That was a big mess.
How did that happen?
How could she have been so stupid and reckless?
Of course, the Pinkertons wouldn't have stopped looking for them. Van der Linde was at the top of their list of criminals. They had to catch him one way or another.
And Julia knew something was wrong, that they had figured out what she was doing.
The moment they had gone, she had to look for them again, so why didn't she do that?
What about her promise? What she could have written in the next letter to D? That she had failed? That she had remembered nothing about his teaching?
What about Dutch? Would he have welcomed her back to the gang? And if he was going to do that, what she would have said?
"Julia, you still with us?" asked John, snapping her back from her thoughts.
"Huh? Y-yeah, sorry" she mumbled still a little lost as she followed him and Arthur to Shady Bell.
"What I was saying is…it's Dutch playing his games. Hosea too. Getting involved with those two families. The master con men working their magic…" complained John.
"They thought there was a lot of gold…" began Arthur.
"Yeah, they thought there was money. Ain't there always? Even when Julia told them something was wrong; they didn't listen to her. We should've run away at that moment John" stated shaking his head.
"Look, Marston, I don't know what to tell you. Things don't always work out, that ain't nothing new" Arthur said shrugging.
"Jack's gone, we lost Sean, Mac, Davey, Jenny…and for what?" asked rhetorically John.
"We can't change what's done, we can only move on" Arthur replied calmly.
"Pft, are you listening to him? What you think about this?" asked John turning his head to Julia.
"What I think doesn't change what it is. And this is a fucking mess, John. You're right. But Dutch and Hosea…they ain't gonna change and there's no point in complaining about it right now. If you want things to change, try to talk to them, but honestly…I don't think you'll get to anything" she said keeping her eyes on the road, avoiding looking either at John or Arthur.
"What other choice I have?" the former asked lowly.
"Wait Dutch's big plan. You did it for all this time" replied Julia ironically.
"Right now, every plan gets us into worse trouble. We're getting further from where we're meant to be going" snapped John.
Julia knew he wasn't angry at her, so she didn't take any offense.
"Now you can't put all this on Dutch. You're worked up and rightly so. Just don't get too far into your head with all this, or you'll never get out" Arthur told him.
"You're right, it's a goddamn mess" John said to Julia shaking his head.
"Alright, should be just down this path to the left here" Arthur said leading them further into the woods.
"That poor kid…we chose this life, he didn't" John said thoughtfully.
"I don't know, I think this life chose us" Arthur replied.
"No one chose nothing. Life is what it is, can be good or bad. And the choices you make can make it better or worse. Choosing is off the table the moment we come in this screwed up world" Julia said more to herself than to answer the man.
"What about you? What you gonna do now?" Arthur asked cautiously.
Julia lowered her eyes as the thought of before came up to her mind again and she felt her stomach twist and shrink.
"Let's move the camp first and then we find Jack" she answered evasively.
Looking in front of her Julia could tell they were close since they could see the house in the distance.
"That's it up ahead" Arthur informed them.
"Four walls and a roof, we're moving up in the world" John commented as they all got down their horses.
Julia took out her rifle, before she walked towards the house, noticing that most part of the windows were covered.
"You ain't seen inside yet" Arthur answered John as he reached Julia.
"It looks calmer than the last time. Those bastards must've changed place to run their business" she said glancing over at the man.
"Best not lower our guard, for now" Arthur replied, and Julia nodded at him.
They walked towards the front house, but by the moment they reached the fountain in front of it, they heard a man shout.
"Aw, shit! It's them again! Boys, get ready!"
The man was seated on the porch, near him another one who immediately took out his rifle pointing it at them.
Julia and Arthur stopped, the man looked over at her asking silently if she was ready and as an answer, she sighed.
"Are you kidding me?" she whispered exasperatedly before she quickly shot the man on the porch as Arthur shot the other.
A second after the door opened revealing other two men. The one who stepped outside was quickly killed by Julia, while the other ran to hide inside the house, but it seemed he wasn't alone.
