Cal was down to his second stop at the saloon when he heard a piercing scream. Before he turned toward the general store, he knew it was Sara. The horrible sound was drowned out by hoofbeats. A gang of a dozen horsemen raced down the street, and one of them rode close to the boardwalk and scooped up Sara from right in front of the store. He threw her over the horse's back like a sack of potatoes, and they ran out of town at full speed.
"Stop, or I'll shoot!" Cal dropped the basket and pulled his revolver from its holster. They were already halfway down the street and ignored his warning. He got in a few shots, but they were gone before anyone could do anything. As Cal sprinted to the office, Brisco jumped on Comet and raced after them as they headed west on the road to the next town.
Cal opened the corral and mounted a spirited black stallion that he'd named Magnum. As soon as Cal leaped into the saddle, Magnum took off like a bullet out of a gun, following the trail left behind by the gang. He recognized one of the men from the wanted posters. If they were all truly together, then he and Brisco were dealing with the Muldoon gang. They usually struck under cover of darkness, so for them to kidnap a woman in broad daylight was exceptionally bold and desperate, which meant that they were probably even more dangerous than their poster indicated.
He saw Brisco up ahead and a large cloud of dust another quarter mile in front of Brisco. Magnum was not only built for speed, but endurance as well. Cal had no doubt he could catch up to them. But then it would be twelve to their two. The best thing they could do was to follow them to wherever they set up camp, then plan a strategy.
Comet was also built for long rides, so when he and Magnum caught up to Brisco, the two of them kept a little distance between themselves and the gang. "Let's make them think that we can't keep up," Brisco said. "Then, when they calculate that they're far enough ahead to rest, we'll hope they're in a position where we can flank them." He glanced at Cal. "You wanted some sniper practice. Now's your chance."
Cal nodded. "I'm ready." On the back of the saddle, his rifle was tucked away in its sling. It was a Spencer that he modified and put a scope on it. He hadn't had a chance to use it for more than target practice, but it did a number on watermelons half a mile away, so he was eager for the opportunity to use it.
Eventually, the gang rode down into a canyon that had caves and places where they could easily hide. Brisco and Cal stopped their horses a little ways from the edge.
Cal pulled out his rifle and crouched low, getting closer to the precipice. "Let's survey from here and see where they're going. I'm hoping not far, because this would be a perfect place to set up and pick them off if necessary."
"I'd like to bring them in alive if possible," Brisco said as he got down on his belly and crawled with Cal to the point where they could see into the large open space below.
"Twelve guys. You're going to take in twelve guys. Yeah, that I'd like to see." Cal scoffed. "Not even your dad could do it. He had a whole posse to help him!"
Brisco gave him a look. He didn't need to be reminded of Bly's gang and how they murdered his father during an elaborate escape from the train that was transporting them to prison.
"I'd like us to get Sara out of there safe and sound, no matter what the enemy casualty rate."
The corner of Brisco's mouth tipped up. "I just got an idea."
"What? What is it?"
"I remember seeing on one of those shows on television about how the game wardens used tranquilizer guns to take down nuisance critters that were endangered, and move them to another location when they were sleeping. Could you do that?"
"What? Are you insane, Brisco? This is not a tranquilizer gun! I don't know if you can even get one in this time, and if you could, you sure won't find one around here." Cal cocked the rifle and tightened the scope. "No, we're gonna instill a little fear of God in 'em. Then maybe they'll give up Sara. In the meantime, I think we need to round up a posse."
"You want me to go back to town and leave you here alone? Cal..."
"I'll be fine. Don't worry."
"Just don't kill them all before I get back, okay? I mean, there's killing and then there's massacreing." Brisco looked at him warily.
"Brisco. When I was in the Army, I was in Special Forces. I was trained to make sure the ones who are supposed to be dead are dead, and the ones who are supposed to be rescued are rescued safely."
"That's what I was afraid of. Don't just do it in cold blood, that's all I'm asking."
Cal nodded. "You got it. Maybe by the time you get back you'll find a bunch of volunteers already waiting for a posse party."
Brisco nodded and threw himself up into Comet's saddle. He tore off without looking back at Cal, silently praying that he knew what he was doing. He didn't know much about these Special Forces soldiers, because Cal said most of what they did was classified. However, from what he did tell him, Brisco got the impression they worked with the precision of a sharp knife: quick, silent, and deadly.
Cal watched through his scope at the action going on in camp. He would hold his fire for now, but if he saw anyone try to hurt Sara or attack her in any way, he would shoot them. He hid the barrel of the rifle between two rocks, and he had enough space for the scope to have a clear view. They bound Sara's arms and legs and sat her on a rock. She was crying, and the one who appeared to be the leader grasped her chin and tilted it up to speak to her. She shook her head and his face turned cold.
"Give me a reason, scumbag. Just give me a reason." Cal muttered under his breath as he trained on the ugly melon perched on his shoulders. He shifted the rifle for better comfort. If needed, he could keep that pose all day, as long as it resulted in Sara's safe rescue.
One of the other gang members offered her a plate of food, but she couldn't eat it by herself. Not that she wanted to. She again shook her head, and when the man got closer, she suddenly stood and used her shoulder to knock him away.
