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By Rob Vaux A tale of Deadlands Weird West

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Business at the Fat Chance was always feast or famine. Either the place was packed to the rafters, rocking with the boisterous antics of a hundred drunken cowboys, or it was as empty as a tomb, with one or at the most two patrons in the entire place. The two conditions swapped places about sundown; Charlie liked to brag that he could time the transition to the minute. Right now it was empty, which wouldn't have been odd except that it was half past eight. For some reason, people were just feeling the need to drink elsewhere.

It could have been the ambience. The only drinker in the whole place set at the end of the bar, exuding waves of chill and gloom. His battered hat hid a face worn with time, a scruffy beard covered his chin. His eyes held years of sorrow and heartache, but fire still lurked in their depths. He drank his beer with slow deliberation, teeth clenched behind his lips. A cloud of anguish hung over him, filling the room with his grief.

No one liked drinking with a Ghost.

Charlie sat on the other end of the bar, determined not to raise his lone customer's ire. The evening was a wash already; he didn't want to compound the situation by getting shot. Still, he considered saying something when the second patron of the evening wandered in. The handsome woman's brown hair was hidden behind a grey Stetson, while a silver star hung pinned to her duster. The pistol on her hip still smelled of gunpowder, while red flecks covered her fingers. Her eyes held the same heartache as her counterpart at the bar. Charlie watched her walk to the bar and take a seat two chairs down from the Ghost. After eyeing her for a moment, he retreated in silence, leaving the pair alone.

The Ghost didn't look up from his drink. "I don't remember inviting you to sit down," he growled.

"I thought we should talk," Katie Karl's voice was clear and sharp.

"Did you?"

"I just heard about your raid on the Golden Mare. I'm sorry."

"I doubt that," he grated.

"You may find this hard to believe, but I still don't think of you as an enemy. I know your men are the best; I heard they took it hard."

The Ghost smouldered, still fixated on the bar.

"How many?" she asked.

"Rocescu at first. Slate and Quaid fell in the raid. Cort and Ben got out by the skin of their teeth, leaving me with a skeleton crew." He paused for a moment. "You went after the Whateleys, didn't you?"

"It seemed like a sound plan," she answered. "They couldn't have been in good shape after the Sioux."

A bitter smile crossed his lips. "Better than you thought, I expect."

"They got Tombstone Frank. Best gunslinger I've ever seen and they dropped him like a headsman's axe. Larson and Hamilton went too. Maybe more, we're still regrouping."

"If they weren't as tough as they are, I'd have buried them the instant I walked into this town," he spoke over his glass.

"I just underestimated them is all."

"My good Captain, I have found that underestimating the opposition can be both costly and futile. It's a bitter pill to swallow, as I'm sure you're learning. I suspect, however, that you're not here to gloat over my casualties or to listen to me gloat over yours."

Katie's mouth turned in a hard-set line. "This has to stop. They're tearing us apart out there, and it's only going to get worse."

"Maybe I'd rather die than ask for your help. Have you considered that?"

"Yes," her voice was calm and controlled. "I know you, Andrew Lane. You've fooled a lot of people out here, but you can't fool me. I know who you are and I know what you represent to my country. And I'm telling you we need to set that aside."

The Ghost uttered a short, bitter bark. "How magnanimous of you."

"I'm serious. We have difference, differences that may never work out, but I know the difference between a simple feud - however bloody - and the things that I watched tear apart my men last night. We have to stop them. You and I. Together."

The Ghost squeezed his eyes shut. "We can get along without you," he ventured, but the conviction was gone in his voice.

"You're lying. We'll both be dead within a week if we don't." The Ghost said nothing. "Think about it. Your team and mine, working together. We don't have to make it a permanent alliance. Just 'til this town is under control. Then we can go back to killing each other like we always have."

The silence was deafening. "It's the only way," she spoke at last "You know it and I know it."

"God DAMN you Rebels!!!" he screamed without warning. "You couldn't let it sit, could you?! You couldn't trust us to work out our differences like civilized human beings! You tore our country apart for your own selfish ends, then made it bleed 'til it screamed! You think manumission of the slaves is enough to undo the damage you've done?! You think we can forgive you for the crimes you've committed?!"

"We just wanted to be left alone," Katie spoke quietly.

Freedom isn't a gift, it's a responsibility! It take work and pain and suffering to live free! But you thought it was some present, delivered with a golden bow! You want all the benefits, without having to work for them! You desire the reward without any of the effort! You've poisoned our country with your greed, and you may destroy it before all is said and done! God damn you and all your cowardly Rebel ilk!!!"

"Are you finished?"

Silence reigned for many long minutes. Finally the Ghost looked up. For an instant the mask cracked, showing a tired lonely old man behind the Agent's grim façade. Then it was gone, replaced by granite. "I used to think the devil and the Confederacy were one and the same. God help me, I was wrong." Slowly, grudgingly, his gloved hand came out. Katie took it. "This town," he spoke gravely. "Then all bets are off."

"That's fair."

He pulled his hand away and dropped a coin on the bar.

"What happens now?" she asked.

"We take the Golden Mare first. I want to see if our teams can work together."

"And then?"

The ashes smouldered in his eyes. "Then Wilhelmina Whateley reaps the whirlwind."

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