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 Chapter eleven. Devil's Hole

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Keays



Posts : 33
Join date : 2013-09-26

20140307
PostChapter eleven. Devil's Hole

Devil's Hole

It was just one of those fortuitous twists of fate that put Wayne Cook in possession of information that might be worth something a little further down the road.  He had been out hunting game in the wooded area just north of Devil's Hole when his horse had quite suddenly pulled up and refused to go a step further.
 
Wayne had put pressure around the animal's barrel but it did no good; the horse reared and went in every direction but forward.  Unbeknownst to Wayne the sensitive olfactory ability of the horse had let it know that a cougar had crossed the path that the human was now trying to coerce the horse into continuing on.  It didn't matter that a number of hours had passed since the big cat had been in the area, busy with his own hunting trip.  The horse, head up with nostrils blowing and eyes rolling white was having none of it.  He would not cross that scent line for a bag of oats and a barrel full of apples.
 
Wayne was becoming impatient; Duncan had sent him out on this hunting trip and Wayne was under no delusions as to what would happen if he arrived back at the Hole empty-handed.  He took the reins in both hands and dug the spurs in, letting loose a loud holler at the same, hoping the horse would get startled into moving.
 
Well, he moved alright—straight up.  When he came back down, he took to bucking and it was all Wayne could do to hang on and try to get the horse under control.  The horse tucked his head and kept on bucking, running himself off the trail and into the dense shrubbery that ran along between the trail and a wall of rock that was looming ever closer to them.
 
Wayne tried desperately to pull the horse's head up and steer him away from that rock face.  The gelding's head did come up, but too high up and back, getting ahead of the bit in his mouth and Wayne lost control altogether.  The gelding plunged into a gallop, smashing through the thick brush and the rider closed his eyes in anticipation of a painful and brutal collision with the rock face.
 
Much to Wayne's surprise, the expected impact did not happen and he opened his eyes to find out what his fate would be.  The running view he got surprised him so much that in his scramble to grab onto the saddle horn, he nearly dropped the reins.  He cursed as he hung on for dear life while the horse galloped on down an extremely narrow trail that was bracketed by two high and unyielding rock walls.
 
Wayne tucked his legs around the horse's barrel as snugly as he could, but he could still feel the outsides of his stirrups scraping against the rock as they galloped through.  He clutched the saddle horn, expecting at any moment to feel his knees being smashed into the rocks and himself being scraped from the saddle as the ever-narrowing trail became too narrow for the both of them.
 
Then a sudden kink in the trail and the horse was charging through more leafy greenery and Wayne found himself staring at an open meadow.  He got over his shock quickly and, grabbing the reins up again, he was able to pull the horse's head around and bring the animal to a halt.  The horse was still jittery, but he had reached the end of his flight distance so was more willing to stop and turn to face whatever might be chasing them.
 
He stood, staring back the way they had come, his four legs trembling, his eyes, nose, and ears seeking any indication of the predator in pursuit.  Nothing showed itself and finally the horse relaxed and blowing out his stress, he bobbed his head, and was willing to listen to his rider again.  Wayne actually spoke quietly to the animal and gave him a reassuring pat on the neck.  The horse accepted this as a peace offering and agreed to forgive the spur gouging.  After all, in a crisis, all horses knew that humans tended to lose their ability to think clearly and concessions must be given for idiocy.
 
With the excitement over with, Wayne turned the horse's head and nudged him forward.  It was a small meadow so Wayne trotted the horse all around the parameter in order to explore it thoroughly and see what it had to offer.  It was a small box canyon with no entrance other than the narrow trail they'd just come in on, but it was covered with lush grass and there was even a small creek that trickled in at the base of the rock face, giving just enough water to keep everything green.
 
Wayne still couldn't believe it.  He'd been living and hunting in this area for years, even before hooking up with Tom Duncan and he'd never known this little enclosure was here.  How many times had he ridden down that same game trail on the hunt for meat and passed right on by that well concealed entrance?  He completed his circuit and allowing his horse to drop his head to graze, Wayne sat and contemplated this situation. 
 
All this time, nobody had been able to figure out how Wheat Carlson had eluded that deadly posse on that fateful day so many years ago.  The trackers had followed the numerous hoof prints down into the creek bed and, with some searching had even found where the outlaw had taken to dry ground again.  Then the tracks had simply disappeared.
 
For weeks afterward investigators had scoured the area, looking for clues, hoping to put together the puzzle of how the leader of the Devil's Hole Gang had gotten away.  It was considered one of the greatest mysteries of the county and all the law could do was stand around and scratch their heads.    Unfortunately it would have been even more impressive if the outlaw hadn't been shot down and presumed killed later on by the same posse that he had eluded in the first place.
 
But now Wayne Cook figured he had stumbled upon the answer to the mystery.  Carlson had known about this canyon and took the chance that the lawmen did not.  If they had followed him in here, he would have been trapped like a rat in a box and knowing Morrison, he would have been dead right then and there.  But when you're running out of options you chose the lesser of two evils and Carlson, coming to the end of his choices, had holed up in here.  He'd covered all visible signs of his passage and in here he'd stayed hidden until he had deemed it safe to come out and disappear into the back country.
 
Wayne shook his head in silent regret that Morrison's posse had eventually tracked Carlson down and shot him up anyways.  Things just hadn't gone well for Devil's Hole once Heyes had been sent to prison.  Hannibal Heyes had been one of the greats and now here was Wayne actually riding with the bastard who had gunned him down over some stupid horse.  Wayne felt the resentment rising in his gut.  Heyes had been legend, Carlson had been able to keep it going, but now Duncan thought he could just step in and take it over and have it succeed on reputation alone.
 
He snorted in disgust as he found the exit to 'Carlson's Canyon' and made his way along the narrow trail until he got out into the open again.  He turned and took special note of the landmarks so he would know where the entrance was if he ever found himself in need.  He didn't trust Duncan to keep them safe and having himself a little 'hole in the wall' gave him the insurance he might just need to stay alive.
 
 
Two weeks later, Wayne Cook and Jack Stacy had once again been given lookout duty.  On one hand, Wayne kind of resented being sent out on this duty all the time, but, on the other, he was able to take his friend Jack's opinion of it and see it as a blessing in disguise.  The less time spent in the company of Tom Duncan, the more comfortable Wayne was.  If old Ferguson had been running things, well now, that would be different.  But Duncan gave no loyalty so as far as both Jack and Wayne were concerned; he wouldn't be getting any either.
 
On top of that, Wayne sure hadn't trusted Duncan's offer to let fellas leave if they didn't like the way he ran things.  He’d seen what happened to Orrison when he crossed Duncan.  He tried to dissuade Davis from leaving right away, but the knot-head hadn't listened.   He'd insisted on riding out that day and Wayne had a bad feeling about just how far he had gotten.  He had nothing to base it on, no evidence at hand, but his gut feeling was telling him that nothing good had come of it.
 
So Wayne and Jack settled themselves in and prepared to spend the afternoon comfortable in their own company.  Jack pulled out his deck of cards and they played poker for pebbles until a vague noise caught their attention.  Both men looked up and scanned the distant landscape but could see nothing out of the ordinary.
 
Still, the cards were put away and they both got their rifles up and ready for anyone stupid enough to try and attack the Hole from this well-guarded entrance way.  Wayne pulled out his spyglass and checked the horizon, then pulled the focus in closer and looked down the hill and onto the relatively flat lands.
 
He tensed.  “Shit!”
 
“Is that dust?”  Jack asked, spying the disturbance even without the spyglass.
 
