Trail to Shasta (9781101622049) (5 page)

BOOK: Trail to Shasta (9781101622049)
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TWELVE

Clint went back down to the front of the hotel to take a better look.

“Can I help you with something, sir?” the doorman asked.

“Huh? Oh, no,” Clint said. “I just thought I saw someone I know, from my window. Have you seen anyone watching the hotel?”

“Watching?”

“Yes,” Clint said, “not coming in, or going out, just standing and . . . watching.”

“No, sir,” the doorman said. “Nobody like that.”

“Okay,” Clint said, “thank you.”

He went back inside, up to the second floor, and knocked on the door of the Shaughnessy sisters. It was answered by Bridget.

“Are you both all right?” he asked.

She looked at him, at the gun on his hip, then said, “Yes, we are fine.”

“Do you need anything?”

“No,” she said, “nothing . . . not yet.”

“Well, I'll be in my room for the rest of the night,” Clint said, “if you need me.”

“That is good to know,” she said. “Good night.”

She closed the door and he went to his own room.

* * * 

Kemper looked up as Ahern came into the room.

“About time,” he said. “I'm starvin'. Can we go eat?”

“Yes,” Ahern said, “let's go.”

They went out of the hotel and down the street to a greasy café. When they had tough steaks in front of them, Kemper asked, “So? Did you hear?”

“I did,” Ahern said. “We got more money.”

“How much more?”

“A lot,” Ahern said. “Enough to hire help.”

“What kind of help?”

“Cheap help,” Ahern said.

“Are cheap guns gonna be enough to take care of the Gunsmith?”

“Enough of them will be,” Ahern said.

“And where do we get these guns?” Kemper asked. “In Saint Louis?”

“No,” Ahern said, “we'll wait 'til we get to Council Bluffs—or maybe even further west.”

“How many?”

“I don't know,” Ahern said. “We're gettin' the money in advance, sent tomorrow.”

“We gotta pick it up?”

Ahern nodded. “A money transfer at a Western Union office.”

“But . . . what if Adams and the women leave first thing in the mornin'?”

“Then you'll follow while I get the money,” Ahern said. “I'll catch up.”

“What if he sees me?”

“He won't,” Ahern said. “You don't have to follow that close. We know they're goin' to Council Bluffs from here.”

“How do we know that?”

“Because they gotta go that way,” Ahern said. “Just follow their trail. Don't get too close.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Anyway,” Ahern said, “we'll know more in the mornin'. Right now let's just eat.”

“You don't have to tell me twice,” Kemper said. “They make some good steaks in the West.”

THIRTEEN

In the morning Clint rose, dressed, and looked out his window. The team and covered wagon were there with Eclipse tied to the back. He knew they'd be there waiting for him, according to his instructions.

He left his room and walked to the next door, then knocked.

“Hungry?” he asked when Bridget answered.

“Yes, we are.”

“We'll have breakfast in the hotel,” Clint said. “Then we can get under way.”

“Is our wagon here?”

“It is.”

“We must get our bags loaded—”

“I'll have the hotel do that while we eat,” Clint said.

She nodded and said, “I will fetch my sister.”

She closed the door. He waited. After a few moments it opened and both girls stepped out.

“Good morning, Bride,” he said.

The younger girl looked at him, smiled, and said, “Good morning, Clint.”

They went down to the hotel dining room, stopping first at the front desk to have their bags loaded onto the wagon.

The girls had already seen Clint eat steak and eggs for breakfast along the way, so they both ordered the same. While they ate, they talked to each other, which was fine with Clint. He remained alert, watching the other diners to see if anyone was paying them special attention. He didn't see anyone, however.

“Clint?” Bridget said.

Clint looked at her.

“How long will it take us to get to Council Bluffs?” she asked.

“It's about seven hundred miles,” Clint said. “It'll probably take about a month or so. Along the way you'll see a lot of Missouri. We'll stop in Saint Joe, where the Pony Express originated.”

“I know the Pony Express,” Bride said suddenly. “I read about it.”

“You did?” Bridget asked.

“I read a lot about the West.”

“Well,” Bridget said, “along the way you will have to tell me about what you read.”

* * * 

Ahern and Kemper walked to the Magnolia Hotel and saw the wagon out front.

“Okay,” Ahern said. “They're gettin' ready to leave. Get yourself a horse and follow behind them.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“I'll go and get the money and catch up to you.”

“You gonna get us some supplies?”

“Just enough for us to carry, yeah,” Ahern said. “All you gotta do is not lose their trail.”

