Van Yorne looked over the half a dozen men Sawyer had called into New York with him. They were all young men, but not enough to be wet behind the ears. If he knew Sawyer like he thought he did, these six youths would have seen more in both gun action and life lessons than the majority of men twice their ages. They were hard, heavy men that knew how to listen and didn’t mind taking orders. Mixed in backgrounds, if Van Yorne read them right, but that didn’t bother him as much as it would have to any other man in his position; He’d seen what mixed blood could to improve a man.
“This is the most trusted of my crew from back home. I vouch for any of these men as if they were me, myself.”
“I have four, to add to your party,” Van Yorne saw Sawyer’s hesitation, and understood the why of it as well. It didn’t, however, change his mind. “That isn’t something I can argue with you about, Sawyer. Those boys of yours are fine, no question; but, when it comes to my child, I have to put my hands onto this as much as possible.”
“I can’t speak for your men.”
“No, nor should you.”
“If something should happen…”
“I’d give you full rights, Rob. If one of them does anything you deem a killing offense, you have my blessing to see to it.”
“I don’t kill, Van Yorne.” The missing word in that sentence knocked him off guard, but the look on Sawyer’s face stopped him cold. “Ever.”
“I meant no offense, Rob. I—.”
Sawyer waved this mess away. “If one of them steps out of turn, I’ll do what needs be done. They’ll leave broken or comeback bruised.”
“Agreed. I’ve got you a bed in with us. Five of the men in the car before ours and five in the car behind. “I’m assuming you’d prefer to split your six down the middle?”
“Name ‘em, and we’ll do it as you’d like.”
That settled, the men separated, one to his family, and the other to both his old and new crew.
Catherine stood out on the platform of Grand Central Depot, awaiting the arrival of the rest of her family and bodyguards with her mother. The two were surrounded on all sides by women in various colors and quality of fabric. Some of them were so lost in laudanum, their sickly pallor presented so clearly, they could barely fain any interest in the conversations going around them. Catherine ignored the women and enjoyed the time with her mother, talking quietly of simple, important things her brothers wouldn’t even realize existed.
Said brothers arrived together, followed shortly thereafter by their father. Still, the Van Yorne women waited. The moment everything changed came over the platform like a day heavy with dampness, just before the thunder and night storm. Quick glance looked to be about a dozen men, all dressed down in colors of dirt and clay and burlap; weighed down with leather in the way of chaps and belts, boots and holsters. Silly girl fantasies of famous gunslingers and corral showdowns washed over her like a physical manifestation. The other women in the station seemed likewise distracted.
The leader of this cowboy gang wore his sand tone hat and double-holstered gunbelt slung low. He walked like a man who knew how to lead; like a man who owned those around him as much as he owned himself, yet took better care of those others than he ever would himself. Even in their simple act of walking, the men seemed to look to their leader for example. As they neared closer, she could hear the jangle of their spurs along with the heavy fall of their boots. Then the lead man, with his sandy colored hat, looked up and squinted into the rising sunlight.
“Goodness, Momma, that’s Mr. Sawyer.”
The Lady Cassandra gave a cryptic smile usually only ever seen on the faces of the sphinx. “Yes dear, it appears that it is.”
Resting just before the steps of the platform, Sawyer looked up at them and—just like one of the heroes from one of her dime store novels—tipped his hat down to them. “Mrs. Van Yorne, Miss Van Yorne.”
“Mr. Sawyer,” they answered together. Cassandra kept on, on her own, “Lovely day, gentlemen. Thank you all for assisting us. I believe your accommodations have already been sorted out? Yes? Good. Shall we, then?”
Like they all held different parts in a dance, two groups broke off from Robert Sawyer and headed onto separate paths. Sawyer maintained with the lady Van Yornes.
Catherine felt like hissing at every opium-laced woman who took the time to stare at the figure Robert Sawyer cut as he made his way with them along the platform to their car. Instead, she commented, “You seem much happier in your change of clothing, Mr. Sawyer.”
“Excuse me,” Mrs. Van Yorne requested and removed herself to the car.
