“No,” Roman said, his stomach churning at the thought, “that's okay.”
Givens turned to the whore and said, “Go get us a bottle of whiskey.”
She stood up, showing a thick black bush between her legs as she pulled on a thin robe.
“I need some money,” she said.
“Yeah, yeah.” Givens dug some money from his pants, which were hanging on a pole. “Here. And don't take so long.”
She pulled the robe tight around her and stepped out of the tent. Roman noticed she was barefoot, and didn't know how anybody could walk around like that.
“What's on yer mind?” Givens asked. “Heard you got yer arm broke.”
“That's right,” Roman said, “and that's what's on my mind.”
“Lookin' to get back at the guy?”
“Who was it?”
“Just some fellas passin' through with a loaded buckboard.”
“Loaded with what?”
“We didn't get a chance to take a look,” he said.
“So the three of ya got taken by these two fellas?” Givens asked.
“Just the one,” Roman said. “The other one was no trouble.”
“One man braced the three of you?”
“He surprised us.”
“Good with a gun?”
“He didn't use his gun, right?” Givens said. “Oh, yeah, Lefty said somethin' about an ax handle.”
Givens chuckled. He looked around, found what he was looking for, a half-finished cigar. He picked it up, found a match, and lit it.
“Where is this fella?”
“Best we can tell, he left here to go to Gunnison.”
“When did this happen?” Givens asked.
“A couple of days ago.”
“Means they probably got to Gunnison today,” Givens said. “More than likely they'll be comin' back this way eventually. Your arm might be healed by then. Ya don't wanna wait?”
“I want my revenge while this arm is still hurtin',” Roman said.
“So ya want me to go to Gunnison?”
“Not alone,” Roman said. “We'll go with ya.”
“Four of us, huh?” Givens said. “Ya think that's gonna be enough?”
“Should be,” Roman said. “He ain't gonna surprise us again.”
“Any way we can find out who he is first?”
Roman shrugged. “Don't know if anybody around here recognized him,” he said. “Maybe in Gunnison.”
“Yeah, Gunnison,” Givens said. “Yeah, okay, maybe we'll find out there. And you'll pay my price, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, I'll pay your price.”
“Okay, then get out.”
“That whore'll be back any minute with the bottle and I'm about ready to ride her again.”
“Wanna stay and learn somethin'?”
“No, thanks,” Roman said.
“I'll come by the saloon later and we'll make our plans,” Givens said.
“Okay,” Roman said, “but don't make me come here again, okay?”
“I don't wanna ruin my dinner.”
“Ya don't like skinny whores with a heavy bush between her legs?” Givens asked. “That's my favorite.”
“Yeah, that's it,” Roman said. “I don't wanna see the
Roman left and passed the girl on the way. She was holding the bottle in one hand, and her robe with the other. She stuck her tongue out at him again.
Clint and Tesla rolled up to the house just before dark, and Tesla heaved a great sigh of relief.
“Thank God,” he said. “I thought I was going to have to spend another night sleeping on the ground.”
“We better see how much we can get unpacked before dark,” Clint said, stepping down.
“Oh, there won't be much we can unpack ourselves,” Tesla said.
“What do you mean?”
“These pieces of equipment are too heavy,” Tesla said. “When they get here with the rest, they can unload everything for us.”
“Well,” Clint said, “we can take in the sundries, get some coffee goingâif there's a working stove?”
“Supposed to be,” Tesla said. “I shall be very upset if there isn't.”
“Well, let's go inside and see what we've got,” Clint suggested.
They approached the house, which looked to be solidly built. It was one story, with a porch that ran the width of the house in front.
Clint tried the front door and found it open. Inside there was a large, empty front room, a kitchen off to one side, and in the back two bedrooms, which surprised Clint.
“Ah,” Tesla said, “Just what I need. All this empty space.”
Clint walked to the stove, inspected it, and said, “Doesn't look like we'll have any problems here either.”
They checked the two bedrooms, found them to be about the same size, each with a single bed already made up with sheets and a blanket. Other than some dust all over everything, the house looked fine.
“This is even better than I had hoped,” Tesla said.
“We'll need some lamps,” Clint said. “I'll see if I can find any.”
He found half a dozen lamps, a couple beneath the stove, and the rest hanging off the back of the house, where he found another porch. Farther back he could see an outhouse.
Carrying all the lamps inside, he could feel that they had oil in them already.
“Whoever rented this house to you made sure you had everything.”
“I told you,” Tesla said. “I use reputable firms.”
“Well,” Clint said, “let's unpack what we can before it gets dark, and I'll use that stove to make us some supper.”
“Venison stew?” Tesla asked hopefully.
“No,” Clint said. “I have to go hunting for that. I'll do it tomorrow. Plenty of deer around here. I'll bag one tomorrow. Tonight, it's beans and bacon.”
They carried in what they could, mostly food, coffee, blankets, Clint's bag and rifle, and Tesla's bag with his personal belongings. Clint saw some of Tesla's equipment on the buckboard, saw that a lot of it was made of metal.
“What are those?” he asked, pointing.
“I don't know what those are,” Clint said.
“I'll show you, when I get everything ready.”
When they got what they could inside, Clint went out and took care of the team. There was a lean-to behind the house that he pressed into service as a livery. He then collected wood for the stove. He got it lit and started a pot of coffee, then set about to make the bacon and beans. Before long the house smelled of food and coffee, and was warm. They were able to remove their jackets.
