McCann waited impatiently outside the livery while old man Sayles finished hitching a spike team to his beat up flatbed. She wanted to be across the river and on familiar trails before dark.
“Could you see your way to hurrying it along some?”
“Alright, missy, don’t go getting knots in your rope.” Sayles tied off the reins and wiped tobacco juice from his whiskers to the back of his hand and finally on to his bib overalls. “That’ll be two bits for the stabling and an extra nickel for feed,” he said.
“A nickel, what you been feeding him on, steak and eggs?”
The old boy just smiled a toothless grin and held out his hand. McCann sighed and dropped some coins in it.
“Thankee missy. You’ll find him back there on the right and your saddle is on the rail. Now, if that’s all you’ll be needing, I’ve got me some pressing business in town,” he said picking straw of a grubby coonskin hat and wedging it down on his bald head.
“Surely,” she said guessing that his pressing business was probably with a bottle.
McCann walked the length of the stable and found Bruce in the last stall. He stood with his back to her absently chewing on his bedding.
“Don’t eat that crud it’ll give you the colic.”
Bruce regarded her with mild disinterest and went back to work on his wood shavings and straw. McCann had named the colt for a man she had known in Bad Rock. That Bruce had got himself shot dead in an argument over a one dollar whore; this Bruce was just as stupid, but he was also fearless. She thought it was funny how often those two went hand in hand.
McCann climbed up the side of the stall and wrestled the heavy saddle on to Bruce’s back. Once she had fixed the billets, she slid her side-by-side into its holster on the swell.
Most in her line of work favored a repeater, but McCann had never cared for a long gun. Her small size made it hard to fire one from the saddle and she’d heard too many stories about the new Winchester model jamming up to trust it in a tight spot. What her shotgun lacked in accuracy it more than made up for in brute force.
“That’s a fine looking horse you got there little girl. I’d give you ten dollars for him.”
Frank Shaw stood at the end of the stall, running his hand across his chin and letting his eyes take a walk all over her.
“He ain’t for sale and he never will be at that price,” McCann said turning to face him.
“Well that‘s no never mind. I ain’t got me ten dollars anyhow.”
“Was there something you’re wanting mister?” She asked suddenly feeling claustrophobic in the narrow confines of the stall.
Shaw took a step towards her. McCann stood her ground. The truth was she knew exactly what he wanted and if she showed any fear he’d be apt to try and take it.
“I’ll be wanting the coin you got on Johnson for one. Then seeing as that face of yours would turn the stomach of most men, I’d be happy to oblige you with a pity fucking to see you on your way.”
McCann felt her guts knot up. She ignored them and took an inventory of her options. The shotgun hung on the far side of her horse; it might as well have been in Chicago. The way she was stood also put the wooden stall close up against her gun arm, close enough to foul her draw.
“Well now, that would be right neighborly of you mister,” she said concentrating on his hand, knowing that when the music stopped his move would start there. “But if you want to spill your seed then you best try one of them steers out yonder, because I’ll be dead and cold before I take your limp pecker inside me.”
“I prefer it better when they struggle,” Shaw said as if he was considering the proposal, “but I ain’t adversed about to doing it your way neither girl.”
McCann didn’t wait to get beat hollow in a straight draw and dove under the horse. Shaw cussed her and went for his gun. He was a lot faster than he looked. She kept her holster well greased, but he would have taken her if she’d stood still. Her move caught him by surprise and bought her a precious few seconds. She came up on the far side of Bruce, her short barrel colt already cocked as she cleared leather. Shaw opened up, his rounds going high and punching holes through the barn boards above her head. McCann returned the compliment, firing from the hip. She did it without aiming, hoping only to keep his head down. It worked and Shaw ducked out of the stall, she chased him with two more slugs as he dodged behind a stack of feed sacks, one grazed his trailing leg and made him yelp like a heel hound.
“Now I’m gonna bleed you before I fuck you, bitch,” he called out.
“By my reckoning you’re the one who’s doing all the bleeding.”
