Chapter 23: Showdown in the Shack
Ellie knew she had to keep moving. Though her limbs ached and her body was near exhaustion, she had to force herself onward! She knew there was no way to outrun her pursuers. On horseback, the Spencers would move fast and catch up with her soon.
She desperately needed to find somewhere to hide. They probably wouldn’t waste too much time backtracking in search of her when they knew they were heading in the wrong direction! If she could somehow conceal herself and remain undetected long enough, they’d probably give up and resume their flight from Ransom.
Ellie veered south and away from the flat bank of the river. She followed along a narrow game trail that meandered through the trees and foliage until she came upon a fallen tree. It had come down upon a cluster of rocks and snapped in two, creating a big enough space for her to conceal herself underneath.
Unable to continue, she crawled into the tiny space to hide.
No sooner had she done so, than she heard the hoofbeats of an approaching rider! Sweat soaked her body and her heart pounded in her breast as she lay still and silent, Joe’s Colt at the ready.
Suddenly, Luke Spencer’s voice boomed out.
“Here missy missy!” he called, as if he was calling some wayward animal. “I’m gonna get you girl!”
Ellie remained still and quiet though her whole body shook with fear. She could hear the horse’s hooves as they clattered on the rocks along the riverbank.
“Come out, come out wherever you are!” Luke called, enjoying this deadly game of hide and seek.
The clumpity clump of the horse’s hooves grew closer and closer and then suddenly stopped! Moments that seemed like an eternity passed as Ellie held her breath and waited tensely, listening, silently praying for Divine intervention.
She heard the horse blow and the clumpity clump resumed.
Luke called out again.
“I’m commin’ to git you girl!”
To Ellie’s relief, the sound of the horse and its twisted rider began to fade as they moved away and she realized that for the moment, she was safe! Still, she wondered where the other two brothers were. It seemed most likely, that they would have spread out in their search for her, but afraid to take any chances, she remained in her hiding place. It wasn’t long before physical exhaustion overtook her body and soon, her eyes grew heavy and she fell asleep.
Hours passed by and it was early afternoon when she finally stirred, opened her eyes and remembered where she was. Like a turtle, she slowly, cautiously poked her head out from her hiding place. Straining her eyes and ears, she detected no sign of her pursuers.
She emerged from her den covered with dirt and dust, her clothing tattered, her hair all tangled and full of dead leaves and twigs. Still, her hand clenched the Peacemaker tightly and the weight of it in her hand felt reassuring.
Taking one last look around, she again took off running.
She kept moving onward, towards the southwest, keeping to the cover of the trees as much as possible. Soon however, she found herself looking out over an open desert scrubland. There was no choice but to strike out across it to the cover of some rocky hills to the south. All the while, she would be out in the open and exposed.
She stopped for a moment to catch her breath, all the while looking nervously about and straining her eyes and ears for any sign of the Spencers. Finally she stood, gathered up all of her courage and took off running across the open expanse! She tired quickly due to the soft, hot ground and her weakened state.
Still, she pressed on.
Then suddenly, like an answer to her prayers, she came across an arroyo that snaked its way right towards the hills! It would afford her cover and make her less of a target!
She jumped down, resting only briefly to catch her breath before continuing along towards her destination. When she made it to the hills, she bravely left the arroyo behind and pushed her aching body onward. Heading up the bank of a nearby hill, she came upon a path that angled up the slope. It continued around and down and led to a relatively flat area surrounded by several other rocky hills.
There, an old decrepit prospector’s shack sat crumbling, alone and forgotten. Gun in hand, she made her way among the rocks and crept up on it warily. She peeked through a cracked, dirty window. It appeared to be empty. Satisfied that it was safe, she slowly pushed open the rotten door and stepped inside.
Luke Spencer tackled her from behind!
His arms clamped around her and the gun went flying from her hand as together, they tumbled forward onto the dirt floor! His weight crushed down on her, knocking the wind from her lungs and she gasped for breath! In an instant, he leapt up, grabbed her and yanked her to her feet!
“Do you think I’m stupid?” he raged. “I know where you’re headed, I know this country . . . and I sure know how to treat a lady!”
Luke emphasized his point with a backhand across her face that sent her reeling across the room and sprawling onto the floor! She lay there and moaned, blood trickling from her mouth. The kid, aroused by her pain, began unbuttoning his shirt.
Fortunately for Ellie, he hadn’t quite hit her hard enough!
She was fully aware of what was coming and that she’d better do something or die. She shook her head to clear her vision and her eyes focused on Joe’s Colt. It was lying on the floor only inches from her head.
In one quick motion she grabbed hold of the gun, cocked it, turned and fired!
The bullet missed Luke by over a foot, but it got his attention and he froze where he stood, his shirt falling to the floor.
Now the tables were turned!
“Don’t you move an inch or I’ll blow your head off!” Ellie warned. She cautiously raised herself up from the floor, making sure to keep the gun leveled at him.
“You are pretty stupid, aren’t you?” she said in anger. “Unbuckle that holster and drop it to the floor!”
The gun clicked as she cocked it again.
Anger blazed in Luke’s eyes like hellfire!
“I don’t think so lady.” he replied with a scowl.
Ellie pulled the trigger and again the gun spit fire!
Luke heard the bullet whiz closely by his head and strike the wall behind him! It left a little, round hole and a dusty shaft of sunlight entered into the room.
He unbuckled his gun belt and let it drop to the floor.
“You’re the one that likes to kill, aren’t ya?” she asked, even though she knew he most certainly was.
Ignoring her question, Luke gave her a sinister smile.
“I’m just thinkin’ ’bout what I’m gonna do just as soon as I get my hands on you, lady!”
Ellie Masters looked him straight in the eyes and deep inside, her anger fumed. Many times she had dreamed of holding a gun on the man who killed Ben.
