Savage, p.44
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       Savage, p.44

           Richard Laymon
 

  “You can’t imagine my surprise, Trevor, when she spoke of you. I was rather certain that you’d drowned in Gravesend Bay. You’d not only survived, but captured the fair creature’s heart. It’s there on a pike to your left, by the way.”

  Though my mind reeled, I kept my eyes on the dark where Whittle lurked. One of Jesse’s hands gently pressed my leg.

  “Oh, she told me so much about you. She was just full of fascinating news. In fact, I’ve a bit of news for you. She confessed that she interfered rather heartlessly with your mail. She loved you dearly. Not wisely, as they say, but too well. It seems that she chose not to post several of the letters which you intended for your mother. And she intercepted those that your mother sent to you. In the end, she rather regretted that she’d done so. In the end, I daresay, she regretted quite a lot. Most particularly, that my bullet hadn’t killed her outright on Toughnut Street.”

  I struggled not to believe Whittle. But his words gave me no choice.

  “She was quite the most entertaining of my ladies. Indeed, she also proved the most useful. Ironic, that. I do relish life’s amusing little ironies. That she who died under my knife should save me from the bullets of the chap she loved most.”

  That hideous thing—that scalped and mutilated carcass—was Sarah?

  “You bloody fiend!” I yelled.

  He laughed. A merry cackle that echoed through the chamber.

  “You’ll not get your knife on this one!” I yelled, and threw Jesse to the floor of the cave. As she fell asprawl on the scattered clothing, I swept my revolver down at her and fired twice. With each shot, she flinched and cried out.

  Whittle shouted, “No!” through the roar of the blasts.

  He rushed out of the dark, raising his six-gun.

  “She’s better dead than in your hands!”

  “Damn you!” He took aim at my head.

  I got off my shot first. It took him in the left shoulder, turning him so his bullet missed me clean. He was staggering sideways when my next struck his chest. It ripped the leather of a knife scabbard, and sang off the blade. But the blow knocked him off his feet. As he fell, I put a round into his stomach. He grunted. He landed on his bum.

  I stepped over Jesse’s motionless body, halted, and leveled my Colt at his face. At the satin patch covering the remains of his nose, actually. Then I thumbed back the hammer. “This is for all of them,” I said.

  He flung himself sideways as I fired. My slug splashed his right eye. His head was turned at the moment, though, so it didn’t drill through to his brain but only took out a corner of his socket.

  He hit the ground screaming. And firing.

  Already, I was slapping leather with my left hand. I pulled my second Colt. Before I could bring it into play, my arm was struck. Felt like a club had pounded it just below my shoulder. The gun dropped from my hand. I ducked quick, trying to catch it with my right as bullets sizzled past me. And catch it I did.

  As I swung it up, a bullet smacked my right shoulder.

  I lurched backward, tripped over Jesse’s legs, and fell. My head thumped the rock floor.

  Next thing I know, Whittle was looming above me, pointing his revolver at my face. He looked frightful. His right eye was a runny gorge. Half his face was masked with blood. He’d lost his nosepatch, so I saw the pulpy scar tissue in the cavity between the nubs of his nostrils. He was sobbing. Blood and drool dribbled off his trembling chin. His left hand was clutched to the hole in his belly.

  “See what you’ve done to me!” he whined.

  “Less than you deserved,” I said.

  “I’m not finished yet, you scurvy bastard.” He threw his gun away. Whimpering and moaning, he hunched down over me, grabbed the front of my shirt, and hoisted me up till I was sitting. “I’m not finished! Not quite yet! Watch! Watch the Ripper at work! He loves his games!”

  Stumbling backward, he swept one of the huge knives from its sheath. He stood up straight. A belch came out of him and sent a gout of red flopping out his mouth.

  With more energy than I gave him credit for, he jammed a boot under Jesse’s hip and sent her rolling onto her back.

  I looked this way and that, hoping to spy either of my revolvers—any revolver. None was in reach, so I tried to shove myself up to my feet as Whittle dropped across Jesse’s hips.

  Grunting, wheezing, blood flowing down his chin, he glared at me with his single eye. “You’ve never…seen the…Ripper at play!”

