Ruby knew she was dying.
Laying on the floorboards, Ruby stared up at the ceiling and all the different odds and ends that hung around. The roof was badly made with tiny snowflakes twinkling down past the burning oil lamps. Laying there, struggling to find her next breath her hand reached over touching her chest. When she raised her hand back she saw it was completely slicked with ugly purplish blood. Everything had happened so fast, and now here she was bleeding to death in this God forsaken place.
Her metal bracelets jingled as her hand dropped back onto her chest. Faintly she heard Warren and Mannix talking. Even if they were just across the room, they seemed a million miles away. Her chest was burning, and with each gasp of taking in a breath she felt a terrible rattling and gurgling sound deep within her, as if she was drowning. Actually now that she thought about it, she really was. Choking and drowning on her own blood. Glancing over slowly, she saw Joe just a few feet away dead among some broken furniture. Feeling the snow fall upon her face, her long lashes blinked before she reached forward stretching her arm as far as she could, barley her slender fingers brushed against his hand.
She knew this was it, and if she really was going to die. She wanted to die next to him.
8 hours earlier.
Ruby knew her horse couldn't go any further. Old Pallor was getting older, and she very well knew this might be his last journey. Nevertheless, she knew enough was enough. There was a blizzard on their tail, and she needed to lay up for a while before getting to Red Rock. Gently digging her spurs in, she pulled the reigns back before slowing. She had only once stopped by Minnie's, nearly a year ago but was grateful it was on the way to stop perhaps for the night as she waited out the blizzard. She counted herself lucky that the mayor didn't expect her for about six days for his daughter's birthday. Just then the door swung open and a large man bundled up in a coat came barreling down the front steps. A man she didn't recognize. Ruby smiled, dressed in her heavy fox fur coat and hat. Smiling, she offered her hand.
"Howdy, you all open?"
The man smiled and spoke with a thick Mexican accent.
"Why yes me are, you alone?"
"I'm afraid I am. Would you mind helping me get old Pallor into the barn. I reckon this storm is coming fast and furious."
The Mexican waved his hand.
"You go on in and get warm, I'll take care of the animal."
"You sure? It wouldn't be any trouble."
"Oh no, there's coffee on the stove and stew cooking. You go on and get warm."
Offering his hand, Ruby carefully slid off as he helped her with her bag. Thanking him, Ruby trudged up the steps before reaching the door. Pushing it she found it not opening. Raising an eyebrow she gently rapped on the door with her knuckles before she heard shouting from the other side of the door. Several men all yelling that she had to kick in the door. Rolling her eyes, Ruby stepped back, holding onto her bag with one hand before giving her boot a swift kick at the door. Not budging she turned and slammed her body weight against the door before she nearly fell inside, the wind howling behind her.
"CLOSE THE DAMN DOOR! GOTTA NAIL IT UP! USE TWO BOARDS! NAIL IT DAMNIT!"
Overwhelmed, Ruby dropped her bags instantly and shoved with all her might the door closed.
"Gotta nail it! There's a hammer and nails by the door. Hammer it up!"
A man with an accent shouted over. Seeing the pile of boards and hammer and nails, she quickly picked them up and began hammering the nails in as quickly as she could. "Gotta do two boards, two!" Frustrated, Lucy made a face grabbing another spare board and hammered it as quickly as she could before seeing the door would finally stay shut. Stepping back, she admired the crude handiwork of her nailing before her large doe shaped hazel eyes traced down to the broken doorframe splintered and broken.
"Good Lord, who broke this door?"
Turning slowly she was surprised to see Minnie nowhere in sight nor Sweet Dave. Puzzled, she saw an old man in uniform sitting by the fire with another man in a bowler hat. Off to the side sitting alone was a man with dark hair writing in what appeared to be a journal. Looking around, she didn't recognize anyone. Stomping her boots from snow she smiled before the man in the hat grinned and took it off and rose to his feet.
"Good Lord, a woman out on a day like this."
Ruby smiled and dragged her bags over before walking over to the fire. Setting them to the side, she smiled and offered her leather gloved hand.
"Ruby Muldoon, pleased to meet you."
The English man smiled before taking her hand, turning it and gently kissing it. His facial hair tickling her hand as he gently kissed it.
"Oswald Mobray, the pleasure is all mine my dear."
Ruby smiled before glancing down at the older man sitting like a stone in his chair. "This here is General Sandy Smithers, and over there is Joe Gage. We were traveling to Red Rock before the weather drove us in." Nodding Ruby pulled her gloves off one finger at a time before walking over to the fire to warm her hands. Looking around, she turned back to Oswald.
"Where's Minnie and Sweet Dave?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"The owners, are they here?"
"Bob, the Mexican fellow you met outside is looking after the place. Heard something about Minnie going up North to visit her mother or something of that sort."
Nodding Ruby warmed her hands before Oswald smiled and strolled over.
"Are you alone or traveling with your husband?"
Ruby smiled and showed her hands. Despite the Indian jewelry she wore, no rings were on her left hand.
