as she noticed the quick intake of breath by Laurie.
"Nothing," Laurie said with a tight smile.
"The leader is staring at me," Laurie said under her breath as she looked away.
Doris' eyes widened.
"Relax," Laurie quietly urged Doris as she reached out and touched her friend's arm. "We need to slowly move over to the other passengers, try to blend in." Laurie could feel Doris shaking. "I know you're scared and so am I, but we have to remain calm."
"Alright," the first outlaw bellowed. "All ya passengers need to move nice and close to one ‘en other ...come on, let's go." Yelling over his shoulder, he added, "Boys, lets move ‘em in." Feeling like herded cattle, Laurie and Doris slowly moved closer to the other passengers. As they walked, Laurie could see Taggert's gaze follow them.
"Come on," the second outlaw called out from behind Laurie. She jumped as she hadn't seen him move over towards her, she had been concentrating on the leader and where he was.
Once again friendly eyes locked on each other as a lopsided grin spread across the outlaw's face. "Good to see ya, Laurie," the smile slipped off his face as he saw another member of the gang near him.
"Kyle," Laurie said under her breath as she and Doris slowly walked towards the rest of the passengers with Kyle a foot behind them, pretending to shoo them forward.
"Where's Heyes?" Kyle whispered.
"Porterville," Laurie breathed out. "Where's Wheat?" Doris shot a sideways look at Laurie, she lightly shrugged in response.
"Not here." Waiting a beat or two, he instructed the other passengers, "Come on, move along folks." Kyle stopped dead in his tracks. "He meetin' the train?" He swallowed hard.
"That's the plan," Laurie murmured.
"I'm dead," Kyle gulped.
Laurie glanced at Kyle.
"If Taggert don't kill me, Heyes will."
Laurie opened her mouth but stopped when she noticed Taggert was watching her. She motioned to Doris to move over to the people and away from Kyle when she saw the leader walking towards them.
"So Kyle," Taggert's arm thudded onto Kyle's shoulder. "How's the sister?"
"Whaa?" Kyle stammered before catching himself. "She ain't my sister, she jes looks like her."
"When was the last time you saw your sister?" Taggert asked, never taking his eyes off of Laurie.
"Don't know. Been a while."
Taggert lifted his arm off Kyle's shoulder and walked towards Laurie. "Think maybe there's more than ya tellin' me." Reaching his hand out towards her neck as he got closer, Laurie closed her eyes.
Picking up the heart charm in his fingers he stated, "Nice necklace."
Laurie's eyes popped open as she realized she never took off the heart necklace.
Taggert gave the chain a little pull.
Laurie's hands instinctively reached up and grabbed the heart back.
"Oooohh, a feisty one," Taggert chuckled. "What? Is this important to you?" he teased.
"Please don't," Laurie pleaded. "It's not worth much."
"Don't look like much," Taggert roughly grabbed her chin and lifted it so she had to look at him, "but you'll fight for it."
Laurie diverted her eyes away from his.
"What's it worth to ya?"
"How ‘bout a kiss?" he wrapped his arm around Laurie's waist and pulled her towards him. She tried desperately to struggle free. It just made Taggert laugh louder.
"Taggert," one of the gang called. "Ready for ya."
Taggert sneered at Laurie. "I'll be back, don't go anywhere." He kissed the air and then walked away with a roaring laugh.
Laurie crumbled to the ground as he released her. Doris ran to her side, crouching down next to her. Laurie put her hand up, "I'm okay. I'm just winded." She quickly took off the necklace and tried to figure out where to put it, finally slid it down her stocking.
"If he comes back?" Doris' voice had terror in it.
"I'll play dumb. Say he took it. Say I don't know what happened to it." Laurie looked into Doris' panicked eyes. "He's not getting Heyes' heart!" Laurie adamantly stated.
"Everyone git down, the safe's gonna blow," one of the gang yelled.
Doris and Laurie huddled together with Kyle just a few feet away. Laurie looked at Kyle. He had fear in his eyes. "Where's Wheat and the others?"
"Ain't here. This ain't the Devil's Hole gang."
"Why are you with them then?"
"I was in Clayton and a guy I knew saw me. Told Taggert ‘bout me. Taggert had a run-in with Heyes a few years back...hates him. Told me if I didn't go with ‘em, he'd kill me right then and there."
"Kyle..." was all Laurie got out before the explosion rocked the air.
"Stay down," Kyle instructed as he jumped up and headed for the train.
"There's nuthin' in the safe!" Taggert bellowed. The rest of the gang looked at each other in fear. "Who said there'd be gold on this train?" Taggert scanned the motley gang. "You," Taggert pointed his gun at one of the gang. "This your idea?"
