Savage, p.41
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       Savage, p.41

           Richard Laymon
 

  “I didn’t want you anywhere near this place.”

  “I know that.”

  “It’s only ‘cause I care so much about you.”

  “I know.”

  Reaching down, I took hold of her hands and gave them a squeeze. She raised her head. Her eyes looked awfully solemn.

  “I don’t want Whittle getting you,” I said.

  “Well, that goes both ways. I don’t want him getting you, either, but you need to face him down. If you back out and call it quits, you won’t never feel right about yourself. I don’t want that for you. And I don’t wanta be the cause of it. You turned away from Tombstone on account of me.”

  “That had to do more with Sarah than…”

  “It had mostly to do with Whittle, and you know it. You figured you’d rather give up on him than take a risk of me getting hurt. Well, I went along with it yesterday. But that was selfish. That was me wanting to keep you from Sarah, even if it meant you had to call it quits on your hunt for Whittle. It was wrong. For the both of us. I’m just almighty glad Barney came along so we’d get a chance to do the right thing.”

  “What if it is Apache Sam up there?” I asked, tipping my head toward the mountain looming above us.

  “Then we’ll help the posse kill Apache Sam. After he’s taken care of, we’ll start after Whittle. We’ll go back to Tombstone, if that’s what it takes. But we’ll pick up his trail, one way or another, and follow it till we’ve run him down. You and me. Together.”

  “I don’t know,” I murmured.

  “What’s not to know?”

  “I don’t want you getting killed, Jesse. I shouldn’t be able to stand it.”

  She gave my hands a squeeze. A corner of her mouth turned up, and a glimmer of her usual mischief came back into her eyes. “I ain’t easily killed,” she said. “Nor are you, either. We’ll be fine and dandy.”

  “I do hope so.”

  “You worry too much, Trevor Bentley.”

  “McSween once told me that very thing. He’s dead.”

  Jesse leaned forward a bit and kissed my mouth. “Come on,” she said. “We’ve got us a cave to find.”

  CHAPTER FIFTY

  Troubles in Monster Valley

  I tossed the saddlebags across General’s back. I filled my hat with water from the mule-gut bag, and let him drink some. We strung both rifles together and draped them over his back so we wouldn’t need to lug them ourselves. Then we led him along the trail.

  By and by, we came upon a trail going up the mountain. It was steep, and hitched its way back and forth up the rocky slope. I’d had some experiences with such switching trails, and didn’t look forward to it.

  “Must be the way up,” Jesse said.

  “Are you sure you want to do this?”

  She didn’t say a thing, but threw me a smirk. Then she commenced to slog her way up the trail.

  I followed, leading General by the reins.

  Soon, Jesse stopped and pointed down at a pile of manure. “The posse came this way, all right,” she said.

  “Was it headed up or down?” I asked.

  “It’s a heap of dung, Trev, not a Western Union telegram.”

  “Then what makes you say it was dropped by the posse?”

  “It was dropped by a horse. Posses ride horses, don’t they?”

  “So do Bible salesmen, don’t they?”

  “You watch yourself or I’ll sling it at you.”

  As we continued to plug our way up the trail, we came upon several more collections of manure. Obviously, they hadn’t all been left behind by the same horse. So I judged that Jesse was right: the posse had come this way. More than likely, anyhow.

  I sure hoped that the horses had made their deposits on the way down. I hoped that the posse had finished its business at the cave and departed. Taking the bodies of the women with them. Taking Whittle’s body, too. Or Apache Sam’s, if he was the culprit. I hoped that we would find nothing above us but an empty cave.

  According to books I’d read, caves were supposed to be cool and pleasant, even where the weather outside is boiling hot. I hoped the books were right.

  Even though the sun was low, it hadn’t lost much of its heat. The sweat fairly poured off me. Jesse’s shirt was wet and clinging to her back. We both huffed considerable, but we didn’t stop. A cave sounded like just the trick for cooling us off.

  Well, the trail went up and up, and so did we.

