Aces and Eights

By Laura Virgil

Bret Maverick looked balefully at his cellmate. It hadn't been a pleasant three days in jail for him. He paced the length of the cell twice more before remembering what his Pappy had once told him.

Bret distinctly remembered the knowing look in his Pappy Beau's eyes as he sat there in his home in Little Bend, Texas, shuffling and reshuffling cards as he had said, "Bret, my boy, wherever you go, remember this: Blood is thicker than water, but gold is heavier than blood ... in most cases." Bret had frowned and looked to his brother Bart who shrugged and shook his head, also not comprehending Pappy's obscure message.

Here in Bumblebee, Arizona, years later, Bret thought of Bart and finally understood just exactly what Pappy had meant.

Bret looked at his cellmate again, wondering how this man could be so calm in the face of what they'd been through and what was to come. He'd been stretched out on the cot almost constantly, either reading the local papers, when the deputy felt like bringing them, or snoring, or just plain staring at the stucco ceiling. Right now, he was reading the local paper, smiling an unnerving smile while humming some meaningless, obscure tune for what Bret was sure was the hundredth time.

Bret sat down and lay back on his bunk, hands behind his head, trying his best to remember what mortal sin he'd committed in his lifetime to get him into this predicament. Oh, sure, he'd conned a few people in his years, but nothing to deserve an impending twenty year sentence! Then he remembered exactly who had gotten him into this ... good ol’ brother Bart! If it took the rest of his life, he'd get even with Bart. Bret didn't know how, but he'd get even. He'd get himself a front row seat at the hanging, and maybe even take bets on how long Bart would jerk and swing before the last ounce of life would be slowly choked out of his dear brother. And he'd eat peanuts and popcorn and he'd enjoy every second of it. Why, he might even applaud when the hangman let Bart drop ...

But, Bret's dreams of revenge were rudely interrupted when the deputy yelled at them and shoved two plates through the opening in the iron bars brimming with ...

"Slop," Bret stated, glaring from the totally unappetizing food to the equally repulsive deputy.

"Well, eat it, 'cause that's all you're gettin'. We ain't runnin' a restaurant here, you know. Mister Maverick."

"Oh, I know," Bret said, looking at a piece of bread that probably came from a granite quarry.

“You got any complaints?" the sour deputy looked to Bret 's cellmate.

"Me? Oh, no. A friend of nine once said, when you're in jail or the army, you never complain about the food. I like it just fine." He smiled that smile again and dug into his plate with all the relish of a miner after a hard day's work.

Bret watched him until he could no longer take it, tossed the plate on the floor and lay back on his bunk once again. He closed his eyes and his mind raced back to three fateful days ago, when the whole unbelievable, complicated mess started for him ...

Wind whipped through the dusty streets of Bumblebee, high in the mountains of north-western Arizona Territory the day Bret Maverick rode into town.

Bret's luck hadn't been the best of late, and as he was a professional who made his livelihood from gambling, that wasn't good. So, Bret Maverick had decided to take a vacation; a working vacation, of sorts, in a rich silver-mining town. Miners, he'd found through the years, were careful poker players, but they weren't particularly skillful. That being the case, Bret figured he could easily build himself a stake of possibly ten thousand dollars before they would probably accuse him, unfairly of course, of cheating and run him out of town.

On his first day there, which happened to be Saturday, the day all miners took a breather from the grinding, back-breaking toil, Bret got himself into a game of poker with some assorted miners.

Several hours into the game, Bret's attention was drawn primarily to one rather dirty and bewhiskered young man who, for some reason, didn't seem to be your typical miner. To Bret's surprise, this young fella was holding his own, and even winning a few modest hands, which totaled about seven hundred dollars.

"Your bet," Bret reminded him softly. He'd been sitting there staring at his cards for a good, solid minute.

The man looked up over his cards with blue eyes that revealed absolutely nothing. With his free hand, he casually reached up and scratched his grizzly two- or three-month-old beard. He slowly pushed his chips forward and looked into Maverick's eyes with an unwavering gaze. "Call."

Bret smiled as he turned his cards face up. "Queen-high straight." He reached for the chips, but a raggedly gloved hand stopped him. Bret looked up to see a glimmer of amusement in the young man's eyes.

"Sorry." He turned over his cards to reveal them. "Four little deuces, ace-high."

Bret Maverick couldn't have been more surprised. The man hadn't betted like he'd had such a hand. He'd bluffed everyone. Now he was smiling as he raked in the pot. “Not bad," Maverick commented, pulling out a cigar and offering one to the man who gladly accepted it. "There wouldn't happen to be a professional gambler under that silver-mining exterior, would there?

The man stacked his chips and accepted a light from Maverick. He shrugged. "Not really. Just a hobby."

"You can't tell me you didn't make more in that hand than you did in the last month's mining." Bret speculated.

"Maybe. But, I like mining," the man lied easily. In fact, he hated it with every fiber of his soul; but it was money, and it kept him and his partner out of trouble — particularly his partner.

Bret extended his hand, "About time we introduced ourselves; I'm Bret Maverick."

The man hesitated only momentarily but recovered from his shock and took the man's hand. "Joshua Smith."

"Can I buy you a drink, Mister Smith?" Maverick offered, puffing his cigar.

"I'd rather you let me buy you one, Mister Maverick. I had no idea I was playing with a celebrity." His smile seemed sincere, "And to think, I beat you." Smith displayed the proper amount of awe.

"Well, I wouldn't call me a celebrity, exactly," Maverick shifted in his chair, uncomfortable with the compliments, glancing around and glad that the other miners at their table had long since left. His gambler's reputation would be the first thing to get him thrown out of town.

"You don't exactly look the way I expected you to look," Smith said, eyeing him carefully. Well, it was true; Maverick didn't look like a gambler, at least not in league with all the others he'd met.

Bret looked down at his clothes which consisted of a dull white cotton shirt, a brown corduroy vest, a pair of brown pants and the typical gunbelt and Colt .45 sixgun. "Just between the two of us, I didn't want these miners to think I came here to skin them. I just came here for a friendly game of poker and hoping to get together a stake to go east to Texas. I heard Poker Alice is there somewhere. Maybe Austin. I'd sure like to get her into a game." Maverick's voice was wistful, but then he scrutinized Smith. "You really are good, you know. Never thought I'd meet anyone who could hold their own against me, not meaning to sound conceited, you realize." Maverick puffed on his cigar as Smith nodded agreement. "Too bad."

