When he wakes in the morning, Dutch is nowhere to be found.
Arthur doesn’t want to dwell on it. He simply dresses, puts his hat on, and goes out to find Bessie in the kitchen. She seems tired, her face a bit pale, but she puts him to work. He doesn’t entirely want to do it, but it keeps him from thinking too hard about last night, at least.
He feeds the chickens, collects eggs, hauls water, cuts wood. He feeds the horses, cleans out their pen. Hosea and Dutch’s mounts are missing. Dutch didn’t even wake him, didn’t ask him to come. He was deliberately left behind. He shovels shit with more force than necessary, keeps his head down through the mind-numbing work, and the sun is up by the time he finishes.
The kitchen smells like fresh baked bread when he comes back inside. His stomach growls, but Bessie waves him away to wash up, taking the egg basket out of his hands as he goes to the basin.
He takes his hat off as he sits at the kitchen table. Bessie gives him a cup of coffee, and he watches her bustle around. He takes the first sip and it’s strong and dark, makes him feel a bit more alive.
“You know where Hosea and Dutch went off to?” he asks.
“I haven’t the slightest, dear. I’m sure they’ll be back before too much longer.”
He thinks he can see the tension on the edge of her eyes, and he’s sure she can sense his anger. There’s nothing to say about it so neither of them do.
Bessie mercifully makes him breakfast. Fresh bread with fruit preserves, boiled eggs from the hens, fried potatoes. He makes a mess of himself and she chides and throws a dish towel at him in a huff. He helps her clean up afterwards, and joins her on the front porch. He draws, she does some mending. It’s quiet enough that he starts to go crazy.
The sound of horses approaching makes him start, and Arthur goes for the gun that isn’t at his hip. Then, Hosea’s laughter from behind the trees is audible and he puts his hand back to his book. He grips his pencil so hard it might snap.
Dutch and Hosea ride up to the house, talking, excited. They dismount, and Dutch throws an arm around Hosea’s shoulders as they walk closer, conspiring together.
Arthur glances at Bessie. She puts her mending aside, wringing her hands as she rises. A warm smile crosses her face, but she holds herself the way a wooden shack holds against an oncoming storm.
Hosea breaks away, practically leaping up the front step to go to Bessie. “Bessie, dearest,” he says, his eyes light. “Might we go inside a moment?”
Bessie nods, and lets herself be led. The door closes quietly behind them.
In the space she left, Dutch joins him, a smirk pulling at the corner of his lips. He puts a cigarette between his teeth, and strikes a match on the underside of his boot. Arthur watches him puff away for a moment, grey smoke leaking out between his lips, before Dutch passes the cigarette to him as if an afterthought.
“It would appear,” Dutch murmurs. “Our Hosea has decided to join us on the road once more.”
Arthur slides the cigarette between his lips. He takes a drag and then coughs so hard his eyes water.
They prepare to leave in the late afternoon. Bessie packs their saddlebags full of canned goods and salted meat, carrots and apples from her garden for the horses. Persephone lips one out of Arthur’s open palm as Hosea says his last goodbyes.
“Shouldn’t be more than a few weeks or so,” Hosea says, patting her hand. “I’ll write you.”
She turns to Dutch. “You take care of him out there. If something happens to him, I’ll hunt you down.”
“Truly, the thing I fear most, Miss,” Dutch says, with a laugh.
They mount up. Bessie looks up at them from where she stands on the porch, arms crossed, and it’s hardly the tearful goodbye Arthur would’ve expected. He’s never met a woman quite like Miss Bessie.
“Goodbye, boys,” she says, solemnly. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Dutch starts laughing, and Hosea joins in, and it feels like there’s some joke Arthur missed out on as he falls into line behind them. They ride out into the afternoon, and he takes up the rear as he was meant to.
It’s beautiful, open country. It’s different now than it had been at night. The skyline is orange and purple, the sky overhead free of clouds. The stars are almost visible, the moon even as the sun wanes. Deer graze in the grass far away, and it’s peaceful. Quiet.
