Merciful Vices

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Chapter 7

Heather,

It might be strange for me to continue to talk to this dead memory, the worst kind of witchcraft is necromancy, but letting it go seems stranger still.

Yours,

Charlotte

*******************************************

The desert heat was almost a reprise from the all-encompassing swamp. Almost. They’d made camp to rest only once. Everyone was ill-tempered and tired.

Charlotte wiped the sweat from her brow, “Tara. We’re making excellent time, let’s take a break. There’s a small town just west of here. I know I could use a drink. So could the horses.”

Tara turned, her blue shirt stained with sweat, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” With a click Julian changed direction, the others turned to follow excitedly.

The desert town was not much to behold, but they had a saloon. The group hitched they’re horses and took up just about the whole bar. The barkeep eyed the women’s clothes and guns with distaste and turned to Rex.

“Uh. Whiskey’s all around please.” Rex muttered.

“What? My money ain’t as good as these gentlemen’s?” Charlotte hissed.

Tara put a hand on Charlotte’s shoulder and she bit her tongue, “I’m tired too Char.”

The four of them sat quietly enjoying their drinks and the break from the searing sun.

“What is it we’re picking up?” Rex asked.

“Guns.”

“Why all this for them? Why not just have them shipped to New Orleans?”

Tara smiled at him, “These guns are for select eyes only. So just consider yourself lucky.”

Warren reached out to still Rex when he looked like he might push the topic.

“Quiet ones are always the smart ones.” Tara winked at Warren.

“Warren and I will go check on the horses. Make sure they’re drinking.” Rex huffed and Warren followed him out the saloon door.

Tara turned to Charlotte, “Are you okay?”

“Are you okay?” Charlotte countered.

Tara sighed, “Don’t care for the desert. Don’t care for the heat in general, if I’m being honest, but at least there’s rain and greenery in the swamp.

“I like the desert,” Charlotte mused into her whiskey, “Life is so different out here. It’s like it’s own little unique world.”

Tara ordered another round and they cheered to their differing opinions.

“We should get moving, we’re only about two hours out now.”

“Ah. Do we have to?” Tara whined, a glimpse of the girl Charlotte knew before this trip.

“Unfortunately. Come on.” Charlotte held out her hand.

The men had fed and brushed the horses, they looked rejuvenated. Ready to push on.

As the border came into view Tara stopped everyone, “Charlotte, Warren you two head up to that ridge over there. Keep your scopes on us, see anything suspect you take them out.”

“Is splitting up a good idea?” Charlotte asked wearily.

“If there is any trouble then I want the element of surprise. I don’t want them to know how many of us there are.”

Charlotte nodded and turned to Warren, “Let’s go then.”

He followed her up onto the ridge. They tethered their horses just out of sight and lay prone, rifles in hand.

Warren gave a long sharp whistle when he saw the wagon appearing over the horizon and Tara nodded in Charlotte’s scope.

Shire’s pulled the wagon. They looked uncomfortable and out of place amongst the cacti. Charlotte’s mind drifted, only for a second, to Heather’s shire and then to Heather herself.

Three men jumped from the wagon as it pulled up to Tara. While she stood unarmed, as a gesture of goodwill, Rex had his finger on the trigger of his double-barrel.

Charlotte’s finger sat tight on the trigger too, her scope hovering over one of the men’s heads. Warren was quiet, likely focused on the same thing.

The group talked amicably for a while. A note exchanged hands, some sort of proof of payment. Tara moved to the side of the wagon and lifted the tattered cloth, after a few moments she nodded to Rex. He hopped onto the wagon and pulled her up.

The other men unhitched their horses that had been trailing the wagon and went on their way.

Charlotte realized she’d been holding her breath. She released a sharp exhale. She stood and dusted herself off before offering Warren a hand up. He still looked uneasy.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Just glad that it went smoothly.

Charlotte nodded and started to the horses.

“Charlotte! Wait.” Warren called suddenly. She turned back and inclined her head for him to speak.

“Rex. He-” Warren stalled.

“What?”

“He wants us to rob ya’ll. Take the guns.”

Charlotte’s vision narrows, “He what?”

“I know crossing the Cabarros is a huge mistake, more than that, I know crossing you will be our last. Miss Locke.”

Charlotte grabbed the big man’s shirt and put her knife to his gut.

“Please. Wait.” He squirmed, “I’m sure you have your reasons for this new identity. I used to follow your story in the papers. I’m not going to tell a soul. I don’t want to get on you or the Italians’ bad side. Rex is an idiot and I’m not dying because of it.

Charlotte took a steadying breath, she rolled her head on her shoulders trying to dispel her anger.

“Fine. Let’s go.”

Warren trotted after her like a kicked dog. They rode down to the others. Tara was chatting with Rex.

Charlotte cocked her cattleman as she walked up to them.

“Rex.” Was all she said before she blew his brains over the back of the wagon.

Tara clapped her hand to her mouth before cursing in Italian.

“Warren, here, filled me in that Rex intended to Rob us. He’d have died doing that too, so I figured I’d save everyone the trouble.”

Tara looked from Charlotte to Warren and he nodded.

“Well that’s certainly taken care of then, isn’t it.” She wiped a drop of blood from her boot. “Warren my father will reward your loyalty. Handsomely I’m sure. Hitch the horses to the back and let’s go home.

If Charlotte’s rash actions had shocked Tara she didn’t let it show. She joked with both Charlotte and Warren as they drove into the night. In truth, she’d meant to threaten him, not kill him, but playing nice had apparently been wearing thin. She pulled the trigger without even realizing.

The ride back home was long. The horses needed regular breaks from the heat and the heavy wagon meant sticking strictly to well-worked roads.

When city lights finally came into view several days later the three of them were quite worse for wear. Charlotte longed desperately for a bath. She’d swim in the river with the alligators if she had to.

“Tara. Love, we’re home.” She stirred Tara who’d fallen asleep in the back of the wagon.

“Oh, thank God. My back is killing me.”

Warren pulled the wagon onto the Cabarro estate. Mr. Cabarro must have been waiting because his men were outside almost straight away to unload the wagon.

“Bellissima!”

“Daddy!” Tara jumped down and hugged him.

He offered Charlotte a hand down and to her surprise hugged her as well.

“Did everything go okay?” He asked as he noticed Rex’s absence.

“Yes. Thanks to Charlotte and Warren.” Tara smiled up at him.

Her father didn’t ask about Rex. Instead, he handed Warren both his own and Rex’s cut of the promised payment, “Come to me if you find yourself in need of work again, Kid.”

Warren nodded and packed up his bag. Charlotte doubted, very much, that he’d be back.

“I have to take a bath.” Tara sighed.

“That you do. You both do.” Mr. Cabarro laughed and wrinkled his nose. “I’ll have two tubs made up.” He headed back inside yelling at maids in Italian.

“Tara.” Charlotte began.

“Go get some rest. Take the weekend too. It’s been a long few days.” Tara kissed her cheek and trotted after her father.

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