By Christopher Leeson and Ellie Dauber
Posted 02- 21-18
Chapter 4, Part 2
December 16, 1871, Continued
The four riders advanced upgrade to the mouth of Secret Canyon, where the outlaws swung down from their saddles. Ike lifted Myra by the waist and set her to the ground. “Keep your hands off me!” she told him.
The bandit gave a scornful laugh. “We don't have time to waste, Gila Monster. Show us the gold.”
“Go to hell!”
Quick as a rattler, Ike backhanded her cheek, hard enough to send her staggering.
Myra glared, her eyes wet with anger. Her fists balled, ready to sock him back, but she stopped herself. That wasn't a move that could end well -- even if the O'Toole magic would have allowed her to hit a person. Ike's weakness, she knew, wasn't in his biceps, but in his ego. It was smarter to come across like a coward, to make him think that things were going his way. If that happened, maybe she could take him by surprise later on, with something more than a little slap.
“S-Sorry,” the potion girl stammered, rubbing her cheek.
“Not half so sorry as you'll be if you've been lying....” the outlaw threatened.
“Yeah, I get the idea.” She grimly started into the canyon. “This way.”
The outlaws tied their horses and followed. By now, the twilight's fade was almost complete. They caught up to the girl,who just standing there, looking around. “I – I can't see any landmarks,” she said. “We need some light.”
“Damn you,” Ike growled. He took Myra's shoulders and spun her to face him, but didn't slap her again. “Get some wood,” he told the Freelys. “We'll build us a fire.”
Getting that done took fifteen minutes.
The smoky blaze they managed to kindle upon mesquite wood didn't amount too much, but it was better than nothing. Myra pointed an outstretched arm, saying, “It's somewhere around there. The lawman set out a couple of white rocks to point to it, but I still can't make them out in this light.”
Ike grunted and picked up a firebrand. With this crude torch in his left fist, he gripped Myra's wrist with his free hand and jerked her after him. He let the flames illuminate the ground as they walked it; Myra glimpsed the quartz stones, but pretended not to notice and continued on. Ike grew impatient.
“I'm not...but I think we've gone too far,” the potion girl protested.
He dragged her back toward the exit. “There's one of them!” Myra said reluctantly, expecting trouble if she created any more delay.
A couple minutes later, she “discovered” the other white stone.
“You know,” the bandit leader said, “if you're a smart gal, maybe you can get a cut of the gold for yourself.”
Myra reacted with a scowl. It wasn't that gold didn't arouse her enthusiasm, but that the potion girl disliked the tone that Ike had used. “What do you mean?”
“I've had my eye on you. I've never seen a cancaner with better legs. You were way too much woman for Thorn! I don't think you even miss him. It's gold that brought you this far out. Fine, I understand that. You should care about gold; you could go places if you had enough of it. Have you ever seen San Francisco? Big town. Pretty things in those ladies' shops.”
Myra didn't give a damn about ladies' shops, but he had an idea of what she'd have to do to earn a share. “No thanks,” she said. “I'm not that kind of girl.”
Ike looked askance. “Since when? You're dressed up like a nice little milk maid, right now, but you sure ain't one.” Then the Missourian's tone turned serious. "Be poor if you want to. There's plenty more where you came from. Where's the gold?”
With a sigh, Myra sighted an imaginary line through the two white rocks and pointed. “That there's the place.”
The three young men went to the spot and started pitching stones left and right. Myra stood back, hoping for some chance to dodge away when they weren't looking. The important thing was not to get herself shot by lighting out too soon.
About five minutes passed. “Dammit to hell!” shouted Jeb. “I think I touched it!”
They started clearing away the rocks at an even faster rate. Pretty soon, they had the strongbox laid bare.
“Bring the tools,” Ike barked. Horace and his brother took torches, and then shuffled away to get the implements.
