July Novella

This is Boneyard Dogs. It’s the late 1800s, at the height of the Bone Wars, and a young woman has left home to seek her fate under the Wyoming sky. In the old days, the waning time of the gods, as the supernatural vanished, there was nonetheless rumors- bones walking the night, the war turned hot. The frontier exists for a reason, to provide a place for those who cannot abide the law, but every frontier is closed sooner or later… Full novella is available here: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=5359808

Chapter 1: The Roadrunner Cannot Harm The Coyote

Anna awoke to the sound of something that wasn’t there. The train had been chugging along regularly as it carried her towards the future. She’d thought the pounding of the engine, the splitting shrieks of the whistle, would be maddening. That there was no way to get used to them, that she’d be awake the entire ride. It was amazing what you could get used to, though, and now their absence yawned open, a pit of silence that was deafening. Outside the sleeping cabin’s window, she could hear the soft chirp of crickets.

Something was clicking. Softly, like the taps of a telegraph operator. She leaned against the window, frowning out into the darkness. It was a new moon, and the only light cast was that of the train itself, illuminating the barren landscape. The near-desert of the far west Great Plains, right on the edge of the great Rockies, in the recent state of Wyoming. Big, wide, open country, interspersed with mountain ranges that you could lose a civilization in. She frowned out into the night. The massive mountains were visible in the distance, a subtle change in the darkness outside the pool of light cast by the train’s lamps.

She squinted. One of the mountains moved.

Anna’s reflexes were good. Life had sharpened them, often ruthlessly, and she was already in motion as the mountain lumbered into the light, so she didn’t get a good look at what it was, but from the screaming of the other passengers, and the sound of the railroad bulls’ guns going off to no apparent effect, she was fairly glad for that. She threw open the door, and saw the glass windows.

The railroad ran along the edge of a steep gully, here, a small and unimportant river visible some thirty or forty feet below. She hesitated, but only for a moment. She wrapped her fist in her sleeve, and struck the glass, shattering it. It fell sparkling into the night, and she followed it.

As she fell, there was a tormented scream that filled the air, long and ear-splitting. She told herself it was the train being torn by whatever had attacked it, until the sound of tearing steel joined the scream in an accompaniment that set her teeth on edge.

Anna hit the water, and sunk to the bottom, the water slapping at her hard. She’d taken a few long falls in her life, too, but most of them metaphorical, and it was more luck than skill or talent that kept her from snapping a leg on the surface tension. She kicked off the muddy bottom of the river, and rose gasping above the surface just in time to see the train tipping above her, skewing precipitously. She began furiously kicking, forgotten childhood days in the East River returning to her. She felt her fingers touch mud just as the train let out another tortured shriek in duet with whatever godawful thing was pushing it.

She pulled herself out of the river, seconds before the train hit. A massive rush of water threw her forward, knocking her for a loop, leaving her rolling onto her back. She pushed herself up and out of the mud, panting, and gasping, and began to laugh with the sheer befuddled amusement of someone who is alive, and did not think they would have to deal with that fact. She stared up at the edge of the cliff, and saw it there. The dragon’s bones. Massive, skeletal, terrifyingly fierce, horns crowning a grinning saurian death’s-head.

The train’s engine followed the rest of it down, tumbling through the air, its boiler still smoking and steaming. It struck the water, and the scream of the metal under impossible stress filled the air. The entire steel contraption fractured as the sudden cooling left it too brittle and weak to stay together. Its own immense internal pressures tore it apart, turning it into so much shrapnel.

The massive chunk of steel should have taken Anna’s head off. A breeze shifted it just enough that it merely clipped her, spinning her violently around. She fell forward, into the water, as the darkness closed over her.

Anna’s father had told her that a man- be they male or female- must stand their ground when they are challenged, if they truly wish to live. He was stabbed to death in a bar when she was six. This taught Anna an incredibly valuable lesson, which was that to survive, what one should do is run. Her mother took up one of the few professions an unconnected woman could use to feed her children, and from this, Anna learned another valuable lesson. Anna spent the first eighteen years of her life learning life lessons all over the damn place, in fact.

The day she turned 18, in 1892, several important things happened. A range war began in Johnson County, Wyoming, which called for hired guns. Her mother died. And Anna had a chance to kill the man who did it, and chickened out instead, and ran as fast as she could from the city of New York, where a few decades earlier, her ancestors had arrived fleeing an organized genocide by the British Government, which was euphemistically known as the Irish Potato Famine.

