Effe stood with her back pressed against the door until she heard the man’s door close, and then she heaved a troubled sigh of relief. She had intentionally met Steve and left her lantern burning high behind her on purpose. She had not wanted Steve Hollison to see her fear and her uncertainty. This had never happened to her. No, not ever! She had seen the dark man, the huge scarred man! She had tried to get into his mind, but she had been blocked. Frantically, she had reached out, probing, wanting to know, but to no avail. She had never been able to explain her special gift and abilities.
Things came to her. Sometimes in dreams, sometimes in sudden flashes of vision. She was able to probe into the minds of other people and actually follow their trail of thoughts. This was what had helped her with Steve Hollison, and she could read him – and almost everybody – like a book. But not now. Not this strange man who was coming to Little Rock! She had seen the man clearly enough, and had sensed his animosity sharply enough, but that was all. The vision she had had about him had been hazy and blurred, but he had seemed, for one wild moment, to be turned toward her, as if he were aware of her, and she had felt his bristling fury at her attempt to get into his mind, and the connection had been broken! She could get into other peoples’ thoughts without them being aware of it, and she was always the one to break a connection, but tonight the strange man riding toward Little Rock had felt her presence in his mind, and he had pushed her out so violently that she had almost screamed with agony. And that had left her all shaken up. She was scared, very scared, because that had never happened to her before!
She locked her door, slipped out of her gown and, naked, padded to the lantern and turned it low. Effe stood at the open window and let the cold air wash over her. She finally told herself that she was afraid. “Who are you?” she whispered tightly. “Who are you that fill me with such fear?” But she saw only darkness; no vision came. The strange man was gone, and she could not recapture him. She shivered again, but she did not leave the window. She continued to stare out, and her extraordinarily beautiful face was filled with confusion, and fear. She tried, time and again, to get into Chris Bawa’s mind, but she could not establish a connection. “Maybe he’s too far away!” Effe whispered to herself, troubled. “Maybe, when he’s near enough, I can control him too!”
Mrs. Elaine Bawa, formerly Elaine Boateng, closed her eyes tightly. She didn’t know why she was feeling so tense this night. Her soul was greatly troubled, and absentmindedly her hand went up and caressed the golden locket around her neck. As she walked to her bedroom – his bedroom – she felt the goose bumps on her arms. Dear Lord, would this ever end? She had been married for almost ten years, and she had nothing to complain about, but in all these years she had never entered her bed with joy. The huge wooden bed had become an object of depression, a structure that filled her with unbearable distress. Sure, she had learnt to cope with it somehow, but it was always there, a permanent blight in her life that would just not go away, giving her an inner feeling of sheer dislike approaching revulsion.
She knew Ato Bawa loved her, adored her even. He had always been gentle and caring. He provided her with all she needed. The building they had been given by Ted Bawa, her father-in-law, was huge and comfortable – luxurious, according to her friends – and she was respected a lot in Little Rock. Ato had not restricted her to the house, but allowed her to pursue her dreams in fashion, and now her store, The Sleek Lines, was one of the best clothing posts in the region. She sewed some of the clothes, and bought some from the big cities for resale.
Life could have been worse, she knew, but her marriage to Ato had drawn understanding and respect from the folks of the town instead of the contempt and total condemnation she had feared. The fact that Chris Bawa had been outlawed and hated had helped, of course, but at times Elaine really wondered if she wouldn’t have been happier living with the hatred of the townsfolk than the acceptance she was now living with. She knew she was being unfair to Ato, cruel even, but her mind and heart had never worked at tandem since her marriage. Could it be possible that her heart would still beat and crave for one man who had deemed it fit to be a robber, and who was languishing in prison, possibly even dead?
She sighed greatly and entered the bedroom, gently closing the door. The paraffin wax lamps were out, but there was enough moonlight to enable her find her way to her side of the bed. Her husband was sleeping, but she knew he was not asleep. She had known he wanted more from the evening by the way he had looked at her at dinner, and the way he had been extra caring. That was one of his problems; somehow he had always been hesitant and unsure when it came to those intimate moments. Sometimes she had seen the doubts – regret, guilt? – deep in his eyes. Maybe she had contributed to it by her attitude of superiority from the beginning which she could not control try as much as she wanted to, because the pain of losing Chris – her Chris – had been unbearable. Maybe she hadn’t reassured Ato enough of her commitment, but whatever it was he had not been able to take control, and to her he would always be a par below her expectations simply because he was that different from his younger brother.
