Thomas sat at the table with his head in his hands, years of hard work and dedication hung in the balance.
He was still the highest-grossing salesperson in the organization, his stature legendary after 35 years of service.
They called him Easter Sunday because no one could resurrect a lost deal like he could, bringing opportunity back from the dead as if it were Jesus on the third day.
Sure, he’d been handsomely compensated for his efforts, but he’d made more money for this Corporation than anyone could count; single-handedly lifting it from its Mom and Pop beginnings to a giant of the industry.
Defunct of any reason the Director of Human Resources stared at him with shame and disgust, they no longer saw him as a giant but an out-of-touch dinosaur.
He tried to explain that it was a simple misunderstanding, the word gay had once meant happy, but it was too late, the damage was done; guilty in the court of public opinion he watched as his life swirled about the room before being flushed down the elevator and out the back door – left holding nothing but a single box of his belonging.
Mary Two Rivers stood quietly in the place along the edge of the reservation she’d come to so often, the band Chief agreeing to one last visit even as the heavy machinery roared around her.
The pain had not softened in the years since her Emily, the dark-haired girl with a spirit set alight by a spark from the Creator’s fire, had been taken.
The worn and weathered doll she’d been gifted by the widow from the secondhand shop in town, herself long since dead, marked the last known location of the girl who’d vanished some 21 years earlier.
In a few short hours, the landmarks that provided Mary with the last links to her baby’s existence would be erased in the name of progress; another girl added to the list of the forgotten.
There is an epidemic across North America that has seen tens of thousands of Aboriginal women and girls murdered or go missing. In Canada that number is about 1200 since 1980 however it is believed to be much higher as many cases are never reported or reported incorrectly. Information on Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls can be found at MMIWG.
Inez always came to mind in the aftermath of one of his excursions. What would she say, he thought.
Across town, his former lover walked along the trail from town. She sensed its presence, a shiver running up her spine. The treetops rustled and swayed overhead as if something was tracking her, waiting for an opening to swoop down. She hurried her step…
16-2. Revenge: The Captive Soul (Revealed)
Breathtaking, like the air had been removed. She gasped as it settled behind her.
16-3. Revenge: The Captive Soul (Understanding)
Inez awoke in her bedroom. She could feel Charles’ fingerprint on the woman sitting beside her.
“I didn’t know!” She blurted out in fear.
“Perhaps, but you sensed the potential that lay within, even showed great enterprise in controlling it for a while” Lilith’s eyes darted to the beast. “I mean no harm but you have something I need.” She said as the beast set the box down next to Inez.
16-4. Revenge: The Captive Soul (Secret)
Inez didn’t know the ring’s secret but she could see the beast, clad in its coat of mail, flinch as she reached for it.
“Yes,” said Lilith, “but it’s more, I need you to help stop him.”
Content Warning: Contains graphic sexual violence. Reader discretion is advised.
15. Revenge: The Morning After
It was only 10:00am, but it felt like midnight. With self-loathing, he replayed every detail. Paralyzed yet conscious as each button released between his fingers, her body twitching as his hand pursed her thigh. Charlie had grown accustomed to the spasms, a side effect of the sedative.
He recalled the first time it happened. Startled, he instinctually pounced, wrapping his hands around the woman’s neck. Letting go after confirming she hadn’t woken and watching the bruises darken through the night. The next morning he could hear gravel in her voice as she fled.
Edelman lay on the beach basking in the glow of the midday sun. I watched the suntan oil sizzling on his skin as he explained that skin cancer was a fallacy spread by big pharma and the government. Although unclear on the motive he insisted it was connected to vitamin D production and much more sinister than profits and corporate greed.
The conversation slowly turned from conspiracy to a sales pitch. I’m not certain what he was trying to sell but he insisted that he took care of himself and explained that his vitamin D was silky smooth and creamy like milk.
“Would you like a…”
I was certain he was going to say ‘taste’ but just as the words should have been escaping his lips a couple of spry young punks kicked up sand into his face as they ran past. I wasn’t spared as the spray shot across my mid-rift and into my bikini. As I moved I could feel the grit chaff against the tits.
Edelman was spitting sand (and venom) as he jumped up and took pursuit. He was a hulking man with muscles popping out everywhere and washboard abs that would make Dwayne Johnson swoon. What a marvellous specimen I thought as I stood up. I tugged at the bottom of my bikini top while bouncing up and down. Hundreds of lucky white granules fell to the ground as the related ruckus erupted just up the beach. Those poor lads weren’t going to know what had hit them.
I picked up my towel and headed in the other direction. Sure he may have been a smoke show but thank God I wouldn’t have to hear about vitamin D any longer.
“A disguise?” Paisley queried. “You planning another job? Not this train, I hope.”
“Relax, nothing worth taking on this one,” Cassidy said as he turned to his sidekick and gestured for them to leave.
The Sundance Kid stood up, “Come on Etta, let’s get a drink while the boss talks.”
Butch and Paisley watched as Longabaugh and Place passed a drunk entering from the next car. He stumbled down the aisle, a flask of whiskey in hand. As the man got closer Paisley recognized him. Arlo Arbuckle, an old magician who’d been on the circuit for years before Paisley had arrived in the new world. Rumour had it he was once a highly regarded wizard.
