Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes
Ben Murphy as Kid Curry
Walter Brennan as Silky Sullivan
James Drury as Lom Trevors
Stevie Nicks as Lily Hart
Nicole Kidman as Melanie
Wally Cox as Vernon
I. "Give to me your leather/Take from me my lace"
Kid Curry twisted his fanny into the cushion of a seat at the rear of the theater and stacked his feet on the seat in front. He'd been lugging backdrops, costume trunks and props all morning, and now his share of the show was finished. He could stay in this seat for the next six hours if he wanted to, and he wanted to.
--Until the familiar click of bullets being chambered into a revolver brought his feet to the floor and his hand to the Colt at his hip. A scuffy youngster dressed in a layer of dust stood in the doorway, a revolver in one hand, bullets in the other. Curry tried to read the youngster's eyes. "Theater's not open yet," Curry said cautiously.
The boy just kept loading his gun.
"You lookin' for somebody?"
In a way that looked unsettlingly familiar, the boy holstered the gun, tipped his hat back and hooked his thumbs into his belt. "You," he answered through his scraggly beard.
"You got my attention. What d'ya want?"
"Thought you might like to join me for a beer, maybe a couple of hands of poker."
"I don't--Lily?!" Curry squinted his eyes at the kid. "Hey, that's good."
The actress threw him a grin--also unsettlingly familiar, and he realized that in studying for this role, she'd copied Heyes' gestures and habits. Curry felt a little, well, ignored; if she wanted to move like a gunslinger, Curry would've been a better model. If only she knew.
She sauntered down the aisle and back, asking, "What do you think of this walk? Do I pass?"
"Too much swagger. A gunny doesn't walk big; he is big. When you know you can outdraw any man in town, you walk easy."
"OK." She practiced again, more subdued. "Hey, Thaddeus, I mean it about that beer. The Blue Dove Saloon's just two blocks down. I figured I'd see if I've got this role down. Want to come?"
"You're going into a saloon? Dressed like that?"
"Sure. Don't you think I can pass?"
"On stage, yeah, but...."
She tugged at his sleeve. "Aw, come on. I won't stay long. I got to know if I'm ready to play Jesse James. Besides, I always wondered what a saloon's like."
"How about if I just describe it to you over a cup of coffee?"
"Coward," Lily teased. "Or are you ashamed to be seen with me?"
Curry and Heyes had been traipsing around the West for six weeks now with the Boston Repetory Players, nominally starring the celebrated--celebrated in Leadville, Ely and Tuscon, anyway--Vernon and Melanie Lansky, but in practice featuring the hardworking but little noted Lily Hart. Like Heyes, these people made a living with words, so whatever they wanted from Curry, they usually got. Shrugging, the Kid offered his arm.
Lily refused to take his arm. In her Jesse James voice, she growled, "Now if you cain't 'member who yer dealin' with, pard, ya best keep t'other side o' the street."
As they passed the millinery shop, Curry slowed a bit and eyed Lily sideways. Was she going to stop and "ooh" and "ahh" at the fineries, as any normal woman would? He would have felt much better if Lily had pulled him inside to admire lacey things, but Lily passed the shop without a squeal or a gasp.
Curry clicked his tongue in dismay. Somebody would have to teach this hoyden how to be a proper lady, and as no one in the troupe seemed to care--and Heyes, that lout, was even amused by Lily's tomboyishness--it looked like Curry was elected. And the fact that a few weeks previously, Lily had conned him into putting on a dress and going onstage to play a maid had nothing to do with it. Really.
"Well, here we are." Lily paused at the batwing doors, hitched her gunbelt and sauntered in. Figuring he'd better show her what to do, Curry parked himself at the bar and displayed two fingers for the bartender. In a moment a pair of beers sild into his waiting hands and he pushed one to Lily. She quaffed hers enthusiastically, her nose wrinkling involuntarily as the strong odor and stronger taste assaulted her senses.
Curry turned to survey the afternoon crowd, looking, as always, for a badge, a familiar face, a hostile stare, a hand on the holster. But the four other customers had their hands on greasy cards and their minds on a small pile of bills in the center of their table. Curry returned to his beer.
"Got room for another player?" Lily/Jesse inquired as a gray-eyed cowboy took possession of the pot.