From these ancestors, she received her striking red hair, her brilliant green eyes, and enough freckles to make people question whether she was, in fact, Black Irish, because people will be assholes for any reason or indeed none at all. In perhaps another fifty years, her features would have meant she could have taken Maureen O’Hara’s place. As it was, they marked her as an outsider wherever she went. She hated them with the kind of fierceness that burned. Which was a damned shame, because they saved her life at least three times in 1892 alone.

She had travelled to Wyoming, a state that prided itself on being the first to grant the vote to women, in the hopes of finding something better there. There was no gold rush, no great fortunes to be made. Save one. The Great Dinosaur Rush.

Anna returned to consciousness, tasting something sweet on her lips. She licked them slowly, and there was a lingering warmth there. A heavy weight sat on her chest, and water drifted past her legs. She opened her eyes, and her head ached horrifically, the light too bright, too all-consuming, too savage. Her skull throbbed where the chunk of metal had come close to putting an end to all her troubles. She blinked once or twice, and finally, stubbornly, her vision focused.

On her chest sat a bird. It resembled a pigeon- the type of bird Anna was mostly familiar with- in the same way that, say, a greyhound resembles a mangy street-mutt. This was a bird visibly built for speed. A colorful dappled pattern of black and tan on its back gave way to a fluffy beige down on its belly. It stared at her with wide, black and gold eyes, tilting its head this way and that.

Then it leapt off of her, and with shocking speed, sprinted away. Anna leaned back and breathed out. After a few minutes, she decided it was best that she try to get herself back onto her feet. She pushed down, and nearly passed out from the pain that surged through her entire body. The world went dark for a second, and she screamed and moaned for a while. Eventually, feeling tired, she stopped. She tried again, and this time, managed to push herself to her feet.

The shattered remains of the train were visible perhaps half a mile up the river, silvery in the sun. Trunks and bodies floated down the water, catching on the water. Perhaps twenty feet away, another body- she shivered at that thought, how close she had been to being ‘another body’- was hung up on a bit of debris, its pockets being rifled by an Indian man dressed in deerhide leggings and very little else.

“Hey! You savage son of a bitch, get off of that corpse!” She said, surprised by her own fervence. She almost took a step forward, and then realized her precise situation. She was in the middle of nowhere, with a man who was- to her eye- a good seven or eight inches taller than her, and who was armed to the…

She realized, quite to her surprise, that the man had no weapons at all on him. Not even a knife was visible, and he had very few places to hide one. She, on the other hand, had her derringer. That gave her some confidence as she drew it. “I said-”

“Look, lady, don’t bust my balls,” he said, and Anna blinked at the rather urbane accent, which could’ve been at home coming out of any con artist she’d known back in the city. “This poor asshole’s dead. It won’t do them any good for their money to be lost.” He tugged out a moneyclip, and grinned. “Soggy money spends just as good.” Anna’s notice was drawn to the heavy leather boots slung over his shoulders, rusty red stains visible along them. “Careful about stepping on the prints.”

Anna blinked, and looked down. Surrounding her were dozens of X marks printed into the mud, surrounding where her body had lain in the mud. “What on earth…?”

“Roadrunners. There are people in this land who believe they’re a protector from evil, that they keep away monsters.” The man stood up, walking towards Anna. Despite his height, he hunched his shoulders and slumped down, barely reaching eye level with her as he approached. “You must be a very lucky young lady. Particularly lucky, considering they don’t usually come within three hundred miles of this region. ”

“I don’t think I am,” she said, carefully, eying the man. “You looking to rape me?”

“I’ve never raped someone yet, and I have no interest in starting,” he said. “Although if you were in a consenting mood, that white dress is looking impressively clingy, what with all of that water.”

She looked down, and looked back up, deciding to focus on the moral outrage at hand. “You shouldn’t steal from the dead.”

“Big talk for the woman walking around on stolen land,” said the man, grinning as he returned to the body. “Look, you want to pretend that you’re not living in a country that your people butchered mine for, or do you want to get some clothes that you can run thirty miles in?”

“Thirty miles?”

