Bad Company

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Chapter 26

Emmy, Doc, and Lucky

“Rose...” Emmy said, feeling a mixture of shame and grief when she gazed upon her sister. Gone was the spindly little girl who sat in the corner trying to catch the sunlight, with her vacant eyes and self-absorbed demeanor. The creature a dozen paces away from her seemed more animal than human.

“Our Daddy died, Emmy,” said Rose in a voice as cold as the grave.

“I know, Rosie,” she said, squinting with her good eye. Her vision seemed to be returning in her damaged eye, albeit slowly. Emmy had been beaten before, but Big Man Dalton really leaned into his swings. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry doesn’t solve anything. Then there wouldn’t be police. That’s what the chinamen told me.”

“Rose, I’m the god damn police!” Emmy longed to walk forward and take her sister by the shoulders, and give her a good shake. The shotgun shoved in her back made that option seem dubious. “Look who you’re caught up with here! I mean, just look!”

Rose did seem to gaze around at her prompting. The girl’s emerald eyes fell on the myriad degenerates and thieves that the Dalton Boy gang had swollen to accommodate. Some of the men Emmy recognized from their wanted posters, others were complete strangers. One and all, she’d have soon as shot them as talked to them. Interspersed through the ruffians were the coolies, seeming out of place amid the criminal element. Their dark eyes were inscrutable, swarthy dirt-streaked faces giving no clue as to their inner thoughts. One thing Emmy was sure of was that they would be no help.

“Rose,” Emmy said, getting her sister’s attention. “These are criminals. These are the bad guys that Daddy used to catch, and that now I catch.”

A harsh bark of laughter lifted her gaze to the upper tier of the mining camp, where Big Man stood on the edge with his coat flapping in the breeze. He cut an impressive figure, dressed in black against the azure sky.

“Did you hear that, boys?” He called out in his baritone. “The Marshall catches people like us!”

Ripples of laughter rolled through the ranks of the Dalton gang. The coolies remained impassive.

One man who didn’t seem too pleased was Dalton’s son, Manfried Jr. He’d dropped off the map a few years before, and most assumed he was dead or retired. Everyone seemed to refer to him as ‘Doc’ which was either an indication of a new profession or a demeaning nickname. Most likely, she wouldn’t live to find out which.

“Rose,” Dalton called. “This is your chance to get your revenge. Make it count.”

“Don’t listen to him, Rose,” Emmy said “he’s a bandit, a killer, a desperado. Scum of the Earth.”

“I’ve killed people, Emmy,” Rose said, shaking her head sadly. “I’m just like him now.”

“Damn it, Rose!” Emmy ground her teeth, hands clenched into fists at her sides. She would have loved to put a bullet between Big Man’s eyes right about then, but he had been careful to stay out of pistol range.

She hoped that Fox had gotten back to the others by now. As soon as she’d been captured, Big Man had sent scouts to search the area surrounding camp for her allies. Most of his force had remained here, more than two score by far though she couldn’t get an exact count. High above her a sentry was posted on the crane, armed with a buffalo rifle and looking out for just the kind of flanking maneuver that she and Fox had planned. Emmy hoped that Fox could improvise, or her rescue mission would be brutal, bloody, and short.

Her gun belt was tossed on the ground before her. Emmy picked it up, feeling the man behind her straining not to pull the trigger. Fame turned to infamy among the outlaws, and there were more than a few men who’d have loved to be the one to kill the Texas Terror.

“I don’t want to fight you, Rose,” Emmy said.

“Then stand there and let me shoot you,” Rose said. It was the same kind of thing she’d said when they were young, playing pick up sticks. Mess up and let me win, sissy.

Emmy laughed, drawing confused glances from most and impassivity from Rose.

“What’s so funny?” Rose asked after a moment.

“You. You could always make me laugh.”

“Then why did you leave?”

“On account of...hell, I don’t know why.” Emmy kept her hands on her hips, aware that there were multiple weapons trained her way. “I guess I always figgered I’d have to take care of you one day, Rosie. But when Daddy got sick, well...I just didn’t reckon that day coming so soon, follow?”

