The Way Our Luck’s Been Runnin’
by Anita Sanchez
Heyes and Kid strolled down the boarded sidewalk of the quiet town of Langsford, glancing around at the stores, the hotel, and the few passersby with little interest. The town was like a hundred others, hot, dry, a dusty main street lined with dusty buildings. Behind them they heard the hoot of the train whistle as the train they had just arrived on pulled out of the station.
Heyes took off his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “Another scorcher today,” he said, glancing up at the red sun that was baking the town. The low morning sun sent long shadows across the road.
“Yeah, it’s only mid-morning and I’m starting to melt already,” agreed Kid. “Come on, let’s get over to the shady side of the street.”
“No, stay on this side,” said Heyes, picking up his pace.
“Why?” asked Kid, following him. “I’m broiling out here in the sun.”
“Sheriff’s office up ahead,” Heyes told him. “Just don’t want to walk right in front of it, that’s all.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” said Kid. “What do you think, it’s bad luck?”
“It’s tempting fate,” Heyes said. “Like walking under a ladder, or letting a black cat cross your path.” Kid rolled his eyes but followed him, and they continued on the opposite side of the street.
They passed the sheriff’s office. “There!” said Kid. “Is the jinx off now? Can we cross the street without getting struck by lightning?”
“Oh, shut up,” said Heyes. “You can’t be too...” He stopped abruptly as a man ran past them, crossed the street, and threw open the door of the sheriff’s office. “Hey, sheriff,” he shouted. “The stage coach is here, just pulled in. Sheriff Doppelganger! Come on!”
“Yeah, I’m coming, Reuben, hold your horses,” said a deep voice from inside. Heyes and Kid looked at each other, then hastily turned their backs to the street and simulated a deep interest in the ladies’ hats displayed in the window of the dry goods store. They stared into the window and kept their backs to the street as the sheriff strode right past them.
“It can’t be,” whispered Kid. “I didn’t hear him right.”
“There’s no mistaking a handle like Doppelganger,” said Heyes, glancing over his shoulder. All he could see was the sheriff’s back as the tall man strode off down the street.
“It can’t be,” Kid repeated. “We can’t have any more bad luck, after all the things that’ve been going wrong the past few months. It just ain’t fair.”
They kept their hats pulled low over their eyes. “The way our luck’s been running we’ll bump right into him,” Heyes said. “This town’s too small to hide in.”
“Maybe it isn’t him,” Kid insisted.
“You want to wait till he comes back and ask him if he remembers us? He was so mad the last time we ran into him, I think he’d shoot us on sight. All right, think, what’s the fastest way to get outta town?”
“We just got into town,” said Kid. “There’s no more trains till tomorrow. Let’s scout around and see if we can buy a couple of horses.”
“Too conspicuous,” said Heyes. “Asking around about horses in a small town makes people notice you. I’d rather just hop on a stage coach and get out of here fast. Doppelganger would be every bit as happy to turn us in dead as alive, I don’t want to waste any time in his town.”
“Hell,” muttered Kid. “Here he comes again.” They pulled their hats lower over their eyes and returned to their study of the millinery in the window. They heard the heavy booted stride of the sheriff approaching, then passing just behind them.
“All right, let’s check out the stage,” said Kid, releasing the breath he had been holding as the sheriff’s footsteps died away. “I’ll take a manure wagon if it’ll get us out of here.”
The stagecoach was standing in front of a hotel, and two men were busy hitching up fresh horses. Heyes and Kid eyed the four steaming, lathered horses that had just been unharnessed from the stage and were being led to the stable in back of the hotel.
“Looks like this stage really makes time,” observed Kid to an old man who was harnessing one of the new horses.
“Yeah, it’s on a tight schedule. Carries the mail and the mine payroll, too, sometimes, and it ain’t never been late once,” said the man with pride, pulling on one of the buckles. “Only stops here to change horses, then they’re off in a hurry.”
“Sounds like the very vehicle for us,” observed Heyes. “You take passengers?”
“Yeah, it carries passengers sometimes, talk to the driver, young Martin over there. Hey, Martin, you taking passengers this trip?”
