"Sheriff, are you alright?"
Jack arrived on the scene just in time to watch Sawyer pull Sheriff Daniels from a cloud of dust and a pile of wooden rubble. A glance to his right caused his jaw to fall slack. Half of the Office was still standing while the other half was scattered into the street. "I'm fine, Dominick!" The older man shouted as he rubbed the lobe of his ear with his unoccupied hand. "The bastards ruined my jail!"
"What happened?" Jack inserted himself into the conversation. "Was all the way down Wapiti and I heard the noise."
"It was a god damn jailbreak! One second, I'm standing at the bulletin board. The next my ears are ringing like a dinner bell and Dominick is yanking me outta my destroyed jail!" The old man rubbed at his ears some more. "Those criminals you boys brought in are gone."
"We can always catch them again, what's important is that you aren't hurt, Sheriff." The agent insisted. "You could've easily died in that explosion."
"It'd take a hell of a lot more to kill me than some measly dynamite."
"Did that Declan guy follow us back you think?" Jack asked Sawyer. He didn't know of any other person that carried dynamite around.
"I'm thinking that's exactly what happened." The dark-haired man sighed. "By the time we all ran out here, they were already halfway across Flat Iron Lake." He locked eyes with Jack, taking on a serious expression. "They know your name now. It might be best to maybe lay low for you for a while."
"Like hell. I can take care of myself just fine. I'm not gonna hide from these people." He scoffed. "What happens next?"
Sawyer opened his mouth to say something but quickly shut it. He glanced around Jack, heaving a sigh. "Hold that thought, I need to go redirect a citizen." Without another word, he was trotting away and leaving Jack alone with the Sheriff.
"You sure you're good, old man?" Jack asked, focusing on him.
"Like I said to Dom, I'm fine. I'm more annoyed that my damn jail is destroyed." He glared at the wreckage that was once his office. "And to add salt to my wounds, the Bureau is treating me like I'm a child." Sheriff Daniels glowered at the four or five agents that lingered around the crime scene. "I've been in law enforcement longer than some of those pricks been alive. Been Sheriff longer than they even thought about working for the government and they gonna try to tell me that they'll handle it?" He shook his head and turned back to Jack. "At least when Dom says it, I know it's 'cause he cares. Them? They just wanna make themselves seem important. Buncha self-righteous fucks."
At the sound of his name, Jack turned to look over his shoulder. Sawyer stood some way down the street, waving him over. Turning around fully, he took notice of a certain redhead standing behind the agent with Lucy in tow. "Be right back, Sheriff." He told the other man before making his way over to Cat and Sawyer.
Once there, he ignored the curious look that the agent was giving him and gave his attention to Cat. "Probably best if you keep your distance from the pier for a while, Cat." He advised.
"Is everything alright?" She asked. Before he could answer, she handed him Lucy's reins and the cash he'd left with her.
"Yeah, just a little messy. I'll tell you more later." He didn't have all the details he wanted yet, anyway. "Thank you for staying with Lucy. I appreciate it." Jack was beyond grateful that she stayed behind with Lucy. He wouldn't have trusted anyone else to look after her.
She grinned up at him. "I'm happy to help." He watched her glance over at Sawyer, her grin turning into a smirk. "Who's your friend?" She asked.
Though they weren't really friends, Jack didn't see a need to correct her. "Cat, Dominick Sawyer. Sawyer, Cat Ross."
Cat turned her attention to Sawyer, who's curious look had only gotten stronger. She offered him a smile that served as a reminder of her proper upbringing. "Nice to meet you, Agent Sawyer." She gave a small sigh and turned back to him. "I'll let you get back to work. See you tonight?"
Jack nodded, offering her his own smile. "Sure thing. I'll stop by and grab you on my way out."
"Is it alright to go down Main Street, or should I just forget my shopping today?"
Seeming to find his voice, Sawyer spoke up. "Main Street should be good to go, Miss Ross."
"I'll get going, then." Cat said. She walked around them, stopping for a moment to stroke Lucy's neck. "Feel better, Lucy girl." She told the mare before making her departure. Jack watched her walk away, making sure she entered her first store without issue. When he could no longer see her, he turned back to look at Sawyer. The other man had a small smirk on his face.
"What?" He questioned with a brow risen.
Sawyer shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing. Some things just make a little more sense to me now, that's all." He cleared his throat. "You wanna give me a hand with helping the Sheriff clean up this mess? If he spends any more time with my colleagues, I fear the Bureau might be a little understaffed."
Deciding he had nothing better to do, Jack nodded. "Yeah, I'm right behind ya."
The evening found Dominick Sawyer still sitting at his desk. Most of his colleagues left over an hour ago. Only he and two others remained, a senior agent and Director Blake himself. The other agent didn't appear to be purposefully staying over like he was. The man's face rested in his hand, mouth hanging agape with a snore filling the empty room. Dominick couldn't help but shake his head at him. The snores weren't helping with his focus on the paper flattened over top of his desk. Nonetheless, he tried regaining his attention and turned his gaze downcast to the paper. Hurriedly scrawled notes sat off to the side of the letter, seemingly mocking him. Sighing, he rubbed his eyes with his left hand and tapped his pencil against the desk with his right.
