Escape

Sawing at the wall was awkward, painfully slow work. The steady ticking of the clock inside my head, which sounded remarkably like gun shots, made my fingers clumsy and my strokes erratic. Ben breathing down the back of my neck wasn’t helping anything either.

“Do you want to do this?” I snapped at one point as I paused to give my knuckles a rest after slamming them once too often into the wall.

“Oh no,” he replied with a lazy puff of cigar smoke, “you look like you’re doing a fine job. A little slow, mind, but I couldn‘t do much better, what with my wonky shoulder and all.”

Ah yes, Ben’s miraculous wonky shoulder. Somehow it only bothered him when it was time to do manual labour.

It was eerily quiet outside our compartment as I worked away at the wood, sweat dripping into my eyes. Images of Jimmy getting shot, of him getting thrown from the top of the train, and of him lying in some dusty corner of the train as his life seeped from a wound in his belly kept flitting through my mind, pushing me to work faster.

At last the teeth of the saw tasted the air on the other side of the slat they had been tearing through and I took a step back. Without a word Ben and I stepped forward as one and put everything we had into kicking at the weakened area. It gave way with a satisfying crack that seemed louder than overhead thunder.

“Oh my,” Ben said as we paused to admire the jagged opening we’d just created in the wall, “if that ain’t more beautiful than that waitress in Sacramento we fought over, I just don’t know what is.”

“You only still remember her because you won the fight,” I muttered as we each took hold of a vertical slat on either side of the opening and yanked with all we had. They came free reluctantly and we stepped through into the neighbouring compartment, careful to avoid the finger length splinters on all sides.

“Aw Red, this is no time to be a sore loser about that,” he said as he moved to the closed door to our right. My heart paused as he tugged on it, fearful that it would be as securely locked as our previous accommodation, but it slid open without complaint. He stuck his head out into the hallway before turning and telling me, “Looks to be all clear.”

“We can’t be far from Jack’s Cactus now,” I said as we stood in the hallway, the pungent smell of gunpowder filling our nostrils. “I reckon this map and key are all we’re getting out of this job, so we should probably just collect Jimmy and the horses and hit the ground running as soon as we pull into the station.”

“But first we should get our girls back,” Ben said as he turned towards the room that held the decoy crates. “I can’t be seen running around with an outlaw that doesn’t even have a firearm, after all.”

I could hardly argue with him; I was already feeling naked and out of sorts without a gun in my holster and the idea of leaving without Betty did not sit well with me at all. We moved cautiously down the hall, Ben in the lead with his boot gun pointing the way. He reached the crate room and peered inside before straightening and letting out a low whistle.

“Well, would you look at this?”

I joined him in the doorway, not knowing what to expect to find. Which turned out to be a good thing, seeing as there was no way I would have ever predicted the sight which greeted my green eyes.

“I guess Jimmy didn’t have the heart to pull the trigger after all,” I said as we stared down at Charles Best. He was crumpled in a heap on the floor, his hat beside him and a bloody wound darkening a patch of hair at the back of his head. “He must have knocked his pa silly and then made a break for it, with those two goons hot on his heels.”

“He was even kind enough to leave our guns behind for us to collect,” Ben observed as he crouched down to retrieve the weapons which were peering out from beneath the sheriff’s right leg. “Alright, we have what we need from this end of the train. Let’s get our dusty butts to the horse cart and hope Jimmy’s smart enough to be there waiting for us.”

“Assuming those guards didn’t fill him up with holes or toss him from the train,” I said quietly, a hollow feeling settling in my gut.

“I wouldn't worry too much about that, partner - the kid has proven to be surprisingly resourceful already. Anyway, we’ll find out soon enough,” Ben pointed out as he handed me Betty by her crimson handle and I tucked her back into her home at my hip, feeling complete once more. “The train is slowing down.”

The End

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