14: Heartbeat

When the door opened with a bang and a considerably well-fed gentleman – the sheriff – rushed out, she struck the match and lit the wicks. Raising an arm to shield her face, she swung her arm back and threw the bottles as hard as she could. Feeling the heat radiate from the blackened wood, she sunk the cable’s end teeth into the weakened wood before slapping the horses. As she watched the wall splinter and fold before her, she glanced around to see if anyone had noticed the ongoing crime; and though no one had yet taken noticed, she still kept her pistol out of its holster. You could never be too sure with situations like these as she had been taught in the past.

With a protesting groan, the wall strained against the horses before nails fell to the dusty ground and with it a good section of the jailhouse. Inside, she found the four men squinting at the bright sun and their savior.

“Two to a horse. Now.”

Scrambling onto their feet, they obediently mounted. Settling in, she threw them guns and rifles before detaching the horses from their former burden and urging them out from the alleyway.

As they briskly made their escape, she pointed the barrel of her rifle to the water tower standing king over the town before taking careful aim and squeezing the trigger. Hurriedly reloading, she braced herself for the kick of the gun until enough water was leaking out to serve as insurance. Then, passing the gun off to her partner – Rolo – she tightly held the reins in her hand as she watched for any oddities. The authorities ought to have enough on their plate, what with a bloody fight at a saloon climaxing into a wild shooting and the collapse of their water reserves, but when things went to hell, they went to hell quickly, and though there was little more she could do than continue on to their rendezvous point, she couldn’t help but look over her shoulder from time to time, when suddenly, she heard the heavy drumming of hooves on cold, packed ground and soon enough found the cavalry on their tails.

Swearing, she urged the horse on. From behind she could see Rolo twisting around and taking aim, with Gino and Jeremiah mimicking his position. Taking out her own pistol, she cocked it before looking over her shoulder and shooting. The horse wasn’t stupid; so long as it never deviated from its given path, they would eventually reach their destination. And if not, that was fine; that could always be corrected. The cavalry, however, could not.

Gradually, amidst the shots fired from either side, she heard the drumbeat lessen until there couldn’t have been more than two or three behind them, allowing inklings of hope to trickle in. Maybe they would make it. The night before, when she had lay awake in the middle of the night and gone over the plan for the millionth time – he would go to the other side of town while she waited in the shadows of the jail until the sheriff had been called away to clear up the mess that he had instigated, then lead them to the canyon where they’d rejoin with him and decide their next course of action – it had all seemed a touch mad. It was such an overly simple plan; could it really work? She had had her doubts up until she had watched the red-faced sheriff sprint out into the sun, but now, maybe… Just maybe…

Gasping, she turned to her side with wide eyes as fire erupted in her shoulder. Crying out, she watched with horror as blood blossomed onto her shirt, drenching it through. Clasping her shoulder, she leaned horribly to one side, when she felt a hand roughly pull her back up. Glancing over her shoulder, she looked into his cold eyes, when she felt him throw himself against her with a cry of pain. Glancing down, she saw the dark coloring of his otherwise gray shirt.

With eyes of shock – of betrayal, as if he were asking her how she could let such a thing happen to him – he slumped forward. Behind them she could vaguely hear the two thuds of the last two soldiers hitting the ground, and before them, up on the hill, she saw a familiar figure stand up with a sizzling rifle in his hand. Hands shaking, she tried to regain control of the horse amidst the agony of her shoulder, when the dying man slipped off and took her down with her. Hitting the ground hard, she wheezed. Groaning and tears of pain welling up in her eyes, she blearily looked up at the clear blue sky and, just before all turned to black, saw the heavens painted with a single crimson hand.

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