The Bolter lay under the shade of a wattle, his matilda for a pillow, escaping from the midday heat. He'd been on the go since before dawn, and was eager to get to the next town early, knowing to press on in the heat would only make him slower. So he'd set up camp, had a cuppa, and decided to have a snore. He kept his hand resting on his Colt, but wasn't expecting to need it. This part of the ranges were isolated, and he was off the track, a ways ahead of the bushies.
He'd set out ahead of them early, at the request of Herschel. He was looking for nice, easy land to make the trade. Gen-you-iine bow-vine for a bob or seven hundred. The Bolter wasn't looking forward to splitting such a nice reward. He was the bloke who set all this up, if it wasn't for him they'd barely have enough to spread on a slab of damper, let alone 13 other bastards.
He really didn't like any of these bushies. They were all lower than a snake's arsehole. Except for Herschel. There was a way about him that set him apart from the chaff. His eyes were wild, but there was a depth to them that spoke to The Bolter. He'd done some awful things; The Bolter could tell by the way he carried himself around the camp.
Normally getting a bushie to do something he doesn't want to do is about as successful as herding cats, but there were final threads in the fabric of his words. Cross him and he would put you down faster than a stick covered in green ants.
A soft clip-clop reached The Bolter's ears and he sat straight as a post. He kicked out the camp fire and duck behind the wattle. Watching from behind the gently swaying branches, showering him with golden flecks.
"Nada Nombre!" came Herschel's cracked and deep voice.
The Bolter thumbed the hammer forward on his Colt, careful not to let it slam back and shoot himself in the foot.
"What's that mean?" He shouted as he came out from behind the bush, fixing his hat on nice and straight.
"No name." Herschel said smiling as he lifted his leg over his horse and led it over to The Bolter's camp fire.
"I like it," he replied sitting back down at the fire, trying to get it going again.
"Thought you might. Going to offer me a cuppa?" he said, his accent straining to fit the sentence.
"Yeah no wuckin forries," The Bolter said, re-hanging the billy over the fire. "Where are you from anyway? You definitely aren't a native of my sunburnt country."
"How do you fuckers always know that? In the cities no one hears it, but out here in three words I'm penned with you bushies?" Herschel said, annoyed.
"We don't hear the accents of people from the world as often as big smokers," The Bolter laughed, prodding the fire. "People who don't sound like us stick out like a sore thumb."
"Ever heard an American accent?" Herschel said, taking his hat off and pouring water over his head.
"Oh. Nup. You a Yank then?"
"Was a Yank, for a longer spell than I care to mention."
"Why'd you leave?" The Bolter asked, stirring the tea leaves in the billy.
"Lookin' for pastures greener than home," Herschel said handing The Bolter his metal cup.
"Must have been in the middle of a fuckin drought to think this place is green." The Bolter laughed.
"You're young yet, friend. Australia's sweeping plains are ripe for the picking by anyone who dare," Herschel said, wiping the water from his face and sipping at his water skin.
"Fortune favours the brave?"
"Speaking of fortunes, how are we going to split the takings from this borrowed cattle?" The Bolter asked carefully, pouring himself and Hershy a cup of bush tea, extra sweet.
"We take 80 pounds out of every hundred, you take 20. Full stop." Herschel said bluntly.
"Capital letter," The Bolter ploughed on, "You think you can leave me twisting in the wind with only 80 bob?"
"You'll get more thanks to last night's little disagreement."
"How much more?"
"Fuck off," The Bolter said sitting up.
Herschel's hand slipped un-noticed to his belt, his fingers brushing against the warm metal of his favourite pistol.
"Why don't you just take a breath," Herschel said evenly. It would be a shame to have to snuff out a young man with such potential.
"Are the blokes with us the rest of the whole gang?" The Bolter asked carefully. The sun shined from the weird band around Herschel's hat, catching his eye as his mind worked furiously.
"Nope. They're about half, the rest are waiting for us to finish up," Herschel replied slowly. He'd been at the game of reading men for his whole life, but this kid was almost completely blank.
"I've noticed this lot are about as useful as a one legged man in an arse kicking contest," The Bolter said, looking Herschel in the face.
"If brains were dynamite they'd be able to blow the dust from their ears," he agreed.
"So you aren't particularly fond of any of them?"
"So why don't we just off them?"
Herschel's eyes widened, not in shock, but surprise.
Why hadn't I thought of that. This fuckin country is making me soft.
"We could do that. It would have to be after the deal though."
