Ace sat at his desk, feet up with a cigar burning in one hand and a small glass of whiskey in the other. He was deep in thought, and waiting for his two best men to arrive. A decision had to be made about the outsider, and while he would make that decision alone, he would consider their advice. He had gotten the outsider to let down his guard some at dinner. The drinks he had offered were accepted. Ace was surprised that the outsider had continued with a second, and even a third. Perhaps he had overestimated him, or maybe Ace had just been able to ease his mind enough to get him to let down his guard. Either way, this seemed like it would be easier than he originally anticipated. Ace had an idea that he knew who he was. You don’t live as long as The Old Timer had without developing a reputation. Some believed him to be immortal. Others claimed that his reputation was built on the stories of several different men who had lived throughout history. Either way, Ace had plans, and he wasn’t going to let anyone interfere with them.
There was a heavy knock on the front door of Ace’s cabin
“Come on in boys.”
He didn’t stand as he said this. He knew who it was from the sound of the knock.
The door swung open and two men walked into the room.
The first was dressed in a black suit and shined black shoes. The suit was exceptionally clean. He wore a black tie snugged tightly around the collar of a black shirt. Ace had given him the nickname Thorn. He was sharp, both in dress and in intelligence, and Ace thought the name suited him well.
Thorn’s clean shaven face wasn’t as worn or rugged as most of the other men at Concordia. He didn’t work in the fields, or go out on the scouting missions that many of the other men did. He was Ace’s right hand man. If Ace needed something done, Thorn was the one who would meticulously plan and find the right men for the job. He was no slouch when it came to a gunfight either, but he would rather send someone else in to do his fighting for him.
The second man was contradictory to Thorn in almost every way. He wore faded brown leather boots that were nearly worn through the toes. His beige canvas pants were torn at the knees and carried the faded ring on the back pocket that could only be made by a tin containing chewing tobacco. He wore an old western style button up shirt, always leaving the top two buttons undone and the sleeves rolled up, exposing his massive forearms and chest. A cowboy hat that would have been better off in the trash bin was nearly always on top of his scraggly, shoulder length black hair. A single bullet hole pierced the brim of the hat on the right side. Ace simply referred to him as Rowdy, as that’s exactly what he was.
Ace stood and gestured to the two chairs at the front of his desk.
“Have a seat. We need to figure this dude out.”
The two men nodded and took a seat.
“You know who I think he is?”
Thorn nodded in agreement, Rowdy sat silently. It was typical really. Rowdy wasn’t much one for thinking, he was more of a take action type of guy. He didn’t care who the outsider was. He just knew he’d kill him if he was asked.
Ace pressed his hands on the desk, staring straight at Thorn. He was heated now.
“When this is over, I want you to find the two guys that brought him here and get rid of them! I don’t care how. Exile them, kill them, fuck, feed ‘em to the god damned pigs for all I care! How the fuck did this even happen?”
He accentuated the question by slamming his fist onto the desk.
Thorn shook his head silently. It had been stupid. Even not knowing who he was, the outsider had been armed to the teeth when he rolled into Concordia. The scouts should have known better.
“Where is he now?” Thorn asked.
“He’s in his cabin. I got a few drinks into him tonight at dinner. I’m sending a distraction over right now. Going to try to keep him busy at least until we figure this out.”
Rowdy finally spoke up.
“How can you be sure?”
“I saw the fucking guns on his hips, Rowdy. You know anyone else walking around with fucking Coonans? I haven’t even seen another one of them for twenty fucking years.”
Rowdy nodded. He trusted Ace. If Ace was convinced it was him, it likely was. He pulled his tin of chewing tobacco out of his back pocket and held it out in front of him.
“I don’t fucking care. Just find something to spit in. I don’t want that shit all over my floor.”
Rowdy took a large pinch of the tobacco and stuffed it into his lower lip. He didn’t need anything to spit in. He’d just swallow the juice until he got back outside.
Ace sat back in the chair and tugged at his beard, staring into the corner of the room.
“It’s fucking Flint Weston, the fucking Old Timer. It has to be.”
The Old Timer was lying on the queen sized bed in his cabin, staring at the ceiling. His head was swirling from the effects of the alcohol. It felt good. It was a feeling that he hadn’t had for quite some time. The Voice was quiet. It always was when he drank. That’s why he didn’t do it often anymore, and likely shouldn’t have tonight.
There was a soft knock at the door.
“Are you in there?”
A woman’s voice. Soft, barely audible through the door.
The Old Timer rolled over and grabbed one of his Coonans from under the bed before approaching the door.
“Who is it? What do you want?”
“A friend. Ace sent me over.”
Her voice was pleasing. It eased The Old Timer’s mind. He opened the door.
