BADGE WITHOUT HONOR:† A REWRITE
Badge Without Honour
Authors note: This reworking of a ĎBonanzaí episode is for free distribution only. It is in no way intended to infringe the copyright of the original author or of ĎBonanzaí.
Carrying the payroll for the sprawling empire that was the Ponderosa was a big responsibility, but Adam Cartwright, first-born son of the patriarch and owner, Ben Cartwright, had done it a hundred times before. He was taking it very much in his stride. Never the less, it was a substantial amount of money for one man to be carrying around with him, and he was exercising all proper caution as he approached the most dangerous part of the trail. ĎPache Gate was a narrow place where tall, standing stones leaned in on either side of the road and pinched a man in tight.
It was very quiet in the fading heat of a bright summerís day, too quiet for Adamís peace of mind. He slowed his horse to a walk. The dry and dusty landscape lay serene all about him. There was no sign of any movement among the rocks, but, looking down, he could see fresh tracks in the dirt of the path. Shod horses, two of them with riders aboard, had passed this way not very long ago.
Increasingly uneasy, Adam drew rein and brought his horse to a halt. There was a distinct and persistent itch between his shoulder blades that had saved his life before. He wasnít about to ignore it now. His alert, amber coloured eyes were everywhere, glancing from rock to rock. There were a dozen places beside the trail where bandits could lie in wait; Adam knew with sudden and absolute certainty that they were lying for him now, hidden in deadly ambush. He leaned down, reaching for his saddle gun. From behind him, he heard a distinct double click. Adam ducked low. A bullet whistled over his head. Adam left the saddle in one hell of a hurry, hearing the blast of gunfire close at hand as two more shots passed by in quick succession. He was caught in somebodyís crossfire.
His shoulder hit the ground hard enough to hurt as he rolled and rolled again, picking up a lot of dirt as he went but, fortunately, no lead. He came to his hands and his feet in one easy movement and scrambled crabwise for the cover of a sentinel stone. Around him there was silence, and absolute and unearthly quiet. No birds sang, no crickets chirruped in the sparse, yellow grasses, even the desert wind had died away. It was as if the world were holding its breath.
Adam was puzzled. Men had exchanged shots, and he knew that out there in the rocks someone had died, yet he hadnít caught a glimpse of any one of them. He called out into the silence, "Who are you?"
"A friend." The voice came from behind him. A man appeared from among the rocks.
Adam turned swiftly, his Colt swinging with him. "A friend?" His tone was doubtful. "Youíre sure a feather-footed one. Who are you?" He still had his gun in hand; the payroll in his saddlebags was very much on his mind.
The stranger smiled. "Gerald Heskith, thatís my name." He leaned back on his heels and regarded the sceptical expression on Adamís face. "Here, perhaps this will relieve your mind." He reached inside his coat and produced a leather wallet full of paper and a silver metal badge.
Adam put his gun away and took the pouch, reading quickly. "U.S. Deputy Marshal. I canít say Iím sorry to see you." He made himself relax and handed the wallet back.
He took the time to look Heskith over. Aged about fifty, brown-haired and grey-eyed, he was not a big man. He was dapper in manner and neat in dress. His clothing was of good quality although thoroughly covered with dust. His face was honest and open, his gaze, direct, but there was something about his manner and his high sounding tone that grated on Adamís nerves. Adam Cartwright decided he didnít like Heskith one bit. He nodded his head toward the rocks where the dead men lay "Who were they?"
Heskith answered quickly. "The Clavenger brothers. Friends of yours?"
Adam reacted with surprise and alarm. It was a name that he knew. "Hardly that. But you may have made a terrible mistake."
With a smile, Heskith shook his head.
"Just be thankful that youíre still alive, and Iíll be thankful that Iíve
reached the end of a long trail. The Clavengers were
It was a story Adam had heard reported, a grim and bloody tale. He had always doubted the truth of it. "Ah, so youíre the one."
Heskith made a little bow. "I was only fulfilling my humble duty."
Against his better judgment, Adam invited Heskith home.
Ben Cartwright held out his hand in greeting. "Mister Heskith, welcome to the Ponderosa. From what Adam tells me, weíre greatly in you debt."
Heskith smiled the ready smile that never reached his eyes. "Iím happy that I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time."
"Weíll try to make your stay here very comfortable." With a gesture of the hand, Ben directed his unexpected guest toward his house and into the keeping of his two, younger sons. The senior Cartwright had already seen the look of reservation on his eldestís handsome face. He followed Adam to his horse. "Adam, anything else you want to tell me?"
Adam untied the
saddle strings and lifted the bulging saddlebags from behind the cantle of his
saddle, settling the across his own, broad shoulder. "I still canít believe it,
Ben could hear the uncertainty in his sonís voice. He sighed and frowned. "You never know with that bunch. Old Gideon Clavenger and his boys have been making their own law for so long you donít know when theyíll step over the line any more. And you did have the ranch payroll with you." He laid a proprietary hand on the swell of the saddlebag.
