A Teaser from Del Howison’s The Survival of Margaret Thomas

In the last half of the 19th Century, widow Margaret Thomas makes the arduous trek on horseback from Missouri to Arizona accompanied by her dog Slocum and a couple of weapons to attend the trial of her husband’s murderer.

“We stumbled upon an outcropping that veered out from the edge of the cliff. There was a space to tuck in beside it. We had worked our way around enough so that looking down to the canyon floor below us, we saw a caravan of thieves. They all sat on horseback except for a fat man with broken teeth. He held Gina with his arm around her neck, holding her down by his belly. He shouted out and his coarse voiced banked against the walls and echoed.  

“Tulip! Hey, Tulip! Look at what I’ve got!”

He twisted his arm and her face pointed skyward. I was red from the sun and his chokehold. She gurgled and spit, gasping for a breath.

“I have your friend,” he shouted. “In fact, when we’re done, we will all have your friend.”

He laughed a deep, dirty, belly laugh.

“She misses you,” he continued, “and has invited you to watch the show. She likes me the best and said I can go first and last.”

He pulled her head back down to about belly height and punched her several times in the face.

“She likes it a little rough.”

Beside me I could hear Anne grunting. I put my hand on her and pointed below.

“Two of the riders are not there. They’re up here someplace trying to find us,” I said. “You can’t move or you’ll give away our position”

“But Gina,” she said.

I couldn’t answer her. Looking down I could see the ground beneath Gina turning dark.

“She is so excited that she has wet herself,” the fat man said. “She wants me very badly.”

Bent over, she got a hand free and slammed it against his groin area. He screamed and doubled over but didn’t release her. With the weight of his body pinning her, he punched her several more times. Two others jumped off their horses and helped him stand up. They grabbed Gina, retied her hands, and forced her back up on the horse. When it was over, the pig looked back up at the walls.

“we’re going now,” he said. “I hope you can find her. You can have all the pieces you can find. There is only one piece that I want.”

He climbed up onto his mount and the troop rode off. We backed out of our perch, shocked and frightened.

“That’s it, isn’t it? They want us to come after them so they can kill us all.”

“Yes,” a male voice answered, and we turned to find the two riders standing there with their guns pointed at us.

“Throw your weapons over the edge,” one of them said.

There was no option, so we did as we were told. You could hear the rifles clatter and bounce against the side of the walls as they dropped into the canyon below. He wiggled his gun at me.

“The pistol too,” he said. “And the belt.”

I unbuckled it and dropped the leather at my feet.

“Kick it over,” he said.

“I turned away from him and kicked the pistol and the belt over the edge. In that same instant, I pulled my own little pig sticker from my pants, spun, and threw the knife at the talker. I remember hearing his scream as the flash from the other fellow’s pistol blinded me.”

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