“Oh yeah. Nearest town.” He grinned. “Medicine Bow. I work near there. Come on.” He stepped towards the river, and dove in, grabbing one of the suitcases floating down the river, and dragging it back to shore. His swimming was, if anything, less dignified than Anna’s, a clumsy dogpaddle with the trunk’s handle clutched between his teeth.

“And if I decide I don’t want to travel with you?”

“Well, I can’t allow that,” said the man. “For the very simple reason that the thing that destroyed your train might come back, when the sun sets.”

It was, to her mind, a persuasive argument. She bent down, and opened the trunk, beginning to undress. She knew the man was looking at her. Men always did. They hungered for what was being withheld. That was another hard lesson she’d learned.

When she looked up, he was looking to one side, his arms crossed, his brow furrowed. “That was horrible.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not your body. The fact that you didn’t care. I’m a strange man that you just met, and you disrobed without even a complaint.”

She examined his bare chest for a moment, and the frankly very tight hide pants he wore. “I’m sorry?”

“It’s no fun to sneak a peek if you’re not getting away with something. You didn’t even ask me to look away or anything.” He stepped forward, over the footprints, and then past her. “We’ve got maybe three hours before the sun gets low. We’re going to have to run.” He set forward, and his stride turned longer, as he began running. Anna set off after him.

Half a mile of torture later, she was bent over, dry-heaving, her stomach clenching, sweat pouring down her forehead. The sun was not terribly fierce, but it was completely unrelenting. The man stood over her, hands on his hips, and he wasn’t even sweating. “This is pretty pathetic, you know.”

“Hrglh,” she managed in response, her tongue feeling like it was trying to suffocate her. She let out ragged breaths, her skull throbbing horribly. “Can’t. Can’t run that fast.”

“Nonsense,” he said, his arms crossed. “You were made to run. Human beings are born runners. Fastest thing on two legs. You just run wrong.” He pointed to her arms. “Pump them. It helps you breathe deeper.” He pointed to her feet. “Let them strike heel first. You are not trying to strike the ground. You must touch it only lightly.” He did a quick circuit around her, showing her the movements. “Like so. Understand?”

Anna, for her part, had never run professionally. She’d run plenty, using the clumsy methods of children. “It looks painful. How are you doing that barefoot?”

“This is the way people travelled for millenia. It’s the way my people travelled.” He shook his head. “Just because a number of them have forgotten, and relied on the convenience of horses, didn’t mean we suddenly stopped being able to do it. The body still remembers it, the soul still sings to it.” He slapped her on the shoulder. “Now, run.”

He was clearly taking it slow. He would have outpaced her effortlessly if he wasn’t. That annoyed Anna, but she was getting better as she ran. It wasn’t quite as painful, the shoes didn’t pinch as much, she didn’t become breathless as quickly. She’d heard about people who ran for pleasure, and it had never made much sense to her. Running for survival, running for money, she could understand all of that. Running because it felt good, that just sounded like a good way to waste your energy. The kind of thing people would do because they had nothing better to use their time on.

Now, beneath the stark blue sky, with the distant mountains visible on the horizon, the plains yawning open in great wide waves, she understood it. The sensation of running. The joy of it. Feeling her legs pump, her mind focused on nothing but the next step. The thirst, the pain, the sickness, all of it washed away in a tide of exertion as she watched the man’s back. Each breath seemed stronger than the last, as she ran.

Eventually, the two of them stopped, by a watering hole. The man crouched down, and stuck his head into the water. Anna gave him a dubious look, stepping to the opposite side, away from the spreading pool of oil and sweat, and cupped her hands, taking several deep drinks, the water cool and refreshing thanks to its position, shaded by a small rise in the hills. “What was that thing that attacked the train?”

“Hmmm?”

“You knew that the train was attacked. Did you see it?”

“Well, I must have, mustn’t I? It was bones. The bones of dragons, risen from the aeons past, when they roamed this world, enraged by the hubris of man.”

“There’s no such thing as dragons.”

“Not anymore, no. That is why they lack skin.”

She frowned. “I heard there was work here. A couple of old nutters who’re digging up dinosaurs. Not dragons. Old, old reptiles. Big, fat things that used to wallow around in the mud all the time. There was a carnival. They showed one of ’em. All bones and such.”

“Pfah,” said the man, and that seemed about it. “I work for those two. A more wretched pair you’re not likely to find. And they may call them dinosaurs, but what they are is dragons. Fierce beasts, loathsome and cruel, you see if they aren’t.” He sighed, standing up. “Well, if you’re looking for work with them, you’re welcome to it. There’s always a good need for a girl around the camp.”

