He was late.
He often wandered off, to look ahead or check behind. But he was always back by sun down as they made camp or by dawn before they continued on. Sam Chisolm glanced at his pocket watch again. It was three hours past sun rise, two hours past when they should have been on the road. The seven were on the trail of a gang of thieves. Sam looked around at the rest of their motley crew.
Two months out of Rose Creek, the scars from their battle was still evident. Faraday, occupying his hands by brushing his stallion, Jack, leaned heavily on his left leg. The young man’s right leg still pained him after taking a couple of bullets to it. One bullet remained in his leg when it proved too deep and too difficult to remove. Goodnight, Billy, and Vasquez sat around what remained of last night’s fire. Billy reached toward the fire and picked up the coffee pitcher. Billy pour two cups and passed one to Goodnight. The sharpshooter reached rigidly to take it, thanking Billy with a slight quirk of his lips when the man held on to the cup for a few seconds longer to ensure he had it. More than one of Mrs. Cullen’s glasses or plates had been broken when Goodnight’s grip was not as strong as he thought. Through the Colorado woods, Sam couldn’t see. However, he knew that Horne was down by the river, filling canteens.
“Think, he’s gone for good?” Faraday asked, over his shoulder. Sam wasn’t sure of the answer. Red Harvest had never shared his reasons for doing anything, even why he had joined the fight against Bogue. A silent shadow that was quick and unpredictable, but always willing to follow Sam’s word.
Sam watched as Goodnight heaved himself upright, balancing with a hand on Billy’s shoulder. The Cajun, still stiff from a night of sleeping out in the open, walked over to him. Quietly he said, “We do have to consider that the boy has decided to move on.” No one had seen Red Harvest since mid-afternoon the day before when the decided to stop early after finding a nice clearing with good cover. It was one of the lengthiest times the Indian had been gone since the seven had left Rose Creek.
“It hasn’t been too long,” Sam said, despite himself. He checked his watch again. Although the youngest of them, by several years, Red Harvest was a capable fighter. He held his own in the fight against Bogue. He covered Sam as he rode Shade throughout the square and saved Horne’s life from Denali before the he could loose a killing arrow. Red Harvest had walked away with only a cut to the cheek.
“He didn’t say nothing,” Faraday added.
“Doubt, el niño would say adios. Guero.” Vasquez said, around a mouthful of beans.
“We don’t know that he left,” Sam interjected. However, Red Harvest had not left any of his supplies in the camp Sam could use as proof of his intent to return. The warrior appeared to not have any ties with the group, not truly “bonding” with anyone in particular.
“We don’t know he didn’t,” Billy countered, taking a sip of coffee. Sam learned quickly that while Goodnight was a master of tales and talk, Billy was ever the realist. He wondered what brought such two opposites together.
“Gentlemen, we may have a problem,” Horne’s high pitched voice suddenly carried into the camp. The man walked in carrying the straps to several canteens in one hand and the reins to a horse in the other. Red Harvest’s grey gelding obediently followed Horne. It was a placid beast with a calm demeanor, the paint on it had long since worn off. Red Harvest diligently cared for the horse, whose name Sam still hadn’t managed to learn. Seeing the horse without its rider was worrisome, but more so was the rivets of dried blood that ran down its hind legs.
“Oh, shit,” Faraday huffed, breaking the silence. “Looks like Red didn’t scamper off.” The seven gathered around the gelding. Vasquez took the reins, speaking softly to the animal when it shied away at the crowding. Sam rested a hand on the grey flank, fingers hovering over the deep furrow that ran across the dappled rump.
“Did you see anything?” He questioned Horne.
“No, the poor beast just walked up to me. He came from the north.”
“A bullet made that, I bet my life on it,” Goodnight added.
“Then what made this?” Vasquez asked. Turning around, Sam watched as Billy light traced the splattered blood drops that covered the horse’s neck and shoulder. Wordlessly, the men all came to the conclusion that blood on the neck couldn’t have come from the only wound on the horse’s back. It had to have come from a different source.
