Authors: J. R. Roberts
“You look worried,” Bride said while they ate.
“About getting killed?”
“I'm worried about the two of you,” Clint said. “If something happens to me, how will you get to Shasta?”
“Nothing will happen to you,” Bridget said.
“Well, we had a close call in Saint Joe,” he said. “We still don't know if somebody's following us from New York, and now we have to worry about these two jaspers who smell like bears.”
“Well then,” Bride said, “maybe you should tell us how to get there from here, just in case something does happen.”
“No, she's right,” Clint said. “You girls should know how to get to Shasta on your own, just in case.”
“WellÂ .Â .Â . all right,” Bridget said.
“Let's go back to the hotel so we can talk about it.”
“Let's have some pie first,” Bride suggested.
*Â *Â *Â
It was the last building in Council Bluffsâor the first, depending on which end of town you entered from. It also looked like the oldest building in town. It was one story, only because the second story had long since fallen in on itself.
“You sure this place will stand up?” Ahern asked.
“It'll stand,” Zack said. “We come here all the time. Come on.”
Ahern, Phil Kemper, and the three other men they had hired followed the Lane brothers into the saloon, which had no name on it.
Inside there were several tables, one of which had a leg missing and was jammed against the wall, and some rickety chairs. The handful of customers didn't look up as the seven men entered.
The bartender watched the Lane boys lead the other five men to the bar and asked, “Who're yer new friends, Zack?”
“Set us up with some drinks, Andy,” Zack said, “and maybe we'll all find out.”
“You got it.”
“Beer for us,” Ahern said.
“Well then,” Zack said, “beer for everybody, on my new friend.”
*Â *Â *Â
As they walked through the lobby of the hotel, Clint sniffed the air carefully.
“Did you smell that?” he asked the girls when they got to his room.
“Smell what?” Bride asked.
“Down in the lobby.”
“It did smell rather rank,” Bridget said.
“That's what those two men smelled like,” he said. “They were in the hotel.”
“Maybe,” she said, “it's like what happened in Saint Joe. They looked at the register to see who you are. And now that they do, they'll go away.”
“I doubt it,” he said. “That's not how men react when they find out who I am.”
“I don't understand,” Bridget said. “Do they want to die?”
“They all think they'll be the one,” Clint said.
“The one?” Bride asked.
“The one who kills me,” Clint said.
“I don't understand why Western men think killing is so important,” Bride said.
“It's like that everywhere, Bride,” Bridget said, “not only here in America.”
“Okay,” Clint said, “let's talk about getting to Shasta CountyÂ .Â .Â .”
*Â *Â *Â
“So let me get this straight,” Zack said. “You wanna pay us to not only kill the Gunsmith, but those two women with him?”
“No,” Ahern said. “We want you to kill the women. We don't care what you do with Clint Adams.”
“And what will you be doin'?” Ben asked.
“My friend Kemper there and me will be payin' you,” Ahern said.
“And these other fellers?” Zack asked.
“They're yours, if you want them,” Ahern said. “We're payin' them, too.”
Zack looked at his brother, who always left the business decisions up to his brother.
“Well?” Ahern asked.
“I guess,” Zack said, “this is all gonna depend on how much you're payin' us.”
“Then let's get some more drinks and talk about that,” Ahern said.
*Â *Â *Â
After Clint explained to the girls the route from Council Bluffs to Shasta County, he went back down to the lobby. He could still smell the two men there. He walked to the door and looked out, then turned and looked at the desk clerk.
“You smell that?” Clint asked.
“Smell what, sir?” the clerk asked.
Clint crossed the lobby to stand right in front of the desk.
“Smells like wet bear,” Clint said. “Dirty wet bear. You don't smell it?”
The clerk made a show of sniffing the air, then said, “Sir, I don'tâ”
“Don't bother lying,” Clint said. “I can smell those two from here.”
The clerk fell silent.
“What did they want?” Clint asked.
“Um, they just wanted to know who you are.”
“Did you tell them?”
“I figured if they knew, they'd leave you alone, and you wouldn't have to kill them.”
“Why'd you warn me that they were going through my wagon?”
The clerk shrugged.
