Truth Be Known
by Vivian Darkbloom
Saw your friend working in this hotel
Says he used to know you when
And your dreams, lucky as they seemed
They all turned their back on him
Truth Be Known . . .
Truth be known, way I feel tonight
Living in this back street town
'Bout my dreams, they all seem to fade,
Soon as I put my money down
Truth Be Known
When the fire that once was your friend
Burns your fingers to the bone
And your song meets a sudden end
Echoing through right and wrong
Truth Be Known Neil Young with Pearl Jam, "Truth Be Known"
Warning: This is a dark story…
Dealing blackjack for the house wasn't exactly what Hannibal Heyes had seen in his future, all those years ago when he and Kid Curry had first decided to go straight. But, he reflected, it kept a roof over his head and food and drink -- drink, especially -- in his belly. And nothing more than that seemed to matter very much, anymore. Not now. He poured himself another shot of whisky from the bottle. Just one more, to keep his hands from shaking, but only one. He couldn't risk being visibly drunk on the job. The owner had warned him the last time, and the time before that, and he knew that one of these times, old man Wilson was actually going to make good on his warnings.
Oblivion would have to wait until later. There was all the rest of this bottle, and a fresh one besides, sitting on the scarred wooden dresser in his tiny room.
He pulled on his vest and straightened it, but he avoided looking at the mirror. If he didn't have to see what he'd become, sometimes he could forget it, just for a moment now and then.
Sometimes there were no takers for his blackjack game, and then he'd have to go around and try to drum up business. He hated that. There'd been a time when the silver-tongued Heyes could talk nearly anybody into nearly anything, but that was long ago, and the silver was tarnished, these days. Any night when the table was crowded all night was a good night for him. He didn't have to talk anyone into anything, and when he was busy it kept him from the two things that were his downfall: drinking and thinking.
He was so busy that he was surprised when he found himself face to face across the table with a very old friend.
"Lom? Lom Trevors?" Heyes wasn't quite sure whether he was happy to see such an old friend, or ashamed at being found like this. Maybe a little of both, he thought. The sheriff hadn't changed much, except for the natural changes that time brought. His moustache and his hair were grayer, and he'd put on a little weight. There were more lines in his face, but they were healthy-looking, somehow, the effects of weather and time.
"Hey--?" Trevors brought himself up short, clearly uncertain whether the pardoned outlaw was using his real name or an alias even now. He studied the other man, and Heyes cringed inwardly at his expression of surprise. "You look...terrible. You workin' here?"
"Well, he oughta be," said one of the other players, gruffly. "You two mind having your little reunion on your own time?"
Lom turned abruptly towards the man, but Heyes just went on dealing. "Sorry, Lom, but the customer's always right. I get off at midnight. You playin' this hand?"
"No, I think I'll check out the poker table. See you back here at midnight."
The evening continued busy and passed remarkably quickly. Old Man Wilson happened in around closing time. "You done good tonight, Heyes. You stay sober more often, maybe I'll give you a raise. 'Course, what would you spend it on but booze anyway? So I guess there wouldn't be much point." He chuckled to himself.
There was a time when Hannibal Heyes wouldn't have taken that kind of talk from anyone, employer or not. But, he thought, that time was a long while ago. Besides, what the man said was true, mostly.
Lom came back as promised, on the stroke of midnight. Heyes led him to a small table in the back, and called for a bottle. He felt uncomfortable with his old friend's gaze on him. Hannibal Heyes had aged twenty years in the last ten. If anything, he was thinner than ever, since he often forgot to eat--or couldn't be bothered. But his features were worn, coarsened, and his nose had taken on the veined look of the confirmed drunkard.
A blowsy woman made her weaving way up to the table. "Here you are, honey. Got a drink for Bess?"
"I'm sorry, Bessie, but I have an old friend here tonight, and he and I have some catching up to do" said Heyes, kindly.
The woman spat out a soft obscenity and tottered away. Heyes couldn't meet Lom Trevors' eye. He knew that Lom would remember a time when the prettiest girls had smiled at Hannibal Heyes, and blushed sweetly when they found him smiling back. Now he was reduced to taking his comfort with this woman, even more damaged by life than he was himself. With an effort, he collected himself. With a smile that was the ghost of his former broad grin, he began. "So, I guess you want to know how I ended up here?"
"No, Heyes, I can figure that out. I know it's got something to do with what happened to the Kid. But what I want to know is why?"
"Why? Why, because the best friend I ever had is dead and it's all my fault."
"I heard the whole story--I even talked to folks that were there. Nobody else seems to think it was your fault. Heyes, you couldn't have predicted that crazy bastard was going to come out with both barrels blazing. Nobody could have."
"Lom, I should have."
The sheriff shook his head. "And you've been eating yourself up alive, ever since. Heyes, do you think the Kid would have wanted this? Don't you think he'd have wanted you to do something with that amnesty?"
Heyes smiled a little. "Well, that's why I never went back to Devil's Hole. I figured the least I could do was stay honest."