"Some ran inside, I don't know how many of them tough" Julia said putting the rifle on her shoulder.
"Okay, you stay here. Me and Marston go check inside" Arthur said gesturing to John to follow him.
"Yeah, sure" Julia answered softly, reaching the fountain and sitting on the border of it, she looked around the property.
After a couple of minutes or more, she heard some other shots coming from inside the house and after another moment, she heard Arthur calling for her from the balcony.
"Julia, help me get rid of these bodies. Marston will lead the others here" Arthur instructed.
"Yeah, okay" she replied sighing and getting up she moved to the first body on the ground and drag it to the small harbor near the house, dropping it in the water.
She was about to drag the other corpse on the porch when she door opened revealing John, who stopped for a moment looking at her.
"You okay?" he asked frowning, noticing her staring off and annoyance.
"Yeah. Go get the others. Then we'll look for Jack" Julia answered him without raising her eyes and instead grabbed the feet of the dead man and pulled him to the harbor.
John nodded before he reached his horse, looking briefly behind him before he left the property.
Julia pushed the body with her foot before she entered the house, now bare, with the wallpaper torn and old furniture stacked in the corners or to create weak barriers.
And as she walked around the rooms her heart filled with guilt and sadness. She imagined that house at its ancient splendor, with a good and honest family living there. Every room, every corner filled with love and laughs and tranquility.
She began to wonder where that family could have been. Why they had left such a beautiful house and how it could have ended up in that miserable way.
Her fingertips brushed over the sofa, feeling the dusty yet still soft fabric of it and when she turned the corner, she saw another dead man lying on the floor.
She sighed and went to grab his arms, dragging him outside as she had done with the other two.
Once the body hit the calm surface of the water, she stared at it floating away and, in the distance, a few crocodiles were yet coming for the free meal.
Hearing some steps behind her, Julia turned and moved away, allowing Arthur to get rid of the corpse he was carrying.
That was the last one he said cleaning his hands before he glanced over at Julia who nodded.
Arthur knew something wasn't right with her, and he had a vague idea of why too. And the fact that he didn't know what to do or say to help her, made him feel stupid and useless.
"I'm sure things will get better" he assured her putting a hand over her shoulder.
"You really think that, Arthur? After all that happened, after all those people we killed, do you really think things will get any better?" asked Julia turning harshly to him, staring at him.
A demanding need for true words in her eyes.
"I don't know" sighed the man shaking his head.
She knew it, but for a moment she wanted Arthur to believe his own words.
"Me neither" she whispered lowering her eyes.
"Listen, I'm sure Dutch will let you stay here if you want to" Arthur said.
"What about you? You want me to stay?" Julia asked, without even thinking about it too much.
Arthur was a little taken aback by her question, and that didn't pass unnoticed by Julia, who waited patiently his answer.
But what could he ever say? He didn't know. Or at least that was what he forced himself to believe. He was no one to ask her to stay, and he was sure she wouldn't comply with his request anyway. And why should he want her to stay? She was the Hound, a bounty hunter, an enemy and even if things seemed to have changed, they hadn't.
"I-I…it's up to you…" he said eventually, looking away.
Julia stared at him for a moment. She didn't expose her disappointment, but she was.
"It doesn't matter. I can't stay, even if I wanted" she said more to herself than the man.
"Why?" asked Arthur, maybe a little too quickly.
"Because someone's waiting for me. And I have to get back to him" Julia said, more sharply than she intended.
"I understand" Arthur nodded looking away.
Julia sighed, rubbing her forehead before he put a hand over the man's shoulder, making him turn to look at her.
"Let's wait for the others" she said, offering him a faint smile.
Arthur nodded again and followed her into the house where they sat down for a while until they heard the others arriving.
"Welcome home, all of you to my humble abode" greeted Arthur theatrically opening the front door of the house as Dutch stopped his horse just a few feet from it.
