GHOST TOWN - CHAPTER EIGHT

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   Lily’s mind was a whirlwind. The cave had been her safe place….a place where the world couldn’t find her….couldn’t judge her. It had been the perfect setup; an elderly rancher with no family and apparently no friends, whose land happened to have this cave on it. It was an ideal hideout for their rustling operation.

  Lily had made one friend in the orphanage. Patti was a pretty girl about Lily’s age who could run a con better than anyone she knew. Although she wasn’t near Lily’s size, she was every bit as lethal. She could smile like an angel as she slipped a knife through your ribs. The other kids called her ‘Perilous Patti’. Patti’s job was to play up to the old rancher and keep him occupied, taking her places like Las Vegas and Reno. That way Lily and the boys could run their operation with no interference. She and Eustis and Hard Pan stole cattle from neighboring ranches, hiding them in the cave until it was safe to bring the truck in to get them.
  Then Eustis brought in a friend he’d known in prison. Toby was educated, and he knew how to make money….the easy way.

  “Print your own? he said, “no fuss, no muss, no taxes, and no one left on base.?
  Eustis didn’t fully understand what that meant, but he liked the money part. When they had found the old ghost town, it seemed like a perfect spot from which to operate. Toby had connections all over, so they were able to run power from the ranch house.
  “Just pay off the right people? Toby would say, “and you can get anything done. Why, I just might go into politics.?

  He said a lot of things that Eustis didn’t understand. Of course, as Lily was fond of saying, Eustis was just slightly dumber than mold. Toby, on the other hand, had been educated in the finest schools: Yale, Oxford, and San Quentin. No one knew much about him, but he sure had great ideas. He and Eustis had set up a money making machine and were working the bugs out of it in between rustling episodes. But, somewhere along the line, they had gotten the attention of that damn ranger.

  Now here she was, trapped in the cave with a bunch of stolen cattle. Toby had taken the bullet out, but the pain was still bad. Now he was going out the back way to try and find his pals. Well, she wasn’t gonna be caught in here like a rat. She’d stampede them cattle and come out blazing behind them.

  You can say what you want about ole Tennessee Jim, but he sure can toss a loop. I was so intent on those steers comin at me, I didn’t even notice the rope ‘til he jerked me out of the way. Chip dodged in at the same time and shoved Slim to the side in what they call the nick of time. This was one of those times when that nick was mighty small. As I took the rope off, I heard Slim yell “Watch out! Someone’s gonna be following them cows. Cyclone, run up that draw and see if there’s a back door to this place.?

  There sure enough was a back door. I’d gone about a hundred feet in a crouching run when a feller stepped out of nowhere and leveled a .30 .30 at me. He had me dead to rights, but as he pulled the trigger, the rifle went up and he fired at the sky.
  He twisted around and yelled “QUIT THAT! LET GO OF ME! WHAT THE…..??
  By that time I was close enough to fetch him a good one on the head with my .44. He stumbled back and I snatched the rifle away from him. He sure looked confused.

  “How’d you do that?? he asked.
  “Just a little cowboy magic.? I said.

  By now I had figured out that old Shug Maxwell was sort of lookin out for me. Somehow I knew it was him spoilin this guy’s aim and savin my hide.
  Git on yer feet? I said, “and show me where you came out of there.?

  This guy was lookin at me like I just stepped out of a rocket ship with a tree in my pocket. I could tell he had other plans, so I fired a round real close to his hand and said “MOVE!?
  He moved, all right. He just kinda uncoiled up off the ground like a rattle snake. He moved a lot quicker than I would have thought, and there was a strange light in his eyes. He was in my face so fast I didn’t have time to pull the trigger. He hit me on the jaw with one hand and tried to grab my gun with the other. Then I pulled the trigger. The bullet caught him in the shoulder and spun him around hard. He was facin me again, and the look in his eyes told me it might be a good idea to shoot him again. Then he started talkin.

  “ALRIGHT!? he said, “I’ll show you, but I aint goin down there. She’d…she’d kill me if she knew I helped you.?
  That look was still in his eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man look so terrified….or so mean.
  “It aint just her, either. It goes a lot deeper than us. Cowboy, you’ve tapped into something you do not understand.?
  With that, he dove headlong into a bush and disappeared!

END OF CHAPTER EIGHT