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John Stone & Madeleine Hart
In collaboration with @Sad Ogo

John turned to look at the lady who had approached, curious about her. She didn’t seem at all squeamish at the sight of the four corpses strewn about. Not that all women were, he’d met some womenfolk bounty hunters and even one or two outlaws. Typically those that lived in towns kept their distance from such trouble though. Most men who weren’t looking for something in particular did too now that he thought about it. John must have seemed oddly confused by her question. His brow furrowed and he scratched his moustache as if contemplating an infinitely more complex and philosophical matter. He worked with Leo and he’d bought him food and drink without seeming to expect anything in return. Did that make him a friend?

John sighed wearily. “He might have been. We only recently started working together though. And yeah, these bastards certainly outgunned him. If it’d been anything close to fair he’d have gave them a hell of a fight... Kid was fierce.” He spoke matter of factly, twiddling his thumbs somewhat anxiously as he stared down. It seemed he found it easier to look into Leo’s dead face, blood leaking out of the bullet wound on his forehead and down past his eyes than to look at the woman in the eyes.

“You seem pretty at ease around this bloody business… What do you do around here?”

"I've seen plenty of blood, yes, been around death more than once or twice."

Maddie studied the man's face, noticing his lack of eye contact. He didn't seem like the shy type, but Maddie summed it up to nerves. He'd just lost a friend after all, one that had been tragically taken too soon, soon enough to leave at least one other person hoping the young man would have ended up with better odds. Maddie looked down at the deceased once more before she spoke.

"But I'm simply a midwife. I help the women here deliver their babies and although it should be a joyous experience, sometimes the woman doesn't make it. Hell, sometimes the baby doesn't either. The ones that do end up as orphans and in some cases that might as well be a life sentence. It's just the way it is."

Maddie then wiped her hands on her skirt before introducing herself. "I'm Madeleine Hart, pleasure to make your acquaintance. And you are?"

“John Stone.” He said simply, forcing himself to look her in the eyes this time. Now that he was actually looking at her he could discern details about her far more vividly. Simple things like her skin was a slightly darker shade than his despite all the time he spent riding in the sun. She had soft hazel eyes that looked almost gold in the dimming sunlight. Most importantly she looked somewhat disturbed… Or maybe not disturbed. A subtle mix of angry and upset perhaps. John got the feeling it wasn’t from the bodies though.

“Please just call me John. I’m really not one for formalities if I’m honest… Don’t really spend enough time with people to learn them or get used to them.”

"Well, that's a shame," Maddie added, taking a step closer to John. She was intrigued by the scar over his eye, although she didn't stare as she didn't want to come off as rude or disrespectful. "Listen, John, would you-" Maddie paused, looking around for a moment and lowering her voice down to a whisper, "would you help me get rid of someone?"

Her heart was pounding. Up to that point, she hadn't told a soul about her intentions on getting back at her husband. Posing such question to a stranger she'd just met was at best impulsive, but judging by John's appearance alone, she assumed he was someone who didn't mind getting his hands dirty.

John couldn’t help but smirk at the question. This was a lady who saw him clearly for what he was. He didn’t exactly make it difficult he supposed. If you looked at him long enough you could properly find bloodstains on his clothes easy enough. He leaned in a little more and made sure to lower his voice as well, though not quite to a whisper. He didn’t want to seem too suspicious to anyone who happened to be looking at them.

“Killing really ain’t no thing Ms. Hart. Getting away with it in a community this small is though. Unless you plan on leaving this town straight after this kind of thing will require some subtlety.” John spoke, rubbing his chin as he thought. “I ain’t saying I’m not interested in the work but I will need two things… Money, of course. And a plan, unless you want me to just deal with it as I see fit? We could do with a better place to discuss this as well… You know anywhere we could meet away from prying eyes and ears?”

Maddie flashed him a smile. “Glad I have you onboard.”

She motioned for John to follow her, guiding him towards her home. “I have an idea of what I want to do, but you’re more than welcome to offer suggestions on how the plan can be improved. But of course that’s going to have to wait, so let’s talk payment. What’s your asking price?”

John looked up the street before following Ms. Hart, spotting the boy returning with both the preacher and the sheriff. He took three dollars out of his pocket and approached them as he followed Maddie. He gave the kid a nod of gratitude and handed him the money.

