May 27th, 1881
"Hey, Chavez, how longs this show supposed to last?"
Chavez, leaning against the fence with his ankles crossed and his knife tracing the contours of his bare hand with the dull edge, replied with, "A few hours. I'd suggest you find a way to occupy your time," he took the trouble to glance over at Dave. "That doesn't involve whining to me."
"I aint whining." Dave was balancing on the fence with his rear seated on the top bar, and his boots hooked into the very bottom of it – most of his support came from the post where his horse was tied. "I'm speculating."
"Amazing how you manage to blend the two."
Dave exhaled hard through his nose, the sigh turning into a frustrated snort. He bent himself in half and stared intently at the ground, which was almost instantly lost in his shadow. "We should've gone to Old Mexico. We'd be better off."
"You're welcome to run off yourself, Dave, your feet aren't tied down."
Dave folded his arms over his thighs, and looked up to the bright entrance of the theater. The orchestra played inside, and sent a melancholy air to the evening outside, as if it was trying to share a bit of itself with the dimming evening outside unable to partake in the magic of it. For a fleeting moment, Dave wished he had gone in instead of Hendry.
--- --- ---
Billy had been right – an hour of trying to understand the conundrum of words that was the Shakespearian language was enough to hammer Hendry with the migraine of his life. Another hour of trying to ignore it was almost as lethal.
As for Billy, he seemed genuinely nonplused by the chattering and melodramatic noises that turned the stage into chaos for the uneducated ear. His excited blue eyes followed the actress Joanna Charleston from one side of the stage to the other, never leaving her, never missing a single exaggerated movement of her body.
Upon first seeing her, Billy had been surprised at how young she looked. Not a year over twenty-two, he guessed, judging by the sound of her voice and the nervous energy that sparked in her aura as she performed. He had expected someone older, someone like the actors and actresses around her, with years of experience etched into lines on their faces.
The Joanna Charleston everyone raved about, the Joanna Charleston people paid big money to see was not all he had expected. Yes, she was a good actress, she was convincing – but the charisma of a great legend of the stage was severely lacking. Billy shrugged it off. Everyone had their bad days, and considering his plans for the girl, he might as well be nice while he still had the chance.
Another hour passed, and finally the last monologue was spoken, the lights dimmed, and the curtains fell like hangmen on their silver-ringed nooses. Silence. Then uproarious applause followed, startling Billy and Hendry alike with the shrill whistles, the screaming, the cheering – Billy grinned, and shot to his feet to join in. Hendry followed his example, hesitantly.
The curtains snapped open again, the red and purple velvet of the Phoenix Carver Theater whipping so quickly to the sides that the action almost seemed hostile, and the cast wasted no time clasping hands and taking their bows.
His hands stinging and becoming numb from the impacts of his applause, Billy turned to Hendry and said loudly enough for the other young man to hear, "Now after the bows there's gonna be a cast meet for maybe an hour. We need to get her alone."
"Don't think we can, Billy..." Hendry said doubtfully, regarding the stage with bewildered eyes and scratching the back of his shaggy dark head. "She'll have people all over her."
"Fans, Hendry, admirers. We gotta be more than that," Billy explained, and turned to give one more holler of delight as the curtains closed again. Hendry uncomfortably brought a hand up to cup over his ear, frowning a little at the continuous noise. Billy nudged him in the ribs. "You an I are gonna be offering her a job, see? In New York City."
"Isn't she famous enough here?"
"Hendry, will you lighten up?" Billy finally snapped, his eyes becoming the only windows to his frustration through the loose bandages. "Have some faith, will ya? Now I got all this on my face, so you've gotta be the actor here – "
"I thought I was gonna be the business man."
Billy stilled, regarding Hendry like he didn't know what to make of the other outlaw. He laid a hand on Hendry's shoulder, and leaned in, clarifying gently, "Hendry. You're going to pretend to be a businessman. You bring her as far away from the crowd as you can, got it?"
Hendry swallowed, and looked up at the empty stage. He had enough trouble being assertive with his gang, and being anything remotely bold around a famous actress was almost asking too much. But he nodded anyway, and Billy's eyes smiled him. He found encouragement. "Yeah, yeah, I got it."
