It wasn’t much of a stretch, pretending to be unconscious.
Lying on his back in Doc’s tent, Pete was privy to the conversations of the Marshall’s posse. This was because for some reason Doc seemed to be the defacto leader now that the Marshall was dead.
Missing. He reminded himself that she was missing, not dead. People had been dug out of worse cave ins before, and Pete was hopeful that the Marshall survived for Rose’s sake.
He didn’t want to think about Rose. From the sound of it, his role in Emmy’s capture had been revealed, and the younger Thorne sister now wanted nothing to do with him. All in one week, he’d betrayed a man who was like a father to him, lost the woman he loved, and been stabbed in the gut.
At least Doc was hopeful about Pete’s prospects for recovery. It was absolute agony to move, and quite painful just to breathe, but he hoped the doctor knew his stuff.
“Wake up, Pete,” Doc said, flinging the tarp open “I know you’re faking it.”
Pete’s eyes fluttered open and he smiled weakly.
“Only just, Doc.” His voice was labored but steady.
“How’s the pain?”
“Good.” Doc nodded. “Means you’re healing. Most likely.”
“Need to work on your bedside manner...” Pete gasped, knifes of pain shooting through his sternum. “Can’t you give me something?”
“You’re in no shape for a peyote trip,” said Doc.
“God, I want to go home.”
Doc paused, one eyebrow cocked.
“Where is home, Pete?”
“I don’t...I don’t know. Guess I mean somewhere I can relax and not worry about anything.”
“That place is called Utopia, friend, and it doesn’t exist.”
Xi breezed into the tent and spoke quietly to Doc. From the way her fingers lingered on his forearm Pete figured that they were at item, or would be soon.
“What’s gonna happen to me?” Pete asked haltingly.
“I don’t know,” Doc said, sitting down in a stool and sighing. “Technically, you and I are fugitives, but no one seems to be in a hurry to clap us in irons. Everyone is either focused on rounding up stragglers from the gang, counting the dead, and trying to dig out the Marshall and my father.”
“You think either of them is alive?”
Doc’s jaw worked, eyes narrowing.
“In my father’s case, I hope not,” he said darkly. “Anything is possible, I suppose.”
“I hope I don’t make it either,” Pete said bitterly.
“Don’t be that way, Pete.” Doc patted him on the hand, a move that sent pain shooting through his midsection. “You could turn state’s evidence, and never see the inside of a prison cell.”
“Sell out another tribe, is what you mean.” Pete sighed. “Counting the dead. Men you and I rode with are being crated up for shipment, all for some lousy bars of gold.”
“Well, that’s the thing,” Doc said with a smile. “The gold is missing.”
“Missing?” In spite of himself, Pete lifted his head. “What do you mean missing?”
“More motivation to dig my father out,” Doc said with a sad laugh. “He played everyone. The coolies, the gang, the law. Even you and me.”
“You mean this dumb ass caper isn’t over yet?”
“Pete,” he said meaningfully “this dumb ass caper is just getting started.”
The End of Book One
The Sunset Riders will return in
Emmy struggled to light the match, hampered by the broken fingers of her left hand. It was her last one, and if she couldn’t find a lantern in the rubble strewn cavern before it went out, she would be trapped in darkness forever.
For a moment she was blind as the brand flared to life, then she moved as quickly as she dared. With a cry of joy, she unearthed a lantern from a pile of debris. The glass was cracked, but it seemed functional. She managed to get it lit with the dwindling match, and her heart soared with hope.
Placing the lantern on the remains of a buttress, she examined her hand. It seemed as if her fingers would be alright, except for her ring finger. It was bent at an ugly angle, and she knew all too well what she had to do.
Taking the wooden hilt of her knife in her mouth, she seized the crooked digit and snapped it back into place. Her cry of anguish echoed off the walls.
Emmy froze. There was another sound, made stark by the sudden silence following her scream. Rhythmic, subtle, a familiar sound.
The sound of breathing. Nimbly, she picked her way through the rubble until she spotted a black clad arm jutting out from a pile of boulders.
“Son of a bitch,” she said, staring at the still living form of Big Man Dalton.
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