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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5


Written by Karen Bruce
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 4

“What are we going to do about the Wolverine?” Kate demanded, as she shut the hotel room’s door behind herself and Remy. Her partner shrugged and collapsed onto the bed, folding his hands on his stomach. So as not to rouse suspicion, they had remained in the saloon, spooning and making small-talk, for about an hour after they had first spotted him. She had been in a seethe of impatience and indecision the entire time.

One part of her wanted to call off the heist and get as far from Moonshine Creek and the poker tournament as she possibly could. The Wolverine had earned every word spoken about him in admiration or fear. It was said he was as tough as a bear, as wily as a coyote and as nasty as a rattlesnake. If the rumours could be believed, he’d tracked Creed all the way from Nebraska to California, and had killed him with his bare hands. Down in the saloon, she’d had the worst feeling that if he looked at her he would know her in an instant as the person who’d robbed that pigeon from Midas.

The other could almost feel the cool, smooth notes slipping through her hands. A million dollars was almost more money than she could imagine - enough money to buy the entire prairies with some left over for change. The thought of having half of it it for herself was enough to make even the most cautious thief risk the gallows. Besides, she had taken a gamble going with Remy to Moonshine Creek -  he could have been a clever bounty hunter for all she had known at the time - and that had paid off for her. It would be wrong to stop the dice rolling while she was on a winning streak.

“Ah think we go ahead with the pinch,” she continued, sitting next to him on the bed and looking down at him. Remy had loosened his bowtie and unbuttoned his jacket, while his hat was tilted at a rakish angle over the bedpost. He had evidently decided that rumpled clothes would add to the effect of a dissolute gentleman gambler, and had settled in for the night. She irrelevantly wondered where he expected her to sleep.

He arched an eloquent eyebrow at her, “Bien sur. If only because outsmartin’ de Wolverine would make a great drinkin’ story.”

“You got a plan, sugah?”

“Oui,” he replied complacently, “I had one de entire time, because I knew de bank would hire protection for deir money. I didn’ t’ink it would be de Wolverine, but dat’ll just add t’de challenge o’ pulling it off.”

“So, spill the beans,” she demanded, “What are we goin’ to do at the tournament tomorrow?”

Shifting up the feather mattress so that he was sitting against the headboard, Remy reached into his breast pocket and produced a small twist of white paper in reply. He held it out to Kate, who took it from him and looked at him questioningly. He gestured that she should look inside it. Careful not to spill any of its contents, Kate untwisted the little package to reveal finely ground, grey powder. It gave off a sharp, pungent fragrance, yet the scent made her feel oddly dizzy and light-headed. Remy’s face began to blur in front of her, his features becoming indistinct and smudgy, as if she were looking at him through a greasy glass. Behind him, the wooden panelling of the walls were melting and running down onto the floor. Even the dim, gas lanterns were liquid cascades of light that poured down to puddle on the bedspread. It was like the whole world was dissolving, and she was the only solid point still remaining in it.

Quickly, she twisted the packet shut and handed it back to him. He tucked it back into his jacket with a satisfied expression on his face.

“I t’ink dat’d be enough to confuse even de Wolverine, ne?”

“More than enough,” she agreed, getting unsteadily to her feet and teetering to the casement window. She pushed one of them open, and breathed in the warm, night air to clear her head. She made a face as she did so. Unlike the sweet, grassy prairies, Moonshine Creek smelt of dust, creosote and horse manure. By day, sweat would have added its own stink to the mix, but the streets were pretty much deserted at night. If the soft, rainbow glow of lanterns through muslin curtains were any indication, all decent folks were at home by this time. The less respectable inhabitants would all be spending whatever money they had managed to make by mining or driving cattle on the moonshine that had given this place its name. Rising from the saloon beneath them, she could hear the faint tinkling of the player piano over which the high, drunken laughter of the whores or a muffled curse from one of the patrons could be heard from time to time.

“So, what are you goin’ to do wit’ your share of de money?” Remy suddenly asked from beside her. Kate started, turning to glare at him accusingly. She had been so deep in her contemplation of the city that she had not heard him come up to her. He was leaning on the windowsill, tieless and jacketless, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He had a thoughtful, slightly dreamy expression on his face. With the lantern light behind him, he looked like the picture of the angel that the schoolmarm had shown her in the big Bible from which they had used to read.

She remembered she had been in love with that angel as a girl. She had been forever stealing glances at him when she had been allowed to get her hands on the book. When her teacher had found out, she had been furious with her. She had not know it was wrong to be in love with an angel, but it evidently was, because the schoolmarm had called her a little heathen, a child of the Devil and much worse. Kate had never returned to that school again. She had set out in that direction each morning to fool her daddy, but had spent the rest of the day playing down at the creek or in the sweet, prairie grass. She had never regretted it. She knew how to read and write, and that was a lot more than most people in the West ever did.

