The Arizona sun didn’t prevent a chill from sweeping over Esther May. She may have caught a glimpse of Chews Loud—twenty miles closer than expected.
Perhaps sweat in her eyes caused a momentary blur, but she’d be a fool to ignore the danger he represented. After all, the Apache was a known killer.
Riding to the Gila River, Esther May had time to think about what she was doing. Revenge for the slaying of Lieutenant Charles Bodkin had been her only goal, and, of course, it still stood. She also realized this was the same path she and Abuela would have to take to reach the Arizona Territory ranch land she wanted.
Chews Loud would still be in the way. She had to kill him, but the new reasoning made the deed sound like self-defense. Her morals would stay intact.
Hunter Or Hunted
But here? Now? Esther May wasn’t prepared; she had to think.
Across the river, beyond the brush, a boulder field sat at the base of low but steep hills. She would be at a disadvantage riding the gelding in there.
Downstream, the land flattened with occasional hilly outcroppings the river slid through. These natural chutes provided ambush locations such as the place Charles was killed.
First In Place – First To Shoot
If it was Chews Loud she spotted, Esther May thought she could reach the next ambush spot first by riding faster than the Indian could run.
There were problems with that line of thinking: she may not, in fact, outrun Chews Loud. Apaches were notorious for covering impossible distances in a fleeting time.
If her eyes were playing tricks on her, and that wasn’t Chews Loud she saw here, he could already be sitting in the best spot. She could be galloping to her death.
If it was the man she came to kill, he saw her too. He would know how to avoid the same trap he uses.
Detected And Exposed
Esther May rubbed her nape to stop the tingling from feeling vulnerable and cast a quick glance behind her. The idea of going downstream made her hands sweat, and she rubbed them on her pants.
She wheeled her gelding east, trotting alongside the onrushing river. The Gila bent north. She kept going uphill into the Pinal Mountain Range foothills, stopping in the fragrant junipers shortly before dusk.
It had been a hard day’s ride for the gelding, and he was spent. Esther May hobbled him anyway, fed him grain, and left him to graze and rest.
Grabbing some jerky and a canteen, she climbed an outcropping. Careful to keep her profile below the skyline, she pointed her Henry rifle down her back-trail and waited.
When it was too dark to see far, Esther May returned to her horse. She unsaddled him as quietly as she could and made a cold camp: no fire for coffee.
Stretching out on her bedroll, Esther May thought over events at the Gila before deciding to take advantage of a couple of hours of inky black darkness before the half-moon rose.
A Killer’s Moon
A pale moon climbed over the Pinal Mountains, a bright spot in the eastern sky.
With a scream of, “You’re mine!” Chews Loud flung himself on Esther May’s bedroll and plunged a knife into it. He stabbed again before jerking the blanket away to reveal a lump of juniper branches.
That was all the time Esther May needed to aim and fire. She thought she missed and shot again.
Chews Loud slumped onto the makeshift bed, and Esther May arose from her spider hole among oak brush. She held her colt on him in the moonlight, but his breathing was raspy and bubbling.
She could see well enough. Chews Loud was fatally wounded.
The first shot had hit him in the side, and he had turned to face her. The second shot got him through his right lung. He was bleeding away.
Through frothy lips, Chews Loud gasped and whispered, “You’re a devil woman.”
Esther May’s hand trembled as she holstered her pistol and picked up Chews Loud’s knife. “We could’ve been friends.”
Are Esther May’s troubles over now? Don’t forget to leave your comment.
Check out the Pinal Mountains. Be sure to look in on the pictures and videos of the nearby communities.
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