A petite woman stood in front of him, wearing only a robe. Long black hair flowed down to her lower back. Even in the diminishing sunlight, The Old Timer was struck by her beauty. Her ocean blue eyes met his. He was lost in them.
“To talk. Keep you company. Anything else you might want. I’m yours for the night.”
“Mine for the night? What exactly is that supposed to mean?”
She gently pushed him into the cabin.
“Whatever you want it to mean.”
“So what do you suggest we do about this?” Thorn asked.
Ace was mulling it over. Assuming it was Flint Weston who had so easily infiltrated the walls of the compound, seemingly with no other motive than to make some trades and move on, the decision could weigh heavily on the future of Concordia. To an outsider, it may seem like a sanctuary to those whom Ace had allowed in, but it might not take long to figure out the less than desirable life that many of the residents had been forced into. Ace had no intention of losing Concordia at this point. He had worked much too hard to build his empire.
Ace’s brow furrowed as he leaned over the desk.
“Take him out. End it now, before he finds a reason to turn his guns on all of us. What do you think Rowdy? Up for some fun tonight?”
Rowdy nodded and an evil grin slowly crept over his face, showing his tobacco stained teeth. He was always ready. He had built his new life upon the misery of others, and it had been awhile since he’d had a chance to cause some pain. His time in prison prior to the war had hardened his personality.
Thorn noticed Rowdy’s excitement.
“Why not just let him go on his way? See what he wants in the morning, give him what he needs and send him back through the gates? No harm, no foul.”
Ace seemed to consider this for a moment.
“We could do that. Or, we could be the ones to take the fucker out for good. Who else around here is going to be able to do anything about this place?”
Thorn had always thought that Ace’s over confidence would be his downfall someday. Maybe it was today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe fifty years from now. Ace wasn’t one to back down if he thought he had the upper hand on someone. Clearly he felt this was the case with Weston.
“But for what?” Thorn asked. “Notoriety? Panic? Fear? He doesn’t know anything right now.”
Thorn was one of the few who could get away with questioning Ace without finding himself staring down the barrels of an execution squad. He supposed he had earned it, Ace apparently had a soft spot for him. Thorn had saved his life once. Back before Concordia was even a concept. Sometimes he wondered if Ace might even feel like he owed him.
“As far as we know, he doesn’t. What if we’re wrong? What if he does know? And he just fucking waltzed in here with those two fucking idiots. You know what? Fuck those two. Fuck killing them. No matter how this goes down I want them in the fucking hole”
Thorn had considered this possibility. Maybe Weston did know what was going on here. As far as he was concerned, putting the two scouts in the hole wouldn’t be the slightest over reaction. They’d stay there until they eventually died. Either from starvation or the elements. They’d be given just enough food and water to stay alive if they so chose. Sometimes people down there just gave up, laid down, and prayed for death. The hole was a well kept secret in Concordia. Everyone knew it was a feature of the compound that was best left unspoken of.
Ace poured two more glasses of whiskey, passing one to each of the other two men. He picked his cigar up out of the ash tray, taking a long drag and exhaling the smoke in a series of rings over his head. He gave another tug at his greying beard and looked back at Thorn.
“So tell me…If he does know. And he doesn’t like it. Don’t you think it’d be better to eliminate him before he has a chance to do anything about it?”
Thorn knew Ace was right. There was a slight chance that they did have the upper hand right now. Weston was tucked away in his cabin, doing who knows what with the girl Ace had sent over. He was slightly inebriated, and maybe that would give them a chance to get the jump on him.
“Okay,” Thorn agreed, “So how?”
The Old Timer sat on the edge of the bed. Amber, as he had come to know she called herself, was on her knees behind him, vigorously massaging his shoulders. For as diminutive as she was in stature, her hands were strong. Her immaculately painted nails occasionally brushed over the short beard that currently covered his face. The robe had been tossed aside. As she rubbed his shoulders she would gently press her breasts into his back. She leaned in close to his ear.
“What else can I do for you?” She whispered seductively. “Remember, I’m all yours tonight.”
“How about a shave? And maybe you can answer some questions about this place for me.”
She stepped off the bed, standing nude in front of him.
“Simple pleasures for a simple man?”
It was a flirtatious tone, with her eyebrows raised.
“Although I’m guessing that you’re far from simple. I’ll answer what I can, but a can’t give away all our secrets.”
She looked back and gave him a quick wink as she crossed the floor of the cabin to a small wash basin. The Old Timer immediately noticed the dimples of Venus on her lower back. He was trying to maintain his composure, but between the whiskey and Amber’s allure, he was finding it difficult. There was a small woodstove in the corner next to the basin.
“Let me get this going and I’ll heat up some water.”
He stood up and started across the room.
“Let me get that. I’m usually not one for being catered to.”
