By the time Ben came back to our table we had ordered our lunches and the bankers at the bar couldn’t have put a needle through a carriage wheel without putting an eye out. But, from the sounds of it, they would have had a great time trying. Ben took his seat and set aside the bonnet without comment but I spotted a hint of a smile in his eyes when he turned to ask Jimmy what he was having for lunch.
“Steak and mashed potatoes, just like Mister Williams ordered for the two of you,” he replied with a nod in my direction.
“Please don’t ever call me that again,” I told him, my shoulders hunching up in response to being addressed so formally. “Red will get my attention, Henry will do the job just as well.”
“I’ll call you Henry if you call me James.”
“How about you call me Red and I call you Jimmy?” I countered as our food arrived courtesy of a stiff-backed gentleman with a thin, heavily waxed moustache and slicked back brown hair. I nodded my thanks and he bowed ever so slightly before moving on to the table behind us, leaving behind a slight whiff of shaving alcohol.
The food didn’t look like much, and it smelled about the same, but at least the meat had been cooked long enough to make sure the cow was dead. I picked up the relatively clean fork that had arrived with my meal and stirred the unattractive lump that was pretending to be mashed potatoes in order to mix it in with the thick black paste which purported to be gravy.
“Good enough, I suppose,” Jimmy allowed as he took a stab at cutting a slice of his rib eye. Finding little success, he paused to examine the edge of his knife. “So… when do I get to find out what it is exactly we’re doing on this train?”
I turned my head to look out the window at the miles of sand and cacti as we trundled past them and thought it over. After years and years of only dealing with Ben, I was reluctant to share the plan with a third party. But we had taken the boy that far, in fact the train had quite literally left the station, so it was time to either go all in or fold our hand. My gaze went to Ben and after he took his time lighting a fresh cigar he gave me a slight nod.
“Have you heard of the recent passing of Oliver Claibourne?” I asked before bringing a small dab of mash to my mouth. I gave it a couple of chews before swallowing quickly, having little interest in torturing my taste buds further.
“The railroad magnate in San Fran? Yeah, I read about that in the paper – heart attack, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right,” Ben said, chewing his steak with a pained expression and bulging cheeks. “If you’ve ever seen a picture of that fat walrus you wouldn’t have needed a crystal ball to predict that ending.”
“Well, old Ollie has three kids to split his inheritance between and that’s being sorted out now. The portion for his two sons up north is already out of California…
“… and far too heavily guarded for our likings…”
“… so we’re here to collect what we can of the last slice of his money pie,” I finished. I glanced around, looking for any overly attentive ears, and lowered my voice before continuing on. “He has a daughter down in New Mexico and her inheritance is somewhere on this here train we’re on. So job number one is locating said treasure. Job number two is stealing as much as we can carry – having a third pair of hands and an extra horse will certainly help in that regard. And job number three, which is by far the most important, is stopping and getting off this train without any new holes been blasted into our bodies.”
“Job number one is the easy part,” Ben pointed out as he added some gravy to the mixture in his mouth. “One of us just goes for a wander from one end of the train to the other until we find somewhere somebody doesn’t want us to go.”
“Which usually is indicated by a couple of large fellows with large guns telling us in a large voice that it’s in our best interest to head back the way we came,” I said with a smile.
“One day,” Ben said with a mournful shake of his head, “they just might learn that being so obvious just makes things easier on us. Then we might actually have to put in some effort to locate our loot and that will be a sad day indeed.”
“You’re stealing from a woman?” Jimmy asked, his horrified gaze moving from my face to Ben’s and back to mine again. “That’s not right.”
“It’s not like she’s guarding the stuff herself,” Ben pointed out while I studied Jimmy’s face. I hadn’t expected chivalry to be one of the foes we faced that day.
“That’s not the point and you know it,” Jimmy said, his voice rising enough to turn a few heads.
“Look kid,” I told him flatly, “this is not a pretty business you’re getting yourself into. It’s ugly and messy and invariably someone gets themselves shot. I’m more concerned about not being that someone, and getting enough money to live on until the next job presents itself, than about some rich princess not being able to purchase a few more hundred acres of ranch land because we got to her money first.”
“If you want out,” Ben added carefully, “you best speak up now. But if you don’t, once this thing starts you better not forget that you came to us. We didn’t invite you along and we will not be shy about leaving you behind if you slip up. Understand?”
Jimmy stared at his plate and began moving his food around in erratic circles with his fork as he thought it over. Ben and I returned to our meals as we let the realization of what he’d gotten himself into settle on his shoulders. We knew he’d agree to do the job with us; he was too proud and stubborn to back down now. It was only a matter of time and whether or not he’d be willing to do it again once all the smoke had cleared.
If he was then I reckoned the fortune marked on the map in Ben’s shirt pocket just might be within our reach. There was no way two men could pull that one off. But three...