Sheriff Daniels had shoved the letter in his hands after finding out the temporary Sheriff's Office would be at the bottom floor of the Bureau. The Sheriff claimed to have confiscated it from one of the criminals Dominick and Marston brought in. Before they were busted out by Declan Pierce, that is. Taking his hand away from his eyes, he gave the letter and his notes a look over. The only thing he knew for certain was that Sebastian Bartel had his eyes on a bank. Figuring out which bank wasn't as easy, as it wasn't spelled out in the letter.
Blackwater First National Bank came to mind first, but the letter didn't give any indication that it was the target.
The Lemoyne National Bank in Saint Denis seemed a likely candidate.
The Bank of Rhodes could be an option, as well.
They didn't have the resources available to send men to both places and investigate. Hell, as it stood the only resource the Bureau had was Dominick. The rookie was still the only freed agent. The rest were up to their necks in their caseloads. He couldn't be in two places at once. Figuring out which bank would be key to getting approval to poke around. The young man grimaced to himself whilst remembering how angry Mr. Fordham still was with him for going to Thieves Landing with Jack Marston. He hadn't received the lecture he was dreading yet, thanks to the jailbreak. He would make sure to get approval from Director Blake before setting off on this mission.
He needed to figure out which bank to go to.
Determination renewed Dominick read the letter again with the hope of catching something he may have missed earlier. The author of the note's handwriting didn't make this job any easier, that's for sure. Just as he was about to call in quits a line he previously glossed over jumped out at him. "We'll be hanging at ole Cousin Jimmy's face when you're done lending Declan a hand." It hadn't seemed too important a sentence the first couple of readthroughs. "Cousin Jimmy's face…" He muttered to himself while twirling the pencil in his hand. A few moments of deliberation passed before his eyes widened. "Face Rock! They're waiting at Face Rock!" The old rock formation was in the northern part of Scarlett Meadows, and just south was Rhodes. They were going to hit the Rhodes bank!
"Sawyer? What are you still doing here, son?"
Head snapping up, Dominick found Director Blake standing in the open doorway of his office. "Sir! I was…" a sheepish smile crept onto his face, "I was just working on a lead."
The tall man quirked a brow. "A lead for which case?" Director Blake took a few strides closer. "Has Archer given you a task?"
"Not exactly, sir." He rushed to gather up all of his notes while his boss continued to walk over to his desk. "I'm trying to be proactive. I was hoping to get your approval to go investigate."
"Alright, you've got my attention."
Swallowing the sudden lump in his throat, Dominick started to argue his case for this mission. "As you know, me and a bounty hunter apprehended two of the Bartel gang recently."
"Yes, and the Sheriff's Office was destroyed during a jailbreak." He chuckled softly. "Old Terry isn't too thrilled about being stationed downstairs."
"Before the jailbreak, Sheriff Daniels handed this to me." He handed the Director the letter and allowed him time to read it. "They talk about hitting a bank but are careful to not give the location away. I know that the others have full caseloads, so our resources are limited. I wanted to figure out exactly which bank it was they were going to target."
Director Blake handed the paper back to Dominick. "And have you figured it out, Sawyer?"
He grinned. "Rhodes Bank is their target. They make mention of meeting at 'cousin Jimmy's face'. I believe that's Face Rock in Scarlett Meadows. Rhodes is just south of there."
"I'm impressed, son. Rhodes is a fairly small town, they probably assume the kickback won't be too fierce." He paused a moment before offering him a smirk. "Make it fierce, Agent Sawyer."
Victory coursed through Dominick's veins. "So, I've got approval to go check it out?"
The other man nodded. "You've proven to be dedicated. If this goes well, I'll consider ending your probation early. You've been a fine asset to the team, young man." He took another moment to think. "See if that bounty hunter you mentioned will ride with you again. We can pay him, that's no issue. I just don't have any extra men to offer you, I'm sorry."
Dominick couldn't help but feel surprised at the words his boss was saying. Mr. Fordham had been livid he'd gone on a mission with the bounty hunter! Perhaps it wasn't his makeshift partner being a bounty hunter that annoyed Mr. Fordham, but rather who the bounty hunter was. "I can speak with him and see if he's willing."
"Perfect. Make sure to keep me in the know, alright?" He smiled. "Have a good evening, son. I like your initiative."
"Thank you, sir! I won't let you down." Dominick assured him as the other man took to the stairs. He took a peek at his pocket watch, finding that it was only fifteen minutes past seven o'clock. If he left this moment, he would make it to Beecher's Hope before it got dark. He grabbed his notes, stuffing them into his satchel. He only hoped that Marston would be willing to go on another mission with a man who worked for the agency he so clearly despised.
As he crossed onto the property line of Beecher's Hope, Dominick felt a little bit of anxiety settle into his stomach. What actions did he take next if Marston refused to go on the mission with him? He would have no choice but to go it alone. With a shake of his head, he tried not to think that way. Surely, Marston would be willing once the payment was mentioned? The agent drew his focus back to his task at hand. Theorizing about the other man's response served little purpose when he was already at his doorstep.
