Chapter 91:

Chapter 91 - The Weight of Loss


“What the hell?!” Roulette shrieked. She leapt from her horse and rushed to Marka’s side, already fearing the worst. As a former rancher, she knew how dangerous a fall from horseback could be… And that was without a thirty-pound weight dangling from the rider’s neck.

Thankfully, Marka still appeared to be breathing when she reached him. He’d wedged his fingers between the weight’s handle and the tender flesh of his neck, protecting his windpipe at the expense of his digits; a couple looked to have been bent at odd angles by the impact, and even with their intervention, he was still gasping like a fish out of water.

“Tough sonuvabitch,” his attacker observed. Like Marka, he was tall and thick-bodied, and wore a long leather duster similar in style to Bubba Lee’s. His square jaw bore a scraggly salt-and-pepper goatee, and a pair of aviator sunglasses hid his eyes from view. “Most folks would’ve snapped their neck in his shoes. I get it, though–y’all’re made of sterner stuff. I was wonderin’ what kind of people Gunn’d bother mobilizin’ the Nine for.”

He paused, then, to peer down at them over the rim of his glasses. “Between you’n me, I’d say he made the right call.”

Roulette met his gaze with all the venom she could muster. “Who are you?!” she spat. “Why are you doin’ this to us?”

“Ahab Copperlock’s the name,” he replied. “I run the show here in Segue County. When the boss called to say a gang of punks might be blowin’ through my neck of the woods, I posted up here to intercept ‘em. This here canyon’s the quickest route west from where Gunn figured you’d landed, y’see–I had a feelin’ I’d be seein’ you all sooner or later if I just waited for a spell.

“As for the why of it,” he began, scratching at his chin scruff in thought, “I do what the boss says, and he said you were up to no good. That plain enough for you?”

She cussed under her breath. How had Gunn caught wind of their arrival already? They’d only been in Wesson for a few days, and from what Sheriff Sorghum had said, Bubba Lee wasn’t likely to get within spitting distance of a phone until he’d righted all the wrongs he’d wrought on the people of Biffle.

Which begged the question: who spilled the beans about their presence on the range?

Roulette reckoned a little probing was in order. “Gunn seems to know an awful lot about us. As one of the Nine, you must have an idea of how he came by that information, hmm?”

Ahab shrugged. “Maybe so. Maybe not. But assumin’ I did, d’you really think I’d tell you about it?”

“Why not? If you’re here, that must mean you think you’ve got a fair shot of wipin’ us out. What’s the harm in braggin’ a little about how doomed we were from the start?” she countered. “You power-hungry types are all about that sort of thing, aren’t you?”

The man chuckled to himself, leaning casually against the wall of the alcove. “You’ve got me figured all wrong, little lady. Out here, Gunn’s the law. Y’all are the troublemakers. Matter of fact, from where I’m standin’, you’re the power-hungry ones. What’s more power-hungry than takin’ aim at the king?”

Suddenly, Ahab held up a finger. “Wouldn’t do that if I were you, son.”

Roulette looked back to find Morgan’s hand hovering over his holster. His jaw was set, eyes narrowed in a clear show of defiance. “You talk too much,” he said. “And from where I’m standin’, there’s nothin’ stoppin’ us from gunnin’ you down right here, right now. Your power’s a joke.”

“That so?” Copperlock grunted, straightening up from his place by the cubby wall. “Why don’t you try me then?”

“You sure about this, Morgan?” Roulette prompted, gazing anxiously between the two men. “We’re sittin’ ducks out here. We don’t have any of that stuff you were jawin’ about on the Skywind–no cover, and we’re a man down…”

She could tell it was no use. Something about the way Copperlock had been talking had gotten Morgan’s back up, and she could see a dangerous glint in his eye. For all his rambling about proper tactics, he sure seemed quick to lay all that aside when it suited him.