"Too bad what?" Smith asked, liking this gambler more by the minute.

"The only man I ever wanted to get into a decent game had to go and drop out of sight, not that I could've gotten near him anyway. He was supposed to be one helluva gambler." Bret shook his head sympathetically, as if talking of the dead.

"Who's that?"

"Hannibal Heyes; you know, the outlaw."

Joshua Smith turned red, choking on the cigar smoke and coughed relentlessly, unable to catch his breath, until Maverick came to the rescue, pounding his back.

"You okay?" Maverick asked, truly concerned.

"Yeah." Smith's voice was strained, face still red, "What made you think of Hannibal Heyes?" He puffed nervously on his cigar once his throat was clear again.

"Oh, I don't know. You, maybe."

"Me?" The one-word question was a shadow of a whisper.

"Yeah. Something tells me you're a better poker player than you're letting on. I think you were holding back." Maverick eyed him interestedly. "You gonna be around tonight?"

"I don't know. Why?" Smith was suddenly suspicious of him.

"I'd like to try to win some of my money back. I'd like to see you really play, now that I've seen how you can bluff." Maverick smiled. "How about it? You game?"

Smith puffed his cigar again. "Sure. Why not?" He'd put his partner off somehow. How often did a man get a chance to play poker with the Bret Maverick? Eeven if he lost — which Smith was not planning to do — this was the chance of a gambler's lifetime.

A tap on the shoulder made Bret look up and a forced smile came across his face. "Bart! Sit down! Bart, I'd like you to meet Joshua Smith. Joshua, this is my brother, Bart Maverick."

"Pleased to meet you." Bart smiled as he stuck out a hand for Smith to shake.

Smith looked properly stricken, "I'm not going to have to take him on too, am I?"

Bret laughed and looked at his brother's bemused expression. "Smith and I are going to play high-stakes poker tonight, and he seems to think I'm some kind of celebrity."

"Well, now that's absurd," Bart grinned a winning grin, "Everyone knows that Bart is the celebrity of the Maverick family."

"I think maybe Pappy would disagree with you there, brother Bart," Bret said, noticing Smith's attention had been drawn away from them.

Smith looked back and smiled. "You'll have to excuse me. My partner just came in, and I have to talk to him." He stood and gathered his poker chips. "I'll see you tonight then, Mister Maverick," Smith said to Bret, "And it's a pleasure to meet you both." He turned and disappeared in the growing crowd of miners, out of the line of vision of the brothers.

Bret turned to look at Bart, a scowl covering his face. "What the devil are you doing here?"

"Don't you remember, Bret? You told me you were coming here in that telegraph you sent," Bart said. "I figured that maybe Bumblebee was big enough for both Maverick's to clean up properly."

"All right," Bret said, "But you better understand that Joshua Smith is my mark."

"Fine with me." Bart folded his arms. "How're you strapped for money?"

Bret looked uncomfortable. "You wouldn't happen to be able to stake your favorite next-of-kin, would you?"

Across the room, Joshua Smith had seated himself at a table with another miner of approximately the same age.

"Our scales were only off a little," the newcomer said with a smile. "We got us nearly two thousand dollars for the last couple weeks' work."

Smith did some quick mental calculations, "That puts our total at nearly twelve thousand! A few more weeks like this, Mister Jones, and we'll be sitting free and clear in Santa Marta, Mexico." He smiled a contented smile at his partner. "We may have just made it this time."

"Come on," Thaddeus Jones said, starting up, "Let's get on back up to the diggin's."

"Now wait a minute," Smith grabbed his arm, "It's Saturday; I wanna relax a little. Besides, I've got a promise of a good poker game tonight."

"Oh yeah?" Blue eyes lit up in eager anticipation.

"Wipe that look off your face. The way you play poker, we'd be broke in five minutes. Just leave it up to me.” His eyes wandered to gaze in the direction of the two men he'd recently left.

“Whatsa matter? Someone over there you recognize?”

"No." Joshua Smith folded his arms and smiled, "Just the man I'm playin' poker with." He watched his partner's face as he said the name: "Bret Maverick."

Blue eyes blinked exactly once, then widened in horrified comprehension. "Bret Maverick? Have you lost your mind?" He grabbed Smith's forearm. "You can't play him! You'll lose our stake! Bret Maverick's the best poker player west of the Mississippi!"

Joshua Smith's expression was indignant. "I'm the best poker player west of the Mississippi, or did you forget that? He just comes close."

"He's a professional gambler," Jones hissed. "You're not. He's probably got Hoyle memorized from cover to cover! You can't play poker with him!" The tone of his voice lowered and he looked around before continuing, "We've almost got enough money so that we can go to Santa Marta and sit out the rest of the year in luxury waiting for that amnesty. Look, Heyes, you talked me into going for this amnesty deal; I didn't want to do it at first. But, now I'm in it headlong, and I'm not gonna let you lose our stake to Maverick! I've been breakin' my back at the claim for far too long now, and Kid Curry's goin' to Santa Marta ... with or without Hannibal Heyes. You understand me?"

Joshua Smith, alias Hannibal Heyes, leaned towards his partner in past crimes and assorted mishaps, also speaking in hushed tones, "Kid, what's the one thing I've always wanted to do? Who's the one man I've always dreamed of gettin' into a game of poker?"

"I know, Heyes. But that don't change facts. You're not losin' my money to a professional gambler like Maverick."

Hannibal Heyes sighed. Kid Curry could be extremely stubborn when he put his mind to it. "All right, all right. I've worked just as hard at our claim. I'll take my half of the twelve thousand and use that as a poker stake. That all right with you, Mister Jones?"

Kid Curry, alias Thaddeus Jones, opened his mouth to protest, but suddenly could find no legitimate argument against Heyes' new proposition.

"All right, Heyes. But If you lose that six thousand, don't come cryin' tome. I'll be in Santa Marta."

Hannibal Heyes smiled that unnerving confidence smile that Curry just hated, slapped his friend on the shoulder and took another long draw from his glass of beer.

