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Close Encounter

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Three men gather in a room in the only hotel in Snowville, Utah.

The room’s inhabitant struggles in the strong grip of a filthy looking man in his mid-forties. Meanwhile his accomplice, who has most of his face hidden behind a brown beard, takes a break from ‘questioning’ their victim and stretches his clenched fists several times.

“You really trying to sell me that story, boy? We know better! We’ll see how long you’ll keep on lying when we really get at it.”

The young man shakes his head, trying to clear his mind. He’s bruised and is sporting a couple of cuts already. “I can only tell you the truth. If you wanna hear somethin’ else, you’ve gotta tell me what it is first.”

As the door clangs open, his torturer looks over his shoulder and contorts his face into a dirty grin. “Ah, here comes the boss. Now, we’ll see. Look what we’ve got, Ben!”

A man enters the room. His dark brown Stetson sits deep on his forehead. In his late forties he is no longer youthful, but there is still the suppleness of a snake perceptible in his movements. His figure is lean and wiry, his short, blond hair greying. His blue eyes, squinting and mean, scan the tableau quickly before he adds a sneer to his sharp featured and unshaven face.

“You out of your mind, Ringo?”

“No, why....”

“Then what’s all this?” The newcomer cuts him off, pointing towards the young blond man.

“Now, that’s our man!”

“That one?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

The newcomer decks his crony, who ends up on the floor with a baffled look on his face, wiping a dribble of blood from his mouth.

“I knew the sun had dried out that tiny brain of yours, but I didn’t think you’d be that crazy.”

“Huh?”

“That’s not our man.”

“Of course, it is,” the man on the floor insists, subbornly.

His boss addresses him with a sorry look, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “So that’s what a wanted man looks like to you? A famous fast-draw?”

“But his friend...”

“There you go! Someone like the Montana Kid has no friends! I was trying to go easy on him and the damn bastard shot my ear off!”

“But Ringo ’s right, Cutler. That’s him,” the third man chimes in, finally backing up his friend.

“Now, here we go. Another Sherlock Holmes,” Ben Cutler spins around, pinning his piercing eyes on the new target of his anger. “Did you even look at him?”

“Well, yeah, he looks rather neat, but his pal called him Kid,” comes the defensive explanation.

“For obvious reasons!” Mean blue eyes look at the victim of his overzealous companions again. They meet a young man. His face soft and handsome, framed by golden curls, looking all innocent and confused, he doesn’t share the faintest resemblance with their bounty. “Tell me, boy, are you shaving yet?”

The young man doesn't answer, but meets his interrogator's eye with a look of defiance.

Cutler cocks his head and squints his eyes even more. The room falls silent as his assessment continues.

The young man tilts up his head, shifts his weight to his other leg and tucks his thumbs behind his gun belt which sits treacherously low on his hip.

“This one has pride, don’t you, kid?” Cutler’s lips curl up in another sneer. “I bet the girls love your attitude. Or is there more to it? Are you a wanted man?”

Only silence answers him.

After what seems like an eternity Cutler breaks eye contact, snorting.

“That’s not our man. I mean it! I don’t care if he’s some chicken thief and we lose some chump change here. I want the Kid. And I’ll get him!”

A fourth man stumbles in, gasping for air. “You’ve got a telegraph, boss. They’ve seen him. Cedar Creek.”

“It’s really him, Dave?”

“Pretty sure. Boasted with his name. Called someone out who beat up his dog.”

“Alright, that’s him. Let’s get going!”

“But the youngster?”

“I don’t care. Let ‘em go. I doubt he’ll complain that he got off that easy. Something tells me he ain’t keen to see the sheriff anyway.” He turns around and faces the captive. “You won’t give us any trouble, kid, will you?”

“No, sir, no trouble at all,” the blond says, shaking his head.

Ben Cutler squints his left eye, tilts his head and scrutinizes him again, his glance trained on the young man’s clear and innocent blues, trying to gauge his innermost thoughts.

All of a sudden, the older man breaks eye contact and spins around to his men, exploding into action. “Alright then. Boys, get your stuff and hit the road. We’ll split up and approach Cedar Creek from two directions just in case. Ringo, Dave you take the northern route. Ride hard and fast and don’t spare the horses. This is the best lead we got in weeks and I’m not gonna lose the trail again.”

In a snakelike motion he whirls back to the young man again. “No offense, Kid.”

“None taken,” the blond confirms, as he picks up his hat and replaces it. He is answered with a short nod of acknowledgement. A blink later he is alone in his room. Only dying footfall telling the story of his latest encounter. A damn close encounter after all.

