As he neared the railroad tracks, Arthur slowed his horse to a walk. Up ahead, he could spot the small blemish on the horizon of the dilapidated station building. The area was dry, dusty, and the sun was blazing on the back of his neck the whole ride over. Suffice to say that he was in a bad mood. He was more than ready to get his bounty and head back to Armadillo for his money.
The bricks that formed the old station were half gone, and the place didn’t even have a roof. He used his binoculars to scope the area out. The work was easy due to the nature of the place; the four men that were holed out there had nearly nothing to cover themselves. They did the right thing in keeping themselves all in the southwest corner of the building, where the most bricks and the highest walls were, yet their horses remained in plain sight.
Arthur edged closer to the station and worked a plan through his head. He readied his rifle and his revolver, ensuring that they would be in top shape for whatever was to come next.
He started simply enough: one shot into the air.
The horses spooked and scattered, and Arthur remained stock still on his golden brown steed.
A flurry of curses shot into the air, once dead and now full of life, and a man quickly whirled around the wall to see what just happened.
Arthur expected someone to peak and had his revolver ready. The man looked too long, and before he had time to realize it, Arthur shot straight into his nose, blowing his face apart. Bits of pieces of muscle and bone scatter through the air and his body flew back lifelessly. Arthur could hear more cursing erupt from the other men.
“I’m just here for Skinny Abe!” Arthur yelled. The echos from his shots were still ringing in the air. “You other rats can piss off, just give me Abe!”
“Fuck you!” He heard someone spit.
“Fine. If it must be that way, then you’ll have it that way,” he muttered to himself. He spurred his horse into the next gear and moved quickly to the right, around the side of the building. The men shot at him, all of their bullets blowed a meter passed him as his horse drove him forward. Arthur gritted his teeth and moved forward.
Arthur kept the horse moving around in a circle until he heard the bullets stop. He reared his horse, its hooves skidding in the hard dirt and sand of the land, and aimed his revolver. There were two men on either side of his target, both standing about stupidly as they moved their unsteady hands to reload. Even a practicing teenager could hit them. Skinny Abe stayed crouched, low to the ground and covered by what little bit remained of the north-facing wall, which was about a foot high.
With ease, Arthur shot the two fools, hitting one in his chest and the other in his neck. They both fell to the ground in heaps, and blood quickly pooled beneath their bodies.
“Your time is up, Mr. Skinny!” Arthur called out.
Skinny Abe cursed and spat and stood up and promptly yelled back, “Go fuck yourself!”
Arthur shot him in his knee before the man could even get his gun up high enough to shoot. He wailed and fell onto his side, and he clutched his bloodsoaked knee in a cradle.
Arthur got off his horse, patting him on the way down, and headed over to the wreckage. He kicked the guns away from the bodies, not sure if the one who’d been hit in the chest was yet dead, and looked down on his target.
Skinny Abe was indeed skinny, his hair wispy and bald in many places, and his limbs as thin as Arthur’s wrists. His clothes were covered in layers of dirt and his pants had patches sewn all along them. “I am sorry it had to be this way, partner, but your friends here made me do it,” Arthur said as he put his hands on his hips and looked about. He shook his head. “And aren’t you a funky little fella.”
“I’ll bite your cock off!” Skinny Abe growled in between his cries. He yelled in anguish and anger at once, and Arthur looked at him plainly.
“Now why’d you have to go and bring this on yourself, burning that nice lady’s house?” Arthur scolded, almost sounding like his own adopted mother. The thought shook him a little, but he threw it off and whistled for his horse. The thoroughbred listened immediately and swiftly and came to Arthur’s side.
Arthur grabbed his rope from the saddle and made quick work of hogtying his bounty. Skinny Abe yelled at the top of his lungs when Arthur forced him to straighten his leg, and Arthur shut him up. Once he was done, he lifted the man onto his shoulder, surprised at the ease of which he could move a man so small as him, and threw him over the rump of the horse. “Let’s get you to Armadillo,” Arthur said. Skinny Abe whimpered and moaned, but cursed no more. Arthur thought he had to be close to passing out.
Arthur swung up into his saddle and spurred his horse into a trot. He kept his eyes on the horizon, not knowing how many people his target may have at his disposal, and kept a steady pace throughout the country. After a few hours went by, Arthur allowed himself the time to survey his revolver. He let go of the reins and controlled the horse with his legs, but it was mostly unnecessary; the horse knew what needed to be done and reacted well its rider. Slowly and methodically, Arthur took out a rag and some oil and passed the time by cleaning his weapons and singing a merry tune. His eyes never stayed too low for too long.
“You still alive back there?” Arthur asked. Skinny Abe said nothing. Arthur slapped him across the face, and criminal mumbled and moaned, but still said nothing. “That’s enough for me,” Arthur mumbled to himself.
The town of Armadillo was small and dusty. It was one street and dominated by the saloon and the railroad station with an assortment of stores dotted throughout. A small ranch sat off to the side of the town, its corals empty and small. It was nothing more than a middle point for most people who took the train and were headed somewhere else, but there was still more people that inhabited Armadillo than Arthur was comfortable with.