She knew they'd sized her up as a kid, and therefore an easy mark, but she'd been studying poker for a week now under the tutelage of Joshua Smith. She drew a pair of jacks on the first round, picked up a third on the second, and raised to two dollars.
Gray Eyes squinted at his hand, scratched his elbow and raised to three dollars. Lily tightened her mouth and called. Gray Eyes displayed three queens.
Lily fumbled a little as she fanned the deck--she still hadn't quite got the coordination down yet. Gray Eyes smiled patiently.
Lily drew an ace, a three, a four, a five and a ten; she surrendered the ace and the ten and picked up a deuce and a six. Her eyes lit up. In all her lessons, she'd never had a better hand. She bet four dollars.
Gray Eyes tipped his beer, scratched his elbow and raised to five.
From the bar, Curry groaned to himself. He could see what was going on. He hoped Lily couldn't.
Lily sat up straighter and called. Gray Eyes produced a flush.
"Kinda hot in here, innit?" Lily asked casually. "Ain't you kinda hot in that coat, friend?"
Gray Eyes blinked. "Nope. Feelin' real comfortable, friend."
"Guess you musta been at it a long time, so's you hardly notice it any more. Now me, I'd be real uncomfortable in that heavy coat, 'specially with all those extra cards up the sleeve."
Curry and Gray Eyes went for their guns simultaneously, but Lily went for the table, dumping it on top of her rival. With great relief, Curry jumped into the fracas. As his fist dislodged a jaw, he grinned and reckoned the odds: one player had retreated; the other two sided with Gray Eyes. Three against one--well, one and a half, he admitted as Lily broke her beer mug against Gray Eyes' sneer. Good exercise. And he was just limbering up when sunlight spilled from the opened doors and bounced off a tin badge. Oops. Well, Lily would be all right now, but if he stayed any longer, he wouldn't be. Curry scampered out the back way.
Back in the theater, he roused Vernon. "Lily's in trouble."
"What else is new?" But Vernon dropped his newspaper. "Come on. Where is she?"
"Blue Dove Saloon, two blocks south. Don't ask me how she got there."
"I've been working with Lily two years now. I know better than to ask. Let's go."
"Sorry, I--I got into a little trouble there myself--"
Vernon pushed passed Curry without a word.
Curry had located Heyes and both were pacing the stage wings. "You should've stayed with her," Heyes complained, though he knew full well Curry shouldn't have stayed.
"You shouldn't have taught her to play poker, or at least not how to spot cheaters."
"You shouldn't have let her go into a saloon in the first place. She might be hurt. What if that cowboy hit her back?"
"I told you, the sheriff came in and broke it up. She's all right."
"Why aren't they back here yet, then?"
"How should I know? Knowing Lily, she probably decided to tag along after the sheriff and study him for a while."
"Hey, fellas! You got any money?" Vernon trotted in, panting. "Round up the troupe. We got to come up with twenty dollars before six o'clock or cancel the show!"
"What's going on?" Curry grabbed Vernon's arm. "Money for what?"
"Bail. Lily's in jail for disturbing the peace."
"If she tells him what she was doing, the sheriff will let her out," Heyes said.
"Tell him? He thinks he's got a gunfighter in his jail. He's going through dodgers now, trying to figure out who she is. She won't even tell him she's a girl. Says she wants to see what jail's like, so she'll understand Jesse better." Vernon suddenly grinned. "Actually, we can use this! Imagine the publicity we'll get when we announce our Lily had the sheriff fooled into thinking she was Jesse James."
Heyes was digging into his pocket. "A dollar ten. You?"
Curry opened his palm. "Sixty-three cents."
Vernon winced, but accepted their offerings. The trio shook down the troupe for a grand total of $11.40, which Vernon pressed into Heyes' hand. "Joshua, it's up to you."
Heyes poked at the coins glumly. "I don't know. It's not too likely I can find anything more than a pennyante game this time of day, especially after Lily turned the place upside down."
"Well, do the best you can. Meantime, Thaddeus, you can help me memorize Lily's part, just in case she misses the show."
Scratching at her glued-on beard, Lily paced her jail cell. It was a lot smaller and less formidable than she'd imagined. She was beginning to get bored already. What did prisoners do after days of such confinement, she wondered. Did they read, daydream, play poker, pray? She counted the lines on the sheriff's face and made up a story for each one. That killed an hour. She mumbled the lines from tonight's play: another two hours down.
