Savage, p.43
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       Savage, p.43

           Richard Laymon
 

  “Quit it!” I yelled.

  The scream trailed off into laughter.

  “You knew we were out there?” Jesse asked.

  “Oh, quite. Of course, I had no idea that one of the interlopers was my old mate, Trevor. And what would your name be, my dear?”

  “None of your nevermind.”

  Whittle chuckled. “I’ll get it out of you later. For the present, it will suffice for you both to drop your firearms.”

  Jesse glanced at me, then turned her gaze toward Whittle.

  “Shall I count to three?” he asked.

  Jesse yelled, “Three!” and let fly.

  I followed her example.

  Side by side, we blasted away. I used both Colts at once. Our six-guns roared, and Whittle’s spat back. I reckon his aim wasn’t up to snuff, for neither of us went down. Ours were nearer the mark. He would’ve been a dead man for sure if the woman hadn’t caught most of our slugs. They smacked into her chest and shoulders. They punched holes through her arms. They gouged her sides. But they couldn’t get past her and find Whittle.

  Jesse’s gun went silent. I gave her a glance. She was commencing to reload.

  Whittle fired again, and the bullet zipped past my ear.

  I turned all my attention back to him, determined to kill him before my Colts ran dry.

  All that actually showed was a bit of his face, so I raised my aim and went for that. It ducked out of sight just as I fired. My bullet slammed through the gal’s upper teeth. The next pounded her brow and knocked her head back. The one after that ripped out the side of her neck and Whittle cried out. I thumbed back my hammers and squeezed my triggers. Instead of blasts, there came only quiet clacks.

  Whittle shoved the body away from him. As it pitched forward, we faced each other for just a moment. Through the drifting shrouds of gunsmoke, I saw that my last shot had gouged his cheek. Other than that, he seemed unharmed. He wore a black satin nosepatch.

  He didn’t raise his gun at me, so I judged it was out of ammo. He only had the one. An empty holster hung at his hip. His chest was crossed by twin black belts, each holding a sheathed knife. They looked to be mighty big knives. Knowing Whittle, the knives came as no surprise. But the shiny star pinned to the front of his frilly white shirt surprised me considerable.

  A badge!

  I saw all this in just the blink of an eye, and then Whittle was dodging off to the side.

  I whirled toward Jesse, shouted, “Get him!” and then realized she was still busy thumbing rounds into her Colt.

  When I spotted Whittle again, he was racing hell-bent for the end of the chamber.

  But not the end that would take him deeper into the cave.

  The end that led out.

  I holstered, dropped to my knees and scurried about the scattered clothes and such until I wrapped my hands around a revolver. I cleared its leather and swung it round.

  I got off a shot that kicked sparks off the cave’s wall near Whittle’s shoulder. Before I could fire again, he vanished into the darkness. I emptied the gun after him, anyhow, hoping I might catch him with a ricochet. He didn’t cry out, though. I judged they’d likely missed him.

  I threw down the borrowed revolver. “Bloody hell!”

  “Don’t fret,” Jesse said, sounding mighty calm. She, too, was gazing toward the place where he’d disappeared. “We’ll get him.” She snapped the loading port shut on her Colt. “You might wanta reload, your own self, before he comes back shooting.”

  It was when I went to stand up that I noticed Jesse’d been hit. The left leg of her dungarees was all ashine with blood and clinging to her. The hole was high on her thigh. My insides went all cold and shaky at the sight.

  “He got you!” I gasped.

  “Well, I reckon I’ll live. I’ll tend to it. You go on ahead and load up.”

  My hands shook so frightfully that I had a rather difficult time of it. Also, I kept an eye out for Whittle and watched Jesse while I worked at emptying out the used shells and plugging fresh rounds into my cylinders.

  What Jesse did was to sit down among the dead folks’ clothes and pull the knife from her boot. Using that, she cut the leg off her dungarees. It put me in mind of the time she’d cut off the German’s trouser leg to wear on her head. She’d gashed him some, but she didn’t gash herself. Her hand was just as steady as you please.

  Seeing the hole in her thigh, I dropped a couple of cartridges.

