“There’s the widow!”
“Ask her why she’s killin’ off men on her range.”
“Hey, Widow, Tommy Anders never did you no harm. Why’d you murder him?”
“Hows come you want ever’ woman to be a widder like you?”
The voices were shouts mingled with other name calling. Cynthia Gray cringed further behind the sides of the black buggy, holding her hands over her ears, forgetting completely the gun under the buggy seat. Not that she’d use it on anyone here. She only used a gun on strangers invading the privacy of her ranch.
Three men rattled the buggy back and forth. Cynthia knew they couldn’t see her terrified face behind the heavy veil she wore to the town of Butte, but what would they do next?
“Dora, I should never have come,” Cynthia said as she huddled away from grimy, reaching hands.
“Git along, you fools!” Dora Goldman shouted as she raised the buggy whip. When the six foot, heavy set, former dancehall madam shouted men knew it. Most all of them had known her well. Since moving to Cynthia’s ranch, she usually came to town with another of the women from Triangle Ranch, not Cynthia.
“Aw, Dora, what you doin’ hid out with thet widder woman?” asked one tall, very skinny fellow. “We miss you.”
“Git along home to that woman of yours, Cadaver, and take her some of these fresh eggs I’m bringin’ to the General Store.” Dora pointed the whip at the one man.
“You loafers get away now,” a woman’s voice joined the hubbub as Cynthia watched her belting one man with her parasol. “Where else are we gonna get fresh eggs? Scram, now!”
“Ain’t nobody ‘sposed to bother them females on Triangle. Them stupid men should know that and stay away.”
“I’ll shore get them eggs,” Cadaver said. “C’mon fellas, leave the women alone. We got no proof anyways.”
“What more proof you need?” shouted a man Cynthia couldn’t see. “Tommy was found on her land. Old Man Hardesty said so.”
“I say she’s a murderess. My husband was only searching for strays and she killed him.
“Widow woman, you took my children’s father.”
Cynthia peered out between her stiff fingers. Remorse hit her. She wanted to cry out in her own defense. She wanted to sympathize with the woman. Against a screaming young widow, what defense would anyone listen to?
“Dora, please hurry,” Cynthia said. “I want to go home. I’m never coming back to this place.”
“Okay, men,” said a voice with more authority than the others. “Go on about your business. Let Sheriff Wenslaff handle getting proof about those murders. I’m going to see him right now.”
“Well, if it ain’t Dex Horton, Ex-marshall Horton.”
“Hell, Dex, you been hit hard as anybody. What you gonna do about this rustlin’? You know they’s takin’ them cattle on Triangle.” With a final shake of the well sprung buggy the man moved out of Cynthia’s sight.
“Thank goodness that man is chasing those awful ruffians away.” She leaned back against the leather cushions with relief.
“I’ll take these last hams into the store,” Dora said. “There’s so many customers after fresh eggs, he can’t even help us unload.”
“We won’t stop at Abby and Doc’s as I intended,” Cynthia said. “We best not delay getting out of here so those men don’t come back.” She shuddered, thinking of being exposed to the sight of those dreadful men.
~ * ~
Dex Horton watched several men amble off to the nearest saloon. He looked the other direction. The black buggy was disappearing in a cloud of red dust.
“Damn.” He thumbed back his worn Stetson on brick colored hair. “I wanted to talk to that woman about a Hereford bull. Now I’ll have to ride a livery horse out to her ranch.”
Cadaver remained beside him, making sure the saloon bums moved away from the buggy before a gathering crowd headed that way joined them in harassing the widow and Dora Goldman.
“How come you’re afoot, Horton?” Cadaver asked.
“Rustlers got in the first shot and downed my horse when I took after them about dawn this morning.”
“Lose many this time?”
“About a dozen.”
“My bossman lost forty night before last,” Cadaver said. “He sent me to keep an eye out for a white stockinged horse. Did you see one in the bunch with your cattle?”
