The Gun & The Whipbypanama trick©
The Questor thanked Rog and told him he would see him later. He then left the office and walked to the livery stable where he saddled his horse and rode out of town without another word. He headed east for a short time and then cut north toward the badlands. He rode easily, comfortable in the saddle and his eyes scanned the entire area as he moved along. His horse whinnied and raised his head, "he must smell water," the Questor thought. He turned toward a small canyon and rode into the shadow of the walls. The deeper he moved into the canyon the cooler it became and he suddenly could hear a noise like a large creek flowing and almost taste the water in the air. As he rounded a final bend in the canyon he came upon an unexpected sight. There was a small waterfall that filled a large pond, trees growing around it in a thick woods and wildlife visible everywhere.
A quiet little Dale in the midst of nowhere, he half expected to see a small cabin or a house at least but the area seemed deserted. As he rode out of the woods onto the lawn surrounding the Dale he noticed a mare grazing off to the side. His eyes narrowed and his hand slid back to the rifle on his saddle. He looked around and then spotted someone swimming out of the water toward the mare. He backed his stallion quickly into the shadow of the woods and watched. In a moment, the girl Valerie stepped from the pool and walked to the mare. His eyes widened, she was naked and her body was immaculate in the soft sunlight with the water dripping from her curves. She walked straight and proud and his breath almost stopped at her beauty. She reached the mare and ran her hands up the side of the saddlebag as he spied on her from the woods. Suddenly she turned with a rifle in her hand. Pointing it directly at the woods where he was, she sang out "whoever that is, you better come out here with your hands in clear sight or I'm going to pump you full of holes."
He thought for a second that he could make it back into the woods and leave without any more confrontation, but a bullet in the tree next to him convinced him that she meant business.
He rode out onto the sward around the pool, a tall dark figure on a black stallion, his hands at shoulder height and a small smile on his face. She watched him come and her eyes narrowed as she saw who it was. She stood braced for anything, the rifle leveled right on his heart and her nakedness belying the threat she posed. He watched her carefully; she knew how to handle that rifle that much was sure. He approached slowly, with his hands raised to shoulder level trying not to alarm her. However, the closer he came to her, the more anxious she became. Finally she told him to stop, "don't come another inch closer Mister or I'll blow your fool head off."
He stopped, a naked girl with a rifle was about as deadly a sight as a man was likely to see, and it sure wasn't the first time for him. He looked her up and down, "that was one fine woman there," he thought.
She in turn eyed him suspiciously, "well, you never did answer my question, what the hell are you doing here?"
He explained to her that he had been riding, trying to get a feel for the land around the town and had just accidentally wandered into the canyon when his horse smelled water. They both glanced over at the horses; they were grazing side by side and seemed to be getting along a damn sight better than the two of them were. With her eyes watching the horses, he moved. Quicker than a disturbed rattler on a hot day he struck. His hand moved like lightning and suddenly he had the rifle in his hand.
The girl gasped at his speed, she'd never seen anything like it. Then she flushed a bright red as she realized that he was in control now. Her heart beat fiercely in her chest, "oh god, what is this man going to do?" She felt shy and embarrassed now and tried to cover herself.
He grinned, "Oh no you don't, put 'em up where I can see 'em!"
Her face was beet red, and unbeknownst to her, her nipples were hard as pebbles. He chuckled at her, "well now, what am I gonna do with you Ma'am?"
A single tear ran down her cheek, she knew what men in the West did to naked young women. She'd be damned if she was going to make it easy for him but she knew that here in the wilds it was the stronger one that made the decisions.
He could read her mind, an evil glint came into his eye and he roared with laughter when he realized what she was thinking. Then deliberately and surprisingly, he ratcheted the shells from the rifle onto the ground until it was empty. He passed the rifle back to her and smiled. "You ought to be more careful who you point that thing at girl," he said.
With that he turned away and walked over to his horse. In a single move he swung up into the saddle, turned to the girl, and touched the brim of his hat as he nodded. "Have a nice swim, Ma'am, as delightful as the company is I'm going to have to go now."
