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Horseshoe Overlook

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"Men are fixated on greed, on desire, and on the acquisition not of experiences or pleasures but on the ability to acquire. People are fixated on wealth. Man is reduced to the desire for desire. Wanting is all that matters. No loving, not being, not having, but wanting. We are killers for desire. Even sport would be preferable. This is the grand sickness, the eternal sickness of this land - it is man unleashed."

This refrain ticks like clockwork in Dutch's mind, having read it while leaned crookedly against the foot of the bed as Molly slept. No one praises him for being so engrossed in Miller's The American Inferno, a book the rougher outlaws among them have little reason to bother with and that the supposed intellectuals spurn. Among them altogether are only Hosea and Lenny—both of whom believe he takes too many cues from Evelyn Miller, it seems. For his part, he remains surprised that Lenny had the guts to tell him so. Whether it pleases him, he's yet to figure out.

He'd said, when they arrived here, that their spot at Horseshoe Overlook had its consolations. The cliffs he stands at the edge of when he needs a minute apart seem to span the whole of the country in the early morning, this wild sorrow overtaking him at the sight of the land beneath making a slow turn from winter to spring; where he should turn back to the camp and see such a quaint thing as consolation, he sees only deficits. The train job was a start, but Valentine itself seems a nervewracking setback. A small-town bank hardly worth robbing, the Blackwater job trailing behind them like so many dragging cans.

Still, he'd intended to take this time to stop, think, and plan.

Those among them who don't need to get an early start are still asleep. Dutch hears Susan before he sees her, still focused somewhere on the landscape beneath them. "Miss Grimshaw," he says, the greeting not entirely devoid of fondness but betraying disquiet. She'll have no part of it and is already scoffing.

Susan Grimshaw has never had the time to suffer fools, not even when she was nothing but a crazy-eyed woman with a jealous attachment to her old rifle and a chip on her shoulder. They'd clicked immediately, as her sense of practicality outweighed even his. In those days there'd been less of them, and besides, they'd been twenty years younger or something to that tune. Hosea had long since drifted from him and was, in fact, knee-deep in the drink when Susan had come around. He'd shown no jealousy when, just as he and Dutch had years before, the two of them became a tight-knit unit: no longer Dutch, but Dutch-and-Susan, a frankly terrifying pair. By the time Dutch's affinity for young women had split them apart, though, Hosea was quite sober and equally liberal with his I-told-you-sos.

Giving him a sideways, appraising look, she doesn't seem that much older than she was. The wrinkles and the pronounced shocks of grey streaking through her hair seem more an affectation, not enough to outweigh her sharp, lucid gaze. "It's a little late to be tryin' to make nice with me," she tells him, smirking and unbothered. "Unless you have a real bright idea to get us out of this mess. Are you and Mr. Matthews talking at all, or should I be passing messages between you two like a couple of eighteen-year-old lovebirds?"

Dutch doesn't get to wincing but considers it. "Hosea and I," he says, impatiently, "are doing fine. He doesn't seem to want to move on from my robbing Cornwall, but then I guess that means he can't find anything else to complain about." Though it isn't dishonest of him to act irritated, there's more to it than that—more a yawning hole in the story than anything else, his urge simply to ignore the state of Hosea's health and chalk it up to the rough winter. The cough has worsened, and pretending it's the precursor to a rebound no longer works.

It may not be right of him to act, then, like he doesn't notice. There aren't many other options, either.

He finally looks over at her and finds he's underwhelmed. "Shouldn't you be waking the girls?"

"Not yet," she says with a dismissive wave. She's trouble when she's like this, looking for answers, and more trouble when she doesn't come outright to ask for them. It could be that he's paranoid, which may be a fair bet given his entrenchment in Miller at the moment, but something is certainly around the corner. And here it is: "Dutch, you need to do somethin' about—this. About you. You got your head in that damn book all day, you're not keeping regular hours, and it's making everyone nervous. If half this camp is jumpy, that's going to reflect on everything. I'm telling you this because I don't want you to look like an idiot in a week when you fly off the handle because you've been bored this whole time and didn't realise."

Dutch will admit he's on the verge of snapping for a second; something inside him may be wired to take concern as criticism and criticism as threat, though he won't hear of it. But he has the heart to wait for a second, sighing through his nose as he redirects himself to the distant line of the mountains. It takes him another pause to pull himself up to a smile as he says, "If I didn't know any better, I would think you were in charge around here. Any man would be honoured to be robbed by you."