“It's more than just dust!”  Wayne informed him.  “There's a whole herd of beeves heading this way and they're comin' fast!”
 
“What!”  Jack snatched the spyglass and scanned the lowlands.
 
Wayne levelled his rifle and tried to find something to shoot at.  He moved the muzzle back and forth, straining to see through the dust cloud, to find himself a target.  But it wasn't happening.  All he could see was a wall of tawny hides with horns attached quickly closing the distance between them.  The rest was simply bellows of dust rising into the air and obscuring everything that was coming up behind the lead animals.
 
He jumped, startled as Jack's rifle sent out a shot.  Jack cocked the lever and fired again.  Wayne grabbed his shirt and gave him a quick shake.
 
“What'cha shootin' at?!”  he yelled at him.  “Ya' can't see nothin'!”
 
“I can see them steers comin' straight for the Hole!”
 
Jack’s stray shots had frightened the lead steers and the animals tried to turn back, but there were too many other steers pressing forward, terrified by the shots; so they started to run for the exit of the canyon that opened up in front of them.  The rest of the herd was swept along by their panic and soon the entire herd was stampeding.
 
“Shootin' at them isn't gonna change anything!”  Wayne told him.  “C'mon!  Let's just get to them horses before they run off on us as well.”
 
Jack saw the wisdom of that and the two men quickly ran down the slope to where their nervous horses were tethered and waiting.  They snatched up the reins and mounted up before the animals could pull away from them and leave them stranded.  The ground had begun to shake even before they heard the thunder of the hundreds of hooves pounding into the ground.  They felt the air around them become dustier and hard to breathe as the horses reared and fought against the hold on their mouths.
 
The thought of riding up to the Hole to give warning only lived in the men's minds for a millisecond as the bawling of frantic cattle took over their senses and suddenly the herd was upon them.  The steers spread out as the trail widened and the two men booted their horses back up the hill towards the lookout, just barely making it there in time.
 
The animals were panicked and had no intentions of stopping until exhaustion or a dead end forced them to put on the brakes. The two men dismounted again in order to stay below the sky-line and holding their horses tightly they watched the herd thunder past along the trail below them.
 
Seeming like an eternity later, the last of the herd had galloped by and the sound of their pounding hooves and frantic lowing quickly diminished into the distance as the dust settled back to ground.  Wayne and Jack got their rifles ready again, just waiting for their attackers to come in to view but strain as they might, they couldn't hear anything coming.
 
The lookout position settled back into quiet again.  No sound of galloping horse hooves, no jangling of bits, or creaking of leather.  No gunshots sounded until distant ones drifted down to them from the Hole itself.  The two men exchanged glances.  Leaving the horses re-tied, they crawled up on their bellies to the edge of the lookout and peered over the landscape to see if their attackers were anywhere in sight.  It was quiet—too quiet.  They exchanged looks again.
 
“What do ya' want to do?”  Jack asked.
 
“I donno,”  Wayne admitted.  “No need to go up to the Hole; they know about the steers now.”
 
“Yeah, but you can bet there's guns out there just waitin' fer us to make a run for it.”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“We could just wait here until it's all clear,”  Jack suggested.  “The least we can do is keep them fellas down there from gettin' up here.”
 
“You really wanna face Duncan after we let them beeves get past us?”
 
Jack paled visibly.  “Nope.”
 
“And what if it's a trap again, like what Morrison done?”  Wayne continued.  “We ride up into the Hole once things quiet down and we could be ridin' right into another ambush.”
 
“Yeah, but if we try and leave that way, them fellas down there'll shoot us down.”  Jack pointed out.  “We're kinda between a rock and a hard place.”
 
“Yeah,”  Wayne agreed,  “don't I know it.”
 
They sat in silence, waiting for a solution to their predicament to come to them.  More gunfire from the Hole came down to their ears.  Hand guns and rifles were being fired frantically either into the herd to try and stop it, or into the air to try and turn it.  They waited; watching the land below them, just waiting for anyone to make a mistake but everything in that direction remained quiet.
 
The tethered horses spooked and both of them stared up the trail towards the hideout, ears and nostrils straining for information.  The two men looked at them, wondering what had their attention and then suddenly they knew it too.  They felt the vibrations coming up through the rock and they knew the herd was coming back down their way.
 
“You got anything up in the Hole you just can't live without?”  Wayne asked Jack.
 
“Nope, not a thing,”  Jack assured Wayne.
 
“Good.  Cause I think I got us a way outa here.”
 
Wayne was on his feet and heading to the horses again, with Jack right on his heels.  Mounting up, they stayed on high ground as the herd of steers once again came thundering past them, heading for the open country.  The horses reared in their panic but the men held them firm until the last of the steers were going by.  Then they booted their horses forward and joined up with the beeves, galloping along tightly in their wake and completely hidden by the thick dust being thrown into the air by the passage of so many hooves.
 
They stayed in that position until they were down onto the open ground and the cattle began to spread out even more.  Wayne pulled his own horse around and pointed its head north.  Jack followed along, not sure where his buddy was going, but Wayne seemed to know what he was doing and that was good enough for Jack.
 
They booted and whipped their horses into a frantic gallop, crouching as low as possible over their necks, hoping that in the confusion of the beeves taking over the landscape whoever was attacking the Hole wouldn't notice the two outlaws making their escape.  They were not to be that lucky, though, as distant rifle shots sound behind them and the yelling of men let them know they were being pursued.
 
The two outlaws kept up the frantic gallop, Jack following his partner though not having a clue as to where they were going.  But Wayne knew.  All they had to do was get there in one piece and far enough ahead of their pursuers to be able to make the turn into Carlson's Canyon without being seen.
 
Wayne kept them going, galloping down the embankment and across the creek then up the other side.  They didn't have time to use any evasive manoeuvres—they just simply had to get to where they were going.
 
More shots rang out behind them and Jack was sure he felt a bullet going through his hat but he kept on.  Wayne led him into the copse of trees and then onto the game track that ran alongside the rock face.  Jack was getting worried.  He'd been along this track plenty of times himself and, as far as he knew, there were no sure way off of it.  On the one side was the rock face and on the other was the copse of trees and then open landscape—nowhere to hide.  Once the hunters had the outlaws in their sights it would be all over for them.  What was Wayne thinking?
 
Wayne suddenly pulled rein and turned his horse towards the rock face.  Jack had no choice but to stop with him as the leading horse blocked the trail so no other could easily get by him.
 
“What the hell ya' doin'?”  Jack yelled at him in his frenzy.  “We're sittin' ducks in here!”
 
“Shuddup and follow me!”  Wayne told him.
 
Much to Jack's astonishment, his partner turned into the foliage and completely disappeared.  He sat there, open-mouthed in shock with the sound of pursuing hoof beats getting close, when his own horse made the decision and followed his buddy onto the hidden trail.  Jack was still in shock when they burst out into the meadow but he quickly pulled himself together and dismounted along with his partner.
 
Wayne had his rifle ready as he stood by the trail head, listening intently for the sounds of their pursuers.  It didn't take long either; within a minute, they heard the soft, muffled sound of a horse galloping past along the game trail.  It was only one horse, not the great pursuit that they had imagined, but one lawman was more than enough to give them a scare. They both held their breaths for another moment, making sure their pursuer hadn't stopped and backtracked.  The outlaws hadn't had time to hide their tracks and Wayne had banked on the hunter being so intent on his game that he wouldn't think to check for tracks until he were long past the entrance.  By that time, Wayne intended to make sure that no sign would remain of their little detour.
 
