Scampering across the uneven terrain, the bound man strove for both speed and silence. The short chain binding his hands together before him made silence a sketchy prospect at best, and his fearful, frantic movements hindered rather than enabled his attempt to be swift.
Still, Emmy Lou was impressed. Squinting her eyes against the early morning light, she took aim with her Winchester rifle and squeezed the trigger. A sharp crack rang out over the scrub plain, echoing off the Medicine Bow range to the south. The man’s dusty hat blew off of his head, sporting a new hole.
“Sweet Jesus Christ!” The man threw his arms up in the air and turned around. His gap toothed grin belied the flint in his dark eyed gaze. “I was just looking for a place to piss!”
“Uh huh, and I’m a Chinese coolie.” Emmy reloaded her rifle and brought the butt to her shoulder. “You know, you ain’t worth that much more alive than you are dead, Mitch. Maybe I oughta put some lead through your noggin, save myself some grief...”
“No! Wait!” He stumbled and landed hard on his rump. “I won’t try to escape no more, I promise!”
“Knew I shoulda kept riding last night. Cabron’s only twelve miles out.” Emmy stopped aiming, resting her gun’s barrel across her shoulder, which made Mitch collapse in relief. She turned toward the north, tucking a bit of her copper-gold hair behind her ear as the wind picked up. Chains rattled as Mitch shifted into a sitting position. She could feel his eyes running over her body, though it was largely hidden beneath her travel-stained leathers.
“You’re purdy,” He said, smiling his gap toothed grin.
“You ain’t.” Emmy’s freckled nose wrinkled in disgust. “You got what my Pa called a summer mouth. Some ’er yer teeth are there, and some ’ernt!”
“You ride with Robert E. Lee for six months eating nothin’ but maggoty bread and raw potatoes and see how good yer teeth look, girly!” Mitch spat in the dirt. “You’re lucky you got the drop on me in Sweetwater, or I’d of shot that big iron out of your hand and showed you how a lady is supposed to treat a man.”
Mitch gestured toward the Colt Army Single Action revolver at her hip. The gun was a work of art, with engraved rose vines on the cylinder and barrel. The grip boasted white marble stocks, making it heavy but durable. Mitch had a knot on the back of his head thanks to a good wallop from it.
“I reckon it’s a pretty nice piece,” Emmy said, patting her side arm. “Better’n those refurbished models what had to be done up to take the cartridge rounds.”
“I reckon you’re a pretty nice piece,” Mitch said, leering.
“I reckon you’d best-” Emmy paused, ears straining for sound. She snapped her gaze about, the Wyoming air clear and crisp on that Autumn morning.
Then she spotted the source. Three riders, coming her way at a gallop. Though it was too far to make out great details, they were clearly coming toward their camp.
“It’s my friends come to rescue me!” Mitch got to his feet. “You’d better jump on that shaggy moose you call a horse and vamoose.”
Emmy opened one side of her mouth and clucked her tongue. A short whinny and a pounding of hooves answered her summons. A heavy-boned stallion with a rich dark chestnut coat came trotting to her side. He had a white patch around one eye, marring his smooth coat, and each of his hooves was large and coated with a sheen of curly white hair.
“Easy,” she said, taking his reigns in hand. The stirrup had been modified so she could reach her foot up and mount the great beast. Patting his mane, she coaxed the horse to turn about and face toward the riders.
They were nearly upon them now. From their dress, they had been living on the road for some time. Even her worn leather breeches looked posh compared to the hole-ridden, filthy garb they clothed themselves with.
“Whoa.” One of the men reigned up about twenty paces from their position. He was a thick fellow of middle years, with a jagged scar on his neck. Both he and his younger companions were all armed with pistols, and she thought she saw the butt of a rifle on the older man’s saddle.
“State your intentions, mister!” Emmy Lou still had the rifle in her hand, though it was just laying across her saddle at the moment. “This here man is a wanted criminal, and I’m acting under the auspices of the governor of-”
“Save it, missy.” The man coughed and spat a dark stream between his toothless gums. “We know who he is. Mitchell O’Connel, wanted for cattle rustling and indecent acts with children.”
