Chapter 1: First Steps
She couldn’t see through the dust and grit but could feel the ground shake beneath her as the mustang whipped and bucked around the wooden bullpen. Shit, she thought. Where’s my fucking rope? She needed to get on her feet before an errant hoof could connect with her body.
She hated losing control like this. Breaking a horse was an exhausting business--mentally and physically. Eve loved the challenge of it though, the transfer of power and eventual trust between the animal and herself. But right now, her and the mustang were far from trusting. Hostile was a more apt description.
Scrambling, she got to her feet and began to seek the edge of the bullpen, able to make out the bucking body of the horse as it fought to lower its tied front leg to the ground. At least he’s getting tired she told herself.
The dust began to settle as the colt continued to struggle for balance, his tirade over for now--head drooping and nostrils flaring. Eve found the end of the lead and slowly reeled the rope in, getting closer to the horse--hyper aware that he could still lash out with his hooves or teeth at any moment. Her sounds of wooah and easy….easy seemed to pacify him somewhat. As she got even closer, gently applying downward pressure on his tied leg, the horse eventually relented and folded his legs to the ground to lie on his side with a huff.
Finally, thought Eve. She stroked his muzzle and ran her hand down his flank, cooing and shushing the whole time.
These were the first steps. The first of many.
Franksville, Utah was a small settlement compared to the surrounding mining towns of Wayne County. Most travelers stopped there to re-supply on their way further west in search of gold, freedom--a new life. The town was situated in the southeast quarter of the state, just south of the Dirty Devil River, which eventually dumped out into the much larger Colorado. The slot canyon terrain and scattered patches of forest were beautiful to look upon, though life in the desert could be harsh and unforgiving. The people of Franksville were a collection of former pioneer travelers who’d given up their quest for gold and took to ranching and trade along the river instead. Boasting of one saloon, one general store, a church, a bank, a brothel and a post-office--Franksville was small but established, kept safe for better or worse by their founder’s son and town sheriff--Frank Haleton Jr.
Eve lived a few miles out from town at the bottom of a cliff face looking out on the flat desert with its patches of trees and scrub brush. Mountains could be seen in any direction and the creek nearby made the land an ideal place for ranching. Not just ideal, but beautiful--peaceful.
Eve had inherited the small ranch from her late father. He had taught her everything she knew about life and about horses--she missed him dearly. Her mother had died in childbirth and Eve had no other family to speak of. She lead a simple life at the age of 35, making a modest living as a farrier and saddle maker. But her true talent, the one most people sought her out for, was her skill in breaking horses.
It was rare for a woman her age with no man and no children to live out on her own, rarer still for a woman to be handling wild mustangs in the empty desert. She knew what people in town thought about her. Unkind things. But she also knew riders from the surrounding counties and mining towns sought her out--her father’s reputation living on through her practice. Her talents brought trade and business into unassuming Franksville, so the townspeople tolerated her independence and unconventional way of living. Some of them she even considered friends--after a time.
Every two weeks Eve saddled one of her quarter horses in the morning and rode into town. It was early May now and was a perfect day for riding. She always told herself these trips were just for supplies and to hear the goings on, but in truth, Eve was lonely.
After picking up supplies at the package store and depositing them in her saddle bags, she headed into the saloon and was immediately hit with the raucous sound of inebriated speech, clinking glasses and the tinkling of piano keys. Her eyes went to the bar and spotted who she now thought of as friends--Elena and Kenny.
“Eve! Oh my goodness. Kenny, look for god’s sake. Hello there!” Elena yelled over the din while waving a dish rag. Kenny lifted his chin in acknowledgment and continued pouring beer for the growing crowd in front of him, looking pained and uncomfortable as usual.
“You don’t have an extra glass for me do you?” Eve yelled at Elena, her voice straining to be heard.
“Of course I do, sit your ass down it’s been ages!”
Elena poured a frothy glass of beer and slid it expertly down the bar towards Eve while yelling to Kenny she’d just be a minute.
Many minutes later, Elena’s job as barkeep forgotten, Eve was blathering away about her horses and her subsequent bruises and how she hoped to get another horse soon to break in for a potential client. She needed the money.
“This head mining agent wants me to break in an American Saddlebred in two weeks time so he can gift it to his daughter for her 10th birthday” Eve complained, rolling her eyes. “I told him that’s completely unreasonable unless he wants to pay double. Half the time, double the pay is what I told him. He didn’t seem too happy about that.”
“Sounds like a total dick-swab,” Elena said as Eve immediately choked on her beer in stifled laughter.
“He is! He really truly is! I’ll never understand these rich fuckers and their fancy horses. The poor things are meant to ride and graze, not stand around in some pen for a child.”
“How do you know the kid can’t ride?” Elena asked.
“I just know,” said Eve, scowling into her glass.
Neither of them spoke for a while, both staring at the disheveled looking piano player as his left hand strode in syncopation to some ragtime tune. The piano was a husk of a thing, but it got the job done. Eve loved to sit at the bar and listen to the music and the drunks squabbling and yelling. It put her mind at peace, in a way. Sometimes the quiet of the desert could be deafening.
“Oh look!” Elena said sarcastically, pointing to the saloon doors. “Speaking of dickswabs, our fearless sheriff seems to have spotted some trouble.”
Eve could see Frank had left his bar table in a hurry, thoroughly drunk and heading for the main road that runs through the town center.
“Oh, this should be good,” said Eve, as she strode out of the bar, taking her beer glass with her.
People were gathering on the porches of the store fronts now. Eve was among them outside the saloon, Elena pressed close behind her. They didn’t have to look far to find Frank and his current predicament.
There were riders. Three of them, all standing in a line, and Frank was staring them down with his hand on the holster of his gun.
“I think….. I...I think you should leave.” Frank’s voice was faltering. Maybe because of the beer, or maybe because he was a coward.
The riders said nothing. None of them moved. Eve felt a small creep of fear run up her spine. She was actually a little worried for Frank. Everyone knew he couldn’t shoot a gun, not with any accuracy anyways. He was sheriff because he liked being in charge. His father founded this town after all, it stood to reason he should represent the law and order of it. Except, Frank had no idea what he was doing.
“I’m going to ask--I’m going to ask one more time,” Frank spat out, trying to keep his balance and his eyes on the line of riders. “What’s your business here in Franksville? We don’t want any trouble.”
Eve didn’t know why but she was stepping further out onto the porch of the saloon. She was almost down the flight of steps that touched the dirt road. The riders were maybe 20 feet from her. She could only make out the details of the big one--he was blocking the view of the other two but she could see their horses’ legs. He had a short trimmed white beard and burly torso. He was clearly armed--a Winchester 1873 sawed-off shotgun strapped across his back, at least one sidearm and a bandolier of bullets. He was riding an impressively large grey Missouri Fox Trotter. Now that’s a lot of horse, thought Eve. To her surprise, the burly one answered.
“We are under the employ of the Pinkerton Twelve and are legally authorized by the state of Utah and surrounding states to seize and capture active criminals. We’ve been tasked with finding and apprehending a dangerous man wanted for robbery and murder and we believe him to be residing in the area. We seek information and a place to rest and water our horses.”
“Evee,” Elena hissed. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Eve turned to brush Elena off and saw that most of the town was outside now. Kenny had emerged too and was looking pale. She turned back to the riders and saw that the middle one had trotted out slightly ahead of the group. This rider was the opposite of the large one, lean and slender but equally as dangerous looking. Eve suddenly realized that they were all wearing black. Black leather, black chaps, black hats. The leaner, smaller rider in the middle had on a ringo style hat and bun of blonde hair hanging low against the back of their neck. Wait, is that a woman?? thought Eve. She had a ‘yellow boy’ Winchester shotgun strapped behind her back and what might be a bowie knife sheathed on her left hip. Bandoliers crossed her chest in an ‘X’ against the black leather of her vest. Oh my god, that IS a woman--
Suddenly a man ran across her periphery and across the dirt road to stand alongside Frank. Oh my god it’s Bill, thought Eve. Bill what the FUCK are you doing out there? Fuck.
“Alright, this has gone far enough. We don’t want any bounty hunters here, legal or otherwise. You’re as good as outlaws if you ask me.” He spat on the ground to emphasize his point. “I suggest you turn around a find another town to harass.”
A baby started to cry and the wind blew gusty drifts down the main road. Tumbleweeds bumped lazily against the horse posts and the sun was starting to beat down mercilessly. It was high noon and nobody moved, everyone holding their collective breath.
Getting frustrated with this gang of riders and their insolent silence, Bill quickly reached for his Smith and Wesson, was about to lift it from its holster when a shot rang out like a lightning bolt.
All Eve saw was a spray of red and Bill collapsing to the ground, clutching his shoulder—a look of shock on his face. A cry went out across the crowd and Eve turned back to the line of riders to see the woman had pulled a revolver from her right hip, holding it steady. She shot Bill. Oh my god she shot Bill!!
Panic broke like a wave down the crowd of townspeople. Women were screaming and running to the nearest building they could find to hide. The men looked dumbfounded. Frank had pissed himself.