“No, not this time, but I have before.”
“What you make of that widow woman?” Cadaver asked. “I don’t hold with harassin’ her, but damn, why don’t Wenslaff do something about them women at Triangle Ranch...”
“It's more like widowmaker ranch.”
“Most of this is new to me,” Dex said. “I heard the woman had a couple Hereford bulls and I want one.”
“I wish you luck gittin’ near enough to bargain with them females.”
“Sounds like I’ll need it.”
~ * ~
No Men Allowed!
Dex Horton read the sign. In smaller letters it read ‘Keep Out! Absolutely no visitors or trespassers’. He supposed visitors meant him, but dang it, how could he buy one of the widow’s prize whiteface bulls if he didn’t talk to someone. He was neatly dressed in almost new Levi’s, a new blue cotton shirt, and his old boots had been polished. She couldn’t take him for a no-account drifter.
The sturdy gate was set back from the main road about twenty feet. She couldn’t mean a prospective customer like himself, Dex Horton decided. He nudged the gray livery stable horse forward and reached for the strong wire loop to release the heavy gate.
The bullet whizzed by his ear with a nasty, zitting whine that put him quickly out of the notion to go through that gate. Another bullet sent him rolling off his horse for the nearest shelter. He considered himself lucky he made a successful lunge to safety. Hardly able to keep his big shoulders low enough behind the small flat-topped rock, he sprawled sideways along it at the edge of the road.
Cautiously he looked through under the rock’s one jutting shelf and saw nothing. He heard nothing.
A second shot, coming from high to his left, made dust puff in front of the big gray horse he’d ridden out to this lonesome spot on the Madre Road. A third bullet landed under the horse’s nose, spraying up gravel. The already skittish horse reared and moved back ten feet, turned on a dime with a nickel to spare and ran. With the added inducement of whining bullets close above its head, it galloped back toward town.
“Last time I hire a strange horse,” Dex muttered disgustedly to himself. He desperately missed Adobe, the prize gelding the rustlers shot out from under him yesterday. He was cornered here. No canteen, no horse and no sign of help anywhere on the heat-shimmered trail. His rifle had gone with the horse. He almost regretted his decision of two years ago, that he would not ever wear a handgun again.
After some moments he decided if the person on the rocks with the rifle meant to kill him, he’d already be dead. He stood up slowly. Nothing happened. Hands on hips he stared up at the cliff side. A small figure stood out from the darker color of the cedars, a rifle now held crosswise, nestled in the arms of the woman wearing a pale colored riding skirt. Below the skirt edge dark boots were planted firmly. There could be no mistaking her readiness to lift the gun immediately to a shoulder.
“I’d like to buy a bull!” Dex shouted between cupped hands, spacing his words for better understanding.
Long dark hair whipped in the wind, but he couldn’t see the face shaded by her wide brimmed hat, probably an expensive Stetson. Dex pulled battered binoculars from inside his vest where they hung on a leather thong around his neck. He got a good focus on the figure in the light colored skirt and red plaid shirt. He liked the fit of the shirt over well-developed breasts and how it tapered to a small waist. He grinned as the woman on the cliff put down her rifle and raised her own binoculars to train them on him just a moment. He pulled money from his wallet and waved it in the air. The binoculars were quickly lowered and the rifle came up.
Dex stared a moment longer, returned the bills to his wallet, then threw out both hands in a gesture of disgusted defeat. He turned his back. Surely she wouldn’t shoot an unarmed man in the back. With slow steps he moved away from the gate and down the twenty-foot slant to the main road. Standing in the middle of the road, hands on hips, he looked at the dusty road.
Ten long miles were between here and Butte, ten miles of dried out range, ten miles in the hot sun with no water canteen, for that too had gone back with the horse. Dex looked around at the heat-shimmered distance. A small dust cloud showed the movement of the livery horse. There seemed nothing else to do but leg it back the hard way, then take it out of someone’s hide, preferably Sheriff Wenslaffs, for sending him on this wild goose chase.
