Chapter Five—Plans, Good and Bad

Wednesday, October 23…
          Allie awoke early the next morning, sore from the beating she had taken from Curt the previous evening, but that was the last of her concerns. She had until Friday night—three days, two nights—to get that nail free so that she could escape. Saturday would be too late.
         She wasn’t too concerned about the nail. She was making progress with it. It would wiggle back and forth now and she had even managed to get perhaps another eighth of an inch out of the floor. With just a few more hours of work on the stubborn thing, Allie believed she have her “key” to the door. She had been working on her “plan of escape” ever since she had found the nail, and she thought she had it pretty well lined out now.
          Her first thought had been to go into River Bend and send McConnell a telegram, but she had finally nixed that idea. She would get away from the house in the middle of the night, which meant she would have to hide out between the house and River Bend for several hours before the telegraph office opened. But her escape would probably be detected early—at least she had to assume that—and Backstrom would no doubt send his men looking for her. And no doubt he would think the way she was thinking—that she’d make a beeline for the telegraph office and send McConnell a wire. So he would have his men stake out the office and Allie would probably never get close to it. She scrapped that idea, though it would have been the best if it could have been worked.
          Going to the sheriff was also out. Allie intended to have the proof she needed against Backstrom, but that probably wouldn’t help her with the local law. As she well knew, Backstrom had an impeccable reputation in River Bend and the sheriff would almost certainly check with him before believing/accepting anything Allie said. That was a war she wouldn’t win, regardless of how much “proof” she had. Those papers were only good if a person knew Backstrom’s background; they would make no sense to the River Bend sheriff, indeed, would probably appear perfectly legitimate. So the local sheriff was not an option.
          Which meant Allie would make her way to the Rangers’ headquarters, which was about 100 miles east. It could take her several days, but that didn’t especially bother her. As long as she had the papers she needed, there wasn’t anything Backstrom could do about it. Allie smiled as she thought of the panic that would ensue when he discovered those documents were missing. Still, the trip to the Rangers’ HQ would be difficult. Her strategy included getting some transportation, i.e., stopping at a ranch along the way and borrowing a horse. Or stealing one, if she needed to, with every intention of returning it later, of course. Getting a horse would speed up her journey significantly. She thought about stealing one from Backstrom, but that would be too dangerous. The horses in the corral didn’t know her, they’d make noise, she’d have to get a saddle…it was just too risky. She knew how to live and move in the mountains; her Indian father had taught her well. Allie would eventually get a horse, but until she did, she could make do on foot.
          So, with that issue settled, she had begun thinking of her escape plan—how would she get out of the house to begin with. The nail was the key, of course—in both the figurative and literal meaning of that word. Now she knew that she had to get away no later than Friday night. Her scheme was to test the nail tonight—Wednesday—and open the door. She could only hope that the stairs weren’t guarded 24 hours a day. If they were, she’d either get splattered by the shotgun or…not be able to go. And at the moment, Allie didn’t have a Plan B.
          Allie was also intending to search the house tonight, especially to find some clothes. She might make her way down to the kitchen and locate some food supplies as well. She wanted to take some food with her when she left for good, and probably a knife, too. If she was really lucky, she might find a gun somewhere, but she’d settle for a knife. She wouldn’t take anything on her “reconnoitering”; she simply wanted to locate the things she needed. That would make it easier on Thursday and lessen the time she’d need to be in the house that night. Allie wasn’t worried about being heard; she could move a quietly as a spider. Hopefully, Backstrom didn’t have insomnia and wander around the house at night.
          That meant Thursday night was her escape night. She’d get the things she had seen the previous evening that she wanted and make one final stop—Backstrom’s study, because she did intend to get those incriminating papers. He had obligingly informed her that the combination to the safe hadn’t been changed yet, so that would be no obstacle. Whether he locked the study door or not, she didn’t know. But she had the nail so she’d use that again, if necessary. And, hopefully, she wouldn’t need a light this time. The moon was getting brighter each night and Allie was anticipating that there would be enough moonlight coming in through the windows so that she wouldn’t need something artificial. Provided it wasn’t overcast. Well, she’d do what she had to do, and if that meant, lighting a candle—candles and matches could probably be found in the kitchen, she’d check on that tonight as well—then that’s what she’d do. It was a risk she’d just have to take. But she wasn’t leaving that house without those documents. And that was definitive.
