Chapter Three

"I don't know why you always have to come here to get that damn leg fixed," Gray muttered. "I could fix it for you, you know. Hell, I wouldn't even charge you if it meant not having to deal with that woman."

"Ann isn't that bad," Kai yawned. He lay on his bed with his back pressed firmly against the wall. Although he was usually the more energetic of the two, he was much more subdued than before. "The only problem is you two are too much alike."

"Don't compare me to that little witch." As if to put the very thought of the young woman out of his mind, Gray turned to the bottle resting beside him on the table and took one large swallow. A single bead of amber liquid trickled down its smooth glass neck. "We ought to just up and leave this place," he grumbled. "No business around here anymore."

While Kai didn't answer him, he was more than inclined to agree. He had never been one to stay in town for very long, so the itch to move was even stronger. The only reason he had even bothered to live there for so many years was because of his disability.

The silence between the two men continued as the room slowly drew the energy out of them. Gray was far too concerned with his less talkative companion to give much notice, and his bedridden friend was all but asleep. The only thing that kept him awake was the distinct feeling that walls were closing in on them.

It was then that there came a knock at the door. Although it was a quiet sound, barely audible to the ear, Kai still sat upright. His friend glanced at the wall, and his irritable scowl quickly returned. However, after seeing the crippled man try to stand and answer the door, he groaned. "Just come in already," he said. "Door's open."

After a beat of silence, the knob turned and the room was opened up to the hallway. Another woman, wearing a long black braid and a calico dress, stood in the doorway clinging to a manila folder. Her full lips were drawn back in an uncertain smile while her dark eyes flitted from one man to the other. At last, she took a deep breath and sighed.

"Good evening, Kai." She greeted him with a nod and readjusted her lasses. Then she turned her attention to her left and narrowed her gaze as it fell on the bottle resting there. "Gray."

The man in question only huffed and leaned further back in his chair. "There's more if you want it," he offered, tilting his head in the direction of the bottle. "Whiskey might be a little strong for you, though."

"I'm afraid I'll have to decline the offer," the woman replied. Having excused herself, she stepped gingerly into the room and sat in the empty bed. She was quiet as she opened the folder, flipping past every individual paper until she found one that caught her attention. She paused to skim through the document. "I think I may have a job for you," she began. "It's an out of town deal, but that seems appropriateā€¦ at least in my opinion."

"As long as it's some damn work, we'll take it."

"Well, thank you for bringing it to our attention, Mary," Kai interrupted, glaring back at his friend. "We were getting a little worried that we might be out of work in this town."

"Yes, and though I can sympathize, I have to say most of us prefer things being this quiet," Mary sighed. She smiled then, plucking the paper she had been mulling over out of its file, and offered it to him. "This shouldn't be too much trouble for either of you," she went on. "From what I understand, it's a simple case of stolen livestock- mostly cattle- and your man has even been identified. All we really need is for you two to find him and bring him in for trial."

"An open and close case if I ever heard one," Kai mused with a wry smile. He studied the document for a time, making notes as he went along. When he got to the last few lines, he suddenly frowned. "So Jack's place is the one in trouble then?"

The woman sighed once again. "Yes," she agreed. "That's not going to be a problem, is it? Jack Johnson has been the only one to give an official complaint, but he's hardly the one having this kind of trouble."

Kai was quiet for a moment, but he eventually came to shake his head and resumed smiling. "So who's this Vaughn Williams anyway?" he asked. "Isn't he an animal trader over in Sunshine?"

"He was," Mary corrected, dipping back into her file. She withdrew a small black and white photograph. Although the image was grainy, it was still clearly the face of a man. "This portrait is a few years old," she explained, "but all the accounts match up quite well. Some of the witnesses even stated that they recognized him from previous business."

The lack of color made it difficult to discern any striking features, but it was easy enough to distinguish that his hair was light and his clothes were dark- perhaps even black. His jaw was also rather sharp, much like the end of a spade, and his gaze was both cold and direct.

"We're having trouble finding an exact time where he switched to stealing cattle," Mary continued. "However, it does seem as though the change occurred only in the past couple of months. His bounty is still rather small, but as I'm sure you can understand, my father would like this matter taken care of as soon as possible."

"Then the mayor should up the bounty," Gray grumbled from his corner. "Unlike that husband of yours, we're not exactly your friendly neighborhood sheriffs."

"Don't mind him, Mary," Kai assured her quickly. "He's getting to the point where the liquor's too much for him." His companion muttered a curse under his breath and went to stand, but he soon sat back down again and began grumbling all over again. "See? He always get likes this about half way through the bottle. Don't you, Gray?"

"Shut the hell up."

"Would it better for me to come back tomorrow morning then?" the woman offered as she went to stand. "I can leave the files here with you to read through if you would like."

"That would be appreciated," Kai agreed. Then he chucked, sounding more forced than he wanted to admit, and lay back on his bed. "I'd show you out, but I think that might be more trouble than it's worth."

"I still appreciate the sentiment," she assured him. Just before leaving, she slipped Gray a sidelong glance. "I do hope you are feeling more amiable tomorrow," she said, her voice quiet and sad. "Good night then."