His eyes roamed over the property, finding the man in question making his way to the back of the property towards a gazebo. Upon further investigation, Dominick found a redheaded woman sitting inside the gazebo. Frowning, he wondered if interrupting the pair's evening would lessen his chances of Marston agreeing to ride with him. Miss Ross seemed to be agreeable enough, perhaps she would understand? "Marston!" Dominick shouted from a distance. He needed to get a move on and stop fooling around with this stupid hesitation of his. Marston's back stiffened before his hand went to the revolver at his hip. He spun around on his heel to meet Dominick's gaze. Curiosity took the place of the defensive look on Marston's face right away. His hand dropped.
"Sawyer? What are you doing here?" He called out.
Dominick dismounted his horse and started toward him. Behind Marston, he noticed Miss Ross watching with her own inquisitive look. "I'm sorry to interrupt your evening. I won't take up too much of your time, Marston."
"You need something? Sheriff okay?"
Giving a nod, he took a few more steps toward Marston. The two stood maybe six feet from one another. Dominick chuckled lightly, seeing that Miss Ross had done the same. The woman stood behind Marston now, almost peeking over his shoulder at him. "Sheriff is annoyed but is otherwise fine." He reassured the other man. "I came to ask for your help again." Honesty was the best route to take here, he surmised.
"I'm not really interested in doing the government's work for it."
Expecting this answer, Dominick continued. "Sheriff Daniels handed me this letter that he found on one of the Bartels we brought in." After rummaging in his satchel, he handed the paper to Marston. "They're planning to hit a bank in Rhodes. Our escapees will likely be among them."
A deep frown encompassed the other man's face. "Didn't realize that Rhodes Bank would have enough money to rob."
"Director Blake guesses that the size of the town is what makes it a target. They think it's easy money."
Folding the paper back up, Marston handed it over. "And this Director Blake, he know you're asking me for help instead of one of your buddies?"
His coworkers were far from his buddies, as Marston put it. Hell, Marston was more of a "buddy" than they were, and they hardly knew each other. "His idea, actually. Told me he's willing to pay you. I've got full approval to go ahead with the mission."
"Bet Fordham ain't too happy about that." Marston laughed.
"As it stands, Mr. Fordham has no say over your involvement. Director Blake has made his choice." Dominick flexed his fingers at his sides. "Could really use a man like you on this job, Marston."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Means that you've got a brain and aren't focused on getting medals like my colleagues."
"Look, if I'm going on jobs with you, I don't want none of that attention. Ain't why I started doing this to begin with."
His hopes skyrocketed. "So, you'll go with? I can keep your name out of any possible publications."
Marston nodded. "Yeah, I'll come with. When you thinking of heading out? Rhodes ain't a short ride away."
Dominick wanted to get this going as fast as possible. "First thing in the morning? I can meet you back here and we can go from there." Though would've preferred leaving this moment, they would need their rest in case things got messy. The escapees wouldn't be at full strength today anyways, not after being run over by horses and making a jail escape. The criminals would most likely lay low for a small bit.
"Sounds good. Oh, and Sawyer?"
"Don't dress like an agent this time. You'll get us both killed." Marston smirked at him.
Returning the smirk, Dominick couldn't help but feel amused at his words. "Don't worry, I didn't plan to make that mistake again. I'll see you tomorrow, Marston." He switched the smirk on his face to his best gentleman-like smile for Miss Ross. "I'm sorry to have disrupted your evening, Miss Ross. I'll be sure to bring him back in tip-top shape." The woman laughed as Marston gave an eye roll. "Thanks again, Marston. I sure appreciate your help."
"Yeah, don't mention it."
The closer they traveled to Rhodes the more Jack grew thankful for the more reasonable temperatures of West Elizabeth. The sun wasn't even fully in the sky yet and he could feel his shirt sticking to his skin. He ditched his usual jacket over an hour ago, right at nine in the morning. Jack didn't need to look at Sawyer to know that the other man did the same as him. Even so, he stole a glance at the agent. The low ponytail Jack had grown almost accustomed to was switched for a tightly wound bun. Like his own, Sawyer's jacket got stuffed into the saddlebags.
"You know, I'm starting to appreciate West Elizabeth just a little more." Sawyer spoke up. "It's hotter than hell down here."
"I was just thinkin' that. Summer in the south, what a great time to go stop a bank robbery."
"Yeah, well, moral degeneracy doesn't like waiting." Sawyer turned and met his eye for a moment. "Thanks again for coming along, Marston. I know going on a job with a Bureau agent isn't your idea of a good time."
"You ain't wrong there." Jack hadn't fully figured out why he had agreed to come. A flurry of reasons buzzed about in his mind, but he'd yet to settle on one. Was it the fact that Sawyer had pulled him out of the way of the exploding lamp even though he had no obligation to? Was it the pay offered? Or was it that Sawyer asked him in front of Cat, who stared up at him with those curious eyes of hers? Perhaps it was a combination of all three. "Mind if I ask you something, Sawyer?"
