Trail to Shasta (9781101622049) (9 page)

BOOK: Trail to Shasta (9781101622049)
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TWENTY-EIGHT

When Bridget reentered her room, Bride was sitting on her bed, just staring.

“You promised,” she said.

Bridget had thought of one or two stories to tell that would explain her absence from the room, but decided to simply tell the truth.

“You have a man,” she said. “You're getting married. Why shouldn't I find a man in America as well?”

“Clint Adams is not going to marry you,” Bride said.

“Who says I want to get married?” Her sister looked at her sharply.

“So you just want to be a whore?”

“I am not a whore, Bride,” Bridget said. “I never have been. You know that.”

“Momma said you were wild,” Bride said. “She said you were born wild.”

“She was probably right,” Bridget said. She walked to her own bed and sat down. “You saved our lives with your scream.”

Bride looked away.

“I was frightened,” she said.

“Nevertheless,” she said, “you warned Clint.”

Now Bride looked at her sister.

“Were they here for him?”

“Probably.”

“Three men to kill one?” Bride asked. “That's not fair.”

“I don't think everyone in this country acts fairly, Bride.”

Bride put her face in her hands.

“This is a terrible place,” she said.

Bridget moved from her bed to her sister's, put her hands on her shoulders.

“You're forgetting all the beef,” she said.

Bride leaned into her sister. Her shoulders were moving, and for a moment Bridget thought she was crying, but then she dropped her hands from her face and she realized her sister was laughing.

There was a knock at the door at that moment. Bride stopped laughing and tensed up.

“It's probably Clint,” Bridget said.

Bride nodded as her sister went to the door.

“Everybody okay?” Clint asked.

“Yes,” Bridget said, “we're fine. What happened?”

“The sheriff's trying to find out who the third man was, but I think these men were just trying to become famous by killing me.”

“In your sleep?”

“They probably thought that was the safest way to do it.”

“Will this keep us from leaving in the morning?” Bridget asked.

“It shouldn't,” Clint said. “The sheriff wants us to go, so we'll probably go.”

“Good,” she said. “We want to leave this town.”

“So do I,” he said. “Get some sleep. I'll knock on the door early in the morning.”

“Will we have time for breakfast?” Bride asked.

“I guess she's okay if she's thinking about food,” Clint said. “Yes, Bride, we'll have time for breakfast, and I'll pick those extra supplies we talked about before we leave.”

Bride just nodded.

“Good night, ladies.”

“Good night, Clint,” Bridget said. They gave each other a long look that said they had unfinished business—or pleasure—and then she closed the door.

TWENTY-NINE

Clint woke up early. He hadn't slept very well. He was upset that he'd had to kill two more men, and also that he and Bridget had been interrupted.

He got washed and dressed, took up his carpetbag, and then went across the hall to knock. The door was opened immediately. Both girls were dressed, and apparently hadn't slept any better than he had.

“Ready to eat?” he asked.

“I am,” Bride said. “I need a good meal before we go back to bacon and beans.”

“And biscuits,” Clint said. “Don't forget I'll make some biscuits, too. They're great soaked in the bacon grease.”

“Oh God . . .” Bride said.

“Come along,” Bridget said, putting her arm around her sister. “It won't be that bad.”

The two girls followed Clint along the hall and down the stairs to the lobby.

* * * 

While they were having breakfast in the hotel dining room, the sheriff came walking in. He spotted Clint and went over to their table.

“Adams,” he said.

“Sheriff,” Clint greeted him. “These are the ladies who are traveling with me—Bridget and Bride Shaughnessy. Ladies, Sheriff Cargill.”

Clint's introduction was so formal, the sheriff took his hat off.

“Nice to meet you, ladies.”

“What's going on, Sheriff?”

“I found the third man,” Cargill said. “His name's Fred Doolin. He says he and his friends were just lookin' to make a name for themselves.”

“An Irishman?” Bridget asked.

“I guess so, ma'am,” Cargill said.

“He should be ashamed of himself,” Bride said.

“What will you do with him?” Bridget asked.

“Well, nothin' much, ma'am.”

“Nothing?” she asked. “But he tried to kill Clint.”

“Ma'am, beggin' your pardon, but he ran off before the shootin' even started. I can't really charge him with anythin'.”

“That's a shame,” Bridget said.

“Yeah,” the sheriff said. He put his hat back on, looked at Clint. “I just wanted to let you know.”

“That's what I figured,” Clint said, “but thanks.”

“When are you headin' out?”

“Soon as we finish up here, I'm going to pick up a few supplies, and we'll be on our way.”

“Good,” Cargill said. “We don't need any more trouble in Saint Joe.”

Bride surprised Clint by coming to his defense.

“What happened last night was not Clint's fault,” she said.

“Beggin' your pardon, ma'am,” the lawman said, “but that don't matter. Trouble just follows him around.” He looked at Clint again. “Have yourself a good trip.”

“Yeah,” Clint said.

The lawman turned and left.

The two women stared across the table at Clint.

