Vin spurred his horse faster, racing to catch up with the desperados that were trying to lose him through the labyrinthian streets. His shoulder ached, threatened to distract him; Vin shook it off, and continued riding.
Nathan thundered along next to him, shaking his head in frustration. They could see as they barreled through the dusty roads the growing number of dead and injured soldiers, and not enough of Concho's men had fallen to force the remaining horsemen to give up. They fired back at their pursuers, and Vin ducked as a bullet whizzed past his head.
On his other side, Josiah was firing his gun and letting out angry grunts, and still the fleeing outlaws would not slow down. Vin caught a glimpse of blurred forms on the rooftops as they galloped down the street: Buck and Ezra, covering their backs. The outlaws would be at the edge of town soon, Vin knew, and once they were out of the confines of the buildings they could fan out in a dozen directions, and be lost. They couldn't let it happen.
Suddenly there was a blinding pain in his head, and Vin's hat flew off into the street. Shocked, he automatically put his hand up to his scalp, and it came away slick with bright red blood.
"Shit," Vin breathed, putting his hand up there again. After the initial pain, it had gone numb, but that wouldn't last, and he could already feel the rivulets of blood snaking down the side of his face.
Nathan glanced over. "Vin! You're hit!"
"I know," the tracker replied laconically. He was getting closer to the end of the street, and now the pain was starting. As if his shoulder weren't bad enough...The gash in his scalp started throbbing, but he kept riding.
He had to.
+ + + + + + +
Buck ran along the rooftops as he watched Vin, Nathan, and Josiah ride past, firing his rifle at the outlaws who were trying to escape. A few went down, but not enough, and the ones that were left behind were fighting as if they had nothing left to lose. Buck cursed. Time to get Ezra and ride after the others, help if they could. Buck's eyes went to the rooftops across the street, where he'd just seen Ezra galloping a moment before, didn't see him. Buck squinted, saw the dirty form of a bandit crumpled on the rooftop, but no sign of the gambler. Hm, that was odd. Ezra couldn't have gotten down that quick -
Then a flash of white caught Buck's eye, and he blinked. The white seemed to be behind the rooftop, but...oh, wait, something else was moving...
Then Buck made the image out. Ezra's black pants, blending in with the black-topped roofs.
Ezra was down.
"God damn," Buck whispered, trying to look closer, but of course that was impossible. He ran to the rear of the roof, and hunted for a quick way down.
+ + + + + + +
Durning crouched low as he and Billings made their way down the narrow alley that ran behind the buildings of Four Corners' main street. Durning grinned to himself. As soon as they'd gotten out of the jail, he found three of Concho's men waiting for them in the alley, and they'd sped off together like they were old friends, Billings in front, Durning in the middle, the other three men behind them. The air around them rang with gunfire, but Durning felt powerful, impervious to the bullets. This was going to be a piece of -
A bullet whizzed by Durning's ear, and he cursed and cowered to the ground. Staring behind him, he saw Concho's men crouching and firing at two Federal soldiers, who were running up the narrow alley. One soldier fell, the other was toppled by his partner's falling body, but was struggling back to his feet. Behind him, Durning saw three or four more coming, their dark blue uniforms black in the early morning light.
"Shit!" Billings spat. "Your friends must have raised the alarm. Come on!"
Durning gulped, hung onto Billings as the youth ran, fast, down the alley, gunfire now closing in behind them and loud, very loud. Durning ducked and cursed to himself, running as fast as his unexercised body could carry him. He would get Sherson and Childers, after he got Tims. Bunch of no good -
Suddenly a figure stepped out of the shadows ahead of them, then three more, guns held high and firing. Durning squawked in terror and skidded to his knees, hands to his ears to block out the deafening gunfire, but as soon as he saw who it was, and who they were aiming at, he relaxed. He was gonna be okay.
It was Concho. And he was killing the soldiers.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah noticed the outlaws ahead of them slowing down, jerking on their horses' bridles to bring them to a sudden, startled halt. Ahead of them, in a swirling cloud of dust, a dozen Federal soldiers lined up, blocking their exit. As soon as they had slowed down enough to avoid a collision, the outlaws opened fire, and Josiah hurriedly guided his horse to a nearby alleyway, just as the soldiers leveled their guns and fired back.
