I turned away from Jimmy and hauled myself up onto El Fuego, who suffered my weight without complaint and waited patiently for me to give her direction. A more poorly named horse you’d never meet - she was as cool as ice, not a lick of fire in her temperament at all. Maybe the Mexican who had sold her to me had hoped to instil some of his own bravado and ferociousness in her by giving her that name. If so, it sure didn’t work. But I liked the way it sounded on my tongue and she wouldn’t respond to anything else, so there you have it.
“You do have a horse, don’t you Jimbo?” Ben asked, another lit cigar appearing between his fingers like a playing card produced by a magician. He had already stuffed the map into his shirt pocket and Dagger, all tensed muscle and twitching tail, was looking like she was ready to race a rabbit to the border.
Jimmy just spun on his heel and disappeared into the stables without a word to either of us. I cocked an eyebrow at Ben and he just shrugged and shot smoke rings between Dagger’s upright ears. I nodded at his shirt pocket but he shook his head and with a wave of his hand indicated that we would save an inspection of its contents for later. If he wasn’t closer to me than blood I wouldn’t have let that go, but he was, so I did. Obviously whatever he had seen at a glance was enough to warrant our having a third wheel for the day’s work and that was good enough for me. We both turned our heads as Jimmy stepped out of the shadows, leading his horse by the reins.
I heard Ben loose a low whistle and it was easy to see why. She was a real beauty, her coat a creamy white unblemished by any markings, a healthy sheen making her glint in the sun like a well oiled pistol. She looked like she could kick a man from one end of town to the other but would only do so at her master’s command. Jimmy mounted up with an easy grace and regarded us with poorly contained excitement.
Oh, brother.

“Might want to wrap that up before you stain your pretty horse,” Ben observed, sending a roll of off-white bandage sailing across to him. Jimmy picked it out of the air with one hand, gave him a nod of thanks, and began to dress the bloody gash across his forehead. Once he was finished, having done a pretty admirable job of it, considering he was without a mirror, he tossed it back to Ben who stored it in his saddlebag and looked to me for direction.
“Well boys,” I said with a crooked smile, “I do believe we have a train to catch.”
With a gentle squeeze of my knees and a soft cluck of my tongue I brought El Fuego to an easy walk and let her set her own course to the station. Ben came alongside me on my right, as always, and Jimmy pulled even with us on the left after only a little bit of hesitation. We rode through town with our eyes on the shops and the dirt in front of us, my thoughts turning to the job ahead and Ben’s likely doing the same. I wondered what Jimmy might be thinking, with his not being aware of what was to come, but when I glanced over to ask him I was side swiped by another thought.
“Jimmy,” I said, causing his head to snap my way like a whip, “please tell me that you own a hat. It’s not like there’s a uniform for the job we do, but we’ve still got standards, you understand? Besides, it’ll cover up that damage, which will help to cut down on the amount of attention we receive.”
“I do. Or rather, I did.” Jimmy looked away and his cheeks went a little darker. “The only hats I’ve ever owned all had deputy markings on them. Stars, badges, stuff like that. So I left my last one on my father’s pillow this morning to let him know I won’t be needing it any longer.”
“Again,” Ben called across me, “that’s all well and good. But you better have a hat on your head before you step on this train.”
Jimmy looked a little flustered but we carried on without a break in our formation. I wondered what he was going to do to solve this latest dilemma and whether or not Ben would actually enforce his newly created rule should push come to shove. There was a mighty knot forming in my right shoulder, exactly where I carried my stress around with me. I wasn’t happy with all those distractions just before we were about to get to work – I liked to have a clear, focused mind, to minimize screw ups.
Maybe we should ditch the kid now.

We pulled up to the station just as our train was arriving, a fortuitous bit of timing that loosened my shoulder up considerably. When we dismounted in unison, our boots connecting with the dirt with one coordinated thump, I might have actually smiled. We led our horses along the tracks until we came to a relatively clean compartment and handed them over to a dirty little man with a greasy moustache and a smile that was a few teeth short of trusting. I didn’t like handing over any of our rides to his care but we didn’t have much choice in the matter.
“Alright, now go get yourself a hat and a ticket,” Ben told Jimmy with a wink in my direction. I had to bite my tongue to avoid laughing at the idea of purchasing a train ticket. “Red and I will be in the dining car – you join us once you’ve made yourself presentable.”
Jimmy just gave each of us a confident nod and strode off in the direction of the ticket booth and Ben and I watched him until he joined the queue, right behind a young mother and her little girl. Then we turned as one and let our noses lead us to the food. As Ben hauled himself up into the train he couldn’t resist one final jab at poor Jimmy’s expense.
“Hey Jimbo!” he shouted, loud enough to get most everybody’s attention. Jimmy looked over with crinkled eyes and a slight frown, as though he knew more abuse was coming. “A hat’s a hat, but don’t you go getting any ideas about stealing that poor woman’s bonnet!”
As Jimmy’s face went red and the mother gave him an angry look, Ben and I tumbled into the train, shaking with laughter.

The End

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