“Don’t forget to fetch the furniture maker too. There should be enough in Leo’s pockets to cover the cost of a decent casket. If there isn’t tell him to come find me in the saloon.” With that said and done, he continued on with his newfound employer, pretty much completely blanking both the sheriff and preacher. The less he said to them at the moment the better.

“The cost will depend on who you want gone. The sheriff back there will cost more than some cowpoke… Won’t be too expensive though. Especially for one person, won’t have to consider the cost of travel or ammo or nothing.” John spoke calmly, now quite a bit more comfortable talking about a subject he had a lot of experience in.

"Ah, well, my husband's a piece of work. I'm sure he's wanted in the next town, and the one after that, but here he just happens to be perfect. That bastard doesn't have one good bone in his goddamn body, so he gets my blood boilin real good if he tries."

The two conversed some more, mostly in the form of complaints from Maddie as she rambled on until they reached her house not too far off. Once they walked in, the young woman offered John a seat before stepping into the kitchen to fetch him a drink. She figured a bit of politeness would go a long way, especially with a killer. If he didn't drink, then he was insane.

"Here ya go," Maddie walked back into view, handing off the glass of whisky. She took a seat across John and waited until he took his first sip.

"Now, let's talk business. Like I said earlier my husband comes back to town tomorrow. I know his route like the back of my hand therefore I believe an ambush would be best. We take 'em by surprise and he don't know what hit 'em before he's dead. That's given he's traveling alone, but I will be there regardless."

Maddie then leaned back, her fingers tapping at the side of the piece of furniture.

John leaned back in his chair, sipping at the whiskey he’d been given as he studied the woman’s face for any sign of doubt or apprehension. If there was any there he couldn’t see it and he was usually surprisingly good at reading people. He’d pretty much had to be his entire life. Being able to tell when his father was in an unusually violent or unstable mood as a child had saved him many a beating. He’d learned when to be quiet and when to disappear simply by observing. It was a skill that had come in handy dealing with folks like himself over the years. He kind of wanted to ask Madeleine what it was that made her decide on killing her husband but he didn’t want to make her think about it too much. She might change her mind. Then he’d be out of any money he’d be making from the venture and have possible loose ends to tie up. He’d never killed a woman before. He didn’t want to start with her. So far he kind of enjoyed her.

“If he’s on his lonesome and you know whereabouts he’ll be so we can ambush him it’ll be an easy job. $20 will do it for my end. Any unforeseen circumstances that pop up we can discuss once it’s done. One thing though, at the moment I only have a shotgun and revolver with me, which means I’m going to have to get up reasonably close to do the deed. You think you could arrange that?”

"Of course. I lure him in some way out away from town, cryin to him how I been robbed and ridiculed by a couple of bandits before you swept in and saved the day. He may thank you, he may shoot you," she shrugged, knowing that a man such as John wasn't bothered by a few blunt words, "and that's when you get your go at 'em."

There was something about the way he stared at her as she spoke that made Maddie decide she wanted a drink as well. She was going to the saloon for that same purpose after all, to not drink alone. She excused herself to grab what little was left of the whisky. "His mistress died during childbirth, you know," she went on from the next room, finding it easier to lie. She had to convince herself of such before she tried to convince anyone else, including Samuel. "That's the reason I'll use for my unplanned departure tryin to find him. His baby girl got snatched up too, real sad. Bet it's those same people he's wronged in the past."

Maddie approached him once more, now with a glass in hand. She took a seat before sipping on the drink, welcoming the burning sensation left by the liquid traveling down her throat. "I can work with $20, you have my word on that."
@Sad Ogo Good stuff, no rush.
@Sad Ogo

If you're up for it, we can do a collab for the next post.
Madeleine Hart
Interaction: @Sad Ogo

"Can ya say that again ma?" Maddie nearly choked on her words, tears pooling at the corner of her eyes and threatening to slide down her powdered cheeks.

Margaret looked away from her daughter in shame. It pained her to have to repeat such dirty words, but she'd already crossed the damn line and she couldn't turn back now. "I bedded your husband, darlin'," she repeated herself, looking at Maddie once more, "some time before you two married. Your brother had left town and your father...well, he wasn't a damned bit concerned about intimacy. When Samuel came--"

Her words were cut short the instant Maddie's palm made contact with Margaret's face. Neither woman spoke for a while. Maddie was meaning to tell her mother how her faithful husband of many years had died, how it wasn't an accident, but now her intentions had changed.

