With a stiff kick to her horse’s ribs, Sarah bolted off at a fast trot towards the north where Ben had motioned to earlier. He set off at a jog and was able to keep pace with the horse. Sarah was even more disturbed by Ben than she was before. In fact, she hardly knew what possessed her to ask for his help in the first place. She had met rough men before, but he was certainly not like any man she had ever seen. The eyes alone made her tremble. She was sure he was some sort of demon or devil, but she was too desperate for revenge to bother.
As they traveled in silence, Sarah was tormented by the images of finding her mother, father and baby sister laying outside their homestead, all mauled and butchered almost beyond recognition. Her father still has his shot gun grasped tightly in his fist with not one bullet fired from it. Sarah had those very same bullets that in her gun, ready for when they would find Clarence. With her mind and heart so focused upon avenging her family, Sarah had hardly had the chance to mourn their deaths.
The plains they traversed were desolate and dusty with no other travelers upon it for miles. The emptiness made Sarah feel even more alone in this world than she already was, but also unnerved. She knew that if this man was all she suspected him to be, she would have no one available to come to her rescue.
She glanced down to Ben, only able to see the top of his hat. Despite his menacing eyes, she couldn’t help but see a flicker of loneliness behind them as well. It made her wonder if this man was all he seemed to be.
Slowly, she saw Ben pick up speed and actually begin to run ahead of Sarah’s horse. It encouraged her to pick up her own pace. She kicked at her horse again to quicken her speed to a gallop. Ben kept with her. Sarah was intrigued, but still uneasy. Where was this guy from?
When they finally began to approach the outlaw town, they both slowed their speed and entered the town. Only a few men wandered the streets in a drunken stupor as the sun was slowly making its descent towards the horizon. Their dirty attire suggested that what Ben had said about the town was true.
Ben kept his eyes down and hat brim pulled low upon his brow as Sarah tied her horse up tightly to the hitching post just outside the noisy bustling saloon. She was fearful that someone would steal her horse, but judging by the way the other horses on the post were tied up, it must not have been a big concern.
From within the establishment, loud shouts and obscenities could be heard mingled in with the playing of gay piano music, laughter from both men and women and the occasional shattering of glass or banging on wood. Ben boldly walked towards the entrance to the saloon, closely followed by the nervous Sarah. She had been in plenty of saloons before, but none as rowdy as this one.
As they were about to step over the threshold, Ben quickly tugged on her arm to make her duck as an empty bottle came soaring out from inside the saloon. Sarah shrieked as she saw it crash against one of the wooden posts holding up the awning of the outside porch.
“What your head around here,” Ben advised coolly as he opened one of the saloon doors for her. With knocking knees, she stepped inside and Ben joined her. Some of the people in the saloon stopped what they were doing and looked up just as he had been received before, but others were too drunk to care or notice. The music continued to play and no one gave him a second glance as he strode towards the bar.
Sarah glanced around the saloon with nervous eyes. A majority of the tables were filled with drunken bandits and outlaws that were gambling, drinking or both. Some had prostitutes balancing upon their knees, swaying with them and laughing at some unknown hilarity being discussed at their table. The women were clad in rich, bright colors and feathers seemingly jutting out from every crevice of their body and from under their dresses. It made Sarah feel like she was dressed in rags compared to them.
The place reeked of cigar smoke, rotting wood, sweat and liquor. Sarah wrinkled her assaulted nose and tried not to show her disdain for the odors. And the only light in the hall came from the dimly lit kerosene lanterns, casting an amber glow over everything.
“Do you get such warm welcomes all the time?” Sarah asked, trying to make light of the situation so as to calm her nerves.
“Pretty much,” he muttered as he approached the bartender.
“What can I do for you, Ben?” he asked, leaning his hands against the edge of the counter. Sarah somehow wasn’t surprised that the bartender knew Ben.
“I’m looking for someone.”
“Heaven help the man that gets your attention enough that you have to go looking for him,” the bartender replied with a chuckle.
“I’m just doing someone a favor. Can you tell me where a man by the name of Clarence is?”
The saloon seemed to hush for a moment when Ben spoke the outlaw’s name. He knew he had come to the right place. He could sense the hesitance in the barkeep, but he laughed it off.
“There are lots of fellas around here by that name.”
