Let’s Get Out Of Here
Esther May was jumpy, her senses cranked up as high as they could go. She went to her horse without directly looking at the three dead men, but her acute awareness saw each of them in her peripheral vision. She’d be glad to get shy of this place.
C.J. seemed like he could stay in the saddle. It was time to ride.
Her gelding had his head turned, ears locked forward. Esther May glanced at C.J.’s horse, Skewy. The little mare copied the gelding’s attitude.
Esther May trotted lightly back to remove the rifle from Skewy’s saddle holster and chambered a round. She handed the Winchester to C.J. “Keep a close watch. If more’n one comes in, shoot if you can, but ride hard out of here.”
C.J. took the rifle as he eyed the nearest trees. “Let’s both get out of here now.”
“I don’t want an arrow in my back. Stand guard.”
“Esther May, I—”
She picked up Clyde’s .44 caliber Henry and made her way in the direction the horses were watching. Crouched over, she ran from tree to tree until she found a camouflaged hiding place. She brought the rifle up to her shoulder and willed her hearing forward.
There! A crunch of a step.
Esther May held her breath.
She recognized the squeak of saddle leather as it shifted. But the source of sound wasn’t moving. It stayed in the same spot. Esther May duck-walked around her cover, rifle ready. She saw the bulky outline of animals through the brush. She cast a quick look around. No movement, no human-caused noise.
She saw the footprints.
One set of boot prints walking in C.J.’ direction. Esther May rose an inch at a time until she could see over the next cluster of oak brush. There was a bridled horse, his reins hanging down. Either he was tied or someone down low was holding him. A pack horse was behind him.
In a half-dozen rapid steps, Esther May rounded the clump of bushes and swept the area with her rifle.
The scene was what she expected. Clyde Stinger’s supplies: a pack horse and his riding horse. Her breath blew out in a whoosh. How long she held it, she didn’t know. She wiped a sleeve across her brow. Her heart pounded and she sweated. With trembling hands, she levered open the receiver, removed the cartridge from the breech and lowered the hammer.
It was a good thing she didn’t get in a gunfight. The only ammo she had for the Henry was in the magazine. The rifle was only a benefit as long as she had shells. After that, it was dead weight.
Both horses were geldings. “You boys will have to join us now. Let’s see what you can bring to camp.”
Esther May unwrapped a canteen’s straps from the saddle. The smell hit her nose before she put her mouth on it. She dumped the whiskey out. The next canteen held water. It made her queasy thinking that a scalped man’s lips had touched where she placed hers, but she drank big gulps of cool water anyway.
The saddlebags had corn dodgers, jerky, two extra horseshoes, and, thank heaven, three boxes of .44 ammunition for the Henry.
Esther May drank a few more sips of water and moved to the pack horse.
Canvas bags tied to the pack frame showed an inclination for organization by the late Clyde. The first bag held blankets and a ground cover. That would come in handy. Esther May put it back on the pack.
The second bag held Clyde’s spare clothes. They were dirty and some of the shirts had blood stains. Esther May emptied the load and folded the bag.
In the first bag on the other side of the pack were utensils: two different sized pots, both with overcooked beans crusting the insides like adobe. A tablespoon stuck to the gunk in the smaller one. Esther May threw them away. There were sacks of dried beans, salt, pepper, coffee with a grinder, and a coffee pot.
The pot was unusually heavy.
Esther May lifted the lid to the coffee pot. Inside was a leather pouch. It was too heavy to be steeping tea. She pulled it out and opened it.
Gold dust. A solid handful of gold dust. Clyde Stinger was a wealthy man. What was he doing out here?
Esther May tied the pouch tight and put it back in the coffee pot. If Clyde was sneaky enough to pick that particular spot to hide it, that’s where she’d keep it.
The final canvas bag on the pack was smaller than the others. Esther May looked in it.
Scalps. It was half full of scalps.
She groped the outside of the bag to feel if anything solid had been hidden in with them then threw the bag with its contents over the bushes and out of sight.
How will the young ’uns use the windfall? Leave a comment now.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
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