          Thus, her plan was finalized. As always, she realized that she had no control over the unforeseen, but she’d deal with whatever came up the best she could. As it turned out—and not surprisingly—not everything would go as she designed it.
          Before she got out of bed, she went over all of that in her mind again, realizing that she might make some last minute amendments. But that was how it stood at the moment. Now to get back to the nail…She hopped over to it and wiggled it a few times, then muttered something unprintable under her breath when she heard the key in the door. So she dashed back to bed and was all covered up again by the time Mona came in to do her morning chores. The last thing Curt had done—again—before he had left the previous night was take the robe he had given to Allie, so she was without clothes again.
          Mona liked to chat, of course, and didn’t especially care if Allie talked back or not. If Allie did say anything, it was usually in monosyllables. She wanted the maid to leave so she could get back to work on the nail. But Mona dilly-dallied, talking, humming, wasting time. “It’s nice to have a female t’ talk to fer a change,” she said. “We understan’ each oother like the men-folks never will. Gonna be sad t’ see ya go, dearie.”
          I’m not going to be sad to see you go
          When she had finally finished everything she needed to do—and a number of things she didn’t—Mona said, “Dirk’ll be oop with yer breakfast in a few. Got t’ keep yer strength oop y’know,” and she laughed. Allie didn’t especially see what was so funny. “He’s goot somethin’ I think ye’ll like, though. Nice man, that Dirk. Don’t belong here.”
          Mona left and Allie rushed back over to the nail. Less than five minutes later, much to her frustration, she heard the key in the lock again. So, back to bed, blanket up to her throat. Dirk entered, appearing to be a little self-conscious, but smiled at her. Allie tried to smile back, but didn’t think it came off very well.
          “I’ve got your breakfast here, Miss Allie. And I’ve got something else for you, too.”
          He set the food tray down on the table and dragged it over to the bed where Allie could reach it. Then he handed her a bag he had been carrying as well. “I had to guess at your sizes, but I think I got pretty close. I had no idea about the moccasins, so I got a pretty large pair, figured you might be able to stuff something into the toes if you needed to.”
          Allie looked inside the bag and saw some clothes. She sighed in relief. “Thank you, Dirk. That’s very thoughtful. I wear a size 7 shoe, in case you ever get a chance to buy me another pair.”
          “Hot-diggedy-dog,” he said, “that’s the size I bought.”
          Allie laughed. “Backstrom didn’t mind you getting these things for me?”
          Dirk went and sat down in the chair, his back to Allie as he had on his previous visits. She picked up the food tray and put it in her lap, starving, and even more so at the smell of the food. Dirk answered her, “Nah, he didn’t mind. He thinks Curt’s a little out of line on that, but it’s not a big deal to him since…well, since…you…uh, aren’t going to be here much longer.”
          “So you’ve heard.”
          “Yes. And I’m really sorry, Miss Allie. I don’t cotton to no woman-killing, I don’t really cotton to killing anybody, but…I don’t know what I can do about it.”
          “I told you what you could do, Dirk.”
          “What’s that?”
          “You can help me get out of here. I’ll make sure you don’t go to jail and then you can go straight and never have to worry about it any more.”
          She heard Dirk sigh. “Yeah, well, like I told you, Miss Allie, I just don’t reckon I can do that and betray my friends.”
          “Some friends you have, Dirk. They are going to drag you to prison with them some day.”
          “Yeah, I reckon they might do just that.” That frustrated Allie, and she thought she could turn Dirk—given enough time. Time she didn’t have.
          They went silent for a few moments, then Allie asked him, “Dirk, what would you do with me, if the choice were left up to you?”
          She saw him squirm and he scratched the back of his head. “Miss Allie, that’s…that’s not an easy question. You broke into the house…was stealing important things…We can’t just turn you loose and we can’t keep you here forever. None of the options are any good.”
