Chapter 7
The Hunters Arrive

Caoshan (Montevideo), Bantian County, Shannanxi Province

As the latest freight train was pulling out of Montevideo, twelve people entered the railyard. The workers were finishing up and would be mostly idle until the next train came in unless the foreman found additional work for them to do. Some yard foremen liked to keep the workers hopping for the entirety of their shift, but that was not the case here.
If the group of twelve meant to be inconspicuous, they were not successful. Just by looking at them, you could tell that they had come here by cutting across the Wastes, nothing any sane person would do unless they were a match for all the horrors the Wastes had to offer and you did not want to get involved with such people.
Nevertheless, one of the yard bulls approached the group as they were looking around the tracks.
"You buzzards are too late," he said. "The carcasses are already in the dirt."
As the twelve were outfitted to protect themselves from the elements, you could only tell one from another by their size and frame. The biggest man among them, well over two meters in height, thickly built and broad-shouldered, replied, "You boys work fast 'round here."
"Can't have a bunch a' dead assholes stinkin' up the place right in the middle a' the goddamned railyard," the yard bull said.
A slight figure that might have been mistaken for a woman if not for his light yet distinctly masculine voice said, "Mind the profanity, sir."
The yard bull eyed the small man but said nothing.
"We were hopin' ta see what we're up 'gainst," the big man said.
"Goddamned mad dog is what you're up 'gainst," the yard bull replied, giving the small man a defiant look. Had he noticed the small man's fingers twitching, resisting the urge to reach for a concealed weapon, he might have spoken more prudently.
One of the others put a hand on the small man's shoulder, but the yard bull was oblivious to the meaning of the gesture.
Another man, tall but so tall as the big man, whose tightly braided goatee extended past the bandana covering his face, asked, "Did you see what happened?"
"No," the yard bull said. "Giba was the one in charge a' that section then. He's off duty today. You'll prolly find him down at Lulu's. Some a' the boys workin' the yard that day might be there too."
"Thanks," the man with the goatee said, taking out a string of chips and putting it in the yard bull's hand. "You've been most helpful."
The twelve then headed back into town. They had been to Montevideo before, so they did not need to ask where to find Lulu's tavern. Being the middle of the day, there were not too many patrons there, only about ten or so off-duty rail workers.
To save time, the man with the goatee held up a 20-tael silver piece and said, "I'm looking for a yard bull they call Giba."
"That's me," a portly man sitting at the bar said. "Who wants ta know?"
The man with the goatee repositioned his goggles on his forehead and pulled down his bandanna to reveal his face as he walked over to the bar. He placed the silver piece on the bar, but kept it pinned down by two fingers.
"Who we are isn't important," the man with the goatee said. "I was wonderin' if you'd be willin' ta answer our questions."
Eyeing the silver piece, Giba replied, "Twenny taels buys a lotta shejiu."
"About half a bottle unless it's the rare stuff," the man with the goatee said. Producing a second 20-tael piece, he told the bartender, "We'll take the whole thing."
"It's your money," the bartender replied, hoisting the large glass jar with a black-and-yellow banded krait floating around pickled inside.
Shejiu was a drink for the superstitious who believed in its healing properties or insecure men who thought they were proving something by drinking it. The man with a goatee poured Giba a shot, then poured one for himself, promptly downing it like it was nothing, because that was precisely what it was. Still, for men like Giba, it was a way of demonstrating his bonafides.
Seeing this, Giba downed his shot in a similar fashion, but unaccustomed to drinking it so quickly, he broke out in a brief coughing fit. The man with the goatee thumped him on the back and when his coughing subsided, poured him another shot.
"What'd ya wanna know?" Giba asked.
"I hear you saw that lil' dustup in the yard yesterday," the man with the goatee replied. "Tell me everythin'."
Despite his earlier difficulty, Giba bolted down the shot in one gulp, this time with greater success.
"Yeah, I saw it," he said. "Right before the northbound was headin' out, I hear this fool shoutin' his damn head off. Calls his buddies on these coupla chinos. There's eight of 'em, so it ain't like the chinos got any damn chance."