  Every now and again, we stopped to rest and drink. We drank from the whiskey bottle in General’s saddle bag. When it went empty on us, we filled it with more water from the tube of mule gut that was roped to his back. The tube was quite full. Jesse explained that she had filled it up that morning at a stream.

  We rested often, but not for long. We had to add more water to the whiskey bottle twice.

  At last, the trail took us over a summit of sorts. We ran into a good stiff wind that felt mighty good. Halting, we studied the area ahead.

  We weren’t at the top of the mountain. In front of us, the ground dropped off into a sunless, shallow valley, all rocky and bare, not a tree or bush growing anywhere. The valley was all aclutter with boulders and columns and high heaps of rock, chock full of narrow passes. An army might’ve been hiding down there out of sight.

  Nobody was in sight. Not a man, not a horse.

  There was no sign of a trail, either.

  Beyond the gloom of the valley, the upper region of the mountain stretched itself into the sunlight. It didn’t have just one peak, but seven or eight. A couple of them stuck up taller than the others, so they rather looked like fangs. I could see why the mountain had gotten itself called Dogtooth.

  “Where’s that cave at?” Jesse asked.

  “Somewhere across there, I should think.” I nodded at the valley.

  “Sure is a nasty piece of land,” she said.

  “The valley of the shadow of death.”

  “Don’t go getting odd, Trevor.”

  “Looks like a place where monsters might lurk.”

  Jesse gave me a jab with her elbow. “Quit that. Ain’t no monsters down there. You’re giving me the fantods.”

  “Sorry,” I said, and took the bottle out of the saddle bag. We each drank some water.

  As I tucked the bottle away, Jesse pulled out the revolver that she’d taken off the German. She thumbed open its port and turned the cylinder until it showed an empty chamber.

  We’d both been keeping only five rounds in our guns, leaving a chamber bare under the hammer to avoid mishaps. While I watched, Jesse dug a cartridge out of her pocket. Her hand trembled some as she plugged it into the cylinder.

  I added a sixth round to each of my Colts, then holstered them again.

  Jesse kept hers in hand. She started down the slope toward that awful valley.

  “Perhaps I ought to take the lead,” I suggested.

  “Don’t see as it matters,” she said. “We’re as likely to get jumped from behind as the front.”

  Or from above, I thought.

  I let Jesse stay ahead of me as we made our way down. I judged as how that was for the best, actually. If I took the front, I’d have General between me and Jesse. I wanted no obstacle in the middle to block my field of fire. If it should come to that.

  We left the wind behind. And the sunlight. Even before we reached the floor of the valley, my back felt all aprickle. The nape of my neck crawled.

  “I must say I don’t care for this.”

  “How’d Whittle ever find himself such a place?” Jesse asked.

  “If it’s only Apache Sam, shall we leave?”

  She glanced over her shoulder and cast a smile at me. It was as nervous a smile as I’d ever seen on her.

  All too soon, we found ourselves at the bottom of the valley. I stayed close to Jesse’s back as we made our slow way in among the rocks. They walled us in. They loomed over us. They stood in front of us, blocking our path so we had to go around them.

  Except for our foots
teps and General clomping along behind me, all I could hear was the wind gusting about. Sometimes, it made a whishy noise like a rushing stream. Other times, it seemed to moan. The sounds of it surrounded us. But stayed high and far away. The wind never came down to where we were. There, the air was still and hot.

  It seemed a bit unnatural, actually.

  As I followed Jesse through the labyrinth, I couldn’t help but think about Whittle bringing his victims through such a strange, forbidding place.

  And no birds sing.

  He’d likely kept them alive till he got them to the cave. It plain sickened me to imagine the terror they must’ve felt.

  In front of me, Jesse froze.

  “What?” I whispered.

  “Shhh.” She pointed her gun at the ground a yard ahead of her.

  I heard the snake before I saw it. A soft chh-chh-chh. Silence. Another chh-chh-chh. I spotted it. A rattler. So near the same speckled, dirty gray color as the rocks that it was the next thing to invisible. But there it was, as long as my arm, twisting its way across our path.

