Annie rather hoped her husband didn’t simply burst in behind her – it would have spoiled her chance of getting answers without aggression. By her nature, the young Missus Devlin was neither an adventurous nor combative person, but she was fast realizing that if she was to have a husband for many years to come, it might be necessary for her to intervene in moments such as these. She couldn’t protect him on a battlefield, but as Emily had so recently demonstrated, bullets were no less deadly in the streets of a city.
Approaching the bar in the New World City saloon, Annie was distinctly aware of the eyes of the clientele locking onto her. For those who’d been in town a while, she was a relatively well-known figure – the wife of one of the storied Newfoundlanders. She was no celebrity, but even some of the hardest Britons in this establishment would know not to accost her.
Newcomers might not be so wise, but with Jimmy outside, she was willing to chance it.
Stopping at the bar, she spotted the three men – still wearing their guns, and speaking to the barman. Because of the noise level in the place, she couldn’t overhear what was being said, but it seemed they weren’t ordering drinks.
A stick up? Of the saloon?
Annie drifted around the bar, and as she got closer to the three Americans the big one nearest her glanced in her direction. He noticed her, looked away, and then looked back again, studying her face for a second before taking a step back and turning partway towards her.
“Can I help you, Miss?”
That question sent a surge of adrenaline into Annie’s veins; one of the outlaws was speaking to her, with no idea of who she was. The feeling was engaging – for a few seconds she began to realize why Emily was so eager to get into action all the time.
Then the two other men turned their eyes to her, as did the barman, and she started to feel less comfortable. But that was no matter: comfort wasn’t required.
“I was about to ask the same. You appear to be looking for someone.”
The big man looked back at his two comrades, then frowned, “Well thanks, but I ain’t here for that sort of fun time, and never pay neither.”
Annie was confused for a moment. Then she realized the implication of the big man’s words and her face flushed red, “I… how dare… but… wait a moment!”
“Did you just imply my bride is a prostitute?”
Of course Jimmy Devlin had come in behind his wife, and now any chance at a diplomatic solution seemed to go out the window. The saloon fell silent as the recognized figure of the Newfoundland Captain thundered forward, a sheepish Canadian Lieutenant and three Quebeckers behind him, staying nearer the door until they figured out whether there was soldiering to be done here, or whether this was just a bar fight in the making.
As Jimmy arrived beside his wife, a look of horror crossed the face of the big American, and he started to stammer, “I… didn’t mean… sorry…”
“Easy there,” the best-dressed of the three Americans proved himself the smoothest talker at that point, and as he turned and stepped between the big guy and Devlin, his shiny sixgun glimmered enough to grab the Newfoundlander’s attention.
Jimmy’s hand settled on his Webley holster, and he became conscious of the fact that he couldn’t draw his own sidearm nearly as quickly as an American gunman might.
“No need for a misunderstanding to turn ugly,” the smooth-talker continued, keeping his hand carefully away from his belt. “We’re just here looking for a… friend of ours. Have to settle some accounts with him.”
“Come a long way to settle accounts,” Jimmy’s words were cold.
“They’re big accounts,” the gunman said with a smile. “We don’t want trouble with the army, though. We like the army. A lot, if we’re honest.”
Devlin’s eyes narrowed, “Glad to hear it. Well maybe my men and I could help you find the man you’re looking for.”
The American’s eyes travelled from Jimmy to the men at the door and back, “Figure that depends on how you define ‘help’.”
Jimmy felt himself tensing up. His eyes moved from the American who’d been talking to the still-horrified big guy and then to the third man… an older, weathered-looking fellow who seemed as tough as the rest. The Newfoundlander felt outgunned. Four men with him… a Lieutenant he didn’t know and three Quebeckers who apparently couldn’t comprehend him.
And his wife.
“Well if we could get back to my original question, who exactly were you looking for?” Annie’s tone was cool but not hostile. She made sure to add a glare at the big fellow for effect, and he cringed slightly.
“His name is Smith,” the third man spoke for the first time. “Old friend of ours.”
“With an account to settle?” Devlin asked sharply.
The leading man shrugged slightly, and he nodded, “That’s true.”
Neither he nor Jimmy seemed to be enjoying the drama. The Captain paused for a moment, then glanced back at his wife. There was nothing he could do with her standing right in the line of fire, and without talking through the plan carefully with Peterson and the Voltigeurs. They weren’t his b’ys – he couldn’t count on them to know how to improvise with him.
“Alright then,” the Captain said unconvincingly as he began to back towards the door, carefully looping his arm around Annie’s as he went. “You fellows have a nice day.”
Annie looked across at him in surprise as they retreated, and exited the saloon. The Voltigeurs and Peterson followed, all a little confused, and as soon as they were out of sight around the side of the building, Jimmy Devlin drew his Webley.
Looking to his wife, he shook his head, “So when did you start being Lady Emily?”
She shrugged, “I thought I was being quite reasonable. Got them to say who they were after, at least.”
That was true, and Devlin let out a breath, “Fine.”
The soldiers he’d commandeered were all still looking at him for direction, so he turned to Peterson to translate… but then, of course, Smith rode up.
The drifter seemed to appear out of nowhere beside the saloon, and as Devlin hurried over to him he hitched his mare to the post outside the establishment.
“By God, Smith, there’s three Americans in there looking for you. I nearly had a punch up… was just figuring out how to get their guns with these fellows…” he waved back to his improvised posse, and the drifter looked from them to the Newfoundlander and back.