Hosea whistles to himself. He seems carefree, like some load is off him now that they’re out in the open. Arthur watches him when he’s not looking, his fingers itching to draw him. He likes Miss Bessie, of course he does, but Hosea seems much more at home out in the wild.
“Look at this,” says Dutch, a smile pulling at the corner of his lips. “The three of us, together again.”
“Up to no good,” Hosea adds.
“Good? What is ‘goodness,’ Hosea, but a set of morals outlined by what definition-- society? God?”
“I’m sure robbing and killing don’t fall under any definition.”
“Not if you’re good at it.”
“So where we going, anyway?” Arthur asks.
“Does it matter where we’re going, son? We will ride forth unto this virgin land and seek opportunity and good fortune--”
“--and at least a few suckers,” Hosea adds.
“And we will carve out our future into the surface of this great rock, together.”
“The hell does that mean?” Arthur mumbles.
“It means,” Dutch continues, “That with both of you by my side, anything is possible.”
Dutch smiles at him then, like the life has come back into him. Arthur straightens up in his saddle, and returns it.
They ride. Light turns to dark. With the path ahead growing narrow in the trees, Arthur drops back, until he’s side by side with Hosea. Dutch rides a little further up ahead, navigating.
It seems quieter without him right there. Arthur’s mind hums. It’s the first time he’s been alone with Hosea in he doesn’t know how long. Suddenly he’s self-conscious, like Hosea can somehow see the things he’s done all over him. Like it’s been written into his skin for everyone else to look upon.
“So, uh,” Arthur says. “You glad to be back?”
“Of course, son. Although it feels as though I missed so much being gone a few months,” Hosea murmurs, “The boy I left behind has up and disappeared and been replaced entirely with a man I hardly recognize.”
He can see Hosea looking at him and he wants, for a moment, to tell him about everything that happened. It sits there on the tip of his tongue. Instead, he looks sidelong at Hosea, riding along steadily beside him.
“I missed you too, Hosea.”
“Oh, enough. I weren’t gone so long. You’re both acting like I was dead.”
Though it was only a few months, it felt like a lifetime. Hosea’s got a look on him, so Arthur shuts his mouth and just enjoys the quiet.
They catch up with Dutch eventually, who’s waiting at the lone signpost at the end of the fork in the path. Moonlight dusts his shoulders, his eyes dark under the brim of his hat.
Hosea falls in at Dutch’s side. Arthur follows, the way he always does.
It’s a few nights of riding north and sleeping in the dirt when they end up in Kissimee, a grimy minetown of ill-repute. It’s crowded, ripe with coal reserves, and the stinking scent of unwashed men mostly camped out in tents and caravans.
It’s nightfall when they end up in the lone saloon, as big as a shoebox and crowded with almost entirely good old boys and working girls on the second floor. There’s liquor flowing, and they’ve got a rickety table in the corner to talk and scheme.
Arthur’s decently drunk by the second hour. He could be more, but when he reaches for the bottle but Hosea draws it away.
“Easy there, Arthur,” Hosea says, smiling at him. “No sense in pickling yourself this early on in the evening.”
Dutch chuckles, taking the bottle to pour for Hosea and himself.
“What if I ain’t got no sense to start?” Arthur asks.
He watches the liquid fill the glasses, the way Dutch hands it back to Hosea first.
“We already know that much, Arthur. You don’t need the liquor to prove it to us.”
They both laugh heartily at his expense. Dutch slaps him on the shoulder, and gives him a good shake. It feels good. Like old times, but like something else, too.
Throwing back his glass, Dutch rises out of his seat using Arthur as leverage. “Speaking of morons, I think it’s about time I befriended some of the locals. You two stay here.”
He heads off to the bar. Arthur watches him go, before turning back to Hosea, who’s giving him a look.
“So…” Hosea starts, in that tone like he’s digging for information. “Dutch tells me you boys ran a little con of your own in my absence.”