He held out his shot glass and the man with the goatee refilled it. After taking the shot, Griba continued.
"But then the one chino, the man, he tears 'em apart. I ain't seen anythin' like it. They must notta known what they was up 'gainst. He even run down one that tried ta run off. Wadn't a drop a' mercy to 'im."
"Sounds like one tough hombre," the man with the goatee said.
"Hombre?" Giba balked. "No, diablo."
"And you didn't try to stop this diablo?"
"He was killin' the shit outta those damn fools. Eight of 'em an' jus' one a' me with a damn stick. It's fine for beatin' the shit outta some half-starved hobo tryin' ta hitch a ride, but it wadn't gonna do much 'gainst him."
"Did you see where he went?"
"Yeah, he hitched on the northbound. I'm guessin' the other 'un got on durin' the fightin'."
The man with the goatee extended Giba another 20-tael piece, saying, "Thank you. You've been most helpful."
Giba only gave him a grunt in reply. The man with the goatee got up from the bar and joined his companions as they made their way to the door.
As they were leaving, the proprietress--not the original Lulu, but the fourth or fifth to take her name--tried to waylay them.
"Why don't you gents stay for a drink or two?" she said. "Maybe a bath, some food an' one a' my girls for dessert?"
"Maybe next time, Lu," the man with the goatee said, tossing her a 20-tael piece. "Trail's gonna get cold if we don't keep after it."
Lulu looked somewhat dissatisfied at the silver piece, much less than what she could have made off a party of twelve, but did not hesitate to put the coin away in the purse tucked in her cleavage.
The man with the goatee covered his face once more as they came out of the tavern. As they were walking, one of his companions said, "You ain't gonna make nothin' on this job the way you spread those silvers 'round."
"It takes money ta make money," the man with the goatee replied, "like my papi always said."
"They hung your papi as a car thief," another one commented.
"Don't meant he didn't get some things right," the man with the goatee said.
Back at the railyard, the group approached the ticket counter and the man with the goatee asked the attendant, "When's the next northbound?"
"The next northbound passenger train is at three forty-seven," the attendant replied.
The man with the goatee pulled out a pocketwatch, then tucked it away after checking it.
"Give us twelve third-class tickets," he said.
"Make it ten," a woman's voice said.
The man with the goatee turned to the owner of the voice and asked, "You droppin' out on us, Scylla?"
"Something like that," the woman--Scylla--replied.
The man with the goatee shrugged, then turned back to the attendant and said, "Alright then, ten third-class tickets."
"How far will you be going?" the station attendant asked.
"Just to Villaralto."
"Ten to Villaralto. That'll be twenty thousand chips."
The man with the goatee pulled out a wad of paper and peeled off several sheets. The attendant looked at the sheets and said, "I can't accept this scrip."
The man with the goatee looked at him and said, "This scrip is guaranteed by House Tsui. Now, I'm pretty sure you don't wanna insult his lordship over a measly twenny thousand chips, now do ya?"
The attendant looked at him nervously and replied, "I could get in trouble..."
The man with the goatee leaned on the counter. He gave the attendant a confident grin, but the effect was lost because his face was covered by his bandanna.
"Anyone tries ta give ya shit, you jus' tell 'em ta take it up with the Cisneros Bounty Hunting Guild, ya hear?"
Cornered as he was, the attendant meekly accepted the scrip, then stamped the ten tickets and handed them over to the man with the goatee.
"Keep the change," the man with the goatee said.
He turned to his companions to distribute the tickets, and when that was done, he looked to Scylla and told her, "I guess this is where we part ways."
"Yeah," Scylla replied.
"Can't say I blame ya," the man with the goatee said. "Temptin' as a hunnerd dan is, this could be a dicey one. If we pull this one off, drinks are on me next time you two get back in Ascención."
"If you pull it off, there'll be a bottle a' your choice on me," Scylla said.
"Sounds good ta me. See ya 'round, girls."
The man with the goatee waved goodbye, then he and his remaining companions headed inside the stationhouse to wait on their train, leaving Scylla and one other.
Scylla approached the attendant's window and asked him, "Now when's the next southbound train headin' out?"