She strained to read the wanted posters tacked up behind the sheriff's desk. "Wanted Dead or Alive for Murder of the Deputy Marshall of Johnson County: Curly Boone. $1500 reward. Age 53, gray hair, brown eyes, five foot nine inches, weight 165."
That description fit the sheriff.
"$500 reward for capture and conviction of Maud Hudson, for operating brothel. Age 42, brown hair, brown eyes, five foot two inches, weight 120."
Lily stopped pacing. She stared at the posters for a long time, then finally sat down quietly to think.
"Sheriff, we've got the twenty," Vernon, in costume--he'd be playing a priest tonight--dropped fistfuls of coins on the sheriff's desk. After counting the stack twice, the sheriff unlocked the cell and gestured Lily out.
"Thank you, Sheriff," she said in her normal voice, and she put a wiggle in her walk as she exited. "See you tonight at Town Hall, six o'clock. We're doing The Secret Life of Jesse James."
II. "I have my own life/And I am stronger than you know"
Backstage after the show, Curry spotted a boy of ten or so wandering around clutching a piece of paper. "I suppose you want to meet Jesse James, huh?" This was the best part of the job, as far as Curry was concerned. "Come on, I'll introduce you."
"No sir, I got to see Mr. Smith. You him? I got a telegraph."
"I'll take it to him. Thanks." Curry had no coins to offer for a tip, so he gave the boy a pass to the matinee.
"Joshua Smith, Boston Repetory Players, Richardson, Colorado. Very close friend of yours dying, wants to see you and Jones immediately in Cheyenne. Your enemies know about this. Careful. Lom."
"Close friend. Wonder who?" Heyes peered at the telegraph.
"The governor? That would explain the caution. Heyes, maybe he wants to give us the amnesty before he dies!"
"I don't think it's the governor. Lom didn't say 'mutual friend.' And if the governor of Wyoming was dying, it'd be in the newspapers. No, it's got to be one of our old cronies. Soapy, Silky, one of the gang. If it's one of those guys every lawman and bounty hunter in the country would converge on Cheyenne, waiting for us to show up." Bitterly Heyes demolished the telegraph. "We can't go."
"But if it is Silky or Soapy we've got to go. All they did for us, Heyes--we can't let them die without respecting their last wish." Curry inspected his gun; his mind was made up. "Even if it's Wheat or Kyle, I want to be there for 'em, just like I want them to come if it was one of us."
"But you wouldn't expect Wheat or Kyle to risk their necks for us, would you, just to say goodbye?"
"No. I wouldn't expect them to ask for us if they were dying, either. They'd ask for Sweet Sal or Honey Bess from Miss Maud's Pleasure Palace, but not us." Curry grabbed his partner's arm. "What if it's Clem? She'd send for us. She'd know we'd want to be there with her, no matter what. You think it could be Clem?"
"Not for a second." Heyes smiled reassuringly. "She's too feisty to die. Don't even think it, Kid. Look, if it was her, the law wouldn't be waiting for us to show up. Nobody knows about our association with her."
"Most likely Silky or Soapy then. And it must be real important, whatever he wants to tell us, knowing what it would cost us to come." Standing, Curry holstered his gun. "I'm going."
"Maybe one of us should go. If he gets into trouble, the other'll be on the outside to fish me out."
"If you got picked up in Cheyenne, not even I could get you out," the Kid said.
"Well, I'm not sure I could get you out--"
In the doorway of the storage room stood Lily, her hair damp and her face red from the scrubbing she'd just given it to remove her beard. "I could get you in and out without anyone knowing you'd been there." She scooted herself onto a crate. "Before you get annoyed at me for eavesdropping or worry about how much I know, let me tell you I know who you are." She looked from one to the other with a puzzled and hurt expression. "I thought I was sure before, but you didn't seem to remember, so then I thought I was wrong, but then when I was in jail I saw the wanted posters and I knew for sure."
"Lily, I don't know what you think you know, but I do know people have made mistakes about us before. It's true we do sort of fit the descriptions--" Heyes stopped short. "All right. Maybe you do know about us, but there's something else--if you knew about it, it might change your mind...."
