Barter Or Bullets

A woman pointing a rifle at a man on the ground.

Stop There

Esther May rested the .44 caliber Henry across a rock. Her cheek pressed against the stock as she held the rifle sights on the rider leading Skewy. “What do you want?”

The first rider, the one Esther May came to think of as the leader, leaned with both hands resting on the saddle horn. “Well now, niñita, we were thinking of a trade.”

“I’ve got nothing to trade. You’d best be on your way.”

The leader pointed over his shoulder with his thumb toward C.J. “Your compadre says you have the belongings of the scalp hunter.”

Esther May didn’t answer. Her mind was telling her not to trust these men.
They had to be the same fellows she saw before, but there were three then. One had a western hat, one wore nothing, and one had a sombrero.

That was it. Where was the man in the sombrero?

Got A Bad Feeling About This

A tingle rose along her back and settled on her neck as if someone breathed on it.

Turning her head she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye. She swung the rifle as the third man stepped from behind a boulder with his gun drawn.

Esther May fired.

Her senses registered the impact to his sternum as part of her consciousness wondered what threw the vaquero violently backward. She didn’t remember pulling the trigger, nor did she feel the rifle recoil.

Her strange detachment allowed her to witness the last mortal twitches of a sombrero-wearing assassin while hearing a voice calling through the rocks. “Hola. Who lives? Only one shot, but it does not sound like Marco’s pistol.”

Esther May resettled in her vantage point. The riders in front of her were still in the same position. “You lost the sneaky one. Leave C.J. and ride out of here.” She was surprised that her voice didn’t tremble.

Trying To Exchange

“Oh, Little One,” the leader called back. “Marco was always jumping when he should have been sitting. I’m sorry he’s gone, but it was going to happen.” He shifted in the saddle. “But you have mentioned half of the trade we want. We will leave your friend, and you will give us the hunter’s scalps.”

“Sorry. I threw them away.”

It was hard for Esther May to tell at this distance whether the leader smiled or sneered. In either case, he shook his head. “You would not do that. They are worth much to the Mexican government.”

“I don’t care about scalps or the Mexican government. If you can follow tracks, follow mine back to where you find two dead Indians and a white man. Near there you’ll find the pouch.”

“I don’t believe you. I think we’ll come look for ourselves.”

“I’ll shoot!”

The leader laughed. “So will we, chica. And we are still two to your one.” He said something in Spanish to his companion who dropped Skewy’s reins.

C.J. sat in the saddle with his chin on his chest.

The second vaquero spurred his horse in a forward leap.

At the sudden, aggressive movement, Esther May pulled the trigger.

The leader toppled from the saddle.

Rocks splattered in shards around her as the last vaquero galloped toward her firing his pistol.

Esther May worked the Henry’s lever and aimed.

The rider’s eyes grew large. He was looking down the bore of Esther May’s rifle. He abruptly swung his horse to one side and tore off, still at a gallop.

Quiet On The Mountain

Esther May left the two men for the buzzards and collected their gear.

Checking, she found C.J. mumbling, barely conscious, and burning with a fever. She roped the vaquero’s horses behind the two she was already trailing and brought Skewy, carrying C.J., to walk beside her.

“Let’s get this delirious caravan to town.”

Are the scary times over for Esther May? Leave your comment now.

We’ll have to assume that C.J. was probably going in and out of awareness to stay in the saddle, but look here.

To read the series click on the down arrow in the Archive list, start with Tales Old Roy Told and work up.

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