Emmy glared at Mitch. “If I’d a known about the children stuff, I’d be hauling in a corpse.”
“It wasn’t like that!” Mitch pleaded with his manacled hands. “She said she was of age!”
“Stuff it.” Emmy took her rifle off her lap, but kept the barrel pointed at the ground. She noted that the men all shifted positions in their saddles, making it easier to draw their own weapons. “I’m hauling him in to Carbon. Done deal.”
“I don’t think so.” The man nodded towards the younger men. “My boys might be skinny, but they can shoot the eye out of a sparrow at a hundred yards. We’re taking him in, and you’re not gonna give us no trouble. Hear?”
“Mister, I don’t know what this man done to you, but-”
“He ain’t done nothing. I want the three hundred dollar reward on his head.”
“Three hundred, huh?” Emmy whistled. “If I’d a known he was worth that much, I’d a brought in a few more bodies on this one. I’m willing to share the bounty with you, mister. I keep two hundred, you get one, seeing as how I hauled him damn near the whole way.”
“Not a chance.” The man pulled back his long coat, his empty hand moving toward his weapon.
Emmy didn’t think, she just acted. Her rifle snapped up to her shoulder and she fired off a wild shot. It didn’t hit any of her foes, but it did cause their horses to panic. While they fought to control their mounts, she rolled off the back of her mount and landed on her booted feet. Smoothly, she drew a cavalry saber from behind her saddle, baring the naked blade. She gave his rump a slap and shouted, prompting him to charge into their ranks.
Her massive stallion bowled right into them, knocking the patriarch to the grass, his drawn pistol sent flying. Emmy drew and fired in one fluid motion, sending a barrage downrange at the two younger men. One of them took a bullet in the throat. His eyes went wide, hands clasped around his torn and bleeding neck. His brother was only nicked on his thigh, and managed to return fire.
Emmy dropped to her belly, taking cover behind a rock. A few rounds ricocheted off her shield. She counted, smiling when she heard his hammer clicking harmlessly.
Rising to one knee, she braced both her forearms on the rock and took aim with two hands. It was her last chambered bullet, and it had to count...
Emmy put her round right between the man’s eyes as he was trying to reload. That just left their father.
They spotted each other at the same time. He glanced at his weapon, lying in the shadow of a low bush ten feet from his outstretched hand. With a shout, he tore to his feet and dashed toward it.
Emmy knew she didn’t have time to reload. Snatching up the saber from the dirt, she charged toward the man. Just when his hand was about to close on his pistol, her sword came chopping down. His arm was severed just past the wrist, both bones in his forearm snapping like kindling. He screamed, then vomited, then lay curled up in a ball cradling his maimed limb.
“Damn.” Emmy reloaded her pistol and was about to put the poor sap out of his misery when she noticed that Mitch had taken flight. “DAMN!”
She clucked her tongue and her massive steed came trotting to her side. Once on horseback, she had little trouble catching up with the outlaw. Reaching down to her saddle, she undid a braided lariat and spun it in the cool morning air.
It was a perfect cast, the loop falling nicely over his shoulders and tightening around his waist. Could have been ugly, if she’d have gotten him around the neck...
Then it was a matter of winding a bit of length around her pommel and reigning in the big stallion. When Mitch came to the end of the rope he rebounded and sprawled on his back in the dirt.
Each of the slain men had been penniless, and had lacked even hard tack or jerky for sustenance. They did have a tin of tobacco between them, and a leaf of French rolling papers. Emmy rolled herself a cigarette before divesting the corpses of their weapons, ammunition, and boots.
“Robbing the dead,” Mitch said with a sneer. “You should be ashamed!”
“And here I was about to roll you one,” she said with a chuckle. “Never mind, then.”
Emmy gathered up the men’s horses, which had wandered off while she was looting. They were skin and bones, hardly quality horseflesh but she figured she could get a few bucks off of the lot.
She started to put Mitch on one of the steeds, then shrugged her shoulders and decided he would walk. After all, it was only twelve miles to Carbon.