Talbot Timmons climbed aboard the westbound train thirty minutes before it pulled out of the station at Santa Fe. He smiled, puffed with pride at his life’s recent twists. Not only was he warden of Yuma Territorial Prison, but after the War of Northern Aggression, he’d managed to revive and ride point on the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, the mightiest group of die-hard Confederates the world had yet seen. And soon, he thought, soon I will be a governor, then a senator, then—and why the hell not?— President of the United States.

And then, by God, we’ll see who dares to stop the Brotherhood from rising to its rightful place. A quick thought twitched his smile. It was true his powerful covert group had foundered in recent months, but Timmons was dedicated to reviving its waning cause. “The South,” he whispered, “shall rise again, reborn from the ashes!”

He chuckled at the promise of the phrase as he stowed his leather suitcase of clothing and toiletries on the top luggage shelf at the end of the car. He didn’t buy into the Confederate cause like the other members of the Brotherhood did, never really had, if he were honest with himself. He did believe wholeheartedly in attaining ever-greater positions of power over others. And with that, he knew that his personal fortune would continue to amass, as it had steadily since long before the war.

The Brotherhood of the Phoenix was little more than a convenience, a way to exploit the Rebel-fevered minds of wealthy southern men, so Timmons stroked their feathers and endured their foolish rants, even when they let him down. I should be knotted in anger, he thought. After all, he’d been let down right here in Santa Fe by one of the junior members, one Colonel Turlington the Second, sloppy, bloated offspring of the original Colonel Turlington.

Rufus Turlington the younger had been entrusted with overseeing the Brotherhood’s big fundraising opportunity in town, the poker tournament, the Tournament of Kings. Yet instead of seizing the opportunity to impress the senior members of the Brotherhood, the oaf had embezzled the group’s invested funds.

He had been caught in the act, given a second chance, then limped through the event, only to botch what was to have been the crowning moment of the Brotherhood’s rebirth: the public lynching of President U.S. Grant, flanked by two former slaves. The spectacle was supposed to have shown the world that the Confederacy was far from dead and buried. Indeed, it was to have been the Brotherhood’s finest hour. Then that foul Rafe Barr and his chums burst in on the situation like the yipping, yapping pack of curs they are. He’d heard they were calling themselves The Outfit, or some such silliness. More like outlaws . . .

Timmons sighed, shaking his head at the memory of the squandered opportunity. And yet, he wasn’t angry. He was grinning like a circus clown, couldn’t help it as his gaze drifted down once more toward his boots, to the bulging carpetbag groaning with cash.

Its dead weight pressed with reassurance against his leg. Its contents had been stuffed tight, testing the seams and toggle buttons atop. Timmons snugged the bag on the floor between his boots. Reborn from the ashes, he thought of the Brotherhood once more with a wry grin, but only for as long as I need it to be.

He sat down, one hand still gripping the satchel’s long loop handles, and lifted off his bowler. He fanned himself briefly before resting the hat on his right knee. Through the window, the depot looked small and tired in the sun. Passengers walked toward the ticket office; others eyed the train as if deciding on a purchase.

Timmons tensed as he felt someone sit down in the seat facing his. He did not turn from the window, but sighed. The little zing of happiness he’d felt moments before withered. “I daresay,” he said. “There are plenty of other seats available. No need to crowd each other now, is there?” He turned, a tight smile pasted on his face. It slid away as soon as he saw who’d joined him.

“Turk Mincher,” said Talbot Timmons in a low voice. “What in the hell do you want?” Sudden worry shined in the warden’s eyes. “You aren’t taking the train west, are you?”

The man said nothing.

Timmons looked back out the window, his cheek muscles bunching. “As I recall, we are done with each other. You were paid in full for . . .” he looked around in case anyone else happened to be about. “For your efforts,” he said in a lowered voice.

The man who’d joined him was clad in the only clothes the warden had ever seen the killer-for-hire wear—spotless black on black, but with a blood red shirt that appeared to be silk seeming to glow on the swarthy killer’s torso. Mincher rolled a matchstick back and forth between his lips. “Now, now, Warden Timmons. You ought to know that once I become acquainted with a man I sort of see him as a friend, not someone I can leave hanging, so to speak.”

The reference to the botched lynchings was not lost on Timmons. He regarded the man a long moment. “What is it you want, Mincher?”

“Want?” The man in black laid a hand across his chest, eyebrows rising in shock. “Whatever makes you think I want something, Warden?”

“Because your kind always wants something.”

Mincher leaned back, arms stretched along the back of the seat. “Now is that any way to talk to your old friend Turk?”

“We are not friends, Mincher. Never have been, never will.” He regarded the man a moment longer, his hand tightening on the satchel’s handles.

Mincher’s eyes flicked downward once toward the bag, then back to Timmons’s face. Neither man spoke. Finally, the warden’s face softened.

“You’ve thought of something. I knew it, you can’t live without ol’ Turk.”

“That is an exaggeration. But, yes, something did occur to me. It seems you are intent on playing the part of a sniffing coyote, so I’ll give you something to sniff into.”

