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Lost in Translation

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Etta had made it clear she wasn’t going to sit around waiting for Butch and Sundance to get themselves killed, and they weren’t too keen on that idea either. So rather than them returning to their old ways while she returned to America, they decided it was time to really give the straight and narrow a real try. 

It wasn’t exactly hard to narrow down their options. Both Butch and Sundance had similar fields of expertise and experience. Most of which wasn’t legal. But back in their youths, they’d both worked as ranch hands here and there, which was what had driven them to take up robbing in the first place. 

It was dirty, nasty, smelly work. And with the heat of Bolivia, it was liable to kill them if the Pinkertons didn’t.

But it was honest work. And if that’s what it took to keep Etta around, how could they say no?

Butch got stuck clearing out the pasture and putting up the fence. He wasn’t sure how, and his argument that he was older and therefore should have it easier fell on deaf ears. Sundance insisted that since he was the one who had already met some of the vendors around town, he was the one who got to do the talking.

He was in such a hurry to get on with it that he wouldn’t even wait for Etta, who was out securing a job of her own. The community already had a schoolteacher, but there were a lot of people looking to learn English so they’d have better opportunities with traders and whatnot.

Things were beginning to look up, especially when Sundance returned with a big grin, proud of the deal he secured. He’d set out wanting 20 head of cattle, but the cost was so low, he bought 35.

Butch thought it was an awfully ambitious way to go when neither of them had been in that line of work for fifteen years or more, but the deal had already been made.

At least it got Sundance to pitch in with clearing the pasture, though.

But as soon as the wagon pulled up that same afternoon, Butch’s suspicions rose. A singular horse-drawn cart with a large wooden crate in the back was what arrived, rather than the two dozen cows and men on horseback herding them that they were expecting.

The man in the wagon smiled widely and waved as he hopped down. “Venir,” he said, waving them over with his arm. 

Sundance squinted against the sun and looked up the road, but it was clear. It appeared no one else was coming. He shared a confused look with Butch and then they joined the man at the back of the wagon. 

He was busy prying at the edge of the crate with a metal bar, talking rapidly in Spanish as he did so, seemingly oblivious to the fact that neither one of them could understand a word he was saying. 

They silently moved closer and watched in utter bewilderment as the lid popped off, and they were faced with a box full of…

“Candles,” Butch observed, looking at Sundance questioningly. “Did I miss something?”

Sundance frowned. “Hey, señor, you’re supposed to have cows.”

The man blinked and pointed to the box. “Velas?”

As Sundance got increasingly irritated, Butch raised his hand placatingly. “Let’s just calm down,” he said, turning his attention to the stranger. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.” He thought for a moment, trying desperately to remember the bits of Spanish Etta had been trying to drill into them. “Uh…el error,” he said, pointing to the candles.

The man frowned, shaking his head. He drew a paper from his pocket and turned it so Butch could see it. “Treinta y cinco velas.”

Butch only had to skim it for a moment to know he only recognized a handful of the words, and none of them were helpful. “Well…whatever that means, it’s what it says,” he said with a smile.

“Yes, velas,” Sundance snapped. “Cows.” The man hesitantly turned the paper towards Sundance, who took a deep, shaky breath as his irritation was nearing a boiling point. “I’ve seen it,” he said, each word clipped and sharp with the effort of keeping his cool. “I signed it.”

They stood in tense silence, until Butch said, “Look, we’re really not getting anywere here. I think it’s best if we just wait for Etta and then go back down there with her so maybe we can communicate.”

“Oh no,” Sundance argued, shaking his head furiously. “They’ve already communicated me out of twenty bolivianos for candles.” He smacked the crate with the back of his hand, making the courier flinch.

“Well, something isn’t right and hasn’t been from the start,” Butch said. “That’s way too little money for thirty five head of cattle.”

Sundance stood with his hands on his hips. “Senior, we’re trying to be ranchers. What would we want with candles?”

“Ellos son buenos para la luz.”

“Yeah.” Sundance, not understanding a word, began to pace. Then, one last time, he turned and said, “Velas.”

It got no response out of the poor guy, except for an even more confused glance at Butch.

Sundance’s voice was practically a growl of frustration and fury as he shouted, “Moo? Moo!”

His face lit up in recognition. “Ah, te refieres a las vacas !”

The anger left Sundance’s face in a flash, and now he was the one looking lost. “Vacas?” He repeated. Then, more hesitantly, “Moo?”

“Moo!” The man said enthusiastically, nodding. He climbed back into the wagon and began pounding the lid back on the crate.

Sundance just watched him in stunned silence, his expression one of sheer disappointment.

“Hmm.” Butch crossed his arms. “I think I’m starting to understand.”

The Kid cut him a scorchingly dirty look. “Don’t get all high and mighty. You didn’t know what velas meant either.”

“No velas,” the courier shouted, still fussing with the lid.

Butch said, “I have a feeling we’re in for more than 20 bolivianos if we want those 25 cows.”

After a little more back and forth, the three of them seemed to have reached an agreement. Even the original twenty five cattle they wanted were out of their price range, but for sixty bolivianos, they could get ten cows. It was better than nothing, which was the only reasoning Butch was able to use to convince Sundance to take the deal.

“Ten lousy cows,” Sundance muttered as they headed back inside some time later, drenched in sweat from standing out in the heat. 

“Kid, I can’t believe this.” Butch, completely exasperated, sank into the nearest chair. Their little cabin was quiet with Etta gone, and with Sundance not even attempting to defend himself anymore. Butch watched him get a glass and lift the water pitcher, drumming his fingers on the table. 

Then, he bluntly asked the Kid, “Can you read?”

“Can I - “ Sundance whirled around, the fire back in his eyes. “You’ve seen me read, Butch.”

“I’ve seen you try,” he retorted. “Etta keeps trying to get you to learn the language and you won’t take even five minutes to listen to her.”

“It’s a stupid language,” Sundance snapped. “I’ve got better things to do. Whoever heard of masculine and feminine words? They’re words. They can’t have what makes something masculine or feminine.”

Butch sat with his head resting against his hand tiredly. “Kid, I’m beggin’ ya, will you just listen to your woman?”

Sundance sighed, defeated. “Yeah, alright.”