Julia leaned against the wall outside, looking at the others as they got down the wagons and took a look around.
"We got fine living. Ignore the corpse and the alligators, it's paradise" said Arthur climbing down the stairs of the porch and Julia couldn't avoid thinking he was just trying to distract her from her thoughts.
Or maybe he was trying to convince her their kind of life wasn't so bad after all.
Or maybe he was just an idiot, Julia thought in conclusion smiling.
"I love it!" said Dutch before he turned to Miss Grimshaw and Mr. Pearson on the wagon on his right.
"Miss Grimshaw, Mr. Pearson would you two kindly work your magic?" he asked the two before he walked to Arthur and told him something Julia couldn't hear.
Arthur turned to look at Julia, who frowned at him taking a few steps towards him as he followed Dutch to his horse, Molly right after them, calling for the man.
Julia kept looking at them, asking herself where they were going while Dutch dismissed Molly harshly and got on his horse, heading out of the camp with Arthur on his right.
She climbed down the porch and reached Molly, stopping her by her arm.
"They told you where they're going?" she asked hurriedly at the woman.
"No" Molly answered sternly stomping away.
Julia sighed exasperated heading to Hosea who was about to enter the house.
"Hosea!" she called for the man, making him turn.
"Julia, what's wrong?" asked the man noticing the urgency in her voice.
"You know were Dutch and Arthur are going?" asked Julia looking at him.
"Hum, Dutch told me nothing, but I believe they're heading to Saint Denis, why?" Hosea asked her, now a little worried something was wrong.
"I'll reach them there" Julia informed him, ignoring his question and heading to the horses.
"Wait, you sure?" Hosea shouted to make her stop.
Julia turned to look at him.
"They don't know that city. I do, I can help them" she said before she set off to Saint Denis.
In a dozen years that she hadn't been there Julia could tell nothing had changed. Or at least, not so much. Maybe there were some houses more, and the streets were better build. But when she got down Wind Catcher and looked around, time seemed to have been stopped until that moment.
"Wait here, buddy" Julia said to the stallion on her side, before she started to walk around the city, not really knowing where she had to start to look for Arthur.
The only thing she knew was that they were looking for Angelo Bronte, and from the name, she could tell the man was someone important and famous and somehow, difficult to find as well.
However, Julia was accustomed to the ways the city could offer information, she just had to find one.
Her first thought was to go to the saloon, where she was sure she would have found someone with enough alcohol within to spill the beans in a blink of an eye. Or maybe with a good tip, she could have persuaded the barman himself.
So, she headed to the Bastille Saloon, the most elegant salon in the city where only fin and high-ranking people could afford to spend a dollar for a whiskey.
But when Julia arrive at the doors of the saloon and looked through the shiny glass of the windows, she saw the reflection of a man she well knew talk with another man drunk as hell but that seemed to be telling him some good information.
Julia turned to look at Arthur, who nodded at the drunk man before he entered an alley.
Julia didn't know why she didn't reach him immediately, to let him know she was there to help him find Bronte, but instead, she followed the man until he stopped when called by some kids.
Now, Julia was born and raised in that city and if there was something she had learned, was that the street kids were never good to trust.
She hid behind the wall and peered to look at the three young boys as they surrounded Arthur, her hand already on her knife, not with the intention of hurting those kids, however, a good scare could be helpful for the next time.
"Hey, you got a cigarette, mister? Huh?" asked a boy with dark hair.
"Maybe…" answered Arthur stopping and looking at the kids.
One of them was tall and blond and was wearing a dungaree while the other had a more sophisticated haircut, shabby pants and a red shirt.
"I'm looking for a feller named Angelo Bronte…Italian" asked Arthur, marking the name.
"I know him. Everyone knows him" blurted out the kid with a sophisticated haircut.
"Where is he?" asked Arthur, while the other two kids started to walk around him.
Julia kept herself in the shadows, trying not to be seen by the kids.
