A/N: I apologize for being so horrible with the posting. Seriously, I haven't updated this since April. What the hell is wrong with me? I'm hoping to start posting more often than every five to six months.
Chapter 2. Our Little Corner of the World
We rode into Fort Sumner in the heat of the afternoon, with the sun beating down upon us. As the adobe walls came into view, Billy straightened up on his horse and flashed the gathering crowd that cheeky smile that every woman had fallen for more than once. I could faintly see the hurt that hid beneath his bright eyes, caused by the bullet still lodged in his thigh. Feminine cries rang throughout the square and masculine laughter welcomed the outlaw back. All eyes were fixed upon the legendary boy bandit.
A group of little girls, perhaps seven to eight years of age, handed me a wreath of wildflowers that I placed upon my head. Giggles erupted from them, reminding me of my own childhood when Pa and I would spend summers outside of London; where, with a crown of bluebells and daffodils, I would be princess of all the land I saw around me. As my name echoed through the swarm of people, I felt as if the dream had actually come true.
"Cordelia Marie, put your lips 'round that!" he said, handing me a bottle of alcohol that was almost too hard to swallow down. The fire from the drink shot down my throat and spread through the rest of my body. I tossed it back to Dave once I corked the bottle and led the horse through the crowd.
A middle-aged Mexican man took the reins from me as I hopped down from the saddle. "Gracias," I said before rushing to Billy's side and helping him into Beever's eating-house.
The place had always been dark, with the only light coming from lanterns and the small windows in the walls. A bar took up most of the space and a few tables were strewn about in the remaining area; the rooms in the back were always empty, only to be used by Billy and I whenever we would stumble into the Fort. Beever had kept the place running for quite some time and had taken it over from his father originally. The man had an excellent mind for business, but lacked knowledge of personal hygiene. He smoked thick cigars like a chimney, drank like a fish, and had never cleaned his teeth a day in his life. There was a heavy drawl in his accent that reminded me of Steve. He often wore an eye-patch over his left eye, even though he didn't need one. I never bothered to ask why he did this, figuring it just wasn't important and that I probably wouldn't have understood it anyway.
Beever ushered Billy to the back and I instructed him to gather all of the supplies Sonia—a Mexican woman who had helped me with bullet wounds several other times—would need, without question. I rushed over to the tie-post, hoping to find my knife somewhere within the saddlebags still strapped on my mare. As I turned back towards Beever's, I watched as Patrick embraced his wife, Apolinaria. My hand tightened around the handle of the knife and an urge bubbled up to throw it, much like Chavez taught me, right into her back. I shook my head. None of it made sense; Billy and I were "courting" in a way, and I was his, although the relationship hadn't been consummated. I just never felt ready. With a heavy sigh, I returned to the bar and went to Billy's side… where I belonged.
"The militia's been through, and the Calvary, and they keep on comin'. When you two was in the Guadalupes, they sent in a new governor to clean up. He's going through the Territory like the pox, runnin' in everybody who fired a shot in the Lincoln War; dragging 'em all back across the whole damn country," Beever rambled on, laying down pieces of fabric for Sonia to use.
I placed the knife on the table as well, before leaning against the wall to stare out the window. I could see Pat and Apolinaria enter their home, arm-in-arm. Billy's voice snapped me out of my thoughts.
"This says, 'General Lew Wallace has proclaimed a state of insurrection,'" he read aloud.
"So, what is this? A massive extermination?" I snapped. The annoyance must have been obvious.
"Damn right, and you and the Kid are on the top of their hangin' list. They wanna put you down," Beever answered, handing me a cup of coffee.
The liquid was strong and bitter, which set a fire in my veins. It was a nice change from all of the weak coffee I had been drinking since Dave was put in charge of food supplies while we were out riding. And he wondered why he wasn't leader of the gang!
Billy ripped the newspaper in half, the expression on his face the same as mine. The law was coming after us. What else was new? Every time we took a step, we had to keep an eye out for any officers or bounty hunters. I had gotten so used to being extra cautious, it had become a second nature to me. Billy, at least a small fraction of him, felt the same way.
Absent-mindedly, I stroked his blonde hair, which had been tainted with dust and grime. It was almost as dingy as it had been the day we'd met back in Lincoln. Just as he had back then, he cocked his gun and pointed forward, his voice calm and cool. I turned to see his line of fire and the young boy standing in it. Beever ran towards him shouting and overreacting as usual, shoving the boy out near the doorway.
"God damn vagrant! Came out on the orphan train; always eatin' out of my ashcans; stealing bread from my ovens…"
Billy called him over as I continued to sip my coffee and nonchalantly twirl strands of hair between my fingers. "You know who I am?"