As soon as he was out of the line of fire, Josiah looked back into the street, Vin was trying to follow Nathan to the alley on the other side of the street, but was clutching his head and bending low on one side of his saddle. The healer had dismounted, and was reaching out for Vin just as the other man leaned too far over and fell, practically into Nathan's arms. Taking the reins of both their horses, Nathan almost ran to the alley opposite Josiah, supporting Vin as he went.
Josiah shook his head as he watched the gunfight and readied his pistol. Please God, he prayed as he prepared to fire, it's been rough enough. Not Vin too.
+ + + + + + +
Durning waited until Concho lowered his gun, a look of grim satisfaction on his leering face, to take his hands from his ears and look behind him.
What he saw made him wince.
The soldiers were all dead, but so were the three men who had been running behind Durning. The unfamiliar sight of bullet-ridden bodies made Durning want to gag, but he quickly distanced himself from the blood-spattered mess he was looking at. Their problem. He turned back to where Concho was still standing, his henchmen behind him. It was then that Durning noticed that Concho was looking pretty pale, and clutching his right side with a bloodied handkerchief. He was breathing heavily, and slumped over a bit as Billings quickly got to his feet.
"Hey, boss." Billings grinned, pointing to Durning. "I got him, just like you said."
Concho looked at Durning through half-closed eyelids, smiled as though it was an effort. "Good boy, Billings. Looks like you get to live another day."
"Hey, Concho," Durning said with comfortable familiarity, rising to his feet. The other men were glaring at him, but let them, Durning thought. They were just jealous. "Thanks for springing me."
Concho just looked at him.
Durning had a sudden, panicking thought. "Oh - no, Concho, it wasn't me that told them soldiers you were coming. It was Tims, that little rat, and believe me if I get my hands on him before you do there won't be much left."
"Is that a fact," Concho said, with a little difficulty, his expression still distinctly unfriendly.
"Yeah," Durning replied, bringing his head up a bit. "I wouldn't rat on you, Concho. I'm a friend of yours. Let the others rot, that's what I say."
"Indeed," Concho said with a little smile, and his dark eyes glittered as he put out his hand and patted Durning's arm. "Let the others rot. You're the only one I'm interested in."
Billings looked back down the alley nervously. "We'd better get going."
Concho grunted as his henchmen formed a group around him, and they began making their way down the narrow, unprotected alley. The gunfire sounded louder, closer. They couldn't have been far from it.
"So you want me in the gang, huh?" Durning brought his head up with an arrogant swagger, horning his way to Concho's right-hand side. "Guess it was pretty obvious I was the only smart one, huh? So what do you want me for, a partner?"
"No," Concho said and stopped, his men stopping with him. His stare got cold and hard, and suddenly one of the henchmen looped his arm around Durning's neck, and yanked it back tight.
"Urk!" Durning gargled, and felt the cold barrel of a gun jammed against his side. He looked at Billings helplessly, but the youth was blinking at the scene stupidly, his blue eyes vacant and afraid. The other henchmen just looked at him with emotionless, dead eyes. Except for Concho, who was eyeing him gleefully as he stepped up close.
"Actually," the outlaw hissed, his face deathly pale but murderous, "I was thinking more as a hostage."
+ + + + + + +
Buck darted among the outlaws, Federals, and horses in the street, shooting his way across as he tried to reach where he'd seen Ezra lying wounded. Ducking his way across the street, Buck hurried into the building, which happened to be a boarding house, and quickly ran up the stairs and in a moment was up on the roof.
"Ezra?" Buck called out as he worked his way across the flat surface, his gun drawn. The outlaw lying motionless was no longer a problem, but who knows how many of his friends might show up.
The gambler was lying on his back, his eyes closed, his face twisted in agony. Shit. Buck noticed as he drew near that Ezra had his right hand low on his back, and was letting out a painful-sounding moan.
"Ya hurt bad?" Buck asked, fighting the rising swell of panic. He didn't need this, not right now of all times. First JD, and now Ezra. Buck's eyes fell to Ezra's leg, and he looked for any sign of a wound.