  She turned her leg. It had a second hole on the outer side of the thigh, about three inches from the one in front. Blood was running out of both.

  “It ain’t still in me,” she said.

  “That’s good, isn’t it?” I asked, feeling awful trembly and weak.

  “Well, I’d a sight rather have one hole than two.” Looking up at me, she smiled.

  I found the cartridges that I’d dropped, stuffed them into the cylinder, checked both guns to be sure they were fully loaded, then slipped them into my holsters and stepped over Jesse’s legs. I crouched down beside the shot one.

  “Does it hurt awfully?”

  “Well, it don’t feel good.”

  “Watch for Whittle, and I’ll bandage you.”

  Nodding, she gave her knife to me. Then she leaned back. Braced up on one elbow, she lifted her revolver and rested it on her belly. She turned her head to keep a lookout.

  “We near had him,” she said.

  “I took a piece out of his face.”

  “Too bad that’s all.”

  I snagged up a calico dress with faded flowers on it. After some cutting and ripping, I had it in pieces. I folded one into a thick patch and pressed it gently against her wounds. It was large enough to cover both of them. I held it there for a bit.

  She’d taken off the leg of her dungarees quite high up. Our positions were such that I couldn’t help but view a region, overhung by fabric but plainly visible, that took out my breath. A flood of heat rushed through me.

  I looked away quick and lifted my hand off the pad. It had a pair of red dots, but wasn’t soaked.

  “You don’t seem to be bleeding terribly,” I muttered.

  “Reckon he’ll ride off and leave us?”

  “I doubt it.”

  “Hope you’re right. I’d hate to see him get away.”

  “I just hope we get away.”

  With a long strip from the dress, I commenced to wrap the pad into place. Jesse eased her other leg aside so it wouldn’t be in my way. That pretty much bared her center entirely. I tried not to look, but couldn’t help myself. I did manage not to touch her there, though my hands got mighty close while I worked at winding the cloth around her.

  She must’ve known what I could see, but she didn’t complain or try to cover herself.

  I felt lowdown for looking. But not so lowdown as to quit it. We were trapped inside a cave and surrounded by women in the most awful states of dismemberment and rot, Whittle was likely fixing to kill us, and Jesse was gunshot. Yet there I knelt, sneaking peeks and feeling like I might just explode with the thrill and wonder of it all.

  After giving the strip of dress several turns around her thigh, I tied it secure with another piece.

  “All set,” I said, and found Jesse staring at me.

  The torches gave off plenty of light for me to see she had the old gleam in her eyes. “You’d best take your mind off my southern parts and put it on Whittle.”

  I blushed so fierce my skin near caught fire.

  I stammered something, trying for a denial.

  Jesse sat up. “No call to fret about it. Give me back my knife.”

  I handed it to her. She leaned forward, hitched up the cuff of her remaining pantsleg, and slipped the blade into her boot.

  “Perhaps you should carry it in the other boot,” I suggested.

  “The other boot ain’t got a sheath sewed inside.”

  “Still, it would be easier to retrieve.”

  “That leg’s ruined enough without getting knifed.”


  “Will you be able to walk?”

  “Reckon we’ll find out soon enough.”

  I got to my feet and held out a hand to her. When she took it, I hoisted her upright. She gasped and cringed. But she didn’t go down.

  “You can let go of me,” she said.

  I did so, and stepped back. After a quick check to be sure that Whittle wasn’t lurking at the front of the chamber, I turned my eyes to Jesse. She took a couple of steps. Though she winced with each of them, she stayed up.

  I stared at her. She was sure a sight. Standing there with a six-gun in her hand. Her hair all a mess but golden in the torchlight. Her left arm and leg both bare (except for the bandage around her thigh). Her skin moist and shiny. Her shirttails hanging out. The one leg of her dungarees hitched up over the top of her boot with the handle of the knife sticking out.

  “Whatcha staring at now?” she asked.

  “You look glorious.”

  She reached down and touched the bandage. “Well, you got me into a dress. Reckon now I’m a regular Becky Thatcher.”

  “Becky Thatcher?” I asked, surprised and pleased.

