The dirt lane between the saloon and milliner’s shop was sodden by snow meltwater. Virgil was keeping watch of the street from the front corner of the saloon and Cobb had his rifle musket trained on the second story window of the milliner’s shop next door. Zeb and John were crouched under a side window with Levander.
“We have to get back,” John suggested.
“What,” Zeb protested softly.
“That’s not the lot of them. We were attacked by an entire platoon, at least twenty strong. It was only for our sheer numbers that we were able to run them off.” John looked around at his companions. “We don’t have the benefit of that advantage.”
“I’ve been lenient because of Ellie, but I think it’s time you were reminded that I’m the commanding officer.” Zeb cocked his revolver. “We have to disrupt Sherman’s supply lines.” He rose and took aim at the nearest Union soldier through the window. Before he could squeeze the trigger, Virgil glided through the muck to his feet remarkably fast for his stocky frame and wedged his hand between the hammer and percussion cap.
Zeb noticed the concern on Virgil’s face. The commander of the Union foraging party was returning to the small town with the rest of his platoon. John shooed the men to reposition behind the saloon. Cobb kept his musket on the milliner’s shop while the others filed past him into the shadow of the building, then he strafed into the shadow himself.
John’s thoughts immediately went to his son. How foolish it had been to even investigate the town and leave his family behind.
“John,” Lee agonized, “my boy.”
John understood. “We’ll have to make a run for the woods.”
“They’ll surely see us,” Virgil chimed. The rear of the saloon had two windows and the tree line was at least fifty paces away. Half way between the one and the other stood a privy.
“We have to be smart about this,” Zeb took charge, “and hope the men inside are drunk.” He looked at John. “Have that shaving mirror on you?”
Zeb inched the mirror toward the window, spying for an opportune moment. A blue coat suddenly filled the viewing area of the spy glass. Zeb recoiled, cursing his luck. But he went unseen. The blue coat moved away from the window, the silhouette of a man becoming more apparent. Zeb was able to make out the whole scene now. John was watching him intently. Zeb nodded his head, and John sped toward the privy, keeping low.
He took a position next to the privy so he had eyes on both windows of the saloon. The Union soldiers inside appeared to be well intoxicated and paying no attention, except to the topless whore placating them. He waved his comrades on.
But as they started to make their dash, they abruptly stopped. One of the bummers opened the privy door and stepped out, standing right next to John. The pair stared at one another, dumbfounded into paralysis. The soldier was barely older than John’s son. He opened his mouth, drawing in a deep breath to sound the alarm. John’s hand jumped over the boy’s mouth, and he forced his bowie up under the boy’s breastplate and into his heart. The body went limp against the privy door and folded to the ground, wrenching the bowie knife from John’s hand.
John’s peripheral vision turned black and his ears were ringing. He was unaware his comrades ran past him. Cobb turned back. “Come on, John,” he begged, pulling on John’s coat. “Come on.”
John stumbled after them.