Eve couldn’t hear any of their screams, just a hum of white noise and high pitched ringing. Time seemed to slow as she turned away from the violence to see Kenny and Elena had remained where they were, frozen with fear.
Then, she heard Kenny speak.
“I know who that is.” His voice was low and quiet. Foreboding. “That’s her…..That’s Villanelle.”
“Who the fuck is Villanelle?” Elena clutched his arm, she’d leave bruises there later.
“The ghost,” Kenny whispered. “The ghost with no face.”
Chapter 2: I Think I Know You
Thanks for reading the first chapter you guys! Aren't westerns fun? So, this chapter sets up the bigger story and I expect the third chapter to focus on just Eve and Villanelle.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Villanelle stared down the barrel of her Colt single-action revolver, a smile slowly spreading across her face. She took a moment to enjoy the spike of adrenaline coursing through her body and considered her shot. Right through the shoulder. A little further left and she could have hit his heart, but she thought better of it a second before pulling the trigger. I’m going to be here a while longer, she mused, best just to give them a scare. But besides that, the man had been about to draw his gun on her which she found to be exceptionally rude. Villanelle did not tolerate rudeness.
With a sigh she lowered her gun, twirling the revolver expertly around her trigger finger and landing it in its holster. She looked to her left to find Konstantin holding his head in his hand, clearly disappointed and fighting the urge to scream at her. He’ll get over it, she thought. Konstantine was often disapproving of her choices. She’d assure him later that this had been necessary and that she needed to show they were serious--set an example. She looked to her right and saw Hugo staring back at her--he was smiling wide and beginning to chuckle in surprise. At least someone is entertained…
Suddenly, a flash of blue appeared at the corner of her eye and she quickly snapped her head forward to see a woman in a blue prairie dress running to the man bleeding on the ground. She watched as the woman removed a small paring knife concealed in the hem of her skirt and began to slash strips from her dress--hastily wrapping them around the man’s shoulder. Interesting… Villanelle willed her horse forward until she was looking directly down upon the woman’s head. Her breath hitched in her throat as she noticed the woman’s hair--its voluptuous, exquisitely dark curls hanging loose against her back. Beautiful….
Eve could sense a shadow looming from above and saw a horse’s front hooves come to a halt directly beside her. She stilled her shaky, bloody hands and slowly trailed her eyes up the legs of the horse, past its shoulders and higher to finally rest upon the face of the woman known as Villanelle. Her eyes looked bright and feral under the shadow of her Ringo hat. Her lips were lush and full, forming a slight grin. She seemed curious about Eve, her stare unwavering like a hunter appreciating her prey. Eve took a hard swallow and matched Villanelle’s stare, taking in the sight of her. She was dressed all in black--black boots with golden spurs, black canvas pants and button-up shirt with a leather vest. A Mexican-style poncho was tied at her neck and hung to one side across her shoulder, almost like a cape. It gave her a certain air of gallantry. Quite simply, Villanelle was dashingly handsome and alarmingly beautiful all at once, and utterly terrifying, thought Eve--like a deadly, elegant cat. Though it was only for a few seconds, minutes seemed to pass by as the two women stared at one another. Finally, Villanelle broke her gaze away from Eve’s and looked to Frank who was sitting in the dirt, practically sobbing.
“We’ll be back,” Villanelle declared, her smile now gone and replaced with a blank, cold stare. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
And with that the trio of riders made their way single file down the road towards the edge of town, Villanelle leading the way. Townspeople began to creep back out of their hiding places and into the road, some to help attend to Bill and some just to watch the black riders leave. A man whistled low and said to no one in particular,
“I sure hope they don’t come back, or we’re in for a world of hurt.”
Men grumbled in agreement and began hushed discussions of what should be done and how to best prepare for their inevitable return. Kenny appeared with the town doctor and helped to carry Bill inside the saloon, laying him out on a table to be examined.
Eve sat kneeling in the dirt, her dress cut to shreds and her hands sticky with drying blood. She stared down the length of the road and watched as the riders eventually became tiny black dots on the shimmering desert horizon. She was in shock. She wondered why this had happened, whether Bill would survive and if the riders were actually telling the truth. Were they here looking for a criminal or were they the criminals themselves? And that woman…thought Eve. The woman with the gun and the golden hair.... Eve stared into the distance for a while longer until Elena was suddenly grabbing her under the arms and lifting her to her feet.
“You scared the shit out of me, you know?” Elena scolded. “I thought that woman was going to shoot you like she did Bill. Good god Eve, what were you thinking?”
Eve was thinking she had acted on instinct. In fact, Eve hadn’t been thinking at all. Her mind was blank the entire time until Villanelle approached her. And when she looked up and into Villanelle’s eyes, she thought she’d seen something more than the glazed stare of a killer. There was something else there, something inquisitive, something that said I think I know you, would you like to know me too? And Eve thought, yes, she did want to know. She wanted to know everything. And for that, she felt a hot, burning shame.
“We need to find him, and we need to do it quickly.” Konstantin was rotating the rabbit on its spit, flames licking at the meat and smoke blowing off to the south.
They’d set up camp somewhere outside of town with their backs against a cliff. It was evening now and the temperature was dipping toward 60 degrees or lower. They were used to camping, used to being dirty and tired and sleeping on the desert floor. It was not always this way, though. Sometimes they brought in large bounties that could sustain them for weeks with nice rooms and cooked food and drink. Sometimes they took to gambling or stagecoach robbing if there were no bounties to be had. They weren’t lawmen, just extensions of the law--and only by a technicality. They could do as they pleased as long as they didn’t get caught. But bounty hunting was less risky, and this was a big reward if they could find their man.
“I have a plan, don’t worry,” said Villanelle casually, shrugging her shoulders. “Besides, we know he’s here somewhere along the Devil River. We just need to find someone that knows the area a little better, maybe someone’s seen something. Here.”
She slammed a dirty map onto the ground and pointed to the river just south of Franksville.
“I can hardly see that thing it’s too dark, can’t we talk about this in the morning?” Hugo complained, stretching his back and yawning lazily.
“Not morning. We make a plan now. It’s going to be hard getting useful information thanks to the stunt she pulled today,” Konstantin told him, gesturing his head towards Villanelle.
“It was not a stunt I was defending myself. He was going to shoot us! I acted in self defense Konstantin you’re not being fair.” Villanelle was pretending to pout now, sticking out her lower lip and looking helpless.
“Don’t give me that self-defence bullshit, that man didn’t have a chance of shooting you. Did you see how far away he was? I didn’t even see him so much as touch his gun and besides, you’re one of the quickest draws in the West. I wouldn’t exactly call that a fair match.” Konstantine was getting truly irritated now. He flipped the rabbit again and sparks flew as the grease dripped down into the fire, the rabbit’s skin was starting to crackle and peel and smelled delicious.
“Ooof Konstantin, you’re always sooo serious. I didn’t even kill him, I don’t understand what the big deal is. And like I said, I have a plan.” She pointed to Konstantin, “You should go tracking down the river tomorrow,” and then turned to look at Hugo, “and you should go down to the saloon, maybe the brothel and see what gossip you can pick up about any strangers in the area.”
Hugo lifted his eyebrows excitedly. “The brothel, eh? Damn, I love this job.” He was grinning like an idiot and combing his fingers through his hair. “I’m sure they’ll have a wealth of information for me.”
“And what will you be doing tomorrow while we are off on these little missions, hm?” Konstantine was pointing the skewered rabbit at her accusingly. “Will you be shooting more townspeople? More self defense?”
Villanelle ignored his taunting and held up the map close to the fire so the two of them could see, pointing to a little square next to the creek. “This ranch here is right where the creek meets the river. I’ll bet they’ve seen if someone’s been camping along it, hiding out. I’m going to talk to them.”
“Ha! Well good luck with all of that. I’ve never known you to be great with people, Villanelle. You usually shoot first and ask questions later. Case in point today. But who knows, maybe they will talk to you. Just keep your guns on your hips this time. And try not to be naughty.”
“Of course they’ll talk to me,” Villanelle said haughtily, lifting her chin into the air. “I am sensational.”
The next afternoon, Hugo headed into town. He tied his horse up and took the three steps onto the saloon porch and listened, peeking through the windows. It was a full house. He could hear the roars of men bickering and laughing and a piano player wailing away on the upright.
Excellent, thought Hugo. He wanted these people to be a little liquored up before he sat down with any of them. Hopefully, no one recognized him from yesterday. It’s not like he had shot anybody. Nothing to worry about, he told himself. He took a step forward and swung the saloon doors wide open and stood on the threshold.
The bar immediately went silent and all 50 heads turned toward the front doors. The piano player stopped mid-stride ending on a very out-of-tune key. A lamp was swinging over a bar table, squeaking on every swing. Someone coughed. Nobody moved.
Hugo, incredibly uncomfortable, scratched behind his neck and tried to smile reassuringly.
“Howdy there folks...uh, sorry, don’t mean to disturb. Just came in for a whiskey, is all. Don’t worry, I’m not armed. Just here for a drink. Yep...just a drink.”
