Slow and steady, I rolled up to the gate. As far as the guards knew, I had permission to be here. Right? But Lipscomb’s words about the hospital folk shooting first kept replaying in my mind. I hailed them before they had a chance. “Supplies! Got a wagon load for the hospital.”
Irritated, the less glossed-over guard of the pair sidled out from behind the booth where they’d built a fire in a metal drum. “What supplies?”
Still thirty yards out, I turned sideways as if fetching a manifest or a sample and kept my face averted the whole time the mules closed the gap. “I got a list here somewhere. How the hell am I supposed to know, a bunch of medical junk.”
“What’s up with this getup? Where’s the truck?”
“Broke down, I suppose.” Hiding my movements with my duster, I flicked open my lighter and lit a bundle of dynamite.
“Hey, hold up. Let’s have a look. Maybe there’s something Jed and I could use.”
“Ah, found it!” Just as the mules pulled up beside the booth, I looked the guard in the eye for the first time. I gave him the same smile I’d given Tripp Jones a couple days before, with much the same failed effect. What was it about my smile?
Or maybe it was the hissing triple sticks of dynamite I held in my outstretched hand. “Got any use for these?” Tossing the explosives over his head, I lashed the mules and stood. “Hyaw! Hyaw!”
Obediently, they thundered across the fancy parking lot, paved with Thurber brick. The morning sun had melted just enough frost to make the surface slick. As the team skirted what had once been planters filled with roses, the wagon’s wheels began to slip.
On cue, the dynamite detonated, ripping the guard booth apart and catapulting splintered pine planks overhead. Spooked, the mules barreled down on the front doors at full speed. Plunging my boot between the horses’ rumps and the head of the wagon, I snapped the pole.
Without rigid connection to the team, the wagon yanked on the tugs unevenly, causing the animals to stumble and slip. Leaping onto their backs, I unclipped the slack tug first, barely clearing my fingers before the leather harness snapped taut while loosening on the opposite side.
The building only yards away, the weight of the wagon and the force of our turn continued to pull the whole damn lot of us into a broadside collision. Shifting to the back of the left mule, I unclipped the final tug. Finally free, the team regained traction and heaved out from under the building’s shadow.
Leaping from the animal’s back, I cringed as the buckboard buckled against the brick and glass of the hospital entrance, my father still inside it. Then I hit, feet and knees first. Grating across the surface of the brick pavement, I came to a stop against the base of the hospital wall.
Surging toward the wagon, I tugged a .45 free from its holster. Any human life threatening that of my father’s would be worth the cost of a single bullet, no more, no less. But the doors had been temporarily barred by wagon debris.
With the front wheel shattered, the wagon had tipped and deposited the old man, still bound in blankets, right on the front stoop. Moaning lightly, his heart and lungs rattled like a snake’s tail. “Come on, Dad. I’m taking you to see Doc.”
I lugged him over my shoulder and kicked the door in, bristling both irons. “Doc Quick, now! Anyone else come closer than thirty paces and they’ll be your last.” A stiff electricity fizzed between everyone in the lobby, melting boots in place. “Ten seconds and I start shooting everyone not looking for the doc.”
I drew a bead on the forehead of the nearest armed individual, an out of place cowboy with an angry look on his face. Still no one budged. “For God’s sake! Is this a hospital or not?” Finally, several folk scurried off in every direction. I hoped at least one had intentions of finding Doc Quick.
The lobby fell quiet, revealing soft sounds from deeper within the facility. Without the bustle of activity the room depended on, distant grisly horrors seeped into it—none of them human, save echoing footfalls. What the hell was this place?
Counting the ticks, I narrowed my eyes at the cowboy—boots still planted firmly in place, hand hovering over his hip. The visible bulge beneath his jacket telegraphed his intent. The couple guards I’d seen earlier had either run or taken cover. But this one had a taste for blood. Have it your way.