Authors: J. R. Roberts
When the rest of the men arrived, Ahern said to one named Toland, “Go and find the Gunsmith.”
“He's probably out lookin' for this girl,” Ahern said. “Tell him where we are, and that we have her and want the other one. Now, this is important.”
“Don't tell him about me or Kemper. As far as he's concerned, it's you three, and those two.”
“And why do I tell him we have the girl and want the other one?”
“Don't tell him why,” Ahern said. “Just tell him you do.”
“H-He might kill me.”
“He won't lay a finger on you,” Ahern said. “Not while we have her.”
“Can Iâcan I take one of the others?”
“Sure,” Ahern said, “take somebody with you. But go!”
“Jennings, come on.”
“Go!” Ahern said.
*Â *Â *Â
Obviously, he had gone the wrong way.
Clint walked to the end of Council Bluffs, where there was a falling-down saloon, and did not see Bride. She must have gone the other way. He quickly retraced his steps, and as he approached his hotel, he saw two men walking toward him.
He stopped to see what they'd doÂ .Â .Â . and they stopped.
“You boys looking for me?” he asked.
“You Adams?” one asked.
“We got your girl,” he said.
“And we want the other one.”
“What keeps me from killing you right now?” Clint asked.
Both men seemed startled by the question.
“Uh, like I said, we got your girl,” one of them said. “If you kill us, our friends will kill her.”
“And if I bring you the other girl, you'll kill bothÂ .Â .Â . and probably me. Looks like a Mexican standoff to me.”
The two men obviously did not know what to do with that.
“Okay,” Clint said, “you fellas aren't in charge, so go back and tell your boss what I said. I'll be at my hotel.”
The two men exchanged an anxious glance.
“Go!” Clint said. “I'm not going to shoot you in the back.”
They turned and ran.
*Â *Â *Â
Clint went back to the hotel, knocked on Bridget's door. She opened it with a worried look on her face.
“Where is she?”
“Take it easy.”
“Is she all right?”
“She's fine,” Clint said, “but they have her.”
“Who has her?”
“I'm not sure,” Clint said, “but somebody does. I talked to two of them, but they're not in charge.”
“Then who is?”
“That's what I'm trying to find out.”
“I have to goâ” she said, bolting into the hall. He grabbed her and stopped her.
“Bridget, you don't even know where you're going,” he said.
“I have to do something!”
“You have to do the same thing I'm going to do.”
“What happened?” Ahern asked as the two men entered the small saloon.
“He said we had a Mexican standoff,” Jennings said.
“How did he figure that?”
“Well, we got one girl, he's got the other one,” Toland said.
“That ain't no Mexican standoff,” Ahern said. “Where is he?”
“At his hotel, with the other girl.”
“Zack, you and your brother go get him. Bring him back here.”
“Okay,” Zack said. “Okay if we bring him back dead?”
“I don't care,” Ahern said, “but I want that girl. I want to kill them together.”
As the Lane brothers left, Bride looked at Ahern as if he was crazy.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“If I told you, little girl,” Ahern said, “you probably wouldn't believe me.”
*Â *Â *Â
“Here they come,” Clint said, looking out his window. “Stay here.”
“I want to come,” Bridget said. “She's my sister!”
“Bridget,” Clint said, “it's obvious they want both of you. I don't want the two of you in the same place at the same time.”
He left the room, hoping she'd obey him, but doubting it.
He made it to the lobby as the Lane boys entered. Leo was wide-eyed at the desk, hoping he was about to see what he wanted to see.
“Adams!” Zack shouted. “Yer comin' with us.”
And what makes you think that?” Clint asked.
“We got your girl.”
“You've got one of my girls,” Clint said. “Actually, I like the one I got better. You can have the other one. She's a pain in the neck.”
“Whaâ” Ben said.
“That ain't the way it's gonna happen,” Zack said. “Yer comin'â”
Clint thought he had the situation under control until he heard a voice from the stairway.