          “Are you going with us Friday night?”
          “No. I’m going to be on the trail drive.”
          Allie wasn’t happy to hear that. She thought that, if she didn’t get away Thursday, and if Dirk were along on the “campout” the next night, she might be able to talk to him some more and reach him. So much for that… “Is Curt planning on turning me over to his men before we leave?”
          Again, Dirk squirmed. “There’s some talk about it, but I don’t think Backstrom is too keen on the idea. He just wants you gone and…dead. But as long as that happens, I’m not sure he’d stop Curt from…doing whatever…” He let it hang, the subject obviously made him uneasy. But he spoke again before Allie could. “And to answer your question before you ask, no, I wouldn’t join in.”
          Allie didn’t respond to that, she just simply said, “Dirk, I could really use your help. By the way, I’m through eating.” She set the tray aside.
          He stood up and looked at her. Their eyes met. “We’re starting the herd early in the morning, but I’ll try to come back and see you before I go.”
          “Why bother?” Allie immediately regretted that.
          But Dirk only smiled his sad smile. “Well, it’s nice to see somethin’ purty fer a change. Them cows sure are ugly.” And Allie laughed, and had trouble keeping tears from coming to her eyes.
          “Oh, I don’t know,” she replied. “A cow can look awfully good when you’re hungry.” And he laughed in return.
          Their eyes met one more time. “I’m sorry, Miss Allie, I can’t help you. But I hope you get away.”
          “Even if it means you go to jail?”
          “Even if it means I go to jail.”
          Allie’s heart squeezed again. “Dirk, if I get away, you won’t go to jail.”
          He started to say something, then stopped. He gave her a half-smile and held out his hand. “Good-bye,” he said. “And good luck.”
          Allie took his hand and shook it. Not terribly romantic, but she could tell Dirk was unsure of himself. “Bye, Dirk. And thank you.”
          He took the tray and left.
          Allie gave herself a wry smile. I’m probably going to get raped by every man on this ranch…except Dirk…the one man I’d want to….
          But she didn’t linger on the thought. She got out of bed and tried on the clothes he had brought her. There were some warm underclothing, which fit nicely, a dark blue woolen shirt, which was a tad too big but comfortable, and a pair of jeans, which again, were too big, but had a rope belt that Allie could tighten. The moccasins fit perfectly. It’s a perfect outfit to get away in…everything is dark and the moccasins are quiet…She frowned. I wonder if Dirk was thinking about that when he bought them…
          But again, she didn’t dwell on the unimportant. She went over to the corner of the room and immediately began working on the nail. Within five minutes, she heard the key in the door again. With rising frustration, she walked over to another part of the room. In a few seconds, Curt came in.
          Allie smiled. “You look good with that knot on your forehead.”
          Curt sneered. “And you look good with that puffy jaw and red cheeks. Where did you get those clothes? You look a whole lot better without them.”
          “Dirk brought them to me, and he said he had Backstrom’s blessing. Apparently, the boss doesn’t share your relish for perversion.”
          Curt grunted. “Nothing perverted about enjoying seeing a woman naked, and believe me, Backstrom has seen his share. I don’t think there’s a good-looking woman in River Bend, single or married, that he hasn’t had out here at some point in the last two years. Quite the Romeo.” Then he changed the subject. “I just want to remind of our plans, though there's been a slight change. We’re starting the cattle this afternoon, so I’ll be back no later than Friday noon.” He smiled, maliciously. “We’ll start out early Friday afternoon, and have that campout on Friday night for sure. Probably burn those clothes off of you first.” Then his malicious smile turned into a malicious grin. “And the boss might be a little more perverted than you think he is. You’ll still be here for two more nights.” And he laughed. “I can’t wait for the campout. Things are going to get real hot. In more ways than one.”
          And he left the room, laughing and laughing and laughing. Allie frowned, thoughtful, ignoring Curt’s insinuations. Once again, the thought seared into her head—Friday night…that gives me tonight and tomorrow…Well, she had planned on leaving Thursday night, anyway; this just meant she had no margin for error.  She sighed and looked over at the nail. That thing better come out soon