“I’d rather not, but I gotta eat. Ain’t had nothing since they killed that man back on One Horn Creek. Les should be back in a minute or two. He don’t like that food any more than you. I’m getting . . .” He walked away grumbling.
The Deacon a quick prayer of thanks and opened the door.
The two barrels of a shotgun looked like tunnels. “Get back out where you belong. I told you men, no one comes in this house without my invite. Get.” It was the fat man.
Daniel turned and walked out.
“Don’t that beat all. I get right up to the man and he’s got the drop.” The Deacon walked away from the back side of the house as he saw a man coming his direction. He dropped behind the ruins of the jail shack Diane had been in before. There was not much of it standing after someone had destroyed it. He laid there until the sun’s light no longer did much for the guards.
The man knocked on the door. The fat man answered. They talked for a minute or two. The only words the Deacon caught were, “then someone else is in this area, find him.” just before the door slammed in the man’s face. The man ran to the front of the building shouting order to everyone he passed.
Two men trotted around the house and set up station at the back door. Others went running everywhere, but no one thought of a tumbled down shack in plain sight. The lookouts were sent out to at least three points and a couple of men were put on the roof of the bunkhouse, which had a roof higher than any other building. The voice of the fat man shouted, “Take him alive and we’ll teach him to leave us alone.”
Surveying the area left few options for the Deacon. He could stay where he was or move and hope it would work out better. Just as he decided to stick until he could see really well, all havoc broke out. A man came running down the hill behind the house towing a horse. That horse was Solomon. Now he knew he had to do something.
The fat man came out of the house, listened for a moment and started shouting orders about searching the place with a flour sifter if he had to, but he was getting the man who owned the horse. The fat man lined everyone up in two lines facing opposite directions. The lines were anchored on the house at one end and the bunkhouse at the other. The men were spaced far enough away from each other that they could see each other and all that was between them.
He yelled, “Move straight ahead and comb every spot and pile and building on the place. I’ll get the house and the area behind it. Hawkins, you get the area behind the bunkhouse.”
“Yeah Boss,” was the only reply.
The Deacon knew he would be found in about 25 steps. He rolled sideways away from the building until he hit a dip he could not roll out of. Gathering his feet underneath his body he lunged and ran as fast as he could for the tree line a good quarter mile away.
A man shouted, “There he goes,” and threw a couple of quick shots into the night.
The Deacon ran like he had never run before, except maybe the time he got caught in the melon patch. He laughed as that thought went through his mind. Shots were coming at a steady rate behind him, but nothing was hitting very close. The sound of men running soon disappeared in the sound of horses running.
He stopped and turned, gun in hand.
Six horses were just passing the running men. Only three of the horses had riders allowing the runners to attempt to catch and mount the free running horses. He watched one man swing into the saddle by grabbing the horn and then sail all the way over the horse making a hard landing the dirt.
He fired two shots and moved quickly to the left as far as he could without losing too much of the lead. He turned and ran, shots were hitting the dirt where he had fired. In moments he saw a shallow ditch to his left and angled for it. It was too shallow for his purposes. The trees were closer, but still out there a ways.
The poofs of dust were getting closer. He realized he was running over a hump and the stars were behind him in the view the outlaws would have. Cutting his angle back to the right, he willed himself to go faster as he prayed deep in his mind. ‘Lord, this is a bit more delivering that I had asked for. If I had another choice, I’d ask for them to all fall down and let me get to the trees.’ He looked back. They were still coming.
He stopped, turned, and let fly with two more rounds. The rider fell off the lead horse. The Deacon ran. ‘This ain’t getting no easier, Lord. I know you said that vengeance belonged to you in your book. So, you wanna take your vengeance on these sinners, please? Any time now would be fine.’
He found more energy and kicked his feet out in front a bit further with each stride. Before he really thought about what to do next, he was in the trees. A sharp turn to the right seemed appropriate, so he did. He saw the ditch just in time to jump it and get a great idea from it.
A large tree 50 yards further became his barricade. He turned. Punched out the fired rounds and poked 4 rounds in as replacements. Looking back where he had come from, he could see three riders entering the trees. They would go past him if they continued that direction and he would be covered on two sides. Not a good position when a man is afoot and the chasers are on horses.
He fired three shots directly at the lead man who fell forward over the neck of his horse. As the wounded man hung on, the other two drew up. The Deacon fired one more round. He hit nothing but the air it passed through as far as he could tell, but it had the desired effect. The two riders turned toward him and ran their horse into the ditch.
The Deacon ran back and with a heavy hand smacked both men with the barrel of his .44. They both ended on the dirt in disorganized piles. The horse both had broken legs, the Deacon shot them and quickly reloaded. “One of them could have come through this with four good legs, Lord. I would be riding now, but thanks anyway. You’re in charge and not me. Where to now?” he said to the sky.
All he heard was, ‘Whistle.’
He also worked his way through the trees further away from the runners. As he was ready to fall down and take a rest, he heard the sound of horse’s hooves coming from direction of the ranch. The sky was beginning to look a bit gray allowing a bit better sight in the thick wooded area. The way out was going to be too well lit in a matter of minutes and he would have no chance against the riders coming.
A whiny sounded.
“Solomon. Here boy. You good looking devil you.”
The horse extended his muzzle. The Deacon gave it a quick pat and then swung into the saddle. His spurs just naturally gigged the horse’s ribs none too gently. The horse took off, swerving right and left around the trees at a clip that caused the Deacon to lie down on his neck and pray the horse was smarter than he was.