She slipped into bed, turned on her back, drew up the covers and waited for him. He was lying on his side, his back toward her, pretending to be asleep. She could smell the soap on him; as always he had scrubbed down and perfumed, always the clean husband. He was pretending to be asleep, but she could tell by his uneven breathing that he would soon be on her. It didn’t happen often, and lately the intervals had been wider. Now a whole month and more could go by without him touching her, and she knew of course that unlike Jamie he abhorred that whore house, and that there were no other women in his life. She supposed she should be grateful and kind to him, but she felt neither. Theirs had been a marriage of convenience from the start, at least from her point of view. She could never love him that completely, but she did have a little kind feeling for him. Kind feeling? No, not that. Pity, or something like it, and maybe gratitude, but that was where all emotions for him ended.
He was turning in bed, and now his right leg was thrown across her thighs. She could feel his hardness against her leg, and then his hand on her belly, moving upward, gently, probing, uncertain. She sighed to herself, and then she turned to him. The days of prolonged lovemaking were over. Theirs was now a quick slaking of his thirst, and then would come the snores from him, but she would lie awake for a long time before sleep overtook her.
She barely felt him on her. She was silent as she opened her thighs for him, and he strained on top of her, his breathing quickening as he entered her and began to take his delight. He was being clumsy, almost hurting her, and so she ran her hand across his back and moistened a finger and passed it across her nether lips to provide a bit more moisture as she spread her legs wider.
Oh, dear sweet Lord, why was she so tense tonight? She waited, patting his back gently as he moved quickly, too quickly, rushing towards his delight and leaving her behind. But that was alright; she wanted him done with quickly so that she could breathe. She is rarely in the mood whenever he came to her, but this night she wished, above all else, that he had slept without touching her. What was happening this night?
He was jerking on top of her now, making his final sounds, and she held him, gently rubbing his back until he became still, rolled off her and arranged himself on his side of the bed, sighing contentedly. She turned on her side and reached into the drawer of the bedside cabinet, took out a clean piece of woollen cloth and quietly cleaned herself. She pulled the covers over her and lay still. The tears were silent and unbidden, and as the sudden sadness crept over her, she reached once again for the locket around her neck. She would have given anything to be able to open it, and see the tiny daguerreotype inside. A picture of Chris … her Chris! Oh, my dear, where are you? What are you doing now? Have you eaten? Are you comfortable? Will I ever see you again? They said you died, but I don’t believe it! Darling, will I ever see you again? Will I? Chris, oh Chris!
Chris Bawa was beside the Mezac River, sleeping on a piece of woollen cloth on the soft grass, when he heard the soft steps approaching. He had planned to spend the night at New Mount, the old mining town where he had discovered gold so many years ago. As usual the little town had been deserted, and he had wandered over familiar land. It was a bit wild now, trees and weed taking over most of the dead town. Most of the old shacks too had now turned to a mixture of dirt and soft debris. He had decided to camp beside the river and sleep free, listening to the strong currents as they rushed down toward the deadly Falls, a place that had claimed the lives of many miners in the past.
He had unsaddled the horse, taken off his shirt and the two of them had gone down to the river to drink. Chris Bawa then tied the horse to a makeshift hitching stake, and then spread the woollen cloth on the grass to sleep. But prison life had taught him to sleep with one eye open, and so when he heard the steps his hand edged near the bundle near his head, and he gripped the Colt handle and turned his head.
A woman was approaching him. She was a blazing beauty, even in the dying sunlight. She was wearing a white shirt, and a black hat was pulled low over her head. He saw that she was unarmed, and slowly he released his hold on the gun and sat up. As she came closer he saw that it was the same beautiful woman, the woman who had come to his room and tried to seduce him on the orders of the Rodd guy, and Chris’ eyes narrowed. He was wearing only his trousers now, leaving his torso quite bare.
She stood gazing down at him for a while, and then she slowly dropped down on her haunches on the grass.
“Relax, please,” she said in an unsteady voice. “I thought I recognized you in Friar Valley today. You see, I’ve had enough of Temple Town and I want to try my luck in Little Rock, you know, see if it will favour me. I’ve saved a little money, and I want to go over there and open up a hairdressing salon, you know, try my hands on an honest job for a change. I’m absolutely tired of lying beneath men and opening my thighs for them for a few meagre notes.” Chris’ cold eyes never left her beautiful face.