"They must have thought I was someone else." Adam obviously remained unhappy about the deaths of two men he had known, not well, but for a long time.
It was plain to Ben that his son was not about to be persuaded. "I know how you feel, Adam, but the Marshal did have a warrant for them."
Adamís tawny eyes met his fatherís gaze squarely. "One thingís for certain; he isnít too upset about it." His dislike of Heskith was plain and apparent. There was nothing Ben could do about it.
"Now come inside. We have a guest to care for. Weíll decide what to tell Gideon Clavenger later."
"If he gives us the chance," Adam picked up his rifle and turned towards the house.
Heskith sipped his wine. It was a rare and expensive vintage, and as a man of some small refinement, he could appreciate both its colour and its flavour. He turned to Ben with an expansive gesture, continuing their conversation.
"Violence in itself is vulgar. Any man who, in anger, takes another human beingís life becomes a brother to the ape. He is an aesthetically impoverished man. Donít you think so?" This last question was addressed to Hoss, who didnít have much of an idea what Ďimpoverishedí meant, leave alone Ďaestheticallyí.
"Oh, yes, sir." Hoss looked at his little brother for support. "I reckon."
Heskith was in full spout and wasnít about to be stopped now. "And yet, the skills and rhythms of disciplined violence have beauty Ė like a painting by Ruben's or Botticelli, unfettered by personal emotion." He paused, considering. "Emotion. Thatís the downfall of most artists and many human creatures."
By now, Hoss was well out of his depth. Ben came to his rescue. "Thatís a very interesting observation, Mister Heskith. I donít think I could cast you as an average lawman."
"Iíve been told that," Heskith said. He set his glass down on the table. "Well, I think the elegance and hospitality of your home have made me forget my original mission. Iím here to visit a Mister Jason Blaine. Would you know him?"
"The assayer? Oh, yes." Ben was expansive. "I know him. I know him very well, him and his wife."
Heskith was surprised. "Jason married?"
"About a year. Why, they were married right here in this very room."
Adam, who had been sitting very quietly, listening, chose that moment to join in the conversation. "Jason has always been a little hard to know, but Mariette is almost a part of out family."
Heskithís eyes took on a curious glow. "Mariette? What a charming name."
Ben sat down and made himself comfortable. "Her father was a very dear friend of mine. When he died, he left the raising of Mariette almost entirely to my supervision."
Thoughtfully, Heskith said, "Jason married. How very, very interesting. A pretty girl?"
Adam smiled. "Well, we always thought so, but then, we might be prejudiced."
Heskith put a hand on his shoulder. "I have a feeling I can trust your judgement in this matter."
Adam shifted uneasily. He didnít like the lawmanís touch. Right then, came the call to supper. Heskith turned to Ben. "Do I have time to freshen up before we eat?"
"Yes, of course. Iíll show you to your room." Ben led the way to the staircase, talking banalities. Adam watched them go. He couldnít like Heskith even though the man had saved his life. He couldnít say why. It was just a deep down feeling that he had. Something about the man made his guts crawl.
Little Joe stood at his shoulder. "Adam, what are you staring at?"
"I didnít realize I was."
Joe settled himself on the arm of the chair and looked his big brother full in the face. "I know you feel bad about the Clavengers. It was like Heskith said. Bob and Bill had a bead on your back. He had to shoot fast and any way he could. Just be grateful he was there."
"Yeah." Adam still couldnít dispel his feelings of unease. "Iíll try to remember that."
Joe punched him in the shoulder. "Címon. Letís have supper." For a moment longer, Adam stayed where he was, gazing after Heskithís vanished back. His teeth were gritted edge to edge. Then, not finding any answers, he joined his brothers at the table.
and Ben rode with Heskith into
Adam looked across at him. "Are you sure you can find the house?"
"My dear Adam, your directions are most explicit."
Ben was more enthusiastic, ever the gracious host. " And donít forget I want you to spend at least a few days at the ranch house. I know that Adam and the boys will want to take you on that cougar hunt."
Heskith looked from one to the other. "Ben, I canít tell you how much I appreciate your hospitality, and as Iíve told you before, thereís nothing in life that I find more exciting than a hunt. Thank you again, both of you."
Adam watched him ride away. He still had that crawling feeling in the pit of his belly. Perhaps it was just that Heskith talked too much. Ben leaned across. "Adam, when you get through at the bank, meet me at the hotel. Weíll have a bite to eat."
Ben rode away. Left to himself, Adam sat for a time looking after Heskith. Then he turned his thoughts towards the business of the day.
His business complete, Adam was leaving the bank when he saw Jason Blaine crossing the street towards him. He stopped and waited, and, while they were not exactly friends, the two men shook hands cordially enough. "Jason, good morning. How are you?"
He said, "Did your friend find you?"
Blaine stared at him, apparently stunned. "No."
"Er Ė no."
