“Well, well,” said the man with the bushy mustache “if it ain’t the badge-toting terror from Texas!”
“Get stuffed, Luke.” Emmy muscled the manacled Mitch through the door of the sheriff’s office, growling when he resisted. “Go on GIT.”
Emmy placed her boot on his rump and shoved hard, sending Mitch sprawling to the dusty floor. A saloon bum in one of the three cells taking up the rear wall cackled.
“What we got here, another horse thief?” Luke got to his feet somewhat gingerly. He leaned heavily on a wooden cane as he hobbled around his desk and peered down at Mitch.
“Nope. Cattle rustling and indecent acts with children.”
Luke whistled. “Governor Barber will sign off on a hanging for sure.”
Mitch was shivering as Emmy and Luke deposited him in one of the open cells. Once he was locked inside Emmy gestured toward his manacled hands.
“C’mere, and I’ll take those off.” She used a small wrench to unscrew the bolts, and Mitch’s hands slipped free. He stood there rubbing his wrists and glaring at her.
“It’s not fair,” he said with a touch of a sniffle. “All I done was take a few steer what didn’t belong to me, and sleep with a purdy girl. I ain’t never been with no purdy girls before, you gotta understand-”
“Save it for the judge,” Emmy said with a sneer. “You done got caught stealing, and that’s that. You take a man’s cattle, you’re taking food off his table. You’re guilty of murder from where I stand, mister.”
Emmy and Luke returned to the desk to haggle over price.
“You said you’d bring him in for a hundred dollars, period!” snapped Luke.
“He’s got a warrant in Missouri for three hundred! You’d better put on a mask cause you’re ROBBING me here!”
“So take him to Missouri! I’m sure he’ll be cooperative, seeing as how he’s sure to be hung.”
“Quit being a cheap ass, Luke! Without me doing your job for you they’d have shit canned your ass years ago when that injun put a foot of wood through your leg!”
Luke sat back in his chair and tilted his head to the side, his jaw set hard.
“Sorry,” Emmy hung her head low. “Sorry, that was a cheap shot. But still, three hundred dollars, man!”
“I’ll tell you what,” Luke pulled open a drawer and took out an official-looking document. “I’ll make this cashier’s check out for one hundred fifty, how’s that sound?”
“Like you’re still ripping me off.” Emmy huffed and puffed while he made out the note, then tore out the front door. Of course, she had been able to sell those spindly horses for twelve dollars all told, but she still felt robbed.
What I really need, she thought is a big bounty, like catching a whole gang at once. Then maybe I can pay off the-what in tarnation?
Emmy slowed to a stop, swearing at the wall of humanity blocking her path to the bank. Judging by the general ruckus and sounds of wagers being called out, she figured it was either a gunfight, knifefight, or horse race.
She was not a small woman, and her muscles were hardened by life on the trail. When Emmy Lou shouldered people aside, she meant business—more than one individual was sent stumbling a few steps as she waded through the crowd. Her first glimpse of the scene almost had her laughing out loud.
It was definitely a gunfight, though an unconventional one. One one side was a heavy set man with a square jaw and a look of Indian blood about him. One of his hands was cradled in a sling, swaddled in yards of white cloth with a bit of red seeping around the edges. He held his pistol in his uninjured hand, probably his off hand from the way the barrel shook.
The fellow he was facing off with was half his size, standing in the sun with his arms crossed over his slender chest. His thin featured face was handsome in a delicate sort of way, and the wire framed glasses perched on his nose reinforced his fragility. He was wearing a pair of cloth breeches of good quality held up by a pair of suspenders and a white shirt. A rusty pistol lay at his feet, just between his toes.
“I said, pick it up you foreign bastard!” bellowed the wounded man.
“I think not,” replied the bespectacled man. His voice had a touch of an accent, but Emmy Lou couldn’t place it. “It’s hardly a fair fight.”
“Hardly a fair fight?” The big man sputtered. “I got my good hand blew half off by your stupid contraption! I demand justice!”
“I told you the barrel was overheating, and you just kept on shooting!”
“I couldn’t hear you!”
“You’re a buffoon! I’m the injured party here! That prototype cost me over a thousand dollars and you ruined it.”
“So pick up your piece, Sergio,” said the big man. “Look, I’ll holster mine, make it an even fight.”
The big man put his gun away, but Sergio kept his arms crossed over his chest.
“Absolutely not. You can drag me out here in the street and throw a rusty iron at my feet, but I will not be forced into this ignorant spectacle.”