“Ain’t got a one yet,” said a young man, coming down the steps of the hotel holding a beer mug. He was covered with dust, and carried a well-used driving whip. A jaunty red bandanna was around his neck.
The older man looked at him disapprovingly. “How many beers you had just now, son?”
“Hey, it’s hot and thirsty work driving that stage, old timer,” said Martin, finishing off his mug. “Man’s got to wet his whistle. You boys gonna be joining us?”
“When you leaving?” asked Heyes.
“Oh, about two beers from now, just got to hitch up the horses. We’re on a tight schedule, gotta make tracks, can’t be waiting around for you boys.” He headed back up the steps carrying the empty mug.
“Oh, we won’t keep you waiting,” Heyes called after him. “Can we pay our fare in the hotel?” he asked the old man.
“Sure, right at the front desk,” he replied. He looked them over with raised eyebrows. “You folks in a powerful hurry to get to Douglaston, eh?”
“Well, I’ll say we are!” said Heyes. “If we leave right now we ought to make it in time for the funeral. Come on, let’s see about those tickets,” he added to Kid and they beat a hasty retreat. They paid their fare, and went back out to the street where the horses, now harnessed to the stagecoach, were prancing and sidling, eager to go. Kid tossed their saddlebags up onto the roof where the stagecoach guard, seated on the driver’s box, fastened them with the other baggage. They were just climbing in when they heard the guard shout, “How come you’re back, Sheriff, come to see us off?”
“Oh, my God, he’s back,” groaned Kid.
“Just our luck,” muttered Heyes. He yanked the door shut behind him, and they slouched down in their seats, hats low over their noses.
“Yeah, come to wave goodbye,” said the sheriff’s deep voice. “You lay off that beer, Martin, you got some fast driving to do. You’re ten minutes behind already.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” said Martin. The stage swayed slightly as he clambered up into his seat. Heyes stole a glance under the brim of his hat out the stage window. He could see the booted feet of the sheriff standing just outside.
“Come on, Martin, get going!” called the sheriff. “Keep a sharp lookout. Lot of money in that payroll. Wire me the minute you get into Douglaston.”
“Oh, stop clucking, sheriff, you’re like an old mother hen,” said Martin, grabbing the reins.
“You let me know as soon as you get there, or I’ll come looking for you, kid” said the sheriff.
“Stand clear!” yelled Martin. “Let’em go, boys!”
The men holding the horses stood back, and the driver cracked his whip. The horses sprang ahead, and the stagecoach lurched forward with a jolt that flung Heyes and Kid back against the seat. Dust rose high behind the wheels as the horses broke into a canter, and the stagecoach swerved around a corner on two wheels. Heyes grinned, reflecting with satisfaction that this was indeed the fastest way out of town.
Two hours later, Heyes’ enthusiasm was wearing thin, as they bounced and lurched in the stagecoach, the rutted road giving them bone-rattling jolts as the horses alternately trotted and galloped. “Gosh, this is awful, “ he groaned, clinging to the leather strap that hung from the ceiling of the shaking, clattering stagecoach. “I’ve had more fun falling downstairs.”
“Well, we wanted to make time,” said Kid, shouting over the rattles and bangs as the coach flew down the road. “The horses are going full out again, I hope this kid knows what he’s doing.”
The stagecoach tilted suddenly to one side, and Kid was thrown against Heyes, smashing him into the side of the vehicle. “I see why there wasn’t a long line of other passengers,” said Heyes, shoving Kid off. “I don’t know if I can stand this for another three hours. Maybe we should get out and walk.”
“He’s gonna kill those horses. He isn’t letting them rest enough between spurts,” said Kid. The road swung into a sharp curve, and the stage tilted once more, flinging them over to the other side.
But this time the stagecoach didn’t right itself. They heard shouts from the driver’s box, and the coach shook worse than ever. Heyes glanced out the window, and had time to feel a brief instant of surprise that the ground was coming up to meet him. He felt himself sliding sideways. Then the world blew up in his face like a keg of dynamite, and there was nothing after that.
Heyes slowly became aware that he ached all over, and tried to remember whether he had gotten drunk, or been in a fight. He didn’t seem to be in bed, but he couldn’t imagine where he was.
