Chapter 29

Two seconds passed. Gault blinked, and Flint saw him deciding to save his ammo for the big boys. "Mitch, stay here with them! Doc, let's go!" They turned and ran along the pier for the house. Mitch leveled his pistol at Flint's chest, just above Clint's arm.

Another pistol bullet thunked into the doorjamb.

had sweat on his face. Dan shoved his rifle in and fired without aiming, the slug smashing glass. Carlos got Off two more mpid-fire shots and then his nerve broke. He ftW up and, howling in fear, left the relative [email protected] of his makeshift shield to run for the kitchen door. He was almost there when he slipped on a smear of dog's blood on the linoleum tiles and at the same time Train shot at him. The bullet snaked into the waff as Carlos fell. Carlos twisted around, his gun coming up. Dan Pulled the Browning's trigger, blood burst from Carlos's side, and he doubled up and writhed on the floor.

As Train ran into the kitchen and kicked Carlos's Pistol away, Dan pulled the empty magazine from his rifle and popped in another one.

The next room held a dining table and chairs, a jaguar's skin up as a wall decoration, and a small chandelier hanging from the ceiling over the table's center. A hallway went off to the left, and another room with a pool table and three pinball machines was on the right.

Train and Dan started across the dining room, and suddenly Dan caught a movement and a dark-tanned blond girl wearing cutoffs and a black bra emerged from the hallway. Her icy blue eyes were puffy and furious.

She lifted her right hand, and in it was gripped an automatic pistol.

She let go an unintelligible, hair-raising screech and Train was swinging his rifle at her when the automatic fired twice, booming between the walls.

The first bullet shattered glass in one of the pinball machines, but the second brought a cry from Train.

Train's rifle went off, the bullet breaking a window beside the blond girl. Dan had his finger on the trigger and the gun leveled at her, but the idea of killing a woman crippled him for the fastest of seconds. Then the girl scurried back into the hallway again, her hair streaming behind her.

Everything was moving in a blur, time jerking and stretching, the smell of burnt rounds and fear like bitter almonds in the smoky air.

Train's cap had fallen off, and he staggered against the wall with his left hand clutched to his right side and blood between his fingers.

There was a shout: "Jesus, it's that damn guy!"

Dan saw that two men had come into the game room through another doorway. One he recognized as the longhaired man named Doc, the other was a tanned bodybuilder who had a walkie-talkie in one hand and an Ingrain machine gun in the other. Before the muscle man could aim and fire, Dan sent two bullets at them but Doc had already flung himself flat to the floor and at the sight of the rifle the @nd man-the "boss,"

Dan remembered Train sayinghurtled behind the pool table.

It was getting too damn hot.

"Go back!" Dan shouted to Train, but Train had seen the Ingrain gun and he was already retreating. They both scrambled through the kitchen's entryway two heartbeats before the Ingrain gun chattered and the woodwork around the door exploded into flying shards and splinters.

Mitch jumped when he heard the distinctive noise of Gault's gun.

He had moved Flint and Pelvis so they were between him and the house, his back to the swamp and the bounty hunters facing him. Flint had seen @ult snatch the walkie-talkie off the coffee table and yell something into it, and then the man in the watchtower-the same one, Flint realized, who'd half strangled him at St. Nasty and had taken the derringer away-had strapped his rifle around his shoulder and started descending a ladder. Now the man was just reaching the walkway between the tower and the house.

Mitch was scared to death. Beads of sweat trickled down his face, his hand with the revolver in it shaking. He kept glancing back and forth from the bounty hunters to the house, wincing at the sounds of shots.

Pelvis suddenly psped harshly and put a hand to his chest.

Mitch's pistol trained on him.

Oh my God! Flint thought. He's havin' another attack!

But Pelvis was looking at something past Mitch's shoulder, his eyes widening. He let out a bawling holler "Don't shoot us!"

Even as Flint realized that was the oldest trick in the book and it could never work in a million years, the terrified Mitch swung around and fired a shot at brown water and moss-covered trees.

Pelvis slammed his fist into the side of Mitch's head and was suddenly all over the man like black on tar. Stunned, Flint just stood there, watching Pelvis beat on him with one @ling fist while the ottrer hand trapped Mitch's gun. Then the revolver went off again, its barrel aimed downward, and Flint got his legs moving and his fists, too. He attacked Mitch with grim fury. Mitch went down on his knees, his facial features somewhat rearranged. Pelvis kept hammering at the man like someone chopping firewood. Mitch's fingers opened, and Flint took the pistol.

Footsteps on the planks. Someone running toward them.

Flint looked, his pulse racing, and there was the man from the watchtower unslinging his rifle. The man, a wiry little bastard in overalls, stopped thirty feet away and @ his rifle from the hip. Flint heard the sound of an angry hornet zip past him. Then it was Flint's turn.