“Doesn’t explain why you’re here, at this time,” he said softly.
“Oh, when I saw you at Friar Valley I knew you were headed for Little Rock,” she said with a beautiful smile. “Joel Rodd, the hotel manager, told me you’re from Little Rock. I wanted to ask you if I could keep you company, you know, till we get to Little Rock. A girl travelling alone this part of the New Territories is exposed to danger, you know. I was following you, but the old horse I bought was slow, and I lost sight of you. I came quite a distance, and since night was catching up, I decided to sleep over here and continue tomorrow after the horse has rested a bit…and luckily I found you here.”
“And your plan now?” Chris asked coldly. The girl shrugged.
“Oh, I think I’ll just follow you at a distance tomorrow, you know, until I’m safely out of the Indian land,” she said softly. “I’m really scared of them. Once we’re out of Indian territory, you can leave me. It’s all I ask, mister, please! Cut a poor girl some slack, okay?” Chris looked at her a bit longer, and then he indicated a bunch of supplies in a rucksack lying near his feet.
“There’s some canned foods in there,” he said quietly. “You can help yourself if you’re hungry.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” she said with obvious relief. “You’re much kind, mister. Anyway, my name is Eyram. The surname used to vary, but I’ll give you the right one. Kedem. Eyram Kedem.” Chris didn’t say anything. He stretched back down on the cloth and stared at the darkening sky. He was aware of the girl opening up some of his cans and eating, humming softly to herself. Chris was aware of her gathering rocks and sticks and starting a fire close by. He was aware of her standing up at last, perspiring gently and raising an arm to wipe her brow. And then she began to unbutton her shirt, and then she slowly drew it off her creamy shoulders.
He stared at her once more, at her incredible breasts, the taut belly, her deep hip curves. She looked at him, and saw him looking at her, and then she slowly unbuckled her belt and pulled her black trousers down her long, sleek legs. She stood in the glow of the fire, incredibly beautiful and desirable. Eyram held out her hand to him.
“This is not payment, mister,” she said gently. “I can see the loneliness in your eyes. Come, swim with me. Warm me, mister.” Without another word she turned and raced to the river. Sensibly, she selected a part of the river where the current was not so strong, and waded in. Chris was breathing hard as he watched her exquisite beauty. Years of being without a woman, the pain of losing Elaine to his brother, the loneliness of his life, all came to play on him at that particular moment. He felt the crushing waves of loneliness and unhappiness. Suddenly, he wanted the warmth, he wanted the attention, and he wanted the company. But he did not move. He remained still and watched the shadows for a long time. He waited patiently until he was certain that she was alone, and that she presented no threats.
Chris Bawa finally stood up and slowly shed his trousers, and then he waded into the river. She was standing, the last traces of the dying sun playing shadows on her incredible body. She smiled demurely and came forward to meet him. Their kiss was fierce and filled with lust! They were both ready, and as he kissed her fiercely she squirmed in his arms, grunting with desire. His lips descended on her taut nipples as his hands roved over her sleek lines. She moaned deeply and draped a leg around his hips, teasing the top of his head with her nether lips. She broke away suddenly, her face suffused with passion, and raced up the embankment to the grass.
Groaning with desire, Chris Bawa followed her. She suddenly swirled and waited for him, breasts standing proudly, pubic hair dark and shining, diamond thighs glistening, buttocks firm and petulant. She dropped to her knees and clasped her hands around his waist, and then she put her lips on him. The warmth and the shock took his breath away. She worked it for a while, driving his desire higher and higher, and then she pulled him down beside her, turned him over, and gently straddled him. Chris Bawa gasped with desire as he grabbed her waist and moved in tandem with her, their rhythm hard and frenzied!