When the last sounds fade away, he bends down and produces a voluminous bag from under the bed. He pans the room with eyes that wouldn’t miss any treacherous detail, fetches his already packed saddlebags before he leaves, too. Nothing broadcasts the drama that was about to unfold or the identity of the man.

When he reaches the livery stable, no trace is to be seen of his capturers. He retrieves his horse and rides out of town at a slow, almost lazy pace. Curtly, greeting townsfolk as he meets them. As soon as he’s out of sight, he spurs his horse into breakneck speed, heading south.

-o-o-o-

In the evening he arrives in the town of Honeyville. After he has tended to his horse, and he has found out that one Harker Williams has checked into the hotel, but is most likely found at the “Seven of Hearts” saloon, he’s heading for the new location, tired and thirsty.

A slender, dark-haired man, wearing a black hat graced with distinctive silver conchos is standing at the bar, nursing a beer mug. Instantly he notices his partner. A broad infectious smile lights up his face and shows a set of remarkable dimples. The blond returns the smile, tips his hat and bellies up beside him.

“You’re late. I was about to inquire into your whereabouts,” he claims in a soft tone, as he gestures to the barkeep to provide his friend with the same refreshment he’s enjoying. “What happened?”

“Nothin’ I couldn’t handle.”

“Couldn’t tear yourself away from some sweet little missy, huh? You should know better than that so soon after a job with the loot on you, Kid.”

Sky-blue eyes grow colder as the blond straightens his back. “Nope. You think I’m stupid?”

His partner’s smile widens. "I know the girls. And I know you." Heyes gently turns his face to see all the bruises. "But considering your looks now, that's not it. What happened to you?"

“Ran into some trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“A couple of bounty hunters.”

Dark-brown eyes widen in surprise. “Someone we know?”

“Nope. Praise the Lord for small favors.” He takes a long drag from his mug and sighs in relief. “Boy, that’s good.”

“Seeing you standing here all relaxed, I take it we don’t have to expect their company any time soon?”

“Yup.”

“So, they didn’t recognize you?”

“Nope.”

“Hell, Kid, you’re quite a chatterbox today. If you don’t stop talking that much, my ears ‘ll start bleeding! Will you give me some more of details so I know what we’ve got to deal with? What kind of bounty hunters wouldn’t recognize Kid Curry if he ran into their trap?”

“It wasn’t a trap exactly. Someone gave me away.”

The expressive face of his friend changes within a blink. All charm and light banter is gone and replaced by a serious and dangerous spark in the dark eyes, promising ill to any traitor. “Who?”

“Kyle.”

Kyle?!?

“He didn’t mean no harm, though.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? He never does.”

“Right. He just called me by my name when we split up and one of the guys overheard it. Just a case of bad timing after all.”

“So they knew who you are, but you managed to out run them?”

“Well, no. They let me off the hook. After all, they only knew someone called me Kid.”

“And they didn’t make a connection? Plain amateurs, I suppose?”

“Nope, no amateurs either. Ben Cutler and his boys. I was just not the man they were lookin’ for.”

“Cutler? Why would he drop a bounty like Kid Curry no matter what he was looking for?”

“They were hot on the trail of the Montana Kid. Somethin’ personal. The guy shot Cutler’s ear off.”

“He what?”

“Shot his ear off. Can’t blame the man, though. Cutler’s a pain in the neck. His boys have a way of beatin’ a man up first and askin’ questions later. Kind of enjoyed it, too.”

“And they have a reputation. Don’t mind if somebody gets hurt, and like to bring ‘em in dead.”

“Guess, I would have handled it the same way then. And Cutler’s got no manners at all. He asked me if I was old enough to be shaving.”

“Yeah, I bet.” A warm smile lights up his partner’s face again and a hint of mischief creeps into the corners of his eyes. “He really asked you, if you were old enough to shave?”

Kid Curry’s face clouds over. “Stop it, Heyes. You’re walking on thin ice here.”

“Yeah, I know.” He laughs heartily and pats his partner’s shoulder. “But in all of this mess, there’s a lesson to be learned, Kid. Never let things get personal - it doesn’t pay.”

“I guess, you’re right, Heyes. And never humiliate a man, or he won’t ever let you go.”

“You’re right. The Montana Kid is like Cutler’s white whale, or so it seems.”

“His white what?”

“It doesn’t matter, Kid,” Heyes replies and gives him a warm smile. “But you’ve really got a point there. I bet there ‘ll be a time the Montana Kid will regret what he’s done...”