It was strange how the old memory had resurfaced, though. She thought she had left behind her childhood: the dirt of the tents; the too-short, too-tight dresses and the final hopelessness on her father’s dead face. She barely thought about her past anymore, not with that sort of clarity. It was almost as strange as the deep, almost painful sweetness she felt in the pit of her stomach when she looked across at Remy. That had to be the bourbon she had drunk at the saloon disagreeing with her, or an aftereffect of whatever drug had been in the packet. The alternative was impossible. She had only met him the previous morning.

Disconcerted, she stared back out of the window, “Ah’d get the hell out of here. Go back East, and start a new life in Mississippi. Somewhere where a city ain’t a couple of tents and a hitching-rail; where there are shops and shows and proper streets. What about you?”

He chuckled, “I don’t need de money, chere. I’m already rich a couple times over, but I got gold dust in my blood and I can’t get it out. You be de same. If ya went back to Mississippi and tried to lead a normal life, you’d be itching for another big score in a week.”

“That ain’t true,” she protested, “Sure, Ah’m a thief and Ah’m ain’t ashamed that Ah’m damn good at what Ah do, but it ain’t what Ah want to do forever.”

“Really?” his voice was amused, “Why do you still do it den? Way I see it, if you’re half as good a t’ief as you say you are, you’ve pinched more money dan most folks in dese parts will see in deir lifetimes.”

Kate was silent, staring past the lights of the city to the dark prairie that stretched off into the distance. Remy was right. She had already stolen more than enough money on which to retire, move back East and start a new life. It was the question of what came next that had always stopped her from considering it and had made her decide to get more money before acting. If she gave up her life of crime, what would take its place? Wifehood and motherhood were the professions to which it was assumed all decent, natural women aspired, and she could not see herself settling down to marriage and babies.

And, if she remained single, the days would stretch ahead of her in grey, unending uselessness. She was not educated enough to teach, and that would be the only job open to her, other than the unacceptable options of mining, running a boarding house and prostitution. Unlike men, women could not become preachers or accountants, cowgirls or doctors, shop-owners or workers.

Doubting Remy would understand, she said at last, “Because Ah’m good at it, and because there ain’t anything else Ah’m allowed to be good at.”

She felt his hand move to cover hers on the windowsill and squeeze it tight, before he said in a surprisingly angry voice, “Den stick it to dem an’ be damn good at it.”

“What do you know about it? You’re a man,” she said in surprise, “You can be anything you want.”

“You forgot de adjective dat makes all de difference,” he said quietly, “I’m a Cajun man. One, small step up from a negro, according to de powers dat be. Fit only t’work in de fields or de turpentine factories.”

Kate stared at their hands on the windowsill, unable to look up at him. She felt sick with shame and guilt. She had assumed he was Creole for the same, ugly reasons implied in his words. Sure, she would have liked to believe it was a natural consequence of there being more Creoles than Cajuns up in Mississippi, but she knew she would have been fooling herself. Received wisdom had it that Cajuns didn’t have the brains that God gave geese, and, in the short time she had known him, Remy had proved himself to be highly intelligent. She had gone with an ugly stereotype, and had leapt to even uglier conclusions. She didn’t know where to begin to apologise to him.

She turned towards him, but he must have guessed her purpose from her face, because, before she could speak, he smiled down at her and teasingly  said: “It’s okay, chere. Ya wouldn’t be de first t’make dat mistake. First time I saw you, before ya ripped off dat pigeon from Midas, I t’ought you were a whore for real. Was even wondering how much ya charged, an’ t’inking it didn’t matter.”

“And Ah remember asking myself why the hell someone who looked like you needed to pay for a woman,” she replied with an arch smile of her own, glad and grateful that the awkward moment had passed so easily.

Remy let out a shout of laughter, “Don’t blame ya. I am pretty good-looking.”

“In which case, you can have the floor tonight,” she said in her sweetest voice, turning away from the window and walking towards the bed. She sat on the edge of it and bent to unlace her high-heeled boots, “After all, Ah need my beauty sleep.”

Still chuckling in amusement, he retrieved a blanket and pillow from the bed and spread them on the hardwood floor. He settled onto them with a theatrical groan, thumping the ground with a hand as if that would make it more comfortable, “Don’t suppose I can take it back about me bein’ handsome.”

Pointedly, “Nope. Good night, Remy.”

“Good night, chere. Sweet dreams.”


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