"We'll take you to him, but it'll cost" said the kid with the dark hair.
"I reckon I can pay" Arthur replied after a moment, glancing at the other two kids that pushed each other playfully.
"Five dollars" asked the dark-haired kid.
"Where does he live? New York?" Arthur scolded at the outrageous kid's request.
"I'm an entrepreneur. You don't wanna pay then I don't wanna walk" the kid answered while Arthur slapped the other kid's hand who tried to touch his satchel.
Arthur mumbled something while he took out some money and counted it before he gave it to the kid in front of him.
"Here...come on" he said impatiently.
"This way, let's go, mister. You coming, Cleet?" called the little boy and the kid with the fine haircut, who named was Cleet, quickly reached them.
The other kid looked at them as they went away and then disappeared from Julia's sight, who decided to follow Arthur and the kids.
"Stay close, easy to get lost around here. You new to the city, mister?" asked the kid who was leading Arthur out of the alley.
"Pretty much" answered Arthur.
"Don't worry, no one knows it good as me and Cleet" assured the kid grinning at his friend.
"Is that right?" Arthur answered vaguely, looking around.
The dark-haired kid started to point at the shops around the city as they walked in front of them while Arthur followed him annoyed, not listening to what he was saying.
Julia could tell something was wrong by the way Cleet, the other kid, kept his distance from Arthur, but at the same time, his eyes were glued to him, scanning his form more than once as if he was studying him like a cougar studies his next prey. Arthur, for his part, was too puzzled and overwhelmed by all the sounds and smells and people of the city around him to notice something was about to happen, and he just continued to follow the small kid in front of him who stopped to look at a church.
"That's the Church of the Holy Blessed Virgin, mister. Modelled on a famous church in Toulouse, which is in France. You been to Toulouse, mister?" asked the kid with false interest.
"No…" sighed Arthur exasperated.
The kid kept his illustration, leading Arthur closer and closer to the church, bringing his attention on the structure in front of them.
At that moment, Julia saw Cleet taking out a knife and silently got closer to Arthur, ready to cut the strap of his satchel.
Julia quickly reached the boy and grabbed his arm, punching him in the face and making him fall on the ground.
Arthur and the other little thief turned to look at her shocked while Julia pointed Cleet's knife at the kid standing near the man.
Arthur spent the next few moments trying to figure out how and when Julia had got there and why she hadn't tell him she had followed him instead of showing herself before.
"Better run away if you don't want to get in real trouble" she threatened before the dark-haired kid set off.
"What are you doing here?" asked Arthur while he glanced at the kid who was running away and then looked back at Julia, who forced Cleet on his feet by grabbing him by his shirt.
"Let me go!" he yelled fussing.
"Oh, no buddy. We paid and we want to know where Mr. Bronte is. So now, you gonna led us to your boss at St. Patrick street" Julia said, pointing the knife at his back, making him feel the tip through his shirt.
"How you know…" the kid started, but she pushed him forwards interrupting his question.
"Less talking, more walking. Try anything and I'll ruin that pretty shirt you're wearing. Is that clear?" she threatened again in a whisper near the kid's ear.
Julia turned to Arthur and gestured him to follow her as the kid led them to St. Patrick where for years everybody knew it was the street kids' den. And if you were so fooled or unfortunate to end up there, you surely were going to be left naked as the day you were born.
So, they followed the indications of the kid, turning here and there, carefully not to come too close to people walking around the street and police most of all.
Cleet tried more than once to catch the attention of a passer-by and Julia kindly reminded him of what would have happened by pressing the tip of the knife she held behind and pointed at the kid's back.
Arthur was walking at her side, waiting for the right time to ask her all the questions he had in his mind, which Julia already knew how to answer at.
Finally, they arrived at their destination and walking through an alley, they turned right coming face to face to some other kids, this time armed with guns.
The one who seemed to be the older and the boss was seated on some boxes while talking to another kid.
