Chapter Seven—Prisoner

Back to mid-October…
          “I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you, little lady,” The Man told Allie. “Please—very carefully—remove any other weapons you might have on your person, although I assure you we are going to do a very thorough search of your body to make sure you aren’t hiding anything dangerous. Oh, and drop the pouch, too, please.”
          He got a few chuckles over his “thorough search” statement, but Allie wasn’t amused in the least. She hated being called “little lady,” so that was just another mark against The Man. And indeed, she had a veritable arsenal on her person. Not only did she have a .36 in her holster—which she had already dropped—but a derringer in her right boot, a knife in a sheath on her left hip, and a straight razor with a handle in a small scabbard hanging inside her shirt and down her back from a leather string around her neck. There was also a wire garrote, formed into a pretty bracelet, around her left wrist.  She always carried all of them and each had served its purpose more than once over the past few years.
          Allie was also under no illusions as to what might happen to her. She didn’t know, for sure, what The Man had planned—if she were him, she’d just kill Allie, throw her body to the wolves somewhere deep in the mountains and be done with it. She hoped he didn’t think of that, though she figured he would. It was what he might do before then that also concerned her.
         But, for the moment, she could perceive no way of escape. She couldn’t see any of the men. The one who had removed her hat—Curt—had returned to his position behind the lights, so Allie could see nothing but very vague shapes. The three rifles pointed at her were noticeable, however, because the barrels were sticking out beyond the lights where she could clearly see them. That was intentional, she was sure.
          So, slowly she disarmed. The pistol and the knife. And the pouch. She kept the derringer, garrote, and razor hidden—until The Man said, “Is that everything? If we find anything else, I’ll throw you in the bunkhouse, lock the door, and go back to bed.” The implications of that were clear.
          Allie made a sour face, but said nothing, figuring he’d probably do all that anyway. She debated whether she should just keep the other three weapons and let The Man find them on his own. But he was going to find them, and he would probably make good his threat so Allie shrugged, and removed the derringer, bracelet, and razor.
          “Wow,” one of the men said. “A one man—woman—army,” he chuckled.
          “Is that all?” The Man asked Allie.
          “That’s it,” she replied.
          “I’ll do what I said if I find anything else.”
          “I said, that’s all,” Allie said, acidly. She wasn’t so much angry at him as at herself for getting caught. What went wrong? Well, she’d analyze that later—if she lived to do it. Right now, finding a means of escape was the paramount consideration.
          “Let’s retire to my study, shall we?” The Man said.
          “You want me to go through the window again?” Allie asked. She wasn’t so frightened that she couldn’t think.
          He laughed. “No, we’ll use the back door this time. Curt lead the way, will you? Just remember, Lady Ranger, I still have two rifles trained on your back. Bob pick up the pouch and her hardware.”
          Allie didn’t need to be reminded about the rifles. She followed Curt around the back of the house, through a door into the interior, and then the short walk down the hall to the study on the left. Curt, upon entering, lit two oil lamps, one on each side of the room. The thought went through Allie’s mind to quickly shove the nearest lamp to the floor, hoping it would shatter and start a fire. Then maybe try to dive through the window. That thought was quickly extinguished…
          “Please keep your hands to yourself, little lady,” The Main said from behind her. “Take the seat in front of the desk, please.”
          He’s reading my every thought…Allie sat down in a nice leather chair and glanced around the room. Three windows—possible escape routes—two on the east wall, one of which she had entered, and the third on the north wall. A leather couch against the south wall, bookshelves on the south and behind the desk, with the painting hiding the safe in between. There were a couple of nice chairs at an angle behind her, some Colonial design end tables in the corners. Expensive red carpet covering the floor. Pictures on the paneled walls. It all said “money” very loudly. Stolen money…
          Two of the men stood behind Allie and off to each side. Another man was at the door, all of them pointing rifles at her. The Man took his seat behind the desk in an exquisite, plush leather swivel chair. He lit a cigarette, and asked Curt to get him a drink.
          “Would you like to have a glass of sherry?” he asked Allie. “Imported from France, of course.”
          “Of course,” she said sardonically. “No, thank you.”
          “Your loss,” he said, and took a sip from the crystal glass Curt set before him.
