The pistol under her skirt was rubbing on her thigh, reminding her of the three bodies she had left back home; she would have to forget once she was on the road. She got into the wagon, holding the dry and unwashed hand of her new lover, Billy. Whilst he started the horses, she fixed her golden locks onto a better-suited travelling hair-do. She was dripping in fear of being caught, but she had to remain still while they were not moving. People might recognise her.
Named after her great-great-grandmother, Annie, the lovely and beautiful, the murderous crazy Annie. This time she hadn’t meant to get caught in the act, but anger had filled her, and she had killed her last lover, rich but proud Quinten and her younger sister Clementine. But she had not anticipated the maid to walk in, so, evidently, she had killed her too. She would have to do with poor Billy for now.
She was caught up in her thought when the sheriff’s badge glinted under the sky. It was a hot day. Looking straight into Annie’s eyes, he considered asking for her name but, she was far too beautiful to be the woman in the stories, far too young, far too delicate. What he didn’t see was the scaring hidden under her sleeves and the thoughts that were going through her head. She was planning how she would kill him if he dared get too close; she would shoot straight between the eyes. But he never did get too close.
Billy sat next to Annie and signalled the horses to move. He complimented her hair, how beautiful it was, how delicate she was. She held her breath from the terrible smell that came from his every word. Annie was finally on the move, and she was finally close to her total disappearance, freedom.
Annie had never been free when she was a child. She had been powerless when she was young, undermined by both men and women. Her only weapon, her femininity, and her beauty were sometimes her burden too. She was strong and powerful, but the world could not see that. They were blinded, thinking she was unintelligent and uninteresting because of her pretty face. She learnt how to use this to her advantage, slowly, she would become the most famous murdered in the country, faceless but known for her face. She would have to learn how to use men to her advantage to try to find freedom.
They were an hour into the journey when a bullet went through Billy’s heart, killing him instantly. Without processing what had just happened, Annie ducked, trying to hide behind the horse’s head and untied one of the horse's reigns. No time to think. She hopped off the wagon and ran next to the horse. She mounted one of them. Her mother had made sure that she learned how to sew her broken sleeves, but riding a horse was not proper for a lady. Clumsily, she cantered through the hot sand of the desert. The sun was high up in the sky, and the horses were getting closer. It had to be at least three men. The bullets were too close together. Looking back, she saw three black horses approaching her, pistols pointed at her. She got hold of her pistol and turned around on her horse. Facing her enemies. The horse slowed down, and she fired one bullet. It went straight to the man on the right, between his eyebrows. Squinting her eyes, she realised she was wrong, it was not the sheriff she had seen before at the small town. The man to the left had stayed behind while a man, dressed in all black, was galloping towards her. The man pointed the gun at Annie, and before she could respond, he fired. Thinking she had fired at her, she closed her eyes. She opened her eyes and found herself on the ground, the horse lying next to her in pain.
The man was now right on top of her, pointing the gun at her. “Who are you?” He asked. “The bullet went into my man’s head”. Annie did not respond, she was listening to the horse’s cries of pain. He had shot him in the leg to make her trip and fall. She could have thought about that too. How stupid of her. She held her pistol and shot the animal. She was tired of so much crying. The man seemed surprised. “Tell me who you are, lady”. With this, Annie, from the ground, kicked the man’s leg and made him fall. She stood up and took his gun off, pointing it to him now.
“That is no way of treating a lady,”
“My apologies, my lady,” he replied with a grin on his face.
“Who are you,” Annie said, stealing his question.
“Good question, who am I, Wyatt?” the man replied, looking further on from Annie. The third man was standing behind her, “You’re about to find out” total darkness took over her, and she slept.
Annie woke up angry, angrier than she was before. She had been running away, and now she had been caught by two other losers. She was lying in a small cabin. She was not tied, and she was not being watched but, she had no pistol. They had taken it away from her. “Afternoon,” the man’s voice said from behind. Wyatt or whatever his name was standing there, empty-handed. Annie quickly ran towards him, and pulled him across and took the gun from him. She had control now. He laughed. She pushed the gun on his temple harder. “I like the attitude, but I don’t think the boss will like it if you kill another one of us”.
“I don’t care, trust me,” she said, pressing the trigger.
