Knuckle Ridge, Chapter 6

  • Posted on October 18, 2020 at 2:54 pm

by Purple Les

A soft ray of dawn crept over The Kid’s eyelids. As they gradually drifted open, the first thing she saw was Ann’s face.

Tequila lay still, studying the soft features of her lover. Ann had a long day yesterday. Best let her sleep on while I get myself together. 

Rising slowly, The Kid took some clean clothes from the chest of drawers and headed down the stairs to the kitchen, where she got a fire going in the stove. Filling the metal tub, she paused to put a pot of coffee on, keeping an eye on it while she took a quick bath.

The coffee was done by the time she’d finished rinsing herself. The Kid got out of the tub and moved the pot to the edge of the burner, then dried off and got dressed, happy to finally be wearing pants again. Dragging the tub out to the garden, she emptied it in the vegetable patch.

Wearing her worn but very snug Levi-Strauss blue jeans and a gray and white checkered shirt, buttoned just low enough to make it clear that she wore nothing underneath, The Kid studied herself. I reckon this will give Lady Ice Queen a reason to get her ectoplasm going.

Sitting at the kitchen table and nursing a cup of coffee, she pondered her next move. Figure I’ll stay put here till late morning, then catch up to Lady Ice Queen at the hotel. Maybe Ann will be up by then.

After a second cup of coffee and a light breakfast of bread, cheese and an apple, The Kid began to fiddle again with the contraption she’d taken from the cardsharp a few days earlier, the one she intended to retool for her own use. The idea was to use the device to conceal her derringer beneath the clothes she wore, then flick the gun right into her hand when she flexed it.

After several adjustments, The Kid almost had it working right. Rolling her sleeve up to above the elbow, she attached the gizmo to her arm, wanting to get used to its weight. The gun was unloaded, just in case the device thrust it into her hand by accident. She tried it out a few more times, then heard the mantel clock chime.

Time to get a move on. She rolled her sleeve back down, concealing the empty derringer. Before I leave, though…

The Kid filled a mug with hot coffee, then brought it up to Ann, pausing to tap on the open door before she entered.

Opening her eyes, then quickly covering them, Ann mumbled, “What time is it?”

“Little after eleven. I gotta get goin’, Ann. Brung you some coffee.”

“Please, just leave it on the nightstand,” Ann said into her pillow.

Bending to kiss the top of Ann’s head, The Kid said, “All right then. See you later.”

Going back downstairs, the Tequila Kid sat on the sofa and pulled on her socks and boots. Standing up, she put on her vest, strapped on her guns and Bowie knife, then put her Stetson on and walked out the door, bound for the Ridge Hotel.

Poking her head into the Sheriff’s office on the way, The Kid was surprised to find Gus Masters swearing in a posse.

“All right, boys,” Gus said, glancing at The Kid. “Get your horses and gear and meet me out on the street as soon as you can.”

As the men hurried out, The Kid came in, asking, “What’s goin’ on, Gus?”

“Got a gang of horse thieves to round up.” Gus’s expression was grave. “Sorry ‘bout this, Kid, but you’ll have to bring in the murderer yourself. Listen here, now.” Reaching for a wanted flyer on his desk, he read it out loud to The Kid.

“Just like we figured, Gus,” The Kid said. “Can you read it again?”

“Sure.” He did so, then laid a hand on her shoulder. “Be careful, Kid. I can’t wait on them horse thieves, and that arrest has got to be made right now. Don’t know for sure when I’ll be back. Jigs’ll be keeping an eye on things here. I told him what’s goin’ on, and he’s ready to lend a hand if you need it.” Putting his hat on, he left without another word.

Moments later, The Kid heard Sheriff Masters and his posse ride off. Staring at the poster that she couldn’t read, she finally laid it face down on Gus’ desk with a sigh.

Stepping into the street, The Kid made her way straight to the Ridge Hotel, where she walked up to the front desk and asked, “Howdy, Ed. Has Lady Wyeth-Boton been by?”

“Mornin’, Kid. No, haven’t seen her yet. That Count Cousiourac feller checked in last night, though. He took the suites for himself and the lady.”

“He havin’ lunch?”

“Now that you ask, it’s funny. Don’t think I’ve seen him yet today,” Ed replied, a puzzled look on his face.

The Kid raised an eyebrow. “Any idea when Lady Wyeth-Boton is comin’ in, Ed?”

He glanced back at the clock. “From what the Count said last night, I thought sure she’d be here by now.”

“Can I go up and see him, Ed?”

“Sure, Kid. Top floor, room three-oh-two.”

“Much obliged, Ed.” The Kid said over her shoulder, taking the stairs two at a time.

Reaching the top floor, she found the room and knocked on the door. Silence. She knocked again, harder this time. Still no response. Her pulse was beginning to race as she knocked once more, this time calling out, “Count Cousiourac? It’s me, The Tequila Kid. You in there?”

Not a sound.

