Monday, July 12, 2010
Part 3: Gambits & Gunslingers
Late July, 1865
"Where are we?" asked Peyton, his first words in four days.
"Somewhere near the border of Kentucky and Missouri," answered Ira.
"Can't go back," he mumbled.
"Go back where?" Kid Colt asked, enticed by their new companion.
Kid Colt looked over at Marshall and Ira, worried.
"Rest now, friend. Gather your strength," Marshall advised.
Days later he would talk to them by a fire. "I was a rancher until my herd died off. Some sort of infection gott'em. I don't know. I tried eating the meat before I starved, and that's how you found me."
"You're not very much of a rancher"
"That's because he's an outlaw!" blurted out Kid Colt.
"I read about him and those charcoal guns in my dime novels..." Kid Colt was careful not to reveal his true youth," ...when I was a kid."
Marshall and Ira were taken aback by Peyton's admittance. "It was only a matter of time before ya'll found out....I'm wanted for twenty accounts of murder and who knows how many accounts of grand larceny both from banks and the US government. I'm known as Blackheart Quade, but I beg you... do not be so quick to condemn me, for I wish to only be called Peyton."
Marshall could not believe how open he was being. It inspired him to do the same and tell them all his real name, and reveal who he truly was, a prince of wealth and nation, but he still had some reservations which kept him from doing so.
"As long as we're being honest," Ira continued, "We're on our way to Dodge, through Wichita."
"I appreciate you taking care of me, but I cannot come with you."
"At least stay with us until we reach the Mississippi," haggled Marshall.
"What do you want with a washed up outlaw?"
"For one, your wounds still need healing. So you'd be better off under my care. The other reasons I have yet to figure out. What'd ya say?"
Peyton agreed to accompany them to the Mississippi river, but he would go no further. Now that the truth was out, all inhibitions were called off. Kid Colt rode next to Blackheart Quade and interrogated him about his life of glory and gang riding. And Peyton was forced to relish his past.
March 23, 1845
'The boy crawled out of the burning wreckage. His mom was on the other side. He dug at the fiery carnage for his family. But they were nowhere to be found. An older boy runs up to him and takes him by the arm, pulling him away from the fire.' Peyton wakes up terrified. It was eight years ago to this day, that his home was burnt down and Charlie Slater saved him from the fires. Peyton takes a deep breath. He is still safe in bed. In between Charlie and Johnny Stacks, his two closest friends in the orphanage. Peyton gets up and heads for the kitchen. He is seventeen years old and has been in an orphanage since he was nine. Before he can get to the kitchen, he is pulled from the doorway by a feminine hand. Once in the shadowed corner, he can hear the voices in the kitchen talking and see his abductor's identity. It was Sweet Maggy Dillon, a blond hair, blue eyed firecracker. She wore a cowboy hat and dirty white jeans and always hung out with the boys. Right now, Peyton and Maggy face's were no farther than a couple inches away from each other. "Maggy, I-"
"Sh!" She put her finger over his lips and made a motion for him to listen. He realized that the priest was panicking about something in the kitchen. They listened closely, "The man from the bank said we have until Friday..."
"until they foreclose upon the orphanage..."
"And what about the children?"
"They must find another place to live."
Peyton had heard enough. He pulled himself away from Maggy and ran into the backroom. He awoke Johnny and Charlie, and told them to come with him. "Peyton!" Maggy exclaimed, "What are you gonna do?"as she followed them outside. The four sneaked over to four hitched horses. "Peyton, what are we doing out here?"
"It's the middle of the night."
"We're robbing the bank," answered Peyton.
"What!" screamed out Maggy, as Charlie and Johnny both said it in unison.
"If we don't, the Orphanage is gonna close down and we starve," argued Peyton.
Charlie looked over at Peyton and then at Johnny and Maggy. Johnny shrugged his shoulders and Maggy giggled as she rolled her eyes. An innocent face for a sinister mind. This was her plan all along. They mounted their horses in agreement. "How though?" Charlie asked, "We don't have any guns."
"The bank is closed. We don't need any guns. Just a way to get through the doors." Peyton nodded at Johnny and led Charlie, Johnny, and Maggy over to the bank under the dark night sky. As they crossed the street, a deputy keeping night watch saw them. He did not sound the alarm, but followed them from a distance. They got around to the back door of the town bank. Peyton got off his horse and examined the lock. "Johnny, come here..." Johnny Stacks got off his horse, along with the rest of them, and accompanied Peyton. "This looks just like the lock on the cupboard in the kitchen. Can you break it?"
"I'll give it a try, Peyton."
Maggy and Charlie kept watch as Johnny tried to pick the lock. He pulled a wire out of his wallet and a pin out of his jacket pocket. Together he probed the inside of the lock with his ear pressed against it. The deputy, meanwhile, had caught up to them and was now just around the corner from Maggy, who was keeping guard. He jumped out and hit her with the butt of his revolver. She stumbled back, falling to the ground, and Charlie attacked him. The deputy shot at Charlie and woke up the town. Each shot amazingly missed as Charlie ran straight at the deputy. His chambers were empty, and now the charging kid was right on top of him. The deputy took the blow, and fell on his back, sticking his foot out, and lunging Charlie forward on the roll. Charlie was thrown over to the deputy's horse, as the deputy got up and reloaded his sidearm. Charlie quickly got up and onto the horse. He kicked it and convinced the beast to run down its own master. Peyton was assisting Maggy up as the deputy fell, and retrieved his fully loaded revolver.
"That should be mine," Charlie Slater said as he sat upon the horse.
