Una Larga Historia — Dead, Again?

By Irene Shafer

The Kid’s been mighty quiet today, Hannibal Heyes was thinking. Fact was, he hadn’t said much of anything since they’d quit the convent last morning.

Heyes reined his mare out of the underbrush and back onto the path, taking a sideways glance at his partner up ahead a ways as he did.

Damn, but it wasn’t like him at all. The Kid may not be the world’s biggest talker, but he’s always got something to say, even if it’s just about the dern weather . . .

That night, two days out of Tucson when the rattler had bitten him, Curry’s leg had swelled up pretty badly. Heyes had gotten as much of the poison out as he could, but he knew damn well he wasn’t a medic and by morning, his partner’s fever, and its accompanying delusions, had forced him to seek help.

With no hope of finding a town that far out, Heyes had seen the lights of the Convent of Santo Domingo from the ridge above and felt, indeed, that he’d found a savior. . .

“Kid, you feelin’ OK?” he called up ahead to where Curry’s bay was picking its way through the rocky path. “If you’re tired, we could stop, you know.”

Curry shook his head, “no”, like he was just fine, and Heyes... well, he wanted to respect the Kid’s feelings: sometimes a man’s just got to hold some stuff inside. He knew better, though. He could see by the way his partner was holding the bay’s reins, like he was afraid if he let go, he’d lose his seat.

“Well, you may not need a break, but I sure could use one,” Heyes said, trying, hopefully with some success, to sound casual. “I gotta ‘see a man about a horse. . .’”

Curry joined him silently and Heyes could barely suppress a shiver as they dismounted and left their horses to graze. If the Kid had felt like himself, he would have asked him what was wrong with the horse he had. . .

Kid Curry was dozing against a rock, hat pulled down over his face to cut the mid-day glare and Hannibal Heyes sat watching him, a mixture of satisfaction and concern playing on his handsome features. He was glad he’d thought to stop here, Curry obviously needed to rest, but he was also worried they might be pushing it just a little. Maybe they’d left the convent too early. Maybe the Kid had needed more time to rest up. . .

The nun, Sister Margarita, had been pretty sure Curry was past the worst of it. She thought the week they had to reach the job she’d lined up for them in Yuma would give the Kid plenty of time to rest, as long as they took it easy. Heyes was to make sure they didn’t push it and be certain the Kid kept warm when the evening’s chill was on.

In the years they’d been riding together, they’d certainly had the chance to nurse each other through the occasional fever and post-bender hangover, and Heyes wasn’t at all uncomfortable with the duty of keeping a watchful eye over his partner. Heck, they were more than that. They were more like family — the only family either of them had.

Curry had questioned the unusually large fires he was building, but Heyes explained he was just trying to keep away any rattlesnakes that might be wanting to get another piece of them. It was only half a lie.

He knew if they could make it toYuma a day or so early, they could take a room above the saloon there and rest up proper. They knew the saloon keeper — she’d take real good care of them.

With a sigh, he shifted himself over and out of the sun’s heat, and thought, not for the first time, about calling the job off entirely. Then he remembered, as he always did at this point, just how empty the till was right now.

There was always poker, he knew. Poker was usually good for dinner and a room and sometimes as much as a few weeks after that. As enjoyable as that might have been, though, here was the chance to repay, or try to repay, a favor he couldn’t really put a price on. Besides, he didn’t have much in the way of a stake to get into a game, right now, anyway.

Rosa, Sister Margarita’s sister (the Sister’s sister, Heyes had realized, with amusement) was moving out to San Diego and needed someone to haul her furniture there and see her safely to her new place. Rosa was afraid of the trains, Sister Margarita had said. And she never liked to be far from her things. . .

Heyes got the idea Sister Margarita’s sister Rosa was a little bit . . .different. Though not a nun herself, the Sister had said she was an extremely spiritual person. She caught herself when she’d said it, like there was something she didn’t want to tell them about Rosa. Coming from anyone else, it might have sent up the warning flags that usually made him turn tail and run, but he felt he could trust the nun’s judgement. And deep in his heart, he was so very tired of suspecting every person he met of something foul. Maybe that was a dangerous thing for someone on the run to give in to, but you didn’t survive this long on the lam without developing some sort of instinct where people were concerned. Heyes knew darn well that he’d been duped by the seemingly innocent before, but this situation just felt different. It felt . . . it felt okay.

Weird, but okay.

He was taking a few minutes to consider what she might have been trying not to say about their future employer, and about to slip into a flat-out doze in the Arizona heat himself, when he was wrenched full awake by the sound of a blood curdling cry from his partner. Fearing a reprise of the night just a week back when he’d left a sleeping Curry by the fire and gone off to take a leak in the moonlight, Heyes jumped to his feet and lurched across the clearing to where the Kid now lay prone, shaking and gasping and full awake himself.

“Kid! What is it?!” he cried frantically, searching for and not finding the culprit he’d expected. Not a scorpion in sight, either. “Jed! Are you OK? What’s going on?” he asked again, but Curry was not responding. In fact, he seemed to be unaware that Heyes was there at all. . .

Hours later, back on the trail, Curry was once again himself, or anyway, his reticent self of late.

It had taken a sharp slap to the face, a blow that left Heyes’ hand stinging and water welling up in the Kid’s eyes from the shock, but in the end, he’d calmed down, and though he had no reason to give for the hair-raising episode he was up and ready to ride in a few minutes.

The two didn’t speak of what had happened after he’d finally come out of whatever it had been. To be more accurate, Curry hadn’t spoken of it: Heyes had talked plenty, but the Kid hadn’t been inclined to answer.

Heyes was starting to take the ‘silent treatment’ personally, even thinking the Kid might have been blaming him for his getting bitten by the snake in the first place. There was also something off in Curry’s eyes and in the way he reacted to Heyes’ hitting him. Had he seen anger there or was it just plain fear?

All Heyes knew for certain was that he couldn’t wait to get to Yuma and get some real rest for the Kid. And himself.

Yuma, Arizona, was a mid-sized town, as compared to some of the others they’d holed up in along the way. The townsfolk were a healthy mix of hardened American pioneer and hardened Mexican immigrant — it made for a colorful picture, to say the least. Strolling along main street were all manner of people: rangers; cattlemen; migrant workers looking for a days/weeks labor; businessmen in search of their next enterprise; young dandies on the prowl; scoundrels; criminals; bounty-hunters; worse. . .

‘Great,’ Heyes thought as the last of the trail’s freedom was forcibly purged from his system. ‘Looks like it’s business as usual.’

The Lucky Dog Saloon was smack dab in the middle of main street, close to the stables, closer still to the edge of town and, most importantly, around the corner, rather than across the street, from the town jail. An oversight on the part of the town planners, Heyes mused. And a lucky accident, too.

Reno Shane was a sometime-saloon singer, sometime-poker player who’d come out on top with the cards and the chips enough times to buy out the former owner of the Lucky Dog and set up shop for herself. Over the years, Curry’s unsuccessful, though welcome, attempts to woo the buxom singer had earned him a place in her heart. And Heyes? He never failed to give her a run for her money at the tables, but in the end, he only won when she wanted him to, not because her gambling acumen exceeded his, but because his considerate spirit recognized the like in her. Heyes always suspected that she knew this: she never let him leave with an empty wallet or an empty stomach. He and Curry had regular rooms on the second floor — with a side window facing the sheriff’s office.

