1861/07/26 A Meeting Of Minds
Scene A Meeting Of Minds
Characters Cooke Obedaiah
Place Cooke's campsite, Kensington Forest
Date Tuesday 26th July 1861, Evening

A waft of smoke, the crackle and hiss of green branches burning, the scent of woodsmoke and something else, meat cooking. There's a campfire nearby. There's a small clearing in the forest hereabouts, at a criss-cross of game trails, a useful spot for a camp. Further evidence of it comes from the soft whinny of a horse, a stamped foot, the jangle of stirrups hanging loose. Then for those with ears to hear it - the scrape and clink of cooking in progress. Followed by.. Whistling?

Close enough to see the campfire and hear the crackle of burning wood but far enough not to smell the smoke, Obedaiah and a taller man dressed in dark, worn clothing creep through the forest. They hide near a tree with the lanky man standing and Obe kneeling. The latter gentleman - he isn't dressed too shabby for someone skulking in the woods - goes to stand and bumps into the other, who hisses a curse at him. Both of the men freeze, watching the campfire, listening for a change in the sound of whistling.

The campsite at first glance is a tidy affair. A small fire ringed by stones has a tripod of sticks either side that support a metal rod, which in it's turn has a simmering pot of some kind of stew hanging from it. A fallen log has been dragged to the fireside to be used as a seat. On the far side a horse is hobbled, with a bucket of water on the ground in front of it. The fire crackles merrily, the stew bubbles in the pot, the horse shakes his head with a 'harrumph' and lowers it's head to drink from the bucket. The whistling does change, replaced by an old sea shanty, 'Yo ho, up she rises..' A grunt, the sound of a man standing. 'Yo ho, up she rises..' moving feet brush aside greenery. 'Yo ho, up she rises..' A new sound, the steady trickle of liquid under pressure being released "Ahhhh… Hmhm, early in the morning.."

The two men look at each other blankly upon hearing the sea song. It's unlikely that the two walked here from the nearby town but there's no horse to be seen. Not in the immediate area anyway. The move out from the protective cover of the trees and close the distance between the man. Obedaiah goes left. Lanky man goes right. Both seem to have rehearsed the movement, as they almost simultaneously shift from flanking to walking directly towards the singer. The angle is such that it's not an obvious maneuver to your common civilian. But, still, it's not hard to see that they're positioning themselves in the event of an altercation. "How goes it?" Obedaiah calls out. For one who looks so small, his voice carries easily.

"Just fine, thanks" drawls a voice, accompanied by the harsh crick-crack of a well-oiled lever action chambering a round. "How're you fellas doing this fine day?" The voice. The man. The long cold barrel of a rifle - are all behind the sneaky pair. The barrel in particular is pressing against the nape of Mr Lanky's neck. "Now how about you gennelmen just mosey into the camp there nice and slow so's I can get a good look at you" There's a 'Hnuffblort' of someone clearing a nostril, then, "And if a hand touches iron this piss-stain here will be chewing on lead, I swear it to be so"

Mister Lanky Tallman - or whatever his name may be - raises his hands so that they're visible to the gentleman who, presently, has control over whether he'll see tomorrow or not. He does it quickly and easily like someone used to being at someone else's mercy. How often his life or death has been at the whim of a twitchy finger.. Who knows? As for Obedaiah, he crosses his arms over his chest, shaking his head. "Dammit, John.. I told you about payin' attention." His accent has Southern undertones with nondescript overtones. He remains where he is for the time being. His face shows no concern over poor John, who's presently shivering in fear. "We're doing fine, sir," John Lankyman offers since his sneaking partner wasn't inclined to do so.

There's a sharp jab of the rifle barrel to Tallpants McLanky's shoulders, "Well isn't this nice" drawls the voice again. "We're all doing just fine. But I seem to recall telling you to move into the open just now. So if you'd both kindly walk over to the campfire then turn around we'll have no undue fuss"

The shorter, bearded man stares at the rifle-wielding gentleman.. He seems to come to some conclusion or another, likely concerning getting out of the situation he's found himself in. Obedaiah makes his way through the trees and briefly onto one of the trails before stepping into the clearing. His 'friend' moves slowly forward towards the camp as well. 'Ol Shorty strokes his long, bushy beard. "What happened to you? Your friends left you all 'lone in the forest?" He gestures with a nod towards the stew pot. "There's no point in makin' stew for one. Waste o' time." His hands almost move towards his pistol out of habit. He resists the urge, all the while keeping his eyes on the other's.

