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Afterlife is a sci fi/western action serial published every other week. Join us in a post-apocalyptic journey through a future where life has become little more than a struggle for survival. However, where there’s life, there’s always hope.
Read the previous chapter here:
Herman Rennock hears from Devin Hellier.
Karl Bergson returns to Las Colinas and has a reunion.
Abby struggles with her inner demons.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 36
Abby opened her eyes and saw that she was still alone, surrounded by the sandy ground and the rusty walls of the two buildings which flanked the alley she was sitting in. She looked down at her gun belt and unstrapped it, letting it fall into the sand. “I’ll never kill again.” She wiped the tears off her face, stood, and walked back towards the street, leaving her belt and her laser pistol behind. The street had emptied out some, and Abby didn’t notice anyone paying close attention to her until Della turned a corner and ran towards her.
“Abby!” she shouted. She stopped running a few feet away. “Abby, are you alright, honey? We were worried sick. You shouldn’t be out here alone. Where’s your gun?”
“It’s gone,” Abby said. “Let’s head back.”
“Are you okay?” Della asked, her hand on her hips.
Abby frowned. “I feel like everything’s slipping away from me, and I’m not sure how to catch it.”
“Aw, honey.” Della frowned, looking at Abby with concern. “Do you want to talk?”
Abby shook her head. “Not now.”
“Well let’s get back to the house,” Della said. “You look like you could use some rest. Then, we can talk if you want.”
Abby nodded. “Rest sounds good.” She hadn’t been sleeping well, and it was starting to take its toll. Her eyes were in pain from straining to stay open. “But I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep.” The two of them walked through the street towards Madam Beauvoir’s brothel. When they got there, they went through the common room where Ace was back at the poker table. They went upstairs to Abby’s room, where Della left her. Abby flopped onto the bed and closed her eyes, trying her best to clear her thoughts.
When Abby woke up, she was lying in the grass in a cool valley. She didn’t recognize the setting, but it reminded her a little of the oasis in the Dead Lands. There were grassy hills on both sides of her and mountains rose up further away. In the distance ahead were the endless dunes of the desert. Abby sat up and stretched, looking all around her, wondering which ghost was going to haunt this dream. When she realized that Pastor Earl had been sitting beside her all along, she smiled. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” he asked, smiling as he looked at her with his kind blue eyes.
“I’ve let you down. I’ve let everyone down.” She sighed and shook her head. “I always let everyone down.”
“No, you haven’t.” He looked out at the desert. “You haven’t let anyone down, Abby.”
“If you were here,” Abby said, “you wouldn’t have let me do the things I’ve done. The murders. The bank robberies. You would have talked me out of it.”
Pastor Earl shrugged. “Maybe I would have. Maybe not. We’ll never know. If I did try to talk you out of it, though, would you have listened to me?”
Abby grinned. “Probably not.”
Pastor Earl smiled at her. “I will say that I know you well enough to know you believed what you were doing was right.”
“But how far can we go in order to do what we think is right?” Abby asked.
“We all have to figure that out for ourselves,” Pastor Earl said. “And sometimes we do, in fact, go too far. There were definitely times where I felt that I went too far.”
“But how can I go on?” Abby asked. “How can I go on after everything that’s happened?”
“Well,” Pastor Earl said as a breeze blew through the valley, “I remember something you said to me in the oasis. You told me I had to forgive myself. You told me that God had already forgiven me. I just had to forgive myself.” He smiled and looked her in the eyes. “Now I’ll say the same to you.”
Abby shook her head. “I don’t know if I can forgive myself, after all the awful things I’ve done. After seeing that boy and hearing what he said.”
“I did some awful things in my lifetime,” Pastor Earl said. “I fought in a war, Abby. Long before I met you. That’s the thing about salvation, Abby. It overcomes all sin, all evil.”
Abby frowned. “I feel like I’ve lost it. I’ve lost my salvation. And I don’t think there’s anything I can do to gain it back.”
“You’re right,” Pastor Earl said, looking at her gravely. “There’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing any of us can do. Only God can do it. Remember, we believe that only Jesus can give us salvation. So stop trying.”
“I just don’t know if I can be forgiven after what I’ve done,” Abby said.