“It wasn’t nothin’,” Arthur replies, evasive. “Didn’t even pan out.”
“A real shame about the Barton woman. Poor soul.” He glances to the bar, where Dutch has seemingly disappeared. “Though to be blunt, the husband was the better choice for a mark. Egotistical bastards, the ones who think they know better, are always easier to trick.”
“I don’t know what Dutch was thinking, to believe there was a shot in hell of that woman coming with the two of you.” He shakes his head, then finishes off the last of his drink.
“No matter what kind of a picture Dutch can paint, rich folk ain’t for this life. Security and familiarity is more comfortable than fear of the unknown, even if it might be better in the long run. What would she be without her big house and her scary husband? Certainly not one of us. Foolish to even suggest.”
He lowers his voice. “I wanted to rob the stagecoach.”
“And between you and me, that would’ve been the surer bet. But you know Dutch. He’s got ideas bigger than the both of us could ever figure.”
“Yeah,” Arthur mumbles.
“Besides, even if it didn’t work out all the way, you still tried, Arthur. Better to do something than nothin’ at all.” Hosea smiles at him. “And it gave me an idea for a wonderful little scheme involving mining claims and land of dubious monetary value.”
Arthur grins. He likes it when Hosea gets that boyish look on his face. Hosea elbows him playfully, and he returns it with fervor.
“You and Dutch got some plan cooked up? That why we're here?”
“Why else would we be? Keep your head about, Arthur. It’s a miracle the two of you got anything done without me here.”
Arthur chuckles to himself. A miracle is right. As the laughter dies down, he picks at a hangnail, leaning back in his chair. He asks a question that’s been weighing heavy on his mind.
“The Barton woman-- you think she’s gonna get the law on us?”
“It’s hard to say. Depends on how badly you wounded her pride, I would imagine.”
“You think I should’ve just--” He gestures, dragging his thumb over his throat.
Hosea’s expression darkens. There’s a horrible pause where he thinks he’s said the wrong thing. Hosea’s eyes narrow, and his mouth opens. He draws in a steady breath before he speaks.
“You know the rules, Arthur.”
“Yeah, I know,” he mumbles. “Was just asking.”
“Well don’t. Besides, Arthur. Ain’t like we haven’t run from the law before. And as long as there’s money to be made, we’ll keep running.”
“But I thought you was thinkin’ of-- well, y’know.”
“No, I don’t know, Arthur. What do you mean?”
“You getting out?”
“Y’know, settling down. With Miss Bessie. You gave her a ring.”
Hosea gets a look about him that makes Arthur instantly feel sorry for asking. He wonders, then, exactly what kind of conversation him and Dutch had.
“I am not going anywhere, Arthur. Just because I got other responsibilities doesn’t mean I’m leaving you behind.” He pauses. “Besides, that house Bessie got, she still owes money. Dutch is often full of shit but he is right about one thing-- money don’t come outta nowhere.”
Hosea reaches for the drink Dutch poured for him, puts it to his lips while speaking. “You have to take care of the people you love, Arthur, the people who need you most.”
“Right,” Arthur says.
Hosea finishes off his drink, setting it down on the table. There’s a moment where he seems to be thinking, before he looks over his shoulder. There’s still no sight of Dutch at the bar, nor by the tables throughout the saloon.
“Where the hell did he get off to anyhow?” Hosea murmurs.
As if summoned, there’s a ruckus where Dutch emerges from behind one of the doors upstairs. He’s got a look on his face, and a woman on his arm, his coat draped around her shoulders and clutched tight to her chest. He pulls her towards the stairs, nearly toppling her over in the process. He’s in a hurry.
Hosea starts to stand, and Arthur does the same as Dutch comes down the stairs with the woman. She has a wild look under the thick layer of her fringe, her hand shaking where she clutches Dutch’s coat around her. She’s pretty enough, a little rough in the way most working women are. Her upper lip curls like she’s smelled something foul.
“What’s the rush?” Hosea asks, with faux joviality. “So eager to leave already? We’ve only just got here!”
