They hit the payroll, catching them in a crossfire as they came into Horseshoe Canyon on their way to pay the miners at the Atlas Coal Mine in Wayne. There were only two guns protecting it and Morris and Holly picked one off each from their perches across the canyon. The two men leading the packhorses tried to flee, but they shot the horses out from under them and then had to scramble to their own mounts to catch up with the fleeing payroll. That they did, intercepting the stampeding horses before they could scamper up the narrow and winding trail that led from the canyon to the plains above.
When they had calmed the panicked animals they left the canyon behind, heading up into the hills to the north where they had a camp set up. There they watered the horses and set them loose to eat and counted their day’s earnings. They were giddy as they went through the coins and the well-creased bills, over two hundred fifty dollars worth. They could sell the two pack horses too and probably get close to three hundred when it was all said and done. Holly whooped and danced, kissing Morris and pulling at his beard.
He laughed in joy at her delight. “No more worries for awhile, Holly dear.”
“No more worries, Morris honey,” she said and pulled him to his feet to join in her dance.
Once they had eaten and the horses had rested they set off again, having transferred the payroll to their person and gotten rid of the satchels. They rode east into ranching country, pressing as far as they thought the horses could manage, before setting up camp for the night. A fire seemed risky so they ate pemmican they had made some days before and fell into each other’s arms for warmth. Coyotes and foxes provided a chorus as they drifted off to sleep.
The next morning they were on horseback before dawn, setting a hard pace. When they came near to Brooks, Morris headed into the town and sold the two pack horses, leaving Holly to wait on the outskirts of town. An hour later a posse arrived by train, led by the Northwest Mounted Police. They interviewed the locals and found the man who Morris had sold the horses to, which matched the description of a man whose face could be seen in every post office in the territory.
Everyone they talked to agreed, Morris Hestin had left town heading east and so that was the way the posse went. The posse’s scout picked up their trail and they followed it for two days. It was on the evening of the first that Morris and Holly caught wind of the pursuit and decided to ride all night to see if they could lose them. The posse was relentless, though, and had fresher horses and no need to press them, confident in their scout’s abilities. On the evening of the second day the scout took them into the Cypress Hills.
Morris and Holly had taken refuge in a trapper’s cabin in the forest surrounding Elkwater Lake. Set atop a hill they reasoned they would have a clear view of anyone approaching, and if necessary they could make their escape down one of the trapper’s trails. They had food and water to last another two or three days before they would have to flee. But they had not anticipated a posse in pursuit, expecting there to be only a handful of men, not the dozen or more who arrived at the foot of the hill on the morning of the third day.
When Morris saw the number of men gathered below, peering up at the trapper’s shack, he knew they had little time to waste. He roused Holly from her slumber and led her at a run out the back of the cabin to one the trails, hoping the posse hadn’t had time to discover them all. They left the horses behind at the front of the cabin, hoping to slip through the posse’s net before they even realized the two had gone.
They almost made it, but one of the posse, a young man with a burnt face, caught sight of someone ducking around the cabin to the trails. The posse split, with half of them rushing up the hill in pursuit, while the other half moved around the hill, trying to cut off their escape trail. Morris and Holly fled, careening down one of the trails. Behind them they could hear the sounds of the posse in pursuit, the thunder of the hooves on the hilltop.
“We got to get where there horses can’t go,” Morris said, between frantic breaths. Molly just nodded and they dove off the trail and into the forest where the underbrush was thickest.
The two arms of the posse met up half an hour later and they realized that somehow Morris and his counterpart had made their escape. A few rushed back to the trapper’s cabin to make sure the two didn’t return for their horses, while the rest got off their horses and combed through the trees, trying to pick up their trail. By the time they did, Morris and Holly had stolen a couple of horses from an American whiskey trader—who the posse found dead the next day, his throat slashed—and they were on the run again.
It was not until two weeks later that the posse picked up their trail again, which led them to Dorothy, a little village not far from Wayne and East Coulee where the robbery had taken place. The NWMP men removed their uniforms and trickled into town slowly over the morning, so as not to alert Morris and his counterpart. A few words with the locals revealed that Morris was in the Dorothy Hotel where he had taken up with a woman for the last two days. The Mounties agreed that he and his counterpart must have parted ways at some point since the Cypress Hills.
The constable in charge of the posse slipped into the hotel to talk with the manager, who confirmed everything. “Yep, those two came in together day before last. Hardly seen ‘em since. They get food and drink sent up there. Not stingy, by any means.”
There was no one else staying in the rooms on the top floor, so the constable had the rest hotel evacuated while his men surround the building. They put men on the stairs, men on the fire escape, men at each exit, and on every street surrounding the hotel. The constable and two other men went up the stairs and down the hall to the room where Morris and his woman were cooped up.
“Morris Hestin,” the constable called out, as he came near the door. “We know you’re in there. We have the building surrounded. Surrender now.”
There was no response within, though the constable could hear a flurry of movement, including what sounded like a pistol being cocked. “Don’t be a damn fool Morris. You can’t shoot your way out of this.” The constable paused and looked at the nervous faces with him in the hallway. “At least send the girl out. She’s no part of this.”
Within the room Morris was peering out the curtains of the window. “Looks like we’re through Holly dear.”
“No, Morris, no. There’s always a way.” There were tears in Holly’s voice and on her face.
Morris turned back to her and gave a sad shake of his head. “I’m sorry Holly. But there’s no way out for me. You can go though.”
“I won’t leave you Morris.”
“There’s no sense both of us getting hanged Holly. No sense at all. You heard the man. They don’t know you was a part of it. You can walk right on out of here. So you just go. Leave some of the money and just go.”
Holly shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I won’t leave you Morris. Not like this.”
“You got to Holly. You got to.”
At last Holly nodded. She gathered most of the money, hiding it on her person, and pulled out her pistol and shot Morris in the heart.
“I got him,” she called out. “I got his gun and I shot him.”
She threw the pistol on the floor and held up her hands, watching as Morris slid down, his hands at his chest. The constable burst into the room with the others behind him, their own pistols raised. Morris looked up at them and then found Holly’s eyes and he smiled.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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