Defend Me from My Friends
A Gunsmoke Story
by MAHC (Amanda)
Kitty Russell struggled in the grasp of her beefy captor as he dragged her from the damp cabin, shoving her out into the bright sunlight. It took her a moment to squint past the glare, but as soon as her eyes adjusted, she gasped at the sight of Matt Dillon forced to his knees, sagging in the grip of two of Jake Layton's goons, head down, shirt torn and soiled with stains that looked too much like blood.
Oh, Matt, she moaned to herself.
As if he heard her silent cry, he lifted his head, grimacing when he saw her. Kitty struggled in Layton's iron grip, his fingers digging into her arms so hard that she knew there would be bruises there by evening – if they all lived that long. Her eyes sought out Matt's, acknowledging the small shake of his head with a sigh before she calmed. Daylight had revealed just how much damage his own struggles had gained him, and she winced at the swollen right eye and bloodied lip Cantrell's colleagues had given him. She suspected by the way he held himself that a thorough examination would expose battered ribs and who knew what other injuries.
"You have what you want, Cantrell," Matt called to his former friend, who stood several feet away from the rest of the outlaws. Kitty heard the strain in his voice, a clear sign he was in pain. "Let her go."
"I wish I could, Matt," Glenn said, sounding almost sincere. "Wish I could."
The lawman's voice didn't quite sound desperate. "Tie her up with me, then. You'll be long gone by the time anyone finds us."
"You know the plan," Layton yelled toward Cantrell. "Finish 'im off and let's git outta here."
Cantrell frowned. "What about the woman?"
Layton leered at Kitty. "She's a pretty piece, thet's fer shore, but we ain't got th' time ta' entertain her. Shame. You take care of her man, there, an' she'll be occupied right ennuf fer us not ta' worry about."
"Aw, but you sed we cud take her – " one of the other men whined.
"I sed we ain't got time," Layton snapped back, his tone accepting no argument. The man glared at him, but didn't say anything else.
Cantrell nodded. "All right." He turned back toward Matt, drawing his pistol.
Kitty's heart leaped into her throat. "What – what are you doing?" she cried out.
But Cantrell ignored her. "I'm awful sorry about this, Matt," he said, raising the barrel so that it pointed toward the lawman. "Wish there was some other way."
"No!" Kitty yelled.
"Think what you're doing, Glenn," Matt warned. "Nothing but trouble is gonna follow you."
"It's been followin' me all my life, Matt." Cantrell took careful aim at Matt's head. "You just don't move and this'll be quick. At least I owe ya' that much."
Bound hand and foot, Matt could only clench his teeth. "Don't do it, Glenn."
"Don't move," Cantrell said again, and Kitty heard the ominous click of the hammer.
Before she could take another breath, the crack of a gunshot jarred her and she stared, horrified, as Matt's head snapped back, blood spraying, his big body thudding to the ground in one instant. He lay unmoving, a crimson pool spreading beneath his head.
The scream was ripped from her throat as she tore from Layton's grasp. Vaguely, she heard Cantrell say, "Leave her be," as she rushed to the sprawled body. Somewhere behind her horses galloped away, somewhere outlaws made their escape, somewhere justice was cheated.
But she didn't care. None of that mattered. Nothing mattered except the bloodied body of the man she loved. Falling to his side, she cried out his name, gathering his head in her lap, his blood soaking her skirt, smearing her hands. She touched his face, ashen and slack.
"Matt! Oh, God. Oh, please God, no! Please!"
On the forsaken prairie, alone except for the wind and dust, Kitty Russell's world fell apart.