Infiltrating a Vicious Gang – Extended Epilogue

It hadn’t been more than a few hours since Ardella had said goodbye to Silvester, but already her eyes were drawn from the path over the hills, awaiting his arrival. Somewhere below the hillside the town had expanded a lot since they’d moved out into the plains, but she could still detect faraway the river where she and Silvester had first grown close.

She smiled.

The mountains around here were not as wild as they once were. They had neighbors along the forest’s edge.

Still the trees along the river remained.

Some things, she hoped, would never change.

“Mom!”

Ardella snapped out of her daze.

She turned, seeing that Henry was tugging on her dress.

“Settle down, Henry!” she chided.

“Yeah, Henry,” Nash joined in, “leave her be.”

She smiled looking at them both.

Even though they would be ten years old soon, people around town had trouble telling the twins apart. Ardella did not have that problem.

They had Ardella’s dark features and Silvester’s green eyes and most people agreed they had identical faces. This couldn’t be further from the truth, Ardella and Silvester both agreed. Nash had a chip in his tooth and Henry freckles beneath his cheeks. To them, they couldn’t be more different.

Nash came over and tried to drag Henry off her, but the boy would not let go of her dress.

“What do you want, Henry?” Ardella asked.

He smiled from ear to ear, his eyes sparkling with a mischievous glint.

“Let’s do it, Mom, let’s go riding!”

Ardella looked to the road. She had told Henry explicitly that this was not to be the case. They had a lot of work to do around the property. The house needed to be clean, the horses groomed, and their hay changed. Everything had to be perfect by the time Silvester’s parents arrived.

So far they had never had a complaint, and both of them usually agreed that the place was in fantastic order. Silvester always said she worried too much, but Ardella didn’t think so—she took pride in making things perfect.

“Come on!” Henry screamed.

“Stop it, Henry, she said no.” Nash folded his arms.

“But the place is perfect! I want to ride, Mom.”

Ardella gazed out to the road again, looking at the sun. It was getting to the afternoon already. Silvester was certainly taking his time. The train was meant to arrive hours ago, and all he had to do was pick them up and come right back.

“Alright, Henry,” Ardella said, “let’s go find your father.”

Henry exploded into a fit of cheers, throwing up his fist and moving quickly. Nash remained calm, but a smile appeared on his face.

The two were almost ready to ride solo, but Ardella still wanted to ride with them a few more times. The three of them walked to the south stable, checking which horses were already saddled.

“I want to ride Chester this time,” Henry shouted.

Hearing his name, the big black horse flicked his tail and moved toward the stable.

Ardella laughed.

“I think Chester might be getting a little old for the three of us,” she said.

“I think we should take Josie,” Nash said.

Josie was a strong young Quarter horse with a burgundy coat with big white spots. Ardella hoisted her sons one by one over the fence.

“I think Josie will do us just fine.”

They trudged through the mud.

“When’s Grandma and Grandpa gonna be here?” Henry demanded.

“I’m not sure.”

With each step, Ardella found that she was growing nervous. Maybe she was being paranoid. Nash opened the gate up while she and Henry jumped onto the saddle. Once they were through, Nash joined them, and all three went up rolling over the hillside.

“We’re going a little quick, Mom,” Nash said, turning his head toward her.

They took a right at the ranch, snaking around to the foot of the mountain, where the newly built township met them.

Ardella chewed her lip, seeing the train station off in the distance.

“Hang on tight, kids,” she said.

She hoped they would find him soon.

When they came to the township, the children were relieved to be off the saddle, and they spent some time stretching and pointing up at the patch of snow on the mountaintop. Ardella did not stop moving. She had seen something that made her whole body feel cold.

“Thunder?” she said.

Indeed, Silvester’s horse was strung up by the foot of the train station, his tail flicking.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

She looked into the horse’s dark eyes, stroking his muzzle.

Something here isn’t right.

“Grandma! Grandpa!”

She turned. The twins were running to the stairs, where Silvester’s parents were hobbling down with their bags in tow.

Ardella stepped toward them. Silvester’s father slicked back what was left of his brown hair, his eyes twinkling as he leaned forward and shook Nash’s hand tightly. Her mother-in-law took Henry into a deep hug and caught Ardella’s eye.