He opened his eyes and squinted up at a hot white sky, the sun stabbing his eyes. He threw an arm over his face, and lay still as the ache all over his body gradually resolved itself into a pain in his left knee, and a pounding in his head. He tried to figure out why he was apparently lying on the ground.
Finally, having no success, he rolled over on his side to look around. He swore aloud as pain shot through his leg. Pushing up on his elbow, he saw the shattered remains of the stagecoach and slowly realized what must have happened.
“Kid?” he called, looking around. No answer. He studied the wreckage, and drew in his breath sharply as he noticed that there was an arm protruding from under the remains of the driver’s box. He tried to scramble to his feet, but fell over, swearing, as his knee refused to take any weight. He crawled over to the wreckage, dragging his bad leg.
Closer inspection showed that the arm belonged to a dark-haired man, wearing a blue jacket. He was huddled under the wreckage, his head crushed, plainly dead. Heyes tried to remember if it was the guard or the driver. “Kid?” he called again, louder.
He heard a groan behind him and spun around awkwardly on hands and knees. Kid was lying half hidden under a jumble of splintered boards that had been the door of the stagecoach. Heyes heaved a sigh of relief and painfully crawled over to where Kid was surfacing from under the pile of wood.
“You okay?” Heyes asked. Kid looked at him blinking, brushing wood splinters off his chest. His face was cut and scratched. “I don’t know,” he said dazedly. “”What the hell...?” He sat up unsteadily, and looked around, digesting the scene. “You hurt?” he asked, looking Heyes over.
“I’m okay,” said Heyes, sitting down awkwardly. “My knee hurts, though. The driver’s dead, at least I think it’s the driver. I can’t see his face.”
“What about the other guy?” asked Kid, looking around.
“I don’t know,” said Heyes, trying to find a comfortable position for his leg. “No sign.”
Kid leaned forward and pushed broken pieces of wood off his leg, grimacing with pain. Heyes saw that Kid’s right leg was bloody, the trousers torn and bloodstained just above the boot. Heyes took out his knife and ripped up the trouser leg, frowning as he saw the deep gash along the calf. He took off his bandanna and made an awkward bandage, pulling it tight to stop the bleeding.
Kid watched in silence, gritting his teeth as Heyes yanked the bandanna tighter.
Heyes leaned back against a broken piece of the stagecoach door and rubbed his sore knee, which was swelling fast. He closed his eyes against the glare of the sun and tried to think, wishing his head would stop pounding so hard. They sat in the hot sun for a while without speaking. Flies began to crawl over the bloodstained bandage on Kid’s leg, and he swatted at them with his hat. More flies were buzzing and circling over where the man lay beneath the wreckage, and Heyes tried not to look in that direction.
“Well, what now?” asked Kid conversationally. “Got any suggestions?”
Heyes rubbed his aching head. “Not at the moment,” he said. “In fact, I can’t think of a thing. I guess we just sit here. We’re not going anywhere, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, we’re a good pair,” said Kid glumly. “Two good legs between us. Any sign of the horses?”
Heyes shook his head. “I don’t see any sign of’em, but I haven’t been out looking. They broke loose from the traces in the crash, I guess. Just our luck.”
“So we sit here till someone comes looking for us,”said Kid. “We must be about halfway between Douglaston and Langsford.” He glanced up at the sun. “About noon–we were due in at three, right? How long you think till they come looking for us?”
“Oh, they won’t be in a hurry to find you and me, but they’ll come looking for that payroll right quick,” said Heyes. “The question is not so much when as who’s gonna come looking.”
“What do you....oh, no, not Doppelganger!”
“He told the driver he’d come looking if the stage was overdue,” said Heyes. “When we don’t show up in Douglaston, they’ll wire to Langsford. Then I suppose they’ll send out a posse from one town or the other.” He gave a deep sigh. “The question is, which one?”
They pondered this in silence for a while. Kid flapped at the flies with his hat, wincing as his leg moved. Heyes looked up and down the empty road that lay hot and shadowless in the midday sun. “Langsford north, Douglaston south,” he murmured.
Kid caught the murmur and involuntarily looked up and down the road as well. The land was flat and dry, a sea of red dust with here and there sparse clumps of dark green sagebrush to break the monotony. The winding road stretched from horizon to horizon, north to south.