“I believe we have worn out our welcome, Hosea.”
Dutch steers her past the table. Hosea follows.
Arthur falls into line behind them. He stares at the back of the woman’s head, where she keeps throwing frantic back towards the top of the stairs, from the room where she emerged. There are men gathering there, talking fast, moving.
“And who might you be, Miss?” Hosea asks. He’s got one hand hovering over his gun, and people are starting to look at them as they weave through the men standing, the tables, pushing through towards the door.
The woman doesn’t answer. Her upper lip starts shaking as more people start to look at them as they pass.
Arthur looks to the top of the stairs, where a few of the men are coming down in a hurry.
“Hey, stop her!” one yells.
Dutch doesn’t look back. He keeps moving, until they’re at the door. Two men move in front of the door to block their exit, and it’s then that Hosea pulls his gun out. Arthur does the same, his heart starting to fire in his chest.
“Hello, gentlemen,” Dutch says, baring his teeth in a smile. “I believe it’s in your best interests to let us pass.”
He, too, unholsters the gun from his offhand holster, holding it down at his side. He keeps the woman’s wrist in his other hand, though she seems to wind up like a scruffed cat as soon as she realizes what’s happening.
“We ain’t letting you run off with one of our women,” says the man at the door.
“This is a free country, friend. A land of equal opportunity,” Dutch says. “She can do as she pleases.”
They raise their guns. Dutch does the same, pointing it squarely at the man closest to him. Arthur does the same. Hosea’s looking up at the stairs behind him, can see he’s assessing an exit.
“Now, now. There’s no reason this needs to end in bloodshed,” Dutch continues. “We’ll take the woman where she pleases and you’ll never hear from any of us again.”
“You ain’t leaving with her, and you keep pointin’ that gun in my face you won’t be leaving with your life, neither!”
Dutch doesn’t put his gun away. Neither do the men at the door. People start to move around them, restless, itching for a fight.
“She killed a feller!” calls one of the men from the top of the stairs. He has his gun drawn. “Don’t let her leave!”
She starts before anyone else, jerking out of Dutch’s grasp to make a wild grab for his gun. He resists, but the gun goes off, blowing a hole in the man at the door’s head. There’s instant chaos, cacophony as people start to fight and flee in equal parts.
Hosea arcs downward to upright a table, pulling it up on its side to shield them as bullets rain down from the stairway. Dutch kicks the doors down and hauls the woman outside, while Arthur and Hosea return fire from cover quickly shot through with bullet holes. Wood chips and dust fly as they exchange fire, and he feels a tug at his shoulder as Hosea grabs for him and starts tugging him back out through the doors.
“This way!” Dutch calls, ahead of them.
“The horses!” Hosea yells.
There’s law coming down the street, people peering their heads out doors and windows at the commotion. They barrel down the steps, down into the dirt towards the horses as a handful of gunmen pour out the front door. Arthur flings himself behind a crate as Hosea returns fire, while Dutch gets the woman on the back of his mount.
“Hosea!” Dutch calls.
Hosea backs up, firing at the men as his horse whinnies behind him where it’s tethered. He climbs onto his horse, and Dutch starts to ride off, shooting behind him.
“Arthur, come on!”
He wants to keep fighting. He wants to stay in the middle of it, the blood racing in his veins as he fires off another shot that hits a man square in the chest. He sees the world move in slow motion as he watches him fall to the ground, then he ducks and turns back to where Hosea’s mount is rearing up. The lawmen are starting to close in on them, bullets ricochet dangerously close to his ear.
People yell and scream in the streets, running to clear out of the hail of gunfire. There’s a bell ringing somewhere in the distance, but Arthur tunes it out, stays focused. They need to clear out.
Firing off a few rounds, Hosea covers for him as he bolts for Persephone, agitated by the gunfire. A bullet whips past his head, and he jerks, practically throwing himself at the saddle as Hosea spurs his horse.
“Yah!” Arthur yells, kicking Persephone to a start.