The first bullet missed. The second struck the man in the left shoulder, and the third got him a few inches below the heart. The man's rifle had gotten crooked in his arms, and now his finger spasmed on the trigger and a slug smashed the windshield of one of the cigarette speedboats. Then the man went down on his back on the pIm"

his legs still moving as if trying to outdistance [email protected] Flint didn't fire the last bullet in the gun. In his mouth was the sharp, acidic taste of corruption; he'd never killed a man before, and it was an awful thing.

Now, however, was not the time to fall on his knees and beg forgiveness. He saw that Pelvis's fists had made raw hamburger out of Mitch's mouth, and Flint seized his arm and said, "That's enough!"

Pelvis looked at him with a sneer curling his upper lip, but he stepped back from Mitch and the half-dead man fell forward to the pier.

They had to get out, and fast. But going through the swamp meant that Clint would surely drown. Flint wanted the derringer back. He ran to the dead man's side, knelt down, and started going through his pockets. His fingers found the derringer, and something else.

A small ring with two keys on it.

Keys? Flint thought. To what?

Flint remembered this man had been driving the cigarette boat that had brought them here. Which of the two boats had it been? The one on the right, not the one with the broken windshield. He didn't know a damn thing about driving a boat, but he was going to have to learn in a hurry.

He pushed the derringer into his pocket and stood up.

"Cecil!" he yelled. "Come on!"

** in the kitchen, the doorway splintered to pieces and blood staining the side of Train's shirt, Dan knew what had to be done.

"Go!" he said. "I'll hold 'em off."

"The hell with that! Runnin', I ain't!"

"You're dead if you don't. I'm dead anyway. Get out before they come around back."

An automatic fired, the bullet chewing away more of the door frame. The girl was at work again.

"Don't let them get to Arden," Dan said .

Train looked down at his bleeding side. Rib was busted, but he thought his guts were holding tight. It could've been a whole lot worse.

The Ingrain gun chattered once more, slugs perforating the walls, forcing Dan and Train to crouch down. Dan leaned out, burned the other two shots in that magazine, and then popped his last four bullets into the Browning.

"Okay," Train said. He put his bloody hand on Dan's shoulder and squeezed. "Us two dinosaur, we fight the good fight, ay?"

"Yeah. Now get out."

"I'm getting'. Bonne chance!" Train ran for the back door, and Dan heard him splash into the swamp.

He was in it for the long haul now. When the automatic fired again, the bullet shattered dishes stacked in a cul)board. Dan heard shots from out front, but surely Train hadn't had time yet to get around the house. Where the hell were Murtaugh and Eisley?

"Come outta there, man!" Doc shouted. "We'll tear down the wall to get you!"

Dan figured his voice was meant to hide the noise of someone-the muscle man, probably-either reloading or crawling across the floor.

Dan gave Train six or seven more seconds, then he fired a wild shot through the doorway and took off for the rear. He jumped from the platform into water already chopped up by Train's departure. They'd hear the splash and be after him with a vengeance. He headed directly back into the swamp, through a tangle of vines and floating garbage spilled from the can the young man had 3N dropped. Three steps, and on the fourth his shoe came down on the edge of a root or stump and his ankle twisted, pain knifing up his calf.

Gault had heard the second splash and had gotten up from the floor beside the pool table, ready to storm the kitchen, when there came another noise from out front. The flurry of gunshots had been enough to worry about, but now he heard the rumbling bass notes of one of the cigarette boat's engines trying to fire up. "Get back there after them!"

he yelled to Doc. "Try to take one alive!" Then he sprinted for the living room and the sliding glass door that opened onto the platform.

I 'Can't you get it goin'?" Pelvis was sitting in the white vinyl seat beside Flint, who felt he could have used two more arms to operate the complicated instrument panel.

"Just hang on and be quiet!" The key was turned in the ignition switch, red lights were blinking on some of the gauges, and the engine growled as if it were about to catch, but then it would rattle and die.

They had untied the boat's lines, and were drifting from the pier.

Pelvis held the revolver they'd taken from Mitch. He'd seen one bullet remaining in the cylinder. His knuckles were scraped and bleeding; he'd been coming out of his stupor for several minutes before he'd attacked Mitch, the immediacy of their situation having cleared his head of despair for Mama, at least for right now. As Flint struggled to decipher the correct sequence of switches and throttles, Pelvis looked back over his shoulder and his stomach lurched with terror.

Gault was roming.

The muscle man had just emerged from the house. He stopped, some of the tan draining from his face at the sight of his two downed associates and the bounty hunters trying to escape in a speedboat.

"The Flying Nun" was still playing on the television screen. Gault staggered, as if he were beginning to realize his swamp empire was crumbling; then he came running along the pier, a rictus of rage distorting his face and his finger on the Ingrain's trigger.

