Cowboys from Hell

rating: +17+x

Ace Cliff was the most feared bounty hunter in the West. He’d brought dozens, maybe hundreds of thieves, bandits, and outlaws to justice, usually by the swift and precise application of bullets. It was said that no one could escape him, that he could find and kill you no matter how many guns or men or…stranger things you put in his way. One story claimed he’d been shot dead seven times and clawed his way back out of Hell to finish the job. Some of the native people believed that he’d been cursed to live forever by the dying breath of a desert goddess. Among the criminals that were his prey, it was whispered that Ace was the Devil himself, who’d stepped out of Hell to claim their wretched souls in person. There weren’t any pictures of him, and very few drawings, but every outlaw in the West still knew what he looked like, in the same way that a deer recognizes a wolf. They knew his wide, wicked smile, and the long, sharp nose that bent like a buzzard’s beak. The few who’d actually seen him knew that his hair was a deep, dark red, the same shade as the blood he so enjoyed spilling. But nobody knew the color of his eyes, because no one who’d gotten close enough to peer up under the brim of that wide, black hat had lived to tell the tale.

Yet despite all that infamy, despite the legend that went before him like a pillar of fire, no one knew just where he’d come from, or just who he really was. Well, almost no one. Besides Ace himself, there were seven living men who knew the truth of his being—who knew where he’d been born, and the name that he’d been given there. Unfortunately for Ace, they also knew where he was now.

In some ways, the Bottled Rooster was like a jungle. Hot. Stifling. Filled with predators, quick of eye and tooth, always watching for the next bit of prey. Growls, hoots, and hollers rang out, the mating calls mingling with the territorial displays and the muffled ambience of the piano, where notes trickled off the keys like a dirty waterfall. And just like a jungle, the first sign of trouble was when all that ruckus stopped.

Seated as he was at the bar, Ace had his back to the door. That was a risky position for a man like himself, but he wasn’t worried about it. The type of coward that shot men in the back wouldn't be brave enough to gun for Ace Cliff in the first place. So he sat there, listening to the batwing doors flap back into place, wondering what kind of thing could spook this crowd worse than him. When he found out, it spooked him too.

“Well,” intoned a deep, sonorous voice, “if it ain’t my little brother.”

For half a second, Ace Cliff cracked. Another person, with another name, welled up inside him. It beat at Ace Cliff in a wild panic and tried to pry its way out of the opening, but Ace forced it shut again. Of all the times there ever were, this was not the one to panic.

“I think,” he drawled, fighting the tremble of his voice with practiced ease, “you’re confused.”

The man with the deep voice laughed. He was joined by other voices, and Ace recognized them too. He knew that sinister laughter, and the screams that went along with it. Part of him felt like screaming now, but he fought it down the same way he’d been doing for-

“Seven years, ain’t it?” the voice asked. “Since you ran off?”

“I told y’all that you’re mistaken.” For emphasis, Ace pushed his duster back, revealing the revolver on his left hip. His hand hovered near it, relaxed but ready.

The bartender, a polite Englishman named Richard, chose this moment to cut in.

“Gents,“ the barkeep began, pulling a long shotgun out from under the bar. “As a matter of courtesy—"

“Shut up,” the deep voice interrupted. And Richard did, to his apparent surprise. He was about to get a lot more surprised.

“Point that gun at your head,” the voice commanded. Without even hesitating, Rich flipped the gun around so its barrel was right under his chin. His eyes grew wide with terror, but he just couldn’t seem to move. Outraged exclamations came from elsewhere in the saloon, and Ace heard a few chairs scraping the floor as people stood up to defend their beloved barkeep. The ruckus lasted only a moment before a low, murmuring buzz cut through the air. In its wake, shouts of surprise faded to groggy groans. Chairs rattled as people slumped back into them, their minds suddenly slow and their bodies heavy. Only Ace and the helpless Rich seemed unaffected.

“Now," Doug commanded, speaking clearly over the drone. "Take that gun and—"

“Stop!” Ace shouted.

The voice chuckled. “You got somethin’ to say, little brother?”

“What do you want?” he growled, through gritted teeth.

“Why,” it replied, “we just want you home. Daddy misses you real bad.”

Ever-so-slightly, Ace shivered.

“So, the old bastard ain’t dead yet?”

“Not yet. Matter of fact, you're gonna save his life.”

