Authors: Arthur Bradley
As he prepared for his next shot, a
sounded from behind him. He glanced back and saw Samantha lying prone on top of the tomb, looking down the sights of her rifle. The second dog fell, whining as it crawled away.
The remaining six closed in on Tanner.
He fired the shotgun a second time, taking off most of the head of another animal.
Samantha’s second shot came an instant later, also killing a dog.
Two dogs jumped at Tanner at the same time. He swung the butt of the shotgun up and clocked one under the chin, but the second dog caught him by the meat of his left forearm. It was tremendously powerful, jerking him forward as it tried to take him to the ground. The two remaining dogs swung in around behind him, barking and snapping at his legs as they looked for an opening.
Tanner planted his feet and began to spin, lifting the dog that had latched onto his arm into the air. As he swung around, he tried to use the dog’s body to bludgeon the other two animals coming up from behind. A third
. A small chunk chipped out of the concrete as the bullet went wide.
Tanner felt the dog’s neck break and its bite loosen. He slung it away and brought the butt of his shotgun down on a dog coming in for his thigh. The blow glanced off the dog’s head, and the animal yelped as it scampered away. Of the eight, only two dogs remained in the fight, but neither appeared ready to give up on their meal.
dropped the animal that Tanner had hit with the butt of the shotgun. The last dog leaped forward, its mouth open as it went for his throat. He shoved the shotgun up between them, hoping to keep teeth from finding flesh. The dog weighed more than a hundred pounds, and it drove him back until he tripped and fell. Without hesitation, the giant dog was on him, snarling and biting as it tried to get to his face.
Tanner wrapped his legs around the animal and pressed the shotgun firmly against its neck. The dog snapped wildly, globs of milky white saliva dripping down on his chest. Much like his fight with the Russian, they were at a stalemate. The dog couldn’t get to its prize, and Tanner couldn’t initiate an attack without taking his hands off the shotgun. He had no illusions about Samantha coming to his rescue. He and the dog were simply too close. It was up to him to end it.
Tanner did the only thing he could. He released the shotgun.
The heavy gun fell to his chest, and the dog immediately lunged forward. Tanner reached up with both hands and caught the dog’s head. He wrestled against the beast, driving his fingers into the animal’s eyes, ears, and mouth. It squealed in pain and finally pulled back in retreat. Tanner flung it away and quickly scrambled to his feet. The dog stumbled down a long set of stone stairs before racing across an open stretch of grass.
Tanner bent over and picked up his shotgun.
“Are you okay?” she asked, standing on top of the tomb.
He did a quick injury assessment. There were half a dozen small wounds, but the worst was the bite on his left forearm. He counted four puncture marks on the top and three on the bottom, several of them quite deep. He moved his fingers around. Everything seemed to work okay, which he took to mean that there was no nerve damage. Pain could be dealt with, but fingers that wouldn’t close into a grip caused all sorts of problems.
“I’m fine,” he said, walking toward her.
She climbed down with his help, and they returned to the motorcycle.
“Reload,” he said, stuffing fresh shells into his shotgun.
“But you’re hurt.”
“First we ready ourselves for the next fight. Then we inspect the damage.”
She nodded, her eyes never leaving the bloody bites on his arm.
When they had their weapons fully reloaded, she used a bottle of water to wash out the dog bites. Blood still oozed from several of the holes.
“These look awful. Do you think they’ll get infected?”
“I’ll be all right,” he said, not at all sure of what he was saying.
Samantha quickly dug in his backpack and pulled out the bottle of antibiotics the doctor had given him. She opened it and dumped one of the pills into her hand.
“Here,” she said, “take this.”
He shook his head. “You might need them. Let’s give it a day or two to make sure your fever doesn’t come back.”
“Take it,” she repeated, pushing the pill toward him.
“Fine.” He tossed it into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed it down.
“Did you just chew that?” she asked with a horrified expression.
She stood, staring at him with wide eyes.
“Fine,” he said, “now you know. I can’t swallow pills.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“What? I told you it was a horse pill.”
“But you’re as big as a horse!” she said, chuckling. “Besides, would it have made any difference if it was smaller?”
He shrugged. “Not really.”
“It’s all right,” she said, stifling a laugh. “Everyone has a weakness. Even Superman.”
“Are you comparing me to Superman?”
“No, he’s much stronger and more handsome. Plus, he can fly.”
She raised an eyebrow. “But what?”
“You were going to finish by saying something nice about me.”
“Oh, okay. Well, you’re really…” She thought for a moment. “Warm.”
“Warm as in friendly?”
“No. Warm as in making me sweat when I hold onto you.”
He shook his head.
“What?” she said. “That’s nice. If it were cold out, I wouldn’t need a coat.”
“But it’s not cold out,” he said, swinging his leg over the bike.
“Nope,” she said, climbing up behind him. “It’s definitely not.”
“If we’re lucky, the Ward brothers will come in as one big group from the north. When they see Joe wrapped around the pole, they’ll rush over to him, and that’s when we’ll make our move.”
Bowie stared at Mason and blinked a few times, as if to say, “That’s it? That’s your big plan?”
“The only other option is to shoot them on sight. And what kind of lawman would that make me?”
Bowie slid closer on the seat and leaned against him.
“Don’t worry. We’ll manage, like we always do.”
He lifted the Aug A3 out of the rifle rack and gave it a quick once over. There were thirty rounds in the magazine and another one in the chamber. Not a lot but enough for a firefight with three men if he watched his shots. The problem was that he had yet to even test fire the weapon.
