When she had the strips of bannock dough wrapped around sticks and propped over the fire, she began to slice slabs of meat from the venison haunch hanging from a limb on the edge of camp. As she was doing this, Squeak rose and went to the pack from which he drew another bottle of the dark, Hudson's Bay Trade Rum. Rolley continued to sip on his, but Squeak took the top quarter of his fresh bottle in one long drink.
When the meal was finished roasting, Janet said nothing but took one of the bannock-wrapped sticks, another holding a slice of meat, and moved away from the fire. She hunkered down across the fire from Rolley and Squeak.
"I take it we can all dig in?" Rolley said, carefully leaning his bottle against the log before rising and moving to the fire. Before he could get a portion of the meal for himself, Gabe took his portion and returned to where he had been standing, back from the fire and to Janet's right.
Squeak refused to move even after Rolley returned to his seat with his meal. He continued to sulk and pull at the rum bottle, now only half full.
As she ate, Janet took an unguarded moment to remove two of the rifle shells from her coat pocket, holding them in the palm of her hand with her thumb. Her meal finished, Janet returned to the fire, took up one of the cups sitting there and rinsed it out with some of the thick coffee. As she sat the pot back near the bed of coals she allowed the two shells to drop from her hand into the fire.
Rising, Janet moved over to stand near her rifle but facing Squeak. "Are you going to drink all of that, or can I have a cup of it?" she asked with a smile.
Behind her, Gabe turned and stepped into the trees toward the horses.
Looking up at her, Squeak smiled back then passed her the bottle.
With the cup in her right hand and bottle in her left, Janet began to pour rum. When the first shell exploded she dropped the cup and grabbed the barrel of her rifle. Swinging the rifle up and behind she spun with her entire body.
The first explosion had thrown small coals on Rolley. When the second cartridge went off he jumped back and right into Janet's rifle. The top edge of the stock struck his skull just under the brim of his hat.
Janet noted that Gabe was no longer in the clearing as she turned back and brought the bottle down on the top of Squeak's head.
Dropping down behind the log she began to feed shells into the rifle. Her frantic fingers were having difficulty holding the cartridges. The normally easy task of loading the Winchester had suddenly become difficult. When she had the first one inserted she levered it into the breech before filling the magazine.
A quick glance showed that she had done serious damage to Rolley. He lay near the fire, his sleeve beginning to smolder, but did not move. Squeak, on the other hand was only stunned, rocking back and forth on his knees, moaning and holding his head.
With the muzzle of the cocked weapon still pointing toward Squeak, she continued loading. She found that her chest was heaving and she couldn't get her breath. The pounding in her ears was not stampeding cattle but the sound of her own heartbeat.
Gabe called from behind the screen of trees. "You have done well, Janet. I suggest you take Rolley's horse. It is the better of the three, and his rigging is much better than Squeak's. From the way you hit him I doubt he will need the animal anytime soon. Besides, it was he who shot your horse."
Squeak flopped over on his side, still moaning and talking to himself.
"The pack horse is broken down" Gabe continued, "and anyway, it would be best if you left as soon as possible. For myself I will now mount and ride away. I ask that you not shoot me in the back."
Janet stayed down behind the log, her breath now coming in short hard gasps, and the rifle muzzle still in the general direction of Squeak. Occasionally she glanced behind her to see if Rolley's smoldering sleeve had burst into flame, and to ensure that Gabe was not coming up behind her. To her right and behind Squeek she heard a horse break through the brush. She only watched as Gabe rode around the camp on the far side of the draw.
When the sound of the hoof beats satisfied her that Gabe was really leaving, she stood and stepped over to Squeak. Resting the rifle muzzle behind his ear she reached down and removed a small pistol from his pocket and put it in her own. His rifle she took up and threw into the brush on the opposite side of the clearing to avoid frightening the unfamiliar horses. Stepping back and over Rolley, she grasped the collar of his coat and dragged him away from the fire. She considered rolling him over to get at his Colt but worried that he might come to. She thought a lot more of just getting out of there
Janet was not long in leaving the draw. She ignored the too-long stirrup leathers and swung into Rolley's saddle. The steers were hungry and more than ready to return to where they knew there would be hay. Once Janet had rode in behind them they took off at a trot down the trail, some of them running through the camp and over the two rustlers. She hesitated only long enough to retrieve the bridle from the cold body of Ben before swinging back in the saddle and pushing on down the hill.