“Heard people were looking for me around here,” Smith said. “What did they look like?”
Devlin blinked, then opened his mouth, “Uh. Americans. One was bigger than the other two.”
Smith blinked at that, then charitably said: “Good to know.”
“We can go back in there with you… or we can wait for them to come out. Whatever you think is better,” Devlin went on quickly. He still didn’t like the odds, but then he spotted another familiar face on the street.
Bill Sesk was the Captain of the RNR’s ‘A’ Company, and was also an accomplished bar-brawler. He was heading up the street with at least a dozen b’ys… perfect.
“Peterson, you’re relieved,” Devlin said in a hurry, then called out to Sesk. “Bill, get over here, trouble in the saloon!”
If there was any hail that could make Captain Sesk appear like a shot on the spot, that was it. Smith was actually shocked at the speed the Newfoundlander managed, and the eagerness of the greeting, “Did you say trouble, Jimmy?”
Devlin began to nod, and then started to explain the situation, completely missing Smith’s move towards the saloon door.
The drifter listened to what voices he could hear inside the place, then stepped into the doorway and let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light. Sure enough, three men at the bar, all of whom spotted him.
“There he is, after all.”
The American nodded at that greeting and folded his arms.
“Smith!” Jimmy hurried up to join his friend – Sesk and his dozen men right behind in a cluster, Annie following as well.
“Reckoned I wouldn’t see you again,” Smith said easily.
“You sure as hell tried to get rid of us,” the well-dressed gunman agreed. “We’re still trying to spend all that money. Wanted to see if you needed some back.”
By now Devlin was preparing to start blasting – a shootout with gunmen in a saloon of New World City, not something he’d ever been eager for, but he’d do whatever was necessary to keep Smith alive.
Looking sideways at Devlin, Smith nodded towards the American, “These are friends of mine.”
Devlin’s eyes narrowed, “Right, friends.”
Smith stared at the young Newfoundlander for a minute, “Used to ride together. For years.”
“I see. Old riding buddies,” Devlin nodded.
He was still hearing what he wanted to hear – implications behind plain words that weren’t actually there – and as Smith realized that he decided he had to be more clear.
“They were with me when I was holed up in Ambitia. Sent them up here afterward to be safe from the troubles,” the drifter continued.
“Of course,” Devlin still wasn’t broken from his ‘gunfighter’ spell, so Annie did her part and stepped into the fray, touching him on the arm.
“He’s not speaking in code, Jimmy. They’re actually his friends and he’s happy to see them.”
Devlin paused, then looked at the drifter, whose expression of confusion was actually rather amusing. The Newfoundland Captain then looked back to the trio he’d been pursuing. The lead man in the black suit, with the red band around his black hat, smiled at him.
“I’m Cameron Kard,” he introduced himself, then touched the brim of his hat to Annie. “Ma’am.”
The third man, the oldest, stepped up front with a nod of his own, “I’m Vonn Shylock, and this big man with his foot in his mouth is my brother Bo. Forgive him, ma’am, he’s smooth as gravel when it comes to beautiful ladies.”
Annie nodded to Vonn Shylock with a cordial smile, and then the American looked to Smith, “Glad we found you.”
“Before someone mistook us for Murdos,” Kard added, with another nod to Devlin.
The Newfoundland Captain was still processing – not quite quickly enough to feel embarrassed yet, but he was working on it. Behind him, Bill Sesk and the b’ys were already turning away in disappointment – no bar brawl here, though it was interesting to see Smith’s friends.
“These are Newfoundlanders,” Smith said. “Best men I ever seen in a fight. My friends.”
That was high praise, and all three Americans realized it. Before either Vonn or Kard could speak to it, though, Bo hurried over to Annie, his face desperately red, “I’m so sorry, Miss! I mean, everythin’ up here is so nice and pretty and clean… figured that was just the way everythin’ was up here. I mean, everything everythin’. In a place like this saloon, even. So I… um. I um. I… um…”
Annie held up a hand and smiled genially at the big Shylock brother, “Just a misunderstanding, Mister Shylock, of course. And, given the mis-understanding, your answer does speak to the quality of your character.”
It was said very finely, because Annie Devlin was every bit the wife of a Captain – a real lady about town. Bo appreciated it.
“You’re a fine woman, Miss,” he said.
“Hey, husband standing right here,” Devlin found enough wits to interject, and Bo stepped back again as Vonn and Kard both grinned.
“Come Jimmy, let’s leave them to their reunion and we’ll meet them all again later,” Annie looped her arm around her husband’s and turned him away. “Good evening, gentlemen. Mister Smith. We’ll look forward to seeing you again.”
She bade farewell for both of them, and Jimmy shook his head as they departed, “I would have punched him out.”
Annie raised her eyebrow at that promise – Bo was nearly a foot taller than ‘C’ Company’s Captain – and Jimmy huffed a sigh.
“Well I would have punched him.”
As they stepped off, Smith and his friends watched them go, and then Kard adjusted his hat, “Thought we stumbled into trouble with that one. Seems young.”
The drifter answered honestly: “He’s wound up tight, like everyone here, knowing what the blues could really do.”
“They seem… funny. Good fighters, though?” Bo Shylock asked that question, and Smith looked back at Jimmy Devlin.
“Better than the best,” the American answered, and he knew his words to be the truth. He then continued to more pertinent matters: “Let’s get some grub.”