They quickly came back with a long pry bar, a couple chisels, a mallet, and a railroad spike hammer. Myra supposed that these tools must had been stashed behind the rocks of the Gap before the gang had descended upon the farm.
The brothers dropped the hardware on the ground and then, without much in the way of a plan, sorted the pieces out and started prying at the box.
The transport chest was sturdily made, having a latch consisting of a heavy hinge secured by a thick padlock. The three tried different ways to overpower the mechanism, but hammering at the lock only made a lot of noise. They fared no better with the box's back hinges, which were mostly concealed by the mode of construction. As for the prying bar, they couldn't find any purchase for it.
Finally, Ike ordered the brothers to settle down while he rethought things. He soon came up with new plan of attack and they commenced a determined assault on the hinge of the latch with a cold chisel driven home with the railroad hammer. After twenty minutes of grunting and cursing, Myra heard something break.
“Have we got it?” asked Ike.
“W-We sure do!” wheezed a tuckered-out Freely brother.
The metal lid of the box was throw back, but they could see almost nothing of what lay within. Ike stirred up the fire with a chisel to brighten it and added more wood. Then he selected the largest brand as a torch and held this over the chest. Myra had already moved up close. The shipment was fully packed. Memories came back. In childhood, she had often fantasied about finding conquistador loot or pirate treasure. The sight of ingots and pouches made her crazy. She was standing next to a dream come true. Or as it a nightmare? She knew that she didn't have a chance in hell of benefiting from it.
The men, on the other hand, looked jubilant. “Yay, doggie!” exclaimed Horace, holding a bag of loot against this thick chest, as if it were a precious pet.
“Cut out that noise-making!” snarled Ike, holding a fistful of bills. “We've got to move fast. Fill the saddlebags. We'll take out the paper and coins for ready cash. We'll do the final counting west of here, when we find a place to hide the main haul. Once there's no more posses to worry about, we can come back and gather it in.”
Ike turned Myra's way. “As for you, missy, we'll tie you up like we did your aunt. If the coyotes don't make a meal out of you, you'll keep for the deputy in the morning."
While the desperadoes packed the horses, Myra was left sitting upon a flat stone on the opposite side of the canyon mouth, bound and and foot, feeling sorry for herself. The way she saw things, it would have been better to never have gone for the gold at all, rather than come so close only to lose it. Her thoughts were interrupted, suddenly sensing furtive motion behind her. She gasped.
“Shhhh! Someone hissed. The girl glanced over her shoulder; it was too dark to see, but a presence was crouching there. She almost shouted to the bandits for help.
“Easy, it's me, Deputy Grant,” the voice said.
“They got the gold,” she whispered.
“I'm going to cut you loose, and then you need to head out that way,” Paul said, indicating the other side of the road. “Try to move quiet.”
“All right,” Myra replied breathily. Paul grasped her hands to steady them and then applied his knife to her rawhide bonds.
In a moment, her wrists were loose. “Move it,” said Paul. He led the girl away, into knee-deep sage. “Myra, get behind these rocks and keep low,” he whispered. “I've got to stop these varmints from getting away.”
“I'm not alone.”
She looked around. Under the feeble first-quarter moon, it was hard to make out much.
All at once, Grant let out an Apache war-whoop and started shooting into the air. Supporting fire came from somewhere else. Whoever was backing up the deputy also bawled out his own version of an Indian whoop.
“Injuns!” one of the unseen robbers yelled and the gang started firing wild shots. Myra realized that if the young owlhoots could be tricked into believing that an Indian war party was trying to corner them, they could be spooked into doing something stupid.
Then the gunfire died down on either side.
“What's going on?” she whispered.
“Can't see! They must have run back into the ravine. Follow me; keep your head down.” He led her farther on through the sage, behind a row of standing rocks where someone else was hiding. She couldn't make out much more than an outline, except that the man looked big.
“How many shooters do you have, Deputy?” Myra asked.
