The man in the black hat pulled up on the reins and sat tall in the saddle. He squinted to see in the faint predawn light.
“What the…” he distinguished two men in the distance on foot, back to back, pushing against each other as two horses pranced nervously near by. He urged his mount forward and quickly rode towards them who, upon spotting him, stepped away from each other and faced him. As he drew close, he could see they held their arms behind their backs, and he loosened his gun in its holster.
“Hey mister, you mind untying us?” Tomes said as the stranger pulled up beside them.
“What happened?” he asked, making no move to dismount.
“You wouldn’t believe it.” Jake growled.
“Try me,” he said sardonically, amusement in his dark eyes.
“We was hunting down these two desperados, kidnapped a young boy…” Jake began.
There was a subtle shift in the man; his eyes grew sharp as he listened intensely. Neither man noticed the change.
“They got the jump on us,” Jake continued.
“Tell me about the boy.”
“Just some orphan,” Tomes answered. A thick silence fell among them.
“I thought you said he was kidnapped,” the man in the black hat said in a steely voice.
“From the orphanage,” Jake added quickly. “They’re paying us to get him back.”
Silence again. Jake’s wrists were blood raw and painfully aching from trying to escape the ropes, and he shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny of the stranger.
“Whereabouts are these two men?”
“Up yonder,” Jake jerked his head, indicating the direction. “Half an hour’s ride.”
“Listen mister, are you gonna cut us loose or not?” Tomes said, an unpleasant suspicion tugging at him.
“I don’t think so.” he said.
“Hey, we gotta get that kid back,” Jake said, suddenly realizing the situation.
“You’re a liar.” He kicked his horse into a gallop, leaving a cussing Jake and Tomes to continue their struggle with the ropes that still bound their hands.
If providence was with him, he just might have that boy before nightfall.
“First we get that brat,” Tomes growled a short while later, shaking the last of the rope from his bloodied wrist. He reached into a concealed pocket in his saddle bag and whipped out a box of shots.
“Then we take care of them two that tied us,” Jake snarled. He bit down on his bandana and ripped it in two, wrapping a half around each blood raw wrist. He caught the box Tomes threw to him and he quickly loaded his gun.
“Then we get the black hat,” Tomes added as he and Jake quickly mounted. The two men then galloped furiously away.
He was making good time until he heard the rattling, then his horse screamed and reared. He landed hard in the dirt but still drew swiftly and shot the damn snake while his horse raced away.
With a cuss under his breath, the man with the black hat slowly picked himself up, gratified to realize he was not injured, though he had a good ache here and there. So much for providence.
“Damn horse,” he muttered as he strode off in the direction the frightened beast had run.
“Sam, wanna put out that fire?” Curry asked as he and Heyes quickly packed up camp. Sam had decided he would go back and talk to the sheriff.
“We better take another way back,” Heyes suggested as they headed to the horses. “I don’t fancy meeting up with those two fellas on the way.”
“Good idea.” Curry agreed. Suddenly, a gun shot bit the air and a bullet whizzed by their heads.
“Get down!” Heyes yelled to Sam, who was stomping out the fire. He was on the other side of the camp from the horses, and Curry pointed to the large rocks near him.
“Get behind it!” he yelled as he and Heyes found their own cover.
“You think it’s them?” Curry asked.
“Didn’t think they’d be back so soon,” Heyes frowned. “Can you see anything?”
Curry slowly raised himself up to look, and a bullet immediately whizzed by him and nicked his hat, sending him swiftly down behind the safety of the boulder. He turned to his partner with a grimace. “I can’t see a thing, Heyes. Why don’t you try?”
“It’s okay, Kid.” Heyes said. “I’ll take your word for it.”
The man in the black hat was annoyed at the delay his spooked horse had caused, but he still had hopes of catching up to the boy before the day was out. And perhaps good fortune was with him. The sound of gunfire reached his ears and he quickly spurred his mount towards the sound.
A ways up ahead on the right side of the road, someone was firing from a patch of trees. He couldn’t see who it was, but he had a hunch it might be the two men he came upon earlier. Considering the time it took him to recover his frightened horse, they certainly would have been able to pass him. That is, if they ever got their hands unbound.
Across the road were several boulders from which came answering fire. He immediately reined to the left. He urged his horse slowly around the rocks then smoothly dismounted and tucked the reins deep into a crevice. Quickly but silently he made his way around until he could see into the camp.
On the far side were two men with guns; they were pretty well pinned down behind the rocks they used as cover. On his side of the camp, however, was a young boy. He pulled his gun from its holster, and slowly crept towards the child.