Julia kept looking around, trying to find an explanation of why their camp wasn't there anymore.
She surely was in the right place, the question was: where were they?
Maybe they had left something at the post-office for her, maybe a note or a message that explained why they were gone.
So, with that idea in her mind, Julia headed to Rhodes and once she got in front of the post-office, she got down her horse and entered the building.
But when she asked, the man just shook his head, while Julia looked at him confused.
She got out the post-office, not understand why the Pinkertons had left without saying anything to her.
The idea that they didn't trust Julia anymore, came up to her mind and suddenly she had to sit down and take deep breaths to steady her heartbeat.
She tried to find another reason, anything that wasn't what her mind kept telling her. Yet, Abney had been strange with her and suddenly, the day after she had talked with him, Milton and Ross had gone.
Were the two things related?
It could've been and if it was, Julia had to inform Dutch.
Thus, she got on Wind Catcher, and as fast as she could she headed to camp.
When she arrived, Arthur was waiting for her near the posts, seated on a chair while sharpening his knife.
When he heard her coming, his head moved up and a warm smile crossed his face only to disappear when he noticed Julia's worried look.
She got down her horse, her leg almost gave in under her weight, but she managed not to fall on the ground.
However, Arthur quickly reached her and grabbed her by her shoulder, worried that she could have fallen another time.
"What happened?" he asked.
"They weren't there. They're gone" said Julia putting her hands on his shoulders for steady herself.
Arthur frowned and looked at her in silence for a couple of seconds.
"Did they tell you something?" he asked.
"No, nothing...they just...gone. I went to the post-office thinking they would have left something for me, but nothing" said Julia in a rush, now getting away from Arthur whose hands reached his holster.
"Is it bad? I mean, maybe they've just given up on us" he shrugged, and Julia shook her head frantically.
"I don't think so. I knew something wasn't right when I talked to Abney. They might...I don't know, maybe they just figured out what plan we had in mind and decided to cut bait" she said frowning.
Arthur could see her brain smoke for how much she was thinking.
"So, what now?" he asked.
Julia looked at him, finding his calmness almost nerve-taking.
She sighed and shrugged looking away.
"I need to talk to Dutch. He surely has a plan" she said marking the last word.
"I'd been damned if he doesn't" murmured Arthur before heading to Dutch's tent.
They found him near the lake, smoking a cigar. It seemed to Julia that the only thing he could do was that or read books. She never saw him do anything different. But at that moment, she wasn't interested in his habits, but in what he would have said about the situation they were in.
"Hey, Dutch" called Arthur reaching him.
The man turned and smiled at his friend, opening his arms in a welcoming gesture.
"My dear friend. I heard you made some money today. John just told me" congratulated the man, totally ignoring Julia standing by Arthur's side.
"Yeah, well...it could have gone better" shrugged the man, making Dutch chuckle.
"Always the pretentious one" he said, bringing his half-smoked cigar to his lips.
"Listen, Dutch I have to tell you something" said Julia limping towards him.
"Don't tell me something happened, again" said the man in an annoyed tone.
Julia stopped where she was and smothered him with her eyes.
"I told you something wasn't right. I went to talk to Milton and Ross, but they're gone" she said trying to maintain a calm tone.
Dutch took the cigar out of his mouth and frowned at her.
"What you mean gone?" he asked.
"I mean: no more camp and they didn't tell me anything. I have no idea where those bastards are" said Julia hastily.
Dutch looked at her for a couple of moments like he was thinking intently in what to do.
Then he turned his back at them and sighed.
"Better this way. We have fewer people coming after us" he said.
Julia turned to look at Arthur, who did the same. Then she stepped ahead, close to the man who ignored her and continued to stare at the lake in front of him.
"I don't think they've given up" Julia said staring at him.
Dutch turned to her with an accusatory look on his face.
"So what you saying is that you don't have any idea where they are but they're still on us?" he harshly asked.
Julia instantly got defensive. Her body tensed up as her eyes never left Dutch's face.
"Are you accusing me of something?"
Dutch shifted on his spot, sighing and bringing a hand to his side, looking right into Julia's eyes.
"We had a deal" he said trying to hide the stern tone of his voice.