“Ardella …” she said.

Though they weren’t showing it, the two knew it. Silvester was missing.

Her head was spinning. Ardella tried to keep her composure,

“Kids,” Ardella said, trying to keep her voice steady.

They looked at her.

“Go take your grandparents’ suitcases over to the horses.”

Henry grumbled, but they both began their task without further instruction.

Ardella looked to Silvester’s parents, who both greeted her with a tense kiss on the cheek.

“Hey,” she said, “what’s happened?”

Silvester’s dad chewed his lip.

“We were hoping you knew,” he said.

“We ain’t seen no sign of him,” said Silvester’s mother.

They both looked washed with concern. Ardella’s mouth became dry. She needed to act.

“Okay,” she said, “you get the twins home. I’ll figure this out. I’ll be back soon.”

“Let us know if there’s anything we can do,” said her mother-in-law.

Ardella told them not to worry, that everything would be fine, but she could feel her nerves getting to her. They both nodded and gave her a quick hug before turning to the children.

Ardella didn’t stop moving. She rushed straight up the stairs and hurried to the station, where the conductor was standing beneath the shadow of the platform’s roof.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hello, Mrs. Watson,” he said, “fine weather today, although a little frosty—”

“You seen Silvester?” Ardella asked.

The conductor’s face became concerned.

“Sheriff said hello to me earlier, yes,” he said, “but then I went inside for a while, and he just sort of disappeared. I assumed he shot off.”

Ardella felt her pulse race. She turned and steadied herself against the wall.

“Is everything alright?” the conductor said.

She didn’t answer. Ardella gazed up on the wall and saw something that made her fill even more with dread. A poster, among many, the glue still dripping below it.

“How long has that been there?” Ardella asked softly.

Her world was a flurry of chaos.

“Oh, you heard about the man on the run?” the conductor said. “Nasty business, that. The whole town is in a flurry. You know him?”

Ardella knew him. She didn’t respond. Her body was alive with electricity. Though she was frozen in place.

“Strange,” the conductor said, “aside from the eyes. He almost looks like he could be one of your boys. Except fully grown, of course. Does that make sense to you?”

Ardella broke out of her daze. She stepped forward and grabbed the poster clean off the wall.

The conductor’s mouth dropped.

She turned and caught his eye.

“It makes sense,” she said. “It’s my brother.”

The poster read.

CRISPIN HARTZ – ESCAPED FROM PRISON

***

It had been a long time since she’d ridden Thunder, but both of them were as one as they came bolting across the plain so fast that it felt like the ground beneath them would shatter.

She had no time to waste. Crispin was free, and he had taken Silvester.

Ardella felt through the bags in the saddle. She felt something inside. As Thunder bolted on, she opened the satchel and withdrew the pistol, slipping it to the top of her riding pants.

The road ahead became steep, and Thunder slowed. Ardella cracked the reins hard.

She hadn’t seen her brother in a long time, but she knew just where he was going to be.

Thunder climbed with intense speed up the hillside, coming to a stop when the cliffs became too steep.

“Good boy,” Ardella said, jumping from his back.

The horse could go no further.

There was nothing ahead.

Nothing, but the split rocks.

Ardella stilled her breath and stepped into the dark.

As she slunk through the split rocks, she took a deep breath. She had to be prepared for anything.

“As much as I’ve enjoyed our catch up, why don’t you let me go?”

On the other side of camp, Ardella’s heart snapped in two when she heard her love’s voice. Silvester was clearly under duress, although he was trying not to show it.

“Shut it!”

Her brother’s voice seemed deeper, more distant.

It had been a long time since she’d heard it.

Ardella came to the other side of the rocks, seeing the remains of the primitive fence that was once camp. By now, much of it had crumbled and was covered in bright green moss.

On the other side of the fence she saw that Silvester was on his knees, tied up with rope.

“I have to say, Crispin, you haven’t aged well.”

“I said, shut it.”

His green eyes found her, and in a moment, she felt his love and desperation, but Silvester did not linger. He turned his attention back ahead.

Ardella leaned to the side, seeing where her brother stood, and almost gasped aloud.

From the side, she could already see that he had changed. He’d aged, well past his years, and his cheek was covered in a thick, brutal scar.