Johnny broke the lock and opened the door. The group rallied at the door, Charlie got off the horse and Peyton helped Maggy back. Once inside, Peyton led them to the vault. To their luck, the door was left open. This bank looked more like a store, as the town of Dodge was still in its infant years. Johnny found some bags and handed them out to the rest of them. As Peyton received his bag he heard footsteps at the door. "Down!" he said in a soft scream. The team hid in the shadows.
Peyton put his back next to the doorway and peered out at the door they came in. A figure with a wide hat and shimmering shield pinned to his chest slowly walked in with his elbow out and gun drawn, pointing straight up. "It's the sheriff" he said to them behind him. Maggy looked back after surveying the boys' faces to see Peyton's, but he was gone around the corner. She jumped forward and turned the corner to see Peyton behind the sheriff with his hand over the Sheriff's mouth. With Peyton's other hand he held the deputy's gun, pressing the barrel into the Sheriff's back. "You kill me, you better run and never look back."
That was the man's final words as Peyton pulled the trigger and murdered him. The proximity of the shot muffled its noise and singed the clothing of the dead sheriff's into his own skin. They ran out of the bank, carrying bags full of money. They had completely cleaned out the bank's savings. The bank would have nothing to back their business up on. Everything would get wiped back to zero. The Orphanage's debt would be the least of their worries. As they rode out of town on their horses. Maggy ran by the Orphanage and dropped one of her money bags at the front door. They rode out of Dodge thinking they would never return, and headed for Wichita.
August 4th, 1865
"Everybody hands up, no quick moves, and nobody will have to die," said the man in the confederate captains suit. He waved his gun at the bank teller as his men looted all the hostages' pockets and cash boxes. "The vault fools, go for what's in the vault, " he pointed with his gun. "Sorry, sir" one said as he scurried back. "Ya'll support yankees here?"
"Surrendered to the north has Kentucky?" he screamed.
Ira, Marshall, Peyton, and Kid Colt rode into town. "I'll teach ya 'lesson in loyalty!" a shout echoed from inside the bank as they rode by. Kid Colt looked over, being the closest one to the building, and gauged everyone's reaction. Shots began to ring off one after one. Kid Colt and Marshall immediately got off their horses and sprang for the front doors. Ira moved on his horse around back, while Peyton looked around to see if any lawmen were gathering. When the coast was clear he rode over to a low roof, stood on his horse, and jumped onto it. He crawled up and onto the next story roof where there were windows.
Peyton could here Marshall negotiating through the front. Ira was trying to bust the lock from the back door. Peyton sneaked up to an open window and peered in. Inside was the captain holding a woman teller by the throat in front of him. Right next to the window was a rafter. Peyton quietly climbed into the ceiling. His men ran in and out gathering up all the money before him and the hostages in the lobby. "That's it," Peyton heard Kid Colt say, "I'm goin' in." The front door was kicked open and they opened fire. Peyton snapped his lasso around the rafter and lowered himself down without braking. Peyton grabbed the female hostage and lunged out of the way as the back door popped open and Ira fired his modified rifle. The shot tore Peyton and the Captain apart. Marshall and Kid Colt rushed in and started putting down the Captain's men. "Captain Bennett!" they screamed out, "What are your orders, sir?"
"Regroup men!" called out Captain Jack Bennett of the fallen Confederate Army. "Regroup at the rally point!" he said as he threw himself out of the bank through a tall window. The money they had put in the bags were left as they all scattered. "Who was that?" called out Kid Colt.
"Captain Jack Bennett" identified Ira, "They called him Captain Cutt-throat Bennett, him and another rebel captain would gut out towns from soldiers to women and children just to rob them. The other one's name was...Kildare...I think." Peyton's heart sank and his skin chilled. He hadn't heard that name in a while. "I guess now that the war is over," Ira went on, "they've taken to rebel terrorism."
"What do you suppose he meant by rally point?" inquired Marshall.
"There's no way their finished with their attack on this town," suggested Peyton.
"What else is there to do here for a bunch of rebels?" wondered Kid Colt.
"There's a union base around these parts," remembered Ira.
"Now Ira, you're not seriously thinkin' about goin' there..." Peyton stressed forbiddingly.
He looked at the rest of his company, none of which eager to be found, "It's out of our hands now, we should make for the Mississippi, before it gets too late," instructed Ira. They all turned their horses and continued on their way west. As the group left the town, Ira tore off. Marshall swallowed his fears of getting found and rode after him. When Kid Colt asked, "Where they goin'?"
Peyton answered, "for the base....They'll be back."
"We should go with them." Peyton had no desire to have a brush with the law, let alone the army, but Kid Colt was insistent. Peyton recalled his similar behavior when he was a young gunslinger, fresh out of the orphanage, a gunslinger that takes what he wants, and a heart of gold. Something about Kid Colt made Peyton feel like he was young again. He enjoyed the company and considered making him his protegee. But what then would he tell him? What could Colt learn from him that would earn nothing but heartache and regret. Nothing but sad stories. His legacy was a tragic legend. One almost not worth to be told, but a harsh lesson to behold.
October 30, 1850
"So here's the plan," Peyton directed from the head of a round table, "Keats Brothers, you start the morning off with a bang to misdirect the marshals. Ticonderoga and Stacks take the door and the vault. Maggy, Slaughterhouse, and I will take the lobby and the hostages. If anything happens, we drop everything and come back here. Whatever anyone can get, bring back here and we will split evenly." Everyone shook their heads in phony agreement. Peyton knew that it would never come to that.
