Alias Smith and Jones

‘’The Hunted’’

 

By Carol Broyles

Hannibal Heyes wondered if his luck could get any worse. He and Kid were racing through the night one jump ahead of a posse, and now the sorrel he was riding was pulling up more lame with every step.

Just an hour ago the two of them had been enjoying a beer and poker game at a saloon. They hadn’t recognized anyone in the bar, but someone had obviously recognized them and had slipped quietly out to warn the sheriff. Kid, with his sixth sense for danger, had sensed the trouble first. They’d made it out of the saloon and to their horses, but the sheriff and a hastily organized posse were right behind them.

Kid Curry had a mental radar that stretched out several feet in all directions, encircling him. He’d learned not to question it. It was just a fact. Thus Kid knew the moment Heyes left that zone, and he immediately reined to a halt.

Heyes was on the ground, checking his horse’s left foreleg to see if the sorrel had merely picked up a stone. No such luck, Heyes thought ruefully as he put down the leg.

Kid’s horse was suddenly beside him.

“Climb on,’’ Kid called, extending an arm to help him.

Heyes’ nimble mind inexorably calculated how quickly the posse would gain on a horse being ridden double – and the mathematical certainty of their capture – and shook his head, tossing Kid his horse’s reins instead.

“Go on,’’ Heyes ordered. “It’s your only chance.’’

“I’m not leaving you.’’ Kid was determined. It was too dark for Heyes to see the stubborn glint in the Kid’s blue eyes. But he knew it was there. He would have to talk fast.

“Kid, you can’t help me by getting caught too. Lead them away from me, then head north.’’ Heyes gestured toward a stand of pines.

Kid nodded reluctantly, and they clasped hands briefly.

“Good luck,’’ they said in unison, then Kid wheeled his mount and was gone, leading Heyes’ horse.

Thundering hoof beats suddenly filled the air. Lord, that posse was close, Heyes thought. With no time to run, Heyes dropped to the ground, lying prone with both hands over his head. It was a dark, almost moonless night, his one piece of good luck. As the posse suddenly burst upon him, Heyes prayed that the men would not see him – and the horses would. Hooves churned the earth just inches from his head. His second piece of luck, Heyes thought with a grin as the last of the horses galloped past without trampling him.

It was only a temporary reprieve, Heyes knew, as he picked himself up and began walking north. Come daylight any decent tracker could tell where his horse began going lame and where its rider had gotten off. Not to mention the fact that Curry could only lead the injured horse so far before setting it free.

It would be harder to track a man without a horse, especially in the rocky, wooded terrain he was headed for, but with $10,000 as incentive, Heyes was willing to bet they would try. Alone on foot against a mounted posse, Heyes was also certain they would eventually succeed.

Heyes’ best hope was that Curry would elude the posse in the darkness, acquire another horse, then circle north and find him before the posse did – and at the same time avoid running into the posse himself.

Less comforting was the knowledge that if the Kid was captured it was imperative that Heyes remain free to break his partner out of jail.

The fact they might both be captured was an option Heyes refused to consider for now. He would cross that bridge when – and if – they came to it.

Kid ducked as a warning shot rang out overhead. He’d led Heyes’ injured horse as far as he dared. Kid dropped the reins of the other animal, at the same time veering sharply to the left and kicking his horse into a faster run.

The posse was close, but in the dark, unencumbered by the lame horse, Kid  was certain his swerving, unpredictable route would be enough to shake the men who were pursuing them. All he needed was a little luck.

Three hours past daybreak, and Heyes stopped to take a drink from his canteen. He was moving into the high country, and the knowledge the posse was surely tracking him by now added urgency to his steps. He hoped Curry had gotten away. The two had been riding so long together that Heyes felt it keenly when his partner was absent – like a part of him was missing.

Heyes grinned briefly as he pictured the Kid with him now. Curry would be scrambling up the rough terrain as sure-footed as a mountain goat, complaining bitterly all the while about missing breakfast. Was there a time when his partner *wasn’t* hungry? Heyes doubted it.

Heyes’ grin faded as he glanced back and saw the telltale dust about a half-mile away. Riders. They hadn’t wasted much time. Determinedly Heyes scrambled up and over the ridge, heading for an even thicker copse of pines, an ideal place to lose himself. If they wanted him and that reward money, they were going to have to earn it.

The sun was high overhead now, and Heyes leaned against a tree, panting heavily. For the first time he knew what the fox must feel like when it was being hunted by the hounds. Heyes had been chased by plenty of posses in the past – but always on equal footing ,with a horse fleet enough to outrun them or at least keep him far enough ahead until he could come up with a plan to outwit his pursuers.