“You’re wrong,” Rose said, sniffling. Tears were glistening on her cheeks in the late afternoon sun. “I don’t need you. I can take care of myself.”

This is taking care of yourself?” Emmy laughed.

“This is my family now,” Rose said, jutting out her chin.

“Family?” Emmy pointed at the scum and rabble surrounding them. “You’re gonna call this here--”

Emmy pointed at Big Man on his perch.

“--And that piece of shit up there, family?” Emmy crossed her arms over her chest. “Daddy would be rolling over in his grave.”

“Shut up shut up SHUT UP!” Rose squeezed her eyes shut. “It’s all so confusing. It was easier to be an outlaw. Can’t be a wife or a nun...”

“Rosie,” Emmy said, finding that her own cheeks were wet “don’t you see? It’s harder to be an outlaw than a wife or a nun.”

“No,” Rose said, shaking her head “that’s not true. I’m dumb, Emmy Lou.”

“Dumb? Hell no, you’re powerful smart!”

“A certified genius?”

“I don’t know what that is, but sure, why the hell not?”

“Enough!” Big man shouted. “Rose, if your sister doesn’t draw by the time I count to three I want you to gun her down.”

Emmy shifted a bit, casting a glance at the cliffs surrounding the mine. Still no sign of her allies. She peered up into the crane tower, trying to make it seem as if she were pulling her hair out of he eyes.

Stifling a grin, Emmy held her hands out as if she were preparing to draw. The man at the top of the tower had been slumped over, a feathered shaft protruding from his throat.

“ONE!” Big Man’s voice drew her eyes back to ground level. Rose was staring at her with a panicked, confused gape. She risked another look at the cliffs. Still nothing.

“TWO!” Still neither sister made a move. “THREE!”

For a long moment, silence reigned on the canyon floor. Then Big Man spat, swore, and kicked a wooden stool into splinters.

“Rose, draw your pistols and shoot!”

When Rose just stared up at him, blinking, Big Man swore again, seeming almost like a madman.

“Fine!” he said when he recovered some composure. “Randall, Jerry, if Rose doesn’t shoot her sister by the time I get my cigarette lit, gun both of them down.”

The two men produced their sidearms and leveled them at Rose, seeming quite nervous. Emmy caught Rose’s gaze and smiled.

“Ring around the Rosie,” she sang lightly “pockets full of posies...”

Emmy sang the whole song, then started it again. Big Man had his tobacco in place and was licking the paper.

C’mon Rose, figger it out!

“Ring around the Rosie,” she sang on “pockets full of posies...”

A light dawned in the emerald eyes of her sister.

“Ashes, ashes,” she said, nostrils flaring “we all fall-”

“Down!” both sisters shouted at once. As one they dove to the dirt, drawing their weapons. Emmy landed hard on her stomach, but forced herself not to cry out. Ignoring the men behind her, she focused on the two creeps—Ricky and Jerome? It didn’t matter—and sent lead flying their way. Both men were struck in their groin and thighs, which Emmy knew from experience had plenty of good, big veins to burst open and occupy them with bleeding to death.

Behind her, she heard cries of pain and heavy thumps as bodies hit the ground. Rolling to her left, she ended up beneath the support struts of the mining crane. With joy, she discovered that Rose had followed her.

Emmy hissed as wood splintered near her head. The gang was firing away at them, the air filling with acrid smoke. Their meager cover could only do so much, so they needed to move—fast.

That was when a familiar sound reached her above the din of gunfire. The half dozen men closest to the crane exploded into bloody chunks, much as Bill Coyle had.

“What was that?” Rose asked.

“The cavalry!” Emmy shouted. “You lived at this camp. Where do we go?”

“Up.” Rose stood and sprinted toward the rickety staircase wrapping up the side of the crane. Emmy spotted a pair of bandits taking aim on her sister and fired her remaining rounds. Both men fell dead, but she was now out of ammo.