“Favors I don’t need, Warden. If I hire on to do a thing for a man, it has to be worth my time.”

“Oh, it’ll be worth your time.” The warden plopped his hat back on his head and leaned against the window, one hand still holding the satchel handles. “You recall a certain daughter of a certain governor?”

“Hmm,” Mincher drummed a finger on his square chin, at the spot where the two long pink scars that ran along his jawbone nearly met. “You mean the one who was held prisoner in Deadwood by that foul creature, Al Swearengen? The spoiled little girl you should have sent me to retrieve in the first place? The one you instead sent Rafe Barr to rescue some time ago? The same Rafe Barr who was locked up for life in your prison for murdering his wife and son? The girl he did rescue and then failed to turn over to you? Is that the one?”

The warden sighed. “What happened was regrettable. But, fortunately for you, I find I have a renewed interest in her procurement.”

“How fortuitous for the both of us—how’s that for a three-dollar word? Why, imagine if I hadn’t wandered into your train car.”

The warden leaned forward, doing his best to look steadily into Mincher’s cold, snake eyes without glancing away. He worked to keep his voice steady. “Don’t toy with me, Turk. I don’t like you, you don’t like me. But we each have something the other man wants.”

“I have skills you need, that is true. But you, Warden Talbot Timmons, don’t have a thing I need.”

“I beg to differ, Mincher. You see, I happen to know you are a bloodthirsty bastard and what’s more, you don’t much like it when an opportunity is snatched from you, something you feel you deserved. Am I correct?”

For the first time in their unpleasant conversation, Turk Mincher’s carefree smile slipped into a grim slit. His dark eyes settled on the warden. “It’ll cost you, Timmons.” He stretched a leg out into the aisle. “But then again, I don’t reckon money is much of a concern to you now, is it?”

“What do you mean by that, Mincher?”

The man in black smiled once more, then jerked his chin toward the bulging carpetbag between Timmons’s feet, its handles gripped tighter in his hand.

“A little birdy told me someone who looks an awful lot like you was seen scooping up, shall we call them, neglected piles of cash following that poker tournament that turned into a holy mess right here in Santa Fe. I hear tell the bag this mystery man used looks a whole lot like that one yonder, at your feet.”

His voice rose as he spoke until it felt to Timmons as if Mincher was shouting for the entire town to hear. “Keep your voice down, for God’s sake, man!”

“What’s the matter, Warden? You afraid somebody’s going to figure out that the entire kitty, even the cash in the hotel safe, somehow made its way into your satchel?”

Timmons gazed through narrowed eyes out the window. A scrim of dark cloud in the distance streaked the sky. It could mean a storm was coming, but that was a rare event in these parts. More likely it was an illusion, heat rising off the dry earth. “You appear to be particularly well informed.”

“Then you don’t deny it.”

“Why should I, Mincher? If you think I’m going to be bullied and pushed around by someone like you, then . . .” he shrugged. “Perhaps you are correct. To a point.” Timmons made a show of sliding a cigar from his inner coat pocket. He did not offer one to Mincher. Timmons sniffed it, clipped the end, and lit it. He enjoyed the first pull, then expelled the smoke in a blue-gray cloud.

“Is this little pantomime of yours supposed to leave me weak in the knees and scare me off, Warden? Strikes me people will soon learn a whole lot about the protector and upholder of the law who, in their midst, stooped to such foul levels as thievery and deceit.”

The warden smiled. “Yes, you think you know all about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix. You think you know how I came to be carrying a satchel stuffed with what you perceive to be cash money. Ill-gotten, if I am to believe your probing ways. But make no mistake, Mr. Mincher. You cross me in future dealings and I will see to it that you are not killed, that would be far too simple. No, I will see to it that you are . . . hmm . . . What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to a man of your reputation, your skills?” The warden smiled and puffed his cigar.

“You are not capable of that, Timmons.”

“Watch me. In fact, I have a particular cell at Yuma Territorial Prison for a man of your estimable talents. Not surprisingly, it was last occupied—in a long-term stay, I assure you—by none other than the man who bested you in obtaining this job. Yes, I refer to Mr. Rafe Barr. So, in a way, you’ll be playing second fiddle to him for the rest of your days.” He puffed the cigar, pluming smoke at the wooden ribs of the ceiling.

Passengers began clumping up the steps and entering the long car. “Oh, don’t fix me with that sneer, Turk. It will all work out, I assure you.”

“Tell me what you know of the girl’s whereabouts.” Mincher’s scowl was a dark thing, replacing the usual smiling sneer on his face.

Timmons drew on the cigar, held the smoke, then pushed it out. “If I knew that, why on earth would I hire you, Turk?”

Mincher rose, the scowl still in place. “It will cost you, Timmons.” He nodded at the bag at the warden’s feet. “In fact, I expect it will cost much of that haul. Elsewise . . . well, you know.”

As he left the car, Turk Mincher touched the brim of his black, flat-crown hat, and once more there was that confident smile.

Warden Talbot Timmons fancied he saw something else there, too. Something he’d not seen on the killer-for-hire’s face before. Perhaps it was uncertainty. Or fear.


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