"What's on your mind?"
"How come you wanna do this with me? It still don't make much sense to me that there ain't at least one other agent to be your partner. Not even Fordham?" The question had burned in Jack's mind since before Thieves Landing. Sawyer insisted that everyone else was busy. Jack just found it hard to believe that he was the only free one.
"I told you, the rest are all wrapped up in their own cases. Even Mr. Fordham."
"And these cases are more important than a gang terrorizing the tri-state area?"
Sawyer heaved a sigh before replying. "Seems that way, Marston."
"I remember you mentioning them liking to push the rookie around. They doin' this to you on purpose?" Of all the agents he'd unfortunately met in his life, Jack felt Sawyer to be relatively level-headed and seemed capable. He didn't understand why the other agents would rebuke him.
"I'm the first new agent in over a year. They're all set in their ways." The other man admitted. "Most of them truly don't leave their desks. Yet, I'm somehow unworthy to be an agent because I was a deputy? I've arrested more men than half of them, but because they look down on the Sheriff's Office it doesn't count." He shook his head. "Mr. Fordham was meant to go on a few missions with me, but he's focused on something else right now. The others and I aren't totally sure what it is, but he's been real fixated on it." Sawyer trailed off into silence. Jack watched contemplation run across his features. "Think it's only fair that you answer a question for me." He requested.
Uncertain about the attention being turned towards him, Jack straightened his back in the saddle. "What is it?"
"You and Miss Ross are an item, right?"
Brows shooting upwards, Jack turned to look at Sawyer again. "What does Cat have to do with anything?" He demanded. Cat being brought up in business did not sit well with him. Jack didn't want her near any of this.
"Relax, it was just a question. I've just been trying to wrap my mind around why Mr. Fordham was so angry about my working with you. I don't think it's got anything to do with your being a bounty hunter. Seeing Miss Ross brought up a memory of them being engaged at one point. It led me to believe she might be the reason."
"I'm gonna stick with the reason being that he's an asshole." Cat had little to do with why Jack disliked Archer Fordham.
"I've always thought of Mr. Fordham as a stand-up guy."
"Yeah, tell that to my dead father." The words came out before he could stop them. He could already hear Cat's voice in his head, chastising him for being unnecessarily aggressive. Sighing, he rubbed at his eyes with his fingers a moment. "Sorry." He forced himself to apologize. Taking out his aggression on Sawyer who had nothing to do with that whole situation wasn't fair. He didn't need to be hostile with the man he was about to do a job with.
"No, I deserved that. I got too nosy. Didn't mean nothing by it, Marston. Sometimes I let my curiosity get the better of me, feel free to tell me to shut up at any time." The agent chuckled to himself. "Guess I'd better shut up if I ever want your help again."
"It might help your case." Jack surprised himself when he laughed with Sawyer. Before he could get too into his own head about it, he took notice of an armed man on horseback. Behind him, some distance away, Jack could see the town of Rhodes. "You see him up there?" He questioned Sawyer. He kept his voice low and his features neutral to not alert the man.
"Sure do. I also see that blue bandana poking out of his shirt collar."
Jack took in the man's appearance as they continued to ride toward him, albeit slower now. Pale skinned with a reddened, clean-shaven face. A rifle hung across his back and a pair of pistols sat at his hip. Sawyer was right, nestled into the man's unbuttoned shirt was a blue bandana. His eyes zeroed in on them and narrowed. "What are y'all doin?" He shouted at them, tipping his black hat up to get a better look.
"Glad you ain't dressed like the agent you are, ain't you Sawyer?" Jack mumbled with a small chuckle. "We're headed to Rhodes, heard the General Store there sells some sort of miracle bass bait. My buddy over here needs all the help he can get in the fishing department."
"Maybe I'd catch more if someone didn't have such a loudmouth when we're on the boat!"
"You're gonna have to come back another day. Rhodes is closed today." The Bartel member said flatly.
"Closed?" Jack inquired.
The man's face twisted into a snarl. "Yes. Closed. That a problem?" His fingers twitched at his sides, almost caressing the guns just a touch away. "Two boys tried to make it into a problem right before y'all came through. Let's just say… it didn't end well for those folk."
"Nope, no problems here." Sawyer chimed in. "We'll just have to make do with what we got." He picked up his reins and started turning around.
"Guess we'll head back to Flat Iron." Jack did the same as Sawyer. Slowly, the pair retreated some distance away. When he couldn't see the gang member, Jack turned back to the agent. "Looks like we'll be taking the back way into Rhodes."
Sawyer nodded. "Sure are. Follow me. We can take the trail that goes past the Braithwaite Manor ruins and get a real decent look from the back of town."
Without another word, the pair rushed down the dirt trail that skirted along outside of town. The area was riddled with trees, the thickest bunching up near the railroad tracks. A sneak attack could be possible for them, but it wouldn't be easy considering the lack of knowledge they had about the situation in town. They could've already hit the bank and were cleaning the vaults out for all they knew.