"I tried to help you, but with your successful plans it wasn't easy to keep you out of trouble"
The mock in Julia's words didn't go unnoticed by the man in front of her who stiffed and gave her a threatening look.
"What do we do now Dutch?" asked Arthur after a couple of seconds of tension.
Dutch looked at him, bringing his cigar into his mouth again.
"We wait. There's no need to think they know where we are. We stay here and finish what we started" he stated, pointing the ground.
His stern gaze moved briefly on Julia before he left under hers and Arthur's look.
Julia huffed catching Arthur's attention who turned to look at her as she rubbed her forehead.
"He wasn't exhaustive, was he?" she asked looking at him.
Arthur shrugged looking at the lake.
"Maybe he's right. We have no reason to think they know where we are" he said looking at his feet before his eyes met Julia's.
"Yeah, but what if he's wrong? Hum?" she asked not even trying to hide her worry.
"Then we'll figure out what to do" Arthur said putting a hand over her shoulder.
She looked into his eyes and felt instantly assured by his calmness.
"Okay" she whispered, faintly smiling at the man.
Arthur's lips crocked into a small smile that made Julia's heart flustered. Her eyes unconsciously moved to his lips and suddenly she had the urgent need to kiss them.
Arthur lowered his hand from Julia's shoulder, brushing lightly her arm before his hand reached hers.
Julia's eyes widened as she realized how that touch was demanding and at the same time shy and insecure.
He was about to say something, Julia was sure about it and she was so curious to know what he could have said.
Arthur's lips had just parted, when someone called Julia, making Arthur retired his hand and turn his eyes to the lake while Julia huffed and turned her eyes on the young Lenny, who stopped abruptly when he realized he had just interrupted something.
"What is it, son?" asked Arthur clearing his throat, pretending nothing happened.
"About that house I talked about yesterday" said Lenny walking towards Julia.
"The one with the crazy people thinking the war ain't over" nodded Julia.
"Well, I was thinking that we can go take a look right now if you're not busy" said Lenny with an exciting tone.
Julia shrugged and smiled at the young man.
"Not at all" she said, but before she could reach Lenny, Arthur stopped her by her arm, making Julia turn.
"What you two talking about?" he asked moving his eyes from her to Lenny.
"There's a gang of fools holed up in the swamps east of here. They are weapons dealers and they might be sitting on a big pile of cash and if they're not, we can take a nice stash of weapons" explained the boy.
Arthur looked at Julia who sighed.
"I promised him I would have gone with him and because we have nothing better to do than wait here, I think I'm gonna go right now" she said.
"You think you can handle it with that leg of yours?" Arthur asked pointing at her leg.
"Well, you can always come with us and keep an eye on me, if you worry for my safety so much" Julia said in a maybe-too-much seductive tone.
Arthur looked at her and then shook his head lightly chuckling.
"Well, worth taking a look at least, isn't it?" he said looking over at Lenny who almost jumped with joy.
"That was my thinking" he said practically running to the horses while Arthur and Julia followed him.
When they reached their horses, Julia got on Wind Catcher, petting his neck as they got out of the camp, informing Bill that they would have come back in a couple of hours if everything would have gone well.
The man dismissed them with a gesture of his hand and some not-so-kind words as usual.
"So, where is this house exactly, Lenny?" asked Julia.
"Hidden into the woods in the swaps. It's called, Shady Belle" answered the young man emphasizing the name.
"A house with a name? Must be fancy" joked Julia looking at Lenny who chuckled.
"You know, I might have met these crazies before" said Arthur, inserting himself in the conversation.
"You been drinking again?" asked Lenny.
Julia frowned at the boy's words and then looked over at Arthur, who ignored her.
"No. well, yes. But, no, that's not how I might have met them. I think some of them harangued me, her and Sadie when we were coming back with supplies" said Arthur pointing at Julia.
"When you been drinking exactly?" she asked soon after, interrupting Lenny who was about to ask something.
"Err...the day before you came back at camp all covered in blood" said Arthur rubbing his neck and looking in front of him.
Julia thought about it for a moment, realizing it was the day they had that fight over her kissing Nathan in front of the saloon.