"Trouble!" Pelvis shouted, and he fired the revolver's last bullet, but it was a wild shot and Gault didn't slow down.

Then Gault squeezed off a short burst as he ran, the slugs marching across the pier and chewing holes across the speedboat's stem.

"Down!" Flint yelled, frantically trying to start the engine. "Get down!"

Crack, crack-I another weapon spoke, and suddenly Gault was gripping his right leg and he stumbled and fell to the planks.

A man neither Flint nor Pelvis had ever seen before had come out from under the pier at the speedboat's bow, and he was standing in the chest-deep water, holding a rifle with a telescopic sight. He fired a third time, but Gault had already crawled over to the far side of the pier and the bullet penetrated wood but not flesh. Then the man shouted to Flint, "I'm drivin'!" and he threw the rifle in and pulled himself over the boat's side, his eyes squeezed shut with pain and effort.

Flint didn't know who the hell he was, but if he could operate this damn boat, he was welcome. He scrambled into the back and picked up the rifle as the man got behind the wheel. "Cover us, you better!"

the man yelled; he pulled a chrome lever, hit a toggle switch, and twisted the key. The boat barked oily blue smoke from its exhausts, its engine damaged by the Ingrain's bullets. Flint saw Gault getting up on one knee, lifting his weapon to shoot. There was no time to aim through the scope; he started firing and kept firing, and Gault flattened himself again.

The engine boomed, making the boat shake. The rifle in Flint's hands was empty. Gault raised his head. The man behind the wheel grabbed a throttle and wrenched it upward, and suddenly the boat's engine howled and the craft leapt forward with such power Flint was throvm across the stem and almost out ottlie boat before he could grab hold of a seat back. The man twisted the wheel, a mare's tail of foamy brown water kicking up in their wake. A burst of Ingrain bullets pocked the churning surface behind them.

The boat tore away toward the bayou, passing the vacant watchtower, as both Flint and Pelvis held on for dear life.

Around a bend ahead, blocking the channel, stood a puuy submerged pair of gates made of metal guardrails and topped with vicious coils of concertina wire.

Train chopped the throttle back. "Somebody get on the bow!"

Pelvis went, stepping over the windshield as the boat slowed.

"You see a way to get that gate open?" Train asked.

"Bolt on this side, oughta be!"

"I see it!" The boat's engine was muttering and coughing as Train worked the throttle and gear lever, cutting and giving power until the bow bumped the gate. The bolt, protected by a coating of black grease, was almost down at the waterline. Pelvis lay at the prow and leaned way over; he had to struggle with the bolt for a moment, but then it slid from its latch.

Train gave the engine power, and as Pelvis crawled back over the windshield, the bow shoved the gates apart through bottom mud. He smelled leaking gasoline. The oil gauges showed critical overheating, red caution lights flashing on the instrument panel. "Hang you on!"

Train shouted, and he kicked the throttle up to its limit.

Dan heard a pistol shot. Water splashed three feet from his right shoulder.

"Put the rifle down! Drop it or you get dropped!"

Dan hesitated. The next shot almost kissed his ear.

He let the rifle fall into the water.

"Hands up and behind your head! Do it! Turn around!"

Dan obeyed. Standing on the walkway that led between the house's rear entrance and the incinerator were Doc and the girl, both of them aiming their guns at him.

"I saw you on television!" Doc said. His face glistened with sweat, his hair damp with it. His sunglasses had a cracked lens.

"Man, how come you want to fuck us up like this? Huh? After I turned you loose?" He was whining. "Is that how you reward a fuckin' good deed?"

"Get up here!" the girl snapped, motioning with her automatic.

"Come on, you sonofabitch!"

Dan eased back through the vines, the pain of his injured 3Q ankle making him inch. From the other side of the house there were more shots and the growl of a speedboat's engine.

"Where're Murtaugh and Eisley?"

"Get your ass up here, I said!" The girl glanced at Doc.

"You turned him loose?"

"Those two bounty hunters had him in handcuffs, back at St.

Nasty. Takin' him to Shreveport. I let him go."

"You mean ... it's 'Cause of you all this happened?"

"Hey, don't gimme me any shit now, you hear? Come on, Lambert!

Climb up!"

Dan tried. He was exhausted, and he couldn't make it.

"I'm not gonna tell you again," the girl warned. "You get up here or you're dead meat."

"I'm dead meat anyway," Dan answered.

"This is true," Doc said, "but you can sure lose a lot of body Parts before you pass on from this vale of tears. I'd try to make it easy on myself if I were you."

Playing for time, Dan grasped the planks and tried once more. With an effort of will over muscle, he got his upper body out of the water and lay there, gasping, on the walkway.

"Shiti" the girl said angrily. "You're the damnedest fool in this world! How come you didn't kill him and forget about it? Your mind's getting' senile, ain't it?'$ "You'd better shut your mouth." Doc's voice was very quiet.