"Well, I'm not robbing you," Susan replies and swats at his arm in a firm, controlled manner that suggests she'd rather slap him silly. "I'm telling you that you're cutting it mighty close. And I'm asking you to fix it."

By the time he's come around to asking her whether Arthur put her up to this, she's already turned and started heading back, ever elegant in a mourner's colours.

 


 

Javier finds him that afternoon, having watched intermittently as he argued in hushed tones with Molly, glancing up toward their tent every few passes of his knife against the edge of a flat stone. He seems over-eager in a sense, this skip in his step like a mountain lion on the approach; he's never that way without something on his heels. Despite the unease most everyone has been feeling since they left Colter, he has been steady. It's something Dutch has liked about him since the start. Even when he was younger, a half-starved revolutionary whose ego had barely suffered at the hands of his circumstances, he had rarely faltered when faced with the worst. This winter must have been nothing to him, or would've been if not for the losses they'd suffered.

"Dutch," he starts, before he's even approached him—still returning his knife to his belt, with one corner of his mouth already threatening to turn upward in what must be pride, "I've got something. Only, you might think it sounds like a revenge mission."

Despite all he's been preaching as of late, this catches Dutch's attention. The American Inferno, for its part, has continued to consume him fully. He'd argue it's been keeping him sane, but the truth of the matter is more complex. From chapter to chapter, through criticisms of the greed of Manhattan's socialites and reflections on the nature of man, he grows more unsettled. Miller writes of profound fault in mankind, and specifically in America itself. Mapped out before him he feels he can see it, growing from the smallest of developments in the west, stretching across the country as if contained in the power lines which slowly go up on poles like grave markers: values are suffering everywhere, dissolving paper-thin in the hands of every man and woman who once held them.

Which is to say he's never valued revenge and never wished to waste time on it, but at this particular moment, he feels he could stomach it.

Lacking anything better to motivate him, he offers this his full attention. "Well, we won't know until you tell me what it is," he says, not unkindly. 

"Right." Javier allows himself to smile, the tension dissipating somewhat when he does. The two of them have rarely taken issue with one another at the worst of times. Though the years separate them, once Dutch had heard the full tales of his exploits in Mexico, he was impressed. Few men of his age had his history, let alone his skills, and it had helped that Javier had come to him in a time of upheaval. He had use for what Dutch taught and had reformed his image of the world around it. "It's about the doctor in Valentine. According to a, uh, new drinking buddy of mine, he's letting the O'Driscolls use the back of his building."

Frowning, Dutch steps from the edge of the wooden floor of his tent. "Use it? For what?"

"That, I'm not sure about. But as far as I can tell, there's money coming in and out. I thought it might be worth a look," Javier tells him, then shoots a speculative glance toward the rest of the camp. "For the money, at least."

For all the trouble they've had with Colm and his boys over the last couple of years, Dutch has to wonder how they manage to keep track of all the pots they have their fingers in. He'd had an inkling they were in the area, had the displeasure of seeing a green bandana flash by as they passed through Valentine. Whether the doctor was willingly harboring them or not was the question. It's never been too far out of Colm's moral wheelhouse to blackmail and intimidate his way into whatever he wants—and if what he wants is space to stretch his legs and count his cash, there have been worse spots to do it.

"I think we'd be doing the fine people of Valentine a favour, wouldn't we?" he asks. "Maybe we should pay that doctor a visit."

 


 

It may be stupid to ride out on this. It poses a significant risk for Dutch at the very least, given his face is probably on bounty posters even in the far north of West Elizabeth now. He and Hosea both have been popular choices for the law's repeated attempts to spread word of their misdeeds, and it hasn't done much but allow them to watch their bounties climb.

Nevertheless, he hasn't spent very long in town overall. Given the common man's disinterest in hunting down outlaws and the spotty descriptions of their lot in the newspapers, Valentine couldn't be a safer bet. 

He'd seen the sidelong looks shot at him as he and Javier rode out of camp, dressed smartly and only armed such as wouldn't be suspicious. The Count seemed pleased enough to get out of camp, having exhausted her patience with the other horses and known now to stoop to bullying on occasion. Beyond that, Dutch was happy to get a change of scenery, though he'd not dwell on it too long. The open land before them, stretching for miles, had more promise than the confines of expectation and future failure hanging over them.