Ezra continued to moan, sat up a little and opened his eyes.
Buck crouched down next to him. "Hey, don't move now! Let me get Nathan - "
To his surprise, Ezra shot him a dry look and said, "Mr. Wilmington, I hardly think our associate can be of use to me..." He made a motion with his right hand, which was still on his back, and Buck saw him slowly pull out his silver flask. A bullet was embedded in its slightly twisted form; brandy was quickly dribbling out of the ragged hole.
The last few drops of brandy spilled out of the flask and onto the black rooftop. Ezra watched it drip out and in a sad voice said, "...unless he is a silversmith."
Buck stood up, relieved but feeling himself getting riled. "You had me run hell bent for leather all the way over here and you weren't even shot?!"
Ezra remained in his supine position and gave Buck a little glare. "Mr. Wilmington, I was hardly uninjured. That rascal fired on me at close range, and I assure you I will have a bruise two days from now that I will under no circumstances be showing to you."
Buck made a face, and, taking Ezra's arm, heaved him up. Together they made their way to the front of the building. The street below was still frantic with activity, an undulating morass of horses, soldiers, and outlaws, all thick with dust and blood and grime until it was difficult to tell the two sides apart.
Ezra shook his head grimly. "These vermin are not going gently."
"Nope." Buck sighed as he looked up the street. A loud chorus of gunfire was echoing from there, bouncing off the walls of the buildings and mixing with shouts and screams. The battle was at the front door now.
Almost at the same moment, Ezra and Buck looked down to see Judge Travis in the street below them, on his horse and holding a rifle. Four mounted soldiers surrounded him. He looked up at them and called out, "Outlaws are trying to make a run for it! Come on!"
With that, Travis plunged his horse into the melee of horses and men that were scattered around the street.
Buck looked at Ezra and shrugged as he checked the chamber of his pistol. "You heard the man."
"Yes, indeed." Ezra sighed, and together they ran for the stairs.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan hauled Vin into the alley, set him down against the wooden-slatted wall. Next to them, outlaws and soldiers were firing at each other with reckless abandon, but Nathan didn't care. His world was focused on the man in front of him, and that man was pale and bleeding badly.
Vin winced as Nathan touched his scalp, half- opened his eyes and batted the healer away with a scowl.
"Leave me be," Vin muttered irritably, and tried to get up.
"Now you just forget about that," Nathan replied just as irritably, and gently pushed Vin back down again. The blood was dripping down the tracker's face, into his shirt, his eyes, his hair. Nathan cursed. The only thing he had to staunch the blood was one of their dirty bandannas. He sighed, and began to untie his own.
Suddenly a hand thrust in front of him, holding a white handkerchief. "Here, use this."
Nathan blinked, looked up. A tall, stocky man was standing next to him, bending over and looking at Nathan with earnest eyes.
"Um - thanks," Nathan replied, taking the handkerchief and unfolding it once. He pressed it on Vin's wound. The tracker winced, and let out a low, groggy moan.
"Not at all. At yer service," the man replied, and when Nathan looked up again his benefactor was trotting down the shadowy alleyway, and a moment later rounded the corner and was gone.
Vin opened his eyes a slit. "Was that you talkin' just now?"
Nathan shook his head. "I don't got no Irish accent."
Vin nodded in satisfaction, closed his eyes again. "Thank God. Thought for a moment there I was losin' my mind."
+ + + + + + +
Durning clawed frantically at the huge arm that was gripping his neck and dragging him down the alleyway. He couldn't breathe, and he was starting to panic.
"All right, hold it," Concho said in low tones, and they all stopped. The iron grip relaxed a bit, and Durning gasped for air, looked around. They were in a small, secluded alley, fenced on three sides by a high-walled fence and the side of a building. The henchmen were glancing around tensely, and Concho was shaking his head as if he was having trouble concentrating.
Durning took the opportunity to ask, "Jeez, Concho, I thought we were helping each other. I thought - "
"Shuttup," Concho growled as his eyes scanned the alley, and Durning felt the chokehold around his neck tighten again.
"What do we do now?" Billings asked nervously, hoisting his gun.