          Allie studied him for a minute. He was wearing a red patterned dinner jacket with black trim. She knew he was 35 years old. He was fairly tall, close to 6 feet, but rather slender; he probably didn’t top 170 pounds. His raven black hair was thick, and straight, except for one little curl that made a comma over his forehead. Sexy, Allie couldn’t help but thinking. He had blue eyes, with a superior look in them and a rather taunting smile, as if he knew he was better than everybody else and wanted them to know it, too. But Allie had to admit that he was an extremely handsome man. Beauty that’s only skin deep…She quickly glanced around at the other three men. They weren’t bad looking, either; as noted earlier, The Man hired only clean-cut, well-groomed men. “Image” was extremely important to him, and while his cowboys—outlaws—could and would have a good time in town, they knew the limits that The Man would endure. He had fired more than one rowdy who had raised an unnecessary ruckus; and by doing so, he enhanced his already firm reputation amongst the townfolks as a morally upright, decent man who brooked no untoward behavior in his employees. Allie knew all of this and it sickened her that he could bamboozle people so easily. Finding a jury to convict him in that town wouldn’t be easy.
          "Well, let’s see what we have here,” The Man said, dumping the contents of the pouch onto his desk. “Ah,” he said upon seeing the papers Allie had confiscated. He looked through them briefly. “Yes, you are a dangerous little lady, and a smart one, too.” He sorted through the rest of the materials in the pouch. A couple of tools to open the window. “So here’s how you got in,” he said, examining the flexible file and wire with interest. “Ingenious. I should get some of this.” The only other thing in the pouch was the candle and matches. He held up the candle and looked at Allie. “This is what got you caught,” he told her, “but I will admit, it was pure, dumb luck. One of my men had to make a late night trip to the privy out back and happened to see the light through the window.” He motioned to the north wall. “If nature hadn’t called him…” He let it hang.
          Allie was frustrated. So she had done everything right. Just…the unforeseen. How can you plan for somebody needing to go to the privy? She didn’t have an immediate answer to that, and it wasn’t a problem that occupied her mind for long. Her immediate circumstances were a little more pressing.
          “But,” The Man continued, “that’s our luck and not yours. The immediate concern is what am I going to do with you.”
          Allie didn’t respond.
          “First off, let’s get introduced. I assume you know who I am, but I’d like to know who you are. A lady Ranger is a unique phenomenon, indeed.”
          Allie thought about giving him a fake name, but could see no advantage to it. “My name is Allie Summer.”
          One eyebrow shot up. “Allie Summer? I’ve heard of you, but I just thought you were a man with a strange name. You have quite a reputation, lady.” He looked over at Curt. “Did you know that Allie Summer was—is—a woman?”
          “No, I didn’t. I never really thought about it. I just assumed the Rangers only hired men.” He smiled crookedly, but Allie wasn’t looking at him. “They must be desperate to be hiring women.”
          “I’ll try to change sexes for you, if you’d like,” Allie said. “You’ll have to give me a few minutes, though.”
          The Man laughed. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t think of having you do that. You’re a beautiful woman; you’d probably be an ugly man. And I don’t know about the Rangers being ‘desperate,’ Curt. You know Allie Summer’s reputation. Probably the best of all McConnell’s men…uh, personnel.” He shook his head as if in disbelief. Speaking basically to himself, he muttered, “Allie Summer a woman. That is a bit shocking.” Then to Allie, “How long have the Rangers been hiring women? Are there others?”
          “Five years, and I’m the only one.”
          “Well, I hope McConnell doesn’t find any more like you or the outlaws in this territory will be in really serious trouble.” He laughed. “I’m certainly fortunate to have caught you.” Then, he made a thoughtful face. “That leaves me with the problem of what I’m going to do with you. Probably the easiest thing to do would be to kill you and dump your body in the mountains somewhere where nobody could find you.”
          Reading my mind again…Allie spoke up. “No, the easiest thing to do would be to just let me go.”
          The Man’s eyebrows shot up. “And let you try again? I don’t especially like that option.”
          “Listen,” Allie said. “Don’t you think McConnell knows where I am? Of course he does; he’s the one who gave me this assignment. If I don’t show up, he—all the Rangers--will know something happened, like you killed me and dumped my body somewhere in the mountains, and they’ll be on you like a fly on honey.”
          “But they won’t be able to prove anything.”
          “But they won’t give up, either, until they do.”
