Heyes smiled at Kid, looking truly excited and hopeful for the first time all day. “Just think, Kid! Shouldn’t take more than a couple of hands winning till we can afford a bed, bath, and a decent supper.” He draped one gloved hand over his partner’s shoulder, and grinned in the direction of the table. “Just have to get myself invited, and the bartender said it shouldn’t be hard.”
Kid eyed the game cautiously. It certainly looked simple enough, but something about the setup made him uneasy. The men were passing money back and forth with goodwill. It wasn’t a high stakes game, and the men all looked mild, but—something about it didn’t make him happy. They weren’t looking at the newcomers. Not once. Not at all. They were keeping friendly expressions on their faces, but they weren’t looking at any newcomers.
That wasn’t right, surely. He drew his partner aside. “Heyes, you sure about this? I got a bad feeling. Maybe we could sleep out in the stable, and—buy a cheap meal.” He tried to lead Heyes away, but his dark-eyed partner gave him a startled look.
“Kid, cards are what I’m best at.” A pat on the chest. “Don’t you worry now. Let me handle it!”
So saying he straightened his collar, and strode over, putting on a winning Heyes smile, and bent down, saying something to the men.
In a moment, he was seated in a conveniently-waiting chair, smiling all around, accepting his cards and putting out the low ante.
Kid kept an eye on him, but he had to do something, so he walked over to the bar and ordered himself a drink, then began to eat hardboiled eggs. A good supper would be nice, but he couldn’t wait. His stomach thought his throat had been cut. He didn’t know how Heyes could play so friendly-like when he hadn’t eaten since yesterday.
Curry couldn’t hear them from here, not without getting closer, and he didn’t want to let on he was watching. Instead he watched only the faces, and the hands moving competently, careful and no look of cheating about it. Heyes would be fine. Heyes knew what he was doing.
All the same, Kid wished they had enough money for Kid to sit in, too, so he could keep an eye on things up close.
Now what? Their faces—Heyes looked concerned all the sudden, though he covered it quickly.
The barkeeper, who’d been wiping down the bar, seemed to get a signal. He pulled a large, foamy beer and walked over, set it down in front of Heyes.
The men all watched while he drank. The whole thing. Heyes smiled, a little uncomfortably, and the next hand began.
Heyes won this one, too. And then another beer appeared. They waited, again. Heyes downed it, but more slowly.
Kid tried to catch his eye, but Heyes only glanced at him, something like a shrug in his gaze, slightly nervous but philosophical.
He played another hand, with the same result—Heyes won, if not a huge amount, nonetheless the whole pot, a few dollars at least.
By the fifth hand, he was practically stumbling drunk. Kid’s hands tightened on the counter. What were they doin’ to him??
By the sixth hand, Heyes was barely sitting up straight, and laughing when no one had said anything funny. He could barely hold his cards. “C-call,” he hiccupped, loudly. Kid could hear it from here.
Suddenly the men around the table looked like spiders to Kid. Smiling, waiting spiders.
Kid had had enough. What were they doing to him? Heyes was drinking slower and slower, but all the same, he’d had far too many, and he’d had them on a completely empty stomach. Nobody could hold all that and play decent poker, too.
Well, maybe Heyes could, but he shouldn’t.
“Excuse me.” Kid strode over, trying to keep his eyes from going hard and dangerous, to look peaceable, to be peaceable. He laid a hand on Heyes’ shoulder. “I think my friend has had enough. Joshua, time to go.”
Bleary brown eyes looked up at him, halfway through a laugh. “Okay, k-kid.”
“The name’s Thaddeus, Joshua. And I’m not that much younger than you.” He let his fingers tighten briefly on the shoulder, tighter than comfortable—Heyes winced. Then Kid hauled him up to his feet, and shouldered most of the burden of his stumbling friend’s weight. “Time for bed, Joshua.” And when they were further away— “What were you thinking?!”
“Got money, didn’t I?” Heyes turned and whispered beer-smelling words to Kid. He hiccupped again. “Said I could stay in as long as I had a beer per round. New guys always had to. But they weren’t good enough to beat me, even drunk. No sirree, Kid.”
“Thaddeus,” hissed Kid, patting Heyes stomach. “Now shut your mouth, before you say something you shouldn’t.”
“Okay, Kid.” Heyes hiccupped, and tried to turn around to wave at the card players, who were watching the two men go—rather too watchfully for Kid’s liking.