The Kid tried the knob. It turned — the door was unlocked. With one hand on the grip of her six-shooter, The Kid slowly, carefully nudged the door open.

Despite it being late morning, the room was very dark, the heavy drapes pulled tightly over the closed windows. It was quiet, the kind of quiet The Kid didn’t care for.

A confusion of smells filled The Kid’s nostrils — gunpowder, perfume, and something else mingled together in a sickening combination. Finding a candle on the dresser, The Kid lit it, then took a closer look around.

Count Cousiourac’s valise was left open on the bed. The Kid glanced inside, but didn’t see anything but clothes. The bed covers were on the floor opposite where The Kid stood. On the bed was a pillow with a hole in it and powder burns around it.

The Tequila Kid squatted down by the bedclothes and lifted them up, certain of what she would find.

She felt her blood go cold as she uncovered the dead body of Count Cousiourac. He still wore his coat, and The Kid could feel that his gun was in its shoulder holster. There was a bullet hole in the back of his head.

The Kid turned the body over just enough to see how the exit wound had made a horror of the Count’s once handsome face. The corpse was somewhat still — rigor mortis had set in already.

Must of been shot early this morning or last night, I reckon, The Kid thought, noting how the stale air was in the room.

The Kid closely studied the body and how it lay. Moving to stand behind the late Count, she pointed a finger at about where the man’s head would have been while he was on his knees. Holding the candle, she moved beyond the corpse and, getting down on hands and knees, carefully searched the floor. After a minute or so she found the spent bullet, encrusted in dried blood. Holding it up to eye level, she muttered, “Yep, a .32 all right.”

The Kid looked around some more but found nothing else of interest, save for two glasses on the nightstand, a residue of liquor in each. Oddly enough, there was no bottle to be seen. Checking the Count’s body again, she found a silver hip flask tucked into his coat pocket.

The Kid took one last glance around the room and at the body. “Yep, had to be,” she said to herself, then blew out the candle. Carefully opening the door, she stepped into the hallway, pushed the door shut and made her way to the stairs. She slowly descended them, lost in thought.

When she reached the lobby, The Kid watched as Ed chatted with a couple who were checking out. When they turned to leave, The Kid quickly approached the counter. “Hey, Ed — you see anyone visit the Count this mornin’ or last night?”

“I didn’t, no.” Spying another man passing through the lobby, Ed called out to him. “Hey, Johnny! When you were on the desk last night, y’see anybody? Anyone visit the Count?”

“That joker in the fancy duds? Naw, it was deader’n a plugged nickel the whole damn night. See ya later, Ed.” The two men nodded to each other, and a whistling Johnny took his leave.

“Is the Count gonna come down soon, Kid?” Ed asked, looking back at the clock.

The Kid sighed and looked around, then said, “I reckon he’ll be down sooner or later. But he’ll be comin’ feet first.” Leaning on the front counter, she added, “You best have Jigs and the Doc come on over here.”

Ed’s eyes widened, his mustache twitching. “Aw, hellfire, Kid, you don’t mean–”

The Kid nodded. whispering, “He’s been murdered. Last night or this mornin’. The Doc can tell better than me. You give him a call. Me, I gotta run.”

The Kid took a brisk walk to Donna Wilson’s boarding house, going straight back to the kitchen. Donna was in the process of getting lunch ready, depositing ladlefuls of mashed potato into a line of plates. Some of the boarders were already seated at the large oaken table. The Kid didn’t see Molly Hardy anywhere.

“Howdy, Donna,” The Kid said as the heavyset forty-year old widow opened an enormous oven and took out a metal pan full of dinner rolls, gripping it with a towel in her hand. “You seen Miss Hardy?”

“Hello, Kid,” Donna said as she set the pan on the counter and began to pry the rolls out with quick thrusts of a long bread knife, deftly putting one on each of the plates. “She left early this mornin.’ Had her valise with her and told me goodbye. I offered her some money back, as she’d paid for the whole week ahead of time, but she told me to keep it. She’s a real nice girl.”

“Much obliged,” The Kid said as she rushed out the door and half-ran to the livery stable.

“Howdy, Mac,” The Kid greeted the old stable hand, who was laboriously cleaning out an empty stall, its horse standing idly by. “Is Nate here?”

“He’s over to the Highland Cafe, Kid, havin’ him some lunch. Can I help ye?” Mac offered.

The Kid looked around at the stalls. Button and Pegasus whinnied at her. The Kid stood, thumbs hooked in her belt, then she asked, “Mac, you been here all morning? Awake?”

“Sure have.”

“Y’see anyone ride off? Like a woman, I mean.”

“Sure did.”

“You know who it was?”

“Sure do.” Mac smiled, proud to have the answers The Kid needed.

“Could you please tell me who?”

“Sure.”

The Kid narrowed her sky-blue eyes on Mac’s bloodshot ones, making it clear that she’d had enough of this game.