Bart followed his brother up the stairs of the small two-story hotel and into Bret’s room. “I’m telling you, Bart, I think I may have found a real challenge in this Joshua Smith.”

"So, you've given up on Poker Alice and Doc Holliday or Hannibal Heyes, then?" Bart asked.

Bret pulled off his vest and lay it gingerly in the chair, hoping to avoid any and all wrinkling.

"You think he's as good as you?" Bart lifted the vest, threw it on the bed unceremoniously and lowered his frame into the sagging chair.

Bret quickly straightened out the vest, frowning at Bart. "I don't know yet. But I think I'm gonna get a run for my money."

"Don't you think you oughta rephrase that, brother?" Bart asked.

"All right. I'm gonna get a run for your money," Bret said, "And I'll pay you back just as soon as I win it." He pulled off his gunbelt and boots, then watched in surprise as Bart rose from the chair and began doing the same thing. "What do you think you're doing?

"I wanna get some rest before tonight." Bart replied, unaffected by his brother's stares.

"I hate to mention this to you, brother Bart, but this is my room," Bret said as his brother lay on the bed, crossing his ankles and closing his eyes.

"I hate to tell you this, brother Bret, but that's my money you're going to be playing with tonight, so the least you can do is pay for my room." Before Bret could reply, his brother was already snoring that loud snore he'd inherited from their Pappy.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Curry said as he and Heyes returned to the saloon later that same evening.

"Of course I do." Heyes looked around at his partner's worried expression, "I ain't playin' with your money, remember, so why don't you go blend into the background somewhere. You're makin' me nervous."

Curry nodded and sauntered over to a table, unobtrusively working his way into a poker game, the low stakes kind he felt he could afford.

Heyes looked around, but so far found no sign of Bret Maverick. He'd wait at the bar and have a beer.

On their way to the saloon from the hotel, Bret stopped in front of the sheriff's office to light a cigar. The lamplights cast a dim yellow glow around the streets, and Bret sighed as he looked at the board housing all the wanted posters.

"What is it?" Bart looked around and scanned the posters which included one on Hannibal Heyes. "Bret, don't torture yourself. You heard the rumors like everyone else. Heyes retired. You're never gonna find him." He put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Come on, let's go. That game won't wait forever."

The Maverick brothers entered the saloon separately. Bret spotted Smith at the bar and waved him over to an empty table.

"Evenin'," Smith said cordially.

"Bring your money?" Maverick grinned.

Smith nodded, "How about you?"

Maverick nodded back, seating himself, smiling at the others who systematically came and joined them at the table. Maverick pulled a deck from his pocket and offered them to Smith. "We can use these, unless you have any objections."

Fine with me." The deck Maverick had used earlier hadn't been marked or shaved in any way, and Heyes had no reason to believe the gambler would use one such deck now. Besides, Hannibal Heyes could recognize a marked deck at fifty paces.

Across the room, Bart seated himself at a poker table, unknowingly, with Kid Curry. "What's the game, fellas?" Bart asked.

"Stud," a hardened miner replied.

"What 're the stakes?"

Curry looked at him suspiciously. Hadn't this man been with Bret Maverick earlier? "We been playin' low ... what've you got in mind?"

"Why not have a little action?" Bart asked innocently, "How about table stakes?" He looked around at the players who all shrugged noncommittally at each other.

"Why not?" Curry replied blandly, looking to Bart like any other naive miner.

Four hours later, at about eleven-thirty, Bart Maverick found himself in a bad situation; sweating, nearly broke, and staring into the cool blue eyes of Thaddeus Jones. Bart couldn't imagine what'd happened. Here he'd sat down with a couple of miners who he thought didn't know their elbow from a shovel, and he'd been cleaned out in a couple of hours by one not particularly good poker player. Now, he held in his hands his only possible salvation: a straight; seven-high. Somewhere along the line, it had all turned into high-stakes poker. Bart was so addled, he couldn't really remember when. Maverick studied his cards intently, glancing up now and again to the overconfident face of Jones. Bart knew he could win, but didn't have the three thousand to back his bet. Then he remembered the money he'd staked to Bret. Bart laid his cards face down and sat his beer glass atop them. "You mind if I go check my assets for a moment?" he asked of Curry.

Curry looked around. The other miners in the game had long since folded, feeling too cautious of their hard-earned money to chance it on Lady Luck. "Don't take long."

Bart smiled, trying to hide his nervousness, stood and stretched. "Back in a minute."

Bart strolled across the room through the smoke and loud din of music to where a crowd had gathered. He pushed through them and leaned over to whisper in his brother's ear. "Bret ... I need that stake now."

"What stake?" Bret looked up, engrossed in his own game.

"The four thousand I staked you to, dear brother," Bart's voice was warning. "Don't tell me you've forgotten already."

"I didn't forget," Bret looked annoyed as the game stopped for the conversation. "You don't need it right now, do you?”

"I most certainly do. Or I'll lose it all," Bart admitted, and Bret's eyes went wide. "A lucky miner, that's all. He's havin' a streak of good luck and mine's all bad," Bart said, then lowered his voice more, "I've got a seven-high straight and can't do a thing with it. There's nearly nine thousand on the table. I need that four thousand, Bret. I need it badly."

"I can't help you, Bart," Bret said sympathetically, "It's all tied up right here in this hand. This one decides it, and we aren't anywhere near through. Maybe your miner friend will take an IOU."

"He doesn’t look like the type who'll take it any way but bad," Bart said.

"Will you excuse me a minute?" Smith asked, laying down his cards, placing a burning cigar atop them. Bret nodded, and Smith slipped away from the table, unknown to Bart, to consult with his own partner, Thaddeus Jones.

"Thaddeus," Heyes pulled a chair close to Curry's. His eyes bugged at the pile of money in front of the ex-gunslinger. "Maybe I've underestimated you all these years."

"Yeah, Joshua, maybe you have." Curry said smugly.

"Or maybe you're just lucky sometimes," Heyes interjected. "How much you got there? I mean directly in front of you?"

"About a thousand, why?"

"I'm into a big hand right now." Heyes looked at the pile in the middle of the table. "How much of that's yours?"

"All of it," Curry grinned.

"You that sure you can win it?"

"I'm sure. Why?" Curry asked, always suspicious of Heyes' motives.