"Afraid I'm alone. I'm a fortune teller from Bridgeport. The mayor of Red Rock sent a telegram asking if I could head out this way to perform for his daughter Mary's birthday."
"You don't say! A real life fortune teller. I saw people like you up in New York when I was a young man. Tell me do you read tarot cards?
" Blushing, Ruby smiled as she removed her hat and shook it freeing it front the snow which had collected on it.
"I read palms as well as…well…"
Walking over, boots clicking against the floorboards Ruby reached down and opened her biggest bag. Smiling she held up her crystal ball which was nearly as large as the coffee kettle on the stove. Inside caught within the glass were sparkles. Smiling she held it up, allowing the flickering flames of the fire to catch against the glass. "Had a glass man back East make this for me a while back…" "All of that is horse shit. Nothing but a con artist…" The old man grumbled. Glancing his way Ruby made a face as Oswald walked over slightly embarrassed.
"Please forgive the General's manner my dear…"
Ruby rolled her eyes and carefully placed the ball back into her bag which was surrounded by her clothing and scarfs which protected it from breaking in travel.
"Oh that's all right. Not everyone is a believer and I respect that. It's just a way to earn a living like everyone else."
Just then the door blew open, the Mexican named Bob quickly went to work hammering the door shut. Walking to her bags, Lucy undid her coat shaking it off before walking and placing it on a hook with her hat. Dressed in tights and a beautiful hand snitched shall, Lucy grabbed a blanket from the shelf and wrapped it around her. Walking over to the fireplace she looked back at Bob who was heading over to the table.
"Thank you for putting Pallor away."
Bob nodded as Oswald settled back down to his chair. Sitting down just a foot or so away from the fireplace, Ruby snuggled in within the blanket and continued warming her hands feeling grateful that despite the weather she had a nice safe place to stay.
Ruby had just begun to nod off when she heard movement of somebody walking over. Her eyelids fluttering open she saw the man named Gage or something squatting down holding out a tin cup of coffee.
"Here you go lady, might help you warm up a bit."
Blinking and sitting up straighter, Ruby felt a million times warmer than she did earlier. Looking around she saw not much had changed. The man by the name of Bob was over near the stew stirring it while Oswald and the old man remained in the chairs just a foot or so away. Looking up at Gage, Ruby smiled and accepted the coffee. Sitting down beside her, he raised his cup as well and the two gently clinked them together.
He then leaned forward, lowering his voice.
"I'm afraid it isn't that good on account that Bob made it."
Smiling warmly, Ruby gently sipped the coffee and instantly her brow wrinkled by the bitter taste in her mouth. Raising her eyebrows she carefully placed the cup down on the floor before returning to warming her hands.
Ruby smiled and took his hand which was ten times larger than her own and firm as it swallowed hers up and shook it.
"So Ruby, you might be some fortune teller if the mayor of Red Rock himself invited you to come all the way over for his girl's party."
Ruby shrugged and noticed how beautiful Joe's eyes were. A pale shade of blue. She had seen mysterious and rugged men like him before. Men who didn't say much, but spoke through their eyes which appeared to be the only gentle and soft part of his entire face. She knew twenty or so years ago Joe must have been as handsome as the actors in those plays she had seen out West when she was just a teen. Towering over her, Gage smiled as Ruby stretched out her arms, cracking her back.
"Oh I'm okay. I knew his wife before she passed on a few years back. I performed for her Christmas parties and watched his daughter grow up. I worked on and off for a carnival out West for a while before heading over here with my husband."
Joe's face slightly dropped.
"You are married?"
"Not for some time now. Cancer took Robert almost five years ago. He owned a ranch in Bridgeport and met me at one of the shows I was performing out West when he was over there for business. He was twice my age but we married and he brought me back over here. When he died I sold off the ranch and work my stunt from time to time. I have more than enough to be comfortable, but I still don't mind traveling out as a favor whenever I get a job from time to time."
"You travel alone?"
"I have for years. Robert used to travel with me before he got sick. I used to tell fortunes on the boardwalk out West when I left the carnival. Used to travel alone then too. It really isn't that bad but my horse is getting older. I wouldn't have accepted a job this time of year but I owe the major that much. He's a nice man and I haven't seen him in some time. Besides the pay is good."
"Don't you think it's dangerous…you, a beautiful young woman like yourself alone…"
"I can take care of myself…"
She revealed her pistol hooked onto her belt as she opened the blanket. Smiling she drank another small sip from the terrible tasting coffee.
"Besides I'm not that young."
"Really, I'm thirty-one."
"You sure don't look it. I could have pegged you for at least being seventeen, eighteen at the most."
Blushing again. Ruby laughed.
"Quit that Mr. Gage, all these remarks are going to my head."
Joe laughed gently, tiny wrinkles forming around his eyes.
"So what about you?"
Joe sipped his coffee.
"What brings you to the middle of nowhere. You came in that carriage?"
"Yep, I'm heading up to see my mother. Spend Christmas with her. Ain't been a while since I've seen her and decided to spend a little time up these parts."
"Aw, well that's real nice. Real good of you. Close with your family?"