  “She’s dead!” I yelled. “Leave her be!”

  He ran the blade beneath her shirt. With an upward jerk, he sent the buttons flying. He used the tip of his knife to fling each side of her shirt away, laying her bare to the waist.

  I got my feet beneath me. I leaned forward, hoping to stand.

  “Splendid set,” he gasped, spraying blood on her face. “Which…which shall I…have off…first?”

  “I’m right partial to them both,” Jesse said.

  She grabbed his wrist, pinning the knife down flat between her breasts. Her other arm swung up and chopped the gleaming blade of her Bowie knife across the Ripper’s throat.

  CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR

  Wounds and Dressings

  The blood just leaped out of Whittle, slopping onto Jesse while he sat atop her and made gaggy sounds. Then she jabbed his side to tumble him off.

  I crawled toward her.

  Whittle’s knife still lay on her chest. She tossed it away, then blinked blood out of her eyes and looked at me.

  I keeled over.

  I woke up once while Jesse was tending to my wounds. My shirt was off. She had me propped up some, a pile of clothes under my back. My left arm was already wrapped tight. She was straddling me, her knife clamped between her teeth as she used both hands to rip apart somebody’s shirt that she held up in front of her.

  With a popping sound, the fabric split. She hadn’t taken time yet to clean herself. Her face and chest gleamed with Whittle’s blood.

  I passed out again.

  By and by, I came around. I was still sitting up against the piled clothes. Now, both my wounds were bandaged. The cave seemed darker than before. I judged that some of the torches had likely burned themselves out.

  Jesse was gone.

  I called for her, but she didn’t answer.

  Worried, thinking that perhaps she had passed out, herself, I looked about as much as I could without trying to twist my body around. Whittle was sprawled nearby, dead as all the folks he’d murdered. I glanced at several of his victims. Had no choice in the matter, as I was hoping to find Jesse. While I did that, my eyes lit on Sarah.

  She was facedown where he’d flung her.

  The pain from my wounds was nothing next to the agony I felt, looking at her. My poor Sarah. A scalped and gutted carcass. Not only butchered by Whittle, but gunshot many times by me and Jesse. Ruined beyond recognizing long before we ever battered her with our slugs.

  My beautiful Sarah, come to this.

  She hadn’t run off with Briggs, after all. She’d traveled on to Tombstone in hopes that I had survived my fall from the train and would come to her. She’d tried to take on Whittle by herself. And ended here—spending her final hours, or days, suffering the most unspeakable of tortures.

  All on account of me.

  She had loved me, and died for it.

  It didn’t matter a bit that she’d cut me off from Mother in regard to our letters. No doubt, she’d feared losing me. A small betrayal, really.

  I’d betrayed her in a far more grievous manner when I gave my heart to Jesse.

  At least Sarah had been spared the knowledge of that. She’d died believing that I loved her still.

  I suddenly let out a sour laugh that sent pains flashing through my body.

  Indeed! It must’ve been a great consolation to her, believing in my love while Whittle was at her with his knives. What a trifling thing, the affections of a boy. When one is in the lair of a madman. When the body is afire with torment and death is c
ertain.

  With every cut of the knife, she should’ve wished that I’d never roamed into her house, that I’d been cast out into the blizzard the night of my arrival, that she’d never taken me into her arms or into her bed—certainly that she hadn’t ventured west with me to search for Whittle.

  She should’ve died cursing my very existence.

  All of them should have done so. All of those who crossed my path or Whittle’s, and died because of it, ever since that bitter night in London so long ago when I led him to the True D. Light.

  At least he’ll kill no one else, I told myself.

  We finished him. Jesse and I.

  My eyes lit upon a revolver some distance beyond my feet. I wondered if I had the strength to fetch it. A single bullet through my head, and nobody else would ever die on my account.

  The last time I’d considered such a move, I’d held off because Whittle still needed killing.

  I hadn’t any such excuse, now.

  Do it, I thought. Do it now, before you drag Jesse into some brand of trouble and get her killed. You near got her killed already. She’ll never be safe till she’s shut of you for good.