"Nnnnnaaaaannnnooo," the outlaw gulped out. "It wawawawas Bower's idea. He heard thththat ggguy tttalk ‘bout it."
All the blood drained from Bower's face. "Tttaattaaggert, I I I I, told ya it weren't f f f for su su su sure."
Taggert pointed his gun at Bower and pulled the trigger, striking the man's chest dead center. The passengers let out a muffled scream as Bower's body pitched backwards, hitting the ground with a thud.
"Alright," Taggert fiercely roared at his gang. "I want everythin' the passengers have, includin' the ladies' bags and jewelry."
"But Taggert," one of the gang called out. "The posse be on its way, we gotta get goin'."
"I'm not leavin' empty-handed!" Taggert spat back. "If ya wanna leave before the posse gets here, ya better get movin'!" he threatened.
Scattering like ants, the gang moved towards the passengers quickly, none of them wanting to be on the end of the leader's wrath.
Livid eyes scanned the group; searching. Eyes narrowed, as his rage continued to build until he spotted the one outlaw carefully making his way through the crowd. With a purposeful stride, Taggert took off towards his target.
"Lom," Heyes pulled up alongside the lawman. "Think we should pick up the pace a little. We've been riding for almost an hour and haven't seen anything yet."
"Like to, Joshua," Lom paused a moment. "But like ya said, we've been ridin' pretty hard for almost an hour. The horses need a little break. If we push it, the horses are gonna be spent before we reach the train and then where's that leave us."
"Lom..." Heyes began before being interrupted.
"Been doin' this a long time, Joshua. Pretty good at it too. So I think we'll just keep this pace a little longer. Hope the train's around that bend, few miles up ahead. If it was robbed, it's the perfect spot; train has to slow down to stay on the tracks around the bend."
"You knew where we were going!"
"Nope and still don't. Just years of experience say that the bend is the perfect place to stop the train."
Heyes looked over at Kid, "Why didn't we know about this?"
"Cause we stayed away from Porterville for Lom's sake," Kid matter-of-factly stated. Seeing the concern on Heyes' face, Kid continued, "Laurie's alright, Heyes. Even if the train was robbed, she'll be okay."
"Just ‘cause we didn't touch the passengers, doesn't mean another gang won't," Heyes reminded Kid.
"Most..." Kid started before Heyes jumped down his throat.
"Most...ain't us, Kid, and you know that. You heard all the stories I heard about other gangs and what they did to the passengers."
"Okay," Lom called out. "Let's pick up the pace. I want everyone at the ready before the bend; we don't know what we're gonna find."
"Sorry," Kyle apologized as he moved through the crowd gathering the ladies' bags and jewelry.
"Sorry," he dropped another ring in his sack. "Ya all be quiet and do what he says and ya be okay," he said quietly under his breath. He continued moving through the crowd slowly, only picking up the pace when he heard the thundering of footsteps coming up behind him.
"Kyle," Taggert growled as he slapped his arm around Kyle's shoulder. "I think there's much more to your sister than ya sayin'."
"Noooooooo," Kyle gulped, his body physically tensing with the weight of Taggert's arm.
"No, huh?" Taggert grasped Kyle's shoulder tightly, digging in his fingers, "Well then, where's that pretty young thing? Got me some plans."
"But...." Kyle cried out.
"What?" Taggert snarled as he whipped Kyle around to face him. "If she's not your sister, ya aint got no claim on her."
"She looks like my sister," Kyle whimpered.
"Don't care," Taggert looked around. "For that matter, don't care if she is your sister," he laughed as he strode away.
Terror flashed across Kyle's face, panic in his eyes as he looked over towards the area he had left Laurie. He could see Taggert making a beeline for the same spot and hurried after him. Thoughts of Laurie, thoughts of Heyes raced through his mind as he anxiously tried to make up some of the ground between him and Taggert. What he would do when he reached the man, he didn't know; he just knew that he had to get there and stop whatever Taggert had planned.
No longer the polite outlaw, Kyle pushed his way through the crowd, following the path laid out for him as Taggert discarded any and all passengers in his way. The two men created such a scene as they barreled through the sea of people with their every present one-mindedness that the other outlaws and passengers turned to watch.
Taggert arrived at the locale he left Laurie at, and stopped.
Kyle came up behind him so quickly; he practically plowed into his back of him.
Eyes darted left, then right and back left again, searching but to no avail. With fury seeping out, Taggart looked for something or more accurately someone to take out his frustration on. Seeing Kyle, he grabbed him and threw him to the ground. "Where is she?" he bellowed with such force it echoed in the near trees.
