End of the Trail


The horse flicked an ear back at him, but he didn't draw rein, so the bay kept walking. He didn't intend to stop tonight: the waning moon was still gibbous, providing more than enough light for traveling. Or for seeing if the man he was following had left the trail.

He didn't think he would have, though. If he recalled correctly, Red Rock (original name, he thought sourly) was close enough that his quarry could have reached there long before dark. He'd been chasing him for six days now. Tonight it ended.

Tonight Kid Curry answered for what he'd done.

Hannibal Heyes ignored the throb in his shoulder as he swung down off the bay and led her into the livery stable. Sure enough, the blaze-faced sorrel raised his head over a stall door, a wisp of hay in his mouth, to whicker at his old companion. A boy came forward from the back to take the mare's reins.

"The man that brought that sorrel in," Heyes said, showing a dollar in his black-gloved hand. "Where would he be putting up?"

"Over at the hotel," the boy said, adding, apparently in fear that Heyes might think that not worth paying for, "I seen him leave the saloon and go in the hotel a couple hours ago."

"He alone?"

"He was, mister," the boy said, and pocketed the dollar. "I'll rub her down real good."

"You do that. Thanks." Heyes pulled the saddle bags off and slung them over his shoulder, wincing slightly despite himself as the bullet wound complained. But he might need his gun hand free, so— He headed over to the hotel.

The Kid was slipping. He should have had the sorrel in the back. Hell, he should have bought a new horse. And he should have paid the stablehand not to remember him. Of course maybe he was out of money, but that was hardly likely, considering.

Heyes walked into the hotel and rang for the clerk. After a few minutes the man came out, assessing Heyes with a practiced eye: good jacket and vest, linen shirt, silver hat band. "Would you like a room and a bath, sir?"

"A bath," Heyes said. "I can get one this late?"

"You're in luck, sir. Doing the laundry tonight. Plenty of hot water."

"Lead me to it." Kid Curry could wait. Facing him clean would be better anyway.

"Of course, sir. And a single?"

"That's right." He spotted the name in Curry's handwriting two lines up from the name he was scrawling. Another slip. Now he had the room number and it hadn't cost him a dime.

He soaked his aching muscles and washed off the trail dirt in a luxuriously hot bath. A Chinese boy provided him with a razor and lather and disappeared with his shirt, returning with it, pressed, and what Heyes assumed was his grandmother—an elderly Chinese woman who fussed over his inflamed shoulder, insisting unintelligibly on rubbing it with some herbal concoction before rebandaging it neatly.

Clean, shaved, and with his shoulder feeling much better, Heyes went up to his own room, dropping off his saddle bags. Then he catfooted down the hallway to Curry's room.

The door knob turned under his hand. Damn, the Kid was definitely slipping. True, hotel room locks were hardly worth it, but at least you got some warning. And a chair under the knob worked. Kid, you're as fit to be out on your own as a baby. Heyes shook his head, pulled his Colt, and eased the door open.

The moon shone in the window, illuminating Kid Curry asleep in the bed, his curly brown hair in a tangle on the pillow—he hadn't taken a bath. His holster hung on the bedpost easy to his hand, except that he'd rolled over onto his belly, putting it on the wrong side. Plus, he wasn't waking up.

Heyes shook his head again. True, Curry was used to him coming and going after two years together, but when you deserted a man in the middle of the night, rode out on him leaving him with a bullet hole in his shoulder and a eleven-hundred-dollar hole in his saddlebags, you really ought to remind your brain to wake you up the next time he creeps into your room.

He pulled the Colt out of Curry's holster and laid it gently on the dresser across the room. Then he holstered his own and, still moving quietly but not so exaggeratedly as to perhaps alert the sleeping man that all wasn't as it had once been, he picked up the straight-backed chair and wedged it under the door knob. He stood for a moment looking at the sleeping man. "Kid," he said sharply. "Wake up, Kid."

Curry shuddered in his sleep, moaning. Great, just great, thought Heyes. He may be alone, but he's not dreaming he's alone.. But before he could say anything else, the words Curry was saying became clear enough to understand.

"Heyes. Don't, Heyes, please."

Guilty conscience, Kid? Heyes thought. Not good enough. "Wake up, Kid."

"Heyes, please. I'll leave, I swear, I'll leave. Heyes—"

Kid Curry rode into Red Rock just before sundown. It wasn't much of a town: a hotel, two saloons, a general feed and merchandise, a doctor, a sheriff's office, a few other buildings... enough of a town for him to spend the night. Get a bottle. Work at forgetting.

