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The Posse That Wouldn't Quit

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 1)
Jules — 12 Oct 1998, 1:55 PM

Night had fallen by the time that Tom, B'Elanna and Julie had retraced their steps and brought their weary horses back along the mountain trails to the place where they had spent the afternoon watching and waiting for the train. From that high vantage point above Kolvoord's Bluff they could see down into the cutting where tiny pinpricks of golden light from the lanterns that had been set showed that the Delta Flyer was still there, where it had been stranded. The steady, regular screech as metal scraped against stone bounced off the rocky walls and echoed up the cliffs to where they stood.

"I guess they're still digging the train out," said Tom, and nudged Intrepid with his knee and a slight feel of the rein to turn him. "Let's hit that lower trail and head down there. But carefully, mind. It's my guess they're going to be pretty suspicious of any strangers on horseback after what happened earlier."

They cut down on to the trail the outlaws had used earlier to make their escape, and filed down onto the flat rough cut track bed with its overlay of shingle. Calling out loudly and repeatedly that they were friends, they made their way amidst the curious gaze of the Delta Flyer's passengers past the stranded train and up towards the engine where most of the current activity seemed to be.

"Tom Janeway?" At the sound of a familiar voice, Tom halted Intrepid and leaned down to see Marshal Tuvok's face dimly lit by the flickering glow of the lantern he carried.

"Marshal! Just the man I want to see! You needn't tell us what happened; we were up in the mountains and saw the whole thing. There's been no posse from Defiant City yet?"

"On the contrary," Tuvok responded, with his usual precision. "Marshal Sisko and his men arrived with admirable promptitude, and are following the trail of the train robbers."

"They are?" Tom swung his head up in surprise, and glanced across at his two companions who looked equally at a loss for an explanation. "That's curious. We've just headed back that way - after tracking the outlaws all the way to their hideout - and we didn't see sight nor sound of anyone. Which way did they go? Did you see?"

Marshal Tuvok indicated that Sisko and his men had gone north.

Tom laughed, though he sounded anything but amused. "They must have prepared a false trail in advance, for the posse to follow. It's a brilliant scheme! Not only does it send the posse off in totally the wrong direction, but it puts them in Cardassian territory as well. Which might - if they're unlucky enough to encounter a hunting party - delay them permanently, rather than just put them off the scent a little."

"Indeed?" Tuvok showed interest. "I had thought that the Marshal picked up the trail with remarkable ease," he elaborated. "Even though - naturally - he does have Mr Worf's Klingon tracking skills at his disposal. But there is no doubt in my mind that the leader of this gang is a very clever man, who delights in the use of misdirection. I would be fascinated to meet him."

Tom and Miss Julie shared an uneasy glance. Then Tom slid down from Intrepid's back, bit his lip, and after a moment's inner struggle finally said the words:

"Um... Marshal Tuvok. I think you should know that you already have."

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 2)
Jules — 12 Oct 1998, 1:59 PM

"This is Detective Diane Gordon," announced Tuvok, making the introductions. "She heads up the Hirogen Detective Agency bureau for this district. Detective Gordon, this is Miss Julie Lang, the manager of Voyager City's Empire Bank." The two women shook hands and eyed each other up appraisingly.

"So it's Diane Gordon?" queried Miss Julie. "I could swear that Detective Magnum called you Artemis when he mentioned you earlier. I was expecting a man."

"So was Marshal Tuvok," responded the detective, and laughed. "The full name's Diane Artemis Gordon, but I often use Artemis when I'm undercover on a case. For some reason my men like to call me by it." And she gave a brief, friendly nod in the direction of Detective Magnum, hovering at her shoulder. Julie nodded a greeting to the detective, as Tuvok continued:

"And these are Mr Janeway and Miss Torres, of the Delta Q Ranch. All three of them claim to have witnessed this afternoon's regrettable incident."

"Better than that," put in Tom. "We trailed the gang back to their hideout. We know where they're holed up. And..." He sighed, and paused for a moment to gather his courage, eyeing the two Hirogen detectives and wishing that there was some easy way to say the words. This was going to hit them pretty hard too. "...we know who their leader is."

"You do? Then lead us to them!" Thomas Magnum was simmering with suppressed anger, hampered by the injury that kept him from making any active contribution, and badly in need of something to hit and take out his pent up frustrations on. He turned a regretful eye on Miss Julie. "They've got Nick, you know."

Julie shook her head sorrowfully. "Nick's their leader, Thomas. He fooled us all."

It silenced the two Hirogen detectives for a moment before Diane Gordon said crisply, "Nonsense! From the reports I've received from the Marshal here and Detective Magnum, Detective Locarno tried to overpower the Nova Gang's leader, and was taken prisoner for his pains. He and a female passenger were tied up and taken along as hostages. You must be mistaken."

"No mistake," Tom stated flatly. "We watched them for some time. Detective Locarno may have been tied up when he left here, but he sure didn't act like a prisoner once they got where they were going. He was calling the shots. Take my word for it." He glanced across at Tuvok. "You were the one who said that their leader enjoyed misdirection."

"But..." Detective Magnum was at a loss for words. He'd worked with and liked Detective Locarno for several years, and was having trouble adjusting to this new idea of him.

"How good a shot would you say Nick Locarno is, Detective?" Miss Julie asked quietly.

"Nick? Pretty good. I doubt he could take out someone like Kid Obrist in a one on one, but he's better than most." Detective Magnum raised an eyebrow in question, uncertain what she was getting at, but increasingly convinced that whatever it was, he wouldn't like it.

"Then how do you explain how he managed to fire off two entire rounds from his revolver... and only managed to graze one man with an accidental richochet? There were seven men doing that robbery, Detective, and it's a pretty small bank. It almost had to be harder to miss them than not. It had to be deliberate."

Detective Magnum gave her a strange look, almost wary. But then, dressed for riding and dishevelled from long hours in the saddle, she wasn't quite the genteel lady he'd been used to seeing in the environs of the bank. "There were three men wounded, I thought."

Julie rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Well, you were unconscious on the floor at the time so you could hardly be expected to know, but... I took out the other two. Obviously." She drew breath for a moment, suddenly frowned as a thought caught up with her, then exploded. "You mean, he told you he'd hit them? The nerve of it!"

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 3)
Jules — 12 Oct 1998, 2:03 PM

Thomas Magnum frowned, and the sudden flare of anger in his eyes made it obvious that he'd just narrowed the shortlist of people he'd like to take his frustrations out on to a single candidate. "Well, not in so many words. But he did kind of imply that your shooting was... uh, more enthusiastic than accurate."

Even in the dim light of Marshal Tuvok's lantern it was obvious to all present that Miss Julie's face had taken on the aspect of a thundercloud. B'Elanna glowered in sympathy. Magnum flinched. Tuvok raised an eyebrow. Detective Gordon watched them all thoughtfully, while with one small part of her mind she rehearsed 47 different variations on the theme "You're fired!" so that she could be absolutely certain of having exactly the right words for the occasion when she finally caught up with her errant colleague.

And Tom laughed, in spite of himself. "I'd hate to be in his shoes right now. Robbing your bank... well, that's one thing. But questioning your shooting? That's a matter of pride. Unforgiveable." He looked across to Cochrane, who was nosing around the poor grazing at the track side, investigating every meagre blade of grass, and stared thoughtfully at the rifle strapped to his saddle. "I wouldn't want to be him, looking down the business end of your rifle barrel, and that's a fact."

Julie looked back at him, a certain grim amusement in her eyes indicating that she was very much in tune with his current gallows humour. "You think I'll get the chance?"

"Maybe. Marshal?" Tom appealed to Tuvok. "I don't think we can afford to wait until the Defiant City posse gets back. There's no knowing how long those outlaws will stay put where they are. And once they move on, we've lost them... and the money."

"My thoughts exactly. We need to get back to Voyager City and round up a posse of our own there." Tuvok turned to Tom. "Do you think that your horse might bear an additional passenger?"

Tom nodded. "Yeah. Actually though, we can do better than that. We brought a change of horses. They're tethered out on the edge of the Nekrit Expanse, about halfway between here and Voyager City. We've got to pick them up anyway, before any targs get their scent and come sniffing around, but I guess they wouldn't mind a new rider." Tom cocked his head appraisingly, and glanced at the two detectives. "Guess we could take a couple more passengers as well, if it came to that."

There was a shout from the track ahead, then somebody pulled hard on the steam whistle of the engine. "Track's clear," reported Detective Magnum, who had been keeping an eye on proceedings. He looked down at his useless arm and sighed.

"I guess this is where I say goodbye to you for the present. The train'll be moving out in a few minutes, and I'm no good to you with a shot up arm. You go with them, Artemis. Meanwhile I'll go on to Defiant City with the Flyer, and see if I can't make contact with Marshal Sisko and his men when they get back." He looked across at Tuvok. "And I'll wire ahead of you to Voyager City to start forming your posse before you arrive. We'll be in Defiant City in an hour or so, and you've still got a long ride back." And, glancing at Miss Julie, he added dryly, "If you and your gun do get to meet Nick again... well, you might give him my regards."

An odd smile quirked Julie's lips. "I'll do that."

Tuvok placed his hand on the man's good shoulder. "Thank you, Detective. I wish you good fortune on your mission. And, if you should see Marshal Sisko, tell him that we aim to attack the outlaws' camp at dawn, and would appreciate the assistance of himself and his posse. Mr Janeway here will tell you the best location for a rendezvous."