He knelt down and pulled a handful of kindling from the small pile of wood next to the stove. He gently set it into the stove along with a pile of dried leaves he had taken from a basket next to the wood pile. He struck a match and watched the flame dance at the end of the stick for a moment before tossing it in. The dried leaves easily caught fire and before long, the kindling was crackling. He fed a couple of split logs from the pile onto the fire and stood up.
“So what exactly is this place?” he asked, “Is it really as pleasant as it seems?”
He caught Amber’s eyes dropping to the floor as he asked. He knew he didn’t need an actual answer. She quickly looked back at him.
“I guess it depends on your outlook on life. Most people seem to like it allright here.”
“What about you?”
Amber had walked back to him and was gently caressing his face.
“I like it just fine. I have my job. I do it. I like it. No complaints from me.”
The Old Timer thought he caught a hint of doubt in her voice. He looked down at her face. It really was striking. She wore no makeup other than a touch of red lipstick. Her lightly freckled cheeks seemed to accentuate her eyes even more.
“Is this your job?” He asked.
“Sometimes,” she said, “sometimes I have other stuff to do. Does it matter? I’m here. You’re here. Let’s just relax and have a good time tonight. Let me get you a drink, then we’ll get that shave going.”
She ran a hand down his chest and across the front of his pants.
“I promise you’ll have a good time.”
Ace, Thorn and Rowdy stood in a small cinderblock room on the second floor of Ace’s cabin. It had been turned into an armory using an old vault door salvaged from a dilapidated bank in order to protect its contents.
“Grab whatever you think you’ll need,” Ace said, “I’m going to round up half a dozen guards before we head over. We’ll surround the cabin in case he decides to make a run for it.”
Thorn pulled an AR 15 from one of the racks lining the room and put it to his shoulder, sighting down the barrel. Rowdy, who generally preferred hand to hand encounters, grabbed a Remington shotgun. Without much thought given to it, he slung it over his shoulder and grabbed a box of twelve gauge shells.
Ace opened a wooden box sitting on a shelf and pulled out a .45 caliber Glock 21. Simple, effective, and with plenty of knock down power. He didn’t figure on doing much shooting anyway. Ace would do the talking, his men would provide the firepower.
“I want you to meet me down at his cabin. Give me half an hour. I’ll have the guards posted around it. I’ll go in first, see if I can talk him out. The second he steps out the door, I want everyone who lays eyes on him to gun that fucker down. I don’t want to see a fucking thing left of his head when we’re done.”
The Old Timer reached into a small satchel sitting on the floor next to the bed, pulling a small pouch of tobacco and a square paper from it. He rolled a cigarette and offered it to Amber, who was lying in the bed next to him, running her hand along the contours of his chest. She accepted the offering and he rolled another for himself.
“Shit’s bad for you, you know?” She asked facetiously while looking at the rolled smoke between her fingers. “Probably kill you one day.”
He let out a short snort of laughter.
“I’ll be dead long before these things have a chance to kill me.”
He knew that wasn’t necessarily true.
He struck a match and held it out for Amber to light her smoke before lighting his own.
He ran his hand across his freshly shaven face. He hadn’t had a decent shave for years. Usually it was just what he could manage with a little cold water and his trusty old knife. His beard had always felt dirty on his face, and he tried to keep it trimmed down as much as he could.
“I appreciate the shave.”
Amber rolled on top of him and looked him in the eyes.
“Is that what you appreciate about me?”
She gave him a wink and rolled back over onto her back watching the smoke gently roll off the end of the cigarette. She had no idea that Ace had other plans for the man she was currently lying in bed next to.
The Old Timer finished his smoke and snuffed the butt on the top of the canvas satchel next to the bed. He stood up and pulled his faded jeans back on before pulling on an old white t-shirt.
“Done for the night already? I thought we were just getting started.”
He thought he sensed a touch of annoyance in Amber’s voice.
“Nah. I ain’t done. Just don’t like getting caught with my pants down.”
Although it was said in jest, he had no idea how much of a premonition that statement actually was. He was feeling comfortable at the moment. Amber had been good company. He’d had a couple more drinks, and after the meal he’d eaten earlier, he was feeling content and growing tired. She seemed to genuinely want to be in his presence, so he had been able to ease his mind a bit. Maybe he was wrong about this place. His intuition could have been off, and with The Voice quiet for the time being, he had no reason to think otherwise.
He picked the pouch of tobacco up from the canvas satchel, intending to roll himself another smoke. Amber was still lying on the bed, with the covers pushed down to the foot. He looked at her, admiring the curves of her body. She seemed to be a good woman. Either by choice or through indentureship. At least tonight, it seemed as though it had been by choice.
He turned to reach for the matches just as there was a pounding on the door.