“Where's my sister?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head. The situation had just changedÂ .Â .Â .
*Â *Â *Â
Ahern walked over to Bride and took her chin in his hand.
“You are kinda good-looking,” he said. “I think all the men in this place would like a turn with you.”
“Using you,” Ahern said. “Having you. You know what I mean?” He put his face close to hers. “Rape!”
She caught her breath. When he released her chin, she looked around the room, as if seeking someone who would help her. Instead she found herself facing hungry looksâfrom everyone.
“Hey, are we included?” one of the patrons asked.
“Sure, why not?” Ahern asked. “You're here, right?”
Bride felt tears come to her eyes.
*Â *Â *Â
“Go upstairs, Bridget,” Clint said.
“Stay there, girlie!” Zack said. “If ya wanna see yer sister alive.”
“Where is she?”
“She's havin' herself a time in a saloon,” Zack said. “You're gonna have yerself a time, too.”
“You animal!” Bridget shouted.
“Now that ain't nice talk,” Zack said.
“If I had a gun, I would kill you now,” Bridget said.
“Zack,” Ben said, “I should kill her now myself.” He started to raise his rifle.
“Benâ” Zack said.
Clint didn't wait to see if Ben was going to heed his brother's warning. He drew and fired. Ben staggered, dropped his rifle, said, “Zack,” and fell to the floor.
“Goddamnit!” Zack said.
“Clint!” Bridget shouted.
He turned in time to see Leo come out from beneath the desk with a gun. For a moment he thought the younger man was going to shoot his own brother, but then he brought the gun to bear on Clint. He had no choice. He fired, knocking the clerk back against the wall, and then down.
He turned back in time to see Zack pulling his gun, and fired again.
*Â *Â *Â
A few streets away, in the saloon, Ahern heard the shots. Kemper was looking out the door.
“Whataya see?” Ahern asked.
“Nothin',” Kemper said.
Ahern looked at the other three men.
“They got 'im,” Jennings said. “They musta.”
“No!” Bride said.
“Don't worry,” Ahern said to her, “your sister will be joinin' you shortly.”
Bride put her head down on the table and started to cry. If only she'd stayed in her room. If onlyÂ .Â .Â .
Clint checked all the bodies to be sure they were dead, then lingered standing over Leo, the young clerk.
“This boy lied to me,” he said.
Bridget joined him, looked down at Leo, then looked away.
“He told me he wanted me to kill his brothers,” Clint said, “when all along he was working with them.”
“What about Bride?” Bridget asked.
“We know she's in a saloon,” he said. “We just have to figure out which one.”
“How do we do that?”
“Well,” Clint said, stepping out from behind the desk, “it won't be a busy saloon.”
“Too many people in the way,” Clint explained, “and too much of a chance somebody would get brave and try to intervene when they saw a woman in trouble.”
“What does that leave?”
“Small saloons. There's probably a few.”
“Who can we ask?”
“Nobody,” Clint said. “We'll have to go and look.”
“Both of us?”
“Yes,” Clint said. “I can't leave you here.”
“Then when do we go?”
“Now,” Clint said. “Can you shoot?”
“I never have.”
Clint leaned over and picked up the clerk's gun, aÂ .32 Colt. Small enough for someone who had never fired a gun before.
“Take this,” he said, handing it to her.
“What do I do?”
“You point and shoot,” Clint said, “but right now just tuck it into your belt. Don't take it out unless I start shooting. If that happens, then you start shooting.”
“At anything,” Clint said. “Just close your eyes and keep pulling the trigger until the gun is empty.”
“What will that do?”
“It'll be a distraction,” Clint said. “Come on, we're going out the back.”
“What about these bodies?”
“Don't worry about them,” Clint said. “There are probably going to be a lot more before we're done.”
*Â *Â *Â
Ahern walked over to stand next to Kemper and look out at the street. It was dark now, and a couple of men were walking around lighting streetlamps.
“No sign of them?” he asked.