Ten minutes later the Delta Flyer moved out, resuming its interrupted journey. From the bluff above three horses watched it go, before turning and heading back in the direction of Voyager City with all possible speed.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 4)
Jules — 17 Oct 1998, 12:28 PM

Nobody got much sleep that night in Voyager City.

Marshal Tuvok and his party arrived back in town shortly after one in the morning, and found upon arrival that Detective Magnum had been commendably busy on their behalf. The town was as busy as ever it had been during race week. And the saloons, which should have been winding down for the night, were lit up bright as day, with music and excited chatter spilling from their doors every time someone passed in or out.

The hitching post outside the jailhouse was severely oversubscribed, with an overspill of further horses onto the rails outside Sandrine's and Quark's as well. Tuvok nodded approvingly. Judging by the numbers, his hastily appointed temporary deputy, Big Jim, had done an excellent job of rounding up volunteers for the posse. He had to rely on the horses to estimate the size of that posse though, as with the exception of a handful of men sitting on the boardwalk playing dice, there was no sign of their riders.

Tuvok frowned disapprovingly, but made no comment. He knew only too well that Miss Peggy Lou wasn't above passing the word to Quark, in return for a generous backhander and a crate of something with bubbles in it. No doubt the bartender had been aware of the posse call almost before news of it and Detective Magnum's wire had reached Big Jim. He would, naturally, have opened his book on the spot. Doubtless the vast majority of those who would ride out that night were currently warming Quark's barstools, sinking a little Dutch courage and placing bets on the outcome of their ride.

Tom Janeway slid down off the back of the tired Intrepid, and patted his horse's neck in a half hearted way that indicated that he was pretty much bone weary himself. He looked across at Tuvok. "Want me to go into Quark's and start rounding them up and heading them out? We're going to need to set off within the hour if we're to make it back to the old Titan mine workings before sun up."

"Indeed. That would be most helpful, Mr Janeway." Tuvok was exceedingly grateful to be given the opportunity to avoid the rowdy excesses of Quark's bar, even if he suspected that Tom's motives were less than pure. The younger man doubtless planned to take the opportunity to make the customary wager on the time at which the posse would return.

But a bet was the furthest thing from Tom Janeway's mind on this occasion. He discharged his duty in Quark's with all possible haste, pushing through the buzzing crowd to the bar, where he passed the message to Big Jim that they would be moving out shortly. He nodded to Max and Ol' Mike, who had moved their base of operations over from the Provencal's porch in the interests of being closer to the action, or at least the betting, bought them both a drink and declined to take one himself. The Doc was in there too, well on his way to sliding under the tables. He saw his sister Kes, and managed to disentangle her from the young gunslinger who'd been permanently draped round her shoulders for most of the previous week for long enough to have a quiet word with her, figuring that a few calmer heads in the posse wouldn't go amiss. Moving on, he saw her get to her feet, and tug her young companion gently in the direction of the door. He interrupted Quark's heated debate over the rules of the posse pool with a couple of trailhands he didn't know, enquired politely of the bartender how the betting was going, smiled politely at all the pretty girls serving drinks but didn't dally with them, then headed back for the door. Jenny Delaney beat him to it, draping herself along the side of the frame so that he couldn't pass without acknowledging her presence.

"Tommy!" she said, all ingratiating smiles and demure looks. "Why in such a hurry?"

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 5)
Jules — 17 Oct 1998, 12:30 PM

Tom looked past Jenny evasively, across the street to Sandrine's, where he expected he'd find Miss Kathryn... and probably B'Elanna and Julie as well. "Posse'll be moving out soon."

"But not just yet." Jenny smiled archly up at him. "I've never yet known Voyager City's finest leave a bar without finishing up their drinks first. You've time. And I wanted to ask you something. You came back into town with the Marshal, so I figured you'd know. Is it true what they're saying about the Nova Gang's leader?"

Tom put on his most guileless, innocent look and pleaded ignorance. "Sorry, Jenny. I wouldn't know. I haven't heard them say it." And then he ducked out under her arm and escaped into the street, heading for the rival saloon opposite.

There were a number of Delta Q horses tethered there, so he figured that Miss Kathryn had answered the call and arrived in force, bringing half the ranch hands with her. Inside, the general air of gaiety was much more muted, and the conversation more sedate and civilised than across the street. Sandrine greeted him in her laid back gallic way, and he responded as she liked, bending over her hand to kiss it, before heading over to the table where his mother sat with the Marshal.

"Ma," he said. "May I speak with you in private for a moment?" And, as Tuvok discreetly withdrew from earshot, he added, mostly for the Marshal's benefit, "Did you bring any spare horses with you? We've been riding all day and half the night, and mine and B'Elanna's are about done in."

Kathryn Janeway fixed Tom with a suspicious stare. Not the one that had people quailing in their boots, but a slightly more indulgent and powered down version of it. "I brought Ricky for you, and I figured B'Elanna wouldn't mind taking JTM - Lee-Marie was tired and we couldn't wake her, so she's not here tonight. But you didn't want to speak to me about the horses Tom, did you?"

"How right you are." Tom lowered his voice. "How much did the Marshal tell you about the Nova Gang?"

"Enough. I understand that they're a dangerous bunch. Also, that their leader turns out to be one of the detectives that your friend Miss Lang had supposedly safeguarding her bank." She looked around her to check that Tuvok really had gone - the Marshal's acute hearing was legendary - then leaned across the table and hissed to her son, "So. What is it that you didn't feel able to tell the Marshal?"

"Ma," said Tom desperately. "Ma, it's Nickie."

Kathryn Janeway viewed her adopted eldest in silence for a minute. "You're sure of this, Tom?"

"Well, not to swear to it in a court of law." Tom fidgetted uneasily. "I haven't seen him since I was six... and he was five. So I'm guessing. But yes, I'm fairly certain. He looks a lot like me, you know."

"So I'd heard. To think he was so very close... and we never knew it." Kathryn was barely listening to Tom. "He was working at the bank, of course. Whereas we thought he must just be passing through, visiting the race meeting."

Tom was astonished. "You knew Nick was around? And you didn't tell me?"

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 6)
Jules — 17 Oct 1998, 12:32 PM

Miss Kathryn sighed. It was as close as she was likely to get to an admission of guilt. She fixed pleading puppy dog eyes on Tom. "Someone saw him who... used to know him pretty well, and thought that he must be him. But, like yourself, we weren't certain. So I didn't say anything."

Tom frowned, obviously hurt. "But... he is my brother. And I'd thought him dead. I'd think I had a right to know, whether you were sure or not."

Miss Kathryn reached out to her adopted son and placed a comforting, placating hand on his knee. "I'm sorry, Tom. Maybe I should have told you. But I didn't want to get your hopes up, all for nothing. I thought that if our search found him, that would be soon enough."

"Yeah. I guess." Tom's manner was stiff and a little formal. He forgave, but only up to a point. And then he looked across at the woman who had fulfilled the place of his mother for most of his life, made eye contact, and saw her very genuine concern for him. He gave a long, shuddering sigh.

"I suppose it might still be better than what I have now. Now I merely wish he were dead."

And on that note, they went out into the night to join the others. The posse was mounting up now. Tom counted them. Close to forty men and women, including some who were very clearly along just for the ride. He caught sight of the two trailhands he'd seen talking to Quark earlier. They were still arguing, but the petite looking woman seemed to be getting the better of it for the moment. He caught a brief snatch of their conversation.

"Don't know about you, Kite, but I think it sounds like fun. And we've got a few days to kill before we meet up with Mary over in Garenor. C'mon, let's ride the posse. What does it matter if we don't know these people?"

"Well, O'Pake..." the male trailhand's protests were weakening. He considered for a minute, and then shrugged. "I guess it couldn't hurt to go along and keep an eye on our bets, at that. Just to make sure that everything's legitimate and above board. Okay, let's do it!"

Tom also caught sight of the Starfleet Cavalry officer who'd been a juror in Sevenita's trial - McQueen, he thought the name was - and even the manservant of the strange travelling woman Madame D'Alaireux, who had practically adopted his B'Elanna. Timmy was wielding a strangely outlandish gun that both Tom and Timmy's horse viewed with horror.

"What is that?" somebody asked him.

"Gatling gun," answered Timmy proudly. "Want to see it in action?"

"Uh, later maybe." Tom tuned out the conversation again. And, of course, there was Marshal Sisko's posse from Defiant City as well. Against no more than a dozen outlaws.

It hardly seems fair, he thought, as they moved out and headed northwest across the Nekrid Expanse towards the Mountains of Venus.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 7)
Jules — 18 Oct 1998, 5:30 PM

It was dawn, and the Nova Gang were still celebrating the success of the previous day's raid.

Carried away by the general mood of euphoria, Nicholas Locarno had allowed himself to get ever so slightly drunk. Now he clambered up onto the rough hewn table, picking his way carefully between the piles of currency that they had just finished counting on it to a clear footing, swaying only a little as he did so, and made an emotional speech.

"Whatever happens, I want you all to know that leading this gang has been the high point of my... somewhat creative career in law enforcement. No one could have asked for a better team. Or better friends."

Somebody hiccuped.