"He stopped over at the ranch last night, and he rode into town with us. He went to your house, said he wanted to surprise you."
Blaine was still looking into Adamís face, but he wasnít really seeing him. His thoughts seemed to be a thousand miles away. After a moment, he said, "Thank you, Adam," and, abruptly, walked away. Adam gazed after him, concerned.
As agreed, Adam met with his father in the lobby of The International House. Ben had read through the latest edition of The Clarion from cover to cover; as his son approached, he put the paper down.
Adam perched himself on the arm of his fatherís chair. "Pa, have you seen Heskith?"
"Heís probably still with Jason. Did you get that matter settled at the bank?"
"Yeah. As I was leaving, I ran into Jason, and I told him Heskith was looking for him. He seemed very upset about it. Do you think that Heskith is here to see Jason as a friend, or in his official capacity?"
It was a possibility that Ben hadnít thought about. He considered it now. "Well, I donít know. Heskith is a Deputy United States Marshal. Thatís more than we really know about Jason. He rode in here, swept Mariette off her feet. Of course, heís done very well here, been very good to her. Thatís all you can ask of any man."
Adamís face still wore a frown. "Well, Iíd feel better if I talked to Mariette and Jason, just asked them if there was anything wrong."
Adamís worry was contagious; Ben found he had a dose of it too. "I think thatís a good idea. Also remind Mariette that weíre still her family for as long as she needs us. While youíre over there, Iíll go and talk to Judge Rand."
Lunch forgotten, the Cartwright men headed for the door.
Mariette Blaine, blond-haired, blue-eyes and porcelain-pretty, was busily tidying the main room of the house when the knocking came at the door. She patted her curls and smoothed out the skirts of her bright-blue dress before she lifted the latch. Adam Cartwright stood on her porch, his hat in his hand. "Hello, Mariette."
The woman threw herself into his arms. "Oh, Adam! Iím so glad to see you!"
Adam held her. Beneath the dress and the constraint of the corset, he could feel the tension in her body, the slight tremor. "Is something the matter?"
"Oh, no!" Mariette moved away from him, smiling brightly. "Itís just that itís been so long since Iíve seen you!"
Adam could see that the smile was forced. He closed the door behind him. "Whereís Jason?"
"He went down to the office to look at some things."
Adam looked around the room. It was a large and comfortable room, brilliant with sunlight spilling through the window and cluttered with all the trimmings of feminine domesticity. There seemed to me nothing amiss. "Look, Mariette, my father regards you almost as a daughter. If thereís anything that I can do to help youÖ What happened when Gerald Heskith came here?"
"Nothing happened." Mariette fussed with her duster. "I think Mister Heskith is a very charming man. Why, we even had tea!"
Adam said nothing. He gazed at her, waiting. Abruptly, her face crumpled. "Oh, Adam! I just canít lie to you! I tried, but I just canít!"
She hurled himself at him, and he held her for a moment before he freed himself and helped her into a chair. "Now, tell me all about it?"
The storm of tears passed quickly. Mariette raised a stained and blotched face. "Jason
has to go to
"That doesnít sound too terrible."
"I know. But the men he has to
testify against have threatened to kill him. You see, thatís why Jason left
"I see." Adam thought about it. "Did he talk to Judge Rand about this?"
Mariette brightened, briefly. "That was my first suggestion, but Jason didnít think it would do any good."
"Jasonís upset." Adam
smiled reassurance. "I think Iím in a better position to decide than he
is. Iíll go and see Judge Rand. I think weíll find that Jason can make a
deposition right here in
Marietteís eyes glowed. "Could you really do something like that?"
Committed, Adam stood up. "We wonít know until I ask."
went to see Judge Rand. Ben had already been there, and, apparently, so had
Heskith. The Judge knew all about the Clavenger
brothers and about Jason Blaineís required trip to
"Heskith was a little late in presenting his papers," he said to Adam across the considerable width of his cluttered desk. "But they were perfectly in order. Jason Blaine will have to go. The case is a landmark one against Hadley Murdoch and several John Does."
Adam had heard about Hadley Murdoch. Hunched in the uncomfortable visitorís chair, he scowled. "Mariette is concerned for Jasonís safety."
reason." Judge Rand, a
solid and substantial man, sat back in his chair and made a steeple out of his
fingers. "Marshal Heskith has guaranteed his personal protection as far as
Increasingly unhappy, Adam shook his
head. He was starting to trust Heskith less and less. "Look, I have to go
"Well, thatís good of you Adam." Judge Rand acquiesced. "There is one other thing."
Adam, half-risen, sat back in his chair "And whatís that?"
"This business of killing the Clavenger brothers. Your father told me that old Gideon Clavenger has already been to see him."
Adamís face clouded. "Thatís right, but it didn't seem as if he wanted to make trouble."
"Heskith had a warrant for their arrest in California, but Clavenger is a strange old man. Heíll brood about the death of his sons, and heís as likely as not to step outside the law."
"You think that he might come after Heskith?"
