There's a reason they called it the wild West. There was a cruelty to it, a harsh, barbarian abandon that didn't care if you were some well-taught doctor from New York or an illiterate Chink working the railroad or a misplaced soldier, wandering without a home. The reds didn't care what colour you were, they just knew you were shooting their livelihood, and they didn't take kindly to it. The laborers didn't care where you got your fortune from, so long as you shared with them. The farmers didn't care how arid and unflinching the barren landscape was, so long as they could grow a crop to eat. The soiled doves didn't care if you were covered in soot or sweat or blood so long as you paid your share.
The desert didn't care. It had been there long before you, and it would still be there long after you.
One poor soul had already met his end. Shot in the back like the coward he was, just a step away from the fence that was all wood, rough cut and oiled, an enclosure to mark where the master's ownership of the uncaring dust ended. Already, the flies and unseen beasts of the wild had started to claim him for their own.
A man sits on a horse, his coat dusted eggshells, a thick, curling moustache like banana custard, a fat cigar in his lips, as if he didn't know he was in the wilderness, but had stepped out for a stroll around his gardens. Another man comes to him, spurs singing their despair, a hand on his hip.
"Got three more inside. Two girls, probably the farmer's daughters, and a man in full gear. Probably one of theirs."
There are two other bodies in the courtyard, and a woman, hard and worn, but maybe well loved, tossed aside from the front door of the ranch house.
Allen puffed on his cigar, untouched by violence. There is the glint of a badge as another man comes around the corner, his face red from the sun and his lips hard with anger. In his fist is a Mexican boy, maybe 15, the beginnings of a moustache patchy on his lips. "Found this one hiding in a barrel 'round back."
The boy is tossed to the ground and looks up at the man on the horse. Even the white and speckled beast seems to stomp in disapproval at his existence. He bows his head, making promises in Spanish that the others don't understand.
A third man stepped out of the house, a serape of red and white and yellow around his shoulders, dust-covered boots and tired eyes.
"Mr. Wallace," the man on the horse drawls, cigar in his fingers, with all the propriety of a Southern gentleman. "If you'd be so kind."
Wallace moves forward, and the boy looks between the two.
"Que ves, chico?" he asked, his voice gentle, unlike the pistols that hung from his hips. The boy answered, eyes worried, but words clear. Wallace looked up. "Says a band of six came in. Five left. An hombre in black was one of them." The boy continued, and so did Wallace. "Said they shot everyone up, took the women, then shot them too. Stole all the guns and food, then ran off North."
The man on the horse chewed on his cigar. "North, eh? Does he know what they were doing here?"
Wallace put the question to the boy. "Said they were looking for someone named Carstairs. Interrogated everyone. But no one knew who that was."
The man on the hat smiled under his white hat. "Carstairs, eh? Well, I'll be damned." He tugged on his reigns and took his horse out of the courtyard. "Kill him."
Wallace pulled out a gun, and the boy began to beg for his life. Wallace's face was peaceful as he pulled back the hammer. His begging turned to praying. Wallace let him finish before he fired, and the desert went silent.
Silent but for the whipping of the wind and dust and howling, hungry wild.
"Well. I think I know who our bandits are now," he said. "See if we can't find 'em. Let's round up, boys."
The other pinkertons took up their horses, and they rounded the ranch to head North, leaving the bodies behind for the buzzards. A sacrifice to the cruel gods of the desert was one way to keep their favour.