Fear filled her body once she saw that now bulled was fired, and Wyatt’s laugh filled the room. At that moment, the man in black appeared at the door. Annie knew she had lost this battle and let go of Wyatt. She would have to find a new approach. “Hello,” she said.
“Hello beautiful”, the boss replied. “So, let’s begin where we left things. What’s your name?” Wyatt stood now next to the men in black. Next to him, he looked small and insignificant.
“My name is Annie Oakley, sir.”
“Beautiful name, Annie, slips off the tongue, doesn’t it, Wyatt?”
“Indeed it does boss.”
“Well, Annie, what were you doing so south? And why are you so good with a gun?”
“Well, sir, “she said with half a smile, trying to hide her little giggle, “I have been practicing since I was 15.” They did not know her. “I used to compete in shooting competitions.”
“Used to? Why didn’t you continue to do so, little Miss Oakley?” The boss said.
“I don’t think it’s relevant, I just stopped”
All of a sudden, he said, “Call me the Dark One.” Annie could no longer hold her laugh and let a giggle go. “What’s so funny, Miss Oakley.”
Annie, embarrassed, said, “Nothing is sir, I mean, the Dark One, I just find it a very suiting name for you, very attractive indeed.” He forgot quickly about her slip, enjoying the compliment she had given him. Even Wyatt seemed to be pleased with Annie’s compliment to his boss.
“Come, join us, we are having dinner.” This was less of a request and more of order, so Annie followed them.
They were in a large camp in the middle of the same desert she had been followed in. But, this time, they were in a protected area with a large cliff on one of the sides. It must have had between 10 and 15 different cabins, all varying in size. They moved to the biggest one. Annie smiled at every man who passed, not caring if they smiled back. She was making an impression. She was not the crazy Annie anymore. She was the delicate little Annie. She could have chosen a different name for this new character, but, this time, Annie was what fitted the situation as they had been attracted to the beautiful Annie, who looked good holding a gun.
They entered the cabin. This one was more complex in structure, obviously belonging to the Dark One. It was, however, lacking in space and commodity, they lacked money, but they were smart not to show it to their visitors. Because that was what Annie would be, just a visitor. “Annie will sit next to me, so we can chat” Annie smiled at the Dark One’s comment. She would be happy to sit next to the most powerful man in camp.
Halfway through the dinner, a very uneventful dinner where Annie had just giggled and smiled at the boss, he asked something she had been waiting since the pistol hadn’t fired the bullet. “I want you to join us.” Expecting this question, she looked at the Dark One and gave him a confused look. “I think your skills will help us with our work and I think we can help you with what you want.”
“And what is that?”
“A new home” she had not expected this answer. “Don’t seem so surprised Annie, I know who you are, don’t fool me. You are running away, I don’t know what from, but you are. I have heard stories of you, the Pretty Face. Don’t worry, they don’t know you,” He said when he noticed Annie tensing. She had never heard anyone call her that.
“The moment you killed Sam”
“What do you want from me then?”
“I want you to be our distraction, a pretty woman to distract when we rob a bank.” She didn’t have to ask where. She was so ignorant! So stupid! They were bank robbers. They were the Black Gang! She had been so stupid. She should have known as soon as she had seen them running towards her. They were a ruthless, aggressive gang of thieves that never, not once, got caught. “I’m sure you know who we are now,” Annie nodded. “Well, you have no option, you are coming with us. We leave tomorrow, at dawn,” he said this last part louder to the rest of the group.
That night she slept in the same place she had the last time, uncomfortable and cold. She got woken up just at dawn by Wyatt, who carried new clothes for her. These fitted her too big and were raspy but were way better than the travelling dress she had worn. She didn’t put the hat on, as she had been instructed by the Dark One. She still needed to show her face, her only weapon at the moment. She rode next to the Boss. But spoke with Wyatt and her new companion Joe. The Dark One didn’t say a single word but felt his stare going through her constantly. She felt how she stared at her face when she smiled and when her skin glowed under the sun.
“How are we going to do it,” she said once Wyatt and Joe were too far away to talk to.
“I can’t tell you anything until we get there.”
“But I’m part of the plan, I need to know.”
“No, you don’t.”
“You don’t trust me.”
“Of course I don’t. You killed my friend,” Ridiculed; Annie lowered her head and stared straight ahead.
They didn’t speak about the plan until they got to Dutge City. The bank in this city was small but was one of the richest in the country.
