“I can make more,” he said. “Mr. Tesla has acquired a taste for it.”
“Good,” she said. “I acquired a taste for it a long time ago.”
She came and sat at the table with him. She brought the pot and emptied it into his cup.
“How long do you intend to stay with us?” he asked.
“I don't know. I guess if I stay here, I'll have to face those four, and if I go back, I'll have to face them.”
“Better you stay here, then,” Clint said. “Face them with me, if the time comes.”
“As you say,” she said. “Meanwhile, maybe I can help.”
“Tesla's equipment is heavy,” Clint said. “We're waiting for two more men to arrive with still another buckboard load, and then we'll all unload it.”
“Another buckboard?” she said. “From Denver?”
“It'll have to go through Gunnison, like you did,” she said.
“Then those four men . . .”
“Will probably take it.”
“But what would they do with all that equipment?” he asked. “They wouldn't even know what it was for. No, something else is more likely.”
“Like they would follow it.”
“Follow it here,” she said.
“So I'm right,” she said. “We'll have to face them.”
“Probably, and yetâ”
“And yet what?”
And yet it wasn't those four men he had been hired to protect Tesla from. It was others, unknown others rumored to want him dead.
“Nothing,” he said. “We'll have to set some watches. You and me.”
“Not Mr. Tesla?”
“He has other work that he came here to do,” Clint said. “Besides, he wouldn't see what you and I will see. No, it'll just be you and me.”
“Watch from where?”
“We'll need to see them before they get here,” he said. “They'll be coming from Denver. We'll have to find ourselves a good point to watch from.”
“Let's do it, then,” she said.
They both stood up.
“I'll tell Tesla we're going out,” he said.
Clint and Miranda walked away from the house, back in the direction she had come. No one had come up to that house in a long time prior to Clint and Tesla's arrival. There was a road, but it was partially overgrown with grass. Still visible, though.
“Once they spot this road, they'll follow it up,” Clint said.
“So we need to find a place to watch this road from, right?”
“Right. But one of us will always have to be back at the house, as well.”
“Why?” she asked. “Isn't the danger coming from here?”
“The danger we know of,” he said.
“You mean, there's more?” she asked. “Do you mean the cat?”
“Look,” he said, “I'm here to keep an eye on Tesla while he does some experiments. There's a rumor that someone might try to hurt him, or kill him.”
“So you're his bodyguard?”
“Who's payin' you?”
“I can't say.”
“Doesn't matter much to me,” she said. “Okay, so when one of us is out here, the other one is back at the house with Mr. Tesla.”
“Right. So let's find our spot.”
They found a good vantage point where they'd be hidden by a stand of trees. They were able to see down the road a few hundred yards.
“If that buckboard is loaded the way you say,” she commented, “we'll be able to hear it comin'.”
“Do you want me to take the first watch?” she asked.
“Okay,” he said, “but don't expect that they'll actually be with the buckboard. They might be following it, or they could be coming on their own.”
“I'll be ready for anythin',” she promised.
“I'll relieve you in four hours,” he promised.
“That's fine,” she said. “I'll sit here and enjoy the fresh air.”
“Just be on the lookout for predators,” he said, “two legged and four.”
Clint walked back to the house. When he entered, Tesla was sitting at the table, and it was covered with books.
“Where is our lovely sheriff?” he asked.
“She on lookout,” he said. “I'll relieve her in four hours.”
“You're here to do your business,” Clint said. “She and I will split the watch.”
Clint looked down at the sheriff's saddlebags, then picked them up and set them on a chair. He started to go through them.
“Why are you doing that?” Tesla asked.
“Because all we know about her is what she's told us,” Clint said.
“You mean, you don't trust her?”
“Not at all.”
“Then why did you put her on watch?”
“So that she doesn't know I don't trust her.”
“But . . . those men could arrive, and we wouldn't know,” Tesla said. “I mean, if she's working with them, she wouldn't warn us.”
“That's right.” Clint put her saddlebags back on the floor, satisfied there was nothing in them worth seeingâan extra shirt, some bullets, no letters to identify her. “That's why, while she's on watch, I'll be watching herâat least, in the beginning.”
He turned and opened the door.
“Keep your gun handy, just in case,” he advised.
“I shall keep it by my side.”
He was already engrossed in his books when Clint went out the door.
Miranda was relaxed as she sat with her rifle across her knees. She knew Clint Adams didn't have to trust her right away. It might take time, but at least she wasn't in Gunnison, having to face four gunmen by herself. As a whore, she had always been confident that she could handle men, even more than one at a time. But as a sheriff, she had very little experience. Better to have a man like the Gunsmith backing her up when it came time to face more than one man with a gun.
Clint found a good vantage point from which he could watch both the road and Sheriff Miranda, and also keep a wary eye out for a mountain lion, or rumored killers.
He should have checked Miranda's bona fides when they were in Gunnison, but he never expected her to show up at the house. He supposed she could have been planted in Gunnison to wait for them, and then make their acquaintance, but he doubted she'd go through all the trouble of wearing the badge. After all, a badge made you a target, no matter what town you were in, and why do that if she was waiting for them to appear?
He settled down to watch the watcher.
The predator could see everything from his vantage point. The woman watching the road, the man watching the woman. The only one he couldn't see was the man still inside the house.