Robert didn’t feel confident addressing Catherine, all done up again—this time in various colors of green—but he couldn’t let the comment rest, “You mean I’m better suited to the cloth of my class?”
She laughed, bringing a white, doe skinned covered hand to her chin. “Not at all, Mr. Sawyer. I meant simply that you seemed so uncomfortable in the clothing you wore yesterday, it is nice to see you so contented in the ones you wear now.”
He couldn’t see anything to say to that, so he didn’t select to say anything at all.
Instead, he assisted Catherine onto the train car, and—following her in—assessed her gown without pondering the woman herself. The green of the dress proper was a sort of mid-green...a bit of forest green mixed in with enough yellow to lighten it without weakening the color completely. It covered her from the hem of her gown, gathered in degrees up, from skirt to bustle…up from undercorset to long-sleeved overlay. The only break of the color—apart from the elbow length gloves—spilled out from under her collar, in frothy, white lace that poured out like fresh cream. Her kitten-heeled boots matched her gloves.
She turned on him once they’d fully boarded the train, “Again, I seem to overstep myself in your presence, Sawyer. Please, if nothing else, realize I meant no harm.”
Robert removed his gun belt and slipped into his allotted bunk, boots on with all the rest, “Nothing taken, Miss Van Yorne.”
“Cate,” She offered, without thinking much of the result of her allowance.
Days on the train turned Robert soft. He forgot a little about who he was and allowed himself a certain level of relaxation with the Van Yorne family. They passed the time together as if assorted parts of the same body.
He found out how the eldest—and rarely mentioned—brother, John, had gone off with an Indian maid to the Dakotas and all but forgotten his family in the process. That William, the third in the line, practiced law in New York City; and Lawrence, the fourth, did the same back in England. Catherine, he came to find, was a bit coddled because of being the only girl, but not so much that she never had to endure an injustice at the hands of her brothers.
Like the rest of them, she had a quick sense of humor and the sort of righteous indignation against any and all prejudices that lay almost singularly with a certain type of upper-class mentality. Unlike the rest of them, she had a certain sort of melancholy about her she hid behind her sincere interest in her family’s many occupations. She talked horses and investments with her father, laws and tall-tales with her brother Richard, and women and property with the only sibling she could count herself as senior to. Often she’d go off with her mother, the two women sitting in one corner or another, working on needlepoint or knitting and talking quietly. The only direct contact she had with Robert centered on awkward and limited conversations. Every day she appeared in a different colored dress, while he stayed more or less in the same ensemble he always kept to when he traveled. That alone forced Robert to keep a bit of distance from the woman.
Well into their third week on the train, Robert sat cleaning his guns on his bunk.
Mrs. Van Yorne read a volume in some language other than English in a soft chair off to their main sleeping area, but besides that, he was alone. Then Catherine approached in a navy calico printed with heavy, open red roses. The sleeves ended just below her elbows, her feet clad only in soft skinned leather slippers, and her neck cut out in a shallow square. It was the most of her skin he’d ever seen, and something about the simpleness of the outfit made him warm to her. “Miss Van Yorne?”
“Cate,” she reminded him. “May I sit?” She didn’t wait for his answer, but took a seat on the bunk beside him. “I happened to notice you with your revolvers, and hoped I might observe your process. I don’t have to touch anything.”
“Have you not done a gun cleaning with your brothers?”
“They don’t like me to traipse that far into the world of men. Bad enough I jockey the horses and help in their breeding and training. My investing they allow for a bit more, money being everything, but none of the lot understands my interest in the mechanics of artillery.”
Robert smiled at the idea that any man could restrict this woman in something she felt determined to do. “Does that mean I’m going to catch hell for not shooing you away?”
She returned the grin, “I’ll swear that I blinded you with my feminine whiles.”
He pulled out the second of his matched pair of revolvers, picked up a piece of rag, and offered it to her. “You do just as I do, asking any questions if you’ve got ‘em.”