"I think he just might."
met up with Heskith in the lobby of the hotel: the very same elegant room where
he had spoken with his father just short hours before. In a few, brief words he
told the Marshal of his decision to ride along with him across the state line
Heskith frowned, and, for the
briefest moment, something dark shifted deep down in his eyes. Then his face
brightened and his smile reappeared. "Adam, I find this a land of
unexpected pleasures. Little did I dream that youíd be making the trip to
Adam watched him closely. "Since I am, donít you think it would be a good idea to let me in on the truth?" He saw the smile falter, just a little and just for a second. Heskith knew Adam was on to his little deception; Adam knew it, and Heskith knew that he knew it.
Heskith said, warily, "Isnít that rather a strange way to ask a question, Adam?"
"As Pa and I told you, we think a great deal of Mariette."
Shadows crossed the lawmanís face as he reassessed his position. "And so do I think a lot of her." He said distantly. "Thatís why I tried to spare her the seriousness of Jasonís case."
"Then heís not just a missing witness?" This was what Adam had suspected all along, what he had been waiting to hear.
Heskith shook his head. "A
missing criminal, but, on you honour, Adam, this is
to go no further than
"Then I appreciate whatever protection you can give Mariette." Adam meant what he said.
The smile returned, a little thinner, a little the worse for wear; it didnít quite reach his eyes, which were watchful. "You know, I believe we think alike. I even had Jason listed in the documents as a witness, not as one of the accused."
Adam considered that. It was just possible, he supposed, that he had misjudged the lawman right from the outset. He allowed himself to smile. "Thank you for telling me. Iíd like to get him the best lawyer I can find."
Heskith stood up and Adam arose too, hat in hand. "I donít want you to think it rude of me," Heskith said. "but in the circumstances, I think it best if I donít return to the Ponderosa. Iíll take a room at the hotel, and, if itís convenient to you, weíll leave, shall we say, first thing in the morning?"
"Thatís fine by me. Iíll bring your luggage with me."
Heskith nodded. He was suave,
relaxed, and the smile was back. "And bring along your best suit, Adam. I
know some pretty girls in
"Very good. Adam shook Heskithís hand. He was still a little uneasy, but as he was going to share a trail with the man... "Look, if I seemed a little cool towards you, it was only because of my concern for Mariette." Heskith accepted the apology with grace. "Well, Iíd better let Pa know whatís happened. Iíll see you in the morning." Adam headed for the door.
They started out rather later than they had originally intended. The sun was already directly overhead when Adam swung up into his saddle. Ben put a hand up on the saddle leathers. "You be careful, son."
Adam looked into his fatherís dark
eyes and saw the concern concealed in their depths. "Donít you worry,
Ben nodded and stepped back as Adam gathered his reins. Adam knew his father was uneasy about this trip; he had already made that very clear. Adam had made up his mind, and he wasnít about to be talked into changing it. He could see that the expression of concern was still etched into Benís face as he backed his horse away from the rail and raised his hand in farewell.
The three men rode out of town in single file. Heskith went first on his shaggy, dark gelding and Jason Blaine, depressed and dejected on a borrowed horse, rode behind. Adam, leading the packhorse on a length of rope, brought up the rear of the group.
The day was a hot one and threatened
to get hotter, Ďthough there were clouds gathering over the mountains that
threatened rain before nightfall. They rode south, first of all, towards
"Weíre making good time. In
three days time, I want to make camp on the banks of the
To Adam, who knew the country very well, it seemed like a reasonable schedule. "I donít see any problem with that, as long as that storm doesnít wash the roads away." He indicated the gathering clouds with a nod of the head. The storms were seasonal, and it was that time of year; their violence could take an unprepared man by surprise.
Heskith raised his face and looked at the sky.
"It would be unfortunate if we were unduly delayed," he said.
Adam looked at his sharply. "What do you mean?"
shrugged. "Just that we wouldnít want to be longer than
necessary on the trail. The Murdoch gang might get wind of out journey.
In the mean timeÖ" He turned towards
Adam gazed in surprise and alarm at the handcuffs Heskith held out. "I donít think thatís really necessary
Heskith smiled that same, thin smile: the one that didnít come anywhere near his eyes. "Oh, my dear Adam, I assure you it is. I wouldnít want my prisoner to get away."
"Prisoner?" Adam looked quickly from Heskith to
"Thatís as may be. But I wouldnít put it past our friend here to take a little side trip if the opportunity presented itself." Heskith fastened the handcuffs in place. "There, thatís better. Now he wonít be tempted."
Adam turned to Jason Blaine. "Is what the Marshal tells me true?"
Miserably, Jason nodded. He gave a crooked grin. "Itís true enough. I worked for the Murdoch gang once. As an assayer, I was ideally placed to tip them off whenever a strike was made."
"There you are." Heskith made an elegant gesture. "An admission from the manís own lips. What more do you want?"
Determinedly, Adam said, "I want to see him get a fair trial."