The predator was in no hurry, however. He settled down into a relaxed pose and was content to wait.
Clint relieved Miranda after four hours, told her to go back to the house. He followed her, positioned himself outside, peering in a window. If she was there to kill Tesla, this was her chance, but instead she simply poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table with the scientist, who didn't seem to mind the interruption.
Clint watched as the two had a conversation. He noticed that Miranda did not have her rifle, probably left it by the door, and she had also removed her gun belt, probably hanging on the wall by the door. If she wanted to kill Nikola Tesla, she was going to have to reach across the table and strangle him.
Clint watched just a little while longer, then decided his initial feeling about Miranda was right. She was who she said she was, a whore turned sheriff who found herself with more than she could handle in Gunnison. She had come not only to warn them, but to give herself a good chance to survive if she had to face four gunmen.
Clint turned and walked back to keep an eye on the road.
As it started to get dark, he returned to the house. He doubted anybody in a buckboard would try traveling up the mountain in the dark, even if they were on a well-traveled road.
When he entered, Tesla was, as usual, engrossed in his books. Miranda was sitting across the table from him, cleaning her pistol.
“Time for supper?” she asked.
“Time to cook it,” Clint said. “You two just remain as you are. I can work around you.”
Tesla looked up, as if he'd suddenly realized Clint was there, and said, “Huh?”
“Relax, Nikola,” Miranda said. “Just keep readin' your books.”
She got up and joined Clint at the stove.
“I'm bored. Put me to work?”
He turned and looked at her.
“Can you peel potatoes?”
“Like an expert.”
“If you don't mind the crying,” she said.
“Okay,” Clint said. “You can help.”
Tesla cleared his books off the table for supper. Miranda set the table, then helped Clint carry the food and coffee.
“Wow,” she said after her first bite.
“That's what I said,” Tesla said. “It's wonderful, isn't it?”
“Amazing,” she said. She looked at Clint. “Where did you learn to cook?”
“On the trail.”
“That's over an open fire,” she said. “Now you're usin' a stove.”
“You sure you didn't learn from a woman?”
“Sorry,” Clint said. “No woman.”
“You've been single all these years?”
“Then I guess you're one of those men.”
“The ones I used to meet in my other job.”
“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “No whores.”
“What's wrong with whores?” she demanded.
“Nothing,” he said. “I just don't like to pay a woman to be with me.”
She stared at him for a few moments, then said, “No, I guess you don't have to, do ya?”
Tesla ate in earnest, hardly listening to their conversation.
“Well,” she said, “you'll make some woman a fine husband someday.”
“Not me,” he said. “I'm not really the marrying kind. No, I'll die single.”
“Well, if you know that, do you know how you'll die?” she asked.
“In the saddle,” Clint said, “probably at the end of a bullet.”
“You expect that?”
“Given the kind of life I lead, yeah,” Clint said. “I'd actually prefer it to a lot of other ways a man could die.”
“Like what?” Tesla asked, suddenly interested.
“Like wasting away in a bed, the way Doc Holliday did,” Clint said. “Like being shot from behind, like Wild Bill Hickok. I won't mind being shot to death, as long as it comes from the front. But don't get me wrong. I don't want to have it happen for a long time yet.”
Tesla was going to say something else, but he was interrupted by the sound of a scream from outside.
“The horses,” Clint said.
He bolted from the table to the door and outside. He circled the house and ran toward the makeshift stable. As he got there, he saw that one of the three horses was down.
As he reached it, he could smell the blood. The horse that was down was one of the team, not Miranda's roan.
He heard footsteps from behind, turned, and saw Miranda and Tesla running toward him, both carrying rifles.
“What was it?” Miranda asked.
“Was it the cat?”
“Yeah, it was,” Clint said. He looked down at the paw prints that surrounded the lean-to. The cat had circled the animals for a while before striking. The horses must have been reacting, must have been nervous, but the people in the house had been so involved in their supper and conversation that they hadn't heard anything until it was too late.
The mountain lion had literally ripped a chunk out of the horse's neck, cutting its scream off. The cat hadn't had time to do much else, but it must have carried a hunk away with it to feed on.
“That poor animal,” Tesla said. “I thought the cat wouldn't come in the dark?”
“It must have been hungry enough to do it,” Clint said. “We're going to have to watch the other two horses from now on.”
“What do we do with this one?” Tesla asked.
“We'll have to drag it away,” Clint said. “When we get it away from the house, maybe the cat will gorge itself on the carcass, and be satisfied for a while.”
“But . . . how do you move it?” Tesla asked.
“We'll get some ropes, hook them up to the other horses, and drag it away. And we better get started before it's totally dark. If that cat's willing to hunt in the dark, there's no telling where it is.”
“Where are the ropes?” Miranda asked.
“On the buckboard, holding the equipment in place beneath the tarp. We just have to untie it.”
“Let's get to it, then,” she said. “I think Mr. Tesla should stand by us with his rifle.”
“Suits me,” Clint said. “Nikola?”
“Yes, all right,” Tesla said nervously. “IâI will watch your backs.”
“Right now,” Clint said, “watch these other two horses while we get the ropes.”
As Clint and Miranda walked away, Tesla anxiously gripped and regripped his rifle.