Morning broke, and the Keats brothers, Randall and River, blew up a Wichita saloon. They fired off rounds with the Marshals before they got on their horses and led the marshals out of town. This gave the rest of the team plenty of time. Maggy was already in the bank, waiting in line, inside. Charlie and Quade ran into the bank. Charlie was still on his horse. He blew the security guard in the chest with his shotgun. Quade pointed his gun at Maggy and pretended to hold her hostage to get the tellers to do his bidding. Ticonderoga and Rotten Johnny Stacks were already in the vault. Loading their horses with treasures and bills. A whistle from outside. A platoon of soldiers were passing through the town. Charlie "Slaughterhouse" Slater got everyone to quiet down as Blackheart Quade watched them pass by from the curtained window. Maggy saw Ticonderoga and Johnny leave with the loaded horses and smiled. She yelled for the soldiers, "IN HERE! ROBBERS!" and Peyton's heart stopped. He checked out the situation. The vault was empty, Johnny and the indian were gone,the soldiers were approaching the bank. and there was Maggy, laughing hysterically as she makes a run for it. Peyton mounted the horse that Charlie had rode in on and ran out the back door of the bank, picking up Maggy, and riding after Stacks and Ticonderoga. Charlie Slaughterhouse Slater, ran himself through the front doors of the bank throwing his guns around like a madman, screaming, and alone in the streets of Wichita he confronts the army battalion.
When Peyton and Maggy returned to their hideout they were to be careful. Peyton got inside to find Johnny pinned up against the wall by a tomahawk. Peyton pulled him off. "What happened?" he asked.
"We got back," Johnny told them, "And the Keats boys were waitin' for us. After me and Ticonderoga killed'em he hung me to die on this blasted wall."
"How far away is he?"
"Not far. You can catch'em, boss" Maggy tended to Johnny's wounds and Peyton rode after the giant indian. He caught up to the thief after nearly riding his steed into the ground. Peyton shot his rifle at him, but did not try to kill him. Finally, he hit his horse in the ass and brought it down. Ticonderoga hit the ground hard, breaking his shoulder. Peyton got off his horse to help his fellow outlaw up. Ticonderoga turned around and shot Peyton in the stomach. When Peyton fell to the ground before Ticonderoga, utterly betrayed, he revealed to the brash indian Slaughterhouse Slater bearing down on him with a blood stained face. Slater trampled Ticonderoga and left him for dead, as he saved his brother in arms, Peyton. The two got back to the hide-out where Maggy was with Johnny. Peyton's gunshot was serious, and unless they went into a town to treat it, he would die. They could not go to Wichita after the job they had just pulled. Their only choice would be Dodge.
***August 5th, 1865
Cape Girardeau, MO
It was well into the night; about 3 or 4 in the morning. Peyton and Kid Colt had held up on their journey and gone back for Marshall and Ira. When they met them, the two were chasing Captain Jack Bennett along with a strange indian rider and their rebel gang, holding twelve men from a coloured union infantry battalion hostage. The big shadowy indian had taken the entire base, when Marshall and Ira got there. They were the only two able to track them west. When the pair met back up with Kid Colt and Peyton, they told them about the indian, and Peyton realized he was getting in too deep. Playing his retirement too close to the chest. He could not afford such reckless tracks. But something pulled him towards them, some important element that he has yet to learn drove Peyton to stay with them. The path of the rebels seemed to be taking them to Cape Girardeau, a small port town south of St. Louis.
When they got into Cape Girardeau the streets were quiet. It was early in the morning. They saw the last of the rebel troops gathering at a supply boat dock. "Who wants to go?"
"Ira...it isn't our place," argued Peyton.
"Hell, I'll go," rallied Kid Colt.
""I'll stay behind, you wanna try for a ferry across?"
"That's a lot of money, Buck"
"I got some money." Marshall told Ira and Kid Colt to go check out the docks, while they searched for a ferry to cross the river; all the while he prayed to God, Peyton didn't remember how this was the end of his journey with them. Even though he was clearly troubled, Marshall felt a kinship for the three men he was riding with. They fit together like the jagged pieces of an incomplete puzzle. They moved together like the hands of a god, perfectly in harmony, balancing and off-setting each others.
Kid Colt and Ira, no doubt, would be at the supply docks by now. Meanwhile, Marshall and Peyton found a casino called the Boathouse, "STEAM" they advertised, "A GAMING FERRY BOAT!" You could ride on with your horses, hitch them on the deck of the ship, and go inside while the massive ferry slowly takes you upriver. Marshall and Peyton ride onto the casino boat as Kid Colt and Ira enter the supply ship at the docks. Marshall enters the lobby and approaches a desk. "How much for four across?" he asked, as Peyton surveyed the casino below. A character at the poker table caught his memory. He could not take his eyes off of him. The hair on his skin rose. Chills roasted his spine.
Ira and Kid Colt looked around the supply boat. No one was there. When they found people tied to the deck, they realized it was a trap, and the boat was drifting out to sea... "There's no time!" yelled Kid Colt. He got back on his horse and ran off the boat, narrowly making it safely onto the docks. Ira shot a rope off with his rifle, but then saw that they were all individually tied down. It was the twelve soldier battalion they took hostage. This was no supply boat, it was an execution pyre. Ira ran for his horse. He took another shot, snapping an arm free from the ropes on one of the soldiers, but wounding his hand. Ira kicks his horse and the boat begins to explode around him. The explosions go down the deck and into the boat, heading for the engine room. This pattern was indicative of wired explosives...Ira had already figured it out while running away. They must have set dynamite all the way down the boat. Ira rides his mount as hard as it can go. The boat is too far away from the docks now. He won't make the jump. Ira and his horse run straight off the boat and into the water. He holds his reigns and the horse with his legs still churning, drudges both of them ashore next to the docks. He gets the horse out unharmed, like it had never fallen.