"Woah, you go girl!"
But she received a slap as her reward from the one who offered her the plate. Cal heard hooves pounding behind him, and it was more than one horse. They had support, so he could commence firing any time. Now was just as good a time as any. He pulled the trigger and the gun fired, a solid echo racing around the canyon. As the gang looked up, the target cried out as the bullet sliced into his back and he dropped to the ground.
"Alright, everyone ring the canyon, now!" Brisco ordered them softly, and the riders took up positions at regular intervals.
"I can't believe they were this stupid to take shelter in a canyon," Cal said to Brisco when he returned to his side.
"How did you do?"
"One down. Shot him in the back, and he's not moving."
"That was pretty risky with Sara being so close." Brisco watched the scene in the canyon. The eleven remaining gang members scrambled for cover. The leader dragged Sara into a cave and forced one of his lackeys to watch her. "If there was a way to get down there without being seen, we could grab Sara and pull her out."
"Like rappel down, you mean?"
"Yeah." Cal waved one of the posse over to their position. "Roscoe, you take over here. Brisco and I have a plan."
Roscoe took up Cal's position with his own gun, and Cal and Brisco ran over to their mounts. Completely at a loss, Brisco asked, "What's our plan?"
Cal stuffed his rifle into its protective case. "Here, hang onto this." He opened a saddle bag, took out two harnesses and a couple of ropes, and gave them to Brisco. Then he checked his handgun to be sure it was fully loaded, silently missing his Beretta with its magazine of bullets. "Okay, this is what I want to do, but I'm gonna need some help from the guys on the east side of the canyon. So I want you to tell them to start firing in about three minutes. That should be enough time for me to get the rope tied up onto the sturdy tree over there and have my gear ready." He paused. "Then, while all the firing is going on, I'll rappel down to the bottom of the canyon, get Sara, and put a harness on her. Then I'll need a couple of guys to pull her up fast, because I'll be climbing back up on my own. And the others can't give up firing all that time. Think they can do it?"
"That's a lot of ammunition."
"Well, if you have a better plan, let me know. I'm all ears."
Brisco shook his head. "Good luck, Cal."
"Thanks." He grabbed Brisco's rifle. "You take my Spencer. I need something a little more portable for the descent." Without another word, Cal slipped the rifle into an over the shoulder holster, ran over to the tree, and secured the lines. He put one of the harnesses on, threaded the rope through a clip on the front, and approached the edge. While he prepared, Brisco ran around the canyon rim to instruct the men on the south and east sides. When Cal nodded, Brisco yelled.
"Everybody fire for distraction only!"
Rifles cracked and the echo off the canyon walls was deafening. Cal leaped off the edge and went down face first so he could shoot at anyone who may have seen him. One guy turned and raised his gun, but that was the last thing he did as Brisco himself picked him off using Cal's scoped rifle.
"Very fancy," Brisco muttered as he readied another shot and stared through the scope, searching for another threat.
Cal reached the bottom and holstered the rifle. He pulled out his revolver and fired at another gang member who approached him with his own weapon raised. He zigged and zagged using rocks for cover until he reached the cave where Sara was kept. The guard was barely an adult. He sprung from his hiding place when the kid had his back turned, and he knocked him out with a couple of chops to the neck and back of the head.
"Cal! You came for me!"
"Of course! Brisco and I wouldn't let anything happen to you." Cal pulled out a sharp knife and cut the ropes that bound her. "Are you okay to stand?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Good." He grabbed her hand. "Come on, let's go."
They trotted back to where the ropes waited. "Ohhh, Cal, you want me to climb up there?"
"Don't worry, there are people who will pull you up and I'll be right there with you. You just have to get into this, and they'll do the rest."
Sara was scared, but when she looked back at the chaos in the area behind her, she knew this was her only hope. Cal held out the harness so she could step into it. Her skirts bunched up in a most unladylike fashion, but that was the least of their problems at the moment. He also had to reach down into areas where a gentleman didn't normally go, but these were extenuating circumstances, and Sara handled it with unbelievable grace.
"Okay, you're set. Just hang onto that rope and don't let go, okay?" She nodded. He yanked on it, and the men up top started pulling her to the rim of the canyon.
Someone below fired at her, and Cal shot back, hitting his target square in the chest. He went down. He holstered his gun, attached the harness to the rope, and began climbing to the top. It had been awhile since he had to climb like this. His muscles screamed in pain before he reached the top. He wanted to rush to the end of the line, but the ones pulling her up were taking too long. He had to stay beside Sara and cover her, even to the point of dropping a little lower and moving over to shield her from those below. He fired down at someone trying to shoot directly up at them, and he ran out of bullets. He was in no position to reload, so he stuck his useless gun into its holster.
A bullet kicked up some stone shards next to his right foot. Cal wanted to scream obscenities at them, but he'd been in this time long enough to know that you didn't win any points with a lady, or her daddy, if you used such words even in the heat of battle.
"Cal! Take my gun!"
