Drawn to Danger
“Stand and deliver!” Hannibal Heyes, leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang, ordered merrily.
Robbing trains was serious business, Heyes knew, but the thrill of planning and inherent danger of the enterprise never failed to excite him. His partner Kid Curry felt much the same way, and Heyes knew if he cared to spare a glance to his right, where the Kid sat astride his horse backing him up, he’d see the Kid’s blue eyes sparkling with quiet laughter.
This one was going to go easy, Heyes could tell, as the conductor put up his hands in a gesture of surrender. Stopping the train with a tree across the tracks had been child’s play, and now the other members of the Devil’s Hole Gang, who had surrounded the train, began herding the passengers off.
Once all the passengers were in a group where a few gang members could watch them while the others served as lookouts, Heyes dismounted and walked to the baggage car. Kyle had already swung the door open, revealing the safe inside.
Heyes knew the safe contained a Union and Pacific payroll. It was just sitting there waiting for him. All he had to do was open the safe. Taking off his hat, Heyes waved Kyle away then sat on his knees, pressing an ear against the cold metal, and got to work.
Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. From his position outside the boxcar, Kid Curry marked the time and filed the fact away as he warily kept an eye on their surroundings. The train’s passengers were a well-behaved bunch – no heroes among them liable to try something foolhardy. They were strung out along the wooded hillside, talking quietly in groups of two or three, except for one young woman who sat a little apart from the others sketching.
Curry also kept a close eye on the members of his own gang. He noted their increasing nervousness, especially Kyle and Luke, but was satisfied they were nowhere near the point where they might get panicky and start making mistakes.
Curry glanced through the open doorway of the baggage car, where from Heyes’ rapt expression he could tell his partner was making progress. If Heyes had looked troubled or frustrated, Curry would have quietly suggested – out of earshot of the other gang members – that it might be best to move on.
But from Heyes’ look of concentration, Curry guessed he’d have that safe open in another 10 minutes or so.
Kid’s guess was actually on the long side, and five minutes later Heyes jumped down from the car, two bags of money slung over his shoulder. His sunny smile wasn’t quite what one might expect from the leader of an outlaw gang. But Hannibal Heyes was a man who took great pride in his accomplishments.
It was definitely time to go, but something had kept bothering Curry as he watched the train’s passengers – one in particular.
His booted steps carried him quickly to the shaded spot where the girl – a lovely blonde Curry guessed to be 19 or 20 -- sat sketching, and Curry glanced at the open page before, startled, she snapped the book shut.
“Heyes. We got a problem.”
Sandra Worth started as she found the tall, blond outlaw suddenly by her side. She hadn’t even heard him approach. Suddenly afraid, Sandy had closed her sketchbook quickly, but not before the outlaw had glimpsed the drawings.
She swallowed hard as Kid Curry called his partner Hannibal Heyes over, cursing her stupidity in drawing their attention to herself. Suddenly Sandy wanted to be back home in Phoenix – wanted to be anywhere else in the world, in fact, but here.
“What is it, Kid?” Heyes asked, his dark eyes shifting between Curry and the girl.
Curry handed Heyes the sketchbook.
“No … that’s mine!” Sandy protested as the Kid took it out of her hands, but the look Heyes gave her made her subside quickly.
Heyes flipped open the sketchbook, thumbing through the pages. He couldn’t hide his expression of shock and dismay when he suddenly found himself looking at drawings of himself and the Kid. The likenesses were startlingly realistic, and Heyes swallowed hard as he pictured the drawings gracing wanted posters throughout the territory.
Silently Heyes tore the page from the book, folding it up and stuffing it into his pocket. His dark brown eyes pinned the girl, who stared back at him, eyes wide with fear.
“What’s your name?” Heyes asked, more calmly than he felt.
“Sandra Worth,” the girl answered, a slight tremor in her voice.
“Miss Worth, can you reproduce these pictures from memory?” Heyes asked. Heyes sensed rather than saw Kid tense as they waited for the answer.
“No,” Sandy assured them, guilty blue eyes betraying the lie.
Heyes let out his breath in a sigh, thinking hard.
“Train’s overdue. Posse will be here soon,” Curry warned, and Heyes nodded.
Heyes smiled, and this time the smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“Miss Worth, let’s go for a ride,” Heyes invited.
Numb with shock, Sandy pulled back, planting her feet. She might as well have been trying to hold back the wind, however. Heyes pulled her to her feet and propelled her forward with a gloved hand clamped on her wrist, and the next thing Sandy knew she was astride his horse with the outlaw behind her, riding with the Devil’s Hole Gang into the wilderness.
The day was going from bad to worse, Sandy decided as she sat blindfolded and tied to a chair in what she assumed was the outlaw leaders’ cabin at the gang’s Devil’s Hole hideout. Sandy could only assume, since Heyes had blindfolded her with his bandanna several miles before they’d gotten to their destination. She’d thought he’d take the blindfold off again once they stopped, but she’d been wrong.