  I stared at the Colt, but didn’t go for it.

  Shooting myself seemed the proper thing to do, and I felt rather lowdown and selfish for wanting to stay alive. Folks were likely to die because of it, and Jesse might be one of them. The thing was, spite of everything, I found that I had a keen desire to keep breathing, no matter what may lie ahead.

  There were bound to be rough patches and narrow calls. There were bound to be tragedies. Heartaches and such. But I judged all that was just part of the game. It was the game that counted. Playing the hand that’s dealt, as Jesse would say. But dealing a few yourself, too. And savoring the surprises and joys that come along the way.

  I judged I would likely have use for both my Colts in the days and years to come—if I survived my wounds. But I knew all the way to my core that I would never again be tempted to use one on myself. They were meant for protecting me and Jesse. They were meant for sending varmints on the downward road.

  With such thoughts working through my mind, I forgot to worry about where Jesse’d gone off to. But by and by, along came a sound of bootfalls on the rocky floor. I looked toward the opening at the front of the chamber. A yellowish glow shimmered in the darkness.

  Then Jesse limped her way into sight.

  She held a torch in one hand. Her golden hair sparkled in its light. Her face gleamed. She was huffing considerable. Saddlebags hung over one shoulder and a canteen swung by her side.

  She was all decked out in a yellow calico dress. It was buttoned to her throat, had a frilly lace collar, long sleeves, and a skirt that draped her to the ankles. The gunbelt strapped around her hips, six-gun jammed in at one side, looked quite out of place and strange.

  When she saw me looking, she halted and stood up straight.

  “Well,” she said, “don’t wear out your eyes.”

  “Jesse Sue Longley.”

  “That’s me.”

  “In a dress?”

  She started moving again, limping closer and grimacing. “My other duds was in tatters, anyhow. ‘Sides, you been hankering to get me into such a getup.”

  “You look…just bully!”

  “It’s a mighty confining garment. Makes me feel like a ninny, too. I only just put it on cause of you being shot. You ain’t bound to see me in another such rig till the next time you catch lead.”

  She stood the torch upright in a nook, then hobbled over to me and sat down. “How you feeling?” she asked.

  “Reckon I’ll live. For a while, at least.”

  “Gotcha something here to ease the suffering.” She slipped the saddlebags off her shoulder and pulled out a flask. As she popped its cork, she said, “Found us some food and smokes, too, but nothing’ll beat whiskey when you’ve got holes in you.”

  She passed me the flask and I took a few swallows. As the whiskey went down, a pleasant heat seemed to spread through me.

  “I’m right sorry about your Sarah,” she said.

  My throat tightened so I couldn’t drink any more. I gave the flask back to Jesse. She went shimmery as I watched her head tip back. I blinked, and a couple of tears ran down my face.

  “At least Whittle’ll never get you,” I said, my voice shaking.

  She lowered the flask and looked at me. “He’ll get no one ever again, Trevor. You and me saw to that.” Reaching out with one hand, she brushed the tears off my cheeks. “You drilled him good, pardner.”

  “You didn’t do at all badly yourself,” I told her. “For a dead gal.”

  A smile lifted one corner of her mouth. “You hit me, you know.”

  “I did not.”

  “You sure did.” She handed the flask to me, then commenced to unfasten the buttons of her dress. When they were open down to her waist, she slipped the garment off her shoulders and pulled her arms from its sleeves. She scooted herself around to face me. Her chest was bound, just below her breasts, by a narrow strip of cloth. It held a small patch of cloth to the side of her ribcage. She untied it, peeled away the pad, and pointed at a raw nick. The wound was at just about the same place on her as where the posse bullet had creased me, so long ago. It wasn’t near as bad as mine, though. Not really more than a deep scratch. “Told you so,” she said.

  “I did that?”

  “Your second shot.”

  “I’m awfully sorry,” I said, pained to see that I’d hurt her.

  “Well, I reckon you had to make it look good.”

  “I never meant to hit you.”

  She raised her arm high and craned her head down to look at the injury. “It ain’t much, is it?”