In the future, he imagines no one will write about Valentine, a town which seems to try its hardest to be more than the young cattle town it is and fails in every respect. The place smells vaguely of livestock at all times, interrupted only by the rain and then smelling more of mud than anything else. Smithfield's ranges from an eerily dead saloon to bustling with troubled drunkards, suggesting little of the population drinks for fun, instead doing so with the intent to forget. It's a pessimistic thought, but impossible to avoid when the town lends itself so to being judged.

The sun is near to setting when they ride in, Javier trailing not far behind him and slightly to his left. With the spring so young, it still runs cold in the evenings, and Dutch half wishes he'd thought to wear a coat. He nods for Javier to follow him on past the main road, dismounting behind the building and taking quick stock of their things. "Now, I guess we just hope Doc is willing to part amicably with his friends," he shoots over his shoulder, turning the corner into the alleyway.

On the outside of the building, a sign states the doctor, one Ben Calloway, is in; as they enter, Dutch pulling his scarf up in a threadbare move to cover his face, he appraises the man. He's a disinterested looking fellow with a long face and a full black beard, and seemingly ready for trouble. Barely having given them the time of day, he gets so far as seeing Javier come in behind him and starts in with cautious standoffishness. "I hope neither of you men is looking for trouble. Can I help you with something?"

Javier tips his head to the side a little, resting his hand on his revolver. "I think that depends. Right, boss?" 

Dutch does his best not to take too much joy in this, maintaining on some level that he doesn't intend to terrorise this town. The people in it, he imagines, are by and large decent, depressing as they are. Still, he'll admit a certain amount of disdain for this Dr. Calloway right away, and he leans with one hand on the counter as he narrows his eyes at the man. "It does, I'm afraid. Dr. Calloway, is it? My associate and I are going to need," and here he slips one gun from its holster, "to take a look at that back room of yours."

The realisation crosses the doctor's face at once in a wave of pallid terror, his eyes locked on the door to the back of the shop. "Oh. Sir—sirs, I assure you, you don't want to be involved with those men. You really don't," he stresses, having barely moved. Dutch has hardly come to point his weapon at him yet.

"I assume you have to say that, 'do no harm' and whatnot," he says dismissively, smirking beneath the scarf and heading to cross behind the desk. Dr. Calloway flinches horribly when Dutch reaches out to grab him by the shirt collar, pulling him along and then shoving him toward the door. "Go on. I don't want to kill you. Just them." As the doctor huffs out his disbelief, jerkily putting up his hands when Dutch raises his revolver and points it steadily at his back, Javier follows. "Mr. E, watch the door for me, will you?"

With some disappointment, mid-step and clearly having been prepared to participate, Javier steps back. "Got it."

The barrel of the gun is pressed against the back of Dr. Calloway's shirt and he nearly presses himself likewise against the sturdy door in the back of the shop, shooting wide-eyed glances back to Dutch as he speaks. "Uh, fellers, I—" and here he stammers, jumping as Dutch pushes at him slightly, and then knocks heavily on the door. "I brought some food and whiskey for you. Open up, will you?"

The chatter inside the backroom dies down, not quite audible. It doesn't take long for the door to open a crack and a pale man peeks out. "Just put it down on the table, there. We're in the middle of some..."

Before he can finish his sentence, Dutch has pushed the doctor aside and swung the door open, sending the O'Driscoll scrambling back into the far wall of the room. He swears, either caught by surprising or realising exactly who he's faced with, and doesn't so much as reach for a weapon as Dutch enters the room. It's dilapidated, with peeling wallpaper and a ratty couch on one side of the room. It's there, where another man sits with a woman halfway on his lap, that the first danger rises from: that one is a quick draw and goes for his gun at the same moment Dutch draws his second, firing one hideously ill-aimed shot into the cabinet behind him before Dutch dispatches him with a bullet between the eyes.

As the woman shrieks, scrambling off his dead body and blood-spattered, he shoots the first of them and takes quick stock of the situation. About fifty dollars is sitting on the table in the middle of the room, there have been maybe three gunshots total, and the O'Driscoll's terrified lover of the evening is cowering in the corner, watching the door as if she might slip past him. "Please, please don't kill me," she wails, then covers her mouth as if the plea escaped her without her permission.

Dutch doesn't fancy letting an O'Driscoll go, although he's sure Colm will hear of it either way. But this woman may not be an O'Driscoll. Her dress is simple and she doesn't seem to be carrying a weapon, her blonde hair pulled into a loose bun and her eyes wide, her skinny wrists flecked with red now. She might be beautiful, if not for the terror.

