Chapter 11 - Whisky and Blood
And so we waited...
We knew that Tennant had no choice but to come for us, his very future depended on what happened next. If he stayed on his ranch, he'd lose his hold on the town and would eventually be called upon by one of the State Marshalls who occasionally drifted through the area, probably with a warrant for his arrest. Dancing briefly at the end of a rope would hold no attraction for a man like Tennant. If he came to town he had no idea what he faced, but Tennant was a bastard not a coward.
We knew he would come.
Many of the townsfolk visited Anton's store and stocked up on bullets and guns, but we laid no barricade across the streets, and gave no sign that we were prepared.
We carried Henry into the saloon and laid him in one of the guest rooms, upstairs and out of the way. He'd regained consciousness by then and was grumpy and up for a fight despite his injuries. Anton supplied some salve that seemed to help with the burns, and we made sure he was comfortable. Then we started to plan.
When Tennant and his men rode cautiously into town a few hours later, the only outward sign of anything untoward was the utter emptiness of the main street.
Twenty armed and hard looking men rode slowly towards the saloon, the steel-shod hooves of their horses kicking penumbra of dust into the air, the breathy wind making dust devils that traced their path, dancing maniacally in their wake, short-lived harbingers of a terror yet to come.
Everything was utterly still and other than the gentle sounds of the horses or the odd jangle of harness or spur, not a sound broke the silence as the men dismounted at the hitching posts outside the saloon. For a few moments they milled around in confusion, undecided as to a course of action. We had left the body of the now ex-Sheriff propped in his chair clearly visible through the window of the gaol, his hat tilted at a jaunty angle over his eternally sleeping head. This, as intended, provided the first port of call for the investigating men.
Tennant was never short of courage, I'll give him that. He rode into town like he owned it which, up until that point, he had. He sent a small group of men to check on the apparently snoozing Sheriff and when the man had slumped to the floor after being prodded with the barrel of a rifle, Tennant went on full alert, scattering his men into the scant cover offered by their horses or into nearby alleys and shop doorways.
No-one in the town had stirred during any of this. There was a stillness that permeated every timber of that little frontier town, even the dogs on the street seemed to hold their breath in anticipation.
They knew the signal, and they waited, building the tension in Tennant's men to fever pitch.
After a few tense minutes, Tennant motioned to some of his men to spread out and then he and most of his men entered the saloon.
Jim the barman was another man who didn't lack courage, he was standing behind the bar polishing a glass when they walked in. He'd approached me after the earlier fight and had volunteered his establishment when the plans were being formulated. The only visible patron was me, and I stood at the bar with a whisky, trying to steady my shaking hands and look calm as the swinging doors moved repeatedly on their well-worn hinges as the men entered the saloon.
"Jim," nodded Tennant as he walked up to the bar. "What's happening?"
"There was a shootin'," Jim slid a whisky along the bar to Tennant who stopped it and glared at the barman, then turned his attention to me, eying me suspiciously.
"And what's your part in this stranger?" The question hung in the air, and time seemed to slow for a second as I realised almost gratefully that he had no idea who I was.
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