The boy, timid and skinny, stepped forward little by little. "Yes."
"Yes? Where you from? New York?" Billy questioned upon hearing the accent.
"Pennsylvania," he replied.
"Eastern tenderfoot son-of-a-bitch!" Beever cursed in the background.
I let out a laugh. "Oh, Beever, leave him alone and shut up!"
The poor boy was practically huddled against the wall, clutching his satchel like we were going to take it from him. He reminded me a little of James Grant, except I didn't want to throw this boy across the room. Billy leaned back in his chair before digging in to his frijoles.
"I want to ride the trail with the Kid… B-B-Billy the Kid, Prince of P-Piss… Prince of Pistoleers," he stammered. "And C-Cor-Cordelia Tunstall, t-the British Bandit."
Billy laughed raucously, slapping his good knee. "I haven't heard that one before. Ha! Prince of Pistoleers and… ha! The British Bandit? Who comes up with this stuff? Ha ha!" He paused to gain his composure. "You want to ride with Billy the Kid? Hmm? Is that what you want? You want lead shot in your leg like this? How 'bout in your skull? Hiding out in the damn brush like some kid of lizard; everybody in the Territory trying to take a shot at ya. Boom, boom, boom! Is that what you want, Mr. Pennsylvania, huh? Is that what you want?"
He began to raise his voice as he limped closer to the boy. "Bill, honey, calm down," I warned, even though I knew damn well that nothing I could say would stop him from proving a point. It wasn't until the boy muttered, "Yes," that I realized that I wouldn't have to worry about it. There was certainly some spark underneath that scrawny frame. To my surprise, Billy dismissed him, leaving him for Beever to deal with. I raised an eyebrow at him as he sat back down to finish his meal.
"You could have kept him around, you know. He could've been a pet of sorts."
Billy turned to me with a smirk. His mouth opened to say something smart-assed in return, but before he could, Beever burst into the room.
"¡Soldados! ¡Andele! ¡Andele!" he said in a low tone.
Billy jumped up as the soldiers entered the bar and grabbed his pistols. Sonia and I helped lower him into a barrel and placed the top upon it. "You must hurry, Chiquita!" she whispered, pointing to the window. I pushed the pane open and slid out of the opening, landing on the dusty earth below. The soldiers were everywhere, running and searching. I reached up to pull the brim of Richard's old hat down over my eyes, suddenly realizing that it was sitting on the table inside. My heart sank. There was nowhere for me to run nearby where I couldn't be seen. For what seemed like an eternity, I crouched behind the eatery and scanned the fort. I could hear the soldiers coming closer and closer. At that point, there was only one option: run. As I went to cross between two houses, a hand pressed firmly against my mouth and an arm yanked me back around a corner. My hands went immediately for my guns and my attacker was met with the cold end of my colt shoved against his temple, waiting patiently to expel the lead. Of course, I eased the minute I recognized the face.
"Garrett! Jesus, don't do that! I thought you were a soldier."
"You have no idea how thankful I am that you're not one of those "shoot-first, ask-questions-later" type of people," he sighed. "Come on, let's get you out of here."
Pat removed the hat from his own head and placed in on my, yanking the brim down as far as it would go. He draped his long arm around my slender shoulders and led me toward his home. The door opened to reveal a spacious little living space, everything airy and light. In a way, I was shocked. Pat offered me a chair at the table and filled two cups with coffee.
"Where's Billy?" he asked, setting one of them down in front of me.
"Hiding in Beever's place, in a barrel. I didn't even bother looking for anything else. Sonia pointed at a window and out I went. It was quite graceful, I assure you." I took another sip. "Thank you for this, by the way. I must look like I need it."
Pat snorted. "You look sort of frazzled, yes. Makes sense, though. Keeping up with Billy has to be exhausting."
"It certainly has its moments," I said with a smirk.
Patrick and I sat for a few hours, with him periodically checking to see if the soldiers were still around. By the time things had finally subsided, we had eaten a full meal and had gotten past the first twelve years of both of our lives. I had never entirely comprehended just how boring I was compared to him until that particular moment. As it turned out, though, we had both been high-society brats in our own rights: he, the son of a plantation owner in Louisiana, and I, the daughter of a prosperous merchant who had the resources to make his way west. Once the conversation turned toward our current situation, my interest waned. For whatever reason, I despised talking about the subject.