Both men finally allowed themselves a sigh of relief.  Jack straightened up and looked around himself in amazement.
 
“Wow,”  was about all he could say.
 
“Yup.”
 
“How long you known about this place?”
 
“Couple 'a weeks.”
 
Jack noticed a large lean-to set over by the side of the small creek.  He looked over at Wayne who simply smiled and they both walked over to the structure.  Jack took a quick look inside and couldn't believe his eyes.  There were tarps spread over the ground, and blankets rolled up and stacked to one side.  There were stacks of tinned food and canteens of water.  There was even a rifle and ammunition wrapped up in oilskin to keep them dry and usable just in case.
 
“How the hell did you do this?”  Jack asked in amazement.
 
“Weren't hard,”  Wayne told him.  “That Duncan is such an idiot. He hasn't been payin' attention to anything other than that horse.  I always offered to go off hunting and, each time I did, I brought a few more things with me.  Duncan never noticed.  If Fergie did, he didn't say nothin'.  If Duncan asked why I was gone for so long, I'd just tell him that game was scarce these days.”  Wayne shrugged his shoulders at the ease of the deception.  “I don't feel like dyin' for that idiot so when I found this place I knew it was a way out if things got hot.  Well, they got hot today so here we are.  There's enough grazing for the horses and enough food for us for three or four days at least.”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“So, why don't you get the horses settled in while I go and clear off any tracks before that bastard realizes he's been hood-winked and comes back lookin' for us.”
 
Jack's face broke out into a huge grin.  “Yeah.”

 
 
Heyes and his entourage reached the valley floor as the first of the steers burst into the hideout.  They couldn’t see the chaos but they could tell it was happening by the gunshots being fired within the Hole.  Waving his arm, Heyes sent Ames, Kyle, and Feeley with the Kid to flank the right-hand side of the valley and took Wheat and Joe with him, heading to the left.  Monty and Lom would defend the other end of the hideout, thereby trapping Duncan and his men in the Hole.
 
A thick cloud of dust had risen over the area where the cabins stood and Heyes smiled grimly at the diversion he’d caused.  It’d worked and it had undoubtedly saved lives, human lives; but the death toll amongst the steers would be great.  They’d been headed to the slaughterhouse anyway, but he hoped some of them were lucky enough to escape the Hole and get away.
 
 
 
Lom pulled his horse up and waited for the dust he’d been choking on to settle.  He’d seen the two outlaws streak past him concealed in the herd of frightened beeves and he’d quickly pursued them after instructing Gus and his men to round up the stock. 

Once the outlaws had cut out of the herd, Lom had found it easy enough to track them.  Until now; somehow those two had just vanished right under Lom’s nose.  He pulled his horse up and leaning from the saddle he did a quick survey of the ground around him and found nothing. He cursed to himself, knowing that he must have missed them turning off the trail at some point. Turning his horse around he began to jog-trot back the way they had come, keeping his eyes focused on the ground in hopes of finding some signs.

He looked up sharply when he heard shots being fired back towards the look-out site and that sent a shiver of apprehension through him; not because of the shots themselves, but because of the reminder they gave him. Not thinking, he had come in pursuit of the two outlaws all on his own. Now he was in a prime position for an ambush. He didn't know the two men he was chasing, so had no idea if they were desperate enough to kill a lawman or not. All he did know for sure is that he was already sporting a bullet hole from this gang and he didn't particularly want another.

Giving up the quest to track down the escapees, Lom set heels to flanks and pushed his horse up into a gallop, getting himself out of this death trap and back to open country. He'd worry about tracking these two down later, when he backup.

Wayne had been out, brushing away the tracks from the entrance to the canyon when he heard the sound of the galloping hooves on hard packed dirt coming towards him. He cursed and quickly ducked into the shrubbery that lined the trail, hoping it would be enough to keep him from searching eyes. He just barely got himself concealed when the horse pounded past him and he breathed a sigh of relief after a brief glimpse of the lawman's face. Fortunately for Wayne, the sheriff was focused on where he was going, and not on what was beneath his feet. He waited a couple of more minutes just to be sure, then quickly doubled back and disappeared into hiding.

As Lom neared the mouth of the slot canyon, he saw a figure up on the lookout point waving frantically towards him.  It was Monty and he was waving to Lom and the others to hurry up and enter the Hole.  It looked like trouble to Lom and he shouted for Gus and his men to follow.
 
Monty stood on the bluff and shouted and waved to try to get the attention of the men below.  It was no good.  The bounty hunters were intent on rounding up the stock.  He’d crept his way carefully to the lookout with his big gun drawn, hoping to get the drop on the men keeping watch while the steers distracted them.  But, when he arrived, he’d seen the two guards scrambling back up the hillside on their horses.  He lay hidden in the bushes and listened to the worried men’s conversation and biding his time.  It had worked, the outlaws had mounted up again and ridden down the hill to join the retreating tide of cows.  He’d watched the tail end of Duncan’s security high-tailing it away from the Hole. 
 
Heyes had asked him to take care of the guards and, as far as he was concerned, they were taken care of.  He knew Heyes was trying his best to keep the Second Chance crew out of his personal fight, and Monty had been grateful to have Allie and Scott posted on the lip of the cliff.  As for him, that was a different story.  He’d never run from a fight and he wasn’t starting now.  Lord knows, Heyes and the Kid needed help.  Duncan’s men were putting up a pretty good fight.  He was just about to turn away and head back inside the sheltered hideout when he saw Lom Trevors riding back up towards the canyon entrance.  He stood up and put both hands over his head; waving and shouting.  Sure enough, the tall man glanced up at him and Monty began gesturing for him to hurry into the Hole.  A moment later, he saw Lom shouting to the other men to round up the cows and then wheeling his horse towards the slot canyon.  Monty hurried down to where his own horse was tied.

 
 
Fergie was sitting in the solitude of the cookhouse enjoying his second cup of coffee and working on a sketch of the new root cellar he hoped to build.  There’d been one in the Hole; he’d seen the remnants of it, but it had fallen into disuse and caved in over the years.  Duncan had, as usual, ridiculed the idea, but Fergie was bound and determined to make this improvement.  He was tired of letting Duncan’s laziness prevent him from doing what needed to be done and they needed a cool place to store food in the heat of the summer. 
 
He took a sip of the bitter brew and put his cup down.  Picking up his pencil, he began scratching out a few notes.  A shimmering drew his attention back to his coffee and he noticed an odd rippling on the surface of his drink.  A vibration traveled up from the floorboards and the table began to shake.  It took him a moment to realize that he was witnessing the beginnings of an earthquake.  He jumped up and ran out the doorway and down the stairs into the yard.  Screaming, he called to the rest of the gang to get out of the buildings before they came down.  He turned and saw Duncan in the round pen with his mare right before he saw the first of the steers entering the Hole.  This wasn’t an earthquake, they were being attacked!  He ran back towards the cookhouse, but changed his direction as the frightened sharp-horned creatures bore down on him.  He’d head for the leader’s cabin.

 

Duncan pulled up suddenly and turned towards the entrance to the hideout.  He had been lounging Karma around in the corral again, having tacked her up, and hoping to wear her down a bit before attempting to put a foot in the stirrup.  He was still limping from his last riding attempt and he was sure his right knee was about the size of a large grapefruit.  But now his attention had been instantly diverted to some unexpected noises bellowing up from the hidden entrance way.