“Do you remember the man you gunned down in Red Holler ’bout three years ago?” she asked.
“Sure I do.” he answered proudly. “I must’ve shot that son of a bitch three or four times! He just didn’t wanna fall down an’ die!”
Thier eyes remained locked together, beaming invisible rays of hatred at each other. Ellie knew this was a showdown and only one of them would come out of it alive! Her trembling hand clasped the gun more tightly.
“That man’s name was Ben Masters!” she said dryly.
He looked at her with contempt.
“So what in th’ hell do I care?”
“He was my husband you bastard!” she answered, raising the gun until it pointed directly into the killer’s face!
She cocked the hammer.
“You can’t do It.” he sneered. “You ain’t got the guts to pull that trigger!”
The moment seemed as if it were suspended in time, as each waited for the other to make a move. Suddenly, the silence was broken by the sound of shattering glass as a rock came hurtling through the window!
Instinctively, Ellie’s head swung around and in that single instant, Luke charged! He grabbed her around the neck with one arm and knocked the gun to the floor with the other! His hand clamped around her throat like a vise and she found herself struggling desperately to breathe!
“That’s enough!” Daniel Spencer shouted as he stepped into the room, his long barreled Colt in his hand and at the ready. Joseph was right behind him.
“I don’t think so!” Luke said, challenging his brother as he squeezed the woman’s neck even more tightly. “I’m not takin’ orders from you anymore!”
In one swift move, the big .44 came up and a deafening boom shook the wallboards! The bullet took off a piece of Luke’s left ear before continuing on through the wall. The kid screamed and reached for the side of his head, freeing Ellie! She dropped to the floor choking and gasping for breath.
Joe swiftly reached down and grabbed her, pulling her out of the way of the confrontation. Then he bent and picked up his own gun. Hesitantly, he pointed it at his little brother.
The kid looked at him with surprise.
“You too, eh?”
“All this killin’ has to stop, Luke.” Joe said apologetically. “Me an’ Dan are wantin’ to quit this way of life, but you, you ain’t ever gonna quit killin’. You won’t ever change yer ways!”
Luke staggered in place and cursed, looking at his bloody hands in total disbelief. “You bastards!” he said.
“I can’t let it go on.” Daniel said in a rage.
It was happening, though not at all as he’d expected! The time for confrontation had come and strangely, he wasn’t feeling any remorse, any guilt, any pity for his brother. The kid was a killer. It was time something was done about it!
The kid’s eyes went to the smoking gun in his brother’s hand.
“I’ll kill you.” he threatened. “I swear to God, I’ll kill both of you!”
“You’re killin’ days are over, Luke.” Daniel replied. “Now you’re gonna have to pay the price for all the killin’ you ever did.”
The kid’s nostrils flared, his jaw tensed and raw hatred flamed up in his eyes!
“You don’t scare me one bit!” Luke raged. “I’ll kill you dead with my bare hands!”
Suddenly, like a crazy man, like some kind of wild animal that was cornered, the kid screamed and lunged at his brother, grabbing him by the throat!
Another deafening boom shook the walls of the shack as the gun in Daniel’s hand went off again! A pink cloud blossomed, splattered the far wall and the room filled with more gun smoke.
Luke’s hold went limp around his brother’s neck and his eyes bulged out in shock. He looked with disbelief into his brother’s face and then his legs gave out and he dropped down to his knees. He tried to speak but no words came. And then his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed backwards onto the floor.
Silence followed as Daniel slowly returned the gun to its holster. Both Joseph and Ellie stared at him in disbelief.
“Its over.” he said at last. “I ended up killin’ him after all.”
Joe slowly shook his head.
“I knew it all along.” he said. “I seen it comin’.” He stepped over and picked up Luke’s gunbelt from the floor. “I reckon that’s just the way it was meant to be.”
Ellie Masters crouched in fear and confusion in the corner of the room. Beat-up and ragged, bruised and hurting, she was afraid of what would happen next! What else did they have in store for her?
As if having read her mind, Joe turned to his brother and asked; “What do we do now, Daniel?”
The outlaw looked over in the corner at Ellie.
“The first thing we do is tie her up again.” he answered nodding his head at her. “Then, we get the hell out’a here quick!”
“Well, what about him?” Joe asked as he gestured at Luke.
Daniel looked down at his dead brother and shook his head.
The deed had been done, the problem had been solved and there was no more to it. Now they had to move and move fast! Precious time had been wasted, allowing their pursuers to gain on them.
“We don’t have to worry about him anymore.” he said. “Just leave him where he’s at! Ransom will take care of him.”
The outlaw stepped over to Ellie and offered his hand to help her up. She cringed and eyed him in suspicion and fear, refusing his hand.
“Now, I ain’t gonna hurt ya.” he said in an attempt to reassure her. “But you’ve got to come with us.”
She looked up at him through strands of wild, disheveled hair. Her cheek had been badly bruised, her lip was swollen and a track of dried blood stained her chin.
“Why?” she asked with apprehension, “What do you need me for?”
What indeed, Daniel thought to himself. He never should have brought her along in the first place! Her presence, more than anything else, had been a distraction to his brothers and a burden on himself. In fact, leaving her behind made a lot more sense! In her condition, she would probably only slow them down.
He turned to his brother.
“Joe, go get the horses.” he said. “We need to get the hell out’a here! We’ve wasted enough time.”
Joseph hurried out the door obediently. Emerging from the shack, he shaded his eyes against the bright glare of the afternoon sun and moved on.
Daniel turned back to Ellie.
“I made up my mind. I’m gonna let you have Luke’s horse.” he told her. “I’m gonna let you go.”
Ellie’s face showed no expression. She sat there on the floor and looked up at him blankly, saying nothing.
There was nothing to say.