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

This episode took a little longer in terms of story time than I'd originally anticipated, but I rather enjoyed writing it. I always get a kick out of dialogue. :)

Hope you enjoy it!


*****


The train came to a halt in the early hours of the morning to fill up on water and pick up new passengers. There was a great deal of milling around and shouting outside, but in spite of it Vicky managed to doze fitfully, her sleep untroubled by dreams. Monroe fell asleep again almost immediately, and snored peacefully, much to the annoyance of the other passengers. When she was awake, Vicky allowed herself a smile of amusement at his expense.

Through the window she caught sight of the engineer on the platform, speaking to a poorly-dressed cowboy who was red in the face and shouting, shoving his fist in the engineer’s face. The engineer backed up, or at least tried to, and appeared to be attempting to appease the man, to very little avail. Vicky glanced at the pale sky, and decided that any more delays would drive her insane.

“I’ll be right back,” she told Stone, who was the only one awake.

“You aren’t going to do anything stupid, are you?”

“Of course not.”

She hopped down onto the platform and strolled up casually to where she could hear the cowboy yelling something about a horse, and gave the engineer a friendly look. “There a problem, here?”

The engineer gave her a surprised look, but decided that if she was acting with authority that she must actually have it. “Uh, no. No, ma’am, everything’s fine.”

“Uh-huh.” She looked at the cowboy, who was quivering with rage. “How about you? Is there a problem?”

“You bet there’s a problem! Some bastard stole my horse right off the train! Now this son of a bitch is telling me that if I stay here to try to get my horse back, the train’s going to leave without me!”

The engineer shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry about that, but I can’t change the train schedule. We have many other passengers and cargo who need to be delivered on time, and we’re already running behind because of the trouble we had earlier.”

“I don’t give a good goddamn about your other passengers!” the cowboy’s face was turning purple. “Do you know how much a good horse costs?”

The engineer cringed, and Vicky stepped in smoothly. “I know how much a good horse costs. It’s a hell of a loss, especially for a cowhand. You with the cattle on board?” she asked, out of sheer curiosity.

“That’s right. I’m riding in with the cattle on the train, but I ain’t got a return ticket. How the hell am I supposed to get back to my ranch now?”

“What’s your name?” she asked him, giving him a smile.

“Curtis.” His attention was fully diverted from the engineer, who threw Vicky a look of relief.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Curtis. My name’s Victoria. I used to work with cowhands, for a while at least. It’s a pretty tough job, without a horse. If someone stole it, though, you’re probably not going to get it back: if they’re smart, they’ll be long gone. Maybe you can come to an agreement with... I’m sorry, what’s your name, sir?” she turned to the engineer.

“Uh, Higgins.” The engineer didn’t seem too pleased to have attention brought back to him.

“Look, Mr. Higgins. You’re the person best qualified here to speak for your company. Do you think Denver-Pacific would be willing to compensate Curtis here for the loss of his horse?”

Higgins pulled out a large red bandana and mopped his forehead, which was beaded with sweat. “Well, I don’t know...”

She put on her most winning smile, and placed a hand gently on his shoulder. “Oh, come now, I don’t think it’s all that unreasonable a request. After all, his property becomes your responsibility while he’s riding your rails. A good horse won’t be that difficult to find along the way, and shouldn’t set you back more than twenty dollars or so.”

“I don’t know if I got the authority...”

“Sure, you do,” she assured him warmly. “That way the train leaves on time, Curtis here is happy, and things work out for everyone. Isn’t that right, Curtis?”

Curtis had calmed down considerably in the intervening few minutes, and now smiled shyly at her, much to her surprise. “Sure, I guess that would be fine. All I need is a horse to get back home once we deliver them beeves to Salt Lake City.”

Higgins looked unhappy. He mopped at his head some more with the red bandana, then appeared to come to a decision. “Okay. I’ll talk to my superiors once we get to Salt Lake City. I’m sure we can work something out. I’ll ask someone to wire ahead, so they know what’s what when we get there.”

Vicky beamed. “Good. Everything’s resolved, then?”

“Not quite.”

She jumped as Stone’s voice came from just over her shoulder. “Jesus! You scared me. What do you mean? What’s wrong?”

Stone gave her an accusing glare, as though she were somehow responsible for all his problems. “The Widow O’Brien is gone.”

Curtis and his missing horse were immediately forgotten. “Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“I mean gone. How many meanings do you think the word has? I can’t find her on the train, no one has seen her, and her belongings are missing too. Monroe found this caught on a nail on the floor of one of the livestock cars.” He held out a scrap of dark grey fabric, which Vicky recognized as part of the torn hem of her dress. “He seems to think she was spirited away.” His tone indicated that he didn’t share Monroe’s opinion.

“What do you think?” Vicky felt her spirits sinking.

“I think she played Monroe like a cheap fiddle with her story, and that we let her play him, and us by extension.”

“Shit.” Vicky glanced around, and seeing Curtis still standing there jogged her memory. “Curtis here just had his horse stolen. How much do you want to bet we’ll find tracks leading out of town?”

“I’d put money on it, and I’m not usually a betting man.”

Curtis was looking confused. “What’s going on?”

Vicky gave him an encouraging smile. “We think we know who took your horse, not that we can do much about it. Like I said, the thief is long gone. Why don’t you and Mr. Higgins here work something out together? I’m afraid I’ve got some business to attend to elsewhere. Mr. Higgins, how long until the train leaves again?”

“Fifteen minutes,” Higgins said, pulling out a large bronze watch from his waistcoat and checking it.

“Right.” She turned to Stone. “Let’s go.”

It wasn’t difficult to find the horse tracks on the sandy ground. It was more difficult to ascertain exactly how fresh they were, but she and Monroe eventually agreed that they were at least two hours old, possibly more. The last time anyone had seen the widow had been in the wee hours of the morning when she had gone to the dining car, ostensibly to fetch a cup of coffee.

“We should go after her,” Monroe said. “Who knows who might have her?”

“No one,” Vicky said drily. “Come on, Monroe. Look at those tracks. There’s no way that horse was carrying anything too much over a hundred and twenty pounds. That accounts for the widow and her gear. You’ve always been better at tracking than me, and even I can see it.”

Reluctantly, Monroe nodded. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. It doesn’t sit well with me, though, leaving her out there. The desert isn’t a good place for a lady all by herself. There’s all sorts of bad things out there. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that, of all people.”

Vicky snorted. “The way she played us, I think she’s plenty capable of managing on her own. It’s not like we tied her to her horse and sent her out there without food or water. She chose to light out on her own, she took her gear, and plenty of other people’s gear too, by the looks of it. She’s a liar and a thief, and I for one am not going to waste another minute on her.”

Monroe looked stricken. “We can’t just let her go!”

“Why not?” Stone agreed with Vicky, sitting on the bottom step of the ladder leading up to the train car and sucking on his pipe. “She obviously wants nothing to do with us.”

“Exactly,” said Vicky. “Besides, what are you going to do when you find her? Truss her up like a Christmas turkey and bring her back slung across your saddle? Then what do we do with her? We can’t keep her indefinitely with us, and I really don’t want to have to watch her every move in case she tries to escape again. God knows we have enough difficulty keeping Blanton out of trouble, let alone keeping an eye on a woman who doesn’t want our company. We’re well quit of her, if you ask me.

“I say let the treacherous viper take her chances with the Mojave Rattlers.”

*****
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