Drawing out her lock picks, Haiden crouched beside the last door in the hallway. She kept her body still, careful not to lean against the entrance as she counted down from ten. Her eye lashes brushed against splinters as she squinted in the thin tunnel of speckled light streaming through the key hole.
Guess I don’t need these, she realized. Eight, she added.
She slipped the pouch back into the pocket of her long leather jacket hanging over a sweat stained shirt and trousers. Holding her breath, she peered through the jagged opening below the unlocked iron latch.
A sole, rickety chair occupied the center of the dusty room, bathed in hazy summer sunlight. On the wicker seat, a limp body sat, head bowed, held upright by a coil of frayed rope. The braid squeezed the muddied shirt and muscle underneath, ending in a bulbous knot around wrists bound at the small of his back.
Six. I’m coming Jesse, she thought.
Someone walked beyond the limited view provided by the keyhole. Their footsteps smacked against the dirt floor in rhythmic thuds along with the stale scent of a cheap cigar.
Doc, she thought with a snarl.
Another set of boots tapped an impatient toe and jangled spurs, creating an inharmonious tune.
And Roy, she noted.
Haiden’s eyes narrowed. She followed the rays of light to the right. The pair of windows with opaque blinds, she knew, faced the side alley and a packed barrel of gun powder.
Three, she tallied as the count in her head wound down.
She shuffled back from the door, squatting in the hallway’s dead end as far from the alley as she could manage. Raising her frayed bandana over her smudged nose, she curled her arm across her face and took in a deep breath.
The building shuddered as a deafening boom smothered the air. Glass shattered and wood snapped like burning twigs. The roof crinkled.
Before the cloud of dust had cleared or her ears had stopped ringing, Haiden sprang to her feet. Grabbing the latch, she shoved her shoulder into the door.
Chunks of lumber and shards of glass covered the floor. The onion skin window shades lay in a heap, useless against the smoking hole in wall. A blur of dirt and splinters hid the alley but the screams of frightened horses and surprised shouts from the nearby stores sliced through the stifling air. Beneath a slab of timber a pair of spurs clanked as Roy’s feet sagged. Spotting Doc’s hand and the rest of him hidden beneath more debris Haiden headed straight for the overturned chair.
Drawing out a boot knife, she slashed through the cords reddening Jesse’s wrists then the rope around his body.
Jesse sagged onto the packed floor with a groan.
“Come on,” growled Haiden.
Tugging down her bandana, she stepped over his limp body. Her hand froze before she smacked Jesse’s cheeks. Dried blood covered his mouth and the front of his shirt, as if his nose had become a scarlet waterfall. His right eye had swollen shut and a wide cut split his lip. Haiden grabbed his shoulder and shook.
Jesse’s one good eye peeled open.
“Hey…sis.” One dimple sprouted in his stubble then melted away in a moan.
“Did you tell them?”
He frowned and his chin fell onto his chest. Her heart drooped until Jesse sucked in a deep breath and lifted his open eye back to her. The deep brown flickered with fiery embers.
“You think I’d look like this if I had?”
She pressed her lips onto his forehead and he grunted. With a smile, she seized one of his arms.
Jesse leaned on his other hand, heaving himself off the ground with her help. Glass crunched under her boots as she pulled.
A sudden chill fell on her back and Haiden froze. The world seemed to slow, each moment passing like an afternoon beneath a scorching sun.
They couldn’t have come so fast, she thought. The saloon was on the other end of town, she recalled, and their hands had all been around cards, chips and call girls’ thighs, thoughts blurry with foggy beer and dry whiskey.
“They’re back,” murmured Jesse, oblivious of her reasoning.
Glancing toward the hole in the wall she found a single silhouette amidst the haze. The click of a safety turned her blood to ice. Light glinted off a barrel as the muzzle swung toward her. While she stared, she absently noted scraping, like nails against glass or a skittering mouse, from somewhere else in the room.
Pushing Jesse back to the earth, Haiden tried shielding his wider mass with her body and flapping coat. Clenching her eyes closed, she braced herself for the shot.
The revolver barked. Haiden winced. A pained voice howled.
Opening one eye, she looked toward the cry.
Doc’s left hand clutched his right shoulder, fingers doing little to stem the gush of blood from the wound. Splinters cluttered his beard and the rest of the debris pinning his legs to the ground. In the dirt at his limp right hand lay a gleaming pistol.
“Bastard,” he slurred.
“It can’t be,” whispered Jesse, propping himself up on his elbow and staring at the jagged wall.
Haiden wheeled, knife pointed toward the shooter draped in shadow and the coils of his smoking gun. The brim of his hat along with the hem of his coat and the drooping reigns in his other hand stirred in a faint gust. The square medallion dangling from his neck glinted as he squared his lean frame to her.
“Clyde?” Haiden found her voice hoarse.
Stepping through the hole, light revealed the fading bruise on Clyde’s nose, eyes like bullets and the scar across his left cheek.
He held out the reigns. “They were going to run.”
A tug on her arm pulled Haiden out of her stupor. Turning, with eyes as wide as wagon wheels, she found Jesse’s hand on her elbow and helped him up to his feet.
“Watch your step,” said Clyde as they staggered toward the opening.
“You’re one to talk,” Jesse said with a snort.
Clyde’s thin mouth cocked with a half grin. Haiden stumbled under Jesse’s weight but Clyde caught her brother’s other arm before they both tumbled back to the ground.
“I got him,” said Clyde. He offered the reigns as the horses on the other end pawed and whinnied.
Stowing her knife, Haiden grabbed the leather straps. They were warm against her fingers. She stared down at them for a moment then glanced at Clyde as he shifted his shoulder under Jesse’s arm.
Opening her mouth, she discovered all of her words lost somewhere in her throat.
A clatter and groan turned her head. Leaning on his wounded side, Doc snarled.
“You won’t get away, you bastards.”
“We’ll see about that,” Haiden spat back. She exchanged a steadier gaze with Clyde and they stepped through the battered hole.
A small crater encircled the shattered staves of the gun powder barrel she had ignited at the base of the wall.
“Nice trick,” said Clyde, his gaze flicking between the makeshift explosive and her face.
Shrugging, Haiden patted Boxer’s chestnut nose. The horse tilted ears and let out a wicker.
“This isn’t finished yet,” she whispered into the ragged mane.
Mounting into her saddle, she helped Clyde heave Jesse onto the second horse. Jesse wavered like a long stalk of wheat but managed to stay upright. Once Clyde sat on Walker’s wide back, Haiden turned Boxer’s nose toward the open plains around the growing frontier town.
“Let’s go,” growled Jesse through clenched teeth.
With a slap of heels, their trot rose into a gallop and they left the battered room in their dust.