"Seems the fancy talking mujer bounty hunter has gotten into trouble a little!" Juan laughed, gripping my arm and pulling me closer to the horse he was riding. "Hola senorita, remember me?"
"Can't say I do." I lied, grunting as I tried putting weight on my ankle. A sharp pain ran up my leg and I noticed that my stocking was turning red. Juan shook me, which caused more pain.
"Come now, there cannot be so many bandidos that you capture that you cannot remember mi cara guapa – my handsome face." He shoved his face closer to mine, his mustache tickled my nose and my hat fell into the dirt.
Despite the horrible pain in my ankle and leg I pulled away from the support of Juan and bent to pick up my bowler cap. But I misjudged my strength and fell flat. There was so much laughter that the horses became scared and pranced around, nearly stomping on me. I curled into a ball to become smaller and tried to dodge the excited animals. Today was just not my day.
"I am sorry, sir, I do not recall ever seeing you before – nor am I a bounty hunter. What an atrocious line of business for a woman! If you would assist me I would like to go on my way back to my home and to my husband."
Even in my pain I thought it was a pretty good performance. Maybe if I pretended to be someone else Juan and his thugs would go on their way. I had even played dumb by "expecting" him to help me home, what could go wrong?
"Muy comica – very funny, but I cannot be so easily fooled. Why are you out so far from town, senorita?"
Apparently my performance wasn't as convincing as I thought.
"Long story." I grunted, picking myself up out of the dirt, and leaning to one side as to not hurt my ankle any further. "I'm trying to get back out east."
"Then you are going the wrong direction! East is the opposite way that you are traveling." Juan smiled.
"Oh, well thank you. I shall just be on my way then." I limped the way he pointed and was immediately stopped by two grinning goons.
"Not so fast, senorita, I am not letting 'The Best' get away from me so easily." Juan was not smiling any more. His hand was hovering over his holster, "I have to decide what to do with you first though."
"How about, let me go with this horribly ruined ankle?" I grinned sheepishly.
"How about shoot you in your shoulder and then drag you from the back of my horse with a rope around your neck? I think this is a very good idea, what about you muchachos?"
There were choruses of "sí" and "muy buen" and Juan pulled out his pistol and aimed at my shoulder. He winked at me and cocked the weapon. He was seconds from firing and ruining my shooting arm for good when there was a loud snap of another gun going off. Juan slumped forward on his horse and then tumbled off with a blank expression on his face. Juan was dead. Shot in the back by a man on a horse behind him. Never have I been so glad to lay eyes on Thunder Jack with a smoking barrel.
"What are ya'll doing with my fiancée?" He asked gruffly.
The other bandits stared in horror at their fallen leader and then at Thunder Jack. Three of them spurred their horses into action and got away as quick as they could, leaving three more to stay and fight. I had forgotten I had my pistol in my jacket and I whipped it out and shot one of the two in the arm. Thunder Jack shot the other in the knee and they both skedaddled after that.
Trying to ignore Thunder, I began limping toward the road I knew would lead back to Shady Creek. Unfortunately before I could get very far all of Thunder Jack's gang road up and closed me in. A few had bags of money hanging from their saddles and one was wearing a pearl necklace. I grimaced and tightened my hold on my pistol.
"You alright Ruth?" Jim asked, spying the way I limped.
"Oh yeah, I just got shot in the leg, but I'll be fine." I said sarcastically.
"What are you doing out here?" Thunder Jack growled, "How'd you get out of the mine?"
"Monkey style." I growled back.
"Hmph. I hate to tell you this, Miss Derby, buy we ain't gonna let you go now."
"And why not?" I asked furiously, "I have had plenty of time to decide that I don't want to marry you, Tanner!"
Everyone stared at me for a minute. I thought back over what I had said and took a deep, nervous breath. I had called him by his real name – a name he had never told Ruth Derby, but he had told the young criminal with bright red hair who hung out with his sister. I put my gun back in my jacket and put my hands up as a sign of peace. Thunder Jack's face was dark as he cocked his pistol and pointed it at me.
"You have to the count of three to start explaining who you are and how you know my name." Thunder rumbled.
"Now Tanner, we can do this in a peaceable manner… We don't have to use guns." I tried to calm him.
I swallowed. "Come on now, you owe me for saving you back in Shady Creek!"
"We're even, I saved yar hide from Garcia. Two."
"Oh gracious." I rubbed my forehead tiredly. It had been a long day and it was getting dark.
"Three…" He aimed and prepared to fire.
"Wait! I'll tell ya!" I hissed, throwing my arms down in defeat, "I know you from a long time ago."
"I know a lot of people from way back. Be more specific." He leaned forward on his horse's neck and looked me in the eye, "I want details, Ruth."
"Alright, alright! Stop calling me Ruth, it sounds ridiculous." I took a step, forgetting my ankle and collapsed again. "Dang nabit!"
"Let's finish this talk back in the mine." He turned his horse in the right direction and whistled at Jim, "Git 'er on yer horse."