Everyone in the bar stared him down for what felt like hours. Then a man from the back yelled out,
“The ugly fucker’s probably 90 pounds soaking wet! Charlie, keeping playing.”
Everyone let out a raucous roar of laughter and the piano player banged out a tune on the keys enthusiastically. Hugo sighed heavily and wiped the sweat from under the brim of his hat and took it off, walking slowly to the bar. He really needed that drink.
A few hours later, Hugo was more comfortably situated among the saloon’s patrons. Elena served him a few whiskeys and he found himself playing poker with a few older men at a table. He was starting to get a little drunk but then again, so were they.
“So who you search’n for anyways?” one of the men asked.
“Name’s Zipp Wyatt, part of the Wyatt gang. He robbed a bank further down south and shot a few clerks too. Took off with a good amount of money. The Pinkerton Twelve hired us on behalf of the bank owner to track and hunt him down. Last we heard, he was living along the river here.”
“We haven’t seen too many strangers in a while. Well, excepting for you folks. Your lady sharp shooter there nearly killed Bill Pargrave. A good man.”
“I’m really, terribly sorry about that sir and can promise we won’t cause you any more trouble. Villanelle can be a little trigger happy when she gets excited.” Hugo was really sorry. Villanelle was making his job a whole lot harder than it needed to be.
“Villanelle? The Villanelle? Shit, that’s what Kenny was saying he saw but I didn’t believe him. That woman is not to be trifled with, I hear. I’ve heard stories, gruesome ones. I can’t believe no woman could do the things she’s done….”
“Yeah, she’s done some….things,” Hugo said softly. By things, Hugo meant killing. Villanelle liked killing. It was a matter of convenience for her that she got paid to do it. He had a feeling that if they didn’t find this Wyatt man soon, Villanelle would start to get bored. And when Villanelle was bored, she got….ideas.
“Right well, you tell her we haven’t seen nobody around here looking out of place. You might want to try the folks living outside of town. The ranchers and the like. They see all kinds of shit out there in the desert.”
"Hey Tom, isn't there that one lady rancher out by Fool's Creek? Lives alone with all them wild mustangs? I think they call her Eve, right?" one of the poker players asked.
"Yeah, name's Eve." answered Tom, followed by a loud belch.
Hugo leaned forward across the table. "Hold on, you mean to tell me there's a lady rancher out there in the desert running a horse ranch, alone?" Hugo was incredulous.
"Yep. Pretty crazy, right? But I hear she's good. She'll tame any horse you bring her. Father used to run the place, but he's dead now. Bandits got him in a shoot-out trying to steal his studs."
Hugo drank the last of his whiskey and leaned back in his chair precariously. Well, thought Hugo, looks like Villanelle was on to something after all. I'll need to tell her about this Eve woman.
There was a sound of a sharp *smack* and the crash of broken glass behind him, nearly knocking Hugo off his chair in surprise. He turned to see someone at the table next to him was bleeding on the ground, holding his face.
“You call'n me a cheater!?” a man yelled.
Another glass flew and shattered against the wall and that was all it took for the full bar to erupt--every man started punching whoever they could lay their hands on.
Holy shit!! thought Hugo. Fuck fuck FUCKKK!
It was a full on brawl.
Drinks were flying and men were stumbling to either get out of the way or get a fistful. Strangely enough, the piano player never lost a beat--didn’t so much as turn around. He was in his element. A man crashed against the wall next to him and somebody threw another man onto a table which immediately cracked under his weight with a sickening crunch.
Hugo was on the floor by then, trying to crawl his way out of the mayhem. Why didn't I just go to the fucking brothel??
Elena had seen enough. She pulled from behind the bar her trusty 12 gauge double barrel shotgun and raised it to her shoulder and yelled,
“If any of you mother fuckers so much as move another inch, I’ll blow your fucking brains out! And Charlie….shut the fuck up.”
Yeeeehaw. That was my attempt at humor.
So the next chapter is going to feature our main ladies. Sorry for the wait.
And sorry, not sorry, for making this a campy western extravaganza.
Oh, and Villanelle is basically dressed like Clint Eastwood from A Fistful of Dollars if you haven't picked up on that yet. Obviously, she wears it better.
Comments are welcome. Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading! :)
Hugo rode into camp looking, well, like he had just got the shit kicked out of him.
“Did you get the shit kicked out of you or was there a party that I didn’t know about?” Villanelle said wryly, shimmying her shoulders.
“The first one,” Hugo said with a huff as he sat on a rock near the fire pit.
“Oh, that is too bad. I guess the prostitutes did not like your penis?”
Hugo’s mouth dropped open, aghast “Um…no! I was at the saloon not the brothel. Jesus Villanelle...”
Villanelle shrugged her shoulders. She looked down to continue cleaning her rifle.
“I found out a bit of information for you though,” said Hugo.
“There’s a rancher named Eve. She’s the one you want to talk to. Her ranch is the one on that map of yours--the one by the creek.”
“Eve….” Villanelle considered the name, liked how it felt in her mouth when she said it. “Find out anything else?”
“Not really. I know that she breaks horses though, she must know what she’s doing because she’s out there all alone. I guess she has been for some time. No one’s seen any strangers in town, by the way. Townspeople seemed to think Wyatt would be living on the outskirts, like you said.”
“Guess I better head out then.” Villanelle was donning her hat and began to saddle her horse, throwing her Yellowboy into its saddle holster.
“Okay, but it’ll be sun down in a few hours. I’m guessing Konstantin is still making his way down the river?”
“He headed out this morning. Didn’t say when he’d be back. I’m not worried though.”
“Wish you worried about me…” Hugo mumbled under his breath.
But Villanelle didn’t hear him. She was already on her way out, bringing her horse to a trot in the direction of the Dirty Devil and Fools Creek.
Hugo spit and began rolling a cigarette. He looked up at the clear blue sky and cursed, why didn’t I just go to the fucking brothel?
Villanelle made it to Eve’s ranch in less time than she’d thought. She brought her horse right up to the fence and hopped down, looking around for any signs of movement. It looked like Eve owned a good amount of land. The wooden posts and barbed wire fencing around the property seemed to run for miles. Villanelle tied her horse and hopped the gate, heading for the stables. She saw maybe five horse stalls, all occupied by beautiful looking horses. She stopped to stroke one on its nose, stopped to breath in that familiar scent of hay and manure. Maybe she’s in the house? She walked behind the stable and found the ranch house, a modest thing made of wood and a brick chimney. She knocked on the door and there was no answer. Shrugging her shoulders, she deftly picked the lock and opened the door--sticking her head inside. No one was home. She must be out with one of her horses, she thought.
Villanelle was on her horse again, this time following the creek that ran along Eve’s ranch. She was walking in the shadow of one of the many tributary canyons that surrounded Franksville. The landscape was high desert, with scattered yucca plants and saltbrush and various kinds of hearty cacti. The area was good for ranching and grazing thanks to the introduction of the invasive Cheatgrass. It was impressive what abundance of plant life could survive out here.
After a few miles, Villanelle entered a scattered forest of Pinyon Pine. She could hear shots now, most likely from a rifle--and they weren’t far off. Villanelle walked her horse to the edge of the small forest and hopped down. She led her horse by the reins on foot under cover of the giant scrub brush, moving slowly and carefully, closing in on the sounds of the blasts. So far she had counted 12 shots, which meant the shooter would need to stop and reload.
Villanelle crept low in order to see through the brush and could just about make out the shape of a woman. The shooter turned, holding a rabbit--it was enough for Villanelle to make out her face. Villanelle stifled a gasp. It was the woman from the road, the woman with the amazing hair. The one who tore her dress and had stared into Villanelle’s eyes.
Villanelle’s pulse quickened and knots turned in her stomach. She had to get closer.
Eve had successfully shot three rabbits so far that afternoon. Two carcasses hung from her horse’s saddle and she was stringing up the third when she heard a loud snap of a twig. She quickly spun around and found herself mere feet from the woman in black--Villanelle. She had on a wide smile, like she couldn’t be more delighted. It was unnerving and Eve was terrified.
“What the fu--”
“Are you Eve?” Villanelle asked excitedly, cutting her off. She was wearing the same clothes as the day before but this time she didn’t carry a bandolier of bullets across her chest. Eve could see under the poncho that Villanelle was still armed with a revolver and the same bowie knife. Villanelle’s horse walked from behind the brush to stand beside her and Eve was amazed to see it was a black and white Appaloosa--black torso with a speckled white and black rear. How in the world did she get a horse like that?, Eve couldn’t help but think. She quickly returned her thoughts to the dangerous woman standing before her and decided not to take any chances.
“Don’t move, or I’ll shoot.” Eve cocked the rifle and leveled it to her eye, aiming directly at Villanelle’s chest.
“No you won’t…” Villanelle said playfully, rolling her eyes. She was grinning with the utmost bravado, her eyes bright and excited. She stood there with a hand on her hip and the other on the handle of her revolver.
“I will too!” Cocky little shit.
“No….you can’t. You’re a good shot, Eve, but you’re not that good.”