Nick continued, "And now I guess we all go our separate ways for a spell. In a couple of hours time Sito and I will make our daring "escape" and head back to Defiant City to tell our sob story. And then, in a month or so's time, when the heat is off, I'll come back and arrange for the disposal of the gold. We'll all meet up in Garenor three months from today, in the usual place. In the meantime..." he looked around, studying each of their faces one by one, before his gaze came finally to rest upon Wesley Crusher, "... go easy on spending all that money, as always. Have fun, but don't make it too obvious that you've had a windfall, or people will start asking questions. If you can make it seem that you've had a big poker win..." - he grinned at Ben - "... or some generous gentleman left it under your pillow, all the better." Jacqueline Sito, Jean Hajar and Alyssa Ogawa nudged each other and giggled.

"And now, I guess it's time to start dividing up the spoils--" He broke off, lifting his head sharply to listen. The lazy smile had evaporated to be replaced by narrowed eyes and a suspicious scowl. "What was that?"

"What was what?" Most of his comrades had been listening with their eyes, feasting on the greenbacks on the table, and hadn't heard whatever had troubled their leader.

"That noise... outside." Nick jumped down from the table, abruptly sober. "Nobody else heard it? Taurik?" He appealed to the member of their band renowned for having sharp ears.

"There was something," acknowledged Taurik, after a moment's consideration. "A falling stone, perhaps. Nothing to worry about."

"You think?" Nick gave an exasperated little laugh. "And just what do you suppose might have made that stone fall? Wind perhaps? Or could it have been someone entering our little hidden valley?" He made up his mind. "Joshua, Ben, go check the entrance. And if that's clear, go as far as the trail into the valley. I'd like to make sure that if we're going to have visitors, we're prepared for--" He froze, arrested in mid sentence.

This time they'd all heard it. The jingling of bits and the chink of a metal shod hoof on stone.

"Visitors indeed," said Nick Locarno grimly. He stepped back to the table and with a single casual arm movement swept a part of the table's contents back into a bag, which he swung easily over his shoulder. As the others scrabbled to follow suit, he rapped out orders. "Take what you can, then head for the horses. We're going out the back way; I'm willing to bet they won't know of it." He glanced in the direction of the mine entrance and drew his gun. "Taurik, saddle my horse for me, and lead it out."

"What are you planning on doing?" asked Jacqueline Sito.

"Covering for the rest of you while you get clear." Nick cast a doubtful glance back over his shoulder at his erstwhile colleagues before devoting his entire concentration on the rocky tunnel that led out into the valley. He slipped back into the cover of one of the heavy timber roof supports and squinted, taking up aim exactly where an average height man's head would appear if he were incautious enough to venture in.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 8)
Jules — 18 Oct 1998, 5:35 PM

As Marshal Tuvok and Big Jim dismounted and edged cautiously towards the mine entrance with guns drawn, there came a shout from above. It might well be that it saved both their lives.

Marshal Sisko and his men from Defiant City were posted around the valley sides, in case the outlaws should evade the Voyager City posse. It had been a useful precaution; Constable Odo, stationed on the heights above the mine workings, had spotted something interesting.

"Horses! Heading down the next valley, and fast!"

Tuvok pursed his lips disapprovingly. "It would seem that our quarry has gotten wind of our approach."

Big Jim tugged his ear thoughtfully and wiped his brow. "Must be another way out. In fact, now I come to think of it, seems I do remember that the old Titan mine always suffered something terrible from bad air. They sunk several ventilation shafts."

Tuvok frowned. "It is unfortunate that you did not recall this information sooner. However, that is of no importance right now." He gestured to a small handful of his most trusted riders. "I will remain and make sure that the mine itself is secure. You take the rest of the posse, and follow those horses." He glanced up, to see a clear skyline. "I see that Marshal Sisko and his men have done so already."

"Alright!" Big Jim grinned, pleased to finally be seeing action. Jumping back on to his horse, he spurred it into a canter and headed through the gathered horses, waving his hat and calling to them as he went. "Follow me, men! They've slipped through our net and are heading down the next valley. C'mon, stir yourselves! We don't want the Defiant City posse to have all the fun, do we?"

Cowgirl Vickie and Diane Artemis Gordon, riding side by side, looked at each other and grinned. "No, indeed," they said to each other, and spurred their horses after Big Jim. They both had scores to settle with the Nova Gang's leader, after all.

Kes's gunslinger whooped and followed. After one brief apologetic glance in the direction of the Marshal, Kes turned her horse and headed after him. Miss Kathryn and the Delta Q hands clattered out of the valley after her, and suddenly everybody was going, fearing to miss anything. Only Tuvok and a handful of others remained.

"You coming?" B'Elanna asked Tom, holding a frisky JTM back from bolting after the others by willpower alone.

Tom shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I've done my duty. I don't think I really want to see what happens next." B'Elanna threw him a sympathetic glance, knowing how he was torn between loyalty and what was right, but he pretended not to see it. "I'll stay with the Marshal, help him check out the mine for stragglers. You go on though." He managed a shaky grin. "JTM looks like he could do with the gallop, and you look like you could use the opportunity to hit someone."

"Well, if you're sure..." B'Elanna hovered indecisively for a moment, then turned her horse and urged him after the rest.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 9)
Jules — 30 Dec 1998, 7:22 AM

Marshal Tuvok frowned and looked a little doubtfully at the mine entrance. A rough hewn, square cut hole that had been hacked out of the rocky mountain side, it yawned in a dark and distinctly uninviting way. It shouldn't matter. The Nova Gang had fled, after all, with most of Voyager City and Defiant City's finest at their heels. But still, logic taught him that caution was rarely misplaced.

"Mr Larson," he said, turning to the man closest to him. "Did you bring the lantern with you?"

Larson had. And a tinder box to light it. With the dull orange glow of the lamp to light their path, Tuvok gave the word to enter the tunnel. Larson and Baxter led the way. Tuvok held back Miss Julie for a moment before following them.

"Please remain at the rear of the party, Miss Lang. Mr Janeway, can you make sure that she does? We do not, after all, know what we will find within..."

"Well..." But Julie was left to direct her indignation at empty air. Tuvok was gone. "So we don't know what we'll find within", she muttered to Tom Janeway under her breath. "An empty mine, most likely. My guess is that the birds have flown."

"Hmm. Maybe." Tom was non-committal, acutely aware of the weight of the mountain above his head and the walls pressing in on him from all sides. He reached out a gloved hand and prodded a timber support suspiciously. Finding it free from the rot he'd half feared, he heaved a sigh and guessed that the roof probably would hold. If only it didn't crowd him so much...

"You okay?" Julie was watching him closely in the shadowed half light. He nodded, swallowed in a throat suddenly dry, and gestured to indicate that she should precede him into the mine. Reminding himself that there was a trick to getting through this, he followed her. It was, after all, simply a case of telling himself repeatedly that it was just another building, no worse than the courthouse or the jail or the bank, which also had stone walls. Unfortunately, that didn't help a lot on this particular occasion since the other thing you did when claustrophobia kicked in was try to think about something else entirely, and it had been a he11 of a lot easier to think of the Delta Q being razed to the ground or of B'Elanna and the angry man beside him back when he and Chakotay had been stuck in that cave than it was to contemplate the associations that came along with thoughts of the stone walls of the courthouse, the jail and the bank.

Of course, he could have opted to go with the posse, and run the risk of coming face to face with Nick. But on balance, he thought he preferred to take his chances with the claustrophobia.

By the time he and Julie reached the main cavern, the marshal and his men had already checked it for evidence of the gang and, finding no stragglers present, had homed in on the pile of gold bullion bars that were neatly stacked in one corner. The rock floor underfoot was damp and slippery with green slime, so Larson had placed his lantern high, on the bullion stack. The flame flickered, twisted and broke, jumping in the draught. Glad of something to take his mind off things, Tom tested the air and noted which way the flame was being drawn. There were a number of tunnels to the rear of the cave, leading deeper into the mountain. Trying not to think too much about that, Tom stood in front of each of them in turn, closed his eyes and waited, senses alert to the slightest breath of movement in the air. At his third attempt, he was rewarded by the hint of a chill breeze.

"Looks like their back door's this way. Nice little through draught. Ah..."

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 10)
Jules — 30 Dec 1998, 7:24 AM

Two steps into the tunnel, and he was aware of space ahead of him, as it opened out into a second cavern. It was pitch black in here, but his senses were immediately assaulted by reassuringly familiar sounds and smells, as a large animal snorted softly in curiosity nearby. Gently, he reached out a probing hand and found a silken muscled shoulder. He ran his hand down it and explored further, traced the line of a saddle. Greedy for attention, the horse nuzzled at his hand, and his fingers found the bridle and the bit in its mouth. And he wondered a little.

When Julie followed him in, with a candle she'd found in the main cavern and lit from Larson's lamp, he was down on one knee examining the horse's legs.

"Horses? Why'd they leave these two behind?"

Tom shrugged, glancing up at her. "Not sure. Maybe they were spares, and they thought they'd slow them down too much. But I recognise this fellow..." He came upright again, stroked the handsome head, and admired the way that the candlelight danced on the bright chestnut coat with the eye of a man who appreciates good horseflesh. "He's the one Nick rode in on yesterday."

Neither of them liked that thought much, so Tom changed the subject. "I've found out how they got away so quietly and cleanly though. Look." He indicated the horse's feet, and Julie bent with the candle to get a better look.

