“So how’s it feel, being sent off for the easy duty with the womenfolk?” Jimmy Dalton peered from the back of the wagon, trying to see if his barb had any effect.
Sam shifted on the bench next to her and grumbled. The vigor with which he snapped the traces seemed to mean that the junior Dalton’s words had hit home.
“Ignore him, my dear,” Lucky said. “He’s dying.”
“He’s awful dang lively for a dying man,” Sam said, casting a glance over his shoulder. Jimmy Dalton stank to high heaven, and he kept his bandaged hand beneath his coat most of the time. If he wasn’t dying, he soon would be.
“Yeah, I’m dying,” Jimmy said bitterly. “Pete didn’t want to say, but I am.”
“He’s just an Injun,” Sam said “if you’d let me or Lucky take a look-”
“NO!” Jimmy cradled his limb against his torso and shook terribly. “You heard Pete! He said don’t unwrap it til I get to a proper doctor! Can’t you smell how bad it is?”
“Yes,” Lucky said, her nose wrinkling. “It seems almost familiar somehow...”
“You’ve smelled gangrene before?” Sam asked.
“No, but...” she shook her head and sighed. “It’s not like I wished to be here playing nursemaid to a sick desperado. That Marshall doesn’t like me, not one bit.”
“She’s just jealous,” Sam said “on account of how much prettier you are.”
Lucky giggled in spite of herself. Sam may not have been a brave warrior, but he was charming.
“I’m gonna puke,” Jimmy said, shaking his head in disgust.
“Shut up, you!” Sam held the traces with one hand so he could twist in his seat to glare at the smaller man.
Dalton grinned back, his eyes full of spite. “You gonna hit a dying man, deputy?”
Sam’s gaze narrowed, and his nostrils flared.
“Using the term loosely, of course,” Jimmy continued. “I heard about how you was cowering behind a rock while all your hombres was getting shot at.”
“Shut up,” Sam said, turning around to face the trail ahead. He ignored the next few verbal jabs from Dalton, steering the wagon up a meandering path through the foothills.
The day grew a bit cooler, and the wind carried a scent of rain. The skies above were a dull iron gray, casting a somber pall on the normally picturesque landscape.
“Please don’t rain,” Lucky said “please don’t rain, please don’t-”
She cursed in Spanish as a fat raindrop hit the bridge of her nose. Squawking, she threw a hooded cloak over her shoulders as Sam reigned in the team.
“Shoulda sprung for a covered wagon,” he said as the rain came harder and heavier.
Jimmy Dalton began laughing.
“Now we’re all gonna die!” He tilted his head back, rain plastering his hair against his skull. Lucky hoped that the deluge would at least make him smell a bit less like rotting fish.
There was something about that notion, comparing him to a bad kitchen smell, that she thought she should explore more thoroughly. However, the constant downpour led her to consider other matters.
“Is there anywhere we can take shelter? A cave, stand of trees, something?”
“I think the best we can do is hide under the wagon,” Sam said.
“In the mud?” Lucky stared at her travel worn dress and sighed. It was already in bad shape, but rolling around in the cold mud seemed a bad idea. She spied a large green tarp folded up in the back. “Why don’t we get under that?”
By the time they got the tarp deployed over their heads, all three were thoroughly soaked. The tarp seemed waterproof, but the rain was a cold Autumn rain and sucked the warmth from their bodies.
Worse, the smell of Jimmy Dalton’s hand was stifling under the tarp. She held her portion a bit higher overhead, trying to let some fresh air in.
Mercifully, the rain was short lived. They were miserable and cold and soaked when they took their spots back on the bench.
“We should stop and dry out our feet,” Sam said “might get blisters.”
“We’re nearly to Sweetwater. Let’s just press on, it’s not like we’re walking.”
“Yeah, we’re almost to Sweetwater all right,” Jimmy said from the back. “That’s my cue.”
