‘Diversionary tactics: actions or words designed to confuse or deceive; strategies serving to distract an enemy.’
Kid watched as Heyes drew his razor over the last of the soap on his chin, then flicked the blade in the bowl of water to rinse it. Done shaving, Heyes took the towel he’d draped over one shoulder and used it to dry his face. When he pressed it close to one side of his jaw, Kid saw a wince pull his brows down momentarily. Heyes drew his hand away quickly, but his face still held a slight grimace of pain.
Kid spoke from where he sat on the bed. “What’s up?”
Heyes half turned in automatic response to his partner’s enquiry, then paused: swung back towards the mirror on the wall next to the window. “Nothing.”
The answer rang alarm bells in Kid’s head. Whenever Heyes said Nothing, that always meant Something. He swung his feet off the bed and stood up; walked the couple of steps to the window, where Heyes still stood dabbing his face dry with the towel. “Sure looked like something, for a moment there.”
“Like I said, Kid… It’s nothing.” Despite his casual tone, Heyes seemed to be turning the right side of his head away slightly, as if he was trying to conceal something. Kid eyed his profile, then said quietly, “C’mon. If it’s nothing, how come you won’t let me see?”
Letting out a sigh, Heyes let the towel drop onto the chair beside him, then turned to face Kid square on. In the bright morning light coming from the window, the bruising on the right side of his jaw was plainly visible. Kid could see that the corner of his mouth was a little swollen, too. Heyes held his gaze, levelly. “Okay. You’ve seen it now. Like I said, it’s nothing much.”
“Shit.” Kid frowned at the bruising, wondering how he’d missed it the day before. First I was so damn angry with Greer, Heyes had to stop me from punching him… Then Heyes decked him and Annabelle decked me. Then there was all that business sorting out Annabelle, and seeing her off on the train… With a sudden pang of guilt, Kid remembered how Heyes had waited tactfully at a distance on the station platform, looking the other way until Kid had finished kissing Annabelle goodbye. He never said a word to me about her. Even after the train pulled out.
He recalled that when Heyes had come upon all of them in the Lamberts’ barn he’d looked mussed up and dirty, like he’d had a hard ride to catch up. For the first time it occurred to him that there might have been more gone on two nights ago than his partner had revealed. “When did that happen? After we split up, and Griffin and his boys rode on out after you?”
“Well, to be exact, after Griffin and his boys caught up with me.” Heyes gave his usual throwaway smile. “My horse picked the only hole in the territory to step into and threw me. Before I could mount up again, they got ahold of her. So I had to do a little fast talking.”
“Looks like you didn’t talk fast enough.” Kid was still looking at the bruising on his partner’s face. “Griffin had his boys rough you up?”
“As it turned out, he was kind of a hands-on man himself.” Heyes was still smiling, but it was starting to slip a notch. “He wanted to know where you and the money were at, so naturally I had to play dumb. Which he took exception to.”
“That son of a bitch.” Kid felt his anger rising. “I knew I shouldn’t have let you head on out alone.”
“Kid, that was the plan, remember?” Heyes sounded placatory. “Anyway, it all worked out okay. Once Griffin realised he wasn’t going to get me to talk by waving a gun in my face, one of his boys heard the train whistle and they worked it out for themselves. They lit out of there and I got back on my horse and followed after. And the rest you know.”
Get me to talk by waving a gun in my face. Kid saw Heyes knocked to the ground, Griffin’s revolver levelled at his head. The anger in him welled up until it filled him like nausea.
Heyes saw the change in Kid’s eyes, the clear blue chilling into bright icy fury. Oh hell. He spoke again, quickly. “Griffin wouldn’t have done anything more’n slap me around. His kind are all bluff and no show. I had him figured out.”
Kid took a brief, controlled breath. “You reckon?” His hand came up suddenly, with the speed that took men by surprise and which startled Heyes now. He couldn’t stop himself instinctively flinching as Kid’s hand moved swiftly near his face, turning his head away and raising his arm as if to block a blow.
Kid’s hand stopped in mid-air, holding still; then very slowly settled to rest on Heyes’ arm. His gaze held Heyes’ eyes. That instant of reaction had betrayed the truth behind Heyes’ words, behind the confident tone of his voice, the nonchalant body language, all designed to express the message: Hey, I was never worried. I had it all under control.
“He hit you. Then he held a gun on you.” Kid spoke slowly, deliberately. “He was going to pull the trigger, unless you told him where to find me and Greer’s money, right?"
Heyes said nothing, his mouth tightening. Kid gripped his arm. “Right?”
“Yeah!” The answer broke from Heyes. “Okay! Griffin stuck his gun in my face and told me he was gonna use it on me and leave me for the coyotes. After he’d busted me on the jaw a couple of times.” He was frowning now. “Anything else you want to know?”
“That’s the last time we split up on one of these damn jobs,” said Kid grimly. “Next time we watch each other’s back.”
“Sometimes it just works out that we got to take a few risks - ”
“A few risks?” Kid wanted to shake his partner. “He was going to shoot you in the head! What do you think would have happened if one of his boys hadn’t figured out I’d hopped that freight train? Would you have carried on bullshitting him till he ran out of patience?”
“What, you’d rather I told him straight off which way you’d gone?” Heyes sounded exasperated himself now. “That was the whole point, wasn’t it? For me to delay Griffin long enough for you to get clear. Doesn’t matter now how I did it.”
“Jesus.” Kid let go of Heyes’ arm and turned away, so wound up that he had to move away from the man beside him. Breathing hard for a long minute, he stared out of the window. Gradually he became aware of the silence behind him. It had a certain worried quality. Taking a deep breath, Kid spoke again. His voice came out almost steady. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I care about what happens to you. And the thought of you ridden down by Griffin and his boys, getting beat up and nearly killed just so’s I can jump a train to bring off some lousy job so we could kiss ass with the governor - ” His hands were clenching into fists. “And you act like it’s no big deal. Goddamnit, Heyes - ” Kid stopped himself; breathed through his nose, in; out.
There was a movement beside him. Heyes stepped in to the window, looking down at the street below. After a moment’s quiet, he said in a low voice, “Fine. What do you want to hear? That when Griffin hit me and his boys all came round, I thought they were going to bust me up good? That I was glad I was kneeling down, because I had the shakes so bad I thought he’d see?” His voice was unnaturally steady. “That when he stuck that pistol in my face I didn’t know what the hell to do, except stay still and hope he was only bluffing…”
“What I want.” Kid replied slowly. “What I want, is for you not to put yourself in the way of having a gun pointed at your head. But being as how the line of business we’re in, even now we’re going straight, seems to lead to folks pointing guns at us regular - I’ll say that what I want, is for you to stay alive. And in one piece. And preferably, not gettin’ seven kinds of hell knocked out of you when you coulda just told those lunkheads that I’d hopped on the freight.”
He turned to face the man beside him, reaching out to him again, slowly this time. Heyes’ eyes were steady as Kid lifted his hand to his face; he didn’t move as his partner’s fingertips brushed as lightly as a breath over the bruises marking his jaw. “Do me a favour: next time, don’t fall off your horse. And if you do, and some son-of-a-bitch says he’s gonna shoot you unless you tell him where I’m at, maybe you could just tell him.” Kid let his hand rest very gently against the side of Heyes’ head.
Heyes sighed. His eyes closed. He tilted his head slightly so that it rested against the palm of Kid’s hand, just for a moment… Then straightened up, opening his eyes again. “Okay. I’ll surely bear that in mind. For next time.”