"Because I'm working on a big one right now. I may need a couple thousand more to equalize the betting. Can I count on you?"

"You sure you can win it?" Curry repeated Heyes' own question.

"What kind of thing is that to ask? That's like askin' you if you know how to load a gun!" Heyes said, "Just as soon as you win that pot, bring it over, and let me use it, and I guarantee, we'll be on our way to Santa Marta tomorrow!"

Curry's smile widened at the thought. "You're kidding?"

"Nope. This is really it, Thaddeus."

"All right," Curry agreed, "You just stall. I'll be there as soon as I can."

Not noticing one another, Heyes and Maverick passed on their way back to their tables, each caught up in their own thoughts.

Bart sat gingerly in his chair, moved the beer glass, picked up his cards and looked them over carefully. After a long silence, he said, "Mister. Jones, I believe it's my bet, and as you can see, I'm a little strapped for funds. Would you consider taking an IOU? My credit is considered to be good in almost any saloon."

"You think your hand is that good?" Curry asked, pleased with himself at managing to beat a professional at his own game.

"I do," Bart replied steadily.

"All right. I'll accept your IOU," Curry said and waited while a relieved Maverick took pencil in hand to do so. He handed it to Curry who nearly choked when he finally learned the man's identity. Curry looked up quickly, suddenly not as confident as before, color draining from his face. This was Bart Maverick! And he was one of the finest poker players in the United States and all its Territories! He watched, numb, as Maverick lay out his seven-high straight, then restrained himself from jumping with joy as he, coolly controlled, lay out another straight — jack-high.

Bart Maverick sat back in his chair, completely stunned, watching as this inexperienced gambler raked in all his money, and an IOU for three thousand five hundred dollars, signed by Bart himself.

Then Kid Curry looked up at Bart, holding the IOU. "I hope you're not going to try to leave before you pay me this."

"Me?" Bart was the picture of innocence, "I'd never run out on a debt." He swore, then mentally added, at least not without a good reason. "Don't worry, I'll be around."

Curry stood, stacking the money carefully, then patted the gun at his thigh, "So will we." He walked away from the table, amidst congratulations and slaps on the back from his fellow miners.

Bart sat back in his chair, finding he was having trouble breathing. He closed his eyes and rubbed them. Bart couldn't imagine what'd gone so wrong. He'd never been beaten this badly before by someone who was so obviously a greenhorn gambler. Jones was slow and methodical in his betting, but Lady Luck had dealt the cards to him tonight, and the money was his, plus thirty-five hundred that Bart did not have.

Bart remembered seeing Bret's hand and wondered if his brother could really win with that. Then he remembered that Smith fellow and smiled, having what he knew was a brilliant flash of genius. Bart drained his beer glass and exited from the saloon, unnoticed.

Heyes had detached himself from the game long enough to join Curry at the bar and fetch the money from Curry's magnificent win to finalize the bets in his last hand of poker with Bret Maverick. Everyone had lost count a long time ago, but Heyes figured there was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five thousand dollars on that table already.

Curry stood at the bar, watching confidently as Heyes lay the money out on the table, trying to read Maverick's expression.

"I believe that sees you, and I call."

Bret was ready to lay out his cards when a hand on Smith's shoulder stopped all movement. Smith looked up, expecting to see Curry, but felt his heart nearly stop when the gleam of a tin star caught his eye. He regained his composure quickly and smiled amiably, "Anything I can do for you, sheriff?"

"If you're Hannibal Heyes, you can."

Smith smiled sickly and looked around at all the men standing nearby watching intently. He didn't see Curry anywhere. "I don't know what you mean, sheriff."

The sheriff removed his hand and drew a wanted poster from his vest, one very familiar to Hannibal Heyes. "Mister Maverick here says that this is you; description fits."

"Maverick!" Bret blurted out, nearly coming out of his chair as Bart came through the crowd, "Bart, just what are you up to?"

Bart ignored him, looking only at the man accused of being Hannibal Heyes. It was certainly convenient that this Smith fella matched the description so well.

Bret growled at the interruption, "Sheriff, we're right in the middle of an important hand. There's nearly thirty-five thousand dollars on the table and it's ownership all depends this hand."

The grizzled old sheriff wasn't impressed, "There's twenty thousand dollars on Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry."

"Sheriff," Heyes smiled, "I can assure you that I'm not Hannibal Heyes."

"Well, then you won't mind coming down to my office and being detained awhile, will you? If you ain't Heyes, you ain't got nothin' to worry about."

"What about the game?" Bret asked, "Can't you let us finish out the hand?"

The sheriff glared at him, "You can finish it out in jail, Kid."

"Kid?" Bret asked, "What 're you talking about?" This was getting out of hand.

"Maverick here told me you was masquerading as his brother, or tryin' to, but that you was really Kid Curry."

"What?!" Bret's voice rose an octave. His glare turned unbelievingly to his brother Bart. "What's the matter with you? Tell him the truth I Tell him who I am!"

“I'm sorry, Kid," Bart said sympathetically, "I can't cover for you any longer."

"Bart, I'm gonna get you for this! Sheriff, you've got a dodger on Kid Curry, don't you? Look at it—I don't even remotely match that description. My name is Bret Maverick, and I'm his," Bret pointed an accusing finger at Bart, "Brother, God forbid! Give me five minutes alone with him, and he'll tell you the truth!"

"Like I told Mister Heyes, here," the sheriff said, "If you ain't Heyes and Curry, you ain't got nothin' to worry about, so just come along peacefully, and we won't have no trouble. Deputy!"

Obediently, two duly-appointed law officers appeared from out of the crowd with handcuffs and slapped them on the wrists of the two supposed outlaws.

Bret again looked at his brother. "I don't know why you're doing this, but I'll get you, do you hear me, Bart?"

"Don't worry, Kid," Bart said, "I hear twenty years go by fast on the rockpile."

Bret wanted to yell obscenities as he was pulled away from the table by a deputy. He looked at the pile of money on the table." Sheriff ... what about that?

"It's bein' impounded." The sheriff stuffed the money into a small cloth sack, along with everything else on the table, save for the glasses and bottles. "It's probably stole anyway." The sheriff looked happily at Bart Maverick, "Now then, young feller, you come down to my office and we'll file them reward papers right away."