Disgustedly throwing out one hand in her direction he admitted defeat, turned his back and started toward town.
A week ago, down on his H-H ranch south of Butte, he had learned that a widow woman, Mrs. Gray, owned several of the finest whiteface cattle in the area. From reading articles on the subject he had figured by owning a good whiteface herd bull he could build up his assorted range cattle into something with more profit. Obtaining one of these highly rated animals was becoming more of a problem than he figured it was worth.
On his left boulders loomed high above the road. To his right now, as he headed east toward town, the land rolled down into prairie where scattered cattle grazed.
Forty times during the next long, hot hour Dex resolved to tan the backside of that Gray woman, shoot her foreman ten times for luck and immediately upon his arrival in town he would ride home and pick up his gelding, Big Red, provided that misbegotten town could even come up with a horse fit to ride to his ranch.
The long blistering walk was compounding the misery and bad luck that had dogged him the last three days. First he’d lost another twenty-five head of fair sized steers, then, riding to report this to Sheriff Cleve Wenslaff, he’d run into an unexplained ambush and lost Adobe, another favorite horse.
He’d gone about three miles of high-heeled agony when he heard grating wheels on the stony road. Already a blister formed on one heel. A rider without a horse felt completely helpless, and Dex didn’t like it. He sat on a flat-topped boulder and waited by the side of the road.
A man, probably sixty years old, Dex guessed, drove up with two mismatched geldings pulling a much repaired buckboard. He stopped the team beside Dex.
“You look like yer needin’ a ride,” the man said. “Names Sam Hardesty an’ I reckon Cyn Gray put you afoot. Am I right? Climb aboard.”
“Right,” Dec admitted. “How…?”
“Does it right frequent.” Hardesty slapped the reins and the horses moved forward at a walk. “Thet’s a real widdermaker range in there.”
Dex would have liked to move along faster, but a ride was a ride and he better not complain. He looked to the back of the buckboard and all around.
“Is that what I think you have under that tarp?”
“Yup.” Hardesty eased his team around a bend in the road. A huge boulder field gave way to a more rolling area with grass growing in patches between the rocks.
“Young feller,” Hardesty finally said. “That widder woman chases off any man comes near her. Two dead ones already, one a stranger, one was Tommy Anders, a cowboy from Circle M. He hed a wife and younguns. This here be another stranger, less’n somebody in town knows him.”
Dex recalled a young widow had screamed at the woman in the buggy. Had that been Mrs. Gray?
No more was said. Two hours and some minutes later Dex walked up the main street of Butte to turn in his complaint to Sheriff Cleve Wenslaff.
“All I wanted at Mrs. Gray’s was to buy a purebred bull. Did my rifle come in on the livery stable horse?” Dex asked.
“The rifle is here in my office.” Wenslaff eased his soft paunch as he sat down in his big chair. Dex thought Wenslaff’s white thatch of hair stood like some woman’s eggbeater had been busy, but his thick mustache was close-cut and bristly. Calm blue eyes were hazed behind a cloud of smoke. He settled his beefy shoulders back in the chair as he stared back at Dex and continued to puff at his big black cigar.
“Is that Gray woman real old?” Dex asked. “Does she have a son who might be doin’ the crooked work around here?”
“Mrs. Gray looks around forty-some, I’d guess,” Wenslaff said. “Gittin’ gray, dresses plain. No family. Hardly ever see her in daylight. Most never comes out of them hills. No men allowed out at Triangle Ranch. The half dozen women she’s got there raise eggs, garden truck, pigs, and chickens, besides the fancy beef. Make the best hams and bacon, too. Big woman called Dora does most all their business in town. The widow usually only comes to visit Doc and Abby Evans, and that not very often.”