Her comment was met by a swarm of lead that narrowly missed the back end of the horse and splintered the wood beside her ear. Bruce ignored the gun play and continued to munch on the rank straw; reaffirming both his fearlessness and his stupidity.
McCann counted his six and scrambled to her feet, pulling the side-by-side from her saddle hitch. She edged to the end of the stall and unloaded on the feed sacks. The shotgun biting deep into her shoulder as two barrels of buckshot chewed up a week’s worth of good corn.
“Hey, how do you like them apples mister?”
Shaw didn’t answer. He crouched behind a wall of mortally wounded sacks, his teeth clamped on one end of a filthy kerchief as he tied off the hole in his leg. He slipped fresh rounds in his piece, thinking more now about saving his own hide than getting a piece of the girl’s.
McCann had dropped the spent shotgun and was reloading her revolver when Shaw broke cover. He moved pretty well for a man with a gimp leg, firing at her on the run as he made a break for the door. His shots were going wild. Even so, they sent McCann scurrying to the back of the stall. She waited until she heard his hammer strike an empty chamber and rushed out after him.
The sun had dipped and the shadows were long inside the livery. She could just make out the loping figure of Shaw hurrying towards the doors. McCann hesitated. Shooting a man in the back didn’t sit well with her. She considered just letting him go and then thought about what would happen if she did. She fanned her trigger and put two in his spine. Life was short enough without a giving a man like this the chance to make good on his promises.
Shaw fought against gravity for a moment before toppling like he had been a sawed off at the ankles. He landed face down, his impact cushioned by a pillow of horse shit.
McCann stood over him, the short barrel .45 smoking gently in her hand. Shaw moaned and scraped at the dirt, his fist opening and closing on a handful of shit-covered straw. She could see he was done for; nobody bled like that and lived, although it might take him a while longer to realize it for himself. McCann slid her thumb over the drop-back hammer.
“I got your pity fucking right here mister,” she said and blew in the back of his head.
Wade Pollock eased back in his chair, took a twist of paper and lit his pipe from the potbelly stove behind his desk. In another few weeks the town would be sweating under a blanket of summer heat, but for now the air still had a spring chill about it.
“Well, it sounds to me like a fair fight to me. The little I know of Frank Shaw-or should I say knew-I can’t say as I’m much surprised that he came to a bad end.” He toked hard on the pipe and filled the room with sweet-scented clouds of Lone Jack.
McCann nodded and cut a chaw with a long skinning knife. She thought to herself that if Shaw had come on her in the back country she might just have used the blade to clean his scalp before she sent him on to his maker.
“Then we’re done? “She said, popping the tobacco in her mouth.
Wade regarded his pipe and blew on the bowl. “I believe we are.” McCann nodded and started to leave. “But, it won’t take long for word to get out that Frank was shot in the back. I’ve no concerns about that. The way I see it you done me a favor, sooner or later I was bound to cut his trail. Other folks though, might not be so appreciative.”
McCann paused. “What are you sayin’ sheriff?”
Wade started making smoke signals again and continued. “Frank had a brother, Charlie. Now Charlie, he ain’t the biggest toad in the puddle, but he keeps with that Clay Billings and Swede Panoson, that’s some low company and no mistake. All I’m saying is watch your back. I’d hate for to see you end up next door, in your Sunday best burying clothes.
“That’s kindly of you, but seeing as I don’t got no best, you had better tell that other Mr. Shaw if’n he comes around, I’ll be happy to discuss matters with him at a time of his choosing and then if it pleases him, I’ll send him right along to his brother,” she said and spat a gob of squash into the fire.
Wade couldn’t help liking this gal. She was rougher than fresh sawn timber, but she had a deal of sand and that tallied pretty high in his ledger. “I surely will,” he said grinning around the stem of his pipe. “But I’d appreciate it if you could see your way clear to killing that son-of-a-bitch someplace else. I got me a passel of paperwork needs doing already.”
“In that case, I’ll not to add to it,” McCann touched her hat. “I’m much obliged to you sheriff,” she said and left him to his pipe.