Adamís eyes glittered. "Iíll get you there, Jason. I gave Mariette my word."
Heskith smiled on the both benignly. "Youíll get a trial, Jason, donít you worry. Gentlemen, shall we go? We wouldnít want to be caught in the rain. Dear Adam, would you care to take the lead?"
Gritting his teeth, Adam rode on ahead. That word Ďdearí was starting to get on his nerves.
three men made camp before sunset, in a thicket of trees a mile from the road.
The clouds had fallen down off the mountains, and the sky was completely overcast.
Adam and Heskith barely had time to gather dry firewood before it started to
rain. Adam elected himself trail-cook because it was what he was good at, and
because he liked to eat well. Heskith took care of the horses.
Lightening flashed from cloud to cloud, and the thunder crashed right over their heads. A cold wind blew in from the west, and it was obvious that they were all about to get wet. Adam served the food: warmed over food from the Cartwrightís own kitchen and well-risen, pan baked bread. Heskith responded with genuine appreciation. "One day, Adam, youíre going to make someone a wonderful wife."
Adam began to think that this was going to be a very long trip indeed.
With the coming of darkness the rain came in earnest. It marched across the land in driving walls of water. Lightening flared, and the thunder rolled through the heavens. Adam, wisely, had built the fire in a sheltered place, but even so, he had to work hard to keep it going as the wind tried to blow it away. Wrapped in his oilskin, he sat close beside it, feeding it sticks from his small supply and sheltering it from the weather with the bulk of his body.
Heskith, as might have been expected,
talked. His voice carried clearly though the wind and the rain. He talked of
his travels to the
By the time theyíd banked the fire for the night and each turned into their blankets, Adam had come to the firm conclusion that Heskith was in love with the sound of his own voice. For his own part, Adam had heard enough of it to last him a lifetime.
Sleep was hard to come by. The first fury of the storm was over, but it was still raining steadily with occasional bursts of thunder and lightening rolling over their heads. The canopy of leaves and branches that had, at first, provided protection from the weather, was starting to leak in a hundred places. It was hard to avoid the drips. Even wrapped in his blankets and the oilskin covering, Adam was far from comfortable. His clothes were damp, and his upturned saddle made an unyielding pillow that smelled very strongly of horse. Aching and uneasy, he lay on his back with his elbow under his head. It was a very long time before his eyes closed and his awareness drifted away.
Adam woke up with a start. The night was very dark, but not at all quiet. The storm still rumbled in the distance as it drifted away towards the east to exhaust itself out in the desert. Although the rain had stopped, the water still dripped steadily from the leaves and branches. A wind had arisen and sighed among the treetops. He was cramped and cold, but sleeping on unforgiving ground was something he was used to. The discomfort wasnít what had awakened him. He raised himself on his elbow, squinting into the dark.
"Adam. Adam!" The voice was
Jason Blaineís. Adam saw the flare of distant lightening reflected in his eyes.
Adam glanced towards Heskith. The
Marshal lay with his back turned, bundled in his blankets and apparently
asleep. Moving cautiously and without a sound, Adam left his makeshift bed and
"Adam, youíve gotta get me out oí these chains. Youíve gotta let me go!"
Adam hunkered down beside him. "You know I canít do that, Jason."
"You just gotta, Adam! Iíll go away. I swear it! I wonít never come back!"
"You broke the law."
Blaine stared at him; his face was a strained white oval in the darkness, wet with sweat despite the cool dampness in the air. "I ainít done nothiní ta die for! I ainít never killed no one. All I took was money."
"Iíll be there to see you get a fair trial."
never gonna be no trial! Heskithís
gonna kill me long before I get anywhere near
Adam followed the look with a long
glance of his own. What
Adam thought about it. It seemed entirely reasonable that the Murdoch gang would want to dispose of any witness that was likely to turn Stateís evidence against them. On the other hand, he had no real reason to think that the Marshal was anything other than what he said he was, despite his personal dislike of the man. He released a pent up breath.
"I promised Mariette
that I would get you safe to
Adam put a reassuring hand on
Returning to his bed, Adam found his
blankets cold and unwelcoming. Sleep proved to be an illusive bedmate; she
didnít call again that night. Adam lay on his back and stared up into the
darkness, listening to the fading storm. He thought long and hard about the
it happened, Adam got no chance to put his plan into operation. The next day,
at about mid-morning, Heskith called a halt at a fork in the trail. Adam knew
the place well. The left-hand road led to the
From where Heskith sat, leaning on the horn of his saddle, he could see the road ahead. Adam rode up alongside him. The storm had done its damage. The road that they were to follow had totally washed away from the hillside.
Adam sat back in the saddle. "Thereís no chance at all of getting through there. Weíll have to turn back."
"Turn back?" The Marshal looked at him in something akin to amazement. "I donít think thatís necessary. We have plenty of supplies. Weíll cut across the hills."