"So, maybe they're the same bastards who tried to kill me" she said shrugging, avoiding bring out the subject.
"What about Mrs. Adler?" asked Lenny.
"She did just fine. More than fine, actually" said Arthur in a thoughtful tone.
"Yes, she's a savage. She asked me to accompany her in town to buy herself a gun" said Julia making Lenny look at her puzzled.
"She's terrifying" said Arthur shaking his head.
"I like" her said Julia shrugging.
"I can imagine you two together" he chuckled.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked frowning at him, but she was just trying to push him a little.
When the man hummed, not so sure about what to say, Julia could barely hide an amused smile.
She shook her head and looked over at Lenny, who was looking around.
"Anyway...how about you Lenny? How you doing in this country so far? Being this far in the south must be difficult" said Julia, swearing she had heard Arthur sigh in relief.
"We won't find no shortage of angry peckerwood idiots in the state of Lemoyne, that's for sure" he answered.
"It really that different in this state? We haven't come far" said Arthur.
"It seems like it is" replied the young man, still looking around.
"These boys got a manner about 'em...but I haven't necessarily noticed..." said again Arthur sighing.
"All respect, Mr. Morgan, you wouldn't notice. My call you a nigger lover, they see us riding like this, but most of it's a...a glance, or a word and after that...a visit in the night" said Lenny looking at him.
Arthur said nothing for a moment, looking at Julia who as well didn't know what to say.
"Out west..." began Arthur, but soon the young Lenny stopped him.
"Out west is out West...and you're all who you are...decent folks..."
Julia frowned thinking about the members of the gang and her mind traveled at Tilly.
"I wonder how Tilly must be feeling right now" she said out loud.
"She's alright. I assured her we're just fine as long as we're together and with Dutch guiding us" answered Lenny smiling at Julia.
"I hope you're right, Lenny" she mumbled.
They stayed silent as they followed young Lenny though a shadowy area that opened up in a big space where there were old barricades spread everywhere, signs that in that place it had been fought a war.
Looking around Julia had the feeling she had been there, but she couldn't quite remember when and why.
"Feels like we're close...it's a rundown old plantation house down in the bayou somewhere" said Lenny, taking Julia away from her thoughts.
"Let's take it slow. Be cautious...if like you say, these are crazies sitting on weapons, we're going to want to strategize a little, before getting shot at" said Arthur.
"Of course" replied the young man.
Julia continued to scan the area when she recognized a big, old ruin in the distance.
"Wait a minute, I've been here" she said.
"Yeah, me too" replied Arthur looking around.
"That's the church where those fools attacked me. If this house's near, then it's the Lemoyne raiders for sure" snarled Julia.
"The men I talked with said find the old battlefield and keep on going. The church up ahead it's used as an outpost. Heard they got men going between here and the big house all day" explained Lenny.
"It could have been useful knowing it before I camped there" muttered Julia, making the two men chuckle.
"You got the upper hand, though" said Lenny looking at her with his usual admiration.
"And a bath in blood" joked Julia.
"I'm not gonna lie, I thought you were going to kill Micah that day" giggled Arthur shaking his head.
"The bastard really tried me. For his own good, I hope he's not gonna try me again" she said looking at Arthur who smiled amused as if he wanted to say that she had his blessing.
"Hold those reigns in...let's just take a look around the place" said Arthur while they closed the distance between them and the church, roaming around it and looking for any clue that could lead to those men.
"It doesn't look like anyone's here" huffed Lenny after a while.
"Let's wait for a little while, maybe some of them'll pass nearby. Then, we gonna follow them to they're hideout" suggested Julia looking at them both.
"Yeah, that's a good idea" said Arthur nodding.
They guided their horses near the road, where they waited for a couple of minutes before they heard something.
"Hear that? Someone's on the track" said Lenny excited.
Julia leaned from above Wind Catcher and looked at the road where there was a wagon.
"A wagon's coming" she said.
"Let's see where he's going. You're on me now" said Arthur as the wagon passed them.
The man nodded at Julia and Lenny and then spurred his horse.
"Let's keep our distance...just three fellers out on the road" said Arthur as they joined the road.
"Is that dynamite?" asked Julia squinting her eyes and looking at the back of the wagon, she saw a couple of big, red crates.
