ANDREA CARTER AND TROUBLE AT THE LINESHACK
Lost Scene #14
I think you will have to agree that this "Lineshack" story no longer resembles Trouble with Treasure very much. There is no bad-guy deputy, just bank robbers (well, we are down to one bank robber, thanks to Mitch's good aim earlier in the story).
And you might as well know that this story goes very differently for Andi and Mitch than Trouble with Treasure, but that's not for a few more chapters, and you will find that some of the "Duke" conversations are similar to the "Hugh" conversations in Treasure. I actually did use this Trouble at the Lineshack as the original template for Treasure.
The sharp sound of a pistol cocking froze Andi to the spot. Her heart rose to her throat. She dared not turn around. Instead, she steadied herself against Taffy and breathed a prayer to still her pounding heart.
“Now take it easy, girl,” a man’s rough voice warned. He reached out and helped himself to the rifle that was leaning against the corral post. “Turn around real nice and quiet-like, so I can take a good look at ya. No tricks, you hear me?”
Andi slowly turned to face the man. Her stomach clenched as she recognized him from the bank robbery a couple of weeks ago. The horrible memory of this beast shoving a gun into Justin’s side. The sound of his voice. His rough appearance.
He looked worse now. He was tall and heavy-set, with dark, hooded eyes, a sharp nose, and a mean-looking mouth. A dirty, unkempt beard was beginning to grow, framing his face in a wild way. He was chewing a generous wad of tobacco, and his clothes showed definite signs of trail-wear.
Duke Dylan. Andi shivered. The third member of the Dylan Gang.
“Well, ain’t this a happy coincidence!” Duke clearly recognized Andi too. “We meet again. Howdy there, girl.” He let loose a stream of tobacco juice to his side, then returned his gun to the holster. “Mighty far from home, ain’t ya?”
Andi’s throat felt dry as dust. She stood there and stared at the man, not saying a word.
“Don’t ya remember me? We met a few weeks back at the bank.”
Andi didn’t answer.
Duke chuckled. “Well, no matter. I appreciate a gal who knows how to keep her mouth shut.” He indicated the horse. “Might as well unsaddle that horse, girl. You ain’t goin’ nowhere.” He turned toward the cabin and cupped his hands. “Eli! Rob! Get your filthy hides out here and introduce me to your friend!”
Andi’s blood boiled. He thinks I’m a friend to a couple of dirty bank robbers? Not likely!
Her anger helped her unsaddle Taffy without keeling over in terror. She loosened the cinch and let the saddle drop to the ground. Her hands shook too much to carry it.
Duke lifted the saddle and tossed it over the top railing. He waited while Andi unbridled Taffy and led her mare back inside the rough enclosure. When she returned, Duke was grinning.
“You got a name, gal?” He spit another stream of tobacco juice and waved toward the cabin. “Where are those lazy brothers of mine? Probably drunk and passed out.” He grabbed her arm. “I’m talkin’ to you, girl. I asked for your name, and you’d better tell me.”
“Andi,” she whispered.
“That ain’t no name for a lil’ angel like you.” Then he frowned. “There’s somethin’ fishy going on around here. Are Eli and Rob in that cabin?”
He squeezed her arm harder. “Answer me.”
“No, they’re not,” she whispered.
“Well, I reckon we should mosey on inside and see who’s squattin’ in my cabin.” He pulled out his gun and laid the cold steel against Andi’s neck. “If there are any surprises, Angel, you will be very sorry.”
Andi felt herself dragged along by the stranger. She hoped Mitch had been able to hear when the man had called out for his brothers. Would it be too much to hope that he would do them both the favor of blowing this awful man’s head off as soon as they walked through the door?
They came up on the porch, and Duke stopped. “Hey, you in the cabin! I’ve got this little angel of a girl here. I wouldn’t aim nothing at me unless you want her to get it. I’m coming in to swap howdies.”
Duke burst into the cabin, pushing Andi in front of him. He took a sharp breath. “Who’s that?” He waved his pistol at Mitch, who lay motionless on the cot.
“My brother,” Andi answered. “He’s . . . sick.”
“Too bad.” Duke led his captive over to a chair. “Sit.”
Andi sat, puzzled. What was the matter with Mitch?
Duke headed straight for the bed. He threw back the covers, and his eyes grew wide at the sight of the half-healed gunshot wound. He grinned at Andi. “Your brother don’t look so good for a fact. What’s his name?”
Duke's eyes opened wide. “Not the Carters who run that big spread some miles out of Fresno?”