Adam raised his head and looked in the direction Heskith indicated. The landscape, which, in the early morning had been steaming as the nightís rainfall boiled away, now lay beneath an open sky. Every detail was clear and distinct. He eased his butt in the leather. "Thatís pretty rough country up there, Marshal. Those hills are dry and hard on the horses. Itíd be real easy for a man to get lost."
Heskith smiled. "With
you to guide us? I donít think so Adam. And by cutting out the trip to
Jason Blaine looked over at Adam. "You want to hear what heís sayiní, Adam. With me all chained up like this, up in those hills, itíll just be you and him."
Head on one side, Heskith looked at him. Amusement danced in his eyes. "Come now, Jason. If I wanted you dead I could have killed you last night, the two of you, whispering together, conspiring against the law."
Adam looked at him sharply, but Heskith only smiled. "Would you care to ride ahead Adam? And Iíll bring up the rear."
Adam hesitated. He didnít like it one little bit. A trip through the dry and barren hills with a man he didnít trust was not the deal he had bargained for, and now Gerald Heskith knew exactly where he stood. What was worse, Heskith would be riding behind him. But Adam had made a promise. He turned his geldingís head and kicked him into motion, pulling the packhorse along with him and taking the right-hand trail. As he rode by, Jason Blaine caught his eye; the look had a wealth of meaning: scorn and fear and a warning.
The little party wound its way into the hills. Adam, still leading the packhorse, allowed his gelding to pick its own way. A natural horseman, he swayed easily in the saddle, keeping the animal well balanced and moving forward while all his attention was focused behind him. He had no doubt at all, now, that every word that Jason Blaine said was the absolute truth. That burning itch had returned and was centred squarely right between his shoulder blades. All he could do was wait for Heskith to make his move. Every time he looked back, the Marshal was right there, that slight smile still on his lips, leading Jasonís horse.
The trail soon ceased to be a trail at all, dividing and subdividing into numerous paths that disappeared among the gullies and outcroppings. Adam headed south and west, making the best speed he was able and, perhaps, pushing rather harder than he should, as he climbed ever higher towards the pass, still three full days riding away.
The arid hills, with their looming rock formations and occasional patches of live oak and scrub, had a wild and desolate beauty all their own. Adam was not of a mind to appreciate it. He was intent only on staying alive.
Towards , they came to a place where a run-off stream had cut a channel deep into the subsoil. A thin line of thorn bushes grew along either side, and, following the heavy overnight rain, a trickle of water still ran in the bottom. Adam got down to fill his canteen, then took off his hat to drink. He heard Heskith shift in the saddle and realized that he had made the mistake the Marshal had been waiting for. He straightened slowly, turning, knowing already what he would find. He looked at the black maw of Heskithís gun, pointed right at his belly, then raised his unsurprised eyes to gaze into Heskithís face.
"So what Jason said was true," he suggested in a conversational tone. The Marshal smiled, but the smile was hard and cold. The gun held steady. Adam was sweating. His Navy revolver was on his hip, but he held his hat in one hand and his canteen in the other. The lawman had him cold. "Is this where you kill us both?"
"Thatís his plan, Adam," Jason chimed in. His voice was high, rising towards hysteria. "Heíll say I killed you trying to escape, and then he gunned me down."
Heskith shot him a contemptuous look. "An adequate plan, dear Jason, but it lacks any touch of artistry." He made a slight gesture with the gun, but his aim never wavered from the region of Adamís middle. "I have a better idea. I told you, Adam, that I like a hunt. What finer prey could any man ask for than another intelligent human being? I rely on you to give the best dayís hunting Iíve ever had in my life." His smile became lopsided as he backed his horse a step and gathered the reins of Adamís gelding. "Iíll leave you the gun," he said with an air of condescension, "and Iíll give you an hourís start."
"Thatís very generous of you," Adam said. "What makes you think that I wonít kill you if I can?"
"Oh, Iím sure you will! Thatís the whole idea of it. It adds the spice of danger to the hunt. A tigerís no longer a tiger if you pull out his claws." The grey eyes glittered "On the other hand, a little handicap, I think, just to weight the odds in the hunterís favour." The gun muzzle moved. Adam expected to take a bullet, the leg, the arm, somewhere that would hurt him and cost him blood. He braced himself for the pain. Instead, Heskith turned quickly and lashed out at Jason Blaine.
Unable to save himself, the handcuffed man tumbled out of the saddle and landed heavily, the breath grunting out of him. Adam started forward, but Heskithís gun was on him again. "Youíre far too altruistic, Adam. You think always too much of the other man. Iíve noticed that about you right from the start." He glanced at the sun. "One hour, and then Iíll come after you. Iím sure your father will be most distressed to learn that youíve killed one another." With a final, whimsical lift of the hand, the lawman holstered his gun and rode back down the trail. He took all the horses with him.
Adam crouched beside
The assayer was still very groggy. "Adam? Where is he? Where did he go?"
