He didn't choose any of the recognisable trinkets like watches but only a few coins and a plain ring without encryption.
Then he brushed the snow off his clothes and raised his chin.
"I'll see you in Whitefish!"
Curly just nodded, as a ‘trimmer’ he didn’t want to really offend anybody but, if he could have his druthers, would rather be in favor of whoever was in charge at any one time.
“Yeah, be there English, we need you!” warned Red, but although it sounded like a surly command, his words were really a hidden compliment. He might have his faults as a gang member, but Ryker was a valuable commodity: he claimed to know his way around the ‘unbreakable’ British made Chubb & Tann fireproof, thief-proof safe which, far from its manufacturing place of Wolverhampton, sat square and immovable in the deepest recesses of a bank in Kalispell.
He looked each man in the eye but let his gaze linger on Thomas extra long.
"You gave us your word. I'll hold you to it, gentleman."
Tom looked up as if he’d forgotten the whole fight. “Yeah, see you on the tenth, English.” He said blithely and carried on examining his share of the haul, not even glancing up as Jay packed up his booty and trotted on out of there.
Curly must have had some respect for the Englishman’s ire, especially after his unceremonious dumping, bald pate first, into the prickly bush, for he waited until Ryker was well out of sight before greedily eyeing some of the items in Love’s pile of treasure and pulling out a small, cheap looking silver locket from his own.
“Say Tom, how about swapping out that there gold watch fer this here locket?” he asked nonchalantly. Love pulled a face at the tawdry offering.
“I got it off a that feller you plugged in the bank, he almost put up a fight about it” Curly dangled the bait and Love snapped at it like a turtle.
“Gimmi that!” he barked, throwing Curly the watch like it was so much trash.
Once in his dirt grimed hands, he opened the locket and, drinking in what he saw inside, smiled foully. Oh, how God did dearly love this most prodigal of sons!
“That’s right nice, Curl.” he chortled. “You know, our Englishman, he just taught me a pretty good lesson in morals and making up for past trespasses, and it looks like Mr. Hole-in-the-Head in the green suit left behind a pretty little wife and daughter. Now look boys…” he dangled the small locket by its chain.
“I reckon it’s my Christian duty to pay those two poor, bereaved ladies a visit, and try and make amends for the harm that I have caused them.”
Red was relieved that the tension seemed to ease thanks to his great interference. So he nodded. "I will...after you shake hands!"
Jay shot him and angry glare. That was really too much. "You're pushing it, Red." He warned him. The guy could be glad that the outlaws hadn't settled their differences with their guns.
Tom smirked at Red’s proposal and at Jay’s short fuse igniting again. Boy, that feller’d gotten out of bed the wrong side this mornin’. “Oh that don’t matter” he called to Red as he made himself a little stand out of a branch to spread his clothes on beside the spluttering smokey fire that, with the help of a match from Curly, was starting to grow into life. “A gentleman’s word is his bond, eh English?”
When Tom was a little boy and had gone to school in his sailor outfit and straw hat, he had often noticed that two boys who fell to fighting each other, oft times became firm friends afterwards. This was just an observation, of course, not first-hand experience. Little Tom had started many fights in the playground, but actually taken part in none of them; he much preferred standing on the side-lines, snickering at two boys beating hell out each other, just because of a few vile words that he himself had poured into the ear of one or other of the combatants.
Well, that was maybe, but it didn’t look like Jay suddenly wanted to be bosom pals with him, so he trudged over and grabbed the loot bags and hefted them over to the now crackling camp fire.
“Come on boys, let’s see what we got.” Unlike most gangs, Tom didn’t take a bigger share than the rest, he wasn't in it for the money. On the other hand, if there was some trinket that he took a liking to, it was best not to lay a claim to it.
"Your secret rules are worth a damn if the boss doesn't smaren up."
He answered Red but kept glaring at his target.
Tom didn’t deign to answer this but sat down on the ground and started to take his boots off, they were full of water and would take a heap of drying out.
“They ain’t secret so much as most fellers just sorta pick em up without bein’ told.” explained Red gently. For someone who had just wantonly shot dead two Sheriff's deputies, he was a mine of sound advice and calm instruction. He would have made a good leader except for one very basic factor: he had absolutely no wish to be.