Curry had his gun in his hand. Both Heyes and Lily gaped at him. "I never had to draw on a lady before. Damn it, why didn't you stay out of this? Why did you get that fool notion to go into that saloon? Aw!" He reholstered the gun but snatched up a length of cord, took a step toward Lily, then decided he couldn't go any farther and threw the cord at Heyes, who stared at it. "Here, you tie her up."
"Oh..." Lily understood now. "You think I'd turn you in." Her face darkened. "You do! You think I'd turn in my friends! Sell you out!" She crossed her arms furiously. "You--" she sputtered at Curry, then glared at Heyes. "You think that too?"
"No." He dropped the cord.
"Heyes," Curry protested.
"All right. It's your neck too." The Kid settled himself on a crate. Heyes was never wrong about people. Almost never. Usually never.
"We apologize, Lily," Heyes offered. "You had an idea about Cheyenne?"
She nodded her acceptance of the apology, then explained her idea. Heyes joined in, refining the plan, working out the errors. Curry counted his bullets and waited for the sheriff to barge in.
III. Alas, he was the highwayman/The one that comes and goes/And only the highwaywoman/Keeps up with the likes of those"
A young woman in a sunbonnet burst into the Honest Deal, Finest Saloon in Cheyenne, and shrieked, "It's them! It's Curry and Heyes! Sheriff Trevors got them pinned down at a shack on Lodge Pole Creek! He needs help!"
Chairs and dust flew as assorted bounty hunters, lawmen 'on vacation,' intrepid private citizens and even a Bannerman man or two hit the boardwalk.
The young woman watched the bartender seize a shotgun and scurry along after his customers, then she moved on to the general store, shouting, "It's them! It's Curry and Heyes! Old Man Moncrief's got them pinned down at his ranch--" She didn't get to finish her sentence.
A brown-haired, black-hatted man on a sorrel bent to kiss an elderly preacher leaning against a cane, then the horseman nodded to a blond man on a bay. The preacher and the radiant mother-to-be at his elbow waited until the horses had beaten a path east before proceeding on their pilgrimage.
Lom Trevors hadn't slept well these past two weeks, burdened by worries about his friends and his own career, concerned lest Heyes and Curry would be foolish enough to ride into Cheyenne. When he'd sent the telegraph, after much indecision, he'd hoped Heyes would talk the Kid into staying away. A sound mind not given to rash emotionalism, Heyes wouldn't--
"It's them!" A female voice shouted from the hospital lobby. "It's Heyes and Curry! They're pinned down on the Varney ranch!"
Heyes would. Lom raced from Silky's private room to the lobby in time to hear doors slam and see a sunbonnet disappear around a corner. Well, it was time for another of those awful decisions: go help Curry and Heyes (if that was possible, and with several hundred money-hungry, over-excited Wyomingites riding around with that "dead or alive" statement in their back pockets, it probably wasn't possible) or stay here and protect Silky from the revenge seekers and money-hungry 'friends' and 'relatives' that had suddenly shown up once it became known the old man was dying. Lom returned to Silky's room and with a whisper of explanation, he slipped Silky a Derringer and ran after the crowd riding east toward the Varney ranch.
"There! I see something! It's them!" A rancher lifted his rifle and took careful aim at a black hat poking up from a hay mound.
"You mule, you'll scare 'em off!" A bounty hunter knocked the gun away. "Wait'll we get closer. They ain't goin' nowhere. That bunch comin' up behind 'em will take care of that."
"Good morning, uh, pastor," the nurse smiled guiltily and ducked her head into her paperwork.
The preacher smiled back with understanding. Lapsed churchgoers always reacted that way to his collar. "Nurse, this is Mrs. Murtry. She speaks no English; she's from Ireland. As you can see, she's about to have a baby and she needs assistance."
Mrs. Murtry groaned and rubbed her aching back.
"I'll get a doctor. You can take her down the hall, third door on the right, pastor."
"I got him!" An overzealous deputy hooted to his superiors. "I got Kid Curry! Drinks are on me, boys!"
"Aw, hell, you didn't get him. Look!" A white-shirted rider on a bay some quarter mile off took to flight.
"I got him! I winged him! I know I did!" the bartender protested as his posse moved forward en masse.
"It was my fault you went the way you did," Silky choked. "If I hadn't taught you my techniques and put it into your head that you could outrun the law, why, they'd've caught you early, give you a year or two in prison, enough to stare you off. You'd be herdin' cows, mendin' fences and mindin' your own business now."