Bret Maverick was undeniably livid as he was being dragged from the saloon. Smith had long since shut up, unwilling to make any kind of remark, only staring openly at Bart and wondering where his own partner was.

At the sheriff's office, Bart filled out the appropriate papers, receiving an IOU from the sheriff for the reward of twenty thousand dollars for the apprehension of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.

The sheriff turned to one of his deputies. "Will you shut him up?" he growled, glaring at Bret who'd done nothing but stand at the cell door, fists gripping the bars and yell at his brother.

"Whaddya want me to do, sheriff? I can't get close enough to knock him out," the deputy replied.

"I'm sorry about all the commotion, Mister Maverick," the sheriff smiled amiable up at the soon-to-be-rich man. He could curse himself; if only he'd read the posters more closely, maybe he'd have caught Heyes and Curry. "Well, here's your receipt, Mister Maverick. I'll send a telegraph off to the Wyoming authorities and get it all in the works. So, you just stick around, and we'll see if you ain't right about them two."

"Sheriff, I have kind of an odd request ... may I speak to the Kid?" Bart asked.

"You wanna talk to Kid Curry after you just turned him in?" The sheriff's eyes went wide.

"Well, I kinda got to know him pretty well, and even if he is a bank robber, he really isn't that bad of a fella. I'd like to kind of apologize for doing this to him."

The sheriff looked at him oddly and shrugged. "It's okay by me."

Bart warily approached the cell where his brother stood, eyes almost red with anger. He stepped up close to the cell, and if it hadn't been for the deputy nearby, Bret would have taken him by the shirt and twisted the life out of him with his own collar and string tie. "What is the matter with you? Have you gone daft?!" Bret asked hotly, "There was over thirty thousand on that table, Bart! What's the idea? They'll find out I'm not Kid Curry ... I hope."

“Settle down, Bret." Bart patted his arm soothingly. "Sure, they'll find out you aren't Curry, and they'll find out he isn't Heyes and they'll let you both out. But I needed the IOU for the reward to get myself out of a bad situation. I owe a man thirty-five hundred and that was the only way I could think of to get out of it. I'm handing him the IOU, then I'm getting out of here and finding a stake so I'll be able to pay him the thirty-five hundred legitimately, once he catches up with me. You'll only be detained for a couple of days. Someone's bound to identify you properly."

“There was over thirty thousand on that table, and I was about to win it." Bret glared at him, "Now it's all down the pike."

“No it isn't," Bart said, “The sheriff impounded it. Once you two are cleared, he'll give it over to your friend there." Bart motioned towards Smith.

"Him? Why him?" Bret's eyes were wide.

“You only had aces and eights. He had a full house." Bart smiled at his brother and tipped his hat, starting away. "See you later, Kid."

"Bart!" Bret cried, "Come back here, you coward! Bart!"

Shut up!" the sheriff bellowed, "Or I'll let my deputy come in there and whack you over the head with his rifle, you hear me?"

Bret grumbled and sat on a cot across from Smith who was scratching his chin, a grin on his face. "What's so funny?"

"The whole situation. If it wasn't so funny, I'd cry."

“Damn," Bret cursed. "That stupid brother of mine!" Then he remembered what Bart had said: Bret had been holding aces and eights. That was the hand Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot in the back up in Deadwood a few months back. Dead Man's Hand, they called it. Well, the name was certainly prophetic because Bret had every intention of finishing off Bart at the first given opportunity.

Outside the sheriff's office, Bart smiled as he put the IOU In his pocket and headed down to the hotel. Now all he had to do was find that Jones fella and give it to him. He'd be free and able to leave.

It didn't take Bart long to find him, for as he passed an alley, a hand snaked out, catching Bart by the elbow and yanking him into the dark recesses of the alley. Before Bart could react, another hand was poking the barrel of a gun under his nose.

“Listen friend, I don't have any money. I was wiped out in a poker game."

"Yeah, I know. You owe it all to me," the familiar voice replied.

“Jones?" Bart tried to see him, "What are you doin' skulking around in alleys? I've got the money to pay you. I just turned in Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. And I've got an IOU for twenty thousand dollars."

"Yeah, I know that too." Jones stepped out onto the boardwalk, pulling Bart with him. "You and me have some talking to do, Mister Maverick. We'll talk in your room. Lead the way."

Once in his room, Bart tried to hand over the IOU to the serious-faced miner. "There it is, all legal and proper-like."

Jones made no move to take it, sat in a chair by the dresser, spied a bottle and glasses and filled one for each of them. "Mister Maverick, you and me have got a little bit of a problem."

Bart frowned. "How? Here's the IOU. We're even."

"No we ain't. Not exactly." Jones drained his glass of the fragrant whiskey, looking up at Bart. "That ain't Kid Curry you turned in tonight."

Bart tried to hide his stricken expression, "How do you know? He told me he was Kid Curry."

"No, he wouldn't have." Jones smiled, "But that other man ... you see, that's where we're going to run into problems."

Bart looked at him suspiciously, "Why?"

"Well, you're right about him; he is Hannibal Heyes."

"I know that," Bart lied, a smile growing on his face.

"Yeah, so do I. You see, Mister Maverick, he's my partner." Jones watched as the smile faded slowly into one of disbelief and then horror. "I think you're beginning to see the light."

Bart's dark face paled considerably. "You don't mean ... he couldn't ... you mean he really is Hannibal Heyes?" Jones nodded. "And you're really? ..." Jones nodded again.

"Now, then, Mister Maverick, how exactly are we gonna handle this problem?" Curry had his hand on the butt of his gun. The effect was not lost on Bart.

"I ... I didn't mean any harm," Bart said, trying hard to keep his voice from shaking. He was a Maverick, true to the core; a coward at the least hint of trouble.

"I know you didn't. But the harm's done. Now the problem is ... how do I get my partner out of jail without incriminating myself? We've got to get him out before that reward money is paid, because if we do it after, well, they'll think it was a plan just to rob Wyoming of another ten thousand dollars." Curry was talking more to himself than to Bart. He sat silently, staring at nothing, then shook his head, "Lom would never believe this." He looked back at Bart. "You're going to help me get my partner out of jail."

Bart's eyes went wider. "How? I don't know anything about jailbreaks."

