Hunter’s face was impassive; his body still. His hands hung loosely on his side, close to his guns but not too close. He looked like a statue but his eyes were alert, moving, cataloging, planning.
The man in front of him didn’t look threatening but the one to his left looked like a twitchy trigger-friendly fellow. Hunter judged Twitchy might start shooting at a hint of trouble and though he may have questionable aim, it could create enough mayhem. And while Mr. Bossman could afford, even welcome the mayhem, Hunter could not. His only agenda was to keep Bossman and Twitchy busy long enough for Romeo to escape with the kid.
Hunter could see he was making Bossman and Twitchy uncomfortable with his stoicism. Well as long as they didn’t see the fine sheen of sweat on his forehead or his thundering heart, he would take it. He would also wait as long as it took but wouldn’t open his mouth. He had to give Romeo and the kid a chance to reach the end of the village lane before the shooting began.
“Hunter, give up the girl. We will keep her safe. You know this.”
If Bossman had thought using his name would perturb him, he was sadly mistaken. Hunter’s tranquility came from a place where neither Bossman nor Twitchy could reach.
“You know that ain’t happening,” drawled Hunter. “So why don’t we cut to the chase.” Hunter had lived hard and alone for so long, he had become certain there was a shriveled dark mass in place of his heart. But the kid had changed that.
He had been ready to die since he had taken the role of a chaperon for the kid but he knew today the day had come. And he was ready. For the kid, he’d do anything.
Bossman and Twitchy looked at each other and exchanged a significant look that wasn’t lost on Hunter. There would be no palaver. Well he was fine with that. He wasn’t a big talker in any case.
From his peripheral vision, Hunter saw two more men walking stealthily to join Bossman and Twitchy. He couldn’t sense them but he knew that the villagers were peeping through the windows, trying to stay away from the action till one or the other side was triumphant. Hunter didn’t begrudge them their cowardice. It wasn’t cowardice if it was laced with smartness. It wasn’t their fight after all.
Four gunmen and twelve bullets, thought Hunter. Not the worst of odds but not the best either. If two had joined Bossman and Twitchy, there was no guarantee there weren’t more waiting in the wings. He was ready to die but that didn’t mean Hunter had zero self-preservation. He didn’t care for a heroic death but he didn’t want to die uselessly either. So he waited…watched…and waited some more.
Another five minutes went by but no more men joined the standoff. Bossman was starting to sweat in earnest now and Hunter didn’t think all of it was as a result of the heat. He grinned wolfishly.
“Come now laddie, tell us where the girl is. There is no need for a bloodbath.”
“You seem to have little faith in your tribe.”
Hunter saw Twitchy reach for his gun and without so much as a thought, Hunter’s gun was out and singing even before Twitchy’s hand had come free with his gun. In the blink of an eye, Twitchy was on the ground – poof – and gone, departed to the sacred land of the dead.
There was a moment of stunned pause where Hunter cursed his stupidity. But he recovered before the others and that was all the advantage he needed. When the four men were on the ground, Hunter did not waste time to see if more were coming for him. He had a window of opportunity and he’d take it.
He ran like the wind, his concentration completely on reaching the chapel where Romeo and the kid were headed. He barged into the chapel, his heart in his mouth. He saw two people peeping out of a confession booth. The booth opened and the kid stumbled out and hugged Hunter.
Hunter hugged the kid back, finally able to breathe easy now that he knew that the kid was safe. He looked over her shoulder and gave Romeo a grim nod.
“I am not a praying kind of man but today I thank god for returning you to us,” said Romeo.
“I thought you were dead,” said the kid.
“Not today kid…someday but not today.”