She watched him ride away, a mixture of surprise, shame, and anger running through her. "What, I'm not good enough for the likes of him?" she thought to herself. She realized suddenly that she was still standing there naked and once again a blush ran through her as she imagined the things that he could have done to her. She found herself almost wishing that he had tried and finally with a sigh she dressed and mounted her mare riding off down the canyon in the same direction as him.
He had turned back as soon as he was out of sight and slipped through the woods back toward the Dale. He'd seen something by the waterfall and wanted to check it out. He watched her get dressed, all the while shaking his head. He'd never let a naked girl get him so flustered before and the gentleman act didn't exactly come natural to him. For some reason he got all anxious when he was around her. As she rode off into the canyon he thought to himself that he hoped it wasn't the last time their paths would cross.
When she had rounded the bend in the canyon he slipped from the woods and headed for the pond. Disrobing quickly, except for the Bowie, he swam over to the waterfall. His life as the son of a pirate captain stood him in good stead in the water, he swam like an otter and he moved damn near as quick in the water as he did on land.
Under the falls he saw the shadow again, lifting himself to a small ledge he walked up an ancient flight of steps into a small cavern. There was just enough sun shining through the falls to barely illuminate the walls. He noticed old Indian paintings on the walls, for some reason there were a large number of mountain lions depicted there. A small fireplace was carved into the stone and what looked like an altar protruded from the rock in the back of the cave. He wasn't sure exactly what this place was, but he felt at home for some reason. His nerves were alive, his senses extremely acute in this place and he felt rather than saw the passage at the back of the cave that wound its way up into the mountain.
Reluctantly he went back to the entrance of the cave and swam back across the pond. He dressed quickly and mounted the stallion, then rode out of the canyon and looked around.
His eyes turned toward town, that way there was whisky and gambling and women. Maybe he'd even run into that Valerie girl. He sighed; there was something going on that he could feel in the air. He turned north and continued riding until he came across a slightly weathered trail heading into the badlands. The horse tracks seemed to indicate that there was a fair amount of traffic riding in and out of the rocks in this direction.
He pointed the horse up the trail, never feeling the rifle sights on him.
As the Questor rode into the rocks and the finger tightened on a trigger high above him, Valerie was just getting back to town. She'd been muttering to herself the whole way about men who invaded her privacy when she was bathing and took advantage of her nakedness for their own pleasure. She whimpered slightly under her breath when she realized that he hadn't actually done anything to her, he'd been a total gentleman and had walked away from a very interesting situation leaving her intact. She wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not, and found herself wondering what it would be like to have the man take her as if her desires didn't matter. She shook her head at the thoughts, but was so caught up in them that she rode her horse right into a carriage parked outside the hotel. The impact jolted her off her horse. She rose and dusted herself off, fixin' to give the owner of the carriage a piece of her mind when she noticed it was her father's. He was looking at her like she was crazy, no one had ever seen her unhorsed before and after she quit beating the dirt out of her skirt he asked her if she was okay.
She smiled, "yes Daddy, I'm fine, I was just thinking about something."
He slid down from his carriage and said, "Well honey, why don't you tell me all about it over lunch."
She coughed; there was no way she was going to tell Daddy about the young man and the incident at the Dale. Knowing him, he'd either marry her off to the man or shoot him; there wasn't a whole lot of in between for him. "Sure Daddy, I'd be delighted but can I change out of these trail clothes first?"
He smiled and dismissed her and went in to talk to his son behind the counter. While they caught up on news around the town, he heard about the young man who had recently ridden in and thrown everyone into a tizzy. The man sounded like quite a rascal, and the mayor decided he was going to have to make his acquaintance. While his son regaled him with stories of the young mans exploits, Rog walked into the hotel. At the same moment, Valerie came down the stairs. As usual, all heads turned to watch the girl. Every man in the hotel sighed at the vision of her as she greeted her father and brother with a smile and a soft kiss on the cheek.
As Valerie and her father moved into the dining area and were seated, Rog moved forward. He held Valerie's chair out for her and nodded to the mayor. "Miss Valerie, have you seen Rick today?" he asked.