“Is that right?”

“Yep. It’s about time you come home, little brother. Daddy needs you. Needs his…blood back. So why don’t you just come on along. No need to make this…ugly.”

Ace scoffed. “Anything’s got to do with y’all’s gonna be ugly.”

“Is that why you won’t look at us? We ain’t purdy enough for you?”

“I won’t look at y’all cuz you’re a damn disgrace to God’s whole creation.”

“And what does that make you?”

With a wordless sigh, Ace lifted a half-empty bottle to his lips. Drained it.

“I ain’t goin’ back.”

“It ain’t up to you, brother.”

Ace nodded. He took one last bite of beans, though he wasn’t sure how long he could keep it down. “Then I’ve got some bad news for you, boys. Ain’t no gun in all the West that can take me down. You ugly hicks sure as Hell can’t do it.” Then, before he lost his nerve, he stood from the barstool and turned to face the family Flynn.

When he’d heard that awful voice for the first time in seven years, Ace had allowed himself to hope that the memory of his brothers was inaccurate. That over all that time, after all those drunken, bloody, lonely nights and dusty, starving, sun-scorched days the faces from his childhood had been distorted by the terror of recollection. That the mental images he still had were only so horrible because they’d become so intertwined with the dreams he had at night that there was no longer any difference. But as he looked upon his brothers once again, he knew that the opposite was true. The fog of memory hadn’t sharpened these nightmare images, but dulled them. Now, staring into the faces of his kin, he wondered how he’d ever forgotten.

Doug was the oldest and the leader of the pack. The deep voice that ordered men to shoot themselves came from his lips. It was a beautiful voice, warm and smoky like a campfire. Sweet, like barbecue. But there was nothing sweet or beautiful about the rest of him. He was…crooked.

Kevin stood beside his brother, his hunched, fidgety posture a stark contrast to Doug’s calm confidence. He twitched like a mangy cur, and that’s almost what he was. Even from across the room, Ace could see the ticks and mites that burrowed into the red ruin of his brother’s skin. Fleas and lice dropped from Kevin’s ratty hair with every nervous flinch. Flies circled his head like a hungry halo.

On Doug’s other side, Hiram stood perfectly still…all except for his rotten mouth. Those crooked, yellow teeth and chewed, scabby lips were always in motion. His voice was a low, monotonous drone like a distant swarm of locusts. It was Hiram's muttered, indistinct obscenities that had put the other patrons into their stupor. Ace's kinship to Hiram kept him from the same fate, but the sound still gave him a headache.

Last, looming behind them, was Bob. The fourth brother was a behemoth, nine feet and seven hundred pounds of stony muscle, iron-hard bones, and deceptively soft fat. His fingers were thicker than some men’s wrists. Atop this massive body was a head that seemed too small, even for the features that’d been crammed onto it. Bulging, uneven eyes flanked a squashed, piglike nose. Tiny, lopsided ears dangled from either side. Fat lips hung open and drooling around a mouthful of shiny, sharp teeth.

Yet despite all of that, despite the myriad misshapen forms among them, it was easy to see that they were brothers. Doug's careful haircut, Kevin's greasy locks, Hiram's stain-crusted beard, and the patchy tufts on Bob's head were all the same blood-red as Ace's hair.

And they all had their father's eyes.

“Uzz and Noah couldn’t make it?” Ace asked.

Doug just grinned. “Nice to see you too.”

“Cut the shit, Doug. My beans are gettin’ cold.”

“Well, Hell, brother, you’re the one that’s makin’ this take so long.Just let go of that there pistol and come on home.”

For five long seconds, the only sound was Hiram's incessant chirring.

“You know that shit don’t work on me,” Ace said, drumming his fingers on the stock.

“Hey,” Doug said, with a shrug. “Had to tr—"

The sound of Ace's pistol ripped through the air. A slug ripped through the wall behind Kevin’s head. It scared him so bad that the gun he’d been trying to draw slipped right out of his flea-bitten fingers. Ace looked at his older brother with disdain.
“Really, Kev? You couldn’t outdraw a dead man.”

For the first time, Doug’s calm demeanor slipped. He slapped one long-fingered hand across Kevin’s scabby face.

“You moron! Daddy needs him alive.”

“Aw,” Kevin whined, “I was aimin’ at his leg!”