"Good." Billy twisted his fingers into the elbow of Hendry's suit, and pushed him gently forward. "Now you gotta get me outta here, I can't see a thing. Ya gotta be loud, Hendry. You've gotta go straight up to her and say, "Ms. Charleston, let me first commend you on your inexplicable talent. Say it."
Hendry used his shoulder to weave the two of them through the crowd, moving his head around to try and find the doors. Outside, the nighttime began to travel in the entrance, and the smell of it rushed in with fresh air. Hendry breathed it in. "Ms. Charleston, let me first commend you on your inexplicable talent."
"'And uncompromising performance."
"And uncompromising performance." Hendry said slowly, hoping he did actually remember all of this. The crowd was moving very slowly, shuffling behind one another to reach the doors. They were not far off now.
"'Now allow me to make a business proposition.'"
"Now...allow me to make a business proposition," Hendry said, a bit louder. The sound of his voice amplified and deepened increased his confidence, and he grinned despite himself. "A business proposition."
"'I want you to work in my theater in New York City, called the eh..." Billy paused behind him, and the weight on Hendry's elbow increased as Billy stalled. "Ah, hell, make it up. Tell her you want to speak in private, and escort her to the West side of the building. I'll be waiting there with a gun."
"Billy, I – I don't wanna scare her –"
"Ya don't wanna scare her!" Billy repeated in disbelief, once again slowing and making Hendry's efforts more difficult. The crowd seemed to have stopped moving all together. "Well shit, Hendry, why in God's name did you join my gang?!"
"Can't we just ask her to come quietly?"
Billy snorted, letting his free hand wander down to the stiff leather holster at his waist and laying his fingers on the steel of his last and best ally. "I wasn't gonna rough her up unless she asked for it."
Hendry's face fell into another uncomfortable frown, and he just nodded as his shoulder once again pushed forward through the mob of people. A few rude looks and snide comments later, they were out the doors and in the air of the hot Santa Fe night.
Billy caught Hendry by the arm again, and furtively whispered into his ear, "I'll be there with my gun, and we'll regroup with Dave and Chavez. They'll have our horses. I'm going." Billy didn't give Hendry any chances to rebuke the decision, and with a final push he sent Hendry forward.
The dark haired young man sent him one last uncertain glance, and finally disappeared into the crowd. Billy smirked, and absently pressed his knuckles into his palm as he observed the world around him, each of the little joints all popping out of place. So this was what the upper crust did on their time off. Stood around and chattered about absolutely nothing.
At the unfamiliar voice, Billy turned and quickly sent a hand up to hold the loosening bandages around his face in place. It was the girl from four or five hours earlier, Jamie something. Without a second of hesitation, he gave a muffled laugh and held his hand out again.
"Hey there! Jamie, right?"
"Yeah," she grinned, taking his hand and giving it a firm shake. Billy tried very hard not to notice the pink in her cheeks, and the excitement that sparked her dark blue eyes to life. It was no time to be thinking about girls, especially in his current disguise. "Did you enjoy the show?" she asked, and pulled him from his thoughts.
"Oh, hell yes. It was fantastic. Did you?"
"Well," Jamie rolled her eyes and gave a little shrug, taking her hands and slipping them into the discreet pockets hidden in the waves of the elaborate yellow dress. "I've been to every rehearsal, and a friend of mine had the main female role. I sort of lost my perspective."
Billy's brows lifted, impressed. "Your friend had the lead female role?"
"Oh, yeah, we've been together in Santa Fe a few years now – "
"Who was she?" Billy interrupted, and the girl started at the sudden change in his voice. He immediately felt a twinge of guilt, but it quickly vanished when she motioned with her pale hand to the crowd of people over where the cast meetings were going on.
"Well." Billy laughed. "Imagine that."
--- --- ---
Dave had fallen asleep about an hour ago, and was now curled up by one of the rotting posts of the fence, his head resting on his folded arms and his hat bent over his eyes. Chavez wondered how he had managed to sleep soundly for a full hour with all the noise from the theater, especially when the doors burst open and the audience poured out to meet the cast.
Chavez let a few more minutes pass between himself and the quickly moving world before them, carefully watching the crowd and making certain none of the eyes fell on them. He made sure to keep his head down – outlaw or not, these sorts would run an Indian out of town for the sake of running an Indian out of town.