Cal looked up and saw Brisco directly above him about twelve feet. They were almost to the top. He dropped his piece, and Cal caught it, flipped it in his hand and pulled back the hammer. He normally shot right handed, but he could switch if necessary, and he did. Their assailant backed off after three shots threatened to give his hat, and head, a little free air conditioning.
From above, Brisco aimed with the scope and picked off another member of the gang. The survivors were trying to get out of the canyon by storming the posse, but he wouldn't let them hurt his men. He fired at them and they kept running. Cal and Sara reached the top at the same time. She crawled onto the ledge with his body closely hugging hers until she was safely on solid ground. Then he climbed up and away from the edge
"Are you okay, Cal?"
"Yeah, I'm good. Nice coverage, BC!"
Brisco smiled. "Nice rifle, Cal. I might have to have you make up one of these for me. The precision is unbelievable!"
"The secret is the scope."
"It certainly made it easy to find a good target."
The men turned to see where Sara was. She stood near the tree, the harness removed and her skirts back down to normal. Her father enveloped her in his arms, and her mother stood nearby caressing her long hair. Somewhere along the way, the stylish Gibson girl hairstyle she normally wore had come down. Cal watched the tender family scene and thought she looked a lot better with her hair that way. He wished he could touch it. It always looked so silky smooth and inviting. He was ashamed of himself for thinking that way, when the girl was almost nearly killed by kidnappers. But the firing had almost stopped, and the crisis nearly over. Still, he snapped himself back into battle mode and he and Brisco apprehended the five gang members who survived the onslaught. A wagon hauled them back to Sunset Ridge, and for once in a long time, the cells were occupied that night.
Cal sent Brisco home to his wife, and he stayed behind to guard them.
"I'll have Lou bring you some supper," Brisco promised.
"Good, because lunch got lost somewhere between your house and here earlier today." His stomach growled.
Brisco laughed. "She'll be by soon, I promise."
But it wasn't Lou who delivered him a meal. Cal heard a knock on the door a few minutes after Brisco left, and he opened it to find Sara standing with a tray covered by a checked cloth. "Sara!"
"H-hi, Cal. I brought you supper. I wasn't sure if you went to the restaurant or... or ate whatever they brought over for the prisoners. It's nothing fancy, just some fried chicken and cornbread with some buttered green beans. And a little tea to wash it all down."
"Wow. Thanks. I really appreciate it!" He stepped aside so she could set the tray on his desk. With a flourish, she exposed the plate. "Oh, that looks great. Did you make this?"
"I sure did. Mama made the cherry pie, but I did everything else." Her eyes flashed with unshed tears. "What you did today, Cal, why, it was simply amazing! My father was quite impressed that you did something so risky to save me. Especially when you used your body to block any bullets that might have been meant for me. Thank you."
"Y-you're welcome," he replied, suddenly feeling self-conscious and as flustered as a school boy. It didn't help that they had an audience in the cells. They cat-called and whistled at her. Their crassness only served to get a rise out of Cal, but rather show his anger, he gently grasped her arm and took her outside.
They could see their breaths in the air, and Sara held her wrap closer around herself.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm sorry about them. The Muldoons aren't known for their manners."
Sara smiled up at him. He noticed that her hair was still down, and he couldn't help himself. He reached out and touched it, lightly running his hand down the gentle curls. All the while, she kept her eyes focused on his and a wide smile crossed her face. Her hair was just as soft as he'd imagined, and it was all he could do to keep himself from dipping his head to kiss her.
She must have seen the desire in his eyes, because she suddenly dropped her head and broke their gaze. Then she looked up at him with adoration. "Daddy wanted me to ask you if you would come to late lunch Sunday...after church."
Cal smiled. So that's how the Reverend wanted to play this. It wasn't enough that he'd risked his life for the guy's daughter. Now he wanted Cal to jump through hoops, attend church, and then be rewarded with a nice chaperoned meal with Sara. No matter. He was willing to play along. When they came so close to losing her, after the action died down and they had the Muldoons in jail, he'd had a little time to think. The Cons side of that list for whether he should fight for Lou simply became longer, and his attraction to Sara became clearer.
By the time Dixie was due to have her baby, there was another wedding in the works, just as Bowler predicted. Only it wasn't Lou and Socrates. Despite their growing affections, they took it slow and conservatively. It was Cal and Sara who walked the aisle, and the Reverend himself officiated at his daughter's wedding.
Brisco and Dixie sat on the groom's side watching the proceedings. He'd never seen Cal look so nervous before. Knowing who his father-in-law would be, well, that had to strike fear in any man. He had some high expectations to live up to. Brisco turned toward Dixie with love in his eyes, and she caressed his arm. He was so blessed to have her, and very soon they would be a family. It felt good. But it was scary, too. Almost as frightening as it was the day he rode behind that truck into the future to run head-long into the coming thing. Only this time, the coming thing would hurt a lot less and provide a lifetime of love.
"I now pronounce you man and wife." Reverend Hart paused. "Well boy, aren't you gonna kiss my daughter?"
The church erupted into laughter. Cal blushed, pulled back the veil, and gave Sara the first of many kisses that they would share in their lives.