Memento – pt. 2
by Quentin Thayn
Crouching behind the cluster of sagebrush Rhett surveyed the oasis. The desert melted away into patches of thin grass which grew thicker inside the small valley with the spring in the center. The pressboard houses clustered around the spring like men huddling around a fire to escape the night’s chill. Somewhere in the mess of people and livestock Rhett’s sister, Ellie, waited to be rescued.
With any luck Dan had been shouting out empty threats, but in his gut Rhett knew that Dan had been waiting for a chance. Rhett involuntarily touched the holster and the ammo belt at his hip. Next, Rhett looked to the shiny, smooth case of the relic. The little light flashed, as it did every minute or so. Perhaps he might storm in and take his sister then ride on fresh horses to the next oasis. Surely one of the other farms might take him in?
The thought was quickly brushed aside as Rhett contemplated the distance across the desert. No horse should or could ride that hard and survive the heat, and did he really know how the relic worked? Or if it would again? The glint off of the pool at the spring called to Rhett’s dry mouth. He couldn’t go anywhere no-how without a full canteen.
The only option would be to wait until night fall. Break in, take his sister, finish Dan, and ride the night to the next farm. On his belly Rhett inched off of the ridge down to his horse. He found a protected cave and lay down to wait.
The sun cast the purple red glow of twilight across the sky and landscape. With a practiced hand Rhett slipped off the clasp to his holster as he made his way up to the top of the ridge. Down in the valley a group of six men climbed up on their horses. As they turned about, Dan came out of a shack, slammed the door then limped over to the men on the horses. All the way from here Rhett could hear Dan shout, “Don’t come back until his blood soaks the sand!”
Just like that the men galloped out into the desert in the direction Rhett had come. Dan stalked off into a shack while Rhett made a note of where he went. Rhett pulled out a pearl handled knife as he crept down to the shacks. Keeping to the thin patches of trees he made his way closer. Rhett stood behind the twisted truck of a tree looking left and right. He’d have to make a run for a chicken coop and hope no one saw him.
The grass bent under Rhett’s feet making soft cracks as he passed. The chicken coop marked the first of the structures and Rhett felt his heart beat double. Peering around the corner Rhett could see flickers of shadow and light dancing about the interiors of the shacks. Someone coughed. Rhett ducked back behind the chicken coop. Slowly he peeked out and saw one of the other hired hands disappearing into the barn.
Creeping over to the window, Rhett took stock of the shack. Five men lounged around an oil lamp with cards in hand. Satisfied that Ellie wasn’t in the shack Rhett moved on to the next. Rhett crouched as he passed between the crowded shacks, his grip firm on the knife and ready to run at a moment’s notice. A cat darted past Rhett’s feet, almost making him swear.
Breathing out a sigh, Rhett scoped out the inside of the shack. A man peeled off the boots from his dirty feet while a woman stirred something over the stove. Hilda was her name. Every now and then Ellie would help with the chores so she could have another woman to talk to. If Ellie wasn’t here than she’d be over on the other side of the farm.
Rhett turned about to double back. Curly stood in the gap only a few feet away with a club in his mitts and six shooter visible on his hip. Without thinking Rhett’s hand glided over to his own pistol.
“Wouldn’t do that if I was you,” Curly said. “Might raise the alarm, and judging by how you’re sneaking about I’d say you don’t want to be caught.”
Rhett cursed under his breath; Curly was right. If he shot Curly, he’d get plugged for sure by any one of the other hired hands. With the boss gone to barter on the cattle drive, Dan would be in charge. Dan no doubt told them any number of lies and most were just stupid enough to not question a thing.
Rhett let his hand fall away from his pistol. “I have a few coins saved up—“
Curly spat on the dirt, “Don’t waste my time. I know Dan wouldn’t make such a fuss if you hadn’t… If… What was that?” Curly said with wide eyes. The look of surprise passed quickly and was replaced with greed. Curly whipped out his gun pulling back the hammer.
Rhett followed Curly’s gaze to the shiny case of the relic. The red light blinked again.