Dex still got madder as time went on. Ten long miles stretched between the Triangle and Butte, and Hardesty hadn’t offered any water. Dex figured he’d been lucky to catch a ride after walking the first three miles or so in his high heeled Justin boots.
“So she’s got six women out there. No men for the heavy work?” Dex said.
“Half a dozen women, I reckon, mebbe more, nobody ever sees ‘em all. No men.”
“Who’s this Tess Lehman I hear is so handy with a rifle?”
“Tess is an ex-dance hall girl. Says she hates men. Thet’s why Miz Gray let her come out there. Tess laid her parasol over a feller’s head jus’ last week when her an’ Dora come into town. Tess is good-lookin’. Draws men like the smithy’s magnet pulls in the metal shavin’s. Temperamental gal. Chases ’em away one minute, hangs on ’em the next.”
“Does Tess have long dark hair?”
“Nope. Tess is blonde as they come,” said Wenslaff. “Whether it’s bottle blonde or not, I wouldn’t know.”
“What about the Gray woman?” Dex asked.
“Her hair is mostly dark. Why?”
“Mrs. Gray must be the one who shot at me then.” Dex eased his shoulders against the chair back. He cautiously wiggled sore feet in his dusty boots. “I have it in mind those women have something to do with the rustling.”
“One way to find out if they’re rustling cattle, is to become a lawman again,” Wenslaff volunteered. “I been sheriff since 1865 and ten years is long enough.”
“It’s still your job as long as you hold office,” said Dex. Last night he’d walked two-three miles into Butte from the south. He’d had another three miles of walking today, from the west, before he caught a ride with Old Man Hardesty.
“You’d git them cattle back faster if you put on a badge again,” Wenslaff calmly told him. “I’d make you a deputy quick as scat.”
“The cattle are sold by now,” Dex said. “I’m no lawman anymore. I’m just a plain, ordinary cowpoke who aspires to own a successful ranch. I’ll fail if you don’t find those rustlers.”
“I’d rather give you a badge,” insisted the sheriff. “That Gray widow chases off any men. Two dead ones been hauled off her Triangle Ranch already. One was a stranger, one a cowboy from Circle M. Now Hardesty hauled in another one. Don’t know yet who he is.”
“She killed them? Sounds like she’s a black widow instead of a gray one.”
“Can’t prove nuthin’. Danny Barr come back to Jake Marshton’s headquarters tied on his horse - shot in the back of the head. Ain’t nobody found out the drifter’s name. He was dumped a mile below Hardesty’s little place.”
Wenslaff didn’t fool Dex. The sheriff merely suggested the idea, but Dex caught the sheriff’s smug smile. The idea must have been in the back of Wenslaff’s mind ever since Dex first reported cattle missing some weeks earlier. Wenslaff’s shrewd eyes were alert. Dex had to watch every change in the man’s expression or he’d find himself tripped up and offering his services before he realized it.
Dex knew Wenslaff heard of his refusal to belt on a side gun again. He knew the rumors of Dex being gun-shy. More often he’d heard it said he’d turned killer. There were many conflicting stories. No doubt Wenslaff figured Dex needed to get rid of the particular ghost haunting him. He figured that out for himself. He would do it in his own way and in his own good time.
Wenslaff tossed his cigar stub in the direction of a brass spittoon. Without words he joined Dex in rolling and smoking a pair of cigarettes.
“I ain’t in a hurry to move,” Dex said. “If I move these blasted blisters will come unstuck from my socks and burn like hell.” He pushed his dusty black hat back on his head and contemplated a rough thumbnail.
“Doc Evans is the only man to set foot in thet big house full of women out there,” volunteered Wenslaff. “Tried to get him to take me out there, but he’d promised Cyn Gray he wouldn’t bring any men out there. That’s S-I-N Gray as far as most of the local ranchers are concerned. Good thing you broke up that crowd harassin’ her the other day.”