"Careful with that," Tom said in her ear. "Naked flame's dangerous with so much straw underfoot. Although... this cavern floor's pretty damp. Good job B'Elanna's not here. She'd have a fit if she saw the conditions these animals are stabled in. There's a serious risk of foot rot..."

Julie only half listened to his nervy chatter as she reached out and slowly untied the bindings that held the rough hemp cloth over the horse's hoof and halfway up its cannon bone. As the sacking dropped away to the floor the animal shifted position slightly, moving away from them, and lifting the hoof to expose the pad underneath. She glanced up at Tom. "They muffled their hooves?"

"Clever idea. Worked too. We didn't hear a thing until they were safely out their back entrance, mounted, and galloping like crazy. Whereas I'm willing to bet they heard us coming all the way down that valley... You've got to hand it to my brother. He's a bright boy."

"Shh, Tom. You don't know for certain that--"

"Yes, I do. Miss Kathryn as good as confirmed it last night while the posse was being rounded up. Somebody saw him in town, she said. Somebody who knew us both pretty well. She wouldn't say who though."

But Nick Locarno, uncomfortably and precariously wedged into the high, almost invisible crevasse in the cavern wall over their heads, listening to every word they said, suddenly recalled the distinguished looking older man that he'd met that day at the races. The one who'd mistaken him for Tom, and been so visibly devastated to learn his mistake. The one who, given time to reflect, had obviously recalled that 'missing presumed dead' didn't necessarily mean dead.

He smiled to himself, a little bitterly. Well, well, well. So it would seem that after a lifetime of pretending that they didn't exist, Senator Owen Paris was on the prowl and suddenly quite touchingly eager to be reunited with his two long lost sons.

He wondered if there was an angle in there that he could exploit somehow.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 11)
Jules — 30 Dec 1998, 7:27 AM

"Miss Lang. Mr Janeway. There you are."

Marshal Tuvok entered the inner cavern and inspected the evidence that it had been used by the outlaws as a stabling area with his usual calm and dispassionate eye. Tom filled him in quickly on what they had discovered, about the horses and about the Nova Gang's escape route, and he nodded. "It seems that the passageway ahead would appear to reward further investigation. However, as the outlaws have already vacated the mine, logic dictates that there is no particular urgency in the matter."

"I take it you've examined the gold to your satisfaction? Is it all there?" Miss Julie asked.

"Indeed. It would seem that, faced with the need for a hasty departure, the Nova Gang had no easy means of transportation for it, and abandoned it lest it slow them down unduly. Regrettably however, the same would not seem to apply to the contents of your bank safe, currency bills being considerably more portable." He extended a meagre handful of banknotes in her direction. "Mr Larson and Mr Baxter found these scattered on the floor, but there is nothing more. The inescapable conclusion is that they took the rest of the money with them when they went."

A long, shuddering sigh escaped Miss Julie. She was insured, certainly, but this was still going to hit her bank hard. "I guess that's pretty much what I'd expected, Marshal. But thank you anyway."

"Now, about this tunnel..." Tuvok called to his men to bring up some lights, and they examined the passage which narrowed and continued on beyond the stable area. It ran straight between timber supports for almost a hundred yards, then turned and continued at a gentle uphill slant.

"It doesn't look much like a tunnel cut to get to the gold face to me," observed Tom, doing his best to resist the temptation to test these supports to see if they were any more rotten than the ones at the mine's front entrance. "It's been cut too wide and too high, and it must be like this all the way if they had space to get horses out. And besides..." - he backheeled his boot on the rock underfoot and his spur chimed with the sound of metal on metal - "... there are rails. Must be the way the ore carts went, and a proper entrance."

Tuvok and his men moved forward to investigate. Tom started to follow, then stopped dead, frowned and cocked his head, listening with half shut eyes. He put out a hand to Miss Julie as she brushed past him, indicating that she should stay put also, and she glanced up at him questioningly.

"Hear something?" he asked.

"No. Nothing. No, wait..." This time she did hear it; the snort and shuffling movement of a suddenly restless horse. She looked at Tom, looked back down the tunnel, looked back at Tom again.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" he asked, and nodded back in the direction they had come.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 12)
Jules — 30 Dec 1998, 7:32 AM

Julie gave a fleeting grin. "I'm a banker. I tend to notice when things don't add up. It's the spare horses, isn't it? I noticed that you were pretty concerned about them."

"Maybe I'm not so sure they are spare." Tom made up his mind all of a sudden and grabbed her hand. "Come on. Let's go back."

They'd gone no more than half a dozen steps before they heard the clatter of the chestnut's unmuffled hoof on stone. They glanced at each other, hunch becoming certainty, then broke into a run, Tom yelling for the marshal as they went. They burst into the first cavern to find it as empty as they'd feared, the tether ropes hanging loose from their rings, cut by a knife to save time.

"Come on!" gasped Tom, and they ran on, for the mine entrance and their own horses. The speed of their passage blew out the candle Julie carried, and they negotiated the last part in the dark, feeling along the clammy rock walls to guide their way until daylight showed at the end of the tunnel and they could head straight for it.

Once outside they very nearly caught up with the two fugitives, who had paused in their flight just long enough to untie and scatter the five tethered horses to better facilitate their escape. Tom laughed bitterly, catching the attention of the taller and fairer of the two men, who looked back at them from the saddle of the chestnut stallion.

"You don't miss a trick, do you?" he asked of him.

Two men, much the same height and build, with the same light brown hair and identical faces, stared appraisingly at each other across a ten foot gap that might as well have been a million miles. Angry blue-grey eyes glared at amused grey-blue ones. And Nick Locarno laughed.

"Rarely," he said. He nodded politely to Miss Julie, then nudged the sides of his mount and galloped away up the valley, yelling at the loose horses to shoo them further away as he did so.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 13)
Jules — 30 Dec 1998, 7:36 AM

Tom put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. The mare Ricky pricked up her ears, turned her head, and trotted back in his direction. He turned to Julie with a grin.

"I always did have a way with Ricky," he observed, grabbing the reins and vaulting into the mare's saddle. "Now to get your horse back." He approached Julie's mount at a cautious trot, leaned out of his saddle to capture the reins, then brought the gelding back at a neat canter. Julie gathered the reins and put a foot in one stirrup and the hireling whirled and circled, upset and confused at its recent treatment. She hopped a little, tried to find the purchase and control to get into the saddle, and couldn't.

"You'd better go on without me, Tom. They're getting away."

"Don't be an idiot." Tom put a hand across and took the reins, holding her horse still while she mounted. "If I were to gallop off without you, this crazy animal of Larson's would most likely take off too, dragging you along with it. Besides, you're ready now."

"They've got a long start on us."

He shrugged. "We'll just have to make it up then, won't we?"

Larson and Baxter made it to the mine entrance just in time to see the two of them disappear over the rim of the valley. Cursing, they started about the long and tedious business of catching three uncooperative loose horses. Marshal Tuvok didn't make it so far. His attention had been arrested by the sight of the table in the outer cavern. On it was a sheet of paper which had certainly not been there when they had come that way earlier, weighted down by an object which closer inspection proved to be a detective's badge. Deducing from this who the author logically must be, he picked up the page and scrutinised it with some interest.

The writing on it wavered untidily and the lines crossed in several places, as if it had been written in the dark and at some haste. Given the circumstances, Tuvok was reasonably sure that it had been.

Marshal Tuvok,

Please extend my apologies to-- well, to just about
anyone you feel I may have reason to apologise to.
I'd append an itemised list, but it's getting to be
quite a long one and I don't have the time right
now. I'm sure you understand.

Also, would you pass on a message and the badge that
you find with this note to Detective Gordon of the
Hirogen Detective Agency? Tell her I'm sorry, but
that I thought I'd save her the embarrassment and
inconvenience of having to fire me by quitting

Take care with that posse. Galloping in mountain
terrain can be pretty treacherous.

Nicholas Locarno

Tuvok raised one eyebrow, and grimaced slightly. If it hadn't been so illogical a reaction, you might almost have thought he was fighting the impulse to smile.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 14)
Jules — 30 Dec 1998, 6:27 PM

The sun sunk slowly in the west, a pregnant red ball of fire, spilling over and leaking flames of orange and rosy pink. Since he and his companion were heading in that direction, striking doggedly through the mountains at the best pace their tired horses could muster, Nick Locarno was vaguely aware of its beauty; a desert sunset such as he'd never see in the city. But at that particular moment in time, there was only one beautiful scenic sight that he was prepared to admire and appreciate, and that was an empty skyline.

"I think we've lost them," announced Taurik, as they reached the sheltering embrace of a stand of trees. Nick sighed, pulled Starburst to a halt, and turned in his saddle to look. For a time he waited, counting minutes under his breath. Four... five... six... seven. And then he saw movement amongst the trees on the far side of the valley, and shrugged with a resignation that - despite the seriousness of his predicament - still held traces of amusement. He had to hand it to his brother, he thought, he was certainly persistent. And Miss Julie, still doggedly at Tom's side after a hard day's riding... she was a bit of a revelation too. Criminally wasted as a prim and proper banker, hurtling headlong in the direction of spinsterdom, of course. But then, maybe after this week's rough and tumble, she might even realise that herself.

