Running a five man operation… okay, a four man and one woman operation, was not within spitting distance of my comfort zone, but circumstances were forcing my hand and I wasn’t about to fold. Not after we’d come so far and been through so much already.
So, whether I liked it or not - and I certainly did not - Ben and I found ourselves relying heavily on three other people. Two of whom, as I’d told Ben that afternoon more times than I cared to count, I wouldn’t normally trust to carry a glass of water from one side of the street to the other.
“Listen, Red,” he said from behind a thick cloud of cigar smoke after I complained one too many times. The two of us were dining alone in a suspiciously quiet saloon while the others made their preparations for the evening‘s fun and games. “Suzie and Nate love money more than their own mothers. With good reason in both cases, mind you, but the point remains. And I’ll be keeping an eye on them just in case they suddenly develop a bad case of chrematophobia.”
“I’m not even going to ask.”
“It’s a fear of money. I got my hands on a medical dictionary a few weeks back and -”
“Because I don’t care.” I took a drink of water and wished it was whiskey. “Besides, you’ve got enough to look out for. If the messenger from the nunnery gets word to Jenkins before we’re ready, the whole plan is as dead as that rat over there in the corner.”
“I’ll be by the door,” Ben said with a shrug. “Nobody will get in that hotel without my permission.”
It hadn’t taken long for Nate to figure out where Jenkins and his posse were holed up, and most of that time was spent sobering him up. The Broken Bow Hotel, lurking in the middle of town like a lecherous uncle, contained the best rooms in Greenwood. Not that there had been a vote or anything like that; and if there had been it would have won by default.
From what Nate could learn, it sounded like the marshal had at least twenty men with him. Which was flattering, I suppose, but a little more than we could handle directly. So we were taking a more discreet route.
“This is big, Ben,” I said, putting my fork down and leaving the rest of my steak for the kitchen dog to suffer through. “We pull this off and we’re set for life.”
“So what’s making you more nervous,” Ben asked with a serious expression, “getting caught... or getting away with it?”
It was a good question and I didn’t have a good answer. Thankfully Suzie came waltzing through the door just then and saved me the trouble of coming up with a half-decent lie.
“You’re looking…” I trailed off into silence, unable to come up with the appropriate words. Ben looked over his shoulder and stepped up to the plate to take a swing at it.
“Like a barmaid who’ll lift her skirt for a song. And not a very good song at that.”
I groaned and waited for the slap but it never came. Instead Suzie beamed like she’d just received the best compliment in the world and took a seat at our table. It was an effort not to stare at her proudly displayed cleavage, so I focused on her heavily done up face instead. Was it enough to fool Jenkins?
“What’d you do with the girl you’re filling in for?” Ben asked.
“She’s having a nice nap in Nate’s bedroom,” she replied, looking at our waters with disappointment. I gave her a look that said not to start and, to my surprise, she didn’t. “When she wakes up the rope will keep her there and the sock will keep her quiet. Don’t let me forget to set her free when all this is done.”
“Just keep Jenkins plied with enough liquor to knock out an elephant and we’ll worry about the rest,” I said with a smile that didn’t last. “Let’s hear the accent.”
“Sorry, sir, me no speaka da Engleesh. You want more drinkie?”
“I don’t know about you,” Ben told me with a wide smile, “but I’m about ready to take her back across the border and settle down. Besides, the marshal will be too busy thinking with his other head to notice that something is up.”
“Plus Nate will be beating him so badly at poker his concentration will be elsewhere,” Suzie chimed in. I wasn’t totally convinced but it was too late for that.
“You better get going or you’ll be late for work,” I said. Suzie rolled her eyes at me but got up to leave. As she turned away Ben gave her a swat on the bottom and that time I didn’t have to wait for the slap.
“Good Lord, she's a handful, ain’t she?” Ben said, rubbing his jaw. There was a gleam in his eye that I didn’t care for.
“Let’s go find Jimmy.”
We found him across the street from The Broken Bow, waiting in the shadows of an alley with his hat down low. After a silent handshake, Ben strolled across the street - almost getting run down by a carriage along the way - and went inside. Jimmy and I watched for several minutes before taking an unhurried walk up the street. At the first intersection we took a left and then another, making our way to the stables behind the hotel.
“Nate told me their mounts are in the stalls closest to the door,” Jimmy said quietly as we came to a halt about fifty feet from the entrance. The stable boy was sitting on a stool, a half-empty bottle of tequila keeping him company. I winced. He couldn’t have been more than thirteen years old. “Paid a pretty penny for the convenience in case they needed to leave in a hurry.”
“We’ll have to send them a note of thanks for making our job easier,” I said, resting my shoulder against the back of a grocery store. “We’ll give the others half an hour and then we’ll start moving the horses to Nate’s place. Two for each of us every trip, no more. Got it?”
The time passed in nervous silence. I can’t even pretend that it was Jimmy’s fault. The whole thing was eating a hole in my stomach like a particularly eager ulcer. I was actually annoyed when the boy finished his bottle without producing another one; I could have really used a shot or three to steady my nerves. I couldn't believe Nate had only given him one bottle. Maybe he had half a conscience after all.
Eventually the sun dipped below the unseen horizon and everything went dark in a hurry. The boy got up and stumbled inside to light a torch or two.
“Let’s move,” I said, pushing off the wall and forcing myself to walk slowly. Jimmy fell in behind me and we came upon the boy without drawing his attention. Not that it took any great effort - I could smell his breath from where we’d been waiting.
“What do… what do you… what?” The boy wasn’t much of a talker, it seemed.
“Time for you to take a nap, young’un,” I said, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and directing him toward the back of the stables.
I sat him down in an empty stall and crouched down to look him in the eye. He blinked at me a few times, trying and failing to get my face into focus. I smiled and pushed him over, as gently as I could. He mumbled something I couldn’t understand then went quiet. By the time I closed the stall door he was beginning to snore.
“So far so good,” I told Jimmy as I rejoined him by the entrance.
“Not really,” he said with a shaky laugh. He stuck his thumb at the stall behind him and swallowed noisily. “My Pa’s horse is in there.”