“Oh my god will you please just shut up!” Eve was getting pissed now. “I could hit anything from this distance.”
“Yeah...but Eve,” Villanelle sighed, “you’re out of ammo.”
Eve spun around, shoved the rifle into her saddle holster and threw her foot into a stirrup, hauling herself onto her horse.
“Hey!!” Villanelle yelled after her. “Wait!! I just want to—”
And Eve was gone, spurring her horse into an all out sprint.
“Fucking hell,” Villanelle cursed under her breath, running to her horse. She pulled herself up and gave the horse’s backside a hard slap. “Yah!” The Appaloosa bucked its front legs in surprise and frustration but Villanelle quickly gained control, spurring him hard in the flanks and the chase was on.
Eve was already a great distance away, a cloud of dust leaving a trail in her wake. She was riding one of her Mustangs that she had years earlier broke-in and decided to keep. Her name was Black-Jack and she was beautiful. Her coat was a light sorrel with a jet black mane. She was still fairly wild, but Eve had a way with her. You could never fully break a wild Mustang, there would always be a flicker of wildfire in them. People called them ‘hot horses’ for a reason. When you really set them loose, they could run at incredible speeds and hard without tiring for a great while. The sensation was exhilarating, like flying.
And Eve was flying now, the desert canyons rising around her in dusty reds and purples, sagebrush whipping by like clouds. The sun was beginning to set and the desert was coming alive with color. Eve closed her eyes and let the horse run and run and run. She felt like a god, unstoppable--like nothing could ever catch her, not even her fear.
After what felt like miles, hair blowing wildly, she turned to sneak a glance behind her.
To her surprise, Villanelle was not far behind and she was gaining. Eve now suddenly remembered that Appaloosas were the Nez Perce tribe’s horses, bread for war and running down wild buffalo. Eve couldn’t wrap her mind around how Villanelle had acquired such a horse but it was fast--too fast. Eve’s own horse was starting to pant, she had maybe another five miles in her before she’d need to slow down to a canter. Eve decided to turn Black-Jack towards the river. Her only hope was that Villanelle’s horse was not fond of crossing swift, deep currents. It was dangerous but Eve’s horse had done this many times; it seemed like her only option.
Eve took another glance back and was horrified to see that Villanelle was mere feet behind her. She had a hardened look of focused determination—her torso laid low on the horse’s withers and her face rested against its mane to lessen wind resistance. The black of Villanelle’s clothing blended perfectly with the Appaloosa’s black torso--almost forming one seamless creature. And it was galloping toward Eve swiftly.
Eve couldn’t push her horse any faster, all she could do was hold out until the river. She could see it up ahead, glimmering in the setting sun. But then Villanelle appeared right beside her, their horses neck and neck, both horses galloping in stride. She was mere inches away--she could reach out and touch Eve if she wanted. And suddenly, Villanelle was sitting side-saddle, her body facing Eve’s horse. There was a wild look in her eyes. She reached out and grabbed Eve’s right shoulder, using it as leverage and pushed off the Appaloosa’s flank with her feet. Villanelle was airborne for only a second before she landed in the saddle directly behind Eve and wrapped her left arm tightly around Eve’s waist. Eve didn’t know what was happening until she saw Villanelle reach for the reins with her free hand and pull up.
Eve’s horse slowed, desperate for relief. Villanelle’s chest was pressed tightly against Eve’s back, her arm still wrapped tightly around her. She could feel Villanelle’s chest rise and fall with her breath, could smell her sweat and something sweeter.
Just as Eve’s horse settled into a trot, Villanelle’s face pressed against Eve’s hair and she whispered, “I just want to talk.” Eve felt a flutter in her chest, she didn’t know if it was from fear or maybe something else entirely. She felt warm and safe—feelings that made absolutely no sense to her, given the situation. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. But then there was a flash of Bill in her mind, of him bleeding out in the road. And suddenly, she was filled with rage.
“Oof.” Villanelle was falling from the saddle. Eve had elbowed her hard, just below the ribs. But before she hit the ground she grabbed Eve’s ankle. It was enough to pull Eve down with her. They both landed with their faces in the dirt, groaning from the fall.
Eve was on her hands and knees spitting and coughing out dirt trying to orient herself. Villanelle was directly next to Eve on her back catching her breath. She knew Eve would try and run again, so she rolled over and pushed Eve to the ground, straddled her waist and pinned her wrists up above her head.
“I JUST WANT TO HAVE DINNER... WITH YOU!.....OKAY!?”
I know this is a shorter chapter and it's been a while since I last updated. I've been going through some hard shit--my cat died unexpectedly a week ago. So yeah.... but I plan on continuing to write this if everyone is still interested. It's been a good distraction for me.
As always, comments are appreciated. Let me know what you think. :)
Chapter 4: God's Country
She had been hard at work, skinning and cleaning the rabbits--stripping the meat and building a cook fire, hauling water from the nearby river. She’d come prepared with a trivet and a small cast iron pot, tin bowls and tin spoons. She was making a rabbit stew with beans, some carrots, and a potato. It was simple cowboy fare but Eve had to admit she was starving, and it smelled pretty damn good.
“Hungry?” Villanelle asked, offering a bowl to Eve. Her hat was off and Eve could make out the braids tying her hair back into a low ponytail, the fire casting shadows across her face and her devilishly alluring shark smile.
Eve didn’t say anything, didn’t make eye-contact but took the bowl and began to blow on a spoonful to cool it down. Villanelle made herself a bowl and sat next to Eve on the Navajo blanket she'd brought with her.
Villanelle stared down at her food for a moment before turning to Eve.
“You know, a ‘thank you’ would be nice.”
She sounded almost-hurt.
“Thanks?” Eve put a spoonful into her mouth and began to eat.
“That was not a real thank you, Eve,” Villanelle chastised.
“Well, I suppose I should thank you for taking me and my horse hostage in the middle of the desert. Thank you soooo much for that.”
Eve knew she was pushing her luck, but the gall Villanelle had...she wasn't about to just cooperate after what she did to Bill and that stunt jumping onto her horse. She had a lot of nerve…
Villanelle looked down at her food and sighed.
“I’m not holding you hostage, Eve. You can leave any time you like, though I wouldn’t advise it without a lantern. Not to mention the mountain lions and coyotes….”
“Why am I here, Villanelle?” Eve cut her off, she was tired. So tired. She just wanted to get through this, whatever this was.
“I just want to talk, ok? You might be able to help me catch my mark. And look, I’m sorry about your friend…”
“Bull-shit you’re sorry.” Eve’s voice cracked as she said it. She didn’t know Villanelle well at all but knew enough to guess that Villanelle never apologized for anything—at least, never meant it.
“Ok, fine, maybe I’m not.” Villanelle’s brow furrowed. “But I am sorry that he is your friend. I didn’t mean to hurt you, Eve, but he was being very rude.” Villanelle grabbed Eve’s hand and squeezed, as if she could communicate an apology better through touch. “It’s not like he died, right? I only aimed to teach him a lesson.”
Eve, appalled, slapped her hand away and moved to the very edge of the blanket, staring daggers into her bowl of stew. She was so angry she could feel tears threatening to spill down her cheeks, but she’d be damned if she let that happen in front of this woman.
“Why do you think I can help you?” Eve’s words came out flat, hard edged. She was done talking about Bill.
Villanelle began eating, taking her time to answer. She stared at Eve as she ate, trying to figure her out. Eve was being rude but Villanelle was actually enjoying this little game. Eve wasn’t as soft as she seemed, she wasn’t going to make anything easy which piqued Villanelle’s interest immensely. And tonight, Eve certainly looked harder—instead of a prairie dress she was wearing canvas trousers with leather cowboy boots and a button-up work shirt. The top three buttons were undone revealing sharp collar bones and a small turquoise necklace that hung low between her breasts. Villanelle got a thrill out of seeing that, not to mention the hair—
“Mm..?” Villanelle was pulled out of her trance. She took a hard swallow of her food.
“You’re staring at me….”
“Oh...I….uh, I really like your hair,” she mumbled sheepishly.
“Ok….” Eve could feel a smile forming at the corner of her mouth but she pushed it down. She was supposed to be mad and insolent, not flattered. “You were going to ask me something about your….job.”
“....yeah, I’m looking for a man named Wyatt. Zipp Wyatt.”
Villanelle continued to eat her dinner, methodically chewing. She was feeling disheartened, or maybe just tired. She wasn’t sure. She wasn’t great at understanding her feelings, but she knew she wasn’t feeling….good. Maybe it was boredom? She shouldn't have mentioned Bill. She sighed, the fun now seemingly over, and got down to business.
“I’m wondering if you’ve seen anyone camping around here by the river or the creek, someone that doesn’t belong? His only real distinguishing feature is an eye patch and surprisingly he’s a really good shot for one eye. He’ll be armed and extremely dangerous.”
“I may have seen a man recently that fits that description….” Eve was looking down at her hands. She knew she’d seen him. It had been a week ago when she was mending fences on her property.
“Are you going to tell me where he is?” Villanelle asked, eyebrows raised.