Dutch is already half disappeared, the woman only barely visible in the darkness where they ride ahead. They drive the horses hard and fast to catch up, desperate to lose the law on their tale.
“This way!” Dutch calls ahead of them.
He turns into a wooded area, taking them off the main path. It’s near treacherous, steep as they head down the embankment. Persephone resists hard beneath him, tossing her head as he follows Dutch down into the darkness. He can hear gunfire behind them, turns to fire a few shots back as Hosea gallops ahead of him on his mount.
They push onward, into the trees where the brush is so thick it’s easy to get lost. In the darkness of the foliage he can barely make out the narrow path ahead of them, and Persephone nickers in agitation as they nearly head into a tree. He can still make out Dutch’s horse ahead of him, so he follows it blindly, follows him wherever he goes.
It's a thunder of hooves, the sound of heavy breathing. Branches snapping as they bolt through, firelight from up above and over the ridge.
Finally, the gunshots and and the yelling behind them is out of earshot. They don’t stop riding until there’s no sound at all, and the forest gives way to a clearing. They ride for what feels like hours before finally, the silence looms overhead and the stars are the only light left behind. The moon crawls out from beneath the trees as they slow to a stop.
Hosea’s the first off his horse, and he’s practically boiling as he walks over to Dutch’s side. “You gonna explain to me exactly what the hell that was, Dutch? You trying to get us all killed?”
Swinging his leg off his mount, Dutch drops to his feet. He extends a hand to the woman to help her off, but she clambers off without his assistance.
“What exactly did you expect me to do, Hosea? I wasn’t going to let this poor woman hang.”
“Well, what did she do?”
Arthur’s feet hit the ground, and he approaches. He’s got his gun in his hand just in case.
“Why don’t you ask me what I done?” the woman says. “Since you’re so damn curious?”
“I’m sure you don’t expect me to believe a word out of your mouth. I don’t know what the hell you did or didn’t do, I’ve no idea who you even are!”
“Hosea, I will explain. I was on the second floor of that fine establishment, listening, and I heard a struggle,” Dutch explains. “And I went into the room to see if there was some man being indecent, of course. I caught her putting a knife in the man on top of her. She asked me-- begged me-- for help.”
“Well you didn’t have to do it! What about us, Dutch? Our faces are going to be plastered on every wall in the country!”
Dutch reaches for Hosea, trying to calm him. “Now, Hosea, just listen to me.”
Slapping the hand away, Hosea takes a step back. “I’m not sure what devil possessed you to think that starting a gunfight in the middle of a saloon for a woman you don’t even know was a good idea!”
Dutch’s temper flares, his face going red as he steps towards Hosea. “Well, I didn’t start it but I was damn well going to finish it!”
Hosea shuts his mouth. It’s visible in his eyes that this conversation isn’t over, but he doesn’t respond.
Arthur glances at the woman, where she’s drawing Dutch’s jacket off her shoulders. The front of her dress is torn and coated in blood, up to the base of her throat. She looks at him, then, holds his gaze with a ferocity that almost makes him take a step back.
“I weren’t in distress,” she says.
Hosea and Dutch turn to face her. She pushes her hair behind her ears, then looks down at her dress. She’s dressed like any other working girl, the neckline low and immodest. Arthur stares as she runs her hand over her chest, leaving finger shaped smudges through the red. He’s not sure if it’s the blood or her breasts that make him stare as long as he does.
“Jesus, all this blood.” She pulls her skirt up and starts to wipe it away. It doesn’t work well, and she tuts as if it’s merely spilled milk.
Arthur passes her a gun rag. “Here, miss,” he mumbles.
“Thank you, dear,” she says. The smile she gives him is unexpectedly coquettish, and he backs off almost too abruptly.
“If you weren’t in distress,” Hosea starts, his tone even, “Explain why’d you kill that feller then?”
She looks up at him, then spits on the ground. “He needed killing.”
“You didn’t go to the law?” Arthur asks.
