In the Coyote's Den

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In the Coyote's Den

Post  Allie Johnson on Fri Aug 27, 2010 11:35 am

Six was the number of men that Pearse had assigned as escorts for the women. Three was the number of days it had been since they had left Santa Anna. Two was the number of days they would still have to travel to get to the ranch, and one was the man who had started it all and swept Allie along too. Pearse and his confrontational skills. Pearse and his trained dogs that did anything he said. Pearse.

Throughout the trip, Allie had turned over the meeting with the man in her mind. He was so sure of himself. So powerful and confident. It made her sick. Sure, working for the most powerful man in the territory would have its benefits, but the more she thought of what kind of jobs he would send her out on, the more she thought of her family's sudden end. She didn't want to be the blind agent that arrived to shake down a disobedient town or collect on overdue payments. As much as he appeared to be a rather fair gentleman, the cowgirl still had her doubts. His story of the attack on Santa Anna seemed flawless, but she wanted to hear it from the madam herself that Pearse was the gentleman he claimed to be.

Of the six men, one rode in front of the procession, and one rode in the very back. There were two on either side of both Allie and Jessamine, and today Allie was riding in front of the madam. Yesterday it had been the other way around and was called 'a change of scenery' by one of the men. It didn't matter much to Allie, it only meant that instead of staring directly between the horse's ears, she had a back to stare holes into for the rest of the day. Their wrists had been tied back in the town and hadn't been untied since. Such were Pearse's safety precautions. Allie's wrists were beginning to become raw with the way she twisted at the restraint. She had tried to bite at the rope at one point, but had been chastised by one of the men until she felt entirely like a schoolgirl and ceased her attempts to cut the fibers with her teeth. The man on her left as they rode had the rope from her makeshift restraints tied to the horn of his saddle while the man on her right had done the same thing with her horse's reins. It was the same with Jessamine. This way, if either woman should try to escape by spurring her horse in any particular direction, she would be pulled the opposite way and fall flat off the horse's back. Each man had at least one gun, and most carried knives. They spoke jovially to each other as if the women weren't there and the last two nights when the moon was bright enough, they had pulled out cards to play. Allie had heard their names spoken plenty but had, in her usual disgruntled way, assigned them numbers instead.

This day was hotter than any preacher ever claimed hell to be. The man in front (number 1) was repeatedly fingering the tip of his water-skin, a nervous habit that made Allie wonder if he hadn't already drunk all of his water. She scowled at his back. At least she wasn't in that damn dress anymore. Somebody had washed her clothes for her and she'd been given back her hat. The look on that boy's face when she'd come out of the room clean and in a dress had been enough to make her blood boil. If that kind of nervous spell-bound look had been on the face of a grown man, she wouldn't have thought twice about breaking his nose. There was no question as to which getup she felt more comfortable in.

From time to time Allie dozed off. The rocking gait of the horse provided to her coupled with the fact that she had nothing better to do than darkly watch the ground disappear beneath so many hooves proved to have the power to put her to sleep, even for only a few moments. She hadn't been getting good sleep at night. She would let her eyes close and after that it was hard to tell which nightmare she feared more: the one in which her parents and brother died repeatedly, or the fact that she woke up every morning knowing that they were gone and she wasn't. Each time she slipped into a nap, however, it was only a matter of time before number 3 on her left tugged on the rope to keep her awake. Once (to her great chagrin) Pearse's men had woken to shouts and cries for help that escaped from her as she tossed and turned. Only a few of them believed her account of a rattlesnake slipping up next to her when she startled herself awake and immediately set to fabricating an excuse. Grown women weren't allowed to have nightmares.

She counted down the hours until they would reach the Pearse ranch and she could drink herself into a deep sleep where she wouldn't be haunted by the corpses of those she loved. By the sun, it was past noon. Only a day and a half left.
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Allie Johnson
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Re: In the Coyote's Den

Post  Jessamine Blake on Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:35 am

Lying awake on their fourth day out from Santa Anna, Jessamine ran over her plans in her mind again. She would punish Liam Pearse, the smug Irish bastard, if it had to be the last thing she ever did. She focused fiercely on this goal, and tried to ignore the other aspirations that kept slinking into her head whenever her attention wandered.

Jessamine had always had a knack for knowing things about people. She was an excellent judge of character, and could spot a sneak or a freeloader or a thief a mile away. There was a shiftiness about the eyes, a shuffling about the feet, a roundness in the shoulders that always told her what she needed to know. Dishonestly she had never been able to sense; she herself could hardly be called honest, and she knew she possessed none of those loathsome, furtive qualities. It was dishonor she could see in the faces of those around her. She saw it all-too-clearly in the faces of Pearse's men.

Of Pearse himself, the madam could at least say he was a straight-shooter--of a kind. He was probably at least as dishonest as she was, but his shoulders were squared and his eyes didn't slide away from hers when she'd looked into them in the dusty streets of Santa Anna. Pearse didn't suffer from dishonesty; just from a maniacal kind of self-righteousness, she thought bitterly. His means were no doubt justified by their ends in his own eyes.

But these kinds of observations were natural, something any astute examiner of people's faces might deduce with practice. What plagued the edges of Jessamine's thoughts now was different, and she couldn't help feeling that it was sinister and foreign as well. Before, she had only guessed, and been confident in her guesses.