“Amber!” It was Ace. “Open the fucking door!”
Amber quickly pulled the bedsheet up to cover herself as she pushed herself against the wall.
“What did you do? What the fuck did you do?”
Her voice was hushed. The Old Timer looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. As far as he knew, everything at Concordia seemed in order. At least for now. He kneeled by the bed, pulling his gun belt out and strapping it around his waist.
Amber stood up from the bed and started for the door.
“Wait,” he whispered. “Let me get my shit ready and I’ll open the door. Stall him.”
Amber’s eyes were wide with fear. She knew Ace’s tone. It was the tone of voice he used when things were likely to go bad for someone. In this case, it was either her, or the man that she had just shared a bed with.
“I…I’m coming…hold on.”
She pulled her robe on and moved to the wall furthest from the door. She pressed her back against the wall and slid down into a seated position, covering her face with her hands. She hoped it was the man she was with that Ace had come for. She knew she had done everything that Ace has asked of her, but sometimes his temper overrode his sense of right and wrong. Especially if he’d been into the spirits a little harder than normal. Many of Concordia’s women, Ace’s women as he called them, had spent a few days walking around with a badly blackened eye, or sometimes worse.
“Open the god damned door, Amber!”
Even louder now. Amber started to stand up before The Old Timer pointed his finger at her.
“Sit. Wait. I’ll handle this.”
He slung his holster holding the two Colt revolvers over his shoulders. Pulling the Coonan out of the holster on his right hip, he dropped the magazine. Full. Eight rounds. He then checked the other. Also full. It was an exercise that was unnecessary, but something he always did before he thought he might need them.
He started towards the door. Guns holstered, hoping to talk Ace down from his outrage. As he took a step forward, the door frame exploded, sending splinters of wood flying through the room. Ace stood in what was left of the doorway, pointing a finger at The Old Timer.
“I know who you are.”
His voice was more of a growl than anything.
“I fucking know who you are you son of a bitch.”
The Old Timers hands hovered over the handles of the Coonans. Ready to strike, but waiting for the right moment.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The Old Timer’s voice was calm, unwavering as he addressed Ace.
“I’m just riding through, Ace. I’ll get my shit and go now if that’s what you want.”
Ace dropped his chin to his chest, smiling and shaking his head.
“Nah man. Don’t give me that shit. I know who you are. You’re fucking Flint Weston. Don’t try to tell me you ain’t.”
Ace saw the recognition in The Old Timer’s eyes. He knew he was right.
“I’m going to give you a chance to tell me why the fuck you are in my fucking town, and if I don’t like the answer, I’m going to fucking kill you.”
Amber was still cowering against the wall. The two men now stood in the center of the room. Staring each other down, sizing each other up. Ace’s hands were tightly clenched into fists at his side his knuckles turning white, while The Old Timer’s still hung over the handles of his guns.
“Just passing through. Like I said.”
The Old Timer was coming to the realization that he’d put himself in a precarious situation. Any pleasure that he’d gotten out of the night had faded. The effects of the alcohol had suddenly been cast off as he snapped back to sobriety.
There it was. A little late, but The Voice was back. He knew he could only blame himself. He’d allowed himself to be drawn into Ace’s charm and Amber’s seductiveness. He briefly wondered if Amber was in on this, but brushed the thought aside. It didn’t matter. This was on him.
“Bullshit,” Ace said, his voice growing calmer, “That’s gotta be fucking bullshit. Flint fucking Weston, the fucking Old Timer just shows up here out of nowhere, no rhyme or reason, just passing through? I don’t fucking believe it.”
Ace was pondering this. Wondering if maybe Flint had just happened across them on accident. Maybe he really was just passing through. Maybe he really didn’t have any idea what was going on at Concordia.
“Well now, this is quite a conundrum.”
Ace was pacing the room now, stroking his beard and shaking his head. His footsteps weighed heavy on the air.
“See, maybe I had it wrong. I guess it’s possible you wound up here by accident. But now we seem to have a bit of an issue. I’m just not sure we can be civil anymore. What do you think old man? If I let you walk away, what are the chances we never see you again?”
The Old Timer thought about it for a moment. Given the current situation, and Ace’s determination to protect the compound despite figuring out who he was, the chances were slim.
“Probably not good Ace,” his voice still remained calm, “I don’t know what you have going on here, but if I had to guess, I’d say a lot of these people here are here against their will.”
He glanced down at Amber, still cowering against the wall as he said this.
“You know who I am. You know I won’t stand for it.”
“And just who the fuck do you think you are? Who the fuck made you the fucking defender of these people’s rights? What makes you think what’s going on here is any worse than the shit you’ve done? I’ve heard the stories, Flint, don’t act like you don’t have any blood on your fucking hands.”