Were those cattle lowing?  What would cattle be doing up here?  He hadn't ordered a herd to be brought in.  On second thought, though, a rustled herd of steers could bring them in some handy cash if handled properly, not to mention keeping the Hole well supplied with beef for the winter.  Instead of cursing this unexpected windfall, perhaps he should be getting ready to thank the enterprising gang member who saw an opportunity and took it.

His brows creased and a look of concern crossed his features as the sounds of lowing came closer, but more to the point; the ground beneath his feet began to tremble and the lowing was intermixed with the increased clacking of horns and pounding of hooves.  Men around the Hole were yelling and beginning to run for cover as the wave of galloping steers broke in upon the yard area and started to spread out in their wild panic.

Karma reared and began to gallop around the corral, seeking a way out even though by this time she knew there was no way out.  How many times had she tried to break through the sturdy posts and rails of this enclosure only to be pushed back.  How many times had she attempted to jump it only to end up bruising her knees and crashing down into the dirt and still on the wrong side of 'outside'?

She stiffened her legs, putting on the brakes then pivoted around and picked up a gallop in the opposite direction.  The thundering noise of the hooves coming closer drove her into a frenzy and she nearly ran Duncan over more than once in her panic to escape a grisly demise.

Duncan kept out of her way, cursing at her the whole time while he pulled his hand gun and started firing at the quickly approaching herd of horns.  He wasn't the only one attempting this diversion.  His men who had been in the yard; now made wild dashes towards various buildings or other structures and began firing their weapons into the oncoming herd.

Unfortunately, though many of the lead animals were hit, all that happened was that those animals went down and were promptly trampled by the ones following.  If the bullets didn't kill them outright, then the sharp, heavy hooves of their companions would complete the job.  The herd kept right on coming.

They crashed into the outhouse, sending the lightweight boards flying into the air, and causing what was left of the inside of that structure to be covered over by tawny, hairy bodies of the beasts that never seemed to stop coming.  Men continued to fire into the midst of the herd but the animals kept on, running headlong into the hen coop and sending those boards and wire messing into kingdom come.  Chickens sprang into the air, squawking and cackling their indignation as feathers, eggs and straw got launched into the atmosphere.  The chickens either found their wings and scrambled to high ground, or they fell back to earth to be trampled to death along with their home.

The herd came on, crashing into the first corral and splintering the wood.  The horses screamed in their panic, running in circles and then attacking the fence themselves in their efforts to get away.  Soon the horse herd was jumping over what was left of the spindly corral and had joined up with the steers in the wild stampede through the hole.  Karma yearned to be with them but she couldn't get out and the wave of beeves and horses on the hoof crashed into the solid posts and poles of the round corral.  Duncan, who had been standing on a lower pole and shooting into the oncoming herd, was knocked to the ground by the impact.  He instinctively covered his head, just waiting for the crashing sound of the posts and poles splintering and then the hooves of the animals pounding into his body.

But it didn't come.  His world shook with the impact of so many animals crashing into the round corral and his ears were filled with the sounds of lowing and neighing and gunshots, not to mention the over-powering thundering of hundreds of hooves on the run.  But despite the overwhelming attack on his senses; nothing else happened.


 
Ferguson crouched in the door of the leader's cabin, watching and waiting to see how Duncan was going to respond to this emergency.  What he saw caused him to frown and shake his head in regret.  He'd known the Duncan brothers since they'd been knee high to a branding iron.  He'd known their pa; they'd run cattle and horses together and there was no one he'd have trusted more with his life than that man.

When that trust had been proved well-founded and Lucas Duncan had lay crushed and broken and dying in Ferguson's arms after saving his best friend from a rogue bull, a promise had been made.  Lucas had clutched at Fergie's collar, begging him to look out for his two boys.  They were good boys; a little wild, of course but then who better to keep them safe in the rustling profession than Fergie?
Fergie had to agree; of course he did. 
 
Gerald and Tom were decent enough boys and if they grew up to be anything like their father then they'd also be good friends with their father's good friend.  While Gerald had grown into a good rustler and a solid man to have on the job, Tom had become more and more volatile and vindictive.  He wouldn't take orders, figuring he always knew better; yet when things went south because of his plans, he was always the first to turn tail and run.  The only person he felt any form of loyalty to was his brother Gerald and even at that, Fergie suspected that loyalty didn't run too deep.
 
Fergie always suspected, but couldn't prove, Tom had betrayed his own brother and left him hanging when their last rustling job went sour.  Now, seeing the way that Tom handled this new group of men, Fergie no longer suspected it but knew it in his gut to be the truth.

Watching him out there, more concerned about the welfare of that mare than he was about his own men, Fergie began to feel that a promise made to a dying friend could only go so far.  He knew the men hiding in the bunkhouse and some of the other outlying buildings were mostly young and all were waiting for some kind of leadership; someone to take control and tell them what to do.

Fergie spit with disgust at the sight of the person whose job it was supposed to be, simply turning his back on his men and focusing on saving his own neck first and the neck of that blasted horse second.  Fergie made his choice and, leaving through the front door; he quickly ran to the back and exited the cabin.  There wasn't much room back there with just a narrow dirt walkway and then the creek.  Beyond were bramble bushes and the high red rock sand cliff that helped to make this hideout so impenetrable; except for this time—and the last time.  Times were changing.

Fergie made his way along the backside of the cabin, jumping out of his skin when a lone steer came barreling around the corner somehow having separated himself from the main herd.  The widespread horns were coming straight for the old outlaw and he drew his gun in preparation of shooting it when the steer saw him.  The animal was so frightened about everything in his world at that moment that he instantly accepted the human as dominant and jumped into the creek to avoid him, thus saving its own life.

Fergie had a simple impression of long horns and wild, staring eyes as the large animal splashed past him.  With a frightened bellow, it broke into a run and made its way around the corner of the cabin in hopes of joining back up with its fellows.  Fergie leaned against the wall of the cabin and let loose a sigh of relief, then hurried on.  He knew he had to get over to the bunkhouse and get those fellas outa there while they still had a chance.
Obviously, the Hole was under attack and being trapped inside a ramshackle structure that had no hope of stopping bullets, let alone another onslaught of stampeding cattle, was not the smartest plan of defense.  He'd get them out and, hopefully with some kind of leadership to keep them calm, they could work as a group and get out of this death trap before it was too late.

 
 
Out of the enveloping cloud of grit, stumbled several dazed outlaws.  To his right, Heyes saw a man directly running towards Jed.  His partner would round him up.
 
“Heyes,” called out Joe, pointing to his left.
 
The ex-outlaw swung his head around and saw his friend pointing at two outlaws crossing the stream a few hundred feet to their left.   Heyes, Joe, and Wheat galloped their horses over to meet them as they straggled out of the water, coughing and choking.
 
Wheat recognized his recent fellow gang members at the same moment they recognized the big, burly man sitting his horse.  He drew his pistol and covered them.
 
“Carlson, what the hell?  You working for the law now?” cried out Lenny Hutchinson.  Brian Keats stood wiping the grit out of his eyes, and staring at the tin star pinned to Joe’s jacket.
 
“Naw, Hutch.  I’m still workin’ for Heyes,” Wheat hooked at thumb towards the dark-haired man next to him.
 
Two pairs of eyes widened in shock.  Keats found his voice first, “But Duncan’s been braggin’ he killed Heyes. That sonovabitch’s been lyin’ to us?”
 
“Either that, or the devil refused to take him,” chuckled Wheat, gesturing for the men to throw down their weapons.  They did, carefully, and held still as Joe dismounted and hand-cuffed each of them; both of them still staring at Heyes. Hutch spit and his eyes turned hard as he gazed upon the ex-outlaw.
 