“Oh, sure, Kid, sorry,” Mac said, suddenly catching on. “I saw Nate rent a horse to that Miss Hardy woman early this mornin’. Said she felt like takin’ a ride.”

The Kid pulled a silver dollar from her jeans pocket and held it between her fingers at eye level.

Mac licked his lips and added, “That was ‘bout seven. Didn’t say where she was bound, nor when she’d be back. Took that red hammerhead roan.”

The Kid slipped the dollar into Mac’s coat pocket and said, “Much obliged, Mac.”

“Thank ye, Kid,” Mac said with a toothless smile as The Kid walked over to the stalls. She patted Pegasus, then quickly saddled up Button.

The Kid led Button outside and said to Mac, “I’ll be headed out to the Ruggles place. If you see Jigs or the sheriff, tell ‘em that for me.”

Swinging into the saddle, The Tequila Kid rode Button out of town at a fast walk. Approaching Ann’s house, she thought about stopping long enough to fetch her rifle and saddlebag, then decided against it, not wanting to waste a minute — or bother Ann, for that matter.

The Kid kept moving. Once clear of the town, she got Button up to a gallop, heading up the road for the Ruggles estate.

Halfway there, The Kid spied a buggy, coming in her direction. As it drew closer, she realized that it was carrying the members of Mrs Ruggles’ staff, all dressed in their regular clothes — Madge, the cook; Homer, the stable boy, who was driving the buggy; the poker-faced butler and a couple of young women The Kid didn’t know. Maids, most likely.

She quickly brought Button to a standstill, and Homer did the same with the strawberry roan who pulled the buggy. “Howdy,” The Kid said. “Where you folks headed?”

Madge’s dark brown face broke into a huge grin. “Hey there, Kid. Can you believe it? We’re all headed to town for the day. Miz Ruggles gived us fifty dollars to spend betwixt us, said we could take the whole day an’ the night off!”

“That happen much?” The Kid asked, tilting her hat back.

Everyone on the buggy laughed. Madge said, “That ain’t never happened before, Kid. We reckon Christmas done come early this year!”

“Mrs Ruggles got any company?”

“Just the lady who talks to dead people, an’ that little girl Gracie,” Madge said.

Then the butler spoke up. “Actually, we had a visitor turn up not long before Madame dismissed us. A Miss Hardy, to see Lady Wyeth-Boton. She wanted her fortune read.”

“She tells fortunes, too?” Madge exclaimed, glancing at the butler. “My, my. Wish now that I’d got her to do that for me!” She turned back to The Kid. “You head right on up to the house, Kid. I’m sure Miz Ruggles, she’ll be glad to see you again. So long, now!” She and a couple of the others waved goodbye as Homer gave the reins a tug, and the buggy continued on its way toward Knuckle Ridge.

The Kid rode on toward the Ruggles place, now at a slower pace. As she rounded a bend in the road, she spied the estate at the top of the hill and reined in Button. Pondering a moment, she turned the horse off the main road, taking a roundabout way up toward the rear entrance to the house.

Stopping near the edge of the property The Kid dismounted and tied Button’s reins to a low tree branch. Patting the horse’s neck, she murmured, “Be back soon, girl.” Button munched at the grass, unconcerned.

Slow and in silence, The Kid stayed close to the trees, then the barn and stable, carefully working her way to the back of the house. Glancing into the barn, she saw the hammerhead roan, still saddled. The Kid continued on, moving to the kitchen door. She peered through the window, but saw nothing out of sorts.

Taking a deep breath, The Kid took hold of the knob of the door, slowly opened it and crept inside. She paused to listen and, hearing nothing untoward, ventured into the dining room. The long table was set for three, draped in a snow white linen tablecloth that hung almost to the floor.

The Kid listened again. This time, she heard muffled voices. With a vague idea of what part of the house they came from, The Kid tiptoed into the drawing room. Now she knew for certain that the voices were issuing from the next story up.

The Kid took a deep breath and began to mount the stairs, silently praying that they didn’t squeak. One step, then another, then another, pausing to listen every five steps or so. One of the voices was loud and angry, she could tell that much.

Reaching the top of the staircase, The Kid knew right away where the sounds were coming from — the late Maurice Ruggles’ game room. The door was halfway open. She crept down the corridor, staying close to the wall. Now those voices were clear enough to make out… and The Kid didn’t like what she heard.

The hallway, thankfully, was dimly lit. Staying away from the light that spilled from the game room, The Kid risked a look inside.

Molly Hardy paced back and forth, her eyes wild. Standing before her were Mrs Ruggles, Gracie and Lady Jane, all clearly terrified. The child sobbed in the arms of Lady Jane, who was trying to comfort her.

“Once more, damn you!” Molly Hardy yelled. “Where are they?” She slapped Mrs Ruggles hard across the face.

“I — I don’t know, honestly I don’t!” Mrs Ruggles replied, tears pouring from her eyes. “I don’t think there even are any. I meant to ask at the seance. Maurice died s-so suddenly… Once he was gone, I never was able to make m-much sense of his financial affairs.”