The trail they followed took them right to the back of town like Sawyer said. Unlike the other entrance, there wasn't a guard to stop them before they got to town this time. Instead, a man stood in front of a large building resembling a schoolhouse. His back was facing Jack and Sawyer and was none the wiser about their presence. A blue bandana sat tucked into his jean's pocket giving the tip-off of his affiliations. Jack opened his mouth to speak to Sawyer, but before he could get a word out the man banged the butt of his rifle against the door of the building.
"Quiet down in there! Y'all saw what happened to the screamers! You wanna stay alive? Shut your God damn mouths!" He shouted.
"Shit, they have hostages." Jack swore. "One wrong move from us and they'll kill them without a doubt." They didn't need the extra worry about keeping hostages alive, but Jack refused to let innocent people die because he felt slightly inconvenienced. "What kind of rules are we following, Sawyer?" He would have to follow the man's lead for now. This was technically his mission, after all. Wasn't Jack's career on the line, either.
"Same as Thieves Landing, no civilian casualties best as we can."
"And the gang members?"
Sawyer was quiet for a second before exhaling a deep breath. "I can't see any way that we can keep all of them alive and keep the hostages alive, too. Kill them, but if you catch glimpse of Declan try to keep him alive." The agent pulled his repeater from his saddle and began to ready it. "Nice thing about doing a Government mission, Marston. Your pay isn't dependent on keeping people alive."
"If that ain't the perfect description of the Government as a whole, I don't know what is." Jack laughed as he fully loaded the Litchfield he normally wore along his back. Though he'd found humor in Sawyer's comment, Jack found little to laugh at about taking another life. Sadie had warned him this would be part of the job eventually. He'd done a good job about keeping his targets alive, but that just wasn't a choice this time. Cat wouldn't be happy about him breaking his promise to her about killing. He just hoped that she would understand the difference between this and Edgar Ross. "Reckon we should try and get those hostages out before we try making our way to the bank."
"Smart thinking. One of us could sneak up behind him with no problem, I bet. The other could cover." He turned to look Jack in the eye. A serious expression was on his face. "I can do it if you'll cover me?"
The display of trust wasn't lost on him. He didn't understand it. "I got your back." It was the least he could do. Sawyer was the reason Jack didn't have glass being plucked out of his back right now.
Sawyer nodded once before slipping down from his horse. He secured his repeater against his back before readying his knife in hand. Jack watched him take another breath before lowering his stance into a squat. As he watched the agent begin to make his way over to the Bartel member, Jack felt his throat run dry and his hands grow sweaty. He tried telling himself it was the heat, but he knew better. The pressure was on, innocent lives were on the line.
Lifting the Litchfield, Jack drew his complete focus on following Sawyer quietly and quickly making his way towards the building. The agent slowed his pace when he drew closer to the guard, coming to a complete stop when he stood just a few feet behind him. Like a snake striking, Sawyer shot forward and grappled the man. One hand covered his mouth as the knife plunged into his throat. Sawyer held the man for a few moments before letting him crumple onto the ground. The agent swiveled his head around and motioned for Jack to come join him. Tossing a leg over, he dismounted his borrowed horse and went to join him.
"Help me pull these boards off, Marston." The dark-haired man requested in a hurried tone. Trying to ignore the other man's bloodied hand, Jack gripped the board closest to him on the door. A few tugs and grunts later, the two managed to yank it off and repeated the motion for the next. Both planks of wood made no sound as they were tossed to the ground near the Bartel. Sawyer slipped his hand into the crack between the two doors, slowly opening them. "Shh, folks. We're here to help." He called into the building. "My name is Dominick Sawyer, I'm an agent with the Bureau of Investigation. You're safe now."
"Did you get rid of those men?!" An old man cowering in the corner of the room demanded.
"We're working on it, I assure you." Sawyer tried. "Is there anyone who can tell me what's happened here? Do you know how many men there are?"
"They came only an hour ago, whipping their guns about and cornering us all in here!" A woman cried before a man clamped his hand over her mouth.
"If you don't shut up, they's gonna make their way over here!" He growled at her. Once she was pacified, the man turned to Sawyer. "We think there's at least six." He peered at the ground near the door. "Well… five, I guess."
"They got my daughter! Snatched her right from my arms!" A well-dressed woman pushed her way to the front of the heavy crowd. She latched onto the front of Jack's shirt. "Please, please go save her! She's a dainty little thing, she can't fight for herself!" The woman wailed, her body shaking with sobs.
"Calm down, ma'am. Do you know where they're keeping her?" Jack questioned, placing his hands atop her shoulders. He wanted to do more to comfort the distraught woman, but he knew nothing he did would help.
She nodded. "The church! They took her to the church! Said they were gonna keep her until my husband paid them a ransom." Her grip on his shirt tightened. "She's got red hair, mister. You'll see her, no problem. Please, will you save her?" Fat tears poured out of her eyes. "They've already killed so many people, mister."