He didn’t want to waste any more time with this bounty. New Austin wasn’t the place for Arthur, who preferred a much greener country full of life and trees. The desert was a sad and scary place, and the sheer openness of it unnerved him to his core. It was always dirty business out in New Austin’s open land and deserts, and as good as the money was for him, it pained him to take orders in the region. The men were wilder than anyone in the east, and their crimes always seemed to on an extreme scale.
The jail in Armadillo was small but worked well as any other. Arthur hitched his horse to the post outside and reached into his satchel for a carrot. “That’s my good boah,” Arthur cooed to the stallion. The horse ate it gratefully, but Arthur saw how his eyes continued to shift and look around the town. “You look for trouble almost more than I do,” he chuckled.
Arthur left the horse with a pat and moved to his backside, where he pulled Skinny Abe off the horse and back onto his shoulder. He carried him in as easy as moving grain from a silo, and opened the door to the sheriff’s building.
“I’ve got a nice present for you boys,” Arthur told the sheriff and deputy, both of which were sitting lazily in the office and smoking cigars. The deputy looked up wildly and moved his hand to his belt before he realized who Arthur was. “Easy there, Green Blood,” Arthur said pointedly.
“How many times have I got to tell you-”
“Quiet, John,” the sheriff cut the deputy off mid-sentence and his gaze slowly moved to Arthur and the man on his shoulder. “Oh, yes, that one. You can go ahead and put him in a cell. John, go lock him up, will you?”
The deputy gave Arthur a sour look and reluctantly stood up. “I s’pose,” he grumbled.
“Thank you, deputy.” Arthur followed Deputy John to the cell on their right, and when it was opened, moved forward and dropped Skinny Abe onto the floor. He grabbed his knife out of its sheath on his belt and cut the rope that bound him, taking a quick look at his knee, which was completely red and difficult to ascertain what was what, then turned and closed the cell door. The deputy did his job, but not with a happy tone. The sound of the lock turning was cold.
“I shot his knee pretty badly. Might want to get that checked,” Arthur told the sheriff.
“Maybe later,” the sheriff waved. “Here, your money’s in the drawer.” He reached into his desk and pulled out a clip of bills. “I believe twenty-five was the offered price.” He tossed it onto the desk and leaned back in his chair and threw his legs onto the desk.
Arthur grabbed the money and tossed it in his satchel. “Thank you, Gabe,” he said. He moved to leave the office, but Deputy John spoke up as Arthur put his hand on the door.
“Twenty-five is too much for this kind of work. You don’t deserve it.”
Sheriff Gabe scoffed. “What do you know about work?”
Arthur said nothing and shook his head.
“There’s been a new bounty posted. I reckon you couldn’t do it even if you wanted to,” he challenged Arthur.
“I’m not rightly looking for anything at this moment,” Arthur told him. “It’s time I go on a little break from this state.” Arthur breathed heavily and rolled his eyes as he spoke.
The deputy ignored him and continued. “A new poster’s been printed for a man from Dutch Van der Linde’s gang. One thousand dollars. Folks been seeing them up in West Elizabeth. Says they’ve been on a roll robbing coaches and trains alike.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes, but his interest had been piqued. “Where’s this poster?”
The deputy smiled mischievously and looked at the sheriff. He crossed his arms and waited.
The sheriff sighed and took his feet off the desk. Once again, he opened a drawer and rummaged around before he pulled out a freshly folded piece of paper. “This one here. We were meant to post it tomorrow. It's been sent out to just about every town and ranch in the western half of the country.”
Arthur took the poster and looked at it.
THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE OF THE TOWN OF BLACKWATER IS OFFERING A
FOR THE APPREHENSION AND DELIVERY OF
MEMBER OF THE NOTORIOUS DUTCH VAN DER LINDE’S GANG.
WANTED FOR UNLAWFUL KILLINGS AND ROBBERIES OF STAGECOACHES.
VAUGHN IS OF HEAVY BUILD, LIGHT SKIN, SHAVED HEAD, AND MEDIUM LENGTH BEARD.
LAST KNOWN WHEREABOUTS WAS
SOUTH OF TALL TREES
ALL REWARD CLAIMS WILL BE PAID FROM THE
BLACKWATER SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT.
He looked over the poster and felt a mix of emotions whirl inside of him. He had personal debts to go after the Dutch Van der Linde gang, however, he knew as well as anyone that they were a gang that shouldn’t be messed with. Yet when had that ever stopped him before? He’d gone after nearly every gang or family in the country, except Van der Linde’s. The prospect of it made his stomach float with butterflies. He felt dizzy from the struggle within himself.
Arthur looked at the deputy, then the sheriff, and back at the deputy. With one last glance at the bounty poster in his hand, he nodded once, and folded the sheet into quarters. He put the bounty poster in his satchel and turned and left without another word. He liked to think it was to cow the deputy, but deep down, Arthur knew that another moment of hesitation would have stunted him. He would be Van der Linde’s next biggest threat, and he promised himself that.