Now, she knew.

It had begun during the confrontation in Santa Anna. Her eyes had met those of Two Cents across the body of Alan Grady (the damn fool, getting himself shot, and for what? The bodily integrity of a whore?), and she had known without being able to explain it to herself that Two Cents fully shared her resolve to make Liam Pearse pay. She would have bet her house and her life on it. And the knowledge felt natural and right in that moment, perhaps because she wanted it so badly, or just because everything else was going so horribly wrong. For whatever reason, that first flash of unearned knowledge had been a welcome one.

As she lay in the pitch darkness now, she wondered if she had been opening herself up to the subsequent incidents. For they continued to occur, with increasingly alarming frequency. First, she happened to catch the eye of one of her jailers, and knew for certain that he was a cruel and stupid person, and that he was just waiting for either her or Allie to give him an excuse for punishment. He wouldn't dare do anything without a reason, because he didn't feel sure of his comrades' support, and he would need it to report back to Pearse the reason for his prisoners' ill treatment. But one escape attempt, one suggestion of trouble, and he would give his perverse instincts their head. All this knowledge in an instant, and an awful certainty that what she saw in his face was accurate, before the reality of what she knew caused her to avert her eyes, sickened and dreading the days ahead. And then a whole host of worries and frustrations came to her.

Was she going crazy? Or had her woman's intuition simply risen to the occasion to help her in these extreme circumstances? This Allie, the other woman, seemed wild and dangerous. Would she try to escape once they were out of sight of Santa Anna? If she did, would Jessamine follow? If not, and they failed, would it matter, or would the man take one's disobedience as an excuse to abuse her as well? Could she somehow tell Allie what she had seen, and would the woman believe her, or just think she was mad? Jessamine's mind whirled with the awful possibilities the journey held.

Her next spurt of intuition came a day later. Still lost in her contemplation of her increasingly terrifying predicament, she glanced over at Allie--a nervous habit she was developing--to find the woman's wild eyes focused on her as well. She looked away immediately, but not before she was visited by the certainty that Allie had no plans to do anything stupid. Her immediate goals were to make it to Pearse's ranch alive and to speak to Jessamine about Pearse's honesty at the first opportunity. She would have smirked at the idea of an honest Pearse if the sudden invasion into her mind hadn't made her suddenly nauseous. From that moment on, she avoided looking directly into anyone's eyes. By the end of the third day, it didn't matter. She found herself visited by the same knowledge--more slowly, less disconcertingly, but still there--just by the way the men sat on their horses, how tightly they clenched their hands on their reins, the quality of their laughter around the campfire as they shuffled cards. She worked to keep her demeanor calm and cold, but inside she was constantly sick with worry, alternately for her own sanity and for what she read in the men's intentions.

Then, on that fourth morning, she caught a glimpse of the one man she had managed to avoid looking at so far.

He was ostensibly the leader of the group, and he had not deigned to participate in the rest of the men's tomfoolery at night. He road at the head of the company, and Jessamine had been too preoccupied by the men on either side of her so far to take much notice of him. But when she woke up that morning, he was already awake and stoking the fire, and when she stirred he looked up, and their eyes met. She braced herself internally for the onslaught of knowing, but it was slow in coming, and then--

Everything in Jessamine relaxed and then hardened into her initial resolve. There were strict orders from Pearse that both she and Allie were to be treated well. There were no intentions of allowing the other men to do otherwise, whatever the two women did. If she and Allie had tried to run, they would simply be yanked off their horses and then tied more securely, thereafter to ride across the saddle like a bedroll rather than upright like a human being. The hallmarks of Pearse were almost amusingly predictable: an attempt at spurious graciousness tempered with a backup plan, the withdrawal of such "privileges" for any misbehavior, humiliation and discomfort, but no lasting damage. For whatever reason, Pearse had decided that she and Allie were prized possessions, and he didn't want them unduly damaged until they'd satisfied his purposes--whatever they were.

There was more in the man's face: the anticipation of rest, and a lightened burden. Pearse's ranch was close, just two days away, and once they arrived both Allie and Jessamine would be released on the grounds. The men would guard them, but not as constantly and as strenuously as they did now. Of course, thought Jessamine sourly, there's no point in guarding us as long as they keep the stables locked and the food and water on rations. They know, and they're sure we'll realize, that once we're on the ranch we'd have no way of getting anywhere else before the sun had baked us both into jerky.

And so Jessamine had begun to plot and plan all that day. By the time they stopped to make camp for the night, she had her plans all but solidified in her head. She could not punish Pearse directly; somehow she knew that would be a fruitless endeavor. But she could at least inconvenience him and punish him for underestimating her. The only question now was whether she would include Allie in her plans. Thinking of the woman's wild eyes, she rather thought not; an accomplice is only good if trustworthy, and somehow she didn't think she could put much trust in the woman, either to react the way she expected to anything, to follow through once the plan was in action, or to stay her hand once Pearse was within her range. And Jessamine knew, without a doubt, in the same strange way that she could read the intentions of her captors, that there was something stirring that had no intention of allowing serious harm to come to Liam Pearse any time soon.

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"[These]...settlers are churlish types who are accustomed to live apart from each other, as neither fathers nor sons associate with each other."
--Fermín de Mendinueta, Governor of the New Mexico Territory, c. 1776.
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