Tyler’s landing of the Dormouse was much more smoothly handled than his most recent exercise in crisis management. His brother made a half hearted comment about how he should do that more often, but the flatness of this tone said more about their feelings for the situation than the levity did. Tyler’s hands ran across the console, shutting the Dormouse down for what they both hoped would be a quick nap.
Durden’s jaw set as dust rose up between them and town. “Here’s the welcoming party.”
Outside the windshield they watched several men trot up on horseback. It wasn’t the dusty riders one would have expected on a ball like Regina. They weren’t quite swells, but they were swell enough. Certainly a fair amount of coin had been put behind them. The crisp hats. The long black coats. Of course it was the fact that each of them was well armed that caught their eye.
Tyler stood and adjusted the low-slung holster, loosening the revolver. “This day just keeps getting better and better.”
He punched the door controls, raising the tiny hatch and extending the short ramp that settled to the ground with a little puff of dust. A noonday sun rolled up the metal gangplank over the nondescript steel box that sat secured against the wall. Tyler stepped down the ramp, his thumbs hooked into his gun belt.
His brother followed suit, that brown coat tucked back behind the pair of peacemakers that hung down from his hips. His hands perched on his hips above the loosed strap draped across the back of the pistols. It was subtle enough for anybody to take note that if talking enough they’d be happy to raise more than their voices.
The Kokezaru’s stood in Alice’s shadow, always the smart play. The sun behind her had their guests squinting down from their mounts While Ty and Dru could see them plain as day. That’s how it was with the Brothers. They didn’t discuss these things. They never needed to. Just as they didn’t need to say that Tyler would take the 3 on Durden’s side, and Durden would take the 3 on Tyler’s. That’s just how it was.
“Quite the welcome wagon we have here,” Dru said, that smile making its appearance. He nodded to the man ahead of him whose hand twitched at the long Remmington pump. “I feel so…”
“Yeah,” nodded Dru.
“You’re late.” The man in the center leaned forward on his black horse. A thumb lifted the dark brim of his hat as his head tilted forward adjusting to the movement of the shade.
“You must be Kat.”
“Funny thing that…” The browncoat chuckled. “Getting hired for a job, you expect it to be the job you’re hired for, right? So my brother and I board this ship and what do we find?”
Dru nodded again. “A whole mess of em. Armed to the teeth,” his eyes passed deliberately over the six men, “Not unlike you lot, actually. There was gunfire. I was nearly shot. I don’t know about you, but I’m not so much a fan of being shot. Prolly why all your guns make me a might bit twitchy.”
The man on the black horse groaned. “Do you have the cargo?”
“I’m not finished.” Durden’s voice turned flat, his smile fading in an instant. “I was shot at. I had Alliance all over my ship. Damn near tore her to pieces. Damn near left a new crater on this dustball.” Reaching behind his back he revealed a folder which he tossed into the dirt between the parties, pictures and papers spilled out. “All on what your intel said was a simple snatch and grab. And if your friend over there puts his hand one inch closer to that rifle he’s gonna have a new hole to breath with.”
Tyler looked at the man and winked.
Kat turned and after a small nod, the man retreated. “Okay…” Judging by the narrowed eyes, Kat wasn’t pleased with where he this was going. “What do you want?”
“We want to get paid for the job we did.”
“And what would it say about me if I wasn’t to apply some appropriate penalty for timeliness… or the lack of?”
“Well, it might just say that you’re a reasonable fellow what understands that sometimes things go a little awry,” Tyler flashed a toothy smile. “Of course, if you see fit not to pay us our wage, well, then it would almost certainly say that you’re not a very trustworthy sort of fellow that tends to send folk into overly risky jobs as would cause a fellow the inconvenience of being arrested-”
“Or shot. And then it might be a little tough finding crews that’ll take on your jobs, no matter what you offer them.”
Frohman’s jaw tightened. So did the grip on his reins. He was quiet for a moment as he clearly weighed the options in his head. He looked past the men to the Dormouse then across his line of men. When he shook his head the brothers knew things had turned in their favor. It was a bittersweet feeling. After all, that’s usually when things went south fastest.
“Alright,” Kat said, finally breaking the silence. “What’s your fair offer”
Durden didn’t miss a beat. “Four times your advertised price.”
“Four!” The mounted man choked. “You must be… Four?? I said fair, Kokezaru…”
“Purpleblellies. Shot at. Crater. Don’t make me go back through the whole list, Kat.” Dru chuckled. “I may find myself adding to it.”
Lines creased in the man’s face. “Two.”
Tyler made a snorting sound as if the man must have been joking. His brother countered, “Three and a half.”
“Two and a half.”
“Well,” Dru smiled, “sounds to me like the fair price is three…”
Kat Frohman made his reluctance more than apparent. It was in his sneer, in the way he tossed the leather straps back across his horse. He grunted, looking to his left and jerking his head to the brothers. The man beside him reached into his saddle bag and withdrew a bag. Then another. Four bags in total. The man held them up two in each hand, and Kat turned back. “My box?”
The brothers shared a look. Then a nod. The two men strode up the gangplank back into the belly of the Dormouse. There the box sat, just as it had in the hold. Strapped down. Waiting. They spoke in hushed tones that didn’t go past them.
Tyler nodded. “Worth it?”
“Lot of coin…” There was a short turn of the eyes out the door where Frohman sat on his horse.
“Likely for a reason.” He drummed his thumb on his gun belt. “Not likely a good one.”
This time Durden nodded. He knew his brother didn’t mean a sound reason. “Do we have a choice?”
Jackson felt a slight buzz in his ear and turned away from the negotiations, “What’s up?”
“Checking in,” Dru’s voice crackled to life, “with you to make sure everything’s shiny.”
Jackson frowned, “I wouldn’t say shiny. Mason’s doin’ the best he can, but we’re prolly gonna be in for about ten and a half.”
Jackson herd a low whistle on the other end, “That’s awful steep.”
“Mason talked him down from twenty five.” Jackson smiled.
“Good, that would have almost been our entire cháo jīdàn. When do you think you’ll need payment?”
“Hopefully soon,” he shot his eyes back to Mason and Sellick still going over the details, “I think were gonna be another hour here, wanna send the dormouse down to help us with the parts?”
“Soon as we’re done here we’re there.”
“Right,” Jackson nodded even though Dru couldn’t see him. The comm went silent and Jackson returned to Mason’s side.
“It looks like we about have the particulars solid,” Mason clapped Jackson on the back and gave him a smile, “Sellick’s gonna start getting the parts pulled, when the boys getting her for pick up, and were home free.”
“You ain’t been on this boat long have ya,” Jackson laughed, “home free ain’t exactly our style.”
“Can’t be that ba…” Mason’s sentence was interrupted by the sound of gunfire.
“Sellick get your old, scrawny ass out her now!” A set of gunmen flanked the main one, each holding a rifle.
“See what’d I tell you, nothing is ever home free,” Jackson smiled.