Then he caught a glimpse of Hendry (despite his spruced up new look, he still stuck out like a black sheep) approaching a young woman of the cast. Hendry was obviously trying very hard to be polite, and assertive at once, but his gentle and shy nature was working hard against him. Surprisingly enough, he managed to take the woman gently by the arm and started to walk off with her.
Whether or not he was addressing Joanna Charleston, the clock was ticking. Billy would need the horses soon, and it was better to be early than late.
Chavez moved a little closer to where Dave slept, and when he could gave the sleeping outlaw a swift kick in the ribs to wake him up. Dave jolted, and in the split second of panic had managed to draw one of his pistols and had it aimed up at the broad target of Chavez' chest.
Chavez didn't show his initial surprise at the reaction (he had expected a yelp and a few curses). Instead he just raised both eyebrows at the other man, and turned away to show his disconcert for any threat Dave might have posed.
"Time to go," he said shortly over his shoulder, and heard Dave grunt and release his weapon.
"Asshole," Dave muttered before yawning deeply, and slid the six shooter back into it's holster at his side. He pulled himself up to a sitting position, and massaged the area that Chavez' boot had smashed into with his gloved fingers, wincing. "Ya might've tried asking me to get up."
"Come on," Chavez ordered, already on his horse and holding fast the reins of Billy's ride. He waited patiently for Dave to shake his sleeveless coat free of dust, and clumsily fit it back on. There was another moment of Dave gathering his things, and on his way to his own horse he shot the Mexican-Indian a dirty look.
Chavez tried not to laugh, it always seemed so easy to get a rise out of Dave these days, and the pastime had become a favorite of Billy's. Instead of further provoking him, Chavez snapped the reins of his horse and started forward.
Dave was close behind. "Where're we going?"
"Theater, west side."
"Oh." Dave reached up and scratched the side of his head hard and deliberate, scowling at the bright lights and continuation of the orchestra as they passed the theater. "This gal'd better have someplace to bathe."
"What, mites again?"
"Probably." Dave moved to scratch the top of his left shoulder, and swore softly when the itch only intensified. "I don't know," he kept on. "I've been spending a lot of time near you, maybe it's fleas."
"I'm too relieved that you want to bathe that it's hard to take your comments to heart," Chavez remarked dryly, steering his horse gently away from the crowd, as it seemed to be dying down. The night was getting cooler, and despite himself Chavez felt sleep creeping up. It had been an exhausting week.
His horse whistled shrilly, and reared up on its hind legs in a panic. Chavez yanked on the reins, and the animal whined but stopped dead in its tracks, snapping Chavez back to concentration like a kick in the gut. A girl had accidentally wandered in his path, and as it was his horse had nearly pummeled her to death when it's front legs had kicked up.
"I'm so sorry!" she apologized through a voice muffled by her hands covering her mouth. She reached out quickly to stroke the nose of the startled horse, pale fingers shaking as they hovered. When she made contact the horse whined softly again, and the girl looked up to Chavez, blushing furiously. "I'm sorry, sir, I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."
"Well I'd say you weren't," Dave put in before Chavez had the chance to reply, and sided up to the Indian with an ill-placed condescending frown. Looks as those were better left to the rich and well off, not vagrant sons of whores like Dave Rudabaugh. "And next time this bastard'll just let that nag trample ya, so keep your pretty little eyes open."
The girl's face got redder, and she averted her gaze. "I will, I'm sorry." Her hand didn't leave the nose of the horse, and she shushed it once more before looking up at Chavez. "Did I scare him?"
"A bit," Chavez said evenly, and raised his broad shoulders in a bit of a shrug. "Don't worry, he'll be alright. He's always edgy, jumpy. A real coward most of the time."
The brown haired girl laughed once, and moved her hand to lay it on the swell of the horse's cheek. "What's his name?"
"Oh, drink piss, Chavez."
She glanced from Dave to the smirking Chavez, and gave an embarrassed smile. "I meant...the horse. What's the horse's name?"
Chavez began to reply, and then promptly remembered that the horse actually didn't have a name. Most of his horses went on nameless, usually either being shot or traded off. He paused a moment, then shook his dark head. "Doesn't have one, miss."