Joe squinted staring at the fire before sighing.
"Not as much as I want to. My brothers and I haven't spoken in some time. They are off married with families…and me, well…I've just been drifting for sometime now."
Joe shook his head before Ruby softy smiled.
"Let me see your hand."
Ruby let out her own hand, her wrist had several dancing bracelets.
"Let me take a look, free of charge."
Joe smirked before giving her his hand. Scooting closer, Ruby looked down, gently sweeping her fingers against his open palm. Cocking her head to the side, she smiled.
"This is your life line running across here…"
Joe leaned forward, his hair hanging down.
"It tampers off in some parts which shows you haven't had the easiest of life's. Look here, these lines show how many children you'll have. Looks like one, and this is your love line."
"Doesn't look very promising…"
"It's interesting…you have yet to meet the true love of your life."
Joe raised his eyes locking with Ruby's. Smiling, he stared at her.
"Is that a fact." Ruby smiled before the wind began to howl outside. Just then Bob stomped over, smiling.
"Mister Gage, would you mind helping me pile up some wood by the door. I have a feeling we'll be having to use plenty this evening. Plus I need help checking in on the horses, mind lending a hand?"
Looking up, slightly annoyed Joe brushed back his bangs.
"Sure…" As he got up he winked at Ruby before crossing over and helping Bob break up some spare boards near the bookcase to place near the door. Sitting there, Ruby stretched out and caught sight of Oswald sitting back smiling.
Laying back, Ruby stared at the fire feeling safe, warm, and content. Shortly after Oswald stood up by the door as Joe and Bob bundled up and went outside. Shutting the door behind them, Oswald began hammering the boards to the floor as Ruby stood up and picked a book out for herself before checking the stew. It smelled wonderful but still needed some time to cook. Setting back down she looked up at the old General who seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. Smiling, she settled back down and began to read.
"You getting awfully friendly with that woman in there no?"
Joe snapped out of his thoughts as they tended to the horses. Looking over he leaned against one of the wooden railings.
"What of it?"
"Just saying, you know Jody is down below listening to every word. I would watch it."
"Jody can do whatever the Hell he wants, but I like her."
"Well don't get too attached in a couple of hours she'll be regretting real bad stopping here."
"I don't want her hurt."
"Is that so? You think Jody will care."
"Like I said, I don't care. I'll try to get Oswald aside and let him no…she won't be harmed."
"And risk everything?!"
"I know what I'm doing. I don't want her harmed. Whatever the outcome, she walks."
"What right into Red Rock to fetch the law?"
Joe shook his head.
"Naw, down to Mexico with us."
"You ain't had a woman in so long the sight of fresh pussy is making you crazy! She won't come with us, mostly after we massacre we're gonna be doing in there. You want to have your way with her, drag her out here and rape her, but Jody won't allow her coming with us. We're out-laws, she won't want anything to do with you."
"Maybe she will and maybe she won't. But you hear me real good Bob. I don't want her harmed."
Shaking his head, Bob stormed out of the barn muttering in Spanish.
After they returned and nailed the door, everyone mostly sat in silence all the while Joe continued watching Ruby read her book by the fire. When she began to nod off, Joe strolled over to the stove to refill his coffee where Oswald was lighting his pipe. Quickly whispering in his ear, he stepped back filling his cup and returning to his table. Oswald stared as if he had gone mad all the meanwhile Ruby completely unaware continued reading, drifting off to the ugly screams of the wind.
Another carriage had arrived. Inside were four passengers plus a driver. When the man with the woman chained to him came over to Ruby, his eyes flickered for a second before lowering his pistol.
"Ain't you the fortune teller I've seen around Red Rock?"
Ruby had spent the last hour or so with a book she had plucked off the shelfs and was currently curled up by the fire. Joe had returned to his table, and Ruby kept finding him looking at her whenever she glanced up. More than once he had smiled at her, making color rise in her cheeks. She knew she was being somewhat shameful flirting with a complete stranger but this was honestly the first man since Robert that had caused her stomach to have the funniest feeling deep down inside. Putting her book down, she had silently been watching this man drag the woman with the terrible black eye around shouting and hollering making a commotion since they came inside.
The one thing she did have to agree with was how he felt about the terrible tasting coffee. Staring up, Ruby smiled and offered her hand.
"Yep, that's me. Ruby Muldoon."
The man ignored her hand making Ruby lower it and glare up.
"What's a woman doing completely alone out here. Were you with the others?"
"Nope, arrived on my horse a few hours ago. Weather forced me to stop. I'm performing next week for the mayor's daughter's birthday telling fortunes."
"Do you usually travel alone?"
"Since my husband died yes."
"John Ruth, this bitch over here is Daisy Domergue, you know of her?"
Ruby stared up at the woman's terrible looking grinning face and shrugged.
"I'm taking her in to hang at Red Rock. You sure you ain't never heard of her."
"I'm afraid not."
Glaring, John turned and continued to walk around. Watching, she saw him approach Joe. Shaking her head she instantly knew she didn't like this man. Not one little bit.