[identity profile] loyseofverlaine.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] aliassmithjones
Title: Transients

Author: Verlaine

Genre: Gen, angst

Word Count: 5028

Warnings: Major character death

Summary: The end of the line for two outlaws.

Notes: Thanks as always to [livejournal.com profile] hardboiledbaby, for beta duty. Her good advice and encouragement is always appreciated.

I was alone in the sheriff's office when the telegram came.

Things had been pretty quiet around Porterville for a while, though that wasn't uncommon in the spring. The farmers were busy seeding, the cattlemen were keeping an eye on the calving, and most everybody else was just plain grateful to have made it through another winter. I had some fine coffee on the stove, last week's newspaper to keep me company, and I wasn't planning on doing much more than sitting with my feet up on the sheriff's desk until it was time to do my noon rounds. Might even have thought about a little nap, just to rest my eyes, you might say.

When I heard a horse coming in fast, I swung my feet down and headed for the door. Sheriff Trevors had left me in charge, and I knew just how fast things could go from 'pretty quiet' to 'rip-roaring hoo-raw', even a town as generally peaceable as Porterville.

I didn't get across the office before young Johnny from the telegraph office came barreling in, eyes all wide and his hat pushed crooked.

"Hey, Harker, sheriff around?" He waved a yellow sheet at me.

"Nope. He's gone over to Salt River. Got word from some ranchers over there 'bout cattle rustlers, thought he'd have a look-see."

"Shoot! This here telegram come from Cheyenne for him. From the governor's office."

I could see why the kid looked excited. We don't hardly see folks from the capital round these parts, except when there's an election coming. Most of us are happy to keep it that way, what with governors changing lately like the daily special at the restaurant.

"Well, give it here, son. Sheriff won't be back 'til tomorrow at the earliest."

"You sure, Harker? It's addressed right to Sheriff Trevors."

"Yep, and the sheriff ain't here, and I'm his deputy, so that makes me the feller in charge. C'mon, hand it over."

Me and Sheriff Trevors decided a long time ago, if a telegram comes to the office, whoever's there opens it. Sheriffin' business can't always wait on good manners, and I like to think Sheriff Trevors trusts me enough that it won't bother him none if I see something other folks oughtn't.

Johnny handed the telegram over, still looking a mite uneasy, and sort of fidgeted around by the desk, waiting for me to open it.

"Thank you kindly," I said, and put it away in the desk drawer.

He grumbled something I was pretty sure would've been fightin' words if I'd heard them right, and stomped back outside.

Once I was sure he wasn't going to pop his head back in, I pulled the telegram out and opened it up.

I read it, then read it again.

Then I got out the bottle Sheriff Trevors keeps in the bottom drawer of his desk and poured myself a good shot, right in my coffee mug. The whiskey didn't change the news, but a little warmth in my belly made it easier to stand.

For a minute I thought about sending off a telegraph to Salt River myself, and then decided not to. This wasn't something the sheriff oughtta read alone. And a day or even two wouldn't make any difference now.

**

"Howdy, Harker," Sheriff Trevors said as he came in the door just after noon the next day. "Everything quiet?"

The sheriff always asks me that when he comes back from out of town, and usually I can tell him there ain't been no trouble at all. Sometimes we get cowhands whooping it up over to the saloon when a herd comes through, or some fellers might have a falling out over anything from a pretty girl to a bet on which way a dog will run across the road, but mostly folks in Porterville work hard and mind their manners. I like to think a fair bit of that is due to having a pair of fine lawmen like me and Sheriff Trevors around, but the truth is Porterville was never all that wild and wooly.

I'd been dreading giving him that telegram—hadn't hardly slept the night before, and got up before dawn to go sit in the office and drink coffee. I was mighty tempted to hold it back, give him a chance for some rest and a good meal at home before he had to see it. But he wouldn't thank me for it; the sheriff was a man who believed in facing his troubles head-on.

"This come from the capital yesterday. It's not good news."

I handed him the paper. I already knew the words by heart.


To: Sheriff Trevors, Porterville

H. Heyes and J. Curry dead. Request bodies released next of kin soonest.



Sheriff Trevors settled into his chair like he'd been pole-axed. "Jesus Christ," he whispered.