Liar!” Molly shrieked. “You can’t make me believe your husband didn’t tell you where a million dollars worth of diamonds are at.” She slapped Mrs Ruggles’ face hard three times, back and forth. The poor old woman was swaying, on the verge of blacking out.

“That was one of the things Mrs Ruggles wanted me to ask him at the seance, but — but she didn’t get a chance,” Lady Jane put in, a quaver in her voice. “Please… you’ve got to believe us!”

The Kid was ready to draw her gun, but then held off as Molly turned and faced the door for a moment, her eyes blazing with rage. Then she whirled back to face the others. “I’ve had enough of this.” She carried a .32 caliber pistol in her dress sash.

Carefully drawing her own Colt .45, The Kid gave the door a push and advanced into the room.

As a surprised Molly whirled around, she yanked the pistol from her sash, crooked an arm around Gracie’s  throat and drew the child in front of her. Pulling the hammer back with a loud click, she pressed the gun against Gracie’s temple.

The Kid froze where she stood. Shit, she’s faster than I figured.

“Well, Miss Kid,” Molly Hardy hissed, “Why don’t you lay that gun down on the floor… and do it nice and slow.” Pressing the gun barrel against the terrified little girl’s head, she added, “Or maybe you’d like to see me blow her brains out. You might get a shot off, but the girl will die for sure.”

Falling to her knees, Mrs Ruggles begged, “No! Please don’t hurt the child!”

Without even looking her way, Molly delivered a swift kick to the old woman’s head. Mrs Ruggles fell to the floor, and Lady Jane hastened to her aid. Seating herself on the parquet floor, she gently laid the woman’s head in her lap, then took hold of the hem of her skirt, using it to stanch a trickle of blood that was flowing from a cut left about two inches from Mrs Ruggles’ eye.

Standing with both hands shoulder high, The Kid softly said, “Nobody wants that.” Slowly bending, she placed her gun on the floor, nudging it toward Molly with the toe of her boot, then raised her hands again.

“Now take off that gun belt. Nice and easy.”

Keeping her right hand up, The Kid carefully brought the left hand down and, one by one, undid the leather strings at the bottom of her holsters, tied a couple of inches above her knees. Then with two fingers, she undid her gun belt and lowered it to the floor with the other Colt it held, also pushing it toward Molly with her foot.

“The knife, too,” Molly ordered, tightening her grip on Gracie’s throat.

With thumb and forefinger, The Kid slowly pulled the Bowie knife from its sheath and put it on the floor.

“Now back up some.” The Kid slowly took three small steps backward, still holding up her hands.

Molly gave a cackle of laughter as she shook Gracie, then her expression turned cold and hard. Her arm still curled around the child’s neck, Molly aimed her gun at The Kid. “Now get over by those other two.”

The Kid moved toward Mrs Ruggles and Lady Jane.

“Get that old bitch up on her knees… and you get on your knees too, Kid, just the same as Lady Jane there.”

The Kid knelt on the other side of Mrs Ruggles, then she and Lady Jane helped the old woman to her knees.

“Yep, that’s how you like to do it, don’t you, Molly? Or I reckon I should call you by your right name — Jessie Sinclair.” The Kid spoke slowly and softly, as if she was talking with an old friend. “You like takin’ that head shot from the back, don’t you. Just like the way you done it to Roy.”

Jessie smiled at The Kid, but her eyes were glowing with pure hatred. “You think you’re a smart one, don’t you?” she said. She glared at Lady Jane, then down at the whimpering child in her grip. “Who was it that gave me up?”

“None of ‘em, Jessie,” The Kid answered calmly. “They kept their word to you. Maybe I ain’t so smart… but you’re not as smart as you think, neither.”

“Tell me what you think you know, Kid, and I’ll tell you what you got wrong,” Jessie said, then she shook Gracie again. “Stop whimpering, you goddamn brat!”

The Kid pondered her situation. I’m on my knees with an old woman and a con artist, while this cold-blooded killer has got little Gracie round the neck. I ain’t got no weapon but an empty derringer up my sleeve. Gus is off chasin’ horse thieves. Only reason we’re still alive is Jessica Sinclair thinks Mrs Ruggles knows where some diamonds is, and maybe cause she wonders how much I know and who else knows it. I reckon for now if I can keep her talkin’, maybe I can get the jump on her.

The Kid spoke, taking care to keep her voice cool and soft. “Well, when I looked at where the robbin’ had been done, and heard what everyone had to say, I figured it thisaway.”

The Kid kept her eyes riveted on Jessie. Gracie’s face was so pale that the freckles across her nose looked like they were floating in the air. Mrs Ruggles groaned, clutching her chest as Lady Jane held her up.

“Reckon I should start from the beginnin’, oughtn’t I?” The Kid said, hoping to buy time with her story.

