Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind

Roderick Byre stepped to the podium. He scanned the crowd, eyes connecting with dozens of voters gathered at the hustings outside Town Hall. Every seat held a body, with more standing packed together behind that. He took a deep breath, recalling the words he’d written, his grand plan for Gomorra.

“My opponent would have you believe that ghost rock mining is a thing of the past,” Roderick said. “That Gomorra needs to reinvent itself if we’re not going to end up like Soddum. Well I’m here to tell you differently. Gomorra has a prosperous history, and I belie–”

A rifle shot rang out, echoing throughout the valley and the town. The crowd fell silent in horror. Roderick Byre never had the chance to elaborate on his plan.

* * *

Madre mia,” Angélica Espinosa breathed to herself, dropping her first rifle and picking up the second. She’d taken position atop Charlie’s Place, the saloon’s slanted roof awning providing the perfect cover. Steadying her rifle, Angélica took aim for Wilber Crowley, the portly candidate who was to speak after the skinny one. Someone from the crowd was bound to notice her soon. In a perfect world, she would have slowed to complete her ritual. This world was anything but perfect. At least Sloane provided a back up plan for this mission.

With a rushed shot, Angélica pulled the trigger.

* * *

Women screamed, children cried, and hundreds of people scattered. Blood dripped from the stage; Roderick Byre’s body slumped against the podium. Within moments of the first shot, lawmen surrounded the stage with guns drawn.

Sheriff Dave Montreal’s worst nightmare had come true. “Get these people out of here!” Dave commanded his team.

He scanned the crowd to look for the shooter. No, it didn’t come from the square. The second shot had ricocheted off of the stage floor after grazing Crowley’s arm. That angle meant a rooftop sniper.

Dave shielded his eyes from the sun and caught a glimpse of the shooter. He cocked the rifle in his hand and aimed toward the rooftop where the shooter laid in wait. Even reacting with the swift experience few could match, Dave couldn’t manage to get the shot off in time. The shooter had disappeared. He lowered his gun and pointed to the saloon. “The shooter’s atop Charlie’s Place!” he shouted. “Lucy, Abram, circle around back and try to cut him off!”

* * *

Allie Hensman blended into the crowd as the townsfolk scattered from the shots. Her hat concealed her hair and shadowed her eyes. She kept her head low in case someone recognized her. Her heart raced, booming inside her chest, competing with Angélica’s rifle blasts, but with excitement not fear. Finally, she’d show Sloane what she could do. No one would believe her “good girl” act after this.
A man bumped into Allie’s shoulder and ran off without apologizing, but Allie kept her attention focused on the stage. The government man, Hamid, ushered Wilber toward its edge as she’d expected. She pressed forward, maneuvering through the fleeing crowd. Glancing around to ensure that she remained unwatched, she pressed forward until she reached the front of the stage.

The sheriff stood mere feet from her on the other side of the stage. As he directed his deputies after Angélica, Allie drew her Peacemaker and fired three bullets into Crowley’s chest.

At the sound of further gunfire, the sheriff turned around, eyes wide. Before he could react, Allie fired a shot in his direction, forcing him to duck out of the way. She grinned defiantly. “Be seein’ ya, Sheriff,” Allie said. Working in the open like this, it freed her. She holstered her weapon, turned and walked away, head held high. Let those Law Dogs try to bring her in. They’d be in for the fight of their lives.

* * *

Kevin Wainwright couldn’t help but giggle at the screaming and confusion. He stood on tiptoe, wobbling atop a stool to see over the panicked crowd. “I reckon everyone realized both candidates are the same … deadbeats. Eh, boss?” He snickered.

“Nice one, Kevin. I may have to add a comedy act if you keep clever jokes like that coming. Let’s go plan our next show while the townsfolk are still dripping with excitement,” Ivor said. He spun around, the tails of his coat floating behind him.

* * *

Horses galloped through the town square. Panicked townsfolk dove out of the way as Sloane led a posse of more than a dozen outlaws toward the thick of the crowd. If Sloane was not already a legend in the people’s minds, she soon would be.

The Aims brothers and Lawrence Blackwood rode at her side. They drew their guns, firing into the air. Silas cackled behind his mask.

Sloane caught a glimpse of a badge to her right. She pulled hard on the reins, bringing her mustang back onto her hind legs. The lawman froze as Sloane leveled her pistol and put a bullet between his eyes.

She spun her horse around, waving her pistol toward the sky. “It’s open season, boys!”

* * *

Lillian Morgan shook off the hand that had gripped her neck, forcing her head down in front of the stage. As expected, she had the best seats for the debate, front and center. Those seats had become a liability. “Max, I’m perfectly capable of keeping my own head low, thank you,” she said.

“We can’t risk you, ma’am,” Max Baine said. “This is no place for a woman, Lillian, even one of your ability.” He grimaced but removed his hand.

“I appreciate your chivalry, Max, but I assure you, it’s wholly unnecessary,” Lillian said. She peeked over the stage. Both candidates rested in pools of their own blood. Wilber Crowley’s hand dangled off the side of the stage. “A pity. I’d hoped Wilber would be mayor by default after that gangly buffoon went down. Comparing Gomorra to Soddum. My word.”

