Disguises, Hospitals, and Other Business

There was nothing much green about Greenwood City. As we gazed down on it from the hills that overlooked it, there was just brown and more brown. There was wood, particularly in the center of town where the new hospital was being constructed. But mostly, there was dust.

We brought along slightly more dust as our horses tramped down the hill and into town, raising clouds of the stuff behind us. The hardscrabble townspeople glowered at us as we passed. Jimmy ducked his head somewhat, Ben waved cheerily back, and Suzie sighed exasperatedly.

We dismounted in the town square and let our horses nuzzle the bone-dry fountain as they searched in vain for moisture. We left Jimmy with the horses and the three of us strode into the saloon that faced the fountain.

It was smoky and smelled of hard liquor and dust. I squinted around the shady corners of the room; beside me Ben pretended to look too, but in reality was eying the blonde barmaid appraisingly. Suzie crossed her arms and wrinkled her nose against the smell.

I spotted Nate at a back table and, after snapping my fingers in front of Ben's face to get his attention, led my two companions to him.

Nate Crosslin was a maybe fifty-ish man with white hair, black eyebrows, and a half-and-half mustache. His nose was overlarge and somewhat crooked, as were his teeth, half of which glittered with gold. He was staring morosely into the last drops of his whiskey, a half-finished game of solitaire ranged in front of him. I stopped the barmaid to ask for a round of drinks before sitting down across from him. Ben and Suzie squeezed in beside me.

"Mind if we join you?" I asked redundantly.

Nate raised his eyes to me, squinted, then shrugged. He returned to his game of solitaire.

"Nate! It's me, Red."

We had opted to wear disguises before entering Greenwood City. I had trimmed myself a decent mustache and improvised an eyepatch to wear over my left eye. Ben, point-blank refusing to shave his beard, had instead decided to comb and grease his hair (which was nearly just as shocking a change) and now sported a pair of grimy spectacles he had lifted off of one of the saloon's sleeping patrons. Suzie had exchanged her habit for a set of man's clothes Jimmy had picked up for her at the trading post just outside of town.

Nate peered blearily at me; he was pretty drunk. I flipped up my eyepatch momentarily to give him a full view of my face.

Recognition dawned on him. He scowled and turned back to his solitaire game.

"Well, if it ain't the brigands who come and burned up most the damn town."

I looked over at Ben, slightly surprised. The stolen glasses bobbed on his nose as he raised his eyebrows.

"A hospital doesn't constitute a 'whole damn town,'" I said. "And we may be brigands, but that wasn't our fault. You know full well that Granger —"

The rest of my words were drowned out by Nate launching into a long tirade that seemed to focus on our past atrocities and equine excrement, though it was difficult to tell as his words were slurred somewhat by one too many drinks. People started to turn around to look at us and I started to get worried.

"Nate, shut up!" I said. At that moment the barmaid appeared with drinks and this finally did shut Nate up long enough for him to drain a shot of whiskey. I took advantage of the distraction.

"Nate, since when did you care anything about hospitals? Listen, we need your help."

"If it were only a hospital, I wouldn't care a coyote's ass, but that fire spread and my store burned down 'cause of it," said Nate. "And if that were only a store I would care a good deal less, but you both know I ran my other business out of the basement and I lost a helluva lot of money when that all burned."

"Well what do you say we make it up to you?" suggested Ben, lighting up a cigar. Suzie edged away from him. Ben grinned and winked at her.

"Make it up to me how?" grunted Nate. "This had better not be one of your idiotic ideas that ends up with you having fun with matches and me left with nothing."

"How about a, let's say, ten percent cut of half the gold from the Great Train Robbery of 'Seventy-Nine?" said Ben. "That should be more than enough to get you back on your feet and then some. Should pay for damages and psychological trauma and such."

"What's the catch?" slurred Nate.

"We have to take care of Marshal Jenkins," I said, "and possibly —"

"Definitely," interrupted Ben.

"— and possibly definitely some other folks. But between the four of us, plus Jimmy of course, I think we ought to be able to cook something up."

"The four of us?" repeated Suzie.

"Yes, the four of us," said Ben.

"And who said that I was agreeing to help you do anything?"

"Well, nobody yet, but I bet that you will sometime soon," said Ben.

Suzie opened her mouth to protest, but I cut in before she could start.

"Firstly, you owe us for trying to kill us and us saving your life anyway. Secondly, there's another ten percent of the cut coming your way if you do agree to help, and I reckon Jenkins wasn't paying out any better than that. And thirdly, you really haven't got much of a choice anyway seeing as you are our prisoner and at any given moment either one of us could spill the beans on what exactly Shanghai Suzie did in Tijuana seven years ago."

Suzie flushed, opened her mouth, then closed it. Then she crossed her arms, opened her mouth again, closed it again, seemed to struggle with herself for a moment, then finally said:

"Well, let's hear the proposition, at least."

The End

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