He turned his head to look at them, while Julia pushed Cleet a little further, her hand never faltering from the grip she had on the knife.
"Who are these two?" asked the kid scanning Julia and Arthur, who noticed two other kids with two rifles surrounding them.
Julia moved the knife from the Cleet's back to his throat, keeping him in place by surrounding an arm around his shoulders.
Thankfully, the boy was just a little smaller than she was, so it wasn't too difficult to keep him in place.
"Got yourself in some trouble, eh Cleet?" sighed irritably the kid raising from the boxes he was sat on.
"We had a deal with your friend. Five dollars to know where Angelo Bronte lives" Julia said looking into the boy's eyes.
"Signor Bronte!" he shouted back, pointing his finger at her.
"Point at me that finger again, boy, and you'll have to dig a hole tonight" Julia threatened lowly.
Arthur behind her shifted uncomfortably on his feet.
The boy slowly lowered his hand, grinning at Julia.
"Your friend tried to rob us" she explained, tightening her grip on Cleet.
"You and them friends of yours been asking about him all over the town. He been mighty disrespected…bunch of muddy Yankees in town asking questions" the boy said, looking at them up and down with a disgusted expression on his face.
"I ain't no Yankee, boy. I was born here and ran these streets way before you. And if I am correct, you street kids' have a code. So, tell us where Mr. Bronte is. Five extra dollars if you are quick, for the sake of your friend here" Julia said, pushing the knife on the kid's neck a little further, causing some blood to pour.
The boy on front of them stared at Julia for a moment before he clapped his hands and smiled falsely at them.
"Well, then you sure need to pay him a visit. He's got a big house on Flavian Street, opposite the park" he said walking towards them.
Julia pushed Cleet away, putting the knife she had back in his hand before she gave him a warning look.
Cleet quickly drew away from her, touching the small cut on his neck.
"Alright. Here" Julia said giving the boy five dollars.
"Glad to do business with you" he answered counting the dollars before he put them away.
"Yeah, make sure I won't see any more of you brats around" Julia said turning her heels and gesturing Arthur to do the same.
The man followed her out of the alley and as far as they could go, until Julia pulled him into another backstreet, away from indiscreet eyes.
"Now we can talk" she said as Arthur sighed deeply rubbing his eyes.
"Why you here?" he asked.
"I asked Hosea where Dutch was taking you. Maybe you don't know, or he got bad memory. And even if I don't like and I won't ever admit it, this is where I come from" Julia said lowering her eyes a little uncomfortable.
"And what was all that threatening to kill some kids, huh?" Arthur asked again frowning, making Julia huff and roll her eyes.
"I was just playing them. I wouldn't hurt some children I'm not a monster, even if everyone thinks otherwise. And you should be glad I interfered because at this point, you would have ended up robbed and probably killed by a bunch of children" Julia said grinning at him as Arthur shook his head.
"Ugh, you are impossible, woman" he muttered.
"Maybe it's you who like us impossible. Now come one, Dutch's probably waiting for us" Julia said seductively, before she regained her posture and normal aloofness and walked out of the backstreet.
Arthur looked at her in disbelief for a moment and then he followed her sighing.
They were walking around the town, looking around in case they would have spotted Dutch, maybe trying to rob someone and while they were passing one of the parks of the city, they heard someone calling them.
"This way, Arthur!"
They turned their head seeing Dutch seated on a bench, enjoying the warm sun and the town noise.
Looking at him, Julia could tell he didn't despite the civilization as much he would like to make them believe. On the contrary, he seemed to match with all of that pretty well.
"Where have you been? And what are you doing here?" asked Dutch pointing at Julia who crossed her arms on her chest and huffed.
"She helped me finding Angelo Bronte" Arthur said glancing at her.
"Is that so?" Dutch asked getting up.
"Seemed to be some Italian mister big in town. Everybody knows him but nobody wants to talk about him" Arthur said.
"He lives in a big house on Flavian Street, opposite the park" Julia said.