Concho's breathing could be plainly heard as he paced back and forth, glaring at Durning. "We have a hostage, and we can get to the livery from here. We meet any resistance, we'll tell them if they don't let us go, the fat easterner gets it."
The hold tightened again. Durning felt as if he was going to throw up.
"And then," Concho said in contemplative tones, "if we can get to Jericho, we can lay low until the heat's off, then make some contacts and come back and finish this place off."
There were leering smiles from Concho's henchmen, and chortling laughter. Durning's stomach dropped, and he felt his heart start to pound. Jesus Christ. I am going to die.
No, wait -
No, I'm not.
There was still gunfire coming from just ahead of them, and Concho was loading his gun when he heard Durning say, "Hey, Concho!"
"What?" Concho didn't look up.
"You're going at this all wrong, you know? I can get you somebody better than me for a hostage. A lot better."
Now Concho looked up. Everyone looked up, over, and down, at Durning.
Concho stepped closer, nodded to the bully holding onto Durning's neck. The man took his arm away, but just as quickly Concho brought up his gun and jabbed it into Durning's ribs. "You have thirty seconds. Go."
Durning rubbed his neck, shot the bully a dirty look before turning earnest eyes to Concho and saying, "Well, come on, think! You got me as a hostage, but what am I worth to the judge? Nothing! He's never seen me before in his life. But over in the church basement is a gold mine of hostages, and one of 'em is Travis' daughter-in-law. You get your mitts on her, you got a free ticket to anywhere in the world."
Concho cocked an eyebrow. "You're sure she's at the church?"
Durning nodded in confidence. "Positive. Deputy took her and a bunch of the townspeople over there this morning, before you guys came."
Concho traded expressions with his fellow outlaws. "Really."
"Yep." Durning was starting to feel smug again, crossed his arms and leaned back. "They're all just sitting over there, waiting for you. Couple of soldiers, but nothing we can't take care of, right? So what do you say?"
Concho shook his head, stabbed the gun into Durning's ribcage again. "You didn't think I was going to let you go?"
"Let me go?" Durning said in surprise. "Concho, don't you get it? I'm your friend! I want a piece of this life you guys got going here. Just don't kill me so quick, and I'll get Mary Travis for you. I promise."
Concho finally put up his gun, but glared at Durning and said, "You cross me on this one, Durning, and I have many friends who will be more than happy to tear you to pieces, very slowly."
"Don't worry, Concho," Durning said confidently as stepped away from that strangling arm and threw his captor a winning smile. "I got a score to settle with that bitch myself. Trust me - we'll both get what we want."
+ + + + + + +
JD noticed as he continued to fire into the street that a lot of the outlaws were dead, or giving up. The action down at their end of town seemed to be dying down, the outlaws must be making a run for it by trying to go out the front way. JD felt a little twinge of disappointment. He wanted to be where he could help, and there was no way he could get there.
"It's quieting down," Tims remarked, looking out his window at the blowing dust glimmering in the dawning sunshine.
JD sighed, nodded. "Yeah."
Tims brought his gun down. He looked over at JD and asked, "You sound kind of upset. You okay?"
JD shrugged, opened his mouth as he looked out the window. The excitement of the battle had drained him, and now that it was almost over he felt empty, depressed, and reminded that this was probably his last gun battle ever. Soon Buck would come by - he was okay, JD knew he was, just knew it - and they'd be off to San Francisco. And then - a home? A hospital? For the rest of his life. His western dream was over.
The morning sky was changing, going from a deep blue to that kind of in-between pink color. JD watched morosely as a flock of birds flew past the window and up into the red-tinged clouds, and was ashamed at the tears that stung his eyes. I want to go with you. He remembered Tims, and glanced over in the other's direction before looking down, and shaking his head in despair.
"I'm okay," he said in a shaky voice, trying hard not to listen to the distant sounds of a battle that was happening without him. Then he added in a soft whisper, "You wouldn't understand."
+ + + + + + +
Concho and Durning cut around the back way, behind the buildings and the fences, until at last they found themselves behind the large building that stood next to the white-boarded church. Through the swirling dust and fighting men, Durning saw that there were two guards at the church's door, and another two at the set of angled, ground-level doors that led to the cellar.
