Welcome back to our continuing story of magic in the old west, CONJURING MISERY. If you missed Chapter 1, feel free to go back and retrace our steps.
The surge of energy left me dazed. My hand instinctively went for the hilt of Dragon Breath, but I regained my senses before unsheathing her. Snake’s shooting iron tickled my ribs before the presence of mind to drop my hand returned. While her lead spitting machines could do me no permanent harm, I had neither the time nor the inclination to lay up in this dust bowl long enough to heal. The place was no more than a way station to Hell.
I flashed, what I considered to be my most charming smile, and poured her a drink. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, ma’am. I’ve admired you from afar.”
“Is that so?”
“I witnessed your encounter last night, so I decided it wasn’t be proper for a gentleman to approach a lady without a formal introduction.” I instantly saw my blunder. “Now, Miss Snake here was a little different. She walked into Tillie’s like a hired gun, and I felt it in my best interest to find out who hired her, if that was the case. A gambler who never loses can’t be too careful.”
Snake slowly holstered her weapon with gentle affection. “I am glad you straightened that out Sam, I would hate to mess up that pretty jacket over a misunderstanding.”
“You never, ever lose?” Traveler tilted her head to one side.
“How do you account for that Sam? Good fortune? A lucky talisman perhaps?” A shine radiated from Snake’s green eyes at mention of a talisman. That gave me pause. Not in the habit of underestimating people normally, I had a bad feeling my first evaluation of her may have been off. She was clearly not, what she appears.
“Yes, do tell.” Traveler pinned me with her gaze.
The tenuous grip I had on the situation slipped another notch. “No ma’am, I have a God given talent for cards.”
“I do believe Sam here, is playing his cards close to vest.” Snake exchanged a glance with our new arrival.
My curiosity peaked, as did my survival instinct. The existence of a fabled talisman in this part of the territory was the very thing that brought me to Misery. “I confess, keeping my cards close, is a ploy that keeps me alive and winning, but gamblers aren’t the only ones using it in these parts.” She was baiting me. Should I see her bet, or fold? This is where the hand would be won or lost. I waited.
“The man has talents that’s obvious,” Traveler said. “What they are, is the question.”
They exchanged another glance. The sensation of drowning was unexpected in the desert, and yet every fiber of my being screamed I was in over my head. Time to go. I decided go all in. “Folks say Diamond Jim plays his cards very close. So close in fact, I haven’t laid eyes on him.”
“That’s a shame. I think you and he may have a lot in common.” Traveler flipped her hair over one shoulder with the back of her hand.
Ouch. I’d been hanging around here for most of two weeks and hadn’t seen him. She swoops in yesterday and…“You’ve met him?”
“You might say we’re getting to know one another,” she said.
That cleaned me out. Time to go before I lost my shirt too. “Ladies, I have some business to tend to. Reluctantly, I’ll be taking my leave.”
“So soon? We only just met. Now you’re going to leave two unescorted ladies alone in an establishment as disreputable as it is dangerous?” There was a mocking glint in the Traveler’s eyes.
“And just when we were acquainting ourselves.” Snake tipped her hat back with a gloved hand.
These two were intoxicating. “It would be a privilege to see you both home, if you’re ready to go.” I waited for a response. The idea they were having a conversation I wasn’t privy to struck me hard. I looked from one to the other trying to read their thoughts. Feeling as welcome as a wet fart in a wedding dress, I tipped my hat. “Keep the bottle, it’s paid for.”
Watching Sam make a run for it, I shook my head. “Where, exactly, do you think he’s heading?”
Smoke twisted an inky lock of hair over a finger, a sign of contemplation, not nerves for my sister, as her gaze narrowed on the swinging doors. “Trouble.”
“Yep.” I snagged the bottle, because you should never waste whiskey, and pushed away from the bar. Charlie cleaned the same spot on the bar over and over, doing a piss poor job of hiding the fact he was eavesdropping. “Maybe we should join Sam on his stroll.”
Smoke’s grin made Charlie pale and skedaddle down the bar. Never did understand why everyone got so scared when she did that. It was much more pleasant than mine. She fell in step beside me, and I could swear a unified sigh of relief chased us out Tillie’s doors.
“Now isn’t that curious,” she murmured, bumping my shoulder.
Blinking against the afternoon glare, I followed Sam’s progress down the other side of the street, the tail end of his scarf fluttering in his wake as he took the time to tip his hat at a gaggle of painted women. He stopped to converse, and won a rousing round of laughter. No surprise, he struck me as the type who could charm a scorpion out of its shell. “It’s called flirting, oh sister mine.” I moved to the nearest railing and hitched a shoulder up against to continue my perusal.
Next to me Smoke slipped an delicate looking fan from some hidden pocket and began to wave it, hiding her mouth from any curious passersby’s. “Not that, dunderhead. Further down by the saddlery.”
Redirecting my attention, it didn’t take long to see the creeping form half-hidden in the shadows. The subtle urge to look away, produced the opposite reaction. Being hardheaded had its advantages. Tension coiled and my focus sharpened because whatever that was, wasn’t natural.
Taking a chance, I shifted my sight beyond the mortal realm. “Well, now, aren’t you a fair ways from home?”