Eve couldn’t suppress her grin any longer. She looked up from her hands and directly into Villanelle’s eyes and said with finality, “No.”
“No??” Villanelle began to giggle. “Eve, are you serious?” Her shark smile was back, flashing white from the glare of the fire.
“I’ll tell you. But since I’m stuck here, you’re going to answer my questions first.”
Villanelle’s heart started to race. This was fun again. This was--this was NOT boring. And Eve….Eve was smiling at her.
“Sure Eve. What do you want to know?” Villanelle sat up a little straighter.
Eve pointed with her spoon in the direction where their horses stood. “First off, where the hell did you get that horse?”
Villanelle looked toward her Appaloosa. She’d tied both the horses under a tree next to the river.
“Oh….Saxano? He was a gift. I fought in the Nez Perce war, on the side of the Indians. It was years ago, in Idaho.”
“You fought for them?”
“Yeah, I lived with them for a while and then the war came and I just….fought alongside them. They gave me Saxano as a way of saying thank you.”
Villanelle shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve done many things people would call insane”.
Eve began to eat the rest of her dinner. It was good, and she hated that it was good. Barring the fact that Villanelle was insane and an asshole, Eve couldn’t help but be fascinated and a little charmed by her (and she hated that, too). She realized then that Villanelle was a lot younger than her. Maybe 25? And though she (again) hated to admit it, Villanelle was truly lovely to look upon in the glow of the fire. Eve couldn’t deny that attraction, but she was going to try her damnedest to ignore it. She wasn’t doing a great job, however, because her eyes kept flicking up to steal glances when Villanelle was looking away.
“Why do they call you the ghost with no face?”
Villanelle gave a little laugh. “Who told you that? I guess my reputation precedes me, even out here.” She paused for a moment, catching Eve looking at her. Eve quickly averted her eyes to stare at the fire. Villanelle smiled to herself and continued, “I guess I got that name from when I used to rob trains and stagecoaches. I did it alone, just me and Saxano. I’d wear a black bandana over my face and my hat low so all you could see were my eyes and I’d cover my neck with a black silk cravat.” Villanelle leaned back on her hands, reminiscing. “I guess from afar you couldn’t really see me on my horse, what with all the black. And if anyone caught sight of me they couldn’t see my face, obviously. That, and I was quick and quiet. I didn’t like to make a scene, maybe slit the throat of a conductor or a guard and make off with the loot as quickly as possible. I didn’t usually get caught in a shoot-out, though if it happened, I was more than happy to oblige them. But most passengers never knew I was there until I was long gone with the goods.”
“So you’re an outlaw, then.”
“Yes,” Villanelle cocked her head to one side in consideration, “ I suppose I am. Sometimes a bounty hunter, sometimes both. Does that scare you?”
But it should scare me. Why am I still here and not running for home? If I had any doubts before, she just confirmed to me that she’s a murderer.
“You love saying no to me, don’t you?” Villanelle stood and began throwing more wood on the fire. It caused the coals to hiss and pop violently. “Is this your way of flirting with me, Eve?”
“Because if so, I’m enjoying it.”
The fire continued to crackle, growing warmer and brighter now from the added fuel. Villanelle was on her knees in front of the flames, sitting on her heels. Her back was to Eve, waiting for a reply. None came. Villanelle closed her eyes and let the warmth flow over her greedily.
“He’s hiding in Robber’s Roost Canyon,” Eve said suddenly, after minutes of silence, “and I think there’s two other men with him.”
Villanelle turned around. “...it’s really called that?” She chuckled to herself.
“Yeah, it is. Look, the gold rush travelers didn’t really bring much creativity with them when they started naming things they found out here.”
“A little on the nose though, don’t you think?” Villanelle was trying to be playful again. She knew she’d crossed a line earlier. She’d cross it again in time, though.
“There’s been a few groups of outlaws who have camped out there. The name fits.” Eve shrugged her shoulders.
“Such a strange place you live in. Why not live in an actual town, a city? It’s so ...desolate here. And robbers hiding in roosts…”
Eve ignored her teasing. But some part of her wanted Villanelle to understand…..
“It took a while to settle this place, so many had tried and failed and abandoned what was started. My father was one of the first to successfully run a ranch here. It was difficult, agonizing work—practically impossible terrain. They started to refer to the land as God’s Country.” Eve’s voice had a touch of melancholy, she empathized with these forgotten settlers.
“Oh, and why’s that?” Villanelle crawled back to the blanket, sitting close to Eve but not too close.
Eve set her bowl down and lay on her back, looking up at the night sky and sighed.
“They called the land God’s Country because no one else would have it but God.”
“You know, we’d be a lot warmer if we slept closer together…” Villanelle said casually.
Villanelle was lying on her side facing Eve, her head propped up on her elbow. She watched as Eve pretended to sleep. “Suit yourself.” She returned to lying on her back, looking up at the stars.
Minutes went by before Villanelle found the courage to whisper, “Eve?”
“I really am sorry.”
Eve let the words hang in the air. She knew Villanelle wasn’t sorry in the way Eve would be sorry if she shot someone. Villanelle was sorry because Eve didn’t like her, sorry that she had hurt Eve by hurting someone she cared about.
Eve let out a sigh and relented, “I know. Go to sleep, Villanelle.”
Neither of them spoke after that. The desert was quiet yet alive with activity. Animals scurrying, coyotes howling in the distance, the fire crackling and hissing contently. Eve’s mind wasn’t quiet though. She couldn’t stop replaying the night’s conversation. She still had so many questions, she was aching to know why Villanelle was who she was, what made her that way? But most of all, she couldn’t understand why Villanelle seemed to care so much about her—that she wanted to cook her dinner and wanted Eve to like her. Why? Why would a killer care what anyone thought about them, let alone Eve? And her playfulness—there were so many contradictions to this woman, and if Eve was really being honest with herself, she was starting to care about her too. Something within Eve was starting to crack, and it both terrified and excited her.
“Villanelle?” Eve whispered.
Eve sighed, she hoped she wouldn’t regret this. “Thank you—thank you for dinner.”
Villanelle smiled to herself, her eyes shut tight and her chest swelled.
“You’re welcome, Eve.”
First of all, I want to thank everyone for their kind words last week about my cat's passing. I was truly overwhelmed by how kind complete strangers could be on the internet. Thank you again.
Second, if anyone is curious or a nerd like me, a lot of these places I'm mentioning are real places in Utah. I changed Hanksville, UT to Franksville and messed with a little of the geography but that's about it. Robbers Roost is pretty famous for being the hide-out of Butch Cassidy and his outlaw gang. Also, southeast Utah is fucking beautiful, holy shit. I'm gunna go.
Thank you for reading! Comments always welcome. :)
Chapter 5: Contact
Woof this took a while. Hope it's not shit.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
OH MY GOD.
Eve’s eyes shot wide open. She was staring at Villanelle’s golden hair, her nose pressed against the back of her head and her lips resting at the base of her neck. She smelled heavenly, like campfire and tobacco. And Oh God…. Eve’s entire body was tightly pressed against Villanelle, her arm drawn tight around Villanelle’s waist and sweet Jesus her knee, her knee was tucked under Villanelle’s ass, almost parting her thighs. Eve lay there, frozen with shock--not daring to move. Not daring to breathe. How the fuck did this happen?? And just when Eve thought she couldn’t be more horrified at her situation, Villanelle snuggled her ass further back into Eve, letting out a small whine and continued to sleep. Eve couldn’t help but feel a heat bloom between her legs. Fuck.
Eve was trying hard not to panic.This can’t be real, this can’t be happening…. Eve craned her neck to the right to look behind her and saw she had indeed abandoned her end of the blanket completely and had somehow found her way to Villanelle’s side and had---fucking spooned her?! at some point during the night.
This is bad. This is so so bad. I can not be here when she wakes up, I can’t.
Eve carefully and very slowly removed her right arm from Villanelle’s waist and gently untucked her knee. She held her breath the entire time until she rolled away and was back on her original side of the blanket. Eve’s heart was racing, she looked back to Villanelle to make sure she was still asleep. Did she know what happened? Did she wake in the middle of the night to find me holding her? Eve burned with embarrassment even thinking about that possibility. She wasn’t going to stick around to find out.
Eve got up, painfully--sleeping on the ground was not a pleasant experience--and made her way to her horse, still tied to the tree. She rested her head against Black Jack’s shoulder for a moment, collecting her thoughts. Saxano huffed next to her, also wanting attention. Eve stared at the powerful Appaloosa and wondered when she would see him again, if ever. Villanelle has her information now, she’ll collect her bounty and be on her way in a day or two. She felt relieved that her life could return to normal soon. Villanelle had come into her life like a burning stick of dynamite. And Eve worried that the fuse still hadn’t reached it’s end.
“Goodbye Saxano,” Eve said while stroking his nose. “Your mom is insane,” Eve whispered into his ear. Saxano blinked slowly and stamped his front hoof. “Great, I just wanted to make sure you knew.” Eve laughed, shaking her head. She then untied her horse and rode swiftly away in the direction of her ranch—refusing to look back.