“Gear up,” Sam ordered. Within minutes, the group had packed and were following Horne’s lead as the tracker retraced the gelding’s steps.
They had been riding for some time before coming upon a disturbing site. The dirt was scuffed and churned like a fight had taken place. What drew the eye was a puddle of congealed blood in the path.
“Damn, who could have managed to get the drop on Red?” Faraday asked to no one in particular. A short searched revealed an arrow with the tip broken off and some more splattering of blood. “Was it other redskins?”
“No, over here,” Vasquez said. The Mexican was kneeling in the dirt. The patch of grass next to him was bunched up and the clear edge of a boot heel could be seen.
Faraday flapped his arms in frustration, “They kill em?” The burn scars on his face, glistened in the sunlight.
“No body,” Billy said.
“Hunters would not have taken a body with them,” Horne said hopefully.
“Then it begs the question,” Goodnight began. “Why take a random Indian boy?”
Sam looked around at the group, a deadly sureness in his voice. “We are going to find out.”
Red Harvest woke slowly. His head ached and there was a sharp, constant pain in his side. Angry voices drifted over to him and he stiffened slightly, feeling coarse rope dig into his wrists behind his back. Red Harvest cracked his eyes or one of his eyes, the other was crusted shut. Probably with blood if the pounding in his head was any indication.
It was still bright outside. So he had only lost a few hours or an entire night. Blurry figures stood several feet away from him, gesturing wildly. They were talking quickly with thick drawls that made it difficult for him to understand. A few words he knew were curses, many of which he had picked up from Faraday.
“Just kill the rat and be done with it,” one voice said. The memories came back to him then.
Red Harvest had been foolish. While the other had stopped when they found a defendable place to camp, he had continued on trailing the men they were following and learning the lay of the land. So intent on his prey, he failed to realize that he cornered himself in a valley. He felt the bullet cut through his side before the sound of the shot bounced off and around the valley wall. Seconds later he was on the ground, having been thrown from Nʉetʉ’s back in the horse’s pain and panic.
Red Harvest was on his feet, drawing and loosing an arrow at a haggard man pointing a pistol at him. His side stung from the bullet wound, blood soaking into his leggings. His shot was true, striking the gun out of the man’s hand. The head of the arrow snapped off as it connected with the valley wall. With a yell, Red Harvest charged, slamming his tomahawk into the man’s chest. Seconds had passed from the shot to the man’s death.
“Johnny!!” A voice shouted behind him. Red Harvest turned to the butt of rifle connecting with his face. The blow laid him out. He twist on the ground, trying to get his limbs under him. His instincts were screaming at him to get up and defend himself. A second blow to the head sent him into the darkness.
“Look whose decide to join us,” A man said, followed by a kick to Red Harvest’s stomach. The pain forced the breath from his lungs and he gaped like a fish for a moment trying to get it back. A hand tried to twist into his hair, but he had it cropped too short for the man to get a grip.
Red Harvest had learned.
Instead the man grabbed his vest and forced him to look up. The man was equally as ragged as the man he had killed. The man’s pasty skin was dirty and his teeth were yellowed. Red Harvest tried not to breathe too deeply and it was not just because of his wound. “You bastard, are going to pay for killing my brother.”
“Just kill him and let’s go, Dick.” Another spoke. Red Harvest glanced over the man’s shoulder, to see two other men standing a few feet away. A blanket covered bundle just beyond that.
“Shut up, Adam. I want to hear him say what he did,” Dick responded, giving Red Harvest a shake.
Red Harvest said nothing, glaring instead. He had found that fate worked in his favor by letting the white man assume that he couldn’t understand them. His reason solidified once again as the last man, a short blonde, said “He probably too stupid to know what cher saying any how.”
Dick looked a Red Harvest with an ugly sneer, dropping him back to ground and loomed over him. “Then I’ll make him feel it.”