Catherine nodded and did exactly as he asked. Occasionally she inquired after a part or working mechanism of the gun, but she mostly just used her god-child hands to attend to her allotted revolver as least as well as he cared to the other. “How often do these guns need cleaning, Mr. Sawyer?”
“It’s much like with people. Some say everyday…some not more than a couple times a year. I usually see to ‘em every few weeks; less, if I’ve had reason to use ‘em.”
She handed him back his gun, looking at the residue of black grease upon her hands. “Thank you, Mr. Sawyer. Have a good night.” She took herself into the side car they used as a bathroom, and locked the door behind her.
Mrs. Van Yorne didn’t look up from her novel, but spoke to him regardless, “She has a bit of a fascination with the West, Mr. Sawyer. For as long as I can remember, in lieu of fairytales and stories of princesses, Catie asked to hear about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, Kit Carson, or Jessie James. I think she saw enough of ‘modern men’ at home…and during her year in England, to think that she might find herself happier with a man of the West.”
Neither of them said anything more on the subject.
Catherine woke up in the corner of Yank’s stall, not entirely sure how she’d gotten there. The Stallion, himself, was laid out on the straw, sleeping the true deep sleep he couldn’t get while standing. Slowly, she stood up, remembering that she’d gone for the stable cars after laying in her bunk for hours without sleep. Now, not even sure to what hour she awoke, Catherine realized that she put herself far out of propriety…wandering out in nothing but her nightgown and silk robe.
The noise alone wouldn’t have caused the feeling of immense danger that came upon her. The noise was nothing much more than a scrape of boots on wood. It was the unhinged laughter that doused her with fear. Keeping a watchful eye on Yank, she let out a scream loud enough to wake every horse in the box; leading them all to kick up and start their own ruckus.
She thought she saw a shadow approach, but Yank was up, rearing and snorting a warning at the head of his stall, blocking her view. Catherine let him guard the door, hiding herself in the corner and letting out another scream.
Seconds later, Robert Sawyer called out in the darkness, “Cate?”
“In Yank’s stall. Someone’s out there.”
“Saw him, but lost him. Some vagrant jumping trains, I suspect.” She heard him move towards Yankee’s stall, to which the horse expressed his objection. “Are you alright?”
Catherine came back into herself, easing around Yankee and calming the big stallion. “Just out of sorts.” She got a good look at Robert, only dressed in his low-slung pants, revolver in his hand. The long stretch of his naked trunk—even in the darkness of the box car—showed how hard and lean Sawyer was. It wasn’t until he reholstered his gun and shifted his hands to his hips, that she remembered not to stare. She leaned against the wooden half-door. “I’m not dressed respectably, Mr. Sawyer.”
He smiled, chuckling softly. “Nor am I, Miss Van Yorne. I promise not to take any liberties. Just want to see you back to your bunk.”
He took her hand and tucked it up under his naked arm, “Robert.”
“…Robert,” she repeated, her fingertips brushing the surprisingly soft skin on top of heavy muscle.
When the two returned to the Van Yorne’s main car, all were up and demanding of information. Robert laid out his part, and Catherine filled in the small space he didn’t know. Her father gave her a firm, dark look, to which she nodded slightly once.
Mr. Van Yorne tried checking his emotions, but the paler left on his only daughter’s face had his heart running on an uneven beat. When he finally crawled into bed next to his beautiful wife, he whispered to her his new decision. “Tomorrow, we bring in the decoy, and Catherine goes on the trail with Robert.”
Cassandra rolled over to face him. “That is quite a trek to San Francisco, Louis. Do you think she’s ready? That they’re ready?”
“I think it’s time they find out.”
She looked at her husband for a long while, thinking, but keeping her mind in silence. She wasn’t sure if he was awake when she chose to speak, but she had to say the words regardless. “I don’t doubt your convictions in this, but I hope you realize that if something goes wrong with it all, you’re the only one holding the blame.”
Van Yorne heard her, but made no reply. She wasn’t saying anything he hadn’t already spent half a year losing sleep over thinking about. He prayed he wasn’t wrong.