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Sundown on the Silver Cage

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1881

It takes five days for him to get restless.

They’d robbed a general store a few towns over, him and Dutch. It didn’t go so well. The store owner had reached under the table, and Arthur shot him on impulse. He’d only been reaching for the cash drawer. He’d killed another two lawmen on the way out. It was a real mess, and unfortunately, all his fault.

They’d split up, for now. Dutch had promised to meet him in Monument, a border town in the county of Pimeria, as soon as the heat had died down.

That’s the problem with Monument, though. The heat never dies down. Even though the desert cools at night, the moment the sun rises over the horizon in the morning, it boils him in the sand. The skin on his cheeks cracks and peels within the first day, and it doesn’t matter how much he drinks, he always feels thirsty.

It’s a hell of a town. Some prospector had found silver about two or three years back and people looking to make it rich had flocked from all over the country. A lot of wallets ripe for the picking. He’s kept his nose clean for now. He’s waiting. Listening.

He isn’t used to this anymore. Ever since Dutch and Hosea robbed him of his old life, he’s found it difficult sleep through the night without one of those two watching his back. Alone, he smokes cigarettes as he loiters outside the Silver Eagle Saloon, and he watches other people under the brim of his hat. He keeps looking over his shoulder but there’s nobody there.

There’s one wide street with all the comforts of civilized living, shacks and tents spiraling further out into the desert. It’s halfway into the next era, already, but just the right amount of lawlessness, of anonymity. The sheriff and his deputies own the saloons, the gambling houses, seem to have their own definition of the law. There are O’Driscolls and bandidos on the outskirts, and he overhears talk of coach robberies and rustling. He hears a lot of things.

Miners and men caked in dirt wander in and out of the saloon doors, and there are plenty of working girls and wives to look at as it draws into the late afternoon. He burns through a pack of smokes and there’s still no sign, nary a whisper of Dutch van der Linde. No wanted posters, either, luckily.

He lights another cigarette and squints across the street. Clattering noises from wagons and horses, the sounds of people milling about have started to die down as reasonable folk head home for supper. The unreasonables start to come out of the saloon, stinking of alcohol already. Mostly the single men and the other shady folk like him.

Two older fellers set up beside him. Arthur smokes his cigarette. They make conversation and he listens, looks across the street to where a beautiful woman in a fancy dress is coming out of the tailor’s, her servant girl behind her with her arms stacked with boxes. The woman stands out in a wash of blue and gold against the backdrop of a dusty red town, and her emergence attracts the attention of the men haunting the wooden railing with him.

“Would you look at that,” the man whistles, his mouth camouflaged beneath an overgrown moustache, “Barton’s wife out and about.”

“No guards or nothin’,” remarks the other, with a low whistle. He leans forward for a closer look, ogling under the brim of his soft cap. “She stupid or something? Or her husband is. Richest feller in town letting his woman out unaccompanied with all these roughnecks hanging around.”

Arthur watches her tiptoe down into the dirt, using her servant girl’s shoulder for leverage. The girl’s face tightens, but she allows it, but stumbles. There’s a carriage waiting for them with a mouse of a driver at the end of the street, oblivious to the folk watching snakelike on the sidelines.

Moustache clicks his tongue. “Maybe he don’t know she’s out spending his money.”

“Maybe she wants him to know,” Soft Cap answers. “Wouldn’t want to be there when he gets the bill, that’s for certain.”

The Barton woman turns her head, and Arthur sees the hint of a healing bruise along her cheekbone. She gives her servant a look as she lifts her skirts. She says something he can’t hear, and starts walking. The servant girl follows, peering over the mountain of boxes at the rough road ahead.

The servant’s foot catches, and she sails forward onto the ground, her boxes and packages hitting the dirt. The Barton woman gasps, and Arthur’s already putting out his cigarette and moving towards them. No one else comes to their aid, but he’s not necessarily helping out of the goodness of his heart, either.

“Evelyn, what is wrong with you?” says the Barton girl. Her hand clench at her sides. “Get up!” She’s starting on her servant, Evelyn, when Arthur intercepts.

He kneels down and reaches for the parcels, gathering them into his arms. He goes to help the servant girl, but she rapidly shakes her head and pulls herself up to her hands and knees on her own. Her eyes are watering, and her palms are bloody.

“Oh, sir, you don’t need to do that, you’re too kind,” says the Barton woman. He looks up at her, and her whole look shifts. Moreso, when he smiles. “It’s just my servant, she’s a ruin.”

“‘Course not, Miss, it’s no trouble.”