“Fine, fine. Go on,” Jessie said.

“Well, I reckon it started with Bob. You seem the type of gal that gets men to do as you want. Bob was the sort that liked sweet girls, and you pretended you was one. Seein’ as he worked for the stage line, you got to know him some. Maybe after a few drinks or kisses or whatnot, you got him to tell you that there was somethin’ valuable they’d be carryin’ on the stage.”

“Go on.”

“You bought a coach ticket. Bob, I reckon, was right pleased you’d be ridin’ along. What he didn’t know was that you hired another man to stop the stage and rob it. Your plan was to kill everyone. Your pardner would ride to Knuckle Ridge with the gold certificates, and you’d be the lone survivor bringin’ the stage into town yourself. Everyone would think you was a hero.” She paused a moment to lick her lips again with a tongue that had no wetness.

“Close enough,” Jessie muttered, then waved her gun, gesturing for The Kid to continue.

“You got Roy on his knees, just like we are now, and you shot him in the head from behind. Your pardner had a gun on Bob while you done that.” The Kid stopped for a moment to swallow, her mouth feeling dry as dust. “How’m I doin’ so far?”

“Not bad for a dirty half-breed girl who thinks she’s a man,” Jessie sneered. “Go on.”

“It was all workin’ just right, but then Bob messed things up. While your pardner watched you kill Roy, Bob got a hard punch into your pardner’s face, then tried to get to the shotgun on the stage box. He made it up there, but you shot him soon as he turned round with the gun.”

“Thought he could get the drop on me,” Jessie said, her voice thick with scorn. “Guess I showed him.”

“Your pardner rode off with the strong box, broke it open and headed to town to meet up with you later, like you planned to. You went inside the coach to kill the rest.”

Frowning, Jessica Sinclair knitted her eyebrows as she listened.

“But that’s when Bob fouled you up again. He weren’t done dyin’ yet. He took the brake off and started the horses, then he lost control and they ran wild. And there you was, stuck in the coach with the others.

“I reckon that sometime while I was tryin’ to stop’ the coach, you made a little deal with the Count and Lady Jane. If they kept their mouths shut, you’d give ‘em a cut of the loot. I figure you made it clear that it was either take your deal, or die.”

“I have to admit, you more or less worked it all out,” Jessie said, sounding somewhat calmer. Her grip on Gracie hadn’t slackened, though. “How’d you tag me?”

“Oh, you gave yourself away bit by bit.” The Kid said, like a schoolmarm gently correcting a student. “You were the only one who told that story about there bein’ two bandits. But from where the crime happened, I  could see clear as day that there weren’t but one rider. You should of got that story straight with Lady Jane and the Count, but I’m bettin’ there wasn’t enough time for that.”

“There wasn’t,” Jessie said. “I did tell ‘em both — and this brat,” she added, giving Gracie another shake, “what I’d do if they dared to give me away.” She gave a scornful laugh. “That Count’s face was something to see. He acts all high and mighty, but when I had the barrel of my gun under his chin, he looked about ready to shit his britches.” She laughed again. “Go on. What else did you see, then?”

“I saw that one person did get off the coach. A woman. One wearin’ plain shoes, not fancy ones. That had me wonderin’ about you right from the start. Then there was the way you acted so concerned for Bob.

“You weren’t givin’ Bob comfort on the ride to town, not really. You was makin’ sure he wasn’t gonna speak up. Hopin’ the whole way he’d die. The way you kept askin’ about his condition… and if he said anything afore he passed. Well, just so you know, Bob did have some last words.”

Jessie’s jaw tightened. “Oh. So you lied to me. I see. I don’t like it when people do that.” She glared at The Kid impatiently. “Well? What did he say, damn you?”

“He said, ‘That woman.’ He meant you, of course. The woman that made a fool of him, then shot him dead. But as far as you knew, Bob died without sayin’ a word. The witness who could of sent you to the gallows was gone, and you could breathe easy for a while.”

Jessie was paying close attention to the story, but her alertness had yet to waver in the slightest. She was watching the others closely, as if daring one of them to make a move. The Kid felt sick at heart. Dang, this ain’t gonna work. But she had to keep talking, had to stall this crazy woman for as long as she could.

She continued with the story. “Problem was, folks started askin’ you for their cut of the loot. Your pardner was the first, so you shot him dead… right after he gave you them gold certificates, I’ll wager.”

Jessie sniggered. “Soon as I had the package under my arm. Oh my, that Henry… a good crook to work with, but a first-rate jackass. You know, he actually thought I was in love with him?” She continued to laugh. “You should’ve seen his face, right before I put that bullet in his chest.”

She’s tryin’ to get me rattled, The Kid thought. “Then last night, the Count came to town to ask about his cut.” She glanced at Lady Jane and then, looking back at Jessie, said, “So you killed him, too.”

Lady Jane’s hand flew to her open mouth and Gracie squirmed and whimpered. Jessie tightened her grip on Gracie’s throat and shook the little girl hard. “Stop it, I said!”