“He was law. They weren’t about to do in with one of their own, no matter the evil he’d inflicted upon me or my kin.”
Dutch’s face takes on a gleeful look. “My,” he says. “A woman who takes matters into her own hands.”
“Who else would? Wasn’t nobody else gonna do it for me.”
Hosea sighs. “Well, there you have it. A lady killer.”
“Now, it’s like she said-- some folk need killing, Hosea,” Dutch says. “You agree with me. I know you do.”
The woman finishes cleaning the blood as best she can. She sniffs, then, her hands hanging at her sides. A moment passes, and she covers her face, her shoulders hitching.
Surprisingly, it’s Hosea that steps forward. He puts a hand on her shoulder, leaning down a little to wipe her eyes. “Now, now, it’s all right. You’re all right.”
She knocks his hand away. “Of course it isn't all right. I am well aware of the terrible situation I have gotten myself into.”
“And quite the situation it is, Miss. Though certainly not impossible to manage,” Dutch says. “It may be bold of myself to say, but we could use a woman like you. Riding with us.”
Dutch steps toward her, and she holds her ground. She stands tall, her chin up as Dutch looks down at her. He slips a hand beneath her chin, and this one, she doesn’t slap away.
“You killed that man without fear of consequence, because you felt it was the right thing to do. That’s a woman with a strong moral code. Bravery. You fired off that gun without fear. I’m afraid this world doesn’t understand a woman such as you, Miss,” Dutch murmurs, “And though I am only a simple man, I am one in search of a different world. A better one.”
Her eyes narrow underneath her fringe, her lips part.
“What’s your name?” she asks.
Dutch takes a step back then. He makes a grand gesture of a bow, tips his hat.
“I am Dutch van der Linde. Some may call me an outlaw, a robber, a killer, but I think of myself as something of a dreamer, if you will.” He gestures to his side. “Hosea Matthews, my partner, endlessly more grounded than I. Gifted with a silver tongue and a quick draw.”
Hosea lights a cigarette, waving his hand. “I’d say I’m pleased to meet you, but given the circumstances.”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” she says.
“And Arthur Morgan,” Dutch says, clapping a hand on his shoulder, “A stray we picked up a few years back. He has grown into a loyal companion under my tutelage.”
She looks at him up and down. “Why, you’re barely more than a boy.”
“His age may be deceiving, but allow him the opportunity to surprise you,” Dutch says.
Dutch takes her by the hand, and draws her closer. Arthur watches the shift in her, the way her eyes lose their edge the nearer Dutch gets to her.
“I imagine that you’re frightened, Miss. Have you anywhere to go? Family, perhaps?”
“None to speak of. Not anymore.”
“You’re more than welcome to come with us,” Dutch says.
Hosea starts, at that. “She killed a lawman, Dutch. They’ll be looking for her.”
“And we have killed many a lawman, Hosea. Don’t be ridiculous.” He pauses, turning back to her. “It’s not safe for a woman to be out here on her own.”
“I owe you my life, Mr. Van der Linde,” she murmurs. "Without you, I would've--"
"Speak nothing of it, Miss. It was my honour.
“I won’t be a burden, I swear it. I can fire a gun and I ain’t afraid of a little blood on my hands.”
“That much I can tell," Hosea says. He takes a long drag off his cigarette then starts towards the horses. “At any rate, we shouldn’t linger.”
Dutch smiles. “That’s about as close to a yes as that man will get. Come along, Miss.”
“I need a moment to collect myself, Mr. Van der Linde,” she says.
With another tip of his hat, Dutch follows Hosea back to the horses. Arthur stays behind, frozen, not sure if he was meant to go, as well. He feels the need to watch her, for some reason. Suddenly, he’s responsible for her, too.
She sniffs again, bringing him out of his reverie. He lifts a hand to touch her, but he isn’t sure it’ll be appreciated. He’s never met a woman what killed on purpose before.
“What are you waiting for?” she murmurs. She wipes her nose delicately with the back of her hand.