“Just Tor Johannson, here,” Paul answered. “We stopped at your place and found your aunt tied up, so I sent his brother Knute back for more help.”
“A yunfight with outlaws is more ten I bargained for,” broke in a Swedish-accented voice. “You Fru Fanning's niece?”
Myra didn't like the question and didn't respond. “Yes, she is,” Grant answered for her.
“Did tey hurt you?” Tor asked.
“Did tey find the gold?”
“They got it,” Myra replied coldly. “You came for the strongbox, not me, didn't you?”
“For both you and the loot,” replied the deputy. “Your aunt would be feeling right bad if we lost you.”
“What do we do now, Paul?” asked Tor.
The deputy drew a deep breath. “Well, I figure them polecats'll fight like fiends, as long as they still think they can get away with the gold. When they figure out that we aren't really Apaches, and that we've only got a couple guns between us, they'll make a rush for the horses. It'll be hard to pick them off in this dark.”
“We can have three guns!” exclaimed Myra.
“What?” asked Grant.
“I can handle a a rifle or a six-shooter.”
The lawman stood quiet for a couple seconds and then said, “And I'm supposed to trust you with a gun?”
“What's wrong, Paul?” inquired Tor. “She is a bad one?”
“It's a long story.”
“Aunt Irene ordered me to go back to the farm as soon as I could,” the girl spoke up. “If I shot you, what would that get me?”
“Well....” Paul considered. He knew how well Jessie Hanks could handle firearms. This gal probably learned what she needed to know about guns as a farm boy. He also knew how effective those orders given to a potion girl could be.
“Do you have my Winchester, Tor?”
“Yah. It is here!”
The lawman took the weapon from his volunteer and handed it to Myra. “You can earn a lot of respect with the town, if you play this square.”
She shrugged indifferently. “One question. If we catch 'em, will those bastards get the potion?”
“I don't know,” answered Paul. “It's up to the judge.”
“I hope he'll give them a bellyful of it!”
“That business can wait. We got to move fast, 'cause those coyotes will be turning jackrabbit any minute. I need to drive off their horses. We need to keep them here till the town posse shows up.”
“What is the plan?” asked the Swede.
“I'll circle over to where the horses are tied. I aim to drive off the pack horses first, since the gold is worth more than any outlaw's hide. The mounts I'll cut loose second.”
“Just so none of the gang goes back to the farm,” Myra said.
“They won't do that,” Paul guessed. “You don't have any horses left to steal. They'll probably run up into the rocks and we'll have to hunt them down like skunk pigs. So, let's move. When you two hear my Apache yell, start shooting. The echoes ought to cover any sound I'm making.”
“All right,” agreed Tor.
“Wait a minute,” Myra said. “How much ammo do we have?”
“Not much,” said Paul. “Take measured shots; it's too dark to see a target anyway. When you're out of shells, vamoose and lie low. They'll be more interested in hightailing it than looking for you two in the dark.”
Paul took off, moving as quickly as he could over unsure ground. Tor leaned against a boulder and assumed a firing position. Myra, familiar with the '66 Winchester, found a protected spot and levered a .44 Henry rimfire cartridge into the firing chamber. She then waited. There was nothing to see, but the potion girl could hear the tethered mounts shuffling, made uneasy from the earlier gunfire.
A moment later, Grant's whoop came; Tor started shooting, and Myra did likewise. She saw muzzle flashes and tried to fire at them, but something stopped her. She cursed. It was that damn order of Molly's not to hurt people! She decided to aim to one side, away from the horses, and found herself able to pull the trigger.
Paul Grant had crept in close to the outlaws' mounts before letting out his Indian yowl. These badmen were practically kids, he knew, but that didn't make the situation any less dangerous. Hot-headed pups with guns could come on wild and reckless, exactly because they didn't know what in hell they were doing. Then, too, he didn't want to kill men so young. If there was a chance to take them alive, he'd prefer it.