Following Rose, she prayed that they wouldn’t be hit by the bullets whizzing around their heads. She heard what sounded like Lucky’s shout of rage. Emmy cursed herself for sending the Latina out with just that useless Sam for back up. Something had happened that turned the formerly laconic gambler into a Valkyrie.

There was no time to wonder about it. Up she went, climbing into the Montana sky until they were near the top. Emmy caught a glance of Marcus galloping across the battlefield on Buckcherry’s back. He had a pistol in each hand, controlling his mount with his knees as he often did. She winced at the sight of a red stain on one of his sleeves, and a matching one on his leg. Still, he laid waste to bandits, nearly every shot finding its mark.

Occasionally she could hear Fox’s war cry, sort of a coyote cackle that she made after a kill. The legends of her people said you fought a Crow all day long and never saw them.

Stay safe, Fox, she thought, then admonished herself for not being more concerned for Sergio. She could well imagine what a wreck he must have been when Fox returned to camp alone.

They made it to the top, and she gleefully discovered that the dead sniper had his own pistol and a bandoleer with extra bullets. She passed about half the extra rounds to Rose, who had discharged her own payload on the way up.

“Why aren’t they shooting at us, Emmy?”

Emmy risked a glance over the edge, saw the scrambling forms below. To her surprise, it seemed there was another faction in play.

“They’re a little busy at the moment. Hurry up and reload, this ain’t over yet!”

** *

As soon as all hell broke loose, Doc started running hard for the upper levels. This was it, the moment he and Xi had planned for. He pulled his straw hat tight on his head, hoping that the Marshall’s posse—he couldn’t get an exact count—wouldn’t gun him down if they thought he was a coolie.

Unfortunately, there was a down side to his disguise. As planned, Xi’s people were rebelling, turning on the Dalton gang. While many of them lacked firearms they had the element of surprise on their side, and with the posse raining down lead like a thunderstorm almost half the Dalton gang fell within minutes.

Then a tremendous crackling boom went off, like distant thunder. He couldn’t get a good look, but it looked like dynamite had been set off near the base of the crane. Did the Marshall have a cannon?

Doc stared around wildly for Xi, but couldn’t find her amid the chaos. One of the Dalton gang stepped up in front of him—he thought the man’s name was Chet—and aimed his pistol.

“Damn it, it’s me!” Doc pulled his hat off, and Chet’s eyes went wide.

“Doc, what are you-”

Chet went down, his speech cut off by a blood curdling scream as no less than three of Xi’s people set upon him with hatchets. His stomach churning from the grisly scene, he tried to look away but found similar scenes taking place all around the camp. The coolies outnumbered the Dalton gang, and they fought with a vicious efficiency that Doc simultaneously admired and feared.

There were still bandits on the fringes who survived, as he discovered when he rounded the edge of a tent and saw his path blocked by four men. His pistol was in the holster at his side, and they had him dead to rights.

“Shoot ’em, Joe!” sputtered one. “The damn yeller bastards is turning on us!”

Doc was about to rip the hat from his head and reveal his identity once more when something flashed by and stuck in the speaker’s head. With a shock he realized it was a large knife of some kind.

Xi came leaping into the middle of the men, wielding another weapon identical to the one in the man’s head. Curiously the victim still seemed to be alive, his hand lightly touching the implement of death buried in his skull.

He died a moment later when Xi flipped over his shoulders and grabbed the knife hilt on the way. A spatter of blood erupted from the man’s skull as she dropped into a low crouch and hamstrung another foe.

By the time Doc got his pistol drawn, it was over. Xi stood panting in the middle of the now dead men, covered in blood that was not her own.

Mostly not her own. Doc ran to her side and touched the bandage on her head.

“You’ve pulled your stitches loose,” he said.

“No time,” she said, fending off his touch. “Get to you father.”

Xi picked up one of the men’s bolt action rifles and chambered a round.

“I’ll cover you, dear Doctor. Go!”

