Part 1: Here.
“Stop right there.”
Zeke did as he was told while Mary was kicking her attacker with the heels of her boots. A third man appeared, and slapped Mary into silence. Zeke could feel his heart pounding. Those men were going to pay.
“Now,” the one with the pistol said. “You’re going to tell us where that claim is.”
In the poor light, Zeke peered at his attacker. “You were in the Oxbow window tonight.”
“Maybe.” The waved the gun. “If you don’t want nothin’ to happen to the little lady, you’ll tell us where the claim is.”
“It’s on file. Wouldn’t do you any good. You’d just be arrested for claim-jumpin’.”
“You let us worry about that.”
Zeke made a move toward the man. A shot rang out, kicking up the dirt in front of his feet.
“We have a friend, out of sight. Don’t try anything.” He waved at the two men with Mary, now standing on her feet. We’ll just take the young lady with us. In the morning you’ll sign over the claim.”
“Don’t do it, Zeke,” Mary called out.
The third man slapped her again.
Zeke thought about how he was going to cut that man’s arm off at the elbow. He clenched his fists. Through his teeth he growled. “And who shall I make the paper out to?”
“I’ll be there in the morning. That’s all you need to know for now.” The man waved to his partners and they started to back away, taking Mary with them.
Zeke didn’t know what to do. The two with Mary had guns on their hips. One was in front of him with pistol drawn and there was another, somewhere in the darkness, ready to shoot. “Don’t take Mary.”
The men laughed. “You do what you’re told,” the man with the pistol said. “She’ll be fine in the morning.”
A shot rang out and a man’s voice screamed. While the man with the pistol looked, Zeke charged him. They wrestled for control of the gun. Zeke was terrified that in the struggle, Mary would get shot. He could hear her screaming and the two men grunting with pain. Good for her passed through his mind but he was busy. The geezer that he was fighting was wiry and fast. Stronger, too, than he appeared. This was not going to be easy.
Sounds of fists hitting flesh and men crying out in pain came through to Zeke but he couldn’t take the time to look. Finally, he got the gun and in the struggle, shot the geezer in the leg. He cried out in pain, calling curses on Zeke.
Zeke whipped around. Where was Mary? He saw her kicking one man as he lay on the ground and two men fighting. In the dark he couldn’t tell who was who. One man punched the other in the face and the man went down. The puncher, rested, head down and hands on his knees.
“I have a gun,” Zeke called out.
“It’s Talbot,” the resting man said.
Mary stopped kicking the downed man and ran to Zeke.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
Breathless, she said, “Yes. You?”
“Fine. I’m fine. Talbot?”
“I’m good.” He stood up, walked over to his hat in the dirt, picked it up and slapped it against his leg. “Quite the end to the evening.”
“How’d you know to come help?”
“I saw the four of them leave.” He shrugged. “They didn’t look like they were up to any good so I followed.”
“It’s a good thing,” Mary said. “Thank you.”
Talbot tipped his hat. “At your service, Miss Mary.”
Just about then, the Sheriff came around the corner. “What’s going on here?”
“Sheriff. It’s me, Zeke Stanford, with Mary Young and Red Talbot. These men ambushed Miss Young and myself.”
The sheriff approached, pistol drawn, and looked at the men on the ground. He pushed his hat back. “Three men?”
“Four,” Talbot offered. “The other one is just up the hill in the backyard of that house. I shot him.”
The sheriff gave Talbot a look. “Well. Let’s tie these three up and go look.”
It was nearly dawn before Zeke and Mary got back to Mrs. Estrada’s. They gave the horses a quick rub down and water, then shut up the barn. In the house, Mrs. Estrada was in the kitchen. “What happened?” She hurried over to Mary. “It’s nearly day break.”
Mary nodded. “It’s been a story, Mrs. Estrada. We were ambushed.”
Zeke told her the whole story. Pia came in as he finished. “I’ll get coffee,” she said.
Mary shook her head. “I just want to go to bed.”
“Of course. You do that,” Mrs. Estrada said.
Zeke escorted Mary upstairs and stopped at her door. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
She nodded and smiled up at him. “I’m fine. Just tired. I’ll see you in a little while.”
“Good night,” Zeke said.
“Good morning,” she chuckled. “Thank you.”
“Anything, Mary. Anything for you.”