Staying plastered against the sun-warmed slate, Pete edged forward and inch at a time. He paused for a moment as a scorpion skittered past. Large pincers, which meant its venom was likely not a threat. Figuring he’d still rather not be stung, he let the arachnid creep past unmolested.
Behind him, The Marshall tapped the bottom of his boot. She was likewise laying prone against the landscape, followed by Swimming Fox. Emmy’s eyes were chock full of impatient energy.
Shrugging, he continued to slither forward until he was flush with the cliff’s edge. Below them spread the Dalton Boys’s camp in all its dirty glory. The Marshall squirmed her way until she was rubbing elbows with him. Her eyes widened at the sight below. When Fox joined them a moment later, she seemed unimpressed, but he was staring to wonder if there was anything beneath her icy veneer but more ice.
The Marshall watched for a time, eyes cunning as they flicked over the camp. He knew she was silently plotting how best to kill men who he’d ridden with for months, in some cases years. Pete tried to console himself with the thought that he was protecting Rose, but it still stuck in his craw.
Especially when it came to Big Man. The elder Dalton had been straight, tough, and fair with Pete from the very beginning. He allowed him a full share of the loot, even though he was but a child when he first saddled up with the Daltons.
It hadn’t mattered to Big Man that Pete didn’t have much stomach for killing. The young Indian contributed by being a tracker par excellence, and his rudimentary medical skills were of occasional use.
Of course, he’d also witnessed Manfried Dalton gunning down law men and other bandits with ruthless aggression. Most of the time he preferred not to kill women and children, but if it came to that or being caught, well, Big Man Dalton would always pull the trigger.
Then there was Rose. He truly didn’t wish her to be harmed, but in his heart of hearts he knew there was no way he was going to get close to her again. The Marshall would never allow it. Even if he somehow managed to avoid the gallows or prison, any dream of being with Rose would never come to fruition...
He was shaken out of his reverie by the Marshall nudging his shoulder. Pete had been hoping Rose would be about, but it was unlikely as the sun was still up. It would have been oddly satisfying to see the look of shock on Emmy Lou’s face, had she seen her sister among the bandits.
Pete had little doubt that the two were related, both based on his conversations with Rose and the heavy resemblance. He wondered if the Marshall was as good a gunslinger as her sister.
The Marshall indicated that she wanted to retreat back, but Pete found himself reluctant. After all, he was technically a prisoner, and right there below him were his friends. He could stand up and draw attention to himself, maybe shout--
Right before the Marshall blew his head off. Or maybe the big Indian woman would do him in with her knife, as promised. That would be quiet, and it was likely that his shout would be overlooked amid the din of the mining camp.
He finally decided against raising an alarm. It might be heroic to warn his friends at his own expense, but Pete wasn’t big on heroics. After all, trying to be a hero and save his tribe from needless slaughter had only gotten him burned and exiled.
“Look at his face, Fox,” said Emmy once they were back roughly a hundred yards from the edge. “He was thinking about stabbing us in the back.”
Pete shrugged, trying to pretend the sight of Fox drawing her bowie knife didn’t chill him to the bone.
“It’s a prisoner’s right to plan an escape,” he said simply.
“Then what made you change your mind?”
“Our deal.” Pete nodded toward the camp. “I didn’t want the woman to be harmed.”
“You still ain’t told us this woman’s name,” Emmy said, eyes narrowing.
“Yeah, I guess I haven’t.”
“You might want to, in case the shooting starts and she gets in the way. At least tell us what she looks like.”
“When you see her, you’ll know her,” Pete said with a half laugh.
He saw Fox take two steps forward, and tensed up, expecting death. Instead he got the hilt of her knife across the bridge of his nose. Blood poured from his broken proboscis, and Pete was surprised to find he was on the ground.
“Fox, ease up,” Emmy said. “I know he’s a two faced demon or whatever, but we need him alive.”
“Why?” Fox crossed her arms over her chest, looming over Pete. “He’s served his purpose. It would only be fitting to betray a betrayer.”
“Yeah, but that would make us low, just like him.” Emmy offered Pete a hand up. “C’mon, let’s head back to the others. I figger we can set up a crossfire, take most of them out before they even know what’s going on.”
“Take them out?” Pete shook his head. “I thought you were going to try and bring them in alive.”
“That was before I saw the friggin’ army that Big Man’s drummed up,” Emmy said. “Our little Posse is outnumbered almost four to one, if you ain’t noticed. Shit, that’s not even counting the coolies, if they decide to get involved.”
Pete shook his head. “It’s unlikely that they will.”
His nose was aching terribly, and despite his efforts to staunch it the blood kept dripping out. He took Emmy’s hand, summoning courage for what he was about to do.
“I—feel weak,” he said, swooning just as she pulled him to his feet. He fell in a heap, careful to turn his head to the side and avoid injuring his wounded nose further.