Doc felt his feet moving though his brain was in shock. It seemed Xi was full of surprises today.

He continued up the slope, careful not to trip on the timbers of the mine cart track. Smoke and dirt and the screams of the dying filled the air. It all brought back a rush of memories, most of which he could well do without.

By the time he made it to the uppermost tier he was covered in sweat and panting hard. Doc was forced to slow his pace a little, slowing from a run to a trot. His father’s horse was still hitched nearby, but Big Man was nowhere to be seen.

Then he spotted him, loading up a mine cart with heavy sacks. The man was going to run, using his secret tunnel to avoid capture. Doc still had to wind his way back and forth up the mine cart track, and by the time he made it to the top Big Man would have a hell of a head start.

Stubbornly, he pressed on. Already he was doing the calculations in his head. The mine had a steep enough grade to allow the cart to pick up substantial speed, but it was burdened with gold. If he commandeered his own cart, he might be able to catch up...

That was when a shuddering groan caught his attention. Staring up at the crane, he saw the heavy counterweight drop to the ground, while the swing arm lashed toward the cliff face almost too fast to see.

** *

“Right!” Shouted Pusser, crouched behind a craggy boulder.

Lucky spun in a tight circle and fired her rifle. A man who had been trying to climb a ladder to outflank them fell back to earth. To her joy, he crashed into two of his fellows who had the same strategy.

“Nice shot,” said Pusser. Lucky was wary of the man. After all, when she’d come riding into camp earlier, covered in both Jimmy Dalton and Sam’s blood, the first thing she had done was to pull her revolver and shoot his long time partner Krupp right in the head.

No preamble. She had simply murdered him, then went into her tale. The Marshall had taken Lucky at her word.

Maybe Emmy was happy to have another gun along. When Fox came back alone and said it was time to move, Lucky had felt a rush go through her. She could kill more murderers, thieves, and rapists...

The posse had made short work of the few outriders sent to scout for them, then rode hard for the cliffs. Despite the urgency, Fox had insisted that they creep up unseen until she had a chance to deal with a sentry. So creep they had, right up until the shooting started.

Then she’d found herself holding this particular stretch of mine cart track with Pusser, Krupp’s supposed best friend. If the shaggy man was vengeful, he gave no outward sign, but she kept expecting a bullet in the back.

Quickly, she reloaded her rifle, wondering if dealing Faro was really worse than this. Her world seemed to consist of violence and blood and death, and she had only herself to blame. This was what she had wanted, her dream fulfilled in a twisted fashion. She was certainly having an adventure.

If I get out of this, she thought as she took aim I’m going back home and marrying a goat if that’s what my father wants.

As she sent another man to his death with a hole in his heart, she wondered if one could lose the taste for blood, however...

There was no denying the rush as she took aim once more.

** *

“Why are the coolies on our side?” Rose asked.

Emmy cocked an eyebrow. She liked the sound of that. OUR side.

“Don’t rightly know. Reckon it may have nothing to do with us, and they’re on their own side.”

“Big Man is getting away,” Rose said, pointing at the cliffside. The eldest Dalton was loading up cloth sacks in a pair of mine carts. With some effort, he got the three car train moving and leaped into the lead cart.

“You can’t get away underground,” Emmy said. “What’s he up to?”

“He has a tunnel dug all the way to Wyoming,” Rose said. She leaned out over the railing and her pistols jumped in her hands. Bandits fell dead, and she went to reload.

“That’s impossible!”

Rose shrugged. “That’s what he said.”

“Damn, and it’ll take us an hour to climb down and back up the cliff!”

“Maybe not,” Rose said, pointing at the crane’s lengthy arm. “You could get on the end of that and jump off.”

“Rose, that’s like twenty feet! Nobody can jump that far.”

“Oh.” Rose’s eyes clouded up, and then she gasped. “Emmy, I know what to do! I’ve been all over this crane. Go get on the end.”

“What?”

“Go get on the end. Trust me!”