          “So what would letting you go solve? You’re not going to give up.”
          Allie leaned forward in her chair and looked directly into The Man’s eyes. “Let’s don’t play games here and don’t try to put one over on me. You’re a criminal. You know that, I know that, the Rangers know it, and every law enforcement official in the country knows it. The law will never stop until it has you behind bars.” She leaned back and shrugged. “If not me, then somebody else. And they might be better than I am. Can you take that chance?”
          The Man looked skeptical. He didn’t seem to be buying Allie’s reasoning. But before he could say anything, she spoke up once more. “And if you kill me you’ll have a murder rap pinned on you, too.”
          “But, again, they’ll have to prove it.”
          “McConnell won’t stop until he does.” She smiled. “I’m his pet, you know.” She wasn’t, McConnell didn’t play favorites and he wasn’t handling Allie with kid gloves any more. But she was a woman, a pretty one, a young one, and it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a male boss to favor such a creature. At least, The Man didn’t know that the head of the Rangers didn’t favor Allie.
         The Man studied Allie thoughtfully. “So I let you go and you keep trying to prove I’m guilty of something.”
          Allie shrugged again. “It’s me or somebody else. Your choice. At least with me you know who you’re getting. Actually, since I flubbed this up, McConnell will probably take me off the case and appoint somebody else. You’ve got nothing to lose by letting me go, and everything to lose by killing me.”
          The Man was clearly back on his heels some. Releasing Allie wasn’t an alternative he had considered when he captured her, but she was making a queer sort of sense. Still looking at Allie, he said, “Curt, what do you think?”
          “She’s dangerous, boss, way too dangerous to turn loose. If I caught a wildcat, I’d kill it, not let it go to try to kill me again.”
          “That’s kind of what I think, too. Bury her and that will at least set the Rangers back some in their investigations. And maybe by that time, I can find some more legal ways to cover our trail.”
          Allie didn’t like the sound of that. If they were going to kill her, she’d go down fighting.
          The Man continued, “But I want to think about it a while. She’s right about one thing, if she disappears the Rangers won’t let up till they find out what happened to her.”
          Curt spoke again. “Can’t we make her death look like an accident? We can break her neck, make it appear a horse threw her.”
          Allie tried to thwart that one. “They won’t buy that. Way too coincidental. I’m hot on your trail and all the sudden, I have a convenient accident. What would you think?”
          The Man smiled. “I’d think the same way you’re thinking. But again, proving it is the difficulty.”
          “They’ll just redouble their efforts, put more pressure on you.”
          The Man stifled a yawn. “Well, I don’t need to make a decision right now.  I’ll think on it awhile. In the meantime, you’ll be my…guest.”
          “With freedom of movement, I trust,” Allie said.
          The Man laughed. “No, I don’t think I can allow that.” He finished his cigarette and downed the last of his drink. “There. That will make me sleep better. In what’s left of the night.” Then, “Curt,” speaking to his foreman, “put her in the loft. She’ll have some degree of comfort there but won’t be able to escape.”
          “Keep a guard on the door?”
          “No, I don’t think that’s necessary. She hasn’t got a key and the door is too heavy for her to break down. And if she did, we’d hear it. Well, put somebody at the bottom of the stairs with a shotgun, just in case.” He spoke to Allie. “You’ll have a bed, a water closet, a lamp for light—please don’t try to burn the house down—and there’s a window for air, but it’s way over your head and too small for you to get through anyway. You’ll be…safe…up there.” He laughed again, and this time he sounded a little insane to Allie.
          “You want us to search her, real thorough like, boss? Like you said? Just to make sure she isn’t hiding anything else somewhere?”
          Allie stood up, turned to him, and, with fire in her eyes, said, “Don’t you dare touch me, you weasel. I’ll scratch your eyes out.”
          Curt just laughed. The Man had a smile on his. “Actually, Curt, I do think that’s a very good idea. She may have a file or a wire or another weapon of some sort somewhere.”
          Allie looked back at him. “I told you that I didn’t.”
          “Would you believe me if our situation was reversed and I told you I had nothing else hidden?”
          No, I wouldn’t…And though she didn’t respond, the expression on her face answered the question.
          “Besides,” The Man said, still smiling. “It’s not often a man gets to gaze on such beauty.” He nodded at his foreman, indicating that the process should begin.