“You got him on his knees and used a pillow to muffle the shot to the back of his head.” The Kid said, still speaking softly. She took a breath and added, “So you hightailed it out here to finish off Lady Jane and Gracie… the only living souls who knew the truth about that robbery, you figured.”

Jessie regarded The Kid with a sour smile. “That was my plan, but then while I was at that two-bit boarding house, I’d heard talk that the old woman’s husband got his hands on a big batch of diamonds before he kicked the bucket. I figured, why not kill these two Englishers and get the diamonds too?” She seemed quite pleased with herself.

“So you just come right up to the door and asked for Lady Jane.”

Again, Jessie responded with a harsh laugh. “I did, I did… and you know what, the dumb bitch took me straight to her room!” Her eyes danced with crazed glee. “Can you believe it? She really thought I’d give her a share of my money!” She giggled. “When that starched-shirt butler opened the door, I told him how I wanted the famous La-dy Wy-eth Bo-ton to read the tea leaves for me.” Her gaze drifted over to Lady Jane, who was shivering with fear. “Guess I needn’t bother with that now. If she was any damn good at telling the future, she’d’ve known that she doesn’t have much of one.”

“My God,” Lady Jane whispered, her face deathly pale.

“So you put a gun to her head and had her fetch Mrs Ruggles, then you made her send all the servants away. And now,” The Kid shrugged, “here we are.”

“Here we are,” Jessie replied smugly.

“Listen, Jessie,” The Kid began, the gun at Gracie’s head looking bigger every second. “You got a half million dollars in gold certificates. Why fool around here, just cause you heard a rumor about diamonds that might not even be real?”

Jessie ran the gun barrel lightly back and forth over Gracie’s head as she answered. “I like having money. Those gold certificates will make me rich, once I find another fool to cash them for me. I’ll have enough gold coins to bathe in, and no way to trace them. Maybe I won’t have diamonds, but I’ve got all the witnesses right here, and you’ll be dead soon enough.” Her gaze shifted to The Kid. “Does the sheriff know about me? Who I am?”

“He does,” The Kid replied. “Yesterday, he got hold of a copy of your wanted poster.”

That grim smile returned. “Well, I’m not worried about the sheriff. I paid a couple of low-lifes fifty dollars and a bottle of cheap whiskey apiece to steal some horses, make it look like they were part of a gang of thieves. Figured that would get him out of my hair, and it did.” She gave a contented sigh. “In the morning I’ll be on the train. First to Austin, then off to Denver. In Denver there’ll be a package waiting for me, full of gold certificates.”

Glancing at Mrs Ruggles, Jessie shook her head. “I’m starting to think that this old cow really doesn’t know where those diamonds are. So I’ll kill you all, and by the time your bodies are found, I’ll be in Denver. From there…” She smiled. “Who knows? Who cares? I’m set for life.”

The Kid smiled. “That’s what you think, Jessie.”

Jessica Sinclair narrowed her eyes. “What’s that mean?”

Forcing herself to make it sound casual, The Kid said, “Well, y’see, that package ain’t in Denver.”

“Oh, really,” Jessie snorted with disdain. “And just where else would it be?”

The Kid kept her face blank as she answered. “It’s locked up in Sheriff Gus Masters‘ office safe.”

Jessie’s eyes widened in alarm, then narrowed back to a hard stare. “You liar. That old hen at the post office told me she’d have it on the stage that morning.” Flashing a nasty grin, she did a mocking imitation of Edna May’s wizened voice, “‘The mail’s a sacred trust,’ that’s what she said to me.”

“I got her to hold it long enough for me to get a federal warrant, so I could open it.”

Jessica Sinclair shook her head. “No. No, you didn’t get that package. You’re lying, you are. That money’s mine. I took it fair and square, you can’t have it.” Her voice rose to a screech. “I don’t believe you!

The Kid smiled, quiet and easy. “Before you wrapped them gold certificates up to mail, you put ‘em in a muslin bag with a drawstring.”

Jessie’s face fell apart like a shattered mirror, her cheeks pale as chalk. She began to tremble, her arm tightening around Gracie’s throat as blind rage grew inside her like a mounting fire.

“You…“ she whispered, glaring at The Kid. “You half-breed whore. You flea-ridden piece of redskin shit. You rat cunt!” Her grip tightened on the pistol she held. “I should put a bullet in your fucking face. But that’s too good for the likes of you. That was my money, MINE!” Her teeth were bared, each breath hissing through them. “I’d like to roast you alive over a slow fire, listen to you scream.”

The Kid’s heart sank as Jessie ranted and raved. Hell’s bells, she thought. I shouldn’t of told her that. But the way she was all puffed up, braggin’ about what she done… damn it, I just had to wipe that smile off her face.

She took a deep breath, bracing herself. If I’m gonna make a move on her, it’s gotta be soon. But first, I need to try to talk her into lettin’ the others go.