Outside, it was more than halfway dusk.
Heyes leaned his head on Kid’s shoulder as he weaved his way across the street, more than halfway supported by his friend.
“You take the money, Kid,” said Heyes. “I trush you.”
“I trust you too, Heyes. And I already got the money.” He’d pocketed it from Heyes’ hand while Heyes was still clumsily trying to find his feet.
“I ever tell you you’re my beshtest friend, Kid?” A sigh exited near his ear.
“I’m not sure if you ever told me before, but I know it.”
Kid got him to the hotel, but stopped outside it, and frowned as he contemplated getting his partner in there and up the stairs. He got Heyes to sit on a wicker chair on the porch. “You sit here a minute, okay? I have to pay for the room first.”
“Thaddeus!” hissed Kid, leaning down to glare at him.
“Okay, okay, Thaddeus.” Heyes waved a drunken hand. “I got it, I got it. Go on.”
Kid frowned, and hurried in and up to the front desk. “We need a room, please.”
“One bed or two?” said the manager, who wore a nice suit and didn’t look terribly impressed by Kid’s attire or cleanliness.
“Which is cheaper?”
“Then, we’ll take one. And I’d like to order a bath brought up, too.”
“It’s too late for a bath tonight.”
“First thing tomorrow, then. Any food?”
“We don’t serve food here, and the diner’s closed for the day.” With those final, dooming words, the man wrote something down, and told Kid how much it would cost.
Guess I’ll have to be satisfied with those boiled eggs I ate. And Heyes with nothing. Kid frowned ruefully, and passed over the money, accepted the key, and went to haul Heyes to his feet again.
It was quite a job getting him up the stairs. He kept stumbling and giggling.
“Men who’d do that to win probably won’t be satisfied letting you walk off with even a few of their dollars,” observed Kid once he got them both barricaded into a room. “I’m going to have to sit up all night with my gun and barricade the door shut,” he observed morosely.
“No—no n-need, Kid,” said Heyes, trying to undo his shirt with clumsy fingers, still hiccupping a little. “They’ll probably wait till we try to leave town tomorrow. Too obvious, if they do it now.” He sounded matter-of-fact—even cheerful.
Kid looked at him sourly. “Heyes, you need to think things through better. Yes, you got us some money—not very much money, neither—but it wasn’t worth it to get stumbling, blind drunk like that, and probably have to deal with cutthroats later, too.”
“Probably,” agreed Heyes. “But you needed to eat, and we needed a place to hic!—stay. Hic.” He gave up trying to get his shirt buttons open, and lay down on the bed fully clothed. He crossed his arms behind his head and smiled lazily up at Kid, full of good cheer. “Besides, worse ways to suffer, Kid. I ain’t thirsty no more.”
“Heyes, not your boots!”
Kid rushed forward and yanked them off, holding his breath and turning his face away. “You need a bath!”
“I know. We both do—you don’t smell like hic—daisies, either, Kid!”
Kid glared at him. “When you gonna stop talkin’ and go to sleep. Sleep it off, huh?”
Heyes shook his head slowly and ponderously from side to side. “Can’t sleep if you’re mad at me, Kid.”
“I’m annoyed, not mad, Heyes.”
“Y’look mad,” observed the sleepy-voice Heyes. He yawned. He started to curl sideways on top of the bed, then raised his head, and blinked. “You sure you’re not mad?”
“I’m not mad,” Kid assured him. “Now go to sleep, Heyes.”
He got a quilt, and tossed it over the dark-haired ex-outlaw.
And then pulled out a chair and pulled his gun, and, fuming, began to clean it. What had Heyes been thinking?
Heyes woke up several times during the night to pee.
And after blockading and locking the door, Kid finally settled down on his side of the bed to grab some sleep.
He dreamed of food all night long.
In the morning, he was so hungry he could hardly wait till Heyes woke up to go get something to eat. He paced the room, fuming. The bath didn’t arrive right away, neither. Their definition and his of “first thing” must be different.
At last, he yanked the curtains open, and sunlight oozed in through the window. The grimy window! Kid frowned, rubbed it industriously with his sleeve, letting in a little more light. But not much more. At last he threw the window open. There! That was better. And—
Right on cue, Heyes groaned. Kid grinned. “You’re up, Heyes? Let’s go get something to eat. I’m starved.”