“Well, then, you might be the only gentleman in this godforsaken town,” she says. She looks around, where the handful of folk left in the street are pretending to mind their own business. Her gaze wanders back down to his, and she smiles, too. “Mr.…?”

“Arthur,” he supplies, “Arthur Callahan.”

She’s pretty. Beautiful, really. Blond hair, green eyes. The bruise is yellow. He stares at it until it consumes the other features on her face.

He stands, the parcels and packages in his hand. Evelyn wipes her palms on her dress, red smears on the dirt brown, unremarkable fabric. She steps back, eyes downcast.

“Mrs. Thomas Barton,” she says. She nods her head demurely. “You have my utmost gratitude for your assistance, Mr. Callahan.”

At the commotion, the carriage driver has descended from his perch to assist, uttering apologies. He attempts to relieve Arthur of the packages, but he’s shorter than either of the women, frailer too. Arthur hangs on, and nods his head towards the carriage. “Go ‘head. I’ll follow.”

The driver skitters forward. Mrs. Barton sets a gentle pace for Arthur to walk beside her. Evelyn trails a foot behind, silent.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you around before, and I would recognize a handsome young face like that,” she says, her eyes twinkling and playful. “Are you new in town?”

“Thereabouts,” Arthur mumbles. He adjusts the boxes in his arms, wrapped in pristine paper. Dirt on ‘em, though.

“Not a man of many words, are you?”

“Afraid they aren’t my strong suit, Miss.”

Hosea and Dutch usually do the talking, the grifting. He’s there to shut up and listen. He’s good at it. Good enough to spot an opportunity for a hustle, anyway, and playing nice with a rich woman with a husband who beats her and leaves her alone all the time isn’t the worst he could do. She’s not so hard on the eyes. Older than him, maybe late twenties. Tastefully rouged cheeks. Fancy dress that’s hiding a slim body under it.

They come up on the carriage slowly. Mrs. Barton motions her servant girl to move. “Go ahead, inside,” she spits. Evelyn hustles ahead, her head down. Arthur opens the trunk on the back of the carriage and begins putting her belongings within.

Closing the latch, he turns to her. He can play the part of the strong, silent type, no problem. He can be helpful if it might lead to money down the line.

“You’re all set, Miss,” he says. He smiles again even if it doesn’t settle quite right on his face. She’s still looking at him like he’s some kind of saviour, anyway. “Shouldn’t have no trouble getting home.”

“It’s hard to say around these parts. You’re about the first decent man I’ve met in ages.” She cocks her head. “Though I suppose you haven’t grown out of it yet. That pretty face of yours, you can’t be a day over twenty one.”

He tips his chin low, and his hat hides his eyes. “Like I said, Miss, it’s no trouble.”

“What are you doing in a place like this, anyhow?”

“What is anyone else doing here?”

She leans in towards him, touches his shoulder. Married woman with a mean husband. He won't treat her like just any girl off the streets, and she seems pleased when he doesn't react untoward.

“Well, I'm glad for it. Monument could use more men like you, Mr. Callahan,” she says. “But I’m afraid I mustn’t linger if I’m to beat my husband.”

“Of course.”

He raises a hand for her, and she accepts it, letting him lead her to the carriage door. The servant girl takes her other hand, and she wrenches hard enough that the girl grunts as her mistress ascends the short step. Arthur shuts door, and latches it for her.

The carriage driver looks back, his shoulders pulled up around his ears in mortification. “Are you all ready, Mrs. Barton? It’s getting to be late.”

Arthur looks at her through the window. “Your driver… he carry a gun? Lots of outlaws around these parts.”

“He does, though I’m not certain he knows how to use it,” Mrs. Barton says.

“Why don’t I escort you ladies home,” Arthur says. “Make sure you get there safe.”

Evelyn looks nervously at her mistress across the seat, but Mrs. Barton smiles, and nods. “That would be most kind.” She lowers her gaze. “Kindness is in rare supply these days.”

Arthur steps back and whistles for his horse, Persephone, an Appaloosa Hosea had won in a card game and gifted to him. Dutch had named her, probably as a joke, forcing him to write it out until he’d memorized it. He takes good care of her, like she’s an extension of them.

“Make sure you stop before the gate,” Mrs. Barton calls. “My husband doesn’t like strange men on the property, I’m sure you know.”

He tips his hat. “Of course, Miss.”

He rides alongside the carriage to its destination. There’s nothing but arid desert along the dirt road, spidery greenery straining to grow in patches. Rolling hills stretch far beyond, to where the burnt orange inferno of the sunset descends beneath the horizon. Persephone huffs as he drives her forward, keeping his distance, keeping his eyes open.