"Well, let’s just jaw on this peaceable like.” he continued, while Tom, now bootless, removed his soaking wet trousers. “Now, English, what exactly do you object to in the …” he was sure there was a better word for this but as a rather uneducated sort of a man, he had to do with what he had at hand “… the dooins of ol’ Tom there.”
"By killing innocent people he's putting a big fat reward on all of our mugs. He wants a name , a nice big headline...Thomas Love, the ruthless outlaw is in town....and he's getting it but at the cost of our freedom. They'll be after us for this."
He finally spelled it out why he was so angry.
“Thomas Gage Love” corrected the pantless leader as he looked around for some dry kindling to try and start a good fire to dry their things out while they divided the loot from the bank. He stood up from the stooping of his twig hunting. “It looks finer in print that way.” he smiled with a slightly distant look, imagining the headlines. He’d had two headlines in a local newspaper so far:
A month before Jay had joined the gang, the Helena Independent had shouted out: “Mail Coach Robbed! Two Killed! Thomas G. Louve named as Perpetrator!”
This was followed, a week later by “Notorious Road Agent and Murderer Thomas Gage Love writes Helena Independent: Corrects Spelling mistakes!”
Not too auspicious a start, admittedly, but he was pretty sure that this latest outrage would do the trick. Oh, but that whining limey was still complaining and a-fussing.
Finally he adressed the man himself after spitting on the ground. "That job isn't going to happen unless you get smart. They'll have the cavalry waiting for us."
Red was worried for a second, the idea of the gang fighting off a detachment of the U.S. Cavalry was just the sort of thing to appeal to the publicity mad outlaw’s fancy, but Tom sighed and threw down the little bundle of twigs he’d gathered. Standing in his long johns and stocking feet, he put his left hand on his heart and held up the two fingers of his right hand.
“Very well.” He rolled his eyes “I Thomas Gage Love, notorious highwayman, bank robber, mail coach robber, murderer and general violator of the Laws of the United States of America and especially of the Territories of Montana and Dakota, do solemnly swear, in the sight of God Almighty, who created us all, that I shall cease, desist and stop all killing of innocent folks, up until and including our proposed Kalispell bank job. This here, er…”
“Promise?” suggested Red.
“Oath!” improved Curly.
“This here oath to be reviewed, upon completion of said job.” He finished. This was quite a concession, seeing as he’d only really become an outlaw for the killing and the fame. He shrugged at Jay: “You happy now? Well, if so, can one of you dryer fellers find a Lucifer to git this fire lit?”
It was an ugly sight because he had actually made it bigger and burnt the crap out of it. Jay winced at the sight of it. "I need a clean cloth or something."
“What, you want me to wipe your ass now? You shit yerself?!” barked Tom, being even more aggressive and unreasonable than ever before, and it was in such stark contrast to the unusual care he had been taken of the lightly wounded Englishman a mere second ago. His mouth didn’t know what his hands were doing, though, because he pulled out a reasonably clean white silk kerchief and threw it in ball like in Jay’s direction. It gave the impression that he almost didn’t dare approach the recumbent gang member.
Love stood confused, panting in the cold air of the barn, puffing the smoke-like condensation from his mouth like the steam from the stack of that mail train they were going to hit next year. Right after they pulled the perfect bank job. Kalispell. Yes, that was something to hold on to, he managed to regain his old self again.
He was walking out backwards now, staring at Jay with … what was that? Fear? Hate? Or something neither of them had a word for?
“Meet us at the Meeting Place, First day of Spring. And if you ain’t there, I’m gonna find ya and I’m gonna finish what I should have finished before…”
The qualities that had made Red such an effective marksman when he’d served under Braxton Bragg in the Army of the Mississippi came to the fore now. He didn’t shoot often, but when he did, he always picked the right place, the right time, and the right ammunition.
Tom reeled. “Who the f**k asked you?!” but Red carried on steadfastly in his quiet way.
“Well, you said yerself, we need the Englsihman for the big job in Kalispell, come Spring” and then, to show he wasn’t completely taking Ryker’s side, even if he really was, he admonished him a little, too. “And Ryker, you threw yer punch and made yer feelin’s clear. No need fer more. All this fightin between us, it ain’t practical and it ain’t followin’ the code.”