"I'll do my best, ma'am." Jack promised, slowly prying her fingers off his shirt. "Is there someplace safe you all can go? This ain't a good spot to be right now."
"There's that abandoned battlefield! Maybe that's safe?" A faceless voice suggested.
"That'll work!" One of the men in front said. "Sir, they've got more hostages in the bank. They were tryna bust open the vaults last I knew."
"Good enough." Sawyer agreed with the battlefield suggestion. "Please remain calm and quiet as you make your way there. We can't save anyone else if they realize you all aren't where they left you."
Slowly, the crowd began to thin as the residents of Rhodes started to make their way towards the battlefield they spoke about. The last to trickle out was the well-dressed woman. She stared at Jack with pleading eyes as she walked by him. "I'll bring your daughter to you, ma'am. She's gonna be alright." He tried again. The woman gave a small nod and disappeared along the path leading out of town. Jack turned to Sawyer and blew a breath between his lips. "Alright, let's keep moving."
"Right behind you."
The duo exited the building, sticking close to the walls until they reached the corner. Jack poked his head around and took in the scene below in Rhodes' main street. The sight alone was enough to churn his stomach. Bodies were bunched together in the middle of town, muddy blood trails surrounding them. He loathed the idea of inevitably smelling the corpses when they got further into town. Forcing his eyes away from the dead, Jack found a lone man walking up and down the street. A rifle sat in his hands while he appeared to be whistling something Jack couldn't hear. "What's the next move?" He found his voice after the longest silence.
"Quietly make our way to the bank. After that? I guess we'll make our way to the church and get that girl." Sawyer said.
"Should we split up? Might be able to pick these bastards off easier that way."
Sawyer thought for a second before nodding his head. "I'll take the right you take the left?"
"Okay. Meet me behind the bank."
The two nodded at the other before going off in opposite directions. Jack made sure to keep his body low and his feet quiet while shuffling his way toward the building closest to him. Once he was safely behind the building, he took a deep breath. Instantly, he regretted the action. The putrid stench of the dead assaulted his nose. A cough threatened to escape his lips, but he forced it down. He tried dousing the smell by pulling up the bandana he wore around his neck over his nose. Satisfied with that, he took a look around for the man again.
He stood in front of the bodies, a smirk on his face. He toed the limp arm of a woman with her brain splattered below her. His smirk turned into a grin and his toeing turned into glee-filled stomps on her hand. Disgust crawled up Jack's face in the form of a wrinkled nose. "Sick piece of shit." He muttered to himself. Taking in his surroundings again, Jack found cover behind yet another building. He was closer to the man in the street now, almost close enough that he could snatch him up and dispose of him. Taking a steadying breath, Jack made a break for the next closest building again.
When he peered around the corner, he saw Sawyer across the street in a similar position to him. He locked eyes with the agent, gesturing towards the man once he had his attention. The man was still too focused on desecrating the dead to notice the pair. Still, he was close enough that Jack could grab him while using the discarded wagon as cover. It was just too risky of a move without his back being turned. Almost as if the agent read his mind, a thud sounded from the other side of the street. Sawyer was suddenly nowhere to be seen. Jack switched his gaze back to the man and found his back turned. Impressed with the other man, he started slinking his way towards the Bartel.
The closer he got to the bodies, the harder it got to ignore the smell. Unwanted memories of clearing dead bodies from Beecher's Hope with his mother trickled into his thoughts. The stench didn't leave until a week later when heavy rain flooded the property. Jack shook his head vigorously, clearing his mind. This wasn't the time nor the place. Reaching down, he grasped the hilt of his hunting knife and held it tightly. A few more steps found him behind the Bartel man. Not allowing himself to think anymore, he let instinct take over. His hand went over the man's mouth as the knife sank into his throat. He struggled, trying to claw at Jack's hands. Quickly, the man's desperate movements slowed until his arms fell limp, just like the woman's. Jack dropped him to the ground, grimacing at his still form.
A rock landed at his feet, near the dead Bartel. Snapping his head up, Jack took notice of Sawyer from across the street once again. In almost a frenzy, he kept pointing at the building Jack stood next to. Furrowing his brows at the man, he shrugged. "There's one in there!" He mouthed to him. Getting the hint finally, Jack examined the building he stood by. It was the gunsmith's building, it seemed. A side door showed a promising and sneaky way inside. Jack knew this was his best bet. Trusting that Sawyer only saw the one man, he took to the door and gently pushed it open.
It didn't creak once, answering Jack's unspoken prayers.
The inside was quiet except for the sounds of someone rummaging around in the cabinets. He waited with bated breath to hear anyone else besides the one man. "Ooh, what a good-looking shotgun! Bossman would like this, I bet." The man whistled. Jack paused, expecting a reply from someone else in the building. There wasn't one, meaning this one was truly alone. Jack took a few steps closer towards the sound of his voice, following the short hallway that led into the showroom. Pausing at the corner, he listened some more.
