We moved carefully through the darkness until we could see Sheriff Best's torchlight up ahead, Jimmy leading the way with no weapons in his hands. I trailed several steps behind, my revolver gripped too tightly at my side. I didn't want to shoot the boy's father right in front of him, but I didn't want to get shot myself either. Jimmy's words were the only other option and I needed them to work.
"Dad?" Jimmy called out when we were close enough to see the sheriff but not close enough for him to see us. He dropped into a crouch and aimed his weapon in our direction, moving it slowly from left to right as he tried to spot something to put a hole through. "Dad, it's Jimmy. We need to talk, and fast."
"And fast?" Sheriff Best spat, his lips curled in disgust. "You got a lady waiting for you somewhere?"
"Jenkins is planning to kill all of us down here," Jimmy said. "All of us. That includes you. We need to move quick or he'll have us trapped."
"We? You got both them boys with you then?"
"Just the one," I called out, but not before taking cover behind an overturned mine cart. Just in case. "Ben's been shot already."
"Terribly sorry for your loss, Red." The sheriff, in my humble opinion, did not sound very sorry at all. I didn't bother clarifying Ben's ability to breathe air - a good card player never reveals all his cards before he has to. "Two of you against little old me, huh? I ain't afraid! Come meet your maker, you sons of b-"
"You're in the only light down here," Jimmy pointed out. "If we wanted you dead I could have shot you instead of yelling at you." A brief pause. "And don't talk about Mom like that."
"What, exactly, do you want?" Sheriff Best did not lower his gun but doubt had clearly entered the equation. I wasn't ready to leave my hiding place quite yet though.
"Jenkins plans on blocking the way we came in and then smoking us out," Jimmy said, daring to step close enough for his father to see his outline. "We're all dead men if we can't get to that back entrance before he and his men do."
"And I should believe you because...?"
"He didn't tell you about the traps, did he?" The look on the sheriff's face was all the answer either of us needed. "This place is full of them. Jenkins probably didn't expect you to live long enough to breathe the smoke in."
There was another pause then, as Sheriff Best looked over his shoulder into the darkness he had been heading toward. Even from my position it seemed menacing, like it was watching us in return. Then he looked back at his son, his expression moving from distrust to doubt to worry and back again.
"I have a map that shows where all the traps are located," Jimmy replied, sounding relieved. "If you holster your weapon I'll show you what you were about to trigger."
"And your... partner?" I'll be honest with you here: the way he said that word hurt my feelings. It was like he'd discovered he'd just stepped on a very, very large slug.
"He'll wait where he is until you're satisfied that we're in this together. And that we need to get out of here together."
The sheriff fell silent. I gripped my gun even harder and tried to ignore the sound of sand escaping the hourglass in my head. Wasting time, wasting time, wasting time... played on repeat in my thoughts. I pictured Jenkins hollering at his men while they clogged the path behind us with anything that wasn't nailed down. How long would that take? Were they done already? I wondered, too, how long it would take to ride from the front entrance to the back. Were those distant hoofbeats I was hearing? Would there even be time to grab any of the gold on our way out?
Wasting time, wasting time, wasting time...
Finally, at long last, he stood up and slowly put his gun back in its leather home at his hip. The wave of relief that crashed over me almost crumpled me to the ground. I took my hat off, ran a hand through my sweat-slicked hair, put it back on, and leveled my gun at the sheriff as I began to approach as silently as possible.
I wasn't quite ready to trust the man completely. Not until he'd seen the proof of Jimmy's claim.
I needn't have worried. After a brief consultation of the map at his father's side, Jimmy stepped forward ten paces, picked up a large rock, and hefted it another twenty paces forward. The thud echoed faintly, then nothing.
I swore. Loud enough for the sheriff to hear me.
That is, if a rush of flame hadn't flared across the tunnel a few paces beyond where the rock had landed, making my eyes ache in the sudden, bright light. As it was, the whoosh drowned out my voice. After a few moments the flame died out and once more the sheriff's torch was our only source of illumination.
"I'll be damned," Sheriff Best whispered with a slow shake of his head. He looked over his shoulder and found me waiting at the edge of his light, my gun pointed at the ground and my expression wary. "Well, what are we waiting for? Judgement Day has arrived, boys - let's get a move on!"