I straightened and stepped away from the railing, making my way as casually as possible down the rickety steps. Behind me the murmur of taffeta indicated Smoke keeping pace.
“Demon?” She kept her voice low. No sense in giving the good people of Misery more strange topics to discuss. I’m sure they had plenty with the two of us.
Considering the wispy trails of red tinged black that continually blurred the animalistic form, her guess was a safe bet. “Possibly one of the lesser ones.”
“Think it’s here for us?” She snagged my arm, pulling me up just shy of being run down by wagon.
I waited for it to pass and the rumble of wood over hard-packed dirt to fade before I answered. “My money’s on our lucky gambler.”
“Poor sucker.” She dropped her hand to gather her skirts, pulling them high enough to show off the high-heeled leathers, the same pair I considered “borrowing” during our last visit.
I strode along as she wove her way to the other side. Her heels hit the wooden boards with an echoing thunk. My boots made a duller echo as I joined her. Sam turned his head at the sounds, the roguish smile entertaining the ladies tightened into a grimace he couldn’t hide before he turned away.
Just beyond him, our slinking fiend from hell paused. Without my second sight it was a mangy, underfed mutt of indiscriminate origins. But through that otherworldly lens, it was an unsettling mishmash of insect and mammal. Thank god for the whiskey, because otherwise there would be nothing for my stomach to roil over. The misbegotten creature lifted its head, maliciously dark eyes met mine, and a low warning rumble of its growl made my skin crawl.
My lips drew back in an answering snarl, hiding my revulsion. No sense in letting it know it was getting to me. Smoke, being the over protective sibling she was, whispered a melodic string of words in a language long since dead, and flicked her finger and thumb as if brushing off a fly. Magic, the size of bullet, zipped through the separating space, missing our new companion and his group of admirers, by a hair’s breath, to collide with the mangy demon. A sharp, pained yip broke through the everyday clamor, then the demon slunk back into the shadows.
Touching the brim of my hat in silent thanks to Smoke, I kept my head turned to Sam, while I pulled open the door on The Wild Hog, the mercantile store, ostensively holding it open for Smoke. Down the way Sam took his leave and meandered on, his practiced casualness belied by his stiff shoulders. Smoke stepped in close, keeping our conversation private. “Guess it’s time to pay Diamond Jim a call about a trinket.”
We took mules. Animals didn’t always know how to react to my sister and me. One time I’d been thrown off a mountain by a mule that had been previously owned by miners, and had literally had dynamite set off in her general vicinity on a regular basis. Another time a barely broken stallion with a reputation of being a demon, displayed impeccable manners. He probably recognized the familial connection. I should have bought that damn horse.
We had some luck though, these mules were a little antsy, but I didn’t think I’d be rolling down the rocky, cacti infested hillside that we were currently on, just out of Misery. Turning in my saddle I checked on Snake. “How’s your ass?”
She didn’t smile but I saw the telltale twitch at the corner of her mouth. “I have a great ass. How about yours?”
“Mine is fine as well,” I responded with a cheeky grin. I began to turn to face forward when I caught the something out of the corner of my eye. I pulled back on my reins digging my heels deep into the stirrups. The mule wasn’t going at a fast pace but she had a hard mouth. Turning further in the saddle my taffeta skirt bunched higher on my thighs revealing more of the black britches I had on under the noisy skirt. About fifty feet, down the hill, on the trail we had come up on, I saw Sam plodding along on another despondent mule.
Snake had pulled up behind me and had turned to catch a view of the red scarf fluttering behind the man like something to aim at. My fingers itched to throw something at him. Something along the lines of what I’d sent at that demon earlier but I maintained my cool.
“Guess we should have been watching for a tail.” Snake muttered.
“What’s he gonna do?” I scoffed, “We’ll have the trinket before he ever makes it to the shack.” My body gave an involuntary shiver remembering the handshake from earlier. Okay so maybe he could do something, but my guess was that he didn’t even know what he was or what he was playing with otherwise he wouldn’t be messing with a couple of conjurers. The familial demon blood may have been watered down but it still maintained its dominance.
“I know that glint in your eyes, Smoke,” Snake interrupted my thoughts pulling her mule alongside mine on the wide trail.
“Whatever do you mean?” I said, raising my chin, putting on airs.
She swatted at my arm. “Let’s go your majesty, we should get the trinket before what’s his nuts catches up.”
She was right, so I gave her a brisk nod and turned to nudge my heels into the mule’s sides. I didn’t need to though, Snake was kind enough to slap my ass’s ass to get us rumbling along. The chuckle escaped my lips before I could stop it and kept a smile on my face all the way to the top where we reached Diamond Jim’s abode.
He stepped out of the shack as we approached. His shaggy hair ruffled in the breeze, it looked dirty and greasy much like his clothes. Lovely. One would wonder how a man dressed like a hobo, living in shack, would end up with a nickname like Diamond Jim. Then he smiled and his right canine blinded you from the sparkle. Some quack had managed to drill a diamond into the tooth.
Snake turned and raised a brow. We didn’t need to speak this conversation. Yep, I would have bought a bath instead of a diamond tooth as well. Priorities varied.