The Hole-In-The-Wall hideout was booming with laughter and celebration after the Wild Bunch returned from one of their most successful train robberies yet.
It was a particularly sweet victory, since they had evaded a Pinkerton trap along the way and still made out with more cash than they knew what to do with.
Three agents had been waiting in the railcar with the safe, expecting the outlaws to come in through the door. What they weren’t expecting was for Butch to load the underside of the car with dynamite, light the fuse, and start counting.
They only had to listen to the hissing for a few seconds to know he was serious, and they came flying out of there so quickly that they all but fell down the incline near the tracks. The Wild Bunch took cover and laughed as the dynamite blew, raining chunks of wood down on the agents as they continued running, clearly without any intention of turning back.
“That was too close,” said Black Jack, dropping into a chair and propping his feet up on a table. “They weren’t just guarding the safe, they knew we were coming.”
“I think you’re much closer to the truth than you realize. It just so happens I just found this ,” Harvey said, holding up a small, shiny Pinkerton badge, “in his saddlebag.” He flung it at Sundance, who was so taken aback by the comment that he just let the badge bounce off his chest.
It clattered to the floor, filling the abrupt and uncomfortable silence that had gripped the cabin.
Sundance frowned, a sharp edge already in his voice. “That’s not mine. And what were you doing in my things?”
As Harvey raised his revolver towards the Kid’s chest, Butch slipped in front of him as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do.
“Hang on, now.” Butch stood with his hands raised while Sundance just continued to glower at the gun. “You’re wrong. I’m tellin’ you, Harvey, there’s no way.”
Harvey scoffed. “You’re a loyal friend, and that’s a good thing to have. It’s too bad you don’t have one of your own.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Butch said with a calm smile. “He’s not smart enough. He couldn’t pull something off like this even if he had a three day head start.”
Harvey’s pistol didn’t waver. “You’re just saying that.”
“I’m not,” Butch insisted. “You see - “
“Wait a minute,” Kid said, gawking at the back of Butch with abject outrage. “Not smart enough?”
Butch turned to look at him, gritting his teeth. “Would you shut up? I’m defending you here!”
“Well, that’s some way to do it,” Sundance replied.
Harvey growled, bringing their attention back to him. “I’m not buying this horseshit you two are selling. That badge didn’t just come out of thin air.”
“Of course it didn’t,” Butch said placatingly. “No one’s callin’ you a liar, Harvey. This is just a misunderstanding.”
“You know how much I hate the law,” Harvey said. “And if you’re helpin’ them, that’s as good as being one of ‘em to me. There’s nothing to misunderstand about that.”
He fired one shot. Butch cried out and fell to the floor. In the blink of an eye, Sundance had drawn his gun and unloaded four shots into Harvey’s chest.
The rest of the Wild Bunch stood around in stunned silence after the deafening booms stopped, just as quickly as they had started. They took in the scene with wide eyes. Harvey gurgled and dropped to his knees, then slumped on his side.
Sundance lingered close to Butch, his gaze darting around, just waiting for someone else to make a move. No one did.
He apprehensively holstered his gun, then sank down. Butch laid flat on his back, hands clamped over a spot just below his chest, low on the right side. His face was screwed up in pain and he was clearly trying to stay quiet, but a few groans slipped out as he panted.
“Move your hands,” Sundance ordered. “Move!”
Butch did as he was told, allowing his arms to drop limply by his sides. Sundance fussed with his coat and took him by the shoulder, turning him enough so he could see his back. “The bullet went clean through,” he said. “I think that’s good.”
Butch coughed and winced. “You think ? This would be the perfect time to prove me wrong, you know.”
As footsteps approached, Sundance’s gun reappeared in his hand in an instant. He turned to find Black Jack a few feet away, frozen where he stood. One hand was raised a little and the other was extending a bottle of whiskey.
“This’ll help,” he said slowly, eying the gun. “Let him drink some and pour the rest on the wound.”
Sundance reluctantly accepted the bottle and again holstered his gun.
From near the back of their makeshift saloon, Flat-Nose rose from a table with various bottles of booze. “You can trust us,” he said anxiously. “None of us thought what Harvey said could be true. Right?” He glanced around with wide eyes, practically pleading the others to agree.
A quiet murmur of agreement passed through them, except for one they called Laughing Sam. The usually jovial, cheerful man wasn’t laughing now. He fished a few handfuls of cash out of his pockets and tossed it on the table.
“This is all getting to be too much for me,” he said, tipping his hat. “Best of luck, fellas.”
The others watched as he walked out, while Sundance handed Butch the whiskey. The older man strained to prop himself up on his elbow and take a few swigs, and that was as far as he got before Sundance took it back. Blood had already blossomed across Butch’s shirt and a small puddle was forming on the wood floor beneath him.
He hesitated for just a moment before tipping the bottle and allowing the smooth brown liquid to flow onto the wound.
Butch’s already pained expression contorted into a grimace. He clenched his fist and slammed it against the floor, writhing against his best efforts to maintain his composure.
“Alright, come on.” Sundance hurriedly set the whiskey aside and took him by the shoulders.
“Where are we going?” Butch asked, with much effort.
“Where do you think we’re going, Butch?" Without giving him a chance to reply, Sundance heaved him to his feet.
After what seemed like half a day’s journey on horseback, Butch found himself lying on a soft bed. His side had been sufficiently cleaned, stitched, and bandaged by the nearest doctor. In this area, the best they had was a man who worked out of his own home, but he seemed to know what he was doing.
Whatever the doc had injected him with must’ve been a wonder drug, because the overwhelming pain from earlier - standard for a gunshot wound, he’d think - had completely vanished.
Now Butch’s eyelids were growing heavier. The adrenaline lingered, however, preventing him from drifting off. It’d been one heck of a day.
Sundance must’ve thought so, too. He was leaning back in a wooden chair a few feet away, his hat partially shielding his eyes from the dim light of the doc’s oil lamp. Butch could tell just by his breathing he wasn’t asleep.
“Hey Kid,” he began, his voice sleepy and almost slurred, “Whose badge do you think that was?”
“Harvey probably stole it just to come up with an excuse to blow me away,” Sundance answered, not opening his eyes.
Butch was quiet for a moment, thinking. “It’s always been me he’s had a problem with, not you. I don’t understand it.
“He’s dead. Who cares?”
“I do,” Butch replied, though not with nearly as much conviction as he wanted to. “What was the reason for it all?”
Sundance sat upright and glared at him tiredly. “Harvey’s a snake. That’s all there is to it.”
Butch went quiet again. He couldn’t argue with that, and the pull of exhaustion was getting to be almost too much to resist. He sighed heavily, frustrated with how his thoughts were so muddled and nonsensical.
“Someone else could’ve planted it in your bag and tipped Harvey off,” he considered slowly.
Sundance leaned forward and dimmed the lamp until the room was mostly dark, keeping it bright enough just so the doctor could check in as he said he would. “Go to sleep,” he said firmly. “You’re not so good at thinking when you’ve taken morphine.”
The truth was, it didn’t matter to Sundance. That was always gonna be Butch’s gang, no matter who got the bright idea to challenge him. And now everyone had seen that when you messed with one of them, you were gonna have to deal with the other.