“If they keep buying her goods they won’t get rid of her.” Dex crossed his long legs at the ankles, found out the blisters hurt more that way and hastily sprawled his feet apart to lessen the weight on his worst feeling heel.
Dex said nothing more. He got the idea he was being maneuvered into something. His own indecision in the matter bothered him more than Wenslaff’s pushing. The old drive to find answers, the urge to bring about justice quavered inside. He’d once been a good lawman. “Who are the women out at Triangle?”
“Dinah Spelling for one. Only sixteen, little simple, bad home life. She’s out there. You seen Dora Goldman, the big woman carryin’ the hams an’ such.”
“Tough world,” said Horton without sarcasm. He watched through the window as a lightweight buggy came in at the hitchrail. The black horse pulling it had fine thoroughbred lines. In the half dark of evening the driver’s shaded face was hidden beneath a gray sunbonnet with a dust veil. He saw a dark skirt billowing over the seat edge.
“Thet’s Miz Gray now!” Wenslaff said. He hoisted his bulk from his chair, circled his desk and sauntered outside onto the walk.
“Maybe I oughta talk to that woman and see how come she drove my horse off.” Horton slowly drew up to his full six foot three, nudged his tight Levi’s back in place down his legs and limped out through the open door. He wanted a look at the old hag who caused all his afternoon troubles. Without haste he reached the buggy before the woman alighted. As she turned to back down the high step, he put both big hands to her skinny waist and lifted her to the ground.
“Thank you,” she said coolly as she turned to face him, her veil still concealing her features. “It was quite unnecessary.” Then she must have recognized him. “I see you made it safely to town.”
Dex wasn’t sure if he caught a hint of relief in her voice or not. Mrs. Gray looked taller here than on the cliffside, but she had a ways to look up to him. Behind her dust veil Horton saw age lines about her eyes, but couldn’t tell their color through the shade of the bonnet in the half-dark. He didn’t recall seeing all the white that showed in the pulled back hair around her face when he’d used his binoculars. Perhaps the distance had obscured his vision. Mrs. Gray tilted her small head and gave him a long stare, then turned on her heel and started away.
“Mrs. Gray, I don’t like being shot at.” Dex’s made his voice deceptively soft. If this woman had any connection with the murdering rustlers he intended giving no favors because of age or sex.
Mrs. Gray halted and turned ever so little. “Don’t trespass on my land then. There is a sign posted at the gate—read it. You were trying to go on through. For your own safety, don’t be tempted to try again.”
“I hardly got off the trail,” Dex said. “All I want is to buy a good bull. You have them.” He took two steps and reached her side. “And I don’t like walking in the hot sun either. You don’t really look like a she-devil. Was it you, or one of your gun-happy females at the rocks?”
“Why, Mister, I keep my horns under my hat,” said Cyn Gray coldly. “I may shoot closer if there is ever a next time.”
“I still owe you for this time, Mrs. Gray. I won’t embarrass you in front of all these folks, but if it wasn’t for your age I’d teach you better manners right across my knee.”
Dex almost felt the heat of the sparks as she glared at him from shaded eyes. “I’ll remember to do my aiming well, before you get that close again.” She flounced around and left.
Dex sputtered angrily but could say no more as she hurried away down the street. He still wanted a bull from her herd. None was available anywhere else, but how could he arrange to talk with her without her making an embarrassing scene that could make him look foolish? His frustrated gaze followed her. What could you do with an ornery female like her anyway?
~ * ~
Cynthia Gray hurried up the street. She headed blindly toward Doc and Abby Evan’s home, anywhere away from the angry young man she had forced to walk back to town. That young man was even better looking close up. Her heart hammered in her chest in a forgotten beat. He just didn’t realize his luck, she thought. Since the incident of the young Circle M cowboy coming off her range hanging dead across his saddle, she had given orders to her women to keep all riders off Triangle range, but definitely not to kill them. She wanted nothing like that to happen again.