The rebels were still around somewhere. They had to light a fuse. Kid Colt motioned Ira to follow him. He had caught the indian's trail. They rode out of the docks and caught up with the strange man. The indian took them into the Boathouse Casino Ferry, where they unknowingly reunited with Marshall and Quade.
Their horses get tagged and they are shown their rooms. Marshall had gone all out. The hostess takes them up as Kid Colt skips out on the tour and heads right for the casino. After they got settled in, Quade walked into Marshall's room. "I've been honest with you boys so far, and...something...about this..."
"You got somethin' to say?" interrupted Marshall.
"Your name is Buck Troy?"
"You expect me to believe your named after some gay pirate?"
"I don't doubt the Troy. And I know a thing or two about the nation, be it a westerner an' all..."
"Westerner?" mocked Marshall.
"With that accent...You're from New York right?"
Ira watched the two go back and forth without intruding. Eager to see where it went.
"Right." answered Marshall.
"Like the railroad trust company?"
"Trojan Railroads," Peyton explained.
"..." Marshall was unsettled and speechless.
"As in the Troy family," persisted Peyton.
"Yeah," he struggled to recover," Wyatt, IV, and Marshall...what about'em?"
"IV? No one calls him IV...'cept maybe one of the family..."
"You're Marshall Troy?" Ira concluded.
Marshall could not avoid it anymore. It was too blatantly obvious now..."I am."
"God damn!" Quade slapped his leg.
"I don't believe it," Ira gasped incredulously.
"Your tellin' me that you're one of the richest men in America?"
"Do they know you're gone?" continued Quade.
He nodded his head, "But they don't know where!" pointed out Marshall.
They all started laughing. Ira was beginning to feel the heat of riding amongst such premieres. Quade felt like he was staring through a mirror. A mirror of polarity. Marshall being a reflection. Ira stood in between them. And Marshall stared at the floor. The jig was up. He knew...That it would only be a matter of time, now... until they found him; until Freelander found him. "You have to come with us, Quade" demanded Marshall.
"What're you talkin' 'bout?"
Quade got up and grabbed Marshall. Ira rushed up behind the outlaw and tried to pull him off. "Listen...Slick...There's no way...in hell...that I'm goin' back to that town."
Marshall chose his next seven words carefully, "Then why are you on this boat?" Peyton released Marshall and stepped back. The ferry shifted and they left the dock. They were officially on their way across the Mississippi. Peyton racked his mind for the answer, "...the indian..." he muttered, "...you said he..." Marshall looked over at Peyton, he did not envy his paralyzing demons, almost visibly rattling his mind.
Out of the moment, Ira looked around "Where's the kid?"
This was trouble. There was only one place Kid Colt would be. Ira rushed out of the rooms and down to the casino floor. Marshall followed Ira, and Quade, after snapping out of it, tailed Marshall down to the casino.
Kid Colt was already sitting at the black jack table. The dealer was also a bartender. They called him Bombay. Three men sat along with Kid Colt. Kid Colt had sufficiently eyed each of them up by now.
There was an old man, who talked too much about treasure. He was fat and wore a top hat, with a piggishly high voice. Another character was sly and greedy looking. His beady eye and forked tongue were overshadowed by his black eye-patch, and greasy thin facial hair. He twisted his long mustache and stared at Kid Colt. The final card player was the last to sit down. Before him was a Mexican man wearing all white. He busted after three hands and left the table with nothing. After him came the indian. The one they had chased from Owensboro. He burnt the soldiers at the docks and escaped with Captain Jack Bennett. Upon recognizing this, Kid Colt's plan was to take all his money. It was a one step plan. When Ira got downstairs, and found Kid Colt, Bombay was serving the kid a drink.
"It's okay," Kid Colt said waving his hand at the drink and behind him at Ira and Marshall gathering at another table, "I'll just have a whiskey."
"Take it," the bartender insisted, "It's gin...with soda."
Kid Colt tried the drink. After a big sip he was dealt his cards: the ace of diamonds, and a black jack. It was real good. The greedy looking one banged his fist on the table. "...Easy..." said Bombay. Ticonderoga was now facing Quade, Ira, and Marshall.
Kid Colt sipped on his gin and laughed to himself. The greedy one-eyed man across the table from him was livid. The fat man was on his last chip. I have no more to raise with, unless you're interested in this..." He pulled out a raggedy old piece of paper. It was a treasure map. He flattened it out on the table for all to look at. Coyote Caverns the only words on it said. Besides that, there were the markings of terrain and a dotted line weaving through the map to an X. Kid Colt wanted that map. "You're on!" he said. He wanted it badly. The indian wanted no part in it, now aware of Peyton's presence in the casino. The one-eyed man had yet to see him, facing Bombay and the bar. He went in along with the old man and they all showed their cards.
One-eye had taken two hits, showing fourteen, his other card made it nineteen. The old man, absolutely positive that Kid Colt would not have another two card twenty-one, revealed his twenty. Two black queens. Kid Colt had a king facing up. He pulled his other card out from below it and flipped it over. Another blackjack. He won the pot, and the Coyote Caverns Treasure Map.
The fat guy cried and shouted as he left the table, and Kid Colt laughed. Ticonderoga was too concerned with Quade, and the one-eyed man was getting suspicious. Kid Colt slipped the map into his pocket and finished his drink. "You know what, Bombay..." he went on, "Make one of these for everyone, on me..." Kid Colt leaned back on his chair, "Especially sourpuss over there..." he pointed at the one-eyed man. That was it. He jumped out of his seat and turned towards Kid Colt, now facing Quade.
"...Easy, Stacks..." exhaled Bombay.