"Rick? Who is Rick?" she said.
Rog laughed; of course she hadn't been there when the Questor and he had introduced themselves to each other. "He's that young man you patched up today Miss Valerie."
Her father looked to her, "patched up a young man? That wouldn't be the man I've been hearing about I hope."
Valerie turned beet red, she was unprepared to talk about the Questor and here was her father questioning her with his eyes. She could see that he saw the blush, and was made even more curious by her reaction.
"Ummm, I ran into him riding out on the plain Rog, but I don't know where he was going." She damned sure wasn't going to tell about the Dale or the events that had transpired there.
Rog smiled, he'd seen the blush too. He suspected that more there had been more than just bumping into each other out riding but decided this wasn't a good time to press the subject. "Do you know which direction he was headed Miss Valerie?"
"I think he was headed north into the badlands," she said. "But I'm not certain."
Rog tipped his hat and headed out the door, moving quickly to the sheriff's office he grabbed a Winchester and some extra ammunition for the rifle and his colt. He slid up onto his horse and headed out of town at a canter, breaking into a gallop as he left the vicinity and headed north. If Rick had gone out there looking for trouble, he was likely to find it. He'd taken a liking to the man, almost as if they had known each other before.
The Questor rode into the valley; suddenly he sensed something and slid down off the saddle quickly. Moving behind the stallion he looked around the entrance to the valley. There was a glint high on the rocks and he knew that someone was sighting in on him.
He moved into the shelter of a large boulder as the first bullet ricocheted off the rocks where he had been standing. "Shit, that girl got me all flustered." he thought to himself. He'd never allow himself to ride into an ambush otherwise. He settled in to a comfortable space behind the boulder, he suspected he might be here for a while.
In the distance a dust cloud moved quickly towards the canyon entrance.
The bullets periodically twanged and ricocheted from the rocks in front of the Questor. He checked the ammunition in his pistols and the rifle, situated the Bowie for quick access and waited patiently. When the shooting stopped he was going to have to think quickly, it meant that reinforcements were coming and he'd have little opportunity to escape.
He heard them before he saw them, horses coming down the canyon were loud enough to create an echo, and he estimated from the sound that there were a half dozen of them. A vicious smile curled his lip; the rocks would be stained with blood today that much was sure.
Suddenly the air was full of lead, bullets ricocheted off rocks, horse whinnied at the loud echoes, men cursed and yelled back and forth. A few minutes of deadly hail from the guns and they got their nerves under control. The canyon became deadly quiet.
A familiar voice rang out from the group in the rocks, "hey Questor, is that you?"
The Questor started, it couldn't be, he'd heard that sonofabitch had died in a train robbery gone bad about a year ago. "Yeah, it's me, is that Johnny One Eye?" The Questor was the reason they called him Johnny One Eye, a knife fight over a stolen cargo back on the piers of San Francisco had turned in Questor's favor. Johnny was a dangerous man regardless, bloodthirsty, savage and vengeful. The Questor did not expect any kind of mercy out of him; they had a score to settle.
"Yes you mother fucker, it's me. I got your ass right where I want you now so why don't you just come out with your hands high up in the air and we'll take you to see the boss."
Questor responded by rising up with the Winchester and slamming a few bullets into the area of the canyon that the voices came from. On the third shot he heard someone scream, a high pitched squeal like a pig getting its throat cut. He grinned, a savage look coming over his otherwise pleasant features. One down, that kind of sound meant someone was hurt bad enough to put him out of the battle.
Soon the crew in the canyon started taking more risks, the boss didn't take well to cowards and didn't like to be kept waiting. One Eye hung back a bit, he'd tasted the Questor's steel and knew that he was more than capable of handling a few men. He conferred for a second with an Indian who rode with them and then sent him around the canyon wall.
Questor began picking the men off one at a time. Three more had fallen before he was surprised. The Indian had covered his horses hooves with cloth, muffling them and rode around behind the Questor while he was busy watching the entrance. The war club crashed down on the Questor's head just as he spun towards the smell emanating from the man. Even though he got a shot off and wounded the Indian in the thigh he spun down into darkness from the impact.