“Ha! There she is! Our fearless Kill Commander.” Konstantin punched Hugo in the shoulder and pointed. “We weren’t sure if you were coming back.”
“Ouch, Christ!” Hugo rubbed his shoulder and looked up at Villanelle, still sitting atop her horse. “Where’ve you been? You left me all alone out here in the desert. Konstantin showed up in the middle of the night and I almost shot him!”
Konstantin smacked Hugo hard on the back laughing and said “But you didn’t, did you! You should have seen your face.”
“Jesus, will you stop hitting me? Fucking bastard...”
“Oh grow up, you big baby,” Konstantin teased as he smacked Hugo in the back of the head, belly laughing with delight.
“I’m glad to see everyone is in a good mood this morning,” Villanelle said as she hopped down from her horse. “I’m about to make it even better.”
Hugo, still rubbing the back of his head asked, “Yeah? You find that lady rancher? She tell you anything good?”
Villanelle reached for the coffee pot next to the fire and poured herself a mug. “Yes, lots of things.” She was grinning like an idiot.
“Ugh, Villanelle, you didn’t….did you?”
“Didn’t what?” she snapped at Hugo, “sleep with her?” She raised an eyebrow at him, daring him to say something stupid.
“Well… yeah.” Hugo muttered.
“Well, I didn’t. I am a gentleman Hugo, I merely commandeered her horse, took her hostage, and made her dinner.”
“You did what?!” Konstantine was laughing so hard he could barely breathe.
“She was a little hostile at first but I think she warmed up to me.” Maybe literally, Villanelle thought. That morning, Villanelle woke with the strangest feeling that Eve had held her as they slept, but that wasn’t possible. It was probably just a dream. She shook her head, trying to focus. “Anyways, she told me where to find Wyatt. He’s hiding in Robber’s Roost Canyon, and it sounds like his whole gang is there with him.”
“It’s really called that?” Hugo scrunched his nose.
“Who cares what it’s called. If Wyatt’s entire team is there, we’ve got a big problem,” Konstantin said seriously.
“Not if we’re smart and not if we’re careful,” Villanelle said with confidence. “I have a plan.”
The goal today was to saddle Corona for the first time. Eve had already got her used to her voice, used to wearing a bitless bridle and being led by a line. Eve was holding a long line now, watching as Corona circled the bullpen at an even trot. Eve would make a click with her mouth and sometimes Corona would change direction to counter clockwise but never closing the distance toward Eve. She was listening though. One ear faced out toward the landscape but each time Eve spoke or clicked, Corona’s inner ear would point in the direction of Eve. This was a good sign, at least. Eve decided not to rush things. The entire point of this exercise was to build trust.
Eve held the long line and let Corona continue to trot around the pen as her mind began to wander. She was still shaken by what had happened this morning--she couldn’t believe how her unconscious self could be so obvious. Eve felt betrayed by her own body. She cursed herself for her lack of self-control, cursed herself for how her body still ached for that earlier contact. Eve knew something would have to give. She knew herself well enough to understand she couldn’t suppress her wants forever, even if her wants were frowned upon by most of society. Eve couldn’t say she was proud of those wants, but had come to accept that her desires were unchangeable. She had to accept that.
She took a few steps toward the filly while holding her line. Corona immediately changed direction to avoid Eve’s advance. Eve calmly turned her back to the horse and walked away, she could sense from the line that Corona had stopped, curious. Eve turned back toward the horse and tried advancing again, and again, Corona took off into a trot away from Eve. Eve repeated the process--walking towards the horse and then turning her back to walk away. She noticed the circles Corona was running were getting smaller, she was getting ever closer to Eve. Eventually, after another turn of her back (Eve had lost count at this point), she felt a nose nudge against her shoulder. Eve smiled.
It was late afternoon by the time Eve had successfully saddled Corona and got her used to two long lines--one on each side of her bridle. She was starting to understand the lines and obey their direction. It was enough for today. Eve took her back to the stables for some rest and a meal.
After Eve fed the horses, she made herself dinner and took a bath. It was getting to be early evening now, and against her better judgement, Eve decided to head into town.
When she arrived, she tied her horse near the center posts and walked to the saloon. It was a busy night, as usual. Eve found it difficult to even make out the bar through all of the cigar and pipe smoke, but she eventually made her way through the scattered tables to find a seat at the bartop. Elena waved to Eve and gave Kenny a kiss on the cheek before making her way over to Eve’s side of the bar.
“Hey babe, what brings you out here so late? Aren’t you usually in bed by now?”
“Usually…” said Eve. Elena was her best friend but it was still hard for Eve to look her in the eye when she said, “But tonight I thought I’d stop by and say hello to Madam Martens.”
“Oh.” Elena said. She looked at Eve with the slightest bit of concern. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” Eve said. She was sure. After last night and this morning, she was definitely sure.
“Well,” Elena paused, looking down at the bar. “Then you’re going to need a few whiskeys first.” She smiled at Eve then, gave her hand a quick squeeze and reached under the bar for some glasses.
Eve sighed in relief. She was so thankful to have someone she could confide in, someone that didn’t judge her. Someone who really cared about her.
Elena slammed two whiskeys on the bar and gave Eve a wink. “I have to go help out Kenny before he murders me. Feel free to use the side door whenever you’re ready to leave. I don’t think anyone will notice,” she said reassuringly.
Eve raised her glass, giving Elena a small toast in the air and mouthed “thank you.”
Elena laughed, waving her off and turned to the other end of the bar to help Kenny with the growing crowd of drunks.
Eve sipped her whiskey and collected her thoughts for what she was about to do. It had been a long time. Maybe a year. God, it’s been so long….Eve slammed back the rest of the shots Elena had poured for her and made her way to the back door, slipping outside into the now cold desert air.
Eve looked to her left and her right, no one was around. She was in an alley of sorts for the businesses on this side of the road. Most used it for storage and trash, but those that knew Elena knew it was also the best way to get inside the brothel without everyone in town seeing. Eve took a deep breath, walked down the alley, found the unassuming door, and headed inside.
“Carolyn. Yes, um, yes it has.” Eve was trying her best not to blush. She was always intimidated by Madam Martens. Everything about her exuded poise and power. She wore her hair short, like a man’s as well as a man’s vest and jacket, smartly tailored. But underneath she wore a corset and below, an elegant ankle length skirt complete with dangerous looking heels. An expensive cane could be seen resting behind her in the corner of the room. Eve tried to remember to breathe as she waited for Carolyn to say something more.
“You seem nervous, Eve.” Carolyn didn’t look up to regard Eve but instead began re-packing her pipe.
Eve absent-mindedly smoothed the wrinkles in her skirt. “Yes, well, you know….I usually am when I’m here.”
“You understand it’s of no concern to me if you are here.” Carolyn lit a match and cupped it over the bowl of her pipe. “My girls get paid for their services, not to tell tales.”
“Yes. And I appreciate that. I really do.”
Carolyn gave the pipe a few good drags to start the embers and met Eve’s eye.
“You own a ranch, correct?”
“Uh.. yes. Yes, that’s right,” Eve’s voice was getting higher and higher in pitch the longer this conversation went on.
“Right.” She looked back down at her ledger book. “It’ll be ten dollars for the room. You can pay me on your way out.”
“Yes, ok.” Eve paused, not entirely sure how to proceed. She was wringing her hands. “So I’ll just….”
Carolyn rolled her eyes, waving a hand at her impatiently. “You’ve been here enough times, Eve. Go upstairs and find someone who interests you. I’d suggest Nadia. She shares your….interest in the fairer sex.”
“Nadia, right. Yes, I remember her.”
“Good. It’s done, then. Off you go.”
Eve swallowed hard. Her palms were sweaty, her pulse was erratic. She awkwardly thanked Carolyn and headed for the staircase at the end of the living room.
Suddenly, the front door to the brothel slammed open. Eve turned around in surprise, gripping the banister.
It was Villanelle.
Eve gasped. She felt like she was going to die of a heart attack--right here, right on these very stairs in the brothel, her life officially over.
“What are you doing here?!”
“Eve,” Villanelle greeted her with a grin. She stood on the threshold of the brothel entrance with her hands in her pockets and regarded Eve with delight. Villanelle was dressed impeccably. She wore expensive looking riding boots with tight fitted trousers and a corsetted white blouse complete with a tailored men’s suit jacket. Her hair was down, one side tucked behind her ear. She was strikingly beautiful. Even Carolyn looked impressed.
“Eve, you didn’t mention you invited a guest.” Carolyn stood to greet Villanelle, holding out a hand and said, “Madam Martens at your service. Welcome to my establishment.”
Villanelle smiled and took Carolyn’s hand and kissed it, lifting her eyes to Eve on the staircase. “A pleasure, Ms. Martens.”
“Villanelle, what are you doing here?” Eve hissed.
“I could ask the same of you, Eve. But since you asked first, I guess I’m here to have a little fun before we ambush Wyatt and his crew tomorrow. Who knows if I’ll survive,” Villanelle pretended to look worried and gave Eve a pout. “What about you, Eve? Do you have any plans for the night?” Villanelle was enjoying this immensely.