The Old Timer nodded.
“That’s true, but it’s mostly the blood of people like you.”
Ace’s eyes widened as he heard this.
“The fuck you just say?”
Amber watched the two men through her fingers as she sat on the floor covering her face and pressing herself as far into the wall as she could. She’d seen Ace like this before. She knew what was likely coming. The Old Timer wouldn’t make it out of here alive. She figured he’d be praying for death by the time Ace was done with him.
It was true. She had been kept there against her will. The things that Ace made her do had eventually broken her, turned her into an obedient captive who was terrified of crossing him. But something had been different tonight. She had felt something with The Old Timer. Some sort of connection. She wasn’t naïve enough to believe that is was love, but it was something, and she felt it even stronger now, knowing that he was possibly staring down the end of his life. For the first time in a long time, she was trying to figure out how to help someone on her own. Not because she had been told to. Not because she had been forced to. But because she wanted to.
She reached down and cinched the tie of the robe tight around her waist.
I need you. I need your help.
The Voice startled her. She had never heard it before, but she heard it clear as day when it spoke. It wasn’t in her head. She knew the voices that she used when she internalized her fears and spoke to herself. This was different. This had come from outside, as if it had been spoken by someone standing in the room.
We need you. We need your help, and we’ll help you too.
It was even stronger this time. More clarity to it even though that had seemed impossible.
Get to the gate. Wait till we come. We’ll take care of the rest.
Amber squeezed her eyes tight and shook her head.
“I can’t. I can’t”
Tears were streaming down her face. She had muttered the words aloud, but they seemed to go unnoticed by the men in the room.
You have to. If not for you, for the others. We can help them. We can help you.
She opened her eyes and gritted her teeth. She took a deep breath and gave a single, forceful nod.
She thought she could get there. If she ran now, Ace would probably let her go. He had no reason to think that she was planning to help The Old Timer. He’d likely just think she wanted to get herself to safety. Amber was one of his favorites. He trusted her to an extent. Probably not much, but maybe enough that he wouldn’t expect her to turn on him.
“I can make it,” she thought to herself, “I’m fast enough. If he let’s me out, I can get there and hide in the dark. I’ll go straight to the fence, and run down it. It’s dark enough no one will see me. I just need to figure out when.”
She pushed herself up, still crouching, but on her feet now, watching The Old Timer and Ace as they spoke to each other. She just needed a small window of opportunity and she’d be gone. She watched as Ace began pacing again.
The Voice was booming this time. Like someone shouting directly into her ears.
She bolted to her feet just as Ace turned away from her, sprinting for the door. She brushed past him and through the broken doorway, between Thorn and Rowdy and across the road to the fence.
As Amber rushed past Ace, he turned to watch her go.
“Let her go!” he shouted, “We’ll deal with her later.”
The Old Timer saw an opportunity. In a single, lightning quick move, he whirled around and grabbed his satchel, pushing off of his right foot and throwing himself through the window on the back wall of the cabin. He felt a searing pain down his back as the teeth of the shattered glass bit into him. He hit the ground on his shoulder and rolled to his left, scrambling to get his back against the outer wall of the cabin.
A gunshot rang out in the darkness and he felt his left forearm explode in agony. He knew without having to look that he had been hit, and it was bad. He drew the Coonan from his right hip and fired a shot blindly into the darkness. He knew it wouldn’t find a target, he just needed a chance to move and was hoping that the muzzle flash would blind the other shooters just long enough for him to get to his feet.
He scrambled to his feet as he heard several more gunshots, the bullets impacting the cabin and splintering the wood behind him as he dashed to his right. Thorn and Rowdy had split off of the porch as they heard the commotion inside, each one going around a different side of the cabin.
The Old Timer reached the corner of the cabin just as Rowdy did with the shotgun still slung over his shoulder. Rowdy’s massive hand grabbed The Old Timer’s throat, lifting him off the ground and choke slamming him into the dirt, knocking the wind out of him. Rowdy’s fists rained down on him punching his head and chest. He pointed the Coonan at Rowdy’s ankle and squeezed the trigger, shattering Rowdy’s right ankle with the projectile. Rowdy collapsed, screaming and grabbing for what was left of his foot.
The Old Timer was back on his feet when he heard the crisp blast of Thorn’s AR15. This time the bullet found his left shoulder, but barely. The pain was immense, but he knew the damage wouldn’t be as bad. It was a glancing blow that went clean through the muscle. He turned and fired the Coonan in Thorn’s direction, catching his left leg and knocking him to the ground.
The Old Timer clambered into the trees, keeping low and getting himself pinned against a large pine tree, protecting himself at least from one side. Ace had stepped onto the porch and drawn his Glock.
“Where are you old man? Might as well tell me. This ends here for you, fucker!”