He rode past the sheriff, touching the brim of his old brown Stetson as he did. The man nodded back at him. He didn't look like much of a threat to anyone, he knew, a trail-dusty drifter in ordinary clothes on a plain sorrel gelding, wearing his gun in a way that said he could take care of himself but otherwise non-threatening. Early twenties. Brown hair. Tallish. Nothing special. Nothing that said $2,500 right out in the open.

Sometimes he couldn't believe it himself. And he doubted the price would go any higher, unless people pushed him into killing them. The banks, the trains— they were out of his reach.

Just like Heyes was.

Heyes... He shook his head. He'd checked the papers and there'd been nothing, so Norris had kept his end of the bargain, all right. Well, the man might have been a bit dim but he wasn't stupid. He could see things once you pointed them out to him.

"Look. I'm gone anyway, you can't stop me. So all you got is Heyes. And if you trot over to the sheriff and tell him, just how much of that reward you really think you'll see?" Norris's eyebrows had pulled together as he worked that out: none. "Whereas," Curry had said as persuasively as he knew how, not being the one with the silver tongue, "I've got $2,200 right here. You take that. Keep your mouth shut, and a couple of months after Heyes rides out, you can move to California." Then, to clinch the acceptance he saw in Norris's eyes, he'd added, "And if my friend ends up in jail, I'll come back and kill you."

Well, it had worked. No headlines about Hannibal Heyes being caught. So he was still free and he'd find himself someone else to work with—Hell, they'd line up to work with that mind. Yeah. Someday Hannibal Heyes was going to be on the walls with $10,000 on top of his name.

Curry shook his head. Gotta stop thinking about Heyes. That's what got you in trouble in the first place, remember? He handed his horse over at the livery stable and walked across the street to the hotel. Get a room first. Then get drunk.

A simple plan for a simple man. No more complexities in his life. He headed for the saloon with a grim determination to achieve this goal at the very least.

He'd never liked drinking alone, but at least he didn't have to come up with his half of a conversation. His third... stop it. He drank and watched the girls plying their trade among the cowboys and gamblers. They were pretty, most of them, or at least looked pretty. If he'd had enough money he could have had one. Would have—and did that make him more or less sick?

Whatever. He tossed back a drink. Less, he supposed. He sure wasn't interested in any of the men in here. It was only Heyes...

Damn, but he had to quit looking around for the neat, dark, well-dressed figure. Quit listening for that cultured, sarcastic voice. The best two years of his life were over. Period. And a damn good thing, too.

Because Hannibal Heyes was driving him mad.

Though it wasn't Heyes's fault. He surely didn't want to. Hadn't even noticed it. Though he would have, smart as he was. And then... Well, Curry preferred to have his nightmares while he was asleep.

He blinked at his empty glass and decided maybe he should go to bed before he got himself into trouble. Odd responsible thought. Maybe something had rubbed off on him. Worry about it later. Right now, just find the room. Find the bed. Fall asleep.


Dreams, like nightmares, don't count.

Heyes was beating him up. Why not? Curry curled himself into a ball and let it happen. But then he began to hear two voices—the angry one of his dream and a different one, making him aware the other was a dream. This one was saying, "Kid. Kid, wake up. Wake up."

He jerked awake, suddenly, his heart racing. Damn it—he'd rather have still been dreaming than be awake and looking into the angry dark eyes of Hannibal Heyes sitting on his bed and shaking him awake. How the hell had he gotten here?

Wait. Maybe this was a dream, too. Heyes was immaculate—smelling of soap and that bay rum shaving lotion he favored, his shirt sleeves gleaming white in the moonlight against the dark of his vest...

"You awake, Kid?"

Oh, boy. Yeah, he was awake. Heyes, moving to sit easily on the foot of the bed, was here and too genuinely, coldly furious to be a dream. "Yeah. I'm awake," he said, pushing himself up on his elbows.

"You were sloppy, Kid. Didn't you think I'd come looking?"

"No," he said honestly. Why did it feel like a lie?

"You took eleven hundred dollars, Kid. My eleven hundred dollars. You really didn't think I'd come looking? You think I'm that scared of your gun?"

Hadn't he told Norris to tell Heyes? He was sure he had. Norris must have thought Heyes would take the money back. He sighed.

"Well?" That was very icy. You could get frostbite.

"No. I mean, I don't have the money. I paid Norris not to turn us in."

Heyes sat back, the motion putting his face into shadow. Curry couldn't tell what he was thinking. "We didn't have what one of us is worth."

"Yeah, but we had it. Norris knew the difference between cash in hand and promises."

"So you don't have it."

"I don't."

And now Heyes would leave.

And then Heyes said, "So why did you run out on me?"