Max’s eyes darted from Lillian toward the town square. Gunmen on horseback pointed their pistols upward and fired, adding to the panic. “We’d best get to your coach and leave, Lillian,” Max said.

“Fine,” Lillian said, shaking Max’s all too ready hand from her arm. “I can walk on my own too, you know. Go find Lane. Have him gather a few men and guard the R&D Ranch. We don’t want anyone getting ideas they can loot Morgan property during this imbecilic display.”

* * *

Gang Yi sat at a desk in front of the locked arsenal in the sheriff’s office. Though nearly everyone needed to be on guard duty at the debate, someone had to stay behind to watch the roost. Yi had drawn the short straw. Now it was all he could do just to stay awake.

Shots and screams erupted outside. Gang Yi tried to get a glimpse out the window, but couldn’t see anything from his desk. Dave and the others could handle whatever caused the noise. He had to sit tight, as ordered.

Moments later, someone let out a guttural yell and more gunshots fired. Gang Yi glanced to the arsenal; a steel lock held it shut. It’d hold until he could make it back. Sheriff Montreal might want his help and he needed to get in on the action.

He set his hat on his head and grabbed his pair of six-shooters, hustling out the door.

* * *

Dr. Richard Slavin walked briskly away from the commotion at the hustings, circling the corner that led him in front of the sheriff’s office. A deputy he didn’t recognize, Asian guy with a light hat, charged through the swinging doors and ran past him. Slavin paused, considering. Likely the sheriff’s crew would be guarding the debate. In his business, opportunity presented itself in many forms. He caught one of the doors as it swung, sidestepping inside.

Since working with Hawley, he’d found himself doing a number of jobs that were not the sort of business an esteemed archeologist should be involved in. Why waste someone of his talents and intellect on petty thievery? However, Slavin had given his professional word that he’d get the items on the list, and he had a reputation to maintain. A few … impromptu excavations wouldn’t hurt him.

Slavin made his way back toward the armory, removing a lock pick set from his bag. The lock popped open after a few twists, revealing a cluttered arsenal of numerous guns and gadgets. He’d heard about the strange devices Andregg and Beauman had invented, but he didn’t have time for those.

On a lower shelf rested a pistol with a brass hilt and “The Right Hand of God” inscribed on its barrel. Valeria had researched the gun and found a wide assortment of tales from claims it was haunted, to an ability to instantly dispose of demonic beings. Regardless, Slavin took the famed Holy Wheel Gun into his hand and turned for the door.

* * *

Ulysses Marks stumbled out of Charlie’s Place’s. His head wobbled, the world twisted, and everyone kept hollering. “Keep yer darn voices down!” he shouted to no one in particular. His breath smelled of the whiskey he’d been happily drinking all morning. Sloane had given him orders earlier, but criminy, he couldn’t remember what they were.

Abram Grothe ran toward the saloon with a pretty young blonde girl at his side, both with pistols drawn. If any sight could sober him, the sight of the law so close would do it, and in that moment of clarity, he remembered his task … distraction.

Ulysses intentionally stumbled toward them. While it would have been nicer to run into the blonde gal, he plowed straight into Abram, knocking the deputy down. The blonde one stopped in her tracks.

“Golly, Deputy. I’m mighty sorry, let me help ya,” Ulysses said, sidestepping to keep his balance as he offered the fallen man a hand.

Abram gave Ulysses the angriest of glares, pushing himself up and ignoring Ulysses’s hand. “Get off the street if you don’t want to find yourself in a cell today, Marks!”

Ulysses placed a hand over his chest to feign shock. “I meant nothin’ by it, Deputy. Honest!”

Abram grunted. He and the blonde gal continued on without word. Ulysses hoped he’d bought Angélica enough time.

* * *

A bullet whizzed past its intended target and toward Elander Boldman. With so many people running about the town square, it could have caused a deadly accident. Instead, it made an electrical crackle mid-air.

The bullet dropped to the ground at his feet. “Well that wasn’t polite,” he said.

He turned his attention to the bullet’s origin: an unkempt looking man riding a horse and waving his gun around. “It’s clear someone’s mama didn’t teach him any manners.”

The gunman tugged on his horse’s reins bringing it right to a stop. He pointed his pistol at one of the deputies, getting ready to unload.

Elander charged forward. His forcefield slammed smack into the deputy, knocking her clear out of the way, placing himself between the deputy and the gunman on horseback. The deputy scrambled backward, kicking up dirt.

“You must have a death wish,” the gunman said.

“It’s called bein’ polite. Y’all should try it sometime. Gunnin’ down ladies in the middle of the street and not carin’ which way yer bullets fly. Tsk!” Elander said, holding his head high in pride. The good Lord couldn’t mind that in the middle of doing a good deed.

“You asked for it,” the gunman said. He fired three shots at Elander.