“Then I’ll gun you down where you stand!” The big man drew his pistol shakily and aimed it at Sergio. Emmy Lou squinted, focusing on the barrel. There was something off about it--
There was a sharp report, and the big man screamed. He stared at what was left of his formerly good hand, which boasted a few shards of metal from what had once been his pistol. Sinking to his knees, he screamed in agony while the crowd either cringed in horror or howled in joy like it was a grand old time.
“Idiot.” Sergio snatched up the gun and walked across the dirt to tower over the whimpering man. “I blocked the barrel with a dowel while you were dragging me outside. At least now I don’t have to pay you.”
Sergio squinted one eye shut and pulled the trigger. The big man fell to his side, sightless eyes staring into the Autumn sky.
The spectacle over, most folks began heading back to whatever they were doing before the showdown erupted in their midst. Emmy Lou clucked her tongue as Sergio rifled through the big man’s pockets.
“Robbing the dead’s a crime, four eyes” she said. “Law says whatever’s in his pockets goes to his next of kin, minus a fair burial fee.”
“I doubt very much that an outlaw like him has any family.” Sergio straightened up, putting his hands on his hips. “I don’t see where it’s any business of some mannish woman.”
“Mannish?” Emmy was about to rip into him when Luke came stumbling up the street, shotgun in hand.
“What the hell is going on?” he said between pants, focusing his ire on Emmy Lou. “You’ve been in town all of six minutes and you’ve already done shot somebody!”
“It’s not my fault this time!” Emmy held up her hands. Then she jabbed a finger at Sergio. “It was this furener who done shot him!”
Luke turned a wide eyed stare on Sergio. “Is that true, Professor?”
“Professor?” Emmy sputtered.
“Indeed.” Sergio puffed up his chest. “He forced me into this challenge, Sheriff. Ask these good people and they will tell you the same.”
“He dragged the little feller in the street,” said one stable boy.
“Everybody heard him say he didn’t want to fight,” added an old seamstress.
“Okay, okay,” Luke lowered his weapon. “Man’s got a right to defend himself, law says so.”
“He done tricked him, Luke,” Emmy said, glaring holes into Sergio. “Like a low down dirty snake. Blocked his barrel.”
“So?” Sergio’s mustached lip twitched as he took in her glare. “What business is it of yours? I don’t see a badge on your chest.”
“You wanna see my badge, you stinking polecat?” Emmy pulled her vest open, revealing a silver six pointed star. “Know what that is?”
Sergio swallowed hard, then intently peered at the star. He paled several shades, and straightened up to meet her gaze. “You’re a Federal Marshall.”
“Got it in one.” Emmy covered her badge back up. “You may not have committed a crime today, Sergio but the law will be watching.”
“The law?” Sergio growled. “All the LAW does is make a bigger mess once the tragedy has ended.”
“That so?” Emmy Lou hooked her thumbs in her gun belt and stared down her nose at the slight man. He had the decency, or the intelligence, to act ashamed.
“Well...” he cleared his throat “they never seemed too interested in finding the man who murdered my wife and child!”
Emmy Lou could feel the pain behind his words. Dark circles loomed beneath his eyes, and his skin was taut over his spindly bones.
Ain’t figured out if you want to go on living yet, have ya fellah?
“Luke?” She turned her gaze on the old lawman, who grimly nodded.
“Sergio owns a gunsmithy a few streets over from the tracks. You remember Bill Coyle?”
“Bad News Bill?” Emmy folded her arms over her chest. “Yeah, I remember bringing his ass in for mankillin’. How in the hell is he not dancing at the end of a rope?”
“Coach carrying him and other federal prisoners ran afoul of some Pawnee injuns and he escaped.”
Emmy Lou swore and spat in the dusty road. She had more than a few choice words for any God who would allow a piece of crap like Bad News Bill a stay of execution.
“Coyle hit town about two weeks ago, broke, scared, and—worst of all—sober.” Luke nodded toward Sergio. “Hit up his smithy for a new piece.”
“When he started loading it, I knew what was up,” Sergio said in a shaky voice. “I shouldn’t have tried to stop him. I shouldn’t have tried...”
“Hey, don’t be like that,” Emmy said when his eyes teared up. “C’mon, it’s only right and natural to fight back when some polecat tries and take your shit.”
Sergio composed himself, though he still blinked some moisture out of his eyes.
“He shot my wife on the way out the door. She was carrying my son.”
“His wife was unarmed,” Luke added in a soft voice “we figger Coyle was spooked, shot her on instinct.”
“I’m real sorry, mister Sergio,” Emmy Lou said, her heart feeling like a ton of lead. “No one has any leads?”
“None,” Luke said harshly. “The only other place Coyle stopped was the Broken Ditch saloon, and near as we can tell he didn’t talk to nobody ’bout nothing.”