The Old Timer tore a strip of the front of his shirt off and wrapped it around the wound on his forearm, using his teeth to help cinch it tight. He knew he had to get to Bullet.
He listened for movement. The initial scramble for safety was over. Now it was about survival. He didn’t know how, but he had to get through the gate.
She’ll be there.
He heard a rustling of leaves behind him. It wouldn’t be Ace, he figured Ace would only fight if he had to. He was more talk than action. Rowdy was down, and as far as he knew, Thorn was as well. He thought this would be one of the guards. He waited, listening. The steps were close. One or two more and he’d have a shot. If the guard was wearing armor similar to the ones he had seen on the way in, he knew he’d have to place the shot perfectly.
Silence. Then a step. Then another.
The Old Timer turned around the tree to the right side, lifting the Coonan and firing a shot. The bullet sailed through the air, finding the small gap in the guards helmet, passing through his eye and shattering the back of his skull. Death was never pleasant, but at least this one was instant.
Three down. You have to get to Bullet.
The Old Timer brought himself to his hands and knees, working his way to the next large tree, closer to the stables, dragging his satchel behind him.. He sat against the trunk, his head swirling. The alcohol had thinned his blood and the wrap around his forearm had already turned completely crimson. He had to make this quick, if he waited too long, he’d die here for sure.
He found his feet again, creeping through the woods from tree to tree, stopping to listen between steps. He knew this wasn’t over. If Ace had his way, he wouldn’t make it out. He heard more footsteps circling around behind him. Likely another guard. That was good, he’d deal with Ace later. He was wounded and probably bleeding to death. His only hope was to get to Bullet and then it would be in Amber’s hands. She’d either be there or she wouldn’t.
She’ll be there.
He heard another step and raised the Coonan, still listening, trying to find his shot. A twig snapped under the guard’s foot and The Old Timer pulled the trigger. A flash of light and another thunderous clap as the bullet left the barrel, this time striking the guard in the throat, nearly severing his head from his shoulders. His body slumped to the ground. Four guards left, and Ace. Assuming Ace hadn’t already called in reinforcements.
“Fall back to the stables!” Ace’s voice roared through the darkness. “We know where he’s going!”
Amber reached the corner of the fence. She looked up and found the torches in the guard towers over each end of the gate. The guards were alert, having heard the gunshots coming from deeper in the compound. She crouched in the corner of the fence, hiding in the darkness.
The Voice again, seemingly coming from all around her. She wondered how no one else was hearing it.
Just wait. You’ll know when to open the gate. Be ready, you’re coming with us.
She hoped that was true. Once Ace found out that she was helping The Old Timer escape, she imagined that even her worst nightmares wouldn’t begin to compare to what he’d have in store for her.
“I hope you’re right,” she thought. “I really hope you’re right.”
She stayed in the black of night, clutching the robe tightly to her chest , waiting for the right moment. She only hoped The Voice was right, and that she’d know when the time came.
Ace had fallen back away from the cabin, sending the remaining guards to the stable, and was circling to the stables along the fence line. He figured Flint would be trying to get to his horse, not that it mattered. He already had three more guards heading to the gate. Even if he managed to get the horse, he wouldn’t be able to make it through the gate without having to dismount and lift the bar. They’d be able to surround him and stop him before he got through.
The residents of Concordia, most of whom had awoken to the sounds of gunshots, were staying in their respective cabins. This wasn’t their fight. This was Ace’s. The best thing they could do would be to stay out of his way.
Ace reached the stables, dimly lit by two small fire pits on either side of the gate into the pens. He could see his guards already posted in front of the barn where Bullet was. In hindsight he realized that they should have taken Flint’s supplies out of the barn, but it was too late now. They’d just have to deal with what they were dealt as the cards fell.
He stayed by the outer fence, watching the guards for a sign that Flint was near. He’d jump in and fight if he had to, but he’d let the guards take the first shots. He wasn’t aware of the extents of The Old Timer’s injuries, he just hoped that at least one of the shots he’d heard had found it’s target, maybe slowing Flint down a bit, giving them a chance to finish the job.
As he watched, he saw two of the guards slowly start moving to the far side of the barn, while the other two maintained their posts in front of the barn doors. Flint was close.
The Old Timer slowly leopard crawled his way to a pile of hay bales near the penned in area in front of the barn, going undetected. Peeking around the side of the pile, he saw two guards approaching the fence around the pen, and two more standing at the door of the barn. He didn’t see Ace, but assumed he would be close. He could hear Bullet snorting and stomping in the barn. He was agitated. That was good. Bullet was at his best when agitated, and would be swift tonight. The Old Timer just had to get to him. The pack horse would be left behind unfortunately, and most of his supplies. If anything was in the barn, he’d grab what he could as quickly as he could and go.