He grinned at the thought that, in robbing her bank, he might actually have done Miss Julie a favour, and then noticed that Taurik still hadn't noticed the movement on the horizon. He touched his companion's arm, and when the sharp, slightly sallow face turned towards him, gestured skywards. "They're still with us. Time to move on again."

Taurik frowned. "Perhaps we should split up and go in different directions? It would be easier for one of us to conceal himself from sight, and the other might evade pursuit entirely."

Nick shook his head at the suggestion. "What if they were to split up too? Each follow one of us?"

"Logically, they will not," Taurik contradicted him. "One of them is a woman. The man will insist on remaining with her in order to protect her. And, on the very unlikely chance that he should not, she would be easy to overpower."

Not if she gets her gunsights on you first, thought Nick, remembering her skills with a rifle. Not that he wouldn't mind exchanging a few more flirtatious pleasantries with Miss Lang, but under the present circumstances he could only visualise two potential scenarios under which it might happen: at the point of her rifle, or his six-gun. Neither one of them held much appeal for him. And besides, he figured he knew their pursuers too well for there to be any doubt who they'd choose to follow if he and Taurik did go their separate ways. It was him they were after, both for their respective personal reasons and because they'd clearly somehow pegged him as leader of the Nova Gang. Taurik was an irrelevance; only there at all because the buffoon was incapable of saddling a horse up fast enough for them to have been able to make a clean escape with the rest.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 15)
Jules — 30 Dec 1998, 6:30 PM

He eyed Taurik carefully now. He'd been spending a lot of time with Wesley, this one, and it seemed that he might be getting a little too big for his breeches too. He'd bear careful watching, once they got out of this and things were back to norm--

With a start, Nick recollected that things couldn't get back to normal. Not now. Not ever. Not now that his cover was blown and his identity public knowledge, just like the rest of them. No more secure anonymity. No more double life, hiding behind the cloak of respectability. He'd left that behind, along with his badge, back on the table in the Titan Mine. Within a week, maybe two, there'd be a poster with his name on it hanging in Marshal Tuvok's office along with the rest of them, with a big fat reward provided by the railroad, the banks or the insurance companies attached to it for anyone who liked to chance his arm to try and collect.

One way or another he'd been breaking the law since he'd been ten years old and picked his first pocket, but he'd never actually been a known outlaw before. It was a new and rather unsettling feeling. At best he could expect to stay one jump ahead of the law. Knowing it from both sides certainly gave him some advantages in that respect. And if things got too hot, he could always light out for a safe exile in Mexico or Canada. One thing was for certain though: he was going to be spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, waiting for the next lawman or bounty hunter to come along.

And he didn't like it one bit.

"We stay together," he said curtly to Taurik, in a voice that brooked no argument. And his voice twisted into sarcasm. "After all, I'd hate to break up a beautiful friendship."

His companion was unperturbed. Nick had turned nasty before, particularly in times of stress. He usually got them out of whatever hole they were in anyway, but Taurik felt it was his duty to point out that if he didn't come up with one of his usual improvised masterplans fairly quickly, they were in a lot of trouble. "Maybe they'll give us adjoining cells."

Nick shot him a dirty look.

"That's what worries me."

Cells were a thought he didn't really need right then.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 16)
Jules — 30 Dec 1998, 6:34 PM

They lost Taurik's horse trying to ford the river.

It was one of the small tributary rivers that eventually wound its way down and around the mountain to flow into the Big Coffee. It looked innocuous enough; fast running water over a shallow bottom, clean enough to drink from, smoothly worn pebbles on the riverbed clearly visible. It was about twenty feet across.

Starburst plunged in and snorted with distaste, clearly unhappy with the sting of the icy waters. He spooked a little as the current tugged at his legs but did as he was bidden, striding out strongly for the other side. Nick looked back a little apprehensively to see Taurik's mount teetering nervously on the brink, and yelled at him to come on. They really had very little choice. Upstream offered only an ever more impossible series of ravines and crags that they couldn't possibly expect to get a horse up. Downstream was trees again, but for some time now they had been getting ever more densely packed, and Nick seriously doubted their ability to get much further through them without being obliged to leave the horses behind.

Besides, for quite some time he'd been getting anxious about the suspiciously leisurely pace that Tom was setting in following them. It hadn't escaped his attention that the other man had lived in this country for the best part of twenty years, and most likely knew it like the back of his hand. If he was holding back now, there was every chance that he was trying to herd them towards a dead end. And if it was a trap, Nick intended to spring it if he possibly could.

He yelled again to Taurik to hurry up.

Taurik was no horseman. He kicked frantically and finally persuaded his mount to take the plunge. The mare danced nervously in the water, rounding her back mutinously as if ready to buck, legs all over the place. And then she picked up the stone, between shoe and hoof, and screamed her rage and pain to the mountains as she whirled and plunged three-legged.

Nick cursed. If their pursuers hadn't known where to find them before, they surely did now. Taurik, hanging on precariously by hugging the mare's neck, slowly slid round and fell off into the icy waters. Nick tied Starburst to a tree and scrambled down to the water's edge, grabbing the agitated mare as she plunged her way out. He found the stone easily enough, but was only able to free it by levering her shoe off with his knife, which didn't bode well for their prospects of remaining mounted. Walking her two or three steps confirmed all his worst fears: she was badly lame.

Unheeded, a soaking Taurik crawled out of the water and shook himself miserably. In the act of stripping the mare of her saddle and bridle, Nick abruptly took pity on him and threw him the cloth that had been under her saddle to dry himself on. He slapped the mare on her rump and sent her stumbling on her way. Hopefully she'd eventually find her way back to civilisation. In the meantime he just wanted her out of sight of their pursuers so that they wouldn't necessarily know immediately that they were short a horse. He concealed the saddle as best he could, then fixed Taurik with a baleful glare.

"Grab your saddlebags and put them on Starburst," he said. "We're going to have to share him."

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 17)
Jules — 6 Jan 1999, 7:33 AM

Emerging from the trees, Nick Locarno spotted a rough dirt track winding its way slowly down into the valley below and pointed his horse in its direction with something approaching relief. They'd ridden hard from dawn to dusk, not to mention much of the previous day, and under the burden of Taurik's additional weight the exhausted Starburst was stumbling with ever increasing frequency. It was apparent that he would not be able to carry them much further, but the trail below hinted at the possibility of civilisation nearby, and civilisation offered welcome new options for evading the relentless pursuit of the two who dogged their every hoofprint. And perhaps even the chance to steal fresh horses.

True, he'd be sorry to see this one go. He'd had the chestnut stallion for a while now, and found that his speed and endurance suited him pretty well. Leaving him behind would be almost like losing an old friend, and he wasn't sure that he had enough of them left that he could afford to spare one. But the horse's laboured breathing, swaying gait and sweating flanks told their own tale. If he pushed him much further, the horse would die, and sooner rather than later.

Starburst staggered again, barely recovering himself. Nick hauled his head up in time to prevent him from stumbling to his knees, but as the violent motion propelled Taurik forward to crash into his back he made up his mind. "Get down."

Taurik didn't move, so he turned round to glare at him. "Get down." After a long moment the other did so, reluctantly. Obviously he feared that he was about to be left behind.

But Nick slid off the horse's back as well. "He's not going to carry us any further. Time to start walking."

Taurik objected, loudly. He was proving to be a most tiresome companion. "This is a far from logical course of action. Our pursuers are close behind. We need the speed of the horse."

"What speed? He's going to collapse and die at any minute!" Even to his own ears, Nick sounded on the verge of hysteria, but he was frustrated, more than a little scared now, and very nearly as exhausted as the horse. He'd risen before dawn to catch the Delta Flyer two days earlier and hadn't slept since. He took a deep, calming breath, then tried again. "It's getting dark now. In an hour or so there'll be no danger of them catching sight of us, however much they close in on our position. They'll likely stop and make camp for the night, for fear of losing our trail. Once the moon's up, we should be able to give them the slip easily enough."

Taurik only looked partly convinced. "And go where, exactly?"

Nick nodded ahead of them, down the trail. "This has got to lead somewhere. My guess is we'll find ourselves a ranch at the end of it." He slung his saddlebags, containing his few remaining worldly possessions and his share of the money from the robbery, over one shoulder and began to unsaddle the horse. Taurik watched without further comment and without offering to help. To him, having decided to abandon the horse, it seemed an unnecessarily emotional gesture to waste the precious time to set it free before they went on. It would undoubtedly be targ fodder before the night was out anyway. He did however pick up his own saddlebags.

Nick patted Starburst on the rump to start him on his way, but the horse only shuffled wearily a few feet from the track and stood there, hunched and miserable. It was apparent that it would take a lot to persuade him to move off far enough so that their pursuers would miss him. So Nick cursed under his breath, slung the saddle out of sight behind the nearest tree, and gave the dejected stallion one final pat.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 18)
Jules — 6 Jan 1999, 7:37 AM

The night air carried the howl of a distant targ and he shuddered slightly. Perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing if Tom and Miss Julie were to run slap bang into the horse. If he was realistic, he knew that he was a little too out of his element in these mountains to have any real confidence in fooling them anyway. This was Tom's home territory, not his. And, on the bonus side, if their humanitarian instincts did prompt them to rescue his horse, there was always the very real possibility that it would slow them down for a change instead of him.