“God will forgive anyone if they only ask,” Pastor Earl said. “That’s all you need to do, Abby. Just ask. And you’ll be accepted back. That’s what repentance is all about. Turning back. There’s always a place for you. God will always be with you.”
Abby looked down at the grass. “And so will I.” She looked beside her to see that it was her father, not Pastor Earl, who was now seated beside her. He smiled and put his arm around her. “I know you feel I’ve abandoned you, Sweet Pea. But I haven’t. I’ve been with you through it all. And when you’ve been hurt, I’ve felt your pain. I’ve felt every bit of conflict you’ve been battling through, external and internal.”
Abby wiped a tear from her eye. “Then why did you take Einstein away from me? Why did you take Einstein away when I needed him most?”
Her father frowned and nodded. “I know you too well, Abby. I know you can be rebellious, and sometimes you feel that you’re right no matter what anyone says. I had to put a failsafe in Einstein. I couldn’t let you take him with you over the top. But I believe you’re coming back. You just need to convince Einstein now.”
“How do I do that?” Abby asked.
“You’ll find a way. Just like you’ll find a way to take down Rennock and the IAO. Even after everything that’s happened.”
Abby grinned. “I’m not so sure.”
“I am, Sweet Pea.” He wrapped his arm around her. “I am. And I’ll be with you through it all. Until the end.” She buried herself in his hug.
“Please don’t go,” she said. “Not so soon. I just need a little more time.”
Abby opened her eyes as she lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. She hadn’t dreamt of her father for a while, or Pastor Earl for that matter. Her father always made things better somehow, even if he was just a figment of her imagination now. She started thinking about the night he died, and Warrick Baines, and the hatred she had in her heart, the thirst for vengeance. She’d fled the scene of her family’s murders, fueled by this thirst for vengeance. It helped her survive out in the desert. It motivated her to search for the diamonds, to try to take down Rennock. When the negative emotions, the sorrow, anger, and hatred, grew too strong, she looked to drugs as an escape. She looked to Horseman as an escape.
In Primrose, she realized that her vengeance may have been nothing but a pipe dream as Rennock’s forces destroyed the city. She realized that Rennock may be far too strong for her, or anyone, to take down. She went to Carpenter City and they lost the Jupiter Diamond. She realized further that her vengeance may never be fulfilled, and then she found Ace and Annabelle. She also found and murdered Judith Israel, the spy, the betrayer, out of vengeance, maybe partially because Nat Bigum had stolen her vengeance against Baines when he killed him, and she realized that killing Rennock was possibly becoming an unachievable goal, an unachievable release. So she took the only release she had and killed Judith, but it only made things worse. She joined Ace and Annabelle to get back at Rennock the only way she thought she could, and she robbed Rennock’s banks, and then she murdered again, and here she was. Led to a place where her vengeance and her hatred had created another person who was full of vengeance and hatred in the dead sheriff’s son. And who knows how many others she had filled with hatred along the way? People who lost their lives or livelihoods, their life savings, and she was involved. Vengeance and hatred were behind everything she had done. She was motivated by sin, and it was time to let it go. It was time to find a new motivation.
Abby closed her eyes and pictured her father’s face, and the faces of her mother and her siblings. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But I can’t do it anymore.” And she realized it would have never been what her father wanted, the hatred that had consumed her. Her father had always been someone who looked out for the people who couldn’t look out for themselves. He defended the weak and the poor against those who took advantage of them. Abby had always had some of this in herself, hidden deep beneath the anger and the hatred. It was time for her to let go of her quest for vengeance and the anger and the hatred that fueled it. It was time for her to start fighting for those who needed her the most. It was time for her to become the defender of the defenseless her father had always wanted her to be. The woman who her father had raised her to be.
Abby noticed her bag on the floor next to her bed. She reached into it and grabbed Einstein. She looked at the wristwatch computer for a few seconds. “Here goes nothing,” she said as she turned him on.
“Abigail,” Einstein’s kind voice said. “It’s been a while.”
She strapped him to her wrist. “It has. Too long. I’m sorry, Einstein.”
“Sorry for what?”
Abby frowned. “For refusing to listen to you. I’m back, though. I really am. I’m ready to let you advise me once again.”