They ride past men that would likely find the carriage a prime target were it not for him. He’s got a shotgun on his back and a look about him. They leave the carriage alone, and meet his eyes as they pass.

The Barton Estate is a large crop of land a fair distance from Monument. It’s greener than anything in a twenty mile radius, a large arid garden, a beautiful estate home standing at the center. There are men working outside, armed guards-- it’s no secret who’s made their money’s worth.

The carriage slows a fair distance from the estate. Mrs. Barton leans out the window, waving him over, Persephone slowing under his reigns as he steers her towards the door.

“I must thank you again, Mr. Callahan,” Mrs. Barton says. She hands him a ten dollar bill. “For your assistance.”

“It’s no trouble,” he says. He goes to take the money, but she hangs on. Their eyes meet and there’s purpose there for a moment, before she lets go.

He puts the bill in his pocket. Persephone shifts underneath him, and he calms her with a pat.

“I hope to see you again sometime,” Mrs. Barton says. “You’re easy on the eyes.”

She waves, and he watches the carriage continue down the dirt road before turning onto the estate. He gives the land a once-over, before turning his horse, and heading back the way he came.


It’s nighttime when he sets up camp on the outskirts of town. There’s a bit of cover under a lonely tree, an anemic stream nearby, and he’s far enough from the main roads that he won’t be bothered. Close enough that some other roving gang won’t find him too easy a target.

He’d hung around the saloon until long dark. No Dutch. No Hosea. Just him and some drunks tripping over themselves, a working girl crying in the night.

He’s alone out here in the wasteland. Laying out in his bedroll, the moon watches down on him, and the warmth of the fire keeps him company. He’s got his gun in his hand. Knife in the dirt. Persephone’s grazing not far away, her snuffling breathing audible in the silence of the desert at night.

He could sleep in town, get a room. He’s got ten bucks now. He could afford to spend his newfound riches, but really, he feels safer out in the wilderness.

He journals for awhile. He gets stuck on some words that he would know how to spell if Dutch or Hosea were there. He drinks a little, until it’s easier to ignore the creeping feeling that he’s been left behind, or maybe it just sets in deeper until all he can do is lay down. He’s got his gun in his hand against his leg and maybe that’s all he needs. Him and his finger on the trigger against the rest of the whole world.

Arthur closes his eyes. He just has to wait. Tomorrow he’ll wait some more.

It’s quiet. He starts to relax, and sleep begins to take him. Then, Persephone whinnies. The sound of hooves, then boots on dirt.

He waits. He waits some more, for the footsteps to get closer. Then, he bolts upright, pistol drawn, and there, in the cover of darkness, Dutch grins at the business end of the gun. He raises his hands in surrender.

“Jesus, are you trying to get shot?” Arthur exclaims.

He lowers his gun to the ground, heart racing. He’s smiling, a good and honest smile, this time. He’s happy to see him.

“Hell of a welcome, son,” Dutch says. He lowers his hands, and Arthur stands to meet him. “I’m right pleased to see you, too.”

He’d finally grown taller than Dutch over the summer. Dutch takes his hat off, and he’s looking at the top of his head, where his widow’s peak crawls back. There’s sweat on his brow from a hard ride, and he’s unusually unkempt from days of evading the law. His clothes are dirty, and there’s blood on his lapel. Arthur is taken with the sudden urge to hold him.

It’s Dutch who moves first, reaching for his shoulder and drawing Arthur into a rough embrace. Arthur goes with it. He smells like cologne, smoke and sweat. Smells like home.

Dutch lets him go with a thunderous pat to the back, and then unceremoniously sits down on his bedroll beside him. Arthur reaches into his bag for a bottle, and Dutch already has a pack of smokes in hand. His mount, milk white and gleaming under the stars, nuzzles at Persephone nearby.

“You,” Dutch starts, shaking out a match, “are not an easy man to find, Mr. Morgan.”

“‘Course not.” He unscrews the cap, and looks over at Dutch. “Learned from the best.”

Dutch lights a cigarette, and just looks at him for awhile, smiling. Arthur clears his throat.

“I really missed you, Arthur,” Dutch says.

“You-- uh-- y’get on all right?” Arthur chases the question with a mouthful of whiskey. He doesn’t know how to act when Dutch talks to him like that.

“I always do.” He takes a drag of the cigarette, then passes it to Arthur, who accepts with a low word of thanks. “I took my time to ensure the law wouldn’t catch my scent. Thought it wouldn’t be wise to draw a path straight back to us. Monument is a brand new town with a world of opportunities.”

“Lot of money here,” Arthur says. He puts the cigarette into his mouth, the paper wet from Dutch’s lips.