Reno had just finished belting out a rousing song when the two pushed through the saloon’s swinging doors. Amid cheers and applause, which the singer clearly reveled in, she made her way to join them.

“Well, if you boys aren’t a sight,” she exclaimed breathlessly, a squeeze and a peck for both. Then she led them to a back room and welcomed them in earnest.

Heyes grinned at the woman as she poured them both drinks. “Reno, m’love, it’s you who’s a sight for sore eyes,” he said.

Reno accepted the compliment with a nod and a bow, then sobered somewhat. “I haven’t heard from Lom in a dog’s age, so I’m guessin’ nothin’s changed on that front.”

Heyes glanced to Curry, who had found himself an overstuffed chair and was nursing his drink with little interest, then turned back to the woman.

“Naw, not yet, anyway. . .” he said, ruefully. Downing the whiskey, he poured himself another. “It’s been a. . . a rough couple a weeks and we could both use a good night’s sleep in a warm bed. Can you see your way clear to put us up, Reno? We’ll be headin’ out in the mornin’.”

The saloon keeper feigned indignity, but could clearly not control the grin that crept onto her robust face. “Now, you boys know you’ve got a room and a meal whenever you need them. I’m insulted you’d even think. . .”

“I’m sorry,” Heyes laughed, pausing to pull his boot out of his mouth. “I forgot who I was talkin’ to. . .”

“And don’t you ever let that happen again, y’hear?” she said with a twinkle in her eye, leading them up a back staircase to their rooms.

Over a quick, hearty meal, Heyes brought the woman up to speed on their lives of late: the snake bite; the convent; the Sister and her sister. . . Heyes found it difficult to speak of Curry’s illness with the man in the room, but the Kid barely seemed to register what was said.

“You know, Heyes, if you two aren’t up to this trip, you’re both welcome to stay here for as long as you need to,” Reno said, concern in her voice.

Heyes hesitated for the briefest instant.

It was tempting. How nice to stay a spell and be pampered by their old friend. To let her cook fatten them up. To listen to her rich voice and dance with her girls. To play a few hands of poker and take her card sharks down a few pegs. . .

But that wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Not this time, anyway.

He sighed, smiling his thanks to the woman, but shook his head ruefully. “I’m thinking this trip might do the Kid some good,” Heyes said. “We’ve been idle too long. Work might be just what he needs. . .” He spooned the last of the apple cobbler into his mouth.

“Well, right now you both need some rest,” Reno said. Looking out the side window, she cast a moment’s glance at the work being done to the roof of the town hall, then pulled down the shade, after which, she saw to the front window. With both shades drawn the room was very comfortably dark. “And remember what I said about staying on for a while. Feel free to change your mind, Heyes.”

“I always do, Reno,” he said, grinning as he kissed her cheek at the door. “I always do. . .”

Senora Rosa’s place was just a few store fronts down from the Lucky Dog. As dusk approached and the worst of the day’s heat started to fade, Heyes and Curry headed out to meet with the woman and finalize plans for tomorrow’s trip.

When Heyes had asked Reno what she’d known about the woman, she’d shaken her head and laughed.

“Rosa Arcadio? She’s who you two are working for?” She’d patted him on the back then. “Well, it’s going to be an interesting trip, I can tell you that!”

And that was all she would say.

‘Interesting, eh?’

Heyes tried to reassure himself that ‘interesting’ was a good thing, because for the first time since they’d left the convent, Kid Curry actually seemed involved in what they were doing. It was he who had led the way towards Rosa’s, he who Heyes noticed nodding to the occasional passerby, and he who, finally, almost seemed to be smiling.

‘Yessiree,’ Heyes thought with satisfaction. ‘There ain’t nothin’ a good meal and a few hours of sleep in a soft bed can’t cure…

Expecting a walk up, Heyes was taken aback by the heavy wooden sign that hung above a storefront at the address they’d been given.

“Senora Rosa,” the sign proclaimed in large friendly letters. “Mistico Especial.”

“‘Mistico’?” Heyes said aloud. He looked for help to the Kid, who just shrugged. Heyes repeated the word a few more times to himself until it finally dawned on him. “‘Mistico’!” he laughed. “She’s a mystic. A medium.” Again, Curry just shrugged. “Well, Sister Margarita said she was a real spiritual person. I guess she wasn’t kiddin’.”

As if on cue, the storefront door swung open and out swept a robust, eccentrically dressed woman in her late 40's. Silver bracelets, both substantial and fine, jangled musically from her wrists, gold earrings swayed heavily from her earlobes and a lace mantilla, delicate and white, encircled her head. Add to this picture the many colored skirts she wore and the woman gave the appearance of a performer in a carnival.

“Caballeros! Gentlemen,” she exclaimed in thickly accented English. “We have much to discuss and little time in which to discuss it!” Taking the Kid in hand, she rushed him inside. To his credit, he didn’t resist, though his confusion was clearly painted on his face.

As was Heyes’.

“How’d she know we was us?” he asked the empty street. With a shrug, he removed his dusty hat and followed them up the stairs.

They were soon inside the mystic’s flat. At the door she’d made them perform some sort of ritual -- water over the right shoulder, sand over the left, a bow to the setting sun, a bow to the rising. . . Heyes had thought to protest on the account that he wasn’t a believer, but quickly relented, remembering how badly they needed the money. Either the Kid had some beliefs of his own, or he lacked the energy to protest.

Then again, protesting would have meant speaking. . .

Over a glass of cool, sweet lemonade, Heyes and the woman discussed their plans for the trip.

“You’ve got everything packed up and ready to go already,” Heyes asked, clearly amazed. He’d expected to have to organize the packing, as well.

“Si, si, I do,” Rosa replied. “Business has been . . .slow lately. I have had free time.” She held a glass, moist with condensation, to her forehead. “Ayi, but it’s warm, no? Mr. . . Mr. Smith, was it?” She seemed to be studying Heyes intently.

“Yes, ma’am, Smith. Joshua Smith,” Heyes replied, with nary a beat. “And my silent friend here is Thaddeus Jones.” Curry surprised and pleased him by nodding to the woman in acknowledgment.

And then they were all silent because Rosa was very definitely, and with little effort at disguise, studying the two of them.

Determined not to be thrown by her somewhat unsettling gaze, Heyes tried to act as naturally and innocently as he could. Fixing her with his most dangerous and twinkling grin, he paused ever so briefly and then, calmly, winked at her.

‘Bad move!’ a voice was screaming in Heyes head, but it was too late.

Her concentration broken, the mistico rose suddenly, straightened her many skirts and then shoed him and Curry out as quickly as she’d shepherded them in.

At the bottom of the stairs, Heyes called back to the woman. “At dawn, then, Senora?!”

“Si! Si! Dawn! Buenos noches, Senor . . . Smith. Y tu, Senor Jones!” Then the second floor door slammed closed and they were once again back on the street.