Winded with helpless rage, the howling woman had fallen silent, and The Kid seized her chance to speak up. “Listen, Jessie. I know you’re mighty mad at me for what I done to you, and I reckon I gotta pay the price for it. But why harm these other folks? They did you no wrong.”

Jessie’s eyes narrowed, but when she spoke, her voice was even and steady. “Go on,” she said.

Feeling a flicker of hope, The Kid soldiered on. “You got a horse in the barn. Do whatever you plan to do with me, then tie the others up, take whatever jewels and cash layin’ around here you can find, then head for Mexico. Cut your losses now. You ain’t got no gold certificates, you ain’t gonna have no diamonds, and when Gus Masters gets back from his wild goose chase, he’s comin’ after you. Hell, the whole state will be after you.”

Giving a thoughtful nod, Jessie said. “Hmmm… maybe you’re right, Kid. No need to kill any more than I have to.” She glanced at Lady Jane, then Mrs Ruggles, then down at Gracie. “Tie them up… I could do that…”

The Kid watched, almost afraid to move as the woman mulled the idea over, almost calmly.

Then, in the flicker of an eye, all the ugliness and hate returned to Jessie’s face as she shrieked, “HA!” She gave The Kid a twisted smile. “You must think I’m dumb as some turnip-grubbing farmer. I don’t ever leave witnesses behind. And why should I do you any goddamn favors, after you took my money? Hell, I’ll kill them just to make you cry, you filthy bitch.” She spat on the floor.

The Kid licked her parched lips. “Listen, Jessie, do whatever you like to me, but let these gals go. Listen, you could take me with you as a hostage. I’m a Texas Ranger. The law will make a deal with you to save me. There just ain’t no point to killing them.”

Jessie laughed. A long, brittle laugh that sent a chill up The Kid’s spine. “I like killing. I’m already in for four murders in this town anyhow, so what’s a few extra?” She paused. “Tell you what, though. Just so you know I’m not all bad, I’ll kill the girl first, so she won’t have to watch the rest of you die.”

She threw Gracie to the floor, then aimed the gun at the sobbing child. “You’re right, you know. I do like the back of the head shot,” Jessie said. “Know why? It blows out the face all funny. Makes me laugh to see it.”

“Dear God, no!” Lady Jane screamed hysterically. “Spare her! For God’s sake, by all that’s holy, don’t kill her!” She began to sob, “No, no, please dear God, don’t let her die.” Her eyes flooded with tears as she stared at the little girl and whimpered, “I love you, Gracie…” She wept even harder, barely managing to choke out, “I love you so m-much, sweetheart. I love you.”

Jessica Sinclair carefully placed the barrel of her gun against the back of Gracie’s skull, looking up to smile sweetly at the three women, all still on their knees.

“It’ll all be over for you in a moment, child,” she said.

On to Chapter Seven!

 

20 Comments on Knuckle Ridge, Chapter 6

  1. David says:

    Wow another great chapter Purple Les, but did you have to leave us hanging? Of course you did, lol! Great writing and storyline! Looking forward to the next chapter.

  2. sue says:

    WTF! Okay, started so good, and got even better as it moved along. ‘She’s a real nice girl’ Well, we wondered who the killer was and we sure found out. As I read along I thought of the crime shows I like on TV. Sometimes you watch and think, well this is sort of involved to wind up in five minutes, and then it doesn’t wind up, it’s continued next week, ahhg, what a total cliff hanger.

    Great chapter.

    Kim&Sue

  3. Captain Midnight says:

    THAT caught me flatfooted.

  4. kacey says:

    Now would be a REALLY good time for a certain device to malfunction, and catapult an empty firearm across a room, knocking another firearm off, don’t y’all think?

  5. Erocritique says:

    Damn…., I thought for sure the adults on the stage were all in it together, but I guess not. Though they did keep silent for their “promised” share of the loot so……

    The little twist with Lady W-B being in love with Gracie was sweet, but now I’m a bit confused about their relationship. Is Gracie really Lady W-B’s daughter???

    One thing I do know for certain is that Jessie Sinclair is one evil bitch that needs to be put down. I think I loath her as much as Ramses Kingsley from Tears of the sun.

    This is a really tight spot the kid and the others are in. I don’t even want to guess how they all get out of it alive, so I’m just going to let Purple Les call the tune. I hope it’s a happy one.

  6. Euphrosyne, Thalia & Aglaia says:

    OMG! so freakin’ good! wow! oh wow!….
    I just have to agree with everybody’s comments. from David’s: great chapter, to Sue’s: WTF to Captain Midnight’s: caught flatfooted, to Erocritique’s: Jessie is one evil bitch, and kacey’s: the gizmo malfunctions and the derringer goes flying but yet helps the Kid.

    It’s all so AMAZING! The writing and story plot is so richly intriguing and reminiscent of many a great 1940’s murder mystery.