"You don't really have to. Heyes is the expert at that." Curry stood and paced. "The problem is: the sheriff's no doubt already wired the Wyoming authorities. They'll be sending someone down to identify Curry and Heyes immediately and with the extradition papers. By train and stage, we're not that far away. That brings up another big problem ..."

Bart continued to watch Curry's monotonous pacing. He wasn't sure who was more nervous, himself or the famous outlaw.

"Once the authorities get here, they'll identify Heyes for sure, but of course they won't know that other fellow from Adam. That means they'll start looking for the real Kid Curry, and they'll come straight to you." Curry's mind reeled. He didn't like trying to figure out complicated things like this. He usually left them all up to Heyes, as Heyes was (or claimed to be) a genius.

Maybe he could get word to the Devil's Hole Gang, his and Heyes' ex-gang. No, that'd never do. They'd just bungle it; besides, he and Heyes couldn't be seen associating with known outlaws, no matter the circumstances, or it'd blow their possible amnesty with the governor of Wyoming.

It was Bart Maverick, however, who unwittingly came up with the plan that would eventually get Hannibal Heyes out of jail by his utterance of six little words: "Why don't you hire a lawyer?"

"With what?" Curry looked incredulous, "All our money was tied up in that poker game! We haven't got a cent past that. I might as well be a lawyer myself!" Curry stopped dead in his tracks and turned to Bart. "That's it!"

"What's it?" Bart didn't like the frenzied looked in the outlaw's eyes.

"You know, maybe there's more geniuses in the world besides Hannibal Heyes ... or maybe I'm realizing he just ain't that smart." Curry was smug with himself, "But I'm gonna need your help, Mister Maverick."

Bart stood, twisting his hat in his hands, "Uh, no thank you, Mister Curry. I'd rather not. It's not that I don't like you, because I do, but it's just that ... well, I'd really make a terrible bandit, and I'd only get in your way ..." But when Curry stuck the gleaning cold barrel of his .45 to Bart's nose, Maverick quickly changed his mind.

Hannibal Heyes lay on his cot in his cell, his hat pulled over his face, trying to get some sleep. But, he really couldn't sleep. He kept telling himself that things would work out; the Kid would see him out of this mess; that all would be right with his off-balanced world again soon. Heyes sighed; no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't make himself believe that. He knew who would be coming down to identify him: Lom Trevors. Lom was his and Curry's go-between with the governor of Wyoming; he was the one who'd made all the arrangements for the amnesty. Lom was an ex-outlaw himself, and he was now as right as rain and the straightest of citizens. Heyes knew that Trevors wouldn't lie. If he found Hannibal Heyes lounging in this cell, he'd positively identify him and haul him back to a twenty year stretch in the Wyoming Territorial Prison. Everything depended on Curry. That alone made Heyes cringe. Sure, the Kid was well-known for his fast draw, but not for being fast on the brains. He was likely to botch things up and end up in jail himself. Heyes threw the hat off his face and stared the direction of heaven, thinking, I only robbed a couple of little ol' Union Pacifics ... I never meant it as a personal insult! What'd I ever do to you?

His thoughts were interrupted when he heard a familiar voice inside the office and froze, frowned, then grinned. He sat up as the sheriff came to his cell, key in hand, and opened the door. "This feller here says he's a lawyer. Been hired to represent you, Mister Heyes, or Smith, or whatever it is you call yourself."

The lawyer, dressed in a nice, neat three-piece dress suit, gray with blue pin-stripes, complete with watch and fob and matching slate gray hat smiled down at him, extending a hand, "My name's Brubaker."

Heyes took the hand eagerly, admiring the relative quick thinking that went into this. Kid Curry had even thought to use the name of a real lawyer they'd once hired In Hadleyburg.

"He can only stay ten minutes, so say what you gotta say and get it over with," the sheriff grumped at them, slammed the door and went back to his desk.

"How'd you ever think of this?" Heyes asked in a low voice, looking him over.

"Like I said, I don't think you've ever given me enough credit, Joshua," Curry said, hurt by the implication Heyes made.

"Don't suppose you'd be willing to represent me as well, would you?" Bret Maverick asked from across the cell.

"Uh, Mister Maverick," Heyes said with a smile, "He don't do a very good job. I had to hire him once before, he really don't, but beggars can't be choosers." Heyes turned back to Curry, trying to keep his voice low, certain that Maverick was trying to listen, which he was. "What've you got in mind?"

"I don't rightly know," Curry looked stumped, "I did this to get in here; I kinda hoped you'd have an idea."

"I haven't seen you shaved and clean in so long I almost didn't recognize you, Kid."

"I almost didn't recognize me, too," Curry grinned, his moustache curling with the smile.

"Where'd you disappear to in the saloon the other day? I thought you'd forgotten me and rode out."

Curry glanced around, not liking the feeling of being closed in by bars. "I saw the sheriff come in and head for you, so I high-tailed it. It took me a day to get my clothes cleaned ... they've been rolled up in my saddle blanket for so long, they smelled like my horse." Curry looked at him intently, "How are we gonna get you out? Lom's gonna be here this late afternoon."

Heyes' eyes bugged, "Today? You sure?"

"I saw the telegraph on the sheriff's desk. We ain't got much time. If we don't get you out, Lom’ll take you to Wyoming, and you know he won't let you 'escape.'"

"I know." Heyes looked around the jail, "This place is pretty well-guarded, Kid. I don't know if there is a way out. I hate to say this, but I'm gonna have to leave it all up to you."

"All right, Heyes. But don't be mad if whatever I come up with don't work."

Heyes put a hand on his partner's shoulder, "Well, at least you'll have tried. I can't ask for more."

"I'll do what I can. But, Heyes, be ready for anything to happen. Anything. Understand?"

Heyes frowned, "Not exactly, but I'll be ready."

Curry turned to the barred door, "Sheriff! I'm ready to go; I've done all the talking I need to do."

Once Curry was gone, Heyes turned to see Bret Maverick smiling at him. "Well, now ... no wonder you were laughing earlier!"

"Whaddya mean?" Heyes sat down again.

Maverick leaned over and whispered, "You really are Hannibal Heyes, aren't you?"

Heyes laughed at him. "What makes you think that?"

"Because I heard him call you 'Heyes' and you call him 'Kid.' That's why. No wonder you haven't said much. You're about to get hauled off to prison."