Quade was certain now. The greedy one called Stacks sees Quade as he says to Kid Colt, "Get outta here, boy..." But before he can do anything else Peyton shouts, as Blackheart Quade, "Rotten Johnny Stacks!", with his hands over his guns. Johnny looks up at his old brother. "You're alive?" he remarked.
Ticonderoga did not move, but left his arm flat on the table, holding his cards.
"Get your rotten ways off this boat...now!" ordered Blackheart watching both Johnny and Ticonderoga, "This is my boat tonight."
Rotten Johnny Stacks had no mind to listen. Peyton was prepared to kill him. Ticonderoga was caught off guard with only his hatchet on him. Marshall and Ira walked up around Quade. In his current position, the giant indian would be powerless against them.
"Got a new gang now, boss? Gave up with that psycho Crow? I told you-"
Marshall's ear twitched as he thought he heard mentioned the man his brother died looking for.
"I'm warnin' you Johnny," Quade gave his demands, "I'll kill you right here... where you stand... if you don't leave... now..."
"You'd kill your own brother?" Kid Colt stood in between them quietly helpless as a witness and a bi-standard.
"No. Of course not. Neither is Charlie..."
"I have no brothers."
"Is that what he told you, Marshall?" Stacks unexpectedly asked.
"How do you know me?" reacted Marshall.
Stacks looked at the four of them after Marshall's question but ignored him. He returned to Quade, "This is bigger than you, Peyton. I'd get out...while you still can..." forewarned Johnny Stacks. His last brotherly act. But before his good nature could best, his mouth got in the way, and Rotten Johnny Stacks could not help but ask, "Did Peyton tell ya'll about Maggy yet?"
Flash. A glimpse of smoke escapes from the ignition. Peyton did not blink. Rotten Johnny Stacks fell silently to the floor. A shot thunders around them and snaps everyone back into reality. Ticonderoga had dropped his cards. Kid Colt was back... away from the collision, bewildered over its implications. Marshall and Ira stood behind Peyton, their guns drawn. Marshall aiming his revolver at Stack's limp body, and Ira wielding his sniper rifle. Peyton lowered his charcoal Schofield revolver as the smoke dissipated. Johnny's eye-patch had flipped over, revealing his other eye, unharmed, and rolled back.
October 31, 1850
The clouds opened. Charlie rode in, behind Maggy on Peyton's horse, holding him up. No stars would be found in this night sky as the rain poured. Johnny rode on Slater's horse after his tomahawk injuries. The horses splattered through the turning mud. They ran in for Dodge. Maggy's first thought was to go to the Orphanage. But when they got there, it was gone. Burnt to ruin. The rain battered the hollow ground. Something did not sit right here. The town must have figured out that the children from the orphanage robbed the bank after Maggy left the bag on the door. Some evil and unrest puts a surmountable pressure on the atmosphere. After the town could not find the orphan outlaws, a mob attacked the Orphanage and burned them alive inside. It was an act of impulse and . The town wasted their meek and needy in one burn-off. They collectively sacrificed the scum for the masses.
Peyton opened his eyes. The horse had stopped. Maggy had gotten off. So had Charlie and Johnny. They were all on their knees in the rubble. Sobbing uncontrollably, together. Peyton looked out and felt the fires on his back. He fell off the horse and stumbled his way over to them.
They cried together in each others' arms. Quade held Maggy, he lifted her head up and kissed her. The rain washed his pain away for the time being. And her kiss made him feel like a new man. They did not leave the site that night, but instead gave themselves to it. Peyton let the darkness take him, and welcomed death.
A man covered in shadow walks into Dodge, unseen. He grabs a hold of the last remaining support beam in the orphanage after its destruction, while the four outlaw children sleep and bleed on their old home carcass ruins. He charges his rival with the bet as he chooses his four souls for the game. Somewhere else in the west, far from Dodge, a brave hero with a white beard watches on as the earth surrounds the fallen orphans. And, as they were chosen, they are reborn.
Quade was the first to wake up the next morning. The effects of their enchantment was subtle at first. Peyton looked down. 'How could this be?' he thought. His wound was gone. The sacrifice lived on and blessed the four orphans forever longer. Johnny's wounds were gone too. And yet, he felt terrible. Dead as if. Maggy woke up and her lips were black. When Peyton awoke Charlie he would remember looking into his brother's eyes , how they had changed and would never be the same again. A binding was placed on their mortality so strong, that nothing would be able to destroy them but each other.
The church bells rang and the town started to move. Quade stood up and fixed his belt. He walked into town, his suit covered in soot. His guns garnished with ash. He joined the community as they assembled before the church and the minister. Blackheart Quade walked amongst them and shot his guns into the Minister at the top of the stairs. Three blows to the head. One bullet from his left revolver, the same revolver taken from the Dodge deputy, after and before two bullets from his right one, a brand new charcoal black Schofield revolver. The minister fell back with a mangled face, into the church as Quade took his place atop the stairs. "I will see that him... along with you all... will burn in hell for what you've done!" He said as he spat on them.
Charlie "Slaughterhouse" Slater shot at them from behind and forced most of them in the church. He barricaded the doors and threw bottles of oil into the windows along with a torch. Burning the church down, a repaying slaughter, there was no other way of vengeance to him. That was the last time that Dodge had a church. The four of them rode out, eternally forbidden to ever return to Dodge, a town they plagued and tarnished. Four cursed children of Dodge, out-casted and exiled.
August 5th, 1865
Boathouse Ferry, Mississippi River
Peyton had killed Johnny Stacks. He watched the body cease to move on the ground. His brother was dead. Now all there was left, besides his enemies, was the last orphan outlaw...Charlie Slater. Peyton knew, this journey would inevitably lead him back to Charlie, as would any path he took in life. No matter how much he fought against it. It seems that Peyton's fate would be to bury each of his three sibling orphans he had once led.
