The "spring" turned out to be little more than a feeble dribble that drip-dripped into a half-filled barrel wedged between the rocks. We trotted up to it, replenished our canteens, and tried (unsuccessfully) to bring Suzie 'round. As Jimmy tended to Suzie and then the horses, I consulted with Ben.
"What d'you think? I reckon the barrel fills up every hour or so."
"I reckon you're right," Ben grunted. He shielded his eyes and peered down the parched, narrowish coulee that led to the quarry. "Probably they take turns leading the horses here to keep 'em watered. That'd give us maybe half an hour to prepare an ambush."
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Probably not, so do tell."
"I'm thinking we just make it up as we go along."
"Dammit, Red, I was thinking the same thing. We've known each other for too long."
We told Jimmy to hide the horses, then Ben and I moved Suzie to a safe-looking spot under an overhang about a hundred yards away.
"I say we put Jimbo on lookout duty," grunted Ben as we checked our guns.
"I say that's not a bad idea," I said. Though Jimmy had proven his worth on more than one occasion, depending on him to lay an ambush for some of the greatest shots in the land was something I'd rather not stake my life on.
It felt like a long wait crouched down between the boulders, half-expecting bullets to start twanging off the canyon walls at any moment. It was lucky that the rocks gave some shade, because the day had become hellishly hot and already my tongue was probing my dry teeth thirstily as sweat soaked the brim of my hat. But I didn't dare move, because any moment now I might have to spring into action.
And then I heard Jimmy's bird call, as out-of-place in this lifeless environment as Ben would be at the opera. A minute later, my ears picked up the clopping of hooves a little way down the gulch. I waited until the man came into view around the bend before I calmly stood up and loosed a few shots in his general direction. Fast as a jackrabbit, he dove for the nearest source of cover, a jagged granite outcropping, where Ben was conveniently poised to welcome him. By the time I made it over to them, Ben had the man in a headlock. I helped tie and gag the man with the horse halters.
"Not too bad," Ben said. "One down, two to go."
"Those gunshots won't go unnoticed, though," I said. I cocked my head, listening, but the only sound was the disgruntled snorting of the horses and the lonesome hooting of an owl.
Owl. Just like Jimmy's bird call. Just like Jimmy's bird call.
I tackled Ben an instant before the bullets would have carved neat little holes in our heads. We landed on our bellies, groping for our guns. I fired twice, blindly, at our assailants before realizing I had burned through three shots already. This last one would have to count.
They had sneaked up right behind us and I suddenly I realized we hadn't ambushed them at all — they had ambushed us. That was about as much thinking as I got done before the world became a whirlpool of dust and bullets and sliding scree.
At some point I figured I must have scrabbled behind a boulder, since I hadn't died yet. This did little besides give me some time to think about my impending doom, however. I had no idea where Ben had gone; I couldn't see him, which I could only hope was a good sign. But that left me stranded against two frankly very lethal gunmen. And all but one of my spare bullets were back in my saddlebags. Even with a perfect shot, I would only be fifty percent better off.
Back behind the boulder I realized that they could keep me pinned for as long as they had bullets. And I had a feeling they had a few more bullets than I did. I took a hasty peek over the top of the boulder and almost lost my hat (and my head as well, incidentally) as a bullet came sizzling my way. I gulped. These folks were as good as they'd looked popping holes in bean cans down in the quarry. If I so much as stuck the tip of my hat out from behind cover, they'd shoot it clean off my head.
Struck by a sudden idea, I yanked off my boot and balanced my hat on its toe. Gripping my gun firmly in one hand, I held out the boot with the other so the hat perched on top just poked over the top of the boulder. While Jenkins' sharpshooters blasted it high into the air, I leaned out around the rock and took my shot.
My aim might not have been as pristine as theirs, but it was good enough. One of the men went down as my bullet found his gun arm. The other, discovering my ruse, swiveled toward me, but before his eyes could even find me, a dark shape fell out of the sky and crushed him to the ground. Puzzled, I hesitated one second, then snapped up my boot and sprinted across to the crag where both men had dropped out of sight.
A very confusing sight met my eyes. The man I'd shot sat slumped against a pile of rubble, clutching his arm and groaning. Beside him lay his comrade, unconscious, with a trickle of blood oozing from under his hat. And leaning against a nearby rock was Jimmy, covering the two of them with his gun, left arm cradled awkwardly in front of him.
"Looked like you needed some help," Jimmy said weakly.
"That was quite a jump," I said, glancing between him and his lookout post up at the top of the coulee wall. "Are you okay?"
"I landed pretty badly on my wrist, but I'll live. Where's Ben?"
"That's a good question," I said, relieving our attackers of their firearms. I looked around me, feeling a little bit worried.
"You stay here," I said as I made my way back to where I'd knocked Ben to the ground. "We got them, Ben. All clear. Ben?"
I revolved on the spot, spied the man I'd tied up earlier, but still no Ben. And then I saw it: a splotch of blood and then another splotch and then a whole train of scarlet splotches, at the end of which was Ben, his face startlingly white under the grime and hair on his face, his hand clamped tensely over his hip.
"Ouch," he greeted me. "I need a damn cigar, Red. Where the hell did all my cigars go?"