"Yeah, well, I hate to break y'all up but we got places to be," Dave interjected rudely, and Chavez frowned as a twinge of annoyance hit him. He almost wished he'd left Dave asleep. "But it was nice not runnin' ya over, Miss, eh – "
"Right. Virginia. Maybe we'll see ya around sometime. Come on, Chavez," Dave jerked the reins of his horse and trotted on ahead, pulling Hendry's animal along by the bridle clenched in his dirty fingers. The Mexican-Indian watched him go, still wearing that frown, rolled his eyes.
"Goodnight, Miss Virginia."
"Goodnight, yourself," she replied, politely, and got out of the way with an awkward side step to allow both Chavez' horse and Billy's to pass by. Chavez nodded to her, and ground his heels into the sides of his horse to urge it faster. He caught up with Dave, wordlessly.
Dave, however, was grinning like an idiot. "I saw that."
"Little Miss Virginia was gettin really hot for ya."
"Dave," Chavez said firmly, not having the stomach to see the look on the other man's face. "Never say that to me again."
"All I'm sayin is that you shouldn't have passed that one up," Dave said as he came to a stop before the center of the theater, and squinted against the lights again. "She was alone and didn't look like she'd object to much of anything you'd try to pull. Now which side is west?"
Chavez opened his mouth to reply, but decided against it. Instead, he just nodded to the left and started the horse off again to where the buildings met, forming a dark alley of shadow and quiet. He moved furtively as possible around the dissipating crowd, and glanced behind him to check to see if Dave was actually following, or just having a chat with some random whore.
The building loomed higher than it had appeared when they had waited across the street, but the shadow it provided was prefect. Black. No light managed to slither into the darkness and protection of the alley, and for a moment Chavez wondered if they would even be able to find Billy.
He took the final steps into the shadow, and waited for Dave to follow. He held an arm out to stop Dave from going any further, and the other outlaw objected with one of those little short whines – he hated it when Chavez touched him.
"Shh," Chavez snapped. "Wait."
Nothing came out of the darkness, not even the slightest hint of movement or sound. Then something stirred, and a bit of a whimper immediately directed Chavez' keen eyes to the source. His eyes began to adjust, and outlined in silver moonlight, Billy stood.
"Chavez, that you?"
"Yeah. Come on, we've gotta skin out." Chavez wasted no time, and urged his horse forward a few steps to meet the three figures coming up. He squinted to get a better view of the girl Hendry held fast in a surprisingly strong grip, and after a few moments of trying gave up. Instead, he handed the reins of Billy's horse off to the Kid. "Hurry up."
Billy laughed, and held his arms out to Hendry in signal to pass the girl along. Hendry complied reluctantly, and handed her on over. He couldn't see her face in the darkness, but by the way her body felt in his arms told her everything he needed to know – she was cold, and rigid with fear.
He kept a hand cupped hard over her bottom jaw, and one hand with his six-shooter close in her side. "Now you listen up, Miss Charleston," he whispered in her ear, and she jerked in his grip. Billy pressed the gun harder into the ribs of her corset. "We aint gonna hurt you, unless you give us reason to. You're gonna sit in front of me all the way home, and if you make even one attempt to escape I'll shoot you dead and end up escaping to Old Mexico anyway."
"We don't wanna hurt you, Miss Charleston," Hendry said, and it was apparent that his guilt was overriding his confidence in Billy's scheme. "We just need your help – "
"I'm talkin' here, Hendry," Billy snapped to the taller man, and turned back to Joanna Charleston. "He's right though. Now are you gonna be quiet? Cause I'd really like to let your mouth go, here." There was a vague noise of affirmation from the throat of the girl, and then a sharp nod. Billy laughed. "Agreed, then."
He released her, and the girl stumbled out of his grip, her hands coming to cover her jaw where his fingers had nearly bruised the flesh. She looked fearfully from outlaw to outlaw, and only got a slow nod from Chavez.
"Hendry, help the lady to my horse," Billy said with a charming smile, and quickly mounted himself in less than the time it took for Hendry to process the command. He held a hand out, which the girl only stared at as if it were covered in blood. Her eyes darted back to Hendry, who moved to help her into the front of Billy's saddle.
Billy clasped onto her hand with strong fingers, and gripped her elbow as well when Hendry hoisted her up onto the horse. His handling of her was in no way gentle, though she didn't get the feeling that he had meant to bruise her. When she was situated Billy clamped a hand onto her shoulder and gave it a little shake.