“A surly ass desperado like Coyle? Full of piss and beer and fresh off a kill?” Emmy Lou shook her head. “Trust me, he done talked to SOMEBODY.”
“Once I got a posse rounded up, we interviewed ALL of them bums who was there that night,” Luke said with a sneer.
“Yeah, and that was when they were still scared shitless of Coyle. Shoot, it’s been two weeks since he left town, Luke. By now his menace has faded considerable.”
“If you want to go and poke around, be my guest,” Luke spread his hands out and sighed. “Just remember if you get a little...eager...that you have to pay for any damages. I’m NOT for eating the bill for a new window!”
“You broke a window?” Sergio arched an eyebrow as he dabbed at his eyes.
“Well,” Emmy said with a grin “it’s more like the feller I threw actually did the breaking, but yeah...”
“I take it you’re after Coyle’s bounty now?” Luke nodded. “Bout time somebody got that son of a bitch.”
Emmy nodded. “Figger after escaping captivity and killing some more folks the price on his head has skyrocketed. Plus...”
She took off her hat and stared somberly at Sergio. “What he done to you was real low, mister Sergio. I’d be worse off than a no legged dog trying to swim across the Mississippi!”
“Ah...” Sergio seemed taken aback, staring at her exposed red mane and swallowing hard. “I...thank you.”
“Don’t mention it,” Emmy said. “It’s my job.”
She patted Luke on the shoulder and made to turn away. The Broken Ditch was about five minutes walk away.
“Wait!” Sergio’s voice cut through the din of the busy town.
“Sir?” Emmy turned around, replacing her hat.
“I can help you! I have my own smithy-”
“Uh, much obliged, mister Sergio, but I got plenty of guns.”
“Not like the one I am thinking of!” Sergio’s eyes had a wild, energetic cast that seemed a little close to madness for her taste. “I still have a prototype left!”
“Proto-whatsit?” Luke said.
“Are you talking about another one of those fancy shooters what blew off that guy’s hand?”
“Ha!” Emmy threw her head back and had a hearty laugh. “Thanks but no thanks!”
Emmy left the two men in the street. Here lately, it seemed like everybody and his brother was in on the gun craze. She’d seen rifles with extra long barrels, pistols that came equipped with a glass sighter welded to the barrel, and all manner of attempts to weaponize dynamite. The fact was, she’d trade the whole stinking lot of ‘genius’ ideas for her plain, reliable Colt single action.
The Broken Ditch squatted on a street of mud, its stained pine walls sagging under its own weight. Like many establishments of its caliber, there was a drunk on the stoop who wasn’t nearly as drunk as he pretended to be. Emmy played along, stepping over the shaggy, filthy man and pushing the doors wide open.
It was always the same, whenever she strode into a tavern. They noticed her lithe, feminine body first, and many eyes and grins turned her way. Then, they took stock of her guns, and the flinty gleam in her eyes. Smiles turned to frowns, and those few miscreants who recognized her tried to shrink into themselves, pretending to be enthralled by whatever was on the floor between their feet.
The bartender was a one-eared former Union officer who didn’t fall over himself reporting any suspicious types to the Sheriff. Emmy had tangled with him before, and as soon as he laid eyes on her he took a step back from the bar and lifted his hands in the air.
“Don’t want no trouble, Miss Amelia,” he said.
“Don’t you Miss Amelia me, Corky!” Emmy tromped across the uneven floor, peanut shells crunching under her feet. “I figger you know why I’m here.”
“Uh...” Corky glanced up at a game of stud going on at a nearby table. “I musta forgot to renew my gambling license with the state.”
“Corky...” Emmy Lou sighed and leaned forward on the bar. “Since when do I give a shit about that?”
Emmy turned about and surveyed the room, secretly pleased that so many patrons seemed frightened of her.
“Well?” she called out at top volume. “Y’all know what I do for a living, right?”
Emerald eyes scanned about until she found a lanky youth who was sweating more than the cool autumn morning warranted. She put her hands on her hips and glared at him.
“What do I do, good sir?” she asked sweetly, though her eyes were hard as flint.
“You, ah...” he looked to his companions for support, but they seemed more interested in their drinks. “You bring people in?”
“Exactly.” Emmy cast her eyes about the room. “I bring people in. I don’t care about your card games, or how many of you stowed away on the rails. I just want to know where Bad News Bill was headed.”
Emmy kept her eyes moving, searching for any sign that her words had hit home. Either it was a saloon full of the best poker players she had ever seen or they really didn’t know anything.