Stunned, Kyle looked up at the massive man standing over him; arms bigger than Kyle's legs and legs bigger than tree trunks. There would never be any mistake that this man only became leader of the gang due to pure size and bullying.
"Where is she?" Taggert boomed again.
"I I I don't know?"
"Then you'll pay!" Taggart raised his gun and aimed it between Kyle's eyes.
"Wait!" Laurie screamed as she stepped out from behind a tree.
Taggert's head whipped around towards the voice, gun still pointing at Kyle.
"He didn't know," she called out, as her eyes stayed on the gun.
Taggert glared at her. "Where's the necklace?"
"I don't know!"
He snarled at her.
"One of your men took it!"
"No, he wasn't even near me."
"I don't know," Laurie stated defiantly. Taggert grabbed her by the arm and yanked her next to him.
Stunned, Kyle quickly looked between the two, not knowing what to do.
"Posse!" one of the gang members yelled from up at the bend. "Posse!" he called out again as he rode his horse towards the train and the rest of the gang. Most of the gang sprinted towards their horses while Taggert stood still, feet firmly in place. Kyle froze, wanting to run but not wanting to leave Laurie behind. If Taggert would just go to his horse, she would be free and he could run. His eyes traveled between the two not knowing what to do.
"Bring my horse!" Taggert bellowed as he held tight to Laurie.
Kyle's head twitched between the two as Laurie struggled to get free.
"You aint goin' nowhere, pretty," Taggert barked.
"Let me go," Laurie grunted as she tried kicking and wiggling to break free from the restraining arm.
One of the outlaws rode quickly over to Taggert with the leader's horse in tow. Taggert grabbed the horn of the saddle, forcing Laurie next to the horse. "Get up!"
Laurie sucked in her lips; she knew if she listened, she would never see Heyes or anyone else she had come to know as family again. She also knew that if she refused, she would certainly be shot right then and there.
Gunfire rang out as the posse, led by two ex-outlaws, rounded the bend at full speed. Passengers scattered like ants trying to reach cover. The gang mounted their horses and spurred them into a run, trying to put as much ground between them and the posse bearing down on them - the scene was pure chaos.
With Taggert momentarily distracted by the commotion, Kyle saw his opportunity. Reaching out, he grabbed hold of Laurie's arm and pulled as hard as he possibly could. Stunned, Taggert loosened his grip just long enough for Kyle to whip her away from him.
As the moment passed and realization set in, rage streaked across Taggert's face. Drawing his gun, he pointed it directly at Kyle.
Laurie's eyes filled with terror as she lunged for the gun. Her hand hit Taggert's just as he pulled the trigger.
As if in slow motion Laurie's head swiveled from the gun, to the flash, to Kyle. Kyle turned his head towards Laurie; his eyes sprung open with surprise as his body jerked. His hand moved to his side and then all eyes fell on it as it dropped open, palm up in front of him, covered in blood.
Taggert turned on his heels, mounted his horse, kicking it to get it to move quickly.
Laurie's heart lurched.
No one else noticed as it was mass bedlam all around them though Laurie didn't hear or see any of it. Her eyes locked onto Kyle's as he sank to the ground on his knees and then everything sped up.
Rushing to his side, Laurie crouched down next to him, cradling her arm around him as he slowly laid back.
"Kyle," she whimpered.
A lopsided grin spread across his face. "Ya alright," he asked.
Tears welled in Laurie's eyes as she nodded her head. "Kyle," her lip trembled.
"Had t' do it," he explained. "I couldn't let him take ya. Heyes would kill me."
Heyes, oh my goodness, Laurie thought, the sound of his name brought her back into the here and now. With one quick pass, Laurie wiped the tears from her eyes as she began to take in the situation. Looking down, she saw the red spot on Kyle's coat slowly growing. Yanking it open, she began searching for the wound.
"Laurie..." Kyle quietly began.
"Quiet," Laurie almost scolded. Taking a quick calming breath, she added, "Sorry. I have to concentrate, Kyle. I need to get this bleeding under control." First, she carefully poked and prodded the blood soaked shirt, pulling at it so she could lift it and see under.
Kyle's eyes widened as his hand slapped down on the shirt. "Ya ya can't do that!" he stuttered.
"I have to!" Laurie continued to pull on the shirt. "You'll bleed to death!"
"Yur a married lady!"
"Yes I am and you're still going to bleed to death if I can't get to the bullet hole!"
"Heyes will kill me!"