“We heard you’d gone straight,” he sneered, “but double-crossing your own gang…”
 
“You not my gang,” Heyes snapped back with fire in his eyes.  “You can call yourselves the Devil’s Hole gang, but that don’t make it so; and I heartily resent you using my gangs’ name for a bunch of botched, amateur robberies,” Heyes glared down from Fannie’s back at the two men dripping water in front of him.  Hutch still grumbled, but Keats backed off, not liking the look in the ex-outlaws eyes.
 
“Wheat, tell him,” Keats begged,  “Duncan named the gang, not us.”  
 
“That’s right, Heyes.  These two were just the worker bees,” said Carlson.
 
“They kill anybody you know of?” snapped Heyes.  Joe wanted to know the answer to that question, too, and listened carefully while holding onto Keats’ arm.
 
“No, we never killed no one.  We swear!” Hutch insisted, finally getting wind of their true situation and finding himself getting nervous at Heyes’ angry countenance, “Wheat, for the love of God, tell him.”
 
“They ain’t killed nobody that I know of, Heyes,” said Wheat, grinning at the looks of relief on the two men’s faces, and then adding, “’Course I can’t say what they done when I wasn’t here.”
 
Heyes rode Fannie forward until she was nearly on top of the two men and they stepped back from the threat of steely horseshoes trampling them.  “Where’s Duncan now?”
 
“He was in the round pen, last I saw, working his mare,” said Hutch.
 
Fannie swung around at Heyes’ command.  “Joe, can you handle these two on your own?” asked Heyes, turning his attention to Morin.
 
“You bet I can.”
 
“Good,” said Heyes, “Wheat stay here and help him round up the others.  I’m going for Duncan.” 

Fannie sprang into the stream and splashed noisily across to the other side.  Man and horse beat their way through the heavy willows and as they emerged into a clearing, they saw the cattle headed their way.  Heyes galloped back and forth, shooting at the ground in front of the fractious animals.  Once again, the steers turned back on themselves, this time more successfully, and it wasn’t long before they were headed back to the cabins with the former Devil’s Hole gang leader riding drag.

 
The Kid skirted the edge of the wall of red sandstone that rose straight up on the right-hand side of the Hole.  The shadows it threw would help to conceal them.  Ames and Kyle rode side-by-side behind him and Feeley brought up the rear.  Raising his hands, Curry called a halt.

“What’s up, Kid?” asked Kyle, confused about stopping.

“Shh, I hear something,” said Jed.  He could hear the sound of something, or someone, crashing through the shrubby growth that surrounded them.  Pulling his pistol, he didn’t have to wait long. 

Charlie Jones struggled out of the thorny bushes and stopped cold when he saw the four riders.  His hands shot in the air and he gasped for enough breath to weakly say, “Don’t shoot.  I give up.”  Seeing Kyle, he smiled and started to lower his hands.  This must all be some sort of mistake.

“Ah, ah, hand’s up,” said Curry, coldly.  “Feeley, cuff him.”

Feeley dismounted and walked to the black man with his hands up.  He pulled down the right hand, and then the left, cuffing them together.  Pulling the man forward, he led him over to the riders.

“Hey, Kyle,” said Charlie, looking up quizzically at the small, tobacco-chewing outlaw he’d known as a friend.

“Hey, Charlie.  Kid, this here’s Charlie Jones.  Charlie, Kid Curry,” said Kyle, grinning at the sick look that crossed his erstwhile friend’s face.

“Mr. Curry, I…”

“Save it.  Feeney, you’re in charge of Jones.  Ames, stay here; Kyle, follow me,” said Jed, nudging Gov into a slow lope.



It seemed an eternity before the herd had passed by Duncan but once it did, it was with overwhelming relief that he finally dared to raise his head to look around.  Just as he did, a panicked Karma trotted over top of him, stepping on his back and knocking his hat from his head.  Duncan swore out load and scrambled to his feet before the mare could come around for a second go.  He slapped the dust from his clothing and stepped up onto the lower railing again and looked around at the carnage.

Duncan cursed quietly to himself, stepped down, and went to the gate of the corral to attempt to open it.  Though the structure had stayed standing during the assault, the posts had been shifted and the gate was jammed shut.  Duncan cursed again and put his shoulder into it.  It moved about an inch and then locked up.

Gunshots could be heard coming from the backside of the Hole.  Duncan looked up, surprised; what the hell?  Who could be at the back of the Hole and what in the world were they thinking, firing their guns off?  Within seconds, it became all too clear that the herd of steers had come to the end of their run, but instead of stopping they'd turned in a narrow circle and with the encouragement of more gunshots were once again heading at a full gallop towards the center of the Hole.

Now the Hole itself was not that long or wide so the trailing animals of the herd did not have far to go to be running back into no man's land again.  Duncan cursed and really put his shoulder into the corral gate, desperately trying to get it open.  The sturdy structure had withstood the first onslaught, but he doubted it could handle a second.

He repeatedly bashed his shoulder into the gate, trying to push it open enough for him and the mare to slip through.  He managed to open it a sliver.  In his panic, he was just about to leave the mare to her fate and climb over the high fence, when Karma solved the problem for them.

Spotting the opening in the fence, the big mare made a dash for it.  She knocked the human out of her way and crashed into the gate.  Duncan got pushed into the fence behind him but fortunately for him he stayed on his feet.  He heard the heavy poles splinter and Karma screamed in her frustration when the gate did not give wide enough for her to get through.

The ground was again shaking with the coming of the herd and Karma spun away from the opening just as Duncan grabbed her reins and pulled her up.  She reared, trying to shake free from him, but he had her bridle in a vice grip and wouldn't let her go.  He pulled her head around, almost to her withers.  Already panicked and off balance, she went down in a bellowing of dust and a scrambling of hooves.  Duncan was quick to take advantage and, within seconds, he had clambered into the saddle and began to boot the mare to get her on her feet again.

Karma did not need any encouragement from him!  She was on her feet in an instant and Duncan turned her head towards the partially opened/broken gate and booted her forcefully towards it.  She could hear the cattle coming up behind her and could smell the sweat wafting off their matted, stinking hides.  Her senses were filled with the smells, the sounds, and the thunder of their hooves so when a strong hand took control and told her where to go, she didn't hesitate.

Her hind feel dug into the soft dirt of the corral and she charged headlong into the gate.  The sound of splintering wood came to her again as her body weight crashed into the obstacle and the posts and rails had no choice but to give in.  Even at that, Karma's legs got tangled up in the debris and she went down again, kicking frantically to get herself clear of the broken kindling that had once been the gate.

Duncan hung on for dear life, pulling the mare's head around and practically lifting her onto her feet with his legs and the bit.  She scrambled up and again took direction as Duncan aimed her head towards the leader's cabin and he began to boot and hat-thrash her over towards that building.

Karma dug in and galloped for all she was worth.  She could see the wall of brown hide and horns coming at her and she stretched out, ears back and muscles straining as she made her desperate run for the shelter.  Duncan yelled and kept her going, the thundering hooves taking over his eardrums and drowning out all thought and reason.  All they knew—both of them; was that they had to make the cabin or be trampled and ground to death under the hooves of the oncoming herd.
 
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Chapter eleven. Devil's Hole :: Comments

Re: Chapter eleven. Devil's Hole
Post on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 1:10 am by Keays
Monty joined up with Lom.  They rode cautiously through the slot canyon and into the outlaw stronghold expecting to be shot at any moment, but nothing happened.  The entire compound was inundated with steers crashing about and wrecking everything in their path.  There wasn’t an outlaw in sight.  Spreading out, Lom to the left, and Monty to the right; they circled the camp on the hunt for fleeing outlaws. 
 