“We won’t need an edge to drop this clown,” he declared. “I’ve sussed him out. He can’t fire a single bullet; he can only weigh things down based on how quick they’re movin’. If Marka hadn’t been speedin’ along on horseback, he wouldn’tve been able to harm a hair on our heads.”

“You seem pretty confident about that,” Ahab replied with a smirk. “But if you’re so sure, then why are we still talkin’?”

Roulette didn’t even have the time to intervene. Copperlock’s goading worked its magic in an instant; Morgan drew on him, and Ahab mirrored the gesture with surprising alacrity, pointing his weapon squarely at Morgan’s gun hand.... And, just as Morgan had predicted, not a single bullet was fired.

Instead, something much, much worse happened.

Morgan fell off his horse and plummeted to the ground, throwing up a thick cloud of dust with the force of his impact. When it finally cleared, he was no longer the brash, decisive man he’d been a moment ago; he was sprawled out at his stallion’s feet with a weight the size of a watermelon bound around his wrist! The side of it read “91 lbs”–nearly three times the weight of the one that had brought down Marka–and it had met the ground with enough force to jolt Ricochet right out of Morgan’s hand.

“Better luck next time, skippy,” Copperlock gloated, stepping forward to trap the fallen gun beneath his boot. Both his eyes and the barrel of his weapon were fixated on Roulette now, as if he fully expected her to act out in a bid for retribution.

He wasn’t wrong.

“You weren’t far off the mark, though,” he continued, calmly monitoring the twitch of her own gun hand. “Lockdown can weigh down anythin’ that moves based on how fast it’s movin’. But I bet you didn’t count on it bein’ so damn specific! An arm, a leg, a grain of sand–everything’s fair game. And you wouldn’t think it, but a veteran Gunslinger drawin’ their weapon is much faster than a man on horseback… A good three times faster, it turns out!”

Copperlock cackled and gave the 91-pound weight a kick, eliciting a groan from Morgan. “But nothin’ weighs a man down more than his own stubborn pride! I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that, eh, friend?”

Roulette gritted her teeth, reaching s-l-o-w-l-y for Lady Luck. Even if it took a minute or more to get her hands on it, the payoff would be worth it! Ahab, however, followed the motion of her hands with laughter in his eyes, making no move to stop her.

“Ahh, of course. The ol’ slow-draw trick,” he sneered. “You must think I was born yesterday. I’ve been in dozens of gunfights, and you’re far from the first I’ve seen try to exploit that particular weakness o’ mine. Since I became one of the Nine, though, I’ve found a way to cover my weaknesses with one simple countermeasure:

“Bring help.”

With a wicked grin, he jammed two fingers in his mouth and loosed a long, shrill whistle. It resounded throughout the canyon, bouncing off the sheer cliff walls and rising up toward the skies above. On instinct, Roulette looked up, and was met with a most unwelcome sight:

A gang of distant figures were up there, lingering around the top of the mesa… And they had just rolled the largest boulder she’d ever seen right over the edge.

She looked back at Copperlock to see him with his weapon aimed skyward, no doubt planning to supercharge the falling boulder’s weight. She chose that moment to draw in desperation, hoping to gun him down before the tumbling rock struck home.

Too little, too late. Before she could get a shot off, the weighted boulder slammed into the ground, sending her stumbling into the dirt. Her ears rang, and the dust stung her eyes. She coughed and trembled, still in shock from the near miss. How close had it come to crushing her? How much did that thing weigh? It had smashed into the earth with all the force and violence of a bomb going off, and she had nearly been caught right under it!

By the time Roulette got her bearings and rose shakily to her feet, the dust cloud had nearly dissipated. She was lucky to be alive, but that did nothing to lessen the cold fear that gripped her as she cast her gaze around the canyon floor to find herself… Alone. No horses. No Marka. No Morgan.

No Copperlock.

Only empty space, and a pair of man-sized ruts leading into the darkness of the alcove he’d been hiding in.

Patreon iconPatreon icon