It seemed the jinx on her even extended to strangers. Rancher was written all over this man, but she didn’t know where he came from. Her jinx could hit even this handsome young man.
Four years ago when she came here in the night, frightened and half sick, she had gone to Doctor Evans first of all for treatment of a very upset stomach. She’d remained at his house, in bed, seeing absolutely no one but the doctor and his kind wife, as she gradually recovered.
Doc’s house now seemed like a haven she must reach. These heart palpitations and the singing in her veins could not be discussed with the good doctor, but his wife might offer a cup of soothing tea.
McCarty’s Saloon windows threw bright lights out into the street. Cynthia regretted coming to town this late alone, but she could not turn back while she still felt the angry young man’s presence behind her on the walk. She admitted coming to town was only an excuse to see if he’d arrived safely, though she tried to convince herself she came for medical supplies from Doc Evans.
Two men darted out of the saloon’s batwings just as she came even with them on the boardwalk. Knives flashed in the flare of light from the door. Cynthia couldn’t stop her shrill, terror-stricken scream. She shut her eyes tightly, covering her face with her hands. Visions of streaming blood, ghastly torn flesh and hideous scars slid behind her eyelids.
“Here you—quit that!” roared a voice behind her.
Cynthia turned to run back the way she had come and collided violently with a solid chest and long legs. Outflung arms caught her as, off to one side, Sheriff Wenslaff stepped between the two furious cowboys.
“Take it easy, Mrs. Gray.” The young man she’d driven from her gate now held her violently trembling hands in one of his own. Her fingers dug into his skin. His arm about her shoulders protected her. Cynthia felt faint, but summoned enough strength to pull free of the strong supporting hand.
“Knives terrify me,” she whispered as she slowly regained composure. “I’m all right now, thank you.” She hurried down the street, back the way she had come. She forced her shaking legs to climb into her buggy and took up the reins.
After trying twice, Cynthia found voice enough to call to the horse to get him backed around and headed out of town. She could think of nothing but getting back to her own gate where Dora and Suzette waited.
Bitterly she sobbed as she drove into the quiet night. She wished she had kept to her vow to never go into town. Only her concern for the cowboy she had stranded miles out on the prairie had drawn her from home.
It seemed there would never be peace of mind for her. Someday a knife would flash again in the light and the blood and scars would be hers.
Cynthia lifted one hand to wipe away the scalding tears. Her hand automatically went to where the long scar ran from hairline to jawbone. Once, being a reigning beauty where her wealthy family lived, this now seemed a far cry from her former sheltered and pampered life.
Cynthia slapped the reins on the horse’s back and sent the buggy rolling quickly into the night.
While driving the dark and lonely ten miles back to the Triangle gate, Cynthia’s throat constricted with new fear that she might be seen and followed. She hadn’t noticed the features of the two fighting men. Her terror of their knives had been too great at the time. Even usual night sounds now took on terrifying magnitude, loud above the measured clop-clop sound of her horse’s hooves. She regretted her earlier foolishness in hurrying off to town without Dora Goldman.
Cynthia reviewed in her mind the afternoon and evening events.
In town, at first she hadn’t recognized the man who came up behind and lifted her from the buggy step with such ease.
As she had turned to look at him she realized the black hat had the same slouch and the broad shoulders had to be the same as the handsome man at her gate. She hadn’t realized he was so tall, looking down at him from the bluff.
Now, in full dark, as the trail sloped upward between widely scattered boulders two riders came out of the blackness toward her. They paused beside the trail to let her by. Against the deep night silver shone briefly in the starlight. It reminded her of the silver trappings on Francois Charletons’ opulent carriage thousands of miles away. Cynthia sincerely hoped he really was still thousands of miles away. That silver trim reminded her too much of the past and the eery black night worked on her imagination.
Cynthia choked down a scream and with her knee felt at her side for her rifle. She slapped the reins, sending the buggy horse into a fast trot. She mentally scolded herself for being such a ninny after the occurrence in town. Recklessly she hurried on toward her gate and safety.