Gus Stainton and his men had pulled up next to each other and watched the lawman riding into the Hole.  The moment they lost sight of the rangy sheriff, Gus turned to his men.  “I ain’t lettin’ no two-bit tin star cost me money.  Blake, you and Lee round up these beeves; Wes, you’re comin’ with me.”

 Nodding, Blake and Lee rode off.  Both of them were relieved not to have to enter the Hole.  Gunshots echoed repeatedly off the redstone canyon.  It was a shooting gallery in there.

Wes gulped, but he knew better than to object.  Meekly he followed Gus into the canyon.
 
Wheat and Joe tied Hutch and Keats to a large cottonwood tree and then set out to round up the straggling outlaws that were still at large.


Jed and Kyle rode around the back of the barn and dismounted.  Heyes and the others could round up the fleeing outlaws.  They’d take care of the ones holed up in the buildings.  Beginning with the largest structure, they started systematically searching every nook and cranny for hidden felons.
 
Ames and Feeley hog-tied Jones and concealed him in the heavy bushes along the canyon wall before they spread out to cover the stream crossing.  Feeley, taking charge, sent Ames to the left towards where they’d last seen Heyes and the others, and he stayed near Jones making sure the man stayed where they’d put him.  Occasionally, he’d see a glimpse of Wheat or Morin, but he saw no sign of Heyes and wondered if the ex-outlaw leader was laying low and letting him and the others do the dirty work.
 
Creeping through the brush and avoiding the exposure of the banks, Ames crab-walked his way to the narrowest section of the stream and hunkered down.  After the first flurry of fleeing outlaws, all was quiet and the dust was beginning to settle over the Hole.  Curious, he decided to get a closer look.  He stealthily crossed the stream, wriggled his way through the bushes, and made his way on foot towards the buildings.  Arriving in time to see Kyle and the Kid enter the barn, he soon realized they were going to search each building.  That gave him an idea to help. 

 Pulling a match from his pocket, he stuck it in his teeth and used both hands to pile up some dried leaves.  With a giggle that was almost manic, he stuffed the leaves into crevasses and cracks all around the base of the first wooden structure he'd come to.  Once satisfied with the layout, he took the match, struck it and set the small flame to cozy up to the first pile of stuffed leaves.

He almost started jumping for joy as the leaves caught hold and the little flame cackled its way up into a full-fledged fire.  The excited giggling taking full control now, he grabbed a couple of kindling pieces and stuck them into the ever growing flame.  Once that took hold, he ran around to the various piles of leaves and and lit every one until the whole backside base of the structure was turning into its own bonfire.

He wanted to stop and watch his creation expand into its own glory and for a moment his glistening eyes did glaze over and become mesmerized by the dancing gold.  He might have sat there forever just watching the building burn if it hadn't been for more gunfire breaking in upon his worship.  He jumped and looked guiltily about, realizing that he was perhaps slacking in his duty, then with a boyish grin of pleasure, he lit another brand and stealthily made his way towards his next sacrifice.

 
 
Allie and Scott watched the chaos from their perch overlooking the valley.  They saw the dust rising off the valley floor signaling the arrival of the cattle, heard the gunshots, ringing through the valley, and then felt the silence as it dropped over the Hole.  When the shooting started again, Allie stood up, disgusted.  “We’re no use to them at all.  I can’t see a damned thing, can you?”

Scott reached up and yanked her back down.  “Stay down.  Just because we can’t see anything doesn’t mean we can’t be seen!”  He gave her an irritated look and, embarrassed by her amateur mistake, she stayed down.

“Heyes left us here to keep us safe,” she grumbled.

Scott looked at her in amazement.  “Of course he did.  What, do you want to be killed?  Do you want me to have to tell our children that Mommy won’t be coming home?  Allie, you aren’t twenty any more.  You’re a grown woman with two children who love you.  I love you.”

Allie sighed.  “I know you’re right, it’s just that they may need our help.”
 
“They do,” said Scott, pointing below them, “here they come.”  Four dusty men ran from the edge of the meadow towards the foot of the cliff following the hoof prints Heyes and his men had made.  “Aim for their feet.  Our job is to keep them in the Hole, not kill them.”  He aimed his Sharp’s and fired.  The four men nearly ran into each other trying to regain the safety of the shrubs.  Scott laughed at the sight and Allie grinned at him, pleased he was having fun.  She aimed her own rifle and laid down a fusillade of her own.


 
When Karma finally reached the front of the cabin she didn't waste any time by taking the steps one at a time; she made a wild leap, her powerful hind quarters propelling her up into the air.  She landed with a loud clattering and the skidding of flailing hooves on the wooden boards of the front porch, but she made it.  She was about to hesitate to enter the cabin through the front door, but then the herd of steers was upon them and she felt the porch start to tremble beneath her feet.

More loud lowing of cattle and the shattering and splintering of wood announced the end of the steps leading up to the porch and then the porch itself began to creak and sway. Duncan yelled at her, slapping her rump with his hat and she plunged forward through the doorway and in to the living room of the cabin.

She was wide eyed and blowing, terrified at being inside such a confined space.  Her hooves slid on the flooring and she struggled like a deer on a frozen lake, trying desperately to keep her feet under her. Duncan kept a tight rein on her, pushing her deeper into the common room as the herd of steers rumbled past outside and the structure shook and groaned with the onslaught it was enduring.

“Fergie!”  Duncan yelled for his friend, but got no answer.  “Ferguson!  Where are you?!”

Duncan maneuvered Karma over to one of the bedroom doors and he kicked it open with his foot.  A quick look inside told him it was empty.  He pushed forward to the second bedroom and gave that door the same treatment.  Nothing.  The cabin was empty  Where had that idiot gone?  This cabin was the most solid structure in the Hole; no herd of scrawny steers was going to knock it down.

Just as he thought this, the cabin shuddered again.  Dishes and utensils clattered to the floor while dust and spiders fell from the ceiling.  Those spiders that survived the landing made a bee line for parts unknown and Duncan was just beginning to think that they had a point when the animal-induced earthquake began to subside. 
 


Fergie ran along the side of the cabin and realized that he was too late to get to the boys.  That single steer had just been the forefront of what was coming and the ground started to shake with another animal-induced earthquake before he'd gotten half-way along the wall.  He heard the hooves and horns before the dust started choking him again and he leaned himself as flat as he could against the side of the cabin, hoping all the steers would just stay to the main course.

He closed his eyes against the dust knowing he wouldn't be able to see anyways and simply prayed that his next sensation wouldn't be that of getting crushed by the onslaught of crazed beeves.  Finally, the thundering of the hooves subsided again only to be replaced by more gunshots and men yelling.  Fergie peered out through the dusty air and tried to make heads and tails of what his situation truly was.

Horses were galloping past him, both loose and mounted, so he held back and waited until he thought he might have a chance.  He was just about to make his run when he saw one of the posse horses galloping madly towards the cabin's front door.  Fergie couldn't believe his eyes and he continued to stare as the dust settled even more and he could get a clear look at the man on the horse.  Once he had that look, he cursed silently to himself and ducked back behind cover.

What the hell was Hannibal Heyes doin' here?  He was supposed to be dead!  Yet, seeing was believing, but Fergie still didn't want to believe it.  If Heyes was here, chances were pretty good that Kid Curry was here and, if that was the case, they didn't have a chance.  Damn that Duncan; bringing all this trouble down onto them!  Why couldn't he have just left well enough alone?