"Some way to stay honest, dealing blackjack. Why don't you tell me what happened? So I can try to understand why you're doing this to yourself..."
Lom found himself fixed by Heyes' deep brown eyes, and in them he saw an expression so lost, so utterly devoid of any emotion except despair, that he found himself gripping the table to counter the irrational feeling he got that he was going to fall in.
Heyes poured himself a drink, and then he spoke.
"Can you believe it? I mean, can you believe it, Kid?" Hannibal Heyes grinned infectuously, and his brown eyes were alight with happiness.
"You know, Heyes, sometimes I just can't. I mean, we've had our amnesty for two whole months now, and I keep waiting for something to go wrong. Some bounty hunter who hasn't heard about it, or someone we robbed once who just doesn't care that he'd be committing a murder now instead of bringing two wanted outlaws into justice." Kid Curry frowned, but in a moment his expression changed, and a smile lit his even features. "What'd you think, Heyes? Don't I wake up every morning and think about how we're free and clear now?"
"But you worry anyway, huh?"
Curry shrugged. "Yeah, a little. Sometimes. Don't you?"
"Maybe sometimes. But there still aren't any pictures of us, and as long as we keep using these aliases, seems like we're pretty safe."
"Yeah. Seems like nothin' much has changed, though. I mean, we're still drifting from place to place, trying to get by. I guess I thought... Oh, I don't know."
Heyes' smile turned just a little mocking. "You mean that we'd get the amnesty, you'd immediately find the girl of your dreams, and figure out some steady well-paying honest work? Kid, it's gonna take a little more time for us to adapt to life on the right side of the law than that. I figure we've got to ease into it gradual."
"How long is gradual?" asked the Kid. "I'm gettin' tired of it. Anyway, you comin' down to get some breakfast? I'm tired of sittin' around this hotel room lookin' at you."
"All right, Kid. You go on down, and I'll catch up with you in a moment."
The Kid gave him a curious look. "Not gonna wear your gun?"
Heyes looked at his gunbelt, slung over the back of a chair near the bed. "Guess I oughta, huh? Wouldn't it be nice to go out without it? That's what'd make me feel really free."
"I'd just walk funny," said the Kid, smiling. "I'm going down to get some breakfast. Catch up with me, okay?"
"All right," said Heyes.
Afterwards, he always wondered if he'd been a little quicker, if it would have happened. But that morning, with a long aimless day stretching out in front of him, he'd taken his time getting ready. The Kid had always had a bigger appetite than he did, anyway, and by the time he got down to the cafe, no doubt he'd find his partner in the midst of tucking into some obscenely enormous breakfast. He'd order coffee and a roll or something, and be done first anyway.
As he was headed out the door, the newspaper caught his eye. The Kid had been reading it the night before, while he had permitted himself the luxury of a new book, and he hadn't had much of a chance to look at it.
When he got down to the restaurant, he found Kid Curry in front of a big breakfast, but also of a bigger man. Apparently an altercation had been going on for some time before Heyes' arrival.
"So this must be Hannibal Heyes," spat out the man, who had a look of brutal stupidity about him. "He ain't no more impressive than you are, Curry."
"No, I'm afraid I'm probably a big disappointment, after all those stories you've heard and all," said Heyes, affably. The last thing he wanted to do was get into a fight with someone that large and that stupid.
But it was already too late. He turned to look at the Kid, who had that stubborn, hard-edged look that sometimes replaced his usual, easygoing expression. The blue eyes had that ominous steely cast to them.
"Stay out of this, Heyes. You don't know what's going on here, or you'd understand why I'm not just gonna let this one go."
"Kid, calm down," said his partner. "Nothing's worth this. Not now, not when we're free after all these years."
It didn't look like Kid Curry had any intention of backing down, but the other man, the large one, suddenly turned away, with a muttered, "You ain't seen the last of me yet, Curry!"
"Sure hope I have," retorted Curry, "'cause you sure ain't easy on the eyes."
When the man had gone, Heyes signaled the waitress and ordered his coffee and his roll. They sat there in silence until the order arrived, when Heyes turned to his partner and said, "Mind tellin' me what all that was about, Kid?"
Curry shook his head. "Will if I have to. Rather not, though."
"Suit yourself, Kid. But if he comes after you later on, wouldn't you rather have me knowin' just why you've gotten yourself into all this?"
"Because he figured out who I was. Seems somebody recognized us and has been spreading it all over town. Except that nobody else had a problem with us bein' here, just him. And he just wanted to prove he was somethin' by shouting me down."
"Whyn't you just ignore him?"
"'Cause if I do that now, there'll be another one, and another, and another. I figured the best way of us gettin' left alone is to be firm about it now."
Heyes stared into his coffee. "Maybe, maybe not. You don't put on a show, they'll get bored and go away. You do, they may get it into their heads they've got something they can prove. You already know how it is, havin' a reputation as a gunfighter. I expect this is more of the same."