“So when someone tries to kill, you,” Bridget said, “it's your fault?”

“That's pretty much the way it is,” Clint said.

“And you accept that?” Bride asked.

“I don't have much of a choice,” Clint said, “do I?”

* * * 

When they were finished with breakfast, they all walked to the livery stable to collect the wagon, the team, and Eclipse. Owen Brown was there, but he looked like he'd had himself a rough night.

Clint drove the wagon over to the general store with Bride in the back and Bridget next to him.

“Stay here,” he said. “I'll get the supplies and be right back.”

“Okay,” Bridget said.

Clint climbed down and went inside. He bought some flour, canned peaches, and more coffee. He came out, went behind the wagon and tossed the supplies in, then climbed up on the seat.

“Ready?” he asked the girls.

“We're ready,” Bridget said, and Bride nodded.

Clint was glad to be driving out of Saint Joe. Once the news got out that the three men had tried to kill him, somebody else might get the same idea. As long as nobody followed them and tried for him on the trail, they'd be okay.

THIRTY

A few nights of biscuits and peaches did nothing to improve the trip for Bride, who became more and more morose as they got closer to Council Bluffs. It also seemed to bother her that Bridget and Clint seemed to be growing more comfortable with each other during the six-day trip.

On the afternoon of the sixth day, Council Bluffs appeared ahead of them.

“There it is,” Clint said, “From there we head west, and then the trip will really become rough.”

“Rougher than this?” Bride complained. “Bridget—”

“Relax, Bride,” Bridget said. “It'll be fine.”

Right before entering the city, Clint heard Bride pleading with Bridget to let them go the rest of the way by rail . . .

“This trip is for you, Bride,” Bridget said. “You have a husband waiting for you at the other end.”

“A husband I don't want,” Bride said. “You can have him, Bridget. When he sees us, he'll want you anyway.”

“Nonsense,” Bridget said. “You're going to get married when we reach Shasta, and I'm going to see America along the way. That is what we agreed . . .”

Clint knew that the sisters were going to keep arguing the same points over and over, so he rode on ahead a ways until he could no longer hear what they were saying.

* * * 

It had been a while since Clint had been in Council Bluffs. Always known as the jumping-off point for the trip west, Council Bluffs used to be more mud than anything else. Things had changed, though. The town had grown, and there were buildings he'd never seen before, including a brand-new livery stable.

He stopped the wagon in front of the equally new Bluffs Hotel and helped the girls down. He took a bag for each from the back of the wagon and walked them into the lobby.

“Wait here,” he said, leaving them each in a chair. He went to the desk to get rooms for them all—again, one room for the sisters and one for him.

“How long will you be stayin', sir?” the desk clerk asked.

“One night.”

“Yes, sir.”

Clint signed the register and the clerk gave him the keys.

“Thank you.”

“Do the ladies need help getting upstairs, sir?” the clerk asked. He was a young man, and he was giving Bridget and Bride some approving glances.

“No, that won't be necessary,” Clint said.

He went over to the girls and said, “Come on. I'll walk you to your room.”

They stood up and preceded him up the stairs.

* * * 

After Clint got the two tired girls installed in their room, he went back down to the lobby.

“Hey, mister,” the clerk said, “looks like somebody's interested in your wagon.”

“Thanks,” Clint said.

He went outside, saw that two men were peering into the rear of the wagon. One of them came out with a bag that belonged to one of the girls.

“This bag sure smells nice, Ben,” he said to his friend.

Ben leaned in, sniffed, and said, “It sure does, Zack. Wonder what's in it?”

“You won't find out today, boys,” Clint said. “Put it back.”

The two men turned and looked at Clint. They were wearing worn trousers and skins that looked like bearskins. In any case, they smelled like bears. There was so much grime on their faces he couldn't tell how old they were. One wore a gun in a worn leather holster; the other had a bandolier across his chest and a rifle in his hand.

“This wagon yours?” the man with the pistol asked. He was holding the bag. So he was Zack, Clint figured.

“It is.”

Zack held the bag to his nose.

“Sure does smell good. You like smellin' good, mister?”

“I'd rather smell good than smell like a couple of bears,” Clint said.

“You sayin' me and my brother smell like bears?” Zack demanded.

“I'm saying you stink like a couple of bears,” Clint said. “Now put the bag back.”

Ben started to lift his rifle.

“If your brother brings that rifle up any higher, I'll kill him,” Clint said.

Zack studied Clint, then lifted a hand to stay his brother's actions.

“Now put the bag back in the wagon.”

Zack tossed the bag back.

“Now walk away, both of you,” Clint said.

“You talk big, mister,” Zack said.

“I'll do more than talk if you don't walk away.”

Zack studied Clint a little longer.

“Lemme kill 'im, Zack,” Ben said.

“Naw, naw,” Zack said. “Look at him, Ben. He's a gunny. He wants you to try to kill him, so he can kill you.”

“But—”

“We ain't gunmen, gunny,” Zack said to Clint. “We'll see you another time.”