“Wake up, Carter.”Duke shook him.
“Sometimes he stays unconscious for hours,” Andi lied, hoping Duke would believe her. In reality, Mitch had been improving marvelously the last couple of days. What was he up to? Why did he pretend to be asleep?
“Is there anything in this dump to eat?” Duke demanded. He tossed the blanket over the sick man and looked around. Cans of beans and sacks of cornmeal rested on a shelf. “I’m starved,” he told Andi. “What do you say you fix me somethin’ t’eat?”
Andi ignored him. She felt sick.
“Hey, I’m talkin’ to you.” Duke yanked her up from the chair and shoved her toward the supplies. “I want you to fix me something to eat, and I want you to do it quick. Got it?”
“All right,” she replied, reaching up to the shelves.
Duke’s gun shifted until it was pointed right at her. “I’ll keep this gun on you, just in case big brother wakes up and has any stupid ideas.”
* * *
Mitch lay as still as he could, pretending to be asleep. He would eventually have to wake up, but he didn’t want to do that until he had a plan. Right now his plans were foggy. The outlaw never put up his gun. He seemed to enjoy waving it around to frighten Andi.
Mitch wondered if having his own gun hidden under his pillow was such a smart idea after all. In a shack this small, and with the dizziness he kept experiencing, there was about as much a chance of hitting his sister as there was of hitting the man.
It was a bad situation all the way around. He hated to lie in bed and listen to the comments that came from the man . . . but he had no choice for now.
“You’re not very talkative, girl,” Duke commented as he watched Andi finish up the hastily prepared meal. She had found the last of the trout from that morning and fried it up along with heating up some canned beans.
She brought the food over to him and tossed it onto the table, where it clattered noisily down on the table.
Duke grabbed Andi’s arm. “I like my food served cheerfully, girl.”
“Let go of me,” Andi said between clenched teeth, yanking her arm away from him.
Duke picked up his fork and pointed it at her. “You, Angel, are not very friendly. Not friendly at all.” He stabbed at a piece of fish and stuffed it into his huge mouth. “But,” he conceded with a smile, “You can cook fish. I’ll give you that.”
“I hope it chokes you,” Andi mumbled.
Duke chuckled. “You’re kinda sassy too.” He raised his huge hand. “But I got a cure for that, so if you don’t want to feel the back of my hand, you’d best learn to talk polite.”
Andi turned around and headed toward the cot.
“Nope.” The gun came back up. “You stay away from big brother, hear me? I don’t trust either one of you.”
He motioned her back over to the table. “You sit down right here by me, where I can keep a close eye on you. I don’t like tricks, and I hear the Carters can be mighty tricky at times. You obey me, hear?”
Andi sat down hard in a rickety chair across from the man.
“That’s better.” Duke grinned. “We can get better acquainted, you and me. Can you do anything else besides cook fish?”
“I can shoot pretty good,” Andi lied boldly.
“Do tell!” He laughed and slapped his knee. “Yep, you an’ me are in for some interesting times, I think.” He nodded at Mitch. “Tell me something, Angel. When’s that brother of yours gonna wake up? I want to talk to him about a few things.” He lowered his voice. “You wouldn’t have happened to find any . . . well . . . sacks, would you have?”
“Nope.” Andi stood up. The rich odor of the trout she’d cooked Duke sent her stomach grumbling. It was time to find something to eat.
“I told you to sit down, and I won’t tell you again!” He pulled her roughly back into her chair.
Andi winced and rubbed her wrist. Her heart drummed her fear. She blinked back tears and glanced at Mitch. What are you waiting for? Why don’t you pull out your gun and shoot this awful person?
“Why do you keep looking at that poor fellow like that?” Duke laughed. “Anytime I like, I can give him a matching hole in the other leg—or through the heart.”
“He’s my brother,” Andi answered in a shaky voice. “I’m worried about him.”
“You should be worried about yourself, Angel. What if he dies? Then you’d be stuck here with me.”
“He’s not going to die,” Andi snapped. He’d better not! she amended fiercely.
“Well, I won’t kill him, if that’s what you’re worried about—leastways not unless he gives me cause.” He pushed back his plate. “Where’s the whiskey?”
“It’s all gone. I used it on Mitch’s leg.” Andi took a deep breath. “When are you going to let us go?”
Duke leaned forward. “Appears to me that your brother ain’t ready to leave any time soon. What’s the rush? Ain’t I good enough company for the high-and-mighty Carters?”
Andi looked down at the table and didn’t answer.