At the Triangle gate Cynthia called to Suzette and Dora to let them know she was there and then drove through. She refastened the gate and let the buggy horse rest a few minutes before continuing through the rocky pass and down the darkened slant that led to the ranch buildings.
~ * ~
The night was dark enough to suit their purpose. Tall in the saddle, Frank knew his black clothing blended in with the night. He and another rider jogged warily along the main road to Butte. They’d known each other about a year, but no friendship existed between them. Being together was strictly a matter of mutual necessity. Usually one man made this trip, or the somberly dressed man and a different partner. Frank did not often come. He saw the light from the sliver of moon catch the silver trim of his saddle.
“Yuh orta take off them there silver trappin’s comin’ here. They see them once in the dark they’ll know you agin,” said his companion.
“I have no desire to visit this forsaken place with enough frequency to be recognized,” snapped the black-garbed rider. “I might add the white stockinged horse you ride is also quite distinctive.”
“My hoss ain’t goin’ inta town.”
The pair rode on in silence. The upward slant of the trail was so gradual as to be hardly noticeable till the tiring mounts began to lag. A large bluff loomed blackly on their left. A ranch gate showed a few shades lighter than the landscape. The white square of a sign stood out more brightly.
As they paused to give the mounts a breather Frank heard sounds of a horse and buggy coming briskly toward them. They pulled off the trail into the ebony night to let the buggy pass.
Seemingly, at sight of their dim shapes in the night, the driver of the buggy slapped the reins and sent the horse quickly into a trot and disappeared in the night’s black cloak.
“A lady, was it not?” said Frank.
“Looked like it. Thet Gray woman or one uh them other females at her place.”
“That would be Mrs. Gray who owns Triangle. The place where Tess Lehman lives,” mused the black garbed rider. The tilt of the woman’s head and the buggy reminded him of a buggy race far in his past. It was in a buggy race he won, with a little sly misinterpretation of the rules set by his female opponent. The reluctant kiss he won set his blood on fire.
Now, lashing his mount recklessly Frank pulled away from his companion and pounded down the road to Butte. It was not until they reached the outskirts of town the second rider came up with him. They tied their jaded horses behind an abandoned shed and moved silently forward in the shadows, pausing now and then to avoid any passerby.
In a secluded doorway, Frank, the black garbed man, lit a slim cigar, cupping his fingers around the match. The smell of his cigar was a great improvement over the odor of his companion. The somberly dressed companion disappeared. After twenty minutes Frank became vastly impatient.
Saloon lights blinked out one by one and the town lay quiet in the faint star glimmer. Only a soft rustle of cloth announced the return of his partner and the pale presence of a shorter man.
In low tones the three talked. Frank asked several questions about lady visitors to the town. Excitement built in him at the report of the evening’s happening in front of McCarty’s Saloon.
“So,” he mused. “The little lady is terrified of knives. If she is who I think, she will soon have greater reason to be frightened, but not before my transactions here make me a profit and are completed.”
“Never mind that Gray widow,” snapped the shortest of the three. “My plans for her are my own and nobody’s business. Don’t mention her again. She’s a lady.”
“And not to be discussed by men of my kind,” Frank snarled sarcastically. “You contemptible little whelp. My family used your kind for kitchen help and yard work.”
“Let’s git this here business over,” the somber rider reminded him. “Daylight will catch us afore we git past them nester places. We’ll hev to hole up down trail for a day as it is.”
A businesslike tone prevailed for some time and soon he and the somber one separated from the short one and caught up their horses. Dawn was not far away by the time the two riders were well on their way back west on the main road.
“Dealing with little Cynthia will keep,” Frank muttered to himself. “I’ll savor the anticipation all the more. I should thank this dull lout for making me miss my dinner to come on this wretched ride, since now I have surely located Cynthia.”