"Huh, good work. Both of you" Dutch said, nodding at them.
"So, what now?" asked Arthur.
"We go pay him a visit. I'll get John, you meet us there. Whatever it takes, we need to get that boy back. You, get back to camp" Dutch said at Julia before he turned and started to walk away.
"I want to come" Julia said following him.
"I don't think so" Dutch said not stopping, nor looking at her.
"Let me rephrase, I'll come with you" Julia said, stopping and making the man turn to look at her.
"Ugh, alright" Dutch scoffed knowing there was no point in arguing with her.
Julia and Arthur looked at him as he walked away until they couldn't see him anymore.
"So, what do we do now?" asked Julia looking at Arthur who sighed.
"I need a drink" he said pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Then let's go" Julia said, guiding him to one of the saloons in the city.
When they entered the small, dark local and reached the counter, they ordered two beers and then sat at a table, as far as possible from the barman, who continued to throw glances at them.
Since they left the street kids' alley, Arthur had a question that kept wondering in his head but couldn't find the courage to ask Julia, who knew what was going on in Arthur's mind but didn't know if it was wise to bring it up.
So, they just stayed there, drinking their beers with an awkward silence between them, as they avoided and searched each other's eyes.
That situation went on for a couple of minutes before Julia huffed out loud making Arthur frown.
"Is everything alright?" Arthur asked clearing his throat.
Glancing quickly at him Julia noticed he was staring at his bottle.
"Yeah, without considering the huge elephant in the room" she huffed looking out of the window of the saloon.
Arthur raised his eyes on her, frowning.
"I don't kno…" he started before Julia interrupted him.
"Yes, you do Arthur" she said moving her eyes on him.
A sad expression that even the man couldn't avoid noticing.
"Look, if you don't want to talk about is alright. Ain't by business anyway" he said softly.
"I know" Julia nodded taking a sip of her beer.
"Good" nodded Arthur looking away.
But she wanted to tell him. She felt enough comfortable and safe to tell him whatever he wanted to hear. So, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes briefly.
"I didn't live in the streets. Whoever they was, they left me at the orphanage" she said not looking at the man, whose eyes snapped at her instead.
"Why did you leave?" Arthur asked.
"There was this girl, she was so kind and sweet. But when she reached adulthood, she had to go away" Julia said shaking her head, still keeping her eyes low.
"I see" Arthur whispered.
"One night, I couldn't sleep so I sat near the window. I saw her go through an alley with a man, but I couldn't understand what she was doing. So, I got outside the orphanage and went looking for her. And then I saw her…" Julia's voice got caught in her throat and she had to look away, feeling her chest heavy.
"I realized that if I stayed there that was my only future. So, I ran away. Didn't help much, though. I also became a whore eventually" she said taking another sip of beer.
"But you ran away" Arthur said looking at her.
"Ran away with a bounty on my head. Got better and better "she chuckled bitterly, raising her eyes on him.
Arthur kept looking at her, trying not to reveal his thoughts, afraid that Julia could have misunderstood them.
He was glad she had told him about her past, and he would have done the same if he had the courage. But his story wasn't different from anybody else, while hers…
The more he was getting to know her, the more Arthur thought she was some powerful nature, embodied in that world.
Julia stood up, snapping Arthur back from his thoughts.
"Better if I go. I need to take care of some business, while I'm here" she said flanking at him.
"Okay" Arthur said a little taken aback.
Had he done something wrong?
Julia faintly smiled at him, before she turned her back and walked out of the saloon.
Finally, I finished this chapter. I've been working on it for soo long and I'm sorry it took it so much to publish but my life is getting quite busy.
However, I wanted to spend a couple of minutes to thank you for your support. When I started to publish this story I thought I wouldn't have gotten so far and now I'm publishing the thirty-nine chapter! Unbelievable.
So THANK YOU!
I'll try and post the next chapter sooner and as always, I hope you liked this one.