When the Deacon realized there were no more trees whizzing by, the sky was light enough for even a human to see the trees in spite of the forest. There was just one problem, there were no trees and the two of them were running horse belly to the ground across a large open flat area.
Shots sounded behind him. He turned. They were so far away and off the horses trying for a luck rifle shot. Nothing landed anywhere near.
The Deacon eased back on the reins and said, “Easy there, big boy, we got a ways to go and there may be more coming.” He was checking the surroundings as he spoke and the hills to the right looked like the best option.
‘It was going to be a long ride around the Lazy E in order to get in position in order to save that gal,’ he was thinking.
Not a soul stirred on the grounds of the Lazy E as the Deacon stood in the middle of the yard that had bristled with men 12 hours before. The .44 was hanging in his limp hand as he looked around. Tracks all over indicating a lot of moving around told the story of a rapid evacuation of the grounds.
He entered the last building in his search, the house shack. The stench of old sweaty men’s bodies was mixed with the gentle fragrance of a woman. He checked the only other room to find a bed, if you want to call it that, covered in a tick mattress that was more lump than mattress. No woman’s things were left out in the open that he could see right off. A shiny object caught his eye. He picked it up, a concha. A concha from the belt the girl had been wearing.
He stuck it in his vest pocket and left the ranch site with a new zeal to get that gal out of the hands of the Lazy E.
After riding a mile straight away from the buildings, he did a circle all the way around. Tracks showed that the men leaving had left in groups of two and three, all going in different directions. “That ain’t gonna work, boys. All I gotta do is follow one of you and I get to the meet up spot. The question I have is, which one of you has Diane with you?”
He followed each set of tracks back to the ranch one at a time. On the third one just hundred yards or so from the house, he found another concha. It matched the one in his vest pocket. He pointed Solomon’s nose along the direction of the tracks and kicked Solomon into a steady, ground eating gallop.
Within two hours it was easy to tell that the horse was about done in. The Deacon saw a small trickle of water coming from a seep into a water carved basin just a dozen feet off the trail and stopped. “Not the best place to camp, but it works.”
The horse nudged the water and sucked what was in the basin, which wasn’t much, and then walked toward some dried grass still standing beyond the seep. From the strength of the trickle of water, it was going to be an hour or so before the basin would be filled again. Both horse and rider settled in for a nap.
They had not gone very far after resuming the tracking, when the Deacon got a revelation. The three horses he was following were headed for the gal’s ranch. The man grumbled, “Wish I knew the country. It’d be nice to swing around and beat them there.”
Not a mile more the horse stopped. The Deacon looked around and tried to get him to keep on the trail which was pointed at a group of mixed aspen and fir on the far side of an open area. Every time the Deacon would pull his head straight on, the horse would turn to the right. The man let him go the way he wanted which was the downwind side of the grassy meadow the Deacon was trying to get him to cross.
Not but a few moments into the circle, the strong smell of smoke came to them. “Is that a camp or a rest spot, Solomon?”
The horse bobbed his head.
They travelled on until the Deacon caught the hint from the horse that it was time to turn back to the trail which brought them to a spot where the fire and the movement of men around the fire were seen. “Looks like they’re in for the night. Got’em a brush shelter, for the lady of course, and a chunk of meat on the fire. They musta brought that with them. There haven’t been any shots fired since this morning at the ranch.”
He dismounted and started toward the fire.
Half way to the fire he heard a noise off to his right. As he turned his head swiftly in that direction, his world went crazy. A dizziness hit him, his eyes refused to focus, and the day went dark as he fell to the dirt.
He woke up to the sun on the other side of the sky. He had been out all night. Trying to stand was a comedy show in itself. A whistle brought the horse after he checked in the direction of the fire to find nothing there. The horse walked up behind him as he was checking his gun. He turned quickly and the dizziness hit again, only this time he grabbed a tree and held on it and consciousness at the same time. Solomon looked at him as if to agree the Deacon had a problem.
The Deacon took inventory. He had been shot. He had fallen. He had not eaten for two days. The combination was obviously dangerous for him. Cogitating on all of it brought back a memory of a time when Evelyn had been climbing the steps into the caravan when his father had opened the door in a powerful hurry catching Evelyn in the head. Evelyn had gone down hard, landing on the back of her head. She was dizzy and out of sorts of a few days. His dad was mad because she could not sing and draw the crowd.
Dad had called her problem something that was hanging on the back of his mind. A concussion. That’s what his problem was, a concussion. How long would it last? How many times would he fall? How was he going to rescue the gal if he kept sleeping for many hours at a time? Something about sleep rang a bell. Someone with a concussion was not supposed to got to sleep for a day or so.
Well, he had stayed awake for a couple of days so he should be all right. But, he was not all right. Why?
“Solomon, we got a problem.” The horse bobbed his head.
“Is that the only answer you have?” The horse bobbed his head.
“Forget it.” He took the reins and walked into the campsite. Another Concha was lying in the dirt just under the edge of an emerging fern curl. Next to it was the ‘Rafter B’ scratched in the dirt.
He had been right. Now all he had to do was get there. Something else caught his eye. On the fern curl was a spot of what looked like blood. Her blood? Was she trying to show that she was hurt or being hurt?
“Come on, Sol, we got places to go and no time to get there.”
He let the horse set the pace.