          Allie clenched her teeth and fists. She was about to fight, regardless of what it cost her. But, as she always did on a case—and this was why she was so good—she thought rationally and bowed to reality. She wouldn’t win a fight and could possibly get hurt badly. And they’d still search her. Better to stay healthy; better chance of escape…When she heard two rifles behind her each chamber a bullet, that clenched her decision. There were some things worth dying for, but, to Allie, this wasn’t one of them. I can’t put this creep behind bars if I’m dead. I’ll get away somehow. Of that, she had no doubt. But if he lets his hired thugs rape me, I’ll kill him. I swear I’ll kill him if it’s the last thing I do…
          Curt walked over to her. “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”
          “What does that mean?”
          “You can do it yourself, or I’ll do it for you.”
          Allie’s eyes blazed, but she started unbuttoning her blouse. “I don’t want your filthy hands on me,” she told him.
          So Allie suffered the humiliation of stripping in front of a bunch of ogling men. She was doing a slow boil during the process…the indignity of it all…She wasn’t surprised, of course, but this was the first time, since she had become a Ranger, that such ignominy had been forced upon her, forced being the operative word here. And while it angered her, she thought back to a conversation she had had with McConnell during her training period……………….

Five years earlier…
          “You realize, of course, what will happen to you if you are ever caught by a group of outlaws and taken prisoner,” he said to her.
         “I think so,” Allie replied hesitantly. She had been so desirous of becoming a Ranger, so sure of her abilities, that the thought of failure and capture had never entered her head.
          “Allie, you must be aware that there are some brutal, heartless men out there who have absolutely no conscience. I promise you that, given the chance, they will abuse you endlessly, and more so because you are such a…an attractive…woman. They will just kill a man. They’ll have their fun with you, and then kill you.”
          Allie just looked at him.
          “Are you willing to accept that risk to be a Ranger?”
          “Well, hopefully, it will never come to that.”
          McConnell leaned forward in his chair and looked at her sternly. “Allie, are you willing to accept that risk? If not, then you cannot, must not, become a Ranger.”
          “Captain McConnell, I’ll do what it takes to be a Ranger, and the best one I can be.”
          The Captain leaned back and looked at Allie. She thought she saw some skepticism in his eyes. Sure enough, “Those are noble words, Allie, but you have to face the reality of the job you’re wanting to do. This isn’t a dime novel where the good guy shows up at the nick of time and saves the day. This isn’t a sheriff being there to pull a kitty cat out of a tree for a little girl. We’re talking the real world here, girl, a hard, callous, cruel world, that isn’t fair, never has been and never will be. The men you will be chasing, most of them, will have no compunction at all at having as much fun with you as they want. And yeah, you may be good at Indian wrestling and might be able to take a man one-on-one—might be, I said—but as often as not, you’ll be dealing with multiple outlaws because these wolves travel in packs. I’m sorry, but you wouldn’t have a chance.” He stared at her, hard. “Have you ever been raped, Allie?”
          “No,” she said softly. She’d never been with a man, period.
          “Then you have no idea the horror of it. It will be the last thing you ever experience because, when they are through with you, they will kill you.”
          Allie smiled at him. “Are you trying to scare me away from the job, Captain?”
          He didn’t smile back. “No, I’m not. I’m trying to let you know what to expect out there. I hope you never face it, either, but I don’t want you getting into this blinded by unreal fantasies.” He paused a moment, then said, “Allie, why do you think we don’t hire women?”
          She stared at him blankly. “Well, I…it’s…I mean, it’s…always been a man’s job. Women stay at home and raise kids…”
          “And you don’t want to do that?”
          “Well, some day, but not right now.” Allie looked at him with some angst. “I’ve just had this dream for a long time, Captain McConnell, ever since you pulled my cat out of that tree. I’m young enough, I can do other things when I get older. Like get married and have a family.”
          “What I’m telling you, though, Allie, is that you may not live long enough to do that. This is dangerous work, I lose men occasionally, and I can see this job being doubly dangerous for a woman. You’re good—good with a gun, a rifle, a knife, good at wrestling. With some of those things, you’re as good as or better than any man I’ve got. But a practice range isn’t the real world, either. And we don’t hire women because it would be very hard for us to explain why we even hired you if you were abused and killed. I’d have some tough questions to answer.”
