Kaylene was moving now, whisper-quiet, holding the hem of her long dress inches above the ground so it wouldn’t betray her by dragging over leaves or rocks. Altman held his breath. Mitchell seemed to have forgotten she was there.
“You needn’t worry about my dealings with the Conclave; let me worry about—” And that was as far as he got with that thought as Kaylene tackled him from behind. Her arm crushed round his throat, choking him, while the other grabbed his gun arm, swung it to point harmlessly into the treetops above. A jerking motion caused him to let out a strangled cry and the pistol flew from his fingers to land against a rock on the ground. It fired, a sharp, cracking report that scared off every bird in the canopy.
Altman rushed forward as Mitchell pitched forward and Kaylene pinned him to the ground. The faint, distant footsteps became the pounding of many running feet. Seconds later Waldon Sias burst onto the scene, followed by a good half dozen of his men. Mitchell, red-faced with rage, growled out “Get them!”
In less time than Altman could process, 2 of the workers accompanying Waldon had pulled pistols of their own, larger than Mitchell’s had been. They stepped back out of the group and spread to either side of them. Everyone froze, Waldon and his men too shocked to do more than stare in disbelief and growing anger at supposed friends.
Mitchell spat out a mouthful of dirt. “You couldn’t be so stupid as to think I was here alone? Now, release me!”
Kaylene reluctantly backed off; Mitchell rubbed his jaw and awkwardly got to his feet. “And now Mr. Dolet. I will have that location, or people will start dying, not just having … accidents.”
“Accidents?” Waldon’s face had turned a deep red at the words. His voice could have come from the darkest of storm clouds in the sky. His remaining men’s faces had darkened dangerously.
“Keep your eyes on them.” Mitchell spared Sias a contemptuous glance and grabbed his fallen pistol before returning his gaze to Altman. “So what is it? You’re in an awful hurry to build the road and get the docks and market up. Is it a merchant, then? I’ll have the name, or—”
Waldon Sias chose that moment to decide he’d had enough. One huge arm rocketed out, catching the nearest traitorous workman square on the jaw. He was a huge man himself, but Waldon’s blow felled him like a tree. Taking their cue from their leader, the four workmen turned their attention to the second gunman. He quickly fell under a few well placed blows without a shot fired.
Mitchell growled and shifted his pistol’s aim straight at Waldon. Altman didn’t think, he just reacted, taking several quick running steps to the side. Kaylene’s eyes widened and mouth opened in a shout, or a scream. Mitchell’s gun sounded far louder this time as it went off, Altman’s shoulder exploded in pain, and the ground twisted itself up to slam into his head.
A few moments later, after the world failed to dissolve around him, he felt hands helping him up. Mitchell was … was … “Wh … Where’d he go? Can’t let him …”
“Don’t you worry none about him, Mr. Dolet.” Waldon’s voice was hard, but as reassuring as the arm he had supporting his uninjured shoulder. “We gotta get you back to the medics again. Mitchell ain’t gonna be a problem, believe me. My boys don’t take too kindly to people playin’ with their work like that, let alone their lives. They’ll see to it he don’t try anythin’ else.”
Altman thought about that just long enough to decide it was probably better not to think about it too hard. “Good.”
With Kaylene on one side and Waldon on the other, he retraced his steps back to the medic’s wing of the house, stopping just outside the doors. It was the spot on which Altman had been struck by the stone.
“Altman.” Waldon looked very pale; Altman saw a dark, glistening patch on his shirt. The stain spread over a good part of his body. “I heard some of what Mitchell was goin’ on about. You got somethin’ to hide here.”
Altman nodded slowly. “Yes. There’s not much point in denying it, is there?”
“Nope. Just wanted to say you don’t have to worry ‘bout my boys ‘n me. We don’t know much, and what we do know, we’ll help you protect. Most men … They’d expect a man in his pay to take a bullet, not risk ‘imself like you did. You tell us what needs doin’, we’ll see it done.”
“So, my dear, you learn to relate to the men in your employ at last. There’s hope you yet!” Kaylene opened the doors, and the three disappeared inside.