“Damn it, Fox,” Emmy said with a sigh. “You done broke his skull!”
He felt the Marshall’s hands on his shoulder and elbow, trying to assist him.
“C’mon, big guy, let’s get you back to camp so we can take a look--”
Pete snatched her gun from the holster at her side. Almost immediately, Fox was on him, and the Marshall as well, holding his arm out stiff. He hadn’t been fast enough, had no hope of bringing the weapon to bear before they wrenched it from his grasp.
A grin crossed his face. There was still something he could do, a way to warn Big Man before his likely death. Pete squeezed the trigger, discharging a round harmlessly into the dirt. The retort echoed loudly throughout the canyon, and would definitely alert the sentries Big Man always had on patrol.
“Damn it,” Emmy said. She released Pete and seemed unsure of what to do next.
Fox was certain. She put one hand on Pete’s shoulder and buried her Bowie knife under his sternum to the hilt. At first there wasn’t much pain, it felt more like he’d been punched than stabbed.
Then a warmth in his breast turned into a flame, counterbalanced by the cold steel inside of him. Fox put her foot on his waist and pushed him off the blade. He fell backward, not even feeling the impact when his head hit the ground.
Pete stared up at the two women, fingers trying uselessly to stem the crimson tide spilling from the gaping hole in his chest. He didn’t think she’d hit the heart, but it didn’t matter. Most likely he would bleed out all the same.
“What are we going to do, Andiciopic?” Fox asked, though her voice seemed far away to Pete.
“You’re gonna ride back to the others and bring ’em running,” the Marshall said. She gazed down on Pete with what might have been pity. “Why did you do that?”
Pete just grinned. Truth to tell, he wasn’t sure why. It was a spur of the moment decision, fueled as much by the desire to command his own fate than anything else.
Seeing as he was dying on his back in the Big Horn mountains, it seemed like a pretty bad decision.
“You’re not coming back with me?” Fox sheathed her knife after wiping off the blood—Pete’s blood—on the grass.
“Can’t. Them fellers in the camp are gonna be looking for whoever fired that shot, and if they don’t find nobody they’ll track us down but quick.”
“You’re going to use yourself as bait,” Fox said “to get Big Man out in the open.”
Emmy nodded. “I figger he’ll want to make a spectacle out of my execution. Should give you time to set up that crossfire I was talking about.”
Pete frowned. That wasn’t supposed to be what happened. The women were supposed to have run away in fear, giving the Daltons at least a little time to regroup.
“I will ride with the wind, Andiciopic,” Fox said, clapping Emmy on the arm. Then she moved out of Pete’s sight.
“Well, let’s see if I can’t do something to at least make you more comfortable,” Emmy said, taking Pete’s kerchief and holding it over his wound. He moaned in agony as she pressed it on tight. “I’m sorry, fellah, but we got to slow down the bleeding or you won’t make it til your friends find us.”
“You’re...crazy,” he said gasping. “Should be running away.”
“Yeah, probably,” Emmy said with a laugh. “Most likely I was gonna get shot up on this here bounty anyway.”
“You don’t seem...” Pete was overcome by a wave of delirium, similar to a peyote trip. He recovered a moment later. “You don’t seem too upset by that.”
“I guess I’m afraid of going home,” Emmy said with a sigh. “See, this bounty will finally give me enough cash to put my pa up in a nice place. He’s...having a lot of problems with his health.”
“Sounds like you should want to go home.”
“Yeah, sure as hell does.” Emmy shook her head. “You ever hear that phrase you can’t go home again?”
Pete nodded, feeling momentarily too weak to talk.
“Well, it’s damn sure enough true. I done shot a whole lot of folks since I left home. Oh, they all deserved it, trust me, but that don’t mean I can’t see their eyes in my dreams, staring at me...”
Pete was a bit surprised by that. He’d always assumed that law enforcement never shed a tear over their fallen quarry.
“Oh, don’t give me that look,” Emmy said with a sigh. “I’m hoping that when Big Man Dalton goes down, the rest’ll scatter like cockroaches. I don’t want a blood bath neither.”
“That’s what you’re going to get,” Pete said, noting that the rag was stained all the way through. “Marshall, I don’t think I’m going to last much longer.”
“What makes you say that? Does it hurt more?”
Pete giggled. “No, it doesn’t hurt at all. Kind of feels warm...”
“Hang on, buddy,” Emmy said, taking his hand. “Stay with me now, all right?”
“Listen,” he said, trying to stare intensely though he was fading fast “you have to pass on a message. Tell Rose that I love her.”
“Rose?” Emmy cackled. “That’s funny, my sister’s named Rose...Hey, buddy, come on, stay with me here...”
Emmy’s voice faded away. Pete found his vision clouding over, though he knew his eyes were wide open. He tried to think of Rose’s face, hear her voice, but all he could think of was the knife as it forced its way rudely into his body.
Then he wasn’t thinking anything at all.