"Now, Silky, that's--"
"Don't interrupt me, Kid. For a young lady in the family way, you have terrible manners. Listen. Lom told me about the deal with the governor. You get that amnesty, but it ain't gonna be easy afterward. I'm speakin' from experience. You may be free as far as the law's concerned, but you'll be lucky if you can get a job sweepin' sidewalks. If you got a stake, you could leave the country. Keep your aliases. Get some land, cattle, keep to yourselves. Maybe raise families. You understand me? But stay out of situations where you'll be around a lot of people, you understand? Don't ever use your real names. That's the only way. Now, listen, I'm leavin' you some money. You stay out of trouble and get your amnesty and then you get the money, see? Lom will supervise it for me. You're wonderin' why I don't give it to you now."
"No, Silky, we don't want--"
"Didn't I just tell you to hush up? The money's for you to settle down with. I know you two. If I give it to you now you'll gamble it away. Or worse, you'll run off to Mexico, figurin' you'll wait for your amnesty there. Well, don't think it. You stay close, make the governor stay honest. If you're out of the country, he can forget about you. You don't let him forget, not even if it takes years, because when you're my age, you can't run no more. You get the amnesty, then you get the money and leave the country. See?" Silky slapped the preacher's arm. "Now you get out of here. One more thing."
"Long as you got those duds on, I want to hear you say you forgive me for leadin' you wrong, when you was just kids."
"What do you mean, 'forgive you'? We love you, Silky," Mrs. Murtry squeezed the old man's hand.
"You got it all wrong, Silky. If you hadn't helped us, we'd have got ourselves killed in some pennyante holdup, long ago." The preacher grinned at the irony of it. "And it looks like you're going to save us again. You have our word: we'll stick it out."
At twilight, a caravan of nine traveling actors converged around a roaring campfire on the banks of Horse Creek. A dirty, discouraged, would-have-been posse pulled up at the fire and requested sustenance, which they were cheerfully provided, along with a sample of The Comedy of Errors and an invitation to a full performance next week at the Denver Playhouse.
"Come on, boys," grumbled a rancher. "These horses are stove in; theirs have got to be too. They can't get far tonight. We'll go back to town, rest up, then go out at sunrise."
"I think we should keep lookin' tonight. I know I winged Kid Curry," a deputy argued. "What do you think, Sheriff Trevors?"
Cinching his horse, Lom smiled in the darkness. "I agree with Mr. Moore. You try to ride in these parts in the dark, on exhausted horses, you're askin' for a broken neck."
Moore offered his hand to Vernon. "Thanks for the food. Good luck in Denver."
"Good luck yourselves."
When the last rider disappeared, Melanie stood, stretched and picked up the sunbonnet she'd been sitting on all evening. With a laugh she tossed it into the bonfire, where it joined three black hats and three brown hats in Hat Heaven.
"I wonder what Shakespeare would have thought of our performances today," mused Vernon. But the troupe, too tired to speculate, took to their bedrolls, all but Lily, who pulled the red wig from her head and ran to the covered wagon.
"It's clear," she announced within, and was answered with sounds of bejeweled sixteenth-century costumes being shifted about as a preacher and a blond in calico unburied themselves.
"All right, Goldilocks?" Lily bestowed a kiss on the blond's cheek. "We won! And none of us got shot. Henry V couldn't have done better."
"Sorry about this," the preacher remarked, indicating Lily's now close-cropped brown hair. "But you were the prettiest Hannibal Heyes I've ever seen."
"Very convincing, too," the blond added, stepping out of her calico.
"Not yet!" Heyes and Lily said in unison, and with a chilling look at both, Curry yanked the dress back over his head.
"We'd better go now," Heyes said. "Give the troupe our thanks. When the amnesty comes through, look for us in the wings."
"It won't be hard to find us. We'll keep our names in the newspapers. As long as you keep yours out of them, we'll know you're safe and sound. Well, safe anyway," Lily amended, adjusting the Kid's skirt. "Keep your skirt down, sister. It's not decent for expectant mothers to show their ankles."
Curry daintily tucked in his skirt as he mounted a mule. "Lily, you're a first-rate actress and a first-class friend, but do me one last favor? Promise me if we ever meet again, you won't turn me into a woman any more."