Skull Creek

The train groaned as the brakes pressed hard against the steel wheels and shuddered as it slowed.  The crockery in the dining car rattled, the drunken 'bankers' fell over (and not for the first time) and Ben slipped the shiny sheriff's star into his breast pocket and looked out of the window.

"Skull Creek," he announced as the sign slid past; a weathered piece of wood nailed to a rotten post.  The station itself appeared next, and seemed to stop with the door to to the station house itself opposite out windows.  There were no women in pretty bonnets clustered around on this platform; just two elderly men moving arthritically as they picked up their meagre possessions: a single, light-looking case each, a heavy winter coat, and for one of them, a shiny pickaxe.  The train conductor stepped down from the platform to assist the men, obviously thinking the same as me: if we waited for these old-timers to board the train under their own steam we'd still be here come the Rapture.

"No cows for the train then?" said Jimmy, his expression revealing that even he thought it was a weak joke.

"No," said Ben, "but lookee that way."  He inclined his head gently, not so much as to let anyone watching us know what he was doing, but enough for Jimmy to turn his head like a weathervane caught in a cross-wind.  I kept my gaze forward for a little, then turned as though looking to see what Jimmy was doing.  Further up the platform, the two greeters who'd encouraged us to go back down the train were stood out on the platform, shoulders squared, hatless, with little piggy eyes in jowly faces.  I turned away from them again, back to Ben, trying to look bored.

"Looks like they're waiting for something," I said quietly, my gaze falling back to the table.  "Reckon the cargo's only coming aboard here?"

"Skull Creek?" said Jimmy quickly, and a little too loudly.  Ben's cigar somehow contrived to fall out of his mouth only just missing Jimmy's hand.  He drew breath sharply, air whistling through his teeth, and the aroma of the smoke reminded me I'd not had one myself in a while.

"Keep it down, kiddo," I said, handing Ben his cigar back and patting my pockets to find where I'd left my own.  "Yes, Skull Creek.  No-one really around to see the cargo coming aboard here, most people aren't going to be paying a lot of attention to what's going out on the platform."

"So why were they so keen to keep us away back there?"

Ben raised an eyebrow.  "He's got a point, Henry," he said.  "No point hiding the goods when they're not there, that just attracts attention."

I found my cigars and leant back in my seat to light one up, the fragrant leaves engulfing me in a rich, relaxing scent-cocoon.  Ben continued to look out the window, and Jimmy sat back and folded his arms and closed his eyes.  It looked like he felt he wasn't being listened to or appreciated, but that was the impetuosity of youth.  I was sure we'd find a use for someone who acted first and thought later, but not in the planning stages.

"Sweet teetotallers!"  The curse escaped my lips before I could stop myself, and Ben and Jimmy both looked up, then out of the window.  Staggering on the platform, his gun wavering uncertainly in his hand and his hat askew on his head, was Charlie Best.  We all three watched as he stopped, pushed his hat right, and then walked with the precise control of a man who knows he's drunk towards the greeters on the platform.  Ben sighed very slightly as their body language changed to that of recognition, and as the three of them got on the train, the shiny sheriff's star reappeared from Ben's pocket.

"Looks like we've got a bit more thinking to do," he said.  "I'm not saying we can't still use this badge, but Jimmy's kin there is a whole new problem."

The End

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