Ethan Rayne watched from between two buildings as the cart and its two occupants rolled down the road and out into the countryside. He briefly toyed with the idea of following them, until his shrewd gaze spotted the blonde busybody across the street also watching the cart's progression from behind the large glass window of the general store. He smirked in amusement when she stepped out onto the front porch and stood with hands on hips, her head swiveling between the retreating cart and some point of interest further down the street and out of his line of vision. When it became apparent that she would not be going back inside any time soon Ethan crept backwards, deeper into the shadowy recesses of the alleyway, before turning and walking out the opposite side.
As he made his way to the railroad station, Ethan thought back on his conversation with Mayor Wilkins that morning. In truth it had been more of a monologue - the Mayor certainly loved a rapt audience - but Ethan did not mind playing the part of His Honor's loyal subject... not for the moment, anyway. At least he had not had to break the news that the newcomer's unexpected visit would be prolonged for several more days, in effect delaying their latest... acquisition. That unfortunate task had fallen to that nitwit Levinson, who'd stammered and cowered and apologized until Ethan had nearly felt compelled to strike the young man, and Ethan abhorred violence. Well, any violence that involved him, especially on the receiving end. Not to mention that it just wasn't seemly for a man of God to engage in fisticuffs.
Ethan had found the situation almost laughable, watching Levinson and Mears falling all over themselves to deny that they or any of their scurrilous colleagues had had anything to do with the destruction of the stranger's buckboard. Wilkins had made it perfectly clear that he was none too pleased that shenanigans were going on in town apart from those he himself had orchestrated. Yes, Ethan would have found the Mayor's consternation quite amusing if that imbecile Sheriff hadn't hastily volunteered that Ethan believed he recognized the redhead. Until that moment he'd managed to escape the withering stare of the Mayor, and Ethan again cursed Mears for divulging a detail he'd carelessly revealed after one too many whiskies at the card table.
"Really," Wilkins had stated, gazing at the preacher. "Well, isn't that interesting."
The comment was spoken casually, in an almost unnervingly cheerful manner, but Ethan recognized the cold steel behind the velvet voice. It quite loudly relayed that the Mayor found it not so much "interesting" as "unexpected," "unplanned for," and "potentially dangerous." In short, all the things the Mayor despised, and had spent years ensuring would never affect him in his town.
Ethan however, while admiring the Mayor's meticulous planning, thrived on the unexpected. He had long ago discovered a knack not only for taking advantage of such situations for his own gain, but also for inconspicuously helping those situations to develop. His sojourn in Dusty Hollow had been disappointing as yet, due in large part to Wilkins' iron-like grip on the shady goings-on in the town. Ethan did not enjoy playing second fiddle to anyone, even to a man he had a grudging respect for. The current circumstances offered him his first real chance to unseat the Mayor from his lofty perch, and have a little fun in the process.
The preacher waited until the morning train had arrived and the station agent had left his office to oversee the unloading and loading of sundry passengers and cargo before slipping unseen into the small room and sitting down in front of the telegraph. He pulled a slightly weathered piece of paper out of his breast pocket and unfolded it. The face on the page looked off to the side, the wide eyes captured in a slightly startled expression. The wild mane of chin length hair, furrowed brow, and intense gaze came together to emit a rather crazed demeanor. In truth, Ethan thought the Wanted poster bore little resemblance to the polished young man he'd spied in the saloon the night before, but something about the boy's manner convinced him they could be one and the same. For Ethan's purposes it hardly mattered, and as long as the redhead had nothing to hide, only the Mayor and his cronies would be inconvenienced. Ethan stuffed the page back into his coat pocket with a shrug and began to tap out his message.
The young Cavalry officer snapped to attention as his commander's booming voice echoed through the empty stable.
"Sir!" he barked back.
"I've just received word of a probable sighting of the Red Bandit. You and your men need to be on the next train to Dusty Hollow, Nebraska. That is all."
"Permission to speak, Captain?" Finn promptly requested as his superior turned to leave.
"Granted, but make it quick."
"Is the suspect in custody?"
"Not at this time, but he is being carefully watched. Our source says he won't be going anywhere for several days due to an unspecified delay, but you can be there by nightfall and have him back here tomorrow."
"With all due respect sir, whether he's planning his next attack or just hiding out, he's bound to be watching the trains. I'm familiar with that part of the country, and can ride in with a few men without danger of our arrival being announced. I wouldn't want him to evade us... again."
Finn knew that his none too subtle reminder would sway the Captain, who had been both personally and professionally embarrassed by the ease with which the bandit had evaded capture after the theft of several hundred pounds of dynamite from a stockroom under his jurisdiction. The truth was that Finn simply found it distasteful for a Cavalry unit to take a train, but that was a subject that did not need to be broached.
"Alright, Lieutenant. But you'd better not muck this up. I don't want to see you back here until you have that scoundrel in custody. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes Sir," Finn responded.
"Assemble your team and leave at once. Dismissed."
Finn snapped his hand up in another smart salute and took a deep breath once the Captain marched away. He was looking forward to being on the trail again, even if it was a hard two days ride to Dusty Hollow. Without a moment's hesitation he located the stable boy and indicated which mounts he wanted prepared, then jogged off quickly to assemble his team.