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Grey Torrance sat on his horse in the dark shade of a tower of rock and watched a posse try their damndest to kill a Sioux.
They were going about it with a will, Grey had to give them that. Clearly they'd given it some thought. Put some effort into. Making a job of it.
He seemed to have the same work ethic when it came to not being killed. Riding hard until they shot his little pinto out from under him. Then climbing onto the big piles of rocks left over from when sheets of ice covered this whole land. The Sioux kept deviling the riders, cutting through narrow clefts in the rock, picking his way up trails a goat wouldn't risk. Tumbling rocks down on his pursuers. Even set a small brush fire. The man was using all the tricks.
Grey thought it was highly entertaining.
Kind of a shame the Sioux had no chance at all.
Not with six mounted men. Not out here where he could stall but he couldn't really escape.
Still, it was fun to watch.
Grey took a piece of jerky from his pocket, bit some off, and chewed slowly, letting the salt coax spit from his dry mouth. He wasn't entirely sure the jerky was beef, but as he'd taken it from a dead man's saddle it wasn't something he could verify. It kept him alive, though. That and a handful of beans and a water skin he'd filled from a dreary little stream.
Alive, and until now, unhappy.
This lifted the day from nothing to something.
One man on foot trying to escape six on horseback in a country that was made for dying. The hills were a broken tumble of tan rocks that looked like they'd been dumped here at the end of the sixth day of creation. When God was just too damn tired to build anything else, so he tossed it all across Nevada and said to hell with it.
Maybe he thought the Devil would want it.
No one else much did.
Hateful, ugly place where the scorpion was king and water was worth more than gold or ghost rock.
It wasn't a place for the living.
It was a desert.
A dead land.
He chewed and watched as the Sioux raced for the shelter of a massive tumble of rocks and started to climb. Some of the rocks stood straight up like the arms of buried giants. Some lay flat and stacked. Three of these formed a kind of rough terrace, with two smaller platforms and a big one up top. Be hard as hell to make it up that top shelf, but as Grey watched the Sioux seemed to be trying just that. The Sioux raced across the lowest table, leaped up and out, and caught a twisted root of a Joshua tree. The root was as withered as the tree, which leaned drunkenly over the edge of a higher shelf. Grey narrowed his eyes, trying to understand the point of the Sioux taking that risk. Even if he got to the next shelf, the posse could simply fall back and wait. There was nowhere else to go. That second shelf stood alone, like a tiny mesa, offering no shelter or ...
The Sioux snaked out his hands and caught the vine. Clutched it firm, then immediately began to climb. He was clearly making for the dense shadows under that bigger top shelf and Grey wondered why the six pursuers didn't just shoot him down. At that range they could shoot to wound and have a good chance of getting it done.
But they didn't seem to want to kill or injure the Sioux. They wanted him alive.
Now ... why was that?
As the fugitive climbed up the vine toward the lip of the higher shelf, Grey found himself chewing on the question as much as on the jerky.
Why would six white men go to such lengths to capture an Indian unharmed?
That was damn odd, even for a part of the country that was odder than most. If it was one man Grey could put it down to heatstroke or some personal grudge. But this was six men. Well-armed, and from their bulging saddlebags, well-provisioned.
And wasn't that damned interesting?
Grey reached down and stroked the long neck of his horse. His newly acquired horse. The animal's coat was the same shade of dusty blue as the hair of Grey's grade-school teacher back home in Philadelphia, so he'd named the mare Mrs. Pickles. Picky for short. Nice horse.
Picky blew softly and shook her head. But she, too, was watching the drama below. She seemed every bit as curious as Grey was.
"So," Grey murmured, "what do you think?"
Picky lifted her head as if listening.
"We could turn northwest and leave these fellows to their own adventures."
Picky made no move.
"Or we could be busybodies and go interfere where we ain't wanted."
The horse blew again and stamped the rock with a hoof. She did it so hard it kicked up a spark.
"That's what I thought you'd say."
Grey thumbed the restraining thong off the end of his pistol and loosened the Winchester in its scabbard. He absently touched the knives in boot-top and belt. Then, as he did a thousand times a day he turned and looked over his shoulder.
There was nothing there.
Behind him was more of the blasted and blighted Nevada wasteland. The road he'd come was a random zigzag through different states, different nations, different climates.
He knew, with all his intellect and experience, that no one was following him. He was good at leaving no trail to follow. So, he knew that there was no one back there. No one hunting him, as the posse down there was hunting the Sioux.
He knew that.
Just as he knew that he was wrong.
No man followed him, that was certain. No posse, no hunting party, no Agents or Rangers.
What was back there, riding his back trail somewhere in the dust and distance was not a man. Or even a group of men.
No, you couldn't call them "men."
They'd been men once upon a time, though. They'd been men before they died.
Before he killed them.
The ghosts of his crimes were relentless.
Grey took a breath and forced himself to turn and study the landscape before him, not the wreckage behind.
He swallowed the last bit of jerky, took a long drink, nodded to himself, and then kicked Picky lightly in the sides.
"Come on, girl," he said, "let's go see if we can't get into trouble."
Which is what they did.
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