At this very moment, Saint had two lists in his head. The first one, the longest one, was titled Things I’m Not Sure About and it read:
- Whether coming here tonight with Jesse was smart
- Can anyone tell I’m not really drunk
- How much Hester thinks we know
- Do we currently have more luck than we have money to blow in this poker game
- Whether or not Jesse has something higher than a pair of threes in his hand
- Lily is never going to forgive me for taking Jesse into The Rocks and leaving her behind with Hungerford tonight.
I’m just doomed to have the Little Miss mad at me all the time. If she don’t hate me for some reason, something ain’t right. Its like destiny or something. He didn’t like splitting up the group any more than she did. In fact, he he would have felt better if Hungerford had been with them, as much as he hated to admit it to himself. Especially after what had happened last time. And he liked the idea of leaving Lily with just Hungerford to protect her even less. Still, he knew the two of them weren’t staying in the room, where everyone knew to look for them. And he also was counting on Hester keeping an eye on things here in the saloon.
If they could get some of the locals to let their guard down, maybe they could get some information on the mine from someone other than Hester. She’s hiding something. I don’t know what, but she hasn’t been entirely honest with us. Either that, or someone’s not being entirely honest with her. They simply had not counted on the situation being this suspicious and complicated. Even Hungerford was agreeing that at this point they were going to have to split up, at least for a couple of hours.
He glanced around at the few men hanging around the saloon. Rodriguez, the big Mexican Hester had slapped in the head with her pistol the night of the scuffle, sat beside him, glaring into his cards. Billy Littlewolf, a sullen-faced young man who Saint had to figure was mostly Crow fanned his cards out in front of him on the table, raising an eyebrow at Saint.
Three of a kind. Merda. Saint grimaced, tossing his cards down onto the stained and threadbare card table in front of him. He glanced hopefully across the table at Jesse. “You’re killin’ me over here.” He muttered to no one, picking up his glass and taking a deceptively small sip of whiskey. He remembered what Honey had said, the echoes of her sweet Creole drawl in his ears...Man drinks a soda different than he drinks whiskey....And you got enemies here. He watched Jesse fold his cards and toss them as well, shaking his head.
“I got nothin’.” Jesse said. “Luck ain’t with me tonight.”
There were a couple of men drinking at the bar, but there were far fewer patrons there than had been the night before. Hester came out of her office periodically, pouring drinks, smiling at him, and making her rounds before disappearing again. Once, she’d trailed a caressing hand across his shoulders as she passed behind him, giving him a bold glance when he looked up at her.
“So.” Saint said as Littlewolf took the deck from Jesse and starting sweeping the discarded cards back into a pile. “You two miners?” He reached into his pocket for his tobacco pouch. “What do people do around here for work?”
Rodriguez and Littlewolf exchanged glances. “Yeah.” Rodriguez said, picking up cards as Littlewolf dealt.
Horseshit. Saint nodded agreeably, his eyes watching their hands on their cards, noting the absence of the telltale blue tattoos every miner he knew wore etched into their skin. “That pay any good?”
“Not so much, muchacho.” Roderiguez grinned, fanning his cards out in his big brown hand. “You don’t look much like that work would suit you.”
You’d be surprised. Saint stuck the newly rolled quirly to his lip and arranged his cards. “Well, might be something to think about if I need a job.” He said, feigning a slight, inebriated slur. “Might decide to stick around.”
Jesse glanced up and did a double take, his blue eyes startled and his face twisting into a fierce mask of rage. Saint spun in his chair to see what was behind him.
“‘Evening, gentlemen.” Richard Galloway, Esquire stood behind him, hands on his hips. “Glad to see you. Need to talk to Mr. Hanson here.”
Saint stood up, almost knocking his chair over. Jesse was on his feet, leaning aggressively forward with his hands on the card table.
“Yeah, I need to talk to you, too.” Saint growled, stepping forward. With the Little Miss not in the room, he felt bolder, less vulnerable. “I need to give you some friendly advice on how to treat women. Why don’t we step outside?”
“You and I will settle up later, if you insist, Mr. Bari.” Galloway sneered, his tone bored and dismissive. “Right now, my business is with Mr. Hanson and it dosen’t concern you.”
Jesse was advancing around the table, red splotches flaring in his cheeks. “My only business with you is to finish up the ass kickin’ you asked for when you came out to the Green. So unless you want to talk about that, you need to pound sand...”
Roderiguez and Littlewolf were on their feet, Roderiguez grabbing Jesse’s arm in his meaty paw as he rose. Saint ducked as Littlewolf launched himself at him, spinning away from a roundhouse punch that would have likely taken his head off.
Jesse was trapped, struggling in Roderiguez’s bear hug. The big Mexican had caught him off guard, and Jesse’s impressive reflexes were useless if he couldn’t move. Saint delivered a rib-cracking punch to Littlewolf’s chest, kicking a chair over between them, trying to buy a few seconds. Get free, Farm Boy, or we ain’t gonna win this...
He spun towards Roderiguez just as Jesse slammed his head back into the man’s face. Blood sprayed all over the both of them as the man’s nose folded over and his grip loosened.
And that’s when Saint saw the knife in Littlewolf’s hand as the Crow threw himself forward onto Jesse.
Ah, shit! Shit! Saint’s pistol was in his hand and he brought it up, his finger tightening on the trigger as Littlewolf grabbed a handful of Jesse’s hair, jerking his head back, and that's when Saint's consciousness suddenly exploded with blinding white suns and juggernauts of red and black pain. He was barely aware of the recoil in his hand and the faraway popping sound of his Colt going off. Something big and flat and hard slammed into his body and he realized it was probably the floor. Agony pulsed in his shoulder and collarbone, and his head throbbed. Merda, what the hell was that? “Jesse...” He felt his mouth move, but didn’t hear anything more than a soft wordless mumble from his own lips. His vision was blurred, darkened.
Through a blurry haze he saw Jesse as he hung frozen in Roderiguez’s grip, Littlewolf pressing the knife to his friend’s throat. He watched helplessly as Galloway stepped over and threw a hard right hook into Jesse’s midsection.
Shit shit shit...Bari, get up. Get the hell up, dammit! Up! Now! He summoned everything he had to lift his head and the room lurched, reeling wildly. He groaned, his head thudding back onto the floor, light and darkness shuttering across his eyes.
Roderiguez let go of Jesse and let him crumple to his knees, doubled over and gasping for air through clenched teeth. Galloway jerked his head up by his hair again. “What was that you were saying about an ass kicking, you little backwater hick?” He and gave Jesse a hard kick to the side, letting him topple onto the floor. “Why don’t you two take our White Trash Hero here down to the mine and keep him there till this shit’s sorted out.” Galloway spat, his muffled voice echoing in Saint’s ears.
“What about him?” Littlewolf asked.
Saint tried desperately to swim out of the fog that held him. His vision had blurred into dark nothing and his hearing was swiftly following. He felt someone step hard on his wrist and kick the Colt out of his numbing grip.
"Oh, he's not getting up." Saint heard Galloway's amused voice as if it were far away. He felt an unseen boot prod him and heard a laugh. "I think the poor bastard's broken...take him to the stables. Looks to me like he maybe got drunk and his horse got spooked and stomped him to death. He’s got a damn big mouth, and the last thing we need is for anybody to start talking. I don't want it to look like it was us. So make sure he's not breathing when you leave.”
Where the hell... is Hester? The buzzing and ringing in his ears dimmed into silence.