          “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to put you in a difficult position.”
          “Well, you are, but that’s not near as important as the difficult position you might find yourself in some day.”
          “But all your men face the danger and the possibility of death.”
          “But not rape.”
          “Well, if the decision is mine, Captain, I’ll take the chance. It’s my body. I want to be a Ranger and I’ll do what it takes to get a job done…”
          Those last words came back to haunt Allie a couple of times over the years. Well, not really haunt her, she made the decisions on her own, and she never regretted them. Almost. But it was her job, as a Ranger, to do what was necessary. At least that’s the way she thought of it.
          The first instance was an assignment to follow—only follow—a gang of ruffians led by Tate Crandall. McConnell wanted to know the location of their hideout; Allie was to find it and report that location to the Captain. He would then send a contingent of men to capture and arrest the outlaws.
          Allie did her job and, as always, did it well. She tracked Crandall’s gang—her Indian father had taught her how to track a snake across a bare rock— to a hideaway in the mountains. She rushed to the nearest town and wired McConnell, giving him the exact location of the hideout, and also telling him she would continue to watch them in case they decided to move on.
          Which they did—decide to move on, that is.
          There were six of them, rough-looking characters but not a dumb-looking meatball among them; intelligent, wily men. Allie observed them from a safe hiding spot for the rest of the day on which she had wired McConnell and, when she was convinced that they intended to stay the night, she rode back to town. She anticipated returning the next morning to continue her surveillance. Before she left the town, she stopped by the telegraph office to see if there was any word from McConnell. There was. He and several Rangers would be arriving that day, probably early in the afternoon. He wanted Allie to stay on the scene and do whatever she could to prevent the outlaws from leaving, if it appeared they were going to do so. Allie hurried back to her lookout location. She moved nearer the cabin, hoping to hear what was being said. What she saw, and especially, what she heard was not what she wanted to see and hear.
          The six men were loading their horses in what were apparently preparations to depart. That was verified by the conversation Allie heard.
          “Tate, which way are we headed?” a short, young, curly headed fellow asked.
          Crandall responded as he was tying down a blanket on the back of his horse.
          “Why east?” This question from a tall, burly man who had stopped cinching his gelding in order to look at Crandall.
          “Because I say so,” Crandall responded. “I have no doubt that the law expects us to head west—which is the way we’ve been traveling. So we’ll do what they don’t expect and double back. They’ll keep going west and we’ll put a lot of miles between us and them.”
          “Smart thinking,” Burly said.
          Allie thought so, too. She felt confident that she could track them wherever they went, but here they were, McConnell would be there in a few hours, and it would be frustrating—to say the least—to let the outlaws move on when they were so close to being apprehended.
          Allie considered her options. She could let the men leave, wait for McConnell, and then follow. The Rangers would be only a few hours, at most, behind the outlaws. Allie dismissed that idea almost at once. Letting them out of her sight was not an alternative, as far as she was concerned. She could go in and try to hold the men at gunpoint until McConnell arrived. But that was extremely risky against six cunning men. One slip-up and she’d be dead and the outlaws gone. Allie was as brave as any Ranger on the force, but she wasn’t stupid by any means. As she thought about it, she felt there was a safer—and easier—way.
          She hurriedly ran back to her horse, kneeled down, and with her knife, worked the horseshoe off the left front hoof. This hobbled her mount, of course. She stuffed all her weapons into her saddlebag. Then she took the horse’s reins and walked…directly into the outlaw camp. Deliberately. And her heart was thumping. Hard. This wasn’t in the Ranger playbook and she knew it.
          “Oh,” she said, as if in surprise. “I didn’t know there was a house here.”
          Crandall and his men stopped what they were doing and looked at Allie. “What are you doing here, lady?” Tate Crandall said, and not kindly.
          “Well, I was…I was riding through the mountains and my horse threw a shoe. I’m…kinda lost,” she said sheepishly. “I got turned around and wasn’t quite sure how to get out.” Then she looked at Randall and his men, appraising them as if with interest. “I didn’t know I’d run into six…men…up here. Can you…shoe my horse for me?”
          The men were eyeing Allie now—with interest unfeigned. “Well, we were just getting ready to leave,” Crandall replied.
          “But my horse…” Then Allie smiled, suggestively. “I can pay you.”
