The cat circled wide enough so that he could see the four men sitting around a fire, and then the people at the house, bunched up together with the horses. There was no fire there to dissuade him, but one of the two-legged creatures was constantly moving around.The cat finally settled down, resting its muzzle on both front paws, and watched the house.
The cat also knew there was one more predator out in the trees, but seemed to instinctively know that the lone man was the most dangerous of all, and so decided to leave him alone.
The man with the rifle looked down at the house from his elevated vantage point. He had seen the result of the cat attacking his partner, had watched as Clint Adams found the body and took the rifle. Hopefully, Adams and Tesla would think there was only one assassin on the job.
The second predator had watched the buckboard drive in with the two teamsters, then became concerned when they spent the night. He didn't need to go against four guns in his quest to kill the scientist, Nikola Tesla.
He didn't know why he'd been hired to kill Tesla. In fact, he didn't even know who had hired him and his partner. All he knew was that he'd been paid half of the money up front, and had a job to do in order to get the second half of his payment.
He placed the stock of the rifle on the ground and leaned on the weapon. He knew the cat was around, but if it came near him, he was going to kill it. He believed the animal knew that, and would leave him alone. After all, predators recognized other predators, and knew to leave each other alone.
But even if he had to deal with the cat first, he'd never missed a target before, and he wasn't about to start now.
Givens awoke the next morning, told the other three to stay where they were. He rode back up to his earlier vantage point, walking the last hundred yards so his horse wouldn't alert anyone. He wanted to make sure the two teamsters were going to leave. They weren't gunmen, but anybody could fire a gun and get lucky. He didn't need two more guns going against them.
As he looked down, he didn't see anyone in front of the house. They must have all been inside the house, having breakfast. The horses had not yet been hitched to a buckboard.
As he watched, he saw the mountain lion come into view on the other side of the house. He was sand colored, one of the biggest cats Givens had ever seen. The cat stopped on the edge of the clearing, lifted his huge head, and sniffed the air. Givens watched with interest to see if the cat would move any closer.
The horses in front of the house shifted nervously as they smelled the nearness of the cat.
“What's that?” Tesla asked.
“The horses,” Clint said. He ran to the door, grabbed his rifle, and stepped outside. He saw the cat, lifted his rifle, but he'd never seen anything that big move so fast, and it was gone.
Miranda came up behind him.
“What was it?”
“The cat,” Clint said. “He's getting braver. He was coming closer until he saw me, then took off fast.”
“What's he look like?” she asked.
“Big,” Clint said, “real big. Biggest one I've ever seenâand fast.”
“Then I'm not lookin' forward to going back to Gunnison alone when this is all over,” she said.
If she was hoping he'd offer to go with her, he didn't bite. Instead, he said, “I don't blame you.”
The two teamsters appeared behind Miranda.
“The cat?” Joe asked.
“I scared him away,” Clint said, “but maybe not for long. You fellas better hook up your horses and get a move on.”
“Don't gotta tell me twice,” Les said. “I ain't lookin' forward to tanglin' with no cat.”
They moved past Clint and Miranda and untied their horses.
Givens was surprised at how fast a cat that size could move. If he'd had nothing else to do, he would have liked to go and hunt that cat, test his abilities against the big animal. Maybe, after this was all over, he'd do just that.
The other predator watched the cat, wondering if he'd get close to the horses, or the house, but the Gunsmith appeared in the doorway with his rifle, and the cat recognized the danger and got out of there fast.
The predator was tempted to take a shot at Clint Adams right then and there, but decided not to alert the others. He knew that his first shot had to be at Tesla, just in case he got only one.
Clint stood guard with his rifle while Joe and Les hooked up their team.
“If you run into that fella who came up with you, and his friends, just keep going,” Clint suggested. “I don't think they'll bother you.”
“I hope not,” Joe said.
“We got guns,” Les said, “but we're not gunmen. We'll fight back, though, if it comes to that.”
“If you hear shootin',” Joe said, “you'll know we didn't make it.”
“Good luck,” Clint said, “whatever you run into.”
Joe snapped the reins at the team, and they moved off.
Tesla and Miranda came out behind Clint.
“We've only got one horse left for our buckboard,” Tesla pointed out. “Will that get us back to Denver?”
“That depends,” Clint said. “How are you supposed to get this equipment back to Denver?”
“I'm supposed to send a telegram to the company and let them know to come and pick it up.”
“Were you planning on taking some back yourself?”
“Well . . . yes.”
“Then I suppose we'll need to get another horse.”
“You can get one in Gunnison,” Miranda offered.
“Yeah, that's probably what we'll have to do,” Clint said. “And I suppose we'll be loading some of it ourselves. We'll need some help.”
“You can also get that from Gunnison,” Miranda said. “Always a pair of strong shoulders for rent cheap.”
“All right,” Clint said. “Well, let's listen up and see if we hear any shots in the next hour. And keep your eyes open.”
“Clint,” Tesla said, “the roof.”
“Oh, right,” Clint said. “Miranda, Nikola and I have to put some stuff up on the roof. You keep an eye out.”