“You will get inside, and you will ask for Mildred’s money.”
“Who’s Mildred,” asked Annie.
“No one. It will mean you are in position.” The Boss said.
“Wait, is that all you want me for? Act pretty and ask for an account, and then you steal the money?” The Dark One smiled.
“Pretty much. You will have to put on this dress.” he said, pointing at a pink fluffy dress. It was ugly, hideous. It was nothing like the ones she had stolen once. The Dark One laughed at her reaction. “You’ll look very beautiful”.
Her trusted pistol was back on her leg once she entered the back that same day. Wyatt had given it to her at the last moment. “Use it,” he said to her and winked. She had heard of their robberies and how much money they stole.
As she entered the bank, she immediately recognised Joe. He was sitting on one of the benches inside, acting like he was waiting to be attended to. He didn’t look back. Annie asked for Mildred, and the man seemed to understand. He looked at her like she was a meal. At her chest first and then her face. She knew now why she was a distraction. Joe was slitting the security man’s through and taking his place right outside the door outside the banker’s eyes while Annie spoke nonsense about the inexistent Mildred. The moment the banker left through the door to find the key, the Dark One and Wyatt entered the bank. Silently, he stood next to Annie. They were already holding guns. The banker, a tall, clumsy-looking man, came back and realised what was happening. The Boss looked at him and smiled. Joe was standing where the security man had been standing now. Everyone inside the bank was now on the ground, crying, weeping and scared of being killed.
“Hello ladies and gentlemen”, started the Dark One. “Please, walk to the wall and stand next to it”. When nobody moved, the Dark One shot the gun at the ceiling. “Now!” He cried. Quickly, everyone stood in a line on the wall. Annie was perplexed at how much the Boss changed from one moment to the next. The clumsy banker started gathering the money for Wyatt, who was now the only one next to Annie.
All of a sudden, the banker started running towards the back door. Wyatt was slow to see him, but Annie quickly held her pistol and shot the man’s hand. He cried a loud sound that made the whole room go quiet. Thank god Annie could use a gun. The Dark One had been lucky to find a beauty with a murderous side. Once the money was collected, they gathered the people’s jewellery, watches, and purses. “Count to 100 and then turn around!” Said the Dark One with a childlike voice that was equally disturbing and funny.
They got on, and when they started trotting, they realised they were being followed by the town’s sheriff. “Now is the time to shoot,” Wyatt screamed at Annie. She repeated the same movement she did the day she had met them both and turned around in her horse.
They had escaped.
And now was one more body in Annie’s name.
“$20,450!” Joe screamed once he finished counting the money. Wyatt laughed, and Annie truly smiled, for the first time since she had joined the gang. She was not faking the smile or the laugh that followed, but she was thrilled.
Later on that night, the Dark One joined her. “Why did you ask me to be there?” Annie said when he entered the cabin. “I wasn’t truly needed.”
“I wanted to show you what a home can feel like. What freedom is like.” Once she heard these words, she stiffened. “I was once just like you, running away and homeless. Until I found Wyatt, Joe, and the others. I wanted you to come for two reasons. For me to trust you and,” there was a pause, “for you to trust me.” There was a long pause in his voice, one that scared Annie with anticipation. “Marry me, become my wife, and become free forever.”
No one would expect a woman to hold a gun. This made her a perfect distraction to men. The Dark One wanted her for that reason. Annie thought about this for a moment. Would she ever be free if she married him?
“Yes, I will marry you,”
Annie and the Dark One got married two weeks after that. She had taken him as her lover. He was in love with her. With her beauty, delicate skin and golden locks, she was the perfect woman. She was so delicate and harmless, she could never hurt anyone.
Annie had always been beautiful and delicate and fair, but she was also intelligent and crazy and a killer. She married the Black One not because she loved him but because he loved her. She had always been more intelligent than him, or any other man for that matter. The moment Billy had died, she had to find another lover to use. She wanted him to trust her. She wanted the whole gang to trust her. She was not in love with him but with the freedom his money represented. She married him, killed him in his sleep, kept his money and left. Leaving the famous Black Gang poor, powerless and ridiculed. The Black One was only a myth now, one that will be forgotten forever. The Black One, whose real name was Colt, what a bad name it was, was always drowned in his own pride, and he never did realise what a monster was by his side. Dumb men, who forgot who the Pretty Face was, always got killed at the end.