So far he’d done well, using every trick he could think of to elude the posse following him. Heyes had counted six of them, but now there were only three men behind him. Heyes guessed they’d sent the others ahead in an effort to flank him, and he’d deliberately chosen the most difficult route possible – up a slope too steep for horses to follow.

Heyes had almost reached the crest of it when the earth suddenly gave way beneath his feet, coming loose in a small avalanche of dirt and shale. Flailing his arms desperately, Heyes grabbed hold of a small pine, its gnarled branches jutting out impossibly from an outcropping of rock.

It stopped his fall, giving Heyes a moment of profound gratitude, then the pine too gave way, sending Heyes sliding to the bottom in a cloud of dirt and rock.

Wonderful, Heyes thought sarcastically. That was bound to draw the posse’s attention. Heyes stifled a groan as he clutched his ankle, which had been injured in the fall. Not broken, he decided, but he could already feel it beginning to swell.

At a much slower pace, Heyes limped off in the opposite direction from where he thought his pursuers were.

Heyes splashed through a stream, wishing he could take the time to soak his throbbing ankle. That wasn’t his intention in taking this route, however. Heyes merely hoped to throw off his trackers.

Heyes wished it was night, so he could lose them, then almost laughed at his folly. Might as well wish  he was in Denver in a clean hotel room with a bath, whiskey and a hot dinner.

Horses broke through the trees directly ahead of him, and Heyes scrambled up the creek bank. The shot that kicked up dirt a few inches from him changed his mind, and Heyes stopped, raising his arms in surrender.

The two groups of horses were approaching on each side of him now, and Heyes sighed heavily. At least he wouldn’t have to do any more running. It was small consolation.

“Drop your gun, Heyes!’’ the sheriff ordered. “By the fingertips.’’

Heyes complied.

“Afternoon, sheriff,’’ Heyes greeted nonchalantly. “What kept you?’’

“Had to lock up that partner of yours first – after the doc patched him up,’’ responded a man wearing a deputy’s badge.

Heyes’ heart sank, then he noticed the grin twitching the lips of the sheriff and the amused glint in the deputy’s eyes. They were lying – just trying to shake him up.

“Must have been a lucky shot,’’ Heyes quipped.

The deputy scowled, disappointed that he had failed to get a rise out of the outlaw. He dismounted, then he and another of the posse walked up to Heyes, tying his hands behind his back. With the guns of the others trained on him, Heyes offered no resistance.

The deputy gestured toward his own horse, and Heyes limped painfully toward it, letting the deputy help him mount.

With the deputy mounted double with the other man, they proceeded back toward town, with Heyes’ horse in the middle. The posse had holstered their own guns, which turned out to be a mistake as shots rang out, knocking the hats from two of the men.

“Drop your weapons, boys. I’d hate to have to kill you!’’

The voice, echoing unseen from a stand of trees, was unmistakably the Kid’s. One of the men went for his gun, and a shot knocked the weapon from his hand.

“No more warnings, sheriff!’’ Kid called.

“Drop the guns, boys,’’ the sheriff ordered reluctantly, and the rest of the posse complied.

“Now hit the dirt – face down!’’ Kid ordered.

With the posse lying prone on the ground, Kid rode into view.

“Hi, partner,’’ Heyes greeted him. He couldn’t seem to wipe the smile off his face.

Kid nodded in acknowledgment, still not taking his eyes from the posse. He maneuvered his horse close to Heyes and used his left hand to slice the rawhide strips that pinioned Heyes’ hands behind his back.

Then Kid jumped down, collecting the weapons while Heyes covered the men on the ground. Kid emptied the chambers then tossed the guns one by one in the creek. He then handed Heyes the reins to half the horses and gathered the other reins himself. They’d take all the horses with them, letting them go in a mile or so, to eliminate any pursuit.

“Sheriff,’’ Heyes said by way of goodbye to the lawman, who glared up at him from the ground.

Kid nodded amiably at the men, tipping his hat, then the two kicked their horses into a run, leaving a very frustrated group of men behind them. A mile out they paused to set the posse’s horses free.

“Thank you,’’ Heyes told Kid. “You saved my life.’’

“Well, wasn’t that the plan?’’ Kid asked, amused.

“Yeah, actually it was,’’ Heyes said with a smile.

Kid smiled back.

“Come on!’’ Kid yelped happily, and the two former outlaws kicked their horses into a run again, exhilarated by the intoxicating rush of freedom after such a close call.

His good luck was back, Heyes reflected as he followed his a partner down the trail. It was going to be a good day after all.

 


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