Carolyn could hear the men as they charged toward her campsite. They'd been tailing her for weeks, long enough to know there were five of them and long enough for them to know she was travelling alone. They might have been expecting her to be armed, but assumed she wouldn't be much of a hassle, hence why they weren't bothering to be quiet.
Lying on her side, her hand reached underneath the rolled blanket that she used for a pillow and gripped the 1860 Colt Army pistol that she'd carried for the past ten years and made sure was loaded at all times. Carolyn hoped her estimate of five men was accurate; loading her gun took too long in a gunfight, and she wasn't nearly as good at punching as she was at shooting.
"Wakey wakey darling!" one of them said in a croaking, rasping voice.
Carolyn opened her eyes and peered through the slight open flap of her tent. Although it was dark should could see that the speaker was standing right outside, peering at her supposedly sleeping form.
"Well thanks to your trampling, I'm wide awake," she quipped back as nonchalantly as she could manage. "You got a reason for bothering me?"
"Well me an' my friends here couldn't help but notice that you seem to be wandering around by yourself. This ain't a friendly country ma'am. Not safe for a lady to be by herself. So we got to thinking that you might need someone lookin' after you."
"Well thanks for the warning fellas," said Carolyn, her hand firmly on the concealed pistol, "but I can look after myself. No need to be concerned."
"Aw come on now," the man said, and Carolyn heard a shuffling on the ground outside; the others were moving in. "We're real friendly. Surely you could do with some company? Why don't I just step in-"
In a split second Carolyn was sitting up and pressing the barrel of her gun into the man's forehead. She heard him catch his breath in surprise.
"I'm gonna have to insist, fellas," she said.
"Danny? What's going on in there?" one of his friends hissed.
"She got a gun," Danny said back, his voice trembling with fear.
"Let's just rush her. No way she can hit all of us."
"No, but I can sure hit a lot of you," Carolyn said. "Now who wants to risk it?"
There was silence, apart from Danny's terrified breathing.
"She's bluffing," one of them said. "Let's just get her."
"No, she ain't bluffing," Danny said meekly. "I think we'll be going now."
"Not so fast," Carolyn snapped, reaching behind her. "One of you get a match and light this lantern I've got here. Then I want all of you to line up in front of me."
With her other hand she grabbed the oil lantern behind her and nudged Danny out of the tent with her gun. As he fell to the ground, one of his companions came forward with a lit match and started the lantern glowing again. In front of the tent were four men.
"I know there's more of you," she said loudly. "All of you, up here now!"
Cursing, the fifth man came into view, a scowl on his already hideous face. She turned her attention back to Danny. Like the rest of his little group, he was dishevelled, unshaven, and dirty. Carolyn wished she'd talked to the local sheriff about any bounties in the area earlier that day, because she was willing to bet money that these five men had prices on their heads. Still, she could take them in dead and see what they were worth; with all of them lined up, she could pick them off easily. She kept her gun ready just in case.
"You sure there ain't more of you?" she yelled, brandishing the gun. "If anyone's hiding out there, I'm gonna start picking off your buddies over here!"
"No, don't!" Danny pleaded, dropping to his knees. "It's just the five of us, miss! I swear!"
"Better be. Now, hand over your guns. Then, empty your pockets. Ammo, valuables, everything! Come on now, hurry it up."
Grumbling, the men complied, dumping a mix of worn-looking revolvers on the ground before rummaging through their pockets. Carolyn glanced down at the collection of firearms and made a note to polish all of them, then turned her gaze back to the group. From the amount of stuff being tossed on the ground, she was about to make a good haul. Aside from the loose change, she saw a couple of probably stolen watches and jewelry land in front of her.
"Alright miss, that's everything," said Danny. "Why don't you just let us go now?"
"Well," Carolyn said, tilting her head thoughtfully. "You boys have been very cooperative today."
In that moment, the five men relaxed, allowing her to fire off five rounds before any of them could react. Each one found its target, striking in the stomach or the chest. Three of the men went still, a grunt or cry of pain being their last sounds. Two others - Danny and a scrawny man - yelled out in agony.
It was a good result, but Carolyn scowled in annoyance; she'd been hoping to finish at least four of them in one shot.
The scrawny one was on his back, gasping and coughing up blood. Carolyn climbed out of her tent and looked around for a wound. Blood was trickling out of a dark spot near his left shoulder; she'd probably hit a lung. He wouldn't last long. Danny's wound was less serious. He'd taken one to the gut, but it had gone in his side and exited from his back. The wound itself probably wouldn't kill him, but the infection would.
"You lying bitch!" he snarled, clutching his side in pain.
Carolyn looked down at him with raised eyebrows. "Danny, let's be honest. You and your buddies probably stole everything in that pile, you probably killed the people you stole it from, and you were going to do a whole bunch of nasty things to me before I caught you. And you're mad at me for lying?"
"Just fuck off!"
"I wonder what I'll find out if I take the five of you into Dodge tomorrow," she continued. "Is the local marshall gonna have money for me?"
Danny scoffed. "See, you ain't better than us! It's all about money to you, ain't it? You're out for yourself, just like the rest of us."
Aiming her gun between his eyes, Carolyn said, "Danny, this is America. We're all out for ourselves."