  “Ain’t you never read about her and Tom Sawyer? They ended up in a cave, same as us.”

  “I know them well,” I said.

  Jesse fingered the opening in her dungarees, apparently to check that she was properly covered. “Whittle, he makes their Injun Joe look like a piker.”

  “We’re quite better armed than Tom and Becky.”

  She nodded. “Let’s go and kill him.”

  CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

  The Final Showdown

  “Let’s do some figuring first,” I said. “He’s bound to be waiting for us, you know.” I went to Jesse’s side. She leaned against me, and I wrapped an arm across her back.

  “That’s a sight better,” she said. “Now what’ve we got that needs figuring? Only just one way out. He likely is laying for us, but he ain’t much of a shot.”

  “He got you, didn’t he?”

  “We was pretty sizable targets, and he still missed four outa five.”

  “He likely only hit you by accident, anyhow.”

  “We was both shooting at him.”

  “He wants you alive, Jesse. You know…so he can…muck about with you.” I hated to tell her that, what with the remains of Whittle’s handiwork all around us. But she needed to know the way of things.

  Instead of looking troubled by the revelation, she smirked. “Well, if he only hit me with a stray meant for you, he’s a worse shot than I reckoned. We oughta just charge on ahead and blast him down.”

  “That’s a terrible idea.”

  “I’ll go first.”

  “Are you daft?”

  “You said your own self that he don’t wanta shoot me. Not sure as you’re right about that, but…”

  “Anyway, there’s no telling where he might be. We won’t be able to see anything at all in the dark part.”

  “We could take us a torch.”

  “And light ourselves up for him?”

  “Well, you got a better idea? Maybe we oughta just stay here and wait for him to die of old age. Course, my blood might all leak out while we’re at it.”

  We both looked down at her leg. Thick as the bandage was, some blood had already seeped through it.

  I didn’t know much about bullet wounds, but it seemed to me that Jesse ought to be lying down and keeping still. Give her blood a chance to quit running out. She wasn’t about to do any such thing, though. Not while Whittle still needed killing.

  “What we need,” I said, “is a good trick.”

  “One that’ll get us through him?”

  “Or lure him to us. Like the way McSween and I led that posse into the ambush, something along those lines.”

  “He ain’t likely to fall for any brand of tricks. He’s a tricker, himself. Look how he got us in here with his screaming.”

  That reminded me. “Did you see that he was wearing a badge? Letting on to be a lawman?”

  “Maybe he is a lawman.”

  Whittle a lawman? Odd as the notion seemed, I judged it was possible. Perhaps he’d actually led the posse up here to hunt down Apache Sam. That would go a long way toward explaining how he’d managed to kill the whole bunch. It’s easy to kill folks that trust you.

  “Perhaps he is above being tricked,” I admitted.

  “We oughta just go. We’ll play the hand that’s dealt.”

  “This isn’t a card game, Jesse.”

  “Well, I’m gonna fold if we don’t do something quick. And I ain’t bluffing.”

  “Whittle!” I shouted toward the black opening. “Whittle!”

  He didn’t answer.

  “Jesse’s hit! You shot her in the leg.”

  “Trying to trick him with the truth?” she whispered.

  “You can have her!” I called. “What’ll you give me for her?”

  Still, no answer came. But I figured he could hear me, figured I’d caught his interest. Not as he was likely to believe a word that came out of me.

  “Give me your gun,” I told Jesse.

  She looked at me odd, but handed it over.

  “I’ve taken her gun!” I called out. “I’m throwing it away.” I tossed it some distance. It struck the rock floor with a clatter, and skidded.

  “Trevor!” she whispered, scowling.

  “That was her six-gun, Whittle! She’s unarmed, now. You can have her. For a hundred dollars. Whittle? Do you hear me?”

  “It ain’t gonna work,” she whispered.

  “You’ve seen how beautiful she is! I only want a hundred dollars for her. She’s worth a good deal more than that. Imagine the fine times you’ll have with her.”

  “Trevor!”

  “Stripping her down to the skin. Having your first looks. Before you start cutting her.”

  “Quit it.”