“I was just leaving,” Eve said acidly. She then stormed down the stairs, past Carolyn and past Villanelle….but she was being yanked back by her wrist. Eve looked down to see that Villanelle was holding her in place, her face turned serious--their bodies a foot apart. Villanelle stared down at her.
“No need to be rude, Eve. I was just answering your question.” She released Eve’s wrist, clucking her tongue as if scolding a child.
“Sso...so, so what,” Eve stammered, practically yelling, “you’re a lesbian? Is that it? Is that why you’re here?”
Villanelle’s eyes shimmered, her smile turned deadly.
“You should never tell a lesbian they’re a lesbian, Eve.” Villanelle paused and took a step closer and whispered, “It excites them.”
Eve slapped Villanelle hard across the face. She didn’t even pause to consider her reaction. It just--happened. She immediately regretted it and was mortified to see Villanelle wiping blood away from her lip with the side of her thumb.
“Well…..now that was exciting.” Villanelle had to admit she was pleasantly surprised by Eve’s little outburst. This was…. this was spectacular. Villanelle felt alive. She looked to Eve and saw fear writ across her face, tears brimming at the corners of her eyes.
“I…… I’m sorry. I….. Oh God…” Eve turned around swiftly without another word and ran out the back door.
Carolyn seemed completely unphased by the scene that had just unfolded in her living room. She regarded Villanelle warmly and said, “Well, can I interest you in a drink? We have a girl here, Nadia, who I think would just love to meet you…”
Villanelle took a final glance at the brothel’s back door, hoping that by some miracle Eve would walk back inside. She sucked on her swollen lip and put a hand to her burning cheek. She knew Eve wouldn’t come back. Not after this. She sighed to herself and turned to Carolyn.
“That would be lovely, Madam. Please, lead the way.”
I've been waiting SO LONG to get that lesbian line in there. Hope it worked.
Let me know what you think in the comments. And thanks for reading!
Yeehaw and godbless.
Chapter 6: Cowboy Beebop
So I'm new to this "writing" thing and realized, as I struggled through this chapter, that maybe I want to try a present tense narration instead of a past tense. It seemed to make the writing easier, so I think that will continue? I don't know. I hope it's not too jarring a switch. If you have an opinion about whether it works better, or if it doesn't, let me know. I've noticed most fics on here use the present tense, which I'm surprised by. I guess it works better for shorty-story?
Anyways, here's the next chapter, finally. 🤠🌵
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The mid afternoon sun is merciless as it bakes down upon the Great Basin desert. Buzzards were beginning to circle the three riders below. Villanelle watches them fly and brings her fingertips to her face, gently brushing the bruised cut at the corner of her mouth. It’s become an unconscious habit of hers now, each touch giving Villanelle a small chill of excitement. She’s begun to covet this bruise, the sweet cut on her lip, not wanting it to ever heal. God, what is happening to her? Is she really this soft? Villanelle is used to wanting things—women, money, expensive clothes—but the want is always just that—want. Eve feels like a need. Villanelle isn’t used to needing anyone, or anything, for that matter. It leaves her feeling absurd and confused but overall, frustrated. She curses to herself and pulls her hat down low over her eyes to hide her face from the desert sun, pushing the thoughts from her mind.
“You want the money, don’t you?” Villanelle says bitingly. She’s now looking down the barrel of her Sharps ‘74 rifle, checking to make sure it’s clear of any debris or grit. Satisfied, she begins loading the weapon. It is best used for long-range shots, and she looks forward to using it during the ambush—much like a sniper. Her plan is to put down as many of Wyatt’s men as she can before they are in close range. The fewer men shooting at them, the better.
“This is suicide, Villanelle.” Konstantine stands by his horse, rolling the chamber of his revolver and listening for any snags. He’s wearing a long leather duster coat and a stetson hat. His face looks tanned and aged from the desert sun but is still handsome, if a little hardened. Most found his size and gruff demeanor intimidating but Villanelle knows how loving he can be, how kind. “We’re going to run straight into a trap and we don’t know how many men he has hiding out there,” Konstantine says doubtfully.
Villanelle snaps her rifle closed and places it in its scabbard, which she then buckles over her shoulder. “We’re going to ambush them, take them by surprise. They won’t even know what hit ‘em.” She looks up at his face, her eyes are clear and honest. “Don’t you believe in me?”
Konstantine smiles then. Villanelle loves his smile.
“Of course I believe in you, Villanelle. You are amazing, you are like family, but I don’t want to see you die.”
“We are outlaws Konstantine. We are very likely to die.”
“I know, I just…. I hope you know what you are doing.”
Hugo looks down during this exchange, feeling like he’s witnessing something intimate he has no right to really hear. He awkwardly fiddles with his bolo tie that hangs between his sheep skin vest, wondering if this is the last time he’ll ever wear it.
Villanelle turns away from Konstantine, ignoring the flicker of emotion she feels after what’s been said. Like family? She can’t think about that right now. And she can’t think about Eve, either. It was fogging her mind, these stupid thoughts—these redicilous...feelings. Right now, she wants to do her job--she wants to do her job really well. Now was not the time to get sentimental. So she mounts her horse in one swift motion and looks down at her crew, “If we’re all ready, we should go. It looks like there’s a storm coming. I want to get this over and done with.”
The sky is indeed growing dark. Bruised thunder clouds are rolling in from the north, eager to quench the parched earth. Lightning strikes appear far off in the distance, silent flashes dancing over the mountain range. The three riders in black sit side by side atop their horses, each silent in thought. Konstantine and Hugo are fidgeting and nervous, untying and retying buckles, adjusting their hats, checking and rechecking their revolvers. Villanelle is stationed in between them. She can sense their unease but ignores it. What she feels now is no more than a low hum of anticipation, like static in the air.
Thunder rumbles from far off and the wind is picking up, blowing dust across the vista and howling through the canyons. Villanelle stares straight ahead, motionless. The canyon of Robber’s Roost lay before them, ominous, like a dark pit waiting to swallow them whole.
Konstantine and Hugo turn to her and nod solemnly.
“Alright then.” A giant smile forms across her face. The fun was about to begin. She laughs in giddy excitement and yells:
And they’re off, their horses mowing down the earth in a stampede of flying dust—making a straight shot toward the mouth of the canyon. The landscape becomes a blur in the riders’ peripheries. The only sound that can be heard is the thunder of hoofbeats as they tear their way across the desert plains now cast in shadow from the rolling storm clouds. Every second that passes leads them closer and closer to the hideout, closer and closer to violence.
They are 500 feet away now, close enough to see the encampment of the hideout but not make out any people. If anyone in Wyatt’s gang were paying attention, they would see three black dots racing toward them like a bat out of hell.
Sensing it was time, Villanelle releases the reigns of her horse and reaches back for her rifle, cocks it and presses the butt of the handle against her shoulder, closes one eye and looks down the barrel for her first victim.
They are close, maybe 300 feet away, their horses still fresh and moving at an ungodly pace. The riders can see men moving about the encampment near the entrance of the canyon. Villanelle takes in a slow breath, aims, and lets off her first shot.
A man crumples to the ground.
Another shot rings out in quick succession.
Another man goes down, shot through his beer mug.
200 feet away now. Hugo and Konstantine break out ahead of Villanelle, their guns drawn. Hugo lets out a jeering “Yeeee-hawww!” and fires a warning shot into the air. Wyatt’s men are scrambling now, some running to hide while others try to load their guns in desperation. Villanelle picks off a man on the balcony of a two story shack, causing his dead body to crash down into a horse trough below. She shoots a man in the back as he tries to mount his horse in a desperate escape. Coward. Another man stands alone in the surrounding chaos, shaking like a leaf, dropping every one of his bullets as he tries to load the barrel of his revolver. He’s a sitting duck. Villanelle smiles before pulling the trigger.
She shoots him through the throat.
Hugo and Konstantine reach the hideout first, guns blazing. They leap off their horses and immediately seek out shelter from the returning gun fire, every so often peeking around a boulder or a barrel to pick off another gang member of Wyatt’s crew.
A minute later, Villanelle reaches the entrance, drops her rifle to its saddle holster and jumps to the ground. She takes her time walking into the encampment, oblivious to the hail storm of bullets firing around her. Konstantine and Hugo are doing a decent job of slowly picking off the members of the gang, giving her cover. Men lie wounded on the ground, close to death and moaning in agony. Villanelle steps over their bodies without so much as a glance—her eyes only searching for the face of her bounty, Zipp Wyatt.
Not finding him among the dead and wounded, Villanelle reaches the porch of the pathetic looking two story shack and kicks down the door, her revolver now in hand. The place looks empty, until suddenly a man rushes out of the hallway screaming, coming at her with a knife. Villanelle slams down the hammer of her revolver and takes him out quickly. She continues her sweep of the house. When she reaches the kitchen she catches sight of a man running out the back door. He looks like Wyatt. She follows him out at a leisurely pace, adrenaline pumping. This is her favorite part.