The man continued to hum to himself while looking through the weapons. Jack dared to take a glance into the showroom. Luck was on his side and the man was bent over, going through the drawers near the register. Taking hold of his knife again, Jack released another breath. Then he started inching his way towards the man. Just as he went to grab hold of the Bartel, he spun around on his heel and faced Jack. "Who—" He didn't get to finish his sentence. Jack lunged forward, knifing this man like he had the other. He didn't put up as much of a fight as his comrade had. He sunk to the floor within seconds, hand wrapped around his throat.
Three down, two to go. The odds were shifting in their favor. Not wanting to waste more time, Jack rushed out of the gunsmith's to rejoin with Sawyer. The agent was waiting for him outside, hiding behind a crate near the door. The other man's eyes widened when he saw him exit the building.
"You good, Marston?" He asked in a whisper.
"I'm fine, are you?"
"I'm not the one with blood splattered all over my shirt!"
Jack looked down and groaned internally when he saw what Sawyer was talking about. His left shoulder was covered in the Bartel's blood. "Not mine." He reassured him.
"Okay, good. You see anyone else?"
He shook his head. "No. You?"
"No. I think we're good to make our way to the bank. Follow me."
Wordlessly, the pair slipped their way further into the Northern part of Rhodes. Soon enough, they were at the back of the bank. Jack eyed the ladder that took to the roof. "Doesn't the bank have that skylight? I bet you anything we could get a good look at the inside through that." He suggested.
"You know what, I think you're right. Let's go."
In no time at all, Jack and Sawyer ascended the ladder and found themselves on the roof. They slowly made their way to the skylight, not wanting to alert anyone inside of their presence. Kneeling beside it, they were able to peer inside. Several townspeople cowered amongst the floor, terrified expressions on their face. Four others, three men and one woman, lay in front of the group in a pool of blood. "There's two of them in there." Jack whispered, pointing towards the back of the bank. One man stood facing the hostages, gun readied to shoot. The other was knelt in front of the safes, setting up what appeared to be dynamite. "Shit, we're gonna need to work fast. He's setting up dynamite."
"Any ideas? If we go in there and start a firefight, those people are going to die. There's a good chance the other in the church will hear and kill that girl, too."
Jack focused his attention on the skylight itself, running his fingers along it. "Are you a good shot, Sawyer?"
"You don't spend years as a deputy and not be a good shot, Marston. What's that have to do with anything?"
A small laugh of victory tumbled out of Jack's mouth as his fingers found the latch on the window. "These skylights have latches to help with airflow. We pop this open, and we'd have a clear shot of those two in there. Wouldn't even need to go in there."
"You're a God-damned genius." Sawyer praised him. "But what about the girl in the church? She's as good as dead if the man in the church gets spooked."
"I'm gonna go get her."
"I'll make my way over to the church you'll cover me until I get there. Once I'm there I want you to pop this window open and take care of those pricks inside. Our friend in the church will get curious and peek outside. When he doesn't see anything, he'll drag the girl out with him to investigate. I'll handle it from there with you covering me from up here."
Sawyer thought over what Jack said for a moment before starting to nod. "Alright. Good luck, Marston."
"You too, Sawyer."
With sweat dripping down his back, Jack worked on getting down from the roof of the bank. His hands were slippery, making him hold onto the rungs of the ladder so tight his knuckles turned white. Once both feet were on the ground, he made his move. Certain that they'd dispatched most of the Bartels and that Sawyer would cover him, he made a run for the church. The tall white building was caked with the red dirt that surrounded Lemoyne. Bush overgrowth lined the bottom of the church, offering Jack an attractive hiding spot. He crept his way underneath a window and peeked inside.
Only one man was stationed in the church. The single-roomed building presented no secrecy for any others. Casting his eyes further into the building, he found the girl being held for ransom. She wore an expensive-looking dress that looked destroyed. The frills and lace were torn to shreds, mud and blood strewn all over her chest and skirt. She wasn't bound to anything, not even her hands. Instead, she sat in a lone chair with her hands folded in her lap and a blank look on her face. Her captor spoke to her, but Jack couldn't hear what he was saying.
All of a sudden, two shots tore through the air. The man inside the church's head swung towards the front door. Just as Jack guessed, a confused expression appeared on his face. He waited a few moments before walking over to the girl. He snatched her up by the hair and shoved her in front of him, his arm draping over her chest. They started to move towards the door. Jack unholstered his revolver, readying it for when he saw his chance to shoot. A knife wouldn't cut it this go around. Once he was certain everything was in working order with his weapon, he placed it back in his holster and straightened his stance. He walked towards the front of the church to meet the man atop the small hill.
Just as expected, the Bartel used the girl as a human shield. Her blank expression had changed to that of fear. Tears flowed freely down her face. "Please don't hurt me." Her small voice trembled. The man grumbled something unintelligible at her before pulling his gun out. Adrenaline kicked Jack into gear as he stepped into the man's view.
"Let the girl go."
The Bartel man pointed his gun at Jack, who remained unarmed for the time being. He didn't want to spook the man into shooting the girl by brandishing his own weapon. He felt confident that Sawyer wouldn't let things turn ugly, either. "Who the hell are you?"
