None of us even heard the shot that sent Felix tumbling off the driver’s seat of the wagon. One moment he’s riding up with Molly, boring her with some story about about a play he had been in, and the next he’s falling to the ground like a sack of grain. I’d like to think he didn’t feel a thing, but having been shot myself, I knew that weren’t true.
I’d also like to say to that, seasoned veterans that we were, we all reacted with lightning speed, rushing to either side of the canyon we’d been riding through and taking cover. Ready and willing to serve a heaping helping of death back at the bastards who’d just killed Felix.
Instead, we just stood around staring at each other like a bunch of cows chewing cud. It took Clive taking a bullet in the upper thigh to get the rest of us to snap out of it and run for cover. Molly, bless her, had the brains to pull the pin on the wagon and let the horses thunder off. I don’t know what we’d of done if we’d lost Seamus’s supply of unguents, elixirs, and bottled weirdness. Seamus dove into the back of the wagon and began loudly chanting in that disturbing, other language he knew. I bravely hid behind a rock while Clive did his best to crawl, thick clots of dirt and blood in his wake, under the wagon.
Bullets tore up the dirt around Clive, peppering him with rocks and chunks of lead. His right shoulder, the one closest to whoever decided to use us as target practice, exploded in a spray of blood and bone. You wouldn’t of known it by listening to him though. The old man just grunted a bit and kept pulling himself, one armed this time, under the wagon and out of the line of fire.
I poked my head up over my new favorite boulder to try and get a bead on our new friend and almost caught a slug between the eyes for my effort. Bits of stone bit into my face and I, not for the first time, cursed the fact that even though I was dead as a dog turd I could still feel pain. It sure would have been convenient if I could have strolled, all dramatic and impervious, up the canyon wall and personally throttled the person or persons who intended us harm. Instead, it looked like cowering behind a rock and waiting to die or run away was the plan for the day.
“Hello down there,” a voice called from up on the canyon wall, on the opposite side of my rock. I angled myself a bit so I could face that direction a little easier. I could see Molly, hiding under the wagon with Clive, do the same. Seamus continued muttering away in the wagon and Felix was still lying dead on the ground, his eyes seeming to stare right at me. “Sorry about your friend. That ain’t my normal way of meeting folks.”
Looked like it was up to me to be the diplomat here and that never boded well.
“That’s okay,” I called as loud as I could through the stitches running through my lips. “You can explain it to him when you meet him in Hell. That’s gonna be in about....ten minutes maybe?”
“Aw, c’mon now,” came the killer’s shout, sounding almost bored. “Can we just skip the whole tough talkin’ routine? I got a job to do and I aim to do it. No need to get all dramatic and personal.”
“‘Not personal’?” I yelled. “What the hell is wrong with you? You’re trying to kill us!”
“Well,” he seemed to consider. “I guess I can see how that could be taken as being personal, but it ain’t. I just got hired to come down here, kill a huckster and an old man, and then go collect my pay. Understand that I mean you no ill will.
“Now since the woman ain’t part of the deal,” he continued. “she can go. I have a professional ethic that forbids me from going above and beyond a contract.”
“What about me?” I asked. If he’d let us both go I could maybe circle around and get him from behind. I didn’t get my hopes too high, though.
“I’m afraid not,” he said, sounding genuinely sorry. “You’re one of those big, scary looking men who seem prone to vengeance. I can’t let a man like that just go out in the world to start plotting my demise. Again, it ain’t personal. You may be the world’s nicest man who does nothing but raise puppies and save orphans, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to judge you based on your appearance, which is a loathsome habit I tend to despise, and reckon you for a threat.”
“Don’t let him get away,” Clive croaked at me, staring at me with watery eyes. “Don’t let that bastard get away with it.”
I knew he didn’t mean the assassin on the hill. Clive was struggling inside his coat for something and he almost exposed his head. A cloud of dirt and rock kicked up where the bullet nearly took of his scalp.
“You take this,” Clive moaned, holding a small, leather-bound book in his shaking, blood-covered hand. “It’s what I used to bind you. What I used to bring my poor Shelly back. You use it. You use it to get that bastard.”
He feebly tossed the book in my direction. It fell onto the canyon floor a good four feet away from where I crouched.
“You should pick that up,” the assassin suggested.
“You think I’m falling for that?” I said.
“Worth a try,” he sighed. “Seriously, lady, you can go. I won’t shoot you, I give you my word.”
“Piss on your word,” Molly yelled. “You shot my friend, you think I’m just going to let that go. I’m going to spit on your corpse, you bastard?”
“Jesus,” the assassin actually sounded shocked. “You are a vengeful, angry group ain’t you?”
“Did a fellow named Darryl hire you?” I shouted. Maybe I could negotiate us out of this. Or at least stall until Seamus finished doing whatever he was doing in the wagon. “Short, craven-looking little man with squirrely demeanor?”
“That’d describe him, all right. Didn’t ask for a name though.”
“That man is a criminal.” I said. “A murderer who preys on women. He just killed a whole bordello a few towns back and he’ll do it again. We’re here to stop him. If you have any decency you’d let us go and bring justice to that man.”
“Well, I do have a few ounces of decency,” the assassin seemed to consider for a moment “But no, I’m afraid I got hired to do a job and if I don’t do it how would that look? Folk who don’t finish jobs tend not get jobs in the future.”
“What if we paid you more?” I asked. It was worth a shot.
“Nope,” he shouted. “Again, that would hurt my professional standing. I can’t have that.”
I was just about to start telling Molly to make a run for it - this guy did seem oddly trustworthy for an assassin- when a warbling hum began to emanate from the wagon. Slowly, the wagon started to rock back and forth, the axle groaning and creaking. As I watched, the gaudy paint that we’d slapped on it years before began to bubble and warp, as if someone had lit a fire inside. I could see Molly and Clive begin to sweat, despite the cold morning air.
“What the hell is that noise?” the assassin yelled down, sounding uncertain.
The wagon was bucking and shaking wildly, Molly desperately pulling Clive away from the wheels that now threatened to crush them. Our assassin friend fired a couple of rounds at the wagon, but that only seemed to make whatever was inside angrier.
“That, my friend,” I yelled over the noise. “is the sound of tables being turned.”
The top of the wagon exploded in a rain of timber and smoke. A clap like thunder echoed through the canyon, causing even my wax-plugged ears to ring. As debris rained around us and Molly let out a scream, a vision from Hell itself rose up out of the destruction.
I prayed to whatever god would listen that Seamus hadn’t paid too high a price for our salvation.