Ace scoffed. “You couldn’t hit a dead man neither.”

Kevin snarled and spit at him, but he left the gun where it was. Ace kept his in hand.

Carefully, Doug straightened the lapels of his black jacket. It was clean, so he’d probably stolen it recently. “Look, brother. We ain’t gonna kill ya. But if you don’t come quietly, we won't have no choice but to kill every-damn-body else in this town. We’re gonna do this place like we did Montauk back in the day. You remember Montauk, don’t you, little brother?”

“Only when I’m sober.”

“H…hey…” someone stuttered. In his peripheral vision, Ace saw a man struggling to stand up from his table. He admired the willpower it must've taken for this brave fool to resist Hiram's poison whispers, but willpower wouldn't be enough to save him.

Doug sighed. "Bob, if ya would?"

Almost casually, Bob ripped one of the batwing doors from its hinges and chucked it at the standing man. There was a burst of blood and splinters. Somewhere, a woman screamed.

“As you can see,” Doug continued, “these poor bastards can’t do a damn thing to stop us.”

“What makes you think I care about these people?”

“Oh, I know you do. That was always your problem. Carin’ too much.”

This would be an absurd statement coming from anyone else. The trail of blood and bullets that followed Ace across the West was deeper and darker than any man’s. There was still some kind of conscience underneath that, though, and any conscience at all was more than what his brothers had. And he did remember Montauk, remembered it far too well. Ace would die before he let this town, or any town, fall like that one had. Ace would die, or his brothers would.

“You know,” Ace said, “it’s real sweet that y’all don’t wanna kill me. But you should know that feelin’ ain’t mutual.”

“Oh, I know. But I also know that you can’t take all of us.”

“Wanna bet?”

Doug chuckled warmly. He still sounded friendly, welcoming, despite the threats. “No, I ain’t no gamblin’ man. Tell you what, little brother. We’ll take our leave for tonight, give you some time to grieve. We’ll be back at high noon tomorrow, and you’d better be waitin’ for us.”

“Oh, I’ll be here.”

“Then I’ll see you soon.” Doug tipped his black hat with a dramatic flourish that was almost nauseating from a thing like him. “Alright boys, let’s let the baby finish his beans.”

Bob left first, since his massive body was blocking the whole door. Hiram and Kevin folded out next, and Doug flashed one last cruel, crooked smile on his way out. As soon as they were gone, the folks in the saloon started to shake off Doug and Hiram’s poisoned words. They froze again, though, when Ace spoke.

“There you are, Uzz.” Only then did anyone notice the small, pale man who’d appeared behind the bar. One of his snow-white hands was poised over Ace’s beans, holding an open vial of something unpleasant.

“It’s a good try,” Ace continued, without even turning around, “but you’ll have to do better than that.”

Uzziah smiled apologetically. Like Doug, he had to give it a shot. Then he stepped back into the shadow between two shelves and simply disappeared.

The crowd waited another long moment, lest the final brother present himself, but Noah didn’t show. They only knew the danger had passed when Ace finally relaxed. Well, “relaxed” might not be the best word. “Collapsed” would be better. “Broke down,” maybe.

The cowboy bravado fell out of his shoulders. A noise that was somewhere between a painful moan and a shuddering sob fell out of his mouth. His ass fell back on the barstool.

He put his trembling hands to his face, lest the mask fall off too.

There was a clatter off to Ace’s right as the bartender tossed his gun onto the bar. He looked at it like it might turn into a rattlesnake. Then he looked at Ace the same way.

“Uh, Ace?”

The sound of his name—his new name, not the one his father had given him—pulled him back. After a few deep breaths, when he was Ace again, he lowered his hands. The bitter smile was back on his face.

“Yeah, Rich?”

“Were…were they…are those things really your brothers?”

“Naw,” Ace said, adjusting his hat. “We just got the same devil for a daddy.”

“What are you going to do?” he asked, edging ever so slightly away from the man whose claim to diabolical heritage had just gotten a lot more legitimate.

“Kill ‘em, I reckon.”

It seemed that some other folks had gotten the same idea. Those who weren't making hasty exits or clustering around Bob's flattened victim were starting to group up in the middle of the room, shouting and brandishing their guns like people with more courage than sense. As Ace watched, this impromptu posse approached him.

"Those really your brothers, Ace?" asked their apparent leader, a young gun with brown eyes too kind for killing.