“Seemed like the right thing to do.”
Clint reached out and grabbed the young man's wrist.
“I'm going to need a better reason than that.”
“Okay, okay,” the clerk said. Clint released him. “I was hopin' you'd kill 'em.”
The clerk hesitated, then said, “They're my brothers.”
“And you want me to kill them?”
“I came here to get away from them,” the clerk said. “They found me, and ever since they been here, they've beenâwell, they killed the sheriff. That ought to tell you the kind of men they are.”
“And you want them dead?”
“I'd like them to leave town,” the young man said, “but if that can't happen, yeah. I want them dead. I want them out of my life. There's something wrong with them.”
“Okay,” Clint said, “say I believe you. What will they do next?”
“They're gonna try to figure out a way to kill you, and to have your women.”
“Will they come during the night?”
“Okay,” Clint said, “I want two new rooms, but I don't want you to change the room numbers on the register.”
Clint collected the two new keys.
“If you tell them what room I'm in,” Clint said, “or the ladies are in, I'll come for you when I'm done with them. Do you understand?”
“Y-Yessir,” the clerk said. “I understand.”
“What's your name?”
“Okay, Leo,” Clint said. “I don't want to kill your brothers, but with no law in town, if they come for me, I will.”
Clint went upstairs to move the girls and himself to new rooms.
*Â *Â *Â
Leo breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't wanted the Gunsmith to know he was brother to Zack and Ben, but his plan might still work. And if he did manage to get Adams to kill his brothers, the whole town would owe him a debt of gratitude.
It wasn't dark yet.
Bridget and Bride moved into their new room, and Bridget lay down on her bed to rest. Before long she was breathing evenly and deeply asleep.
Bride walked to the window and looked out. The street was busy. Council Bluffs was not the kind of town Saint Joe had been. And it certainly wasn't what Saint Louis had been. Both of those were places she wished she'd had a chance to look at.
It seemed to her that everybody was getting to do what they wanted to do but her. She was just supposed to travel to Shasta County and marry a man forty years older than she was. If she was going to do that, she'd like to have a good time somewhere along the way first.
She looked at Bridget again. She was still fast asleep. And she was pretty sure Clint was in his room.
She went to the door, listened to see if anyone was in the hall, then opened it and slipped out.
*Â *Â *Â
Bridget came awake slowly. She was surprised she had fallen asleep, and now she was groggy as she woke.
“Wow,” she said, “I really fell asleep. Bride?”
She turned in her bed, expecting to see her sister in the other. There was only one place she could think her sister might have gone.
She got up, went across the hall, and knocked on Clint's door. It never occurred to her that her sister and Clint might be doing what she and Clint had been doing when they were interrupted in Saint Joseph. She simply could not think of anyplace else Bride could be.
Clint opened the door, smiled when he saw Bridget.
“Is Bride here?” Bridget asked immediately.
“No, she's not.”
“Have you seen her in the past hour or so?”
“She's gone, Clint,” she said. “I don't know where she is.”
“Wait,” he said. He got his gun from the bedpost, strapped it on, and put on his hat.
“Wait in your room,” he said. “I'll find her.”
“I want to comeâ”
“I can't be worried about both of you,” he said. “Just wait and I'll find her. I promise.”
He closed his door and went down to the lobby.
*Â *Â *Â
Kemper couldn't believe his eyes when the girl came out of the hotel.
“Jesus,” he said to himself.
He had two choices: Kill her now, or find Ahern and tell him. She began to walk down the street at a leisurely pace, apparently just sightseeing as dusk fell.
He decided to go tell Ahern and let him decide what to do.
*Â *Â *Â
Clint came down to the lobby and approached the desk. The clerk looked at him with obvious concern, if not fear.
“Have you seen one of the girls in the past hour?”
“Yeah,” he said, “I saw one of 'em come down a little while ago and go out. I don't know which one it was. They look alike.”
“Where'd she go?”
“Out,” Leo said. “I don't know where.”
“Why didn't you stop her?”
The clerk just shrugged.
Clint went outside, stopped, and looked both ways. He also looked across the street to see if anyone was watching the hotel. Finally, he had to pick a direction, so he went to the right.