The big man did as he was told and swung me up behind him. We rode up to the mine and tied the horses up. Jim helped me inside by offering his arm. I limped into the cave to find Thunder Jack punching the boy who had been left to guard me in the ear.
"You some kind of idiot?" Thunder asked angrily, shaking the boy.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Thunder, sir." The boy cowered, "I thought she was right behind me."
"Ya ain't coming on raids anytime soon, that's for sure."
I felt bad for getting the boy in trouble, but I wasn't about to argue with a furious outlaw that was waving a six shooter around like it was a conductor's baton. No sir, not even The Best was brave enough for that. Thunder spun around and grabbed my arm. He dragged me into another cave and threw me into a chair, nearly knocking it to the floor. I bent down and took off my boot while Thunder gave orders for the loot to be put away and the horses to be rubbed down. My ankle was worse than I thought it would be. My whole stocking was dark with blood and when I got to the actual foot it nearly made me sick. A hole had been torn right next to the bone and if you looked hard enough you could see right through it. The bullet, I found, had been left in my boot. It had gone right through my ankle.
Thunder glanced at my foot and his scowl deepened. "What happened? Blister?"
"Juan shot me in the ankle. Guess I won't be running anymore." I joked. No one laughed. Soon the outlaws cleared out, leaving me and Thunder Jack in the room. He walked around restlessly and finally sat in another chair across from me.
"Tell me, how do you know my name? I want to know. Now."
I sighed and ran a hand through my short hair. My hat was sitting on my lap and I picked it up and idly played with the rim. "Promise not to kill me?"
"I'll kill you if you don't tell me. I'm not making any promises until after I hear the story." Thunder said.
"Fine. I know your name because someone told me. A mutual acquaintance." I told him.
"Your sister. Jumping Jack Jessie."
He sucked in through his teeth and leaned back in his chair. For a while he didn't say anything he just looked up at the ceiling and ran his hand across his face. After a while he spoke again. "You were one of her gang weren't you? One of those little girls?"
I nodded. "Yes, I was."
"I remember there was one of you with red hair and a hat just like that. What did you call yourself? Red, or something."
"Blood Red Rachel. We had a thing for alliterations I guess." I shrugged. Thunder looked at me curiously. I sighed, "Alliteration is a phrase of two or more words starting with the same sound."
"Oh yeah, you were the clever one." He grinned, "I remember, ya were the one who came up wit' all the plans."
"Yep, that was me. You remember when we escaped by pretending to be asleep so you would leave us alone? I planned that one." I bragged.
"Ha!" He laughed, "So, what happened when Jessie split? What'd you do?"
"I stayed a thief for a while, but really I didn't need to be. I earned money from gambling and eventually I got a job. Now I'm just an unmarried woman in Shady Creek who sometimes helps out at the orphanage. Oh, and I'm the best bounty hunter in the country." I smirked.
"Oh really? How about Bob Jackson? I hear he's pretty good. But I suppose you did shoot him in the leg…"
I rolled my eyes. "That was a mistake. Sheriff nearly stopped me on the way to the stagecoach this morning. Course, it didn't matter because I ended up having to get off anyway."
"Why were you headed out east anyway?" He asked curiously.
"Collecting my inheritance. I'm from the east originally and I need to collect my money soon or my cooky old aunts will get it."
"Huh, I never would have guessed."
We were silent for a long time. Neither one of us speaking or looking at each other. We sat like that for five or so minutes before he spoke.
"Do you know what happened to Jessie?" His face was filled with worry when I looked at him.
"None of us knew what happened to her. She disappeared and never contacted me – or anyone that I know of. You could ask the twins if you know where they are. Or…" I stopped as I thought about what my next sentence might do to the outlaw before me, "Never mind."
"You were going to mention Margret, weren't you?" He asked.
I nodded. "Yes, but I get that you don't want to hear about her after what happened."
He shrugged. "I don't know where she is anymore anyway. Is she even in California?"
"Last I saw her was last year. She was getting ready to head to the prairie and teach school. I think she ended up in Nebraska." I told him.
Margaret had been one of us. She was in Jessie's band of thieves and she fell in love with Thunder Jack when we met him before. There was a time when the two gangs joined together and Margaret and Thunder had plans to get married. Then Jessie left and Thunder wasn't the same anymore. Something happened between Margret and him (something no one asked about) and then we all went our separate ways.
"She's better off there." Thunder decided, "Well, I best be getting you onto another stage coach so you can get back east for that cash."
"Thank you kindly." I nodded, "But first I need a bandage for this foot."
A/N: Hope ya'll liked it! :) I'm liking it so far. Just so you know, this is technically a sequel to a story you might find on here later. I wrote the first one when I was ten or so, but I loved it so much that I started this story to keep the memory. Shady Creek is not a real place (to my knowledge), but it is where I like to make my westerns because I consider it to be my town (as I did make it up). Anyway, please leave a review because they make me so happy! :)