"Never mind that for now. Weíve
gotta get out of here." Adam lifted
Adam studied the surrounding landscape. Half a mile away, on the far side of the draw, was a convoluted rock formation. There would be cover there, somewhere to hide, somewhere from where he could watch the trail Ė if only he could get Jason that far.
Somehow, Adam got
"Adam? Where we goiní."
"Weíre going to hide out in those rocks up ahead."
"Five." Adam said. "My spare cylinders are still in my saddlebags." He was wondering if Heskith knew that as well. He allowed his fingers to brush the grip of the big, Navy Colt. His skill with the gun was about the only chance they had, unless he could think of a way to get around Heskith. Once again, he studied the lay of the land. There was no sign of any movement Ė not yet!
"Mariette?" Adam looked at him doubtfully. The Marshal might be a ladyís man, but somehow he didnít seem the type to take more than a passing interest in another manís wife. He was altogether too tied up in his own self-importance. "What makes you think that?"
"You didnít see the way he was looking at her! He was undressing her with his eyes!"
"No, I didnít see that." Adam had to admit it. "And Mariette?"
"Oh, she was flattered. I could tell. Adam, can you give me a drink?"
Adam gave him a mouthful from the
canteen and then put the stopper firmly back in place. He knew that the water
might have to last them sometime. He glanced up at the sun. By his estimation,
their hour was already up. "Come on Jason, weíd better get moving."
With the canteen hung from his shoulder, he helped
The second part of the ascent was harder than the first. The hillside grew ever steeper, and the footing was treacherous. The shale and loose, sandy soil had a tendency to slip away from beneath their boots, and several times one or the other would slide in a small avalanche of dusty rubble before he regained his balance. By the time they reached the shelter of the rocks, both men were nearing exhaustion. The burning sun was taking its toll; their clothes clung damply to their bodies and the sweat was dripping from Adamís jaw.
He was disappointed in the cover the rocks provided. A path wound in among the boulders and took a sharp turn right before ending abruptly in a blind alley, a trap that Adam wasnít about to walk into. He had hoped that there would be more places for a man to hide and somewhere to give him a vantage point above the path that he was sure Heskith would use.
He paused to look back along they way
they had come. Something was moving down there, something bright catching the
sunlight. Adam had a sudden premonition. He put a hand on
In the unearthly silence that
followed the sound of the gun, Adam heard clearly the metallic sound of another
shell being levered into the chamber. Heskith had one of the new, repeating
rifles. Adam remembered, irrelevantly, that Joe had wanted one for his next
birthday. He wondered if he would be there to see it. Certainly
not if Heskith had his way. Cautiously he raised his head. Heskith sent
another round whistling past his ear to bounce, shrieking, off the rock behind
him. Adam ducked quickly, gritting his teeth. Once again came
that unmistakable sound of a reload. Heskith was trying to pick him off from a
distance. With Adam dead, Jason Blaine would be easy prey for the lawman. He
Flat on his face in the dirt,
"For a start, weíre not going to
panic." Adam spoke harshly, hoping the naked brutality in his tone would
help the other man pull himself together. Blaine was just about frightened
enough to get up on his feet and go running back down the hillside into Heskithís gun. Sure enough,
Adam grabbed the assayer by the collar and by the belt of his pants, hoisting him bodily further into the cover of the rocks. Cautiously, he peered Ďround the side of a boulder. Down below he saw a shadow moving as Heskith changed his position. Adam drew his gun and pulled back the hammer.
"Adam?" Jason Blaine hissed at him. "What are you doing?"
Adam chose to ignore him. He fired a shot in Heskithís direction. He saw the Marshal scuttle for cover even though the ball fell a long way short. He waited a long moment, then cocked the gun and fired again.
"I know it." Adam put the
Colt back in his holster. "That was the general idea." He stole
another quick look around the rock. Heskith was still lying low. Adam hauled
He abandoned the ruined canteen in
the rocks. From now on, they would be without water. With
The path he selected was well out of
sight of the route that Heskith was taking. He cautioned
The afternoon sun grew steadily
hotter, beating down without mercy from the brass-lined bowl of the sky. The
heat shimmered up from the shale, making the landscape waver. They were hot and
thirsty and footsore; high-heeled riding boots were not made for climbing.
There was no shelter and no time to rest. Adam drove
"Adam, Iíve got to drink!"
Adam cursed and hauled him up by the collar. "Damn you, Jason! We donít have time for that!"
Adam scanned the surrounding terrain. He didnít see anything moving. "Come on, Jason, letís get going. Weíve got to find where Heskith left the horses before he discovers weíre not in those rocks."
"I certainly hope so." Adam
"You mean it, Adam? I can go home?"
Adam didnít have time to explain any
further. He boosted
It was easy enough to track the
horses. Heskith hadnít bothered to cover his tracks,
and the iron-shod hooves had left obvious signs in the trail. Adam was anxious.