Arbuckle raised his flask when he recognized Paisley. Jamison nodded back.
“He with you?” Butch asked as he watched the man drop into a seat three rows away.
“Coincidence, just an old wizard I know. He’s more about the drink than magic these days.”
Butch turned back to Paisley, “You know, I’ve done some things but I’m not getting any younger. Harry and I are looking to head south, like South America south. maybe Argentina or somewhere no one will find us. Etta’s getting tired of the fugitive life and Harry promised to settle down, maybe do some ranching.”
“So why the disguise?”
“You know, Harry will be fine but out there but the Pinkerton Detective Agency won’t let me rest.”
“So you want a new identity? Leave Robert Parker behind in America?”
“Something like that but I need to be dead or they will keep hunting. Even now they are getting ready to meet us when we disembark in New York.”
“I’m sure I can conjure up something crude to get you through the crowd undetected. Once we are somewhere I can work we can do something a little more permanent. You’ll be a new man by the time you board passage to Buenos Aries.”
“No Jamison, I need something permanent. America needs to believe that Butch Cassidy of the notorious Wild Bunch is dead or in prison. I want my end posted on the front page of every ink-stained rag in the Union.
“What did you have in mind, Butch?”
“I want you to conjure up a perfect copy of me, identical in every way. The slightest irregularity will sow a seed of doubt. When I, well my doppelganger, gets off this train the Pinkertons need to believe it’s me and the minute that unsuspecting sod flinches… well you can figure the rest out for yourself.”
“You are asking me to sacrifice another passenger? I’ve done some messed up shit Butch but even if it were possible, which it is not, I’d be sentencing someone to death out on that platform.”
“…and I’d slip out the back a changed man, free, never to rob another train or take another life again.” He placed a satchel full of enough money to take me back to Europe, or across the world to Australia on the seat across from him. I’d be able to escape the restrictive laws America places on witches and warlocks. Go somewhere I could use all of my talents. I’d be free.
Emma surreptitiously melted into the streetscape, carefully concealing herself as she panned a male subject moving through the snow.
She’d been following him for days – the bank, post office, convenience store, his mother’s place – but he had revealed nothing remotely suspicious.
She trailed behind him as he beelined towards the corner restaurant, although she was beginning to concede that her client’s notions may have been painted with an ugly shade of green.
“What do we have here?” she muttered to herself as the shutter blinked open just long enough for the silver halide strip to register an imprint of his lips pressed against those of a woman he’d met out front and who was not Emma’s client.
The colours of fall blurred across the cabin window as the endless landscape streaked past. Jamison Paisley held a whiskey, poured neat of course, in his right hand. Sitting quietly in the last coach as it swayed gently from side to side, the tail of an iron dragon belching smoke and steam into an endless country sky. The rhythmic click of truck-on-rail soothing his frayed nerves as he drifted back and forth from consciousness to meditative trance.
Earlier in the day Paisley had received a telegram with instructions to catch the 9:47 am to New York. This was not a request, the ticket was waiting at the station. Paisley threw together an overnight bag and headed to Union Depot. Hard to believe Cleveland was once home to the largest railway station in the Union before Grand Central opened in New York.
Paisley was a tall man, six-one, six-six including top hat, with longish black hair and a well-manicured beard. He’d considered shaving it clean off; it seemed every run-of-the-mill magician was sporting one these days and if he was anything it wasn’t a conformist. Sure, he’d played the grandest of venues in his time, entertaining kings and queens, and dining with emperors and czars for almost nine centuries. An accomplished mage, he also plied his trade along the fringes, sometimes working with those skirting, or outright ignoring the law. He’d learned long ago that these types were not a patient lot.
Jamison noted the number “22” emblazoned on the coach’s exterior as he boarded. He perambulated the aisle and carefully examined each row before arriving at the last. Sitting in the aisle seat facing the front of the train was a deliberate choice, It gave him a full view of the cabin and anyone entering through the gangway door at the far end. A whoosh of cold air blew in from behind and a moment later a man in a long black coat and cowboy hat dropped into the rear-facing seat across the aisle.
“Robert Leroy Parker.” Paisley glanced at the antique pocket watch he’d received as a gift from King Leopold I, it read 13:00, matching exactly the telegram he’d received earlier. Well actually, 1:00pm but the telegraph utilized a 24-hour clock.
“Shhh, keep that under your hat, you and my Mama are the only ones who know who that is.”
“I see you are right on time, Butch.”
“You know, when you rob trains punctuality is important. I’m kind of a stickler for that sorta thing.”
“I guess so, what can….” Paisley stopped mid-sentence to watch a tall well groomed man with a cool drink of water on his arm make their way down the aisle and into the seat across from Cassidy.
“Jamison, you know Harry Longabaugh…” the Sundance Kid tipped his hat as Cassidy continued, “and this is his girl Etta.”
Paisley smiled, tipping his hat to the lady and then turning back to Butch, “What can I do for you Robert?”
Charlie slipped out before the fog lifted. In the past, he’d stay to provoke a reaction. Now, primarily for his own self-preservation, it was enough to watch from a distance. One last jolt of adrenaline before the hollow thrill of conquest was replaced by a saturnine lull.