 

The noise pollution subsided enough that Duncan could hear as well as feel Karma drawing in great draughts of air into her lungs.  Her wildly beating heart and trembling limbs demanded oxygen and she stood wild eyed and with nostrils flaring as she tried to regain some control.  Then as if what had already happened wasn't enough, there came a sudden clattering of more hooves out on the porch and both Duncan and Karma jumped and were preparing to take flight again.

Duncan drew up on the reins and cursed as an apparition appeared in the front door.  At first, because of the dust in the air and the confusion of the moment, Duncan refused to believe that he was seeing what and who he was seeing.  But as the rider charged in at him and the dust was no longer an issue, the outlaw could no longer deny what his eyes were telling him.

Hannibal Heyes; the very man whom Duncan had sworn up and down he'd shot in the chest and killed, was coming at him as fast as his solid little horse could get her feet to move.  Karma reared again with surprise and anxiety as the other horse banged up against her and Heyes launched himself at the other rider before he had a chance to pull iron.

Because Karma was somewhat taller than Fannie, and she had reared trying to escape the little powerhouse that had ploughed into her, Heyes wasn't able to push Duncan off the tall mare, so he grabbed his shirt and pulled him off instead.  The two men fell to the floor, in between the two horses and Karma, pinned in between the wall and the other mare had nowhere to go.  She scrambled, trying to get a foothold on the loose carpeting so she could jump over the humans who were rolling around under her hooves, but she knew she was still stepping on them.

She blew out her anxiety, staring down at the men and trying to avoid them until finally she was able to scramble over and away from them.  She spied the other mare over by the far wall, and taking some comfort in the apparently calm demeanour of the older animal; she sidled over and joined up with her until this situation could be shorted out.
 
Heyes and Duncan rolled around on the dust covered floor, each trying to get a strong hold on the other. Duncan's shock at seeing the ex-outlaw coming at him was very quickly replaced by anger at the younger man's audacity, thinking he could just ride in here and attack a man in his own hideout.  They each grabbed hold of shirt collars and yelled curses back and forth as they rolled into table legs and over top of fallen dishes. 

Karma and Fannie were on high alert, scrambling out of the way of the two humans.  It was becoming a fool's errand as it didn't seem to matter which direction the mares went, they were finding the men under their hooves again.  Neither of the horses wanted to trample anyone and they ran into the table and the chairs, skidding on the carpets and often falling on top of the pieces of furniture and breaking them up into kindling.  Then scrambling back to their feet they would continue to trot around the common room until Fannie ducked into one of the bedrooms and Karma followed her.  There they stayed, anxious and blowing while the two men continued to struggle for dominance.

Neither man spoke, other than cursing as each tried to subdue the other.  Heyes was able to get in a couple of punches but Duncan gave them right back again.  Both men’s faces and fists were getting bloody and still neither one showed signs of relenting.  But finally, Duncan's youth and heavier weight won out and he got Heyes onto his back and straddling him, held him pinned to the floor.

Heyes yelled in his frustration and began punching Duncan in the nose, but then Duncan got his hands around Heyes' throat and started to squeeze.  Heyes fought for air that wasn't coming and in his desperation, his hand reached out and searched for anything that would help.  His groping fingers came upon a broken chair leg and he grabbed it, swinging it up and hitting Duncan across the head with it.

Duncan gasped, releasing Heyes' throat as his hands went up to his own bloodied forehead.  Heyes took the advantage and punching Duncan in the nose again, he bucked the larger man off of him and instantly the tables were turned.  Heyes straddled the outlaw, bringing the chair leg down across his throat and leaning into it.

Duncan fought back, trying to punch Heyes but his desperate flailing was getting him nowhere.  Heyes eased up just a smidgin on the pressure across the man's throat and leaned into him.

“Where is it?”  Heyes hissed at him, his lips pulled back in a hateful snarl.  “Where'd you put it?”

Duncan frowned in confusion.  “W...wha...?”  he managed to croak out.

Heyes threw the chair leg aside and grabbing Duncan by his shirt front began to violently shake him.

“You took three things that belong to me!”  he snarled in Duncan's face.  “Each one on it's own is more valuable than your miserable hide!  I see two of them right here—where's the third!?”

“W..wha are....ya...talkin'...abo...?”

Heyes shook him even harder, anger turning his eyes to obsidian.

“Where is it!?”  he yelled.

Such was his rage that the sound of horse hooves thumping up into the cabin did not divert his attention.  If he'd acknowledged the sound at all he simply attributed it to the two horses already within the structure.  It wasn't until he saw the relief in Duncan's eyes that it occurred to him that he had missed something vitally important. Then it was too late.

He felt the horse run into him and knock him to the ground.  Then the horse was on top of him, the hooves kicking him and battering him until he rolled into a ball for protection.  The horse obviously did not want to step on the human, but the animal's rider kept him prancing in that spot, refusing to allow the animal to get clear of the man on the ground.

Heyes thought for sure that he was a goner and that pretty soon bones were going to start breaking when he heard his reprieve coming from an unexpected place.

“Back off!  Don't kill 'em!”  Duncan's voice commanded.  “I want that bastard alive!”

“Si Senor,”  came the instant answer and the assault upon Heyes' person ceased.

The horse stepped away and Heyes heard the creaking sound of saddle leather as the man dismounted.  Next was the clump clump of boot heels on the wooden  floorboards as Duncan approached the prone man.  Heyes was in a daze and still lay curled up in a ball until Duncan roughly grabbed him by the shoulder and rolled him over.

“On your feet!”  Duncan ordered him, then grabbed him by his shirt and hauled him up.

Heyes stood swaying, practically leaning against Duncan just to stay up.  His head was pounding and his ribcage ached like the dickens.  Duncan took Heyes' gun out of his holster and tossed it to Yamis.

“What's going on out there?”  he asked his subordinate.

Yamis smirked.  “Those cowards,”  he spit in disgust, “they are all hiding under their blankets like children.  They are not worth your time, Senor.”

“Just what I was thinkin',”  Duncan agreed.  “Here, tie his hands in front.  But make sure it’s good and tight.”

He gave Heyes a push over to the Mexican and Yamis grabbed him in order to keep him on his feet.  After that he seemed quite happy to follow his boss' orders.

“What do ya' think you're doing?”  Heyes yelled at Duncan as that man disappeared into the bedroom.  “There's lawmen all over the place out there; you're never going to get away with this...ouch!”

Yamis grinned and tightened the rawhide straps even more.

Duncan came back out of the bedroom leading the two mares and smirked over at his captive.

“Don't you go worrying about that Heyes,”  he told him.  “We got us a way out.  And your friends ain't even gonna see us leave.  Gag 'em.”

Yamis took Heyes' bandana from around his neck and used it quite effectively to stop the silver tongue from flowing.  Heyes scowled at his captors but Duncan just grinned at him.  Leading the two mares, Duncan turned towards the front of the cabin and Yamis gave Heyes a shove in that direction.

All three men froze and fear shivered down their spines as the next intruder to the cabin made it's presence known. Wispy smoke had innocently started to rise up and was gently drifting into the common room.  A crackling sound could be heard as dry, splintered wood slowly began to burn and flames flicked casually along the kindling.  With so much fuel there for its liking, the flames did not stay casual for long and soon the crackling became loud and demanding.  Flames grew and took hold, jumping into the cabin through the open front door and catching hold of the old and dusty carpeting.


