Remember how I told you I like to hide in plain sight? Well, I’m still here, hiding. From what exactly? I don’t know. Demons. Memories. Photographs of you. Our home. It’s all a lot of has-been and could’ve been now.
-Letters I’ll Never Send
Charlotte fanned herself with a ratty menu. The Southern heat was all-encompassing, it didn’t help that the saloon was packed. A ship had come in, full of what appeared to be uppity Europeans.
“Miss Locke?” A timid voice came from behind her.
“The one and only,” Charlotte replied without looking away from her drink.
“Oh, good. The last lady I asked was quite offended,” The woman gasped softly, “I mean, not that it’s offensive to be confused with you-”
“Well, that depends on who you ask, Sweetheart.” Charlotte spun around to face the woman and was shocked to find herself at eye level with her, even seated. Curiosity subdued, Charlotte’s tone flattened once more, “What can I do for you?”
“Well, there’s this gang been harassing my farm- I have money.”
Charlotte zoned out. It always came down to killing. People paid for the service so brazenly, why not just do it themselves.
The woman was still blathering on when Charlotte downed her whiskey. She handed the tiny woman a scrap of paper, “Since you know who I am, I assume you know my rates. Leave the money with my friend at this address. Your problem will be taken care of this week. If my money isn’t there by Sunday you will be taken care of.”
The woman nodded and left quietly. Charlotte nodded at the bartender and he poured her another drink. No disapproving looks in this bar, people came and went like the seasons. No one judged, because no one cared.
“You want to book a room, Miss Locke? The one you like is open.”
She considered her drink for a moment, “Uh, no. I’ll be heading out. Thank you.”
She gathered her satchel and headed out the door.
“She’s so very hurt, it breaks my heart.” A saloon girl whispered to the bartender.
“That she is, my dear, but it’s not our business.”
Charlotte’s cabin was dark on the horizon. It had been that way for weeks, but she hated it now as much as she did the first night. She hitched Kane to his post and brushed him down.
Inside she heated water for a cup of coffee. She pushed the whiskey to the back of the cupboard, only to pull it back out and add some to the coffee.
She’d been having a hard time laying off the stuff since, well, since Heather had left. She’d ultimately been the one to ruin their relationship but in truth, the seed of destruction had been planted weeks before her affair. Not that any of that mattered now.
When the sun rose over the swamps Charlotte had been up for hours, tracking the gang the lady had spoken of. They had numbers, but not much else. They were amateurs, it was painfully obvious. She’d ask the saloon owner if he knew any tough guys looking for quick cash and it’d be done in a day or two.
“Sure, I know a few kids, they need a distraction. Don’t get them killed though.” Lyle muttered, just a few hours later.
“Of course not. They will be fine. Send them over tomorrow evening.” She patted his shoulder in thanks, “Hey, is Sinead here?”
Lyle smiled, “Yes, she is. I’ll- Josie! Go find Sinead.” A saloon girl nodded and trotted up the stairs. “I’m so glad you want to see her. It’s been so long.”
Charlotte sighed, “It’s not a big deal, Lyle. I just need some company. We’ll take a room for tonight.”
Lyle nodded, sadly, and took the coins from her.
“Charlotte, I wasn’t expecting to see you- well at all.” Sinead appeared behind her.
“Hey Gorgeous, I hope you don’t have plans tonight.”
“I’m all yours, Char.”
“There sure are a lot of them, Miss Locke.” A burly street kid whispered. The sun was setting and they were huddled behind a fallen tree just outside of the gang’s camp.
“I said, call me Charlotte and yes, they are big. Dumb as rocks too. They have nothing on you and your boys. Don’t y’all kill anyone, unless you absolutely have to. Leave that to me.”
“Have you killed bad people before Missus?” A small boy chimed in next to her.
“I’ve killed people, yes. You’ll learn when you’re older, that good and bad aren’t real.”
It took Charlotte and the boys all of forty minutes to persuade the gang to move on. They watched their leader die at the edge of Charlotte’s machete. With him gone, they lost much of their bravado. They promised to leave town, not that they had much choice. Charlotte paid the boys and sent them on their way. It was time to go see Ben, to make sure she’d been paid.
“Charlotte! Sweetheart.” Ben embraced her heartily as she walked in the door.
“Uncle Ben, I’ve missed you. Sorry I haven’t been around. Things have been busy.”
“Oh, I know. You have quite a sum stored here.”