Sighing, she turned to leave, and caught Corky trying to pour a shot of whiskey. Half the brown fluid went on the table, as his hands shook badly.
“Having some trouble there, Corky?”
“I got the shakes, miss Amelia,” he said, his tone sincere but his eyes full of fear.
“You got the shakes, huh?” Emmy clomped over to the bar and tipped up the brim of her hat, the better to stare him down. “Reckon I’d have the shakes too, if I was about to get hauled in front of a judge for obstruction!”
“I ain’t constructing nothing!”
Emmy rolled her eyes. “I didn’t say....never mind. The charge is Obstruction of Justice, and it carries a prison term of five years hard labor in the state of Wyoming.”
“I ain’t structed nobody’s justice!”
“You got the goods on a fugitive, and you won’t spill. C’mon, Corky, you know how this is gonna play out.”
“The Sheriff said you couldn’t just break up my stuff anymore, even if you are a Federal Marshall!”
“Oh, I CAN’T?” Emmy grabbed a nearby stool and waved it in the air threateningly. “Let’s just put that to the test, hey?”
The door swung open, and Emmy spun in a half circle, expecting Luke for some reason. When Sergio came bustling in, two heavy leather cases in either hand, she relaxed.
“What you doing here, you ferrign bastard?”
Sergio set the cases down just inside the door. “You’re going after the man who killed my wife and child. I’m going with you.”
“The hell you are!” Emmy stared at the stool in her hand and plopped it back onto the floor. “Look, Sergio, I don’t blame you for being angry. Anyone’d be after what happened to you.”
“Then you understand that I must do this thing!”
“What you must do is vamoose,” Emmy growled. “You’re hampering this here investigation!”
“Yes, I could hear the way you ‘investigate’ all the way out in the street.” Sergio stepped up to the bar and rifled around inside his shirt. His hand came out bearing a handful of silver coins which he slapped onto the bar. “Does THIS help jog your memory and loosen your tongue, good barkeeper?”
“Now hold on here a minute,” Emmy said with a sigh. “I’m sure you read those trashy periodicals what say anyone can throw some coin around and get people talking--”
“He said he was heading up Cheyenne way,” Corky said, slapping his hand over the coins. “Gonna be a big score.”
Sergio turned his gloating smile on Emmy, who resisted the urge to slap it off his face.
“He say what this score was, Corky?” she prodded.
“Uh...not that I can recall...”
Sergio put another coin on the bar, and once again Corky made it disappear.
“He was hooking up with the Dalton Boys. That’s all I know.”
“The Dalton Boys?” Emmy’s jaw dropped open. “The same Dalton Boys what robbed that cash train on the Pinkerton line in Montana?”
“I reckon there ain’t TWO crews running around with that name.” Corky grinned. “If there were, Big Man would put a stop to it right quick. Still feeling plucky, miss Amelia?”
“I don’t understand,” Sergio said, his mustache twitching. “Who are the Dalton Boys? And who is Big Man for that matter?”
“The Daltons are so low, they could walk under a rattlesnake.” Emmy clenched her teeth. “Forget all the bullshit you’ve read, Sergio, about honor among thieves. Big Manfried Dalton is the leader, and he’d put a bullet through an infant’s head if it got him a thimble full of whiskey.”
“Big Man’s putting himself together an army of desperados and mankillers to help guard their loot,” Corky supplied smugly. “I kinda hope you do go after the Dalton Boys, miss Amelia. They’ll teach you what happens to womenfolk what put on pants and shoot guns and act like men.”
Emmy snatched the barstool back up and hurled it toward Corky. He dodged the missile, but could not stop it from crashing into a row of bottles. Alcohol and shards of glass rained down on the shell strewn floor as Corky cowered beneath the bar.
“I don’t act like a man, Corky,” she said in a tone dripping with menace. “I act like a woman who wears pants and shoots people. Follow?”
Corky had the good sense to stay under cover until she hit the street. He had even better sense to keep his mouth shut until Emmy was nearly halfway up the street.
Sergio hurried into the mud, struggling with his cases, turning a shocked expression toward the vulgarities spilling from the tavern. Emmy ignored both of them and made a beeline for the stable.
“Marshall!” Sergio huffed as he strove to catch up. “Marshall!”
Emmy considered just trudging along, but his recent loss had her more sympathetic than usual. Sighing, she leaned up against a post and waited for him to catch up.
“You don’t know when to quit, do you Spaghetti?”
“Spaghetti?” Sergio blinked. “Never mind, I suppose I’ve been called worse. I can help you, Marshall.”
“Look, mister,” Emmy said patiently “this ain’t my first hoe down, follow? The last thing I need is some greenhorn inventor shooting himself in the foot or me in the ass the first time a coyote howl gives him the shivers.”