"Dutch," Javier calls from the front of the building, "we have to get going. Soon."

So he makes the decision. "I'm not plannin' on killing you, miss," he says, holstering one of his guns to swipe the cash from the table. "But the law is right outside, and I can't let you go neither, so you are going to have to stay right here until my friend and I are gone. You understand me? Go on, sit down." It doesn't seem to offer her any comfort that he gestures for her to sit back on the couch with his revolver, though he doesn't poise himself to shoot; she watches, trembling and choking back sobs.

Dutch trusts himself with a weapon. He hasn't always; leaving home at fifteen he could barely stand to hold a gun in his hands, a trait which didn't prove particularly useful out in the world. He'd felt little control over the thing, fearing one way or another that it might go off on its own or that his hand might make a decision without him. There was a risk of that, he'd always thought—a risk which had been present in his father before him, the same thing which had made him snap at his mother incessantly before he left, the thing which had come close to killing him. A lack of direction lingered in him then, this fear of consequence which in practice brought about worse consequences. He had been the type of person who might shatter fine china just to prove that he'd be punished for it.

That unpredictability hadn't surfaced in him for a very long time, having disappeared as he aged. It had come back in Blackwater.

He ignores the way his hand trembles, leaves it at his side as he paces over to the imperfect safe embedded in the wall. The woman bent at an odd angle on the couch trying to muffle her weeping looks nothing like Heidi McCourt, who had been beautiful even in her terror. She was this slight, blue-eyed thing with ash brown hair, understated and easy to handle. She had barely struggled when Dutch had pulled her to him, barely yelped at the feeling of cold metal against her cheek. Instead, she'd gone limp in his arms the way a gravely wounded deer quits struggling, her body simply ceasing to engage, her gasps turning into whines on the exhale.

For every bullet that found its way into flesh at Blackwater, there was only one that anyone wanted to talk about. Not John, who had been bleeding badly when they rushed into camp, who Arthur had watched with the panicked shock of a child suddenly. Not Mac, whose knee had collapsed, leaving him behind and beyond rescuing. Not even Dutch himself, nor the scar that remains where one shot had grazed his ribcage, barely missing disaster.

No: everyone still wants to talk about Miss McCourt.

The safe doesn't even lock, the door bent at one corner in such an odd way that it remains permanently open. Dutch hardly counts as he shoves what little cash there is into his satchel, and he suspects it's less than another fifty. Trying not to feel frustrated at the outcome—and now as he hears the first shot outside of this room, and the glass shattering in the front of the shop, moving quickly, he shouts, "Javier! Come on. Through the back."

Javier wastes no time, but Dutch sees the strange look he gives the woman who cowers on the couch as they pass her by. The sheriff remains in front of the doctor's office threatening imaginary outlaws to leave without a fight, missing them entirely as they haul themselves up onto their horses and Dutch leads the way up the hill and toward the long route back to the Overlook. For a few minutes, they ride quickly and in silence, Javier leaning so far forward he could be whispering in Boaz's ear, until they find themselves in the clear. Darkness has fallen quickly, and the lights of Valentine behind them are nothing but a vague orange glow.

"How did you do?" Dutch asks then, glancing over his shoulder and slowing The Count down a bit to ride nearer to him. What he means to ask in actuality is whether Javier is hurt—but the implication is there, or so he hopes.

Smiling, like this precedes good news, Javi shrugs a little. "I'm fine. How much was there back there? And what were they doing?"

"Not as much as I'd hoped, honestly." Still, it could have been much worse. Even with the lingering unease behind him, that woman's face still in his head, Dutch figures that a hundred dollars isn't a terrible start. It's more than they had a few weeks ago, assuming no one decides to drink it all away. "It must have been a holdover for something else. Maybe they're trying not to keep it all in one place after we took so much out of their hands back in the Grizzlies."

"And, uh. That girl. Was she an O'Driscoll? Is she going to be a problem?"

Two corpses in that back room, a doctor with some explaining to do, and the girl, speckled with blood and wearing no shoes. By now the law must have finally gone in and discovered them gone; Dr. Calloway either knows who they are or doesn't, and either way, he's sure the rumours have already kicked up. The whole thing strikes him now as a strange microcosm against their greater problems. 

"She didn't need killing," Dutch says shortly, his eyes focused toward the tree line and their camp just beyond. "She was just a girl."