“So what happens?” Heyes went on, thinking aloud. “If the posse’s sent out from Douglaston, we’re just two miscellaneous hard-luck drifters. Hopefully, they’ll patch us up and send us on our way. But if the posse comes from Langsford...”
“It’ll have Doppelganger at the head of it,” finished Kid. “So what do we do then?”
“I have no idea,” said Heyes. He moved restlessly, trying to ignore the pain in his leg. “I can’t imagine.”
“Well, we have to do something,” said Kid.
“Okay,” said Heyes irritably. “Go right ahead.” Kid didn’t answer. He leaned back on his elbow and stared out at the low line of red mesas far away on the horizon to the north.
Heyes couldn’t stop running through possible outcomes in his head. “It’s twenty miles either way to Douglaston, or Langsford. It’ll take’em an hour to realize that we’re overdue, another hour to round up a posse, maybe less, and it’ll take ‘em about two hours to get here. We were due in at three, so...I’d say about sundown they ought to be here.”
The sun was still high overhead, and Kid pulled his hat low to shut it out. Heyes looked around for his hat, and saw it lying a few yards away. He considered crawling over to get it, and sat up, but his knee hurt so much that he sank back down again and put an arm over his face to shade his eyes.
“I saw a convict once with a ball and chain on his leg, “ he remarked. “On a work gang in Kansas. Now I know how he felt.”
“At least he wasn’t in a cell,” said Kid. “My God. You’re always saying you have imagination, Heyes. Imagine a cell for twenty years.”
“I can’t,” said Heyes. He looked to the south, down the empty road. “Maybe we’ll get lucky,” he said. “We’re about due for a change in our luck.”
The sun must be glued to the sky, thought Heyes. It was too bright to stare at, but he glanced up every few minutes, and the sun seemed to be in exactly the same position each time he looked. He could hear flies buzzing, large clumps of them crawling over by the dead man under the stagecoach. The heat was fierce, but there was no shade to crawl into. The only shade was in tiny patches under the sage brush, not big enough to shade a rabbit. Heyes tried to keep his mind on possible escape plans, and forget about how thirsty he was.
Kid suddenly lurched forward and started pushing himself up on his hands and knees.
“Where you going?” asked Heyes.
“I’m looking around for a piece of wood to use as a cane or something,” said Kid. Heyes watched without comment as Kid picked up piece after piece of broken and splintered wood. “There’s nothing big enough to use as a toothpick, except the big chunks over there, and they’re too big,” Heyes said finally.
“I don’t care,” said Kid, picking up the least splintered piece. “I’ve gotta do something. There’s nothing I’m worse at than sitting around doing nothing.”
He pushed himself to his feet, and took a step. The crutch crumpled under his weight, and he fell heavily. He clutched his leg and swore under his breath for some time. Heyes said nothing, just slid himself over and looked at Kid’s leg, shaking his head as he saw blood was welling up between Kid’s fingers. Heyes pulled another bandanna out of his pocket, and tried to rebandage the wound, but blood continued to seep through the bandanna. Kid watched grimly.
“Okay,” he said defiantly. “If I can’t hop, I can crawl. We’ve got to get out of here, we can’t just sit here.”
“We could probably crawl for a bit,” Heyes agreed. “If that leg doesn’t open up again and you don’t bleed to death. But what good’s it gonna do us? We’re twenty miles from water, food and a doctor, that’s a long crawl.”
“We could hide,” Kid began.
“Where?” asked Heyes, looking around at the landscape, flat as a pancake. “Even if we did get a little distance, they’ll think we wandered off dazed and injured, and purely out of the kindness of their hearts, they’ll look for us.”
“So you just want to sit here like two flies on flypaper?” asked Kid.
“I sure don’t want to,” said Heyes. “You got any other suggestions, I’m listening. But I can’t think of a one.” He looked to the northern horizon again, the road vanishing into the hazy purple distance. “I’ll keep thinking, but...I don’t know, Kid. I think we’ve finally come up against one situation where we can’t shoot our way out, or talk our way out, or think our way out.”
“Heyes,” said Kid quietly. Heyes, lying on his back on the hard ground, didn’t have to open his eyes. He knew immediately from the note in the Kid’s voice what he would see when he looked down the road.
