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Wicked Ones

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To say that Joshua Faraday was pissed off was like saying that the ocean was a bit damp. He had just spent the past day, since he got into Amador City, working on Powder Dan… and Sam Chisolm went and shot him in the chest, killing him dead in a heartbeat. And if that didn’t cap off an already bad day, he didn’t know what would. It made the slide easier.

“Money for blood’s an awful peculiar business, innit?” he drawled low and dark, traces of an accent that hadn’t been there moments before sliding into his voice.

If Sam Chisolm was surprised to see him there, it didn’t show on his face or in his voice. “Fancy running into you again, here of all places.”

He didn’t even bother to hide rolling his eyes. “Is this supposed to be payback for me shooting that July Bully bastard out from under you, Chisolm? Because I can’t say I much care for it. Maybe next time I’ll let the bounty finish getting the drop on you and take out one member of the competition.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have waited so long on Powder Dan,” Chisolm returned mildly enough.

“Some of us prefer not to have a whole damn saloon gunning for us.” Because there was no chance that at least half of the recently departed inhabitants of the saloon weren’t forming a mob, with or without the sheriff being involved. And from the sound of things outside, it looked like that guess would be correct. “Speaking of which, you had best go deal with your public, Mister Chisolm.”

The minute Sam Chisolm’s back was turned, he cleared all the money from the table he had been sitting at, leaving the bits and bobs—someone’s pocket watch, an IOU for some shiny new tack, a shiny cigarette case, and a few other pieces—but holding on to the bottle of Busthead that Chisolm had left on the bar, and headed out the back door of the saloon…

…Right into the less than welcoming company of the Babington brothers.

As it turned out, Earl and Dickie Babington had not been an issue for all that long. In fact, all it took was a little affable Joshua Faraday-style sleight of hand to distract then… and a little slide into something else to put a single bullet in each of their heads. They hadn’t exactly been bad men, even if they had been willing to kill a man over fifty dollars lost fair and square in a card game, but they had touched his guns, taking three out of the four off of him and too dumb to check the small of his back behind his vest to find the banker’s special he had worn for years as an additional layer of backup.

Dickie Babington’s rifle wasn’t anything special, not by any stretch of the imagination—certainly not worth the effort of keeping—so he swiftly unloaded it and tossed it back in the dirt a few feet away from either body. There wasn’t anyone living here who could pick it up to shoot him with it, but he had learned the hard way over the years to be a bit beyond careful with any kind of gun. Of his three main guns, two of them were currently stuck under Dickie, so he rolled the body to retrieve them, even as he returned the banker’s special to the small of his back.

The Colt Peacemaker he’d long ago named Ethel went back into the strapped down holster on his left thigh, out of the way but ready to use if it ever came to it; it hadn’t, because he would generally prefer to reload the other two than use her. Maria went back into his side holster, ready to use again at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t his best gun by any means; that honor was reserved for Ethel herself; but of the guns he called himself willing to use in a fight, it was the best. He had not been of a naming mood when he’d taken the Army-issue Colt off a former bounty, but it was a good gun, accurate and fairly reliable. It went into the quickdraw holster on the front of his hip.

Staring down at the two bodies, a part of him almost wanted to apologize for killing the idiots. But they’d touched his guns, threatened his life, and insinuated that he had had to cheat at cards to beat them. Gambling might not have been his main profession, but he took pride in it. The days he had to cheat were few and very far between lately.

He could live with the insinuations. Hell, he could live with them threatening his life, since people did that often enough to him these days. But they had touched his guns—Dickie in particular putting his damn hands all over all of them, especially Ethel, called her a pretty thing—and that he couldn’t live with. Ethel was all he had of better times left to him these days; his brother had given Ethel to him after the War, fresh off the flush of their first successful bounty brought in, and he aimed to keep her. Hell, some days he aimed to be buried with her.

He should get the hell out of this town, he decided as he stooped to gather his cards from the dirt as well. Powder Dan had been the only bounty of any size readily available, certainly the only one that fit his particulars: crimes against ladies or children, potentially challenging, and worth a few greenbacks. But Sam Chisolm had damn sure taken that one out of from under him, and the Babington brothers had all but ambushed him leaving the saloon.

He might as well start out into the hill country north of here looking for that vaquero he had a writ for: Gabriel Vasquez. Vasquez didn’t fit too many of his particulars, but that amount—five hundred dollars—was certainly appealing and he might well yet be a challenge. Clearly Amador City had already dried up for him. Now he just had to get his horse, Wild Jack, back from the stable master and get on his way.

Of course, twenty-five for Jack was a steal, even having lost him in a dice game and paying an extra premium for that, especially when he had paid nearly twice that much for the horse to begin with—and that was prior to all the training Joshua had personally put into the creature. He had three times that amount in the saddlebag thrown over his shoulder, flush off a few good bounties and a decent few hands of poker. Seven and two bits for his tack was a bit rich, though, given its age. And that was the part he was intending to haggle over—provided the leprechaun of a stable master took his hand away from his gun, given how the very act made something dark in his head want to slide back into place—when Sam Chisolm bought his own damn horse right out from under him.

The other man was flanked by two people—a childlike man with a baby face and clearly very little experience in the real world, and a young woman who had seen something a bit more of the dark in the world, except for wearing a top that he knew ladies of the evening who wouldn’t be willing to go out in public wearing—who were so obviously out of their depth that it was actually funny. Chisolm called the woman Joan of Arc; she claimed her name was Emma Cullen, with the baby-faced boy being her ‘associate Teddy Q’.

Chisolm called this expedition impossible, like he knew just what to say to get Joshua interested, and just like that, he was in. Granted, two bounty hunters was a good start to an army, even if one of them was too honest for his own good and the other…

Well, Joshua knew he had a bit of a reputation. He leveraged it at every opportunity he could—a trick he had learned from sources he wasn’t thinking about too much these days—but he also had a separate reputation going as a lackadaisical and fare-thee-well gambler, which led to a lot of people underestimating him… and that worked just as well by him. Everyone in the world could underestimate Joshua Faraday, as far as he was concerned, as long as no one did the same for Joshua Robicheaux.