Suppressing a shiver, Heyes looked over to the Kid. “I dunno about you, but I do not think that was a good sign. . .”

Dawn seemed to come earlier than usual the next morning.

While Kid Curry hadn’t once awoken screaming, as had become his style, he had, it would seem, developed a new idiosyncrasy. Not an hour after the two had settled in for the night, Heyes became aware of an odd sound in the room. Upon further investigation he discovered that the odd sound he was hearing was coming from the Kid.

He was crying.

In point of fact, he was still asleep, but even when Heyes roused him and questioned him, to which he silently shrugged, he returned soon after to sleep and, not long after that, to weeping.

The sound of those tears in the quiet of their hotel room, soft, plaintive and steady, chilled Heyes to the bone and he lay awake for the better part of the night listening. More than that, it frightened him. Should he call off the trip to San Diego, damn the money and take Reno up on her offer?

It was becoming harder and harder to ignore, but there was very definitely something wrong with Kid Curry. Was this dementia? And was dementia a lingering affect of snake bite? As dangerous as it might be, them being on the lam and all, he was starting to think he should take the kid to a big city, like Denver or even Chicago, and have one of them fancy doctors take a look at him.

But then those fancy doctors cost money. Money they didn’t have. . .

Struggling to make himself comfortable on the settee in the parlor, Curry’s weeping having driven him from the room, Heyes had resigned himself to seeing this job through.

As if that Senora Rosa person wasn’t enough of a cause for concern.

What was all that about last night? The way she’d rushed them out. The way she’d looked at him. It gave him the shivers. It was like she’d known he’d been lying about their names. Did she know more? Had Sister Margarita heard things about them and passed them on to her mystic sister?

He wanted to leave, but he still wasn’t sure what it all meant. Was it too soon to turn tail and run? Did this woman deserve more of a chance than he was giving her? There were some that would chalk up what had happened the night before to Rosa Arcadio’s profession and her obvious eccentricities. She wasn’t like other people.

‘Maybe she treats everybody that way. . .’ Heyes thought to himself.

And so now, even as he and the Kid made their bleary-eyed way towards the stable to meet the woman and start their journey, Heyes was resolved to give it some time and wait and see.

Wait and see and work out an escape plan, just in case.

“So, tell me, Senora Rosa, what takes you San Diego?”

The woman sat atop her wagon and her many bracelets jingled as she worked the reins. “My youngest hija, Remedios, she lives there with her esposo, Pietro. They have been married for

dos anos and, still, no bebe. I will make a bendicion. My sister, Margarita, she prays, also.”

Heyes directed his horse around a rather nasty rock in the middle of the trail, and as he did, he struggled, then succeeded, to translate into English what the woman had just said. His Spanish was patchy, but there.

“If you don’t mind me asking, Senora, why do you need to move to San Diego in order to say

a . . . a blessing over your daughter and son-in-law? Couldn’t you just visit with them for a while?” Heyes squinted up in the woman’s general direction. The early morning sun rising above her shoulder was making is difficult to look her way.

Rosa paused for a moment before answering. “You know, Senor Smith, I would have thought that you of all people would respect another’s privacy. . .”

Heyes was just wondering what exactly she’d meant by that, (and kicking himself for saying the wrong thing, yet again), when he heard the mistico softly chuckling.

“If you must know, Senor,” she said with a wry grin, “the good people of the lovely ciudad of Yuma no longer . . . no longer required my services. . .”

“They asked you leave, huh?”

Rosa’s chuckle grew louder. “Si, they did. . .” She shrugged. “It was time to move on anyway. . . And I miss the ocean. Have you ever seen the ocean, Senor?”

“Yes, M’am, I have.”

“It is a vast and mystical thing, no? It is like the universe. It contains all. It conceals all. It accepts all.”

Heyes considered this for a moment. “Now that you mention it, m’am, we could do with a day at the beach ourselves. . .” He glanced at his partner.

Rosa, too, looked ahead of them to where the Kid was riding, silently, by himself. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, Senor, about your muy tranquilo amigo. . .”

“Muy tranquilo?”

“Very quiet,” Rosa said gently, translating. “Very quiet.”

“Well, that’s a story, Senora. A real story.” Heyes sighed deeply. “I suppose the Sister told you how we met her?”

“Si, si. She said you arrived at the convent very late one night after your amigo here had been bitten by a serpiente.”

“The sisters saved his life. If it wasn’t for them he’d a died. . .” Heyes turned in his saddle to face the woman as he spoke. They had rounded a bend in the trail and the sun was now behind them. “It’s been a week since we left and. . . and I don’t think he’s sick no more, the sisters healed him good, but somethin’ still ain’t right with him. . .”

“Es verdad.”

“I was thinkin’ the road’d do him good, but it hasn’t. Nothin’ has. He’s just gettin’ worse and worse. . .” Not for the first time, Heyes felt a pang of regret in the pit of his belly. If only he’d. . .

“Senor Smith, you must not think the fault is yours,” the mystic said softly.

Heyes turned sharply to look at her. Had his face shown what he was feeling or had he spoken that aloud?

“I. . . I just been thinkin’ that maybe we should’ve stayed back in Yuma longer. Or spent another week at the convent. Maybe it was too soon.”

The mistico’s face was serene as she replied.

“There is a reason you are here, Senor. There is always a reason. . .”

It was about mid-day, when the trio came upon a small hollow in the trail made by an overhanging rock. The heat of the day was full upon them and Heyes suggested they stop here for a few hours and sleep through the worst of it. A few paces up a ways, they found the trickle of a stream and Heyes sent the Kid to refresh their canteens. He may not have been talkative, but at least he was still helpful.

Moments later, after a brief lunch, they were all comfortably settled, the boys atop their bedrolls, Senora Rosa, beneath the canopy of her wagon.

As exhausted as Heyes was, (he’d spent most of the last night either listening to Kid Curry’s weeping or fretting about Kid Curry’s weeping), sleep still did not come easily to the outlaw. The quiet dread that plagued his nights he now carried with him into the daylight. Heyes drifted off, finally, visions of snakes and scared children clouding his dreams.

Only to be awakened, a scant hour later, to a sound he was altogether too familiar with: the heart-rending screams of a frightened Kid Curry.

“Thaddeus!!” he called in a whisper, almost slipping and calling him something else. The wagon in which the mystic lay, hopefully deep in sleep, was a stone’s throw from their bedrolls.

Curry lay only a few feet away from him, still shaking and crying, though thankfully not screaming at the top of his lungs any longer. Heyes crawled over to him on all fours and tried shaking the man awake, but this only caused the Kid to begin yelling again.

“Thaddeus! Damnit, man! Wake up!” he cried, but when this failed, he grabbed the nearest canteen and dumped its contents in the Kid’s face.

Which worked like a charm.

The Kid sat up, sputtering and drenched, glaring a hole right through Heyes, but once fully awake, was finally quiet again.

Heyes grabbed him by the shoulders. “What in tarnation is wrong with you, Kid?” he whispered hoarsely, but Curry just pulled away, an act which made them both wince: Heyes, from the hurt of it; Curry from only G-d knew what. . . “Why don’t you answer me?”