*Â *Â *Â
Ahern turned the whore over onto her belly, then lifted her butt into the air while her face was buried in the pillow. She had a big, pale ass, and seeing it hiked up in the air like that increased his level of excitement.
He pushed his raging cock up between her thighs and into her wet pussy. She gasped, then made the appropriate noises as he began driving himself in and out of her. He gripped her hips and gritted his teeth each time he slammed into her. The room filled with the sound of slapping fleshâand then there was a knock on the door.
“What, damnit?” Ahern shouted.
There was some hesitation, and then Kemper's voice said, “I got somethin' important to tell you.”
Ahern withdrew from the whore's cunt, his penis wet and pulsing.
“It better be important,” he growled on his way to the door.
The whore turned over onto her back, her plain face looking bored. Her only concern was that she had already been paid, so she didn't care what happened after that.
Ahern yanked the door open and said, “What?”
Kemper ignored his partner's nudity and said, “You're not gonna believe this.”
If Bride was simply wandering the streets, Clint's goal was to find her before anyone else didâthe brothers, or someone following them from New York. She'd obviously left the room under her own power. Nobody could have taken her without waking Bridget, and why take one and leave the other? So she was out having a look around Council Bluffs on her own, but she was putting all their lives in jeopardy.
Where the hell was she?
*Â *Â *Â
Since Kemper knew the direction the girl had gone, he and Ahernâand the Lane Brothersâhad the advantage over Clint.
Ahern left the other three men behind, figuring they didn't need all of them to simply grab the girl off the street. The fragrant Lane Brothers could take care of that themselves.
*Â *Â *Â
“Is that her?” Zack asked.
He pointed across the street. They all saw a red-haired woman in a green shirt and a pair of brown britches walking down the street like she didn't have any idea where she was.
“That's her,” Ahern said. “Get her.”
“Now?” Ben asked. “On the street?”
“I don't mean kill her,” Ahern said. “I mean grab her.”
“And do what?” Zack asked.
Ahern looked around, then pointed.
“Bring her into that saloon.”
“There's people in that saloon,” Ben said.
“I'll take care of it,” Ahern said. “Go!”
The Lane brothers started across the street toward the girl. Ahern and Kemper went into the saloon. There was a bored bartender and three patrons, one at the bar and two at tables.
Ahern approached the bartender and asked, “How good are you at minding your own business?”
“I'm real good at it.”
“And these fellas?”
“They wouldn't even notice if the place was on fire,” the bartender said.
“Mister,” the barman said, “go ahead and fire a shot and see what happens.”
“I'm gonna take your word for it,” Ahern said. “If you're wrong, it's gonna be too bad.”
“Don't worry,” the bartender said. “I seen a lot of things.”
Ahern turned to Kemper and said, “Watch the door.”
*Â *Â *Â
Outside, the brothers reached the girl, one on either side of her.
Bride stopped and looked at the two of them.
“What do you want?” she demanded.
“You,” Zack said. He took one arm, and Ben took the other.
“She sure is pretty, Zack.”
“Yeah, she is,” Zack said.
Suddenly, Bride realized who they were, mainly because of the smell.
“You're making a mistake,” she said.
“Mr. Adams won't like this.”
“He's the Gunsmith,” she said. “I'm with him.”
“You was with him, girlie,” Zack said. “Now you're with us.”
They tightened their holds on her arms and dragged her into the street.
*Â *Â *Â
“Here they come,” Kemper said.
“Good,” Ahern said, “when they come in, you go and get the other boys.”
“But I thoughtâ”
“I changed my mind,” Ahern said. “We're gonna use this girl to have Adams bring us the other one. Then we'll have to kill them all. We're gonna need those boys.”
“Okay,” Kemper said.
The Lanes came through the batwing doors, dragging the girl between them.
“We got 'er,” Zack said.
“She's pretty,” Ben said.
“You have to let me go!” Bride said. “Are you in charge here?”
Ahern said, “I am.”
“Tell these men to let me go. Or you'll have to deal with the Gunsmith.”
“Lady,” Ahern said, “I'm countin' on it.”