I don't hold with taking the Lord's name in vain, but to me that sounded more like a prayer than anything else, so I answered, "Amen."

He dropped his head down onto his hands, and I turned away and paid strict attention to the wanted posters on the far wall. See, he'd rode with them boys some while back, before he turned over a new leaf, and though he might've changed his ways, I believe he always had a feeling he could have ended just like they did. I might argue with that, because Curry and Heyes always seemed to me to have a streak of go-to-hell in them that Sheriff Trevors never did. Thought themselves sharper than the rest of us, especially one getting-rusty-at-the-edges deputy, and didn't do that fine a job of hiding it.

When I heard him get up and reach for the coffee pot, I turned round. His hand wasn't quite steady as he poured for both of us.

"How do I tell Caroline?"

That stopped me cold. I hadn't even thought ahead to telling Mrs. Trevors—Miss Porter, as was. She'd set quite a store by those two, even after she found out they weren't really "in banking". You'd think a lady banker might have some hard thoughts about a pair of rapscallions like Curry and Heyes, but I guess a pair of big blue eyes and some dimples can make a woman forgive a lot of things.

Sheriff Trevors looked at me helplessly, and I just shrugged. I've been baching it since I was a wet-behind-the-ears young'un, and women are as much a mystery to me now as they were then.

He sighed and sat back down and looked at the telegram again, though I could tell he wasn't reading it.

"No sense putting it off," he said after a while. "I'll talk to the missus and head out first thing tomorrow."

"You ain't going there alone."

He looked up at me. "Harker, I'm not sure there is anybody else. Heyes and Curry had a lot of friends, but I can't see many of them turning up at the territorial prison and walking away again."

"Reckon I'll mosey along with you, sheriff." I put my cup down firmly. "Mrs. Trevors would have my hide if'n I was to let you handle this by yourself."

Sheriff didn't say anything, but the look on his face told me I'd made the right decision.

**

I don't know what kind of persuading the sheriff had to do to keep Mrs. Trevors from coming along with us. The woman may flutter around like one of them little canary birds, batting her eyelashes and fluffing her ribbons, but she's got enough steel in her spine for any three men. Bein' the sheriff's wife, not to mention dealing with the bank whenever her pa has one of his spells, she's seen a sight more of the hard side of life than most folks would think. Still, a prison ain't no place for a lady.

She saw us off at the station the next morning, with a kiss on the cheek for him, a hug for me, and a packed picnic basket to tide us over on the trip. Sheriff stood out on the platform looking back at her until the train rattled around the bend and Porterville passed out of sight.

When he finally came in, I shifted so he could take the window seat, having a feeling he might like some privacy. He clapped me lightly on the shoulder and sat down like he'd been carrying an anvil instead of a carpetbag. He put his hat in his lap, and tilted his head back, looking up at the ceiling above us.

"Mrs. Trevors all right?" I asked, more to break the quiet than anything else.

The sheriff glanced over at me with that look he sometimes gets, like he's not real sure whether I'm dumb as a post or just joshing him. Then he went back to looking at the ceiling.

We bumped and swayed along through the rangeland, passing a quick-stepping herd of antelope and a few cattle dozing along the edge of a slough. Mainly the land felt big and empty and quiet, and I let the calm sink in and settle into my bones.

The train was slowing down for the pull up the grade heading into the foothills before Sheriff Trevors finally said something.

"You remember when Heyes and Curry first came to Porterville?"

"You mean when the bank blew up?"

He laughed a little at that. "Yeah, Harker, when the bank blew up. You remember us running into the town square, and there's Caroline, racketing on about how wonderful Smith and Jones were, how they'd saved the bank's money and such?"

I nodded, not really sure where he was heading.

"My wife ever give you the impression she's a fool?"

"Can't say as she has," I said carefully. A man's wife's reputation is nothing to trifle with.

"She doesn't know I know this, so don't you let on neither. That night, she didn't have any idea who Smith and Jones really were, but she knew for damn sure they weren't out for an evening stroll and just happened to fight off a bunch of outlaws. What she was doing, the best she could, was trying to keep you and me from getting into a gunfight we couldn't win."