"I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your voice down, Mister Maverick. I really don't want the sheriff to hear that."

Maverick shrugged, "Why not? thinks you're Heyes."

"Because," Heyes leaned toward him, "If I'm identified as Heyes, I'll identify you as Curry. Now whose word would they take on that, Mister Maverick? Some lawman whose seen us at a distance, or Curry's partner, the man he's been riding with half his life?"

Bret's smile dropped. "You wouldn't."

"I would." Heyes smiled that damned unnerving smile again. "On the other hand, if you keep your mouth shut, you can have all the money that was in the middle of that table before the sheriff broke up the game. And you remember how much was there."

"You and your partner are worth twenty thousand," Maverick reminded him.

"Mister Maverick, I think you can appreciate the difference between twenty thousand and thirty-five thousand dollars," Heyes said, a gleam in his eye.

"How do I know you won't come around later to collect it from me?"

"Because the Kid and I don't do that kind of collectin' any more. We've retired from the public life. Why else would we be up here breakin' our backs over a paltry pocket of gold dust?"

Bret leaned back against the bars next to his cot. "So, all I have to do is keep quiet that you're Heyes, even though the sheriff already knows who you are, and I'll get the entire thirty-five thousand dollars?"

"That's right."

"You've got yourself a deal." Bret Maverick would have bet this was the easiest thirty-five thousand he'd ever made, and Pappy had always told him to never bet against a sure thing.

"You're crazy!" Bart Maverick stared incredulously at Kid Curry.

"I know it sounds crazy, but it'll work." Curry said, again pacing in Maverick's room. Every time he'd left, he half-expected Bart to be gone when he returned, but Bart was always there waiting.

"Look, I know I put you in a bad spot, and you've explained to me that you've retired and all, but what you've got in mind is sheer stupidity. Besides that, I'm likely to get shot and end up dead. That's awfully final," Bart protested.

Curry sat across from him and rubbed his tired eyes. He'd been up all night thinking of this plan, and wondering how Heyes had always managed to put robberies together so nice and neat. The only thing between himself and Heyes' freedom was Bart Maverick.

Curry looked up at him, studying him intensely, making Bart nervous. "All right; how much is it worth to you?"


"I asked how much it's worth to you. I'm trying to buy you off."

"You don't have any money. Besides, no amount of money's worth getting myself shot at." Bart folded his arms decisively, thinking how Pappy would flail him for having made that statement.

"What about thirty-five thousand dollars?"

Bart sat forward at that question. After all, hadn't Pappy said, "Money is the root of all Mavericks"?

Sheriff Redmond was sitting in his office chair, feet propped up on his desk, hat over his face, snoring loudly. He had no intention of taking a break away from the jail for even five minutes as long as that Lom Trevors was coming to identify Heyes and Curry.

There was a smile on Redmond's face as he dreamt of the laurels he'd receive for being the one to jail the notorious two, even if he hadn't caught them. Why, Ned Buntline might even novelize him in one of them paper books the kids read:

Redmond nearly fell backwards out of his chair when the gunfire started. He scrambled to his feet, grabbing his gun from its holster, pointing it wildly around the jail. "What the hell's going on?!" he yelped.

One deputy ducked into the front door, keeping his head well out of the way of the gunfire. "Hannibal Heyes is shooting up the saloon!"

"Don't be stupid! Hannibal Heyes is locked up!" Redmond said, then dropped as a bullet whizzed past his ear. "Damn it!"

"Well, he says he's Hannibal Heyes. And he's drunk. And he's got a gun. And I ain't gonna argue with him!"

Heyes and Maverick looked at each other, Heyes shaking his head, "I think the Kid's executing his plan to get me out."

A minute of silence went by and then in came lawyer Brubaker leading a howling-drunk man swinging an empty pistol in the air. "I'll kill 'em all!" He stopped when he saw the sheriff and swayed wildly, his legs threatening to give way under him. "I robbed all them banks and trains. I'm Hannibal Heyes. Not him!" Bart Maverick pointed his empty pistol at the cell containing, supposedly, Hannibal Heyes. "Tell him, Kid."

Bret Maverick shrugged, "If you say so."

"See — he agrees with me. How could you even think that that was Hannibal Heyes? Look at that stupid expression." Bart pointed at Heyes.

"I've seen this happen a dozen times, sheriff," Brubaker, alias Curry, told him. "They get their ego hurt by someone else claiming to be themselves, and they get drunk and can't hold it in any more. It finally got to him; he couldn't take it any more."

Redmond looked from one “Heyes” to the other, then to the Kid Curry locked in the cell. "Which one is it? Which one is Heyes?"

Bret looked from Hannibal Heyes to Bart Maverick. "If he says he's Heyes, then he's Heyes."

The sheriff looked at the man in the cell, "You mean you ain't Hannibal Heyes?"

"That's what he's been tryin' to tell you, sheriff," Curry replied for him.

"Well, I can't just let him go like that," the sheriff snapped his fingers, "I'll still have to wait for confirmation from that Trevors feller."

Curry's hopes were dashed and were reflected in the face of Heyes who discreetly shook his head, knowing the Kid had done his best. The plan hadn't worked; the sheriff wasn't as gullible as they'd hoped.

"Well, come on." Redmond took the gun from Bart, grabbed the jail cell keys and went to open the cell next to Heyes' and Bret's, shoved Bart in the cell, slammed the door and turned away as a deputy came in on the run.

"Stage is in, Sheriff! That Lom Trevors is here!"

Redmond quickly pulled out his pocket-watch and checked it. "Damn! He's early by two hours! I was kinda hopin' the newspaper editor'd be here to interview me ... I mean, him." He snapped the watch case shut and headed for the door, excited at the prospect of meeting the only man known who could positively identify Heyes and Curry. "C'mon, Charlie, let's go meet him," he spoke to his deputy and the two hurriedly exited the jail.

"Kid," Heyes spoke to Curry in a whisper, "Am I dreaming this?" His eyes were glued on the cell door next to his and Bret's.

"No, Heyes, you ain't dreamin' it," Curry replied, also staring.

Bret sighed and looked at his brother "Well, don't just sit there like a lump, Bart, hand us the keys!"