"Somethin' like that," he answered.

"You serious about killin' 'em?

"I'm always serious."

The man nodded. "Well, we are too. Ain't about to let those freaks shove us around like that."

Ace startled the posse with a sound that, by process of elimination, must have been a laugh.

"Sounds like y'all ain't heard of a place called Montauk."

Uneasy glances were exchanged. They hadn't.

"I can't say I'm surprised. After all, it's been a ghost town these last seven years. Folks there thought they could stand up to my brothers, too. You wouldn't think that anymore, if you'd seen what happened to Montauk. Tell me, what do you think happens when Doug tells a man to turn himself inside out? How many rats do you think Kevin can call up from all this town's gutters and alleyways? Have you ever heard Hiram sing? Have you seen Bob pullin' people's arms off like a little kid killin' a spider? You don't even know the things Uzziah can do with a knife. And you sure as Hell ain't seen Noah. But I have, and let me tell ya: if you so much as look at that bunch crossways, you'll end up just like that guy." Ace pointed at the dead man. "You and every other man, woman, and child who lives here, 'cept the ones they decide to save for later."

Faced with that, some of the would-be heroes regained their senses and started creeping away. Their leader, though, was less shaken.

"What makes you so sure you can take 'em?"

"I was the only one not glued to my seat just now, wasn't I? 'Cept for the stiff over there."

"Maybe we should fight you, then." That genius idea had come from a scummy-looking drunk who, like his suggestion, seemed to be pretty unpopular. "You know," he insisted, looking to his buddies for nonexistent support, "We could tie him up, hand him over. As uh, a peace offering."

Ace thought that was pretty funny.

"First of all, if you think tryin' to play nice with them'll make 'em any less likely to kill ya, you're wrong. Second, I could kill every single one of y'all right now without even breakin' a sweat."

"Wanna bet?" the drunk said, drawing up to the best height he could manage. Ace didn't even stand up. Instinctively, the others started inching away from their idiot friend.

"It's only a bet if you got a chance." Casually, Ace rested his right hand on the grip of his revolver. The other guy, scared and stupid though he was, did the same. For a long moment, the only sound was someone quietly weeping.

"Gentlemen!" Richard interjected, breaking the tension. "My saloon has been damaged enough for today! If you intend to put holes in each other then you will do it outside!" He cocked his shotgun for emphasis.

Grateful for the out, Ace's opponent backed down. "You better not fuck this up," he said, trying to sound less scared than he was.

"I won't," he said.

If only he'd believed that.

Little preparation was necessary. Ace rented himself a room above the saloon, confident that the owner of the establishment was still too scared of him and his brothers to try any funny business. He spent much of the night checking and cleaning his guns, a pair of LeMat revolvers that had once belonged to a Confederate officer. Each one had nine chambers that circled a shotgun barrel in the middle, and it only took a flick of the thumb to switch between them. LeMats were big, heavy guns, and a pain in the ass to reload, but he’d never needed more than 20 shots at a time anyway. If he ever did, it would be tomorrow, but it’d be unlucky and stupid to switch guns the night before a showdown.

Sleep was unlikely with the thought of Ace’s brothers—and worse, his father—looming so heavily in his mind. Normally, he would seek assistance from alcohol at a time like this, but it wouldn’t do to be hungover tomorrow. So, as night began to fall, Ace made his way back down to the front porch.

North Access, Texas had only one street. The saloon squatted at its approximate midpoint, opposite a general store. Various workshops, stables, and other specialized businesses flanked these linchpins of the frontier town, but they soon gave way to small houses towards the edge. It was maybe a mile from one outskirt to the other. All along that mile, people were panicking.

Some folks were loading their valuables onto wagons or carts and heading for the hills. Others were hunkering down, nailing their doors and shutters closed and pretending that a few pieces of wood could keep the Flynn boys out. There was shouting and crying as friends and families tried to decide if they should flee from the coming storm or try to weather it. Yet Ace Cliff, the one who'd brought all this down upon them in the first place, went strangely unnoticed on the dimly-lich porch. He settled silently into a rocking chair.

There was a guitar in his hands. It was an old, ugly thing, scarred and battered by the dents and dust of a thousand desert nights, but its voice rang as clear and true as ever. As Ace's famously fast fingers danced over the strings, the guitar sang a song with no words. It was a story of strange women and lost children, of friends fallen and forgotten. A story of bitter loneliness and burning hate. Of killing, and dying, and wishing for death.