“And plenty of fine folk dying for the chance to give it to us.” Dutch grins. He reaches for the bottle in Arthur’s hand. “Even if they don’t know it yet.”

They pass the whiskey bottle back and forth a few times. He feels the alcohol warm him as the night goes on, the sky painted over with stars. The fire starts to die, and he reaches forward to stoke it.

“I might have something,” Arthur mumbles. “A job, I mean.”

“You might?” Dutch leans in closer. The intensity of his attention never ceases to paralyze Arthur. “Well, then, speak up. Go ahead, son.”

“Helped a woman earlier today. Mrs. Barton-- folk say her husband’s the richest feller in town. Married into her daddy’s money, he did. I saw the estate earlier today, helping her get home.”

“And? Did you see a way in?”

“I don’t know. There was plenty of men protecting the place. Maybe too many for the two of us. It was a dumb idea.”

Hosea was usually averse to letting him in on the bigger scores. For some reason. He wasn’t a boy anymore, could do more than just take care of the horses and clean guns, for heaven’s sake. It wasn’t like he hadn’t killed anyone before. Mostly Hosea just let him stand around and look imposing when they did small jobs, but wouldn’t let him in on the bigger heists. Not yet, at least.

“Now, now, son-- don’t be so doubtful. There’s always a way.”

He lowers his voice. “If Hosea was here, we could--”

“But he isn’t here is he?” Dutch spits. Arthur shuts his mouth in the face of Dutch’s sudden vitriol. “Off with that woman of his, again.”

Arthur digs his heels into the sand. He thumbs his lip, and coughs.

“I like Miss Bessie,” he says, under his breath.

“I know,” Dutch sighs. “I like her, too, Arthur. She’s a fine woman. Too fine.”

He doesn’t know what to say. He’s not so good with words. He blows out smoke. The malice on Dutch’s face seems to shift into something more melancholy, then disappear entirely. He takes another pull on the whiskey.

“I must confess, I’ve heard of your Mr. Barton and his dutiful, loving wife. I did a little reconnaissance prior to finding you,” Dutch continues. “He’s an investor, the proud owner of the Monument Mining and Milling Company. Bought it out from the original prospectors what found it with his wife’s inheritance, and he moved here last year with the missus in tow from New York.”

“She ain’t so dutiful. Or loving. Certainly don’t seem too thrilled with country life or her husband, neither, let me tell you,” Arthur says.

“How’s that?”

“She’s been acting out.” Arthur grinds out his cigarette into the sand. “She’s got bruises all over her face her husband gave her, and I don’t think it’s an uncommon occurrence the way fellers was talking.”

“Her husband,” Dutch says, with distaste. “I know men like him too well. He thinks he can do what he pleases with everyone else just because he’s got the money and connections to buy his way out of the consequences.”

Arthur scowls, staring into the fire. He cocks his head. “Mrs. Barton seemed… I don’t know.”

“She seems to have made quite the impression on you, Arthur.”

He shrugs. “She had sad eyes. Said she’d never had someone be so kind, just ‘cause I offered to get her home safe. Almost seemed sweet on me or somethin’.”

“That so?” Dutch smokes his cigarette.

“Yeah. And she called me pretty.” He chuckles. “Can you imagine?”

Dutch looks at him sidelong. “What’s to imagine?”

His face flushes, and he feels that hot flush of rage that’s often difficult to control. He curls his hand in his pant leg to keep them from forming into fists.

“Don’t take it that way, Arthur.”

“M’not,” he says, even if he definitely is taking it that way.

“But that’s it,” Dutch says. He stands to his feet, the whiskey in his hands. “That’s it, isn’t it?”

Planting his feet, Arthur looks up at him. “What’s it?”

“That’s our angle.”

“What, the woman?”

Yes, the woman.” He spreads his palm, painting a visual canvas with a sweep of his hand. “Mrs. Barton, the lonely wife of a horrible husband, longing for a devilishly handsome young man to whisk her away from her life of dull captivity into the romance of this wild world.”

“Romance?” The word out of his mouth almost feels comical. He scratches his cheek in disbelief. “I don’t know, Dutch.”

“Why, what’s the problem?”

“Spinning a yarn, that’s your thing. Me, I’m more for punching. I ain’t so smart.”

Dutch’s face falls. He lowers the bottle to his side, stands with his feet spread in front of Arthur. “So, what?” He lowers to a crouch, in front of Arthur. “You’re going to turn away from this golden opportunity?”

He’s quiet. Shy, he looks up at Dutch, his mouth twisted into a grimace. He isn’t as smart as Dutch. He still doesn’t know why Dutch took him in, most days, really.

