Jimmy was feeling substantially better by morning, and so was Ben, largely due to a fresh supply of cigars. I was feeling a bit hung over, truth be told, but only mildly so, and the prospect of brand new exploits and opportunities had us all in better spirits. Privately, though, there were other factors contributing to my good mood.

Over a greasy breakfast of eggs and some unusual meat that I didn't have the courage to identify, we discussed our next move. As it happened, our destination was not more than a day's ride from us. Seeing as Jimmy still lacked a horse and was in less-than-peak shape, though, I suggested we go by train.

We decided to stay at Orson's Gulch for a day to recuperate and prepare. I was given the task of explaining the situation to Jimmy, while Ben tended to the horses and restocked our provisions.

"I don't reckon you ever got to hearing about it, seeing as your pa caused all manner of complications and all," I said as we sat at a table in the saloon's common room, "but we did end up getting some loot from that train."

"Did we?" Jimmy said with a disappointing lack of interest.

"Well, it ain't so much loot, per se,  as a means of getting to it," I continued. "Ben reckons the loot wasn't ever on the train. But we did find this."

I reached into my pocket and flourished the map out onto the table. Jimmy gave it a cursory glance and nodded. I frowned and pushed the map aside.

"You alright, Jimmy?" I asked, peering at him curiously.

"I suppose," he mumbled. "I mean, yeah, 'course. 'Course I'm fine."

He glanced up at me. I gave him a clear I'm-not-buying-it expression.

Jimmy sighed. "Well, alright, maybe I'm not fine," he said, sloshing about the cold dregs of his coffee miserably. "Maybe I just got a doggone knife wound slashed across my side."

Jimmy raised his eyes to me once more. He looked a tad angry which I found a tad surprising. I opened my mouth to say something, but apparently Jimmy wasn't done yet because before I could do so much as sputter, he erupted:

"You know, when I signed on, I wasn't expecting a walk in the park. Maybe I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but I didn't care so long as I could get away from my pa and that Godforsaken patch of hell they call a town. I done everything you've asked, Red. I near killed my own pa, I sprung you and Ben out of that train car, and I even took a stab in the gut for you. I guess I just expected I might get a little more in return than an offer to dump me off in the middle of the desert somewhere."

His blue eyes were flashing fiercely and for just a moment, there was a most unpleasant resemblance to his pa that quite made me squirm.

"Jimmy, if I didn't know all you've had this morning was that coffee, I'd swear you were drunk," I said. "You're spewing nonsense. Nobody's gonna dump you anywhere, least of all in the middle of the desert. Where in God's name did you get that idea?"

"Oh, right," Jimmy retorted with more venom in his voice than I would have thought possible, "you were going to keep me on in case you needed a hostage!"

Jimmy's cheeks had flushed bright red. I sat there, frozen, as the horrible, guilty feeling of being caught red-handed settled leadenly into my stomach.

"You heard me and Ben talking last night," I said.

"I didn't, but the 'tender's wife was more than willing to enlighten me for a few spare coins."

I scowled and twisted my head back to look at the bar, but there was nobody there. I hadn't liked the look of that woman the second I'd clapped eyes on her. I'd have to have a chat with the saloon's owner when he came back.

"Jimmy," I said slowly, "you know how Ben is. He's a mite suspicious, especially when he's not had a good day or enough cigars to compensate. One has to be — diplomatic with him. Jimmy — hey, Jimmy!"

Jimmy was getting to his feet, leaning heavily on the back of his chair.

"I think I need some fresh air," Jimmy said, then he was staggering across the room to the door.

I stood up and considered following him, but concluded that it would likely do more harm than good. I sank resignedly back into my seat and listened to the slam of the door and the sound of footsteps crunching by the window. I felt terrible. God knew I hadn't meant what I had said to Ben last night, but I had to admit that it certainly didn't look that way.

And the fact was, we were likely going to need Jimmy for the plan Ben and I had put together last night. But I knew Ben's patience was going to be pretty short if he got to hearing about this. I ran a hand tiredly through my hair and hoped I could get this all sorted out before Ben got to hearing about it.

The End

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