Duke stood up and stretched. He glanced at Andi, then shook his head and turned toward Mitch. “I don’t think anybody can sleep that long, sick or not.”
Duke prodded Mitch on the sore leg with his gun, and he woke up with a start. “Howdy, Carter. How did ya get that wound? Shoot yourself in the leg?”
Mitch opened his eyes and held Duke’s mocking gaze.
“You don’t look so good.” Duke leaned over Mitch and shoved his gun into his chest. Andi watched in horror. “Now, Carter, I want to know exactly what happened to my brothers. I’ll tell you this much. I found blood outside behind the rocks, and here you are--all shot up.”
“It’s my blood,” Mitch said softly, looking into the man’s eyes. “The gun went off unexpectedly. That’s all. Haven’t seen anyone else around these parts.”
Duke’s meaty fist made contact with Mitch’s jaw.
“Leave him alone!” Andi threw herself at Duke. She grabbed his arm. His gun flew from his hand and landed by the door.
Mitch grabbed at the chance. Shaking his head to clear it, he reached under the pillow and brought out his gun. “Andi! Get away!” He cocked the gun, but he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was too close.
“Hold it, Carter.”
Andi knew Mitch had lost his chance—because of her. She had clawed at Duke, putting herself in the line of fire. She doubted Mitch would get another opportunity.
Duke reacted faster than Andi could blink. He wrapped his arm around Andi’s neck and tightened his grip. Andi yanked at the meaty arm but it was no use. She couldn’t breathe; she couldn’t get loose.
He was choking her, breath by breath, and it hurt.
“Toss your gun on the floor, way over there.” He nodded toward the door.
Mitch flung his pistol. It landed in the dirt at Duke’s feet.
Keeping a firm grip on Andi, he reached down and picked it up. He handed it to Andi, who was still trying to catch her breath. “Open it and get rid of the bullets.”
She did as she was told, snapping the cylinder shut.
Duke took it from her and put it up on a high shelf. “I believe in having only one loaded gun at a time.”
“All right,” Mitch said. “You’ve got my gun. Now let her go.”
“When I’m good and ready,” Duke barked. He sounded furious.
Andi knew why. Duke should have searched his helpless prisoner. He’d have found the weapon at once. He seemed jumpy and insecure now, and he clearly needed to show them who was boss.
“Now tell me what I want to know! Where are my brothers?”
“All right,” Mitch replied. “They’re dead. But I killed them in a fair fight. Self-defense. One of them shot me in the leg.”
“Where are they?”
“In the ravine.”
“Well.” Duke’s voice turned quiet. “I’ll get you for that, Carter. Nobody does in a Dylan without gettin’ repaid. You won’t like it, I’m sure. But we’ve got lots of time to worry about that.” He let up on his choke-hold of Andi.
She coughed and gasped, drawing in deep breaths of air. Her whole body shook.
“One good thing, though.” Duke laughed. “All that money from the bank job’s mine now.”
“Let my sister go,” Mitch repeated.
“Like I said when I’m good and ready.” He held her securely, yet loosely, then turned back to Mitch. “You haven’t got a gun anymore, and I’ve got your sister.” He bored his gaze into Mitch’s until the younger man nodded.
“What do you want to know?”
“The money, of course. Where is it?”
Mitch shook his head. “I really don’t know. I was unconscious the first few days. I haven’t seen or heard—”
Duke pushed Andi away. He towered over Mitch, rage in his eyes. He raised his fist and brought it down on his wounded leg.
Mitch gasped. Andi turned white.
Duke brought out his gun. With careful deliberation, he rested the barrel against Mitch’s good leg, at a point just opposite his wound. “Now, Mitch Carter, if you don’t tell me what I want to know by the time I count to ten, I will place a bullet in your other leg. You will be a cripple for life.”
He took a deep breath. “One, two, three.” He looked at Andi, who was biting her lip to keep from crying out. “Four, five six—”
“Stop it!” Andi jumped up. “He really doesn’t know where the money and gold are. He told me to hide it and not tell him where.”
Duke pulled the gun away from Mitch’s leg. “Where?”
She turned to Mitch, her face wet with tears. “I don’t care about the money. I only know that if he shoots you in the other leg, you’ll die. Maybe if we give him the money, he’ll go away and leave us alone.”
“It’s possible,” Duke agreed with a grin.
“I’ll get the sacks,” Andi said.
“If you don’t come back, this gun will go off. I promise you.”
“I said I’d get it,” Andi snapped. “You don’t have to threaten me.”
She left to find the sacks she had hidden only a week before.