“Okay,” she said, “but don't fall off. With that big cat prowling around and all the guns, it'd be a shame for you to die that way.”
“I'll be careful,” Clint said.
There was no ladder anywhere. Clint used the buckboard to reach the roof and then haul himself up. Tesla handed up the antennae, then a hammer and nails. Tesla backed up so he could see the entire roof, then told Clint where he wanted each antenna.
In the distance dark clouds were gathering. The smell of rain was in the air.
“The timing was just right,” Tesla said. “The storm clouds are coming in.”
Clint straightened up and took a look.
“It'll be a while yet,” he said. “I'll get the rest of these nailed down.”
“Make sure they're firm,” Tesla said. “We don't want any of them flying off when they get hit by lightning.”
“Lightning?” Miranda asked.
“That's what Nikola Tesla is all about, Miranda,” Clint said. “Lightning.”
“Harnessing it,” Tesla said. “Controlling it. Putting it to good use.”
“You can control lightning?” she asked.
“I'm going to give it a good try,” he said.
“There,” Clint said. “That should hold them.”
He climbed back down onto the buckboard, then stepped to the ground.
“No shots yet,” he said to Miranda.
“I know,” she said. “Maybe they got through.”
Givens heard the buckboard coming.
“Get out of sight,” he told the others.
“Why don't we take 'em?” Donnie asked.
“What for?” Givens asked. “They don't have anythin' we want, and we want them out of the way. Get out of sight. We're gonna let 'em pass.”
“Do what he says,” Roman said.
They grabbed their horses and walked them into some trees, then waited. The sound of the buckboard came closer and closer, and then it passed. The two teamsters were holding their rifles and looking around, but they went right by.
After a few minutes Givens stepped out of hiding, followed by the others.
“Okay,” he said, “they're gone.”
“So now we go in?” Lefty asked.
“Not yet,” Givens said, “but soon.”
“Have you come up with another idea, Givens?” Roman asked.
“No,” he said. “No, I've decided I like your original idea, Roman. I'll go in all alone. We'll just wait for the right time.”
“When will that be?” Donnie asked.
“Don't worry,” Givens said. “I'll know it.”
The predator saw Clint walking around on the roof. If Adams had been his target instead of Tesla, he'd have been a sitting duck up there.
He sat back and watched as Clint erected some stuff on the roof. He didn't know what it was for, but there were some wires. Maybe they were putting up their own telegraphâexcept he hadn't seen any poles in the area. Well, he'd heard that Tesla was some kind of scientist. Maybe even a mad scientist.
Curious, he decided to keep watching. They may not have been on the roof, but they were all still sitting ducks. He could take them anytime he wanted to.
The cat was territorial.
He'd made enough kills in the area to think that he owned it. He didn't like all the two-legged creatures that were wandering around. He'd had a taste of them and the horses, and he wanted more.
They were moving about now. If they would move away from the horses, he could dart in and grab another one for a quick meal.
He licked his muzzle and waited.
Clint went inside with Tesla, watched him fiddle with his equipment. There were knobs and dials, but at the moment they didn't seem to be attached to anything.
“They'll work once the antennae are hit by the lightning,” Tesla said. “Then they're connected to these electrodesâ”
“That's enough for me, Nikola,” he said. “I think I'll wait for the real thing to happen, so I can see it for myself.”
“That would be easier,” Tesla agreed, “than trying to explain it to you.”
“I'll just go back outside and stay out of your way,” Clint said.
Tesla was already involved in his equipment before Clint even got out the door.
The predator sighted down the barrel of his rifle at the woman, then noticed the sunlight glinting off the badge on her chest. A woman sheriff? He wasn't aware that any law was going to be with Adams and Tesla at the house. In his head, his price just went up. If he had to kill a badge toter, that was going to cost somebody a
“Okay,” Givens said, “I'll give you time to get around behind them, and then I'll ride in.”
“What are you gonna do?” Donnie asked.
“Don't worry about it,” Roman told him. “I'll tell you what to do.”
The three men mounted up and rode out of camp. Givens took the time to stomp the fire to death, then mounted up and rode slowly toward the house.
As Clint stepped outside of the house, Miranda called, “Clint.”
She jerked her chin and he looked in that direction.
“One rider,” she said.
“I see him.”
The man broke into the clearing and slowly approached the house. The other horses shifted uncomfortably. Clint doubted they were reacting to the rider. They had probably caught the scent of that cat.
As the man came closer, Clint asked Miranda, “Know him?”
“Yeah,” she said, “he's the one who came to me lookin' for you in Gunnison.”
“Looks like the one Joe and Les described, too,” Clint said. “Okay, so something is finally going to happen.”
“But what?” she asked. “Why's he just ridin' in alone?”
“I don't know,” Clint said, “but I guess we're about to find out.”
The predator with the rifle noticed the big man riding up to the house. He didn't know what the man had planned until he saw behind the house. From his vantage point he could see three other men moving in with guns in their hands. They were on foot, having left their horses behind.
Damn it, he thought, if one of them killed Tesla, he was going to lose his fee.