The giant indian reaches for his hatchet, but before he could rise up to throw it, two US Marshals are brought into the casino. They immediately apprehend Quade, Kid Colt, Marshall, and Ira. Neglecting to see the giant indian, a fugitive in his own right, and brings only them into their office atop the steamboat; on the highest level, next to the bridge.
"I am Marshal Henry Wade and this is my partner Marshal Peter Cass."
Peyton kept his head down, and slid down on his seat, putting the attention on Ira and Kid Colt, and alienating Marshall, sitting on the other side with a solemn look on his face. Kid Colt was mimicking Quade, keeping his hat tilted over his eyes, his head down, his hand constantly readjusting his hat. Ira put it plainly, "What's the problem Marshals?"
"Do you know that you're keeping company with federal fugitives?"
"We've been asked to bring you in."
"It does not matter who."
"Bring us in for what?" asked Kid Colt as he crossed his arms and looked up.
"Sargent Ira Davis, did you just discharge from the US Army?"
"Yes, sir" admitted Ira.
"And what was the last thing you logged?"
"I said my plans were to head for Dodge..."
"That is your mission."
"I don't understand," butted in Marshall, no longer scared of getting thrown in jail, "what does this have to do with all of us?"
"We need ya''ll to go to Fort Dodge, along with Sargent Davis, and an issue of regiments. Enough to supply the city."
"Supply it for what?" asked Quade.
"A possible rebel uprising,"
"War junkies?" suggested Kid Colt.
"No doubt, like what we saw in Owensboro."
"Indians." the Marshal corrected them.
Marshall looked at the papers they had spread out on the table. "...Black pawnee...?" he said devastatingly, "My family?"
Ira looked over at Marshall. To him it was just a basic order, but for Marshall, this request was entirely different. He would be forced to confront his past. There was no doubt in his mind, that he would find the rebel outlaw who made his father the cold-hearted killer that he was...10 Crows.
Meanwhile, Quade and Kid Colt wanted to know what was in it for them. "Clearly you know who each of us are..."
"Is that a question?" torqued Marshal Wade.
"If I do this, I get exonerated?" bartered Quade, cutting to the chase of it all for him.
"Nothing in this world can forgive you for what you did, Blackheart," the other Marshal said standing up, staring out of the window. He walked over to the table and continued, "but you make it out of this alive and we can talk..."
"As for you kid,"Marshal Wade continued, "we'll exonerate you and upon completion give you a monetary reward."
"Done!" Kid Colt got up and shook the hands of the Marshals. They laughed, and Marshal Cass told him to sit back down. Quade did not budge, but sat still, undecided, along with Marshall. Ira asked what their orders were. An explanation of their orders was given to them: They were to travel to Wichita and take the new Sante Fe train line out to Dodge, August 9th with an issue of soldiers. Marshall would then retrieve intel from the tribe itself and Ira will lead the army, with Quade and Kid Colt fighting for their freedom, and other mercenary recruits along with union ally Pawnee soldiers. The battle would be essential to the vitality of Dodge.
"Why us?" Ira asked finally.
"We were originally tracking Troy and Quade, when they crossed paths with you. Fact is, we only had to background the kid. But to answer you question simply... You fit the case. When we need a bridge we go to an engineer, when we go overseas we need a translator. You see what I'm gettin' at?"
"You boys fit the mold." the Marshals concluded.
"You go in with the army, blow the horn on the whole thing, and play deputy for a couple of days."
"Do we get badges?" joked Kid Colt.
"I don't need a stinkin' badge," scoffed Ira, "I tell ya that."
Kid Colt laughed. The Marshal sitting at the desk pulled out an envelop with marshal badges in them. "Marshall Troy, you have enough college tenure to be four cops, here's your badge." He flicked it with his fingers and Marshall caught it. He put the envelope on the table and two more badges slid out. Kid Colt leaned forward. "Do we have a deal?" asked the US Marshals. Quade took a deep breath. He rubbed his lip and bounced back and forth inside his head. As Kid Colt reached for his shield, at the same time Quade went for his. They grabbed their badges together. Blackheart timed it perfectly with the kid. He knew the two of them were like both sides of a coin. One would most likely come out alive after all of it. He intertwined his fate along with Kid Colt's. "We don't have a badge for you Davis. Only your reinstatement papers..."
"It's okay, Marshal," Ira said as he got up and away from the papers, beginning to walk out, "Is that all?" he stood prepared to salute. "Here are your coordinates and dates. Just make sure you're on that train!" Ira walked out first and turned back, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out the badge that he took from Clifton's Forge and said to Kid Colt, "got my own, all ready!" Kid Colt could not help but laugh, as they leave he calls the two Marshals, "Stiffs" still in earshot of them.
As they came walking out from the ferry, they could see St. Louis up ahead. They returned to the casino to find that Ticonderoga was gone. The place was empty. It had seemed that the rest of the crowd were rebel soldiers. They got outside as the ferry began acting strangely. An explosion and the entire boat begins to tremble. The horses slid off their feet, and the rebels came rushing out of the cabin led by Ticonderoga.
They had taken over the ship. It was a mutiny. The Marshals came out of their office and laid down a covering fire. Marshal Cass looked over at them, Quade stood behind Marshall as he shot his revolver. The Marshal through them a rifle. Marshall caught it and passed it over to Quade. Marshal Cass stopped firing. A brief pause of worry. What would happen if the government put a gun in the hands of a known killer?