  I suddenly lurched behind her. She staggered, but I caught her up and hugged her to me, my left arm across her chest. My right hand shoved a Colt in her ear.

  “Damn it!” she blurted.

  “Come and get her, Whittle! She won’t be much good if I kill her. You’ll want those honors for yourself, won’t you? You’ll want to carve her up slow, a little bit at a time. That’s why your brought all these gals here, isn’t it? So you could work on them at your leisure? So you could savor their torment? So you could enjoy the sight of them thrashing about, bleeding and sweating? So you could hear their screams?”

  To Jesse, I whispered, “Scream.”

  “I don’t know how.”

  “Do it. You’re my hand. You’re all the cards I’ve got.”

  “Just stop all this.”

  “Scream.”

  She did it. And a mighty fine scream it was. Whittle himself couldn’t have done any better. Her shriek hurt my ears and made me cringe. Even after she stopped, it echoed on through the cave.

  “Did you like it, Whittle?” I called. “Did it heat you up? There’s more where it came from. With all your talents for torture, you might have her screaming like that for hours. But you won’t have the opportunity. Not unless you come out and pay me. Dead gals don’t scream. Dead gals don’t squirm and plead. You’re about to miss out on the time of your life, ‘cause I’ll be putting a bullet through her head if you don’t come out and buy her off me.”

  “Such an amusing lad,” Whittle said from the darkness ahead.

  At the sound of his voice, my heart gave a jump. I’d intended him to hear. I’d hoped he would answer. But it came as a shock when he actually spoke out. Maybe I’d hoped, deep down, that he’d considered himself lucky to escape from us, fled the cave and hightailed aboard his horse.

  “Are you ready to pay?” I asked. “Or shall I put a bullet through her head?”

  He laughed. “Come now, Trevor. I know you far too well. You would sooner die yourself than shoot that sweet morsel.”

  “She’s little more than a stranger I met on the trail,” I told him. “I’ve no use fo
r her.”

  “Do you take me for a fool? Shoot her? You, who attacked me for the sake of an East End slut? You, who froze through half a night aboard the yacht to prevent Trudy from hanging? You, who leaped into the sea to save her from drowning? Though it was quite apparent that you disliked her from the start? Please. This is so obviously a primitive ruse to lure me into the light.”

  “Believe what you will,” I called, and thumbed back the hammer of my Colt. “Show yourself, or I’ll blow her head off.”

  “Proceed,” he said.

  “Take that outa my ear,” Jesse muttered. “He ain’t falling for it.”

  “Listen to her,” Whittle said. Mimicking Jesse, he added, “I ain’t falling for it.”

  I kept the gun to her ear. “I’ll count to three,” I told Whittle. “It’s your play.”

  “Take care you don’t shoot her by accident. Poor lad, you’ve already put several bullets into one darling tonight. She wasn’t alive to notice, of course. But it was such a shame. She was quite fond of you, really.”

  He made little sense. Still my stomach went cold.

  “I rode into Tombstone recently to deliver a prisoner. I’ve become a Deputy U.S. Marshal, did you know that? Deputy John Carver. John Carver, Jack the Ripper. Clever, what? And fancy, me a lawman.” He laughed. “A marvelous job, actually. It allows me splendid opportunities for travel. I’ve quite the knack for pursuing felons, you know. However, the job also gives me the liberty to pursue a fairer game.”

  “What happened in Tombstone?”

  I didn’t ask that. I was too full of shock and dread for words. It was Jesse who put the question to him.

  “Why, a sweet thing recognized my horse. Seems I’d stolen it from her grandfather’s stable.”

  Sarah!

  “Quite the spirited wench, she was. She had a go at shooting me down in the very streets of Tombstone. Naturally, I prevailed.”

  “You killed her?” Jesse asked.

  “Oh, not at the time. My bullet merely knocked her senseless. Fortunate, that, as it prevented her from speaking out against me.” He chuckled. “I simply explained that she was wanted for harboring a fugitive bank robber, and bustled her out of town. Being an officer of the law does have its privileges, you know.”

  As I heard all this, I took to trembling fitfully. Fearing an accidental discharge, I turned my gun away from Jesse’s head.

 
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