The code of behavior between the members of an outlaw band was sort of unwritten, and really never spoken of, Red was embarrassed to have to do so now. But when that ethereal, unmentioned code broke down, like it was breaking down now, it usually spelled the demise of the gang, no matter how successful, and some of the members usually ended up killing each other or getting caught.
In one notable case, it ended with all of the members killing each other in a crazy standoff, but the melancholy tale of the Bruce–Partington gang is not ours.
“Well I ain’t ridin’ around with this skunk ready to take a pot shot at me whenever I look at him cross-eyed!” complained the eponymous leader of the Thomas Gage Love Gang.
“Well, you said yerself, Tom, that after this job we should split up for a couple of months and regroup around Christmas.”
“Tenth of December” corrected Tom, perhaps to show he was still in charge, although he did seem strangely inclined to listen to the veteran outlaw’s advice , rather than to carry on crushing Jay’s skull with the brass knuckles.
“Well, let’s split the money and do that now. And if any of us doesn’t turn up at the meeting place, well, no hard feelings.” He nodded at his own advice, while the slavish Curly looked to Tom as to how to proceed.
It was bizarre that the ruthless killer Love seemed willing to listen to this idea more than the furious looking Englishman.
Tom had done good things before, he was just a little rusty at it. Why, when he was a little boy, he’d been a golden haired, innocent little angel. Everybody thought that he was just the prettiest and nicest little thing. All except the old woman who lived at the end house on their neat brick Bostonian street. She was a witch of sorts, he reckoned, and whether through some supernatural agency, or simply because she recognized another soul of the same stamp, she could often be caught giving him a knowing stare; and one time, when he’d been standing outside in his fancy knickerbockers and straw hat she had passed close enough to cackle within his hearing: “He he he. You can fool all of them other blind folks boy, but you can’t fool me, you be one of the Devil’s own!”
But he’d just done a good thing now, hadn’t he? Not out of show, or pretense, or because society demanded it, just because it was a good thing that needed doing. Yeah, a good shining thing among all the bad. But he hadn’t, had he? As he lay on top of the unconscious Jay, it came to him why he had helped him, why he had put up with him and his weak ways all this time. Tom dared himself to put his face closer, just a little closer to Jay’s, their lips only inches apart.
Then the patient’s eyes opened and Tom jumped back. He knew, and he suspected that Jay knew too, what had nearly just happened. Love scrambled to his feet.
“There, you’re all fixed now!” he declared, his throat dry, his voice just a little too strident. “Guess now I’ve fixed you, you don’t need me, you could shoot me with that gun if you wanted.” He indicated the colt with which the Englishman had threatened him before, and which still lay close at hand on the ground.
Struggling against the tight rope, Jay kept yelling. "Fight me, you coward!"
Tom sighed wearily. “Oh, all right.” He rolled his eyes and threw his gun down. He figured it wouldn’t fire anyway. “Just let me take m’ jacket off, ‘n’ do this proper, he offered “Marquis of Queensbury rules. You should know them, being an Englishman.”
It was something of a bizarre situation with the ponderous weight of Curly keeping the roped Jay from getting too close to Love, and the latter took his time: slipping off his jacket and deftly removing the evil looking knuckle dusters from the pocket and secretly slipped them onto his left hand, for in line with his sinister nature, the man was a southpaw.
“Right, you know the rules?” he asked blithely, and before Jay could reply, threw a metal capped left hook towards the Englishman’s head, swiftly followed by a well-aimed, pointy toed kick to the testicles.
Jay took a deep breath to somehow ready himself for what was about to happen, he wanted to close his eyes and relax but he was on edge...actually over the edge. He felt the adrenaline all the way to the finger tips when he said. "Do it."
Tom nodded and readied the blade.
Of course not even a second later, he back paddled. "No, wait!" He groaned loudly.
The other man cursed and held back his hand. “Will you make your mind up?!” he hissed.
"Do you know what you're doing?"
“I don’t know yet.” replied Tom “Ask me again in five minutes when I’m done!” He didn’t look like he was kidding either. “Look, we either do this now, or my next job’ll be on a flower shop so we can get some white lilies.” he joked, but he wasn’t smiling, his face was tense and dead set.
Their eyes connected for the first time in ages. Usually Jay avoided looking the man, that he despised so much, in the eye.
Sweat had formed on Toms forehead and Jays blue eyes were filled with horror.
“Come on” Tom ordered tersely, his commanding manner was compromised only by the way his strangely soft hazel eyes meet Jay’s steely blue glare. “Just count to a hundred and it’ll all be over.” he advised.
"You need me. Remember that." He was trying to remind Tom, that he was the only one who could open the safe of a bank, that he was planning to hit the next summer. None of the others had his black smith skills or intelligence.
“Bite that strap.” Love barked, not replying to Ryker’s assertion. Yes, he did need him… for bank safes and blacksmith duties, of course. Yep. That was why he needed him in the gang. Sure.
Tom approached the side of the pellet with the knife too gingerly, it just nicked the other man and he naturally recoiled in pain. “Sorry.” It wasn’t word that the ‘Notorious Highwayman Thomas Gage Love’ said that frequently, and it tasted strangely on his tongue.
He adjusted the position of the lamp on the floor beside them to get better light, pressed down on the area to achieve a tautness of the flesh around the wound, and this time dug in with a vengeance. He shut off his ears to Jay's noise and just stared at the pellet as he dug down and fished out the small but potentially deadly metal slug, which was bigger than it had looked on the surface. He felt like he was in a trance as he flipped it to the side, quickly reheated the knife and pressed it against the wound that he had, by necessity made bigger. It didn’t hiss like he expected it to.
He now found himself embarrassingly unemployed, lying across the half naked, recumbent Jay, holding him down against the agony of the impromptu operation, the pair of them panting like they had just run a mile and a half.
Love was just sad that he couldn’t just sit and enjoy the spectacle of the fight, Red and Curly’s attempts to tackle the Englishman were hilariously pathetic, and the limey was proving to be quite the rough and tumble man. It’s a pity that he hadn’t shown this much gumption when they were about their daily business of relieving decent society of their valuables.
But he was a busy man, he had things to do: get out of the stream, find his bullets, make sure they were dry, refill the five empty chambers in his gun, click it shut. He still had time to sit himself down on the ground and witness the lithe Jay deposit the rotund Curly into a bush, which was about the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
The battling Briton didn’t look too amused though.
"Stop fighting for him. This is between me and Tom....let him fight his own fights!" He tried to make them understand.”
“Fighting?!” Tom shook his head in mock amazement at the term “That was fighting? Why, I took it fer a circus act, the way you were tossing those boys around. Pretty nice performance, too, Ringling Brothers and Barnum ‘n’ Bailey are sure gonna be fighting over you fellers.” He laughed as he raised the Tranter at Jay and pulled back the cocking trigger.
“Now will you please, kindly put up your hands, Mr Ryker?”
"I'm not gettin' my boots wet for ya!" He shouted. "You either sit in there and freeze or face me like a man out here." To the two behind him, who he didn't even look at, he said. "Put that gun away."
Tom Love bent forward and rested his hands on his knees for a second and then straightened up laughing gently to himself.
“They won’t put their guns away, English.” He shook his head, the feller just didn’t get it. “You said it yourself, I’m a disgrace as a leader. I’M A DISGRACE!” he shouted, spreading his arms wide to the heavens, his shout echoing in the trees.
“But I’m a leader.”
He started to trudge toward the bank.
"Red's a better shot; Curly's got the ... the gravitas. I'm just a clerk in a dry goods store who had to leave Boston because he strangled some low down filthy whore who tried to put her dirty, diseased hands on him. Boy, did I just say that out loud? Well, anyways. I'm almost as bad a shot as you, English. Not much account on a horse, run like a jackrabbit when the shooting starts; oh, I'm ... I'm just full o' holes."
He was almost there.
"But, still and all, when I took to this game I discovered one strange and immutable fact... I am a leader."
He snapped out a command. “Red, cover him; Curly, tie him up for now.” He started to scrabble up onto dry land gingerly touching his nose to see if it was still bleeding. “Just about broke my God damned nose!” he muttered as he grabbed for a tree branch that wilted down to the water’s edge.
“’Face me like a man’! idiot’s been reading too many dime novels.”
Sagas of the WIld West is a roleplaying game set in a fictionalized version of the town of Kalispell in Montana territory. Our stories begin in 1875 and are set against the backdrop of actual historical events.Sagas was inspired by the classic television and movie westerns. Our focus is on writing, storytelling and character development.
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