“Your cue for what?” Sam said, half turning with a sneer on his face. “To be a pain in the-”
Lucky gasped as Pete raised his bandaged hand in the air. The water had soaked the gauze, rendering it transparent. It was easy to see the derringer concealed in his palm, as well as the bits of fish guts he’d been using to create a faux gangrene smell.
Too late, she tried to warn Sam. The derringer cracked, and Sam clasped a hand to his shoulder. He screamed, blood pouring from between his fingers, and retched all over himself before tumbling out of the wagon.
Lucky forced her shocked body into action, her movements clumsy and slow. By the time she got her hands around the hilt of her weapon, Jimmy Dalton had a knife to her throat.
“I’d let go of that if I were you, pretty lady,” he said, his sour breath almost as bad as the rotted fish smell.
“Sam needs help,” she said, releasing the weapon.
“I’ll get right on that,” he said, taking her sidearm. Once he had her pistol he stood up in the back and pointed it at her, pulling the hammer back.
“Stand up, and get back here,” he said, kicking his discarded knife to the rear corner of the flatbed. He glanced around, and spied the manacles Emmy had purchased back in town. “Turn around!”
Lucky grimaced as he yanked her hands behind her back and locked the shackles around her wrists. They consisted of d-shaped iron hammered flat with a round bar that locked into place. Highly uncomfortable, but she noted that they were a bit too large to truly hold her securely. Probably because they had been meant to hold men.
She feigned helplessness, even tugging a bit on the manacles as he roughly turned her around.
“You were faking,” she said. “Why?”
“Oh, it’s a real stroke of genius, little lady, but I’m not about to tell you.”
“Why not? We both know you’re going to kill me.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” he said, licking his lips. The way his eyes lingered on her bosom made her inwardly shudder. Then he shook his head like a wet dog. “No, that’s how you got into trouble the last time, Jimmy.”
His eyes took on a dark cast. “Yeah, I reckon I’m gonna kill you...eventually...”
She couldn’t resist turning her face away as he caressed her wavy, dark hair. The manacles rattled as she slid them downward, almost all the way off her hands.
“So tell me,” she said “why pretend to be dying of gangrene? That’s a lot of trouble to go to to hide a weapon.”
“Well, when you’re hunting the devil, be a devil yourself. It’s the only way.” Jimmy laughed, his hands fondling her chest. She gasped on cue, forcing herself not to yank her wrists completely free. Not until she reached the derringer in her garter. “Only it didn’t work. Shoulda known my Pa didn’t give a damn about me enough to come to my deathbed. Shit, he went and dragged Manny back himself, in person.”
“You wanted to...shoot your own father?” Something in her tone made him stop his revolting attentions, and he stood a bit back from her.
“Yeah, I wanted to shoot my own father,” he said bitterly. “I don’t wanna live in Mexico for the rest of my life, and I don’t see why I should be satisfied with a meager share of the gold. I worked out a deal with them Chinese fellers. I kill Big Man Dalton, and we split the take fifty fifty. Five thousand bars of gold will set me up wherever I like, and I’m thinking British Colombia is a nice place. It’s a lot cooler than Mexico, at any rate.”
“For money,” she said sadly. “You’re going to murder your own father for money.”
“Don’t you judge me,” he said, face twisting into a sneer. “My Pa is a rotten, dirty, low down snake! You know he was planning to kill all the Chinese workers? No loose ends, he said.”
“I’m surprised you give a damn about them,” Lucky said, arching her eyebrow.
“Shit, I don’t!” Jimmy had a good belly laugh. “But it was great leverage for my own little negotiations. Course, I’m planning to double cross the Chinamen myself, but the only person who knows that got hit on the head so hard she ain’t never gonna wake up.”
“So what will you do now?”
“Now?” Jimmy sheathed her pistol in his belt and strode forward, hands taking her roughly by the waist. “Now I’m gonna sample your goods...”
“No,” she said as he mauled her neck “what will you do about your father?”
“Oh, I’ll figger something out,” he mumbled.
“You’ve been most informative,” she said as he groped her breasts. His hand found one of her derringers just as she slipped out of the manacles.
“What the hell is this?” he asked, extracting the weapon from her cleavage.
