Sloane watched as the sheriff carried the injured blonde deputy down the street toward Dr. Emanuel Ashbel’s office. She leaned against the wall of a nearby building, pistol drawn and pointed upwards.
KILL THEM! NOW! The voice inside her head boomed.
Of course … but the moment had to be just right. She wanted to see the fear in Montreal’s eyes when he saw her gun pointed between them. So she waited … for now.
* * *
Ramiro Mendoza chased one of the Law Dogs across the front of the Dead Dog Tavern, turning toward the north. He’d worked for the law in the past when the pay was right, but these days the Sloane Gang had far greater promise of wealth than the cadre of volunteer deputies.
“We’re headed to Gomorra to get back one of ours,” Sloane called to him when she’d passed by his camp just after dawn that morning. “That Sheriff’s lookin’ to take things further than he should, and if it turns to fightin’, I’ll pay by the head. You in?”
Ramiro’s broken-toothed smile was all the answer she needed. It’s about time the bounties got turned the other way ‘round for a change. And he wasn’t about to miss out on a single reward.
He chased the Law Dog with pistol drawn, but cautiously. No work-for-hire was worth risking a meeting with the saints at this point. Truth be told he’d likely have a few hundred years in purgatory first. Who would repent sins such as Ramiro’s after what happened to Lawrence in the confessional?
Ramiro rounded the corner into the back alleyway. “No escaping this time, hombre!” he shouted. “I’ve got you!”
Ramiro’s eyes went wide when he saw the mangled body of his bounty on the ground. A trio of tumblebleeds sucked the life out of the convulsing frame, blood pooling beneath him from the sloppy, vampiric grip of their jaws. One of them stopped and turned its attention on Ramiro, gathering up its tendrils into a round shape to bound toward him.
“Híjole!” Ramiro exclaimed and fired off a shot from his pistol, the tumblebleed’s mouth exploding into bits of human flesh and blood along with its flying thorns. But the shot came a second too late. As the creature fell, it lashed out wildly with it’s tendrils, one lodging firmly into Ramiro’s thigh. It was a relatively small sting, but it gave the others time to react in a writhing frenzy.
The briar monsters stretched their tendrils toward Ramiro, latching on with a dozen sharp cuts. Ramiro tried to shake them off to no avail. Thorny teeth dug into the skin of his windpipe as he gasped for his final breaths.
* * *
Elmore Rhine had been enjoying a lunch at the Dead Dog Tavern, fork in hand and napkin ruffling out of the neck of his shirt. It’d already been a productive day. He had been invited to the morning’s hanging upon introducing himself to Sheriff Montreal, offering to act as a pro-bono legal advocate for his department.
The meal was interrupted by gunfire outside as Elmore dropped his fork, looking toward the Tavern’s doors. “Oh my, sounds like there’s going to be legal trouble.”
“Must be that corrupt sheriff and his posse,” said another man sitting across the room. He had long, dark curly hair and a vest over his white shirt, with a small red cloth hanging from the pocket.
“Pardon?” Elmore asked, astonished. He pushed his spectacles up higher on his nose to get a better look at him. “And who might you be to make such judgments?”
“Makaio Kaleo, Esquire,” he said, as he rose to approach, producing a social card from an interior pocket with his name engraved in gold leaf calligraphy.
“A lawyer then,” Elmore said, studying the man. The man’s identity dawned on him. “Ahh, you’re the man I’ve heard about, Mr. Blackwood’s defense attorney.”
“There’s no such thing as a fair defense in this town!” Makaio said, his face reddening. “The whole system is rigged. One of those deputies says someone’s a criminal and that’s all it takes for an honest person to get a bounty … or a noose!”
Elmore pulled the napkin from his collar and wiped his mouth with it as he stood, not losing his cool like the man in front of him but focusing his energy on maintaining professionalism. “Mr. Kaleo, I may be new here, but from everything I’ve heard about that case, I believe there’s adequate evidence to bring you in on charges of complicity. And it’s my citizen’s duty to bring you in for questioning.”
Before Makaio could respond, two of the Sheriff’s men, Tommy Harden and Andrew Burton, came scrambling through the door. Andrew held onto his hat as he paused to still the batwing doors while stealing a glance back outside. He didn’t like what he saw as his eyes widened before shooing his companion as they both leapt behind the bar. One of the tavern’s other patrons saw the writing on the wall and dove out the window while others scattered in the confusion.