  General must’ve noticed it then. He gave out a startled snort and backed up. I gave the reins a tug. He stopped, and groaned in a manner that near sounded human.

  Jesse thumbed back her hammer. The cocking sound was so loud it seemed almost to echo.

  “Don’t shoot,” I whispered.

  She held fire. A moment later, the snake vanished beneath a lip of rock.

  We both kept our eyes on where it had gone, and hurried past it.

  I said to Jesse’s back. “Let’s not shoot unless we’re attacked.”

  “I don’t aim to get snakebit to spare your ears.”

  “It’s not my own ears that concern me. I don’t like the notion of announcing our whereabouts.”

  “Then you best hope we don’t meet up with no more rattlers.”

  I watched for more as we continued along. And I couldn’t help but listen, too. Now that I knew the sound they made, I heard it here and there—off to one side or the other, behind us, in front of us, sometimes even above. It played on my nerves, particularly the notion of a snake dropping down on us from the rocks as we walked by.

  It got to be almost more than I could stand. I switched the reins to my left hand and filled my right with iron. Much as I was loath to unsettle the dead quiet with gunfire, the good solid feel of the Colt was comforting. Jesse heard me cock it. She looked over her shoulder at me and smiled.

  “Don’t shoot unless you’re attacked,” she said.

  “They’re everywhere,” I whispered.

  “Pretty near.”

  Everywhere, but out of sight. I heard them, but couldn’t see them. That made it all seem worse, somehow.

  Next thing you know, our way forward got blocked by a great boulder. The way to the left was shut off tight. Our only course was to make a turn to the right and pass through a gash in the rocks. It looked like a rough-walled corridor, twice our height and not much wider than our shoulders. It appeared to stretch on for about thirty feet before it opened up.

  Jess turned away from it and studied General. “I reckon he’ll fit,” she said.

  “I doubt the posse came this way.”

  “There’s likely a passel of better routes through this dang mess, but nobody gave us a map. Do you want to turn around and go back the way we came?”

  I recalled all those rattlesnakes we’d left behind, and didn’t care to give them a second go at us. So I answered Jesse with a shake of my head.

  “Look sharp, now,” she said. Raising her gun barrel as if she expected to be leaped on from above—by snake or by madman or by Lord knows what brand of creature—Jesse entered the narrow gap.

  I went in after her, leading General and watching him over my shoulder. He seemed mighty reluctant to put himself into such tight quarters. He snorted and tossed his head. “Easy boy,” I said. “Easy.” He came on, but didn’t appear at all happy about the matter.

  The passage was wide enough for General, but not by much. Our tube of water, draped across his back, rubbed against a wall and tore. Water went splashing out of it.

  “Damnation,” I muttered.

  “What?” Jesse asked.

  “There goes our water.”

  She looked around at us and grimaced. The water was still pouring from the ruptured gut. But I had no way to get past General and stop the gusher, short of climbing over his head.

  All me and Jesse could do was stand there. Pretty soon, the side of the tube that still held water dragged its way down between General and the rocks. It fell with a plop. I ducked and peered under General’s legs. I could’ve crawled beneath him and fetched out the tube, but there wasn’t any advantage to that. It was empty and flat.

  “At least we’ve got some in the whiskey bottle,” Jesse said.

  “It won’t last long.”

  “There’ll be water at the cave.”

  “Will there be?”

  “I don’t reckon the posse come here without a pretty good supply.”

  I judged she was right about that.

  “We’d better keep moving,” she said. Turning away, she continued through the gap.

  “Come along, fellow,” I urged General, and gave a pull at the reins. He groaned at me. Sounded quite like a dog, as one might sound if you threatened to steal its bone. But he came along.

  I kept my eyes on him, trusting Jesse to warn me of any trouble from the front. Our rifles still hung from General’s sides by a rope across his back. And my saddlebags were up there. They seemed to be clear of the nearby walls, however, and in no great danger.