They locked eyes for a tense moment. Curry’s expression was plaintive and pained and extremely confused. Heyes’ was desperate and just as lost. Finally, without answering, the Kid turned away and lay back down.

“Great!” Heyes said sitting back on his heels, exasperated. “Either you’re louder ‘n hell, or you’re as silent as the grave. What happened to the stuff in between?!”

He sat for a moment cradling his head in his hands, then giving up, he crawled back to his bedroll and lay down in his own stony silence.

And from the back of her wagon, shaking her head sadly, but without surprise, Senora Rosa observed the whole thing.

Hours later, camp made, supper eaten, the three were settling in for the evening.

During a stretch of quiet on the trail, it had occurred to Heyes that some of the best nights’ sleep he and the Kid had ever gotten were proceeded by an evening of drink. That kind of heavy sleep was exactly what he was going for. Not so heavy that the hangover made the next day’s ride unbearable, not so light that the night’s experiment was a failure.

The three sat around the fire, Heyes refilling their cups from the bottle of whiskey he’d brought along. Rosa and Heyes took turns telling stories and while the Kid didn’t have anything to add to the conversation, he was certainly enjoying himself. If nothing else about Heyes’ plan worked, that alone was worth it. After days of silence broken only by screaming and tears, the sound of Kid Curry’s laughter was a relief and a joy.

“. . . and so the senorita made plans to meet you both for supper?” Senora Rosa was chuckling, having already supposed the answer.

“Yes, she did, but it was worse than that!” Heyes had to stop himself from turning the story over to Curry as he usually did at this point. The kid was grinning and shaking his head, but otherwise seemed to have no inclination to join in. “So there we were, both standing in front of the restaurant. . .”

“. . . both holding a rosa?” the mistico ventured.

“You’ve heard this story before!” Heyes mopped at his tear streaked face. “I had the rose . . . Rosa.” Heyes giggled, realizing the pun. “The-- . . .Thaddeus, here, prefers gardenias. . .” Heyes refilled his cup. “And the best part, or maybe the worst, was that when she showed up, it was on the arm of some other fellow. . .” He stood up to mime this part of the tragedy, hat off, an invisible flower clutched in his other hand and the saddest expression on his handsome face. “‘Evenin’, Victoria,’” he said, nodding to the memory as it waltzed by. “‘Evenin’, boys,’”

she says, pretty as you please. . .” He shrugged and sat back down. “So Thaddeus and I exchanged flowers and went in to supper together. . .” Rosa giggled. “Well, we were hungry!”

In the flickering light of the fire, the mystic studied the two. “Have you always been this close, Joshua?”

Heyes sat back, tossing his free arm around the Kid’s shoulder. “As far back as I can remember,” he said with a big grin. Curry nodded in agreement.

“That,” she said, winking, “is a very long time, indeed. . .”

With that, the three turned in for the night and come the morning, Heyes was to know that his experiment had both succeeded and failed. Kid Curry had made it through with nary a whimper, at least none that Heyes’d heard, but when the time had come to pack up and break camp, he realized that they’d drained the one bottle of whiskey he’d brought with him. . .

As they rode, each in their own thoughts, Heyes considered the current state of affairs.

While he knew he wouldn’t be able to repeat the previous evening’s solution to Kid Curry’s problem, he had proven to himself that he could handle it, at least temporarily. Once this job

was through, though, he would have to find someone somewhere that could help the Kid.

Then there was mystic.

Any lingering doubts he had about the woman, and what she might or might not know about them, were starting to fade. She was warm and inquisitive, but did not seem suspicious of them. Of course, there was always the possibility that she was just biding her time until they reached their destination — there were no lawmen out here for her to turn them in to. Again, though, Heyes consulted the usually true sense that lay in the pit of his stomach: he felt they could trust her. There was still an escape plan, there was always an escape plan, but for the time being, he didn’t feel the need to be watching the woman’s every word and look.

Another night, another camp.

Heyes had some new ideas for handling Curry’s “condition”. First, he made certain their bedrolls were set away from the wagon, though not so far that he wouldn’t have heard if Rosa had a problem. Second, he made sure there were two canteens of water nearby, one next to his own bedroll, one next to Curry’s. Next, in spite of the discomfort it was sure to give him, when the time came to sleep he would be careful to settle himself over a couple of good sized rocks, hopefully insuring that he’d never really get into too deep a sleep and would hear the Kid as soon as he started to scream. And be ready with the canteen. . .

The mood of the camp was not as high as it had been the night before. Heyes and Senora Rosa sat quietly drinking coffee and Kid Curry sat off by himself on the far side of the fire, lost in his own thoughts, occasionally tossing twigs into the flames, but otherwise not interacting with them at all.

“So, tell me, Senora Rosa,” Heyes said, trying to distract the woman from the Kid. “What did you do to get yourself tossed out of Yuma?”

For a moment the woman sat staring at him blankly and not for the first time, Heyes kicked himself for his audacity. Then she chuckled softly.

“It is, as you say, una larga historia. . .” When Heyes appeared confused, she translated. “A long story. . .”

Rosa took a moment to settle herself more comfortably in front of the fire. “Arizona es muy seco, no?”

Again confused, this time by the apparent change in topic, Heyes simply nodded his agreement.

“Muy,*muy* seco. . .” she repeated.

“Yes, very dry,” Heyes prompted.

“I have una amiga, she is of the Dineh people — the Navajo. She believed that if we performed a certain ritual and that the people of the town brought to us una ofrenda, an offering, we could make the Rain gods very happy and perhaps, then, it would rain. . .”

Heyes’ eyes went wide. “You took money from the townspeople to perform a rain dance? No wonder they asked you to leave. . .”

Senora Rosa sighed heavily. “It almost worked. The sky grew dark,” she continued, gesturing with her hands. “The clouds gathered and the wind blew. And then. . . and then the relampago, the lightening, hit the town hall and the fire started. . .”

“And you stopped dancing . . .”

“Si, quickly. . .” She grinned sheepishly. “From now on I stick to my own encantaciones.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Heyes said soberly, then, unable to hold it in any longer, he laughed out loud.

“I’m sorry, Senora. . .” he apologized.

“It is all right, Senor,” the mystic replied, smiling. “It is muy comico.”

“So, then. . . then they threw you out of town?”

Rosa considered this a moment. “‘Threw’ is a very strong word. . . I have many partidarios, many supporters, there.” She paused to adjust her mantilla. “It was . . . suggested that. . . that perhaps an extended trip to see mi hija might not be un idea malo. . .”

Heyes grinned. “Not a bad idea, at all. . .”

“Senor,” Rosa began delicately. “Perhaps you could be persuaded to share something with me now. Something I have been wondering about for a while.”

“Why. . . why certainly, M’am,” Heyes said, somewhat hesitantly.

Rosa looked across the fire to where Kid Curry sat dispiritedly whittling away at a stick. “I have noticed your partner’s terror noche. . .”

“Excuse me, Senora?” Heyes said, not getting her meaning.

“Terror noche,” she repeated. “Night terrors.”

Heyes, who had been preparing himself to dodge whatever question she might ask, suddenly stopped feinting and stared at the woman.

