Tawny Yates leaned closer to the pitiful fire, holding his hands to it. Around him the wind howled, and snow pelted him. He’d hunkered down in a copse of pines, but it wasn’t enough to protect from the storm.
“It’s ok, hoss,” Tawny muttered to his steed. “We’re fine. Ain’t nobody gonna be able to track us in this here storm.”
He had draped every blanket he had over her flanks. If she died, there’d be no way he’d get the gold back to his hideout. And without that, what was the use of being a hardened criminal?
He gazed out of the collection of trees, trying to peer out into the snowy wind. All he could see was an endless white.
No, there was a shadow out there.
Tawny reached for his pistol, fingering off the safety and levering back the hammer. His shaking hands found their calm in the sudden threat.
The shadow grew closer, darker, and finally materialized into a polar bear.
A polar bear with a saddle.
A man slumped in the saddle, a cowboy hat sitting low on his head. He cradled a rifle in one arm, the bear’s reigns held tightly in the other. “Reckon you wouldn’t want to shoot me. Reckon I’m the only thing keepin’ my bear from chewing off your face,” the figure called out over the storm. “Reckon the bear would take more shot than you got in that pistol to take down.”
The bear growled its own greeting.
Elvira’s ears were at full attention, and she shifted against the reins tied to one of the pines.
Tawny stood, but kept the pistol easy in his hand. “Stranger, this here shelter is mine.”
“Bear says it’s ours ‘til the storm lets up.”
The bear growled assent.
“Be mighty crowded if’n your bear comes in here.”
“Not if you throw the gold you stole out of the trees.”
Tawny shifted. “Move along, now. Your life ain’t worth takin’ the gold back.”
“Mighty fine thought, that. ‘Preciate you considerin’ my life and all. But it’s my life, not yours. And the bear will make sure that you shoot me, you won’t live to spend a cent of that gold. Now, here’s the deal. You throw out the gold. I’ll pick it all up, nice and easy, and take it back to town. You don’t go to jail, you don’t get mauled by my bear, and everyone lives happy ever after. That’s my offer. You got ‘til the count of two to get it started.”
Tawny squinted into the wind. The cold bit into his hands, but he still kept them steady. Not even snow could mess up his aim.
He could take the man, no doubt about it. No way someone like that could shoot faster. But what about the bear?”
The man on the bear fired a pistol hidden in the palm of his hand. The bullet ripped through Tawny’s shoulder. He clutched his pistol and brought it to bear. A second bullet pierced his hand. The gun fell to the ground, white with snow, red with blood.
“You didn’t count to two,” he spat through chattering teeth.
“Blizzard McConnell ain’t known for keepin’ his word.” The bear rumbled forward, sniffing toward Tawny. “I’m known for bringing in the man I’m hired to git. Now, sit down so I can see to that wound. Won’t do to have you dyin’ before I get my reward.”
This is a Barrelbottom Tale.