The horse was about done. This bothered Joel in terms of survival, but not of bond. The horse was about dead. So be it. He'd been stealing and trading horses ever since he'd left home weeks ago. This horse needed to make it to the next town. That was it.
His rifle lay across his lap, and he lifted it to his eye, sighting down the barrel and right into the ear of Black John. He could see the whole thing in his mind. Black John falling to the starboard side of his horse. The others scrambling. Trying to find safety. Hiding behind the hoofed meat their livelihoods depended on.
Next, he would toss the dynamite. The ensuing stampede would scatter the cattle. Many would be injured. He would leave those to die the way Black John had left his girl: without water, without food, and without hope. He could finish any of the 'pokes off with the rifle if the blast and stampede didn't do the job.
This wouldn't bring Sarah back. Nothing could do that. But it would settle things a little in Joel's brain to know that the men who raped and abandoned her were laying dead in the dirt on a trail very few people knew about. They would be food for scavengers.
He knew that it all hinged on this moment. His life, his freedom. The law wouldn't catch him, but a murderer is never free. Joel spit into the dust and shook his head. Who would take care of Emily, the little sister who had tried to keep him home when he'd left on this grisly mission?
But it didn't matter. He was locked into a code that didn't allow for these kinds of questions. He raised the rifle. Pulled the trigger. Black John fell just like Joel knew he would. He packed the dynamite back into his saddlebags. The rage was not gone, but it was tempered.
A life for a life would have to suffice.