“Oh.” Heyes started to clutch his head, then grimaced, and didn’t. “Go without me, Kid. Couldn’t eat a thing.”
“It’s all in your head,” suggested Kid. “You never had trouble holding your liquor before. A big breakfast is just the thing for it. C’mon.” He tried to haul his collapsed, stubborn partner from the bed.
Heyes tried to burrow under a pillow, and pull the blanket higher. “Go without me, I said!”
“Can’t, Heyes. They might jump ya for the money! Now c’mon, you need a good breakfast!”
At last, he got the grumbling, foul-smelling, bleary-eyed Heyes to his feet, and moving. Kid kept the cash firmly in his inside pocket, and his eyes open as they made their way across the street to the diner. Nobody tried anything. And if they got out of town before evening, they should be all right, long as he kept an eye open.
“Just coffee for me, thanks,” croaked Heyes, smiling in a pained manner at the waitress.
She smiled sympathetically back. “I heard you won drunken poker last night.”
“You heard about that?” he said, trying to look surprised, but just managing to look a little sick.
“Yeah, it’s all over town. And what’ll you have, mister?” She turned to Kid.
“Bacon, eggs, muffins or pancakes—whatever you got in the bread department, sausage, fried potatoes, grits, or anything else cooking back there. And please don’t wait till it’s all ready, ma’am. Just bring it out piece by piece, as soon as ya have it ready.”
The woman smiled, and went to fetch his food. Kid watched her go.
Heyes held his head in his hands, and groaned. “Thaddeus, it makes me sick just hearing all you’re gonna eat. If I never see another beer in my life….”
“Should’ve thought of that before you agreed to drunken poker, Joshua.” He drummed his fingers and waited for food.
“Yeah, well, you wouldn’t be eatin’ right now if I hadn’t.”
“That’s right. But I also wouldn’t be worryin’ about us bein’ bushwacked, or having to watch you feel sick. I’d say that’d be worth it.”
“Thaddeus, you’ve no sympathy.”
“Sure I do, Joshua, just not for you in this instance.”
“In this instance…!?” He turned a wounded brown gaze on Kid, was met with a forthright stare, and eventually dropped it, shielding his eyes from the light. “You’re all heart….”
“Yep. Besides, if we eat up the winnings, they can’t take it from us, can they?”
“Ah. Thank you very much, ma’am.” With a smile and a nod of his head, he accepted a steaming bowl of grits and some fried potatoes, and dug in.
Heyes, meanwhile, spoke into his hands, still clasping his head gingerly. “I feel like a rat crawled into my mouth and died.”
Kid smiled and nodded, chewing heartily. “Smells about right,” he agreed.
He figured if he didn’t give Heyes any extra sympathy, Heyes would get over his hangover quicker—and maybe be more careful next time.
Kid would let Heyes set the pace riding out today, though—and let Heyes have the first bath. It might help him feel better. He’d probably feel better if he ate something, too, but Kid didn’t think he could work magic and make Heyes eat.
“Your coffee,” said the waitress, setting it down in front of Heyes.
“Oh, bring me one too, ma’am. I forgot.”
“Coming right up.” She left again.
“Not a rat, a possum,” continued Heyes. “A skunk. A whole big mountain lion.”
Kid nodded cheerfully, and continued to eat, undeterred by graphic descriptions of Heyes’ mouth. “Sure don’t stop you talking any, Joshua,” he said between bites. “You must be feelin’ better already, ‘cause your mouth’s running wild, same as usual.”
Heyes gave him a red-eyed, indignant glare, and clamped his mouth shut. He sipped his coffee—made an exquisite face of suffering—took another sip—another awful, gagging face—and cast a glance at Kid, as though to see how his suffering was affecting the cheerful eater.
“Have a muffin,” said Kid, offering him one of the newly appeared delicacies.
Heyes turned away quickly. “Thaddeus, you’re awful!”
“So I should just eat it all myself, then? Finish your coffee, Joshua. I won’t tease you,” he added quickly, when he saw Heyes trying to get to his feet.
The dark-haired man settled back with a loud sigh. “The things I do for you.” He scrubbed his fingers back through his hair, messing it up further.
“Yep. I do some things for you, too, Joshua. And the next thing you’re gonna do is take a bath. I hate to tell you this, but you smell like a skunk died in your mouth.”