“So your objection is that I would be a hindrance, is that your point?”
“Among others,” Emmy said with a chuckle.
“I see.” Sergio set his bags down and unzipped the one on the left. He withdrew a leather flap that contained a nicely made, conventional six shooter.
“Spaghetti, what are you doing?” she asked when he began loading it.
“Watch and learn.” Once he had his weapon ready, he squinted in the bright sun, scanning about the street. He jabbed his finger toward an old railroad sign, leaned up against a massive tree stump. “See that sign, the one with the knothole below the writing?”
“Yeah, I can see it. Little far away to be easy, but not far enough away to count as a tick shot.”
“Observe the punctuation mark, that little dot you Americans call a period.”
Emmy came away from the post, her eyes gone wide as Sergio emptied his pistol at the sign. Horses whinnied and people shouted all up and down the muddy road. Once folks saw that the excitement had been short lived and was now thoroughly over, they returned to their own business.
Sergio stared at her, holstering his gun and puffing out his chest. Emmy rolled her eyes but dutifully slogged over to the sign.
“Not bad,” she said, squatting in the sun. Her finger dug into the period, finding a lead nugget still warm to the touch. “I mean, you only hit it once, but not bad for a foreigner.”
“I hit it with all six shots.”
“Sergio, I’m a looking right at the damn thing!” Emmy whipped out her bowie knife and dug into the wood, freeing the bullet. “See only one bullet...”
Amelia thrust her finger back inside the splintered wood, and swore. Using the knife, she coaxed another lead round from the stump, and another.
“All right.” She stood up and crossed her arms over her chest. “You can shoot. I’ll give you that.”
“Then there’s no reason for me not to--”
“Now hold on, Spaghetti. Just cause you can shoot don’t mean you still won’t get me killed.”
“I will be an asset, and so will my arsenal.” Sergio pointed toward the twin black bags still resting in the shade.
“Sergio, with all due respect, you’re a man who’s out for vengeance, not justice.”
“And what’s wrong with that? I’ll do anything I can to kill that cocksucking-”
“Yeah, that’s just it.” Emmy jabbed her finger into his chest. “You’ll do anything, to get your payback, including getting yourself—and me—killed.”
“I promise I won’t,” Sergio said. “I will swear on my father’s grave if you wish! You are outnumbered and outgunned.”
“I know that, I’m a gonna get a posse riled up. Don’t need you.”
“Maybe you do not.” Sergio deflated, his lanky arms dangling at his sides. “But I need you. Please, I cannot close my eyes but I see that awful day played out again. If I stay here in Carbon waiting for news I will end up shooting myself...or someone else! It’s your civic duty to bring me with you!”
“Civic duty?” Emmy gnashed her teeth, but the way Sergio’s lip quivered while he stared at the dusty road hit her right in the heart. Sighing, she felt her bluster draining away.
Can’t rightly believe I’m about to do this....
“You can’t come. You don’t got a horse.”
“I have several steeds to choose from.”
“Shoulda expected that. Well, you still can’t come an account of we’ll be sleeping under the stars with a rock for a pillow. No goose down on the trail!”
“I am prepared to suffer any hardship necessary to catch this man.”
“Oh yeah?” Emmy leaned forward and grinned wickedly. “You’re a married man...you know about how women folks bleed without being cut once a month? Well, I’m about to start my monthly and it’s gonna be a beaut, like the tide coming in.”
Sergio flushed several shades darker, but he coughed and stubbornly forged on.
“My dear, I don’t even think of you as a woman.”
“Well.” Emmy’s hands itched for her pistols. “I see. You’ve just got an answer for everything, don’t you!”
“If I don’t have an answer, I will find one. That is the spirit of invention.”
“It’s also the spirit of stupidity.” Emmy sighed. “We’re bringing him in, Sergio...ALIVE.”
He perked up at his inclusion in the scenario.
“Of course. I will take great pleasure in watching him hang!”
“And I’m not gonna slow down for your city slicker ass. You can’t keep up, you get left behind.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“And I don’t wanna hear NO COMPLAININ’. Saddle sores hurt, the ground is hard, the rain is cold and most things that move can kill you. Man up and keep your mouth shut.”
“I can do both of those things.”
Emmy squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them slowly.
“All right,” she said “meet me at the Golden Spur in two hours. That’s where I’m keeping my horse.”
“So it shall come to pass.” Sergio bent to retrieve his wares. He was stronger than he seemed, and handsome, though his grief made him appear disheveled.
It was too bad she had to ditch him. Might be nice to have some eye candy on the trail...