"Ya see? I don't bite, neither does Chavez or Hendry. Keep your fingers away from Dave's mouth, though, he's been living on whisky since Thursday," Billy joked, and scattered laughter mostly from Dave was all that he got in reply. He nudged the horse into a trot, and slowly, with an eerie confidence, the others moved into pace.
"I...think there's been a mistake," The girl said over her shoulder to Billy, wriggling a little in the iron grip of his surprisingly strong arms. Her waves of dark hair had been forced from its original style as it had been on stage, and was now disorderly and all over the place. "Sir, you've got the wrong person, I'm not Joanna Charleston."
"Alright, Miss Notjoanna Charleston, I believe ya," Billy in that voice that was entirely composed of laughter, and she felt him chuckle behind her. "And I'm Notbilly the Kid, it's a pleasure."
"But I'm not her!" She protested, violently, and thrashed once in his grip. The sound of several cocking guns followed in the darkness, and while she had the good sense to stop moving and lower her voice, she still persisted. "I swear it on my mothers good name, I'm not her! Why won't you believe me?!" The whisper turned into an agitated snarl, but it didn't faze Billy.
"Because you'll say anything at this point to get outta this, trust me, I've done this a million times."
"No ya haven't."
"Shut up, Dave," Billy warned darkly behind him, and kept his horse going on straight. "Now if you'll just sit back and enjoy the ride, we'll have you back at your big old house in no time."
"But it's not my goddamned house!" She growled in a louder voice, and jerked again, enough to throw Billy back a few inches in the saddle (though it was clear she knew she wouldn't be escaping that way, if at all). "I'm telling the goddamned truth!"
"And I'm gonna shove this here shotgun down your goddamned throat if you try that again," Dave said nastily, having ridden up beside Billy's horse unseen in the shallow moonlight. He held the saw-off gun in one hand, and the reins in the other with a frightening ease. "Now. Sit. Back."
"If you fire that thing every deputy in town'll come running to the sound," She replied dangerously to the smirking profile of Dave, shaking Billy off again when his arms brushed hers to reclaim the reins. "And that'll defeat the entire purpose of keeping me."
Dave swung the jagged edged barrel of the shotgun around to stab into the thin material of her sleeve, and cocked the hammer back. In the same dangerous tone, he said, "Either way, you'll be lyin' there dead."
"Dave, shut up and take up the rear." Billy ordered, jerking a thumb over his shoulder and pushing the barrel away. "Keep watch for anyone followin'."
--- --- ---
Jamie Taylor waited by the still open doors of the theater. It had gone beyond dark now, it was actually showing signs of getting lighter on the New Mexican horizon, and Josephine Perkins was nowhere to be found.
She kept glancing up at the big clock on the wall – ten thirty, eleven, eleven thirty... the crowd had finally died down, and all that remained was a few china men cleaning the theater building, and several actors helping out. Despite the hot days of May, night brought on a singular desert chill that never failed to creep through the material of Jamie's dress and leave her hugging herself tightly to avoid it. She swore quietly under her breath, and looked bitterly up at the lazy stars in the sky.
"I'll kill you, Jo Perkins…just wait until I get my hands around that pale little neck of yours-"
"Miss Taylor," Jamie jumped at the sound of the new voice, and to her right discovered one of the chinamen holding a broom. Ping. He gestured to the empty theater, speaking through his thick accent clearly enough for Jamie to understand him (but just barely). "Will you not be going home tonight?"
"Eh – yes, well, I am," Jamie replied, bringing and hand to the back of her neck and looking around as if for the first time all night. "But I can't find Miss Perkins anywhere, have you seen her?"
Ping paused, then nodded enthusiastically. "Oh! Yes, Miss Perkins met with a businessman from New York. After tonight's performance she famous, I suppose."
"I suppose so," The blonde girl said wryly, rolling her eyes and looking away. Ping quieted awkwardly and waited for Jamie to turn back to him. "Did you see where she went?"
"With the business man."
Jamie fisted her loose yellow hair with both hands and almost yanked it out, making a weird growl-bark noise and stomping both feet. "Josephine Perkins I'll murder you!" Without another word, she allowed Ping to escort her to the nearest cab standing by the outside of the theater.