"She's in there?" Concho asked, wheezing a bit as he spoke.
"How're we gonna get her?" Billings asked, his eyes wide.
Concho looked at Durning questioningly, but the businessman smiled and held up a finger. "Watch me."
+ + + + + + +
Josiah reloaded his gun, leaned out of the alleyway and fired. The outlaws were starting to panic now, some of them riding back down the street, some surrendering, still others rushing headlong into the soldiers in a mad break for freedom, only to be cut down. Josiah saw the carnage, shook his head at the memories it invoked. Too much of this. Gotta be an end to it, someday.
He looked across the alley, saw Nathan bending over Vin again, asking him something. Vin was shaking his head, trying to get to his feet, and Nathan was gently - but insistently - setting him back down again. Then the healer ducked his head out of the alley, quickly, then brought it back, and Josiah saw his gun was out, and ready.
The soldiers were winning, it looked like, and now they were starting to press forward, herding the outlaws down the street. Josiah took a step out of the alley, looked down a ways and saw many men, soldiers and outlaws, lying bleeding and dead in the dirt street and along the boardwalks. He shook his head, knew that even when the day was won, there would be a lot for Four Corners to recover from. A lot of souls to pray for...
The soldiers pushed the outlaws beyond the alley Josiah was sheltering in, and quickly he mounted his horse and trotted out of the enclosure to help them. But first...Josiah guided his horse quickly to where Nathan and Vin were. "You boys doin'okay?"
Vin glanced up at Josiah, fought to rise. "I'm fine - "
"The hell you are," Nathan said, once more fixing Vin to the ground with his hand. Looking up at Josiah the healer said, "He'll be all right, bullet grazed his scalp. He done lost a lot of blood, though. You goin' to help the soldiers?"
"We'll be along," Vin said firmly, and the look in his eye told Josiah he was sure going to try.
Josiah looked at Nathan, who just shrugged and shook his head. You might as well argue with the wind. With a final tug at his hat, Josiah whirled his horse around and trotted after the cascading dust cloud of soldiers and outlaws that was steadily moving back down the street.
+ + + + + + +
JD sighed and rested his good arm on the windowsill, gazing sadly out into the street. There were still a few outlaws scattering through the streets, soldiers right behind them, but for the most part the battle was over, at least where they were. He suddenly felt exhausted, like he could sleep forever, and was trying to think of a way to ask Tims to get him back to bed without completely embarrassing himself when suddenly something caught his eye, and he looked down.
Someone was walking toward the church, no, running toward it, his arms up high and yelling something JD couldn't make out. A civilian? JD supposed so, but weren't they all in the basement already?
He looked over at Tims, who was reloading his revolver, and said, "Hey."
"Hm?" Tims looked up.
JD pointed his gun out the window. "Look at that."
Tims came to stand behind JD, and immediately yelped. "My God!"
JD started a little, blinked in confusion. "What? What?"
Tims shook his head and aimed his gun at the figure now in front of the church. "I know that man, his name is Durning. He's with Concho Charles."
"Oh!" JD sat up a little straighter, felt his heart start to beat again as he peered at the stout man in the business suit. "What's he doing?"
Tims frowned and steadied his aim. "Whatever it is, it's not good. Trust me."
+ + + + + + +
The tall, dark-haired soldier eyed Durning as he came running across the street, his arms up, his face white with fear.
"Let me in!" Durning shrieked as he ran up to the stairs.
The soldiers both immediately dropped their rifles to a challenging stance. The dark-haired soldier said, "Who are you?"
Durning looked around in a terrified way, "I'm a civilian, dammit! Please, you gotta let me in, I'll get killed!"
"Geez," the other soldier shook his head in amazement. "Why didn't you stay home, mister? Don't you have no place to hide there? This is for the women and children."
Durning thought quick. "I was home, but the outlaws came and ran me out. I didn't know where else to go."
The soldiers looked at each other. The dark- haired one shrugged, and began walking back to the two men guarding the cellar entrance. Durning was right on his heels, smiling to himself.
+ + + + + + +
"He's going to the cellar," JD said in a bewildered voice.