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Eyram groaned, moving her hips rapidly, the fire playing on her streamlined exotic body, her fingers digging into his chest as she moved faster, building up with him! She leaned forward, gasping, and rolled over with him, and now he was on top of her. Chris moved deeper into her, striking her with long and short lunges, lost in the throes of passion, hearing her frenzied breath in his ear. She wrapped her calves around his waist and gripped him fiercely, her mouth opened wide in a soundless scream of passion. And then both of them crossed the summit, and even as Eyram was shouting her pleasure, and Chris was bucking on top of her, she suddenly turned a silver bracelet she was wearing on her right arm around, pushing a small knob on it that revealed a small pin, and then she dragged her arm across Chris’ back so that the pin punctured his back, and the drug on the tip of the pin entered his blood stream. Chris Bawa did not feel the prick of the pin much because he was in the throes of passion…and he did not know when he passed out! When his eyes opened it was quite dark, and he could see her in a blur. She was standing now, fully-dressed, and looking down at him sadly.
“Sorry, mister,” she murmured. “I did it for the money. They promised not to kill you, so sorry. For what it’s worth, I want you to know that you were the best.” Eyram turned away from him and was soon out of sight. Chris tried to move, but he was so slow. His head was pounding terribly, and he could barely move a muscle. Eyram moved into the trees and finally stopped. A dark figure emerged, and then the man handed Eyram some bills of money.
“He’s all yours,” she said as he headed for where she had tied her horse. “The drug will make him extremely weak for an hour, and he can’t really function. Don’t kill him. I like him.” The man smiled in the darkness and turned away from her. He was joined by two others, and together they moved toward the river, and they were all holding guns.
Chris was aware that the girl had somehow managed to inject him with a drug that attacked his nerves, rendering him almost totally helpless! As he tried to get to his knees the night air was shattered by the roar of a rifle, and a bullet whizzed above his head! Chris Bawa was turned half-way, and out of his peripheral vision he saw the three masked figures materializing out of the trees. Carefully he managed to get to his knees and turned to face them. He realized how foolish he had been, letting down his guard and being controlled like a mannequin by that girl!
Bawa watched the three figures fanning out, cutting him off from his weapons. Behind him was the raging river, extra turbulent today because of a heavy downpour of rain the previous night. Sideways was just an expanse of sharp-edged rocks. In front of him were three men with guns. He was well and truly trapped. Loose ends. A fight is never complete until all the loose ends are tied… no matter how many the loose ends, no matter how time-wasting it might be, no matter how difficult, no matter how distasteful…you must tie all of them! Uncle Chad! Chris Bawa felt the cold fury bristling in his heart.
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In Temple Town Mike Crankson had told him about Henderson, the man who rode for the M Slash B ranch, the man who had set the Chinese killer on him. He should have known that men like Henderson had cold hearts and always followed through. He should have tied up that loose end earlier instead of assuming that Henderson would just ride into Little Rock and announce that Chris Bawa was free. Chris should have known that the slimy little bastard would try a play like this just for the ego and the opportunity to ingratiate himself with the men that called the shots in Little Rock.
With a roar of fury Chris Bawa drew himself to his feet. But whatever drug the girl had used was too strong, and he could not even take a step forward as he was assailed by a deep wave of nausea and weakness. He stood easily, proud and big, hard and menacing, but his mind raced, seeking and rejecting options calmly.
Chris noticed that the man on his right was extremely large, but the bulges in his cotton shirt showed that he had a lot of soft spots on his body. Here was a man who believed in his brawn, but who wouldn’t last two minutes when faced with a professional fighter.
The one in the middle, wearing the pair of clean blue jeans and a pink crisp shirt could only be Henderson.
The man on the left – and Bawa froze, keeping his gaze fixed on the third man for a long time. The third man was of medium height but built stout, his clothing all dark colours: dark boots, faded black jeans, brown corduroy shirt buttoned to the neck and the sleeves buttoned, black gloves, black sombrero pulled low and a blue-black bandana tied high and covering the face up to the nose, leaving only the slits of eyes the colour of which Chris Bawa could not see. Chris’ eyes came back and rested on the man in pink. “Rupert Henderson,” he said slowly, and all three of them stopped dead at the same time, but their rifles were still levelled at Chris’ chest.
Henderson was stunned. For a moment he felt a rush of unaccustomed panic, and then he forced himself to relax and his mind to cool. Of course, Chris Bawa knew his name! The death of Philip Lee-Chan in Temple town would’ve raised a lot of questions, and Bawa would’ve been told that the Chinese had always come to town with Rupert Henderson, and that they were riders for Mike Braimah. Well, that was okay with Rupert. They were going to kill Chris Bawa, and whatever information he had wouldn’t be worth crap!