The wrap on his arm had soaked completely through now, and he could feel blood running over the back of his left hand. He’d have to deal with that as soon as he could if he made it out of Concordia. For now, he had to push the pain and light headedness aside as best he could. If he died outside the gates, so be it, but he had no intention of dying here. He wouldn’t give Ace that satisfaction.
He sat back against the pile of hay bales, listening to the guards movement. He figured the guards would wait him out, not come to him. They had no reason to, they obviously knew where he was trying to go. They had the barn well covered between the four of them, and Ace was still out there somewhere. He’d have to fight his way through them.
Get the two at the fence first. Get them out of the way, then worry about the other two.
Easier said than done. Being down to only one good arm would slow down his shots. He’d have to time them just right. He holstered the Coonan in his hand and reached across his body, drawing the Coonan from the holster on his left. This one was still fully loaded.
He felt around the ground for something to throw. Something he could use to maybe cause just enough of a distraction to get the first shot off. His hand found a small rock. He picked it up to feel its heft. It would do. He tossed the rock to his right, picking the Coonan up and rolling to his left before it hit the ground.
As the rock hit, one guard glanced in the direction of the noise. The Old Timer fired a shot at the other guard, once again sending the bullet through a small uncovered portion of his neck. Nearly instantaneously, he fired a second shot at the guard who had turned to find the source of the noise, sending this bullet through the back of his leg. As the guard hit the ground, he fired another shot that found it’s mark through the eyehole of the guards helmet, once again killing him instantly.
The two at the door, they’re coming.
The remaining two guards were charging towards the pile of hay bales, firing their weapons as they did. The Old Timer tried to shrink himself as much as he could as he felt hay sprinkling down on him as the guards bullets passed through the bales.
They both came around the pile on his right side, he fired a shot as soon as the first one was visible. It ricocheted off his helmet, knocking him to the ground. The second guard stumbled over the first, giving The Old Timer a clear shot at his neck. He took it, dispatching the guard before sending a second shot into the rib cage of the other.
Then all was silent, except for Bullet’s snorting and stomping coming from the barn.
Ace watched as The Old Timer made quick work of the four guards covering the barn. Thorn and Rowdy had been taken to the medical cabin of the compound, their wounds too severe to continue the fight.
He decided that the best course of action was to head back for the gate.
“Let him have his fucking horse,” he thought, “we have one more chance to stop him at the gate.”
Ace’s air of confidence had dwindled. He’d heard the stories, but this is the first time he’d actually seen The Old Timer in action. Fear and doubt now crept in where only arrogance and certainty had been before.
He stood up and started running towards the gate to warn the five guards that now stood watch. Ace had no inclination that Flint had help waiting to get him through the gate. His only desire was to stop him now. Hatred consumed his thoughts as he sprinted down the dirt road that was now lined with the occasional torch to light the way, towards the front of Concordia. In his hand he carried the Glock, still unfired despite watching Flint mow down his men at the barn.
One more chance to stop him. God only knew what would happen if he didn’t.
Amber watched silently from the corner of the fence, still hiding in the darkness as three more guards rushed to the gate. She was trying to calm herself, knowing that she had to be the one to open the gate when The Old Timer came. She knew she couldn’t freeze with terror when the moment presented itself. Her life, and the lives of many others depended on her.
She watched as the guards positioned themselves in front of the gates, raising their rifles and taking aim down the road towards the barn. She knew he had to be close.
We’re coming. Be ready.
Ace stopped a hundred yards from the gate, signaling to his men to be ready for Flint’s approach. Then he dipped behind one of the cabins lining the road and out of sight. He’d shoot him in the back if he had to.
The Old Timer pulled open the doors to the barn. A small lantern lit the interior, casting the shadows of the beams that separated each stable. Bullet was in a stable on his left, the pack horse to his right. His supplies sat in canvas satchels on a small wooden table in the center aisle, his rifle leaned against them. His saddle straddled the side of Bullet’s stable.
He opened the stable, using his one good arm to shuffle the saddle from the wall and onto Bullet’s back. He had to work quickly. He went to the table and grabbed two of the five satchels and lashed them to the back of the saddle. He’d have to leave the other three, but the two he had grabbed had what he would need to get by for a while. His ammunition, some small portions of food, two canteens and his books. He’d be able to replace what he left behind somewhere down the road if he survived this. He grabbed the rifle and slung it over his shoulder.
He struggled onto the saddle, now on Bullet’s back. Bullet was ready to go. He was tense, his muscles tightened and ready to spring as soon as he was given the command.
“Easy boy, we need to take this slow.”
