You can find Part II here: http://wp.me/p6LAko-IQ
They spoke just low enough so he could hear mumbles. Nate in particular kept looking over at Zeke’s tent. Zeke didn’t like it but he didn’t know what else to do. Maybe I’m over reacting. Maybe they’re really just passin’ through.
He watched as they passed a small bottle around. Then talked more. Zeke stood up to relieve his legs from the prickles and let the blood flow again. The three went back to their bedrolls, at least he thought they did. Their camp was out of sight of his tent door. It sounded like they were going to bed. He pushed the flap open and peeked out. No fire at their site meant he couldn’t see them.
He slipped out of the tent and eased around the corner out of sight of the others. The fire had died down to embers so didn’t give out much light. He could hear Butter and Jenny stamping in the dark. As quietly as he could, he headed for the creek. Not too far along the trail he’d made, there was a pile of boulders. He climbed up them and down into the middle. Still high, he could watch the whole camp in the dark. The moon would be up soon.
Zeke’s head jerked up at a sound. The half-moon lit the camp just enough for Zeke to see two dark shapes approaching his tent. His hands began to sweat and worse, his legs had fallen asleep. He needed to get the blood flowing before he had to run or fall flat on his face. Where’s the third man? Zeke watched two men stand beside the tent flap. They pulled their guns and while one pulled the flap, the other shot inside the tent.
The loud reports echoed through the night air. The flashes from the barrels were blinding. While they rushed in, Zeke could hear Butter whinny. Murderers!
The men came out of the tent. “He’s not here, Dan’l.”
That sounded like Earl.
“Shut up, stupid! Find him,” came from over by Butter and Jenny.
Zeke watched the two men at the tent split up. One went toward the animals. The other man came in his direction. Should he shoot? His sweaty hands slid on the rifle. He dried them on his pants and waited. Yes, one of them was coming this way. Zeke took a deep breath and as the man neared, Zeke fired. The man cried out and fell, then dragged himself off of the trail.
So now he knew who he’d shot he had to move. The brothers would be here any second. He jumped down from the rocks and headed to the creek turning right to circle around to where Butter and Jenny were. At least he hoped they were still there. He could hear the sound of boots running up to his last spot.
“Nate! Where are you?”
Zeke heard a groan. So Nate wasn’t dead. At least not yet. He hurried up the slope doing his best to be quiet. The animals were where he left them. Good. He hurried to the camp and sheltered behind a scrawny tree beside his tent. Zeke could hear them coming back. All three from the sound of it.
“Zeke! Come out, boy. There’s been a misunderstanding.”
That was Daniel’s voice. Lying, murderous thieves. They must think I’m stupid. He waited, rifle raised and steadied on the tree trunk. When the three reached the camp, Nate supported by the other two, Zeke fired at the one on the right. The man screamed and fell to his left, pulling Nate down with him. “Earl!”
The man on the left must be Daniel. Zeke took aim but it was too late. Daniel did a diving roll to his right and was out of sight. Earl and Nate were both shrieking, calling Daniel’s name and screaming curses and threats at Zeke. The noise set Zeke’s teeth on edge. He eased back, toward the stranger’s camp, missing most of the acacia. Zeke could hear Daniel cursing the bushes as they snagged and tore at his clothes.
“Go away,” Zeke called before he moved to a new spot.
“You shot my brother.”
Zeke could hear him crashing through the brush but it was hard to tell where he was with the caterwauling from the wounded men. “You tried to shoot me.” He moved again.
Daniel was getting frustrated. Zeke could tell by the thrashing through the brush. Zeke edged up the hillside. Maybe he could see better up higher. There, as Zeke looked downhill, the moon came out from behind a cloud and he could see Daniel, gun extended in front of him, crossing the camp near the fire. Zeke took aim and fired. Daniel fell, just missing the fire and lay still.
Hurrying down the hill, rifle trained on the man, Zeke kicked Daniel’s foot. No movement. He grabbed some rope hanging from the tree nearby and tied Daniel up. Then he took the rope and headed for the two wounded men, still shouting obscenities at him. Zeke circled around to come up behind them.
The two were struggling to their feet, leaning on each other. Zeke walked up behind them. “Drop the guns.”
The two started to turn. “I said drop the guns.”
Wobbling, they complied, leaning on each other. “Tie Nate up, Earl.”
“Yes, you are. Or I’m gonna blow your head clean off.”
Earl swore under his breath but picked up the rope Zeke had tossed. With Nate tied, Zeke came to tie up Earl.
Four days later he was at the Sherriff’s desk, the unexpected guests in the cell behind him. The Sherriff was sorting through wanted posters. “Daniel Thomas, $2000. Brother Earl, $2000 and Nate Bartholomew, $3000. That’s quite a haul, Zeke.”
Zeke nodded and took the voucher the Sherriff handed him. He wasn’t against the money, but again, he had to shoot people for it. Not the way he wanted to do things.
End of Part III.
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