Ben and I had our guns drawn in a heartbeat.
“Check the window,” I told him, keeping my voice just above the sound of the train, but he didn’t budge from his position next to me. Instead he levelled his sidearm at Jimmy and cocked the hammer. “Ben…”
“Are you in on this, boy?” His words were as calm and steady as his finger as it hovered beside the trigger.
“Are you crazy?” Jimmy hissed from the doorway. “If I was, do you think I’d be in here with you or out there with them right now?”
“Hmm.” Ben didn’t exactly sound convinced, but at least he eased the hammer back into place. “You’re treading on thin ice here, Jimbo. I’d watch your step if I were you.”
“The window?” I reminded him with a nudge. With a grunt he turned and moved to the end of the compartment and threw aside the tattered black drapes, allowing more light into the room but also revealing something I’d rather not have seen. “Son of a dusty whore… it seems we have badly misjudged our dear Sheriff Best.”
The window had been fitted with three vertical and two horizontal iron bars, the open squares they created just large enough for a man to fit his arm through. We stood and stared at the outside world of sand and cacti, so tantalizingly close yet so damnably far, not one of us able to think of a single thing to say. But I’m sure we were all thinking along the same lines: we were trapped like three witless fish in a dusty barrel and there were three men waiting outside ready to fill us with lead.
Our silence was finally interrupted by a slow rapping on the door, followed closely by the clear, sober words of the man who had orchestrated our current dilemma.
“How you boys doing in there?” the sheriff asked, the appreciative chuckles of his two stooges providing the nerve grating backdrop to his question. “I hope your accommodations meet your needs; I did spend a lot of time preparing for your arrival, I hope you know.”
I took off my hat and ran a hand through my hair before letting it rest at the back of my neck. I let my fingers work at the tension nesting there while I tried to gather my straying thoughts in some order before panic fully took hold and they were lost to the wild. Ben, unsurprisingly, produced a cigar and promptly lit it. There could be no hope that he’d be able to think properly without one.
“Can I get you boys anything?” Sheriff Best asked as the compartment began to fill with sweet smelling smoke and I dropped down to a crouch in search of clear air to breathe. The dust that seemed to cover everything in sight was thicker there but I did what I could to hold still and not stir any of it up. Not getting an answer to his previous question, the sheriff added with a rough cackle, “A drink, perhaps?”
“I thought you’d never ask!” Ben replied around his cigar. “Why don’t you bring the bottle in here yourself and we can have ourselves a proper conversation?”
“Sure thing,” came the immediate reply. “I’ll do that right after you slide open that door a crack and toss your weapons out here. Then we can all get right comfortable.”
“How about I just blow a hole through your son’s head?” I asked with an apologetic shrug in Jimmy’s direction. He pressed his lips together and his eyes narrowed slightly but he managed to keep his thoughts on the matter to himself.
“I don’t reckon you’re the type of man that would do that sort of thing Mister Williams,” the sheriff replied, giving no indication that he was surprised by his son’s presence on the other side of the door. “And neither are you Mister Davis, as much as you might proclaim the contrary.”
“It would appear that our reputation proceeds us,” I muttered as I waved Jimmy over, none too pleased that the sheriff knew exactly who we were. Jimmy hesitated, a part of him probably wondering if I planned on making good on my threat, but he came and dropped down on his haunches in front of me. I grabbed Ben’s belt and hauled him down to our level before telling them, “I have an idea.”
“Oh, I do not like the way you said that,” Ben said with a grimace. “Not one bit.”
“I suspect you’re going to think even less of it after you hear me out,” I whispered. I hurried on before the protest that was forming on his lips could be spoken. “I think we can all agree we’re dead men if we try to shoot our way out of here, right? So we need to find another way out and I see only one way of doing that.” I paused to look at Jimmy and Ben groaned softly. “You need to capture us for your old man.”
“I don’t have all day gentlemen!” the sheriff yelled from the hallway.
“We’re going to have ourselves a scuffle, a shot or two might even get fired, and you’re going to end up with both of our guns.” I stared into his eyes and watched fear and alarm dance across them. “Then you’re going to lead us out of here at gunpoint and hand us over to the sheriff, nice and tidy.”
“And then what?” Ben asked, doubt and anger mingling with his words.
“And then,” I replied with a soft sigh, “by my watch we’ll have about twenty minutes before we get to Jack’s Cactus. I’m hoping that’s enough time for Jimmy here to figure out how to bust us loose.”
“Yup, you were right,” Ben said, dropping his cigar to the floor and grinding it out with the heel of his boot. “I don’t care for this at all.” After a few seconds of studying the crumbled remains of his smoke he asked, “Do I at least get to punch Jimbo in the face?”
Jimmy and I replied in unison.
“Spoilsports,” he said with a shake of his head. “Alright, let’s do this.”