Each of the bullets fizzled against the force field and dropped to the ground in front of him. “Well then, I don’t start no fights. My mama taught me better. But she also taught me to finish ‘em!” Elander moved in a burst of speed, his heart racing and lungs burning. He plowed his forcefield into the horse, knocking it over like a bowling pin.

The gunman flew off his horse, landing in a water trough outside the saloon. He gurgled and spit as he came up for air. “What in the –?!” The gunman scurried out of the trough and took off running.

Elander grinned and turned to help the deputy gal to her feet. “He’s all yours, miss.”

* * *

Philip Swinford reloaded his pistol, then took off running after a Sloaner whose horse took a few bullets during the fray. God as his witness, he’d nail this varmint good.

The Sloaner hustled around the corner and past the sheriff’s office. A door swung open in front of Philip, and he slid to a stop on the wood porch when he saw that it was not a fellow deputy who came through the entrance. A man secured something in his bag and, startled, glanced at Philip. “Oh my,” the man said.

Philip narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing the athletic man and his thin glasses. “Mr. Slavin,” he said in recognition. “What’re you doin’ in the sheriff’s office?”

“I was, ah,” Slavin glanced back toward the town square, “making sure the sheriff was aware of this carnage.”

“I think we got our full force out there. If you’ll excuse me, I’m a mite busy chasin’ one of the culprits down.”

Slavin pointed eastward. “I think he went that way if it helps, Deputy.”

Philip didn’t bother replying. The Sloaner had already gained considerable distance on him, and Slavin had pointed out of town toward the ghost town of Soddum. Normally, he’d go tell Dave and wait for back up and the go ahead to track the criminal down, but there’d been too many instances where these scum had gotten away with thieving and murder. He’d promised Dave he’d handle the Sloane Gang if they tried anything at the election. They’d done worse than he’d even imagined, out in the open like they had no concern for the law at all. There was no time to spare. He ran after the outlaw alone.

* * *

Two Sloane Gang horsemen took off away from the town. Lane Healey kicked his horse’s side to gain speed and follow. Mr. Baine had been explicit in his orders to make sure no one came near the R&D Ranch. Lane’s horse cantered, wind blowing hard in his face. The Sloane Gang horses were no match for his roan, allowing him to catch them quickly. Pistol already in hand, Lane scored a near point-blank shot through one of the outlaw’s chests, sending the man falling from his horse.

The second outlaw, one with a short beard and some large animal tooth dangling from a chain around his neck, tugged his horse to a halt.

Lane looked the man in the eye, training his gun on him. “Jonah Essex,” he said.

“You know me,” Jonah said with a raised brow. He didn’t sound surprised.

“You look just like the wanted poster in front of Carter’s. Could get a good sum, bringin’ you in. But I’m already working at the moment. Turn around and we’ll have no trouble.”

Jonah snorted. “Oh, it’s no trouble at all.”

Lane laughed despite himself. “Funny man. You know, there’s a circus in town if you’re looking to make a buck. Tell you what I’ll do, Essex. Walk away from here now, and I’ll forget this whole thing ever happened. Even the bounty on your head.”

Jonah didn’t appear the least bit worried about the gun pointed at him. He reacted quickly, and to Lane’s surprise, the man flicked several playing cards in his direction, halting in the air around him.

“A trick?” Lane didn’t want to kill unnecessarily, but time was money, and this man had already wasted too much. He moved to pull the trigger, but his finger remained still. In fact, not a muscle on his body could move.

Jonah approached to circle his horse around Lane. “A valiant duty defending that witch’s property,” he said, his tone condescending. “For that, I’ll forgive your arrogance this time.”

Horse hooves pitter-pattered behind Lane and back around again as the outlaw completed his circle to face him. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to continue on my way and you will not follow me, or I’ll be forced to do something both of us will regret.” Jonah waved a hand. “I’ll take your silence to mean compliance.” He kicked his horse’s side and galloped away.

Lane’s horse started to graze, taking liberty with the lack of a strong grip from his master. All Lane could do was wait. Minutes later, the cards fell from the place they hung in front of Lane, disappearing in the air as control returned to his body.

Out in the distance, there was no sign of Jonah. He was long gone.

* * *

The sun made its descent across the western hills of the Maze. Sloane brought her horse to a trot as she approached the rendezvous point. Allie and Angélica each sat atop their own horses, which were grazing after the hard ride. They’d made it out alive.

A third of the posse Sloane had brought with her had been killed, but both Fred and Silas Aims would see another sunset. She’d lost Lawrence back in town, but he could fend for himself, surely. The mission was a success. They’d ensured at least a half dozen of the sheriff’s men had met their maker, a resounding message as to who truly controlled the town of Gomorra. “Both candidates are dead? Allie, your job was to confirm.”

“Saw ‘em both drop with my own eyes. Took down Crowley myself,” Allie said, her voice full of pride.

“Bully for us!” Essex grinned as he came over the rise. “We let Gomorra know exactly who’s in charge and our client has to be pleased with the results.”

“Who is it anyway?”

Sloane turned her horse around. “You’re paid to sling bullets, not ask questions. Let’s head home.”

The united Sloane gang rode away into the sunset.

Advertisements