Bart looked at his cell door and did, indeed, see the keys hanging there where the sheriff, in his haste and excitement, had left them. "Well, I'll be damned!" Bart exclaimed happily, retrieved the keys and handed them to Hannibal Heyes.

"Your horse is tied up out back, Heyes," Curry said, then tipped his hat to the two Maverick brothers, "Good afternoon, gentlemen," and Curry left.

Heyes made his hasty escape, shutting the door behind him, pausing briefly to look from Bret to Bart, "Well, I won't say it hasn't been a pleasure, because it hasn't. Next time you play poker, Mister Maverick," Heyes spoke to Bret, "Just remember it was Joshua Smith that beat you, not Hannibal Heyes. It'll just cause you trouble if you tell otherwise." With that, Hannibal Heyes exited from the lives of Bret and Bart Maverick.

"I'm sorry you had to come all this way," Redmond was saying to Sheriff Lom Trevors of Porterville, Wyoming. "But, seein's how you're the only one that knows them on sight, well, I knew you'd be the one to contact."

"That's all right," Trevors said, secretly hoping it wasn't Heyes and Curry he was about to identify. "Just hope it wasn't a wasted trip."

"Oh, It won't be. We got two Hannibal Heyes' for you to choose from:" Redmond said excitedly, but Trevors didn't hear him. He'd stopped to stare after a man in a nice pin-striped gray suit who'd tipped his slate gray hat to him seconds ago on the boardwalk.

Trevors looked at Redmond, his dark moustache twitching slightly, "You say you've got Kid Curry in there too?

"Yep, we've got both of them ... Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry." Redmond led the way into his office, "Here they ... where 'd he go?" The sheriff ran up to the bars and stared into the cell occupied by Bret Maverick.

"Who?" Bret looked innocent enough.

"Heyes? Where'd he go?" Redmond demanded .

"Sheriff," Bret said, "You left your keys in the lock of the cell over there, and he asked that man," he indicated Bart, "to hand him the keys. He was so drunk that he did just that. This man," he indicated the empty bunk in his cell, "Let himself out."

Redmond turned to Trevors, hoping against hope that the one that had escaped wasn't Heyes. "Sheriff Trevors, can you identify either of these men?" He thumbed over his shoulder.

Trevors looked them over carefully, "Sheriff Redmond, neither of these men are Kid Curry or Hannibal Heyes."

Redmond's face went livid and he turned in a rage upon Bret, "You said he was Heyes!"

"No, sheriff," Bret said, "I said 'if he says he's Heyes, then he's Heyes.'"

"But you said you was Kid Curry!”

Bret looked exasperated, "Now, don't go putting words in my mouth! I never said I was Kid Curry. Why would I do something stupid like that when I know good and well I'm not Curry? You said I was Curry and he said I was Curry." he pointed to Bart.

"He let Heyes go!” Redmond cried, his voice up an octave.

"Look at him, he's dead drunk," Bret pointed to Bart, "You can't blame him for some fanciful tale told under the influence of alcohol, or for actions he wasn't responsible for."

"So? Well, I can sure as hell keep him locked up for shootin' up the saloon," Redmond said hotly. "And you, I'll keep you locked up on suspicion!"

"Suspicion of what, sheriff? I didn't do anything!" Bret protested.

"You coulda stopped Heyes from escaping! Charlie! Get a posse together!" Redmond yelled at his deputy.

"Sheriff, I'm as law-abiding as the next man, but I'm not stupid. If he was Hannibal Heyes, I knew I wasn't exactly going to be able to stop him, so I didn't try."

"He's right, sheriff," Trevors' deep voice cut in.

Redmond was so mad he was shaking, "Well, at least they didn't get that money." He stooped at his safe, opened the combination and pulled out the cloth sack from several days ago, and found it still stuffed with money.

"Now, sheriff," Bret was at the cell door, "What are you gonna do with that?"

"I told you before, it's impounded." Redmond sat and began counting it. "I'm handing it over to Sheriff Trevors here. He'll handle taking it back to Wyoming to figure out where it came from and what to do with it."

"Some of that came from me." Bart was miraculously sober and at the cell door.

"A lot of it's mine!" Bret exclaimed, thinking of the promised thirty-five thousand.

"Can you prove that?" Redmond looked them straight in the eye.

“No," the Mavericks chorused, defeated, watching as over thirty-five thousand dollars was handed to an honest, forthright Trevors who had the strangest smile on his face.

"Like I told you before, this money's probably stole," Redmond snapped.

Redmond's deputy, Charlie, came back in, out of breath, "I got fifteen men for the posse, sheriff. They're all saddled up out front and ready to go."

Redmond looked at Trevors. "You wanna come along?"

Trevors tried not to smile, knowing it would be useless to try and catch Heyes and Curry, They had even a ten minute lead on the posse. "Yeah, give me a minute to go have this put into a draft at the bank, and get me a good horse. I'll come along with you."

"Good." Redmond finished counting the money and Trevors left, side-glancing the Mavericks.

"What about them?" Charlie pointed to Bret and Bart.

"Leave 'em there. You stay here and watch 'em. If they try to escape, shoot 'em. You might look up in my books and see how long I can legally hold a man for disturbing the peace and shooting up a saloon." Redmond headed for the door, "Oh, Charlie, see that they're fed really good." He cackled all the way down the boardwalk.

Charlie smiled at the prisoners. Nothing gave him more pleasure than watching them eat the jail-supplied food. "Well, we're havin' beans today, fellas, and good old-fashioned cornbread!”

"Oh, no!" Bret groaned and looked at Bart. "You and me have been conned out of our money all the way around, and now we have to suffer this way."

"This ain't so bad." Bart smiled and looked around. "How's the food?"

"You know any good dentist nearby?"

"That bad, huh?" Bart leaned back. "Thirty-five thousand ... all gone. Except, of course, what you owe me." Bret sighed. Bart picked up the discarded newspaper and began humming a tune that Bret recognized as the same tune Heyes had hummed for three days. Before Bret could groan in misery, the deputy came through the door, a tray in hand, holding two bowls brimming with ...

"Slop," Bret said for what wouldn't be the last time, along with a vivid curse at Pappy for not letting him be an only child.

Ashton Press Home | Fan Fiction | ASJ Fiction | Highlander Mid-Week Challenges

Free counters provided by