It sang the story of Ace Cliff, one last time before its end.

When he finished, however many minutes or hours later, Ace was surprised to find a small crowd around himself. The townsfolk had finished their preparations, but some had stopped on the way to their hidey-holes, captured by Ace's sorrowful song. For a long, strange moment, they didn’t seem to know him as the legendary bounty killer, or the brother of monsters, or the wounded, shivering animal. They didn’t seem to know him at all. But then there was a shift, some imperceptible adjustment of the shoulders or some indescribable movement beneath the brim of that massive hat, that shattered the illusion. The wicked grin crept back onto his face, and the crowd crept back to safer places.

Feeling a hundred years old, Ace made his way back upstairs. Maybe now he could sleep.

The night came and went, with uneasy dreams that Ace tried to forget. The morning passed just as fast. He savored his scrambled egg breakfast, large enough to give him strength but not enough to make him sluggish. It wasn’t the best last meal, but it wasn’t the worst either. He checked and reloaded his guns one more time, pulled his hat down low, and stepped outside to wait.

Five minutes 'til noon, the older Flynns arrived in a covered wagon. Doug rode on the front bench, while the smaller brothers hunkered in the back. Bob, who was too big to fit in there anyway, pulled the conveyance himself. It was a strange way for outlaws to get around, but it was the best they could do without a proper beast of burden. Like any reasonable animal, horses panicked at the smell of the Flynn boys. Still, the wagon made him nervous. Was Noah sitting in there, too? Adding him to this scenario might stretch the odds so far they broke.

Well, it was too late to worry about that now. Bob brought the wagon to a halt in front of the shuttered church, and Doug and Kevin took their sweet time climbing out. That probably meant Hiram and Uzziah were hiding someplace else.

“So, you decided to come quietly?” Doug called from the other end of the street.

“Not exactly.”

“Well, you never were that smart.”

Ace sighed. “Are we here to shoot the shit or each other?” Doug had never known when to shut up.

Even from so far away, Ace could see Doug rolling eyes.

“Alright, Bob. Get him.”

Bob smiled vacantly and cracked his massive knuckles. He advanced slowly, taking his sweet time. Why rush? It wasn’t like Ace would waste any bullets on him.

At least, not until he got close. Bob started to chuckle when Ace pointed the LeMats up at his face, but the laughter was cut short by two simultaneous shotgun blasts. Bob’s head snapped back from the force. With a low groan, he toppled backwards like a chopped tree.

Doug was so flabbergasted by his brother’s fall that he almost forgot to take cover. That might’ve been his last mistake, if not for the split second it took Ace to switch from buckshot to bullets. Doug dove behind the wagon just in time to lose his hat instead of his head. Kevin wasn’t as quick; Ace’s other bullet tore right through his left arm before he could get to safety.

As quickly as his steady aim would allow, Ace advanced on the wagon. A sidelong glance at Bob told him the giant wasn’t dead, just stunned. There’d be Hell to pay when he got back up, but there’d be less of it if Ace killed the other ones before that happened.

About halfway between Bob and the wagon, he started to hear the buzzing. Keeping the wagon in his peripheral vision, Ace looked around for its source. The alley to his left, stacked with crates and barrels? The roof of the bank? Just as Ace got a good lock on Hiram’s location—a second-story window above the general store—someone punched him right between the shoulder blades. The humming in Ace’s ears had completely masked the sound of Uzziah’s appearance. Ace spun around and swung the butt of his pistol at the place where Uzziah should’ve been, but his brother was already gone. Another fist slammed into Ace’s ribs, then another into the side of his head. It knocked his hat right off. He kept spinning and swinging and shooting—two shots, he counted—but Uzziah was always behind him, just a pale blur at the corner of his eye and a small, fast fist at his back. A foot shot out from somewhere and struck the back of his knee. Another came from somewhere else and caught his foot, and then he was on the ground. Combined with Hiram’s drone, all that spinning was making him dizzy. Uzziah was all around him now, hands and feet coming in from every which way and hitting him every which where. It seemed like the only direction he couldn’t strike from was down.