A spray of bullets shattered through the doors behind them. Elmore’s jaw dropped as he saw the man he was about to arrest turn pale. Makaio’s eyes rolled back in his head and he fell face flat onto the table, sending the rest of Elmore’s lunch flying.
“My word!” Elmore said, turning his gaze to whence the bullets came.
The doors opened, and three men with red bandanas tied across their faces rushed inside. The lead gunman fired his weapon at the tavern’s chandelier, sending it crashing to the floor.
Elmore realized he was the only person left standing, the more seasoned citizens of Gomorra having taken cover behind tables or the piano in the corner. The three gunmen at the door realized it as soon as he did. They finished a round of reloading after the distraction of the chandelier and leveled their guns at him, the chambers of their revolvers spinning.
Three shots pelted Elmore in the chest before he could move. The Gomorra Gazette would come to record his last words as “But I only just arrived …”.
* * *
Abram Grothe charged back toward the town square, his sword ablaze. The alcohol he had poured on the blade dripped over his hands, but in a miraculous sign of favor from the Lord, the flames did not extend to his skin.
As he ran, his blade descended with wrath on tumblebleed after tumblebleed as the protection of this people, protection of his friends, swirled through his mind. The abominations proved no match for fire or steel as twisted shrieks followed each swing of his sword.
A loud blast rang in the air, Abram instinctively ducking and raising blade before his head as a shield. The bullet ricocheted off the steel in a second sign that he was not alone in his work that day.
Abram scanned the town square. Very little remained of the tumblebleeds there, and most of his friends had scattered to engage members of Sloane’s gang. He scanned to find the bullet’s source. To strike his blade from that position, it would have had a downward trajectory. He looked up and spotted the culprit, a woman hiding behind the top facade at Charlie’s Place, rifle pointed in his direction.
Once more, Abram took off in a run, this time back toward the bar. The flames engulfing his sword gave way as he rushed inside and bounded the steps to the roof.
When he arrived, he pulled back into the doorway just as a round slammed into the wall, right where he’d just been. He could hear the lever crank quickly as a new round was chambered in wait. Abram leaned on the wall by the open doorway, and called out to his quarry. “Angélica Espinosa, you are wanted for the murder of Roderick Byre. Drop your weapon and come with me,” he said.
Angélica yelled back in defiance. “Feel free to come and get me, preacher!”
Abram closed his eyes and took a deep breath to center himself, an attempt to quell the fear in him. He slowly, quietly, began to pray, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me …” He raised his sword before him as he spoke and turned into the open doorway as Angelica fired. The bullet whizzed past his right ear as he walked forward, seemingly unaware that it had even been fired.
Angélica, awestruck, chambered another round. Mere feet away, she pointed it at Abram’s face and pulled the trigger once more … but nothing happened. The gun had jammed.
“ … and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever,” Abram said, as he opened his eyes, looking the outlaw straight in the eyes. “Drop the gun, Angélica … last chance.”
Rage filled Angélica’s eyes as she tried to swing the gun at Abram like a blunt object, but Abram was too fast, easily blocking the swing with his blade. Angélica expected this though, as she quickly countered with a left cross to Abram’s jaw, catching him by surprise and sending him reeling away from her. Angélica tried to capitalize on her momentary advantage and lunged for his back. However, it was her turn for the surprise as she felt the steel, still warm from the fire’s kiss, plunge through her midsection. Abram turned quickly to face her, never losing grip of the hilt, his eyes moist with pity as he met hers, wide in shock and pain. He withdrew the blade quickly, catching her and easing her to the ground as she collapsed.
Abram paused to say a prayer for the fallen.
* * *
Fred and Silas Aims stood back to back. Fred fanned his bullets out across the town square, while Silas took a more measured approach. It reminded Fred of when they were children, lining up bottles on the fence. This was almost the same situation – except that instead of bottles, it was rolling briar with teeth sharper than Marion’s knives. The tumblebleeds kept coming, and the brothers rotated, ensuring none reached the other brother.
“We’re gonna take all these things down!” Fred said.
“Yeah, but don’t forget about the Sheriff’s posse,” Silas retorted.
“We’ll just have to take them down too!”
In an unnatural motion, a tumblebleed propelled itself upward toward Fred’s face. Fred’s eyes shut tight as he tried to block the thing with his arm, anticipating horrific pain.
A shot rang out from behind him, buzzing past his left ear. Fred did not need to turn around.
“Don’t worry little brother, I got your back,” Silas said.