    I just have to point out here some brilliant passages I found so wonderful:

    1. the humorous back and forth banter with old Mac, the stable hand…so good!

    2. this short bit from the captive segment:
    ‘The Kid kept her eyes riveted on Jessie. Gracie’s face was so pale that the freckles across her nose looked like they were floating in the air.’…you can almost see that in your mind’s eye!

    3.and this passage from when Jessie’s whole “I’m a genius and you don’t know diddlysquat about it” plan, that the “half breed whore,flea ridden red skinned piece of shit, rat cunt” Texas Ranger, we all, most affectionately love, The Tequila Kid, confronts her with and she[Jessie] realizes everything might be headed south in a bad way:

    ” Jessie’s face fell apart like a shattered mirror, her cheeks pale as chalk. She began to tremble,her arm tightening around Gracie’s throat as a blind rage grew inside her like a mounting fire.”…

    Brilliant! such descriptions as these are so wonderful. they add depth and dimension to this saga bringing it to our minds as clear as if we were there…

    waiting with a, dry as The Kid’s was, mouth for the next “hang on to yer hats,gents” episode!

    Much obliged,Purple Les for this!

    E,T&A

  7. Purple Les says:

    Thank you all so much. JetBoy and I really wondered what readers would think of this chapter.

    Love all your thoughts on this, and on what may or may not happen. All I can say now is to steal from,E,T& A and say,’hang on to your hats’.

    • Euphrosyne, Thalia & Aglaia says:

      Hey, Purple Les!

      no, no, oh please no, don’t you think “steal” is too harsh a word?, I mean given that we’re concerned with a story about outlaws and Texas Rangers, let’s say that you temporarily procure, or snavell, or scrump, or peculate, or even agreeably purloin from E,T&A…that would sound more civil and easy on the ears to all the good law abiding folks in these here parts 🙂

      • JetBoy says:

        Someone with a vocabulary as vast as you (coupled with a taste for dirty stories) ought to be turning out erotic fiction of your own, friend. (That’s a none-too-subtle hint.)

        • Euphrosyne, Thalia & Aglaia says:

          Thanks,JetBoy but, oh would that I could!…
          I’m afraid that I lack two key elements, discipline and determination in the best sense of literary endeavors, in other words…well, in other words.

      • Purple Les says:

        Or as someone in my family was found of saying, I didn’t steal it, I just took it.

  8. JetBoy says:

    I’d like to add my voice to that of Purple Les to thank all you wonderful readers who take the time to share their thoughts with us… and such lovely thoughts they are, too!

    (Especially seeing as this chapter is completely bereft of sex. I promise you, though — later installments will make up for that in a VERY BIG way!)

  9. Jay Denton says:

    Purple les, thanx so much for this story, I’m enjoying it a lot. I’ve never read a cowboy story before, so it’s quite a new experience. Your snippets of sex are really good too. I look forward to some more of that. I’d really love to read about the kid sampling some of Lady Jane’s ectoplasm.

    • Purple Les says:

      Thank you so much, Jay. If you turn out to like cowboy stories, there are much better ones out there, look for Elmore Leonard’s western stories or Louis L’Amour, or Larry McMurtry. No lesbian sex, but great stories.

      Speaking of which, all I can say about Kid sampling ectoplasm, is to tell you to stay tuned, and some of the other reader guesses, kacey, Erocritique, maybe right on or way off. ; )

  10. No One says:

    Wow, what an action-packed chapter! That went in a completely different direction than what might have been expected after last chapter, but somehow even more interesting narratively. Molly/Jessie had been suspicious, but damn, I didn’t expect her to be the mastermind… or so unhinged.

    And what a cliffhanger. Can The Kid save the day with only an empty gun? I’m gonna guess yes! I’m now on the edge of my seat for the next chapter.

    • Purple Les says:

      Thanks,No One. I had make her very cold blooded. JetBoy thought it might be fun(?) to make her really calculating and off the rails, and we ran with it.

      • JetBoy says:

        While working on the big reveal scene with Molly aka Jessie, I thought about when James Cagney was brainstorming with director Raoul Walsh, trying to figure a way to make his gangster character in White Heat more interesting. All of a sudden, Cagney came up with, “Why not make him nuts?”

        (Awesome movie, by the way – perhaps Cagney’s all-time best.)

        • Euphrosyne, Thalia & Aglaia says:

          Oh YES! Cagney was a genius!, a much richer and more nuanced film than his Public Enemy No.1 (1931), who can forget that prison meal time scene where he goes berserk and later when the tied up traitor guy in the trunk of the get-away car pleads for more air, and Cagney says: “You want air?.. I’ll give you air!” and pow!..pow!, pow! he riddles the trunk with bullets…wow!

          “On top of the world, Ma!”

          E,T&A

  11. obsessive imaginings says:

    Drama! Excitement! Deductive logic! This story has everything. Enjoyed the story up to and including the cliffhanger. Voted highest rating possible. Look forward to next.

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