Echo Sackett decided there was only one way to rightly spend an afternoon so hot, and that was
fishing. All her chores were done; hogs tended, housework seen to. Anything left wasn't important
enough to command her attention, and old Caillou, toothless old Creole as he was, could banter around
the barn and see to the rest. That was the kind of arrangement they'd had since she'd bought the place
and hired him on. They stayed out of each other's way and everything on the hill farm got done
somehow. Now, there were times when they shared a bit of sippin' whiskey when times were good
and there was reason to celebrate, or if old Miss Adams over to the next hill had a particularly good run
on her still. Miss Adams made the finest moonshine anywhere, and people came from miles to
Tuckalucky Cove just for a pint or two of Miss Adams' famous clearwater.
Echo wasn't rightly sure why she felt trouble was brewing, knowing eventually it would find it's way to
her. She set off, fishing pole slung over one shoulder. There hadn't been any stirrings here in a good
long time. Maybe she was just restless. The summer heat could addle a body that way. A decrepit
hound lumbered from the brush, liquid eyes beseeching.
"Settle down now, Red, you'll spook the fish," said Echo good-naturedly. By the time she'd scrounged
some worms, cast her line and settled her pole she was half asleep herself, the heat like a heavy blanket
over all and the song of insects hypnotic, lulling her.
She stretched languidly. Fish must be sleepin' too. Her eyes fluttered half-closed when she heard
someone laugh. Echo mulled it over for a time before deciding.
"Hello, Trulove," she called. Red began baying. "A minute too late as always," scoffed Echo. "You're
a sorry watchdog, Red, any injun coulda stuck me in the back fore now." She turned to Trulove who
now stood before her, hands on hips, grinning broadly.
"You're a sight. Had me a feeling I'd be seeing trouble before day's end."
"Can't rightly say I've ever been referred to as trouble by family before, cousin Echo," answered
Trulove with a laugh. "Leastwise, not within earshot." He gave her an appraising look. "Figured you
to fall into a mantrap by now, Echo. You're nigh on eighteen years. Reckoned you'd have a youngun
or two by now."
"Shoot," Echo guffawed. "I got more sense than that, Trulove. Still got my inheritance from Kin, and
then some. Made me some investments, got twice what I had before, and this place. Owner was hard
up when I came by day I bought it. It ain't much, but I shoot good meat for the table, we eat good."
"We?"
"Got me a hand here-Caillou."
"He sparkin you?"
Echo chortled. "He's older n'Methusela. I ain't set my cap for anyone yet."
"What about that Dorian fellow? The one who brung you home from Philadelphia that time?"
"Dorian Chantry," Echo corrected. "Brung myself home. He just came along for the ride. He wasn't
the sort for these hills, Trulove. Takes a different type. Folks like us. I'll find mine eventually."
"Reckon you will at that, Echo." Trulove pushed his hat off his sweat-laden brow, drawing his sleeve
across it. "Cousin Zane's found himself a heap of trouble, Echo. Out in Sioux country."
Echo stopped in her tracks, old Red snuffling as if sensing imminent danger.
"What's a Clinch Mountain Sackett doing all the way out there?"
Trulove shrugged. "Can't keep a Sackett in one spot if he's inclined to be in another. You know that
well as any. Zane was on a cattle drive with Macon. He was also sweet on a girl out there and was
fixin' to marry her. Now, she's been killed and Zane and Macon are in jail out there, the blame for it
laid on them."
"And just who thought to blame them?"
"Rancher, by the name of John Baptiste. Ambitious old bear. I hear tell he thought to encroach on the
Sioux hunting reserves and even their sacred grounds. Untapped territory, promised to the Sioux. This
Baptiste don't even care what the President has to say about the matter. He reckons to set himself up
good and no one can budge him. Claims Zane and Macon fought against him with the Sioux. He also
claims Zane murdered that girl in cold blood, says she refused him. The girl happens to be his niece. A
Sioux warlord called Whistle Possum and his son, Yellow Elk, knew the truth, and tried to free Zane
and Macon. Nearly got themselves shot. Possum's a wily old injun, came to the jail with his son
demanding that his brothers be released. I guess Zane and Macon saw Baptiste for what he was and
joined forces with the Sioux. Yellow Elk told me that this Baptiste don't even own his ranch outright,
that he shot the original owner and buried him in secret. Yellow Elk says his people know where the
body is."
"Sounds like Zane and Macon made some powerful friends, and enemies," Echo mused.
"The Sioux ain't the worst. They got honor. A warrior's honor."
"So do us Sacketts," Echo replied. "Reckon we ought to get ourselves out there and free them?"
"Yep. If we don't, they'll swing for another's crime."
They puffed up the remainder of the hill in silence to Echo's place. Caillou was churning butter on the
porch. Echo called to him in French and he came trotting over. In a mix of both English and French
she explained the situation. Trulove's eyebrows raised in approval.
"Shee-yit, girl, how come you talkin' French to him?"
"Cause I don't know any Creole. Come on in while I get my gear." Caillou scurried off to saddle her
horse.
"Reckon he'll do alright alone here?" asked Trulove.
"I've gone off before." She clattered up the stairs while Macon made himself at home in the tidy, well-
swept kitchen. Echo sure had done alright for herself, he thought.
Upstairs, she packed what she would need in her tattered carpetbag, it's colors indiscriminate after the
many miles it had seen. She pulled up a floorboard and stuffed stacks of bills into the false bottom of
the bag. Next she stowed a change of clothes, her gun, some powder and shot and a few other
essentials. Her rifle she could carry on her shoulder, her 'pick was in it's secret place, hidden in the
folds of her dress.
In the kitchen she made them thick bacon sandwiches and wrapped them, stowing them along with a
packet of coffee and a coffeepot. She distributed these between them.
"Trulove. I got a mess of cash in this carpetbag. Anything happens to me you keep your hands on this
bag."
"What you want to bring so much for?"
"I aim to buy this John the Baptist out."
Trulove grinned. "You're a sharp one, Echo. Always said so."
The horses loaded, they departed, Echo waving a cheery goodbye to Caillou.
"If he was a sight younger I'd marry him," she quipped.
"You ever name that old nag, Echo?" Trulove asked, gesturing with his hatbrim to her horse.
"Nope. She ain't a nag, neither. She could outrun that old lump of yours."
"Settle down, girl, ain't time for a race. They'll run enough fore we get there. Mordecai's a day ahead
of us, and Cousin Cal and his brood of sons left last week."
Echo nodded, taking a closer look at these Tennessee mountains. Could be a good long time before
she saw them again, if ever. Wasn't no other way around it-when you stepped on a Sackett's toes,
they all came running.
The long shadows of late afternoon had fallen when Yellow Elk made his appearance, joining them near
the river. Echo greeted him somberly when he spoke to her. He was a right handsome critter, this red
man, with a chiseled face, hawk-nosed as he was, with dark eyes like polished obsidian. More
interesting by the minute. They sized each other up, and Yellow Elk fell into the ranks easily.
Soon they heard a rustle behind, and Echo turned, rifle already in position. Quickly she lowered it with
a snort of laughter. It was Red. Now they were four.