          Tate Crandall and five other men, almost involuntarily, started walking towards Allie, and they were smiling, too. “Oh?” Crandall said. “How much can you pay?”
          “Well,” Allie said, “I don’t have any money…” And she started unbuttoning her blouse…the outlaws smiled more widely, and continued coming towards her…this is too easy….
          Allie went into the cabin, and for the next three hours, kept the six men distracted, in ways the details of which are irrelevant to this story—as interesting as they might be. After those three hours, McConnell hadn’t appeared yet and Crandall was ready to leave. Allie was concerned, fearing she might have to resort to firearms, and ready to do so, if necessary. But, fortunately, just as she finished dressing, McConnell’s men surrounded the house and forced Crandall to surrender. The capture and arrest were swift and sure. “And I thought you told me that the good guys never arrive in the nick of time,” Allie said, teasingly, to McConnell.
          He was perplexed. “Did they kidnap you?”
          “No,” she said with a cheeky smile. “I kidnapped them.”
          The Captain looked at her suspiciously but never asked what she was doing inside the outlaws’ cabin.
          The second time Allie had to use…her wiles…wasn’t long after that. Her assignment was to break up a racketeering operation in a sizeable town not far from Ranger headquarters. The man heading the operation, Oliver Schott, owned the liquor, gambling, prostitution, and rustling “concessions” in the town. They were all crooked—extortion, bribery, theft, blackmail, shakedowns, and a few dead bodies to boot. “Just get him on one of them,” McConnell told Allie. “That’s all we need. But be careful and take your time. We’ve been after this fellow for a long time. He’s as slippery as a snake. It will probably take you several months, maybe over a year, but it’s that important.”
          Of course, Allie was willing to take on the assignment; anything the Rangers wanted her to do. She considered carefully how she could best approach it. Well, going into a saloon would be way too conspicuous, so drinking and gambling are out. Staking out and finding rustlers could take forever; there are over a dozen ranches in the area, how would I know where the rustlers were going to hit next? And how could I capture them all by myself? And get them to talk? No, not good. That leaves only….
          And Allie smiled.
          Three months later, Oliver Schott was behind bars and McConnell was debriefing Allie, praising her for solving the case so quickly. He asked her how she had done it. She told him.
          “You did WHAT?” he said, rising from his chair, knocking it to the floor.
          Allie smiled and shrugged. “To me, it was the best and quickest way. Talk to the other girls, visit with the men who came in. Believe me, a lot of high rollers who were about to lose their shirts to Schott were ready to help put him away. They talked and talked and talked, gave me all kinds of leads. It was easy, actually, especially after I discovered that Schott himself came in regularly. Come on to him, pump some liquor into him, spread my legs for him a few times…he would have given me the key to his vault.” Her smile turned mischievous. “Nice looking man, too. And, boy, could he ever—“
          “All right, all right, I don’t need a blow by blow account,” McConnell said irritably. Then he put his hands on his hips and stared at his only female Ranger. “Allie…not that way. I never intended--“
          She didn’t back down. “That man needed to be behind bars, Captain. He was draining that town dry, leaving people destitute, and he didn’t care one whit. I’m proud to have had a part in putting him away.”
          McConnell still seemed peeved. “Yeah, I’m glad he’s in jail, too. But what you did is not the Ranger way.”
           Allie laughed at that. “No, I guess not. I do hope you don’t have any of your men working in whorehouses.”
          The captain turned angry again, more at her flippancy than anything else. “It’s not funny, Allie. I don’t want my—I don’t want you working in a whorehouse, either. If you do that again, I’ll—“
          Allie stood up and picked up her bag, obviously intending to leave. “You’ll do nothing, Captain McConnell. You gave me an assignment. I did it, the best way I knew how. And I was successful. To me, having that man in jail, not hurting other people, is a whole lot more important than anything it cost me.” She looked directly at him. “Is that so bad? To sacrifice in order to help people? It was my decision. And it worked.”
          McConnell stared…at his best Ranger. He shook his head, turned away again and looked out the window. “Get out of here, Allie. Take a few days off and come back in next Monday. I’ll have another assignment for you.”
          Allie started to leave the room, then, with that mischievous smile on her face again, said to her boss, “Oh, Captain, I understand that part of my contract with the Rangers is not to work at another job on the side. Does that mean I’m going to have to turn over the other wages and tips I earned during this assignment?”