Blackheart Quade liked the feel of the rifle. It was a Winchester. He looked back up at the Marshal. "Tell my father," said Cass," I sent you." His father? he thought. There was only one man he knew by the name of Cass. He began popping off repeater shots into the swooping deck. Could it be that crazy old man?
Soon the boat would flip over entirely and all this would be pointless. The rebels lost their footing, as the boat deck rose on their side, and slid towards the other. Another explosion and the boat cracked. The impact knocked one of the Marshals back into the river. The other one jumped in after him.
Ira slung his rifle over his shoulder and yelled, "The Marshals are overboard!" He grabbed Kid Colt and jumped. Marshall followed them off the edge as Peyton shot at Ticonderoga with his rifle.
"QUADE!" Marshall screamed at him as he dove over. Peyton ran after them and leaped off of the side firing one last shot in the air. As rebel soldiers got in his way, Ticonderoga escaped the sinking boat as well. They could only assume he was still alive. Quade swam after his posse. He later washed up ashore to find them all gathering. All their supplies and horses were on the boat, and now at the bottom of the Mississippi. Besides the clothes on their back, the only belongings they still had were their guns. Kid Colt helped Peyton out of the river, while Marshall caught his breath next to Ira checking the gunpowder in his rifle bullets. They got themselves off the shore and walking until they hit a small town called Eureka.
Once their, Marshall visited the general store. Out of cash, he wrote a check "Aren't they gonna track that?"
"It doesn't matter anymore, Ira," confessed Marshall, "By now the Marshals have wired my father about our meeting. It's only a matter of time. After this is over, I'll just return to the city."
Ira looked at his friend. Marshall was different. He had changed after the meeting with the Marshals. Where Ira was eager for this opportunity. Marshall was terrified at what the future will bring. Kid Colt was eager to win his reward, and Blackheart Quade was slowly finding his way toward redemption. They bought new mounts and new camp gear. They dried off and packed rations.
"You really are rich" Ira said as they walked out of the town completely re-equipped, still flabbergasted over Marshall real identity.
"We should keep moving, we can make Kansas City by dawn if he sleep out in the wild tonight," advised Peyton halfheartedly. Peyton and Marshall were still hesitant to go into any major city. Peyton was a nationally renown villain. And Marshall could still have a government poacher after him. They rode out for a couple more hours before making camp.
"I assume by you being here, you completed that final task I asked of you."
"Never ask me about that again."
"As you wish, Peyton"
"My name is Blackheart."
"I'm sorry....Blackheart," the old man corrected himself, "This is Cut Throat Kildare, he's a captain in the confederacy." Blackheart and Slaughterhouse greeted the other two, "And this is Ticonderoga, from the North East. I believe you already know Johnny Stacks, or as we call him, Rotten Johnny Stacks," the old man went on," and lastly is this gentlemen from the south who goes by the name, LaFayette. The Mexican was leaning over a fountain wall wearing a white sombrero and white poncho. "This is our team." Quade looked around. "You two will be my gang leaders. I have Captain Kildare and another captain in the field, if we follow my plan, along with help from the federales, we can rob this war blind..." The man towered over all of them as he revealed his master plan. Blackheart Quade and Slaughterhouse Slater were excited. This would propel their fame into legend. It had been a couple of years after Dodge and their corruption. Since then they have been feared throughout Kansas and forced to go further south and west. Their name was spreading along with their horrific story.
Blackheart and Slaughterhouse ran through towns while battles were raged around them and robbed them blind. They crumbled cities above the Mason Dixon line. Driving a stake deep into the heart of the Union. At times Blackheart and Slaughterhouse would ambush military bases with the captains, acting as southern militia.
Rotten Johnny Stacks would go into the towns and work his own angle. Robbing the churches, and conning the families out of their fortunes. LaFayette did not do much, but just oversaw everything, a lot like a lawman. Makes since, he was a crooked federale. The old man, known to them all as Tanner Crow, sat back with Ticonderoga and planned his next moves. He had a foolproof strategy and a flawless team. When something had to be taken care of, he sent Ticonderoga. Blackheart Quade led in the field. But by the end of the war, he had wiped the southwest out and making haste back to Kansas. When the war ended, the team performed one last heist in Wichita. A bank Quade had robbed before. It was like clockwork. All feeling was lost. There was only one thing that remained. One memory that haunted Peyton's every step. He could not escape, no matter how far he ran. Nor could he dilute its hold over him, no matter how many terrible things he did after. There was no future left for him in this life. That's when Peyton realized that his life was spiraling loose.
August 6th, 1865
Outside Kansas City
'Welcome to Lee's Summit' the sign read as they crossed the town border. Marshall, Ira, Kid Colt, and Peyton rode into town, exhausted. They had been traveling non stop since Eureka. When they got to the town, the first place they passed was the former saloon. It was laid to ash along with the schoolhouse. The town looked like it was rotting. Not a single person was outside and it was the middle of the day. "What a place" Ira remarked.
Marshall and Kid Colt trotted over to the general store. Peyton felt this place was eerily familiar. Had he been here before? What was so familiar about it? He walked around, searching for a soul. Ira followed behind him while Kid Colt and Marshall were busy in the store. To their surprise there was a man inside. They conducted usual business for a general store, the buying and selling of food and supplies. Peyton and Ira, on the other hand, made their way to the sheriff's office. Peyton could feel that he was getting closer. He knocked on the door. There was no answer. So he pushed it open and walked inside. He searched around. The place was empty. Surprised that Ira did not follow him in, he exited the office. There waiting for him outside was Ira being held hostage by the town's sheriff. Behind Ira stood the sheriff with the tip of his gun pressed into Ira's neck.
"What you doin' here....Quade?" the sheriff barked.
"Wild Card Cass," Peyton responded, "You never cease to disappoint..."
