“Killed that boy Conrad.” Ethridge reined in his horse to stay even with Hulse.
“That kid wasn’t gonna amount to nothin’ nohow,” Hulse sneered.
“Yeah, well, Taney was no kid.”
“Taney was an old woman to let somebody like Billy Anspach get the drop on ’im. Christ Jesus, Billy’s a damn storekeeper’s son.”
“And your father would be the King of England?”
Hulse glared at Ethridge, but Ethridge’s response was to kick his horse in the flanks and pull ahead. Over his shoulder he said, “Hulse, maybe we could go stumble around and try to find this store clerk before he finds us?”
They rode another ten minutes. Through a break in the trees, they saw the main road to again. The trail of their quarry ended there.
“Damn, they’re back on the road,” Ethridge complained. “This will slow us up. We’ll have to check every town, every cut-off, every rat hole.”
“If it was easy, we wouldn’t be the ones doin’ it,” replied Hulse.
The last remnants of the day glowed in pink and red ribbons that stretched across the western horizon. Ethridge and Hulse slowed as they approached a small inn at the edge of Maugansville, a few miles north of .
“Let’s check the stable,” said Hulse.
“I tell you, they’re back in holed up somewhere.” Ethridge said the words, but he lacked conviction.
“No, it’s too close to home. They couldn’t risk running into someone they know. I’m sure they’re headed north and this is the best road. The kid will want things easy for his girlie. Let’s check the stable.”
It took no more than three minutes to find the pair of circle H Morgans, munching happily on alfalfa hay in adjoining pens. Hulse leered at Ethridge. “They’re holed up in , are they?”
“So, you’re a genius. What do you want to do?”
“Wouldn’t be smart to barge into this place. Let’s camp near the road north of here and set up an ambush tomorrow. We’ll pick a nice quiet stretch.”
“We have to sleep outside all damn night?”
“What’s wrong, Ethridge? Need yer mommy to tuck ya in and tell ya a story?” Hulse laughed wickedly.
“What’s the point, Hulse? What about this?” Ethridge pulled a crumpled scrap of paper from his pocket. “Ever since we telegraphed , none of this has purpose anymore.”
“So Hawley’s dead. That don’t change nothin’.”
“As of this afternoon, we no longer work for him. His wife can’t stand us. No way she’ll keep us on. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“It means something that they found Hawley up near Turner’s Gap. That damn Billy probably killed him when they rode up there.”
“Let the sheriff deal with it.”
“If we’re out of jobs because of that little bastard, then I want him to pay. I want him to pay for takin’ the girl.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It matters to me.”
Ethridge studied the pale pink eyes peering from under the white hair that flopped across Hulse’s forehead. “So noble all of a sudden? I don’t believe you. What’s the real reason?”
A sly grin rearranged Hulse’s pink lips. “I want that little heller. She made us look like fools. You ain’t never felt a stitch in yer guts when that uppity green-eyed witch walks by? Hawley’s dead. We can dance and there ain’t no piper to pay.”
It sounded good, but Ethridge sensed there had to be more. Much more.
Ethan twined his fingers with Beth’s on the pine tabletop. Their eyes glinted like prisms in the ever-shifting light from the fireplace that dominated one wall of the common room.
“Isn’t this romantic? Fireplace. Wine. It’s like a storybook dinner.”
Ethan chuckled. “Honey, in this time, this is all they have. They look at a fireplace as a thing to feed and stoke and clean. I’m not sure there’s much romance in it.”
Her nails dug into his palm for an instant. “Spoilsport. People pay big bucks to get away to places like this.”
“Well, then we’re hands-down winners because this is the farthest anyone has ever gone to ‘get away’.”
Beth shook her hair out of her face and beamed Ethan a smile. “And this whole evening cost us about two dollars and that includes putting up the horses. We’ll have to mention this to Zagat’s.”
Ethan marveled at how he recognized his wife even though she looked nothing like herself. “You know, when you shook your head, it was pure you. I don’t think that’s something Katherine Hawley did.”
“Yes, I notice it too. Even though I’m looking at a different face, I still see all your expressions.”
The innkeeper, a portly man with a bald head and snow-white muttonchops, approached the end of the trestle table where Ethan and Beth sat. He cleared his throat and said, “Sir, is your wife ready to turn in? I’ll have my boy run the blanket warmer under the covers for you.” His eyes twinkled.
Ethan said, “Yes, that would be fine. Thank you.”
Beth smirked. “I’m definitely not used to this lack of central heating.”
“I think I can keep you warm.” Ethan winked.