“What’s the plan here, Crispin?” Silvester asked.

Ardella slunk closer.

“Keep your voice down,” Crispin ordered.

He raised his hands. Ardella saw that he was holding a shotgun, aimed directly at Silvester’s chest.

She slipped the pistol and raised it, stepping through the gate into the old camp.

“Drop it, Crispin,” she said aloud.

Crispin turned.

“Sister,” he said. “It’s been a while!”

Now in clear view, she saw that the man before her had almost completely changed. He was mad looking, his hair wild and tussled. His face covered in scratches. His eyes were unfocused and insane.

When he saw her, he smiled, and Ardella froze.

It was at the same smile. The boy she remembered.

“Ardella, run!” Silvester said.

She stepped forward.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

Crispin stuck his shotgun over his shoulder. His eyes fixed on her.

“What happened to me? Hmm … What happened to me?”

Silvester took his opportunity. Although he was bound, he edged his knees forward, one inch at a time, coming toward him.

Crispin’s unblinking eyes remained on her, as though he hadn’t even noticed the pistol she trained on his chest.

“You know what happened to me,” Crispin continued.

Silvester came forward another inch.

Crispin snapped toward him, holding the shotgun up.

He happened to me!” he growled.

Click!

Ardella pulled the hammer.

“Put down the gun, Crispin.”

He laughed, making no such attempt.

“Listen to her, Crispin,” Silvester said, his eyes serious.

“Look at him,” Crispin said.

He stuck his hands in his pockets.

“He ain’t changed a bit, has he?”

He glanced at Ardella. She stepped forward, her hands shaking. Crispin removed something from his coat. A red bandanna.

“You recognize this?” he bellowed, spreading it between his hands. “You should!”

“Crispin!”

Her brother stuck his shotgun under his arm, shot forward. In one swift motion, he slung it over Silvester’s face and tightened it over his mouth. Ardella was now just a few feet away.

Crispin looked up from Silvester, smiling and taking the shotgun out from his arm, holding it loosely.

“What are you doing, Ardella?”

Silvester screamed through the gag, and Ardella breathed deep through her nose, centering herself.

“If you don’t let him go, you’re dead!” she screamed.

Crispin blinked, and for a moment said nothing. Then he laughed.

“Ardella, Ardella,” he said under his breath, “I’ve missed you. You remember how close we used to be? So strange not to see you for all these years.”

She felt a tear run down her cheek.

“Leave him be, Crispin. I know what you came here to do.”

Crispin laughed.

“What? Kill him?”

He ruffled Silvester’s graying hair.

“No,” he said, “of course, it’s a tempting idea. But I had my share of murder since we last met.”

He met her eye again.

“In the jailhouse. It’s kill or be killed.”

Ardella shook, trying to keep her hands steady.

“Why are you here? You could have just run?”

Crispin’s face morphed, a sudden anger consuming him.

“For what?” he shouted. “What kind of a life would I have? Without a soul that knows me? Watching my back? What good is a man without family, Ardella?”

She shook her head.

“What do you want?”

Crispin smiled.

“I’ll make you a deal,” he said.

He raised the shotgun again.

“You drop the weapon, come with me right now, and I’ll let your little lover-boy live.”

Ardella couldn’t believe her ears.

“Come with you where?”

Crispin snarled.

“Home,” he said, “where we never should have left.”

He stepped toward her, moving the shotgun around like it was stick.

“You and me,” Crispin said, “we build it all up. From scratch. Make it nice. Find some settlers, make a legitimate buck or two doing it. It’ll take time. Money. We might have to rob a few places to get it. But that’s what I want. An honest life.”

Ardella looked at his weapon, then to Silvester below, whose eyes were begging her to drop the weapon. She stepped back, looking Crispin dead in the eye.

“Come on, sister,” Crispin said, “it’s all I thought about all these years. To have the life we deserve. The life that the world stole from us.”

“No,” Ardella said, “the world didn’t steal our life away. You did. We didn’t have much of a choice, but you went too far. You threw your chance away. I have a life. My own life. Without you.”

Crispin stepped forward and extended his arms, so close that she could feel his breath on her.

She raised the pistol right up against his stomach.