Tims peered over JD's shoulder, then suddenly drew in his breath and said, "Shit!" and pointed downward with his gun.
JD followed his indication, and saw below them, hidden from the soldiers behind a building, a dark-clad man and several others, all with their guns out and looking dangerous.
"Concho Charles," Tims said in a way that made JD look at him in mild surprise. Tims then looked up at where the soldier was walking with his former partner and said, "Durning's helping him get to the civilians."
JD gasped and took quick aim with his Colt at the dark-clad man below them, and pulled the trigger.
Durning was humming to himself, waiting for the soldier to open the door, when suddenly he heard a shot ring out, then another one. The soldiers heard it too, and looked to see where it came from. And then Durning saw three things at once.
Concho and his men, ducking and aiming their guns at something above them.
A small crowd of outlaws and soldiers, appearing at the end of the street far away but definitely heading toward them.
And, lastly, in the second-story window of a building across the street, a sight that made him red-hot with anger and thwarted greed.
"Shit," one of the soldiers said as he hoisted his rifle and aimed it at Concho. Taking a deep breath he called out, "You over there! Drop the gun!"
Concho's head whipped around, and quick as lightning he fired his gun, and the soldier dropped down dead.
"Oh, crap," Durning muttered, and fell to his knees in front of the cellar door as the soldiers all dropped to one knee and opened fire.
+ + + + + + +
Mary gripped Gloria's arm as they both heard the nearness of the gunfire above them. The townspeople began muttering fearfully, and quickly Dwight made his way to the stairway that led outside, his gun at his shoulder and ready to fire.
"Now, calm down, everybody," he said in a commanding tone as he stood at the bottom of the cold stone stairs. "Just stay calm..."
More gunshots. A loud thud against the door.
A few people let out small screams. Mary glanced over and noticed the two Mexican girls clinging to each other tightly.
Dwight put out a quieting hand, then turned back to the door and balanced his shotgun in both hands, squared his shoulders, and waited.
+ + + + + + +
Buck trotted easily along the rooftops, Ezra at his side, his keen eyes widening at the sight just ahead of them. The outlaws were clearly in retreat, some running and some being pushed back into the town by the advancing soldiers. The street was thick with dust and smoke, so thick it was making it a little hard to breathe, but Buck was satisfied as he covered the judge's approach to the melee. Soon, it would be all over. Everything was going to be all -
Suddenly gunfire erupted, off to his right. Ezra heard it too, and his head whipped up and he said urgently, "The church."
Buck's elation screeched to a halt. The gunfire continued. He took two quick steps to the right, two more. Far down the street, he could see small shadows against the white walls of the church, dark shadows that were firing, standing, falling -
Buck looked down into the street. Travis had heard it too, was wheeling his horse about with an infuriated look on his face. The soldiers with him fanned out, trapping the outlaws between them and the soldiers behind, and held them there. Quickly, Travis began to trot his horse back toward the church, hoisting his shotgun on his hip as he went.
"Shit!" Buck breathed, and with Ezra right behind him turned on his heel ran back toward the church as fast as he could.
+ + + + + + +
JD ducked back into the window as several shots splintered the frame around him. Tims leaned out of the other window, but the view wasn't as good and he grunted in frustration.
"He's not giving up," Tims observed as he squeezed off another shot, hoping to hit something.
"I know!" JD replied as he heaved himself back to the torn-up windowsill. Glancing quickly at the church, he saw that the businessman Tims knew, Durning, was reaching over one of the dead soldiers for his rifle.
"Does that Durning guy know how to shoot a gun?" JD asked as he aimed his pistol at the outlaws again, and fired.
Tims shrugged. "I don't know."
JD pushed himself back from the sill a bit, and shook his head. "I think we're about to find out."
+ + + + + + +
Durning fumbled with the dead soldier's rifle, so mad his hands were shaking as he cocked the hammer back.
"God-damn Tims," he muttered to himself as he ducked his head down from all the flying lead. "God-damn, no good, squealing piece of shit - "
He looked up, saw that the soldiers were mostly dead, except for one standing just in front of him, the dark-haired soldier from before. Concho was still behind the building, but only two of his men were down. They were almost there.
