“One wrong step out here, and we’ll be deader’n a rollin’ tumbleweed.”
The whispered words were harsh and jagged, cutting through the chilly desert night like a rusty saw through black wool.
Matt Stevens stopped in his tracks and turned toward his new companion. “What do you mean by that, George?”
The two men had met at a saloon in River Crease when they reached for the same shot of whisky. Both of them were pretty dry, so they still had their senses and decided to talk it out rather than slug it out.
As it happened, they were headed in the same direction — across the desert toward Dread City.
“This is jaguar country, son.” That rankled Matt because he figured the two men were about the same age. “Good thing you got that there mutt.” George pointed to Max, and the dog cowered between Matt’s legs.
“How’s that?” Matt asked.
“Well, see, we can use the mutt as bait.” Matt stiffened, and George shuffled his feet. “That is to say, he can scout for us.”
A shiver ran down Matt’s spine. “How’s that work?”
“Well, you take a hunk of meat from your pack there and hurl it as far as you can in the direction we’re goin’. The dog goes after it, and if we don’t hear no ruckus, we follow on. If he yelps, we turn back.”
Matt scowled at the stranger, unable to speak.
“You do got some vittles there, ain’t ya?” George asked.
After a few seconds, Matt nodded and bent over the small buckskin satchel that hung from his shoulder. Metal clicked on metal in the darkness.
“Yeah, I got something,” Matt said, raising his six-shooter to George’s face. “And you’re right — it isn’t safe here. You better be moving on.”