"I ain't no one, friend. I said, let the girl go."
A hearty chuckle came from him. "You must be some sorta lawman. Ain't you seen what we did to the Sheriff's deputies? And those bounty hunters that came after us?" He laughed again. "They's all in the middle of town if you'd like to take a gander. Sticking their nose in Bartel business didn't seem to end well for them. You itchin' to join em, mister?"
"Your friends already got the bank. You don't need the girl, too." Jack would continue to pretend that the others had successfully gotten the money.
"Don't need the girl? You know who this girl is?" He leaned his face against the redhead's, making her look at Jack with wide eyes. "This is Miss Romelia McAllister. Why, her daddy owns nearly half the railroads these days. He's sure to pay a pretty penny to get his daughter back." He grinned. "You like redheads, mister? Ain't they just the prettiest creatures you ever saw? Hell, I don't think we'll give her back after her daddy pays us. I bet the gang would like a new toy to play with." He lifted the pistol away from the girl's face, waving it in the air.
The girl's wide blue eyes bore into Jack's, screaming an unspoken plea for help. Suddenly, the girl's face morphed into a different face, one that he knew well. The hostage was no longer a stranger. His brain convinced him that the girl held captive turned into Cat. His mind ran blank, except for one thought. 'Save Cat' was all he could manage. Before he knew what he was doing, Jack's hand reached for his revolver. The man tried to return the favor, but Jack was quicker. The pistol fell from his hands as Jack's bullet hit him between the eyes. Cat's face disappeared as the man fell to the ground. The heiress's own face returned as she threw herself into his arms.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She sobbed into his chest.
Holstering the weapon, he tossed an arm around her back and patted. "Are you alright, miss?"
"I am now, thanks to you. How can I ever repay you for this?" She stared up at him with misty eyes. "My family can give you money! Land, do you want land?"
He shook his head. "Not needed, miss. Just doing what any decent man would do." Clearing his throat, he continued. "Your mother is real worried about you. I can take you to her in just a few minutes if you want."
The girl nodded fervently. "Yes, please!"
Jack nodded. "Are you okay if I go check on the situation in the bank? My partner is wrapping things up in there."
Her hold on him tightened. "I can't bear the idea of being alone. Can't I come with?"
"I guess, but it ain't gonna be a pretty sight, miss. The whole town is real ugly right now."
"I can be tough!" Realization hit her face. "Mister, that man that captured me, he kept talking about robbing one of my daddy's trains. He and one of his friends kept talking about it in front of me, saying they were going to kill me, so it didn't matter that I heard." She took a harsh swallow. "I think he had some papers about it in his pocket."
Jack detangled the girl's fingers from his shirt. "Let me go check." He told her before walking over to the dead man. He patted his pockets and found something inside the right one. A sizeable number of folded papers were inside like she said. He unfolded them and found the manifest for an upcoming train that was meant to go through the Grizzlies. Handwritten notes littered the papers, detailing their plans. Folding them back up, Jack stuffed them into his pocket to give to Sawyer later. "Alright, let's go check on the survivors." He told the redhead. He untied his bandana only to fasten it over her nose. "This will help with the smell."
Her hand curled around his elbow, falling into step with him. "I didn't catch your name." She said.
"Marston, Jack Marston."
Even though he couldn't see the bottom half of her face, Jack knew she was smiling at him. "Thank you for saving my life, Jack Marston. You're a good man."
"C'mon, let's get you back to your mother."
Hours later, when the sun was almost completely set, Jack and Sawyer were finally almost home. Sawyer had to handle the paperwork and political side of things before they could leave. The Sheriff of Rhodes, Harmon Thomas, had been in the bank as a hostage. The Sheriff thanked the pair of them profusely before setting to work cleaning the town up. They offered to help but he wouldn't hear any of it. Now the two were only a handful of miles from their sorely missed homes.
"At the risk of ruining it, I'd say we make a fairly decent team, Marston." Sawyer spoke up.
"Can't say I disagree, Sawyer." The agent had earned some favor from him during all this. Jack gave him a sliver of trust and the man took it and ran with it.
"I've instructed Sheriff Thomas to keep you out of all reports, both internal and public."
"I appreciate it. Ain't interested in all that mess."
The conversation died naturally at that point. This silence felt more comfortable than it had this morning when they made their way down to Rhodes. Before long, they came to a fork in the road with separate paths. The right went to Beecher's Hope, the left to Blackwater. "Guess this is where we part ways." Sawyer offered him a smile. "Thanks again for coming with."
"No problem." He paused a moment. "If… If you need any more help with these Bartel dicks, just come talk to me. I'd like to see those sick bastards get what they deserve." The tortured and mangled bodies of the residents of Rhodes disturbed Jack on a level he didn't realize he could be disturbed. He wanted them gone, even if it meant working with the Bureau through Sawyer.
The other man's shoulders relaxed, and his smile grew. "I will take you up on the offer, I'm sure. If I didn't have a report to go write, I'd offer to buy you a drink."
Jack chuckled. "Another time, then. See you around, Dominick."
"See you around, Jack."