“I’m glad to know you aren’t imprisoned or dead. And you don’t appear to be insane, either, from what my sensors are detecting, though it can be hard to ascertain such things sometimes.”
Abby grinned. “I don’t think I’m insane, but then again, who does?”
“So you’ve given up your intentions to rob banks with Ace and Annabelle?”
“I’m with them now,” Abby said. “And we’re in a bit of a pickle, but yes, I don’t plan on robbing any more banks.”
“Your heart rate and blood pressure are normal,” Einstein said. “I noticed no obvious changes in your physiological state as you said that. You appear to be telling the truth.”
“I am,” Abby said. “Do you still have all of your security measures in place to detect and outwit hackers?”
Abby nodded. “I’m with an expert hacker now who may be able to get you back on the Satellite Net. Should we take the chance?”
“I believe I’ll be able to guard any of my more sensitive data from him,” Einstein said, “and if I can’t, I have a failsafe mechanism in place that will encrypt everything beyond recognition. So I’ll leave it to you. Do you think you can trust this person?”
“No,” Abby said. “But I trust you, and I believe getting you hooked back up to the Satellite Net is worth the risk.”
“Very well, then,” Einstein said.
“I’ll take you to him,” Abby said. “When he’s not, um, busy.” She looked down at the wristwatch computer and smiled. “For a while there, I was asking you questions even though I didn’t have you. Lately I’ve stopped. Now I’m going to have to get used to asking you things once again.”
“It will take time,” Einstein said. “In the meantime, as long as you have me turned on, I’ll try to interject with anything helpful whenever I can.”
“I’d like that,” Abby said. “I missed you.”
“I wish I could say the same,” Einstein said, “but my time sensors shut down when I’m turned off. To me it seemed like I was gone only a moment.”
“Well it was one of the longest moments of my life,” Abby said.
She looked down at her bag to see On the Road, which she’d been reading earlier. Behind it was Pastor Earl’s Bible. She pushed Bobby’s book out of the way and grabbed the Bible. She started flipping through, looking for no page in particular until a highlighted verse caught her eye. “But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.”
Eileen Traymont sat at a metal table with a glass surface in a donut shop, facing Stanley Everett. Jorge Bautista stood outside waiting with several other enforcers. They’d just left the crime scene at the bank Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose had robbed the previous day with the help of Abigail Song and her drag queen friend. “Eleven billion dollars,” Eileen said. “This is starting to get real.”
Stanley nodded. “It appears they’ve upped their game.”
“They were just practicing before,” Eileen said. “And expect their next one to be even bigger.”
“The only bank anywhere near here that’s bigger than the one here is the one in Black Rock.” He sipped his coffee, his eyes gazing through his glasses at Eileen. Realization came over his face.
Eileen smiled. “So the Remingtons have them cornered in a little town called El Paraiso. It’s a den of crime and various other sorts of evil. The perfect place for them.” She took a bite from the old fashioned donut she was eating and placed it back on the white plate in front of her, careful not to drop any crumbs on her pristine uniform.
“That’s right,” Stanley agreed.
“Part of me still can’t believe Song actually murdered a sheriff in cold blood,” Eileen said with a frown. “She’s become pure evil. She was close before, but it seems her association with Ace and Annabelle has pushed her over the edge. These are vile murderers who must be stopped at all costs, in the name of human decency. We can’t let them kill any more innocent people, Stanley.”
“Of course,” Stanley said as he sipped his coffee once again.
Eileen took a swig from the glass of milk in front of her, looking out the window at a couple walking by. The woman was pushing a baby carriage. “Sometimes I’m glad I’m not responsible for a child in this vile world, where people like Abigail Song exist.”
“So we’re a day behind them,” Stanley said. “Are we going to join the Remingtons in the pursuit?”
Eileen frowned. “They killed two Remingtons, ten enforcers, and a sheriff here in Sunset City. Just the four of them. And I’m assuming someone drove the getaway car, so I’m sure there were five. Ten more men from the Remington Detective Agency are watching their every move in El Paraiso. And now that we have the okay, I’ve sent twenty enforcers down to meet them. If things get hairy, Rennock’s going to use military force.”
“So you’re saying we won’t be needed?” Stanley asked.