“I'll look forward to it,” Clint said.

“Come on, Ben.”

“But Zack—”

“Do as I say!” Zack snapped.

He walked away. Ben gave Clint a long look, and for a moment Clint thought he was going to go against his brother's words, but in the end, he turned and followed after him.

THIRTY-ONE

Clint took the wagon and Eclipse to the livery stable, arranged with the liveryman to have them ready early the next morning.

“Not stayin' real long?” the man asked.

“Just heading west,” Clint said.

“Some folks actually come here and stay a few days now,” the man said. “We got everything—saloons, girls, gamblin'—”

“Men who smell like bears,” Clint said.

“Ah,” the man said, “you met Ben and Zack, the Lane brothers.”

“What's their story?”

“Bad men who do bad things when they can get away with it. You got women with you?”

“I do.”

“I'd keep an eye on them,” the man said. “The Lane boys would rape 'em just as soon as look at 'em.”

“What does the law say about that?”

“Well,” the man said, “like I said, we got a lot of things we never used to have. We got saloons, girls, gamblin' . . . but we ain't got a lawman.”

“Why not?”

“Well, we had one up to about a week ago.”

“And what happened?”

“The Lane boys killed 'im.”

It soon became clear that the Lane boys had shown up a few weeks before, and had been running roughshod over the town ever since. And there was nobody who could stop them. Not yet anyway.

Clint went directly back to the hotel to talk to the girls.

* * * 

“So we have to stay inside the whole time we're here?” Bride asked.

“We're only going to be here overnight,” Clint said.

“You say these men killed the local sheriff?” Bridget cried.

“They did.”

“And no one in town can stop them?”

“Apparently not.”

“Well then, you must stop them.”

“Me? Why?”

“Because you can,” Bridget said.

“I didn't come here to bring law and order to Council Bluffs,” Clint said. “I'm here to take you ladies west. That's my task.”

“But you killed those men in Saint Joseph,” Bridget pointed out.

“Those men were going to try to kill me,” Clint explained.

“Perhaps these men will try also,” Bride said.

“Not if we leave town first.”

“You're not afraid of these men, are you?” Bride asked.

“I'm only afraid I might suffocate if I have to get near them again.”

“We have to eat,” Bridget said.

“I expected that comment to come from Bride.”

“We have to eat,” Bride agreed.

“I saw a café across the street,” he said. “We'll walk over there, eat, and then come back and stay in.”

“Well,” Bride said, “you're in charge.”

“That's right,” Clint said. “I am. Ready to go eat?”

They went down through the lobby, under the watchful eye of the clerk, walked outside, and crossed the street. The café was small, had been built recently. Inside there were about ten tables. Only two of them were in use at that moment.

A waiter came and asked, “Three of you?”

“That's right.”

“This way.”

He started off and Clint said, “No, that one.” He pointed to a table in the back.

“Okay.”

They walked to the table and sat down.

“What can get you?” the waiter asked.

“Steaks all around. Coffee for me, tea for the ladies.”

“No,” Bride said, “I will have coffee.”

“So will I,” Bridget said.

“You heard the ladies,” Clint said. “Coffee all around, too.”

“Yes, sir. Comin' up.”

Clint kept his eyes on the door, and the windows. He didn't see the Lane brothers on the street, but that didn't mean they wouldn't show up.

* * * 

The hotel clerk looked up as two men came in from the back, having used the rear door to enter. Actually, he smelled them before he saw them.

“Who's the good-smellin' man, Leo?” Zack asked.

Leo tried to answer and not breathe at the same time.

“His name's Clint Adams, Zack.”

“Yer lyin',” Ben said.

“I ain't,” Leo said. “He wrote it right here in the register.”

“Then he's lyin',” Ben said. “Ain't he, Zack?”

“I don't think so, Ben,” Zack said. “Not the way he stood there talkin' to us.”

“Then if he's the Gunsmith . . .”

“He would've killed you easy,” Zack said. “Without a thought.”

“Jesus . . .”

“How long is he stayin'?” Zack asked Leo.

“Only 'til mornin'.”

“And who's he got with him?”

Leo smiled.

“Two of the prettiest gals you'd ever wanna see,” he said.

“That a fact?” Ben asked.

“That's a fact,” Leo said. “And they smell real nice, too.”

Zack and Ben exchanged a glance, and then Zack said to Leo, “Okay, little brother. Thanks.”

“Sure, Zack.”

Zack and Ben returned to the rear of the hotel, stepped out the back door, and stopped short.

“What the—” Zack said.

There were five men standing there, all armed.

“Take it easy,” Troy Ahern said, “we just want to talk.”

“About what?”

“About a subject we're all interested in,” Ahern said. “The Gunsmith and his two ladies.”

Zack and Ben exchanged a glance.

“We're also buyin' the drinks,” Ahern added.

“Well, okay, then,” Zack said. “We're willin' ta listen.”

“What's a good place to drink?” Ahern asked him.

“My brother and me got just the place,” Zack said. “Follow us.”

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