“You shot another Priest?” she exclaimed, her voice loud enough to make another couple patrons glance around.
Old Hillpaw, perhaps possessing a bit more self-preservation instinct than the young waitress, hurriedly shushed the woman. “Keep your voice down, girl!” he hissed. “That kind of talk still gets folks into hot water!”
But this time, Jenny didn’t yield to her elder. “But I thought the whole Organization blew up a decade ago!” she retorted, the words half questioning and half argumentative.
The girl glanced at the man in black for an answer, but Hillpaw was the one who replied. “That may be, but lots of folks still walk around in long black coats,” he said, his eyes tersely scanning the interior of the bar. “Some of them might be priests, some might not, but that name still holds power, and shouldn’t be used lightly.”
When Hillpaw’s eyes returned back to the storyteller at their table, he was surprised to see the man in black chuckling. “Young lady, if you thought that one dead Priest was a surprise, you’ll have your jaw on the floor by the end of this story,” he commented, tossing back the rest of his drink.
Only once the glass was full again, Jenny scooting back into her seat after doing her duty as waitress, did the man in black look up at his audience. “Anyway. Where was I…”
We didn’t have much choice but to make a run for it.
Of course, that Priest hadn’t been working alone. Too much to hope for, really. The next one ambushed us as we hiked up from the little shack, back towards the rail line – or, at least, that was his intention. If it wasn’t for the errant flap of a black coattail in the breeze, we might not have spotted him before he could draw on us.
Fortunately, the hired man holding the Priests’ horses was more than happy to surrender the animals once he learned that their previous owners were dead. Our drawn weapons didn’t slow his decision any, either.
I still felt slightly weak as I hauled myself up into the saddle, but I wasn’t about to let Danni outperform me. The girl’s face was drawn and pale, clearly affected by fear, but she showed none of that emotion in her actions.
“What now?” she asked, above the clatter of the horses’ hooves.
I shook my head to get my thoughts moving. “We need to get supplies,” I shouted back, trying to corral my thoughts together. “We can’t hide out without supplies – and we need to get our hands on cash if we want supplies without drawing more attention to ourselves.”
At that, the girl suddenly flashed me a devious little grin. “Money’s not a problem,” she replied, reaching down and tugging open the knapsack she had carried up from the little shack down by the crash site. Inside, I caught a flash of green bills.
“You pulled it off the train,” I guessed.
Her smile grew another inch. “I always carry some on me, just in case I need to make a quick escape,” she retorted. “I had it with me when I jumped. Glad to hear it will come in handy!”
I didn’t say anything back to the girl, but my opinion of her, already deep and tangled, grew a little brighter.
Still, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help casting my thoughts further ahead – and beyond our immediate future, our possibilities were bleak.
The Priests wouldn’t stop hunting us. That was why they were so powerful – and so feared. All their members were trained killers, and they didn’t stop. Even if a target had been on the loose for years, Priests kept on searching for that person, kept on sending members to finish the job.
If the Priests were hunting us – and that indeed seemed to be the case – we would never be safe.
As we rode across the dusty plain, however, two thoughts crept into my head, both of them unexpected and unsettling.
Somehow, in the last forty-eight hours or so, I had switched from thinking of Danni as my opponent, to thinking of her as my ally. Even now, I suspected that, if I drew my gun and put a hole in the chest of the young woman riding just ahead of me, I’d be able to return to the Organization. I might face demotion, but I’d be off the hit list.
So why couldn’t I kill her?
I didn’t have an answer to that question. Instead, I turned my attention to my second thought. This one was not a question, but a suggestion, the vaguest and haziest inkling of a plan.
It was wild, crazy, almost certainly impossible.
But, try as I might, I could think of nothing else – and the idea didn’t fade away…