“Stop,” she said.

“Sister,” Crispin said, “stop this charade. We both know you won’t shoot me.”

Ardella didn’t flinch.

“Why?” she asked.

He smiled.

“Because I’m your brother, and you love me.”

Ardella froze.

“You’re right Crispin,” she said softly, “I do love you. I always will.”

She heard Silvester screaming through his gag, and Crispin’s eyes lit up.

“That’s why I’m sorry.”

Crispin’s face dropped

“Sorry for what?” he asked.

Ardella took a breath.

“Sorry about this.”

BANG!

***

By the time the other marshals arrived, the doctor informed them that Crispin was stable.

Ardella breathed a sigh of relief.

Her brother had lost a lot of blood, and the gunshot to his stomach made his pass out. She thanked her lucky stars there was a doctor on the train ready to operate; she was convinced that Crispin would lose his life.

“He’s probably going to be weak from now on,” the doctor said. “It’s a miracle he survived.”

Ardella looked down at her brother’s chalky face as Damon and his boys raised him onto the wagon.

“That’s okay,” she said quietly. “I’ll never see him again as long as I live.”

She felt a hand on her shoulder and smiled.

As soon as she’d untied Silvester, he had not flinched when she told him they needed to save his life. He’d ripped his own shirt to plug the bullet hole, and while the doctor had operated, he had stayed close with Ardella, squeezing her hand and praying with her.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

She turned, her heart melting as his green eyes absorbed her.

Ardella stepped forward and kissed him. No matter how long they were together, every time they did, her heart would beat like a stampede.

Silvester smiled from ear to ear.

“Let’s go home, my love,” Ardella said.

The two of them turned and came down the staircase, meeting the dirt with a sigh.

It had indeed been a long day.

They came to Thunder, and Silvester brought his hand to the saddle.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Ardella asked.

Silvester turned, his brow furrowing.

Ardella slapped the reins from his hand.

“He’s my horse?” Silvester protested.

“Not likely.” She smiled. “Who gave him to you?”

Silvester shook his head and smiled. Ardella jumped on the saddle, Silvester sitting before her and nestling back into her chest. She slipped her hands under his shoulder and gripped the reins.

“Ready to go, Sheriff?” Ardella asked.

She tapped his belly, and they began moving forward.

The road was quiet, and although they had an extreme couple of hours, everything to Ardella seemed eerily peaceful. They came through the wildflowers and the long grass and made their way along a windy path, one that lead home.

When they reached the front of their property they penned up Thunder and Ardella began walking through the gate. She felt Silvester grab her hand.

“Ardella.”

She turned.

In the afternoon light, Silvester had never looked more handsome. His face was stern, and his eyes sad.

“Are you really alright?” he asked. “It can’t have been easy. To do something like that. To see him again. I just want to make sure you’re okay?”

Ardella’s smile turned flat.

She took a deep breath, breaking their gaze and turning away.

At the end of the winding road, their house awaited. It was a large, gorgeous house, every inch of it built by Silvester and Ardella personally. They had worked most of their lives to get it ready.

Silvester’s parents were standing on the balcony, their faces washed with relief when they saw the two standing by the gate.

Below in the grass, the twins were wrestling, bobbing up and down in the sunlight. Ardella felt a tear roll down her cheek.

She wished with all her heart that she and Crispin could have had a life like this, but nothing brought her more happiness than to see the life the two of them had built.

Silvester was standing behind her, still.

“Ardella?”

She turned and kissed him again, feeling his hands hold her firmly, in a grip that made her feel safer than ever.

“I’m just fine, Silvester,” she said, “I love you.”

He smiled.

“I love you too.”

Ardella heard the kids calling for them. She snaked her hands from Silvester’s cheek and the two turned towards the road.

Towards home.

THE END


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9 thoughts on “Infiltrating a Vicious Gang – Extended Epilogue”

  1. I really liked this story. I was glad when Crispin finally got what was coming to him. Until I read your next story. Keep ’em coming.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Silvester is a brave character who believes in the law but has a heart to see some are victims not criminals. Ardella and he work their way to a loving relationship despite the peril. The extended epilogue was great. Hope to read more of your stories, this was a great one. I read as an ARC and will read others.

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