Wade was working late. His disposition soured by long hours spent trying to decipher the illegible chicken scratches of his predecessor. Judge Brown was arriving on the noon train and he would catch the rough side of the old coot’s tongue if the dispositions weren’t in order.
The door banged open, bringing down another cloud of dust. This time he managed to save the papers. The sight of Charlie Shaw stood there fingering the handle of his Colt did little to brighten Wade’s mood.
“Where is the little bitch?” He asked the question out of the side of his mouth, the rest of it being already occupied by an ugly sneer.
Wade could smell the liquor on him at twenty paces and knew well enough that rumination and whisky made for a poor mix. Wade made a mental note to stop hanging his gun on the back of his chair and keep the damn thing on his hip.
“Go home Charlie, you’re drunk,” he said, sliding his hand under the desk and palming a derringer from a concealed shelf.
Charlie did the opposite and stepped forwards. Panoson and Billings came in behind him and fanned out like the blades on a pocket knife. Wade quickly weighed them up. Billings looked like he was fool enough to do something with that old Griswold he wore across his fat belly, but by the time he got that smoke wagon out of its leather Wade could have shot him and had the hole to bury him half dug. Panoson didn’t rate much higher. The Swede had a flap holster and scared eyes. Wade didn’t pay him no more mind and turned his attention back to Charlie.
“We ain’t going nowheres ‘till I gets some justice for Frank.”
“Seems to me Frank got all the justice he had coming, Charlie. Getting all het up about it ain’t gonna do him no good now; you neither,” Wade said leaning back his chair on its rear legs and sliding the derringer inside his shirt sleeve.
“He was murdered, shot in the back and that ain’t lawful,” Charlie said.
“Frank drew down first, and around here I decide what’s lawful and what ain’t.”
“The bitch shot him in the back,” Charlie said, emphasizing every word as if he were talking to a Chinaman or a simpleton.
Wade felt his blood rising. He wore the badge in this town, you didn’t have to like it, but you damn well better respect it. “Well, if Frank wasn’t in such a hurry to run away from a girl then he’d have got his self shot someplace else instead. Would that make you any happier?”
“You calling Frank yella?”
Charlie was madder than hell and fired words at the sheriff like they were made out of lead. Wade took a moment to consider his reply, giving both the accusation and Charlie time to fester. Panoson looked nervously at Clay, who just shrugged and scratched his table muscle. Wade only had two shots in his derringer. He probably couldn’t kill Charlie with either of them at this range, but he could try.
“If’n the boot fits son,” he said.
Charlie wasn’t a fast as his brother and his anger had the better of him. He fumbled his six out of its holster. Wade shook the derringer into his hand. Flame spat from the little gun and Charlie grunted as the ball raked across his shoulder, sending his own shot ricocheting off the stove pipe. Wade instinctively ducked and overbalanced on his chair. He fell backwards, his head connecting with the potbelly stove, putting him out cold and his second round harmlessly into the roof.
Charlie rounded the desk, one hand clamped to the crease in his shoulder, blood oozing through his fingers and staining his shirt. He leveled his gun, drawing a bead on the unconscious sheriff.
“Easy there Charlie, think about it for a minute,” Panoson said moving in alongside him and putting a hand on his gun arm.
Charlie shook it off.” Stand clear Swede, this won’t take but a minute.”
“I ain’t sayin’ not to Charlie. Just not now is all. What if he’s the only one who knows where the girl is at?”
Clay moved quickly to close the door, taking a careful look around outside as he did. The street was deserted, but the shots wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. He wasn’t adverse to Charlie beefing the lawman, although he wasn’t about to get his own neck stretched on account of it.
“Reckon Swede’s right fer once. Killing him don’t put us no closer to finding the bitch what done for Frank and like as not we’ll have a posse on our back trail afore morning.”
“What then?” Charlie said without relaxing his aim.
“Take him along, beat it out of him, then you can kill him all you want,” Clay said.
Charlie considered it for a moment and then holstered his gun. “Alright then,” he said and laid a meaty kick into Wade’s ribs, “might as well take his strong box along too.”