Christ. He was hurt. Curry hadn't thought of that. His mind scrambled around for something to say, but all it could come up with—he wasn't the one with the silver tongue—was, "It was time to move on."

"Just like that?"

"Well..." Yeah. Just like that. Because seeing you take a bullet showed me I couldn't go on pretending anymore. It was all I could do the last couple of months to keep from laying hands on you, and then, Christ, Heyes, that damned bank guard, and you said you were all right, and then you were down, falling off your horse with no grace at all and I thought you were dead because you'd die graceful if you could, I thought you were dead and it about broke my heart, hell it did break it, broke me, and if you left me, angry and disgusted it would kill me, so yeah. Just like that. He didn't say a word of it, just shrugged.

"No 'goodbye'? No 'it's been nice knowing you'? No 'see you around'?"

"Yeah... well, I hate goodbyes."

"You're a real bastard, Kid."

Curry shrugged. "So, it's been nice, Heyes. See you around."

"Right." Heyes stared at him, and then pulled his legs up under himself to sit cross-legged and put his hands in his lap. "What's really going on inside that head of yours?"

"What do you mean?"

"'It's time to move on'," Heyes quoted, the words hanging in the air between them. "That doesn't match up with 'I'll leave, I swear I will'."

Curry was frozen. It seemed to take forever for him to be able to speak, but Heyes just sat there, dark and silent, and waited. Finally, "I don't remember saying that."

"You were dreaming. What about? Why did you think I wanted you to leave? I've never said so."

Well, hell. Looks like there's no good way to do this. "You would have, soon enough."

"Now why would you say that?" Heyes sounded interested. Curious. Not to be put off.

Curry tried anyhow. "Just take my word for it, can't you?"

"Kid, I know your word is good—but this is the kind of thing you could be wrong about. Why would you think that?"

Curry sighed and slid back down to stare at the ceiling. Why did Heyes have to insist on knowing so much? Why couldn't he just take a hint, figure out he wasn't wanted (hah!), and leave?

"Look, Kid," Heyes said, almost tentatively; Curry couldn't believe it. "How long have we known each other now?"

"Too long," Curry said without thinking.

Heyes shifted; the bed creaked under him, and then stilled as he did. "I don't think so. I think not long enough is a better answer... but if you mean that—"

Aw, crap. Curry didn't want Heyes going away hurt. "What I mean," he said, "is... damn it, Heyes. I got... thoughts."

"Thoughts?" Heyes repeated. For a half a second he trembled on the edge of making a joke, but he fought the habit—Curry could see him doing it even in the darkness—and said, "What kind of thoughts?"

"Bad thoughts," Curry said. "Wicked, sinful... bad thoughts. It's no good, Heyes. I gotta get away from you."

"Wait a minute. What do you mean?" Heyes was nonplussed. "Am I doing something to make you angry at me, Kid? I don't mean to."

"I know you don't, and it ain't anger," Curry said. "It ain't anything like anger."

"What... oh." Heyes got still again. Curry waited for him to get up and leave. Heyes cocked his head a little and said, "When? When we're out on the range somewhere, camped out, no women around for miles or weeks?"

Curry shook his head. Might as well give him the whole truth. "Nope. That'd be okay, 'cause that'd be what it was. But in fact, it's worse when we're in town, and I've got an armful of warm and willing woman, 'cause that's when I realize I'm wondering how you'd be different, hard and, and angular instead of soft and curvy. It's all the damned time, Heyes, and when you got shot, it damn near killed me. I can't go on like that, hiding it from you. And you sure don't want to know it. So I left. So... I ain't got your money and I ain't got anything else you want, so... See you around, maybe."

"Kid," Heyes said gently, "I wish you wouldn't try telling me what I want."

Curry blinked. "What? What do you mean?"

"I don't know. I have to think about it."


"I have to think about it, I said. Look, Kid; you said we knew each other too long. I agree. Too long to throw it all away just because you've got... urges."

"Urges?" Curry laughed. "Heyes, that makes it sound like I want a drink. It's not an urge."

"What, then?"

Curry thought about it, and then admitted, "A need. A desire."

"Let me make sure I understand you," Heyes said deliberately. "You want to, what? Fuck me?"

Curry shook his head. That wasn't the right word at all. "No. Make love to you. No, with you."

"I see." But he was still there. "That's... different, all right."

"Heyes, do you mean, do you mean you—" Curry couldn't figure out to end that question.

"I don't know," Heyes said. "I never considered it."

"Of course not. It's not normal. It's wrong."

"Let's leave the value judgments out of it, Kid. You're a good man."

"Heyes, you're confusing me."

"I'm confusing you?"

"What are you saying?"