“I thought you said we knew where they were going,” Kemper asked.

“We do,” Ahern said, “but I wanna make sure.”

“Yeah, okay,” Kemper said again. “But I'll tell you one thing.”

“What's that?”

“If he spots me,” Kemper said, “I'm lightin' out. I ain't facin' the Gunsmith.”

“Yeah, okay, Kemp,” Ahern said. “Just don't let him see you.”

“Yeah, right.”

* * * 

When they'd finished their breakfast, Clint accompanied the ladies out to the wagon. They were both wearing skirts, but when they arrived in Council Bluffs—or even along the way—he was going to have them buy some britches.

“What about supplies?” Bride asked when they reached the wagon. “I read that you need a lot of supplies to travel by wagon.”

“Don't worry,” Clint said. “I had my friend stock us up with them.”

“What a beautiful horse,” Bridget said, looking at Eclipse.

“Yes, he is.”

“He looks like an Irish breed,” she said.

“Arabian,” Clint said.

“Are you sure?”

He smiled.

“Yes, I'm sure.”

He helped both women onto the wagon, Bride in the back, and Bridget up front with him.

“Bridget, there is more room back here than you would think,” she said. “This will not be so bad.”

Clint didn't say anything. He wondered how many days it would be before she changed her mind.

FOURTEEN

By the middle of the first day, Bride wanted to change places with Bridget. Clint stopped the wagon so they could change places. He was afraid if he kept moving, one of them would fall off. Maybe later, after they'd traveled for a few days, they'd be more used to the movements of the wagon and be able to change places without stopping.

The constant motion was hard for them to get used to, and the dust they kicked up bothered them to the point where Clint had them tie kerchiefs around their mouths. What they did enjoy about the trip right from the beginning was the scenery.

While Bride was sitting up front with him, she finally loosened up enough to start talking to him.

“What about Indians?” she asked.

“What about them?”

“Will we see any?”

“Maybe.”

“Will they attack us?”

“Probably not.”

“But I read that they are bloodthirsty.”

“There was a time when they were,” Clint said, “but there aren't that many Indians right now off the reservations.”

“Oh.” She seemed disappointed. “What about outlaws?”

“Oh, there are still a lot of outlaws.”

“Will they attack us?”

“I hope not.”

“But if they do, you'll shoot them, right?”

“If I have to.”

They rode in silence for a while after that, and just when he thought she had asked enough questions, she asked, “Will you teach me to shoot?”

“Why do you want to learn how to shoot?”

“To defend myself,” she said. “And my sister.”

“Bride, I think it would be up to your husband to teach you to shoot.”

“Yes,” she said quietly, “my husband.”

That thought didn't seem to make her very happy.

“But,” she said after a few moments, “he is a miner. You are the Gunsmith. Wouldn't it be better if you taught me?”

“We have a long way to go,” Clint told her. “We'll see.”

The same thing parents told their kids when they asked for some rock candy.

After a while Bridget stuck her head between them and asked, “Will we be stopping to eat soon?”

“We have about an hour of daylight left,” Clint told her. “We'll stop then.”

“I found some sort of hard meat back here.”

“Beef jerky,” Clint said. “You can chew on that if you like.”

“Beef jerky?” Bride asked.

“It's dried beef.”

“Oh, beef!” Bride said excitedly. “Bridget, may I have a piece?”

Bridget withdrew her head, then reappeared and gave Clint and Bride each a piece, and kept one for herself.

Bride took a bite, yanked and yanked until a piece came off in her mouth, and then chewed enthusiastically.

“It's very good,” she said.

“A little chewy,” Bridget said.

“I don't care,” Bride said. “It is better than potatoes.”

Clint had always thought what he'd heard about the Irish and potatoes was a myth, but in listening to these two girls, and watching them eat, apparently that wasn't the case.

“Won't be any potatoes on this trip,” Clint said. “And that's probably the only beef you'll be getting.”

“Won't we be eating when we stop?” Bride asked.

“Yes, we will.”

“In a restaurant?”

“No,” Clint said. “For most of this trip we'll be making camp on the trail, and eating over an open fire.”

“Where will we sleep?” she asked.

“On the ground,” Clint said.”

“What if it rains?”

“Then under the wagon,” he said, “or in it.”

Bride gave her sister an outraged look, but Bridget didn't say anything.

“Hey,” Clint said, “you girls wanted to see the way we live in the West.”

“What will we eat?”

“Bacon and beans,” Clint said, “for as long as it lasts.”