At that thought he brightened slightly, and hastened off down the trail to overhaul the glumly trudging Taurik, already some two hundred yards ahead. He caught up with him atop an overhanging bluff, where the trail petered out. Taurik was peering over the side. Nick moved to join him, dropping on to his stomach and lying full length on the ground to take a cautious survey of the terrain ahead and below. Just because they had two pursuers on their tail already didn't mean that they couldn't run slap bang into the rest of the posse as well.

But the land below was quiet and seemingly deserted. Squinting into the twilight, he saw a scree slope angled down at a gentle incline from the base of the short cliff beneath them, rocks and pebbles gradually giving way to brush and tumbleweed, and then to a cart track, disappearing off into the distance in both directions. Nick frowned, trying to figure out where they might be. They'd come so far and changed direction so often to avoid the more rugged terrain that he found it almost impossible to orient himself, particularly now that the sun was gone, but he figured that the track disappearing into the night to his left must eventually end up in Voyager City.

Not a place he particularly wanted to be. Right sounded like the direction to head in then.

He was just turning to his companion to say so, when Taurik started forward in surprise, stared intently for a moment, then pointed, over in the direction where Nick thought Voyager City must be. "Look, smoke. There must be a ranch over there. Perhaps we could obtain ourselves new horses."

"That'd be useful," allowed Nick, looking over in the direction indicated by Taurik's outstretched arm. An isolated ranch, out of town, wouldn't be so bad. The owners might not even have heard the news, in which case they could sell them some sob story about lame horses and getting lost in the mountains. Then his gaze narrowed in surprise. "No, not smoke and not a ranch house. It's moving. It's dust... from a wagon. Coming this way."

Both men strained their eyes against the growing darkness, waiting for the wagon to come close enough to see properly. One passenger. Looked like a woman. They glanced at each other, sharing the same thought.

"Now might be an appropriate time to change our mode of transportation," suggested Taurik.

Nick grinned back at him, suddenly buoyant and full of hope once more. "Funny that that thought should occur to you too. Now, can you see a way down from here?"

There wasn't really, but it was amazing what you could improvise with a lasso, a couple of jutting rocks, and a lot of motivation. The two outlaws half jumped, half fell down the cliff, stumbled down the perilous scree slope, and ran for the road, reaching their destination just as the wagon passed. It kept going, so they ran after it, shouting and waving their hats. After a moment it pulled up and waited for them. A brief conversation ensued and then the wagon continued on its way, two outlaws bedded down in the back amongst the sacks of supplies from Miss Peggy Lou's general stores.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 19)
Jules — 26 Aug 1999, 12:04 PM

"Where'd they go?" Julie asked, standing up in her stirrups and straining her eyes in the deep twilight for any sign of the two outlaws. Nothing stirred, apart from some small creature going about its own business in the nearby stand of trees, ferreting about for food.

Tom was off his horse, reins knotted and looped casually over one elbow. He poked at the ground, looking for evidence of others passing. "Something here... I think. Get me a light, could you?"

Julie fumbled the reins of both her own horse and the one she was leading into one hand, and felt around in her saddlebags. "Tinder box, coming right up."

Tom caught it, wrapped a couple of handfuls of long grass round a dead branch and struck a light. His makeshift torch smouldered briefly, then flared bright. Crouching over the path, he held it out slightly to the side, so as not to cast unwanted shadows. Apparently seeing what he expected, he grunted in triumph, then moved his inspection over towards the cliff edge.

"Footprints over there... a sliver of cloth that used to belong to someone's jacket here," he said at last. "No doubt about it. They came this way, and this is where they went down the rock face. Of course..." and his eyes lifted to take in the two tired looking stray animals that he and his companion had picked up along the way, one being led by Julie, and the other firmly tied by a tether rope to the high pommel of his saddle, "... they don't have any horses any more. Slows 'em down, but in some ways it gives them the advantage. They can take paths we can't."

"Hmph," said Julie. "So what do we do now?"

Tom shrugged. "The trail winds down the cliff along that way a bit. We can ride on, then retrace our steps once we're down and be back here within half an hour. But I'm not sure how much good it'll do us. I've been scanning the country below us. There's no real cover, so even with it as dark as it is now we should be able to spot the two of them moving... but only if there was anything or anybody there to see. Nick's sneaky and careful enough to try to cover his tracks, but he doesn't have the skills to hide out there in plain sight. And the other guy certainly doesn't. They've slipped us somewhere. I don't know how, but they've managed it."

"Are you sorry for that?" Julie asked, her voice full of sympathy.

Tom snorted, bitterly amused. "A little, maybe. I confess that blood ties are getting a little in the way of my civic duty right now."

"So, what do you want to do now? Go back to town and report that we lost them?"

Tom thought for a long time before replying. "It's tempting," he finally admitted. "It's very tempting. But no. I don't want to make the choice, so I figure we'll leave it up to fate. Let's head down that trail and make our way back to the base of the cliff here, make camp overnight. If we can't pick up the trail in the morning, that'll be the time to call it quits."

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 20)
Jules — 28 Aug 1999, 7:25 AM

They found another fragment of Taurik's jacket snagged on a rock near the base of the cliff. By mutual agreement this was deemed a suitable camp site, and they gathered a number of dry sticks and began building a fire.

"Roasted targ or prairie dog?" enquired Tom, pulling a billy can, a small bag containing a generously measured portion of coffee beans - Miss Kathryn was of the opinion that her horses should be sent out on the trail properly equipped with the bare minimum of creature comforts - and a handful of utensils from his saddle bags. He turned expectantly, and caught the expression of revulsion he'd half expected on Julie's face, revealed by the light of the fire as it smouldered and took hold.

Julie grimaced. "Neither. Ugh."

"Well, it may be that or starve," Tom said with cheerful apology. "I've the usual ration packs of dough cakes and trail biscuits, but the ranch cook hasn't made a new batch since the last cattle drive so they're a bit elderly now and not exactly appetising on their own. I'll see what else I can come up with when I go to fetch water." He paused, and a teasing tone crept into his voice. "So much for you embracing the chance to live the wilder life."

Julie snorted. "Just because I can find it tedious in the extreme sitting in that bank counting other people's money all day, not to mention having to be demure and polite and talk nice and ride side-saddle, doesn't mean I want to spend my nights roasting vermin over a camp fire and sleeping on dirt and stones under half a horse blanket."

"No. I guess not. Uh, you've done pretty well, all things considered," Tom said appraisingly. "But I'm guessing you're going to regret it in the morning, when your body catches up with you and reminds you quite how much time you've spent on a horse these past couple of days."

"So don't you remind me either," Julie said with a groan. "I'm not looking forward to it."

She caught the flash of teeth in the firelight as he grinned at her. "Well, we could always go home now. You'd be safely in your bed by an hour or two after midnight, and able to stagger around at leisure tomorrow without any pressing need to get back on a horse ant time soon. I could probably get back here again by dawn, even after escorting you home."

"Don't even think it Tom," Julie warned him. "You wouldn't try suggesting to Miss Kathryn that she go home and miss all the fun, would you? Or B'Elanna? Then don't ask it of me either."


"And just when were you planning to sleep?" Julie enquired. "I doubt if you snatched any more sleep than I did last night - which was just the odd few minutes dozing here and there on a moving horse. I don't know about you, but I'm about ready to drop. A few more hours in the saddle does not sound like an attractive option right now. I'd rather take my chances with the rocks and the vermin.

"Besides, you really think those two ahead of us are in any better state? Nick at least has been awake as long as we have. He won't be able to keep going without making mistakes. And if we've slept enough to be refreshed, we're more likely to spot them."

"I guess," Tom acknowledged with a sigh. "You keep the fire going. I'll go fetch us some water for the horses and the coffee. And maybe a nice rattlesnake for supper."

Julie's look told him what she thought of that idea. He couldn't bring himself to spoil the moment by actually confessing that he was the fussiest eater of any cowboy on the Delta Q, and that he himself would as soon have eaten grass as rattlesnake.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 21)
Jules — 28 Aug 1999, 10:47 AM

Julie checked the horses. All four of the animals looked tired and sorry for themselves, particularly the lame mare, but there wasn't a lot she could do for them until Tom got back. So she sat and poked at the fire, encouraging the glowing embers to smoulder rather than flame up since they'd be cooking on it shortly. She'd jury rigged a spit from some of the sappier of the branches that had spilled over the cliff from the trees above, in the expectation that they wouldn't burn quite so easily. She was still rather less than sanguine about what Tom might think to cook upon it though.

"Would fish be acceptable?" Tom was back, grinning at her, a heavy canvas pail in either hand. These he set down carefully in front of the lame mare and the chestnut that had been his brother's horse. He handed Julie a stick which had been whittled to a sharp point by his knife, on which were impaled half a dozen medium sized striped fish. "Looks like we're both saved from the char-grilled rattlesnake tonight. Hop-Sing Neelix, our ranch cook, tells me it's a delicacy but it always tastes like rubber to me. However many spices he puts on it."

"They look fine," said Julie, who'd been privileged never to experience any of Hop-Sing Neelix's cooking in person. With or without spices. She took Tom's makeshift spear from him and arranged it over the spit to allow the fish to begin cooking. "Where'd you find them?"