So she had heard what was going on. . .

“Senora, I gotta apologize for Joshua,” he said. “I’m real sorry if he’s kept you awake these past few nights. He don’t. . . he don’t know what he’s doin’. Hell, I don’t know what he’s doin’. . .”

“Senor Smith,” Rosa said, gently taking his arm. “That is not why I am asking.” Reassuringly, she patted the arm she held. “I think I can help him.”

Heyes was dubious. “You mean, like another rain dance?”

Rosa chuckled softly. “No, I told you, from now on I stick to my own magic. . .” She paused. “Let me just ask -- does your friend only have these terrors when he sleeps?”

Heyes stood and began pacing. “It’s hard to say, Senora. He only screams when he’s asleep. The rest of the time, he don’t have anything to say at all. . .” As odd as it seemed, Heyes felt relieved just to be talking about it. This particular pain had been his and his alone since it had begun.

“He’s not acting like himself. Thaddeus is. . . well, Thaddeus is the best friend a guy could have. We’ve always watched out for each other. And it’s my fault he got bit by the snake in the first place.” He stopped for a moment, remembering that night. “I just hadda finish that bottle, even after he’d passed out. And then. . . and then I had to,” he stumbled, trying to put it delicately. “I had to. . . ‘see a man about a horse’. . .”

Rosa, rummaging through the shoulder bag she always kept close by, looked up at this last. “Joshua,” she said softly. “This was not your fault.”

Heyes disagreed. “No. No, I was supposed to be watching his back.”

“You could not have known. Can you see the future?”

She began to pull things from her pouch and set them up in front of her: a crystal; the stub of a candle; a stick of incense. “I believe that an incident in the present has triggered some past life trauma.”

‘Past life trauma’?

Heyes stopped pacing. “Now wait just a minute, Senora Rosa. You’re not tellin’ me that Thaddeus is rememberin’ stuff from another life. Lotsa times he can’t even remember what we were up to last week.” Heyes stopped for a moment. That was a cheap shot. The Kid had one of the most tenacious memories Heyes had ever encountered. “You’re not telling me Thaddeus had another life, are you?”

“We all have, Senor Smith. Yourself included.”

Heyes was biting his tongue.

“Senor, if we can find that incident in his past, we may be able to heal him in the present. . .”

“Look, Senora Rosa, I know you’re just trying to help, but this sounds. . .” He pointed an index finger at his right ear and circled it in the air. “. . . it sounds muy loco. . .”

The Kid had fallen asleep while they were arguing and now, as if hearing his cue, the man began to whimper softly.

“You’ll pardon the question, Senor, but does that sound sane?”

Heyes threw himself back down next to the fire with a heavy sigh.

“Fine,” he breathed softly. “If you think you can help him, then I guess I have no choice but to let you try. . .” He glanced to where the Kid slept, propped up against a rock. “Can we wait until morning, though? If he can get some sleep, let’s let him.”

 “Thaddeus!!” a groggy Heyes cried in a horse whisper, trying to calm the man down before his screaming awakened the senora. There were still several hours left before dawn. “Thaddeus! Wake up!”

He was just going for the canteen when the mystic called out from the back of the wagon.

“Joshua, wait.” She climbed down and joined him. “Let me.”

The woman knelt beside the agitated, but still sleeping, Kid. As she took him in her arms, he thrashed and fought for a moment, but heedless, she began to gently rock him, as one would a small child, and eventually, though he still hadn’t awoken, he began to calm down.

After a few moments of soothing, the tears stopped and Kid Curry opened his eyes to a scene that startled him almost has much as whatever he’d been dreaming about had. He pulled himself from the woman’s arms and a backed away from the concerned faces of both the senora and his partner.

“Thaddeus. It’s OK. You were just havin’ one a your dreams and the senora was tryin’ to calm you down.”

Curry looked perplexed at the mention of the word ‘dreams’, as though unaware he’d been having any, good or bad.

“Senora Rosa, here, thinks she can help you.” The Kid looked even more confused. “You been havin’ these awful nightmares . . .and . . . and you’ve been cryin’ in your sleep. . .” At this, Curry looked off into the night and Heyes shuddered in frustration. “Damnit! You ain’t said a word to me, or nobody else, in two weeks! That ain’t right, man.” He put a hand on his friend’s arm then continued, softer. “That ain’t like you. I’m worried sick about you, Kid —Kid . . .kiddo,” he said quickly, covering his slip. “I been watchin’ you tear yourself up like this ever since we left the convent and I haven’t been able to do a damn thing about it. I’m scared for you, man. I. . .I’m at my wit’s end. . .” He sat back on his heals, still holding fast to Curry’s arm. “Thaddeus, the senora may be able to help you and I . . . I’m thinkin’ you oughta let her.”

For a while there was no response from the Kid, then slowly he turned to meet Heyes’ concerned gaze. Locking eyes with him, Heyes saw the fear and exhaustion there. And the desperation. And it broke his heart.

For the last two weeks, they’d not been apart for more than a few minutes, but still Heyes felt as though he’d been alone the entire time. He had only been able to guess at what the Kid was going through, what was running through his mind, but for as much as he’d wanted to help him, he hadn’t a clue how.

Hannibal Heyes wasn’t accustomed to not being able to solve a problem and that the problem involved Kid Curry, the one person in the world he relied the most upon, made it worse.

In all that time, he’d been unable to get through to the Kid, to break through whatever wall he had built up around himself -- to protect him from only he knew what. Perhaps that disturbed him more than anything else.

Heyes had theorized and speculated, as was his way, on the causes of and cures for his friend’s malaise. He had fretted and, yes, once or twice, even prayed, and all of this on his own.

And now the Kid sat before him, his youthful face showing fatigue but set with determination. Nodding, he covered his partner’s hand with his own. It was a thank you and an acknowledgment all in one.

Heyes nodded once in return and relief, a faintly optimistic smile gently warming his features. Then he looked to the mystic.

“Like I was saying, Senora Rosa thinks she can help you. She says that somethin’ in your past. . . I mean, in a past life, is eatin’ at you in this one.” He broke off, hesitant. “I know this sounds crazy — no offense, M’am, but it does — and if you don’t want to have anything to do with it, it’s OK.”

Curry thought for only a second, then turned to the senora, his blue eyes expectant, a silent question framing his handsome face. ‘What are you going to do to me?’

The senora’s smile was warm and she responded as if she’d heard him. “You will sleep, that is all. Only this time when you dream, you will take us with you. . . And then we will see.”

“‘See’, Senora,” Heyes asked.

The mystic nodded. “We will see what your friend sees. And then, perhaps, we will know. . .”

They were seated beside the fire, which Heyes had built to a roaring blaze. Its warmth enveloped them, driving away, perhaps, more than just the night’s chill.

Before her, Rosa had arranged the things she’d just taken from her bag. With a burning twig, she lit the candle and the incense, waving the smoke from the latter towards Curry, who was seated across from her. Closing her eyes, she began to hum eerily in a low voice, only to break off a moment later with a stifled giggle.

“So, sorry,” she said, blushing. “My customers expect such rituals. They are not necessary. . .” She moved to put out the incense, but the Kid caught her hand.

