It’s still Wednesday SOMEWHERE.
Puttin’ this here.
Part Two: Outlaw Noon
Dust, the blazing sun, and a lurching stop greeted Dell as he awoke, pushing his hat up to peer around his meager sleeping quarters with a yawn. He’d spent the better part of the trip sharing stories with the gruff cavalryman, Jayne, and couldn’t say he regretted a bit of it. Sure, he was rough around the edges, and loud as all hell, but that was exactly the type of company the Texan liked to keep. He just didn’t know, then, how much of that company he’d be enjoying in the weeks to come.
He pulled his duster on as he walked out of the sleeper car, the comfortable weight of the leather settling over his shoulders like a second skin. Each step he took was accompanied by the solid thud of his boot heel and the clink of his spurs, and his old, trusted Remington swayed in its holster. Stepping off the train and onto the bustling platform, he finally got his first look at the town that hadn’t be able to keep a sheriff for more than a month. The town that wrote its own laws and had its own code. The town they called Teufort.
At first glance, it seemed most of the rumours were true. Everywhere he looked, men brawled in the open streets, and loose women plied themselves boldly from the saloons with their coy smiles and crooked, lace-gloved fingers. The stench of cheap whiskey and sour horse was strong, and he shook his head with a quiet snort. He’d have to invest in a few neckerchiefs if he was going to make the most of his stay, he thought to himself as he made his way down the crowded ramps to retrieve his horse.
No one made a move to disturb him as he went, though he was pretty sure several of the women were making bets with themselves as to when he’d be visiting their little establishment. He caught a glance of the German with the bird cage as he stepped into a waiting stagecoach, and not long after, a tall, thin man in a far-too-fancy suit crossed the dusty street and slipped into the general store. The only thing the residents of Teufort had in common were their differences, yet each of them seemed as native as the next. Turning the corner, he was met with a familiar yet unexpected sight.
Standing there in front of the makeshift corrals was Jayne, holding the reins of a spirited mustang with the smoothest and finest buckskin coat Dell had ever seen. Even if he hadn’t quite taken to the life of a cowboy, he knew a good horse when he saw one, and he let out a low whistle as he approached.
“Well, lookit you, Sergeant…didn’t know ya had an eye for horses,” the engineer said with a chuckle, strolling over and holding out one gloved hand for the mustang to sniff at. “But I figure ya gotta, with yer work an’ all. S’what bein’ with the cavalry’s all about, yeah?”
He was rewarded with a broad grin and yet another slap on the back, as the other man turned to him. “That’s right! A cavalryman’s only as good as his horse, and I broke this one myself. Took three days, but I finally looked the bastard in the eye and told him he was just going to get used to that saddle, because I wasn’t leaving it,” Jayne replied, patting the stallion’s broad neck.
Dell just grinned in return, impressed. “Says somethin’ about a man what can do that. Gotta wonder why such a skilled horseman and officer’s come out all this way, unless it’s to whip these little doggies into shape,” he said with a light chuckle, as he took the reins to his own horse. The soldier nodded in silent approval before his expression became suddenly serious - wrapping an arm around the shorter man’s shoulders, he pulled him close enough that whatever he said would be kept between them.
“I am here to whip these so-called ‘little doggies’ into shape!” came the harsh whisper in Dell’s ear. “Don’t you DARE breathe a word of this to any other living soul, but I’m on orders to establish some law in this town, whether they like it…or not.”
The engineer looked confused, glancing over his shoulder and ducking back down to hiss out his own incredulous response. “Orders?! Yer one man, Jayne! One! Even if you’re a helluva soldier, how the hell d’they expect ya ta do it all alone? Hell, ya’d need a whole battalion to take this place on!”
With a laugh that could only be described as one part maniacal, two parts crazy, and altogether positively insane, Jayne leaned up to hook one boot firmly in the stirrup and pulled himself astride his horse in one clean motion. “The problem with that, Dell Conagher, is that you don’t know Sergeant Jayne Doe half as well as you think you do! I only need one man to this job, and that one man is me…unless you think you’d make a good deputy, ‘pardner’,” he cackled, baring his too-sharp teeth in a dangerous grin.
Digging his heels firmly into the mustang’s flank, he was gone in a trail of dust, leaving Dell to gawk for a good minute and a half at the back end of his horse. Within moments, however, that slack-jawed awe had morphed itself into a matching grin, just wild enough to not be mistaken for a kindly “howdy do” type of smile. Swinging into his own saddle, he spurred his own stallion on to follow the crazy cavalryman, shaking his head. He had until the end of the day to report in at the build site, and even if they’d just met, someone had to act as the voice of reason where Jayne was concerned.
It might as well be him.