I thought for a minute, and slowly my memories of that night shifted around some.

"She ever find out you rode with them?"

"Told her before I asked her to marry me. Husband and wife can stand to keep some secrets, but something that big is bound to come back on a man sooner or later." He gave me a studying look. "How long have you known?"

"Well now, there can be a lot of slow evenings in the sheriff's office. I kind of like to go through the old wanted posters, keep my hand in, you might say." I grinned at him. "Some of them make right fine tinder when the stove gets low."

Sheriff shook his head a little, a half smile on his face. "You're a caution, Harker," he said. "Once I left that life, I knew I wasn't going back. Didn't see a reason to dredge it up any more than need be.

"Anyhow, I know Caroline was fond of Smith and Jones. But I've always had the idea she liked Heyes and Curry better the further away they got. And now they're dead, she wonders if she takes any of the blame."

I knew what he was really thinking was if he took any of the blame. Wondering maybe if those boys had hid out in Porterville and stayed quiet, they'd be alive right then. I thought on it a spell, because Sheriff Trevors didn't often sound unsure, and though he wasn't exactly asking for advice, I figured he needed it.

"Well," I said finally, "I reckon Mrs. Trevors had the right of it. Don't get me wrong, Heyes and Curry were nice fellers, but they were never gonna be ranch hands or storekeepers or even bank clerks. They were never gonna be satisfied with the kind of money they could earn, or the kind of life where a man knows every day what tomorrow will be like. And that kind of hankering for something more always ends up in trouble."

Sheriff pondered on that for a minute or two. He didn't say anything, but some of the lines on his face smoothed out a mite, and he gave me another clap on the shoulder before he went back to looking out the window.

We rattled on through the hills, past Columbine and down to Brimstone. Neither of us said much, just watched the trees passing by. Sheriff was still troubled, but his load had lightened some, and I was glad of that.

The train stopped in Brimstone long enough for folks to stretch their legs, so I hopped down with the two tin cups Mrs. Trevors had packed for us and brought back some hot coffee. Sheriff Trevors took his cup with a twitch of a smile, but then went back to looking out the window. I managed to get him to eat one of the biscuits Mrs. Trevors had put up for us, but neither of us touched the fried chicken or the pie. Couldn't speak for him, but the closer we got to the prison, the colder the lump in my throat got to feeling.

**

Territorial prison is a grim place.

If Heyes and Curry had been sent to Yuma, they probably would've survived. Model prison, they call it, and to hear tell, there's more teaching and reforming there than punishing. Folks at Yuma figure that when a man's fallen from the straight and narrow, he should be helped to do something with his life instead of slipping back to the ways that got him locked up in the first place.

But here in Wyoming, prison is harsh as any hellfire preacher could want. Silence and leg-irons and punishment details, work in the stone quarry by day and cold stone cells by night. I heard tell once consumption carried off more men than got released. Place made my skin crawl.

Sheriff Trevors handed over the telegram at the gate, and explained who he was. They marched us in to see the head guard, name of Morton, who looked to me more like he should be wearing stripes himself. I'd thought for sure the warden would come down to talk to us, notorious as Heyes and Curry had been, but nobody even sent for him. Seems the warden had more important things on his plate than a sheriff from the backwoods of Wyoming.

When Sheriff Trevors gave him the telegram, Morton squinted at the paper in a way that made me wonder if he could read at all, and then spat some tobacco on the floor, not quite near enough for us to take offence.

"Curry and Heyes?" he said. "You come a long way for a pair of no-accounts like that." He spat again. "Figured them two for a pauper's grave."

"Folks asked us to take care of the burying," Sheriff said with a totally straight face. Hannibal Heyes himself couldn't have done it better.

"Hmph!" Morton made a face like he bit a persimmon. "Quicklime back of the stockade is all the likes of them deserve."

"Paper from the governor says to release the bodies." Sheriff Trevors put a little steel into his voice. "Reckon I'll need to give him a reason if I can't collect them."

