Story so far: Lola, hunted for a crime she did not commit, forms an unlikely alliance with her Uncle Romeo and a gunslinger she picks up along the way. On the run, Lola is soon kidnapped by a band of seven. Hunter and Romeo follow her and find her locked up in a house. Having no clue as to what he is up against, Hunter does not immediately attack or try to free his little charge. Meanwhile, Lola is released from her prison only to come face to face with a severely dehydrated Uncle Ro and a father she had thought dead. While Lola tries to decide what to do next, Hunter is planning his own attack.
Considering all the disparate personalities in the house vying for attention, the palaver concluded swiftly and without violence. As soon as Lola had gotten the gist of what was happening – Hunter was back, her father was a mythical gunslinger with a violent past who turned into a farmer to leave all that behind, Maggie was his trusted partner and Uncle Ro…well he was recovering admirably – she allowed the voices to soothe her to safety and thus sleep.
Hunter who was feeling uncharacteristically out of sorts and territorial over the kid, sighed with relief when Maggie and Romeo led her inside where she could rest comfortably. He didn’t know why he was feeling all kinds of crazy. Maybe it had something to do with Fences and the unforeseen situation he found himself in. He was hoping he’d be cured of the malady soon.
He obviously didn’t know, since Fences was as much an old hand as Hunter, but the father was feeling all kinds of crazy as well. His jealousy had not abated. It had only grown since he had put a face to this Hunter and seen that none of the fondness he had detected in his daughter’s voice was feigned. To his utter surprise, it was reciprocated, though well disguised.
Once the children had left the room, Fences closed the door. It wasn’t a trap, so much as an invitation for the real talks to begin. “You can leave,” he said staring at the closed door, “if you want.” He turned around. “You have no business here. This isn’t your fight. No one will think less of you. In fact had it been me, I would…”
Instead of focusing on his words, Hunter looked at the man. He saw a man who was tired, a little out of the game but deadly nevertheless. There was also guilt there, a deep well of it, and that more than anything else would get the kid killed. “Do you feel guilty for bringing this on them?”
Fences had finished his litany a while back. Hunter had taken his time to respond. He wasn’t surprised. Two could play this game. “Will it make you feel better if I said yes?”
Hunter snorted. “It would make you seem a little more committed to saving that kid’s life.”
“You think,” said he, rising to the bait, “because you have spent what a few days with her it makes you better equipped to save her? You…with your expanded sense of self-righteousness think you are doing the right thing?”
“Nothing that blase,” said Hunter sardonically. He looked at his nails then back at the man. “Since you won’t answer that here’s another one for you. Why haven’t you left?”
“Why…what do you mean?”
“I know you have been out for a good fifteen years but that doesn’t mean you have lost any of those instincts – at least I hope you haven’t. What are you still doing in this house? You think these four walls will protect you from Eastwood?”
“Eastwood is not a problem.”
Hunter opened his mouth to say something but then closed it abruptly, trying to work out what that meant. “You made a deal, didn’t you?”
Fences turned away, unable to stand the accusation in the younger man’s eyes. Enough people had been hurt because of his past. He should have known. Both Romilla and he should have known that no matter how far or hard you run, the past always catches up. If not with them then with their daughter. “This does not concern you,” he said. “You can leave at first light.”
He heard the cock of a gun and in the silence of the old house, it sounded as loud as a gunshot. He turned his head, slowly, to look at the barrel of a gun pointed at his head.
“You are going to get her killed, do you not see that?” Hunter’s voice had taken on a steely edge. “Whatever you think is good for her, you need to discard, right now. If you want to save her, truly save her, you need to run.”
“And where do you think we should run?” Though Fences knew Hunter will not shoot, he made sure to make no sudden movements. He could appreciate the gunslinger’s anger. Had he been in his shoes…
Suddenly the fight left him and he crumpled inside. He took a breath and forced the panic to retreat. None of that was going to help him. He locked eyes with Hunter, making a decision. He could do this. With him…he may actually be able to do this.
“We leave at first light. If we make enough dent in the Eastwood command, they will have no choice but to leave us alone.”
Hunter holstered the gun. “We should leave now.” He sounded uncompromising. “Do you still know people?”
Fences nodded tersely. Another shallow retreat on both their parts. At least they had the same objective. He had met many trigger-happy maniacs in his time as Fly Birds and after. He refused to call them gunslingers because that was an art form few possessed. But seeing the specimen in front of him, he was satisfied to note he had no problem calling him one.
“She’s my daughter. I will do anything to protect her.” Grudging respect did not mean he had to like it.
“I don’t doubt that. But you left her defenseless and I nor she can forgive that. She was a child and your decisions forced her to grow up too soon too fast. This is your mess and you were this close to palming it off on her. I will not forget that. You may have been Fly Birds but right now, you are nothing more than an encumbrance.”
“We leave now,” said Hunter and walked away. He didn’t want to stay. He didn’t want to find out if Fences Deveraux would shoot him for saying all the things he had. Besides, if they had to go on the run again, he had better things to do then wait around to nurse someone else’s feelings.
It was time to make a stand.
Enjoyed? Start from the beginning here: The Gunslinger, the Kid and the Ol’ Man
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