Tesla sat at the table with a cup of coffee and watched Clint cook.
“You can do many things I cannot,” Tesla said.
“Like what? Shoot a gun?”
“More than that,” he replied. “Cook, hunt, the way you stood up to those three men with an ax handle. You could have used your gun and you chose not to.”
“A gun is not always the way,” Clint said.
He filled two metal plates with beans and bacon, carried them to the table. He set one down in front of Tesla, then sat across from him with his own plate and coffee.
“When will you start doing . . . whatever it is you're going to do?” Clint asked.
“I need the rest of my equipment. When it arrives, there will be enough men to carry everything in. Then I can get started.”
Clint poured out two more cups of coffee, scraped the rest of the bacon and beans into their plates.
“I'll get an early start in the morning,” he said.
“May I come with you? I've never hunted before.”
“But you've fired a rifle?”
“Yes, but not at anything living. I have nothing else to do until all my equipment is here and unloaded.”
“Okay,” Clint said. “We'll go hunting at first light. Meanwhile, we'll continue to keep watch. I'll take the first, and wake you in four hours.”
“It will be a pleasure to sleep in a bed tonight.”
In the morning Clint awoke and smelled coffee. He rolled out of bed. He'd had a good four hours on a mattress that had been better than half the hotels he'd stayed in over the years.
When he came out of the room, Tesla was standing by the stove, watching the coffeepot. He turned his head and saw Clint.
“Mornin',” Clint said.
“I would have started breakfast, but I am much better at cooking over an open fire.”
“That's okay,” Clint said. “I'll make some bacon. Too bad we didn't get some eggs while we were in Gunnison.”
“That would have been nice.”
“I'll probably have to go back there for supplies at some point,” Clint said. “I'll see if I can get some.”
“How long can we last on the supplies we have?” Tesla asked.
“A couple of weeks.”
“Well, we can worry about it then,” he said, “unless we find some chickens wandering about.”
“Not likely,” Clint said. “Any chicken found its way out here would get devoured by a big cat.”
“Mountain lion,” Clint said. “These mountains belong to them. If we want a deer today, we'll have to beat a mountain lion to it.”
“Mountain lions?” Tesla asked. “Seriously?”
“Oh yeah,” Clint said. “They are the top hunters up here.”
Tesla stared at Clint as the coffee started to boil over. Clint grabbed the pot and took it off the stove.
“Get the cups and pour,” Clint said. “I'll put on the bacon.”
He cut strips of bacon and put them in a frying pan. Before long the house was filled with the scent of sizzling bacon.
They finished their breakfast and stepped outside. It was cold, but not oppressively so. They each held their rifles, and Clint was wearing his modified Colt.
“What do we do now?” Tesla asked.
“We walk,” Clint said. “Until we see some sign of a deerâor a mountain lion.”
“You keep talking about mountain lions,” Tesla said. “Are you trying to frighten me?”
“Not at all,” Clint said. “I just want you to realize what we have to deal with up here.”
“So what do we do if we come upon one?” Tesla asked. “A mountain lion, I mean.”
“We leave it alone as long as it leaves us alone.”
“And if it doesn't leave us alone?”
“Then we kill it before it kills us,” Clint said. “Let's start walking.”
“So if I could invent a gun that would fire electricity,” Tesla was saying half an hour later, “what would you think of that?”
“What good would it do?” Clint asked.
“Well . . . it would fire electricity instead of lead,” Tesla said.
“I understand that,” Clint said. “My question is . . . why? What for?”
“It would be better than bullets,” Tesla said.
“I'm afraid I'd have to see that to believe it,” Clint said. “Could I hit a deer at three hundred yards with your gun?”
“Can you do that now?”
Tesla looked surprised.
“Three hundred yards?”
He frowned, obviously unhappy.
“I don't know if I could sustain an electrical charge over that distance.”
“Then I guess you still have some work to do.”
“Well, when I have the timeâ”
“Shh,” Clint said, holding up his hand.
Tesla obeyed, fell silent.
Clint pointed straight ahead of them.
“I don't see anything,” Tesla whispered.
“Tracks,” Clint said.
“No,” Clint said, “not yet. Look.”
He pointed to the ground, but Tesla still didn't see anything.
“I will just follow you,” he said, “while you follow the tracks.”
Roman, Donnie, and Lefty rode into Gunnison with Givens trailing them. Roman held the reins in his left hand, kept his right tight to his body, still in a sling.
Abruptly, Givens rode up to join Roman.
“We know who the law is hereabouts?” he asked.
“Got no law to speak of,” Roman said. “Their last lawman got gunned down in the street, and folks just left him there for the longest time, way I heard it.”
“I heard some whore picked up his badge and pinned it on,” Lefty said.
They all looked at him.
“Hey,” he said, shrugging, “that's what I heard.”
“A whore turned sheriff,” Givens said. “Now that sounds interestin'. Maybe she knows somethin'.”
“I ain't about to talk to the law, even if it is a whore,” Roman said.
“I'll go and talk to her,” Givens volunteered.
“Fine,” Roman said. “We'll wait for you at the saloon.”
They split up there.
Givens dismounted in front of the sheriff's office, which had a boarded-up window in front. He wondered if the office was even in use. Maybe the female sheriff was still working out of a whorehouse.
He walked to the front door and opened it. There was a woman with long hair seated at the desk. She looked up as he entered, and her eyes widened when she saw him.