“The one I’m looking for is wanted for murder. Does that narrow it down?”
The barkeep shrugged. “It does. If it’s the one you’re talking about, I’d sure love to know where his hideout is. He owes me a small fortune. Just the other week he came in here breaking everything in a crazy rage.”
“Do you know where he was headed?” Ben lifted his golden eyes to the barkeep. The stare made sweat trickled down the barkeep’s back.
He quickly shook his head. “No, Ben, I don’t. But don’t be startin’ nothin’ in her or you’ll be oweing me for your mess and Clarence’s.”
The barkeep walked away down to the other side of the bar to refill a man’s glass. Ben sighed and turned around to Sarah.
“Looks like we’ll have to ask around to these men.”
Just as he was saying that, a drunken burly horse thief staggered up to Sarah. He towered over both of them.
“Hey there, pretty lady. Wanna come to my table and be my luck for this next card game?” the man slurred out.
Sarah shied away from the man and closer to Ben, who didn’t seem intimidated by the guy at all. “No, thank you,” she managed to squeak out over the roar of the saloon-goers.
The thief either didn’t hear her or ignored her response. He grabbed her by the arm and began forcefully pulling her away from Ben.
“Oh, come on, it’s just for a minute,” he contested.
Sarah cried out and tried to pull herself free from the man’s grasp, but his fat fingers were in a vice grip over her scrawny arm, bruising her tender flesh.
Suddenly, something came between them and the man hollered in pain. Sarah was released and she fled back to where she thought Ben was standing, only to find he was the blur that had separated her from her attacker.
Ben stood rigid with his shoulders hunched forward a bit towards the thief, as if declaring war. The thief stumbled back and clutched his injured hand that was dripping with blood. Sarah saw Ben carelessly wipe his mouth to brush away the bit of blood that had spilled onto his lips.
“You bit me!” the horse thief exclaimed with disbelief. It was then that he met Ben’s golden eyes and gasped.
“That’s not how you treat a lady,” Ben viciously snarled at him. “Isn’t there a whore you can get instead? Or are you so ugly and obnoxious that none of them will take your money?”
The whole saloon went as silent as the tomb as their attention turned towards the two men.
“You’re going to pay for that, you little runt.”
Sarah didn’t know why the thief was calling Ben a runt. He was broad and muscular and far from tiny in stature.
The thief hurled himself towards Ben in a blind rage. Ben stepped to the side, grabbed him by his beer-stained collar and hurled him around to pin him to the bar counter, making the man’s spine crack against the rim. Ben leapt up to crouch on the counter, grabbed an empty bottle, smashed it against the bar and held the razor sharp edges to the thief’s pudgy throat, the back of his head almost touching the counter top.
With the man’s collar still gripped firmly in his fist, Ben pulled him in close. “I have no conscience about killing you right here and now.” His lips curled back into an animal-like growl, revealing pointed canine teeth. “Tell me where Clarence’s hideout is and I’ll spare your life.”
The thief was blubbering incoherently until Ben jabbed the edge of the glass against his skin, drawing a little more blood that dribbled down the thief’s collarbone.
“Alright, alright! He claims that he makes camp by Devil’s Rock sometimes. Where else he goes, I don’t have a clue.”
Ben dropped the broken bottle and when he raised his eyes, he was met by the business end of a shot gun being wielded by the barkeep.
“You got your answer, Ben. Now get on out of here,” he said.
Ben took a deep breath and tossed the thief to the ground before jumping down from the counter. Sarah was dumbfounded and quivering, but followed Ben out of the bar.
Before she had a chance to leave, she heard a prostitute try to get her attention not far from the door.
“Look out for yourself, girlie,” she said, worry laced in her tone.
Sarah nodded and exited the saloon with Ben. She hardly knew how she could protect herself from this man. She didn’t know any mystic charms or spells to ward off whatever evil was inside him. If a drunken man twice his size couldn’t phase him, what would?
Once outside, she realized that the sun was completely gone from the sky, leaving only a piercing darkness with speckles of twinkling stars and a brilliant crescent moon shining above them. The moon bathed the town in a faint blue-gray tint that lit the way for them to walk.
Ben paused, as if in thought as he stared up at the moon, then continued down the road on foot.
“Wait, where are you going?” she called out.