  I forgot to answer. With her eyes turned away, it gave me a chance to study something other than her wound. She’d found the time to clean the blood off her skin. Her breasts looked as smooth as velvet except for their tips, which were dark and puckered and pointing at me.

  I didn’t look away fast enough. She caught me. “Trevor Bentley.”

  “They’re only you,” I said, pleased with my quick thinking. “No different, actually, from your shoulders or face.”

  “Liar.”

  But she didn’t turn away or cover herself, so I had lots of time to appreciate the view while she placed the pad atop her little wound and tied it in place with the cloth strip. After finishing with the bandage, she struggled into the sleeves and pulled the dress up.

  “We’d best leave pretty soon,” she said. “We got us a good, bright moon for our trip down.”

  “Is the horse still there?” I asked.

  “Yep. I gave him some water. He’s a mite skittish, what with the stink and the dang coyotes sneaking around, but he ain’t run off yet. Let’s rest a bit and put some chow into us before we head out there.”

  We had a few more sips of whiskey, then ate hard rolls and beef jerky that we washed down with water. When she finished with the food, Jesse rolled cigarettes and we had us a smoke and more drinks.

  The whole time, she never bothered to fasten the buttons of her dress. As it was rather chilly in the cave, I judged she’d left them undone to keep my spirits up. Mighty thoughtful of her. The strip of bare skin down her front helped take my mind off my wounds and other bad things. Every so often, when she leaned certain ways, I caught glimpses inside that warmed me up better than the whiskey.

  “We’d best get moving now,” she finally said. She swung the saddlebags over one shoulder, hooked the canteen strap over the other, then struggled to her knees. “You gonna be able to walk?”

  “You’re the one with a shot leg.”

  “It’ll hold out if you will.”

  I found that neither arm worked as it should, and moving them sent awful pains through me. I couldn’t use them to push myself up, so Jesse had to lend a hand. She stooped in front of me, clutched both my sides just under the armpits, and hoisted me up.

  As I came off the floor, I went dizzy,
staggered, and would’ve fallen except that she held me steady.

  By and by, I was able to stay on my feet without her.

  “I need my Colts,” I told her.

  “Aim to do some shooting tonight?” she asked. But already, she was hobbling along to fetch them. There were several revolvers scattered about, but she knew which belonged to me. She grimaced both times she crouched to pick them up, and I felt badly about making her do it. Needed my guns, though, and couldn’t get them myself.

  She came back to me, her face all sweaty from the pain.

  “Sure these are the two you want? All this weaponry, there’s likely better to be found.”

  “They suit me fine,” I said.

  She tucked one down the front of her belt, then emptied the shells out of the other. Stepping in close, she put her arms around me. I felt the heat of her body, the push of her breasts, the tickle of her hair against my cheek as she worked with one hand to take fresh rounds from the loops at the back of my gunbelt. Then she stepped back and plugged them into the cylinder.

  She dropped that Colt into my holster, pulled the other and sent its shells falling. Once again, she snuggled in while she removed ammo from my belt loops. She was still at it when I kissed the side of her face.

  Figured that would fetch me a remark. I was wrong, though. Instead of making a smart quip, she went and kissed me full on the mouth, ever so gentle and sweet. She didn’t quit very soon, either, but kept her mouth to mine for the longest time. Her breathing filled me. I let my eyes drift shut, and felt as if Jesse was melting into me.

  When she eased away, I near fell over. She braced me up with a Colt and a fistful of ammunition.

  “Steady, pardner,” she said.

  Pretty soon, she let go of me and finished loading my weapon. She holstered it for me. “Reckon you’ll need a shirt. The ones we wore in ain’t much good.”

  She commenced to wade through the clothes and weapons and such, searching.

  It struck me that one of the dresses scattered about on the chamber floor had likely belonged to Sarah. None looked familiar, though. I hoped that the dress Jesse wore wasn’t Sarah’s, but judged that it wasn’t. Jesse was shorter and slimmer than Sarah, so the dress wouldn’t have been such a good fit. Perhaps Sarah’s was the dress that Jesse’d used for bandages, and parts of it were even now wrapped tight around the thigh of the woman who’d taken me from her.

 
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