 
Allie was the first to see the smoke curling into the air and she gasped, “Dammit, it’s burning.”  She rose to her feet to get a better look, but was careful to stay out of sight from the outlaws below.

Scott was intent on taking potshots at the men cowering in the bushes and it took him a minute to look up at her.  “What’s burning?”

She was pointing towards the smoke and he followed the length of her arm until he saw the darkening tendrils of smoke blossoming into thick clouds.  Allie turned towards their horses, but Scott caught her arm and gripped it tightly as he stood up. 

“No!  You can’t go down there.”

Fighting him, she growled and clawed at his hands, and nearly spit at him, “I have to go!  Don’t you dare stop me; I swear I’ll never forgive you if you stop me!”

He was so shocked by her savagery he released her and stepped back, hurt.  “Why, Allie?  Tell me why you’re so dead set on getting killed?” yelled Scott.

The fight went out of her as soon as she saw his pain.  “Scott, we have to help. Look,” she said, turning back to look at the flames beginning to glow despite the brightness of the day, “it’s spreading.  It’s going to sweep through the whole valley as dry as it is.  Please, we’ve got to them and the horses.”

“You’re right, we do.  I’m going with you,” said Scott.  “But, first, we’re going to have to push back those four down there or we’ll never make it down the hill alive.”

Allie hugged him quickly and laid back down; picking up her rifle and taking aim.


 
Monty and Lom caught two outlaws fleeing the camp.  Lom was cuffing them together around one of the tall pines growing in the shade of the cliff face when he heard Monty curse softly.  Turning to look at the older man, he followed Northrup’s gaze and saw the smoke drifting into the sky. 

“Crap!” said Lom.

“Sheriff, you can’t leave us here,” begged one of the outlaws, fear clutching his heart.  The other man stared at the flames, his eyes wide.

“He’s right; they’ll burn to death,” said Monty.  “Get them out of here; I’ll go see if I can help.”

“Now hold on a minute, those boys have been friends of mine a long time…” protested Lom.

“Mine, too,” snapped Northrup.  “Look, son, you’re the lawman and you’ve got two prisoners to see to.  If we sit here jawing, we’re gonna be no help at all.”

Lom relented, knowing it was his responsibility to care for his prisoners. “All right, but be fast about it; the flames are spreading!”

Monty nodded and started off, but turned back.  “Keep an eye out for the horses, too.  I know it’s a long shot, but…” 

“I will.” The sheriff watched as the big gray-haired man disappeared into the smoke that was now billowing out across the ground from the camp. 


 
Fergie waited until he heard and felt the horse Heyes was riding gallop up to the destroyed front porch and then make the jump onto the landing.  He heard the horse's hooves clattering into the building and then he made his wild dash across no man's land, hoping that no man saw him do it.  He scrambled past what was left of the once sturdy round corral and cursed Duncan once again and then made a bee line for the bunkhouse.

But as he got closer and the dust began to clear his heart sank at the sight of the leveled structure.  If any of the boys had still been in that thing when the steers came by the second time--well, Fergie didn't even want to go looking for them.  He prayed to the god of damned souls and changed direction with no other choice now but to try and save his own skin.

He looked around for any cover that might still be available and, with some relief, spotted the cookhouse still standing.  He felt a moment of disbelief that the ramshackle building had withstood the second coming--but any port in a storm--and he made a run for it.  He thought it might actually be fortuitous as there would be food in the building so, if he was quick enough, he could grab some bread and roasted meat before making his run towards escape.

His luck had finally run out, though.  Unbeknownst to him, two sets of brilliant blue eyes had spotted him making the dash and they came at the cookhouse at full speed ahead.  Not wanting to give the outlaw time to get organized and use the old shack for cover, Jed and Kyle burst through the door with guns pulled and ready to fire at any sign of resistance.

Fergie just about hit the ceiling and the side of roast beef he'd been hastily wrapping ended up on the dusty floor instead.  He spun around, his hand half way to his own handgun when he found himself staring down the muzzle of another.  What sent chills down his spine wasn't the gun pointing at him but the set of ice blue eyes staring at him from behind it.

A sense of rightful fulfillment settled over the old outlaw.  He was no fool; he knew exactly who was pulling a gun on him and, knowing that, his hand froze in mid-reach before it even touch the holster of his own weapon.  He'd always known that his retirement from this life-style would a bullet and maybe it was fitting that that bullet would be from Kid Curry's gun.  Curry was the best there'd ever been and even slowed down by injury and age, Fergie knew the blue-eyed gunman was still faster than him.

Knowing that, he also knew he wasn't going to go to prison; he'd rather die right here than end his days in a hell hole like that.  Word had gotten around the outlaw franchise just what prison life had done to Heyes and Fergie wasn't going to have anything to do with it.  He was too old to change his lifestyle now.  His gun arm twitched slightly as he prepared to make his move, and prepared to meet his maker.

Curry saw all these thoughts pass through the old man's eyes and his expression hardened even more as a humourless smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
 
“Don't even think it,”  Curry warned him,  “'cause I promise ya'; I won't kill ya'.  I'll just wing ya' and then you'll have even more problems to worry about.”
 
The fight totally went out of Fergie.  He heard the truth in the gunman's words and realized that death by provoked suicide was not going to be his reward on this day.  His shoulders slumped in defeat and he raised his hands.
 
“Good man,”  Curry praised him.  “Kyle, get his gun.”
 
Kyle grinned and stepping forward, pulled the six-shooter from the holster.
 
“Turn around,”  Jed ordered the outlaw.  “Hands up against the wall.  Search 'em Kyle.  Make sure he don't have no more weapons on 'em.”
 
Kyle grinned even more and stepping up, he gave the prisoner a very thorough patting down.  It seems he'd learned a lot more things in prison than just how to stuff a cigar and make a broom.  Kid pulled out his set of handcuffs and tossed them over to Kyle who snatched them out of the air and put them where they'd be the most useful.  Then and only then did Jed holster his own revolver.
 
“Turn around,”  Jed told him, and Fergie did so, still managing a look of some defiance.  “You Ferguson?”
 
“Yeah,”  Fergie admitted with a slight snarl.
 
“Good!”  said Jed.  “I'll be wantin' ta' ask you a few questions.”
 
Running footsteps interrupted this little discussion and all eyes turned to the door of the cookhouse.  Joe came running in, breathless and disheveled.  He sent an accusing look over to Kyle.
 
“Looks like your friend has gotten up to his old habits, Kyle,”  Joe told him.
 
Kyle frowned.  “Whatcha mean?”
 
“Most of the buildings that were still standing are on fire,”  Joe informed them.  “Ya' wanna make any guesses as to who set 'em?”
 
“Wull....”
 
But Kyle's protest was interrupted by Fergie suddenly straightening up with an air of urgency.
 
“The leader's cabin?”  he asked anxiously.
 
“Yeah, among others,”  Joe told him.
 
“Jeezus!”
 
“What?”  Curry asked him.
 
Fergie sent a look to the ex-outlaw that put icicles down his spine.
 
“Last time I saw Duncan he was making a dash for that cabin along with that damn mare,”  Fergie explained.
 
“Ohh,”  Kid groaned.  “Heyes ain't gonna be happy about that.”
 
“Yeah, well maybe he don't care none,”  Fergie continued,  “'cause your buddy, Heyes, went right in there after 'em.”
 
Silence fell over the cookhouse as all eyes turned to the outlaw.  Jed's complexion paled as fear took hold of his lungs.


To Be Continued
 
 

Chapter eleven. Devil's Hole

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