"Yeah, it is. It looks like we're onto something" answered Arthur glancing at her.
They followed the wagon as it turned the corner and went down a road which finished in a big property.
"I think I see something...end of the avenue, between the trees" said Lenny.
"I think it's the house you were talking about" replied Julia looking at said house in the distance.
She couldn't see much, but it seemed in good condition despite the years of abeyance and abuse.
They slowed down and looked at the wagon getting into the property while they tried to count how many men were in there.
"Let's hide the horses amongst the trees so we can take a better look from there" she said pointing at the stone entrance.
"Okay" said Arthur leading them between the trees where they all got down their horses.
Julia took the sniper rifle from her saddle and the same did Arthur, taking a couple of long-distance rifles with him.
They reached the entrance and peeked from the wall that delimited the beginning of the property.
Julia took cover with Lenny behind a part of the wall while Arthur took cover behind the other.
Julia took her sniper rifle and used the viewfinder to investigate the place.
"You see anything?" asked Lenny near her.
"They might be two dozen, maybe three considering they might be taking cover into the house. They're armed all right...and have a lot of dynamite" she said as she examined the place.
"We got something right?" asked Lenny nervously.
"We sure have. Know...how do we proceed?" Julia asked looking at the men after lowering her rifle.
Arthur bit his lower lip, thinking about a plan. Then, after a while, he sighed and said:
"Lenny could go down there acting friendly" he said shrugging.
"Friendly? With these folks?" asked Lenny incredulously.
"Just draw 'em into one spot...then we'll start shooting" assured Arthur.
"That might be the dumbest idea I've ever heard" said Lenny shaking his head.
"It's too risky. Sending Lenny there...they could kill him without hesitation" said Julia peeking from the wall.
"What we do, then?" asked Arthur.
Julia looked at him for a moment before she used the rifle to take another look at the house.
She moved her eyes to the right of the house where she saw the wagon they had followed there, still full of its cargo.
"I see the wagon full of dynamite hidden beside the house. We can steal it and the money they have. We use the rest of the dynamite to blow up those bastards. This way we have the element of surprise" she said looking at Arthur who seemed thinking about her proposition.
"I like her plan better" said Lenny at Arthur who huffed and shook his head.
Julia smiled at the young man.
"Of course you do...alright...let's go in without being noticed" said the man before entering the property.
Arthur and Julia reached a big rock a few feet from the entrance while Lenny took cover behind a tree.
"I'm gonna blow up that dynamite. It's gonna take them some moments to realize they're being attacked. That's when you start shooting" she whispered to Arthur by her side.
"Alright" answered Lenny from behind the tree.
"When did you study military tactics, exactly?" asked Arthur while Julia aimed the rifle to the crates massed near the house.
At that moment a couple of men were walking close to them, while two were standing a couple of feet further.
"I've been taught" she answered before she shot.
In a moment the air filled with a loud thud as smoke and fire exploded near the house, killing the four men standing near the dynamite.
As Julia had expected, the explosion drew a lot of attention in front of the house, and it was at that moment that Arthur and Lenny started to shoot.
"Hey! You all being robbed!" shouted Arthur after the first two shots.
Julia beside him, laughed as she killed one of them who was running to take cover.
"I'm gonna get closer!" shouted Lenny.
"Go, I cover you" said Julia shooting another one.
The young man started to run, catching the attention of most of the men who were shooting.
They were all focused on Lenny that they didn't notice Arthur and Julia aim at them and in no time, they had killed six of them.
Lenny took cover soon after and Arthur and Julia did the same since they had been targeted again.
"Right here, you dumb son of a bitch!" they heard Lenny shout.
Julia and Arthur chuckled as they recharged their rifles.
"That kid...he's got some energy" said Julia.
"Yeah, you tell me" replied Arthur.
Together they moved closer to the men, hiding behind one of the barricades while Lenny shot at them, preventing them to aim at his companions.
"You two go on, I'm gonna shot from here" said Julia as she killed two men running from a barricade to another.
"You heard her, kid. Come on!" yelled Arthur.
The two of them moved forward while Julia killed one man who was shooting from the balcony and another from behind the big fountain in front of the house.
