The Cave

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Eight

As darkness crept across the high desert, the wind howled up the Chama Valley. By the time Knight darkened the tavern door, the wind switched from the north, carrying flurries foretelling the season’s first storm.

He swayed as the wind blew out the oil lamps. His glazed eyes swept the room until they fell upon Townsend. The lawman and the aborted search party sat quietly in the tavern, somberly nursing beer and whisky. Stumbling in, he slammed the empty whisky bottle on a table. The railroad agent raised his head and squinted at the wailing drifting from the upper rooms.

“I take it Amado and his daughter know,” Knight slurred.

Townsend nodded. “I caught ‘em just before he set out for Santa Fe with the search party.”

“You did everything I asked?”

Townsend nodded again.

“I’m going to bed. There’s killing needs doing come dawn. Wake me before first light.”

With that, Knight stumbled to his room and slammed the door shut. A barmaid closed the tavern door, but not before another slipped in unnoticed from the windswept darkness.

Knight lay fully clothed, boots on, on top of the sagging mattress. Motionless and eyes closed, he breathed deep and ragged like a passed-out drunk. Townsend and his men’s muffled voices floated down the hallway and mixed with the branches rattling the window.

Something slinked across the floor in the pitch-black room.

Alert and cold sober; Knight’s senses were fully engaged. Eyes closed, breathing unchanged, he knew hell shuffled only a few feet from the end of his bed.

He smelled the cave in the cramped space between the bed and the washstand.

It’s deciding whether or not I’m really asleep.

Like a spider, the enemy needed to ensure the venom was fully engaged before it wrapped the fly.

Suddenly, the dark presence seemed to expand.

The Colt blasted from under Knight’s right leg. In the muzzle flash, Knight saw a man slam against the opposite wall. Knight sprang up and discharged another cartridge where he calculated the body fell. Through the ringing in his ears he heard a groan.

Townsend and his men exploded into the room brandishing guns and lanterns. Through oily gun smoke and dingy light Knight saw the motionless form of Nesbitt Carl against the shattered washstand.
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