Mason climbed out of the truck and raised the rifle to his shoulder. He took aim at a nearby car and squeezed the trigger halfway. The Aug bucked slightly and made a distinctive report. All right, he thought, it works. That’s something. He squeezed the trigger again, this time depressing it fully. The weapon rocked up and down as it went into full automatic mode, the bullets making a
as they punched through the sheet metal. He lowered it from his shoulder, satisfied.
The Aug was simple and efficient, but it felt unfamiliar in his hands. The mantra of many Special Forces soldiers was “Know your weapon,” and for good reason. In the middle of a battle was not the best time to discover new features or limitations of your firearm. A good weapon was one that felt like a natural extension of the hand. Given his lack of experience with the Aug, as well as being limited to only one magazine, it would have to serve as his backup weapon. He quickly topped off the magazine with fresh 5.56 mm rounds and slung the rifle over his shoulder.
He surveyed the street, looking for a fallback position in case the fight didn’t go as planned. A Burger King, health center, and a host of small souvenir shops sat across from the arts center. None were suitable for making a defensive stand. On the opposite corner were several dark blue shipping containers stacked in front of an auto repair shop. He grabbed a couple of boxes of ammunition and walked over to inspect the containers.
Most of them were locked up tight, but one had been left open. A mound of soiled clothing was inside, and the distinct stench of human feces filled the air. He tapped on the heavy steel door. It wouldn’t stop a slug from the Browning .50 caliber machine gun that he had back at the cabin, but it was perfectly capable of stopping small arms fire. The position also provided a clear line of sight to the building as well as to where Joe was secured. Good cover, a good field of view, and nearly as defensible as a machine gunner’s nest. He couldn’t really ask for more than that—other than maybe an air freshener or two.
Mason set the Aug and spare ammunition inside the shipping container, leaving the door partially ajar. He turned around and mentally played out how a strategic retreat might happen, identifying cars that he could maneuver behind as he fought his way back to the rifle. If the three men were smart, they would split up and come at him from different directions. But what they should do and what they would do were likely two very different things. For now, Mason felt as prepared as the situation allowed.
To make the wait a little more comfortable, Mason moved his truck directly across from the entrance to the Paramount. From his pickup, he could see several blocks down Winchester Avenue, the path the Wards would mostly likely travel. He could also see their father, Joe, with his head leaning against the pole. The poor guy’s legs had to be hurting something terrible by now. It was a crappy situation to be in, but it was still better than what he deserved.
Mason sat watching for more than an hour. Not a single car maneuvered the crowded street. Nor did anyone come to investigate Joe in his most unusual predicament. Having been a soldier and a marshal, Mason had learned to be patient. Bowie, however, had adopted no such virtue and quickly grew bored, flopping down on the seat beside him.
Both of them were caught a bit off guard when the door to the Paramount suddenly swung open. Three men exited the dark theater and immediately turned in Joe’s direction. They were dressed in dark suits and cowboy hats, and had pistols holstered at their sides. If the cars had been replaced with horses and stage coaches, the men might easily have passed for the Earp brothers walking the streets of Tombstone, Arizona.
Mason quietly opened his door and stepped out. Bowie hopped down beside him, eyeing the strangers across the street. A deep growl rumbled in the mighty dog’s chest, and all three men turned to look.
Mason walked slowly toward them, stopping about seventy-five feet away—too far for most shooters to be effective once adrenalin started flowing. He took a moment to size them up. The oldest of the three, Karl, was also the biggest, standing well over six feet, with broad shoulders and a square jaw. Max was shorter and leaner, but he had a shiftiness that made Mason uneasy. The youngest, Frank, was soft and pale, as if he had been born into English royalty.
“Gentlemen,” Mason said in a loud voice.
“Who the hell are you?” Karl said, sounding an awful lot like his father.
Mason pushed his jacket aside so that they could see the shine of his badge and gun.
“Deputy Marshal Mason Raines.”
They looked at each other, uncertain of exactly what that meant.
“You do that to our pa?”
Hearing his boys talking, Joe Ward began to shout for their help. Frank immediately started toward him.
“Don’t,” warned Mason.
“Or my dog will chase you. And believe me, you don’t want that.”
Frank glanced apprehensively at Bowie and then back at Karl.
“What do I do?”
“Marshal,” said Karl, “you ain’t got no right to hold our pa like that.”
“You men have been committing violence against the people of Ashland. I’m here to put an end to it.”
Max leaned over and whispered something to Karl. The man nodded slightly.
Mason readied himself. Seventy-five feet was too far to get all three before they could draw and fire, but he could damn well plug the first one to go for a gun. Bowie also sensed the change in their posture and began to move in.
A shot sounded from behind Mason, and a chunk of the wall exploded next to Karl’s head. The Wards immediately drew their weapons and began firing wildly in the direction of the gunshot. A bullet grazed Mason’s cheek, leaving a bloody burn to mark its passing.
Mason dropped to the ground and rolled onto his back as he searched for the shooter. Fearing that he had been hit, Bowie raced over and began to tug on his collar.
“Lie down, boy,” Mason said, pulling the dog down next to him.
More gunshots sounded as the Wards fought their way back into the Paramount. As soon as the door closed, the gunfire stopped.
Mason eased his Supergrade from its holster and waited. If the sniper had wanted him dead, bullets would still be flying. After about thirty seconds, a lone figure slowly stepped out from the health center across the street.
It was Connie West.
Mason stood up and raced toward her.
“What are you doing?” he snapped, ushering both her and Bowie behind a nearby van.
“What do you think I’m doing? I’m getting my revenge, just like I told you I would.” She chambered another round in the deer hunting rifle. “No one’s going to take that from me. Not even you, Marshal.”