“Jus’ you wait now, Mister Sergeant-with-the-damn-girly-name! I ain’t about to be no one’s deputy, y’hear?!” he hollered after the retreating soldier, laughing into the dry Texan breeze.
Part One: Deepest Blue
Just as the sun began to pierce the steamy haze surrounding the station, the final whistle blew. Coal-tinged clouds gave way to the clear, warm Texas sky, and the mighty engine lurched into motion, pulling away from the hustle and haste of the yard and onto the open track. Last stop, Teufort. Any other time, Dell would have looked back, watching as the platform disappeared in the distance; this was not any other time. He kept his attention on the expanse of red desert ahead, occasionally casting curious glances at his fellow passenger under the brim of his hat.
The cavalryman, for lack of a more proper name, was nearly as broad as he was tall. His uniform did little to hide the muscles just under the blue cloth, as if it hadn’t originally been made to fit him, and the leather of his gloves creaked as he slowly clenched and unclenched his fists. Something had him riled up like a sidewinder with its tail pinned under a boot, but as the distance grew between the train and the station, he seemed to relax, leaning back in his seat. As he turned to finally notice the engineer, their eyes met briefly - too long for two men on a train heading nowhere - and the shorter man quickly turned his gaze back to the window, feigning an intense interest in the bleak scenery.
“You with the railroad?” the officer asked tersely, as he shifted his weight to prop one elbow against the windowsill…almost too close to be casual. Dell could smell the dust of a long ride on him, dust and horse and something else he couldn’t quite place.
“Yeah…headin’ up north ta help lay some new track,” he hazarded, tipping his hat back and regarded the other man cooly. “Name’s Dell. Dell Conagher. What’s a military man like yerself doin’ all the way out here, if ya don’t mind mah askin’?”
Dark eyes, blue like a breaking storm, met his once more as the cavalryman glared in his direction. “I do mind you asking, so I’m not going to answer that. But giving you my name wouldn’t hurt, I guess,” he replied, offering a hand for the Texan to shake. “Sergeant Jayne Doe, Seventh Regiment.”
Dell fought the grin threatening to overtake him, and shook Jayne’s hand firmly. “Well, either way, it’s right nice ta meet ya, uh…Sergeant Doe.” Propping one boot on his knee, he allowed himself a closer look at the man before him, not realizing just how closely he was being observed in return. “Might as well make small talk…helps the trip go faster, y’know?”
“Tch…I don’t do small talk, cowboy,” Jayne grumbled, but before long, he gave in reluctantly to the friendly engineer’s chatty nature. Miles passed as the two men talked over the steady clack of the train’s wheels, and before long, the station and the life he’d left behind seemed a million miles away to Dell, as he handed his flask to the cavalryman for the third time.
“An’ after that, well…I figured bein’ a cowboy jus’ wasn’t for me,” he chuckled. “I might miss the solitude sometimes, but I sure as hell don’t miss the saddle sores!” Jayne merely shook his head, taking a sip of the potent whiskey and holding it out in return.
“Saddle sores, pah! Any man worth his salt in a saddle learns to deal with them!” the soldier proclaimed, thumping his chest lightly. “Why, there have been days where my saddle sores had saddle sores, and did I complain? Not one bit! And I’ve had them in places you can’t even begin to imagi-“
Dell held a hand up then, as his shoulders shook with laughter. “Whoa, now, partner…I don’t need to be gettin’ acquainted with all the finer details!” And even though he tried, he couldn’t keep himself from laughing harder as the cavalryman’s face slowly flushed red. “You just keep that’n to yerself, an’ I’ll spare ya mah own horror stories.”
God help him, it was almost…cute, the way that the other man sulked back in his seat, arms folded across his chest. Wiping a tear from his eye, the Texan just smiled at him, and shook his head as the last of his chuckles tumbled free. “Oh, now…no need ta pout. I ain’t gonna go around spillin’ secrets about yer saddle sores ta nobody.”
Despite himself, Jayne found his own lips spreading into a broad grin, and he reached forward to clap the engineer on the shoulder heartily. “There’s a good man. Could use more like you around…I don’t trust some of the other men on this train, no sir. Have you seen some of them?”
Dell frowned, raising one eyebrow curiously. “Can’t say as I have, but I wasn’t payin’ much attention when I boarded, either.”
Glancing behind himself, the soldier leaned forward, dropping his voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “I heard one of them speaking French…French, can you believe it? Like we don’t speak English in this country anymore,” he growled lowly, curling his lip. “And I’m fairly sure the man with the bird cage is a German.”
The Texan chuckled quietly, patting Jayne’s shoulder. “Aw, c’mon now…ya ain’t afraid of ‘em, are ya? Big strong man like yerself? Jus’ leave ‘em be, I’m sure they don’t mean no harm. An’ if they do…well…that’s what God created guns for, ain’t it?”
