NOTE: THERE IS A WARNING FOR VIOLENCE AND BLOOD IN THIS PART.
As Annie Stafford told her story, no one noticed a man exit the courthouse. He rode through the empty streets of Haven, confident that no one was around to see him as he raced to the camp. The men were waiting. The rider never dismounted; the men knew what his arrival meant. They had holstered their guns, extra ammunitions stored within easy reach by pocket and saddlebag. They tucked what small trinkets they could into their shirts, and rode back to Haven.
Sass was ashamed of himself. He couldn’t stand one more day of the trial. He never made it to the courthouse that morning, heading for the Goose under the thin pretense of preparing for the post-courthouse onslaught. Seeing Kelly’s strong but anxious figure, hearing those things said about her…it was too much for him, and he berated himself for not being able to bear it for her. He would gladly beat the devil out of any man who spoke of her like that again. She hadn’t done any of what they were saying in court. Not the woman who so charmed the grumpy old men on his barstools. Not the deeply terrified and hopeless, yet concerned and curious person with whom he’d shared so many days. Not his barkeep. Not his –
He groaned, thumping his head down on the bar. How had he let this happen? She wasn’t his anything. Miss Rose was an outlaw, for the present anyway, and without an eyewitness account of the murder she was as good as hanged. Whether or not she won the trial, she had given him no reason to believe she returned his affection, which only made him angrier with himself.
He picked his head up from the bartop, glaring out the window and rubbing his temples. He almost missed the rider passing by at breakneck speed.
Elek froze, fingers still at his head. That was one of Thomas’ men. He seemed to be racing back to their camp. But he would only be preceding a verdict if something had gone awry…
“Shit.” Elek muttered. He leapt over the bar, unclipping his rifle as he went. He burst out the door, Pippin hard on his heels, and practically ripped his horse, Seraphina, from the stall. The three of them set off with all speed to the sheriff’s office.
No one was there. Swearing, Elek looked for anything to help inside. He spied the safe, where he knew all of Kelly’s weapons were kept. He angled the heel of his boot into the padlock and jumped with his weight on it. It snapped clean in two.
“Sorry, Gio,” he muttered. He snatched her two shotguns, and Gio’s from the wall on his way out. He was remounting his horse when he saw a plume of dust from where he’d come.
“Shit.” He reiterated.
As soon as he pulled up outside the courthouse, however, the place fairly exploded. Folks came pouring out of the doors; Pippin was forced to dodge their frantic stampede and Seraphina at once. Seraphina herself reared in alarm.
“What’s happenin?” Elek yelled to Sean as the butcher ran toward him.
“Sheriff Thomas’ has lost it! He’s the murderin scum, and he’s got the guard’s gear!”
Elek wheeled around. “Sam!” He bellowed. “Sam, damn it, where are you?”
“Sass!” Sam appeared from the crowd, his mother pulling him away.
“Take Pip, sound the alarm! Everyone armed and defensive, to the Sheriff’s office! On the double!”
Sam nodded, whistling to Pippin. The dog looked to his master, who jerked his head. Pippin ran with Sam and his mother off towards the bell tower. Elek saw the Admiral pulling Kelly out the side door, Gio right behind them. He trotted towards them through the throng, eventually forced to dismount Seraphina and tie her to the courthouse. The bells started clanging wildly.
“Kelly!” Elek yelled, fighting the crowds with his shoulders while carrying the weapons. He tossed her the shotguns one by one, and she caught them deftly. Gio received his with the same grace, nodding to Elek. “Take her and get out of Haven, I’ll send word once the coast-”
“No!” Kelly shouted furiously, loading her guns. “It’ll do no one any good, Thomas will find me wherever I run, or his men will. I stay here, and this ends today.” She had such a hard, determined look now. Her curls were blowsy, her eyes had narrowed, and she was holding her guns as though she might shoot or throw them, it was anyone’s guess.
Gio looked at her for a long moment. She raised an eyebrow.
“Alright.” He said, “Haven has seen its share of shootouts. Let’s get to -”
Gunshots rang out and pandemonium struck. The three of them ran towards the sheriff’s office, three blocks away. Men were running with them, pouring out of houses and businesses, forming a blockade to the west on the middle square outside the Sheriff’s office. Kelly, Gio and Elek were at the front, on the porch of the office, assembling a cover of sorts. Kelly whipped around at the sound of boots and jumped away from a man flashing a knife towards her. She twisted, and gasped in pain. She’d torn her stitches. She felt her side getting warm. Gio shot the man, and checked her. He saw her wound, but she pushed him away and returned fire. “Get down,” he barked, pulling her down. “Just stay low. I’m not havin you bleed out.”
Thomas’s men were everywhere. Shooting out windows, breaking down doors, causing screaming and panic. Kelly shot one in the leg, just missing the lady he was pulling. It reminded her of a terrifying prospect.
“Who’s lookin after the bar girls?” She yelled to Elek over the gunshots.
Elek grimaced. “Trust me, they are plenty protected.”
Several minutes before, Thomas’s right hand man had split off from his men and slipped into the bar. He had full run of these girls, and they would have no choice but to obey him. The bar girl, assuming her natural leading role her seniority gave her, made sure all the others here locked in their rooms and suitably armed, just in case. She alone stood at the top of the stairs, a revolver in her hand. She saw the odious specimen appear at the bottom of the stairs, leering.
