Out of the Badlands: part 2:5
I’m not stupid. I don’t like two-against-one odds, and them not knowing I had the device in wasn’t much of a help. With two of them, even if one of them managed to hurt himself trying to hurt me, the secret would be out, and the other man might be enraged enough to beat me before taking his friend’s place.
I backed across the porch to the stove. I had an idea, and while I didn’t expect it to work, it was worth a try, at least. “If you’re hungry, help yourselves to this stew. It has meat in it. Then you just move along. You’re not welcome here.”
“And what if we’re not hungry?” One of them said. I’ll call him ‘Grayback’ because his beard was graying at the corners of his mouth. “I remember you. You came to town with that little wagon.” He grinned like a wolf. “You had a monkey-kid.”
“Then you just keep moving.” My voice quavered. Damn adrenaline. I didn’t answer the other thing.
The other guy, who I’ll call ‘Pigpen’ because he seemed to move in a cloud of his own dust, mounted the steps up onto the porch.
Boomer picked that moment to rush at Grayback from behind, grabbing at the leg of his pants and tearing it. Grayback wobbled, spun around, aimed a vicious kick at the dog, and took off chasing him with a stream of profanity I might have laughed at in other circumstances. Of course Boomer was a son of a bitch. What else could he have been?
Pigpen came for me. Groping desperately, I grabbed up the pot of stew and slung it at him in a huge, steaming, splattery arc. He was too close to dodge it all. I don’t think he really grasped what I was doing until it caught him across the chest, throat and face. He screamed, reeled away from me, and fell off the edge of the porch. It’s a drop of less than a meter. I wish it’d been a mile. Whatever ardor he had for me was done after that, but Grayback came back, having driven Boomer off.
The short version is, the toothy device worked. There isn’t going to be a long version because really, you don’t want to know the details, and I don’t want to give them. Score two for the weak woman, huh? Score another one because, before he disarmed me and beat me black and blue, I cut him with my knife. Anyway, somewhere in there, Sheila came out of the house even though I’d told her to stay, but with all the screaming and crashing around going on, I suppose she just couldn’t help herself. She had the knife I’d given her, and she started stabbing Grayback with it while he was trying frantically to remove the device. She stabbed him a whole bunch of times, long after he was dead, deceased, passed over gone to meet his maker, ex- and all that whole list of things in that funny old parrot sketch by Monty Python which I’ll never hear again, but you know what I mean, right? Maybe it was cathartic for her. It wasn’t, for me, but I had other things to worry about, like where the hell Pigpen had gone and later—eventually, I mean, when I had the time and energy to notice—how I was going clean up the mess without wasting too much water.
We had to find Pigpen, and we had two things going for us: one, burned as he was, there was no way the guy was going to be able to keep from crying out from pain every time he moved, and two, he was going to have a raging thirst soon. I grabbed Sheila’s shoulder and shook some sense into her. “Stop. Stop. We have to find the other one.”
She stared at me, glassy-eyed. Her hand trembled, but the knife—now buried hilt-deep in Grayback’s ribcage—ceased to plunge up and down through his shredded, crimsoned shirt.
I shook her again. “Where’s Bobby?”
“He’s in the bedroom. I locked him in.”
“He’ll be safe enough in there for a little while. I need you to help me. We have to find the dirty one. I burned him. We have to get him, too.”
She staggered to her feet. “Let’s go. I want to kill him myself.” She pulled the blade from Grayback’s perforated torso and came with me.
I didn’t ask why, but it was a pretty good guess the two guys were from the town, and she had more than a little payback to dish out. So we searched and searched. Boomer joined us, but he was useless as a tracking dog, and we couldn’t make him understand what we were looking for. Nor, unfortunately, was there a blood trail to follow, and to be honest, stew doesn’t make a very good trail. I’d never thought of that, but I wasn’t exactly thinking about having to track the guy when I slung it at him.
We knew the property, and he didn’t. He hid exactly where you’d have expected him to: the first place that looked safe and dark, the stall where the hay was stored. You know how I told you Sheila refused to touch the sickle ever again? Funnily enough, she still wouldn’t touch it when it came to Pigpen. It almost felt like slaughtering a sheep, the way we did him, but what else could we do? We couldn’t let him go, and we couldn’t let him live. We didn’t have Faustus to ask for advice, and I was pretty sure he’d have done the same. Our other alternatives were to tie the man up and imprison him, or let him go with stern warnings to go away and never both us again. Yeah, right.
I remembered how sore I was only after we dragged the bodies well out into the bush and left them for the wild dogs. I retrieved my device from Grayback. Ew. That was a horrible business, but it was too valuable to leave behind.
We went back to the house to find Bobby had fallen asleep against the door of the bedroom. We had to take the pins out of the door hinges to get it open. I wasted a lot of water scrubbing the porch, our clothes, and myself clean, and made a meal of what little stew was left in the pot on the porch. Waste not, want not.
We all slept in the back bedroom that night, because I couldn’t bear to sleep alone. My bruises had bruises, I hurt literally everywhere, and I couldn’t be certain there weren’t more men out there somewhere.
Sheila talked a little before we fell asleep. “I knew them.”
“I figured that out,” I said. Images flashed through my mind. Horrible.
“They lived in the town. They worked for the boss.”
“Do you think they were looking for us specifically? The one recognized me, anyway.”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Even if they were, they won’t be going back to tell anybody anything, and hardly anybody I knew there had ever lived outside of town. They mostly don’t know any more than I do about the bush.”
“I guess that’s reassuring. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Did he—”
“No.” I cut her off. “No.” A long, dark silence followed.
Her hand tentatively found my arm and touched it lightly. “I’m sorry. We’ll be okay.” She withdrew her hand.
I think she fell asleep. I lay listening to Bobby snuffle quietly between us, peacefully oblivious. I wished I could feel that way.