With a satisfied smirk, Durning aimed the rifle at the soldier's back and fired.
+ + + + + + +
Tims gaped at what he had seen. JD had seen it too, and gasped out, "He just shot that man in the back!"
"Jesus," Tims whispered, but then saw that Concho and his men were making their way across the street. Steadily aiming, he fired a shot, brought the large man on the right down.
"Can you get Concho?" he asked JD just as a bullet smashed into the frame behind his head.
JD aimed, shook his head. "There's a couple of guys in the way. Damn!"
Then he saw Durning raise the rifle, and jumped back from the windowsill right before a bullet whizzed past his ear.
+ + + + + + +
"Open the door!" Concho commanded as he crouched toward the church, one eye on the rapidly advancing soldiers coming down the street.
Durning nodded, pulling at the cellar door, but it didn't budge. "Shit, it's still locked!"
Concho cursed, fired at the doors with his gun. The doorhandles flew apart, and Durning heard muffled screams inside.
"Now they'll open." Concho smiled grimly, just as a bullet struck the dirt in front of him. Looking up quickly, he saw one of the hired guns standing on a roof some distance away. Firing blindly, he dashed behind the church and hissed at Durning, "Take care of those snipers, will you!"
Durning glared up at the second-story window and getting to his feet growled, "Thought you'd never ask."
+ + + + + + +
Several women in the basement screamed as the horribly loud gunshot blew the locks off the cellar doors.
"Everybody get back!" Dwight called out, and aimed his shotgun at the splintered doors as they were torn open by unseen hands.
Mary had made her way over Emmie, was sitting down next to her when sudden early-morning daylight came into the cellar. Everyone gasped, squinted at the unaccustomed light, some shading their eyes against the glare, others turning away and shrinking back.
An dark shape appeared, its shadow zigzagging down the stairs. Dwight called out, "Stop right there!" and hefted the shotgun.
A huge explosion of noise, so loud Mary cried out and covered her ears. When she looked up, Dwight was lying on the floor, not dead but clutching his upper chest, and in the slanting, weak light Mary saw blood glistening on his hand, on the floor.
The dark shape came down the stairs, hunched over and growling. The townspeople pressed backwards, until they were all jammed at one end of the room, almost suffocating themselves in panic.
"I want Mary Travis," the man snarled, leveling his gun at the crowd, who gasped as a group and shrank back even further. "Mary Travis, and I'll let the rest of you go."
Mary felt a hand press her shoulder, knew it was Gloria, looked up and saw her friend's face tight with warning: stay quiet.
No one moved for a moment, frozen statues in the too-bright light. Growling impatiently, the man plunged into the group, pulled someone out and started dragging them to the stairs.
Mary saw who it was, and shot to her feet. The Mexican girl, Maria.
The girl was squirming in Concho's iron grip, whimpered with childish fright. The other girl jumped forward to her friend's rescue; Concho swung his gun into her head, and she fell to the floor senseless.
A few of the men rushed forward to try and wrest the girl away, but with a rough yell Concho raised his gun and fired, once, twice, and Mary saw the men fall next to Dwight, writhing in pain. No, her mind screamed as she shook off Gloria's tight grip, I can't let this happen -
+ + + + + + +
JD's face went pale as he saw Concho run into the basement. "We gotta help them!" he yelped, desperate with helplessness.
Tims reloaded his gun, nodded even though his face was even paler than JD's. "I - I guess I'll see what I can do. You gonna be okay by yourself?"
JD turned to him, managed a halfway cocky grin and nodded, flipping his wayward hair out of his eyes.
Tims smiled back, marveling to himself at this boy's spirit as he stood and went to the door. He wouldn't be doing half as well. Nope. He reached for the handle. I'd probably be -
Suddenly the door jerked open beneath his hand, slamming Tims backwards across the floor. Dazed, he shook his head and looked up.
Durning grinned down at him, and wordlessly raised his gun.
+ + + + + + +
Maria screamed in terror as Concho dragged her up the staircase. As soon as he hit the top of the stairs, the outlaw turned around and struck her in the face.
"Shuttup!" he growled, then turned to his henchmen, who were looking around the corner of the church. "Well?"