“Hello, pretty.” He came towards her. She smiled invitingly. “I knew you were a nice girl. You should smile more.”
“One more step, and I’ll shoot you in the dick,” she said, still smiling.
He laughed. “Oh, girlie, I bet you didn’t even load it.”
He took a step.
She shot him in the dick.
He screamed, dropping to his knees. She kicked him in the shoulder, thumping him down the stairs. The other girls slowly emerged as she dragged him outside.
“Get the fuck out of my bar,” she said, turning and leaving the man in the dirt. She did not see the shaking hand bringing up a pistol.
The man lay dead, Owen holding a rifle across the street. The bar girl whipped around, shaking a little. When she saw him, Owen lowered his weapon and came towards her.
“I had it covered,” she said with insincere indignance.
“Come now, Lilly, of course you did,” Owen said seriously. “I just cleaned up the mess.”
Sass, Kelly, and Gio were fighting furiously. Thomas’s contingent fought dirty, and Thomas himself was nowhere to be seen. Bodies lay in the roads, some vaguely alive and some gone.
The sheriff had turned a table over and put the metal safe behind that, for some bullet proofing. The three of them crouched behind it, covering several angles. Gio popped up to shoot a man across the main street.
“Damn!” He stumbled, the bullet wound spraying blood across Kelly’s face and the safe. He sat down, his right shoulder bleeding profusely. “I got one, bastard is dead. But he got me too. He should be one of the last, though.”
“Cover,” Elek said to Kelly, ripping his shirt off and slashing it with his knife. He bound up the wound with a strip, padding the rest against it. “Thomas is definitely still out there, and we need Walter. Is there anyone to send, behind the barricades?”
Kelly peeked around the table, surveying their reinforcements. The group of men they’d been fighting were all dead, wounded, or hiding. Their own men were injured but all alive. She caught movement to the east; a small figure running towards them on Main Street, a dog a few paces back.
“No!” She screamed. “No, Sam, get inside!”
Elek jerked his head up. Sam froze in his tracks.
Kelly saw a figure sliding out from between buildings behind Sam. She recognized Thomas’s gait. Pippin backed towards Sam, growling. Thomas was bringing up a pistol.
Elek jumped the railing, racing towards Sam. His charge startled Thomas for a moment, and Elek seized the boy and half threw him behind the nearest table. He was turning to face Thomas.
The other man shot him in the chest, and smiled.
Gio’s next heartbeat seemed to last a year. His ears rushed. He saw his friend falling, Pippin howling and lunging, and Thomas laughing. He could hear screaming. It wasn’t frightened or horrified. It was the sound of pure, unadulterated rage.
He seemed to slowly turn his head, not truly taking in Kelly’s motion. She was running full speed. She wielded her shotguns as though she cared nothing for the pellets, nor for the kick, screaming as she advanced on Thomas. He had the look of a man possessed. But so did she.
She shot him in the arm. In the leg. In the chest. Thomas’s body flailed. He fell to the ground. She stood over him, still unloading.
Gio felt himself running to her, wrapping his arms around her as best he could, and pulling her back. “Kelly! For god’s sake! He’s dead, he’s dead, leave it. We need Sass, think of Sass.”
Kelly’s screams broke off into hoarse sobbing. She pulled away from Gio and collapsed next to Elek. Her side still bleeding, she looked about desperately for anything to clean his wounds. Gio dropped next to her and ripped his own binding away. He started cleaning his best friend’s blood away, Pippin licking Elek’s face in an effort to help.
Sass was in bad shape, but Kelly thought if they could get Walter, he’d be just fine. She looked to Sam, who was standing horror-struck nearby. “Get Walter.” She said to him. He disappeared.
Elek’s eyes flickered open. “Gio?” He said. His friend breathed a sigh.
“Yeah mate. It’s me. S’alright, you got hit pretty bad but we’re right here.”
“Kelly?” Elek said. She nodded, taking his hand. “Well now, Miss Rose, are ye cryin over me?” Pippin whined and sniffed his hair.
“Don’t you go thinkin I’m partial to ye,” Kelly whispered.
“Never,” Elek replied, coughing a little. “That would be unsavory of me.”
“Mr. Sasway, I cannot imagine ye bein unsavory.” She brushed his hair from his face. “But please, please let me have to opportunity to discover it.”
“Well in that case, I have two questions.”
“Is Walter on his way?”
“Kelly sent Sam for him.” Gio said quietly.
“Good, good.” Elek closed his eyes for a moment. Tears streaked the dirt on Kelly’s cheeks. He opened them again in a few moments.
“What’s your second question?” Kelly asked gently.
Elek squeezed her hand and appealed to Gio first. “I’m glad you’re here to witness this.” He tilted his head a little and gazed at Kelly. “Miss Rose, would ye mind very much if this unsavory man were very madly in love with ye?”
Kelly laughed with tears in her voice. “Mr. Sasway, not if you do not mind this unsavory outlaw bein entirely in love with ye in return.”
Elek smiled, and closed his eyes again. Gio kept one hand pressing the fabric to his friend’s wounds, and wrapped his good arm around Kelly as she laid her forehead to Elek’s and cried. Gio felt his own tears falling from his chin. Pippin began to howl.
Thus, the sheriff, the outlaw, and the hound kept watch over him, pleading to everyone between God and the devil that he didn’t breathe his last.