Blaine had slowed him up too much, and he had taken
far too long. The hillside behind him was much too quiet, and he had no idea
where Heskith might be. By Adamís reckoning, he should be right on their tailÖ
He spent a lot of his time looking over his shoulder while
"Adam, I found them!"
no!" His shout came too
late. A high-powered gun barked sharply from in amongst the rocks. The horses
threw up their heads and began to dance. Adam saw
Jason Blaine was writhing with pain. There was blood flowering brightly on the front of his shirt. Without thinking of his own peril, Adam dashed forward and grabbed at his arm. "Get on your feet!"
"Adam! Iím shot!"
"If you donít run, youíre gonna be dead!"
Adam shoved and hustled Blaine back
to the shelter of a single boulder, the only one within reach. Heskith stuck
out his head once more. Adam shot at it but the ball went wide. He figured that
left him just one bullet more. He dove into cover alongside
"Clever, Adam," Heskith called, "But not quite clever enough."
Adam ground his teeth together. Heíd heard about enough of Heskithís voice.
"I told you once,"
Heskith went on, "that Iíd hunted tigers in
Cursing himself for all sorts of a fool, Adam realized that heíd walked right into Heskithís trap. The Marshal had only pretended to climb the hillside, going just far enough for Adam to think his own plan had worked, then doubling back over his own tracks and laying in wait beside the horses. Adam looked all around him for some way to get above and behind the lawman. With only one shot left he had to make it count. Heskith had chosen his spot well. He was safe and secure in his niche in the rocks. Adam couldnít see any way to get to him.
"Adam? You hear me, Adam?"
Heskith was intent on talking. "I have to tell you, itís been an
experience to know you. A man of your intelligence is a rare and precious
find." Adam closed his ears to Heskithís
apparently endless chatter and took a look at
Adam bent down and picked up a fist-sized rock. He weighed it in his hand. It was in his mind to throw it in the hope of making Heskith think he was somewhere else and drawing him into the open. It wasnít a new trick by any means, but it had been known to work.
"Heskith! Gerald Heskith! Git out here aní show yorselí" The voice was a bull-like bellow and it came from back down the trail. Adam stuck out his head to see. The grizzled old man who stood in the path cast a long shadow over the earth. Adam knew exactly who the man was.
Afraid of being caught in the crossfire, Heskith emerged from the rocks. "Who are you?"
"The Nameís Clavenger." The old man said. "Kinda reckon you know it. Youíre the man that killed my boys, aní Iím here ta return the favour."
Heskith stepped into the trail, bringing the long gun Ďround. Gideon Clavenger reached for the gun on his hip. Heskith fired. Clavenger staggered backwards, falling. Heskith pumped another round into the chamber.
Adam stepped out of his hiding place. His mouth was dry and the sweat trickled down the groove of his spine. Heskith was looking the other way, preparing to finish Clavenger off. No matter what the provocation, Adam wouldnít shoot any man in the back. "Heskith."
Heskith turned, the barrel of the rifle swinging, His finger tightened on the trigger. Adam drew the Navy Colt and fired straight from the hip.
The ball hit Heskith high in the chest and knocked him over backwards. He didnít try to get up. Adam holstered the empty gun and walked over, hunkering down beside the lawman. He felt just the slightest tinge of regret. Whatever else the lawman had been, he was the man who had saved his life. "I wish you hadnít tried it, Heskith."
Heskith struggled to see him. The life was already draining out of his face, the light from out of his eyes. "Adam?" He couldnít see very clearly, but he knew the cowboy was there. "I sípose I knew all along that this would happen some day." The grey eyes focused on the sky. "I never dreamed that Gerald Heskith would ever be defeated by emotion."
Adam had to be honest. "I canít believe you ever had any," he said evenly.
Heskith smiled. "Oh, yes. I was in love, you know? I was in love with Gerald Heskith." Gerald Heskith died.
"I donít need no help from no Goddamned Cartwright!" Gideon Clavenger snarled in Adamís face.
"Well, at least let me put you up on your horse."
Clavenger shrugged off the helping hand and clambered into the saddle. With his arm tied up in a makeshift sling, he needed the boost that Adam gave him from behind, but he didnít appreciate it all that much.
Adam handed him his rein. "You gonna be all right?"
"Iíve had a whole lot worse than this." Clavenger settled himself in the leather. "Iíll take the trouble ta tell your Pa whatís happened up here."
"Iíd appreciate that."
Clavenger nodded and turned his horseís head and kicked it into motion. Adam watched him ride down the trail and shook his head. The rifle bullet had passed clean through the old manís shoulder, glancing off bone as it went. He made a mental note to remind Joe to be extra careful if he got his wish and was given one of those guns. They sure made a mess of a man. Clavenger had lost a lot of blood, but he was as tough as horseshoe nails. Adam had no doubt at all that heíd make it home. He turned to Jason Blaine, already sitting up on his horse. "And how about you?"
be all right, Adam."
"And then youíll come back to
Adam stepped into his saddle and turned
his geldingís head towards the high pass through the mountains and the city of
Potters Bar 2001.