Kat faded into a head-achy, dehydrated haze. Heat itched at him. After a second he remembered why his head hurt and why the heat-wavering blue sky stretched down infinitely below his feet from an emptiness of brown, crusty desert over his head. I am upside down, he reminded himself, from a rope around my ankle.
A face pushed toward him. Every feature of the hairless face was sharp, including the teeth in its thin-lipped grin. The person pushed his aviator sunglasses down off his eyes to look more closely at Kat.
Kat swallowed, trying to wet his dry throat so he could talk. He didn’t manage the swallowing very well, but he breathed out a few dusty words anyway.
“You Coon?” Kat asked.
“Yeah,” Coon said. “Going to do something with the information?”
Kat nodded, realizing it probably looked odd since his chin was going up. “I am here to collect on your bounty, sir. Prepare to be arrested.”
Coon’s smile twisting, he pulled his bowie knife from his thigh sheath and held its tip against Kat’s throat.
“How’s that again?”
Kat tried again to swallow—gave up. “Trust me,” Kat said.
Coon just kept smiling.
Kat calculated. He looked at the face of Van Ry, smiling under the pressure of the pistol in Kat’s hand, and aligned variables with constants, and Kat from there extrapolated possibilities.
In light of a conclusion, Kat let go of Van Ry. Van Ry slumped to his feet, struggling to keep upright against the wall behind himself. When Van Ry righted himself, he found the pistol shoved into his face again, but this time Kat held out the handle.
“Awfully trusting, aren’t we?” Van Ry said, looking up at Kat. Kat’s lips pressed together in a harsh frown.
“I am not happy about this,” he said. “I don’t trust you.”
“That makes one of us,” Van Ry said, taking the pistol.
Kat considered asking which of his statements Van Ry applied that to, but he let it go. Turning on his heel, Kat strode toward the door out of the cells.
“What do you expect me to do now?” Van Ry asked. He pointed the pistol at Kat’s back, sighting along the barrel.
“Survive,” Kat said, expressing not the slightest worry. “Now you are my accomplice.” With those words, Kat pointed at Sir Ramsey’s valet. The big man still hung by the handcuffs attaching his wrist to the pipe hanging from the ceiling. The valet stared from under thick eyebrows out small eyes at Van Ry.
“Like repays like,” Kat concluded. He pushed through the door to get out of the cells.
“That bitch,” Van Ry muttered. He swallowed, scratching his cheek with the barrel of the gun in his hand. “Any way we can talk this one out?” he asked the valet. The valet shook his head. Van Ry nodded. “That’s fair, I guess.”
In the front room of the sheriff’s building, Kat raided a locker. The dusty shafts of hot sunshine dropping through the slatted windows made Kat’s outline fuzzy. His nightmare-black coat distorted light oddly. His movements looked dreamlike in the uneven, crooked light.
Kat glanced over his shoulder when he heard Van Ry. “These are yours, I think,” Kat said, pulling a bundle of items out of the locker. He dropped the bundle on a solid table in the middle of the room. The table was otherwise covered in maps and papers. The stuff scattered under Van Ry’s bundle of items. Before Van Ry picked it up, Kat moved toward the front door of the building, sliding the last of his knives into a sheath on the back of his forearm. He had several knives on his person now—recovered from the locker where Chamfer put them after confiscating them. Four of Kat’s knives were visible—two on his forearms and two on the outsides of his boots. All the others were hidden under his ankle-length, nightmare-black coat.
In several steps that shushed like dead leaves in wind across the cement floor, Kat moved to crouch with his back against the wall and look out the window. Scoping. That was clearly his intention: scoping the situation.
Van Ry raised his thin black eyebrow in his effeminate pale face. He started tugging the bundle of his things apart.
“You try too hard,” he said. “Do you think anyone out there is as careful as you?” Van Ry pulled on his own long coat, putting his wide-brimmed black hat on. “You have no reason to be so disciplined.”
Kat looked back at Van Ry, his face blank. He considered retorting with something trite—something about how Kat had the world against him and a weird compulsion to save that same world. The words wouldn’t take shape in his mind. They kept rearranging themselves behind his eyes, and he couldn’t think of a striking way of saying “I need to save everyone who’s hunting me.” It felt annoying. He kept quiet, glancing out the window again.
“Sir Ramsey got away—he’s out there,” Kat said. Van Ry squatted near the window, watching Kat assess the view out the window. “He has seventeen men with him. Four shotguns. Three rifles. Five crossbows. Twelve pistols—only four drawn. Many knives, and a lot of improvised clubs… Is that a horse’s thighbone? Paska.”
“What are they doing?” Van Ry asked.
“Waiting,” Kat calculated outcomes. He assessed visible angles and known resources. None looked promising. Idly, not really thinking about the question, he asked, “In your version of events, what did you plan to do at this point?”
“Plan is the wrong word,” Van Ry said. “If I’m consigned to it, then the ‘plan’ didn’t include oversights like the ‘bad-ass’ letting the weakest of his opponents get away. The ‘plan’ didn’t include people out there realizing anything amiss till I got further away.”
“And I was assuming you weren’t an optimist,” Kat said.
“What?” Van Ry said, surprised into feeling convinced he’d misheard Kat.
“Nothing. Have you revised your plan yet?”
“See, that’s where our communication here seems to fall apart,” Van Ry said. “To say I ‘plan’ would be unfair to people who make a living out of defining things.”
“Provide a better label,” Kat suggested.
“I react,” Van Ry said.
“That sounds suicidal,” Kat said.
“I have not yet died,” Van Ry said.
Kat made a few choices about the things he saw outside the window. He looked around in the room, rough-lit as it was by slatted sunshine, and he reminded himself of the things he could use here too.
“Did you shoot him?” Kat asked, nodding toward the door to the cells where Sir Ramsey’s valet still hung by his wrist.
“No,” Van Ry said, his tone surprised.
“I expected you to shoot him,” Kat said. “It would have been more to your advantage.”
“I seem like that kind of guy to you?” Van Ry asked. The thought brought back his crooked smile.
“You seem like a pragmatist to me,” Kat replied. “Take in your surroundings. These are your circumstances. How will you react?”
His gaze turning inward, Van Ry stroked the side of his chin—a thoughtful gesture. “I know what I’ll do next,” he said quietly, through a thoughtful smile. “Want to know a better question? I know a question that’ll have way more to do with our survival than what I’ll do.”
“Is the question, ‘What will Kat do about what Van Ry does’?” Kat asked.
Looking Kat full in the face, Van Ry’s smile turned again, and again unexpectedly, genuine. “Shnikies, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, he ain’t dumb,” Van Ry said.