Outside, the gunfire has quieted to a few shots every minute or so. From the looks of it, Konstantine and Hugo have taken out most of the bandits. One or two are hiding, occasionally showing their face from behind a rock to fire off a round before ducking for cover again.
Villanelle stands among the bodies of Wyatt’s men and sees her target limping away toward his horse. He must have been injured, maybe from back when he robbed the bank. He’s making this too easy, no fun at all, she thinks. Villanelle sighs and closes in on her prey, reaching Wyatt quickly from behind and slamming him to his knees, pressing her revolver tight against his back.
“You know you got a face beautiful enough to be worth 15,000 dollars, Wyatt?” Villanelle grabs him by the hair and turns his head so he can see her over his shoulder.
“It’s up to that much now?” He lets out a nervous laugh, straining against the grip on his head. “Last I heard, it was ten. Guess I’m getting more and more beautiful by the day.” Pings of ricocheted bullets sound off the canyon walls around them. Hugo and Konstantine must still be struggling with the few surviving men. Wyatt coughs and spits on the ground giving Villanelle a forced smile. “You know, I’ve also heard tell that warrant says wanted dead or alive”. He looks up at her inquisitively, running his tongue over his dry, cracked lips—trying to hide his fear.
Villanelle gives Wyatt a long, hard look. He is amusing, in a way, she thinks to herself. But Wyatt sees no playfulness in her smile. What he sees are her deadly black pupils and feral, predatory grin. It’s obscene, that smile. It almost looks as if nothing lie behind those eyes, nothing more than the ghost of a person. It sends a chill down Wyatt’s spine as Villanelle replies,
“It does say that, Wyatt” she pauses for a moment, “but you know how this business works. We’re all outlaws here,” she gestures toward the mostly dead men on the ground around them, “and we all know that ‘dead or alive’ is just a nice polite way of ask’n me, your bounty hunter, to bring your ass in stone cold dead. So I’m going to shoot you in the back, since I can’t destroy that pretty face of yours. And then you’re going to die, ok? You ready?”
Villanelle cocks the hammer. Wyatt closes his eyes and makes the sign of the cross against his chest. Villanelle begins to laugh but is cut off by the sound of a shot and then a yell. And suddenly, there is no gun pressed to his back. He immediately stands up and turns to find Villanelle’s face in the dirt, a hand clutching her side. Blood is dripping from her hand. She’d been shot.
Wyatt doesn’t hesitate. He kicks the revolver far away from her grasp and decides to give her a solid kick to the face for good measure. Fucking psycho. The kick sends her head whipping back with a spray of blood and she lands on her side, moaning. He laughs and turns her flat onto her back with the toe of his boot, kneeling down to have a good look at her.
To his surprise, she’s still smiling—her teeth pink now from her bloody mouth and she’s.... she’s laughing at him? “You’re a crazy son of a bitch, Villanelle, you know that?.” He laughs along with her, bewildered by her insanity. “Now I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave you here to bleed out. And then, I’m going to take your horse and your supplies and be on my merry way. Ok?” He takes her gun too, shining it up with the sleeve of his shirt—appreciating it, and begins to walk toward the canyon entrance where the horses stand.
Villanelle groans through the pain, her hand still clutching her side, and manages to sit up, resting her weight on her knees. She’s panting heavily, trying not to pass out from the pain. She looks behind her to find Konstantin in a fist fight with one of Wyatt’s men—probably the man who’d shot her. She spits blood from her mouth and turns back to watch as Wyatt saunters away toward her horse. Oh no, not today motherfucker. Using the last of her strength, she stands on shaky legs and reaches for the bowie knife strapped to her thigh. She flips it in her hand so that she’s gripping the blade instead of the handle, and flings it expertly at Wyatt’s back.
Time seems to slow as she watches the dagger slice through the air, handle over blade. She collapses to her knees from the effort of the throw and feels a spark of something as she witnesses the blade sink deep into the middle of Wyatt’s back with a satisfying thunk. He falls to the ground, crying in agony, desperately trying to reach behind him for the knife but failing.
“Villanelle!” Konstantine gives the man he’s fighting one last punch to the face, knocking him cold and runs to her. Meanwhile, Hugo is still in a shoot-out with the last of Wyatt’s men. He finally nails him, square between the eyes after the man had reached to shoot but was out of bullets. “Looks like yer empty,” Hugo said before delivering the kill shot. Both men reach her at the same time, breathing heavily with panic writ across their faces. Konstantine reaches to hold Villanelle upright while Hugo tears off his vest and presses it to Villanelle’s wound. “What the fuck do we do now?” he asks Konstantin, voice cracking.
“Don’t worry about me,” Villanelle hisses through gritted teeth. “Just make sure Wyatt’s dead.”
Hugo places Villanelle’s hand firmly on the bloody vest and runs to go inspect Wyatt’s body. He finds Wyatt stubbornly clinging to life, making a slow, pathetic crawl toward the horses. Cursing, Hugo pulls the knife out of Wyatt’s back with a grunt, lifts his head by his hair and slits Wyatt’s throat.
Konstantine looks down on Villanelle with worry, tears forming at the corners of his eyes.
“Do you think you can still ride?”
Villanelle is about to answer him when she sees something sparkle in her periphery and hears a crackling hiss. Panic grips her then. She looks to the ground and sees her fears manifested. It’s a fuse, and it’s burning a line straight down to the canyon wall. Villanelle feels a heavy weight drop to the pit of her stomach as the realization hits her. She looks up at Konstantine, gripping him by his coat, her voice shaky, “They’ve got this place wired with dynamite. We—we need to get the fuck out of here, NOW!”
Konstantine sees the burning fuse and immediately lifts Villanelle to her feet, throws her over his shoulder and runs toward their horses.
“Hugo! Throw Wyatt over the back of your horse and get the fuck out of here. The canyon is going to blow!” Konstantine screams.
“Oh fuck me!” Hugo yells as he struggles to pull Wyatt’s dead body toward his horse.
Konstantine lifts Villanelle onto Saxano and gives the horse a hard slap on his rear to get him running. He then helps Hugo drape Wyatt’s body over the back of his horse and then climbs onto his own. “Go. Now!”
Hugo spurs his horse into a gallop and Konstantine follows close behind.
They are only a few hundred feet from the mouth of the canyon when they hear the explosion and tumultuous crack of breaking rock. A wave of heat and wind and dust hits their backs as they will their horses into a full-out sprint. It’s only minutes later when they hear another explosion, but this time from the sky. A torrential rain immediately follows, pummeling the riders as they make their escape, leaving them soaked to the bone in seconds.
They need to stop. The downpour of rain is impossible to see through, there’s little point in moving forward until it lets up or they can find shelter. Villanelle is hunched over her horse, her hand still holding Hugo’s vest to her side. She reels in pain and is breathing heavily.
Konstantine yells out to her over the thunder and sheets of falling rain, “We need to get you to a doctor, we need to stop the bleeding!”
Villanelle grimaces, the flashes of lightning illuminating her face for a second as she yells back, “I’ll take care of it but you need to get that body in to Green River City before it starts to turn.” Rain is falling from her hat in sheets and she throws it off, no point in wearing it now. “Show the sheriff the warrant. I’ll send a letter to you there.”
“Someone should stay with you,” Konstantine yells back. “I’m not leaving you here to die.”
Villanelle practically growls and says, “Get the body to Green River, Konstantine. There will be poachers.” She pauses to catch her breath, it hurts so much to breathe. “You’ll need Hugo’s help to protect the bounty. I’ll be fine. I’ll get help in Franksville. Now go.”
Konstantine stares at her, unmoving. She can’t see his tears for the rain.
“What did I just say?!” she screams, her voice manic. “Get the fuck out of here!”
Konstantine feels absolutely sick, he holds the reins of his horse with shaking hands. Villanelle is like a daughter to him—a crazy, rebellious, childish daughter, but still. He knows he would never forgive himself if she died, but there was no use arguing with her. She’d shoot him before accepting his help.
He gives her one last look and softly says, “Goodbye, Villanelle”.
Her head is starting to nod halfway between consciousness until suddenly, Saxano stops with a huff. Villanelle lifts her head to look out in front of her--they’re standing against a fence post. The rain has let up enough for her to make out a gate and then it hits her, she’s standing outside Eve’s ranch.
Her side burns like a bitch as she practically falls from the saddle. She opens the gate with a shaking hand and leads Saxano by the reins to Eve’s barn, gripping her wounded side.
“Stay here,” she says to him sweetly. “You’ve done good, Saxano.”
She leaves the barn, making her way slowly to Eve’s ranch house, trying to keep her balance. She trips up the set of stairs leading to the porch and catches herself against the doorframe. There’s light shining through the windows, the wood frame is warm against her wet skin.
She’s trying to catch her breath. Trying to remain upright. Villanelle takes a long shaking breath and with a dripping hand, knocks.....and waits.
Villaneve will be happening next chapter, promise. Hope this was a fun one, at least. Needed to get this plot line out of the way. Again, let me know what you think about the change in tense, if you feel any certain way about it.
Comments are always nice. And thank you, as always, for reading.
Yee-haw and yeet like no one's watching.