Terrified, Sandy took a deep, shuddering breath, realizing she was close to tears. Sandy was normally given to flights of fancy, but not hysterics, and she willed herself to calm down.
Her friends generally thought of her as fearless, and Sandy had experienced no qualms about traveling alone to Laramie to visit her aunt for a month before traveling to Philadelphia to attend art school. But this was completely beyond the realm of her normal experience, and Sandy felt panic begin to nibble around the edges of her composure once again.
Sandy forced herself to take deep, calming breaths. *Think of something else,* she told herself, and let her mind slip back to the last time she had visited a real gallery. Remembering her favorite painting from that trip, Sandy blotted out her present circumstances and concentrated on the painting, mentally tracing each line with her fingers, imagining the artist’s brush strokes. Presently, she felt a little better.
The day was going from bad to worse, Heyes thought ruefully as several of the gang members, led predictably by Wheat Carlson, surrounded him yammering complaints as he took the tack off his horse.
“We’ve never had a woman here a’fore…”
“Law’s gonna be coming after us for sure…”
“What did she…”
“Daft, plain and simple. It was stupid to bring her here!”
That last voice was Wheat’s, and Heyes decided it was time to nip this scene in the bud right now.
“Are you boys questioning my judgment?” Heyes’ cool, dangerous tone was enough to make most of the men back down. Everyone but Wheat.
“Hell yeah, I’m questioning it. It was a dang fool thing to do and…”
“No need to get proddy, boys,” Kid Curry said, and this time even Wheat fell silent.
No one had heard him approach, but the Kid was now leaning against the rough bark of the barn’s doorway. The group of men who had been surrounding Heyes, edging ever closer like a pack of hungry wolves, immediately took a half step back.
The mere presence of the gunfighter was enough to send a subtle shift rippling through the dynamics of the room. It reminded Heyes of a panther padding silently to the water hole after a kill. While the big cat may not be looking to make you his meal just then , every creature, large and small, afforded it a healthy measure of respect.
As Curry left his place by the door and walked up to them with his easy, confident stride, Heyes marveled again how a man who usually had the aspect of a golden retriever puppy – laughing, playful and filled with enthusiasm – could switch so suddenly into a cold-eyed gunfighter. The men all knew the Kid had never killed anyone. But they also knew it was because his incredible speed gave him the luxury of not having to kill, when he could merely wound his opponent – or cripple him if he chose. They also suspected the Kid wouldn’t hesitate to kill if pushed too far, and that fact always lent a respectful tone to their voices when speaking to Heyes’ right-hand man.
“No offense, Kid,” Wheat said, his tone polite. “It’s just that…”
“Just what?” Kid asked, his voice a shade impatient.
“Nuthin’ “ Wheat muttered, following the men who were already beginning to slink out of the barn.
Curry and Heyes were both silent until they were alone.
“Who’s guarding our guest?” Heyes asked. He’d given the Kid the job of installing the girl safely in their cabin to give himself some time to think.
“Lobo,” Kid answered, watching as Heyes put his horse in a stall.
“Does he know not to take her blindfold off?” Heyes asked, and the Kid nodded.
“I told him,” Kid assured him.
“Good,” Heyes said, rubbing his temple to dispel a headache. “The last thing we need is her memorizing the descriptions of everyone in the gang.”
“So have you figured out what we’re going to do with her?” Kid asked, leaning against a gate while Heyes hung up his bridle.
“No,” Heyes confessed. “That’s why I took her with us – to give me time to think.”
“I heard about something called amnesia…” Kid began.
“Nooo.” Heyes shook his head with a half smile. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Kid nodded, taking his word for it.
“Have you got any ideas at all?” Kid questioned. They both knew how serious the matter was. The day pictures became attached to their wanted posters, the two outlaws’ lives wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel.
“A few, Kid. But it could go bad for us,” Heyes said with a sigh.
“Anything I can do?” Curry offered.
“Start brushing up on your Spanish,” Heyes quipped. Kid’s look told him how little he appreciated the joke. And Heyes shot him a half-hearted grin before turning to walk toward their cabin.
Sandy stiffened as she heard the door open and recognized Hannibal Heyes’ voice as he dismissed the man who’d been watching her. She felt hands untying the blindfold and blinked a few times to adjust to the light. Heyes pulled another chair in front of her and sat in it backward, leaning his elbows against the chair back and resting his chin in his hands as he studied her.
“So, Sandra Worth, just what am I going to do with you?” he asked, his dark eyes never leaving her face.
“I give you my word I won’t draw any more pictures of you,” Sandy promised, her blue eyes pleading with him to believe her.
Heyes smiled without mirth.
“One of the pitfalls of my profession, my dear, is you don’t place much stock in the promises of others,” Heyes told her, dashing her hopes.
“What are you going to do with me?” Sandy asked, trying to keep her voice from shaking.