"You know Samuel killed daddy? He didn't go over the edge trying to fix that light...he was pushed."

Margaret gave her daughter the look. "He told you that?" she asked with a hint of skepticism, rubbing her sore cheek.

"I overheard him tellin' Benjamin. I overhead a lot of things, to be frank with you, and that's why I came here wantin' to tell ya." Never mind what I just did to Minnie... Maddie shook her head with a sigh, walking towards the door. "I cannot be here ma. I need to go out and think."

Maddie didn't wait for a response. She stepped out and headed towards the saloon for a drink, her face displaying a mix of emotions. The one man in her life that wasn't blood and mattered to her was destroying her family from within. And now at the very least he'd question her about Minnie. But that was easy; some women died at childbirth.

Caught up in her thoughts, Maddie was startled when she heard gunshots go off in the distance. For some reason, she picked up the pace towards the saloon, and roughly half a minute later Maddie reached the narrow street to witness the aftermath of what appeared to have been a duel. She noticed a man approaching one of the deceased, the one who had been outgunned. For whatever reason she was both relived and disappointed it wasn't Samuel lying dead on the ground.

"Looks like he was at a disadvantage. You a friend of his?" she asked, taking notice of the holstered weapon.
Madeleine Hart

The cries echoed off the bare walls within the house. Madeleine Hart was slightly flustered and covered in sweat, her bloodied hands tightening the blanket a little bit more around the newborn. An unconscious Minnie lay on the bed behind her, enough blood pooled underneath her nether regions to compare her to a slaughtered animal. She was dead--poisoned to be exact, but nothing violent. The blood was simply the result of childbirth.

"Shh, it's okay, you're fine now darling."

Maddie got up from the wooden chair to approach the window, the baby still cradled in her arms. It was oddly quiet outside, a stark contrast to the small voice in the back of her head. Maddie looked down at the newborn baby, her bright blue eyes exploring the room before focusing on the young woman once more. The girl was oblivious that her life was hanging on a very delicate balance at the moment, that of revenge for someone else's sins.

"Surely it's as simple as that! Why didn't I think of it before?" Maddie walked back to the other side of the room before gently setting the baby down on the wooden cradle. She then went to her bag looking for a small map she kept tucked away. Once she unfolded it, Maddie studied the neighboring towns. In the middle of such distraction, a crash from outside startled the woman to the point where she lost all common sense and started heading towards the front door. Maddie had barely cleared the room when she found herself starring down the barrel of a gun.

"Do not make a sound, and we won't have any problems," the stranger instructed, shaking his head just the slightest for emphasis. There was some shuffling behind her, and even though she tried to look without turning her head, she was quickly warned against it.

"Please, what do you want? It's just us here and we don't have--"

"I said shut your mouth!"

Maddie immediately did as told. She knew she was outnumbered and outgunned, regardless of whatever elaborate plan she could think up on the spot.

"I got her, let's go." The voice behind her belonged to a woman, more than likely the man's wife. Maddie's eyes widened in response but she was just as quickly grabbed by the front of her blouse and pushed back against the wall, the tip of the revolver painfully digging against the side of her neck.

"If you even dream about taking a step before we're gone, you won't live to regret it."

Maddie stayed in place, watching the man retreat out of sight before the couple disappeared through the bedroom window. The moment it was quiet once more, Maddie sank to the floor. She went numb, unable to cope with what had just happened. Was she sad? Angry? Relieved?

"Oh Madeleine, you need help if nothing else."
Post coming tomorrow!
Sorry @RedVII I think I'll have to pull out before things get started

Finally, got it up.

@Berlin @c3p-0h

Thank you both for your sacrifice! Can't wait to get started on the scheming ;)
Quite a few potential collaborations I see.

Maddie's endgame is to avenge her father, which will result in a number of deaths along the way, among other things. I can see her setting someone up so they take the fall instead of her, so if you wanna volunteer for the role, let me know. And don't worry, your guy/gal will get away with it anyway.
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