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Crumbling Is Not an Instant's Act

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“Alright, back to the camp! We’ll get what we need, clear out!”

Arthur looked around wearily at the abandoned (and now bloody) mining facility, stuffing his gun back in his holster and stepping over the corpse of a newly dead O’Driscoll. He bent down to search the man’s pockets and found some bullets, a golden belt buckle and what appeared to be a genuine platinum pocket watch. Arthur would’ve thought it strange for such a lowlife to have such nice things, if it weren’t for the fact that said lowlife definitely stole it from some poor bastard just like Arthur was stealing it from him right now.

He went on and searched every last body around him, collecting little valuables that might come in handy later. He could hear Dutch, Bill and Micah arguing about something or other while Javier and Lenny quietly went about their business, searching the rundown sheds for anything relevant: plans, bonds, gold… Anything that would help them once they could make it out of the cold, snowy hellscape that was the Grizzlies.

“You found anythin’ useful yet?” Called Dutch from further into the facility, having shushed whatever argument had been going on.

“Not really!” Arthur shouted back, only barely managing to avoid stepping into the entrails of another dead O’Driscoll. Jesus, they were everywhere. “Anythin’ specific you want me to find?”

“Explosives, detonators, whatever’ll help us to rob that train. Hurry up now! Try that shed to the left!”

Arthur mumbled a gruff ‘yeah, yeah’ while Dutch barked orders to the rest of the boys. Dutch was probably just as cold and tired as Arthur. He made his way over to the shed with leaden legs ploughing through the snow. It felt like it had been forever since he last felt his toes. He pushed open the creaky door to the shed, stepped inside, and immediately found himself at the end of a rifle barrel with a rather young looking man at the start of it. Arthur raised his empty hands.

“Easy now.”

The man – young, blonde, smooth-faced but blood-splattered and with a finger entirely too close to the trigger for Arthur’s comfort – seemed to start for a moment. He spoke, voice seemingly much younger still than his appearance.

“You’re not one of Colm’s boys.” Was the man’s confused assessment. “At least, I don’t think I know you.”

“Don’t think I know you either.” Arthur replied, still looking down the barrel. “Why, were you planning on shootin’ your own?”

“They’re not ‘my own’,” the man said snidely, briefly nodding his head to the right, where Arthur saw a couple men with gunshot wounds lying around, “but I was. Soon as I heard it start I just-… Well I figured I had nothing to lose.” He held his aim. “Who are you, why are you here?”

Arthur huffed an incredulous laugh. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“I asked first.”

Fair enough, Arthur thought, wondering if the man in front of him only held such bravado because he had a rifle in his hand. “The name’s Arthur. We came to see what y’all was plannin’ to do with that train you was gonna rob.”

“You mean you want to rob it yourselves.”

Arthur didn’t bother to grace that with a response.

“So you’re no friends of Colm, then?” The man asked after a moment of tense silence.

“We’re not exactly on speaking terms, no.”

The man carefully lowered the rifle, still regarding Arthur steadily. “They found me and my friend a couple months back, gave us a choice to either ride or die. Not much of a choice, really. He ran as soon as the fight began, though. Coward.”

Arthur lowered his hands as well, itching to reach for his revolver. “So you killed all them poor bastards?” He said, gesturing to the corpses.

“Yeah.”

“’Cause you had ‘nothin’’ to lose’?” Arthur found all of this hard to believe.

“Sure. I was looking for an opportunity to shoot them, anyway. Either you were going to kill me, or they would have killed me, eventually. Kieran’s already been shot at for sport.”

“Kieran?”

“My friend.”

“Right.”

The man fidgeted with the hem of his shirt for a moment, gun held tightly in his other hand. “Look. I don’t care about what happened to Kieran, or the others. I just want out of here. If that means joining you instead, well, I guess… An enemy of Colm O’Driscoll is a friend of mine, I suppose.”

“And how do I know you’re not just gonna shoot me in the back as soon as I turn?” Arthur asked, barely registering Dutch’s voice asking him to hurry up already.

“You don’t, but I’ll trade you. My life for these.” He took a step back towards what looked to have been used as a writing desk of some sort. In reality it was mostly crates stacked on each other with a plank across. On top of it lay a roll of paper, which the man handed over. “Here. That’s all the insurance you’ll have, I’m afraid.”

Arthur took the paper and unrolled it, reading quickly before rerolling it. He took a moment to really consider what was before him: a young man wearing clothes only barely suited to the weather, blood smeared all over, eyes equal parts haunted and determined. ‘Nothing to lose’, huh.

Arthur sighed, feeling like he would come to regret this eventually. “Alright. Fine. What’s your name, boy?”

“Elijah van Oss.”

“Well, Elijah. I guess it’s your lucky day.” Arthur jerked his head back, indicating Elijah to follow, and stepped outside. “Dutch!”

Finally! What took you so long?” Dutch said, turning away from Bill and Lenny who were loading explosives onto their horses.

“Got the plans, and, eh…” He gestured vaguely behind him, where Elijah hesitantly followed. “Well, turns out this feller was shootin’ O’Driscolls for us, so I reckon he can come with for now.”

Micah was the first to cock his revolver and take aim. “The hell you mean he was shootin’ for us? Looks like an O’Driscoll to me.”

 “Give it a damn rest, Micah.” Arthur said, taking a step to the left so he was walking in front of Elijah and holding out the plans for Dutch to take. “He gave me this and killed a bunch of Colm’s boys, you can check the shed if you like.”

Dutch said nothing, but took the plans and read them for himself. “This is about the train they was gonna rob… A mister ‘Leviticus Cornwall.’ Well, well…” He lowered the plans and looked at Elijah. “You know who that is, boy?”

“Not sure. I heard some of the boys say he’s got money in oil and railroads. That’s about all I know.” He nervously shot glances to Bill, Javier, Micah and Lenny, who all had their hands on their guns and were looking at him with varying degrees of hostility.

Dutch frowned. “And how did you get here? Where you from?”

“Haarlem.”

“Harlem, all the way up North?”

“No, sir. Haarlem, the Netherlands. I came to this country ten years ago.”

Dutch stuffed the plans in his satchel. “Y’know, my father was Dutch… Why’d you come here?”

“I was… Looking for a different life.” He left unspoken that he found Colm O’Driscoll instead.

Dutch laughed. “Well, I’m sure you found it. Alright, saddle up boys! Let’s get outta here.”

“You can’t be serious!” Micah snarled. “You wanna bring an O’Driscoll back to camp?”

“Arthur says he killed them O’Driscolls in the shed. He got us the plans, too. He might be useful. We’ll keep an eye, Micah.”

“Yeah, we will.” Micah leered at Elijah before turning and getting on his horse.

Arthur sighed and went to get on his horse before remembering. “You got a horse?”

“I used to, she’s over there.” Elijah pointed the barrel of his rifle to a dusty gray mare lying dead in the snow a few feet away. “Think she got caught in the crossfire.”

“Alright, well. You can ride with me.”

“Thanks.”

Elijah slung his rifle over his shoulder and got on the back of Arthur’s horse, holding on as they went back up the steep slope leading back to camp.

They didn’t speak. Dutch said how proud he was of his boys, how they were outlaws for life, until he quieted for a moment. “Hey, wasn’t he at the camp with Colm?”

Elijah raised his head up from behind Arthur’s left shoulder and squinted. “Oh, there he is.”

“There who is?”

“Kieran.”

Arthur spurred on his horse. “Leave him to me.”

“Bring him back to camp!” Dutch said, veering off to the right with the rest of the gang. “He might be useful.”

Elijah scoffed. “I doubt it.”