The din from the fight going on inside Johansson’s saloon tumbled into the street like stumbling drunks. Fists cracked against flesh and bone. Men cursed. Hard muscled bodies slammed into tables and onto the floor. Wood splintered and gave. From amidst the noise and confusion came laughter and the shouts of wagers being placed on combatants.
Buck entered cautiously, peering through the thick smoke. The sight of Cale leaning against the bar watching the ruckus rather than participating, came as a relief. Buck maneuvered around the thrashing bodies on the straw-covered floor. Cale ignored him, though Buck knew his entrance had been noted.
“Hullo, friend,” Swede shouted above the noise. Leaning toward Buck across the bar, the giant confided quietly, “A strange thing this night.” He tipped his head toward Cale. “The man was asking to find Buck Maddux. I tell him there is no man here with that name, but I think maybe he find him anyway. Ya?”
“Yeah. Give us both a whiskey.”
Buck slid a drink in front of his brother and lifted his to his lips. The burning in his throat sharpened his mind and senses. Enough to recognize the sound of running water at the other end of the bar.
Swede was already heading that direction. “How many times I tell you, Skinner, not to make water in my saloon. There are privies out back for that.”
“Ah, Swede,” the culprit whined, not bothering to refasten his trousers. “You wouldn’t want me to miss out on the fight, would you?”
“Ya, this I want very much, and I think you have done this for last time.” He came from behind the bar, stepping up out of his trench to tower menacingly over his errant patron by at least two feet. Awed by the man's enormity, the brawlers dropped their fists and sheepishly took their seats.
“Care to wager?” Buck murmured to Cale. “I’ll take Swede and give you triple the odds.”
Cale didn’t even look at him. “What do you want, Buck?”
“Same as most men in a saloon.” Buck kept his anger under tight rein and attempted to sound casual as they watched Swede toss Skinner into the street. “Did you come straight here when you left?”
“Where the hell else would I go?”
“Up into the rocks near Hearts-ease, maybe. With a rifle.”
Cale whirled toward him, fury and confusion mixed in a face as square-jawed and implacable as his brother’s. “What are you trying to say?”
Buck shrugged and calmly sipped his whiskey. “You said you wanted to kill me.”
“Someone shot at you from the rocks?”
Turning slightly, Buck showed his torn and bloodied shirt.
Cale’s eyes widened. Concern flickered through the blue orbs before the anger returned full force. “And you think I did it? You think I shot you?”
Buck didn’t, not after seeing Cale’s reaction. There was no mistaking the younger man’s shock, or the distress in his eyes before it was edged out by rage. But Cale gave him no chance to speak. His hand balled and once more the saloon resounded with the crack of flesh and bone striking flesh and bone.