"Whenever is good for you." The Bolter smiled.
I'm going to put a bullet to you too kiddo. I couldn't take 14 men on my own, but between the two of us we got those dingo's covered.
"We'll split if 50-50. Sound fair?"
"Fuckin oath mate."
"Want to do the deal here?" Herschel asked.
"I think so. It's far enough from the city to keep it quiet." The Bolter blew his cheeks out, "Any closer we'll get nicked for sure."
"I'll say one thing for my homeland," Herschel said laughing, "Marshals are lazy old mongrels. Your troopers are a bit of a bastard when it comes to law bendin'."
Herschel left The Bolter to bring the herd, bushies and all, to the clearing and sent off one of his blokes with a note for their contact telling them where to find them and to kill the messenger. He enjoyed sending letters like this to people, he just wished he could be there for that surprised ‘o' their mouths would surely make when they were informed of him terminating their relationship. So formal.
The Bolter checked his rifle, a lovely lever action with smooth movement. He had about 2 dozen rounds for it, more than enough. He also checked his Colt, spinning the chamber close to his ear, listening for any imperfection and couldn't find fault. He loaded it up and put it in its holster, then slipped the rifle into place on his back. He picked up his hat and dusted it off carefully.
They waited until after midnight, when the Bitzer twins showed up. The twins were half-casts, middle aged and identical. The deal was negotiated quickly, Herschel badgering them into 5 pounds extra per head, which they were non-plussed about letting go. These half-casts were obviously being backed by another big cattle-man, probably someone in direct contest with The Baron. The Bolter smiled at them, touching the brim of his hat. They smiled back widely, big cheeky grins seeming to glow against their dark skin in the night.
They bid the Bitzers good evening; glad to be rid of their hefty heifer hoard. The bushies were loud and raucous as par the course. The Bolter hung back from the main group, keeping an eye on all of them and Herschel, who was riding up the front. They'd agreed to stopping just past midnight to unburden themselves, and it was coming like a train.
The Bolter found himself to be nonplussed in the slightest at the prospect of killing these men. They were raping, murdering bastards. He was a murderer too but he didn't liken himself to them. These blokes did it for fun, he did it for profit or advantage. Murdering left a bitter taste in his mouth, The Bolter didn't enjoy it, but he was good at it and it was worth a bob or two when you did it properly.
Herschel held up a hand and got the bushies to dismount. They groaned and laughed and set about making camp, while Herschel watched from his horse. The Bolter dismounted a little bit further away, hitching his horse off to a dead tree. Gnarled and glowing in the blue moonlight.
The Bolter casually shifted his rifle from where it was resting on his shoulder, waiting for the signal from Herschel, who obliged nonchalantly, whipping his two pistols from their holsters and plunging hot lead into the bushies.
They whirled around, Blackstump off cuts hitting the dirt like offal. Some pulled their pistols and began shooting at Herschel, while The Bolter began lending his two cents shrapnel to the exchange, dropping the bushies where they stood from behind. Gun smoke shrouded the scene, the bushies older pistols spewing smoke trails as they tumbled out of hands to fall to the ground.
The ones who weren't killed instantly were moaning, crying in agony. Their hot, sticky blood pooling around them, spilling like a barrel with a hole in it. The red mist and blue light cast an eerie purple light around them, the coppery smell wafting warmly like a fresh cow pat.
As he made his way over to the new graveyard, The Bolter shot those who were closest to death. Their whinging was getting on his nerves. Herschel was walking towards him, picking his way through the twisted remains of the bushies. The Bolter turned his back to Herschel, thinking his work for the night was done, stretching his arms.
The Bolter spun around, bringing his revolver to bear on Herschel, arm outstretched, gun glinting menacingly in the moonlight.
The two looked at each other for what felt like an age.
"Did you forget how to count?" The Bolter asked, his voice dangerously calm.
"Can't blame a feller for trying," Herschel grinned, holstering his gun. He undid a money pouch and threw it to The Bolter, who didn't take his eyes off of Herschel, fearing another slippery turn should he move his gun. "Looks like you've earned this."
"Why shouldn't I turn you into an extremely useless boat right now?" The Bolter asked.
"Because there's more where that came from if you come with me to our next little job." Herschel said, smiling.
"How much more?"
Herschel stuck his thumbs behind his suspenders and pushed them out, chuckling, "It'll make those pounds look like Friday arvo drinking money."
The Bolter lowered his gun thoughtfully.
"What are we hanging around like fruit bats for then?"