“Arthur Morgan,” Dutch says, slowly. “If you don’t have it within in yourself, lean on me. Allow me to be the one to provide you the faith you need.”

He reaches forward, his hand on Arthur’s cheek. He turns his head up to force Arthur to look at him.

“I believe in you, son. More than anyone.”

He holds his gaze. Feels the warmth of his palm against his face. After a moment, Arthur nods. “You’re right, sir. I’m-- I’m talkin’ nonsense.”

Dutch laughs, pats him hard on the shoulder. He passes Arthur the bottle. “How many years is it gonna take to train that out of you? Don’t be callin’ me sir. We’re family, Arthur, you should know that by now.”

Arthur drinks. “So what’s the plan, then, Dutch?”

Dutch stands again. Starts to pace by the fireside. Arthur watches him ponder, Dutch scratching at the stubble that’s started to form on his chin and cheeks. He stares at the ground. He paces some more.

He stops, finally. He points a finger, shaking it. “I’ve got it.” He turns back to Arthur. “We’re surveyors. We’ve found a new silver vein in the Cuchillo County, and we’re trying to get an investor to purchase the land so we can go back to prospecting.”

“Okay. That sounds well enough.”

“I’ll talk up Mr. Barton, distract him so that you can get in close with his woman and convince her to run away. With as much of the money as she can carry, of course. It’s rightfully owed to her, anyway.”

“Of course.”

“See, we’re practically doing her a service. We’re rescuing her, Arthur. Men like her husband, Arthur, thinking they can control other people. Thinking they can control nature. What greed does to men, it’s shameful.”

“So how we gonna go about it, then?”

Dutch stills. He sits down on the bedroll once more, and reaches for the whiskey.

“I have an idea, Arthur. It will take some preparation, but it will have to wait ‘til morning.” He takes a drink, and wipes his lower lip with the back of his hand. “For now, we rest. Enjoy one another’s company.” He finishes this statement by reaching to pat Arthur on the thigh.

Arthur clears his throat. “You hungry?”

“Starving.”

Their supper is stale bread, a can of beans heated over the dying fire and the remnants of some kind of salted meat. Arthur lets Dutch have most of it, which is probably why he’s feeling the whiskey more than he otherwise would.

“How in the hell am I supposed to-- to seduce some rich lady anyway?” Arthur asks. “Make her leave a life like that where she’s got everything she could ever dream of?”

“Not everything,” Dutch says, over a mouthful of bread. He chews and swallows, but he’s still got crumbs in the corners of his lips. “Love, Arthur.”

“Love,” he repeats.

“No matter their station in life, deep down, it’s what every human craves.”

“Well, you got more experience with love than I do, Dutch,” Arthur says.

Dutch wipes his mouth. “That’s why it’ll work. You’re the right man for this job. Your inexperience will only be interpreted as sincerity.”

“Sure, if I don’t open my mouth wide enough for her to see how completely full of shit I am.”

“Not completely. We’re helping her, Arthur, and others. This isn’t just for our benefit.”

Arthur hums. Dutch has his eyes on the bigger picture, as usual.

Standing, Dutch wipes his hands off on his pant leg. He goes to his horse to retrieve his bedroll, stumbling a bit, then returns. “I need to rest. Tomorrow will be a long day.”

Dutch lays down under the stars. His head faces Arthur, and he can see down the bridge of his nose, the hollows under his eyes. Arthur stays upright, pulls out his journal. He starts drawing, and it comes easy to him, with his inspiration at arm’s reach. The sound of a train whistle echoes somewhere past the hilltops, over the endless flats of red dirt and shining sand.

“It’s stupid,” Arthur murmurs. He bounces his pencil in his hand. “For awhile there, I almost thought you wasn’t gonna come looking for me.”

Dutch hums. “Why, Arthur, would you ever think a thing like that?”

He grips the pencil so hard it might break. “Well, I was the one what put the law on us. If I hadn’t’a pulled the trigger, then--”

“Enough of that. I make mistakes every day, son. These things… they just happen sometimes.”

He swallows. His throat feels tight.

“Thank you, Dutch.”

“Don’t thank me. We’re family, Arthur. I need you as much as you need me.”

Dutch reaches over his head for him, and touches his arm. Arthur wraps his hand around Dutch’s wrist. They hang onto one another for a moment, before Dutch slips out of his grasp.

“Keep your eyes forward, son.”

He looks out at the desert in the night time. He’ll watch over Dutch until morning, and even after that. As long as he can. He looks down at his mentor, then, sketches the lines of his face by firelight. He thinks then-- maybe-- that he’s not as inexperienced as he thought.