Eileen smiled and shook her head. “I’m saying we won’t be needed there. If our guys take them out, they take them out, and we’ll head down later. We’ve been a day behind them. I’d like to be a day ahead of them next time, if they do escape El Paraiso.”
“So what are you saying?” Stanley asked.
“They may very well be planning to hit Black Rock,” Eileen said. “But they may not be. I’d like to run reports on every bank in the area, along with armored hover car shipments and other large shipments of monetary value. We’ll run everything through a computer and detect patterns. We’ll figure out where they’re going next, and we’ll be there waiting for them.”
Stanley nodded and finished off his coffee. “Sounds like a plan, then.”
Eileen frowned. “We’re going to kill or capture all five of them. And the ones who are captured will hang. I want Abigail Song captured alive, because I want to be there myself when she’s dangling dead from a gallows pole.”
Bobby walked slowly down the stone steps that led into Nat’s bunker-like office. When he reached the bottom of the stairway, he saw Nat seated at his metal desk, his hat pulled down over his face. He was snoring as “Crazy” by Patsy Cline played from a music player on the floor near the desk. There had been four new guards Nat had hired at the door upstairs, and Nat was bunkered down more than ever as he made sure the IAO threat was gone for good from Dead Man’s Bluff. Bobby approached him, still not sure exactly what he was going to say. Nat woke up, his hand dropping to the hilt of his revolver as he put his hat back on his head. “Oh, Bobby,” he said with a yawn. “What’s up?”
“Can we talk?” Bobby asked.
“Sure,” Nat said. “Have a seat, kid.” He nodded to the chair across the desk from him and Bobby walked over to it and sat down. “So the last IAO guy we picked up, I interrogated ‘im this mornin’ and he’s tryin’ to tell me Warrick Baines is the leader of the IAO now.” Nat laughed. “I told ‘im I killed the bastard and saw his dead body, but the guy’s not changin’ his mind. I wonder if there’s some other crazy cyborg out there he’s mistakin’ for Baines.”
“Are you sure you killed him?” Bobby asked.
“Couldn’t be surer,” Nat said. “I blasted a hole through his head. And I put two more bullets in ‘im just in case, too. Right through his heart. He’s deader than Julius Ceasar. So anyway, what’s up?”
Bobby frowned. “I did something. Something I’m not proud of.”
Nat nodded. “I see.” He looked at Bobby with knowing green eyes. “We’re lawmen, Bobby. Sometimes you have to do things, in the name of the law, that you ain’t necessarily comfortable with.”
“It’s not that,” Bobby said. He cleared his throat and looked at Nat’s stern, scarred face. “This was more for self-preservation.”
“Well ya can’t defend the law if you’re dead,” Nat said.
Bobby couldn’t get the image of Chuck Moore’s laser-riddled body out of his mind. He knew he’d sent him to his death, and to cover up another wrong. “But this was…”
“Look,” Nat said, looking Bobby in the eye. “It’s a tough world, Bobby. Especially if you’re the law. You have to make tough decisions, and sometimes you’re wrong. You just do the best ya can and learn from your mistakes.” He leaned forward. “Ya know, you can be too tough sometimes and you can be too lenient. I’ve always erred on the side of bein’ tough ‘cause that’s who I am. I always felt the people I was protectin’ deserved me bein’ tough on the scumbags who were doin’ ‘em harm, and the scumbags deserved it, too. Ya know, you have to be true to yourself. You can’t be someone you’re not. And like I said, you do the best ya can, and you learn from your mistakes. Ya live and ya learn. And one day’ll be your last. And that’s when ya stop learnin’. That’s just how it is.” He leaned back in his chair again and smiled his ugly, scarred smile. “Three most important things. Be true to yourself, do the best ya can, and learn from your mistakes. Don’t be too hard on yourself, kid. Gettin’ down on yourself won’t help ya none. Look at what happened and learn from it.”
Bobby nodded. It was clear Nat didn’t fully understand what he was trying to say, but Bobby wasn’t about to confess to him. Friend or not, Nat would probably throw him in jail. Still, maybe Bobby could take something from Nat’s words. “Thanks, Nat.”
Nat yawned and it was the first time he had actually looked old to Bobby. Old and tired. “Maybe I’ve been too hard sometimes,” Nat said. “I mean, I’m probably partially responsible for who Warrick Baines became. I trained ‘im after all.”