Ace rolled with a kick, landing on his back with the sun in his face. Now, with his back to the ground, Ace could see every possible approach. Uzziah was just an outline against the glaring sun as he reared back for a kick to the head, but that was enough to see—and enough to shoot. They were sloppy shots, hastily aimed at a bad angle with the sun in his eyes. Nonetheless, by sheer skill or dumb luck, one of Ace’s two bullets grazed Uzziah’s face. He screamed, jumped back, and tripped over his own feet, landing on his butt in the dirt. Before the bastard could regain enough of his sense to disappear again, Ace pointed one gun at his flopping feet and fired. The bullet whizzed between Uzziah’s legs and carved a path up into his abdomen. He disappeared as it dug in, but there was nowhere he could go that’d save him from an injury like that.

Turning his head the other way, Ace saw that Hiram had made the mistake of moving in front of the window to watch. The bullet ripped into his mouth and out the other side, splattering rotten teeth on the ceiling.

“Hiram!” he heard Kevin scream. A bullet zinged by, inches from Ace’s nose, and kicked up a plume of dust just past his feet. It was a good shot, for Kevin. If Ace hadn’t been on the ground, that one would’ve put him in it. He rolled over to return fire, but Doug had already grabbed hold of their most foolish brother and dragged him back out of sight.

Ace was halfway to his feet when he heard Bob’s guttural growl. He rolled to the right just in time to avoid a watermelon-sized fist that pounded the dirt like a meteor. Then he rolled to the left to avoid the other one. Bob raised both at once, and Ace rolled backwards, kicking off from the ground with both feet and landing unsteadily on them. Bob looked down at his younger brother with infantile fury. The blasts to the face had popped the blood vessels in his eyes, dyeing the whites the same color as his patchy hair. There was no mercy in those eyes. If those giant hands got ahold of Ace, he'd be dead meat. So, Ace did the only sensible thing and ran. Well, he tried to. He’d only made it a few steps when his long jacket snapped tight, yanking his arms backwards and his feet right out from under him.

Bob loomed overhead like a thundercloud. Keeping one hand on Ace’s jacket, he used the other to grab the front of his brother’s shirt. He lifted Ace into the air like a toy. Then he broke him like one.

Whack! He was slammed against the ground. The breath fled from his lungs.

Thud! Again. He felt his ribs break.

Crunch! Again. Lightning flashed behind his eyes.

Crash! He hurtled through the plate-glass window of the general store. Tin cans went flying as a table broke beneath him.

Ace couldn’t breathe enough to groan. He sure as hell couldn’t move. He could only watch helplessly as Bob stepped through the shattered window and placed a massive, bare foot on his chest.

“Bob!” Doug screamed, sounding far away. “Don’t you dare kill him!”

Bob's bloodied eyes burned with hate. One of Ace's vertebrae cracked.

“Please, Bob!” Doug panted, running up beside his massive brother. “Daddy’ll skin us alive if you squash him!” Doug seemed genuinely frightened; maybe he meant that literally.

Bob really, really thought about doing it anyway. Ace's vision had almost gone black when the titanic weight was suddenly lifted. A gasp of fresh air ripped through his bruised lungs like fire. Ace had never been in so much pain.

Doug didn’t step through the busted window—probably thought himself better than that—but circled around through the door of the store. He even nodded politely at its owner, cowering behind the counter. There was nothing polite about the booted kick to Ace's face, though.

That was all the convincing that Ace needed to finally lose consciousness.

Through shuttered windows and barred doors, the people of North Access, Texas had watched the Devil’s sons die. Now they looked on in horror as Bob dragged the bleeding, broken form of a soon-to-stop-living legend through the dust and blood in the street. Hiram was slung over Bob's shoulder, perforated head lolling lifelessly against his brother's broad back. Doug loped along beside them, holding Ace’s infamous guns like trophies in his spidery hands. Kevin slumped beside the wagon, tightening a length of ripped sleeve around his wounded arm. Parasites lapped at the blood soaking this makeshift tourniquet, but the monster didn’t seem to mind. Uzziah lay inside that wagon, pale and silent like the corpse he'd soon become. Bob carefully laid his dead brother beside the dying one, then tossed Ace's limp form in there like a sack of rocks. While Doug helped Kevin up onto the bench, Bob took hold of the wagon's poles. Without a further word, they started the long haul home.

And that, folks, was the last that anyone saw of Ace Cliff.

But he wasn’t finished yet.

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