She nodded quietly. He gave her another look.

“You seem a bit casual about my implication there. This isn’t much fun if you don’t react. Feels like I’m beating a dead horse.”

“What other kind of job am I supposed to have in a place like this?” She asked, softly, shrugging her shoulders.

“Great Spirit help you. Fine, you’re my apprentice now. I run messages around the area.”

“Why are you offering to help me?”

“Because I want to sleep with you, and I don’t want you to be reminding me of a broken doll the entire time. I only fuck people, not broken things.” He shook his head. “If I asked you to sleep with me right now, or I wouldn’t lead you to the town, what would you say?”

“I suppose that I wouldn’t have any choice,” Anna said.

“And there you are! Goddamned disturbing it is. What happened to you? I’ve seen women who have lost everything, who saw their tribes slaughtered and been raped and all manner of other godawful thing, and they didn’t disturb me like you do.”

“Nothing special,” Anna said, and shrugged. “Life happens to you. You do your best to make it through anyway.”

“Nothing special.” The man shook his head. “That’s the part that’s unnerving, there. That you don’t care about it. You snapped about the dead body, but don’t seem to think much at all about yourself. That kind of woman disgusts me.”

“Then why, in god’s name, do you want to sleep with me?”

He grunted. “Red hair, green eyes, the freckles. It’s all very exotic. I’m a man, I can’t be blamed for the urges that the Creator gave me.”

She paused for a moment, and then laughed softly. “You’re quite funny, you know?”

“Yes. But looks aren’t everything.” He winked at her, and she laughed again, though she didn’t quite get it. “I’m Mica. What’s your name?”

“Anna.”

“Anna. Really?”

“Well,” said Anna, softly, “my father told me it was really Fianna. But people mocked me whenever I told them my name.”

“Fianna. Interesting. Bands of Irish warriors, both real and mythological.” He smiled. “It’s a good name.”

“Oh,” she said, unsure of what else to say. “You know a surprising amount about Ireland. I’d never heard of that.”

“Oh, that. I’ve fucked far and wide. Scholars, heroines, wise women. Not wise enough, obviously, or they would have known to turn me down, but still.” He chuckled, as he stood up, and began to run again. Anna ran after him, doing her best to keep pace. Impossibly, he began talking as he ran, somehow finding enough breath to speak as he ran. “Love Irish mythology. My favorite part is the invasion aspect of it. The native people of Ireland get invaded and either murdered or fucked by the invaders, who become the new gods. That red hair of yours isn’t Irish, it’s Swedish. Probably some ancestor who winked at the right Viking, or maybe didn’t.”

“Is-” she gasped, choking out the words. “There a- point- to this-”

“When two cultures meet, it might be violent, it might be peaceful, but there’s always fucking. Humans can’t help it. No matter how much they want to dehumanize others, they still have kids together!” He cackled out laughter, as he kept running. “Lust is a beautiful thing!”

They ran like this for some time. Mica’s thoughts jumped from one topic to another, and he seemed to take great delight in chewing subjects over until the marrow was gone, often asking her about what she thought, and mostly what she thought was that she wished he’d stop talking so she could concentrate on the run, and catch her breath.

Anna’s experiences to this point had largely been that men were interested in her until they got what they wanted, or found they would not get what they want, at which point they left. Mica, in that, seemed to be much more honest than most men. She pondered what he’d said for a while, before looking around.

“Is- it- getting- dark?” She asked, choking out the words, breathing hard as she kept running. “Are- we- close?”

“About five miles,” said Mica, still smiling but in a tense tone of voice, casting a look over his shoulder.

“Are- there- more-”

“About eight hundred yards behind us. If we run exactly this fast the rest of the way, we’ll outpace it.”

“I- can’t- feel- my- legs-”

“Well, they’re still there,” snapped Mica, somewhat tensely. “So just concentrate on keeping them moving.”

Maybe, Anna considered, Mica was lying. This happy thought was interrupted by the distant yet very clear scream of primal, intense rage that filled the air behind them, shaking the ground. She didn’t bother looking back. It had never helped before.

