He went without rushing, but without hesitation. He stopped when he’d gone perhaps a quarter mile, and drew in another long chestful of air. His nose picked up the odor again, more pungent now, but still subtle. He hoped the lair wouldn’t be high up in the cliff walls. They stretched five hundred feet or so into the cloud overhead. He didn’t have means to climb the sheer walls. Getting equipped would mean another week or more, with a return trip to Gray Gulch and back. He’d know soon enough.
He put on hand on the narrow canyon’s wall. He hadn’t reached the first fork yet — there were hundreds, maybe thousands as the canyon spread farther in — and listened.
He knew the fog would muffle sound, and the quarry wouldn’t make much if any noise, but he listened anyway.
Just the wet trickle of condensing cloud running down rock walls.
The gravelly floor of the canyon formed a shallow V and ran away into the misty depths. A lazy rivulet no wider than a man’s hand rolled around rocks, over pebbles and across the dirt of the country. He followed it. The canyon bent hard to the right as he progressed. Here, he had to be careful.
Silent death could await around any boulder, outcropping or fork in the path.
He smelled the air again. Listened. Leaned forward and looked around the corner.
He could only see twenty, maybe thirty feet into the bend, but what he saw looked clear. He came forward. Just ahead, behind the foggy curtain, the first fork would come. He’d have to decide which path to take.
He stared hard at the ground, looking for sign. He dropped onto his haunches again and watched the moist ground for any trace it might give up. The wet from the cloud cover made fresh tracks hard to find. They got hidden fast in this environment.
Nothing betrayed a passing. If it came this way, it wasn’t on foot.
He got nervous for a moment, checked his gunbelt. The cartridges stood with the leaden sky dulling their brass casings and copper heads. Dry, despite the moisture. He nodded.
Wet powder doesn’t fire. He’d need to fire, and fire fast, if he found what he was looking for.
A clatter of rocks echoed in the canyon. He darted to his feet faster than a blink, hand on the butt of the right gun. He stared, stock-still, into the foggy veil.
One minute. Two.
He swallowed hard and wondered again about his decision to do this. He stood disadvantaged at every angle. The fog, the moisture, the canyon — all worked in favor of the quarry. This wasn’t his first encounter by a long stretch, but he hadn’t faced anything like this situation, this setting, before.