The rifle wielder snorts, "Smelled you boys commin up the trail five miles back" he lets Tallface get a bit of distance before stepping into the clearing proper. "Figured I'd show some hospitality, mebbe make a friend out here" he sniffs, "Don't reckon' you're tracking me, must be dumb luck you came to my camp. 'less you *are* tracking me.." The rifle barrel jumps up to point square at Obedaiah's chest. "You lookin' to find me?"

The barrel pointing at Obedaiah causes his face to briefly twitch into an expression preemptive of a snarl. He narrows his eyes. "I wouldn't call it 'dumb luck', but we're not trackin' you. Don't even know your name, friend." The "don't want to know" part is left out due to the possibility it could be taken as a threat. Beyond the sneakiness, of course. His buddy shifts his gaze from one man to the other. Now that the firearm isn't pressed against him he looks more relaxed. The shivering is gradually subsiding. John offers, as he always does, "We were just seeing what was out here, learning the lay around the town. We're camped not to far outside of it, but in a different direction from it. We're not tracking anyone."

The man frowns, "Town?" he says, lowering the rifle a fraction. "There's a town hereabouts? Huh. What's it called?" Now the rifleman wants to know something. Something beyond 'What in the blazes are you doing here?'. Time to change tack, time for the carrot. He moves carefully around the two men to stand at the other side of the campfire, the rifle now cradled in one arm, he reaches down and fastidiously tends to the stew, keeping one eye on his guests. "It's ready. There's a couple bowls in that sack by the log there if you want some"

John looks eager to eat. He strides towards the sack in a way that an expert tracker spying on them right now would say is downright familiar. He grabs two bowls, shoves one at Obedaiah's chest, then goes to get stew. Obedaiah moves slower. In measured movements to suggest relaxation but obviously tense. "There's a town out west. Called Grimwood. Big enough as towns go around here. Or small enough." He shrugs, waiting for John to get done so he can ladle a bit of stew into his own bowl. "I'm guessin' you've been restin' up out here for days, hmm?"

Ears open, the campsite-owner drinks in the news of a nearby town. He backs off a little and reaches into a saddlebag by the feet of his horse, producing a half-loaf of only slightly stale bread. He tears a hunk off for himself, then tosses the rest over to his guests. "A day or three, sure" he replies, stepping up and helping himself to a bowlful of the rabbit and squirrel stew. He sits, the rifle still within easy reach, and starts spooning the meal into his mouth, gravy dribbling down his chin. "What's this Grimwood, then?" he asks. "Mining town? Farmers?" he looks up, his eyes suddenly focused and clear. "They got a bank?"

Obedaiah catches the stale bread, breaks off a small piece for himself and shoves the rest into Tallman's stomach. In response, John frowns.. then sets to work splitting off a proportionally large hunk for himself before offering the meager remains back to the generous soul who offered it to begin with. The bearded man kindly uses the piece of bread to scoop some of the stew. That's the full amount he seems to be interested in eating. "As far as I've been able to figure out, it's one of those waymark towns. New. But enough people comin' through that it's buildin' up pretty nicely. They got ranches and farms nearby. Some stores. Nothin' fancy. And they got a bank." He saunters over towards the log for a seat. He hand touches his holster and the pistol in it long enough to move it out of the way. "I'm guessin' you're something of a businessman. What with you bein' interested in the town like I am." He watches the rifleman carefully as he smiles. The smile doesn't reach his eyes.