“He’s right, Senora,” Heyes said. “It kind of helps . . .the mood.” He grinned. “‘Sides, it smells good.”

Curry nodded. He’d seemed a bit apprehensive when they began. Somehow, he’d found the ritual comforting. As had Heyes.

Neither of them knew what lay ahead.

With a few simple instructions and the warm, rich sound of her voice, Senora Rosa was able to put the Kid under easily. To Heyes, he merely appeared to be sleeping, but as skeptical as he was about what they were undertaking here, he’d committed himself to trying, so he held his tongue.

“Thaddeus,” she said softly, her tone even and hypnotic. “Can you hear me?”

The Kid nodded.

Rosa began to paint a picture for the him with words — a scene for him to move within.

“You have woken up in a warm bed, feeling safe and comfortable. You rise and begin your

day. . .”

She sat back then, with a glance to Heyes and a gesture, asking his patience.

They didn’t have long to wait. In a moment Kid Curry’s entire body relaxed visibly. His expression softened as all worry seemed to be erased from his visage — from the corners of his eyes, from his jaw, from his forehead. Then he breathed deeply and a beatific smile spread across his face.

He sat in silence for several moments, beaming radiantly, then suddenly broke into a kind of song. In a voice rich and sonorous, Curry slowly and deliberately sang what sounded like some sort of religious chant.

“Ky-ri-e e-lei-son, Chri-ste e-lei-son.” A simple verse, he repeated it again.

Heyes was aghast, but Senora Rosa seemed very pleased.

“What the Hell is that?” he asked too loudly. The senora shushed him.

“He is in another life,” she said softly.

Heyes wasn’t ready to buy it. “Just because he’s smiling and singing, don’t mean he’s cured!”

“We’ve only just begun, here, Joshua. You must be patient.” She regarded the Kid, who was still chanting reverently. “He looks so happy.”

“Yeah, well, he still ain’t talkin’.”

“He’s singing.”

“That ain’t the same thing! ‘Sides, it ain’t even English!” Heyes swore softly to himself, then fell silent as the Kid’s song finished and the sweet, peaceful smile returned to his face.

Every instinct Hannibal Heyes had told him this was just a load of hogwash. He hadn’t seen or heard anything to make him believe Kid Curry was reliving a past life. He was just wondering if this was another of the Senora’s frauds, when Kid Curry began to speak aloud.

After weeks of silence, the sound of his voice seemed so strange to Heyes that he almost didn’t recognize it. But then, he didn’t sound like himself. . .

“10 June 1759

My Dearest Mother,

I cannot describe to you the happiness I have felt since entering the

monastery. My life as an Oblate is challenging and full and I only hope

I do not disappoint you or Brother Joshua, for he is the one who sponsored

my entrance here and whose faith I seek to emulate.”

Heyes cast a glance at Senora Rosa who silently mouthed the name “Joshua”, nodding deeply and gesturing towards him with her head.

Curry, the Benedictine Oblate, was still reading the letter to his mother. “I am nearing the end of my trials, but I fear I will not be successful in proving my devotion and will not advance to novitiate. I am lazy, they say and do not study enough. I am careless and often have to do chores twice. I eat when we are fasting, I talk when we are silent. I have thrice been called down to Father Michael’s office for counsel. And yet I am peaceful here and am more certain than ever that this is where I belong. Each night I pray for the strength to prove the devotion I know is within me. Brother Timothy, I have told you of him, has always been patient with me and I know that if I trust in his guidance, and that of my dear Brother Joshua, I will succeed. My faith is strong, but I am undisciplined. I am told that when my time is up, I will be given another half year to prove myself and I intend to do just that. Oh, if only I had Brother Joshua’s strength! I must end this Mother, as it is time for morning mass. I cannot forget: Brother Timothy asked me to bring my--”

Here the Kid’s mannerisms changed drastically and when he finished the sentence, he seemed a different person entirely. “-- sword with me today. We are only going to the tavern, but Richelieu’s men are everywhere these days and it won’t do to be unprepared. I close this entry, wondering what the day will bring us. Armand has been careless lately and it has taken my best efforts to keep him from getting himself killed or worse. . .”

Gaston Rameau,
10 June 1631"

Heyes sat stone still, his jaw slack, too stunned to react, too stunned to know what to think. Was this more mystical hooey?

Strangely unphased, Senora Rosa paused only a moment before jumping in.

“Where are you, Gaston?” she asked Curry. “Can you describe your surroundings?”

The Kid’s eyes were still closed, but he reacted as though he were awake.

“I am in our rooms at the inn at Beauvais. We will only be here for few days awaiting orders and my main concern for that time will be to keep my foolhardy associate from harm’s way, a place he seems sorely resigned to put himself.

A pause and a sigh. ”Oh, what is he up to now?” Kid Curry’s brow furrowed in consternation.

“I look out the window and am not surprised to see Armand about to engage in an unwise duel with a gangly young ruffian. Fearing a reprise of the events which drove us from a similar village not a fortnight ago, I open the window and call down to him.

“‘Armand!’ I say, calmly. ‘What is it you are doing with that young nobleman?’”

“He turns quickly, his dark brow darkened even more so by his anger over what I’m sure he believes is a grave affront. When he sees me, he tries to wipe this expression from his face. Armand well knows what I will say, what I always say on these occasions.

“‘Why, Gaston!’ he shouts, forcing a playful smile onto his face. A single dimple flashes. ‘I was just giving this young lad a fencing lesson!’”

“‘How very thoughtful of you, Armand, but I fear there is not time. Have you forgotten that we are to meet William and Jean at the tavern? You would not want them to get started without us, would you?’

“He pauses for a moment, a fleeting look of discontent clouding his features. ‘No,’ he says. ‘No, I would not. . . There is a comely wench I have had my eye on since we rode into town and I saw Jean speaking with her this very morning!’ In his distraction, he does not notice the lad skulk away into the shadows, no doubt thankful for the reprieve. ‘What is keeping you, Gaston? Why are you not yet ready to go?!’

“I try not to smile. I am thankful I have been able to avert what could have been another disastrous match. Likely Armand would have made short work of the lad and I doubt that even his position in the Guard could have saved him thrice. As I run to join him in the courtyard below, I send a silent prayer to the heavens that I finally succeed in teaching him the proper restraint for a Musketeer . . .or that I may, at least, always be there to protect him should what little restraint he has falter. . .”

Hannibal Heyes, sitting securely in 1883, finally found the presence of mind to close his mouth.

What he was hearing seemed like just so much gibberish to him. He wanted to believe it was, anyway. None of this “story” fit in with his understanding of how the world worked. He’d had enough to deal with and accept over the years, but Kid Curry a musketeer?

Resolutely holding fast to some vestige of his skepticism, he started to protest, but Rosa quickly silenced him.

“Let us just listen, eh, Joshua?”

Sighing, he sat back.

So, what were his choices here? Fraud: had Senora Rosa somehow planted this story in the Kid’s head? Dementia: was the Kid going over the edge? Dream: was this the sort of thing his partner’s psyche did while he slept? Truth: this last possibility came hardest to Heyes. How could it be possible?