With an outright guffaw, the cavalryman swatted Dell’s back harder than he had before, and nodded. “That’s right, cowboy. Once we get to Teufort, you stick with me…I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be good friends,” he said with a manic grin.
“So ya are headin’ to Teufort after all, eh, soldier boy?” the engineer grinned, narrowing his eyes behind his goggles. “I think yer right…we’re gonna be good friends.”
Somewhere in the shadows of the next car, a figure darted unseen, muttering quietly to himself in French.
In the cool morning fog, one couldn’t quite distinguish the rising plumes of the previous night’s dewy remains from the noisy, steaming locomotive stacks that chugged and grunted their way into the busy station. Faint outlines of men darted between the cars, pushing cattle up and down mist-slicked ramps to the ear-blasting sound of whistles above which the calls of the conductors could scarce be heard. There among them all, the pushers and the callers and the cattle alike, strolled a man with a broad, honest smile and a white hat pulled low over his close-cropped sandy hair.
He was shorter than most, stocky and rounded rather like a barrel pony, but there was an edge to him that belied his charming demeanor. Perhaps it was the glint of his safety glasses, which caught the light coldly and reflected a man’s gaze back at himself, refusing eye contact. Or maybe it was the way that even his sweetest grin could, at times, have just the slightest air of something calculating and cruel about the corners. No one was ever quite sure what he was thinking, and most were content to never know, even before the rumors had started.
Regardless, his reputation as a genuine and hard-working man remained untarnished, and that more than anything was prized on the open frontier. A few quirks and oddities could be forgiven in favor of a strong back, quick hands, and a fast mind, and Dell Conagher had all three in spades. Spades enough, in fact, that he’d found himself hired by the Southern Pacific railroad company to the order of escorting their newest venture north, as they laid track past a town that was little more than a speck on the map.
He’d heard of the place, once or twice, mostly in saloon whispers and tall tales. It was a lawless town where a man’s name mattered less than the speed of his draw, and outlaws and outcasts alike were harbored in its ramshackle arms. Men of every color and nation under the sun were said to seek its refuge, and squabbled over the meager resources it could muster. Dell couldn’t say he really minded the prospect of seeing it for himself - he would fit in just fine with the types of misfits that made young women shudder and old crones mutter to themselves within the shadows of their bonnets.
After seeing to his horse, a handsome shaggy dun whose heritage was dubious at best, he pulled himself up onto the passenger car and presented his ticket. It’d be a good day and a half until the train reached the end of the track, and from there on, it was nothing but hard work and hot sun to look forward to, even if his job description only covered maintaining the locomotive and making sure whatever cargo the train carried with it stayed safe. It wasn’t his place to know what the cargo was, or even why the company had decided to go out of their way to lay track past a no-account town. He’d just do whatever work was given to him and keep his pay as honest as he could.
Before he could think too much on the subject, another passenger joined him, settling into the seat across from his own with a heavy thump. A cavalryman, from the look of his uniform, and an officer by the cut. Like Dell, the man wore his hat low over his eyes, leaving only his broad, crooked hook of a nose and frowning lips exposed. His jaw was rigidly squared, furthering the effect of his scowl, and his burly arms were crossed over his chest. The soft tap of his heavy boots was a clear indicator that he had no desire to be where he was, let alone with company for the trip, but Dell Conagher was, if anything, a friendly man.
It was going to be an interesting ride to Teufort, and at least one of them was looking forward to it.
He couldn’t ignore the fear tearing at him, clawing like a trapped coyote at every lick of sense he possessed. He couldn’t, because he came from a place where the wind sang a warning, keening over dusty plains and whistling down sheer red cliffs already stained with the sweat, tears, and blood of men like himself. They were the men who died of mysterious causes. Accidents. They were the men who would not be missed, because no one could hear them scream.
Ignorance was a cruel sheriff, and the people were his gun. Not even eleven degrees could save a fag from a bullet.
Easygoing. Calm. Brilliant. All those words could be used to describe Dell Conagher, and, most days, all of them would be true. You really couldn’t ask for a better friend, and once you earned that privilege, he’d stick to you like glue, offering a helpful hand and a wide Texas smile any time you needed it. No one could think any ill of the laid-back engineer who spent his free time with a beer in one hand and his guitar in the other, telling stories that took place under wide, beautiful, blue prairie skies.
Because truth be told, no one knew him.
Every man in Teufort had a past. Some had come to flee the former lives that haunted them, and some to face their demons, but there was no escape for Dell. He knew too much. He’d always known too much. And as the heir apparent to his grandfather’s legacy, he’d continue knowing too much until it either killed him or left him insane.