The rifleman keeps his eyes locked to Obedaiah's, even when he accepts the last of the bread from Tallshanks. *Especially* when Obe rearranges his holster. Maybe you can't tell a man's draw from his hand, but you can always see the decision to draw in his eyes. "A businessman, heh. Guess you could call me that" he says, his words obscured by squirrel gristle and bread. He swallows. "I s'pose you could say I'm a dealer in small goods. Valuables, mostly. Things as can be moved quickly"

A solemn nod follows each sentence. The rifleman might as well be preaching the Gospel. "Same business as us. Maybe a third fella if he makes it to town. I'm interested in gettin' together some upstanding citizens such as ourselves - if you don't mind me includin' you in my description - so that goods will be easier to move. Not enough to kill the crop. Only the numbers I'll need to reap it." In the meantime his compatriot John is wiping his mouth with his sleeve. His hand is covered in the small amount of stew left over from him licking what was and almost definitely a dirty hand. "If you're lookin' to enlist," Obedaiah continues, "We should keep talkin'." He hands his bowl over to John Lankerman-Talls, who accepts it gladly.

The maker of the rabbit and squirrel stew nods, mulling over the proposal. "An enterprisin' fellowship is always easier than goin' it alone in these troubled lands, in these troubled times.." he licks his bowl clean, then belches happily. "But tell me why I should trade my skills into your brotherhood" he nods toward Tall John, "Especially when you have such fine friends already. I've run my own gang, 'til we got run out of Boston and I left half of 'em to die, good fer-nothings that they were.." he sniffs, "Then there was that train job outside Red Springs, good haul from that. And we did the stage out of Terminal Spires, that was a contract job, though" The man tosses his bowl into the grass and cradles his rifle again. "Basically, I know how to run a gang and plan a job. What makes you better'n me?"

Tall John pauses and then more thoughtfully finishes scooping every last bit of meat from the bowl. He belches too. A sympathetic gesture, given the timing. Obedaiah gestures to his 'friend' with a tilt of his head. "It's better to have a variety of skills in a group than to not. Things get done smoother." He leans forward and uses the momentum to stand up from the log. He grunts with affected effort. "Now. I'm not lookin' for accolades on the things I've done. But, suffice to say, I've run gangs and troops too. I've worked the easy way /and/ the hard way. I prefer the easy way. A method." He folds his arms across his chest. Apparently that's a thing he enjoys doing. Puffs him up horizontally since vertically is over and done with. "That way, like I said before, you can reap a few times instead of sackin' the town and endin' up the woods somewhere. We got ourselves a bit of gold from that out west, before certain events necessitated our leavin' the city."

The rifleman nods, and leans forwards, transferring the rifle from one hand to the other. "Seems we have a difference of opinion, then" he says, casually. "Not that we ain't somewhat similar. Both leaders of men in our own right, both enterprisin' folks who like to work a job then leave the area right quick.." he grins, "Both of us got friends commin up to meet us. Difference is.." He extends his arm in one fluid motion, the rifle held one-handed, pointing directly at the stew-munching John Tallman's face. "I quite like the hard way" He pulls the trigger. The rifle crack snaps loudly, causing birds nearby to take panicked flight, the sound rolls, echoing through the trees.

A fellow like Obedaiah knew what was going to happen even if Poor John didn't. He drew his own pistol, training it at the rifleman as best he could at the hip until his arm was fully extended, increasing his accuracy by a multitude. Poor John was definitely dead before he fell. Most probably dead when his mouth opened in surprise and his wrecked face reflexively expressed shock at his demise. "Ain't no need to be takin' a man's life when he still has a purpose in it." He sighs. The pistol lowers a few centimeters as he does. "You don't get it. You can set everything on fire, burn bridges behind you, but there's gonna come a time when you got nowhere else to run and the fire's gonna burn you up too. The fire ain't gonna burn me up on account of I got a method to it. So I'm offerin' that you can either make a little money real quick with you and your friends.. or you can make a lot with me and mines." Exasperation is more easily read on his face than anything else. He resists the urge to look at John's face.