That was when Lucky pressed her second and third concealed derringers under his chin.
“A gun, Pendejo,” she said right before twin blasts destroyed his face.
Ignoring the blood and brains spattered on her formerly fine garment, she vaulted to the dirt to assist Sam.
He was barely conscious, blood pumping out of his bullet wound at an alarming rate. She tore a bit of his sleeve off and stuffed it into the hole. Using strips of rawhide, she secured the crude bandage in place. By the time she finished, the cloth was was soaked through with blood.
“Come on, Sam!” She cried, trying to leverage him up into the wagon. His legs buckled and both of them tumbled hard to the ground.
Again and again she struggled to lift him, and always met with failure. With her strength nearly spent, she slapped him hard across the face until he was barely cognizant. Finally, the two of them were able to lurch his feeble body into the back of the wagon. Lucky regretted that he had to lay atop Jimmy Dalton’s corpse, but there was no time to rearrange them even if she had the stamina.
Lucky drove the horses hard, continuing to whip them into a frenzy even when one of her wheels began wobbling. The horse’s bits were covered with foam, their eyes wild as she thundered right through the streets of Sweetwater. Locals scattered out of her way, staring at her gore spattered form.
By the time she reigned the team to a stop outside a sawbones, Sam was unconscious again, and no amount of slapping could bring him around. Fortunately, she had created such a ruckus that there were more than enough hands to help her carry the wounded man into the clinic.
Shakily, she recounted her story to the sheriff, who seemed dubious at first but grew more convinced from her earnest re-telling. Her voice broke when she spoke of killing Jimmy Dalton, and the circumstances which led to it.
“Take it easy, miss,” he said, patting her hand. “I think you’re in shock.”
Lucky shook her head. She wasn’t the type to go into shock. After all she’d been through, it just didn’t seem possible. It wasn’t that Dalton was going to kill her, she realized. It was what he meant to do to her first...
All at once Lucky felt sick, and rushed from the clinic to vomit in the street like a common drunkard. Eventually the doctor came out to speak with her about Sam, but it didn’t feel real. Sam’s life was balanced on a razor’s edge, and all they could do was wait.
Lucky gritted her teeth. There was no way she could just sit around and wait for Sam to die. That would give her too much time to dwell on the Dalton incident.
She rejected the offer of a bath and clean clothes. When the sheriff and doctor tried to object, she displayed her written commission from Amelia. It may not have been as flashy as a badge, but it got the job done.
The only thing she stopped for was reloading her derringers. She kept Sam’s pistol, and Jimmy Dalton’s as well.
Spoils of war and all that.
When she caught up to the posse that evening, she was almost exultant when it was Krupp who rode out to challenge her. One look at her blood stained, heavily armed form gave him pause.
“What in the hell are you-”
Lucky drew Sam’s pistol and shot him between the eyes. When the Marshall and the others ran out, buckling on gunbelts and carrying on to wake the dead, she just sat there in the saddle staring at his body.
“Lucky? What’s going on? What are you doing back here?” Emmy asked. Fox knelt down and checked Krupp for signs of life but there were none. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” She shook her head. “This blood belongs to Jimmy Dalton. I killed him as well, for the same offense I killed Krupp.”
“Which was?” Emmy asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Trying to force himself on me.” Lucky dismounted and took Krupp’s pistol, rilfe, and ammunition, coldly adding them to her own. “Sam may not last the night. Turns out Jimmy Dalton wasn’t hurt at all. Wanted to draw his father out of hiding.”
“Why?” Emmy asked.
“To kill him.” Lucky stared at her ghastly wardrobe. “I’m going to bathe in that stream. Tell the menfolk to keep away if they don’t want to be shot.”
She was expecting Pusser to raise a ruckus over the death of his long time partner, but the man just sidled out of her way and tipped his hat.
“Ma’am,” he said, his somber but not angry face seeming to suggest he wouldn’t be carrying a grudge.
If he did, she would have no compunctions killing him as well. It seemed to solve a lot of her problems.