He gently nudged his heels into Bullet’s sides, slowly ushering him forward and out of the barn. Ace was still nowhere to be seen. The Old Timer had pegged him as a coward when the shit hit the fan, and it seemed as though he may have had it right. As he passed by the two small fires burning in the pen, he caught his first real glimpse at the damage done to his forearm. The wrap was sloughing off the wound, exposing the bullet hole. Blood continued to run freely from the puncture. He didn’t have much time.
“We need to go easy, boy, but we need to do it quickly. I don’t have much left in me.”
Bullet nodded his head up and down, as if acknowledging the statement. The Old Timer brought him to a slow trot, through the pen and onto the central road to the front of the compound. The rifle laid across his lap, loaded and ready if needed. He wrapped his good hand around the handle, letting Bullet take control.
Bullet brought him up the road at a slow and steady trot. Only stopping when The Old Timer halted him a few hundred yards from the gate. He had extinguished the torches lining the sides of the road as they came to them, not wanting to leave a silhouette for either Ace or the guards to aim at. He dismounted and brought Bullet around in front of him, laying the rifle across the saddle, he placed his eye in the scope.
He saw the three guards at the gate, and one in each tower. Still no Ace.
“Stay still, boy.”
He brought the crosshairs over the tower on the left side of the gate, focusing on the shadow of the guard standing watch. It would be a long shot, but even injured and dizzy, he was confident he could make it. He drew a long breath, steadying the crosshair on the guards face. He squeezed the trigger, sending a .308 caliber bullet rocketing towards the guard. The bullet struck the front of the guard’s helmet, piercing the thin metal and finding it’s way into his head.
He quickly brought the crosshairs down and stopped them on one of the guards standing at the gate, sending another shot down range before any of them had time to react. This one struck the guard’s chest, knocking him to the ground. He waited a moment, watching for movement as the rest of the guards began blindly shooting down the road. The muzzle flashes were blinding in the scope, but made for easy targets.
He shifted the rifle, taking aim at a second guard on the ground. Another deafening blast as a third bullet sailed through the air, slamming into a third guard and sending him staggering backwards before collapsing. Again, no movement, no attempt to get up.
He focused his sight on the upper end of the right side tower as the remaining guard on the ground scrambled away from the gate. The guard in the tower had ducked down beneath the armored wall, there was no shot to take. He’d have to try to take the last two guards on his way through.
He gingerly pulled himself back onto the saddle. With the rifle laid across his lap again, he moved Bullet into the center of the road. He reared him up and started his charge towards the gate.
The Voice thundered around Amber. She bolted to her feet and sprinted out of the darkness and towards the gate just as The Old Timer charged up the road on his horse’s back Her hair flowed gracefully behind her as she ran, trying to get there before he did. Neither guard saw her as she reached the gate, both being too focused on him to notice she was there.
The Old Timer sped up the road on Bullet’s back, drawing the Colt revolver from the left side of his holster. He fired two shots into the tower as the guard appeared over the wall. Both bullets sailed wide, missing their intended target, but forcing the guard back below the wall, giving him time to swing the barrel in the direction of the other remaining guard. The guard fired three quick shots, all three missing The Old Timer. He pulled the trigger and sent a shot in the guard’s direction, hitting much lower than intended but still incapacitating him as the bullet tore through his knee.
Amber was at the gate. She pulled the heavy latch and kicked the gate open as Ace stepped out from behind the cabin and started up the road towards them
“Grab hold!” The Old Timer shouted as he approached her.
To his dismay, she stepped to his left, his only chance would be to try to grab her with his wounded arm.
He hung his left arm to Bullet’s side as he bolted past her. His mind screamed in anguish as she grabbed hold, only to have her hands slip through the blood as they tried to clutch his bloodied forearm. She fell face first into the ground as he reared Bullet back. He started to turn around.
No! You can’t! You don’t have enough left in you!
He hesitated as he saw Ace walking up the middle of the road, raising his Glock. He watched in horror as Amber pushed herself back to her feet. Ace fired two shots in quick succession. The only two shots he had fired all night, one finding it’s way into Amber’s left calf, and the other into her right shoulder. In slow motion, The Old Timer watched as she collapsed to the ground, reaching for him with a hand covered in his own blood, despair in her eyes.
You have to go! You’ll have to come back for her!
Tears welled up in his eyes as he reared Bullet back around and bolted into the darkness, leaving Amber clawing at the dirt in his direction, still reaching for the man who was supposed to be her savior.
Ace reached the gate as The Old Timer disappeared into the blackness of the night.
“FUCK YOU, FLINT!” He screamed, “GOD DAMN YOU STRAIGHT TO HELL YOU SON OF A BITCH! WE’LL BE COMING FOR YOU!”
He looked down at Amber as the last remaining guard descended from the tower.
“Go get the Doc. Tell him if she dies, he dies. I want this bitch alive.”