At the sound of the firing, Paul dashed for the beasts. The first one he touched started to buck, alarmed by his smell, but he managed to grasp its reins. In a flash, he had sliced it free of its tether with his well-stropped Bowie knife. Then the deputy gave the critter a hard slap to start it running.
“The Injun's are after the horses!” an outlaw bellowed.
Paul groped for another saddleless horse and found one. The gang members were shooting again, but the bullets weren't twanging in close. They were trying to scare him off and didn't want to wound their own animals. He he got the second pack horse loose. “Git!” He communicated his order with a punch.
Running boots. The outlaws were rushing in. The lawman ducked away, firing a couple of shots in the robbers' direction. The three braved the danger and got in among the animals. Paul sighted what looked like a bandit's outline and leaped for it. The fight was wild. Grant's boots kept slipping in loose gravel, but the outlaw seemed to have better footing. Each was swinging his pistol like a bludgeon. A hard shove made Paul slip. The tumble made him lose hold of his shooting iron.
The incoming fire from Myra and Tor had stopped, maybe from a lack of bullets. The deputy struggled to rise and managed to find his gun. He could hear the bandits tearing loose their mounts' reigns from the the mesquite branches. Paul lurched after the escaping men and blundered into someone. The outlaw skinned his scalp with what felt like a gun barrel. The lawman sprang away, but fell down again. Someone on horseback yelled, “Gitty-yep!” In the bandits' haste to get away, their beasts almost trampled Paul, who was barely able to roll out of the way. He got to his feet once more. The bandits were hard-riding away from town. His play hadn't paid off. Any additional firing would be bullets wasted. Frustrated, he shouted, “Tor! Myra!!”
The Swede came up in the dark. “Is you hurt?” he asked urgently.
“Not badly, I think.”
Paul heard Myra's footsteps off to one side and remembered the Winchester in her hands. “Give me that rifle,” he told the girl.
“Still afraid I'll shoot you?” Miss Olcott asked with a sneer.
“Could you blame a man?”
“It's out of bullets anyway,” the girl declared, shoving the weapon at Paul.
Receiving it, he said, “No use chasing them before dawn. Let's see if their animals are still around. I drove off a couple of 'em,” he said.
None of the horses remained amid the trees. “The gang probably got clear with one of the pack horses,” the deputy conjectured. “The gold on that animal will amount to a decent haul, if those kids give us the slip.
“We need torches,” advised Tor.
They took sticks from the outlaws' fire and searched after the horses. It took a half hour, but the Swede and Grant were able to locate both laden beasts. They were the tame kind and hadn't run too far. Myra used her hands to determine which horses they were. She also confirmed that the saddlebags were full of metal. “I think they're both mine,” she said. “The gang got away with their own nag.”
“We'll lead the animals back to town,” said Paul. “Myra, you'll be dropped off at the farm. Tor, let's bring up our own mounts and head out.” The pair vanished in the dark.
The girl grudgingly got up on her bay's back. The loot that it carried was all that she could think about. At that moment, Myra probably would have made a break for the desert, if she hadn't been bound by Irene's magical command. She realized that this moment represented the closest that she'd ever come to a life of ease.
A moment later, the men returned on horseback.
“Why don't we keep a little of this stuff for ourselves?” Myra asked out loud. “Don't we deserve it?”
“The world doesn't work that way,” Paul replied with a small laugh. “And just hope that you never get the full measure of what you deserve.”
“You got a pretty woice, Flicka,” Tor addressed Myra. “You as pretty as you sound?”
“Stuff it!” she told him.
Tor smacked his lips. “Tat gal got spice!”
“That she does,” agreed the lawman. “One of these days, some rough, tough hombre's going to get a lasso around that filly, and she'll be a real handful to tame.”
“Idiots!” the girl loudly exclaimed as she started out for home, not waiting for her unwelcome companions.
END OF Part 2; CONTINUED IN Chapter 5, Part 1