A Village With No Name / Chapter 14 / 15
A Village With No Name
** 14 **
The young boy stopped in mid-song to sniff the air. “Ma!” he shouted and scrambled to his feet. “Smoke! There! Do you see it, Ma?”
His ma echoed.“The house it’s burning.”
Betty Evans rose swiftly to her feet, her sight following her son's outthrust arm. “Oh, my!” she gasped inwardly. “It’s rising from beyond the house — the animals!”
Bree twisted her slender body free from the rope-swing to stand at the side of her ma and younger brother. “Why did you stop singing that lovely hymn, Ma?” she asked. But when she saw the column of smoke drifting into the sky, she panted in fright. “What’s burning?”
Through crooked white fingers pressed firmly against her gaping mouth, her ma puffed out a short gasp. “The barn is on fire!” Swiftly she shoved the Good Book into the hands of her daughter, then gathering the front of her dress about her knees she started at a run up the incline toward the farmhouse.
The smoke had thickened and was now swirling up into the sky like a raging torrent of Charcoal black, laced around with limpid gray. Tim raced on little legs, leading his ma and sister. His mind racing; his thoughts on Dicky and the horses. His pa needed him now to save the animals, and he would do all that he could to make his pa proud of him. To him, Dicky was more than just a mule. Even though one of the four horses belonged to him, he had first learned to ride on Dicky when he was only three years old. Over the years, a strong bond had formed between the two, and Dicky would respond to his every call. From behind, his mother called for him to stop, but with clench teeth, he charged on with deaf ears.
When he finally reached the crest of the incline, he ran parallel to the front porch of the farmhouse. However, when he turned the corner to start down the slope to the barns, he ran straight into the arms of a towering, dark figure with a grip that seized him with such force that lifted him clear off the ground.
“The barn!” Tim shouted, wiggling in the arms of his trapper like a snared raccoon. “Put me down! The barn is burning!”
The dark figure pulled his arm closer to his chest, tightening his grip on Tim's middle. With a flick of his shoulder, he threw the young boy to the ground and then stepping forward, kicked Tim viciously in the belly.
As Tim screamed and rolled through the dirt, his ma appeared at the corner of the house. She didn’t stop but raced forward, shouting, “Leave him alone, Sam.” She charged into him, beating his chest with tightly clenched fists. “What are you doing? He’s only a child.”
Sam towered above her, his dark eyes creased at the corners as his cheeks tightened over his face, but the smile was without passion. “Get away from me, women,” he growled. He pushed her forcefully from him, causing her to lose her footing as she stumbled backward over her son. The moment she fell to the ground, she scrambled on all fours to Tim's side, forcing him back to his feet.
“Run, Tim!” she cried out. “Take Bree with you, and don’t look back.”
“But, Ma –” Tim started, but the choked screech that came from his ma's throat caused him to hesitate.
“Go, Tim! Now!” As Tim took his first step, Sam lunged at him, but his ma was quick to respond. From her coiled position on the ground, she lashed out her leg, ramming her foot into Sam's shin, causing him to spring back yelping wildly.
“You bitch,” he roared down at her. “I’ll get to you once we’ve finished with the boy.”
Bree had rounded the corner and now stood frozen with fear by what she saw. When Tim reached her, he grabbed a hand full of her dress and dragged her with him. They had gained a small head start as they charged down to the creek, but Wes had a longer stride and was closing fast.
By the time they reached the swing, Wes was at Bree’s back, and he reached out, touching her shoulder. To his touch, she screamed. Then there was a calmness in her as the instinct of survival took over. Instantly she reached down for the wooden plank. Turning, she swung it at Wes. He misjudged its momentum, and it slipped through his fingers, striking him a hard blow against his forehead. Blood ran from the gash, and he dropped to his knees, wrapping his head in the cups of his hands.
Tim heard his mother scream again above the curses that came from Wes’ mouth. He glanced back to look at his sister. “Follow me!” Tim called. He raced up the creek following the footpath he knew so well. Where the path rose above the water, Tim turned off the trail and started up the bank and in among the shrubs and trees that followed the small stream. Halfway up, he stopped and reached out his hand to his sister, helping her up onto a narrow stone ledge. “Quiet, Bree.” Tim hushed her. “Wes won’t know we left the creek, the paths too dry to leave our tracks.”
As they huddled together in silence, hidden by the brush and shrubs, waiting for Wes to pass, Bree couldn’t constrain herself any longer, and asked, “Why would they start the fire, Tim, we’ve done nothing to them.”
Tim didn’t answer her question; instead, he hushed her again with a finger to her lips as Wes appeared on the path below.
“You hear your mama screamin’?” Wes called. “Ya’ two can stop that if ya’ show yourself.” He shuffled on the path, anxiously looking up and down the creek. Then he turned to look up the embankment and called again, “Come on, ya’ little devils no one is goin’ to hurt ya’.”
The moment Wes started on again, Tim moved with the quietness of a mongoose leading Bree along the stone ledge until they came to a small opening – covered with dried brush and gathered branches – in the embankment. Carefully he removed some of the branches and then led his sister into the shallow earth cave, pulling them back in to place behind them.
“It’s dark in here,” Bree mumbled through a dry throat. “Where are you?”
“Your eyes will adjust,” Tim told her scratching through the darkness. Then suddenly, a bright white light filled the earth cave.
“Gee…’s!” she gasped with alarm.
“It’s only my oil lamp.” Tim smiled at her fright, but his smile faded as his little mind suddenly realized the seriousness of their problem. His ma’s screams had faded now, but the memory of them still rung in his ears. “I’m scared, Bree,” he said softly with tears in his eyes, and Bree reached out, pulling him closer to her.