          McConnell closed his eyes and sighed deeply. Then he looked back at her. “Allie—“
          “I sure hope not because I made a lot of money, a whole lot more than you pay me.”
          And she laughed and left the room.
          Shaking his head again—and trying not to smile—the boss turned back to the window. Staring at…nothing…Captain William Travis McConnell only wished he had a company full of Rangers as resourceful—and successful—as Allie Summer…I had men trying for over a year to catch Schott. two of them were killed. and she puts him behind bars in three months…..if I had more Rangers like her, we’d clean this whole territory of outlaws…
          Then he smiled wryly. But I don’t think I’ll ask her about her methods any more…

Back to the future, at The Man’s house…..
          The mind is an amazing thing. All of that flew through Allie’s head in just a few seconds as she stood nude in The Man’s study. And she realized that she didn’t regret one thing she had ever done. I’m a Ranger, I’m proud of it, and if that—this--is the price I have to pay…But then, inexplicably, she felt tears coming and she fought to hold them back. She tried to tell herself it wasn’t the shame of her current nudity, but the shame of failure—the first time she had bungled an assignment. Well, I haven’t really failed yet…this is just a temporary setback. That’s what she told herself, but the words weren’t having much effect at the moment. I’ve failed and I’m suffering the consequences…It didn’t matter to her why she had failed; the dumb luck of having that cowboy going to the privy. She had botched the job, and that was a bitter, bitter pill for her to swallow.
          Curt started ripping her clothes apart. “Hey, what are you doing?” Allie said angrily.
          “Making sure you aren’t hiding anything in the seams. That’s where something small and dangerous would be, wouldn’t it?” And he laughed, cutting the seams of her pants with a knife.
          She turned to The Man. “Are you going to let him do that? Haven’t you got any decency at all?”
          His eyebrows went up. “You break into my house, open my safe, steal some very important papers from me…and you lecture me on decency?” He snorted. “Physician, heal thyself.”
          “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Allie said, her voice filled with sarcasm. “Next time I’ll knock on your front door and just ask you for the proof I want to put you in jail for the rest of your life.”
          The Man smiled. “You’ve got a feisty tongue, Lady Ranger. Especially for someone standing buck naked in front of four men. And, might I add, you are very, very lovely.” His eyes roamed up and down her body.
          There was nothing Allie could do about it but stand there and fume. Curt was humming to himself as he shredded her clothes. Allie looked at him. He wouldn’t be bad looking if he wasn’t such a creep. And that creep’s probably going to…She shuddered and pushed the thought away. She’d deal with it if—when—it came.
          Curt finished his search. “Nothing that I can find, boss.” He tossed Allie’s clothes to her with a laugh. “Here you can put them back on.”
          There wasn’t, of course, much to put back on. Her pants were totally ripped, every seam, top to bottom. They were completely beyond wearing or repair. As were Allie’s underclothes. The only thing that she could put on was her shirt. Curt hadn’t totally ripped the shoulder seams apart. But the buttons were gone and it was torn up each side. Allie slipped it back on. It wasn’t much consolation, but it was long enough to cover her backside and she did the best she could with the front. The Man watched her, smiling his taunting little smile, but said nothing.
          Until he spoke to Curt and the other two men. “Take her up to the loft, men. All three of you. Keep your rifles trained on her. Like I said earlier, I don’t trust this little lady an inch. She’s dangerous, regardless of what she’s wearing.” That smile again. “Or not wearing.”
          Allie didn’t bother responding to that. She tried to stay on the offensive, as much as possible. “What are you going to do with me tomorrow? Or rather, this morning? Am I going to get something to eat? Are you going to replace my clothes that this ape tore apart? If I’m going to be your…’guest,’ then treat me like one.”
          The Man yawned again. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t know the answer to all of those questions. I imagine we’ll feed you something. I don’t have any female clothes, and you might not need any anyway. We’ll see what happens. You haven’t let me sleep much tonight so I may not be in a very good mood. Perhaps you’d better be grateful just to be alive and not make so many demands.” He motioned with his head to his men. “Take her away.”