Though silent, Curry’s inner vision was obviously still taking him on some sort of journey.

Heyes watched the play of emotions on his partner’s face, thankful there was still life in the Kid, even if he had his doubts about its origins.

Or did he?

With a sigh, he felt himself running out of reasonable explanations for what he was hearing.

Heyes had to admit that while his partner’s intellect was never in question, his imagination (and his reading habits) would necessarily have limited what he could be expected to come up with on his own. He doubted that even unconscious, Curry could have dreamed these events.

But then Kid Curry, or Gaston Rameau, or whoever the hell he thought he was, started speaking again and Heyes could do nothing but listen.

“The tavern is crowded today. Our coming here could be a mistake. The troops have been complaining lately about being so far from the action. They hear tales of the exploits of their compatriots, Aramis, Athos and Porthos, and will no doubt be looking to make some action of their own. It is as much my duty, as their captain, to keep them calm when we are not engaged, as it is to spur them on in the defense of our King when we are.

“I take a seat in the rear, my back to the wall and my eyes on the doorway for whatever or whomever may enter. A quick glance around the room, gives me the location of all of my men, most notable of these Armand Laclos, whom I spy already happily absorbed with a lovely dark-haired beauty.

“I pick at the platter of food the serving wench has set before me and in spite of my need to stay alert, my thirst wins out. Sometime after my third goblet of wine, I realize a thing of potentially great importance: I am feeling extremely good. Much too good. I might be a highly trained marksmen and skilled leader, but wine is wine. . . I send a silent prayer to the Heavens that my skills not be tested here tonight.

“Searching the smoke-filled room for my more troublesome charge, I locate him just in time to see him scurrying up the stairs towards the private rooms, the comely wench at his heals. I try to ignore that cold feeling in the pit of my stomach instead satisfying myself with the belief that at least he’s not likely to get into much trouble up there. I signal a serving girl over and invite her onto my lap, an invitation she happily accepts.

“Late afternoon progresses into early evening and time passes without incident. The men engage in cards and darts or dance and flirt with the women. And I am quite comfortable with this lass I hold in my arms. Armand has not yet returned from his tryst, but this does not cause me concern as I know he likes to linger.

“A feeling of well-being o’er takes me and I am beginning to think that my premonitions about the evening were sorely misplaced, when the tavern door opens with a harsh gust of cold air and in walks the Countess du Chevillon.

“I have no doubt of what has brought her to this place. She does not usually travel this far from Paris, nor in this particular . . .type of society. There can be only one reason for her being here in this village at this time.

“Either the damnable fool has written to tell her we’d be stopping here in Beauvais or her “eyes” on the road sent the word back to her chateau outside Paris. In either case, her arrival reawakens the dread I felt earlier.

“The Countess, finding a table promptly vacated by a group of awestruck locals, waits with great impatience as the serving girls clear away dishes and refuse, then seats herself, barely disguising her displeasure in her surroundings. Looking across the room and seeing me, but showing no surprise, she acknowledges me with an imperious and faintly distasteful nod.

“I hope that my own distaste and distrust of her is not evident on my face. She is not a woman to anger. Her contacts are well-placed, her resources are limitless and her ire, it is said, knows no bounds.

“Several months ago, when I learned of their entanglement, my counsel of Armand was most harsh.

“‘She is the mistress of the Cardinal’s chief guard!’” I reminded him. “‘Are there not many women from which you could choose? Those with wealth greater than hers! Those who have not sworn to see us dead?!”

“He chided me, saying I wouldn’t understand what they had — he and the Countess.

“I had laughed. I knew exactly what they had! Did he think I had never before bed a woman?

“‘Gaston, Gaston!’ he cried, throwing his arms around me in an embrace. “Ever the bel-es-prit! Ever the jester!’”

“I shooed him away, but now I wish I had pressed the matter. . .

“My meditation on this is disturbed by the entrance of yet another uncommon patron to this simple village tavern: Pierre Marivaux — the Cardinal’s Chief Guard!

“This can be no mere coincidence.

“I spare two quick glances, one to Armand, who has just emerged from chambers above and one to the Countess awaiting him below. Both see the entrance of Marivaux and have the presence of mind to act accordingly.

“Amazed, I watch the dance which enfolds as though choreographed.

“Armand, still clasping the wench to his side, spies the Countess, hiding behind a pillar below. He gives the girl a quick peck on the cheek, spins her back and away, and then delivers a faint hissing whistle through his front teeth, a signal which must be familiar to the Countess because she looks up immediately. The lady climbs the flight of stairs to join him even as the wench gains the ground floor to meet Marivaux at the door, take his cloak and direct him calmly to a table. Armand and his paramour disappear through a doorway which I know to be an outlet to the alley below.

“If it ended there I would consider myself pleasantly diverted for the evening, but, alas, it does not.

“My now drunken men, upon seeing the latest addition to our crowd, rally a cry amongst them and rise, as one, to engage the man and the three from his brigade he’s brought with him.

“Feeling any hope I’ve held for a peaceable evening of wine and merriment evaporate, I bid the lady still seated in my lap adieu, straighten my sword and enter the fray. . .”

“Thaddeus?” Heyes whispered softly as Curry paused, although by now he knew full well this remembrance did not come from his friend. “It’s me He--”

“Ssssh, Joshua!” Rosa hissed gently, cutting him off. “I do not believe your friend is done. Let us see where this will lead us, yes?”

With a sheepish nod, his reluctance overpowered by his curiosity and his confusion, Heyes once again sat back to listen.

Curry’s voice, when he continued, was softer and strained, as though he were exhausted.

“. . .The walk back to the inn is uneventful. Mariveau and his men, while energetically engaging my troops and I in swordplay, inflict no lasting injury and after what seems mere minutes, cease all action in concert and depart, leaving William, Jean, Frederick and I too see to the ruins of our free for all. It seems most odd, indeed. I will be on my guard for days to come.

“William and Frederick have found . . .other lodgings for the night, so I make my way back with a despondent Jean, who has lost the favor of the dark-haired beauty to Armand. Seeing him to his room, I make my way upstairs to those I have let for Armand and myself. I stumble on the steps, still feeling the affects of too much wine: the clarity that the nights’ battle afforded me was sadly a temporary thing. . .”

Curry’s head seems to follow some odd sound he’s heard.

“The door to Armand’s bed chamber is ajar and I spy in the opening a delicate lace handkerchief I have recently seen clutched in the hand of his paramour, the Countess de Chevillon. No doubt she dropped it as she departed their tryst.

“‘Armand, you sly scoundrel, is there no end to your debauchery?’” I call into the room. “Tell me, what have you said to make the lady leave in such haste?”

“When there is no response, I enter the darkened room.

“‘Armand?’ I call again, tentatively, lest the Countess still be in residence. When there is again no response, save a low, male groan, I draw back the curtain to find the man sprawled half-naked on the bed clothes. I am about to chide him once again for his depravity, when I see the asp poised above his neck, fangs bared for another strike.”

Hannibal Heyes’ head began to swim and he fell heavily to his knees.

“With all due speed I draw my sword and with a clean cut dispatch the creature.