Heyes paused a moment, considering.
“I could kill you,” Heyes ticked off an option, although his eyes belied the threat, and Sandy prayed he wasn’t serious. Surely if they were going to kill her they would have done so already, she thought naively. Sandy tried to remember everything she’d ever heard about the notorious outlaws Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. They’d never shot anyone, had they?
“It’s also been suggested to me,” Heyes began slowly, “that if your hands were injured enough, you wouldn’t be drawing pictures of anybody.”
Sandy’s eyes grew round with shock. The idea was worse than death.
“You wouldn’t,” she choked out the words.
The dark-haired outlaw shook his head.
“No,” he assured her. “I wouldn’t.”
“There’s another option,” Heyes began.
“What’s that?” Sandy asked, afraid she didn’t really want to know.
“I could keep you.”
Heyes leaned forward in his chair, using one hand to cup her chin and keep her face still. Sandy held her breath, terrified/hopeful that he was going to kiss her, but the outlaw merely ran his tongue along her bottom lip, tasting her.
A long moment passed before Sandy found her voice.
“Is that what you’re going to do?” she asked, incredulous.
Heyes sat back with a small smile, letting all four chair legs hit the ground once more.
“No,” he answered with a hint of regret.
“What then?” Sandy asked.
“I’m going to take you to town in the morning and let you go,” Heyes told her. “The stage there will take you to Big Bend, where the train stops. Tell the railroad you were abducted from one of their trains and they’ll fall all over themselves giving you free passage to wherever you want to go.”
Sandy looked confused, not sure if she should believe him.
“Why did you tell me all those other things?” she questioned.
“Because the talent you possess could send my partner and me to prison – and maybe even get us killed,” Heyes explained, his tone serious. “I was hoping if you knew that setting you free wasn’t our only option you’d think of us with a little bit of kindness when the marshals and sheriffs are asking you for a description of those two notorious outlaws – Heyes and Curry.”
Sandy was thoughtful, digesting this, while Heyes loosened her bonds. They both stood, and Sandy was surprised to discover she was only a few inches shorter than he. When he had been directing the train robbery, his enormous confidence and presence had made him seem six and a half feet tall. Alone in the cabin with her, he was just a man and – although she would never have believed it before – even a bit vulnerable.
“Make yourself at home,” Heyes invited. “Just don’t go outside.”
“Aren’t you afraid I’ll try to escape?” Sandy asked.
Heyes shook his head.
“Because I gave you *my* word I’d let you go,” Heyes explained. “Besides – there’s no place to run.”
Despite the sense of unease his last statement evoked, Sandy felt strangely deflated now that their exchange was over. The outlaw had already turned to leave and was starting to walk away.
“Mr. Heyes,” Sandy began, somewhat breathlessly. “How can I ever thank you?”
Heyes stopped, turning to assess just how far she was prepared to go with the implied promise in her voice – alas, not nearly far enough. Still, Heyes was willing to play within whatever boundaries she set.
Burying one hand in her silken blond hair and wrapping his other arm around her slender waist, Heyes pulled her against him and did more than taste this time.
Several days later, Curry walked into their cabin to find Heyes standing in front of the fireplace, studying the crumpled picture he had torn from Sandy’s sketchbook.
“She’s a good artist,” Curry observed.
Kid glanced at Heyes, who was still looking at the picture, lost in his own thoughts.
“You can’t keep it, you know,” Kid said.
“I know,” Heyes answered. Slowly he crumpled it back up and tossed it into the fire.
“Quit worrying,” Curry ordered. “You did the only thing you could.”
“I know. I know,” Heyes agreed, forcibly restraining himself from pacing the confines of the small cabin. “Do you think we can trust her?” Heyes second-guessed himself.
“You did – and that’s good enough for me,” Kid answered, then slapped his partner on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s see if we can get the boys into a poker game and win some of that payroll money off them.”
Heyes smiled at the Kid’s obvious attempt to distract him and decided to let him succeed.
“You’re on,” Heyes accepted the challenge. And the two partners headed for the bunkhouse.
“This is it?” the marshal asked, clearly disappointed.
“As best as I can remember,” Sandy told him, appearing chagrined that she had not been more helpful.
True to his word, Hannibal Heyes had escorted her to Big Bend the next day and put her on a stage. After she had taken the train to Laramie – and after taking a few days to recover from her terrible ordeal – Sandy had gladly volunteered to help the marshal by sketching a picture of the two outlaws Heyes and Curry.
Marshal Jed March looked from the two pictures to the representatives of the Union and Pacific Railroad who were also in his office and shook his head. It was clear the young woman was doing her best, but the two men she had drawn were so vague they could have been anybody – or nobody.
“Don’t feel too badly, dear,” Sandy’s Aunt Alexandra comforted as she ushered her niece out of the marshal’s office. “Everyone knows you did your best.”
“Thank you, Auntie,” Sandy answered, hiding a smile.
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