Apparently, a messenger had come through town from the new governor, looking for the Kid and I. The man wanted to talk treaty with us, simply to force us to quit making him look like a bloody fool. The idea was for the "Kid" and the "Bandit" to turn state's evidence and testify against L.G. Murphy's boys, who were being detained in a pit in Lincoln.
"You can hang your old enemies," Pat said, a radiance dancing in his eyes.
"No, Garrett. All of my enemies are dead. I shot Murphy after the McSween fire, slit Dolan's throat open. Most of the men that killed my father are gone. There's no need for me to be a part of it anymore. It doesn't mean that I wouldn't like to watch those bastards swing, but I wouldn't ever make a deal with the governor just to see it. Billy would probably enjoy it, though."
"He would, wouldn't he? Well, then, let's go tell him about it," Patrick said, standing and heading toward the door.
I filled a plate with the extra food and followed Pat out. Beever informed us that Billy had relocated to a shed near the back of the fort, in fear of the militia catching on to his old hiding place. He handed over my hat and we departed. As I placed it on my head, memories and unspoken comforts came flooding back. I had worn it while ambushing Sheriff Brady; before sneaking into James Dolan's home and slicing his neck after the other Regulators had left; while running into Pat again; while celebrating my 18th birthday… I could also distinctly remember the night before Pa died, taking the hat from Richard and parading around in it. I was so full of memories, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to retain all of the information.
When we found Billy, he was in a squatted position, with his head rested between his knees. Pat whispered his name, as not to startle him, but the gun was upon him almost as quickly as mine had been.
"Heavy steps, Patsy," he said with a laugh.
Garrett took the plate from my hands and handed it down to the Kid. He quickly began to devour everything, shoveling the food in without mercy. He looked up to me with those clear blue eyes that I had become so enamored by, meeting me with a half-smile. "So everybody's looking for me? Tell me something, Pat, is Paulita Maxwell around? She looking for me?" he teased.
"Har, har. I bet you think you're a riot," I replied. "It'd be more likely that Cesla Baca is looking for you! Of course, you'd probably have to bear-grease the walls to get her in there."
Pat wrapped his arm around me and pulled me close to his side, laughter racking his lengthy frame. My stomach fluttered and there was a contended sigh that echoed in my head, though my face remained defiant and smiling. A chill shot through me, gooseflesh covered my arms and legs, but there was an internal heat radiating outwards. I was enveloped in a heat that could have melted a block of ice. Standing with my two favorite men, life seemed somewhat perfect. I couldn't ask for more.
Garrett left Billy and I together to talk over the state of our affairs, which happened to be in complete shambles. We had nowhere else to hide, I knew, but the thought of making a treaty with those damned politicians killed me.
"What if it's a trap? Have you thought of that, Mr. Guts-and-Glory?"
"Of course I have, but what do we have to lose, Corie? Nothing! What if we talk about a pardon with him? We could be free, Corie."
I shook my head with disbelief. "And what then? You and I settle down and raise ourselves a little family? We teach our children how to read, write, shoot a .44, and rustle cattle?"
"Does that really sound that crazy to you?" he asked, the tone almost serious.
"Absolutely. Are you hearing yourself, Billy? I mean really hearing yourself? You sound like a complete nutter! As if you and I could simply be free and ride off into the sunset together… Besides, why on God's green Earth would we ever want to leave this place?"
A bullet flew past my head just as the words escaped my mouth. Ingio, a friend of Billy's, shouted out toward the horde of soldiers in the square. I fired, striking the man dead. Billy hung his head and shook it, disappointed.
"Ah, damnit, Ingio." He turned to me, an all-knowing expression on his face. "Can you figure why leavin' this place might be a good idea?"
"Because five-hundred dollars cuts a lot of ties?"
The two of us were off and running again, guns draw and the lead flying. Billy dashed into the stables and I weaved my way through the buildings before jumping into the pigpen. The Kid wasn't too far behind and we both took refuge among the swine. I turned to Billy, panting. "It's like the day we met. Remember it?"
"'I don't bite.' That's what you told me. I was stupid to believe ya," he said with a cackle before we both opened fire.
There was a call to Billy. "El Chivato!" the man shouted, slapping the horse on its hindquarters and sending it in Billy's direction. For me, there was no time.
"Go! Just go!" I called, running in the opposite direction.
My legs kicked up my dress as I ran toward the one person I knew would protect me, my figure lost among the crowd dashing back and forth. Pat and Apolinaria emerged from their home to watch Billy gallop away, the bullets following him. To both of their eyes, I was a mere blur of olive green, with the scent of my hair lingering behind me. Pat turned back inside to find me crouching behind the table.
"I think I'm going to need a place to stay for a while…"