“‘Armand!!’ I cry, falling to my knees at his side, but I can tell that I am already too late.

Mariveau and his men did as they were directed: they gave the Countess the time she needed to do her dirty deed.

“Armand rouses at my touch, though I can see he is fading quickly. His eyes are unfocused and his brow is covered with persipiration despite the chill I feel on his skin. There is little blood, but I dab at the twin wounds on his throat. I know my ministrations will have no affect.

“Still lucid, he struggles to speak.

“‘I should have listened to you, old man,’ he gasps with a rueful smile. ‘When a man beds his enemies, he has no one to blame for his misfortunes but himself. . .’ His strained laugh is mere air.”

“I cradle him in my arms.

“I want to ask him what he was thinking, taking the mistress of the Cardinal’s chief guard to bed, want to ask him what he thought he could accomplish by seducing a woman who had sworn our demise, but I know there is no need. It does not matter anymore.

“Instead, I smooth back his perspiration soaked hair and rock him gently in my arms.

“ I remember the day we met, three years ago. So recent, but yet it seems a lifetime: I can still seem him as he strode, cocky, across the town square, sword drawn, a mischievous grin on that face. ‘How odd,’ I thought. ‘He has only one dimple. . .’ But then we were dancing, foils flashing in the sunlight and when we were done, and I stood over him as he lay half-sunken in the mud, I laughed not at my victory, but at the pitiful way the brown filth dribbled from his face. And moments later, on my knees in that same muck, the wind knocked from me, I heard his giddy laughter and, unable to stop myself, I joined him. . .

“‘Was this last one worth it, then?’ I ask softly, even as the tears begin to leak from my eyes.

“Armand coughs, shuddering, shivering, smiling. ‘Aye, that she was. . . She was worth them all.’ He closes his eyes for a moment, struggling with a thought and finally succeeding. ‘Had I . . . I been able to turn her heart . . .I think this lady might . . . might have been worth the life of a monk. . .”

“Again I smile, smoothing back the lank brown hair which has fallen in his face. ‘I find it hard to believe, dear friend, that you could ever have lived the life of a monk. . .’

“A pained laugh. ‘I would like to have given it a try, Gaston. . . Perhaps in another life.’

“‘Perhaps, old friend. Perhaps. . .’

“A moment more and I feel the life leave Armand’s body. Gently, I close his eyes and then bend to kiss him softly on the forehead, my tears beginning to flow in earnest. I lay him back against the pillows and re-arrange his clothing. I would not disrespect him by having him seen so.

“It is hours before dawn and I decide that whatever is to be done here, alerting the inn keeper, alerting my men, sending word to my superiors in Paris, can wait until the morning light. I gather Armand’s uniform and begin to dress him, all the while seeing the evening once again unfold and wondering how I could have let it happen as it had and how I did not see what was to come coming. . .

“Could I have foreseen this turn of events? I liked to think myself a man who planned for every contingency. One does not achieve my rank without certain skills. Why, then, did I not see the signs? Am I as responsible as that evil woman and her vile accomplis? Am I as responsible as the venomous serpent? I knew Armand’s weaknesses, knew his impulsiveness, his lack of foresight, his damned romantic heart. I could have protected him. I could have stopped this. If only I’d planned better. If only I’d been paying attention instead of playing slap and tickle with a serving wench. If only I hadn’t lost myself to an evening of drink. . .”

Heyes had been drawing ever closer to the Kid as this last part of the drama had enfolded. Now, as the man fell once again silent, Heyes put a hand to Curry’s shoulder, hoping to awaken him, but having no luck.

Curry began to whimper softly and Rosa, her hands gentle on Heyes’ arm, directed him aside.

Snapping her fingers once, then twice, beside the Kid’s ear to no avail, she finally pulled a small bottle from her skirts, uncorked it, then drew the smelling salts back and forth before his nose.

Heyes was sitting so close, close enough to catch a hint of the chemical in his nostrils, that when the Kid awoke with a start, he reacted sharply himself, as if awakened, too.

Curry’s eyes flew open.

“Heyes!!” he gasped as his partner grabbed him in a rough embrace.

“You don’t know how good that sounds,” Heyes exclaimed, not caring what the senora did or didn’t hear right now.

“Man, I never thought I’d see you again. . . Or I mean, back then I didn’t. . .” the Kid said, getting himself caught between ‘nows’ and ‘thens’. “I am so glad you’re all right.”

“Me?! What about you?” Heyes pulled away, relief on his face. “Damnit, man! You gave me such a scare! I thought I’d lost you!”

“I know that feeling,” Curry said, sobering. “I. . . I think I been thinkin’ about that, without even knowin’ why, since that night. . . the night that. . .” He broke off.

They both knew what the Kid was trying to say: both had felt the fear; both had felt the pain; both had felt responsible.

“The snake,” they said quietly, in unison.

Heyes just shook his head and looked at his partner.

“Do you get this,” he asked. “I mean, does it make any sense to you?”

Curry thought about that a monent. “Well, not the kind of sense that I’m used to, but some kind of sense, anyway. . . I know what I felt when it was happenin’. I know I was scared and sorry and wishin’ I’d done somethin’ to stop it. But it was too late.”

Heyes grimaced, remembering. “And I know that feeling.”

“I thought I’d lost you,” Curry went on. “I. . . it was my fault. I should have been watching you. You’re my partner. . .”

“Your fault?” Heyes cut in. “I’m the one who left you. You were passed out by the fire. I knew what kind of country we were in. Rattlers everywhere. I should never have left you alone.

You wouldn’t have left me.”

“Are you so sure of that,” the Kid asked. Heyes was about to respond, when Curry cut him off.

“It doesn’t matter anymore, does it? I mean, we been given a second chance here. A chance we didn’t have. . .”

“A chance we didn’t have before, you mean.”

Curry nodded, then, strangely, laughed. “You know, Heyes, I think this might be the one where we get it right.”

“Get what right, Thaddeus?”

The Kid studied his face, taking in the night, the situation, what had passed between them.

“Us,” he said simply.

Heyes wanted to laugh off the sentiment, to shrug off the concept of present life redemption for past life transgression, but he’d heard too much and felt to much and cared too much to even try.

When he spoke, his smile was subdued, but his eyes danced. “I do believe you’re right.”

Behind them, the dawn was breaking above the distant mountains and the breeze which had been held back by the now dead fire, broke through their revery.

Heyes’ laughter was soft. “A musketeer,” he whispered.

“A monk,” Curry giggled. “If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. . .”

Rosa, silent these past minutes as they said the things that needed to be said, spoke up now.

“I was right,” she said. “I knew you did not look like a Smith and a Jones.”

Both men froze.

Then the woman continued, a smile warming her face, mirth lighting her eyes. “That is because you are a Rameau and a Laclos.”

Heyes and Curry glanced to each other, then dissolved into laughter.

Rosa wiped tears from her eyes, then took a hand each, kissing it. “Thank you, boys,” she said.

“You’re thanking us,” Heyes asked, confused.

“Yes,” she said. “ I cannot remember when I have had such a memorable evening.”

And then they were laughing again, in relief and release and redemption and friendship.

en fin / el fin

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