Charlotte unlocked the safe, there was quite a bit more than what the woman owed her.
“She left you a note too.” Ben dug in his desk and handed it to her.
I have no doubt you will get the job done. I appreciate your help so very much.
My farm will be able to double its profits thanks to you , so I added a little extra as a personal thank you.
Come see me for dinner some time,
Charlotte grinned at her boldness.
“Where do you find these women Char?” Ben laughed, as he poured them each a drink.
The two sat in companionable silence and drank. Until Ben awkwardly cleared his throat,
“Any word from Heather?”
Charlotte grimaced, the name cut through her like a rusty blade, “No, and there never will be. I’ve told you, that relationship is over.”
“I know Darling. It’s just, you two were perfect for one another. I don’t understand how it went so sour.”
“I slept with Sinead, she found out. We have been over this.”
“I know that, but I also know, you were mad for that woman. You wouldn’t have strayed if something hadn’t happened.”
Charlotte downed her drink and slammed the glass down, exasperated. Then something unexpected happened. The words began to tumble from her mouth and she couldn’t stop them. She hadn’t spoken about it all, and it felt like she could finally breathe.
“You remember when we went to save Leon, Jake’s friend, he was to be hung.”
Ben nodded but did not speak.
“It was supposed to be fairly straight forward. For us anyway. Heather and I would blow up the cargo train to distract the police from the hanging square. We had no part in the fight. Jake and his group would get Leon out of there.”
Ben refilled their glasses.
“Well, the fight back at the square got out of hand. There were still too many officers. We could hear the gunfire. Heather wouldn’t let it go. That sweet, deaf kid she liked, he needed Jake and the rest of them. We couldn’t let him down. So we raced across the rooftops back to the square.
They’d managed to get Leon out but Jake was cornered. We shot from the rooftops and he threw his last stick of dynamite into the crowd of officers, the damn thing didn’t blow, faulty fuse or something. Heather spotted it, you know that woman could shoot the head off of a pin. She fired and it blew what looked to be half the precinct up. Jake gave us a quick nod and he disappeared.”
Ben looked bewildered, “That’s all very exciting, my dear, but what has it to do with you stepping out on Heather?”
“Well. I didn’t know it then, but I should have. I watched her take that shot, there was a fire in her eyes that I hadn’t seen since we retired into our average lives.” Charlotte put air quotes around average and rolled her eyes, “It wasn’t average to me of course. We had all the money we could need. We had Seras and the horses.”
Ben smiled at that, he’d been very fond of Heather’s wolf Seras.
“But that fire in her eyes that day, it reminded me that, that was not the life Heather was accustomed to.”
Ben stroked her hand, “You were one of the most infamous women in the south, it is not the life you are accustomed to either. Doesn’t mean it’s not the life she wanted.”
“No, but after that day she proved my suspicions right. She started picking up jobs again. Each more dangerous than the last. She was so alive, Ben. I couldn’t understand how I didn’t notice how bored she had become with my idea of bliss.”
Charlotte wiped a tear away, “That’s when my own stupidity came into play. I was so lonely, even Seras joined her on most jobs. I spent night after night, drinking alone. I didn’t want to be back in this life, always looking over our shoulders for bad guys and police alike. That’s when I met Sinead. You met her, she’s gorgeous but more than that she’s smart and grounded. She has a kid. She has no want for an exciting life on the run. It took Heather no time to figure it out. She knows me so well.”
“She must have been furious. I’m surprised Sinead is alive.” Ben half-joked.
Charlotte laughed, “No, lucky for Sinead, she wasn’t. She was very, very sad. She knew, just as I had, that we were burning out, she trusted me nonetheless, even hoped I’d come around and join her. She left that night, with Seras. She took her Shire and left the Fox Trotter I had gotten her behind.”
Charlotte started laughing uncontrollably, “And then. After all of this. After losing the woman I loved most in the world. My idiot brother calls in an age-old favor, and here I am, Ben. Working again. Taking jobs and money and lives. The very thing I wouldn’t do for Heather.”
The hysterical laughter gave way to body wracking sobs.
Ben jumped to his feet and wrapped his niece in a bear hug. She sobbed into his shoulder for nearly an hour before she passed out from exhaustion. He carried her to his bed and tucked her in. He settled himself in a chair by the fire and sipped whiskey from the bottle. He dozed off wondering if bad luck in love was hereditary.