Morton kinda curled his lip at that, then stomped over and put his head out into the corridor.

"Halley!" he bawled out. "Halley, you and Blanding escort the . . . sheriff here down to pick up them bodies."

The look he gave us both made me see red a mite. No call to be disrespectful to Sheriff Trevors, who far as he knew, was a nothing but a lawman doing his duty.

Halley and Blanding was cut from the same stripe as Morton—hard and callous as one of them blocks out in the quarry. They walked us down one hall after another, and I wish I could say it was a fast and quiet trip, but no.

The two of them took some pleasure in telling us about the end of Curry and Heyes. They kept looking at us from the corners of their eyes, like they were expecting us to have an attack of the vapors, bein' such small-town boys and all.

Curry on his own might have survived, at least for a while. He had his reputation as a fast gun, and he was the kind to keep his mouth shut and hunker down inside himself. But Heyes—Heyes never could keep quiet. Never could stop trying to shift the odds somehow. Heyes couldn't abide stupidity, and Curry couldn't stand brutality. And in prison there's enough of both to fill the craw of any ten men, and not all from the prisoners neither. Every time Heyes drew punishment, for arguing or trying to figure out a way around some regulation, Curry would stand up for him, and then he'd be on punishment detail too. I did some figuring later on, and came to think they must have spent nearly all their time inside on half-rations. Heyes drew more time in solitary than most men did during their entire sentences.

That last time, Heyes had already been sick, and he'd tried to weasel his way out of the quarry. For that, he'd drawn a caning. Only six strokes, because he truly was sick, but if there's mortal pain in this world, it comes from a lash. Curry tried to fight, and they put the lash to him too. When they cut him down, they pinned him on the ground, and broke his right arm.

And stomped on his right hand.

Sheriff Trevors flinched at that, like he'd been hit himself. I felt my stomach turn, and was powerful glad we hadn't had an appetite on the train.

Blanding said, with a little bit of surprised respect, that Curry had been one tough hombre: he'd never made a sound, even when they were grinding their boots into the splinters of his fingers. It was Heyes who screamed and fought, came close to killing a guard trying to reach Curry, until one of them smashed him in the back of the head with a rifle butt.

It took them three days to die, and they passed within about an hour of each other. Heyes never moved or spoke again, not surprising with half his head stove in. Curry took a fever and sank fast. If he'd been anywhere but prison, they might have taken his arm off and saved him, but they let him die.

I think that may have been the first kindness anyone did him there.

I didn't think things could get worse, until Halley said something so filthy about them I couldn't believe my ears. Before I could even blink, Sheriff Trevors swung round and had him pinned to the wall, one arm across his throat. He punched him in the gut, once and then again, so hard and fast it was over before I even rightly saw what he was doing.

Beside me, Blanding swore and started to pull his gun.

I ain't as fast as I used to be, but I haven't lost any size over the years. I took that gun out of Blanding's hand and held him just off the floor and shook him until I heard his teeth rattle. When I let him drop, he didn't get up.

I didn't try to pull the sheriff off of Halley; state he was in, he might've turned on me, and that could've brought us both to ruin. I moved up to stand beside him, so he could see me, and leaned in close.

"You think about your wife," I said, real soft but real clear. "Them boys can't be hurt by none of that fool gossip now."

It took a minute, but his eyes cleared, and he let go of Halley and stepped back. He nodded at me once, crisp and cold, and I half-turned, so I could keep both those yellow-bellied loudmouths covered if need be.

Halley tried to bluster some, but Sheriff Trevors cut him off with one hard look.

"We're taking our friends out of here," he said, and his voice was cold, the voice he uses when there's gun trouble at the saloon. "Unless you plan on shooting yourselves a sheriff and a deputy, you'll put your guns away and keep your filthy mouths shut. Now where are they?"

Blanding sat up, swore at me again, and then pointed down the hall.

"Last door on the right. Take 'em and get out, before we decide to keep you here."

They'd laid the boys out on a plank table in a storage room, nothing but bare stone walls and floor. I thought then, and think to this day, that the chaplain in that place should have been ashamed to call himself a man of God.