"I just never thought about it before."

"And now?"

"And now I am."


"Thinking about it. Be quiet, Kid."

He was, for a few minutes. Then, "Heyes?"


"What are you thinking about it?"

"Kid, would you shut up? I'm adjusting my worldview here. It's not easy."

Curry obediently fell silent. The moonlight coming in the window had turned Heyes into a study in black and white, as unmoving as an engraving. Curry lay back on his elbows and watched. He loved watching Heyes think, anyway, and now... he was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, he could stick around. That Heyes might let him stay, as long as he kept his thoughts, and his hands, to himself. He could do that. It would be hard but he could do it, as long as Heyes understood, let him get up and walk away sometimes. The last week had shown him how hard it was to get along without Heyes at all...

A long time passed. The moon moved in the sky, and its silvery light shifted on Heyes, but he didn't move at all until he finally sighed and turned his head. Curry held still, waiting for his future. Heyes looked at him, dark eyes unreadable in the shadows. "So," he said, "in your dreams, I figure it out, or you tell me, and what? I what? I leave?"

"Usually," Curry said. "Sometimes you beat the shit out of me and then leave. Sometimes you say it's your hotel room and tell me to leave..."

"Uh-huh." Heyes shifted slightly again.

"So," Curry swallowed and started over. "What are you really gonna do?"

"I don't know yet." Heyes had that tone to his voice he got when he was what he called exploring the possibilities.

Curry shivered. He didn't know why. "Are you leaving?"

"No. No, I doubt it." Heyes shifted position again, as though he were going to get up, though he didn't. "And I'm damned sure not going to beat you up. As if I could."

"I don't fight back," Curry admitted.

"Ah, Kid," Heyes said softly. He was quiet again for a minute. "I think—"

"Yeah?" Never had Curry wanted so much, yet so little, to hear what Heyes had decided.

"I want to try something."

Curry opened his mouth to ask what, but then froze. Heyes had moved with the suddenness he was capable of and was on his hands and knees over Curry, his hands by Curry's elbows and his knees astride his thighs. His eyes glittered in the moonlight and his expression was one the Kid had never seen on his face before. "Heyes," he said desperately, "please." He couldn't finish, didn't know what he wanted to say.

Heyes waited a moment, and then leaned forward and kissed him. It was a gentle kiss, the barest touch of lips to lips, but every nerve in Curry's body sang with it. He heard himself moan as Heyes pulled away to sit back on his heels, that unfamiliar look on his face still. Curry didn't say anything. There wasn't anything to say.

Heyes sighed. When he spoke, his voice was just slightly flippant. "Not exactly out of control, are you?" He paused, and then demanded, "Why the hell did you walk out on me?"

Curry swallowed again. God, if the other man only knew, and how could he be this close and not feel it, how close he was to exploding? "Heyes," he said, "please, Heyes—"

"Please what?"

"Don't," Curry found the words. "Don't do this. Not because you think I feel..." He lost them again when Heyes leaned over him.

"You feel. I think. Is that how we are, Kid? Maybe... But I think I want..." he paused, a smile curving those lips.

"What?" Curry asked, staring into those dark eyes so close to his, clenching his fists in the sheet. "You think you want what?"

"To try that again," Heyes said, and leaned in and did.

This time it stopped being gentle and turned hungry. Heyes's eyes widened in startlement and then closed in pleasure as Curry reached for him and pulled him closer. His hands tightened on Curry's shoulders. Encouraged, Curry slid his own hands down Heyes's back to his hips and then rolled them over, covering the shorter man's body with his own lankier one. He felt Heyes moving underneath him, pressing up against him. He broke the kiss and pulled his head back to look at Heyes. Pushing the dark hair away from the darker eyes, he said, softly, "Are you absolutely sure this is what you want?"

"How the hell should I know? I keep telling you I never thought about this before," Heyes rejoined, his voice rough. "I want to find out."

"Oh, God," Curry said. "I hope it is."

Heyes woke when the sunlight smashed through the window and assaulted him. Trust the Kid to get a room with an eastern exposure, he thought. If they stayed on in town, they'd have to move to his.

He propped himself on one elbow and regarded the sleeping Kid. A bath for both of them. Breakfast for both of them. Hangover remedy for the Kid... And a future. One future.

It was what he wanted. And he knew, as he settled back to wait for the Kid to wake up, that he wanted it for the rest of his life.

And Hannibal Heyes had a habit of getting of what he wanted. And of hanging onto what he really wanted. So he lay back in the sunlight and smiled. One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love. Sophocles knew what he was talking about, Heyes thought, and looked at his future and found it, for the first time since the War, simply good.

the end


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