I found them.
They were on a small bridge some two miles away from Gao’s home. The bearers of his palanquin were exhausted, muscles quivering with the effort they’d made to escape me. A small boy stood close by, sweat-plastering his hair to his forehead. He carried water for them, and all three stared at me.
“Set him down,” I ordered, and they did so.
“You’ve a choice,” I continued. “Stand and fight beside him and die or leave him to me and live.”
Neither the men nor the boy stayed.
They took off at a slow jog toward the distant hills.
“Come out, Gao,” I ordered.
A gunshot was the only answer I received.
The round ripped past my head and clipped my ear.
I drew my knife and moved forward as he kicked the panel open. He clambered out, hair disheveled, glasses skewed to one side, and a wild look on his face. The pistol in his hand was an old and heavy five-shot. His second shot showed me he had no idea how to control it.
The revolver bucked in his hand, and the shot went wild.
As the third and the fourth.
I was less than twenty feet from him when he panicked, turned the gun on himself and pressed the barrel to his temple.
He squeezed his eyes closed, screamed, and pulled the trigger.
The dull, dry crack of a misfire rang out.
His eyes snapped open, and he pulled the trigger again, not realizing he was putting the hammer down on spent casings.
Before he could try again, I was there. I yanked the pistol from his hand and struck him in the forehead, knocking him to his knees. I resisted the urge to smash his teeth in.
He’d need them for what was coming next.
“I can pay you, Blood,” he groaned, clutching at my legs. “I can make you rich.”
“Already am,” I told him, grabbing one of his hands. He struggled weakly as I tore a tie off his coat, looped it around his wrist and cinched it tight. I picked up a piece of wood, slipped it beneath the knot, and made a rough tourniquet.
“What?” he asked, and I struck him in the head again.
I took my knife, put it against his wrist and cut into the joint.
Gao screamed as I took the hand off and held it in front of him.
“Hope you’re hungry,” I told him. “Dinner’s on.”