"They got 'em trapped," Billings said glumly. "And those hired guns are still on the roof."
"Shit!" Concho spat on the ground, ignoring Maria's whimpering. "The judge?"
Billings looked back around the corner. "He's comin' this way."
Concho made a low, inarticulate sound, clutched Maria tighter, glanced to the second-story window and grinned to himself. The boy was looking away from him, into the room, probably at that idiot Durning. Well, that out-of-towner was good for something after all. Yes, good for...
With deliberate calmness, Concho raised his gun and aimed for the back of JD's head.
+ + + + + + +
Tims gaped at his former business partner, who was towering over him, gun pointed straight at his face. He couldn't move; he felt oddly frozen.
"You rat," Durning growled. "You little sneaking rat - "
JD coughed, raised his gun and said in his most serious tones, "Hey! Drop the gun!"
Durning looked at him and laughed. "What'll you do if I don't, gimp? Come over and take it from me?"
JD's aim didn't waver, and he shook his head, his bruised and cut face deadly grim. "Don't make me, mister."
"Aaah." Durning cocked his pistol, aimed it casually at Tims' heart.
Durning yowled, staggered backwards, blood spurting from the wound in his arm. Tims gasped as the blood sprayed onto him, onto his face and clothes.
"You little punk!" Durning roared, staggering forward to where JD was sitting. With a yell, Tims jumped up and grabbed Durning from behind, but not before the larger man had reached the windowsill and grabbed for JD's collar, fully intending to smash the youth's brains on the wooden floor. JD fired again, but the shot went wide, and an instant later Durning had him by the neck and yanked him upward.
And just as suddenly, JD felt a sharp sting in his right ear and glanced up to see Durning's face change from enraged to surprised. He staggered forward, one step, two, JD still in his grip, then clutched at his chest and groaned. Then JD noticed the spreading welt of blood on Durning's front, felt himself being leaned backward, and realized with horror that his attacker was falling toward the open window, and he was falling with him.
There was a terrible, unbalanced moment in which JD could feel himself being tilted away from the floor, tangled in Durning's grip as the dying businessman leaned out over the street two floors beneath them. Oh my God, JD thought frantically, and then -
- then someone grabbed his waist, yanked him away as Durning spilled out the window, and pulled him to the floor. JD landed with a painful thump, gasped in shock and looked at the sill just in time to see Durning tumble out the opening, and he and Tims traded looks of sickened amazement as they heard the businessman's body hit the ground, two stories below.
Tims was shaking, but his expression was concerned as he looked at JD. "You okay?"
JD nodded. "You?"
Tims checked himself. "Yeah, I guess..."
JD took a shaky breath, let it out, looked toward the open window. "You're a pretty good shot."
Tims cocked his head. "That wasn't me. I was trying to get him off you. He must have been shot by somebody in the street."
JD leaned back against the wall, winced. He ached all over.
Tims looked at him again. "Hey, you got blood going down your neck. Are you sure you're okay?"
At that moment JD's right ear started to smart something awful, and he put his hand up, felt a painful cut there. He winced again, brought his hand away, saw the blood.
"Huh," JD said half to himself, idly rubbing the blood between his fingers. Somebody outside shot him. Huh.
Tims stood up a little, stuck his head out of the window to peer dispassionately at the body of his onetime partner and would-be murderer, lying twisted and dead two stories under their feet. Shaking his head as he leaned back inside, Tims collected his gun from the floor and sighed, "Well...I hope he thought it was worth it."
+ + + + + + +
"God damn it," Concho growled to himself when he saw that the boy had been yanked from the window, and by that fool Durning no less. Well, Durning had paid for his stupidity. And now Concho knew he had one less pawn to play.
Billings was shaking his head. "We gotta do something, boss. That judge is getting pretty close, and there are more soldiers comin'."
"All right." Concho hefted Maria to his side, clapped a hand over her mouth so she couldn't scream. The girl was rigid with fright, and struggled weakly in his strong grip.
Billings looked at her skeptically. "Hey, that ain't Mary Travis, is it?"
Concho shook his head. "She'll do, though. Come on."
And they began to move against the wall of the church, into the street and the freedom that waited beyond.
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