The man forced his face into the dry dirt, listening to the pounding, beating hooves of the posse as they battered by his hiding place. His horse snickered quietly to the passing herd, flicking his ears and raising his head. Why wasn’t the human picking up on the signals? When the herd runs, you go with it. It is a sign of danger; danger to be avoided at all costs. The hard hand grasping at the reins transmitted a message of urgent awareness, but all he did about it was keep pushing his face into the ground and make sure that the horse lay down behind the bushes. The colt thrashed his legs, lying down here was dumb. The lion – or whatever it was that they were all running from – might get you. The animal’s dark eyes darted about, flashing the whites in anguish. The herd was getting further and further away! That must mean the monster was getting nearer. Why were they still lying here? They should be running like the wind.
“Easy, boy,” Heyes murmured softly into the velvet ear. “Easy…just hang on. We’ll go in a minute.”
The colt raised his head again, but the human still held his hand over his flanks, signaling to him to lie still. How much longer? Humans were idiots. They were scared of all the wrong things and carried metal sticks that went bang. The calming whisper from the silken voice poured soothing secrets to match the sedating, relaxing stroke of the long fingers. Maybe he could trust his human after all. He seemed to know what was best. He didn’t seem scared.
The human looked cautiously out into the road, scanning both ways. He turned back to his mount and encouraged the colt back to his feet before swinging back into the saddle. “Come on, we gotta get back to the hideout. It’s the only place we’ll be safe.”
The beast was not slow to disagree. Adrenaline still surged in both of them, the memories of the raw, hard, chase before they found safe concealment fresh in their memories. It had been hell; the shots flashed around them, the sight of a man slumped forward with a bullet in his arm had made the horses scream and rear in fear.
The humans had done exactly what they usually do. They had gathered the herd and ridden into town, where they had all waited outside of some building while the humans went inside. It must have been somewhere really smelly, because they all covered their faces with bandanas before they went in.
When they came out of the building, they did it in a real hurry. They ran, and pounced back on the horses before they kicked them into action and almost stampeded their way out of town. The man in charge turned and glanced at the following humans who had given chase. It was obvious that the other horses has decided to get out of that town too, either that or they had to show that they could run faster and better. Maybe they were challenging the stallion? The colt was too young to worry about that yet. He had the urging legs of his human to worry about.
They had reached a crossroads and the oldest human had stopped, yelling at the colt’s human. “Heyes! You go that way. You two; go left. The rest of you, split into three. They can’t follow all of us. I’ll take off with the money and meet ya back at the hideout.”
“But, Jim!” One of the men scowled at his leader. “Shouldn’t we split it?”
“Don’t be a damned fool. The posse’ll be here in a minute. We ain’t got time to split the bag.” Jim Plummer swirled around on his mount and grabbed his hat. “Now git!” He whacked his horse on the flanks and took off up the hill, the animal clearly struggling against the steep gradient.
“What are we gonna do?” the small man at the back demanded. “He got all the loot.”
“Split up like he said,” yelled Heyes. “We’ve got no choice.” He cast anxious eyes towards the bend of the road where the sound of thundering hooves was getting closer and closer. “He’s right. They’re too close. We’ve got to confuse them.”
A bullet ripped through the air, making up everyone’s minds in double quick time. Heyes pulled the reins tight and headed off downhill, leaning back in the saddle against the declination. The rest of the men scattered in all directions. Heyes was quick to find out why the most experienced outlaw had chosen the most difficult, uphill route. The posse split and picked the two easiest targets, the one going downhill and the others going straight ahead. He cursed under his breath and kicked his heels to speed up the animal which was picking its way through the scrubby bushes, rabbit holes, and rocks. Another shot let loose just as they neared the bottom of the slope which caused the colt to make a huge leap of fear. They flew through the air for what seemed like an eternity before landing heavily on the dusty ground. The beast stumbled, clumsily regaining his footing and juddering back to a standing position. Heyes held his breath as another bullet smashed into the ground nearby. If he lost his horse now he was doomed. His pursuers were at the top of the hill. Were they willing to risk life and limb to get down the incline? The hunt was never as desperate as the prey.
His colt suddenly found its feet again and took off like the wind. The followers were more cautious, taking a more slowly and more measured approach to the chase. Most of them were farmers and a broken limb could cripple them and their family budget; that was a risk they were unwilling to take.
Heyes galloped off around the bend and managed to lead his mount into the bushes where he pushed the animal to the ground and made him lire behind the bushes. He quickly threw himself to the ground beside the animal pushed his face into the dry dirt, listening to the pounding, beating hooves of the posse as they battered by his hiding place…
It was a bruised, battered, and drained Hannibal Heyes who strode into clumped into cabin and slumped into chair. He glanced around at the only two men in the place and frowned through the grime. “Where’s everyone else? Where’s Plummer?”
The older man raised a weary head and nodded towards the range. “Ya want coffee?”
“Yeah. Where the rest of the gang?” Heyes hauled himself to his feet and headed towards the pot of sustaining caffeine.
“Here, there, everywhere. Some are out lookin’ for Plummer. He’s got the money.”
Heyes scowled. “Ya mean he’s not back yet?”
The bearded man on the corner growled a curse under his breath.
“Speak up, woncha? I can’t hear a word you’re sayin’ since you lost those teeth,” the outlaw turned back to Heyes. “He was hit in the face by a branch when we all split up.”
“Ouch. Are you alright?” The grizzly man shrugged untidily under a shirt crusted with his own dried blood. “What’d you say?”
“He said that Plummer’s gone renegade. Made off with the lot.” The older man scratched at his stubble. “My guess is that I’ll be foundin’ my own church afore we see him again, either that or hell’ll freeze over.”
They all turned to listen to an impressive stream of incomprehensible babble from the hirsute man in the corner before Heyes turned questioning eyes on his interpreter.
“He says he always knew Plummer was a wrong ‘un. Knew it the minute he set eyes on him.”
“he’s hardly some kind of oracle,” Heyes replied. “He’s the leader of a gang of thieves. We’re all wrong ‘uns.”
“Yeah, but there’s different kindsa wrong. He took it too far. A man who’d steal from his friends is a man who’s reached rock bottom and has started to dig.”
“We don’t know he’s gone yet,” Heyes protested.
“Don’t we?” came the terse reply. “I guess false hope’s better’n n hope at all. We’re restin’ up and headin’ South of the border. If you’ve got any sense you’ll do the same thing. If there’s one thing Plummer was good at it was looking after his own skin.”
“Well, let’s hope he comes back,” Heyes swilled back the coffee and grimaced. “If he’s done the dirty on us I’ll find him. There’s always a way of finding money and it’s getting easier every day with telegrams and the like.” He paused looking pensively out of the window. “Yeah, It’s definitely getting easier to follow the money. I’ll find him if it takes years.”
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb