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Mature Content: Yes, violence, language, probable killings of both humans and animals With: Clyde Baker, Wayne Baker, Baker gang, Brendan Connolly, José Reyes, Evergreen Ranch hands, Potentially Steelgrave Family themselves Location: Edge of the Evergreen Ranch When: Mid June, 1876 Time of Day: 11PM, the dead of night They were too close for a fire, and so the gang had huddled beneath blankets and pulled coats over themselves as the night's chill crept in. It was the middle of the damn summer, and this God-forsaken hellhole dropped to frigid temperatures as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon. "Freezing my damn balls off here, Clyde. When are we making a fuckin' move?" "Shut your mouth Greene, we go when I god damn say so." To make matters worse, they'd hired on extra hands for this job. Frank Greene, Jed Sampson, and Jimmy Finch had joined in the bolstering of their ranks, swelling their little posse to five members strong. For Clyde, that was just as bad as going without. Men you didn't know were as liable to shoot you in the back as to carry you through a burning building, and that was a chance he never liked to take. Unfortunately for him, Kalispell; this little shithole out in the ass-end of the world, was a long way from anywhere safe, and a longer way still from anywhere they would be able to fence cows or cattleflesh. Him and Wayne couldn't do it alone, despite how poorly these cowpokes rubbed him. Out in the distance, at the fence line, came the whinny of a horse as its rider brought it to bear, and the low grumbling of Cattle followed, protests at the movement in their ranks. Clyde grinned. The wait was over. "Alright Greene, we're going. Mount up boys, masks on and guns ready." There was a resounding chorus of 'alright' and 'bout' time' and 'let's do this' from the men, as they loaded their weapons and readied themselves for the raid to come. Clyde pushed himself to his feet and pulled the revolver from his holster, giving its cylinder a little spin in trepidation. His plan would work. It had to work. He moved to his gelding, a ratty thing he'd fleeced off a card shark in Wichita, and pulled that old red bandanna from it's saddlebag. It was comfortable around his throat in its familiarity. He must have worn it dozens of times in robberies just like this, and it had always seen him through. His. Plan. Would. Work. The outlaw planted a foot in his stirrup, and hoisted himself up onto the mount. The gelding snorted in discomfort, and took a few steps to the side to resettle himself against the weight. "You ready, Clyde?" asked Wayne to his right, already mounted, looking for all the world like a trickshooter with that Winchester nestled in the crook of his arm. "You know it, buddy. Just like old times." "Just like old times." ---- They moved in silence to the fence line, nothing in the still night air but the clopping of horseshoes and the faint baying of cattle. Cresting a rise, the five riders peered down at the ranch below, pens upon pens of cattle, and off in the distance sat the ranch house, dim lights showing through the windows. Clyde looked around for the pen he'd spotted earlier - a smaller one holding maybe twenty heads. He'd sat up the last few nights watching the routine of these hands at the fence line, and he knew there was a window of changeover, about fifteen minutes long; where that pen would be undisturbed by any guards. They would slip in, stampede the cows, corral them into the forest, round them up, and be gone before morning. Once they got out into open country, they'd never be caught. Wayne was too damn good at what he did. "Wayne, take Sampson and circle round the rear. On my whistle I want you to get the herd moving. I don't care how you do it, just fucken do it." "Yes boss." mumbled Wayne, beckoning for Jed to follow him. Their horses trotted off into the night, riders alert. "Finch, you're riding flank. Keep to the side, and when the cattle start running, you keep those stragglers from drifting too far, y'hear?" Finch nodded, and he too rode off into the night, the opposite direction to Wayne and Jed. "Alright, Greene, you're with me. Keep your head down, do what you're told and we'll come out of this rich." "Sure shit, Baker." grunted Frank, and with that, the gang fanned out into the night, completing a deadly envelopment of the small pen. Clyde kicked the gelding into motion, and they cantered down to the fence line. In front lay their fortune, behind lay hundreds of miles of unsettled territory. All they had to do was get it out of there. They stopped just shy of the fence, and Clyde pulled sharp left on the reins, scanning the border for a glint of metal that would indicate a gate. He found it right in the center, chained shut with nothing but a rusty old padlock. He swung his leg over his mount and dropped to the grassy ground, pulling the bandanna up to cover his nose and mouth as he did so. It was dark, and unlikely that anyone would recognize him if he was seen, but it always paid to err on the side of caution, especially on a job wrought with such chance. "Greene! Cutters!" he hissed, and his companion jogged over to him, a set of bolt cutters in hand. Clyde never liked to work with faulty equipment, and the cutters in question had been sharpened to a honed edge. All it took was one deft snip, and the padlocked chain fell to the dirt, useless. Clyde dropped the cutters, and Frank moved to the opposite side of the gate. Together, they pulled it open, creaking obnoxiously in the still night. From within the pen, the cattle began to move around, uncomfortable with this irregularity to their schedule. With their side of the job complete, Clyde tilted back his head and gave a single sharp whistle to their accomplices. ---- By now, Wayne and Jed had arrived at the rear of the pen, and their horses stood pawing the ground in anticipation. The animals could sense the anxiety in the air, and here and there came the mooing of nervous cattle. Wayne watched as those two dark figures moved across the fence line opposite them, darting from their horses to the fence. "Are we goin' or what?" Jed asked, nervousness in his voice. "Calm yer fucken' self. We go on my brother's signal." Wayne shot back. He'd learned some years ago that Clyde generally knew best, even on matters that seemed straightforward. Jed huffed, but said nothing. The moments ticked by, excruciatingly. Any second now, one of the Evergreen ranch hands might come up the rise and catch them in the act. Then there'd be bloodshed for damn sure, but until then they would wait. Finally, like a message of salvation from God himself, there was a sharp whistle from across the pen. "Alright, let's go." Wayne announced, as he pulled his own bandanna up to cover the bottom of his face. He kicked his horse into gear and they loudly galloped along the fence. The cattle began to stir, but made no movement, and so Wayne darted back for a second time, slapping the side of his saddle. "Come on cows, gee-up, cmon', go on, get going!" Jed joined in the theatrics, and the cattle begun to stomp their feet, but still they would not move. "Damn it Baker, we gotta get em' going!" "Don't you think I fucken' know that?" Wayne retorted. Damn it, Clyde would know what to do, but he couldn't circle around to ask, they were running out of time as it was. Beneath his mask, he chewed his lip, and finally after a moment's deliberation, he pulled the Winchester from it's scabbard on the side of his saddle. "Jaysus Baker, are you mad? You'll alert every damn hand on the ranch!" "We don't have much fucken' choice, do we? We're gonna get caught anyway if we sit here with our thumbs up our asses!" He worked the lever action, filling the chamber before he raised the rifle's barrel to the sky. He shut his eyes for a moment, and hoped that this was the right thing to do. ---- The gunshot echoed out, far across the valley. What followed were the thundering of hooves, belonging to both horses and cows. Men darted awake in their beds, riders turned their mounts to face the noise, and ranch hands stopped what they were doing to investigate. José slumped down into his bunk, exhausted after a long day on the range. His hands were blistered and sore from working the herds, and his back ached from hours in the saddle. It had been a month. A month of honest work, and it was honest work for sure. He was a changed man now, he had gotten out. How many outlaws could say that? He was just reaching down to unbuckle his gun belt when there came that noise that he could have recognized anywhere. A Winchester model 1866, fired off from one of the rearmost paddocks. The very paddock that he had just left, the very paddock that the night patrol would be heading up to... He took his hands off his gunbelt, and pushed himself back onto his feet. @Bailey@Flip