She saw Arthur take cover behind an old wagon while Lenny was running towards a big crate.
But while she was continuing to shoot at the men, Julia noticed some of them running towards her companions and lowering her rifle for a moment she saw one of them reach Lenny and push him on the ground.
She was about to shoot at the man, when a bullet flew really close to her ear, making her duck.
"Lenny's in danger!" yelled Julia at Arthur who was looking at her.
"Go help him. I'll take care of that son of a bitch" he answered back heading to the man who had shot at her.
Julia took a couple of deep breaths and then started to limp as fast as she could towards Lenny.
She hit the man on his back with the bottom of her rifle, making him fall onto the ground. The man turned to look at her, imploring mercy, but Julia had already pulled the trigger.
"You okay?" she asked helping the young man on his feet.
"Yeah, just got a punch in my guts" answered Lenny touching the small wound on his forehead.
"Let's go help Arthur she said limping towards the man who was taking care of the ones left.
Lenny killed two of them, Julia one while Arthur shot the man who had almost killed her.
Soon the atmosphere was calm and quiet, while they could still see some smoke from the explosion and shooting filling the air.
"We killed everyone?" asked Julia looking around.
"It seems like it" answered Arthur.
Julia put the rifle on her shoulder and started to look around as Lenny and Arthur did the same.
They looked into the house, in the camp outside but there was no trace of money, just some watches here and there and some other valuable objects.
"Let's check that wagon" suggested Julia limping towards it.
Arthur reached her and stopped her from climbing on it, and instead, he got on it, checking a big crate on the back of the wagon.
"Hey this might be promising" he said looking into the crate.
"What you got?" asked Lenny as Julia stretched her neck to see.
Arthur took out a brand new rifle and exanimated it.
"This is full of new rifles" answered Arthur.
"Hosea will find someone to sell them to" said Julia.
Arthur nodded, putting the rifle back in the crate and coming down the wagon.
"He sure will...now let's go" he said checking the horses.
"What about the rest?" asked Lenny.
"We gonna check it later. Better if we get out of here" replied Arthur helping Julia on the wagon.
Lenny jumped on the back and once they got out the property, he got on his horse while Wind Catcher and Tundra followed them.
They had just come out of the woods when they saw three men on horses coming their way.
"Raiders. Coming our way. Keep it together here" mumbled Arthur.
Julia turned and looked at Lenny who nodded at her and put a hand on his holster, ready if necessary.
"What's a black feller doing coming out of Shady Belle? With one of our wagons?" asked one of the three men.
"We was doing some business with your brothers back there" answered Arthur.
"You don't like any kind of folk we'd deal with" replied the man staring at them.
"Our business was conducted to the satisfaction of all parties. Until now that is" said Arthur while Julia slipped a hand behind them and reached for one of the rifles in the crate.
"Nope. No. Something don't feel right about this. Not him, and not you neither, yankee" said the man with a louder and angry tone.
The man nodded at the others whose hands flew to their holster, but before Arthur or Lenny could react, Julia shot the first one in the head.
She quickly recharged and shot the second on the chest and the last one, who had taken his pistol out, right in the neck.
The three men fell from their horses as the animals, scared by the shots, ran away.
"Whoa! How did you do that?" asked Lenny looking at her pleasantly stunned.
"Precision is good, but velocity is better. Combine the two things together and you'll be unbeatable" quoted Julia while putting the rifle where she had took it.
"Who told you that?" asked Arthur whipping the horses so they could proceed.
"A man who was both precise and fast" answered Julia, avoiding a real and complete answer.
"The friend you talked about a few times?" asked Arthur again.
"Exactly" said Julia, hoping he wouldn't dig any further.
Arthur nodded and for a moment it seemed to Julia that he wouldn't ask any other questions.
But then he sighed and said:
"Who is he?"
Julia smiled, amused by his curiosity, and then she looked at him, giving the man a mysterious smile that Arthur couldn't figure out.
He simply shook his head and looked back at the road.
"By the way, you did good, Lenny" he said changing the subject.
Lenny looked at him for a moment before shrugging.
"I know Sean's been bringing in quite a lot lately...and I wanted to...it's good to have something to show like this" he answered.