  We were about halfway through the gash when General went daft. His eyes bugged out, his ears twitched forward, he squealed and reared. My arm near got wrenched off before I lost hold of the reins. I leaped forward to stay away from his kicking hooves. One knocked my hat off. I stumbled and fell. On his hind legs, General tried to twist himself around. For a while, he was stuck, his belly shoved against one rock wall while his rump was jammed into the other. He thrashed about awful. His front hooves clamored and threw off sparks. He screamed fierce. The rifles and saddlebags skidded down his back. As I got to my feet, hoping to help him somehow, he managed to tear himself loose. He fell, forelegs giving out, muzzle smacking the rocky ground. But he picked himself up right quick and scampered for freedom.

  I gave chase, shouting. But General was in no mood to listen. He dashed out the way we’d come, and kept on running. Before you know it, he vanished around a bend. I quit racing after him. While I tried to catch my wind, the noise of his hoofbeats faded out.

  “Bloody nag,” I muttered. I felt just about ready to cry. I kept it in, though, and headed on back into the gash.

  At least General hadn’t run off with our saddlebags and rifles. Jesse, crouching, opened one of the saddlebags. She pulled out our water bottle. It was half-empty, but unbroken.

  “He’s gone,” I said.

  “Must’ve been the snakes,” she said. “I figured he’d kill himself sure.” She returned the bottle to the saddlebag, and draped the leather pouches over one shoulder.

  “We’d best go find him,” I said.

  Jesse shook her head. “Ain’t much chance of catching him. Gonna be dark soon, and no telling where he’s off to. He might not stop till he’s off the mountain.”

  “I shouldn’t like to lose him altogether,” I said, my throat tight.

  “I know.” She looked rather miserable, herself. “He’s a good old boy. We’ll find him.” She squatted by the rifles and commenced to pick at a knot. “What we’d best do right now, though, is try and hook up with that posse. We ain’t got much water. We can go hunting for General come daylight.” She got the knot undone, slipped the rope off the stock of my Winchester, and lifted the rifle up to me.

  I took it. She made a sling out of the rope and hung the Henry down her back. Then she stood up and drew her revolver.

  “I wish we’d never come up here,” I said, picking up my hat. “We
ve lost our horse and most of our water. We’re surrounded by rattlesnakes. We’re lost. Whittle’s likely lurking nearby. Or Apache Sam. Things have gone all to smash.”

  Jesse hoisted an eyebrow at me. “You should’ve stayed home in London, I reckon.”

  I saw her trap and dodged clear of it. “Not at all. I’m quite glad we’re together, you know. I only wish we were together elsewhere.”

  “Well, Trev, you play the cards you’re dealt. This ain’t the best hand, but it’s what we’ve got. Now, let’s go and find us that posse.”

  CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE

  Ghastly Business

  Night was near upon us when we came upon the posse. After losing General, we’d gone through the gash in the rocks, found ourselves in a clear area that gave us a view of the mountain peaks, headed that way, circled around some boulders and climbed a slope and squeezed through another tight gap.

  We heard some rattlers along the way, but not many. Those we heard stayed out of sight.

  As we came out the other side of the gap, we ran into the posse.

  There were eight or nine men and about that many horses. They were spread about a clearing in front of the cave entrance.

  Alive was one horse, tied to a stand of rocks off to one side.

  Alive were also a fair number of buzzards, but they scattered when we showed up. Some perched themselves on rocks and others sailed around overhead, all of them likely hoping we’d leave so they could get back to their meals.

  We stood motionless at the edge of the clearing.

  “My God,” Jesse whispered.

  Mostly, I felt numb. But part of me stayed alert, and I scanned the area to make sure whoever’d done the massacre wasn’t in sight.

  As one horse had been spared, I judged it likely belonged to the killer. So he was somewhere about. The horse, a pale palomino, was saddled. It glanced our way and took a few steps. When it moved, I heard its shoes on the rocky ground. So it was shod.

  “Whittle,” I whispered. “An Apache wouldn’t have shoes on his horse.”

  “Unless he stole it off a white man,” Jesse said.

  I gazed at the carnage. The gloom of dusk wasn’t dark enough to hide much of it.

 
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