** 15 **
It rose into the sky like a dark thundercloud drifting west on the noon breeze. One of Kane’s boys was the first to see it, and instantly his hand began to twitch above the butt of his Spencer as if expecting trouble. “Boss,” he grunted darkly. “There's smoke in the sky.”
Gideon saw it also, and the twitching hand of Kane’s varmint. “I wouldn’t do that if you want to keep breathing,” said Gideon.
Kane pattered his pencil mustache with the side of his forefinger and then laughed aloud in amusement. “You think you're quick enough to drop my boys before one of them gets you?”
"I guess not," said Gideon. "But I could shoot you first. Then what would they do?"
Kane’s smile remained. “If you’re relying on the men you’ve placed around the village, you're wasting your time.” Kane turned in his saddle and shouted out to the men hiding on the roofs. Muestrense “Show yourselves." Kane spoke in Mexican, his native tongue. "You’ve got two minutes, or my boys are going after your families.”
After a minute passed without a show of armed men appearing on the roofs, Kane’s gunslinger reached for his Spencer. But before his palm settled on the well-worn butt, a rifle boomed at Gideon's back. The force of the bullet hit the man in the chest with a loud thump, exploding out through his back in a fine spray of bone and flesh and blood. He rolled from his mount landing in a heap on the ground.
A rush of blood rose to Kane’s cheeks as he roared, “Jackson, I’ll have your neck in a noose before sundown!”
“Don’t waste your breath,” Gideon quietened him.
Jackson had stepped from the office and now stood on the sidewalk, his dark, blackface set with concern “I couldn’t let him shoot you, Mister Gideon,” he said. “I warned you about his boy’s.”
Gideon thought he might end it now and shoot Kane before things got too far out of hand, but he was a man who didn’t like unnecessary violence even though he had shot and killed three men in the last twenty-four hours. “You did good, Jackson,” he said. “If another gets restless, shoot him too.”
Watkins picked up his 78’ Winchester as he rose from Evans' side, his tin star shining silver in the sunlight. “Bloody cow-headed Mexican,” he swore as he rammed a .44-caliber into the chambered, the muzzle shifting between Kane and his son. “Yoy murderous gold-hungry son of a cantina whore." Watkins shook his head hard from side to side. "Look at him! He shows no concern for his fallen man!”
“And pray, Sheriff, where did you learn such bad language,” Gideon teased him.
“I can spit it out like most men.” Watkins looked up at the roof on the opposite side of the street as Kane shifted irately in his saddle and called out, “Antonio, take up your positions.”
Four men rose instantly, and Gideon heard the sound as they worked the levers of their rifles making sure there was a round chambered in the barrel and then took up their position with their rifles at the shoulder.
Just then, a voice came from the roof above their heads.
“What about us, Sheriff?” the voice flowed with a pinged Mexican accent.
“Stand up,” Watkins called back. “And stand ready.”
The villages impressed Gideon by their eagerness. He took the lead. “Oblige us, gentlemen, and throw down your weapons.”
“You’re making a big mistake,” Kane said sharply. “Don’t think this is the end.” He pulled his gun from its holster, letting it swing from his finger by the trigger guard. “I have more men back at the ranch. They'll come looking for me if I don't return by nightfall.”
“I’ll worry about them when the time comes,” said Gideon.
Kane sighed and gathered himself to protest further, but at that moment, the man with the pinged Mexican accent shouted. “Are we going to hang them, Sheriff?”
“No,” said Watkins sternly. “We want them alive.”
As Watkins spoke, Kane, with his left hand, rammed his pistol into the palm of his right hand and raised his arm. Before Gideon could clear his Colt, Kane fired. Watkins fell to the floor with his arm flung across his chest. His Winchester booming as it fell from his hand, the bullet traveling into the distance beyond the village.
Kane didn’t hesitate but followed through bringing his pistol around toward Gideon, but Gideon’s Colt had cleared its holster. A cord of fire exploded from the Colt-barrel, and Kane’s handgun jumped from his hand.
“Get the doctor,” Gideon shouted to the armed villages. “And tell him I want him here now!”
Kane sat in the saddle unmoved by his dislodged pistol, but he held his throbbing wrist in his left hand. “When I'm finished with you,” he snarled, his dark blue eyes glaring down at Gideon through tightly squished eyelids, “I’ll have the three of you bound and whip and then dragged out of the village by your ankles. And as for you Jackson —”
“Save your breath,” Gideon quietened him again. “Nobody is going anywhere except you and your boys. Now get down from your horses and march yourselves into the office.”
Watkins groaned as he rose to his feet, helped by Jackson. “That was a close one,” he mumbled, looking at the blood that oozed between his fingers clamped at the wound on his left side. “It's only a flesh wound.”
A muffled whisper came from Evans, who now sat on the windowsill outside the office. “My ranch, it’s burning. I must go to my family.”
“I’ll ride with him out to the ranch, Mister Gideon,” offered Jackson. “You can catch up with us later.”
“No,” Gideon told him. “We leave together. You told me Sam’s not a man to be trusted. Get four good men with rifles and my horse, then meet me back here.”
When Gideon had locked Kane and his boys behind the cell door, he tossed the keys onto the desk as the doctor appeared in the doorway, supporting himself against the doorframe.
“I have no time for him now,” Gideon said to Watkins. At the door, Gideon turned back. “When he's finished with your side, I will lock him in the cell with Kane if I were you,” said Gideon.
Watkins only smiled and looked up at doc Henderson.