* * *
Tommy Harden’s shoulders tensed, unable to help the instinctual reaction to the gunfire in the Tavern. He had his back to the bar, Andrew Burton next to him. He readied himself to rise and get off a few shots of his own, but was cut short by a short fit of coughing, leaving Andrew to take the shots instead.
“Bad time to catch a cold, Tommy,” Andrew warned when he returned. “I count three of them. Looks like they just shot up some poor unarmed fella too.”
The corner of Tommy’s mouth twitched up into a small frown. “I think I have a plan.”
“You don’t sound confident …” Andrew said.
“That’s because I’m not. But if I can distract ‘em, maybe you can make a run for it and grab Drew.”
“How’s that gonna help? Beauman ain’t no gunslinger,” Andrew said.
Tommy grinned. “Have you met QUATERMAN?”
Andrew shook his head. “No, but there ain’t much more hope for us in here. What do you need me to do?”
“Run for the door!!!” Tommy tightened his grip on his pair of six-shooters and spun around, placing his arms up over the bar and pulling the triggers in succession.
Shots rang back toward the bar. One exploded a bottle of whiskey, liquid and glass shards spraying behind them, as a small shard lodged itself into the flesh around Tommy’s eye. He ignored the pain, committed to continue firing until Andrew was out the door. He couldn’t see much beyond the bar with all of the hot lead flying about and the trickle of blood in his one eye. But instead of howls of pain, he instead heard the bang of swinging doors resound a second later, signaling that Andrew had made it.
All Tommy had to do now was wait.
* * *
Alice Stowe rode her horse hard through the streets, intent on chasing down some Dogs to make ‘em pay for hanging poor Lawrence. She dug her spurs into her steed’s flanks, turning down an alleyway after one of them. The horse whinnied in protest but complied with a gallop.
The fool turned his head back, goggles concealing his eyes but not the frown of worry in his expression. He held a long device in his hand, repeatedly yanking an attached cord as he ran, sparks flying from the end of it with every pull. He grew more and more desperate with each pull, but knew that the horse would soon overtake him if he didn’t do something. He stopped suddenly and took aim at Alice and her horse and pulled the cord in one final attempt … nothing followed.
“Andreas, hurry!” someone down the street shouted, a young woman waving him toward her. “It’s not working! We have to get back to the Arsenal!”
I’m coming, Zoe!” Andreas finally tossed his contraption aside and bolted the opposite direction.
But Alice pressed forward, the gap closing between her and her prey. She grinned, knowing exactly the advantage her horse provided. She didn’t even need to shoot. Her horse never broke stride as Andreas cowered, pale horror betraying his fate when he looked back over his shoulder. Alice pulled tightly on the reins to rear Susie up, ensuring several more pitter-pattered steps of her horse as it moved over the body. A moan of pain escaped from below as the ground moistened with blood into a muddy mixture and the horse stumbled.
Behind her, Andreas lay on the ground trampled, his head a bloody mess and goggles shattered in front of him. Alice looked up for her next target, this Zoe gal, but she was already gone.
* * *
Wendy Cheng had a good position to survey the scene from behind a coach in the town square. She took one final shot at a retreating outlaw before he turned down a sidestreet. A few moments later, she saw him tearing up the street, whipping his horse on out of town.
She wasn’t about the pursue. As Wendy emerged from her hiding spot, she remembered all too vividly the bloodshed caused by the Blackjacks, the Whateleys, Elijah and his Flock. There was too much red in this town’s streets. She was ready to see it end.
Abram Grothe ran to her side, his face showing his concern. “The cross streets have quieted,” he said, slightly winded, “but Mortimer and Prescott are making another sweep. Any word on Lucy?”
“I don’t know,” Wendy said. “But I’m pretty sure Dave managed to get her off the street.” Gunfire in the distance drew their attention once more as they both took off in the direction of the sounds. As they turned the corner, they noticed Drew Beauman, Andrew Burton, and the QUATERMAN contraption crossing the street toward the Dead Dog Tavern. “Drew!”
Both Andrew and Drew turned toward her, but she shook off the instinct to specify further to whom she was calling. She loaded another round into her shotgun as she walked over to them. “What’s going on?”
“Tommy and I got holed up in the Dead Dog with three Sloaners,” Andrew Burton said. “I managed to get out, but Tommy’s still in there. We’re gonna send QUATERMAN back in to deal with them.”
“Alright, Abram and I will run around ba–” Wendy began.