We stood on either side of the table, looking down at the two bodies. They didn't look like no fast gunmen or dangerous outlaws, more like a pair of half-starved kids, especially Heyes. I know there has to be law, has to be penalties for breaking the law, but still—Curry's right arm was a sight to make any decent man sick. Without another word, we wrapped the winding sheets around them. I picked up Curry, the sheriff picked up Heyes and we carried them out of that hellhole and into the sunshine.

**

It was a long silent ride home.

When the train pulled in at Porterville, Sheriff Trevors pretty near fell off the train steps and into Mrs. Trevors' arms. He held onto her so tight I could hear a little squeak, but she never said a word, just hugged him back hard as she could hold.

When he let her go, she came over and hugged me too. Little slip of a woman, but she felt like sunshine and fresh air, like everything clean and bright in the world. The shadow of prison would keep coming back to me and the sheriff for a long while after that, but she started us both on the road to healing right then.

Mrs. Trevors had brought the buckboard to the station, with two coffins ready in back, and we laid the boys out best we could. We drove straight out to the cemetery. Mrs. Trevors was ready to spit fire. She'd spoken to Reverend Duncan, and he'd told her he couldn't say the Lord's words over a pair of unrepentant outlaws, especially since they hadn't served enough of their sentence to hardly begin to pay for their crimes.

I've never claimed to understand the ways of the Lord—men and women are sometimes trial enough for me—but when I thought on what I'd heard back there in the prison, I figured they'd paid for everything and then some.

**

The headstone reads Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.

The sheriff and Mrs. Trevors had decided on that before we left for the prison. We didn't want nobody coming round and causing trouble with the grave. While they were in jail, during the trial, the newspapermen and the gawkers and ghouls had themselves a field day. Sheriff Trevors managed to save Heyes' battered black hat and Curry's jacket, but pretty well everything else they owned got sold off for souvenirs. I heard some easterner bought Curry's gunbelt for five thousand dollars, out-bid Buffalo Bill Cody himself to get it. The guards even sold off scraps of their clothes. If it hadn't been for Sheriff Trevors, those boys might have got on the train to prison in their drawers.

So they'll lie here under false names. Maybe, in time, everyone will forget, and then they can claim their names back. For now, all they can have is the peace of the grave, and I'd say they earned it.

**

Some strange folks have come through Porterville since we buried Heyes and Curry. Don't have much in common, except they all go out to spend a little time at the burying ground. A preacher man come by from New Mexico; he was the one finally said a few words over the grave. A couple of older gents, one of them a Mexican, came from down Texas way, by private railcar. They left an envelope of money with Mrs. Trevors for the day when we could put up a headstone with the right names. The one that weren't a Mexican said Curry was his nephew, though that don't sound quite right to me.

Saddest was a weaselly-looking feller, claimed to be a Bannerman agent. When he come back from the grave, he headed straight for the saloon and got as drunk as I've ever seen a man in my life. Kept sayin' the world just got a lot rottener.

Sheriff Trevors told me later he was telling the truth—he really was a Bannerman man, name of Briscoe. He'd ridden two horses into the ground trying to get to Cheyenne in time for the trial, so he could speak for the boys. Missed by less than half a day. Sheriff said Heyes told him that was pretty well the story of Briscoe's life.

Sheriff and Mrs. Trevors still come out here regular to keep the graves tidy, and sometimes I lend a hand, when my rheumatics allow. Mrs. Trevors planted some Indian paintbrush and wild coneflowers on the grave, and it makes a fine show in the summer.

Often enough, I'll come out by myself and have a seat in the shade. It's a peaceful place for ponderin' on things, and sometimes I could swear I hear Heyes' voice, giving me advice. Not that I always follow it, but sometimes it feels like I come home with a dose of horse sense I didn't have before.

Yesterday, when I passed by there were two more strange fellers there. I recognized them, too: they'd been in town right 'bout the time Heyes and Curry first showed up.

"Howdy, gents," I said. "You boys planning on heading to town? Maybe play a few hands of poker?"

The bigger one gave me a cold, squinty stare, and the little one rolled his eyes and shifted his cud.

"You still enforcing them rules on transients?" the little one asked.

