secret_history: (Beyond the Pale)
[personal profile] secret_history
We're back, faithful readers!

I'm still behind, but not as terribly as before. Slowly but surely wins the race, and all that. Bear with me, and you'll be getting your quota of story by the end of the week. Cross my heart.

*****


Once she’d gotten over her initial surprise at the appearance of a red-headed girl in a dress wielding a broken umbrella, Vicky had taken events in stride. There was only one man left unaccounted for as far as she could tell, still waiting in the caboose. She hopped up onto the top step leading to the caboose door, then flattened herself against the wall, wincing a bit as she did so. Not only were her ribs aching like the very devil now, but she could feel blood seeping down her arm where the last man’s bullet had grazed her. A new shirt, too, she lamented as she switched to her other pistol rather than taking the time to reload. She heard scuffling from inside, then whipped around the corner as fast as she could, and watched with a measure of satisfaction as her bullet took the last of the train robbers neatly in the forehead. He fell backward without a sound, the back of his head hitting the floor with a wet smacking sound which told her that her bullet had opened his skull like a flower. He wouldn’t present a threat anymore, at least.

The caboose was deserted, although it showed signs of having been recently occupied. Another man lay sprawled in a pool of blood on the floor, and she saw that by a stroke of luck her shot had caught him in the neck: any lower and the shot wouldn’t have been fatal, and a little more to the right and she would have missed him entirely. There were no other occupants, although the door leading to next car was open. She thought she’d recognized the voice that had called out so petulantly only a few moments before, and if it was who she thought, then she had no doubt that he would have tried to get away on his own while his assailants were busy.

She exited the caboose the same way, hopping down to the tracks and ignoring the pain in her ribs as she jarred them. So much for resting. The girl Emily was waiting for her, huddled next to the train, but not looking particularly frightened, which pleased Vicky. The last thing she needed was someone prone to hysterics. She stood as Vicky came up to her, and pointed under the train.

“Someone came out of the caboose and went under the train. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to try to follow, but he’s not far,” she whispered.

“Where’s the guy I left with you?”

Emily pointed to the ground, where the man was lying docilely with his hands behind his head. “It was easier if he was lying down.”

Vicky nodded in approval, then walked alongside the train, looking between the wheels, until she saw the faintest of movements in the shadows, revealing a man lying prone on the tracks. “I can see you under there, you know.”

“Aww, hell.”

The silhouette wriggled toward her, and finally she reached under the train and grabbed hold of the man’s shirt. She grunted with the pain and effort as she hauled him into the open and helped him to his feet, the reason for his difficulty now obvious: his arms were bound very firmly before him with sturdy rope. He gaped at her.

“Vicky?”

She grinned. “It’s good to see you too, Taft.”

“But you… you’re not… I mean you…” he spluttered.

“Not dead?” She pulled a pocketknife from her pants pocket and began sawing at the rope. “Yeah, that sort of changed since I last saw you. It’s a long story. What the hell are you doing on this train?”

“Believe it or not, I was under arrest,” Taft said sulkily. “And not even for a crime I committed. They thought I was some cavalry deserter named Blanton.”

Vicky goggled as she unwound the rope from his arms. “Elijah Blanton?”

Taft narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “You know him?”

“Nothing surprises me anymore. Come on, we need to make sure Emily still has her prisoner.”

Emily was still holding her captive at gunpoint, but was beginning to look a bit the the worse for wear as the excitement wore off. Her arms were trembling, and she was extremely pale. Vicky used the rest of the rope to bind the man’s hands behind his back.

“We’ll just leave him here for the Sheriff to find. In the meantime, we ought to make ourselves scarce. The last thing I need is to be officially involved in another shootout at this station.”

Over at the far end of the station, a commotion broke out. Looking over, she caught sight of local law enforcement engaging in a vociferous and energetic argument with the Mexican man she’d seen earlier. The man was covered in gore, and appeared to be brandishing a package of some kind, but at this distance she couldn’t quite make out what it could be.

“Oh, God,” Emily moaned. “It’s that man’s head! He cut it off!”

“Jesus!” Taft turned a delicate shade of green. “Who is that?”

Vicky shrugged, mesmerized by the sight. Now that Emily had pointed out what it was, it was easy to make out the outline of the head. “I have no idea, but it looks like he’s providing us with a distraction, so let’s take it. Uh, Emily?” she turned to the girl. “Did you have a bag or a trunk or something?”

Emily shook her head. “No, I already have things here at the hotel. I visit here often, so I just keep a separate wardrobe. Besides, fashion in Denver has nothing to do with Salt Lake City.”

“Now wait a minute,” Taft broke in, “Forgive me if this sounds rude, but I don’t know who you are, and you have no idea who we are, and with that in mind, do you think it’s a good idea to go traipsing about the city together in the middle of the night?”

Emily turned large blue eyes on him. “Oh, I can assure you I’m no threat. My name is Emily. Emily Smith.”

Taft relax somewhat, although he seemed embarrassed under her direct gaze. He took her hand and bent over it slightly, although the effect was marred by the fact that he was stiff after spending hours tied up. “James Bartholomew Taft.”

Vicky was fairly dancing with impatience. “Can the introductions wait until we’re a few streets away at least? I really don’t want to have to explain this whole mess to the Sheriff, especially when Monroe has to work with him on this whole Revenant thing.”

“Revenant?” Emily took her cue and led them away from the station. “My hotel is this way. I’m sure I can provide you with rooms for the night.”

“Where’s that?”

“The Salt Lake City Hotel.”

Taft whistled quietly. “Listen, I don’t mean… that is, it’s a very expensive hotel, and…”

Emily interrupted him. “Oh, it’s fine. I’ll just explain to Uncle Jacob tomorrow that you helped me when I was in trouble and I’m sure he won’t mind. We do a lot of business with the Salt Lake City Hotel.”

Taft choked. “Uncle Jacob? You mean Jacob Smith? He’s your actual uncle?”

“That’s right.” Emily walked along at a brisk pace, but seemed unconcerned, as though it was the most natural thing in the world that she was apparently related to one of the wealthiest and most famous men in America.

“This is your fault, Vicky.”

“What?” She was staggered by the unfairness of the accusation. “I haven’t seen you in nearly two months! How can this be remotely my fault?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted snappishly, “but it figures that the minute I run into trouble, you’re right there in the thick of it. I was doing absolutely fine until you came along again and ruined everything!”

“Shut up, Taft.” Vicky was too out of breath by now to offer anything more convincing by way of argument. Her ribs ached, and her arm stung where the bullet had grazed her, although it appeared the bleeding had stopped.

“You’re injured,” Emily said, noticing that Vicky was lagging behind and slowing her pace accordingly.

“I’ve had worse.”

“We’ll get it looked at at the hotel,” Emily promised, and waved aside her attempts at protest. “It’s no trouble, and we need to make sure it doesn’t get infected. You know, you saved us from the robbers, and I don’t even know your name.”

“I’ll have you know I was doing just fine without her help!”

Vicky ignored him. “Right, sorry about that. I’m Victoria James. I’d shake your hand, but I’m a bit of a mess right now. You can call me Vicky: all my friends do.”

Emily awarded her a mischievous grin. “It’s very nice to meet you, Vicky. Normally I think it would be proper to say that I wish it had been under better circumstances, but all things considered I don’t really wish that. It was pretty exciting, wasn’t it?”

Vicky laughed. “You get used to it, after a while.”

*****
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