“No need,” Beauman interrupted, holding his hand up to quiet her. “QUATERMAN’ll have this handled before you could get there. You just watch.” He patted the metal contraption. “Okeydokey, QUATERMAN … ready to go?”
With a whirr, the mechanical man’s eyes lit up and it picked up speed, crashing right through the saloon’s doors.
Wendy kept her shotgun aimed at the entryway and Andrew drew his pistol similarly. Drew smirked, crossing his arms as he waited.
Several gunshots resounded from inside.
“What in tarnation?” a voice yelled.
“That ain’t natural!” came another.
A crash … a bang … bottles shattered … someone yelped … and the building went quiet.
Wendy started for the doors.
“Ah, ah,” Drew raised his hand to stop her. “Wait.”
The doors flopped open a moment later, as the three members of the Sloane Gang walked out in a single file, bandanas down around their necks, hands raised above their heads. The first had a black eye, the next winced with each step, and the last one shook as he kept looking back over his shoulder. QUATERMAN followed them, its gun pointed toward them, and Tommy exited after that, a blood and alcohol soaked rag held over his eye.
“Great job, QUATERMAN!” Drew beamed.
“This looks to be the last of them,” Wendy said, taking a look around the town square. A few bodies would have to be removed, but they’d fended off the worst of the attack from both Sloane and the tumblebleeds.
Tommy gave a nod to her assembled posse of Law Dogs. “I’ll take this lot to the jail.”
“I’ll make sure we get things cleaned up,” Andrew offered.
Abram frowned. “I’m going to see if I can find Dave and Lucy. Let’s meet up in the office later.”
The assembled deputies went their separate ways.
* * *
What are you waiting for? the voice spurned Sloane forward. You won’t get a better chance. Death must have its way!
Sloane closed her eyes against the voice, wrestling a bit with it, trying to reconcile these competing urges within herself. On one hand, she knew that Dave was no slouch with a gun and he’d be on the watch for anyone who might further endanger the girl. On the other hand, the desire for blood in return for Lawrence’s was welling up to overtake her, filling her with all the power she needed to sate that hunger. She gave in to that power finally, opening her eyes as she stalked calmly to the front of Dr. Emanuel Ashbel’s office.
“Dave Montreal!” she shouted at the neatly pointed door. “It’s time for a reckoning! Get out here and face me, you murderous cur!” The moments dragged on as she waited, the bloodlust swelling within her with each passing moment.
Finally, the knob turned and the sheriff, his vest, coat, and silver star streaked with the girl’s blood, walked through. His hand sat cautiously on the stock of his pistol as he closed the door, light screams of pain trailing off into the building behind him.
“You got a lot of nerve comin’ here, Sloane,” Dave said angrily as he stepped off the sidewalk, Sloane stepping back from him, the two positioning themselves in front of each other in the street. “There’s no goin’ back after this stunt, ya hear?! I’ve had enough of your thuggery, your thievin’, and murderin’. You’re under arrest.”
“Not this time, Sheriff … or anytime. You killed one of my own and left him like carrion for the vultures,” Sloane spat the words at him. “Rule’s always been an eye for an eye, but the Sloane Gang, we take off a head for any part. That’s what makes us so strong! That’s why you’ll never defeat us! Yer nothin’ but a buncha hypocrites, playin’ for blood in a game you clearly don’t understand!”
“Then show me how it’s played, Sloane!” Dave shot back. “Pull that smoker and show me what you’re made of! Show me what all the stolen money and horses, all the threats an’ bullyin’ an’ blood have made! Show me what ‘Sloane’ is all about! Draw, so I can show you and the rest of this town where all that greed and chaos gets you!”
The two stood there for several long moments, each of them staring into the fury contained in the other’s eyes. But there was more than just fury welling up within Sloane, something Dave caught a brief glimpse of just before it began, the realization catching him off-guard for a split second.
And in that fraction of a moment, Sloane grabbed her pistol, the holster almost propelling it forward as she pulled the trigger. Dave grabbed his own gun, but it was too late. Sloane was much faster on the draw, the bullet slamming into his chest as his shot flew wide of Sloane.
Sloane flipped her gun back into the holster, the rage within her subsiding as she reveled in the victory for a moment. The voice inside her quieted, finally satisfied and she along with it. She took one final deep breath as she watched the life slip away from Dave’s body, calming herself once more before spinning around and walking off with a confident swagger. There could be no stopping her now. After all, Gomorra no longer had a sheriff and Sloane proved that even the law was no match for the power contained within her.