"Sean's a loud mouth braggart...don't worry 'bout what Sean does" replied Arthur making Julia smile at the way he had called the Irish young man.
"Hey, I like him, you know?" protested Lenny.
"Well, so do I...against my better judgement...just, you worry about you" said Arthur frowning at his own words.
"But..." started Lenny, but Arthur stopped him.
"But, nothing. Me and Dutch and everyone who counts, we know what you do for this gang. We notice. Keep it up, you're going to start seeing things change for you" he said in a fatherly tone.
"Okay, then. Okay...thank you, Arthur" thanked Lenny.
Arthur nodded and then silence fell until they reached the camp, finding that Bill was still on the watch.
"What you got there?" he asked stretching his neck to look at the cargo in the wagon.
"Nothing that concern you, Bill" said Arthur whipping the horses so they went faster.
Arthur stopped the wagon just a little bit further from where the horses were. Then he got down and did to go help Julia, who was already getting down.
"I got this" she said dismissing the man who, instead, reached the rifles on the back.
Lenny had got down his horse as well and looked at Arthur as he took one of the rifles and exanimated it again.
"These are fine rifles" Arthur mumbled to himself.
Julia smiled as she leaned against the wagon, trying not to put down her leg that had started to hurt after the effort of the day.
"Right?" said Lenny.
"I'm gonna keep one, just for me" Arthur added.
"Don't let Bill see you, then" mocked Julia starting to limp towards Wind Catcher that had reached the other horses.
"Hey...I always enjoy riding with you kid" Julia heard Arthur say and turning towards them, she saw the man hold Lenny's hand in a brotherly way.
The young man looked at Arthur as he got down the wagon and continued to compliment him.
"Anytime, Arthur" he said before he left.
Arthur looked at the rifle one more time, pointing it at nothing in particular before he turned his head and saw Julia limp towards the horses.
He put the rifle on his shoulder and followed her, watching her while she took off the saddle from Wind Catcher and put it aside.
He leaned against a post and waited for her to finish taking care of the horse that was nibbling at her hair trying desperately to get another sugar cube.
"Stop, you already got one" she giggled petting the animal's neck.
Feeling the presence of someone behind her, Julia turned and met eyes with Arthur who smiled awkwardly at her before he moved his eyes on his feet.
"You did good too, today" she said making Arthur look at her.
"You see, it's not the first time I do that" he mocked her.
"I wasn't talking about the robbery. I was talking about what you said to Lenny" Julia said finishing to brush Wind Catcher.
"What you mean?" Arthur frowned, crossing his arm on his chest.
"I mean, that what you said to him was really kind and supportive. And he needed to hear that from you because, as you said, you're one of the big boys" Julia said limping closer to him.
"I just told him to ignore Sean, he's...he doesn't have to compare himself to him" said Arthur shrugging.
Julia put a hand on his bicep and looked lovingly at him.
"You would be a good father, you know?" she said in a low tone.
Arthur's eyes widened for a moment before they filled with sadness and melancholy.
"I don't think so" he whispered looking away.
"Well, I do. And you can't change my mind" insisted Julia searching his eyes.
Arthur looked up at her as she smiled at him, rubbing gently his arm. Then she removed her hands, putting them on her hips.
"You think things gonna change for me too?" she asked assuming a mocking tone.
"I don't know. Maybe, if you behave" he answered.
"I won't, you know that" Julia laughed.
"I'm afraid things will not change with Dutch, then" Arthur shrugged.
"It's okay. He's not the only big boy I can persuade" said Julia winking at Arthur who for the second time that day didn't know what to answer.
Julia chuckled at his puzzled expression, hitting playfully his arm while biting her lower lip.
"See you around, Morgan" she said looking in Arthur's eyes before she walked away.
Arthur stared at her as she went away, shaking his head and sighing exasperatedly.
But he was smiling uncontrollably.
Sorry for the late, I just finished to write this chapter and my head is about to implode. I tried to be as fast as I could (and failed of course)
For the next chapter, I got something REALLY interesting and I can't wait to write it and publish it (hoping it would be on time)
Anyway, I'm tired as hell, so I'm going to bed. See you next week!