They ran. The sound of rhythmic pounding filled the air, those screams continuing from time to time, hollow and terrible, like the wind whistling through a dead forest. The cries seemed to be getting closer. Mica kept looking over his shoulder. The sun was just below the horizon, but there was enough light to see him, and his increasingly nervous expression. “How- bad- is- it?”

“Another mile,” he said, loping along. “We’re not going to make it.”

“Oh,” she gasped out. There was a strange relief to hear that.

“Not at the speed you’re running, at any rate. Here’s a bit of wisdom. When you’re running, you don’t have to be faster than whatever’s chasing you. You just have to be faster than the slowest member of your party.” He sped up, and pulled to one side. Leaving her to her fate.

This, all things considered, wasn’t all that surprising. She wasn’t going to make it. There was a calm to knowing that. She kept running, more out of habit than anything else. The man would leave her to die, which was what men often did.

She saw Mica trip, and fall sprawling to the ground, off a few dozen feet to one side. She heard a rumbling behind her, and then the thumping grew softer, pulling towards what was clearly the easier target. She kept running, and risked a glance over her shoulder.

Mica had turned towards the thing. It was huge, it looked the size of a train car. Massive, gray bones arranged in a shape something like a bull, but twice the size. Two massive horns emerged from its forehead, a fringe of bone rising up behind them, a third smaller horn visible on the tip of the nose. Mica faced it, looking quite unconcerned, and then dove between its legs.

Miraculously, he passed through the creature’s legs without being trampled flat. The massive creature came to a halt, a process that took several seconds and ploughed a furrow a hundred feet long, before springing with surprising nimbleness back at the man. His eyes met Anna’s for a second. “For fuck’s sakes, I’m not doing this for my health, run!”

He dove again as the creature came back at him. Unfortunately, this time, the creature lowered its head, one of the horns going through his abdomen. Mica let out a scream of pain, as the creature tossed its head, launching the man high into the sky.

There was little else she could do. She turned and ran, and left his body behind to rot under the sun. It was just as well she did, because she heard the creature let out another scream, and continue after her.

Anna thought about nightmares as she ran. Nightmares where she had run, and the air had grown thick around her like a syrup, her fear and panic seeming to act like hands, pulling her back. Where the only thing that saved her was waking up.

That was not what happened here. As she ran, desperately, furiously, she could feel the creature’s thudding footsteps, but she kept ahead of them, pumping her legs ferociously. Her breaths grew deeper, and deeper, and all the fatigue and pain seemed to leave her.

She ran alone, just herself and the night, and began to focus on the ground in front of her. Not the monster behind her. She felt the wind whistling across her skin, wicking away the perspiration, thighs pumping furiously as she put distance between herself and all that happened.

It almost came as a disappointment when the light appeared on the horizon. The town, lit eerily by blue light whose source she could not see. It was surrounded by a very large, very solid wall, which was now only a short distance away. She could see it was carved with some sort of elaborate scrimshaw, which seemed to emanate a brilliant blue glow. She also couldn’t see the gate.

She risked a glance over her shoulder. The creature was very close on her heels, barely a few seconds behind her. She put a foot wrong, and tripped, letting out a scream as she fell, her ankle aching from the fall. The creature pounded over her, and turned, striking the wall with one gigantic, petrified flank. Incredibly, it held firm against the beast’s weight. It turned towards her, and growled. She had a single terrible view of it take a step towards her.

Then, a man dropped from the wall. He fell atop the thing’s back like a rodeo rider, letting out a wild whoop, one hand on his bowler hat. If Anna had been a man, the sympathetic groin pains from watching the feat would have been crippling. His other hand held a massive claw hammer, and as he straddled the skeleton’s spine, he brought it down on something. The creature let out a low cry, and then, tumbled slowly to the ground, the bones inexplicable cohesion lost.

She stared for a few seconds at the fallen bones, and the man who even now was climbing off and walking towards her. He approached her with a cocksure grin, sandy brown hair messy. “Good run there, ma’am.” He spoke with a western accent, and nodded his head at her. “Didn’t think you’d make it, to be honest. What the hell you doin’ out here?”

“My train was attacked,” she said, dazed, staring at the man. “I- I met this Indian man. Mica.” She blinked. “That thing got him.”

“Mica? That tough old cuss? I’ve seen him walk off some pretty bad hits.”

“I don’t think you can walk off being gored by that thing. What is that?”