"Oh, I followed the cliff along to where the river comes down it. There's a deep pool at the base of the waterfall, and I disturbed a shoal of these Livingston fish when I filled the buckets for the horses. They're the very devil to catch though. I got soaked trying to spear them. It might have been easier to have just put my hand in and tickled for them, but I was a bit wary of all those spines. Should be good enough eating though."

He unslung a water canteen from his shoulder and poured it into the billy can, setting on the embers at the edge of the fire to heat. He cast a hopeful look at Julie. "Be an angel and see to the coffee while I'm away? Our two newly adopted animals seem to have finished drinking, so I'd better go back and refill with water for ours. Then, with any luck, we should be ready to eat."

By the time he'd allowed the remaining horses to drink their fill, given each of the four animals a couple of handfuls of grain, then gone back to fill the buckets one more time because the animals still appeared hot and unhappy and he didn't like their looks, Julie had pulled the grilled fish from the spit, chopped off their heads and tails, and turned them and the rest of their meagre fare out onto a couple of small tin plates from Tom's saddlebags.

"Coffee's ready as well. Are the horses all right?" she asked, handing him his plate.

Tom nodded. "Yeah. Or they will be, once they've rested. Ours have perked up already, now they've been fed and watered, and the chestnut is rallying well. I plan on giving him some more water later, once he's had a chance to digest. The mare will recover from her lameness, but she's a fairly run down animal anyway. I figure if we manage to pick up the trail again in the morning, we'll turn those two loose on the Jenkins land over there and pick them up later, when this whole thing's over. They'll only slow us down otherwise."

"You're not looking forward to that, are you?" Julie asked. "I know I keep asking, and I'm sorry for it, but I can't quite figure out how you feel about all this... about Nick."

"Well, that's hardly surprising," said Tom with a bitter laugh. "I hardly know myself."

"But do you really want to catch him? Or would you rather he got away? I did wonder earlier, when you were so keen to take me home, whether you really just wanted to be alone when you finally caught up with him."

"So there'd be no witnesses, you mean?" asked Tom. "Why? What did you think I might have in mind?"

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 22)
Jules — 30 Aug 1999, 7:07 PM

"Did you think that perhaps I might kill him for what he's done?"

Julie's mouth opened in surprise. "No! Of course not! Come on, Tom, give me credit for knowing you better than that. I'd be very surprised if you didn't at least punch him out, but other than that... No. What I did figure was that perhaps, when it came to it, you might look the other way while he did a vanishing act."

Tom laughed uneasily, convincing her that she had probably hit very close to home. "That's crazy! Don't you think that if that's what I had in mind, we'd have gone home hours ago?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. I figure that you haven't quite made your mind up to it, one way or the other. That you probably won't, until you get the chance to talk to him, see what he has to say for himself. Because that much I am clear on. He's your brother. And there are things you badly want to say to him, ask him." Julie paused, reflecting. "Private stuff, nothing to do with the robbery. Stuff that probably doesn't really need an audience."

Tom squirmed underneath the blanket that he'd wrapped around himself for warmth. He hated all this psychological analysis stuff. Especially when it was directed at him. "Oh, I don't know. Could be pretty entertaining. Maybe we could sell tickets." But Julie had known him too long for his usual deflection ploy of a quick joke or a sarcastic comment to have any real chance of success. He sighed. "I've spent my whole life keeping quiet about my family... my real family. It's become force of habit, I guess. Even with those who know the story anyway."

"Well, it's not like I know much," said Julie, tugging her own blanket a little closer as the desert breeze slowly chilled the night. "You've never even told me your real name. That is, I'm betting that Locarno is just as bogus. You'd surely have realised who Nick was a lot sooner if he hadn't been wandering around under a false identity."

Tom snorted with amusement. "I guess I might, at that. I wonder if it would have made any difference to events? Well, if Nick wants to start spilling it, that's his choice... but I'd still rather not say, if you don't mind. I made a promise, and I intend to keep it even if the other people involved haven't exactly held up their end of the bargain. But no, you're right. I don't know how Nick came by the name Locarno, but it probably wasn't honestly."

He picked at his blanket, suddenly pensive. "It's funny the way things turn out, isn't it? Back when we were small, I was always the one who got into trouble. The one who did stupid, impulsive things and got caught at it. And Nicky was everybody's little angel. I always figured that that was why they did it... why they sent me away, and not him."

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 23)
Jules — 30 Aug 1999, 7:11 PM

"What do you mean?" Julie was curious. This was probably as much as she'd ever heard Tom say on the subject of his early childhood. For all he ordinarily said to the contrary, he might have been born at the age of six when the Janeways' battered wagon had rolled onto the rutted track alongside a handful of wooden shacks that had been all there was of Voyager City in those days.

"Well..." Tom paused for a moment and then continued. "I don't ever really remember a time when Mama wasn't really, really sick. And we hardly ever saw Daddy. He'd come for an hour or two, give us presents, and then he'd be gone again and we'd never know when we'd see him next. But then came the awful day that Mama died, and suddenly he was there taking charge of things and Nicky and I had him to ourselves for a whole week.

"I'm not sure what we thought that meant. Even at that age we knew that it was... strange, that Mama and Daddy didn't live together. Losing Mama was devastating, but... it sounds awful but she'd been ill for so long that we didn't really know her either, even though we lived in the same house. I think maybe we hoped that Daddy would take us to live with him, and everything would be... if not alright, at least okay." He laughed bitterly. "Of course, we couldn't have been more wrong."

"In what way?"

"It was the day after the funeral." Tom frowned, trying to recall distant and fading memories nearly a quarter of a century old. "Daddy came in with some people. Miss Kathryn was one of them; she'd been a student of his and she often came with my father when he visited. Fact is, I think she was probably the one who bought most of the presents, on his behalf. There was also a strange man who Daddy introduced as Miss Kathryn's new husband Mark, and an uncle and aunt we barely knew.

"Daddy was very solemn. He told us that, for reasons he couldn't explain, it was impossible for us to come to live with him. So he'd made other arrangements. Nicky got to stay in town, near to Daddy, living with the uncle and aunt. And I got sent to the other side of the country, taken along with Miss Kathryn and Mark when they came West."

"They split you and Nick up? Why?"

Tom shrugged. "Seems the uncle and aunt only had room for the one of us. I was the one they didn't want. Miss Kathryn got to hearing about it, and offered to take the unwanted child off everyone's hands. A long time afterwards I learned that she wanted to take Nick as well, but Mark wouldn't hear of it. Said that they were setting off near penniless into the unknown, and that they could barely afford to take one boy, let alone two. And that Nick was too young to face the hardships of the journey, and better off where he was.

"He may well have been right. It was a long, hard struggle to make it here to Voyager City, and we nearly starved along the way. Even when we got here the first couple of years were tough, trying to make ends meet and getting the Delta Q started. Truth was, I used to think that Nick was the lucky one. He had everything... and I had almost nothing."

"You had Miss Kathryn," said Julie gently. "That'd be luck enough for most people."

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 24)
Jules — 30 Aug 1999, 7:14 PM

"More luck than Nick had, as it turned out," said Tom. "Or at least, that's what I thought until yesterday. I spent years begging to be allowed to go East and visit Nick, or for him to be allowed to come out and visit me. But we were always too young, the journey was too long or dangerous, it cost money we couldn't spare. Reading between the lines, it was pretty obvious to me that my aunt and uncle didn't want me there. And the Janeways really didn't have the money."

"What about your father?" Julie asked.

Tom laughed. "Quick, aren't you? Yeah, he could have spared it all right. By then. By the time I was eleven or twelve I'd figured out for myself that the 'reasons he couldn't explain' were that Nick and I were an embarrassment to him, both socially and politically. I asked Miss Kathryn straight out, and she confirmed it. He'd married badly - by his standards - and he'd never quite gotten around to telling his family about it. And then he found himself a nice rich second wife with almost indecent haste. So we had to be kept out of the way."

"If that's the case, then I'm amazed that he didn't send you both out here with the Janeways," said Julie, thinking about it. "If he wanted to put plenty of distance between you and him, surely that would have suited his purpose better?"

"Maybe. But Miss Kathryn and Mark couldn't have taken us both on without financial help, and he hadn't married his rich heiress at the time. Maybe he just couldn't manage it.

"I think he tried though, later. The summer that I was twelve, Miss Kathryn told me that Nick was finally coming for a visit, perhaps to stay. But he never arrived. Instead... we got word that he had died."

"Clearly that wasn't true," observed Julie.

"Yeah. You can say that again. In hindsight, the details that we got from the uncle and aunt he lived with were hazy enough to be suspect. But what really happened? I don't know. I guess that's top of the list of questions I want to ask Nick if we ever catch up with him. Right up there with 'Whatever made you decide on bank robbery as a career choice?'" He paused. "I can't apologise enough that he did that to you..."

"Hey, don't worry about me. I'm a big girl, and I can look after myself. And besides, I'm insured. I won't actually lose a penny. I can afford to be philosophical about it."

"Wish I could," said Tom, with a sigh.

"I know. Come on, let's turn in. We may have another long day ahead of us tomorrow."

Tom did as he was bidden, and soon there were no sounds in the little camp, other than the crackle of the dying fire and the quiet shuffle of tethered horses moving to find a better mouthful of grass amongst the meagre pickings available to them.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 25)
Jules — 9 Sep 1999, 8:29 PM

Catching up with the wagon that had halted for him and Taurik, Nick Locarno was faintly surprised that it had stopped at all. As he put on his best innocently grateful face and smiled up into the light of the lantern at the driver's knee, his hand hovered warily close to his gun, and he turned slightly sideways so that their new benefactor shouldn't see his fingers twitch.