"Except maybe they won't get bored and go away," said the Kid. His eyes were still hard, almost wintry in tone. "Heyes, I want this amnesty thing to be real. I want to live out the rest of our lives in peace. And to do that, well...folks like him just can't get away with things."
"Which comes first, though, Kid? We start livin' peaceable and folks get to treatin' us that way, or we keep facin' men like that down until they go away? Seems to me like you and me just have two different ideas about how it works." Heyes smiled, and noted with dismay that the Kid wasn't smiling back. "'Course, the difference is, I'm right."
"I don't know, Heyes. Never seemed to me like backin' down got us anywhere."
"Gettin' into a gunfight right now don't seem like a good idea, either, Kid. It wouldn't be such a good deal to exchange the threat of twenty years in the Territorial Prison for a hangman's rope."
"I won't get into anything that's not self-defense. You know me better than that, Heyes."
But somehow his partner's assurances didn't make Heyes feel too good. Why did he have this sense of something about to go disastrously wrong? He'd woken up this morning feeling so good about everything the world had in store for two newly honest men, but now he felt as though their past was about to close in on them.
He shook himself. Nothing would go wrong. Nothing ever did--or rather, plenty did, but they always landed on their feet. It was a sunny day, they had their amnesty, and their whole lives stretched out before them. And the Kid was too smart to get himself into any kind of real trouble, even if he did get stubborn sometimes.
And the day went on. Heyes made some inquiries about work, while the Kid went to look at some property outside of town. It wasn't that they had the money to buy anything right now, but they'd become curious about what it might eventually entail. There was a big newspaper back East that wanted to buy their story from them, and Heyes was thinking about it. The money was tempting, and he loved storytelling, anyway. The Kid had said he didn't mind, so long as Heyes did the talking, and so long as he didn't get things mixed up so that he always came out the hero of the stories.
Things were looking good, thought Heyes, as he walked down the town's one real street, tipping his hat to the few pretty young ladies that passed, and being favored by their glances in return. He wasn't sure what was more charming, the forward smiles of the saloon girls out for their afternoon strolls, or the shyer smiles of the respectable young ladies.
He saw Kid Curry coming towards him, from a distance of about a hundred yards away.
The former gunfighter had his hat in his hand, and his dark gold curls were sparkling in the afternoon sun. When he caught sight of Heyes he smiled, and from his expression, his partner knew that he had something he was excited to tell him. His gloom of the morning had clearly passed.
But just then, there was a shout, and a small commotion, and before Heyes knew what had happened, the sound of gunfire, and his friend had fallen to the ground. When Heyes got to him, his eyes were already beginning to glaze over. All he could do was clasp his partner's hand for a moment before his grip went slack and he was gone.
The man who'd shot Kid Curry was dead as well; someone had shot him, but it was never clearly determined just who it was. It wasn't Heyes, whose reaction had been to go to his partner's aid, and it wasn't Curry, whose lightening reflexes hadn't been enough to unholster his gun before the surprise attack.
But the man who shot Kid Curry's assassin never came forward, even though the people of the town widely proclaimed him an anonymous hero.
And all the bright and shining hopes for the future that Heyes had felt just evaporated like they had never been.
By the time he'd finished the story, he'd finished a good deal of the bottle, as well, and his speech was becoming slurred. He looked at Lom dully, as through a fog. He didn't like the expression of concern on his old friend's face, not at all.
"I'm fine, Lom," he half-mumbled. "This is what I want to do."
"Heyes, you're killing yourself by inches. It's hard to watch it, if you want to know the truth."
"Then go away."
"Look at me for a minute, Heyes," said Lom, firmly. The former outlaw fixed his slightly fuddled gaze on his friend, who continued, "Do you think the Kid would be happy to see this? Don't you think he'd want to see you happy and healthy? Maybe married, with a boy named after him."
Heyes just continued looking at him, and didn't respond.
"Listen, Heyes, when you're ready...when you know this isn't enough, and when you realize that Kid Curry wouldn't want it to be this way...send me a wire, collect. You know where to find me--sheriff's office, Porterville, Wyoming. I'll even come and get you."
"That's really kind of you, Lom," said Heyes, tiredly. "But there's nothing left to save. Hannibal Heyes died long ago. I'm just all that's left of him."
The sheriff rose, and extended his hand to his friend, who took it briefly, and then, slackening his grip, dropped it.
But as Lom Trevors walked away, part of Heyes knew that he would send for him again, in the not-too-distant future, and part of him knew that he never would.
The future branches out in its infinite possibilities, and as to which course this story takes next, well...both. And neither. Hannibal Heyes lived another five years, sinking lower and lower until finally he died, prematurely aged and broken in heart and spirit, in a home for indigents. Or, a few months after this encounter, Hannibal Heyes sent a wire to Porterville and was duly fetched by Lom Trevors according to his promise. He found peace and happiness there and lived to a ripe old age, when he died surrounded by his friends and family, including his two sons, Jedediah and Thaddeus.
In either case, though, his dying thought was that he would soon be seeing his friend and partner again, and in that, he died contented.
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