The man grinned. “That, right there, is-” and here, he adopted a refined tone with all the mockery he could fit in a single mouth, “Trikeratops Horridus. And a damn valuable find. This’un’s been loose for some time.” He frowned over his shoulder, and Anna noticed he was holding something in his free hand. It was like a very small, very thick wheel made out of stone. It had been cracked with his hammer blow, but she could still see the delicate runic inscription on it. “And it’s been rustled.”

“How do you rustle a pile of bones?” Anna asked, trying very desperately to keep up.

“Well, take a look, missy.” He grinned, holding out the thing. “This here’s the seventh thoracic vertebrae, traditionally the place of greatest power for holdin’ the power of life in the bones of the dead. Therein lies an inscription of the secret names of this creature, its owner, and the laws that it should bear.” He frowned down at the thing. “This one has been defaced, and that means someone is besmirchin’ the good name of Edward Drinker Cope, and it is my duty to see that anyone doin’ such faces the full justice that Butch Cassidy has to offer. Speakin’ of which.” He frowned at her. “What’s your name?”

“Anna. I…” She felt her legs throb. “I think I need to sit down.”

“Let’s get you a bite to eat, and a place to lie down,” said Butch, nodding his head firmly. “Not safe to be out here at night anymore. Looks like this means war.”

He led her into the town. It was sparsely populated, mostly by men of similar rough appearance as Butch, though all of them gave respectful nods to the man as he walked in. Dinner was apparently being served, presided over by a somewhat short, scrawny fellow with a scratchy attempt at a beard. He didn’t look much older than Anna, and he smiled nervously at her as she approached. “Dinner for the young lady, Roy,” said Butch.

“Yessir, Mister Cassidy,” said the young man, who could only have been a year or so younger than Butch. He spoke with a strange accent- it sounded like a southerner that Anna had once met, but quick, sped up, unlike the laconic syllables of the bastard who’d called her a potato-faced whore. He scooped out a ladle of black beans and bacon, and smiled at her as he held a sizable bowl out to her. She nodded politely to him, taking the food from his hands, as Butch led her on through the town. She noticed a distinct paucity of women.

“Mica said something about a job as his apprentice. He’s dead, but-”

“I’ll take you to see Mister Cope tomorrow morning. Sounds as though we may need a new messenger, and if you ran all that way with the thing following you, you’d be ideal for the job. Now, you eat up, and get some sleep, Anna. I’ll make sure no one tries to give you any trouble, and if someone should try anything, just tell them that Butch’ll have their balls on the chopping block if they do.” He opened the door to a shack, where a soft looking bedroll lay on the ground, a sleeping bag atop it. He grinned cheerfully, and cuffed her on the shoulder before walking out into the night, whistling a jaunty tune, still holding the hammer and the bone.

She sat on the bed, her head spinning a bit, and ate the food. This seemed to help matters significantly, and she fell into sleep quickly. To her very great surprise, she woke the next morning with no nightmares, no shakes, no terrors. Nothing but a dead man sitting over her.

“Morning,” said Mica, as her eyes opened wide, her mouth opening to scream, before she decided that it would be a damned foolish thing to do. “So. We need to talk.”

“You’re alive,” she said, prodding his stomach. He winced, but there was no sign of where a gigantic length of bone had perforated him. “It didn’t actually gore you?”

“Oh, no, it did. I’m tough.” He grinned toothily. “What are you going to do?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you could leave. Keep on moving. You know how dangerous this place is. You nearly died last night. It might be a bit more than you want to take on.”

She considered this. It had been terrifying. It had also been exhilarating. And something picked away at her, and she realized it was guilt.

“I ran,” she said, softly. “I ran away and left you to die.”

“Well, I didn’t die. And I was the one who volunteered, you just didn’t make it worthless.”

“I run,” she said, and since this seemed insufficient, she continued. “A lot.”

“Well, that’s human nature.”

“I don’t want to run from this. I want to know why this happened. I want to understand. I want to stop it from happening again. A lot of people died for no good reason at all, so far as I can tell. I gotta understand.”

He paused, and considered these words, a smile spreading across his face as he leaned forward. “Well. I can respect that.” He looked up as Butch entered the room. Butch raised an eyebrow.

“Mica.”

“Butch.”

“Dead?”

“If I were, would I be walking around like this, paleface?”

“Who knows, with the way things are,” said Butch, and nodded. “Cope wants to hear about everything.”

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