Words and actions

"Just so we're all quite clear," I said, not moving, "A–"

"After we get out of this things haven't changed," said Sheriff Best, cutting me off neatly and saying what I knew Jimmy needed to hear.  "You're still wanted criminals, whether Jenkins is the Marshall I hoped he was or not."

I nodded, and then looked at Jimmy.  "That map of yours," I said.  "Does it show anything outside the mine?"

"I... I don't know," said Jimmy.  He bent his head over the page.  "Why do you ask?"

"You're wasting time," said Sheriff Best, and it was like the words in my head had escaped and taken on a life of their own.  I heard an echo, wasting time, that I knew was just my imagination, but it was eerie anyway.  Especially in a dark mine with a man who'd happily kill me and leave with his son to show him the error of his ways.

"Because we can bet that the Marshall is blocking off the tunnel we came in by, and is setting his fire at the main entrance," I said.  "That means we need to find that vertical well he was talking about before he and his men can get there."

Jimmy was holding the map close to his father's torch, and I hoped that meant he was looking for traps on the route we'd need to leave by.  His father glanced down, and then stayed looking at Jimmy.  I started to lift my gun, uncertain as to what was happening.

"What happened to your wrist, boy?"  Sheriff Best's attempts to sound paternal and concerned were more of a growl than anything else; I'd heard Ben sound more pleasant when a husband had returned unexpectedly early and started asking loud questions about how well Ben might know his wife.

"I fell on it, Pa," said Jimmy.  Clearly he didn't feel the need to elaborate, and I wasn't telling the Sheriff anything he didn't absolutely, definitely needed to know.  "Well Red," and I saw the sneer on the Sheriff's face when Jimmy used my name, "there's what must be the railway, and there's a tunnel that goes out that way, but it's a good way through the mine."

"How near is the main entrance?"

There was another pause, and I thought I saw Jimmy's lips moving in the unsure light of the Sheriff's torch.  There was another worry; if the man got desperate and put the torch out....

"Probably as far, as I reckon."

"Best get moving then."  It was Sheriff Best who'd spoken and taken the words right out of my mouth again.

"What do we do when we get to the well, Red?"  We'd been walking for nearly five minutes, and apart from picking a tunnel for us to go down, Jimmy had been quiet all that time.  Now he was asking the question I'd been asking myself over and over again.

"We get that pulley to the bottom first," said the Sheriff.  I looked at him sideways, and caught him looking back at me.  It looked like he was making a cleverer play for his son than I'd given him credit for: keep taking the answers away from me.

"We'll have more time," I said, "because the smoke can rise up there so it won't pool around us so much.  It'll still choke us given time, but it'll give us longer."

"And Jenkins can't get down without the pulley," said the Sheriff.  He sounded a little grim, and I knew he was thinking what I was thinking: when they found the pulley wasn't there, they could just throw burning stuff down on us.  We needed to get up there before they got there, and then I guess I'd know just whose side the Sheriff was on.

"Oh...."  I thought for a moment that Jimmy had figured it out as well, but then I walked forward to stand at his shoulder, where he'd stopped, and found the last thing I wanted to see: rock fallen from the roof of the mine.  A cave-in meant we weren't going any further down this tunnel.

The End

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