“You, I suppose.”
“You’re sweet, ain’t you?”
"Nah." Arthur smiles, a little crooked. “Though… I was curious as to what to call you? What’s your name, Miss?”
She offers him the rag back. He takes it, the bloodstains wet beneath his fingers.
“It’s Susan,” she says. “Susan Grimshaw.”
Her eyes catch starlight, brilliant beneath the dark fan of her eyelashes. Arthur looks at her, then, and feels that nothing will ever be the same again.
He hasn’t been here in years. Monument, in the county of Pimeria. He rides in on the main road, past the ruins of the Barton estate, and the memories seep into his mind like poison.
He slows as he comes into town. Persephone’s old now, can’t take the pace she used to. He walks her through the near empty streets, humming under his breath as he wanders. With most of the buildings boarded up, there isn’t much left. The Bluebird Cafe long closed up shop. The only mainstays with any life in them seem to be a saloon, a brothel. Arthur’s got more woman problems than he can about handle, so he goes for a drink instead at the Silver Eagle.
He remembers this place being a lot more lively. The bartender says the mine’s dried up, he’s thinking about leaving, himself. It’s near a ghost town, nothing like the busy mecca he recalls. He’s the only one in the dusty bar, the sun washing white over the walls, dust particles visible in the light.
“What brings you here, sir?” the bartender says.
He’s an older man, skinny, his hair stark white, but he has a youth to his eyes that makes Arthur unusually talkative.
“I was here a few years back during the silver rush. Now, just passin’ through.”
“Most are these days.”
“Where you headed?”
He shrugs. “Family waitin’ for me out west.”
“Ah. Didn’t take you for the family sort, to be honest.”
“And I don’t seem to remember askin’ for your take.”
“Don't get all rustled up, feller. Just an observation.”
He watches the bartender clean glasses that look clean already. It’s quiet.
“Say, Mister,” Arthur murmurs, turning the glass of whiskey in his fingers, “You ever hear of a man named Barton? And his woman, a pretty blonde gal from the city named Genevieve?”
“Of course. Barton Milling and Mining Company-- everyone here has. Everyone left, o’course.”
“Whatever happened to ‘em? Saw the estate all run down. They leave?”
“Leave? Then you didn’t hear.” The bartender shakes his head. “Mrs. Barton went and got herself killed. They found her body in a ditch all beat up, marks 'round her neck. She ran off with some man or another and he musta killed her. Serves her right, you know, shaming her husband like that.”
Arthur stares at the wood paneling behind the bartender for a moment. He takes a drink. “Real shame.”
“After that tragic loss, Mr. Barton moved back to the city, I think. Took a new wife, I heard. Don’t know what became of him after that.”
The bartender clicks his tongue. “Places like these, mister, they don’t have many happy endings. A lot of folk left here broke, but at least they left at all.”
Arthur nods, his gut churning not just from the alcohol. He stands, placing his coins on the counter.
“Thanks for the drink, partner.”
The bartender smiles, bearing blackened teeth. "Happy trails, feller."
He leaves the bar, and walks down the empty street. He feels older than he should, as if somehow the sand has carved a few layers off of him.
It’s been years since that strange summer. Years, now. He tries to forget it, most days.
Persephone is waiting for him, the way she always does. He pets her flank, looks her in the eyes where she’s showing her age. She’s got one last long ride in her, he thinks. Her nostrils flare and he presses his forehead against her muzzle, drawing in a deep breath of dry air. One last long ride.
He rides out as the sun descends over the arid land, the sun over the canyons blood red and blinding. Arthur’s eyes narrow as he faces it, his mind a wash of blue.
Arthur thinks of the late Genevieve Barton, her marked neck, her wounded eyes. He thinks of her and all he did and all he didn’t do. He grips the reins. He spurs Persephone harder, he drives her faster.
He rides. He rides and he rides and he rides far away from the dying, dried out town of Monument, until there’s no trace of him left but hoof prints and dust in the desert.