It hadn't escaped his notice that the wagon was clearly heading out from Voyager City, laden with supplies. It seemed only reasonable to assume that its driver had been into town that day, stocking up at Miss Peggy Lou's general stores. The exchange of information being as valid a currency as any other in that place, he suspected that it would be difficult to have set foot on the premises and come out again unaware that there was a posse out and outlaws on the loose. As a pair of strangers, stranded out in the middle of nowhere, surely he and Taurik would automatically be suspect.

But it seemed that their luck had changed for the better. The driver's cloak fell back as she turned and peered down at the two hitchhikers, and Nick caught a glimpse of a young, pretty female face, surrounded by a halo of shoulder length blonde hair. And she didn't look particularly suspicious. He upped the smile another notch, injecting it with a bit of plaintive hopefulness.

"Any chance that you might be able to give us a ride to wherever you're going, ma'am? We lost our horses back in the mountains, and it's a long walk back to civilisation. Truth be told, it's late, and we're tired and a little hungry. If you could see us safely to somewhere we might be able to find a meal and new horses, we'd be grateful. And..." he took in the plain and simple clothes she wore, clearly threadbare even under the dim glow of the lantern, "...we would pay for your time and trouble, obviously."

There was a flash of interest from the girl at the mention of money, and then she looked embarrassed. Nick crossed the fingers of the hand that wasn't itching to get to his gun, took a risk, and pressed his advantage. "Have you much further to go? This is dangerous country for a woman alone. There are robbers at large in these hills. Didn't they tell you about it in town?"

"I... Miss Peggy and Miss Barty were saying something about the Delta Flyer." The girl began to look a little apprehensive. "But we live a very quiet life, now that father is so frail and doesn't like to travel. I only go in for supplies once a month, and I barely have time to catch up with my friends, let alone listen to all the local gossip about people I barely know. I was talking to... someone, and I didn't pay the ladies in the store much mind."

It was hard to tell by the stuttering light and swinging shadows of her lantern, but Nick could swear that she was blushing. Clearly, whoever 'someone' was, she was sweet on him.

"I guess your young man must have had pressing business elsewhere, not to be able to escort you home." (Keep it careful, Nick. Don't let it sound like you're criticising him. Apart from anything else, he probably doesn't even know he's her young man yet.) "Perhaps my associate and I can offer you our protection in his absence?"

"I guess so..." The girl sounded a little doubtful. Clearly she had been given the lecture about talking to strangers at some point in the past, but it was equally plain that no one amongst her limited circle of acquaintance had ever given her cause to appreciate the truth in that advice. Nick decided in an instant that, while he fully intended to press his advantage to the benefit of his own safety, he'd do his best to make sure she got let down gently.

She made her mind up. "It's not far now. You'd better come along and talk to my father. He'll want to know all about this business, I guess."

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 26)
Jules — 9 Sep 1999, 8:31 PM

"Thank you, ma'am." Nick swung himself up beside her on the driver's seat before she could change her mind again, and gestured to Taurik to get in the back. At a flick of her whip, the horse moved on at a smart canter, rather faster than before. He gave the girl a reassuring smile. "Don't worry too much. You'll be safe with us. Miss...?"

"Jenkins," said the girl, and gave him a sudden, dazzling smile. He almost envied her young man. "Emily Jenkins. And you are?"

"Nicholas Paris." He couldn't take the risk that, despite her apparent disinterest, she might have heard the name Locarno and know what it meant. For possibly the first time in twenty years, the safest name to give was his real one. There was a certain amusement in that. "And this is Taurik."

"Glad to meet you." The girl frowned. "I don't remember seeing you in town."

"No. We were with the Defiant City posse," Nick lied fluently, silently giving thanks that his dual life over the past few years had given him so much insight into the workings of the law. The Defiant City posse had ridden out to the train and followed their false trail, he knew that. It would have been most unlike Marshal Tuvok not to have joined up with Marshal Sisko and his men once he'd found and closed in on their hideout. He had no doubt that his guess was true enough in its way. He decided to embellish his tale a little. "We followed the outlaws all day, but then they bushwacked us and took our horses away so that we couldn't trail them any further."

"That's terrible!" The girl was shocked. Such things clearly had no place in her optimistic and sheltered world. "They must be terrible men! I hope you catch them."

"Thank you, ma'am. I have no doubt that others in the posse are doing so right now. In the meantime, all we can do to contribute is to keep you - and your father - safe from harm at their hands, and then report back to the Marshal in the morning."

He figured it was safe enough to promise that much. After all, it was the height of bad manners to rob someone with whom you'd broken bread. And it did rather look like he'd managed to wangle them a meal and a roof for the night.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 27)
Jules — 9 Sep 1999, 8:33 PM

Taurik snored.

It wasn't much of a snore, true. More of a mild snuffling sound in fact. But it was more than enough to keep awake someone with an overactive conscience and things on his mind, however many days it had been since he last had an uninterrupted night's sleep.

Nick Locarno tossed and turned restlessly in the small hard cot in the Jenkins bunkhouse, reflecting upon his sins.

Old Man Jenkins had been as frail and as innocent and as poor as his conversation with the man's daughter had led him to believe. The Jenkins ranch was clearly struggling, with broken down outbuildings, an empty bunkhouse, and a pitifully few head of cattle that told their own sorry tale. But Emily and her father had scraped their meagre resources together to stretch their evening meal to feed four, offered him and Taurik beds in the bunkhouse, discussed which of the horses they could spare to lend them so that they could 'return' to Defiant City, and had been touchingly embarrassed when Nick had pressed money into their hands to cover the meal, the board and the horses - "In case we run into the outlaws again and can't return them for some reason," said Nick. For reasons he couldn't quite explain, even to himself, he took the money from the belt around his waist that contained what part of his detective's wages that he hadn't been idiot enough to leave back in a bank in Federation City he could no longer touch, and not from the robbery proceeds in his bag. Somehow it just seemed proper to do it that way. These people were too trusting and too generous with the little they had, for him to feel right about passing them tainted money. If they ever discovered it, they would feel cheap and dirty. And knowing that made him feel cheap and dirty too.

It was plain to him that they were lonely, and in desperate need of entertainment, and he was only too happy to oblige. It only took a little transposition of his recent exploits from first to third person narrative to allow them to thrill to the tale of the recent bank and train robberies, followed by a racy but highly fictitious account of the posse's relentless pursuit of the villains.

He'd even - much to his surprise - found himself volunteering to help them out by fixing up a fence or two the following day before moving on. Not a particularly clever strategy for a man on the run, admittedly... although it did occur to him that it might be safest to lie low during the day and travel on out of the area under cover of the night. But these two needed help so very desperately, he couldn't help himself...

He figured that if he did eventually make it safely down to Mexico, he might even send his brother a line to say "sorry", and to ask him to drop in on the Jenkinses and see that they were okay. Of course, it might tip Tom off to the fact that he wasn't a complete heel, but was that such a very bad thing? He admitted to himself that he'd have liked Tom not to think entirely ill of him, though he was realistic enough to concede that the chances of ever fully redeeming himself in his brother's eyes after the past few days were somewhere from slim to none.

He sighed, turned in the bed, and pulled the rough blanket around himself more closely. He didn't want to go to Mexico. But he couldn't see that he had much choice.

The Posse That Wouldn't Quit (pt 28)
Jules — 9 Sep 1999, 8:35 PM

Nicholas Locarno had killed men in the line of duty as a detective, but had never done it in the course of a criminal act. Unfortunately, this was unlikely to count for much in the eyes of the law when it came to tracking him down. If they caught him, the very fact of who and what he was would be enough to ensure that they threw the book at him, and he'd go down for a very long time. He'd been one of their own. It was an unforgivable offence, no matter what else he had or hadn't done. All it really meant, his having a line of lawlessness that he wouldn't cross, was that they couldn't hang him and there was small comfort in that.

Because within a day or two more there'd be a poster with his name on it, offering a reward - and probably a very attractive one - to anyone who wanted to fetch him in. And, as was the usual form with these things, bringing him in still breathing would be optional. It was pointless trying to console yourself with the thought that you hadn't committed a hanging offence when they could drag your cooling corpse into the nearest marshal's office and dispense with the trial entirely.

And 'alive' still sounded pretty good to him, however blighted his future prospects might now be. Better than 'dead', anyway. Maybe he should have had the good sense to stop running the previous day and let Tom and Miss Julie catch up to him. They might well be just about the only people in this part of the country that he could trust not to shoot him on sight.

Trust. Now there was a delicious irony. He thought that in better circumstances, he might have liked them both. He did like them both. It was just that liking people was a luxury he couldn't afford right now. And after all, there was very little doubt that right now the brother he'd shamed by the family association and the woman he'd robbed so comprehensively were likely to have pretty murderous thoughts towards him. But he guessed they were both too honourable ever to dream of carrying them out. Which, naturally, made him feel worse than ever. And guilt hadn't been much of a close acquaintance of his in recent years.

Nick pounded his pillow once more, and willed himself to sleep. He succeeded after a fashion, but dreamed all night of galloping hooves, growing ever closer.

to be continued...