"Yup," I said with a bit of pride. "Porterville's a nice quiet town, and me and the sheriff aim to keep it that way."

"In that case, we'll be moseying on once we've paid our respects." The big feller looked down at the grave, shaking his head. "Never thought they'd end up like this."

"Damn shame," I agreed. "If that amnesty—"

"Amnesty?" the big feller cut in. "Let me tell you 'bout that amnesty. One year, the governor said. One year of keepin' out of trouble and stayin' on the right side of the law. And three and a half years later, when they finally got arrested, where was that amnesty?"

There wasn't anything I could say to that. It had preyed on Sheriff Trevors' mind, the way the governor had kept putting off the amnesty with one excuse after another. Me, I'd always figured the governor hadn't ever meant to keep his word. Them folks up in the capitol are slicker than a greased hog, and it would be just like 'em to bank on Heyes and Curry gettin' caught or killed or just plain starved out before they'd ever have to make good on the deal.

"Hear tell the governor wouldn't even talk to their lawyer, let alone admit the amnesty offer."

"Wheat's right," the little feller said. "That yellow-bellied sidewinder might as well have bushwhacked them hisself."

He pulled off his hat and turned to look down at the grave. "Real sorry to see this, Heyes, Kid," he said.

He reached inside his coat and brought out a bottle of whiskey—not some old red-eye hooch, but the kind of good sippin' liquor you'd find in a fancy saloon. He cracked the top and poured out a splash on the headstone, and took a slug himself before passing it to Wheat.

"Always thought I'd do better as leader of the gang," Wheat said. "Never wanted to find out this way." He tipped up the bottle and swallowed once, twice, and then set the remains of the bottle down by the headstone. Beside it, he put a deck of playing cards.

"You rest easy, now. Me n' Kyle will look after the boys."

They stood quiet for another minute, and then Kyle nudged Wheat with one elbow, and waggled his eyebrows up and down.

"I'm getting' to it, don't rush me," Wheat grumbled.

He hitched up his gunbelt a mite, and then reached into his pocket and handed me a double-eagle.

"Make sure that grave gets kept up real good."

I wanted to ask him if he really thought stolen money was the best way to remember Heyes and Curry, but I kept my mouth shut. Those two wouldn't be back this way, and they needed to think they'd left something useful behind.

"We'll tend to them," I said, and tucked the money away.

Without another word, Wheat and Kyle went to their horses and mounted up. Kyle tipped his hat to me, but Wheat just gave his horse a slap with the reins, and they cantered off.

I watched them until they passed over the hill and onto the trail leading west, wondering if maybe I should have tried to arrest them. They were bound to be wanted for something somewhere. On the other hand, they weren't heading for Porterville, and they hadn't started a ruckus with me. And the transient rules really did only apply in town.

I went back to the headstone and laid the double-eagle down by the whiskey and the cards.

"We'll tend to you," I promised.

After all, they weren't transients no more.

Date: 2014-06-06 02:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] emeraldarrows.livejournal.com
*tears up* This is so achingly sad but beautifully written.

Date: 2014-06-06 05:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] laurose8.livejournal.com
Thank you for this most excellent fic. Beautifully written, and every character so well done!

Date: 2014-06-06 09:04 am (UTC)
hardboiledbaby: (ASJ sepia)
From: [personal profile] hardboiledbaby
My heart is still in a zillion tiny pieces. Excellent work, V, as always

Date: 2014-06-06 09:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] solosundance.livejournal.com
Beautifully done - love how they fought for each other in jail until the last... waaah, you have killed me dead *cuddles boys*
Edited Date: 2014-06-06 09:55 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-06-13 08:09 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
So sad. Well done! :(

Date: 2015-06-13 06:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kassidy62.livejournal.com
this is such a very good story - the story of how they both got injuries that ultimately did them in in defense of each other sounds true, if incredibly sad. I like how detailed the story is, what with the gawkers after, and selling off the gunbelt and scraps of clothing, and that awful detail about Briscoe being a half day too late. It's another bit of bitterness to swallow that the governor never did intend to give them amnesty, but it's so believable.

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