Emmy sighed, climbing up onto the narrow timbers and trying not to look down. She was over a hundred feet from the canyon floor, more than enough height to kill her if she fell.

Ignoring the gunfire and shouts of the dying, she shimmied out onto the end of the crane. There was some sort of pulley system counterbalancing it, a woven net filled with heavy boulders.

“Ready?” she heard Rose call out.

“No, I’m no-” she began.

There was a retort, and then the rope holding the boulders snapped at the same time the crane lurched beneath her. With a shout, she felt herself rushing through the air, clinging to the splintery wood with all her might.

In spite of her death grip, she was flung at the apex of the swing as the crane arm shifted suddenly to the left. For a few awful seconds she was just sailing through empty air before she crashed hard into the top of Big Man’s tent.

Her battered body took another beating, and she landed with a sharp piece of wood jabbing her in the thigh. Still, she managed to climb out of the wrecked canvas dwelling, feeling a bit the worse for wear but alive.

“I’m gonna kill that bitch,” Emmy swore as she limped after Big Man. He was just disappearing into the darkness of the mine shaft. Spying a free cart, she forced it onto the main track with agonized muscles and got it rolling. She clambered on board, scraping her ribcage on the unforgiving metal side before rolling into the darkness.

For a time there was nothing but shadow, just the sound of the iron wheels and her own breathing. Then the cart picked up speed and she reached an area with feeble lantern light.

She spotted Dalton ahead of her. Emmy fired her revolver twice, but with the crazy bouncing of the cart and the poor lighting all she did was startle him.

Down they went, and Dalton disappeared around a curve. Emmy reloaded her pistol, wanting a full chamber for when she had the showdown with Big Man. She was on her own down here, in a place that he probably knew by heart.

When her cart thundered around the bend and came into a large, vaulted chamber, her nostrils detected water. Big Man scrambled out of his cart, snagging one of the heavy canvas bags on the way. Had he not been determined to carry the sack, he may have gotten away down any of the passages honeycombing the chamber. As it was, Emmy leaped out of her still moving cart and tumbled across the rocky floor.

“End of the line, Big Man Dalton!” she said. “Put your hands in the-”

Big Man drew and fired in one smooth motion, nearly striking her in the head. His shot went wide by a scant few inches and she scrambled behind the dubious cover of a stack of wooden crates.

“You shouldn’t have come down here, Marshall,” Big Man said. She could hear him reloading his own weapon. There were dozens of lanterns on the wall in this cavern, providing almost decent lighting.

“When a snake crawls back into its hole, sometimes you gotta go in and pull it back out.”

“Yes, but this is my domain.”

“Yeah, reckon it’s pretty close to Hell all right.”

She rose to a crouch and put her belly against the crate. Bracing her elbows on the wooden surface, she drew a bead on Big Man. His left foot was just visible behind his mine cart cover...

Big Man screamed, snatching his wounded limb back as her bullet tore home. After a few moments of swearing, he popped out and fired back. She cowered behind the crate, his angry shout mixing with the sharp retorts.

“You’re a stupid bitch, Marshall,” he said with a triumphant laugh.

“You just wasted like six shots, and I’m stupid, huh?”

“Why don’t you take a look at what’s written on that box you’re so eager to hide behind,” he said with a cackle.

“Oh shit,” Emmy said, seeing the lettering on the side. TNT.

“Oh shit is right,” he said. “Now, I’m going to walk out of here...with my gold. Come on out of there and throw down your weapon or I’ll blow you to kingdom come.”

Emmy spied a spare stick of dynamite on the cavern floor. She scrambled to grab it, narrowly avoiding another barrage from Dalton when she left her cover.

“That’s six more shots!” she called out.

“I’ve got plenty,” he said. She waited until the distinct clicks of a reload could he heard, and then popped out from behind the crate.

She threw the dynamite in the air and started moving. It spun lazily toward Big Man’s position. When it was a few feet away she took aim and pulled the trigger. Big Man chose that exact moment to lean out and attack.

Two shots went off, and the cavern exploded into sound and choking dust.

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