“Those idiots!” Ahern swore.
“They got themselves killed.”
“Looks like it.”
Ahern looked over at Bride, who was surrounded by the other three men. Jennings was touching her and she was cringing from him.
“Adams is probably on his way here, but he ain't comin' in the front door.”
“So what do we do?” Kemper asked.
“We get ready for him,” Ahern said. “We have the girl, so he has to come to us. He's not gonna draw us out into the street.”
Ahern turned and said, “Jennings, get on the back door.”
“Right.” He pulled himself away from Bride and went to the back of the room.
“Yeah?” the bored man asked.
“Is there any way to get in here from above?”
“There used to be a second floor, but it collapsed a long time ago.”
Ahern took that to mean no.
“You other two, keep an eye on the windows. Kemper, you stay on the door.”
“What are you gonna do?” Kemper asked.
“I'm gonna sit with the young lady,” Ahern said. “If anything goes wrong, I'm gonna put a bullet in her brain first thing.”
He went over and sat at the table with Bride.
“Everybody set?” he asked.
They all nodded.
*Â *Â *Â
Clint and Bridget left by the back door of the hotel and made their way to the street.
“We have to stay in the shadows until we find out what saloon they're in.”
“We'll work one side of the street, and then the other. Stay behind me, Bridget. No matter what you see, stay with me. If anything goes wrong, it could cost Bride her life. Do you understand?”
“I understand.” He noticed she had her hand on the gun in her belt.
“And keep your hand off the gun,” he said, wondering if it was a bad idea to give it to her. “You're liable to shoot yourself.”
She snatched her hand away from the gun.
“There,” Clint said. He pointed across the street.
“Are you sure?”
“It's small, it's not busy,” Clint said. “Nobody has gone in or out while we're been watching. And there's a man standing in the door.”
“I don't see him.”
“I do,” Clint said. “He's trying not to be seen, but I see him.”
“So what do we do now?”
“We come up with a plan.”
“You don't have a plan already?”
“There's no way to form a plan until you know what you're dealing with,” Clint said. “We don't know how many men with guns there are inside.”
“How do we find out?”
Clint wished he'd kept one of the brothers alive for that information.
“I'm going to have to get a look inside that saloon.”
Exasperated, Bridget asked, “How are you going to do that?”
“I'm going to have to do what's unexpected,” he said. “I have to walk in there.”
*Â *Â *Â
“Ahern!” Kemper called.
“Remember what you said about Adams not comin' in the front door?”
Kemper pointed and said, “Here he comes.”
Ahern got up and rushed to the door. Sure enough, Clint Adams was crossing the street, heading for the front door.
“What's he tryin' to do?” Kemper asked.
“He's tryin' to get the better of us,” Ahern said. “Do the unexpected.”
“So what do we do?”
“I'm gonna go back to my table,” Ahern said, “and stay to my plan.”
“And what do I do?”
Ahern slapped Kemper on the shoulder and said, “You let him in.”
*Â *Â *Â
Clint approached the batwing doors of the saloon. The man standing there backed away a few steps to let him enter, which he did.
He stood just inside the door and did a quick count. Nine men, but that included the bartender, so that left eight. Three other men had all the appearance of people who had been drinking all day. By Clint's count, he had five men to worry about.
One of them was sitting with Bride, whose face was tearstained. She stared at Clint with pleading eyes.
“Clintâ” she started, but the man sitting with her cut her off by grabbing her arm.
“Adams, my name is Ahern,” he said. “Where's the other sister?”
“Where you can't get to her.”
“Well, that's not a good idea,” Ahern said. “But I've got this one, and I've got you. Two out of three ain't bad. That puts me in control.”
“Really?” Clint asked. “You really think you've got control in this situation?”
It got very quiet in the room.
“Let me tell you what happens if anybody goes for a gun,” Clint said. “I kill you first. No matter what happens, you die.”
Everybody started exchanging glances.
“How's that for being in control?” Clint asked.