I set down to wait, as my presence was hardly needed for this next operation. I stared out at the dry, reddish expanse of desert that streamed continuously by the compartment window. This whole robbery had turned out to be far more complicated than Ben and I had anticipated; but then again, it always ended up that way, didn't it? I wondered if Ben and I suffered from some sort of bad-luck curse, or if train robbery was just a tricky business. I reasoned that it was probably the latter, but it sure would be nice if anything just went according to plan for once.
I thought about the large prize awaiting us down the train and contemplated what I would do with it. The usual, most likely, but sometimes I had this bizarre, nagging feeling that I ought to save it up for something; maybe so I could settle down someday or something. But what would be the fun in that? I knew that if ever I were to leave it, I would sorely miss the life of a train robber. But every once in a while there were things that made me kind of want to try out "ordinary life" for a time. Like my ma's rhubarb pie, or maybe not being on the run from the law and all that. Or pretty gals like Jessica Rose-Martin . . . now that was one swell girl. I hadn't even thought about her in years. . . .
My thoughts had the misfortune of being interrupted by the grinning face of Ben Davis as he dropped into the seat across from me; and when Jessica Rose-Martin is the focus of those thoughts, Ben's scruffy, bearded features are a rather jarring transition.
"You awake there, Red?" he said as Jimmy sidled in beside him.
"Sure," I said reluctantly exiting my reverie. "You complete the task at hand?"
"Yep, it went smooth as glass," said Ben happily. "Just ask Jimbo here — Best didn't suspect a thing, and in no time he was quite friendly and drunk besides. The loot should be free for our taking, now. The lot of them are as sotted as swine."
I didn't really get the simile, but I decided to let it slide. By the sound of it, everything had gone quite well.
"So then, what are we waiting for?" I asked.
"What indeed?" said Ben, getting to his feet.
As we left the compartment, I glanced over at Jimmy. He seemed to have lost some of his buoyant confidence, but he still looked determined. I had to hand it to him, he had more pluck than one would expect. Dropping back to make sure Ben didn't notice, I leaned close to him and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Nice job," I said in an undertone, then hurried after Ben into the next car. When I looked back again, Jimmy was trying to conceal a small, satisfied smile.
On our way down the train, we passed Sheriff Best and his men. They had apparently found a few more bottles of liquor and did indeed look sotted as swine. Sheriff Best winked and waved cheerily at us as we walked by. I nodded and tipped my hat.
Then we once again reached the door to the compartment that had once been guarded but now was deserted. Ben reached forward and gave it a tug, but was met with strong resistance.
"Figures," he said, indicating a rusty lock that had the door chained tightly shut. "However, I did take the liberty to borrow these from our dear friends back there." He fished through his pockets and rattled out a ring with a couple of keys on it. After a moment of fiddling to get one of the right key to fit, Ben heaved the door open and stepped inside. I followed close behind.
It was dark and dusty as my grandma's old house, though a good deal less tidy. Wooden crates were piled high along the walls with a narrow path cleared down the middle. I turned back to Jimmy.
"We'll need you to keep watch," I said nodding to the open door. Jimmy didn't quite look pleased with this arrangement but did as he was told. Ben had begun the business of rapping on crates and peering through through their slats.
"Where do you reckon it is?" he asked me. "This can't all be goodies or I've died and gone to Heaven."
"Nah," I said, "probably they tried to hide it among everything else." I pried open the lid of one of the boxes. "Yeah, see? Just oats in this one."
"Oh, here we go, Red," said Ben, who had been rummaging through a few sacks in the corner. I hastened to his side.
"Hey, Red?" chimed Jimmy's voice from the door.
"One second, Jimmy."
I heard the door slam and I turned, frowning. It was very dark now, but from the many slivers of sunlight dribbling through the cracks in the walls and ceiling, I could dimly see Jimmy looking at me, wide-eyed, with his back pressed to the closed door. I knew by his expression what was wrong, but I worded the question to be sure.
"Your pa?" I asked.