“B-But . . . what if we run out of food?” Bride asked.

“We'll try not to,” Clint said. “We'll restock when we do come to a town.”

Bride apparently decided to stop asking questions she didn't like the answers to, and stared off into the distance.

FIFTEEN

As darkness began to fall, they camped. Clint dispatched the girls to find firewood while he took care of the horses.

“Make sure it's something that will burn,” he said.

They returned with an armful each, and he built a fire and then put on a pot of coffee. After that he took out a frying pan for the bacon and beans.

As they sat around the fire, Clint noticed that Bride kept looking around, as if expecting to be attacked at any moment.

“I assume you ladies didn't spend much time in Ireland sleeping outside.”

“We may not have had much,” Bridget said, “but we did usually have a roof over our heads, and a bed of sorts.”

“Well, there's nothing to be worried about,” Clint said.

“What about animals?” Bride asked.

“They won't come near the fire.”

“And outlaws?” she asked. “What if they sneak up on us while we sleep?”

“They won't be able to sneak up, because I'll be watching.”

“All night?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

That didn't seem to soothe her very much.

“Here,” he said, “concentrate on this.” He handed each girl a plate of bacon and beans, and then offered them a cup of coffee.

“I don't like coffee,” Bride said. “Don't we have some tea?”

“No tea,” Clint said. “You can drink water from the canteen.”

Bridget accepted the coffee, but not Bride. She morosely began to eat her food.

“This is very good,” Bridget proclaimed.

“It's trail food,” Clint said. “I like trail food a lot.”

“Is this what they eat on trail drives?” Bridget asked. Her sister looked at her. “I read about them,” Bridget explained.

“Sometimes,” Clint said, “but on a trail drive they have a chuck wagon and a cook with them, so they eat other things.”

“Like what?” Bride asked.

“Soup, stew, some beef if a cow happened to be butchered.”

“I wish we had a chuck wagon,” Bride said.

“Hey,” Clint said, “I'm considered to be a pretty good trail cook.”

That didn't seem to impress Bride.

“You ladies have your choice,” he said. “You can sleep inside the wagon, or out under the stars.”

“I will sleep in the wagon,” Bride said quickly.

“I will sleep under the stars,” Bridget said.

“Good,” Clint said to her.

Bride finished her food and set her plate aside, but Bridget extended her plate to Clint for seconds. Clint wondered how Bride was going to do when she was living with Ed O'Neil at his gold mining camp. Maybe his old friend would build a house for her.

When they'd finished, Clint showed Bridget how to clean the plates and cups using dirt. Bride got up and went to the wagon, climbing inside. She was moving around in there for a while, probably getting her bedding set up, and then the wagon stopped rocking.

* * * 

As instructed by Ahern, Kemper had made a cold camp when he stopped for the night. His supper was beef jerky and water. Thankfully, the fall night was mild.

He was just starting to drift off to sleep when he heard someone approaching the camp. He drew his gun, got up into a crouch, and waited.

“Hello, the camp,” Ahern's voice came from the darkness, just loud enough to be heard.

“That you, Ahern?” Kemper asked.

“It's me.”

“Come ahead.”

Kemper entered the camp on foot, leading his horse.

“Why didn't you make a fire?” he asked.

“You told me to make a cold camp.”

“You're upwind, Kemp,” Ahern said. He sniffed the air. “All Adams is gonna smell is his own coffee and bacon. Make a fire, I brought some beans.”

“You don't got to tell me twice.”

Once they had a fire going, and were eating beans and drinking coffee, Kemper said, “You got our money?”

“I got it.”

“Lemme see it.”

“What for?” Ahern asked.

“I just wanna see it.”

“Later,” Ahern said. “It's in my saddlebags.”

“How much?”

“Enough,” Ahern said. “Enough to do the job. How far ahead of us are they camped?”

“About a mile.”

“That's too close,” Ahern said. “Tomorrow night we'll fall back further.”

“We don't wanna lose 'em.”

“We won't lose 'em.”

“What about when we get to Council Bluffs, and after?” Kemper asked. “When we head west? Neither one of us can track.”

“By then we'll have somebody with us who can,” Ahern said. “Don't worry. I was late gettin' here because I took the time to send a few more telegrams.”

“To who?”

“Don't worry about it,” Ahern said. “Just know that when we get to Council Bluffs, we'll be all set. We'll have everything we need to get the job done.”

“I hope so,” Kemper said.

“I'm tellin' you so, Kemp,” Ahern said. “Just believe me.”

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