It was going to be another hot day, but it would be nothing like back in Alabama where the humidity made life almost unbearable. Willie stepped out onto her front porch with a cup of coffee and no plans for the day. In a few nights they would distribute the newly minted gold, and the following day Hester’s Spring would celebrate the influx of money. George had left sometime in the night, but he left his hat almost like a sign he would be back. As she stood there an impossibly tall black man walked past on his way to the stables. She remembered Jasper talking about a brother he had back on the plantation. Their master who was also their father had named all of them Percy, so they gave each other nicknames. The Tall Percy was called Lanky, and Jasper was Giggles. Lanky left the plantation after the war while Jasper had escaped. He went west looking for a new life eventually settling in Knuckle Smash and was being called Apple for some unknown reason.
As the sun started to show in the east, Willie got up and made her way back to her cabin. She found a note on the door and took it as she went inside. Willie could see what the note was long before she opened it. All of Camila’s clothing and stuff was gone. Her scent was in the air making it hard for Willie to think about anything other than their last night together.
A voice in a dark corner said, “read the letter.”
Willie looked at the form in the shadow.
She said, “this might not end well for either of them. Maybe I shouldn’t read it at all.”
The form said, “I left without a letter, and you never knew if I cared or not. Wouldn’t it be better to know what it says rather than face her with just your expectations? … Little sister, you should have more faith.”
Willie rode back to the stable with Jasper and Half, and the three of them help settle the horses. She went back to her cabin and found herself alone. She prepped and took a bath finding little blots of blood on her and on her clothing. She had used her own revolver to kill Dean then left one his father had hidden in his office for someone to find. Something stirred in the dark.
A voice asked, “was it necessary to kill the boy?”
Alastair woke with a throbbing headache and sore testicles. Someone had tied him to a chair, and the chair was tied upside down hanging from the ceiling in his office. The chair was at a slight canter and was slowly spinning around. When he came back around, he saw a large black man at his bookcase taking something. The secret door was open, and half the gold was gone. He had sixty large bars of gold hidden in his wall from a shipment he stole just as the war had started. The gold was to be payment to Mexico to enter the war, but as a Texan, he could never fight alongside the Mexican army. The chair slowly moved until he was facing his desk and the young woman sitting in his seat. Alastair knew who she was and why she was there.
For a moment, Willie thought about leaving her behind. Camila’s sudden affection for Chuck could be a liability for their job. She wondered if Camila could let Chuck die if it came down to it as she wondered if she could do the same with Camila. She let Guy walk into a trap, and he died after being shot, but he didn’t die right away. She knew back then that she would have to use people to get what she wanted but Camila wasn’t just anyone. She also knew she couldn’t let this man call her gang into question or the town wouldn’t be safe even if that meant Camila’s death. Willie leaned over and kissed Camila on the lips and told her they had to go. It was time.
Jasper saw Willie and nodded as he slowly lost the smile on his face. When they worked, Jasper became a different man. He had said he did it all for his family and that wasn’t a laughing matter. Ever since she had their first child, Maggie stayed out of the active parts of their jobs. She did help plan and pack, but this day little Evelin was having a bad case of croup, and Adam was a fulltime job. She didn’t fight Jasper when he went on the jobs, but she didn’t pretend she liked him going without her. Willie and Jasper packed for a three-day trek with food and arms. As with all their jobs, they wanted to prepare for a quick getaway. Camila joined them.
She said, “let’s get this out of the way…… I’m going, and that’s that.”
Jasper smiled and started to laugh as he made his way out the door knowing there was about to be a fight.
The sun slowly came up in the east casting a pink light across the town. Willie woke up and looked over at the young man lying next to her. In the last five years, she let her hair grow and dropped her male persona letting people see her as a woman, but she still refused to let that force her back into a dress. She tied her hair in a long braid. She dressed and headed out for her usual walk to town. On the way, she passed a young boy as he started his chores. Adam dropped his pail of water and waved to Willie who waved back. She turned and made her way to the tea shop. Three years ago, the word came west that the railroad was going through the small town of Knuckle Smash and missing Hester’s Spring by fifty miles. The town went from prosperous to a near ghost town as people moved to Knuckle Smash. Those that remained found themselves receiving help from an unknown source. Someone was working hard to keep the town going even without a purpose.
Jasper cut Mouse down as carefully as he could. The fire scorched his feet down to the bone. Tiny went to find the local undertaker and a minister to help with Mouse. Willie found something in Mouse’s hand. He came back with a plain wooden box and a nun. He said the undertaker wouldn’t come for a black man, but Jasper knew what he really said as well as the minister. The nun said they couldn’t bury an unbaptized person, but she could help them dig a grave in the local cemetery on the other side of town. True to her word she went with them and did a turn digging a hole. The sheriff came over with his hat in his hand but a smirk on his face.
In the camp, they found the stolen goods from a dozen coaches as well as the props from Tiny’s friends. They also found six children ranging in ages from three to thirteen. They were huddled in a mass inside one of the tents. The thirteen-year-old was a girl. She was only wearing a man’s shirt. Like the girl they burned alive she was cut and bruised. She also seemed to oversee the younger children. Camila Sofia Isabella García Flores was born in Mexico, and at the age of six, her parents left to find their fortune in the north. They spent the last seven years going from gold rush to gold rush just making enough to get to the next job. Her mother called her Camila, and her father called her Sofia. Her little brother called her Issy. A week before the raid the white men raped and burned her nine-year-old brother. They tried to get her to eat some of him, and when she refused, they gang-raped her, but their leader stopped them from burning her. Half told them who they were and to all their amazement Camila spoke English.
She said, “you didn’t get them all. A smaller group of them went back east for some job. Their leader went with them.”
Willie gave Jasper a Colt Army revolver and a Henry rifle. He worked the action like he was well versed in its use. She made a note in her head to ask about it when or if they came back. The group left town following the easy trail left by Margaret. She was along one of the main wagon trails on the way west. They found a place where she had stopped and most likely lay for a while with a pool of dried blood. They rode for another hour until they found a wagon with dead horses. Inside the wagon were three dead including the other twin Margarette. She was scalped then stabbed to death. Willie checked, but Bonnie wasn’t there or around the wagon. About ninety feet away Half found the body of a man. The man was shot in the back through his heart. He was dressed like a ranch hand with a nickel-plated Colt Navy revolver. Around his gun belt and his arm were gray bandanas. Guy pulled off the bandana and looked at it.
He said, “Sons of the forgotten. A group of men working out of western Texas fighting against the encroaching American government. Their leader voted to stay out of the union, and when they joined, he said he would make them pay.”