The canyons made for good hiding. The Sanchero brothers had discovered as much when they were boys and their father would take them camping. They’d hunt and they’d swim and they’d play as boys did. It was here where their father taught them how to shoot and use a knife. They would build fires and stay warm through the night and they were content living off the land. It was only natural then and barely a conscious decision to spend the night here.
The fire was good and the Sanchero gang sat around enjoying it. Chico played guitar and sang terribly off key. No one seemed to notice though. Especially Cullen, who was sitting back, his eyes glazed over from whatever opium cocktail he’d ingested. Juan was beating Francis so bad in cards that Francis threw his deck down and pulled a pistol from his trousers.
“Show me where you’re hiding those cards, goddammit!”
“Your playing does not require me to hide any cards. Now be a good boy and put that hand-cannon away.” Typically this would play out as some sort of drama, only these two didn’t have an audience, so they went back to playing.
All in all everyone warm and giddy. Ellie was not. She had been tied up with a thick rope and left on the ground away from the heat of the fire. She’d seen what they did to her mother and as she watched them laugh she couldn’t help but sob. The harder they laughed the harder she cried. She noticed Megedagik sitting by himself. He’d caught a coyote earlier and had roasted it over the fire and now he was sucking the skin from its bones. He felt Ellie’s gaze and so he glared at her, sending a chill down the child’s spine. He decided to give her a little show and ate like a savage. He let the juices drip down his neck and the meat fall out of his mouth and then he spit out some bone. Finally she looked away.
Robert just sat and watched the fire and chewed tobacco. He didn’t like talking and the guys knew it. But when he was really high, Cullen would forget.
Roberto turned and looked at him. This had better be important, he thought.
“If you don’t mind me askin’, why do we gotta drag this kid along?”
Roberto looked at him with childlike viciousness.
“I want him to hear her screams.”
“How do you know he’ll come?”
Roberto turned back towards the fire.
“Time and family and love has made him weak. But I don’t want to fight a broken man. As long as we have the girl – alive – he’ll be driven by rage. And when we’ve finally killed him, then we kill the girl. I’ll even let you do it.”
Cullen was taken aback. Even with how numb the drugs had made him he felt terror. Then Ellie’s voice cut through the camp.
“You’re not gonna hurt my daddy!”
Roberto calmly stood up, walked over to Ellie, and knelt down beside her until they were eye level.
“Oh, but I am, little girl. I’m gonna hurt your daddy just like I hurt your mommy.”
Ellie trembled as her eyes began to water but still she spoke.
“But my mommy and daddy never hurt anybody.”
Roberto was brought to his feet with laughter. The rest of the gang joined him.
“You hear that fellas? ‘My daddy never hurt anybody.’ Your daddy? Your daddy… little girl, do you even know who your daddy is?”
“Ain’t that just a sweet, little lie. You have no idea who your daddy really is.”
“I just told you. His name is Michael Crowley. He’s a rancher.”
Roberto slowly shook his head.
“No… I mean, maybe now he’s a rancher. But he’s no Michael Crowley. Your daddy is a liar. Your daddy is a thief. And your daddy is a murderer. That’s who your daddy is.”
Roberto got real close to Ellie now and their faces almost touched.
“Your daddy… killed my daddy. That’s why we killed your mommy. That’s why we’re gonna kill him. And that’s why we’re gonna kill you”
Ellie’s eyes filled with rage and in that moment she looked more like her father than she ever did her mother and she spat in Roberto’s face. The gang laughed and this did not please Roberto. He stood up and kicked the little girl in the stomach. As she cried out in pain he spit his tobacco on her and walked back to the fire.