The kid had been right about one thing…approaching the house she was locked in would not be easy. That perhaps was the only reason the gunslinger hadn’t made a move.
Without Lola in the picture, Hunter had had little to worry about. No one was lying in wait to snatch away the prize, no one wanted to kill him and people definitely didn’t give a rat’s ass if Romeo was alive or dead. He had been a nobody before and he was a nobody now.
The Discarded Seventh’s information had been good; so good, Hunter had covered the distance between the kid and him in three days. It had been easier since the party had had a destination in mind and were not simply living from one day to the next like Lola, Romeo and Hunter had been.
“What do you see?”
Romeo was startled out of his reverie. He recognized that tone. It was the tone he used when he was trying to teach something to Lola. “Nothing,” he said, unconsciously mimicking Lola’s tone that was always laced with frustration and reverence when she couldn’t grasp what the gunslinger was trying to teach.
“Exactly,” he said.
Romeo studied the calm expression on Hunter’s face and a chill ran down his spine. The cogs were churning hard this morning, he thought. After two days of inactivity, staring and hearing him grit his teeth and sighing angrily, Romeo wasn’t surprised. “Why is that significant?”
Hunter didn’t answer; only stared at the house like it had done something to offend him. It wasn’t just the west of the house that had no cover. The house was chosen keeping only one thing in mind – defense. It had a mountain wall to the north. The forest to the east afforded excellent cover but was useless since a wide road to the south-east separated him from that cover. Where he stood, there was no way to approach the house except from the front and that would be foolish. And Hunter was anything but foolish.
“The problem, ol’ man, is that Lola has been locked in that house for close to a week and she would be losing her mind right about now. We have no information and no leverage. We don’t know how many men are inside that house or where Lola is. I have seen only one cart use that road and it tells me nothing.”
“Why don’t we use your skills to tortu…question…the cart-man?”
Hunter looked at Romeo and grinned. “Wouldn’t I love seeing you try ol’ man,” he said walking back to their ‘camp.’
Romeo followed him, feeling as lost as a puppy in a desert. He didn’t repeat the question though. He was certain he’d get an answer by and by.
The camp was just a piece of land Hunter had decided was at a safe enough distance from the house and the road to avoid close scrutiny. It had galled Romeo to be this exposed but he had quickly realized it was safe when no one, not even a fly, had bothered them. Usually their night fire attracted all sorts of living beings, but not this time. It was as if they had sensed the trouble and abandoned the two fellows as soon as was polite.
“Are we waiting for a sign from nature?” he asked finally when he got no response to his previous question.
Hunter, who had been sitting on the ground with his head between his legs, laughed – a full belly laugh that alarmed Romeo so much he found himself patting the gunslinger on the back. “I don’t know if I prefer you threatening me or laughing at my expense.”
Hunter wiped the tears and patted the ground next to him. “We cannot torture the cart-man because then we will give away the only advantage we have – surprise. You think the party that kidnapped the kid are in-charge here? No, there is a bigger game at play and…” he stopped. He didn’t know what or who he was up against. This was new territory for Hunter and so far out of his experience that he felt paralyzed with fear. There were just too many things he didn’t know.
“As for a sign…we already have one. We have run out of food ol’ man. Or we will in another two days. Then it will be a choice between dying of starvation, dehydration or guns. Personally, I’d like to…”
“Stop with the morbid talk. You have a plan Hunter. I know you do.”
“I actually don’t,” he snapped and got up.
When Romeo saw him packing up his sack, he said, “We can’t possibly be leaving.”
“You aren’t. I am. There isn’t much we can do here.”
Romeo got up and pushed Hunter in one quick breath. It didn’t do any good except it made him feel better. “You are the only person that can save that girl. She is depending on you to rescue her and what, you are quitting? I thought she was your prize. I thought you were going to cause them so much pain they’d pray to their mothers to make it stop. Where is that Hunter? I need that Hunter not some pussy…”
Hunter grabbed Romeo’s collar and pulled him up so he was on his toes. Romeo had no idea how he was doing it – he wasn’t light – but he was happy he had roused Hunter’s anger. An angry Hunter would know what to do.
“Don’t cross a line that you don’t understand ol’ man,” he said softly. He let go of the collar, picked up his sack and walked away.
In the gleaming afternoon sun, sweating profusely – whether because of the heat or the fear – Romeo stared at the gunslinger’s retreating back. He knew he could follow him but what would be the point? He turned to look at the house which was a dot on the far horizon.
He sat on the ground with a thump, thinking. If Hunter didn’t do anything, Romeo would. He would approach the house in the evening and try his hardest to rescue Lola. He had no delusions of his prowess or that he would be successful. But at least Lola would know he had tried.
Romeo nodded to himself, feeling better by the moment. Yes, at least then when I meet my sister in the land of the dead, I can tell her I tried my best to keep her daughter safe.
Feeling heroic and a little smug, Romeo settled in for a long wait.
Enjoyed? Start from the beginning here: The Gunslinger, the Kid and the Ol’ Man