"Wait till this sinks in on Gault. You wait till he figures Out it's your fault all this happened. Then we'll see whose ass gets kicked."

Doc sighed and looked up through the trees at the sun. '41 knew this minute would come," he said. "Ever since you homed in, I did. Kinda ilad it's here, really." He turned his pistol toward Shondrals head and with a twitch of his trigger finger put a bullet through the side of her skull. She gave a soft gasp, her golden hair streaked with red, and as her knees buckled she fell off the walkway into the swamp.

"I just took out the garbage," he told Dan. "Stand up."

Dan got his knees under him. Then he was able to stand, -7 pain.

"Move," Doc said, motioning with the gun toward the house.

"Gault!" he hollered. "I got one of'em alive!"

They went through the destroyed kitchen, the shot-up dining room, and the bullet-pocked game room. Dan limped at gunpoint through a hallway and then entered a living room where there were a few pieces of wicker furniture, a zebra skin on the floor, and a ceiling fan turning.

A sliding glass door opened onto the awning-covered platform, where the screen of a large television on wheels was showing a Pizza Hut commercial.

"Oh, Lord!" Doc said.

Gault was on the platform. He was lying propped up by an elbow on his side, a trail ofblood between him and the place on the pier from where he'd crawled. The right leg of his jeans was soaked with gore, his hand pressed to a wound just above the knee. Next to him lay his Ingrain gun. Sweat had pooled on the planks around his body, his face strained, his ebony eyes sunken with pain and shock.

"Don't touch me," he said when Doc started to reach down for him.

"Where's Shondra?"

"He had a pistol hid! Pulled it out and shot her clean through the head! I knew you wanted him alive, that's why I didn't kill him!

Gault, lemme help you up!"

"Stay away from me!" Gault shouted. "I don't need you or anybody!"

"Okay," Doc said. "Okay, that's all right. I'm here."

Gault gritted his teeth and pulled himself closer to Dan.

The snakeskin boot on his right foot was smeared with crimson.

"Yes," he said, his eyes aimed up at Dan with scorching hatred.

"You're the man."

"How was I supposed t ' o know he was gonna come here?"

Doc squawked. "He's supposed to be a killer, killed two fuckin' men! I thought he'd be grateful!" He ran a trembling hand across his mouth. "We can start over, Gauh. You know we can. It'll be like the old days, just us two against the world. We can build it all again.

You know we can."

Gault was silent, staring at Dan.

Dan had seen the bodies lying on the pier. The one farther away was still twitching, the nearer one looked to be stone-cold.

He saw that one of the speedboats was gone.

"What happened to Murtaugh and Eisley?"

"You came here"-Gault was speaking slowly, as iftrying to understand something that was beyond his comprehension-"to get two men who were. taking you to prison?"

"He must be crazy!" Doc said. "They must've been takin, him to a loony prison!"

"You destroyed ... no, no." Gault stopped. His tongue flicked out and wet his lips. "You damaged my business for that reason, and that reason alone?"

"I guess that's it," Dan said.

"Ohhhhh, are you going to suffer. Gault grinned, his eyes dead.

"Ohhhhh, there will be trials and tribulations for you.

Who brought you here?"

Dan said nothing.

"Doc," Gault said, and Doc doubled his fist and hit Dan in the stomach, knocking him to his kneer,.

Dan gasped and coughed, his consciousness fading in and out. The next thing he knew, a bloody hand had gripped his jaw and he was [email protected] with Gault. "Who brought you herer' Dan said nothing.

"Doc," Gault said, and Doc slammed his booted foot down across Dan's back. "I want you to hold him down,-Gault ordered. Doc sat on Dan's shoulders, pinning him.

Gault pressed his thumbs into Dan's eye sockets, the muscles of his forearms bunching and twisting under the flesh. "I will ask you once more. Then I'll tear your eyes from your head, and I'H make you swallow them. Who brought you here?" . , Dan was too exhausted and in too much pain to even manufacture a lie. maybe it was Train who'd gotten away in the speedboat, he hoped. Maybe Train had had time by now to Put the fire to the Swift's furnace and get Arden far from this hell. He said nothing. away "You poor, blind fool," Gault said almost gently. And then his thumbs began to push brutally into Dan's eye sockets, and Dan screamed and thrashed as Doc held him down.

Suddenly the pressure relaxed. Dan still had his eyes.

"Listen!" Gault said. "What's that?"

There came the sound of rolling thunder.

Dan got his eyes open, tears running from them, and tried to blink away some of the haze. Doc stood up. The noise was getting steadily louder. "Engine," Doc said, his pistol at his side. "Comin' up the bayou, fast!"

I "Get me another clip!" There was desperation in Gault's voice.

"Doc, help me stand up!"

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