Bobby shook his head. “You can’t control other people’s actions.”
“But I at least contributed,” Nat said. “I think I brought something out in him. You didn’t know ‘im before he met me. He was a weak little nerd from back east when I met ‘im. The bookish type, ya know? And he was real sick, which, as I told ya before, was why he came out west in the first place. Wanted to experience the western life before he died.” Nat shook his head and chuckled. “He was a weak little kid. But I taught him to be tough. I taught him to kill.”
“I thought you said he was always a psycho,” Bobby said.
“He was,” Nat said. “But I brought it to the forefront.” He shook his head. “And then there was Anna. Anna Ballin. She was the last straw. I loved that girl, though.”
“It’s all right,” Bobby said. “You’ve done a lot of good through the years. You’ve done a lot of good for this town.”
Nat shrugged. “Maybe. But you see? We’ve all done stuff we ain’t proud of, kid.”
Someone came down the steps and Bobby turned to see that it was Mayor Coolidge. His bald head shined in the dim light and he was wearing his usual blue suit and red tie. “Do you have a minute, Nat?” he asked with his phony smile.
“I do,” Nat said.
“Can we speak alone?”
“Can Bobby stay?” Nat asked. “He is my top deputy after all.”
Mayor Coolidge stood facing them with crossed arms. “Suit yourself. I’ll have you know I don’t approve of your methods.”
“My methods?” Nat asked.
The mayor nodded. “I’ve learned about the things you’ve been doing, and I’ve brushed them off since we were at war. But now that things have died down a bit, I’d like you to tone it down. Just sit back, enjoy your paychecks, and let the town handle itself. No more Mr. Tough Guy, if you know what I mean. No more severed fingers or executions.” Bobby wondered why the mayor was coming to say this now. He’d always expressed gratitude for Nat’s work in the past. Bobby suspected someone else was behind this. Possibly Bessy Moore. Bobby never trusted that woman. He had the feeling as soon as the war with the IAO was over, she was going to start the feud back up again, and she was going to take advantage of the situation to try to take over the town. Though it could have also been Spencer Dayton. Maybe his newfound pacifism was just a front.
Nat glared at the mayor. “The way we keep things peaceful is by makin’ everyone realize the cost of breakin’ the peace.”
“I disagree,” the mayor said. “I think it’s better to just let things play out. You can stay here and still collect your paychecks, but I need to make sure we’re on the same page.”
“We’re not,” Nat said. “And you want me to leave.” He chuckled. “Let’s see you or someone else make me.”
“He’s only done what’s needed to be done,” Bobby said, glaring at the mayor. “You know that. Remember this town before Nat got here? It was a lawless war zone. And sure, things got worse for a little while, but they’re gonna be better now. This can be a town where people come to settle down. Raise families. And it’s all thanks to Nat Bigum.”
The mayor nodded. “And now your work is done. You can ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. All you have to do is nothing. Just be happy.”
“I can’t be happy if there’s somethin’ I deem unlawful goin’ on around me,” Nat said.
“Who said anything about unlawful things?” the mayor asked. “And are you the end-all-be-all when it comes to the law? Like I said, you can stay and live happily, peacefully. Or you can leave and find your peace elsewhere. Live and let live, you know? Treat others as you’d have them treat you, and all that.”
“I treat others as they really do treat me,” Nat said. “I don’t live in hypotheticals. That crap makes for a nice greetin’ card, but it don’t amount to nothin’ in the real world.”
The mayor frowned. “Suit yourself, then. Good day to you, Nat Bigum.”
“Get the hell out of my office, you fat coward,” Nat said. The mayor turned and walked up the steps.
“You think someone’s planning something?” Bobby asked. “Bessie Moore, maybe? Or the Daytons?”
Nat shrugged. “Or the IAO? They may not be done yet. Good thing Sheriff Calloway’s on his way here with seven deputies. We may need reinforcements sooner than later. I don’t know how long those new guards are gonna hold out.”
Bobby nodded. “Well I need to get going.”
“Why so early?” Nat asked.
Bobby smiled. “I’m going on a date.”
Nat nodded and smiled back. “You make that girl happy, kid.”