The Indian signaled weakly to One Eye and the remainder of the men came quickly. One of them lowered his gun at the Questor's head and pulled the trigger back. One Eye backhanded him and sent him tumbling, "you stupid shit, the boss wants us to bring him alive if possible."
The man climbed up from the ground muttering something about, "It'd be a hell of a lot safer to shoot him right now and leave him for the coyotes and vultures.
One Eye laughed, "By the time the boss gets done with him, he'll wish he'd been given to them!" They threw the Questor over his saddle and rode up the canyon to the cavern entrance. They were 4 men short but they were coming home with the prize.
Rog rode across the badlands, feeling as if he were too late. He knew these men, they wouldn't take kindly to the Questor snooping around. Hell, they weren't going to take kindly to him showing up either he suspected.
The Questor came to in the ranch yard. His arms were tied above his head to a tree branch and Slash McKee was standing in front of him gloating.
"Well Questor, I thought I was rid of you but here you are turning up like a bad penny." He laughed loud and with obvious delight, "I plan on you not being around for too long, but first I'm gonna let my boys play with you a bit."
The Questor's head rolled back as McKee smashed his right fist into his face. A trickle of blood ran down from his nose and McKee chuckled then turned to One Eye. "Go ahead boy, have some fun. But I want him to stay alive for a while, you got it?"
With that McKee turned and headed back to the ranch house, on the porch a young Indian girl watched the beating with a tear in her eye and a wince when the salt ran into the fresh lightning brand that had been burned in her face.
The Questor cursed and spat at his tormentors but eventually lapsed into unconsciousness and hung from the tree branch. The sun went down in the west, the coyotes cried out from the hills and the men slowly moved away to eat and drink and sleep. They left a guard who promptly pulled a chair up by the tree and leaned back.
Rog, rode into the canyon. A ghost would have made more noise. The guards were away from the entrance, something was definitely wrong here. Before he reached the cavern entrance he tied his horse to a scrub pine in the rocks and snuck the rest of the way on foot.
Looking into the dark cave, he took a deep breath and entered.
Rog had made it through the cave without being seen and slipped into the bushes by the exit. He planned on circling around the ranch house to see what was going on over by the corral. He could see most of the men gathered there and recognized McKee walking back into the house. As he circled the house he suddenly heard a scream of pain from one of the rooms in the back of the building. Curious, he edged up to a window and looked through. McKee had a young Indian girl tied to a pair of rungs on the wall and was whipping her. The lash curled and slashed into her smooth brown skin and Rog winced as the welts rose and the blood trickled down her back.
In town, Valerie was sending a telegram to San Francisco. She had an acquaintance there that was a private detective and had done some work for her father. She wanted to know more about this young man. She blushed when she remembered the way his eyes had drunk her in at the Dale and wondered where he was. Come to think of it, she hadn't seen Rog all day either. She walked over to the saloon, that's where he usually was. The Questor was awake again, still hanging from the tree. He kept his eyes closed though to allow himself time to regain his strength and get a feel for his situation. His lip was swollen, he had a cut under an eye, his ribs felt like a mule had kicked him and his arms were falling asleep from being suspended by them, but all in all he was okay. He cracked one eye and took a quick look around. Only one guard was on duty, which could prove to be a mistake. He started working on the ropes that held him. Rog watched McKee torture the girl; he growled low in his throat when he heard her pleading for him to stop. McKee ignored her and continued beating the girl. Finally, reducing the girl to tears and huge gulping sobs he laid the whip down and stepped out of the room.
Valerie entered the saloon, looking around for Rog she didn't notice the look that the girl Alice cast at her. It was unbridled jealousy, rage, and a determined look of revenge that would have warned any man who had seen it that this was dangerous ground to tread on. Valerie asked the bartender where Rog was and he just shrugged and kept cleaning glasses. She smiled and turned and swept out of the saloon, perhaps the liveryman could give her some information. Alice watched her leave, her jaw tight and her eyes blazing.