The rifleman stands, brushing breadcrumbs from his trousers. The Spencer rifle in the crook of his arm, pointing nowhere in particular. "No, friend. You don't get it" he says, craning his neck a little to see the remains of John's face, raising his eyes to the pattern of blood and brain matter spread up a tree behind where he was sitting. "This town sounds like a big ol' berry bush to me, like it's got plenty of branches we can pluck without killing the bush itself. Now I got no use fer greedy.." he nods to the cooling corpse. "But I do got a use fer smarts. And you seem like a smart man to me, so you got a choice right now. You and yours join me and mine, fer equal shares long as everyone works and no-one gets greedy. Or mebbe we should just start puttin' holes in each other right now.." he works the lever-action on his rifle. "Name's Jed, by the way. Jed Cooke"

The pistol lowers slowly until it's pointed at the ground. Obedaiah keeps it in his right hand. The crowning excuse not to shake hands, if the offer should arise. His travel partner's killing being the base reason why he wouldn't. He avoids looking at the corpse because his interest in it was, previously, when it moved and carried things when he told it to. "I don't have a problem with sharin' equally. And, well, dammit.. That's what I was tryin' to tell you! I think you just wanted to go 'round talkin' about berry bushes. Now I have to get rid of extra gear." Holstering the weapon, he grumbles to himself. "Anyway. As long as I'm gettin' my fair portion, I don't have a problem with not shootin' each other today. Name's Obedaiah Davison, Jed Cooke." He gestures towards Dead John and the other pieces that once constituted him with a sweep of his arm. "Speaking of, you probably just killed the only man what likes your cooking. And, while we're bein' equal and all, you've got to clean up your own mess since I didn't have a hand in this. In the future, I'll clean up mine's."

Jed snorts, shaking his head, "Had to make sure I had your attention, had to be sure you and I understand each other, had to let you know that you're either with me or in my way" he raises the rifle, resting it on his shoulder. He nods to the corpse, "Like I said, greedy ain't no use to me. I got muscle, and a fella who guzzles down food like that is either starvin' or just plain greedy, an' he didn't look starvin'." Cooke moves over to his horse and puts his rifle in a saddle holster, then begins moving around the camp disassembling his cooking utensils and kicking out the fire. "There's a ridgeline North a bit" he says. "Looks like there's some shelter up there in caves, should have a good view of the land, too" he grins, "Mebbe even we'll see this town of yours. I was fixin' to move in a day or so anyway, may as well be now.." Jed looks to Obedaiah, "You got a horse?"

"Ol' John was a bit of both. He shows up in town, spendin' and lookin' like he's got intentions to stay instead of gettin' what supplies he could and passin' through, some people start lookin' at a man real close. He was good about not lookin' conspicuous while scoutin'," Obedaiah explains. It's not the best eulogy but it'll have to do for John in a pinch. "The ridgeline sounds like our best bet. Hopefully not too much closer to the indians than the town, and we'll /have/ to see the town at least once before we go through it." He strokes and then combs through his beard with his left hand. "I've two horses now." He points behind himself with a gesture. "They're posted up a bit that way. Unless some Indians snuck through an stole 'em. I'll meet you at the ridgeline tomorrow. I'm goin' to stick around here for a while to see if my other friends show up."

Jed gathers up the last of his gear and finishes putting it in his saddlebags and duster pockets. He mounts his horse in an easy motion. "If you're as smart as you seem you've got no price on you in these parts" he reaches his hand to an inside pocket of his duster, and withdraws it holding a leather pouch. He throws it into the air and catches it again, grinning. The bag clinks as it lands in his hand, then he throws it over to Obedaiah. "So you can go into town and buy any gear you need, spend some time in the saloon and hear what there is to hear" he explains "Be sure to take a look at the wanted posters, see if I appear. Josiah Cooke, they'll say, or Jed. And not the local ones, the federal bounties. If I'm clear I'll mosey on down and take a good look my own self. When you come up to the ridge we'll talk about opportunities" he pats the rifle butt, protruding from the saddle holster. "And you best come without a tin star, I'll see you before you see me" Jed winks.

Obedaiah deftly catches the leather bag with clinking contents. The thought of being relegated to what is essentially a lookout of sorts clearly isn't sitting well with him. "Sure thing, Mister Cooke." The tin star comment makes him snort and he turns to walk away, trusting the rifleman doesn't have a swift change of mind. Or not caring. "The day they give me a tin star is the day the US Army shows up and makes me a General." He sidesteps a tree, wandering back into the forest in the direction that he unsuccessfully snuck out from.

Jed chuckles to himself, then digs his heels gently into his horse's flanks and rides off through the trees, leaving the gently cooling corpse of Mr Tall to the attentions of the local wildlife.

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