“¡Diablo en infierno!”
The shack danced with the impact of hot lead. McCutchen slammed onto the earthen floor, abandoning the idea of the kettle. Plaster ripped off the walls and shattered in clouds of rock and dust in the air above him. “Son of a bitch!”
The old woman still stood in the middle of the room. “¡Dios en cielo, trae su fuego para quemar Huerta y a sus diablos!” She shoved the barrel of the rifle into a hole in the wall and worked the lever, burning the night air with gunpowder and lead.
McCutchen dragged himself through an increasing pile of rubble, searching for his Colts while his throat continued to tighten. His right eye twitched so rapidly he could barely use it. Smoke filled the upper half of the room, the thatched roof on fire. In another few minutes the fight would be over one way or the other.
The woman stomped next to his right hand, and he looked up. “¡Pistola!” She pulled one of his Colt .45’s out from under her skirts, handing it to him.
“I’ll be a son of a—” He spun the cylinder. It was fully loaded. Outside, the gunfire lulled as the bandits waited for the flames to do their work. With nimble fingers the old woman reloaded the Winchester. She pulled a tin out from under rubble on her bed and threw it to McCutchen.
“You take. Good medicine.”
He ignored her. Twitching, he leveled his Colt toward the door where the torn curtain dangled in the opening. But it was little use. He couldn’t steady his aim, his face and neck yanking to the left. He’d be able to kill a man at ten feet, maybe. At least it was night. But the fire would make it easy for the bandits to see him and the old woman when they stepped from the burning house.
The woman bent down and took the tin. She shoved it into McCutchen’s chest. “Okay, Okay.” He tucked the tin into an inner pocket of his duster.
Without waiting longer, she surged through the curtain and into the night air before McCutchen could respond. Gunfire blazed from all around. McCutchen lurched toward the opening, chapped he was following an old woman’s lead. But a bullet struck the door post.
As shards of wood and rock knocked him off balance, he hit the jam hard. Quaking, the remains of the burning roof collapsed inward.
In a shower of sparks a roof support struck him on the shoulder and drove him to the ground. The smoldering support pinned his left hand, cooking the flesh. Smoke burned his lungs. Rolling onto his back, he heaved the beam off. Above, he saw night sky where the roof had been.
Unbelievably, gunshots continued as the old woman called down fire from heaven while the Winchester delivered it. He pulled himself into the chill night air on his belly, bear-crawling away from the illumination of the flames toward the nearest shelter. A hot slug struck him in the thigh like a hornet. He gritted his teeth, rolling onto his back.
Another flash, followed quickly by a pop, originated from the brush beyond the clearing the goats had grazed. Dirt kicked up next to the Ranger’s boot. He steadied his aim toward the source of the flash and let his Colt roar. After tearing off three quick shots, he continued toward the shadow of a cement trough.
He threw his back against the cold cement, gasping for breath. His head spun. Lights danced and popped in his vision as the night suddenly fell quiet. The gunfire ceased, but he couldn’t stop the spasms. Finally, overwhelmed by pain and unable to breath, he passed out.