“Why don’t you go over and ask him about it?” said Jacob. “Let him know that his shiny engraved revolver is throwing sunshine in your delicate eyes, that tears of pain are dripping down your face.”

“Fine, if it’ll shut you up, I will!” Virginia kicked back her chair and walked over toward the well-dressed gentleman.

“Hello there, young lady,” the man said with a silver dollar smile. “Dr. Daniel Evans, Esquire. Faro dealer, card player, gentleman of fortune, at your service. May I interest you or your posse comitatus over there in a game of chance or skill?”

“Your table gun there is shining light in my eyes,” said Virginia.

“I suggest you purchase a pair of tinted spectacles in that case,” Evans said. “I am also a trained optometrist and would be happy to set you up with a pair.” He opened a side compartment in his faro game box, revealing a selection of eyeglasses ornate and plain.

“Aren’t gamblers supposed to keep their guns up their sleeves?” Virginia continued.

“I’m sure an observant and intelligent young lady like yourself can see the impossibility of containing a full-size Merwin Hulbert revolver in my shirtsleeves. And a lady never asks a gentleman about his gun,” Evans said coolly. “My offers of entertainment or protective eyewear still stand, but I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to be on your way otherwise, unless you’re buying me a drink.”

Irate at the implied insult, Virgina lashed out her hand, intending to scoot the offending shooting iron out of the sun.

Evans reacted with lightning speed. He snatched the gun up by its handle and deftly twirled it in one hand. It threw the afternoon sun square into Virginia’s eyes once again; as she held up a hand, blinded, Evans spun his revolver into his other hand, gripping it by the barrel. He brought the handle down on the crown of Virginia’s head, lightly enough not to shatter bone or draw blood, but heavily enough that she stumbled backwards and landed square on her rear with a dazed look.

“I’m normally not one to engage in ad feminam attacks,” drawled Evans, “but you lay a finger on my gun at your own peril, miss. Mulier est hominis confusio.”

The saloon roared with laughter as Virginia sulked back to her table.

“Oh, I forgot to mention,” snickered Jacob as she unsteadily sat down opposite him. “A fellow tried to lay hands on that gambler’s gun while you were tarrying and got the same treatment. Seems he’s a mite temperamental about his shooting irons. Sorry to say it slipped my mind.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

The sounds of combat echoed from below the mesa. The Ide were apparently holding their own despite their disadvantage in weapons; the roar of musketry was interspersed with the snap from more modern repeaters. Virginia felt sick to her stomach at the thought of her friends, Ranger and Ide alike, killing each other.

But there were more important things to think about. The ceremony had to be almost complete; there were only minutes–seconds, perhaps–to make it to Jake and the Ide elders.

Virginia dipped a hand into her pocket and retrieved a second cylinder for the 1858. With practiced fingers she swapped it out for the smoking and depleted one in her parents’ Remington.

Even from behind the crumbling mudbrick wall, Virginia could hear Strasser’s footsteps and spurs. “Show yourself, you plain and cowardly little girl,” the Ranger cried. “I’ll have our business finished before I deal with Jake.”

Taking a deep breath, Virgina cocked her revolver and rolled out of cover. Strasser was perhaps twenty or twenty-five yards away at the end of a manmade gulch formed by the pueblos.

“You look ridiculous,” Strasser laughed. Despite the adobe dust that caked her, she still presented an elegant and refined silhouette and her Lightning was heavy in hand. “Look at you, the idiotic seed of a wormy old tree, still playing at being her parents. That ridiculous antique’s so big on you it’s a wonder you can get your hands around the grip.”

“I am Virginia MacNeil, daughter of Prosperity Rangers. It doesn’t matter what shooting iron’s in my hand so long as my heart is true.”

Strasser laughed again. “You’ve been reading too many fairy tales, girl. But no matter. I’ll show you a taste of the real world before I take care of that traitor and his Ide confederates above.”

“No more talk,” Virginia growled. “Make your move, you snake.”

They were both silent for a minute, guns in hand but lowered as a bitter wind from below brought with it the sounds of battle.

Revolvers flashed to the firing position. Smirking, Strasser had her Colt lightning leveled and ready first, and squeezed the trigger. To her surprise, there was nothing but a dry snap as the double-action trigger failed. Cursing, she pulled back the hammer for a single-action shot just as Virginia’s finger tightened around the heavy and stubborn trigger of the Remington.