"Come as my harbinger of death...have you...Blackheart?"
"...Just got finished with your son... over in Missouri..."
"Peter or Eli?"
"That would be Peter"
"...Gave us a mission"
"What does it have to do with me, Quade!"
"You see that fella you got by the neck," Peyton negotiated, "Union sharpshooter, decorated soldier...just like you..."
"Is that right?"
"Yes sir," Ira insisted.
"I was a colonel in the war," he explained as he released Ira, "Hunted down the likes of this outlaw and many other rebels like'em who attacked civilian towns all over during the war."
Ira finally got a good look at the gunslinger. Wild Card Cass was a big man with a power white beard. His clothes were old and all over the place. Dirt and dust seemed to fly off of him after every sudden move. His gun was holstered on his left side. And his crazed eyes looked right through you. Ira could feel the raw power and intimidation of Wild Card Cass. He addressed him as a commanding officer, "Sargent Ira Davis, sir...New York Sharpshooter Battalion."
"Colonel Winfield Cass... at your service," Wild Card bowed.
"I want you to come with us, old timer" Quade continued.
"Quade, I don't know where your loyalties lie. I've heard of the wicked things you've done. How do I trust that you won't put a bullet in my back."
"If I wanted to kill you, old man... I would have a long time ago."
"You think that's enough for me...that your....word...is enough?"
"Yea, I do."
Wild Card looked deep into Peyton's eyes. Peyton could not tell if he was bluffing or being honest. He kept his glare. Ira was too out of his league with this one. The environment had shifted. They were now standing face to face. When Marshall and Kid Colt exited the store. They found what looked to be, Quade and the sheriff about to duel over Ira. "Don't do this, Cass" permitted Peyton.
Wild Card looked down at the gun on his left hip. "You have no choice....boy-" Wild Card drew his weapon, as did Peyton. What felt like an eternity was just the short span of time in between Peyton's decision to pull the trigger. After his eye caught Wild Card's gun blasting, he squeezed the trigger. Peyton's arm was sliced and he was blown back. The bullet from Wild Card only nicked his arm. Peyton's bullet on the other hand, had hit spot on. Wild Card Cass was still standing though. The shot had hit him in the center of the chest, right over his heart. The bullet was caught and deflected off of his badge, now spinning on the floor before Ira.
Kid Colt rode in on his horse, guns blazin'. Ready to take down Wild Card.
Ira shook his head at Kid Colt to holster. Wild Card approached Quade, still on the floor. He leaned over him. "Ran outta whiskey a day ago" he said, making excuses for his shot. Peyton was once again unaware of what to think. Wild Card reached out for Quade and helped him up. "I'll go," the old man said.
The group acquired one last member as they left Lee's Summit. Wild Card Cass's sheriff badge was left crushed on the dirt floor. He never looked back and the townsfolk of Lee's Summit would never miss him. Wild Card entered yet another unknown stage of his infinite life.
Kansas City, KS
Peyton looked out from his balcony at the rising sun. Today was the first day of his new life. Maggy, his wife was lying still inside, on the bed. It had been ten years since they found the Orphanage burnt down. From that day on two things never changed. Maggy never smiled again. And the two of them never left each others' side. Peyton was getting little sleep. Every night he closed his eyes, it would either be the fires of Dodge or the faces that he's killed driving him mad. Many times he would wake up screaming. Maggy thought the worst, and she was usually right. Every year that removed them from Dodge made it worse. They rarely talked anymore. And compensating for the lasting pain by projecting onto innocent townsfolk. Peyton had trouble looking at Maggy's black lips. A constant reminder of the darkness that was inside all of them. 'Children of Death' Maggy called them as they rode into towns on jobs. They wore all black except for Charlie, who sported a blood red bandanna.
They were known throughout the west as the Dead Orphan Gang. Led by Blackheart Quade. Peyton hated his name. When it was first given to him, by Charlie, he enjoyed it. Riddling the bank tellers and officer's minds and hearts with the name. But as it spread... it corrupted him. Soon he started to believe it. Believing in his dark spirit. Believing that he was the devil.
Last night, Peyton had been in a private meeting with a man by the name of Tanner Crow. He was to be recruited for a special team. Crow also informed him that the Marshal service had the whereabouts of them in Kansas City and were going to strike the next morning. Tanner Crow told Peyton that he could save him, but there was only one task his must complete in order to be eligible for recruitment. When Peyton asked, 'eligible for what'? The old man responded, "the biggest job in the history of banks and bandits."
The task was to dispatch of Maggy. Tanner Crow told Peyton that he needed to know whether or not Peyton would do anything for him and his team. Peyton returned to his room that night. He made love to his wife and they fell asleep together in each others' arms.
Peyton struggled all night with the decision. The only time he fell asleep, he was awoken by his reoccurring nightmares. He stared at his love lying still, sleeping before him. There was no way he could do it. No job, no amount of money is worth losing Maggy. For all his life, the only thing he could count on was her love, even when he wasn't sure he had it. But fame...fame is priceless. Were the rumors true? Did he have a black heart? This would most definitely prove it. And there it was...A feeling of fate. Like his entire life would be meaningless... unless it was leading up to this point.
Would Peyton go on forever to be known in the realm of infamy, or would he go on to live a mortal life with his love? What it all boiled down to was...Love or glory? Could Peyton ever have both? Nothing in life, no choice would ever be as momentous and difficult as this one. He grabbed Maggy's head and pulled her face in. Peyton kissed her black lips. He made his choice. That was all he needed. The warmth in those dead lips. He let go of his grip on her head and neck, and she did not move. Her lips let go of their warmth. And life forever fled from her body.