He felt surprised that it should really have happened, that their luck had actually, finally, run out. After so many narrow escapes he had come to believe that the ultimate disaster would never happen. Twenty years in jail was truly beyond the scope of imagination. He opened his eyes and looked over at Kid, who had pushed himself up on one elbow and was staring at a dirt cloud far away down the road to the north.
The sun was low over the horizon, and the dust raised by the posse was lit in a red glow. The dust cloud soon resolved itself into a large group of horsemen, a dozen or more, riding fast directly towards them. Kid automatically pulled out his gun, but Heyes put a hand on his arm. Their eyes met, and they looked at each other for a long moment.
“Fourteen to two,” said Heyes. “I wouldn’t back a horse with those odds.”
Kid watched the riders approaching, his fingers tapping on the gun handle. Finally he smiled at Heyes, and put the gun back in his holster.
The riders drew up in a cloud of dust. Heyes sat up painfully and watched as they dismounted, looking around in surprise at the debris of the stagecoach. The man in the lead spotted them and hurried over. There was a star on his chest. “Here it comes,” muttered Kid.
But the man who knelt down next to them had only friendly concern on his face. “You fellows all right? What the hell happened here? Was it Apaches? You get held up?” They stared at him. He was a complete stranger.
“No, no, sheriff, just an accident,” Heyes stammered finally. “The horses got out of hand and the stage coach just went over.”
“My God Almighty, Doppelganger, get over here,” called one of the men. “Martin’s dead and so’s Henry!”
“Good God!” said the sheriff, and ran over to join the rest of the posse. He and the other men heaved aside pieces of the wreckage, and were finally able to extricate the two corpses. They laid the bodies side by side in the dust, and stood over them for a few minutes with bared heads. Then the sheriff gave a string of orders to his deputies, and two of the men ran for their horses and pounded off down the road back the way they had come. The sheriff walked back over to Heyes and Kid.
“I’ve sent two of my deputies back for the doctor and a couple of wagons,” he said. “We’ll have the doc take a look at you both, and then head back to town. Can you hold out for a few more hours?” He held out his canteen to Kid, who took a deep drink, then handed it to Heyes.
“Oh, we’ll be fine, sheriff, thanks a lot, we’ll be perfectly fine till the doc gets here.” Heyes felt like he was babbling in his relief.
“Good. I’ll have the boys start a campfire nearby, so you won’t have to move, and we’ll get some grub going.” He stood up.
“Um, sheriff,” said Heyes, “Just out of curiosity–do you by any chance have, say, a relative or something who’s also a sheriff?”
“Oh, do you know Jake? He’s sheriff up in Abilene. He’s my older brother. I’m going to be writing him a letter soon, shall I tell him you were asking for him?”
“Oh, no, don’t bother,” said Heyes hastily. “We’re just casual acquaintances, he probably wouldn’t remember us.”
The sheriff nodded absently. Looking over to where the bodies lay motionless in the dusk, he shook his head. “I’ll have to write a letter to Martin’s mother, and break the news to Henry’s wife,” he said, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “That’s not going to be fun.”
“No, I guess not,” said Kid somberly.
“Terrible thing, both of them killed like that. Must have been a hell of a crash. And you boys got off with sore legs.”
One of the deputies came over with an armload of sagebrush branches. He dumped it on the ground and began to build a small fire. The sun had set, and the red dusty landscape was ash grey under the grey sky. “You boys feeling all right?” he asked.
“Sure,” said Heyes.
“Yeah, they’ll be okay till the doc gets here,” said the sheriff. “Cut up a bit, that’s all.”
“My God, you guys are lucky,” said the deputy. “Henry and Martin were...well, their own mothers wouldn’t recognize them. Terrible.” He shook his head.
“That’s right,” said the sheriff. “Must have been a hell of a crash. Lucky! I guess so! You must be the two luckiest guys in the world.” He strode off.
Heyes and Kid glanced at each other, surprised. Heyes looked over to where one of the deputies was covering the two still bodies with a blanket. He rubbed his sore knee, and looked over at Kid again, considering things from this new viewpoint.
“You know what?” he said in a low voice to the Kid. “He’s right.”