The charter flight from Reno was right on time. Donald Maxwell and his ‘friend’, Patti, watched as the small airport came into view.
“Patti, this has been the best week of my life.” Maxwell was not usually given to handing out compliments, a fact corroborated by every hand he’d ever hired. If you did your job well, your reward was silence and a paycheck. If you didn’t, he was on you like a bulldog on a prairie hen. This was different, though. Since he’d sold off his stock and fired all his help, he’d lived alone on the ranch with no one to talk to but his memories. He was getting old and morose, losing touch with the living world.
Then Patti came along, driving up in that old Chevy, saying she was lost. She was young and pretty and very lively. They had hit it off right away, her telling him she was headed for Las Vegas when she took a wrong turn. Before he knew what hit him, he was chartering flights to casinos all around the country. They partied and gambled and had a generally great time of it. He was tired of the ranch and tired of being alone. Besides, there was nothing left back there but that old ghost town his great grandfather had started, and that place always gave him the creeps.
Unfortunately, Patti was not sentimental. She had wanted to kill the old man and just take over the place. Lilly said they should play it safe, though, so she had to suffer through this fake relationship with the old geezer until they were sure nobody would come sniffing around. Now here she was, back at the ranch with ‘Donny boy’. She had to admit to herself, though, she was having a pretty good time with the old guy. He treated her like a lady and gave her just about anything she wanted. It could be worse.
In the cave, things were happening fast. Lilly followed the cattle out with two guns blazin, shoutin at the top of her voice. Toby had dived into the cave from the back and was tryin to catch up to her. His left arm wasn’t workin so good with my bullet in his shoulder, but he was determined to make a fight of it. He held his rifle in one hand and was tryin to work the lever as I found the opening and ran in after him. I got there just in time to see the backside of them cows and the even more impressive backside of Lilly, firin two guns as she followed them out. Toby had ducked off to the north side of the cave and disappeared again! Apparently there was another branch to this place.
I could hear the boys returning fire outside, but it was Montana Slim that stopped her. He stepped out from behind a rock and fetched her a serious blow to the head with a Hedge branch. Lilly’s feet flew out from under her and she lit flat on her back, out cold as a carp.
I decided to find my rifle wielding friend, but as I searched in the gloom for his hidin place, a .30 .30 slug whizzed by my head. I decided to stop and think things over. I was backlit by the cave opening, but he was in the dark. I ran toward the opening and hollered “Don’t shoot, boys, it’s me.”
Jim, Chip and Slim were tyin Lilly’s hands behind her back, which I thought was a prudent idea. I said “There’s another one in there and he might know a different way out. Steve, let’s you and me and Chip go north and see if we can find where it comes out.
We headed north up the slope. The cattle had all run a few hundred yards away from the cave, forgot what they were doin and started to graze. Some of them were blockin my view as I heard a motor start up. I got around them as fast as I could, but I was too late. He was takin off in one of them little one man airplanes. I squeezed off a few rounds at him, but I guess I’d used up all my lucky shots back at the ghost town. As we got back down to the others, Slim hollered “Did you get him?”
“No” I said, “he flew off like a doggone bird. I got a notion to ride north. That things gotta run out of gas sometime.”
“Forget it” Slim said, “I don’t even know who he was, but we got the ones I do know, and right now that’s good enough.”
We started walkin Lilly back to the ghost town. None of us wanted to try and get her on a horse….we didn’t want to live with a hernia….not to mention the resentment of a horse.
As soon as the old man was asleep, Patti started the Chevy and drove out to the cave site. She wanted to try and talk Lilly into speeding things up a little. When she got to the rise north of the cave she saw cattle milling around in the open. This wasn’t right. Looking behind the rocks and trees she saw that Toby’s plane was gone! This could only mean their cozy little plan had come unraveled. Toby had warned her that those cowboys were going to be trouble. Now they had to start all over, and who knew how long that would take.
Patti was mad. She was real mad. Her eyes seemed to glow as she turned back toward the car. They were going to pay. O, yes…..they were going to pay real good.
END OF CHAPTER NINE