With that, Bobby turned and headed up the stone steps.
Nat was sitting in his thoughts when he heard footsteps coming down the stone stairway. He put his hand over his revolver as he sat behind his desk, ready for whatever happened. He hadn’t heard any gunshots outside, so it was probably nothing. One of the new guards appeared. “Mr. Bigum,” he said. “There’s an Anna Ballin waitin’ to see you.”
Nat’s stomach dropped. He had to take a deep breath to keep breathing. He thought he was ready for anything. Apparently he wasn’t. “Of all the gin joints…”
“What was that?” the guard asked.
“Send ‘er down,” Nat muttered. The guard turned and walked back up the stairs.
Was it really her, or was this some kind of sick joke? The door opened and there were more footsteps, coming down this time. Nat swallowed, took off his hat, and fixed his hair the best he could. She emerged at the bottom of the stairs, and she looked just like he remembered her ten or so years ago. She must have been in her late thirties or early forties now, but she looked young for her age, wearing jeans that showed off her figure and a pink button down blouse that showed just enough of her ample cleavage. Her pale skin was smooth and beautiful, just as it had always been. She even had the same hairstyle: straight, shiny brown hair cut to her shoulders. Her soft, feminine features looked as youthful as ever as she looked at him with her shining blue eyes, a nervous smile on her face. “Hi, Nat.”
Nat swallowed again. “Hi, Anna. It’s been a while.”
“It has,” she said as she walked to the chair in front of him and sat down.
“A lot has happened,” Nat said.
Nat took a deep breath. “Look, I’m sorry. I looked everywhere for ya. I couldn’t find ya. I knew you were probably still alive somewhere, but…”
“It’s all right,” she said, putting her hand on his as it rested on the desk. Nat felt a flutter. “That was a long time ago.”
Nat nodded. “A long time ago. Where’d ya go?”
She shrugged. “You know, here, there.”
“You still dancin’?” he asked.
“When I can.”
Nat swallowed again. “Doin’ anything more than that?”
She grinned and shook her head. “Still the same jealous Nat. No, I never did anything more. There were guys here and there, you know, boyfriends, but none of them meant anything.”
He nodded. “So what the hell are you doin’ here?”
She frowned. “Do you want me to leave?”
“No,” Nat said. “Of course not. It’s just, why here? Why now? After all these years. Word about me gets around. I’m sure you could have found me earlier.”
“Things happen, you know?” Anna frowned. “It took me a while to get over what happened. But I did. And I know you told us all to leave. You didn’t have to do that. You could have just let us stay in town like Rennock would have wanted. But you saved the town, Nat. You saved a lot of people.”
“I knew you were gone,” Nat said. “I was glad to know wherever you were, at least you were alive. Still, I can’t say I wasn’t at least a little worried when I saw what Rennock did to the town.”
She smiled. “And now I’m here. I’m back, Nat.”
“For good this time?”
“Maybe,” she said. “For a while at least. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though, all right? Why don’t we meet for dinner and drinks tomorrow night and we can talk more?”
“Where are you stayin’?” Nat asked.
“The inn down the street.”
“Maybelle Sampson’s?” Nat asked.
“I don’t know,” Anna said. “I guess so. It’s across the street from a saloon.”
Nat nodded. “That’s Maybelle Sampson’s. I can meet you there at six and walk you to the bar.”
“Why don’t we just meet at the bar?” she asked. “I hate to keep you waiting. That way if you get there first, you can have some drinks while you wait for me.”
“All right,” Nat said. “So we’ll do the Crosshairs Saloon at six thirty tomorrow.”
“Is that the one across from the inn?” she asked. Nat nodded. “All right,” she said. She stood and walked over to Nat, and she bent down and kissed him on the lips. Nat closed his eyes and felt her soft lips on his, and then she walked away. It wasn’t much, but it was more than enough, after so many years. Nat opened his eyes and watched her walk up the steps. He didn’t like the idea of leaving his office, but it would be worth it for her. He’d be ready for anything, though. He’d make sure his guards were nearby, too.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 37
Juanita and John enjoy their time together in Las Colinas.
Bobby and Shelly have dinner together.
Nat goes to the Crosshairs Saloon to meet Anna Ballin.
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