          Before she could think of anything to say, Allie was pushed from behind. One of the other men opened the door and went out first. Curt and the third man followed her. Down the hall, and up some winding red-carpeted stairs with a polished, cherry wood railing. The chandelier hanging in the living room wasn’t bad, either. But Allie wasn’t terribly interested in the accoutrements of the mansion. Maybe I can get the rifle of the man in front of me…yeah, and get a bullet in the back….She had to admit, they knew what they were doing. They had her surrounded, and that made immediate escape impossible.
          On the second floor—much of which overlooked the huge living room—Allie was led down a hallway towards the back of the house. There were several closed doors on each side of the hall; Allie thought of dashing through one of them, shutting it as rapidly as possible, and trying to get out a window. Dumb idea…But her mind was churning, and it would continue to do so until a good idea came along. At the very end of the hallway, the man in front opened a door. The only thing behind it was a narrow stairway leading up. Allie stopped, but Curt, who was immediately behind her, gave her another shove.
          “Go on. Up there.”
          She had no choice but to proceed up the stairs. She could see a closed door at the top. After counting 13 stairs, she stopped as the man in front of her unlocked the door and opened it. Allie noticed that, as The Man had said, the door was heavy. And thick. It looked, to Allie, like a medieval dungeon door. The key had been big and heavy, too.
          The man went inside and, with a gentle nudge from Curt, Allie followed. Man In Front…Bob? Or is Bob the guy behind Curt? Allie couldn’t remember because she hadn’t been able to clearly see faces. The third man hadn’t been named. Well, Man In Front is good enough for now…MIF lit a lamp and the room brightened. Almost.
          Allie looked around at her new…home. For how long? It was maybe 20 feet by 20 feet, with a closet off to one side—the water closet. I remember him saying there was one. The whole room was of unpainted pine wood, with an A-framed ceiling that was probably 15 feet high at its apex. There was, as The Man had said, only one window—at the very back of the room, a small porthole about 10 feet from the floor. There was a long pole with a metal gripper on the end of it on the floor beneath the window. Curt went over, picked it up, and, reaching up with the gripper, opened the porthole window.
          He gave Allie a smile, albeit not a warm one. “There. You’ll have some air. I’ll keep this pole.”
          “Yeah,” is the only response Allie gave him.
          The rest of the room consisted of a bed with a thick quilt on top, a table with the lamp on it, one chair and…that was it. Allie could tell right off that, even if she stood on the chair, she couldn’t reach the window. And, as The Man had said, even if she could reach the window, it was too small for her to squeeze through. The only way out of the room was via the door.
          “Have a nice night,” Curt said, with a mocking smile as he and the other two men backed out of the room. Allie watched them helplessly.
          And then, the final indignity. Right before Curt exited, he said, “Oh, one more thing.” And quickly, he reached out to Allie, grabbed her torn blouse, and ripped it off of her. Laughing raucously, he left the room, shut and locked the door. Even through the thick wood, Allie could hear him and the other two men guffawing as they walked down the stairs. Then, the door at the landing closed, and there was silence.
          Allie fought back mounting frustration. She had never dealt with a situation like this before. Failure. Being taunted and mocked. Humiliation. A total sense of helplessness. She sat on the bed and wanted to cry, but she fought against that. She grabbed the quilt and pulled it over herself, trying to hide her nakedness from…whom? She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Ok, Allie. Think like a Ranger. What should I do? Try to escape, of course. She looked around the room and spotted nothing of obvious benefit in her desire to flee her prison. The window was too high. She walked over to the door and examined it. Old fashioned bolt key lock, locked from the outside, obviously. She didn’t even try to tug on the door; don’t waste time….
          She stood still and looked around. She could probably have started a fire with the oil burning lamp, but she would be the first to die—and probably the only one. Walking over to the water closet, she opened the door and saw a chamber pot on the floor, and a shelf with a pitcher of water and a bowl. She considered ways she might be able to use some of those objects. Bashing somebody over the head with the pitcher or chamber pot might work—unless there were two or three men to deal with, which Allie suspected was most probable. Yet, she didn’t totally discount the possibility of using the pitcher or pot. Be creative. Make use of what’s available. She’d think on it some more.
          Allie was very tired—she hadn’t had any sleep and it was the wee hours of the morning now. But she wasn’t ready yet for bed. She started searching the room, literally inch by inch. The walls, the bed, the floor…a long, tedious search….
          She searched…and searched…and searched….and then Allie smiled…..